Third Quarter Wrap-Up: How Does Time Keep Moving Forward

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Good morning! Considering that I apparently abandoned monthly reviews at some point in the distant past, but there is still plenty to announce or cover in the wrap-up department, and how we’re on to a new season, I figured this was a good track to take today.

This calendar year has been a very tumultuous one for us, unfortunately. These days, however, the changes have been good (and filling a desperate need for the positive). What the new stuff has meant in other ways than impacting our schedules and frame of mind, is how it’s rearranged our energy and ambitions for our spare time.

In my case specifically, I’m finding that — despite now working in a library — I read less, and am even watching movies less (my go-to form of entertainment after reading). And, because of having less free time and less expendable energy, I am writing less.

And you know what? For the first time in a looong time, I don’t mind.

Yes, there are ideas left to explore, plot threads to cultivate, character arcs to, er, arc. But at the moment, I am just taking it bit by bit, and not feeling the pressure to complete editing and produce more finished, polished content. I will get there when I get there.

It’s interesting, because I worked so hard to establish myself as an author, and while I absolutely am, suddenly it doesn’t feel like the end of the world if I can’t release more than one new book a year. This mental attitude actually results in ensuring that when I do complete a project, I will feel better about it, and less likely to beat myself up over imagined flaws. Yes, constructive criticism can be valuable to a creative career. But slamming yourself over a mediocre second draft — especially one written during an extremely stressful period — will never turn you into a more successful author, or person.

Anyway, so while my progress on Fire and Wind is still limping along, I’m done making “excuses” for it. I’m still going with it, which is what counts the most.

And here’s some new entertainment I have made time for, and either enjoyed or felt I learned something.



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Okay, this is the most amazing animated film I’ve seen in a while, and considering how much I enjoy Dreamworks movies, this is saying something. Uglydolls is very much a story of our times, a reflection of the “beauty culture,” but not an endorsement of it. The cast comes from this culture, but, again, doesn’t necessarily support it. And when we live in a society that frequently tells us our looks matter so much more than anything else, the message of Uglydolls needs to be heard.

Godzilla, King of the Monsters:

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Basically, we spent all of last weekend watching this. First, White Fang couldn’t wait to watch the rental disc; then Muffin found out we had it; then the whole household got into the action. So in about 72 hours, I saw it 3 times. But I didn’t mind. There are many little aspects that give this movie so much heart, and make it more than just another monster flick. The special effects are downright awesome, but it’s the more subtle touches that really inspired my reactions.

Secret Life of Pets 2:

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Heartwarming in a more obvious way, this is the charming and poignant sequel to (clearly) The Secret Life of Pets. Muffin fell in love with these characters the first time around, so there was no question we’d be watching the follow-up. This plot has (luckily) less pushing-believability elements than the original, and still plenty of magic, and humor that works both for kids and adults. And personally, I appreciated the more down-to-earth approach, and what this story reflects about the many forms family comes in.



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I had read some conflicting reviews for Nevermoor, and now I understand why. On the surface, Nevermoor is quite enchanting — it’s a frolicking sort of fun, packed with magic and mischief and mythical creatures. BUT. Unfortunately, it is a big BUT. The characters are mostly archetypes, with little going for them beyond their expected role. The deeper mysteries of the plot are hinted at, and not really dug into. The book is a slightly intimidating length for an MG novel, and while it trips along pretty quickly, it seems to just keep pushing forward, conveniently ignoring particular issues.

The tricky part for me, though, was that I had the “big twist” guessed easily 150 pages before any “secret” was revealed. Maybe it’s because I was reading it as an adult, and this book is aimed at ages 10-14. Or maybe it was just the style — one I’ve encountered in many other MG/YA novels, that doesn’t pull the reader in the way it used to.

Willa of the Wood:

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Willa of the Wood showed me that I am definitely beyond social justice authors. Don’t get me wrong; I am a big proponent of social justice, and feel it absolutely has a place in literature. However: When you’re reading a novel, and it’s just crammed with soapbox agenda writing, as opposed to subtle undercurrents or meaningful dialogue that actually makes you think… Well, that’s when I bottom out, and lose any enjoyment in the story itself. Unfortunately, this author has definitely taken the soapbox route in his newer publications, and that means I will make other choices.


I have two new jobs! One is as a dance teacher at an arts center that I’ve known about for a long time, and they finally had an opening for a ballet instructor! This came to be over the summer, so I’d been looking forward to starting fall classes.

The other is a position I had applied for twice before…and now my turn has come! I’m sure being a library clerk isn’t most people’s dream job, but I feel competent and confident in the duties, and the environment is generally not overstimulating. As much as I genuinely enjoy working with children, having too many regulations for simple daycare, as well as no limits on noise in most preschool settings, get to me way too easily these days.

Muffin has started kindergarten (!!!), and White Fang is content at his new school (!!!). It’s a much longer commute for White Fang (at least half an hour, depending on traffic or construction) than he had, but the academic and social atmosphere certainly makes up for it. Muffin now only spends about 20 minutes on the bus (he had a long ride to preschool), but he’s being challenged by the new learning standards, so he’s still tired at the end of the day.

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And fall does seem to be on its way! With all the other new stuff going on lately, I don’t know how many “typical” autumn activities we’ll participate in. Every year, though, the changing leaves and the crisp scent to the air makes me feel cozy and crave fuzzy socks and pumpkins on the front step, and I can’t see that changing now.

