Neil Gaiman: One of My Favorite Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors

I've love reading Neil Gaiman's books since I discovered Sandman. I listened to The Ocean at the End of the Road on audible last year, and enjoyed his short stories in several different anthologies. So I listened closely on my way to work when I heard Gaiman giving an interview on NPR. As part of the interview, he read aloud part of The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains, and I was entranced. I found the book on one of my trips to the library I could read it.

The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains

The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains is a graphic novel with haunting illustrations by Eddie Campbell. It feels shorter than a typical novel--more like a novella or a short story in terms of word count. Yet each scene has an intensity and dread that builds to a harrowing climax. The  main character is a man the size of a dwarf, but he reveals that he can run faster and longer than a normal man, and he's far stronger than he looks. He opens the story with a heart-rending monologue about whether he can forgive himself for the things he's done, and he can, except for the year he spent hating his daughter. The mystery of the man's daughter and her cruel fate hang over him as he journeys to a cave filled with cursed gold. His guide, a wolfish man, is a former reaver with dark secrets of his own. He warns the dwarf about the curse, which made life seem duller, colder, and less beautiful after he took the gold.

This book is excellent for anyone who enjoys dark fantasy or graphic novels. It's creepy psychological horror at its best--a treat for all Neil's fans.

Smoke and Mirrors

After reading The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains, I decided I'd like to read more of Neil Gaiman's short fiction. On my next visit to the library, I found a copy of his short story collection Smoke and Mirrors, so I decided to check it out. While a few of the stories fell flat for me, most were creepy and brilliant, and one or two stand out as incredible works of art. 

In particular, I loved Gaiman's "Snow, Glass, and Apples," a memorable and terrifying retelling of "Snow White" from the point of view of her perhaps-not wicked stepmother. Likewise, though I originally avoided reading "Murder Mysteries" (I'm not a fan of the mystery genre), once I read it, it became one of my favorite stories in the book. The story within a story is deeply compelling, and once it starts to fit within the larger picture and the two stories merge, it becomes a haunting tale of love, death, and regret. Gaiman has a gift for drawing a reader into a story only to reveal that the true story is far deeper than the one you originally thought you were reading.

The only stories that didn't work for me seemed ones with a strong masculine point of view. For example, while I appreciated the writing and the story from "Looking for the Girl," it didn't move me all the much, perhaps because I just don't relate to the male gaze it depicts. Still, several stories did give me a interesting glimpse into a man's POV, including "Foreign Parts" and "Mouse." This last story is another great example of the true story not being what you think it is. The main character agonizes over killing a mouse, yet is coldly unsympathetic to his wife after she has an abortion at his behest. It takes talent to make such a selfish and unlikable character conflicted and sympathetic, suggesting that he's buried his emotions so much that he uses symbolic acts to express what he can't even allow himself to consciously think.

Overall, I'd recommend this book to anyone who likes dark, yet whimsical fantasy or horror with a touch of comedy. 

Fragile Things

This is another short story collection that I checked out from my local library. I'm a fan of Neil Gaiman, and I really enjoyed reading Smoke and Mirrors, so I figured I'd read another of his short story collections, Fragile Things. Besides, I've been writing a lot of short stories lately, so I thought Gaiman's stories would be a good inspiration. 

Overall, this collection is even stronger than Smoke and Mirrors. Every story hooked me, and many of them left a lasting impression. I loved "October in the Chair" which had all the ethereal beauty of Gaiman's best stories, yet with a creepy, unsettling note that felt more terrifying for being understated. Likewise, the bizarre, surreal world of "A Study in Emerald" left me deeply uneasy (in the best kind of way), all the more so for the main character's placid acceptance of a horrifying status quo. Other stories, like "Feeders and Eaters" or "Bitter Grounds" had more overt horror.

Not all the stories were creepy, however. "The Problem of Susan" addresses the casual cruelty of C.S. Lewis' dismissal of Susan at "The Last Battle." It's a thoughtful story that manages to call into question the entire "Narnia" series, or at least C.S. Lewis' intentions with it, while telling a haunting story of survival. Fragile Things finishes with a novella featuring Shadow, the hero of Gaiman's American Gods. The novella is easy to follow even if you haven't read American Gods, though it definitely leaves the reader wanting to know more about Shadow and his past. 

