It’s the End of the Year as We Know it

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I’ve been quiet these last couple weeks, not from a self-imposed vow, but a life and holidays and I-have-too-much-other-shit-going-on-to-sit-down-and-blog hiatus that turned into It-feels-good-to-keep-my-thoughts-to-myself siesta. As a writer who blogs, the goal of getting a post up can overshadow the need to communicate well. The world inside the internet is very small. You can touch the life of a person in Israel from a computer in North Texas. This is humbling, and so it also is sobering.

So, with my thoughts all a jumble over the holidays anyway, and my brain split in three different directions by noisy characters with big personalities, the desire to blog with purpose took up residence on back burner number one. (Right next to housework and hairstyle maintenance.) (Really, my hair currently resembles Bellatrix LaStrange.)

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I considered writing a thoughtful post sometime before Christmas about not getting lost in the hustle and bustle of the holidays. I decided that would be a false representation of my current state-of-mind, was basically total bullshit because the hustle and bustle of the holidays is what makes them the holidays, and a message of survival of the fittest mingled with let’s just get this overwiths might garner some Grinch comparisons.

I read instead. In fact, when I wasn’t sure I could cope with the way I was actually feeling (which was an unattractive shade of gray-brown) the book in my hand became my stiff drink. (I also had a few stiff drinks, but I am resolving to talk less about my drinking habits in 2014. It’s a less noble goal than actually drinking less.) Books became council, and books have always been friends.

There were moments where I sat up straight, book in hand, glee in heart, grateful for the life of a reader in the midst of a perilous time of year for many. And in that euphoria, I considered writing a blog post about it.

Then I didn’t. Because it wasn’t a story I wanted to try to tell. Not right then, when it was so special, and the book was still hot on my fingertips and soaring through my imagination. As a writer, your whole life becomes source material. Your every experience gets picked apart for the sake of your characters, your followers, your quest for honest storytelling in a world where honesty is hard-won.

In the age of Twitter, boiling down your thoughts into quippy, 140-character posts and cleverly hashtagging feels like art. In the time of Pinterest and Instagram and Facebook friends, the content of our lives becomes a marketing gimmick for all to see. I won’t even say I’m guilty of this, because I am also proud of this. As a person pursuing publishing, utilizing the fabulous portal of the internet to talk to someone halfway around the world about words and books, is essential and heartening and affirming.

But sometimes our lives need to be lived off the grid. Sometimes our hashtagging batteries need to be recharged. Sometimes the feels created by Sarah Rees Brennan, or Cristin Terrill, or Rainbow Rowell deserve to live only in your brain and body and hair. Sometimes, just not saying anything at all is saying everything.

It’s the end of 2013, and I should post a comprehensive list of all the books I read this year that I think you need to read (and I will, but not today). It’s the end of the year, and all I really want to say is thank you. It’s been a long year, but not any longer than the year before. It’s been 365 days of writing, and crying, and fighting, and wishing, hoping and dreaming.

We don’t start over on January 1st 2014, we just start again.

YA Superlative Blogfest: Best in Show

C2013 Banner The YA Superlatives Blogfest is hosted by Katy UppermanTracey Neithercott, Jessica Love, and Allison Miller. It’s a chance to highlight the best, most affecting, most entertaining YA reads of 2013. Get ready to add to your TBR pile!

Favorite Cover —

Three-way tie:

Cutest Couple —

Two-way tie:

Eleanor and Park from Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. I love these two more than almost any two ever.

by Simini Blocker

by Simini Blocker

Gansey and Blue from The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater. I know they aren’t a couple yet, but that scene in the mountains by the Pig…oh God.

by Maggie Stiefvater

by Maggie Stiefvater

Most Likely to Succeed (Or, pick a Printz Winner.) —

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Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. Honestly, this book is a love story to fandoms, and nerds, and authors (which often overlaps), and should be recognized for that.

Most Likely to Make You Miss Your Bedtime (Book you just couldn’t put down!) —

Three-way tie:

Eleanor & Park because all the feels.

The Dream Thieves because obviously I am obsessed. I read it in just over a day.

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The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black because I sat in a chair a read it while my husband gave me dirty looks and tried to convince me to do anything else.

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Best Repeat Performance (Your favorite sequel or follow-up. —

Two-way tie:

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater. I am a broken record.

Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas

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Runner up: Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo.

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Favorite Finale or End of Series Novel—

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The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson. One of the most satisfying series enders I’ve read. We could all learn a thing or ten from Rae Carson.