Have a great day, everyone!

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family, Parenting

Way Outside My Comfort Zone

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Warning: For those of you that are not a fan of reptiles or anything with more than four legs, you might want to skip the pictures this time.

What, me, have something other than adorable and awww-inducing pictures of animals in a post? Yup. Sorry. Hey, didn’t the title tip you off a little?

Last night, I took my sons to the annual visitation of a local snake and reptile handler at the library. White Fang has gone every year since he was in middle school, but this was Muffin’s first time. And mine. Usually I drop White Fang off and hurry away to wait for the event to finish. I do. Not. Like. Snakes.

But last night, I stayed, partly to help supervise Muffin, partly to witness his reaction to this new experience.

I have to admit, I am really glad that I hid my reaction from him.

At first, it wasn’t so bad. They started off with a huge (not kidding on the huge bit) bullfrog, and a tortoise. That I could handle. But then we moved on to the baby alligator (which Muffin thought was awesome — me, not so much), and then, eventually (finally??) the snakes.

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These are serious snakes, too. This guy owns one of everything, from little ball pythons to the big Burmese pythons, to rattlesnakes and cornsnakes that were rescued from getting stuck on a tractor trailer (making deliveries from southern states, including — to the surprise of the driver — a lost venomous snake), or from being illegally held as pets and wrongly released into the wild without proper supervision from authorities. So, while I appreciate that this guy is keeping our children and our pets safe, I’m not quite sure I have sympathy for the reptiles themselves.

The fear factor carries a lot of prejudice with it. Although I managed to do pretty well with the smaller snakes and even the tarantula (her name is Rosie), I was still rather uncertain about letting Muffin touch any of the animals at the end of the show.

This is the part everybody comes for — after the structured informational session, everyone has a chance to get up close and personal with some of the safer reptiles. I already knew this since White Fang has been attending the event for years — and he’s been more than happy to tell me what animals he’s gotten pally with.

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Before the after-show commenced, I’d decided Muffin was allowed to make friends with the baby tortoises, and that was that. At first, he was cool with it — he actually followed directions really well, and didn’t need much help holding the little shelled beasts gently and respectfully. Lovely.

Then White Fang announced he was going to hold Rosie. And continue his yearly tradition of having his picture taken with Boo. Boo is a six-foot-long albino Burmese python.

Yes, that’s what I just said.

And, of course, Muffin wanted in on the action.

Luckily for my heart, I was already aware that Boo is a rockstar of docile snakes, and has traveled to many local events and never had an incident involving children (or adults, for that matter). But still I, personally, have never gotten very close to her.

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That all changed.

White Fang held Boo. Muffin stood next to him and pet Boo’s tail. I took the pictures. And I was within 4 feet of Boo, to be able to get a decent focus.

I didn’t freak out when Boo turned her head towards Muffin’s face and actually made eye contact. (Neither did Muffin, by the way).

And when Muffin held Rosie the tarantula (yes, I’m still telling it like it was), I didn’t experience a coronary episode. (And that was an achievement, let me tell you. This is the nosiest spider I’ve ever seen. It was all crawling up people’s arms and, “Hey, how’re you doin’, let me see what’s over here!…”)

So, while I survived the night, I wouldn’t consider myself over my fear of snakes, spiders, or anything that legit could kill me in the desert or the swamp. And I don’t anticipate traveling to Florida or Mexico anytime in the near future (or, realistically, ever).

But, I looked a Burmese python in the eye, and, interestingly enough, felt pretty good about it.

Still, I’ll take the traditional cats, dogs, rabbits, hamsters, fish and farm animals any day.

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community, entertainment, family

The YouTube Discussion


So, many of you are probably aware that there’s this website called YouTube, where you can find EVERYTHING — clips from movies and TV shows, often whole episodes of cancelled or long out-of-production series, extended trailers for upcoming films, music videos, and plenty of original content by contributors who might be your neighbor down the street, or world famous in their own right.

It’s an interesting cultural shift, one that most likely never would have happened without the internet. Remember just 20 to 30 years ago, when your relatives invited everybody over to watch their vacation slides, and we all groaned and grit our teeth and wracked our brains for something polite to say? People came up with excuses ranging from, “I can’t, I’m having my wisdom teeth out,” to, “I’d love to, but I just sat down in this comfy chair.” Now suddenly, random strangers from around the globe put their home videos of their family getaway to Cancun on YouTube, and it hits 15,678 views in less than 24 hours.

The major difference between YouTube and the sharing-of-home-videos-of-olden-days is the fact that YouTube can make overnight celebrities. I think pretty much everyone and his dog knows by now that YouTube will pay people whose channels reach a significant number of subscribers and/or views. It’s not a foolproof instant way to hit a high salary and quit your day job; there are only a lucky few who make it to more than 10,000 subscribers, and fewer still who actually have a million or more people regularly tuning in.

But this is now an established, accepted part of American entertainment, and it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.

And we’re certainly feeding the beast — YouTube is among the top pick for media platforms regarding movie trailers, music videos, original videos, and lots of artists (in traditional corporate contracts as well as indie) release production news via their YouTube channel. The public finds the free features extremely appealing (myself included), and so do indie artists who can’t afford thousands of dollars for a marketing campaign that could reach potentially millions of people.

