Lesser-Known Library Superpowers

Happy Martin Luther King Jr Day! You know what Dr. King liked? Social justice. Yep. You know hard that can be to find? Pretty real hard. The justice system is mega complicated, and legal advice is expensive. If you don’t have a lot of money to begin with, or maybe a lawyer-type friend you can ask personal favors of, you might be out of luck…

Unless you have a public library that hosts regular legal clinics to field questions and share free legal advice—and chances are you do! Many libraries (at least in the US) do this, and my local one always has one in honor of Dr. King himself, as well as others sprinkled throughout the year. How awesome is that?

Most of us don’t think of libraries as the place to go to for free legal advice. We all know that they are fantastic for checking out books and movies, browsing free internet, and maybe getting a little help with your homework, but there is so much more than that available! Not all libraries will have all these services, but many do. (And if you aren’t sure, call up your reference desk! Answering questions is what they do best!)

Here’s a quick look at some of the other services you might have overlooked!

Concerts In addition to lending albums both physical and streamed, many libraries host music recitals that are free to attend, so you can get live music there too! Yeah, these concerts are often little kids in uncomfortable clothes sweating profusely under the bright lights, but you know? It’s adorable and free and those kids are all way better trained than I am. But sometimes there are real-and-true professional musicians as well. Ask for a schedule to see what’s available.

Classes Books aren’t the only source of valuable knowledge at the library. Many libraries also offer courses, ranging from media literacy to foreign languages to IT to crafts to finance, and everything in between. And these classes are usually free!

Printing Psh, I hear you say. Everybody knows that libraries have printers. But did you know that my library has 3D printers, and printing instructions for a miniature Millennium Falcon? And yours might too!

Borrowing Stuff And not just books and CDs! (What? Nobody uses CDs anymore?) Larger libraries have just about everything under the sun available for either in-house use or check-out, but some of the more common items include laser vinyl cutters, laptops, wifi hotspots, and even sewing machines and musical instruments. Not sure? Just ask! (But seriously, the smaller your library is, the less likely they are to have room for all this less usual stuff, haha.)

Free Gathering Place If you live somewhere that isn’t buried in snow half the year, this might not seem important. But having a heated place where you can gather (you know, when there isn’t a pandemic going on) without the pressure of spending money you may or may not have is invaluable. I’ve been to everything from birthday parties to critique groups at the library, and they were all great.

Job Hunting Assistance Need to brush up on your resume? Working on your interview skills? Searching for open positions? The library can help with those things! Not only do they have internet and printers available, but they can help you from the ground up, guiding you through the process and helping you feel more confident going in.

Whatever the Heck You Need Librarians are research ninjas and they are happy to use their powers for whatever you need help with. (Except crime. Don’t ask.) Need help with your genealogy? They’ll help! Need help setting up your new phone or getting apps to work? Just ask! Need help applying for college admission? They’re in! Librarians are brilliant, flexible, and happy to help. If they can’t help you directly, they can help you get to someone who can. Just ask.

When we think about libraries, most of us think about books. And that’s great! Books and reading are still at the very heart of what libraries are about. Libraries are havens for culture and learning, but that doesn’t have to stay limited to just books. Libraries have been about the preservation and sharing of knowledge since the very beginning. And now with the modern public library, they can also generate community and support individuals as well as being repositories of knowledge, which is why they should always be well-used, well-funded, and well-loved.

How about you? What’s your favorite off-the-beaten-path library magic? Let me know! I’m always looking for more ways to put my library to good use!

And until next week, happy writing!

Judging Books by Covers

Everyone always tells you not to judge books by covers. And it’s true! Some of the best books I’ve ever read have been sandwiched between awful covers. But the truth is that we all do this skin-deep assessment sometimes. Even librarians do. The librarian and I at my boys’ school spend a lot of time worrying about (or at least we did before there were better things to worry about) how to get kids to give a chance to great books that were unfortunately clothed in really old and unstylish covers.

We all get it. Great covers ≠ great books. However.

Man, there are some really beautiful, drool-worthy covers in the world, aren’t there? And so today, I’m going to get really shallow and talk about some of the fairest covers in all the land. Without a thought spent on the actual content of said covers, we’re just going to look at some recent releases and my gut reaction as to why I like them. That’s it! Keeping it real. Real shallow, at least.

The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict. Isn’t that a pretty cover? I know nothing about this book besides what is in this image, but I think the slightly obscured face goes just perfectly with the title. And the colors look good, with the very simple bright pink foreground offset by a simply dark blue background. They sandwich the detailed lifelike image very neatly.

