The Year in Books: 2019

Welcome to the Twenties! How weird does that sound? I had an extra busy final week of the year so my yearly wrap up post is just a touch late.

2019 saw me primarily occupied with getting up to speed in my new job. But I also wrote more this year than I have in a very long time. I sold two stories and saw one of them published in 2019. If you haven’t already you can listen to my take on Beauty and the Beast, the Rose Sisterhood, on Cast of Wonders. Leigh Wallace’s narration is excellent.

Most of my writing-related activities in 2019 centered on my monthly meetings with my awesome critique partners. In addition I attended Fourth Street Fantasy again and have every attention to go again in 2020. I also hosted another 2-Page Workshop for MinnSpec.

Okay Enough about me, time to gush about my friends. Two of my Viable Paradise 20 classmates published novels this year. I got to read the opening chapters of Valerie Valdes’s Chilling Effect at VP and fell in love with it. I was thrilled when the rest of the book was as funny and irreverent and heartfelt as those first chapters. I highly recommend it! I also read the first chapter of AJ Hackwith’s Library of the Unwritten. And while I have not yet read the full novel (though I will be soon) I have no doubt it will be as good as the amazing sample I read on the Island.

Several other of my VP classmates had good years, publishing stories and poems and putting out Hugo nominated podcasts. So if you are looking for even more reading material check out Wren Wallis, Karen Osborne, Jo Miles, and Jennifer Mace.

On to the book talk!

My favorite reads were, in no particular order:

Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes

Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

Wayward Sons by Rainbow Rowell

Pumpkinheads also by Rainbow Rowell.

The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas

Puddin‘ by Julie Murphy

Wintersmith, I Shall Wear Midnight, and The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett

The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal

What can I say? I read a lot of good stuff in 2019.

By the Numbers

76 books read in total

43 print books. 33 audiobooks. 4 ebooks. 32 comics/graphic novels.

16 library books. 6 borrowed.

31 YA. 7 MG.

Favorite Authors:
3 Rainbow Rowell. 2 Seanan Maguire. 2 Catherynne M Valente. 3 Terry Pratchett. 1 Julie Murphy. 3 Holly Black. 1 Maggie Stiefvater

2019 also saw adaptations of two of my favorite albeit very different books. BBC and Amazon’s Good Omens miniseries was a highlight of the year.

And Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women was a surprisingly fresh take on a 150-year-old classic.

And though it wasn’t based on a book Rian Johnson’s murder mystery, Knives Out, was a treat for this book lover and made me covet the house it was set in.

Another highlight was Moving Theater Company’s Cabal a play/escape room event. IT was immersive and inventive.

So that was the year in Books. Let’s see what 2020 will bring.

The Textile Strikes Back

Lace Stormtroopers part 2.

Before I get to the second batch of lace troopers I wanted to share a picture of my niece wearing the storm trooper hat I made her.

This was one of the troopers from the first batch.

With the second batch I did things mostly the same way as laid out in the first post. The key differences were that the lace was not a stretch fabric, the template I used was larger, and I went with the updated helmet design from the Force Awakens.

I used this picture as my template. This design ended up being much less complex to recreate in fabric than the original.

First step was to cut out a basic helmet shape from the lace for the base. Then sewed a square of black fabric to the base. I used some black velvet I had in my scrap pile. Then on top of that, I sewed on three lace pieces that created the updated helmet look. Finally, I sewed on a visor and lens details using thin black knit. The result being these.

Not bad but it needed something extra. So I decided that these weren’t just any lace troopers, these were going to bloody handprint Finn style Lace troopers. And I just so happened to have bought a starter pack of embroidery floss from target for a different project, with a nice bold red thread. So I decided to embroider the handprint on to the lace.

One small problem. I didn’t know how to embroider. So several tries and Youtube and Pinterest searches later, I had accomplished this.

That is a chain stitch, which I now knew how to do. But that wasn’t good enough. The bloody fingerprints had to be solid red. So a brief tutorial on the satin stitch, several more tries, and at least two more trips to Target to buy multiples of the same starter kit, because I kept running out of the thread and needed the same thickness and shade of red. (Which incidentally meant I ended up with about seven times of all the other colors in the kit. And what I ended up doing with them is another post entirely.) But at the end of the day, I had these.