However, for all that’s good, just like with anything else, the scope and scale of this phenomenon have created some dark sides.


For example, there’s no rating system, G, PG, etc., so it’s criminally easy for your 4-year-old to stumble on recorded game play of Doom or Five Nights at Freddy’s. (And for those of you who claim, “Well, parents should be watching their children,” let’s see you stick by that argument when it’s either race to the bathroom or wet the floor, and your misbehaving, headstrong preschooler will climb the furniture to grab the stashed remote while you’re literally indisposed.) While plenty of contributors do keep their uploads clean and family friendly, there are just as many who don’t consider that necessary, nor do they leave a note on their channel that what they post may not be appropriate for all audiences.

Yes, there are parental controls available on a variety of devices, and we don’t have to let our children watch certain things; but as the “parent network,” YouTube should bear some of the responsibility. After all, the major broadcasters — NBC, PBS, FOX, HBO, etc. — either relegate more mature viewing to hours when small ones are in bed, or they advertise all over the place that particular shows aren’t meant for those of us under age 18. We genuinely can’t say we weren’t warned about The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones.

YouTube doesn’t appear to have the same concerns about their viewers that traditional TV networks do. The trad folks are very aware of lawsuits and fines and even threats of jail time. And, yes, they’re doing “the right thing” primarily to keep their business earning money; but at least they’re following a code of values that most of us feel pretty good about — and if we don’t, we always have the option not to watch.

Do we have the option to block or turn off YouTube as well? Of course. Though with this platform becoming ever more prevalent, that’s growing slightly difficult.

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Because YouTube is now featuring many “regular people” contributors who have hit it big on their platform, children especially are very attracted to the “kids just like me” they see in a lot of these videos. One of Muffin’s favorites is Ryan’s Toy/Family Review, which is run by an Asian-American family in California, that has gone from posting 10-minute videos of their son playing with new toys to a multi-million-dollar empire of several channels on YouTube, a line of toys and clothing being sold at major retailers, and enough income for the parents to quit their jobs and build a new house. Yes, you read all of that right. As a parent myself, I have some serious moral qualms about what this level of fame at such a young age (the “star,” Ryan, is only 7 years old!) might do later in life, but I’m evidently in the minority. Lots of families are coming up with concepts for their children to film and upload, and actively help them do so. The hope, I’m sure, is that one day they all end up with a similar situation to Ryan.

All Muffin knows about Ryan is that the kids are playing with lots of fun toys and seem to be having a blast, and there’s no swearing or violence or anything that Mummy finds objectionable, so he is allowed to watch it as often as he wants.

And when faced with the alternative of something horribly inappropriate, I know I will keep letting him choose Ryan.

I’d be lying, though, if I didn’t add that I pray this family knows what they’re doing.

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What happens if, one day, YouTube executives wake up and decide they don’t need certain channels anymore? What happens to the celebrity families who have now made this platform their career and sole form of wages? How hard would the transition be back to an “average” lifestyle? For the kids as well as the adults?

And, as a child of the 1980s, I remember all too well hearing about former “child stars,” young actors and actresses and musicians that my generation grew up with and admired, getting arrested or checking into rehab, again, or dying from some tragic, preventable occurrence. In another decade or so, will that be the fate of the current YouTube-famous tweens with 1.1 million subscribers?

Unfortunately, only time will tell. But if we hit the year 2025 and all of today’s YouTube kid stars are happily married with a rescue dog and tons of security guards around their inground pool and giant Lego playhouse, then I’ll thank God.

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I let White Fang start his own YouTube channel a couple of years back, and it was mostly to post videos of himself playing Minecraft to share with his friends. He has around 200 subscribers, last I knew, and while he hasn’t updated it in a long time, it still exists, and he may go back to it one day. He’s proud of what he did accomplish, in terms of learning how to use his camera to film the videos, upload them, and be brave enough to share his passion with others.

He’s also found some of the most inspiring and talented individuals by getting involved with the Minecraft and Warriors fan communities on YouTube. Captain Sparklez, anybody? TryHardNinja? And Rainimator has taken the Minecraft community by storm (his work even inspired a character White Fang helped me design for The Order of the Twelve Tribes world.)

And many famous YouTubers are kind and generous; ToyLabTV (they make Jurassic Park styled less-scary dinosaur videos for younger kids) recently hosted a family whose sick child’s “wish” (through the Make A Wish Foundation) was to film a video with them. (Just thinking about that gets me choked up.)

So, YouTube itself is far from evil. But in a world that didn’t even imagine it would be in all our homes until, suddenly, it is, I think we’re still in the infancy of learning just how all this may go.

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community, family, reading

New Discussion: Who is YA For?

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Note: I’ve chosen to feature the original art of Maggie Stiefvater in this post. Please remember to give all the credit for these gorgeous pieces to her.

Extra note: Why Maggie Stiefvater? Other than she’s one of my favorite authors? Well, the fact that she was part of the catalyst of this discussion that started on Twitter a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been thinking about what she and others said, and about the post that really got the ball rolling on this topic.

So, here’s an interesting question: Who is Young Adult fiction actually for? It may seem like a “duh, Captain Obvious” answer — Young Adult fiction is for those under 21 — but the data behind sales, library checkouts, and online reviews proves, no, it isn’t.