I'd definitely recommend this books to anyone who enjoys dark fantasy and science fiction. As I've mentioned before, short stories can be great to read if you feel you don't have the mental endurance to dig into a novel, and this book has a wide variety of fascinating tales.

Connie Willis: One of My Favorite Science Fiction Authors

One science fiction author I love and admire is Connie Willis. She has the rare ability to write profound grief and sadness as well as hilarious comedy and terrifying horror, and I think she writes some of the best characters in scifi. I enjoyed a short story of hers while I was reading George R.R. Martin’s anthology Rogues, but it wasn't until I picked up a copy of The Best of Connie Willis that I realized I'd actually read and enjoyed several of her novels when I was a kid (think around twelve). I'd loved The Doomsday Book and Bellweather. However, after so many years I'd forgotten about her (I'm not sure I realized at the time the same author wrote both books--I could be clueless that way). Yet when I picked up The Best of Connie Willis on a trip to the library, it all came back to me. I even bought a copy of The Doomsday Book at the library book sale, so I could reread it later. First, I wanted to read Willis' collection of award-winning short stories.

The Best of Connie Willis

One of the things I enjoyed about this book is how diverse all the stories were although they all came from one author. Willis writes hilarious misadventures like "At the Rialto" (which is similar to the sparkling wit she displays in "Now Showing," her excellent contribution to Rogues), as well as creepy, atmospheric horror like "Death on the Nile." Willis excels at the slow reveal--the surface of her stories can seem ordinary, but powerful currents move in their depths. The dysfunctional married couples in "Death on the Nile," for example, seem caught up in their interpersonal dramas and touring Egypt even as evidence mounts that something is terribly wrong. "Firewatch" is an exercise in taut suspense, yet several surprises in the end give the story a haunting poignancy. Likewise, in "The Last of the Winnebagos," the photographer's trip to see the last Winnebago forces him to reflect on an entirely different loss.

Willis' subtlety and her insight into human nature make these some of the most profound science fiction stories I've read in a while. She wrestles with grief, loss, and the pain of disintegrating relationships, yet she's also able to write a hilarious send up of literary analysis and Emily Dickinson. I'd recommend this book to anyone who likes science fiction, or books of any kind really.

Doomsday Book

 After reading The Best of Connie Willis and remembering how much I'd loved Doomsday Book when it first came out, I decided to read it again. Luckily, soon after that I found a copy at a library book sale. I'm glad I did--this book is one of the most moving, humanistic science fiction novels I've ever read. If anything, it was even better reading it a second time. As an adult I could relate more to Mr. Dunworthy, and being a mother made the chapters in Medieval England all the more poignant.

(Spoilers) In Doomsday Book, Willis depicts two completely different eras that share a common thread--a future Oxford where time travel is used to study history, and Medieval England in 1348, the year of the Great bubonic plague. Uniting these two world is Kivrin, an idealistic and determined young historian who visits one of the most deadly time periods in human history, against the advice of her worried mentor, Dunworthy. Yet, past nightmares aren't so far away. Even as Kivrin departs (supposedly for 1320, a far safer date than where she ends up), a deadly flu epidemic begins spreading in Oxford, preventing Mr. Dunworthy and the other history faculty from realizing that there's been a terrible error in the dates until far too late.

What makes this book work is its profound sense of humanity. Medieval England is far more filthy than Kivrin expected, and thanks to the plague, far more dangerous. But the people she meets there treat her with kindness and compassion, and she learns to love them. The characters are vividly drawn, from the energetic and mischievous child Agnes, to her beleaguered young mother, to their simple, compassionate, and deeply devout village priest. Willis depicts the deep cultural differences of the Middles Ages while still reflecting on the universal struggles, emotions, and experiences that bind us all together, no matter what time period. The plague is one of the great tragedies of history, and Willis' Doomsday Book expresses its terrible loss.

In short, this is a masterpiece of science fiction with a rich vein of historical fiction running through it. I'd recommend it to anyone--it's the type of powerful, moving story that I think we all could fall in love with. 

Listening to History on Audible

I love audible because like podcasts, I can listen to something interesting and informative while I’m on my daily commute. I think that learning about history can be fun and inspiring, especially for people who write fantasy. There are so many incredible stories and settings from the past, many of which are really under used by fantasy or historical fiction writers, who tend to focus entirely on Medieval Europe. So whether you like listening to history or are looking for good writing inspiration, here are three of my favorite courses from audible.