Two bloody-handed lace troopers and/or abstract roosters, ready to be applied to the item of my choice.

I chose throw pillows. I used a blanket stitch (also learned off of youtube) to sew them on. On my first attempt even with it pinned in place it bunched up went all crooked. So I tore up the stitches, ordered a set of embroidery hoops from Amazon, and two days later tried again with the hoops, with better results. Although one still ended up a little tilted.

And there you go!


Again, if anyone out there decides to create their own lace stormtroopers, or  sith lords, or Mandalorians etc. please share the pictures.

Empire and Old Lace : A how-to

40 years ago today Star Wars: A New Hope premiered, though it was simply called Star Wars back then. So today seems as good a time as any to post a geeky craft project I came up with.

Lace Stormtroopers!

Queue the “oohs and ahs.” Feel free also to admire my terrible selfie taking skills.

This all started when I picked up a lace tee shirt at a clothing swap with the intent of using it for crafts. The problem was I had no clue what kind of craft. But eventually the idea to make stormtrooper helmets in lace came to me and I could not get it out of my head.

Here is a step by step should anyone want to try it for themselves. Unfortunately, when I was making these, I didn’t plan on creating a how-to, so I didn’t take pictures of every step. And of the pictures I did take, some have errors. So if you do want to make a lace stormtrooper of your own I advise reading the whole post before starting.

You’ll need:

White lace (one size L shirt produced two medium sized trooper helmets and one mini, with scrap leftover. Or you can purchase the lace of your choice by the yard.) The shirt I used was stretch material, but it caused some difficulties when sewing, so I would use a nonelastic fabric next time.

Black fabric of your choice. I used an old black shirt from my scrap bag.

Black thread.

White thread.

Optional dark gray fabric for some of the helmet details. The black will work fine for this but I had dark gray fabric in my scrap bag so I used it for the nose piece.

A shirt, jacket, hat, etc. to sew it on to.

Sewing machine optional. This can all be done by hand, but I did most of it on the machine. Go with whichever method you’re most comfortable with.

A printout of a trooper helmet to use as a template.

Step 1

Cut a decent sized square of lace. Pin the template to the lace and cut the fabric into an approximation of the helmet shape.

You’ll notice that when I cut the printed helmet, I left space around the outline.

Once cut, it’ll look like this,

Unpin the template (but don’t throw it away) and you’ll have this,

Viola, you’re done. Enjoy your lace trooper! Kidding. This is the bottom layer of your helmet. The details get sewn onto this.

Step 2

Pin the template to another square of lace and cut out just the visor portion of the helmet. You will want to cut the paper template with the fabric this time. Cut the remaining white sections of the helmet.

I forgot to take pictures of them laid out individually, but that is the visor piece, and the jaw and nose piece laid on top of the piece that you cut in step 1. Don’t worry if the pieces don’t fit together perfectly.

Alternately you can skip this step and sew all the detail pieces directly on the base and end up with a nice looking lace stormtrooper. I did that for the mini, but I chose this layered method for the larger ones to create an illusion of depth. And don’t we all want the illusion of depth?

Step 3

Cut out the helmet details on the black fabric. You can use the template to cut them out, but I freehanded them. If you do want to use the template for this part I recommend printing a second copy. You need two black triangles for the eye lenses. Two long thin rectangles for the side vents. One very thin strip for the top of the visor. Two half circles, with a middle point for the cheek details. Two short rectangles rounded at one end for the jaw camera-like pieces and one wacky shape (sorry, I can’t describe it any better than that) for the mouthpiece. You will also need a long V shape with ridges cut on top edge for the nose piece. That is the one piece that I used the dark gray fabric for, but you can use black for it as well.

Once cut out, pin the pieces as seen above. Sew them using black thread onto the lace pieces. You should end up with three separate pieces: the base with most of the black pieces, the jaw with the nose and mouth pieces.  And the visor with the two pointed half circles. (Note that in the picture I pinned them to the base piece, but that is wrong. They should be on the visor just to the side and slightly below the where the eye lenses will be.) (Other note the eye lenses are placed correctly in the photo. They do get sewn to the base).

Step 4

I didn’t really take pictures of this step, so I’ll do my best to describe it. You’ll be adding more detail to the sewn on details here.