The majority of readers of the labeled (and marketed) YA genre in the 21st century are women ages 18 to 45. That’s right. Women with children of their own. And yet…most of us wouldn’t necessarily recommend most YA titles to our adolescents.

Once upon a time, there was something called “New Adult,” a genre that targeted women readers approximately 19 to 30, people who were just starting out on being financially independent, having to manage an apartment or house, an exclusive relationship, and just being a grown-up. “What a great idea!” so many of us currently in that stage of life exclaimed (myself included, as then a new wife and mother). I enjoyed some of those books, sometimes a lot. When you’re about 25, most of us are past the point of relating to your biggest problem being whether to cut math class or not. That was what most YA was like back then.

However, two distinct things happened. One: There was a shift in what NA was, from real plots and discussing relationships and life to little more than pornography (which many readers were not happy with, myself included). Two: YA changed from being about the actual issues teens face to focusing on world-weary 16-year-olds living in dystopian settings that forced them to become the breadwinner or the chosen one or the next queen of the realm.

And this altering of dynamics resulted in some tricky situations. Real high school students ate up The Hunger Games and Divergent and The Maze Runner — but so did parents, for very different reasons. Actual teens were drawn to the escapism of dystopia: it was so far removed from anything they know that it was all about action and adventure and good guys versus bad guys. Parents, on the other hand, considered these series, and others like them, important cautionary tales, for what can happen to our civil liberties and democracies if we get complacent.

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So, in the wake of the demise of NA, a new type of “YA” emerged: the kind where any novel featuring a protagonist who was 15, 16, or 17 — regardless of the content, subject matter, or genre — was automatically marketed to real life adolescents.

Many parents do not want their kids reading it. There’s too much profanity, casual alcohol use, cutting school, fornication, and little to no consequences for unwise behavior.

And actual teenagers don’t want to read it, because the wild parties, skipping class on a whim, having sex without worrying, and paying all the bills on time so your irresponsible parent doesn’t forget to sounds like no one they know.

Recently I read a blog post written by a current adolescent, who stated many of these (and other issues) as reasons why she doesn’t read much “YA” anymore. And I agree with her — not as a teen, obviously, but as the mother of a teen who’s having a hard time finding reading material that he can relate to.

And as a mother who’s trying to raise a gentleman, I’m having a hard time finding reading material for him that encourages not swearing, not picking up random girls, and not getting blasted on a Friday night.

(That is a whole post unto itself. Anyway.)

A lot of the issue is this: Publishers saw a goldmine by getting the parents — the people with salaries — to purchase overpriced “YA” novels. Again, who’s mostly reading “YA” these days? Adults. Are kids reading the new releases by “YA” authors their parents are bringing home? Maybe, maybe not.

But here’s the other thing happening while all this is going on: Teens are much more likely to stick with MG fiction, or switch to not reading for fun at all. In English class, they’ll suffer through Shakespeare and the classics, and in their everyday lives, avoid them like the plague. They’ll just check out graphic novels or manga from the library, or skip reading anything and go straight to the movie version.

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Is this all teens? No. But is it becoming more and more prevalent and should we be worried about it? Yes.

When I was White Fang’s age (he’s 15 now), YA was just coming into its own. Too many teachers and librarians had complained that kids were expected to leap from Charlotte’s Web to A Separate Peace, and adolescent minds weren’t receiving proper nourishment. So some really smart people decided to create a market specifically for the 14-year-olds who weren’t “into kids’ stuff” anymore, but not ready for highbrow literary analysis.

And there is no denying that series like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson did what seemed the impossible at the cusp of the millenium — they turned kids away from computers and back to books, boys and girls, ages 8 to 18.

Now, though, we’re facing the reverse. And it’s because, once more, publishers are shutting teens out of the market. Kids who have a $10 a week allowance can’t afford $35 new hardcovers. They aren’t going to spend that money on stories that don’t make them feel connected or impacted, anyway.

Authors who write “YA” branded books but are aware their audience is mostly adults can be torn as well. (Enter Ms. Stiefvater’s Twitter thread on the subject.) They want to write about these characters, who happen to be adolescents. They want to write deeper, grittier stories than what you’d find in MG. Do some of them feel they’d be compromising their creative vision by “scaling down” certain things to gear it more towards “real” teens? Yeah, they do. Is that wrong? Hmm. No?

So, what’s the solution?

Well, here are my ideas: We need to go back to writing and publishing a market that teens can relate to and learn from. We also need to be aware there are plenty of adults who want to read fun, adventure-filled novels with a minimum of graphic violence and sex and language, and produce more fiction like that — just with 32-year-old protagonists.

And we need to try to drive down the cost of books to begin with — reading will become an elite past-time if we don’t consider the budget of 90% of working Americans.

Maybe we should also stop looking at the almighty dollar as our number one goal, and think more about the expression on someone’s face when they’ve found their next favorite read.

After all, that’s what literature is meant for.

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Thicker Than Water

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Late this summer, we had relatives come to visit, people that have known me my entire life, who have always been an unwavering source of support and encouragement. Watching them be the exact same people to my own kids is an experience that never fails to fill me with awe.

To many, family is family, and of course you’re there to lean on each other and build one another up. To others, family is who you choose to keep close and know you can rely on.

In a world where sharing genes doesn’t automatically mean you’re kin, I am incredibly thankful for having biological connections to some of the most compassionate and accepting people I’ve ever met.