Romance Most Worthy of an Ice Bath—

Two-way tie:

Wren and Charlie in The Infinite Moment of Us by Lauren Myracle. I mean, if you’ve read it, you’ll know. I am actually a twelve-year-old girl who giggles and blushes when she reads sexy scenes. These two embarrassed me.

Celeana and Chaol in Crown of Midnight. Oh my holy geez.

Breakout Novel (Your favorite book by a debut author.) —

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Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis. The voice is so unusual, and the story has a quiet power that sneaks up on you. I don’t know what a “debut” should feel like to read, but this book definitely read like it was written by a seasoned storyteller.

Best Old-Timer (Your favorite read of the year, published BEFORE 2013.)

Two-way tie:

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

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Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

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Book Most Likely to Make a Grown Man Cry—

Eleanor & Park. If this book doesn’t make you cry, your heart may seriously be stone. Like, get it checked out pronto, Tin Man.

Most Pleasant Surprise (Best book you didn’t think you’d like, but totally did.) —

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OCD Love Story by Cory Ann Haydu. I won this on Twitter from Alison Cherry, and was bummed because I wanted The Dream Thieves. (I entered every ARC contest I came across for The Dream Thieves. It was a admittedly, not my finest hour.) I ended up being totally enthralled and emotionally invested in this book. I wouldn’t have read it otherwise, so I’m glad I ended up with it.

Most Creative Use of a Love Triangle —

Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo. Or quadrangle. She’s with Mal. She’s wooed by Nikolai. She’s seeing visions of the Darkling. It’s all very sexy and confusing for Alina and me.

Sleeper Hit (Book you found so awesome you wish it had been hyped more.)

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Poison by Bridget Zinn. The frothy, fabulous narration. The magical, whimsical world-building. Bridget Zinn passed away before her book debuted, and that made it extra sweet and special to read this already brilliantly done debut novel. If you haven’t read it, do!

Favorite Outlier (Your favorite middle grade or adult 2013 book) —

I don’t have any. This is really, quite sad. I have problems.

Now for my own Superlative category…

Twist Ending/Plot Point that Most Caught You Off-guard (Spoiler Free) —

17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma. Just so unexpected and so much more painful than I was prepared for.

The Evolution of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin. I couldn’t turn pages fast enough. Then I just wanted to go back and un-know what I knew.

Honorable Mention:

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Allegiant by Veronica Roth. I still don’t know how I feel about this. I may never. I will just have to accept that.

I read an article once (and this isn’t it, but it’s basically the gist) that no matter how many books we read per year (40 for me this year so far) we will NEVER read all the books published. We will never get “caught up”, because every year there will be books published we can never get to, and there are always classics we haven’t made time for, and etc., etc., etc.  

Putting together my responses for the Superlatives, I was overwhelmed by the volume of books read in 2013 that truly exceeded my expectations, and even more by the amount of books I can’t wait to read, and again was reminded that I will never read them all, no matter how hard I try. 

Having a problem of too many books to read, that is a very good problem to have!

YA Superlative Blogfest: Elements of Fiction

C2013 Banner

The YA Superlatives Blogfest is hosted by Katy UppermanTracey Neithercott, Jessica Love, and Allison Miller. It’s a chance to highlight the best, most affecting, most entertaining YA reads of 2013. Get ready to add to your TBR pile!

Most Envy-Inducing Plot (Or, the plot you wish you’d thought of yourself.) —

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The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater. This is part me wishing I had come up with this plot, which is totally mind-boggling, another part my desire to write like Maggie Stiefvater, and the rest, embarrassingly, a longing to write Gansey kissing scenes. There is no reality in which any of these things are possible, and my pride (flimsy as it is) will not allow me to write Gansey fan fiction.

Most Formidable World (Or, the setting you definitely would NOT want to visit.)—

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Rural Ohio without water from Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis. First of all, it takes place in Ohio. It’s not a place I long to visit period let alone post-apocalyptically. Second, there is a water shortage, starving coyotes, and a bunch of horny men with guns. Nothing is easy in this world and nothing is safe. Third, it’s lonely and isolated.