On the mouth piece, to create the vent effect, cut several lines lengthwise, being sure not to start the cut below the top of the piece and ending just before the bottom of the piece. You want the shape to remain intact. (It may be easier to cut the lines before you sew it to jaw piece, but I didn’t. It’s your call.) Cut two rounded triangles in the visor for the lens pieces. You do want to pay attention to your template or reference photo for these. You can play fast and loose with the other details, but if the eye lenses are off it won’t look like a stormtrooper.

Cut out ten or so slits on each side of the jaw piece over where the long black rectangles are sewn to the base. I made my slits too thin, so they can hardly be seen, You can make them a little thicker. Or you can skip this altogether because it’s a minute detail. (If you do skip this part then you can leave out the long rectangles from step 3.

Cut out spaces on the jaw piece where the two jaw camera pieces are on the base.

Step 5

Time to sew the three separate pieces into one almost completed helmet.

Pin together and sew with white thread.

The above picture has all the pieces in the correct spots but was taken before I had sewn the details to the separate pieces. Don’t try to sew the whole piece together before you’ve done step 3. It’ll end in tears.

I don’t have a picture of this step.

Step 5.5

Cut two little circle of white lace and sew them to the jaw cameras, for jaw camera lenses, as seen in the step 5 picture. (I sewed these by hand because my sewing machine could not deal with such small stretchy pieces.) Now your helmet is complete.

Step 6

Sew your helmet onto the item of your choice. I chose a tee shirt. This is where the stretchy fabric really caused problems for me. It tended to bunch and warp as I sewed and I had to start over a few times before I was satisfied. And even then it ended up a little crooked.

And there you go!

I’ve worn this shirt a couple of times and it always makes me happy. Once I’d recovered a bit from my first attempt, I made two more with even better results.

The larger one went onto another tee shirt for a good friend who once hand-knitted me a Yoda doll. The little one I sewed onto a hat for my niece.

If anyone does follow these somewhat vague and amateurish instructions, please share the results with me. I’d love to see more lace stormtroopers in the world.

Be on the lookout for a part 2. I’m not done with lace stormtroopers yet.

My Star Wars Theory

Alright, this post contains spoilers for the Star Wars Episode 7. It also contains a theory that I feel is pretty solid so could be a spoiler for future episodes. You have been warned.

After seeing Star Wars: the Force Awakens last December I felt pretty confident I knew who Rey was and why and how she’d been abandoned on an isolated desert planet. The clues were all there in the film.

Since then I’ve seen many theories. Several match mine in part, but not entirely. So I thought I’d put it out there.

I believe Rey is Luke’s daughter. Which isn’t much of a stretch. She is strong in the force. His lightsaber chooses her. She’s a gifted pilot. Visually she’s his echo in her costume and the environment we originally see her in. They end the film face to face with Skywalker hero music swelling. Plenty of people have come to the same conclusion.



(Though some think she’s Han and Leia’s daughter, and others think Obi Wan’s granddaughter. I think Luke makes the most sense. Other people really want her not to be a Skywalker or Solo because why does the hero always have to be from one bloodline? I somewhat agree but it’s Star Wars and why else make such mystery of who her parents are? Besides, we’ve got Finn and Poe as our non-Skywalker heroes).

All the other theories I’ve seen conclude that Rey was left/hidden on Jaaku to keep her safe. Some say by Luke, others by her Aunt Leia, others by her as yet unidentified mother. This is where my theory differs.

What we know for sure is that Rey at the age of 3 or 4 was left on a remote planet in the hands of a scavenger. She remembers a ship flying away as she screamed for it to come back and not to leave her. She seems to have grown up on her own, with no one looking after her. Her memories before arriving on Jaaku are pretty much nonexistent, but she believes that the person who left her there was family. And she clings to the belief they will come back.

I find it very hard to believe that anyone who cared about little Rey would’ve thought leaving her to be raised by an uncaring scavenger/merchant, or alternatively raise herself was the safe option. Though it does seem to have worked out.


He did not strike me as a loving foster father.

So here’s my theory. I’ve not looked everywhere so it’s possible someone has already come up with this. It’s based only on evidence in the movie. I’ve thought this since I first left the theater and it still feels right.