And I am just as grateful to be able to count as family people an ocean away who owe me no obligation, genetic or otherwise.

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In my life, the fact of being consistently acquainted with someone for 40 years is a real unicorn — rare, precious, and to be savored.

Blessings that I sometimes feel I don’t deserve have been showered upon me and my children. It is something I try hard not to question too much, and to forever hold dear.

“Family don’t end with blood.” – Bobby Singer, Supernatural

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entertainment, family

Multimedia Thoughts: How We Watch What We Watch

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This may seem like a very 21st century, first-world-problem type of thing. While it’s true that television and film are considered a luxury, something we can live without, the fact is that most of us don’t. Radio changed the civilized world by spreading news and culture to all areas of the globe; next, television pushed the boundaries even farther. Now we’re into an era of the internet playing a major role in transmitting TV shows.

I have to admit something: While I regularly use the internet for a lot of things — obviously, since you’re reading this blog via email or a search engine — I am not sold on the idea of trying to watch TV through a laptop or cell phone. My tepid feelings towards the matter arise from a combination of factors. Partly, it’s because I don’t have enough devices to just dedicate one to Hulu or Netflix — I have to be able to use the computers for a variety of tasks, at any given time. Also, there are wifi “cold spots” in our house — rooms where the wifi just refuses to work — so that complicates things as well.

And there’s the old quandary of what one person likes to watch, another can’t stand. It’s why a second television set became so popular in many American households. Stuff that’s now common in our world, that was supposed to make our lives easier.

Does it really, though?

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When you go to the cinema, it’s so straightforward: You buy a ticket, walk into the building, sit down in the theater, the lights go down, and you employ good manners for the benefit of the rest of the audience, and just watch the film as it appears on the screen. Someone else is taking care of the technology applied to making this event happen. You willingly paid to enjoy it. It’s a win-win.

With cable or even just basic TV, you simply press a few buttons, and, boom, you know who’s about to lose the playoffs or what’s on Nature that night. Since networks tend to keep to a schedule, I can force my family into permitting me a chance to veg by reminding them that Jeopardy! is only on at 7:30 Monday through Friday.

If you find yourself saying, “But there’s nothing on” (trust me, that’s me as well), streaming can seem very appealing. Sign on to your device, click open your account, scroll down for a show you know you like and haven’t been able to view lately. Your internet bill paid up? Then just sit down and catch up. Or, if your device is portable, you can be finishing the laundry or starting dinner while you discover if those characters finally got together or broke up.

Of course, with cable often comes the option of recording a broadcast to your box, or calling up previously aired shows On Demand. I LOVE the On Demand feature. It means fewer commercials, and the same exact episode I missed the night, the week, the month before. With streaming services, time limits for viewing might be more strict. All this summer, I watched reruns of The X-Files from every single season ever made at the touch of a button, no additional fees. It was a beautiful thing.

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And tons of TV shows (new and old) are on DVD now, and usually can easily be ordered through the public library system, either for free or a small rental price. And if you’re squeamish about cinema ticket costs, Redbox is awesome. It’s similar to the old Blockbuster stores, but cheaper, and you don’t even have to have internet. You just go to the literal box near the supermarket checkout, use cash or a credit card, get a physical DVD, and then bring that home to your player or computer. No worrying about if the streaming konks out during viewing.

We order DVDs from Netflix for this specific reason; streaming can be unreliable, and more expensive. Netflix’s monthly charges break down to pennies a day, for the privilege of no due dates, short waiting lists for new releases, and the ability to lie on the floor in your pajamas while being entertained. And if a disc is damaged, you get a replacement for free. I’ve heard horror stories about people being out of pocket and out of luck for Amazon Prime screwups.

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So, while I may be considered “old-fashioned” when it comes to how I watch what I watch, I’m not sure I care. Yes, cable packages have become expensive…but so has the other way. I simply don’t have the money to purchase cell phones and tablets — and pay a monthly data plan bill –for every person in my household. It doesn’t feel convenient; it doesn’t feel “easier.”

It is just plain a good thing for my children to learn to wait patiently for the TV to be open. For them to skip the cinema and anticipate the cheaper DVD release. For them not to have a laptop or cell phone or tablet until they’re in high school. And for them to be aware they will not shrivel up and die without immediate access to all of the trending things every waking moment.

Yes, advancements in machinery and electronics have definitely made our lives better in a lot of ways. But let’s not forget that people are ultimately running the machines. And that connecting with each other is still important.

We still need to take the whole family to the store, have everyone pick out their snacks, and stand in front of a selection of DVDs, debating which one to choose. Then arrange enough room on the couch and recliner and beanbags for everybody, and make sure the dog isn’t blocking the TV screen. Then put the disc in the DVD player, turn the lights off, and the sound up, and tell the kids to stop poking one another. And let the old-fashioned magic wash over us as the previews begin.