Wanderlust-Inducing (Or, the setting you’d happily travel to.) —

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The world of Mages in The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas. Much like in Harry Potter, this world exists within but separate from our own. It’s a place where magic is real, and controlling the elements is a skill to kill for. It’s set in England, which I am programmed to love from early childhood thanks to The Secret Garden and The Chronicles of Narnia. There’s a magical book that allows you to traverse fantasy kingdoms like a virtual reality video game. There’s a hot Prince…I’m straying from my point…it’s all the things I enjoy about fantasy plus the UK and an all-boys school.

Loveliest Prose —

(A tie and a cheat.)

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The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (not published in 2013, but I read it in 2013). Cadence is a big draw for me. As is atmosphere. As is language choice. More than her other books (which also have all the things I love) The Scorpio Races sings. It yearns. You can feel the wind whipping your face, soaking your skin with soggy air. I never stumbled while reading, I was just swept away.

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17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma. There are moments when you actually almost think you can smell fire. When the snow crunches beneath your feet. When the whole broken world she’s created just crumbles and you are left unable to pick up the pieces.

Best First Line —

I find this basically impossible to answer. So I will do it multiple times.

Fire was easy.

~ The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas

A secret is a strange thing.

~ The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

He’s stopped trying to bring her back.

~ Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

The boy and girl had once dreamed of ships, long ago, before they’d ever seen the True Sea.

~ Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

Most Dynamic Main Character —

Art by Cassandra Jean

Art by Cassandra Jean

Richard Gansey (The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater) You could argue there isn’t one main character in these books because it’s an ensemble cast. You can argue that, but for me there would be no Raven Boys without Gansey. The story wouldn’t — no, couldn’t — exist without him. Gansey is their leader, their driving force. If you look up dynamic in the dictionary you will find a picture of Gansey (because I pasted it there to make my point). He is the epitome of dynamic because his depths are unseen by the casual onlooker. (I have a Gansey problem. I’m seeking help.)

Most Jaw-Dropping Ending — 

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I think many of us will say Allegiant. I did the flip backwards and forwards. I did the WTF, Veronica? I did the stare into nothing from bewilderment.

Best Performance in a Supporting Role —

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Nikolai (Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo) Usually you want the girl to love the guy. With Nikolai, I don’t mind if Alina doesn’t end up with him. He’s my love interest. He stands on his own feet, is powerful but kind, a secret brainiac, and an actual prince. He’s not just a game piece in the story, but a person you end up wishing you knew.

Best Use of Theme —

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The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson. Throughout the series, Elisa is faced with a complicated question: Is she powerful because of her Godstone, or is she powerful because she’s intelligent and fearless? I think Rae Carson does a beautiful job of examining the difference between destiny and choice, between being a person of faith and a zealot, between being just and being vengeful.

YA Superlative Blogfest: Popularity Contest

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The YA Superlatives Blogfest is hosted by Katy UppermanTracey Neithercott, Jessica Love, and Allison Miller. It’s a chance to highlight the best, most affecting, most entertaining YA reads of 2013. Get ready to add to your TBR pile!

Class Clown — 

Noah Czerny (The Raven Cycle series) Slightly traumatized and a bit self-depracating, but quite funny if you can get past that.

Most Likely to Become a Rock Star—

Jace Wayland (The Mortal Instruments) Body. Runes. Hair. Face. Who cares if he can sing? I’d pay to watch him on stage.

Mostly Likely to Start a Riot —

Ronan Lynch (The Raven Cycle series) And I would want to watch.

Biggest Flirt —

Celeana Sardothien (Throne of Glass) I girl crush her, but that is not important. She’s already proven willing to use her feminine wiles to get what she needs.

Fashion King and/or Queen —

Isabel Lightwood (The Mortal Instruments) The leather-clad version.

Girl You’d Most Want For Your BFF —

Alina Starkov (The Grisha trilogy) She’s the Sun Summoner, guys. She got a great sense of humor and could probably handle her liquor cause she’s Ravkan. We’d get into trouble, but it would be fun.

Boy You Wish You’d Dated in High School —

Richard Gansey (The Raven Cycle) Gansey relocates my heart to my stomach. He’s someone I would have secretly crushed on in high school, but watched from afar. His intensity and passion would make me want to follow him anywhere, a skill he has utilized in the past to get what he needed. He’s got a depth and charisma that makes him equally lovable, heartbreaking, and intimidating.

Runner Up: Noah Shaw (The Mara Dyer trilogy) because he comes off as an asshole and isn’t really. Also, not marriage material. Also, sexy.

(I think I should be applauded for my restraint. I didn’t just answer Jon Snow when I totally could have.)

