Thursday, July 21, 2011

Book Review: Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

I was so excited the morning I woke up and found that Patrick Ness had won the Carnegie for his young adult book Monsters of Men.  It was the final book in his Chaos Walking series.  The coolest thing (at least to me) is that all three of the books, including the middle book The Ask and the Answer, in this series has been nominated and made the short list for the Carnegie.  It was almost like a Peter-Jackson-Lord-of-the-Rings-at-the-Oscars kind of moment.  Because of his win, I felt it necessary to read the trilogy again and so started with the first book Knife of Never Letter Go

In this first book, Ness introduces us to a new world along with his two main characters, although the book is told in first person by Todd Hewitt.  Todd and his dog, Manchee, are out for a stroll in the swamps to collect apples when they come across a void in the Noise.  Noise is the thoughts of all living creatures, except for female humans.  Every animal and male human can hear the thoughts of every other animal and male human.  It is a huge cacophony that is surely maddening. 

Todd is the last boy of his town.  His town has no women, no girls and now no other children.  He is just a few weeks shy of becoming a man and he is counting the days down when he will be Mr. Hewitt and not just Todd.  He's excited, but finding this silence has caused Todd a problem.  There shouldn't be a silence in the swamp or anywhere.  Suddenly Todd is having his bags packed by his surrogate parents and thrust out the door with the instructions to read his mother's diary and get to the next settlement.  Armed with just a hunting knife, Todd sets out to find something he didn't even know existed.  As he travels he realizes that so many things he had been told are lies and that becoming a man means joining in on those lies. 

And then he meets Viola, who can't possibly exist and the lies start unravelling to expose the truths behind them.  And now Todd and Manchee have Viola join their escape. Together the three face horrors that neither could imagine existed.  Todd learns what it means to love someone and at the same time becomes a man in his own fashion, facing the realities that have plagued his childhood village and understand the corruption that can come when selfishness and greed are the building blocks of your society.

The only thing that bothered me in this book was the spelling and grammar.  Because this books is narrated by Todd and he has been given limited education, his grammar and spelling reflect that.  Words are spelled phonetically and in dialect.  This normally drives me up the wall and makes me want to scream, "What happens to grammar and spelling in post-apocalyptic societies?" For some reason this book didn't cause this immediate knee-jerk reaction.  (I had to quit reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy due to lack of sentence structure.)  I actually found the grammar more endearing than annoying.  It is well worth the read and I encourage everyone to read this fabulous young adult book written from a young man's perspective in a language that both male and female readers can comprehend.

Currently Reading:  The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick and Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Ten on Tuesday: Beach Songs

Let me preface this by saying that, despite living in a beach town, I don't go to the beach often.  And very rarely in the summer.  I love the beach.  It is fascinating to me.  I've always lived within an hour's drive of a large body of water and I have yet to meet a beach I didn't love.  Whether it was the tan sands of Southern California, the rocky coast of Oregon or Japan, or the gorgeous sugar-white sands of Pensacola, I have found a connection with each beach I have visited.  But I loathe summers at the beach.  The beach is crowded and smelly and hot and even with SPF 937+ sunscreen I burn like a wayward potato chip.  So here is my 10 on Tuesday, the beach song edition (in no particular order):

1. Under the Boardwalk (The Drifters, although I like Bette Midler's version as well)
2. Have I Told You Lately that I Love You (preferably the Van Morrison version, although Rod isn't bad - don't ask me why I think this is a beach song, but it is for me ever since I was a teen)
3. Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay (Otis Redding only!)
4. My Girl (The Temptations)
5. Margaritaville (Jimmie Buffet)
6. Fun, Fun, Fun (Beachboys version)
7. Sailing (Kris Kristofferson)
8. Anything by Meshugga Beach Party
9. Shout!
10. Summer Nights from the Grease soundtrack

