Jurassic Park

Sometimes, it is really hard to pick a favorite book.

I don’t mean that I have a shortage of books that I absolutely love. If anything, I have too many. (A fact that did not stop me from buying ten more just a few days ago.) No, I have plenty of books that I love and adore with all of my heart. The problem is deciding which one to talk about.

You’ve had that happen, right? Someone tells you to choose your very favorite book and suddenly—your mind is a blank. You’ve never read a book in your life. You have no favorites. What are they talking about??

This happens to me quite frequently. Generally, I panic and name the first book that pops into my head, hoping that the person asking will not take my answer as gospel or quote me on it at a later date. (They usually don’t. Thank goodness.) But, if the question doesn’t happen to be about books, I can occasionally answer reasonably. For example?

My favorite season is autumn.

My favorite animal is any kind of cat—even the bald ones. Or the huge ones that eat you.

And my favorite movie is—and always will be—Jurassic Park.

Which brings me to this review . . . because I have spent years declaring that I love the Jurassic Park movies and insisting that I will never—never, ever, ever—read the books.

They scared me.

I picked one up in a thrift store once, flipped it open, and somehow, by an incredible amount of bad luck, managed to land on a page where someone was being devoured by a raptor.

Very messily.

Nope.

So for years, I avoided Michael Crichton’s, Jurassic Park. I loved the movies, celebrated with everyone else when Jurassic World appeared and went to the theater alone at night to watch Fallen Kingdom a few days after it came out. Finally, my wonderful, beautiful editor convinced me that I was crazy and I needed to give the book version of Jurassic Park a try. So, very hesitantly, I did.

And I loved it.

Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park is very different from the movie version. The characters are different, parts of the plot, even some of the world building is completely opposite to what it was in the movie. Usually, I resent movies that don’t follow the book, but this one time, I was excited. I had a new Jurassic Park adventure, and I had no idea what was going to happen.

Michael Crichton is best known for his suspenseful, action-packed writing, and Jurassic Park is one of his best works. The island with its mysterious inhabitants, the scientists who had gone too far with their experiments, and the living, breathing relics of the past combined together beautifully to create a fast-paced, breath-snatching novel that entranced me. The scientific side of the creation of the dinosaurs is emphasized in these books, as well as the cutthroat industrial side of things that was so ignored in the movies. These dinosaurs were worth millions of dollars to the men who managed to present them to the world in a safe package, and the struggle to do that is infinitely more ruthless than the movies let on.

Jurassic Park has always pulled me in with its prehistoric feel and the wonder of what John Hammond and his scientists had done, and the book multiplied that wonder and made it real for me. New stories, new dinosaurs and threats, and—in some ways—new characters were opened up to me in these books, and I devoured them. I would highly recommend the books to anyone looking for more of Jurassic Park.

The planet has survived everything, in its time. It will certainly survive us.

For the Writer Who Just . . . Can’t

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Let’s be real for a minute.

Can we do that?

I’m going to try, anyway. I’ll let you know if it works out for me.

We’re all writers, right? We know how hard it can be to actually write. We know how it feels to sit down and stare at a blank screen for two and a half hours when we really only have a three-hour window to get a thousand words down on paper. Some days are just . . . hard. Ideas dry up, characters don’t cooperate, and we forget how to spell that one word that spellchecker seems to have forgotten exists. And, whether we’ve been writing for ten days or ten years, it happens to all of us.

And, when it happens, we all try to fix it.

That’s a thing, right? If we can just get rid of that one irritating issue, our brains will clear up, ideas will start popping up again, and the words will flow. We’ll be back in the groove, pounding out words so fast that our poor fingers can’t keep up with how fast our brain is going.

It’s going to be great.

The problem comes when we waste all our time trying to get the lighting right, or find the right song, or find that one detail in our research because it will totally change everything. Before we know it, our three-hour (or twenty minute) window is up, and we have to drive to work, or fix dinner, or go pick up the kids from school because if you’re late one more time the teachers are going to think you abandoned your only offspring on the side of the road.

Not ideal.

So how do we get past that first line? How do we work past that mental block and start the words flowing when they really, really don’t want to come?

I have some ideas.

1) Ditch the distractions.

Turn off Youtube. Stop searching for that perfect song. Get off Twitter. (This one is hard for me.) Don’t check Facebook, and don’t text that one person to complain that you can’t think. Switch off your phone, turn off the wifi if you can, and stop worrying about whatever ‘research’ you were doing.

I promise, if you really need it, you’ll come back for it when it’s important. But right now, it’s just a distraction.

2) Stretch.

Get up. All the way up, out of your chair, or off your couch. Stretch. Reach up as high as you can and take a huge, deep, noisy breath while you do. Maybe yawn. Then touch the floor. Or your toes. Or as near as you can to either. Do some simple yoga stretches, if you know any. Jog in place for a minute, or do some jumping jacks. Get your blood moving again, and reenergize your brain. It will help more than you think.