Most Likely to Become President —

Tobias Eaton (Divergent trilogy) He’s a true leader, even if he’s deeply flawed and can be swayed to extremes. As a politician, I believe he would be very effective.

Quirkiest Character —

Gavriel (The Coldest Girl in Coldtown) For a vampire, he’s quite unusual, and not in the boring sense (*coughs* Edward). He’s also half-way to crazy town, but it comes off as endearing and a little sexy.

Villain You Love to Hate —

The Darkling (The Grisha trilogy) I can’t imagine a villain I would want to kiss — I mean kill — more.

Favorite Parental Figure —

Park’s Mom and Dad (Eleanor & Park) Two of my crying fits while reading that book involved his parents. They are flawed, but their unconditional love for their son isn’t.

Runner up: Maura, Calla and Persephone (The Raven Cycle) Blue’s Mom and aunts are aware, involved, but hands off. They allow Blue to run around doing crazy shit with her raven boys because they trust her judgement, but they don’t stick they’re heads in the sand either.

Coolest Nerd —

Cath (Fangirl) Because being a nerd is cool.

YA Superlative Blogfest: Head of Class

C2013 Banner

The YA Superlatives Blogfest is hosted by Katy Upperman, Tracey Neithercott, Jessica Love, and Allison Miller. It’s a chance to highlight the best, most affecting, most entertaining YA reads of 2013. Get ready to add to your TBR pile!

Favorite Dystopian —

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Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis. I choose this book because it’s an unusual take on the dystopian genre. The rural setting and quiet story were deeply affecting, haunting even. Lynn, the protagonist, is one of the most unusual voices I’ve read this year.

Favorite Science Fiction —

So, I need some more straight Sci-Fi in my reading life. I WATCH oodles of science fiction, but I only have two books on my list this year. Since I had lukewarm feelings about both, I refuse to answer.

Favorite Fantasy —

I think it’s nefarious to peer pressure me into answering this question. I am a fantasy writer. I definitely read more fantasy than any other genre, which means almost all my answers can also be considered fantasy. I am picking two. (three)

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The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater. I can’t talk about these books coherently. The Raven Boys was my first read on 2013, and then I reread it before The Dream Thieves (which I read in a little over a day). Feels. I feel too many things about this series. It makes my stomach swim. Maggie Stiefvater is easily my favorite author.

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Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas. I enjoyed Throne of Glass, but Crown of Midnight destroyed me. It is YA High Fantasy at it’s best. It is all the things I love about High Fantasy with a super-freaking-sexy love story woven in.

Favorite Contemporary —

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Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. Duh. I was late to the Rainbow Rowell fan club, but I’m now a firm believer. This book will make my top five for the year. I can’t begin to explain it, and nothing I say can prepare you for the experience of reading it. I had heard nothing but praise and still I was shocked by my reaction.

Favorite Action/Adventure —

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Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo. It counts. They’re on a quest through a big chunk, on the run through another, and it’s just so flipping fantastic the whole time.

Favorite Historical Fiction —

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The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. Yeah, it’s not ACTUALLY historical fiction, but it works because it takes place in a historical setting. Plus, it’s brilliant. I seriously loved this book. It’s all atmosphere and feels.

Favorite Comedy —

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I don’t know that I read anything truly considered COMEDY this year. But the book that made me laugh most was Austenland (which I know isn’t YA, but it’s the best I can do.) by Shannon Hale. It was also a super fast, lighthearted read.

Favorite Mystery —

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17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma. This could almost be a Genre Bender, the story is that layered. It is not what you expect, which makes it a successful mystery.

Favorite Romance —

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The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson. It counts. It’s the love story I love the best.

Favorite Paranormal —

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The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black. This one is a love or hate situation. I loved it. I didn’t ever willingly put this book down.

Favorite Family Drama —

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A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. I know it’s not YA, I know it’s fantasy, but if A Game of Thrones isn’t one messed up family drama, I don’t know what is.

Favorite Genre Bender —

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The Evolution of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin. This book seems paranormal, kind of has a mystery, and also is a love story. Noah Shaw is one of the sexiest boys ever written.

The Frozen Wood

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The Frozen Wood can only be found on the coldest days of the harshest years. Stark gray, orange and brown, shivering beneath winds blustering breath. The Frozen Wood moves slowly, an icy dance with nowhere to go, bending branches to break.

IMG_5192Brooks run through the Frozen Wood, where they flee or if they’ll last until nightfall, no one can know. They move, only, and until they can move no more. Trees lean in to one another, chattering leaves, shuddering trunks, stilling themselves for anther gust.