Monday, July 18, 2011

A weekend of wonderful movies

This weekend was the opening of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2.  It was "the end" of an epic story.  It was fabulous and I cried and laughed and smiled and cheered and then cried some more.  I loved it and will be going to see it again on Tuesday.  Competing against this summer block buster (that broke tons of weekend opening records) was a quaint little film called Winnie the Pooh.  My children asked to go.  I obliged.  I was not disappointed.  I cheered, I laughed, I smiled, and I even got a bit weepy a time or two.  It was fabulous and reminded me of the Pooh that I had grown up, even with John Cleese doing the narration.  I felt like I was eight years old again sitting in my pajamas watching Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Pot.  Christopher Robin was perfect, Pooh (still voiced by Jim Cummings who has done the voice since Sterling Halloway passed away in 1992 and in all honestly I can't tell the difference).  Eeyore was lovable and Tigger was bounceable as always. 

But the big movie this weekend was Harry Potter.  I can't believe how blown away I was by the movie.  I was on the edge of my seat the entire time and I felt complete at the end.  I didn't feel that there was anything left out that was very important.  I cried when they crowd at Hogwarts realized that Harry wasn't dead and George turned to his now absent twin to tell him.  I cheered when Molly defended her daughter.  I whooped when Neville beheaded Nagini!  But most of the time I was gripping my middle child's hand as she grasped mine and neither of us daring to breathe.  Both of us glancing at each other as we feared what we knew was coming.

The night was hot, but it didn't stop people from dressing up and being jubilant in line.  Even I dressed as Professor Sprout (that's my hat to the left).  I was accompanied by a Hufflepuff student and Gilderoy Lockhart.  It was fun and festive and I'll miss getting to do it again next year.  It still hasn't set in that there aren't any more movies coming out.  But for the past nine and a half years we have enjoyed seeing the movies and getting to be part of the Harry Potter world.  I look forward to Pottermore and can't wait to see what all that will hold for us.

Until then we will just have to go see other movies.  On my agenda for this fall are the following:  Hugo (based on the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret), Sherlock Holmes (yay!), Captain America, Cowboys versus Aliens, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Three Musketeers (I'm a sucker for period pieces), The Muppets (come on, it's the Muppets!), Coriolanus (Ralph Fienes and Shakespeare; do I need to say more), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (without subtitles this time!), and War Horse.  So let's go to the movies!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Wonderful Wizarding World

I told you this was going to be a week of Harry Potter.  I can't  possibly review all seven books (in any reasonable amount of time).  I can't even pick one book that I can say is my favorite.  I love them all for one reason or another.  I love Sorcerer's/Philosopher's Stone because it introduces us to Harry and this wonderful world that J.K. Rowling created in her mind.  Chamber of Secrets is probably the least of my favorites, but only because I find Gilderoy Lockhart so annoyingly vain, but we are introduced to the Horcruxes even though we don't really know it yet and the lovable Dobby.  Prisoner of Azkaban brings us the affectionate characters of Remus J. Lupin and Sirius Black (oh and  of course Buckbeak).  Goblet of Fire, broadens the wizarding world by bringing in more countries and gets us back on track with the reality of Voldemort.  Order of the Phoenix shows us the young characters truly growing up with Harry realizing that he can be a leader.  Half Blood Prince finally shows us the Horcruxes and how important they are.  It sets us up for the challenge that is ahead in Deathly Hallows. 

J.K. Rowling has written this fantastical children's series that is loved by people of all ages.  I know people in their eighties who adore these books.  My two younger children were listening to them when they weren't quite old enough to read them for themselves, fascinated by the imagery.  As they grew old enough to not freak out, they came to the movies.  As I mentioned yesterday, these books are timeless and will be loved by children (and adults) for generations.  I wonder if she knew, as she wrote these books, who all would fall in love with this world and be sobbing on July 15, 2011 as they sit in the audience to watch the final movie.  I can't imagine that she did. 