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family, Fantasy fiction, spiritual growth

Guest Post: Kyle Robert Shultz on The Magic Elephant in the Room


Good morning, all. Today we will be joined by Kyle Robert Shultz, the #ShultzWithoutaC author of the Beaumont and Beasley fantasy series. Given that Mr. Shultz is spiritually and morally a churchgoing Christian, some may be surprised that he writes fantasy fiction, chock full of storybook magic, witches and wizards, and mythological creatures. All of this was part of what drew me to this author’s writing in the first place. As someone who believes in Jesus of Nazareth as a divine Savior, and tries to follow his teachings in everyday life, I got very fed up with being told that one cannot attend church on Sunday and read fantasy Monday through Saturday. With popular authors such as Ted Dekker and Carrie Anne Noble breaking this mold (and C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien never being off the bestseller lists in the past decade), I was very interested in connecting with like-minded writers in the indie publishing camp. So I asked Kyle to write about this subject for today’s post, and I’m actually going to use it to lead into a 2-part discussion on the topic later in March. So enjoy, and have a great day, everyone!


The Magical Elephant in the Room by Kyle R. Shultz

In my experience, Christian writers of fantasy don’t like to discuss the thorny subject of magic. We either use it in our stories or steer clear of it, but we’re not inclined to get into a big debate about the ethics of *Anthony Head voice* SOSSERY. The conflict over the subject has been going on ever since Harry Potter first become popular in the 1990s. Much of the furor and book-burning has died down since then, but even today, if you write a novel that heavily features magic, you’re likely to get a review from a Christian reader which at least mentions it as a potential problem.

So, since this is still a relevant issue in 2018, I say we stop tiptoeing around it and and tackle it head on. Ready? Here we go. The basic argument from Christians against fictional magic is as follows:

  1. Real-world magic is wrong, according to the Bible (Leviticus 19:31, Deuteronomy 18:10-12, Galatians 5:20, Revelation 21:8).
  2. The Bible also tells us to do nothing that would cause another to stumble and commit sin, even if what we are doing seems innocent (Romans 14:21).
  3. Therefore, reading and writing stories involving magic is wrong because it might encourage someone to engage in real-life sorcery.

If we don’t accept the idea that real-world witchcraft is real or dangerous, than this argument is invalid. However, I don’t ascribe to the doctrine of cessationism. I believe that the supernatural forces described in the Bible–both good and evil–are just as real today as they were in ancient times. The Bible passages regarding witchcraft specifically refer to the practice of communing with pagan gods, similar to both the medieval notion of consorting with demons and the modern concept of neo-paganism (i.e. Wicca). These practices are not only idolatrous; they’re potentially harmful to the soul.

That being said, however, we need to get some definitions straight. Magic as defined by the Bible refers to both witchcraft (invoking pagan/demonic entities) and divination (foretelling the future through means other than consulting God, such as astrology). The definition of fictional magic is a lot broader. It’s a force that the characters harness to achieve their goals and to do things impossible in the natural world. Fictional magic may or may not bear similarities to the sorcerous practices that the Bible describes. The magic systems in the works of J.K. Rowling or Brandon Sanderson, for example, are generally no more demonic in nature than the metric system. They’re mechanical rather than spiritual. On the other hand, there are fictional works which veer too close to promoting actual paganism–Buffy the Vampire Slayer being one of the strongest examples.


Where, then, does this leave the Christian author? Presumably, due to our beliefs, we won’t be writing something that reads like a recruitment pamphlet for Wicca. But all the same, is it wrong for us to be writing about characters who cast spells, especially if we present such characters in a positive light?

The core of the problem lies in the reader’s awareness of the divide between fiction and reality. If an adult reader attempts to summon a demon into his or her living room after reading Harry Potter, Mistborn, or even the Bartimaeus Trilogy, the fault lies more with the reader than the author. It shouldn’t be the writer’s job to repeatedly remind adult readers that fiction is fiction. Child readers are another issue altogether, since young children don’t necessarily have the same grasp on what should and should not be mimicked. I have, in the past, been surprised by the level of occult content in books directed at younger readers, such as the Gatekeepers series by Anthony Horowitz or the Demonata books by Darren Shan. (That’s not an actual critique of the books, as I haven’t read more than a few pages of them–I’m just naming them as examples.) But while there are sometimes murky philosophical waters to be navigated in the Harry Potter novels, as well as occasional content that might be too frightening for some children, I still maintain that it’s highly unlikely the series will lure children into actual occult practices–especially if their parents have clearly explained the differences between real and fictional sorcery.

Assuming that actual paganism is not being endorsed, I don’t believe there’s a conflict between Christian faith and writing magic-heavy fantasy. Integral to the fantasy genre is the concept of other worlds, very different from our own. In this world, magic is dangerous and should be avoided. But in fiction, we journey through a vast multiverse of worlds where magic is not inherently evil. The stars in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia are sentient beings whose patterns inform centaurs of future events; our stars are not. The Potterverse contains people biologically capable of casting spells using wands and faux-Latin incantations, our universe does not. There is no reason for such distinctions to become muddled.

Furthermore, I don’t think Christians should act on a blinkered understanding of Biblical teachings about paganism to single out those who read or write books involving magic. Getting on that soapbox can damage the cause of Christianity by turning away non-believers who have an innocent love for the fantasy genre. What magic represents for many people is a power beyond the physical world; beauty and glory bursting in upon dull and colorless reality. To condemn this is to deny the very thing that we, as Christians, are meant to be offering those outside the faith. Let us not, in the effort to save people from some nebulous occult threat, steer them away from all the wonder of fantasy–a signpost on the way to embracing a very non-fictional God.


entertainment, family

Sharing Your Fandoms With Your Kids


Okay, very scary topic of discussion today.

