Christmas Reading

Killing time while waiting for my husband to finish a work emergency so we can go to dinner and the grocery store, my brain is still thinking in terms of making lists.

Right now, having just bought 300 feet of white exterior Christmas lighting that my lawn guy will be hanging next week, it seems natural to think of favorite Christmas books. If you need to send gifts to people, this may help.

  1. The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg: I first read this while visiting my Aunt in Connecticut one snowy Christmas, and the story became a favorite of mine. The artwork is lovely, slightly dark, with muted colors and soft lines, and the story itself – a boy finding magic in his heart – is really simple and lovely.
  2. Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus, by Francis P. Church: Technically it’s an essay, an editorial, but it’s been printed in book form, so it counts. The language is catchy, the point is universal. It’s been a favorite of mine since childhood.
  3. A Child’s Christmas in Wales, by Dylan Thomas: Proof that you don’t have to use verse to capture brilliant imagery and evoke perfect moments – the first snow, a frozen ocean – even if you’re a poet. Great book for a chilly evening near a bright fire. Goes well with hot chocolate laced with peppermint schnapps.
  4. A Visit from Saint Nicholas, by Clement C. Moore: A perennial favorite, and one my mother and I often quote back and forth while cooking Christmas Eve dinner together. It becomes hysterically funny when read in a Swedish accent, by the way.
  5. The Gift of the Magi, by O. Henry: Yes, it’s a short story, but it’s O. Henry, king of the twisted ending. I’ve read, heard, and seen many many versions of this tale, but the original is my favorite.

My book aunt made it her habit to gift me with collections of Christmas stories every year, and I love pulling them out around Thanksgiving, and leaving them scattered around the house, to be picked up and glanced through at odd moments.

Also, astute readers will notice that my list contains no mention of a certain grinch. The reason for this is simple: I am anti-Seuss. Never liked his work. Never will.

Cowdogs and Magic Treehouses

The old checking account took a bit of a hit tonight as we visited Barnes and Nobel after going to Fridays for dinner. We don’t have a ton of Christmas shopping to do, but as the book aunt, books are a part of everything we give.

As you know, earlier this week, I asked for help with some book suggestions for 6-8 year old boys. I was given some suggestions, but they didn’t feel quite right. These kids are more into dinosaurs and cowboys than fantasy at this point. And so, dressed in my fetching pink angora v-neck sweater and black felt beret sporting a pink rhinestone heart pin, jeans, and black ankle boots, I did what any self-respecting auntie would do: I accosted a total stranger.

Technically, I accosted three. I noticed a father and his young son who I thought might be nine-ish in the section for 7-to-12-year-old readers, and said, “Forgive me,” I said, “But I was wondering how old your son is.” The boy, shyly, said he was ten. “I wonder if you could do me a favor,” I asked, “I was wondering if you could tell me what you liked to read a couple years ago.” (I did all this while asking silent permission from his dad, of course, who seemed to find the whole thing amusing.

The boy went all shy on me, and said, the way kids do, “I dunno,” but his father coaxed him to remember, and suddenly they both said, “The Treehouse Books!” “They’re about Jack and Annie and a magic treehouse,” Dad elaborated. “It sends them on adventures. There’s like 40 of them. There’s no pictures, so the eight-year-old will be challenged [there are sketches], but they’re short so if someone’s reading them with them, they can finish one in a night or two.”

And so, we went to find the Treehouse books. They are a series of books by Mary Pope Osborne, and each one has a delightfully alliterative title. We bought the first five (they’re like $4 each) which cover dinosaurs, knights, mummies, pirates and ninjas.

Later, as we were looking at the Klutz activity books for stuff for our nieces who like crafty things, Dad, Son, and Other Son (age nine), approached us again. “Your nephews might like this one, too,” they said, handing me the first Hank the Cowdog book.

I thanked them, and left the section satisfied that we can round out their gift with chocolate. And yes, I’ll be sharing this story with their parents.

(Don’t forget to read my interview with Star Trek, and Buffy novelist Keith DeCandido which begins in the next post.)

In Their Words: Keith R. A. DeCandido

Keith DeCandido

My personal library includes classics, bestsellers, chick-lit, genre fiction, and movie/tv tie-ins sitting right next to each other on the shelves. One of my favorite authors of the latter is Keith R. A. DeCandido, who is funny, smart, friendly (he agreed to email answers to my questions, after all), and really just a nifty guy. His work in the Star Trek universe is not only some of my favorite in that universe, but also represents some of my favorite reading ever. Last month, he took some time from his busy writing schedule to do an emailed interview, when he could have been working on his martial arts, or spending time on an elliptical machine, or any number of other things. Here’s what he had to say:

* * * * *

Your Name: Keith R.A. DeCandidoYour website, if you have one: and

Most recently published work (as of 10/06/2007): Star Trek: The Next Generation: Q&A [Bibliotica reviewed this here.]