These books can bring about such emotion.  I have laughed and cried and sighed and had my heart swoon as I read these books.  I smiled with delight and became angry for various characters that I felt were wronged.  I mourned death and celebrated new life.  I even threw Deathly Hallows across the room in anger when I thought Jo had killed off my favorite character.  It took my family nearly an hour to get me to pick the book back up and turn the page to know that Hagrid wasn't truly dead.  I have loved every minute that I have spent reading these books and not once have I been bored.  I don't know that I can say that about any other book I've ever read.  There have been times that I sort of skimmed through sections of books, but not with any of the Harry Potter books.  I didn't dare.  Rowling had a wonderful ability to be able to make everything interesting and important.

You may be thinking that I have found no faults at all in these books.  I have, but they have been so minor that I can ignore them.  There are things I wish I had seen more of, places I wish I could have just explored, characters that I want more back story.  But those are personal grievances and not necessary to the plot.  They may be in little notes scattered on Rowling's desk or locked up in her mind. 

There have been no other books that have made me want to be a part of that world as much as Harry Potter.  The only other fictional place I would want to truly live rather than Ottery St. Catchpole (because I would be friends with the Weasleys and the Lovegoods) is The Shire from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and Hobbit books.  I want to go to Diagon Alley and go shopping.  I want to have a pint of butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks.  I wanted to attend Hogwarts, damn it!  My children each cried the autumns of their eleventh birthdays because they didn't get their letters. 

I am sad today because this is kind of the end of everything for Harry Potter.  There will be no more midnight book or movie releases.  No more known opportunities to dress up as Professor Sprout (or Molly Weasley) and go into public.  It's over.  It's the end.  It's final as of midnight tonight.  But I have hope.  I have hope that somehow Harry Potter will still be an important part of our lives.  I'm excited for PotterMore.  I've submitted  my e-mail in case I am one of those lucky few who get in before the October official opening.  But today is sad.  And I blame J.K. Rowling for creating such fantastic books that have wrought this emotion on this day.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Knitting in Harry Potter

(Yes, to answer your question, Harry Potter is probably going to appear in every post this week, so get over it, thank you very much.)  If someone had asked me who my absolutely favorite character is in the Harry Potter series, they might be surprised by me answering with Rubeus Hagrid, keeper of keys and game keeper at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  What?  Not Molly?  Not Severus (especially when played by Alan Rickman)?  Not Dobby?  Not Lupin?  Not Hermione?  Nope.  It's Hagrid. 

Let me explain.  Yes, I am very much like Molly.  I have a bunch of kids (not as many as Molly, but more than the average American household).  I am married to a geek (and let's face it, Arthur is a wizard geek).  I knit and do other domestic things.  I am fiercely loyal to my family and somewhat doting and we both knit.  But as much as I love Molly.  As sexy and endearing as I find Professor Snape.  As adorable and courageous as I find Dobby.  As caring and understanding as I find Remus.  As smart and confidant as I find Hermione, it is Hagrid that takes top spot. 

It began when Hagrid pulled out a large bit of knitting that somewhat resembled a circus tent and began knitting on the train with Harry on their way to Diagon Alley.  Here was this huge half-giant with large hands and fat fingers (at least in my mind) sitting with a pair of 4.5mm needles (at least in my mind) knitting a ... and that's when the mind goes blank.  I've toyed with everything from a jumper to a hut cozy to a thestral blanket.  But he was knitting.  He was the first character we encounter with mention of knitting.

Lots of character knit, though.  Molly (duh) and most likely Ginny (and I even can see Bill knowing how for some reason).  Hermione knits.  Later we find that Dobby has learned the craft (or perhaps he knit for the Malfoys).  Dumbledore even knits (he loves knitting patterns).  I can see him sitting up at night when he has been pondering where the next Horcrus might be or worrying about a meeting with the Board of Directors and pulling out a pair of thick woolen socks to knit a while gently prodding his thoughts in the pensieve. 