Opium and Absinthe by Lydia Kang. Once again, I don’t know anything about this book. I probably won’t read it, because I’m not really into the drug scene, but holy smokes that is a beautiful cover. The border, and the dark, rich colors, and the poppy blossoms and the bottle. *chef’s kiss* Gorgeous. Well done.

Ink in the Blood by Kim Smejkal. I’m just gonna stop saying it because I haven’t read any of these books, haha. But man, that cover! This one looks pretty simple from a distance, red on black, but the detailing in here is crazy. I can be struck by really simple covers, but the stylized, super detailed ones always snag my attention. I love it.

We Free the Stars by Hafsah Faizal. *drools* Just beautiful. I love the border outline, and the guy in a tower and a girl with a bow, the script, the dusky colors. All of it. Again, this is a pretty detailed and complicated cover. I just seem to gravitate toward these.

Five Feet Apart by Rachael Lippincott. There is another version of this cover with a black background that I think I prefer (not to mention the tacky Now A Major Motion Picture sticker), but it’s beautiful either way and I couldn’t find a good picture of the black one. But again! Complicated details. Contrasting and muted colors. All the stuff. Looks like I have a type.

Wicked Like a Wildfire by Lana Popovic Yep, definitely a type. This is like the purplier version of Five Feet Apart, now with skull moths and spiderwebs! I swear, I’m not actually this into flowers.

Witches Steeped in Gold by Ciannon Smart. Yes please! I love the gilding on this one, which pops bright and bold against a black-and-green background. And while it doesn’t quite have bordering, there’s definitely something like that in the patterns in the midground between the jungle and the faces. And I like the drippy title. It’s cool.

The Kingdom of Back by Marie Lu. Oh, geez, the most detailed one yet! I have no idea what this is about, but I want to. The aaaalmost symmetry here is so perfect and gorgeous. I could just stare at this cover for ages trying to piece apart every detail. Looove.

All the Stars and Teeth by Adalyn Grace. Getting a serious Little Mermaid vibe (which is a little sad since I can’t get anyone to pick up my Little Mermaid book *tiny violin*). I feel like I don’t even have to explain myself on these cover picks anymore. You know the reasons. I’ve already said them all. I have no secrets.

Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar. Oh man, I was so busy swooning over the cover that I didn’t even realize this is the name of a book series I’ve been writing for the last two decades. Dang it. Oh well, it’s still just beautiful to look at.

And I gotta stop somewhere. I really have to. I haven’t looked at my kids for hours, who knows what they’ve been up to. But seriously, aren’t these all just beautiful? I really hope I’ll have a beautiful cover some day too. There are so many books out that that I didn’t get to (no post is long enough for this business, haha), and I didn’t even touch on anything but novels–there are so many beautiful picture books, nonfiction, graphic novels, etc. out there. There just isn’t enough time!

So how about you? What tickles your fancy? Spend a little time poking around and see what you like. And let me know in the comments! I think this post has made it pretty real clear the kinds of covers that I gravitate toward, but I’m sure others have different tastes. Tell me about yours!

And until next week, happy writing! (Or happy book oggling, whatevs.)

Is It Over Yet?


Whew, we made it! Happy New Year!

First off, you’ll be pleased to know that last year’s baseline of Keep Everyone Alive has been achieved. Huzzah!

The rest of it… eh. Let’s get into that.

Alright, so the usual culprits: Reading Goals, Writing/Editing Goals, and Rejection Goals. These are kind of the big three that I keep coming back to year after year. Let’s look at how I did last year.

Reading Goals Last year, I stuck with twenty-four books, which had felt about right the year before. I also wanted to split it evenly between fiction and nonfiction, without regard for classifications beyond that. Aaaand I failed *sad trombone* or so I thought! Turns out Goodreads keeps better track of these things than I do and I barely squeaked in with twenty four books. Fifteen fiction and nine nonfiction, but you know what? Don’t care. I’ll take the win. (I need it.)

Writing and Editing Goals This year’s goal here was to do one first draft, one editing draft, and at least two new short stories. I thought that I would be able to overshoot this one, but nope. Sure couldn’t. I mostly finished a first draft of the cookbook, and nearly finished a first draft of Anathema, but there was no editing draft this year. I drafted up several short stories, but all basically just drafts of the same one story, and I really haven’t quite gotten it to where it needs to be anyway. So I guess I’ll count that as one short story? Still. It’s a fail.