  1. Famous Romans, by Rufus Fears

I've always loved Greek and Roman history, and while searching the website, I found a series of lectures called Famous Romans given by Rufus Fears for the Great Courses. I'd heard of Professor Fears while I was a student at the University of Oklahoma--he'd been respected and loved by students there. In fact, his classes were so popular, I could never get into one! So while I missed seeing Dr. Fears while I was a student, I figured it would be interesting to listen to his lectures on audible.

In Famous Romans, Fears gives us the history of Ancient Rome via the lives of its great warriors, politicians, philosophers, and poets. From the epic battles of Hannibal and Scipio Africanus, to the brilliant career of Julius Caesar, the stories of these great Roman citizens are engaging and informative. Fears narrates these biographies with passion and intelligence, and is quick to note the life lessons one can find in past. Like Plutarch, an ancient biographer he clearly admires, Fears thinks that the goal of studying history is to learn to be a better human being. In a time when it seems that so many people have little respect for the humanities, it's refreshing to hear someone so vigorously defend the study of history.

Yet, Famous Romans is as entertaining as it is intellectual. Many of these Romans lead fascinating, action-packed lives, full of epic battles, heroic virtues, and great tragedy. Others, like Nero, lead lives of utter depravity. Either way leads to a very interesting story. And that's the heart of what I like best about Famous Romans on audible; it's like listening to someone telling you a series of wonderful stories, with the added benefit of being historical. So if that appeals to you, I encourage you to give it a try.

2. The History of Ancient Egypt

While I knew quite a bit about Greek and Roman history, I knew very little about ancient Egypt, so this seemed like a good place to learn more.

Brier takes the listener through every Egyptian dynasty, from the possibly apocryphal pharaohs of the Old Kingdom to the Ptolemies, including the great queen Cleopatra. The professor, who has appeared on National Geographic and Discovery Civilizations documentaries, comes off as highly knowledgeable and deeply passionate about Egyptology. He does have a thick New York accent, but after a while I found that endearing instead of distracting, especially since his voice has a lot of warmth. As for the subject matter, it was fascinating. Egypt's culture and civilization predates the Ancient Greeks by thousands of years, and it's clear that many of their ideas influenced the cultures around them. For example, although Egyptians usually worshipped many gods, one of the 18th dynasty pharaohs, Akhenaten, introduced the worship of a single deity, one of the first recorded instances of monotheism. His son, the famous King Tut, restored the traditional religion after his father's death.

In some ways, the ancient Egyptians felt surprisingly modern. Although they respected their traditions and were often highly resistant to change, they accepted outsiders so long as they assimilated into Egyptian culture. For example, all the pharaohs of the 25th dynasty were black. They were originally Nubians who invaded Egypt during a time of chaos, then ruled for over a hundred years. Likewise, Egyptians accepted the Greek Ptolemies as pharaohs as well. Clearly, ancient Egyptians were more diverse than you might think. They also had a female pharaoh, Hatshepsut, who may be the first great woman leader we know of in history.

Overall, I enjoyed "The History of Ancient Egypt" quite a bit. Egyptian history is fascinating, and the Brier's passion and knowledge of his subject made it all the more compelling.

3. The World of Byzantium

I decided to listen to Kenneth Harl's "The World of Byzantium," one of The Great Courses series. I chose it because while I've read a great deal about ancient Greece and Rome, I realized I knew very little about the latter part of the Roman empire and even less about Byzantium, the heir to the Roman empire that survived in its Eastern half for nearly a thousand years.

The history of the Eastern Empire, and its evolution from a classical Roman society to a Medieval Christian society (though one conspicuously lacking in the ignorance and feudalism of Western Europe), is a fascinating and engaging part of history that I'd never studied before. Yet without the Byzantine Empire, much of Greek and Roman history, philosophy, and culture would have been irretrievably lost. The lecture series begins by examining the divisions within the Roman Empire that lead to its split, and eventually to the loss of its Western half. Harl explores the career of the great Emperor Constantine I, who builds the great city of Constantinople in what is today modern Turkey. The wealthiest and greatest city in world for thousands of years, Constantine and his successors would use the city to spread Christianity throughout the empire and to rule the Eastern empire long after the fall of Rome.