A brief bio:
Rocketed to Earth as an infant to avoid the destruction of his home planet, Keith R.A. DeCandido was raised by a roving pack of wild librarians, who taught him in their vile and depraved bibliographic ways. A career in publishing was inevitable. He’s perpetrated more than 30 novels on an unsuspecting book-buying public, as well as many short stories, eBooks, nonfiction work, and comic books—most in the realm of media tie-ins, in particular Star Trek and Buffy. He’s also an editor and anthologist, writes articles and web content, and will generally write or edit anything for money—it doesn’t even have to be a lot of money. He’s also a percussionist, currently with the parody band the Boogie Knights.

* * * * *

Go to Interview – Part One.
Go to Interview – Part Two.

In Their Words: Keith R. A. DeCandido (part 1)

Keith DeCandido
Last month, one of my favorite authors, Keith R. A. DeCandido, took some time away from writing books to answer some questions for me. Here’s part one of our emailed interview. (The intro is here. Part 2 is here.)
* * * * *
What question are you never, or rarely, asked in interviews, that you really wish people would ask? How would you answer it?

“How do you make your hair look like that?” To which I’d answer: NOTHING! I just shampoo it once a day and brush it! It’s like this naturally! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Conversely, what question are you often asked, that you really don’t like to answer? What don’t you like about that question (no, you don’t have to answer it)?

“Why should I bother reading your books when they aren’t canon?” People who stress out over what’s “real” in a fictional construct need to be beaten over the head with croquet mallets.

Who in your life was/is the greatest influence – good or bad – on your writing?
God, I don’t think I could narrow it down to one. If I had to pick someone, I’d say P.G. Wodehouse, who wrote the best dialogue on the face of the planet, and I think my greatest strength as a writer is in dialogue, which I think I owe in part to early exposure to Wodehouse.

Do you write in longhand first, or do you compose at the keyboard? Tell us about your preferred pens, ink, paper, or platform and program.

The Laptop Is Life. I hatehatehatehatehatehatehatehate! writing by hand. I try to only write by hand when I sign things. (You can imagine what a nightmare it was when I arrived at JFK preparing to fly to San Diego for Comic-Con and discovered that I somehow forgot to pack my laptop—and I had a novel due the next week. I wrote three or four chapters by hand in a notebook, a nightmarish experience I hope never to repeat.) I use Microsoft Word on my Dell Inspiron E1705 laptop.

What do you consider a “full day’s work” of writing? Do you measure by number of hours, or number of words? Do you spend time doing mundane chores so that you don’t have to write?

I could actually afford to spend more time doing mundane chores, but what I consider a full day varies wildly from day to day, and depends on what stage I’m at for a particular project or set of projects, and what those deadlines are. I try to never miss a deadline, and I generally don’t miss them by much.

What are you reading these days? Or, what types of things do you like to read when you have time?

Most of my writing time gets sucked up by reading things I’m editing or things I have to read for research. When I can squeeze in pleasure reading, it’s often a variety of genre material (SF/F, mystery). I also like reading books about baseball. Lately, I’ve been on a George Pelecanos kick, and I’m also a huge Janet Evanovich fan…

Got tunes? What’s flowing from your headphones or speakers while you write?
In 2002, I discovered that I write best to Jethro Tull and Tom Waits. Dunno why, but there it is. I have a “writing” playlist on iTunes that runs when I write, which includes Tull, Waits, Ian Anderson solo material, plus a few other things that work well writing-wise (Robbie Robertson, The Band, Cat Stevens).

* * * * *

Keith can be found on the net at his website, and his livejournal KRAD’s Inaccurate Guide to Life.
(The intro is here. Part 2 is here.)

In Their Words: Keith R. A. DeCandido (part 2)

Keith DeCandido
Last month, one of my favorite authors, Keith R. A. DeCandido, took some time away from writing books to answer some questions for me. Here’s part two of our emailed interview. (The intro is here. Part 1 is here.)

* * * * *

How do you start a project? Do you begin with a random idea or an urge to cover a topic, or does research inform your choices? Once you’ve got an idea, do you outline, or just write what comes?

There’s no one answer to the first question. The answer to the second question is, “Yes, and many more besides.” As for the third question—I always outline first. For one thing, 99% of my work is media tie-in fiction, and an outline is required for that, because that outline has to be approved by more than one party before you can write a single word. Besides which, I work better if I know how it ends before I start.

Describe your ideal book signing. Is it in a large chain bookstore, or a smaller independent one? Is there a café? Do they have food and drinks that tie in with your book? What is the audience like?

I like signings where people show up. If it’s at a chain or an independent, that’s fine—I’ve done both and enjoyed both. I don’t think the refreshments need to tie into what I write—I’ll just settle for having refreshments. Café is always welcome, but not required. As for the audience, I just prefer that there be one…

Tell us a bit about your current project. What’s it about? When is it coming out? Is it drastically different from your last work, or continuing a similar theme? What do you want prospective readers to know?