Luke has a daughter with someone. I have no theory on who. Things are idyllic for a few years; he’s busily training his new class of Jedi. His daughter, who is probably not named Rey, shows signs of being strong in the force, and he has plans to start training her in a year or two.

Then Leia sends her son Ben to Luke to train. She’s worried because he is drawn to the dark side. Especially troubling is his deification of Grandpa Vader. She believes only Luke can bring him back to the light. Han firmly disagrees, causing a rift between them. None of them know that Ben has already been recruited and is being corrupted by the Sith, Commander Snoke.

To complete Ben’s turn to the dark side, he’s ordered to kill all the potential Jedi, just as his grandfather did before him. He joins the Knights of Ren, taking the name Kylo Ren. It’s worth noting that the only time we see the Knights of Ren in the entire movie is during Rey’s vision.


In fairness, this could be a vision of the future and not the past.
So Kylo and the Knights of Ren kill all of Luke’s students. Kylo then goes to kill the lone remaining future Jedi, his little cousin. He kills her mother and comes close to killing her. But as we’ve seen in the movie, the light side still has a hold on him, and he can’t do it.

So he grabs her, steals a ship, and dumps her on Jaaku, believing she’s as good as dead. And is at least out of his way. He tells his master he killed her.


Kylo is the family she screaming at to come back. A four-year-old who’s seen her mother murdered and has been left to fend for herself could easily forget her past.

Meanwhile Luke comes back from wherever he was when all this went down. He sees the aftermath of a massacre and believes his daughter was killed by his nephew along with her mother and all his students. Despondent, he disappears to atone for his failure as Jedi, teacher, uncle, and father.
(It makes more sense to me that he’d disappear thinking his daughter was dead rather than him knowing she survived and dropping her in the desert before going off to sulk.)

Han and Leia split after learning what their son has done and what he’s become. Each feeling they made the wrong choices and are unworthy of the other.

There are a few moments in the film that back this up that I haven’t mentioned yet.

The first is when the stormtroopers report to Kylo Ren that they traced the droid with the maps to Luke to Jaaku but they lost it again because of a girl. What does Kylo do on hearing about the girl from Jaaku? He flips his shit.

And when his team arrives at Maz Kanata’s castle, who does he capture? Not the droid the First Order has been chasing for the first half of the movie. Not his father who he hates. But Rey. The cousin he failed to kill.

There’s also the matter of Han and Rey’s apparent connection. Sure he could just be admiring the scrappy kid with the excellent piloting skills and an affinity for his beloved Falcon. But there are a couple of moments he seems choked up when talking to her.


Some people take this as an indication that he realizes she is his long lost daughter. I’m not buying it. He and Leia discuss their fallen son but never mention any other children. Even if it’s a painful subject, you’d think it’d come up. After all, their whole conversation is painful subjects.

I think he’s recognizing certain traits in her that remind him of his old pal/brother in law. Plus he probably would’ve known the mother of Luke’s child, and could be reminded of her as well. He sees that Rey may be the child he thought his son had murdered decades ago. Maybe his son isn’t as lost as he thought. What does he do next? Volunteer for a mission that’ll put him right in the path of his son.

So that’s my theory. We’ll have to wait until 2018 to find out if I’m even close.

Reading to an Audience: in which I read to an audience.

This weekend I participated in a workshop put on by the MinnSpec authors group about reading to an audience. Something I have very little experience with. So I signed up to read an excerpt.

I did not expect to be as nervous I was. My history with Improv pretty much wiped out any fear I once had about public speaking. But there is a difference between acting out a scene you’re making up on the fly, and reading a piece you’ve spent months obsessing over every word choice. In the former, if you say or do something stupid it’s the character who did it, and you were just making it up anyway. In the latter, you’ve had time to rehearse so any mistakes can’t be waved away as no time to prep, and you have to portray all the characters, and maybe you’ve put in too many multisyllabic words that’ll make you tongue tied, and not to mention that the audience is all other writers who will know that you’re a hack who writes in cliches…

So anyway, when I stepped up to the mike my nerves responded with the full body shakes. I got through it somehow, and I don’t think the shaking was that obvious (though I haven’t watched the video to confirm) (oh yes, there was video). In fact the audience seemed to enjoy it, and gave some very good feedback, and when I read the passage again to implement the notes there was no shaking at all. I did have the advantage of going third so I could take advantage of the tips given to the first two authors.