There is no huge display about knitting in the Harry Potter series.  But there is knitting.  It's all around and it seems so ordinary and normal.  But then that's how it is in my house.  There are four knitters in this family, so the fact that there is knitting in Harry Potter just makes it that much more special to me.  And tomorrow as my children gather around the television (beginning at 3am) to watch all seven movies prior to going to the midnight premiere, there most likely will be knitting involved.  And maybe someone will have a good idea what Hagrid was knitting.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

This week's 10 on Tuesday is to list your ten favorite things about Harry Potter whether it is the books or the movies. I'm doing a mix of the two as I love them both. This list will contain spoilers, so if you haven't read the books and don't want to read spoilers, quit now and come back after you've seen the movies or read all seven books.
1. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was J.K. Rowling's break out novel. That such genius could come out of her first book was a miracle. To follow it up with six more books that became even better with each book is pure talent.

2. Neville Longbottom. Neville is one of my favorite characters. I loved him when he was a bumbling chubby eleven-year old in the first book. I loved him when he was the last boy home from the Yule ball. I loved him when he was at the Ministry of Magic facing his own fears. I loved him when he was an "of age" wizard at Hogwart's protecting his fellow students in the Room of Requirement. I cheered when Neville killed Nagini with the Sword of Gryffindor!

3. I watched my children grow up with Harry Potter and our entire family had something to talk about at the dinner table, even if it was arguing which Weasley twin was the best (and why).

4. Molly Weasley. I understand and love Molly. She wants to care for people and love people. She's a Scorpio (according to the Harry Potter Lexicon) and fierce when backed in a corner. I like to think (as a knitter) that her wand is a Brittany Birch crochet hook that she uses to pick up stitches (it could never be a knitting needle because she'd need two and would probably have something on the needles in a time of need whereas a crochet hook can much more easily be accessed in an emergency. (See? Don't they look like they could be wands?)

5. That millions of children (and adults) have been brought to reading because of these wonderful stories and they didn't quit reading after the seventh book was over. They came back to the bookstores to read more.

6. The movies. I have always considered the movies as a visual representation for the book readers. I've heard so many people who never read the books remark how they were confused in the movie. Of course you were because the movies weren't for you. They were for the readers. We understand what is going on. We aren't lost. We get eye candy for all the hours we have delightedly toiled (can you toil delightfully?) over the books. We get to see Diagon Alley, Hogwarts, Hagrid's hut, The Burrough, and Gringott's. We get to see Quidditch! We get to see the magic we've read about.

7. Words. Yes; there are words in the Harry Potter books, but they are used so delightfully. I love Rowling's use of Greek and Latin. I love how she has named her characters with so much thought. Each word seems carefully chiseled from many resources in order to create a perfect sentence. My favorite use of this kind of word play? Umbridge. From Umbrage: 1. Shade or shadow; 2. shady branches; 3. an indistinct indication or reason for doubt; 4. a feeling of pique or resentment at some often fancied slight or insult. Whenever I run across a name or word that intrigues me, I have to go look it up. Xenophilius is another fantastic name.

8. The world of Harry Potter is timeless. It could be set in modern times (even though Rowling has said that it is set in the late 80's and early 90's). My grandchildren can (and will) read these books and be able to relate to them. This is so rare in today's juvenile literature. The last person who did this so flawlessly was Madeliene L'engle.

9. Magic. Magic just intrigues me. I love the idea of lighting a room with a single word. How thrilling it would be to have knitting aided by magic. I would love to ride on a broom or travel by Floo powder. I would adore going to school to learn magic to turn a whistle into a pocket watch and have it sing you the time. I would faithfully go to each class and do my homework just so I could do magic. It would be so awesome to go to Ollivander's to have my wand choose me. I would love to receive an owl post (or send one for that matter).