Yet despite the vibrancy, strength, and wealth of the great city, called "New Rome" by Constantine himself, the rulers never quite have the ability to retake the rest of the former empire. Nonetheless, the power of Constantinople shapes the world as it transitions from late antiquity to the dark ages, through the crusades and the emergence of the Ottoman empire, Byzantium's successor. Much of Western culture, from the works of Plato and Aristotle, to the histories and law codes of Rome, survived in Byzantium and were only rediscovered in Western Europe during the crusades. Byzantine history is also full of fascinating characters, including the Emperor Justinian I, a brilliant man who fundamentally shaped the Byzantine state and its religious character, yet who ultimately could not reconcile the religious and cultural differences between the Eastern and Western halves of the former Roman Empire. 

I'd recommend this course to anyone who's interested in history. The Byzantine Empire and its demise had a profound influence on the modern world, and Harl depicts its wonders and its sophistication as well as its occasional savagery. As a narrator, Harl is clearly passionate and knowledgeable about his subject, which makes listening to him engaging.    

Five of My Favorite Podcasts

1. Aria Code

This is a fairly new podcast from the Metropolitan Opera, that I love. For musicians or other lovers of classical music, this one is a must—it features incredible performances of some of opera’s most compelling arias. But even if you aren’t a fan of opera or classical music (and you might change your mind about that if you start listening to this podcast), this podcast is worth listening to for its thoughtful exploration of character. For people interested in writing or theater, this podcast offers in depth analysis and discussion of some of opera’s most poignant scenes and fascinating characters. The host, Rhiannon Giddens, discusses how composers express a character’s complex emotions using music, drawing on that character’s place in literature. The guest musicians on the show impart their understandings of the role the characters play in the opera and how their own experiences inform their interpretations and performances of that character. What’s more, every episode is entertaining and beautifully produced as well as informative.

2. Podcastle

I got a subscription to Podcastle after I started writing more fantasy short stories. I think that writers should be readers, but it’s hard to always find the time or the energy to read after a long day of work and babies. But I’ve found that scifi/fantasy podcasts can really fill the gap. I like to listen to them during my commute, which is nice because the stories are well timed for my drive. Not every story is a hit for me, but the ones that are, including "Opals and Clay" by Nino Cipri, "Hands of Burnished Bronze" by Rebecca Schwartz, and "Beat Softly My Wings of Steel" by Beth Cato, have knocked it out of the park. These are great stories--the worlds and characters the writers create are unique and original, yet so real it feels you could visit them in real life. The narrators are expressive without overwhelming the text. I'd recommend Podcastle to anyone who enjoys fantasy or listening to stories--it's perfect for a daily commute. 

3. The History Chicks

My friend Sarah Mensinga recommended this podcast to me when I was looking for something new to listen too, and once I started listening I was completely hooked. The History Chicks quickly became one of my favorite podcasts. Basically, it’s two women, Beckett and Susan, who discuss important women in history in a fun, conversational, but highly informative way. If you’re interested history, this show is well-researched and thoughtful, and I think they do a great job of understanding the women’s perspectives and the time periods that they lived in. Also, if you’re interested in writing, they even cover several famous female authors, including Louisa May Alcott and Lucy Maud Montgomery.

4. Escape Pod

I got a subscription to Escape Pod for the same reasons I started listening to Podcastle, at the same time. Of course, Escape Pod and Podcastle are own by the same company, but while Podcastle is dedicated to fantasy, Escape Pod is for science fiction (Pseudopod is their horror podcast, which I also like, but I'm afraid it might be too scary for me:). Escape Pod was the first podcast I ever listened to--I decided to give it a try since I hadn't picked a new book on Audible yet. I haven't heard as many Escape Pod stories as I have Podcastle stories, but the ones I have listened to are very good. I especially loved "Among the Living," by John Markley, a haunting tale about a futuristic firefighter in the aftermath of a terrible disaster, beautiful and heart-rending. It's well worth checking out for fans of scifi.

5. Pod Save the World

I know this show might be controversial because it’s political, but I honestly think that Tommy Vietor and his guests do an excellent job of breaking down extremely complex foreign policy issues and explaining them in an understandable way. If you ever wonder why Vladmir Putin is so determined to undermine the United States or what Kim Jung Un is looking for in his negotiations with us, I’d highly recommend this show. Vietor is passionate, thoughtful, and well-informed, and he has some pretty incredible guests. What’s more, for a show that discusses such dire issues, it always comes across as surprisingly hopeful.