Which one? Right now I’m working on the revision of a Star Trek short story, after which I will be writing the revision of a Star Trek novel outline, after which I’ll be writing the outline for another tie-in novel, after which I’ll be writing a Star Trek novella that will be published in eBook form, and somewhere in there I need to write the outline for a five-issue comic book miniseries, and also proofread the pages for another Star Trek novel. I also need to edit another eBook novella and a tie-in novel I’m freelance editing—all this stuff has to be done before mid-month. And I’ve got a novel due 15 December, another due 15 January, another due 15 February, and another due 15 March, with a comic book script due 1 March.

In my life, there is no singular current project…

* * * * *

Keith can be found on the net at his website, and his livejournal KRAD’s Inaccurate Guide to Life.
(The intro is here. Part 1 is here.)

Shopping Help?

Hey, fellow readers. I hereby ask for help. I have two nephews, ages 8 and 6, and I’ve got no idea what titles to get them for Christmas this year. I am the Book Aunt, so I have to get something cool and interesting, and readable, but while there are often age recommendations on the fly-leaves of books, there’s no such thing as children insurance that guarantees the child in question will like what you send.

So, suggestions please: What’s are good titles for bright, kinda geeky but leaning more toward engineering geekery than computer geekery, boys?

(Girl books? No problem).

If it helps, in previous years they’ve received Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen, and stuff like that.

I’m more about classic titles that hold up than trendy stuff.

And I prefer to buy hardcovers.

Ready, Set, Runway!

If you think Tim Gunn should come and give you a fashion makeover, if you imitate Heidi Klum as she tells designers they’re out, if you would love to put Wendy Pepper (Season One) and Crazy Vincent (Season Three) in a boxing ring together, then you need to come play with us.

Where? At Electric Tangerine of course. I’ll be joining four other fashionistas in blogging Project Runway, and you’re invited to come dish some designer dirt.

So, grab your score cards and your snarkiest attitude, slip your feet into a killer pair of shoes, and strut down the runway with us.

All are welcome.

Even if you think tangerine really is the new pink.

Coming Attractions: November

First, I won’t be reading or reviewing much this month, as I’m writing up a storm. I’d say that I’m participating in NaNoWriMo, but I’m not, exactly. I’m cheating. For details, please read this post at my regular blog. The post in question has a link to fragments and snippets and suchlike.

Second: Interviews with Keith R. A. DeCandido, and Julia Holden will be posted this month. Both of them. Really.

Third: I’ve finished Rises the Night by Colleen Gleason (who is turning out to be a great correspondent as well as a kickass novelist. Go buy her stuff and then read it), so a review will be posted soon-ish.

Fourth: I’m currently reading Sex, Murder, and a Double Latte by Kyra Davis and What They Don’t Teach You at Film School: 161 Strategies for Making Your Own Movies No Matter What by Camille Landau and Tiare White, which was recommended to me by The Fabulous Clay, and is, as well as being helpful to moviemakers with no money, one of the best writing books I’ve ever encountered.

And that’s all for now.
Any questions?

Music Review: Stomping Grounds, by Joseph Clinebell

While I listen to music almost constantly, and have a full 30gig Creative Zen Vision M to prove it (in lime green, thank you very much), I tend to get in ruts where I listen to the same thing over and over. Still, when someone says, “Hey check out this cool Singer Songwriter, I think you’ll like his work,” I’m usually happy to do so. I’ll listen to almost anything once, after all.

Joseph Clinebell’s first CD, Stomping Grounds, is quickly becoming one of the discs I listen to more than once. He calls his collection of mostly-guitar-and-vocals songs “road trip music,” and really that’s the best description I can think of as well. For one thing, while his music is technically on the pop side of rock, there’s a vagabond-esque quality to it stolen from folk and country, that adds depth and dimension to tunes that are essentially pretty simple, with wonderful lyrics “….as a hailstorm draws near…the imperfect falls around…”

His voice is warm, vaguely reminiscent of early Michael Stipes or John Cougar Mellencamp at his most mellow (that folksy appeal coming out, I think), and overall Stomping Grounds is extremely listenable. So far, my favorite song is “Last Dance,” but they’re all good. And yes, perfect for hopping in the car, dropping the top, and enjoying the last warm days of Fall.

You can read more about Clinebell at his website:, and you can grab this CD from CDBaby.

A little light reading

LED light

After much searching online, I discovered that the closest thing I could find to the LED light I mentioned a few days ago is the one pictured here which, apparently, you can get for about $2 from

I got mine for $4.98 at Half Price books, but if you’re doing an Amazon order anyway, tossing in one or two of these might not be a bad idea. (Ordering JUST a light would be a waste of shipping costs.)

This is the light that’s working for me, at the moment. As with any such thing, your mileage may vary.

I have to ask, though, what’s your ideal booklight? What do you use now?