So without further ado, here is the video of me reading a short excerpt from Tooth or Consequence. Actually I read it twice, pre and post notes.

Tooth or Consequence reading

A Problem With Princesses

A few weeks ago my niece, who is almost four, saw Frozen. It was her first movie in a theater and her first official Disney movie. She’s seen Studio Ghibli and Pixar movies on DVD, which are both associated with Disney, but are creatively independent of the Mouse. And of course she’s seen the princesses. Not the movies, just the princesses. She has seen princess dolls and sunglasses and bedsheets. She’s familiar with their looks and their names, but she has a very vague idea of their stories. As far as she’s concerned they fight bad guys and save their friends. Just like any super hero. I hope it stays that way for a long time.


I have mixed feelings about Disney, particularly the princesses. I loved them as a kid and watched the movies repeatedly. I enjoyed the wish fulfillment aspect of wearing fancy dresses and living in a palace and being undeniably important. (I still kinda want a tiara sometimes). But my wish fulfillment fantasies weren’t limited to princesses. I wanted to be a rock star and an astronaut and shortstop for the White Sox too. For me one of the biggest appeals of animated fairy tales (or any fairy tales in fact) is because they gave me a magic fix. I was a kid that believed wholeheartedly in magic. I ate it up. It’s no coincidence that my favorite of the original batch of princess movies is Sleeping Beauty, which has a dragon. A very scary dragon!


It’s also a complete rehash of the two princess films that came before it, using Snow White’s basic plot, while weaving in hallmarks of Cinderella. Not one but three fair godmothers, and using the same actress who voiced the stepmother as Malificent. It’s also the one where the princess in question has the least amount of screen time or personality to speak of.

I was equally as enamored with the second wave starting with the Little Mermaid. I own most of them. Because they held such a special place in my little kid heart. But But But BUT! As an adult they can be tough to watch. Not just because of the squeaky mice. It’s hard not to notice the screwed up messages about gender roles and romance in almost all of them. My perspective has changed.

photo 5photo 1photo 3 photo 4photo 2


I haven’t seen Frozen yet. From what I hear it manages to sidestep or subvert the worst of the princess pitfalls. And I really enjoyed Tangled a few years ago. I’m glad Disney is course correcting going forward. But they’re still profiting off the back catalog. The problematic princesses aren’t going anywhere.


Disclaimer: I normally free hand the drawings I post here. But the broken arm made that too difficult. I took the easy route and traced over existing images to create these

Is George R.R. Martin really S. Morgenstern?