3) Drink water.

I know, this one sounds stupid. But it’s so easy to pass over and forget. Dehydration contributes to fatigue, irritability, and can give you one giant of a headache.

Have you ever tried to write with a headache? Because I have. Not. Fun.

Seriously, if your brain is fogged up and you can’t seem to think straight, try a glass of water. Or even two. You never know.

4) Write an awful first sentence.

The worst, most choppy, awful first sentence that you’ve ever been ashamed of. Cringe when you write it. Swear never to show it to anyone. But write it, and don’t delete it immediately. Just keep going. Jump into your story, forget that awful first sentence, and just get your fingers moving.

5) Have grace for yourself.

This is the one I really want you to remember. The one I want you to practice, the one I want you to write down and pin up beside your computer and chant in your sleep and remind yourself of every time you want to cry or throw your computer out the window and become a sheep farmer.

You are not your writing.

You are not a bad day.

Your worth is not defined by how many words you did—or didn’t—write today.

We all have bad days. We all have days where we can’t write, or we write badly, or our ideas are stale and old and boring.

This is normal, and it is okay.

The important thing is that you are kind to yourself on your bad day, that you walk through it without destroying manuscripts, relationships, or yourself, and that you get up and try again tomorrow. One bad day does not mean you are a bad writer. And if you can wake up after a bad day and still choose to write, you’ve won.

Good luck, dearest writer. May your tea be hot and your dreams wild.

A Wrinkle In Time

I love fall.

Seriously. It’s my favorite season. The cozy sweaters, the hot drinks, early mornings with frost on the ground, pumpkins, candles, and, of course, Halloween. Does it get any better than that? The days are shorter, the summer allergies are gone, and everyone is either buying or being annoyed about pumpkin spice lattes.

Bliss.

Since I have never actually tried a pumpkin spice latte, and, oddly enough, I don’t usually dress up for Halloween, I have my own fall rituals that I like to honor. Many of them include chopping a ridiculous amount of wood to heat my tiny house and collecting fallen acorns to store in my fridge through the winter. (I know what you’re thinking, but it is NOT weird. It’s actually very cool, as you can see here.)

Another reason I love fall is the rainy, misty days with nothing to do but light a fire in the wood stove and curl up on the couch with a cup of tea and a good book. I have a list of books that are my favorites to pull out during the fall. Most of them are detective stories, a few horror novels, and of course, A Wrinkle in Time.

This book has been one of my favorites for a long, long time. Meg Murry and her wild moods, her glasses, and her mouth full of braces was, to me, a reflection of myself. I ran across this book at much that same awkward age, and found someone who felt as passionately as I did, and yet struggled to express it properly, exactly as I did.

Immediately, I was hooked.

Meg and her brother Charles Wallace are the centerpieces of this story, both of them whisked into an adventure that neither of them, despite being the prodigy children of two famous scientists, really understands. The story begins with their father, a physicist who was working on a classified project for the government—just before he disappeared. Meg’s whole family is caught in the backlash of gossip and rumors about her absent parent, but she refuses to believe that he is dead, or that he abandoned them. He’ll return.

She just doesn’t know when.

Then, one dark and stormy night, an old woman appears—quite from nowhere—on their doorstep, and informs Mrs. Murry over a tuna fish sandwich that there is such a thing as a tesseract.

These unaccountable words set in motion an incredible journey across space and time, a journey that will test Meg’s mind and heart beyond what she imagines they are capable of. And—despite the intelligence and otherworldly powers of her companions—it is Meg’s heart and her love for her father, her brother, Charles Wallace, and her own discovery of herself that will pave the path home.

A Wrinkle in Time is a powerful and spellbinding masterpiece. I would recommend it to readers of every age, especially as summer ends and autumn blows in. I hope you enjoy it every bit as much as I did!

“Wild nights are my glory,” Mrs. Whatsit said. “I just got caught in a down draft and blown off course.”

In Which Belinda Meets Her Neighbors

I’ve told you about Belinda Munkindot, have I not? I’ve told you about her sweet button nose and her dreadful vanity and her most appalling foolishness. I must have, because, to tell you the truth, she would be absolutely livid if she thought that I had forgotten to tell of all her adventures. She does so like to be talked about.

Perhaps I had better remind you, just in case you are to meet her in your garden after dusk falls. You might see her flitting from flower to flower among the fragrant shadows, very like a little butterfly herself, and it should be most terribly awkward if you were to forget her name. I’m afraid she can be quite unforgiving.