10. The "I love magic" scene in the movies. There's one in each movie. It's that moment that Harry realizes or remembers that he is a wizard and how wonderful that is. The look on his face the first time he sees Diagon Alley probably mirrored my own. I love when he walked into the tent in Goblet of Fire to find that it wasn't a drab old ten foot by ten foot box but a multi-room house with rugs and carpets and a kitchen. It's OK, Harry. Because I love magic, too!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Writing Workshop?

Today starts the writing workshop that I was supposed to attend in June. (There were two sessions and the first one didn't have enough attendees so I decided to go to the one this month.)  I'm supposed to go with a writing idea, manuscript, or outline, pen and paper to take notes and a dictionary.  I've got my dictionary.  My Webster's New Pocket Dictionary.  (I wasn't about to drag along the unabridged, although I was tempted to take the Dictionary of American Idioms or my M-W Compact Visual Dictionary.) I also have my dictionary app on my phone (very handy).  I have my notebook and paper.  That was probably the easiest thing to come up with.  But then I got to the part where I needed to bring "an idea, manuscript or outline."  Oh I have ideas.  I've got about a hundred floating around inside my brain.  I've even got a few manuscripts (should I take my laptop - I'm thinking maybe).  I even have a printed manuscript (my proof from my NaNoWriMo book).  I have my current Camp NaNoWriMo manuscript that I could work on (but I'd probably blush every time I had any "naughty bits" to read).  Why does it have to be this confusing? 

So I've decided to take my laptop, my proof, and my memory stick.  I'll have pen and paper and probably a nervous stomach because I don't know what I'm walking into.  Wish me luck.  And I'll report back on Monday how the weekend goes. 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Book Review: Room by Emma Donoghue

I read this book a couple of months ago, but never reviewed it.  Since I am still reading the book I was last week (got distracted by a couple of projects) I thought I'd take the time to review this one. 

Room by Emma Donoghue is a contemporary novel written in a very unconventional way.  They story is a sadly familiar one.  A young girl is kidnapped and held as a sex slave to a heartless and ruthless man.  We've seen this story in the headlines over the years and it is very sad.  What is sadder is that this story includes another victim.  A five-year old boy named Jack.  This is his story, not his Ma's story.  The narrator of this book is Jack and I found him to be a sweet endearing boy who only understands that his entire world is a room the size of an average child's bedroom (about 144 square feet).  This is all Jack knows of the world. 

There are parts of him that remind me of Samson.  He's never cut his hair, so this young boy has very long hair. And he believes he has the strength of a thousand men even though he clearly understands fear, he is willing to put it aside for his Ma.  However, I don't believe he truly gains or understands his strength until he cuts his hair.

And then there's Ma to consider.  Ma has spent the past seven years as a prisoner to Old Nick.  She has done everything she can think of to protect Jack from Old Nick and to protect Jack from the small world in which he was born.  She uses all her energy and all her strength until it gets to be too much.  She suffers from toothaches and headaches and clearly depression.  She's at the mercy of Old Nick to give her the things she needs, knowing what it will cost her.

As depressing as this book seems, there is hope in it.  There is perseverance.  There is love.  It is such a well-written book, that I almost believed at times that the book was really written by a five-year old little boy who had always been kept in a small locked cell for his entire life.  I enjoyed watching Jack explore his world and describe it.  There were times that I was angry with Ma because of the lies that she told Jack, but I questioned what I might do in the same situation and realized it would be much the same.  I would tell lies to my child in order to make sure he felt safe and loved. 

This book has been out for a while and I'm glad to see that it is still a popular read.

Currently reading:  The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Tour de Fleece

It's July and for millions of people around the world it means it is time to check daily to see how the Tour de France is going.  Who's ahead?  Who's wearing the yellow shirt?  How the heck do they endure it day after day through mountains and valleys and in rain and heat and sleet (remember that year)?  For over 4,000 knitters this month also means that it is the annual Tour de Fleece.  We spin our fibers as cyclists spin their wheels.  It's kind of the same except without the mountains or hills or long exhausting hours.  If we start to get a blister we stop.  If we get hungry we go get a piece of cake.  to tired to even get out of our jammies, we just spin in our lovely sheep festooned pajamas.  Yep.  It's grueling I tell ya. 