Well no, he isn’t because Morgenstern the “original” author of the Princess Bride is as much a fictional creation of William Goldman, the actual author of the book, as any of the other characters populating it. But consider how Grandpa in the movie describes the book “fencing, fighting, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…” Doesn’t that sound like Game of Thrones?
I posted the following observation to Facebook earlier, but the notion has taken over my brain and I felt like I needed to expand on it. Warning: spoilers through season three of Game of Thrones.
I’ve long thought Lena Headey on Game of Thrones looked a bit like Robin Wright in the Princess Bride. Good bone structure, long blond tresses, red medieval dresses. The more I think about it the more I see similarities between the two characters. Both Buttercup and Cersi marry dark haired royal dudes whom they don’t love. Both love dashing blond swordsmen instead, whom they continue the relationship with after their marriages. Those swordsman are not strictly law abiding, one is a pirate, the other kills kings. Both pairs of lovers are separated for long periods of time and reunited after trauma to the male —dismemberment and death respectively. And both women are considered the most beautiful woman in the land.
Of course there are some significant differences. Buttercup and Westley aren’t siblings, Buttercup isn’t a stone cold bitch, and their union hopefully wouldn’t produce something as foul as Joffrey. But there are enough parallels that I’m starting to think of Game of Thrones as a twisted AU version of the Princess Bride.
Because I can’t help myself, here is the rest of the roster for this bizarro world mashup.
Hodor is clearly Fezzik.
And Joffrey is Humperdink. Yes, in the above scenario Robert was Humperdinck, but Joffrey’s family tree is already effed up, why not make him his own fake father? He is without a doubt Humperdinck! They’re both self important, slimy, cowardly little weasels and I really want someone to actually inflict To the Pain on the sadistic bastard.
I was going to let Jon Snow be Inigo Montoya since he has the hair and a dead father to avenge, but then I realized Arya is a much better fit. Although, “Hello, my name is Arya Stark. You killed my father…and my mother…and my brother…and his wolf…” Doesn’t have the same ring.
Tywin Lanister is Count Rugen, aka the six fingered man, because he’s evil and clever.
In a world where Buttercup and Westley are incestuous and ruthless, Tyrion, who is a badass, can be Vizzini, who is not but thinks he is. They are both small in stature, decent strategists, and both employ mercenaries. And he would never make the blunder of getting involved in a land war in Asia.
Thorros of Myr is Miracle Max because he can bring people back from the dead.
And Melisandre is Valerie because…well Max once called her a witch.
Maester Pycelle is the Impressive Clergyman. I mean seriously—the same character.
Ned Stark is the Grandpa because he teaches us that life isn’t fair.
Bran Stark is the grandson because he’s grumpy about lying in bed listening to stories.
And finally, because it cracks me up, Daenerys is the old peasant woman who screams at Buttercup that she is ungrateful garbage.
There are way more characters in the Song of Ice and Fire series than there are significant characters in the Princess Bride. Maybe if Goldman publishes the sequel he’s been teasing for the last decade and a half, I’ll find corresponding roles for Sansa, Olenna, Loras, Brienne, Stannis, Theon, Davos, Samwell, Gendry etc
It doesn’t need to be said, but in every world Walder Frey is a Rodent of Unusual Size.
Also, I think this post made spellcheck cry.

Watch This: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

I got to see this limited release movie a few weeks ago, and I loved it! I don’t think I’d been so moved by a movie I saw at the theater since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind. This movie sucked me in from the first moment.

It’s based on a young adult novel of the same name. The director/screenwriter of the film is also the author of the book. It’s obvious the film was a labor of love. Nothing felt rushed or inauthentic. Every character was well-rounded and had a rich history. And lots of attention was paid to the mood and tone. Watching the movie felt like reading a really good book.

The story is set in the early nineties but the movie doesn’t go overboard with the costumes or props to make the point. There is plenty of flannel and characters make mix tapes on cassettes for each other instead of playlists. But it didn’t feel like it was hitting you over the head and screaming “this is set in the nineties!”

The movie centers on Charlie, who is just beginning his freshman year of high school. Charlie is a loner but not by choice. He’s the kind of kid who goes unnoticed by his classmates unless it’s to dump his books on the floor. He is played by Logan Lerman with just the right mix of sweetness, trepidation, and fragility.

Charlie’s only friend committed suicide over the summer. It’s implied that Charlie too suffers from mental and emotional issues. He is so guarded and repressed that just saying hello to someone is a big deal. Which is why it’s so compelling when he does. He tentatively reaches out to a couple of other outsiders and they take him under their wings. They recognize that he needs to belong to a group, even if he doesn’t know how. Each of his new friends is harboring their own secrets and past damage. They’re somehow both the typical self-centered teenagers and at the same time genuinely compassionate. Charlie soon develops feelings for Sam, played by Emma Watson, who’s dealing with her own issues of self-worth and trust. But it’s Patrick, played by Ezra Miller, who nearly steals the entire movie. He plays an out, and persecuted for it, gay teen. He cover his vulnerability with confidence and glibness. And he gets all the best lines.

None of the relationships in the movie are easy summarize. It’s not “he likes her, but she likes someone else.” The ways the characters relate to each other are incredibly complex, and so very real. Charlie’s new friends pull him out of his shell little by little, and give him hope, but there is a ticking clock throughout. All of his new friends are seniors and he’s a freshman. In a few months they will leave him behind, pulling away his lifeline. I was thoroughly invested in whether he’d make it without them.

I don’t want to make it sound like an after school special. There is quite a lot of serious ground covered, and a plot twist near the end is gut wrenching, but there’s also a lot of humor in his friends’ antics and his awkwardness. And also several moments of catharsis. I fell in love with this movie. The novel has been sitting in my audiobook library for a while. I’ll be bumping it up a few slots.