How shall I describe Belinda to you? I suppose if you, not understanding the fairy language of course, were to look at Belinda under a magnifying glass, you would find her to be wonderfully fine. Her clothes are the very latest fashion, and she is most shamefully particular about her looks. To be perfectly honest, (for how can a storyteller be anything but?) she spends much more time primping before her mirror than she ever does with her nose in a book. And as anyone knows, such habits can only come to ruin in the end.

Unfortunately, if I were to tell you some of the things that Belinda has said, you might not think her so terribly fine. Looks can be deceiving, they say, and with Belinda this must be admitted to be the case. I once heard a frog say (and of course I am only repeating for the sake of the story, for I am terribly fond of Belinda, despite her faults) that she hadn’t a full thought in her head at any one time. And while that may be true, it wasn’t extremely kind of him to point it out. But frogs very seldom are the sort to be very kind.

In fact, being the foolish sort, Belinda has attracted more than her share of attention from frogs. She provokes them, you see, and they find a great deal of pleasure in saying the most naughty, unkind things to her. I think they quite like to see her angry.

Which, of course, is evidence of a very nasty kind of temperament. But what else can one expect from a frog?

The rest of this story, and the remainder of my fairytales, are available now Here. Please enjoy!

Bleak House

I have a To-Be-Read pile.

That means that I have a long list of all the books I am supposed to read. In theory, they are organized in order according to when I bought them. The older books are read first and the books I impulse buy at various thrift stores, Barnes and Noble outlets, or order off of Amazon have to wait until the ones I bought two years ago have had their turn.

In theory, this system works.

In theory.

However, every once in a while (Okay, every single time I buy books) I find a book that I simply cannot resist.

An especially fat, wonderful book that absolutely begs me to slip between the pages and lose myself in the magic of its story.

I am not known for being particularly good at refusing these pleas. So my To-Be-Read pile grows longer and books that I bought three years ago and still very much intend to read continue to wait their turn.

I’ll get around to them.

Eventually.

I bought one such book a few weeks ago, right after my birthday. Bleak House, by Charles Dickens, had always seemed a rather dry and overly long story that didn’t appeal to me much when I saw it in the bookstore. On a whim, I bought it, thinking I would give it a chance to turn out better than I anticipated.

Or be dry as dust.

Either way.

To my surprise, it was one of the best books that I have read in a long time. Bleak House is the chronicle of the ill-fated Jarndyce and Jarndyce lawsuit, a court case revolving around a disputed will that has dragged on for decades, sucking the money and the life out of its victims. The story begins by introducing us to a sweet, even-tempered child of uncertain lineage. Esther Summerson. She is brought to Bleak House by its master and her guardian, John Jarndyce, a man who has been so plagued by the court case that he has sworn off of it entirely, declaring it nothing but a blight on his family’s name. When he welcomes Esther to Bleak House, he introduces her to two other relations of his, both orphaned and left in his care. Richard and Ada.

Between the three of them, Bleak House is transformed into a home filled with light and laughter. The affection between them grows, and Esther is delighted when she detects something more than friendship between Ada and Richard.

But Jarndyce and Jarndyce, and the promise of a possible fortune at his fingertips, draws Richard away from the happy family, and the poison of the law courts changes him more than Esther or Ada would have ever anticipated.

Bleak House is a whirlwind of fascinating characters, gorgeous imagery, and intriguing mysteries. This was one of only a few books in my lifetime that has made me shut the book so that I could calm down. It was charming, it was witty, and it was so intriguing with its mysteries, scandals, and twisted relationships that I didn’t at all mind its enormous size. Truly one of Charles Dickens’ greatest works, and one that I will be recommending to people for years to come.

“Do you know the relief that my disappearance will be? Have you forgotten the stain and blot upon this place, and where it is, and who it is?”

Forget-Me-Not

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The kitchen smells of honeysuckle when I come in from the barns. The windows are open, a breeze that’s fresh from the hayfield tugging at the curtains. I leave the eggs on the counter and climb the stairs to her room, keeping to the wall where the boards won’t creak and wake her.

She’s sleeping when I come in. Her ash-gray hair is still in the braids we twined together last night, knotted together with ribbons and giggles, whispers and secrets. She knew me last night, knew my name, knew where she was, and why she was here instead of in the nursing home. Some nights she doesn’t remember, but I kiss her thin cheeks and promise that I had a good reason for bringing her home.

The best of reasons.

I arrange the flowers I brought her in the vase by her bedside. Cornflowers and wild roses, daises and a few forget-me-nots for good luck. The colors brighten the pale room, bring some cheerfulness into the white walls, the wood floor. The window is open, and the curtains I sewed especially for her are swaying. Blue. Blue like her eyes, blue like the summer sky over the wheat fields. Blue is her favorite color. That’s one thing she’s never forgotten, not once, not while she lived with my father and I when I was small, not when he sent her to the nursing home with the gray walls and tiled floors, not when I brought her home to stay with me after he died. I’d like blue curtains, she told me, and I bought the fabric for them the same day.