The premise is that you set a goal for yourself and spin every day that the race is happening.  I decided to spin for 10 minutes a day at a minimum.  I've spun a total of 9 grams so far.  It may not seem like a lot but considering I don't spin all that often and I'm using my lovely Trindle to do so, it's a big step for me.  I love my Trindle.  It spins fabulously and my spinning is getting more even each day.  Yesterday I only dropped the spindle twice while spinning. 

The fiber I'm using is a wonderful merino and bamboo blend that I picked up at Stitches South last year.  It looks a whole lot like cotton candy with its pale blue and pinkish lavender colors.  (Xeno cat can attest that it doesn't taste like cotton candy).  It drafts so lovely and is going to be gorgeous once spun and plied.  I have no idea what I'm going to do with it, but it will be something people will be able to see easily (so not socks).  I'm thinking a scarf or hat.

It may not be as challenging as riding a bicycle for 3600 kilometers, but when we get to the end we will have more to show for it than a silly yellow shirt.  And the really cool thing is that everyone is a winner.  I like that kind of world.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

10 on Tuesday: Herbs

Today's 10 on Tuesday challenge is to name my 10 most favorite herbs.  There was a time when herbs and spices were considered two distinct things.  Spices were generally aromatic plants that were generally ground or grated when used in cooking whereas herbs were used whole or cut and were from leafy sources.  Think the difference between cinnamon and oregano.  Today, however, the word spice is used interchangeably for any plant-based material that is used in cooking.  You don't go to the grocery store and see an herbs and spices section.  It is simply labeled Spices.  So here is my list of my 10 must have "herbs."

1. Pepper  (I don't know how a kitchen can function without pepper (allergies aside))
2. Cinnamon (This is a necessary ingredient when making snickerdoodles, so one must have this spice)
3. Ginger (I know I use this on a weekly basis)
4. Basil (Lemon basil is probably my favorite of all, but I'll make due with regular sweet basil)
5. Oregano (You can't have Italian without it and basil and garlic, but mostly Oregano)
6. Thyme (We always need more thyme, time?)
7. Mint (Peppermint mostly, but I love growing chocolate mint because when it rains my front step smells like a York Peppermint Patty)
8. Rosemary (I think this is actually my most favorite herb ever)
9. Lavender (Although I don't cook with it often, I use it mostly for aromatics although I do have a fabulous recipe of lavender cookies and have added lavender water to cake frosting in the past)
10. Lemon balm (Again I use this more for aromatics than cooking.  I just love the way it smells)

Monday, July 4, 2011

Red, White and Blue

Today is Independence Day in the United States.  The celebration of the birth of our nation.  Our declaring that we are a free and sovereign nation.  Together, in one very big loud voice we declared that we were going to take no more.  We were bold and wrote a letter declaring that we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
I love my country, don't get me wrong.  There are just some things about my country that we are still working to get right.  We still haven't perfected that whole unalienable rights and life, liberty and pursuit or remember that those are only among our unalienable rights, not our only inalienable rights.  We also tend to forget that our Declaration of Independence is not our governing document.  That would be the Constitution of the United States.  Two separate documents.  Two separate functions.  Although it saddens me that our Constitution sometimes forgets the principles on which we based our independence.

What does this day mean to most people?  Wearing a flag on their chest, putting up little rows of flags along the edge of their yard, barbecue, beer and fireworks (please don't mix those last two).  People play patriotic music and watch movies that are reminiscent of "Go go USA."  My middle child will be watching Independence Day, the Will Smith movie with aliens.) No.  The other Will Smith movie with aliens.  No no.  The Will Smith movie with aliens where he punches one's lights out.  Yep.  That one.)  I bought it for her this past year when she was frustrated that no network was playing it on July fourth.  We are grilling burgers after I get home from work (yep, I get to work today).  We may or may not go watch some fireworks.  Most likely we will  sit at home wishing that our neighbors would remember that fireworks have been banned this year because of the drought (only official fireworks are permitted).  And because it is my family and we are weird that way we will have an open discussion on what it means to have freedom.  I'm always interested in my children's viewpoints.  They are quite refreshing and enlightening.