The situation: You have successfully spawned a second generation geek. He is big into trying sci-fi, fantasy, books that feature talking animals and traveling through time; when you ask what he wants for his birthday, he says the latest installment of The Illuminae Files or Warriors.

This is all cool — why in the world would I say this is scary?

Here’s the catch: What if, when you introduce him to your favorite fandoms…he doesn’t like them?!

Now that White Fang is of a certain age (old enough to try the above-G-rated stuff), I’ve become very excited to share with him things like Doctor Who, Lord of the Rings, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, and Douglas Adams. While he’s not yet shown any interest in reading Discworld or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he does know the meaning of 42, and he’s officially hooked on Doctor Who.

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A couple weeks ago, I realized White Fang was dangerously close to finishing his TBR — again. Before some of you swoon in utter astonishment and awe, I’d like to remind you that since he’s a rather picky reader, his TBR usually has no more than 10-20 books on it at any one time. He goes through series pretty fast.

The upside is, obviously, all that accomplishment. The downside — what the heck do I give him to read when he’s in between lists?

Knowing I couldn’t get to the library (this was in the middle of the arctic freeze), I scoured my own shelves (spoiler: his are infinitely better than mine, oh my gosh, the unfairness), and set my copy of All the Crooked Saints on his desk.

He started reading it. He got to page 35 and gave me a sideways look. I assured him it starts off really slow and keeps getting better. So he proceeded to page 60 (maybe in sheer defiance at the idea of being beaten by a novel), but was still unsure.

By page 100, he was beginning to grow quite interested in what would happen to the pilgrims. By the midway point of the novel, where things really change for both the pilgrims and the saints, he was hooked. He finished reading with a big grin on his face.

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Seeing his elation at having glimpsed some of the wonder and beauty that is Maggie Stiefvater’s writing, I showed him The Scorpio Races. The light went on in his eyes, and I knew this would be the next big hit.

Part of the joy of sharing your own passions with your kids comes when you discover something new and are convinced they’ll love it, too (especially when you’re right). This was totally the case for us with Kyle Shultz’s Beaumont and Beasley series. At first, White Fang was rather skeptical when I shoved a copy of The Beast of Talesend in his face and basically shouted, “You have to read this now!” But two days later, he couldn’t put it down.

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The trick is to know what your kids are really into. Don’t assume they will inherit absolutely all your dispositions — particularly towards entertainment. Finding common ground is so precious, so do take advantage of it when it happens.

And don’t push it when it doesn’t.

We are not yet up to Lord of the Rings. He has watched the movies of The Hobbit (which we all know are fun, but not exactly Tolkien-pure). He wanted to try to read LOTR first, but after seeing how long each book was, he decided to put that on hold. He’s seen the meme of “You shall not pass!”, and regularly uses it on Muffin and Toby. (Yes, just picture that for a minute. Your funny bone will thank me. I’ll wait.)

There are SO many references to LOTR in geekdom that I really, really want to share with him. But we’ll get there. Just this morning, it was 42 degrees at our house, and he said with the absolute sincerity and gravity necessary to make this quote, “42!“, and I was so proud. One day, we’ll reach the next level. But it is not this day.

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And that’s okay.

Watching the 9th Doctor save the world through White Fang’s eyes is like seeing it for the first time again. Hearing his cries of excitement and terror when he first meets a Dalek or the Cybermen gives me the same chills. I’m very good at not revealing major spoilers, so he gets to be honestly surprised at so many of the twists I know are coming — and await his reaction with bated breath.

It means the future is going to be full of wonderful things.


family, Parenting, reading, Young Adult fiction

Why Adults Should Absolutely Read YA

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Well, nothing like going in, guns blazing, with a hot topic discussion post at the start of the year!

First, how are you all? Did you survive the holidays? Thinking about emerging from the turkey dinner stupor to face the world? Still hiding under piles of discarded wrapping paper with bows and tinsel stuck in your hair?

Well, however you find yourself, I shall welcome you back! Let’s get right to it, then!

A few weeks ago, I read part of a rather irksome/disturbing thread on social media; the jist is that there are a lot of people over the age of 21 who strongly feel that anyone who is old enough to legally drink, get married, join the military, and live on their own should not be reading Young Adult fiction.

Excuse me?? Number one, when were the Reading Police established?! Number two, what is wrong with teachers, parents, pediatricians, school counselors and adolescent therapists knowing what our kids are reading?

And even more, what about those authors who write what our kids will be reading? How can they possibly know what their audience is interested in, or lacking, if they don’t connect with 12-17-year-olds?

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Years ago, parents could just let their kids pick up a novel from the YA/juvenile section in the bookstore or library, and be pretty confident that the content would be acceptable for their age. There were plenty of authors that tackled tough subjects like death, disease, drug use, sex before marriage with tact and in a way of presenting facts and both sides of the debate.

Nowadays teen readers are apparently told to go get stoned, get physically intimate, drive too fast, skip school, turn the air blue with their language. Don’t any of these authors have kids themselves?! Would they really want their own precious darlings behaving this way?

As a parent and a YA author myself, I take this responsibility very seriously. I’m not at all naive — I’m totally aware that nowadays many adults consider kids knowing all kinds of sexual lifestyles, swear words, and various political views to not be a bad thing. Well, I — an informed adult — disagree. It’s one thing to be well-educated; it’s another to instill harmful perspectives on young minds that are still forming their views and ambitions.