IMG_5191The Frozen Wood makes everything unseen visible. Hiding is for Summer Woods, pregnant with green to bursting, intertwined branches and vine, hollows concealed. In the Frozen Wood, what was safe becomes exposed.

IMG_5153There are paths through the Frozen Wood, roads to somewhere anyone can go. Where cars speed by and strangers linger, where cities grow and worlds collide. Where everything thaws, sliding by to tomorrow. In the Frozen Wood, time stills.

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The Frozen Wood is full of jagged edges and hidden nooks where only icicles can fit. Rocks and branches press together, trying to escape the snow invaders on all sides. A silent war of what is, and what has come.

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The Frozen Wood is a chilly playground. It’s a slide that never ends. It’s a mystery that must be solved. It’s a death to be avenged. There is laughter in the Frozen Wood, and also tears. There are ends that melt into beginnings.

IMG_5200When walking in the Frozen Wood, remember always your way home. Where chocolate can be heated, and fires lit, where wool blankets the hills of pillows instead of snow, where laughter resounds and stillness flees.

Go to the Frozen Wood one day, if you can find the way.

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All photographs contained in the post belong to Rebekah Faubion.

What’s Up Wednesday: The Still Recovering From NaNo Edition

I have a long standing ill-fated, unattractive relationship with the month November. This year alone I wrote two blog posts on it (can be read here and here if so inclined), and I’m still not sure how I faired.

Then there was NaNoWriMo and my own foolish ambition. I wish I was one of those people who had a well-crafted gracious loser face.

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Alas, I am not. As the end of November, and NaNo, flew toward me like a wrecking ball, I had already accepted certain NaNo defeat. It looked a lot like this, only not as adorable.

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But I was. Or I didn’t write 50,000 words I wrote 30,000 and some change. I didn’t heave a heavy sigh of regret, or gleam with pride, but merely carried on in an almost stoic way. I could have cheated. I have over 50,000 words on the manuscript I was working on for NaNo.

I could have lied and won and be sharing my pretty banner of winning right now instead. But I took the high road. And I thought of my fellow NaNoer’s, and my CPs who were all doing this with me, and I said no to cheating. It looked a lot like this, only  crazier.

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So I managed to enjoy Thanksgiving, even though my head was full of snot and I just wanted to drink some whiskey and go to bed. I contemplated how I could have won NaNo, what I will try to do next year (and probably won’t because the best laid plans…) and how, ultimately it’s just fine.

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Acceptance is the first step to recovery. Hey, I still wrote 30,000 words in less than a month. There really should be a “participation” award with NaNo. Maybe a giant banner that says, You’re good, just not good enough! and then in the corner Proud NaNoWriMo loser, 2013.

As for What’s Up this Wednesday* with me, a whole lot of pacing myself and blowing my nose.

What I’m Reading: Finished The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas, and ended up loving it way more than I anticipated from the first fifty pages. It took me a while to get into this one, but it was worth the investment. Also, Prince Titus. Yes. I just started Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, and oh my holy mind-meld this book mirrors my late-adolescent self in a very real way and embarrassing way. All those who insisted I read Rainbow Rowell, I give you a well-deserved salute.

What I’m Writing: Wrote my first words of December yesterday, and they felt good. Went back and read through notes and pages from November, constructing a plan to finish this novel in the next month or so. I need workable pages for my Djerassi Retreat in February, so no more slacking! I also began work on a feature length Screenplay. It feels really good to write in this medium again, especially after NaNo. The story is not something I could produce myself, and not fantasy, and not at all what I normally write. Did I mention it feels really good?

What Inspires Me: At the risk of sounding like an asshole, myself. (I’m gonna let that stew for a minute.)

Ok. When I say myself I mean fangirls and boys. People invested in the many varied Fandoms available. People who understand the need to relate to one another through fantasy. This is helped along by Fangirl, and by the screenplay I’m writing, and because all my favorite people are fans.

What Else I’m Up To: Being sick. Cleaning up from hosting Thanksgiving. Decorating for Christmas. Reading to my son. It’s December guys, lets go wassailing.

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*What’s Up Wednesday is a weekly meme geared toward readers and writers, allowing us to touch base with blog friends and let them know what’s up. Should you wish to join us, you will find the link widget at the bottom of Jaime’s blog. WUW Winter Holly 1