So it is Independence Day.  The Fourth of July.  The President of the United States is alive (despite the Fox Twitter feed last night that was hacked into).  Our service members are working hard to assure our freedom (and the freedom of other people).  The sky is blue (at least for some of us).  The world is really a good place to be.  So go out and pursue a little happiness today.  (And if you must go into a retail business, be kind to those who are working so you can enjoy your day off.)

Saturday, July 2, 2011


I love cucumbers.  There is something wonderful about them and I never quite could figure out what it was I loved about them until I read The Red Tent by Anita Diamant.  Towards the end of the book the Dena moves to Egypt and she has cucumbers for the first time.  "But best of all were the cucumbers, the most delicious food I could imagine, green and sweet.  Even in the heat of the sun, a cucumber kissed the tongue with the cool of the moon. I could eat them endlessly without getting full or sick.  My mother would love this fruit, I thought the first time I bit into its watery heart."  Isn't that perfect? 

I can eat cucumbers right off the vine.  I can eat them with our without their skins (although my preference is without, especially for commercially grown cucumbers that tend to have tougher skins). Cool or room temperature.  It doesn't matter.  A cucumber sandwich is wonderful with just a very thin  swipe of mayonnaise and layered on white bread (although it is acceptable on wheat bread).  The less you do to the cucumber the more I like it. 

There are three main kinds of cucumbers: slicing, pickling and burpless.  I don't normally care for the flavor of a burpless and if you don't want to burp after eating cucumbers then don't eat the seeds.  But that's my favorite part.  Cucumbers have been grown as a crop for over three thousand years.  Someone had a good idea with that.  They are a fairly easy crop to grow unless you have squirrels who also think that cucumbers are tasty eats in which case you have to hover over your garden night and day with a threatening look on your face (not that my threatening look scares many squirrels much less my own children). 

If I have to do something to my cucumbers I do very little.  This is my favorite cucumber recipe:

Summer Cucumber Salad

4-5 regular cucumbers
2 t. dill weed (fresh is better, but then I always think that fresh is better)
1/2 c. sour cream

Wash, peel, quarter and slice the cucumbers.  Mix with the dill and sour cream.  Let it sit in the refrigerator for several hours.  (If you are going to a picnic or party, make it the previous day).  Serve.  It will serve about eight, but often times I have found people want this very difficult recipe.  Why?  Because it is so simple and fresh.

It's summer, so go eat a cucumber!

Friday, July 1, 2011

A bit on self-publishing

Yesterday I reviewed a book that was self-published.  I currently have on my Nook several self-published authors.  I have nothing against self-publishing and there are a few of my books that I have toyed with self-publishing.  In today's world there are some great resources for self-publishing that make it truly affordable.  Create Space is one of many print-on-demand services that has very little initial outlay of money to publish your book.  They have paid services as well such as cover and interior design options, editing (from copy editing to full-blown editorial editing) and even marketing tools. There are also several e-publishers including Barnes and Noble's new Pubit! (their exclamation point, not mine) where you can create an account, upload your book and have your book available to Nook owners around the world.

I have wishy-washy feelings about self-publishing.  On one hand self-publishing allows the average person the ability to put their toils and tribulations into a book format.  I actually have a paperback copy of my last NaNoWriMo book (courtesy of being a winner and getting a "free" ARC of my book - It wasn't truly free as I did pay for the expedited shipping.)  It's really cool to hold your own book in your hand.  To see your name printed on the title.  To flip through the pages and smell your words.  It's really really cool.  As a former librarian and current bookseller I get such a giggle out of seeing "my" ISBN  on the back. (Although if I decide to have this traditionally published I know that the number will change, but I have an ISBN!) I have pet my book, stroked its lovely cover and carried it around with me.  It's my first book baby and it makes me feel like one of the Big Kids in the writing world.