Photo by Juja Han on Unsplash

Three Nonfiction Books Fantasy Writers Should Read

  1. The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England

I love reading about Medieval history, so when I found this book on audible, I was very interested. The book isn't a novel, so much as a popular history based on what it would be like to travel through England between the years of 1300 and 1400 AD. What would you see, smell, and hear? Who would you meet? What would it be like to live there? It's a fascinating concept, one that treats the past more like a living, breathing place than a remote, long dead era.

The author, Ian Mortimer, makes some starling observations. For example, how young everyone is. Because so many people don't live to old age, nearly everyone is under the age of twenty five. At 16, a boy is considered a grown man, one who can lead troops into battle or become a king in his own right. The youthful society goes a long way towards explaining the lack of education and the sometimes fanciful beliefs many people have. Likewise, the catastrophic effects of the Black Death are hard for modern people to comprehend. By the end of the 14th century, England has half the population it had in the beginning. The population didn't recover until the 1600s. Entire villages would be wiped out, so that walking around the countryside might be like being the survivor of a zombie apocalypse (especially since contracting the plague likely meant certain death).

The author also rightly points out that while they may not have bathed as often as modern people, people in the 14th century made an effort to keep clean, despite our beliefs to the contrary. Cleanliness was a sign of good manners, and so prized that people in particularly filthy occupations bathed every day, and soap was a valued commodity. Almost everyone would have washed their faces and hands every morning, and manners required you to wash your hands before every meal. It's true they might not have been clean by modern standards, that doesn't mean they didn't value cleanliness and try to achieve it.

While this book does have a few slow chapters--I found the section on money a bit tedious--overall, it was a fascinating exploration about what it was like to live in a different time. As a writer, I found it an invaluable resource. It gave me great ideas for stories and intriguing details for Medieval settings. I'd recommend it to fantasy/historical fiction writers, as well as anyone interested in Medieval history.

2. The Plantagenets by Dan Jones

I love reading history, and The Plantagenets covers a particularly fascinating and eventful era in English history. It opens with the tragedy of the White Ship, a pivotal moment when the heir to the throne, only legitimate son of Henry I, died in a shipwreck. Without a male heir, Henry I decides to leave the throne to his only remaining legitimate child, the Empress Matilda. From Matilda's line came some of England's best and worst kings (and queens). Kings like Henry II or Edward III are remembered as powerful rulers who dominated their enemies and expanded their territories and influence. Yet, the Plantagenet kings like Edward II, John Lackland (the notorious Prince John of the Robin Hood legends), and Richard II endangered the monarchy and the country with their incompetence, arrogance, and savagery. Their stories are exciting to listen to, and give the listener a great insight into the Medieval world. Although it's a history book, it's almost as exciting as Game of Thrones. All in all, The Plantagenets is an excellent book, and I'd recommend it to anyone interested in history, or any fans of Medieval fantasy.

3. Mindset by Carol Dweck

I've been fascinated by Carol Dweck's research into the psychology of success since I first read about her work in NurtureShock. It reinforced some of what I'd read about in Alfie Kohn's Punished by Rewards, another excellent book that challenges plenty of received wisdom on using praise to control children's behavior. Still I had yet to read Dweck's magnum opus Mindset, so on a trip to the library I decided to reserve a copy. It's been such an amazing and helpful book, I intend to buy a copy to keep around when I have to return it to the library. While I'd previously though of Dweck's research as primarily relating to teaching and parenting, this book goes much deeper into how our mindset effects our relationships, our careers, and our ability to lead a fulfilling life. 

After reading Dweck's book, I started thinking about how our mindset effects writers. Writing carries with it an enormous amount of rejection and criticism, and requires an intense, sustained effort for any amount of success. How many people want to write a novel but never finish even a rough draft? Or more likely, how many have a good story idea but never sit down to write it at all? So what does it take to withstand all this adversity and keep writing? A "growth" mindset.

In her book, Dweck shows that some people embrace challenges as learning opportunities. They see failure and rejection as valuable lessons, and learn to accept feedback without allowing the criticism to sap their self-worth. These people have a growth mindset--they believe they can grow their talents and improve themselves with plenty of hard work and effort. Other people have a fixed mindset--they believe that success is dependent on talent and luck alone. They're reluctant to take risks and hate failure, because it's a sign that they're not talented enough to be successful. The fixed mindset discourages effort, because if you have enough talent, everything should be easy for you. 