Warning: The Invisible Moth is officially jumping on her soapbox.

Encouraging teenagers to wait to have sex because they are too special to give their body to just anyone is showing we love them and believe in them to become solid, confident, well-adjusted future wives and husbands. Telling them the consequences of unprotected sex reinforces that we want them to remain healthy and emotionally whole. 

Warning them against using drugs and too much alcohol helps them develop self-care habits that could last a lifetime. Discipline and high self-esteem will provide our future doctors, teachers, parents, leaders with the power to change society, for the better, for generations to come. Showing them that a clean path can also be fun sets them on course for a productive, respect-filled life. 

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Okay, stepping off the soapbox.

Now, here’s why the idea of anyone “grown-up” reading YA is silly is just: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

1.) YA fiction is simply FUN. Since most children/adolescents aren’t past the point of wanting to believe — at least a little — in mythical creatures or flying cars or that you can access another world through your closet, the possibilities in a YA book are endless. 

What adult in the 21st century (with reality being so damn hard most of the time) wants to only read about fictional characters whining that they can’t get a date? Who cares?! Get out of your own grumpy head and go read about storming the castle and saving the endangered race of beautiful talking unicorns! Dream about being a hero! Don’t lose that passion!

2.) YA fiction provides an escape. Yes, most of us know very well that animals don’t really speak human, hypogriffs aren’t legal pets, and we’ll probably never get to live in a magical library. So?? Let us pretend for a few hours!

Children who regularly use their imagination often grow into big people who invent new technology, new medicines, the prototypes for hovercars, more effective academic systems, tools and inventions that make our lives better. LET US IMAGINE.

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3.) Parents and teens reading together is valuable. In recent years, too many high-schoolers don’t communicate or bond with their elders. Yes, this is a problem, trust me. Concurrently reading the same book or series with your 14-year-old is important. Find a subject that interests you both, and take it from there.

White Fang and I have both read and discussed Harry Potter, Warriors, The Illuminae Files, and Beaumont and Beasley, among others. This activity also gives you a great starting point for discussing tough issues, and encouraging your kids to do their research and develop their own points of view.

4.) Not all of us with a certain date on our birth certificates enjoy reading stuff aimed at that age group. I flatout find most murder mysteries/romances/spy thrillers downright formulaic and dull. Yes, I know that I’m somewhat of a square peg in a round hole in this instance. But it’s a fact, and it’s not changing anytime soon.

While I don’t necessarily want to read about being in high school, either, there are plenty more fantasy and speculative fiction choices among the YA sections than the adult. Plus lots of fantasy YA authors still take care to keep their language and explicit content to a minimum, whereas for adults, apparently ALL the barriers have come down. That just isn’t my thing.

5.) If you don’t have a long attention span or not much free time to read, novels aimed at juveniles are usually less than 400 pages long. This is a big deal for me, since my spare time is certainly limited, and if I can make it to the end of the paragraph without losing my place, then, wow, it’s an awesome evening!

Also, since I currently carry all my library books literally on my back, there is just no way in Hades I’m attempting to haul the latest 650-page New York Times bestsellers. No way, sir.

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6.) Whether it’s my personality, my mindset, worldview or whatever, I simply relate better to characters in YA. If you present me with an adult character who’s narrating about whether they can squeeze in an extra 10 minutes at the gym, or if they interpreted the fine print in their car lease properly, I will be either falling asleep or using the book as a footstool.

Whereas, show me the elf who’s hoping to return the enchanted sword to its sacred mountain before the kraken’s released, and I’m on the edge of my seat. Any night I spend reading Warriors will result in big stupid grins and lots of tears on my face. Finding out a secret about a beloved Clan cat will resonate with me for months.

7.) Reading about characters who aren’t jaded yet, full of hope and plans and enthusiasm, makes you want to have that again. Remember when you were in kindergarten, and making an extra blanket into a cape was the most natural thing? When you looked to the skies with an unending sense of wanting more?

Go for that, whether you’re 25, or 30, or 40.

Save the unicorns! Rescue the flying cats! Storm the castle!

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Autism, family

The Lens

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We all see the world through a lens. We often don’t want to admit it, but it’s true.

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But we need to speak up. Not the neurotypical folks who profess to have our corner — those of us on the spectrum. A lot of NTs do love us and support us being who we are — no forced conforming, no cure. And that’s the part I want to address right now.

We are not “broken.” We do not need to be “cured.” We are simply a way of living, a way of being that the rest of the world hasn’t caught onto yet.

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I put all these pleasant pictures in this post to remind myself that I don’t want to go on a rant today. There are other things I have to get to, and they feel more important this morning than focusing on the negative.

In a very loud and busy world, we are the quiet, the simplicity, the sense of taking a deep breath for the pure reason of feeling the sensation of our body and mind filling with fresh air.

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We hold up a lens to the world, and adjust it until we find the stillness, the colors, the tranquility of rest.

We love, we laugh, we observe. We think, we explore.

We create music and art, we write and some of us dance. We know the power of words and feelings, maybe better than most.

We hope to be accepted, because we really don’t see any reason to change our perspective.

Being appreciated as we are, and even respected, would be just great.

Hopefully one day there will be no need to adjust others’ lenses.

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