On the other hand though, even though I have done copy-editing in the past, I still find my work littered with errors.  I find grammar blunders, misused words and spelling blunders.  You know what those are.  Those are the words that are spelled correctly but aren't the ones you mean.  In one of my books I have a character whose name constantly comes up as Any rather than Andy.  Spell-check doesn't catch those worse because Any is a real word spelled correctly.  It's just not Andy's name.  It won't catch the stupid mistakes like "They're" and "Their" or "moot" and "mute" or "could have cared less" instead of the correct "couldn't have cared less." 

On the other hand (now do you see why I chose Kali for the picture today?), self-publishing can boost your self-esteem, especially if you have been toiling for years trying to get your work published.  You know it is a good story.  You know people will love it.  You are confidant that your work is solid.  You can't find someone who will take a chance on it though.  So you do it yourself.  Market it yourself.  And you love what you have created.  You have a tangible (or digital) book that belongs to you.  It is your book forever.  And people can (and probably do) read it.  You are an Author now because you have a book to prove it.  Ha! Take that publishing world!

Yet on that other hand, there is something about needing the strokes from a Real Publisher to make one feel that they have triumphed.  It's really cool to have Harper Collins or Scholastic or Random House or Penguin or Little Brown (or one of their many smaller houses) printed under your name on the spine.  How fantastic to have that little Penguin flapping its little wings on the spine.  Traditional publishers will generally help you market your book and they can get your book into a lot more hands than you can on your own.  They can send to the mass market book sellers and go to ALA and Book Week and RWA and Comicon and all those really cool book venues.  They make your book look not just like a book but like a Real Book.  It will look very polished and professional.  They will use unique photography that will get people's attention (and hopefully they won't use a similar photo the same year as a different publisher used for a CS Lewis book).

On that (what are we up to now?) fifth hand having a self-published book that does well can help you get your foot in the door to a Traditional Publisher. (We really shouldn't think of self-publishers as not being real.  They are real.  They are really publishing books, but they aren't what we have come to think of as traditional publishers.)  If you show that you have done your market, taken your licks, worked your way through the publishing world on your own and have a book that has done moderately well, that can all make an impression on an agent or editor.  I've even talked to self-published authors who have had an agent or editor contact them after reading one of their books.  That's pretty darn cool. 

Yet (and you knew there was going to be another hand in all this) there are still traditionalist Traditional Publishers who scoff and dismiss those who haven't written the prerequisite nine thousand eight hundred fifty-seven query letters and received six thousand five hundred one rejections (because the other three thousand three hundred fifty-six query letters went unanswered).  They don't care how witty or charming or influential your writing may be.  You didn't go about it the Real Way so therefore you aren't worthy of their time.  OK, so the majority of agents and publishers aren't really that bad, but there is a bit of prejudice in the publishing world against self-published authors.  Go to a writer's workshop and raise your hand when they ask if anyone is published.  When they ask you who your imprint is and you say, "Create Space" eyes will roll.  "Oh, you are one of those writers." They won't even use the word Author associated with you.  It's as if you haven't earned the title. 

Now I'm going to say the part that makes almost everyone groan.  Do your homework.  Whether you are self-publishing or writing your next query letter, do your homework.  Find out who your audience will be.  Find out more about the publisher or agent or editor.  Make sure there aren't any hidden fees or clauses.  Know everything ahead of time.  Don't go blindly blundering into your mistakes.  Take time to really know your craft no matter how you choose to publish.  Make sure your manuscript is as polished and flowing as possible.  Just because you threw up words on a page does not mean you have written a book.  A book tells a story or gives us information in a clear and concise manner.  Make sure you actually have a book before you publish it.  Even if you do it yourself.