It's easy to slip into a fixed mindset when you've gotten another rejection. It's easy to say, "I'm not good enough, I might as well give up." But it's so much more satisfying and exciting to say, I'll try again. I'll write more stories. I'll write another novel. I'll listen to feedback from my writing group, my beta readers, and anyone else who'll give it to me. I've gotten helpful feedback from editors who rejected me, and I'm so glad they took the time to send more than a form letter. A growth mindset encourages me to take risks with my writing. I'll try a different genre, or try writing short stories in addition to working on a novel, or query for non-fiction articles. Quitting guarantees failure, but if we keep going, if we work hard enough, we just might make it. 

My Favorite Literary Cats

I am a huge cat lover. My own two kitties are very sweet and loving, in addition to being adorable.  I also love to read, and I'm often tickled to find that some of my favorite authors write about cats, especially when the cat becomes a fascinating character in its own right.  So here is my list of great feline characters, from very enjoyable books.

1. Webster, from P.G. Wodehouse's Mulliner Nights. 

This book is funny, lighthearted, and pure enjoyment from cover to cover.  But my favorite stories have to be "The Story of Webster" and "Cats will be Cats." In "The Story of Webster," Lancelot Mulliner is a bohemian painter, to the disappointment of his wealthy uncle.  When his uncle is called away to serve as a bishop in West Africa, he sends Lancelot his beloved cat Webster, in the hope that Webster's strict dignity anddecorum will inspire Lancelot to change his ways.  Indeed, Webster is such a well-behaved, dignified cat, and his stern looks are so disapproving, that Lancelot quickly falls under his spell.  But all is not lost--Lancelot only must discover a way to help Webster "unbutton" so he can return to the chaotic life he loves.  But in "Cats will be Cats," Lancelot's uncle has returned to England in some terrible trouble.  All of Lancelot and his uncle's thinking cannot save him, until finally it's the lovable Webster who saves the day

2. Crookshanks, from J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter Books  

I loved reading J.K. Rowling's books, and no list of literary cats would be complete without Crookshanks.  A large, highly intelligent cat, Crookshanks is the only character in the books who immediately recognizes Scabbers as an Animagus.  He is loving and affectionate towards Hermione, who defends him from Ron when he attacks Scabbers, and he is able to sense untrustworthy people. Crookshanks plays a crucial role in protecting Sirius Black in Harry Potter and the Prison of Azkaban, making him a cat hero.  

3. Hobbes, from Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes books 

Calvin and Hobbes are some of my all time favorite comic strips.  Although Hobbes is technically an imaginary tiger, many of his characteristics are clearly inspired by house cats.  After all, what cat owner has never seen their cat lounging in the sun as Hobbes does?  Or has never had a cat spring from nowhere to randomly attack you? But although he's wonderfully playful, Hobbes has a deeper side, engaging with Calvin in philosophical debates, and gently mocking his friend's pretensions (a bit like Webster).  Hobbes' whimsy and his thoughtfulness never conflict; rather, it's as though he has thought deeply and realized that joyfulness and play is the best way to enjoy life.  His thoughtful, self-aware playfulness feels powerfully deep--as though Hobbes has discovered the key to a meaningful but enjoyable life, something the humans in the comic struggle to find in vain.

4. Puss in Boots, from the Mother Goose fairy-tales

Before he was popularized as an adorable swash-buckling hero, the cat from "Puss in Boots" was a trickster who helped his master, a young milliner's son, to marry a princess. Cats are funny creatures, and they certainly can be tricky.  In fact, I've often thought that all the odd occurrences up until the very end of the movie Paranormal Activity could be completely explained by the couple having a cat.  Although some people have criticized this story because it shows the cat getting everything he wants for his master by lying, isn't it more realistic to show that, than to pretend that truthfulness actually helps most people succeed?  Trust me, no one became president by telling the truth all the time.  But in Puss in Boots, the cat's loyalty and cleverness are certainly positive characteristics that my loving kitties share.  

5. All the Cats from T.S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats  

T.S. Eliot, in addition to being a great poet, was also a huge cat lover.  In fact, he loved cats so much that he wrote an entire book of children's poetry about cats.  Andrew Lloyd Webber loved the poems so much that he wrote a musical based on them, and that is how the musical Cats was born.  The book contains so many lovable cat characters that it's hard to pick a favorite--how to choose between Macavity the Mystery Cat, Magical Mr. Mistoffelees, or the Great Rumpus Cat? The poems are so enjoyable to read that anyone who likes poetry or cats should read them.  And if you like musicals, well...