She’s done so much better since I brought her home. She remembers that she likes waffles in the morning, that her husband’s name was Mark, that she loved to dance in the rain when she was young. So many things. So many important details. We sit together in her room after dark, and I light a hundred candles and beg her to tell me her stories. All the things she hasn’t forgotten, all the memories still preserved. It doesn’t really matter if she calls me Rose or Eloise or Bethany. I don’t care. She’s always happy to see me, and she’s always happy to tell me stories. That’s what matters to me.

My father never listened to her. He’d swear at her, calling her names and cursing her for living longer than her daughter and his wife. He drank too much and cursed too much and sent her to a nursing home the first time she forgot his name.

I never forgave him for that, although I know she would have wanted me to. If she remembered it.

I brought her home the day after he died. Neither of us went to the funeral. We were home, sewing blue curtains for her window. She was telling me how good the honeysuckle in the wind smelled, and I was laughing at the blissful way she sat on her window seat and closed her eyes and breathed in the scent of the pastures. She grew up in this house, on this farm. It was wrong to take her from it. She belongs here every bit as much as the honeysuckle and the wild roses.

She’s awake when I look back at her. Her blue eyes have that faded, lost look that she gets when she can’t remember quite where she is, and she gives me a bewildered smile. “Hello, dear. Are those fresh?”

I kiss her cheek, savoring the scent of the lilac perfume we dabbed behind her ears last night. “Fresh from the fields this morning. Do you like them?”

“They’re lovely,” her voice is a little faint, a little weak this morning, but I can still hear last night’s laughter in it. “Especially the forget-me-nots. Do you know, blue is my favorite color?”

I smile and squeeze her fingers very gently. “I know.”

For The Writer Who Is Thinking of Giving Up

I do not have a story this week.

Nor, in fact, did I have one last week.

Sometimes that’s the way life is. Things get messy, life gets messy, and creativity goes out the window. As writers, I think we’ve all experienced this a time or two in our lives. It’s very hard to be creative and have a story in your mind when work isn’t going the way it’s supposed to, relationships are crumbling, and the bills aren’t being paid.

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We all know this, don’t we? We’re writers. We’ve all hit a place in our worlds where everything seems to pile up and the stories we’re supposed to love so much just can’t seem to get our attention. On paper, being a writer is awesome. We get to daydream about characters and places we’ve never been, come up with epic fight scenes, explore new worlds, and discover the magic of what our imaginations are capable of. Sometimes, it almost feels as though our story already exists, and we only have to sit down and write it out in all its intricate, beautiful detail.

Being a writer is an incredible privilege, an almost sacred trust, and the closest thing to magic I’ve ever touched.

Except when it’s not.

Because there is another side to writing too. A side with day jobs, and bills that don’t get paid, and a passion you have to sneak in around the ‘important’ things in life. It’s early mornings before work, trying to get in a hundred words before you have to go focus on your ‘real’ job, it’s work that you don’t get paid for, and projects that you spend hundreds of hours on that simply . . . fade. It’s work that people call a hobby, and a business that you manage all alone. It’s choosing to write instead of heading to the movies with friends, and being called antisocial because you want to finish one more chapter before work on Monday morning.

It’s a business, and for some of us, it’s an investment that we’ve poured thousands of hours and hundreds of dollars into, and haven’t quite gotten the payback for yet.

Are you nodding yet? Congratulations. You’re a writer.

So why—in the name of everything good and holy—have we not given up yet? Why haven’t we trashed the manuscripts, pulled the plug, and found a job that pays the rent on time every month?

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Dearest writer, I have a theory.

It starts with being still.

When we are still—really still—and we can forget the hectic jobs, the bills that haven’t been paid, and the dishes that aren’t done, we will hear something.

A whisper.

The thread of a story. The first breath of a character. The tug of an idea.

I have never known a writer who got started because they wanted to rich. It’s not that kind of industry. Stories don’t pay well, authors aren’t generally famous, and critics are harsh.

But we keep writing because we have stories inside of us.

We are creators.

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There is something more to our writing than how many hits we get on our blog or how many books we sell or which agents rejected us and which requested full manuscripts. Our writing is a business, but it’s magic too. When we’re still, when we’re quiet, that magic is whispering. Yes, the day job is still frustrating, the bills aren’t paid, the dishes aren’t done, and that one relationship is still not fixed—and may never be. But our stories are a gift, a privilege not offered to everyone.

For me, that whisper reminds me that there’s more to giving up than just trashing a manuscript. It means trashing a part of myself that I treasure, and I’m not quite ready to do that yet.

I’ll figure out a way to pay the bills somehow, and my dishes will learn to wash themselves. (Not.) I’ll get there someday. For now, I’m committed to enjoying the journey and preserving that whisper.