6. The Cheshire Cat from Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

The Cheshire Cat is mischievous and mysterious, at times philosophical, at times pure anarchy.  If dogs represent the loyal side of human nature, certainly cats like the Cheshire Cat represent the allusive, knowable side of our nature. It's like they are the id of our imagination.   

7. Bill the Cat from Berkeley Breathed’s Bloom County

The only cat to have his brain stolen and replaced by Donald Trump’s after a terrible yachting accident (this is a real series of cartoons, pre-Donald Trump running for president. You should look them up immediately. I’ll wait.). Bill the Cat runs for president many times, dates celebrities, and dies frequently only to be resurrected or cloned in nightmarish scientific experiments. But like all of Bloom County, he’s hilarious!

Go to the Library!

There are plenty of writers who like to write outside the home. Just looking around a Starbucks or a Barnes and Noble or an Independent bookstore/coffee shop (remember those?), you're bound to find at least one person writing/blogging or procrastinating when they'd like to be writing/blogging. Yet, I rarely see studious writing types at the one place that seems perfect for them: the library.

I go to the library regularly because I have young children, and libraries are awesome places that have story-time, indoor children's areas, and shelf after shelf of relatively sturdy board books. But after my children get a chance to play with books and puzzles and things, I take a few moments to check out the main part of the library. It's wonderful. There are tons of books, CDs, audiobooks, and plenty of quiet spaces to read or write. And unlike bookstores, all these things are FREE to check out.

What's more, the selection of books and audiobooks at the library is often more diverse than you find in bookstores. For example, while bookstores focus on newly-released and popular books, libraries often have older books that you rarely find in brick and mortar stores nowadays, though they might be available on Amazon. Our local library has an excellent collection of audiobooks as well, with far more selection than I've ever seen in a store. The largest public library near me even has its own adjoining coffee shop!

Most libraries have computers available which you can use to write on if you don't want to haul around your laptop, and WiFi if you prefer using your own computer. They have printers you can use for a small fee, which is a lifesaver to those of us with cranky printers we forever forget to fill with ink.

Since I've started going to the library regularly, I find myself reading more, and choosing "riskier" books or CDs, instead sticking with what's familiar. I think that helps to broaden my reading habits and improves my writing. And if you're like me, being around tons of books has a soothing, calming magic that's all its own. The library feels like a sanctuary--a quiet, gentle space that's welcoming to everyone, no matter what your financial situation. So like Hermione, go to the library!

An Endless Bookshelf

I love books. I probably love them a little too much, because there’s so many in my home that Marie Kondo would have to devote a very special episode to sorting through them with me. Just kidding! I’d never let her near my books. Seriously, if she showed up at my door I’d drive her away with the power of salt and burning sage. I love books!

I may not ever read through all the books I own (though I’ve read most of them, and I certainly intend to try). But I love having enough books that I will always have one available to read or reread, and enough variety to suit my mood at any given moment. I particularly love science fiction and fantasy, but at any given time I’m also drawn to literary classics, nonfiction books about history, science, politics, and folklore, and even occasional thrillers. As a parent and a teacher, I also read lots of picture books, middle grade, and young adult fiction.    

My bookshelf seems even more endless when I consider the different formats of books that I enjoy. I love traditional reading, but I love listening to audiobooks on my commute or other long drives, and while I primarily like physical books, I also get eBooks from time to time. I’ve discovered many comic books and graphic novels I love as well.

Given my love of books, perhaps it was inevitable that I’d try to write a few. I started out writing short readers’ theater plays for my 8th grade students to read out loud in class (a great way to encourage them to read and develop their fluency, and an eye-opening exposure to very ruthless and honest critiques for me). Then I wrote my first novel, tried to pitch it, and went...nowhere. But I didn’t give up. I went on to write a ton of short stories, and I started having much more success and interest in those. After a while, I decided to compile my science fiction stories into a book, which become Sapience.

I’m continuing to read and write as much as I can, and my next book, Saints and Curses, should be available later this spring. My current work in progress is a middle grade science fiction/fantasy novel that I’m very excited about. I hope to finish a first draft by the end of the summer. In the meantime, I’m hoping to focus this blog on the books that I’ve discovered and read, with occasional updates about author events I’m attending and other book stuff. I hope you enjoy reading!