Rejections Goals This year I figured I’d shoot for twenty four rejections, with the recognition that I might need to scale this back for mental health reason. And it was indeed scaled back. Waaaay back. All the way back to zero. I dropped this goal pretty quickly in the year and I think that was a good call. I managed to get into submissions a little toward the end of the year, but definitely without numbers goals involved. So I have some rejections, but I’m not sure how many and I don’t feel like counting them up. So yeah. Also fail.

So yeah. Rough year. But I’m not beating myself up over it. It was a rough year for pretty much all humans, so I’ll chalk this one up to solidarity and forget it ever happened. Failure means you’re trying, learn from your mistakes, and all that. Done.

This year! I’m not deluding myself into the belief that just because the Gregorian calendar says so, we’re on a clean slate. I don’t really expect things to get back to “normal” any time soon, so my typical goals won’t either. Once again, we’re scaling things back, with the room to grow them later if the year becomes amazing. That said, this year’s goals are…

  1. Reading Goal: Twenty-four books, of any variety, two per month. Twenty-four seems like a good fit, so we’ll keep it on.
  2. Writing and Editing Goals: I’m going to finish a first draft book and the short story from last year before the end of the month. Then I will do one first draft (dispersed between two NaNo’s) and one edit (sprinkled without deadline throughout the rest of the year). I’m not going to fuss about shorts this year.
  3. Submission Goal: I will do twelve submissions, one per month. That is all. Rejection, acceptance, or soul-crushing silence, it all counts toward the goal once I click send.

And that’s it! I’m hoping the year will steady out a bit and we can start the process of recovering. But even if it doesn’t and things stay wonky, I still think I can accomplish these goals. (If the year gets even worse than last year, then I’ll ditch all goals, abandon hope, and admit myself into a probably-haunted asylum hidden in the wilderness.)

How about you guys? Any literary goals for the year (or month, or week), or are we done with that nonsense? Let me know in the comments below! And until next week, happy writing!

Jolabokaflod Book Haul

Three or four years ago, Mrs. Zayon at the kids’ school library introduced me to an absurdly-long-worded holiday tradition, which took me at least two years to be able to consistently pronounce correctly(ish). (Before that it was something along the lines of ‘chocoblockoflokken’.) But since it turns out that ‘Jolabokaflod’ translates into ‘Christmas book flood’, that’s actually only one syllable more than in English, so we’ll call it a wash.

Jolabokaflod is the Icelandic tradition of exchanging books and then reading them quietly on Christmas Eve; the books are usually enjoyed with a cup of hot chocolate as well. What’s not to love? In our family, we have a few tweaks to make it ours. Since not everyone likes drinking chocolate (I haven’t completely ruled out the possibility that they were switched at birth), we give chocolate bars along with the books that they can nibble at their leisure. And the chocolate and books are just given, rather than exchanged; my husband and I buy one book and candy per person and hand them out on Christmas Eve. Reading of said books is not necessarily mandatory, but it hasn’t yet not happened.

So counting on the fact that nobody in my family actually reads my blog, I thought it would be fun to give you a sneak peak of this year’s book haul! Not all of the books have quite come in yet, so there’s still the chance of a swapperoo at the last minute, but this is the plan.

For me! (who doesn’t love an excuse to buy yourself a good book?)

Un Rêve de Renard by Minna Sundberg This is the French edition of one of my favorite webcomics ever, A Redtail’s Dream, which is available in its entirety here. (Minna Sundberg is currently working on another comic called Stand Still, Stay Silent, about a scrappy salvage crew in a post-apocalyptic world. Also available online! She’s a wonder!) A Redtail’s Dream is about a young man and his dog trying to put their town back together when a supernatural and super selfish young fox accidentally tosses it in a dreamscape. Oops! I got the French edition so I can practice my sorry excuse for language skills in a story I love and am already familiar with. We’ll see if it helps!

This one is already in hand, so no backup necessary! Hooray!

For darling spouse!

Skin Game by Jim Butcher My husband already loves this series, but he doesn’t have the last couple, so I’m sure he’ll be happy to get his hands on this one. This is the fifteenth novel in the Dresden Files, a series about Chicago-based wizard Harry Dresden—think noir detective books starring a young Merlin in modern day Chicago. Possibly riding a demon T-rex, who knows.

Also in hand, so no backup necessary, but I have one anyway. Because why would I ever not buy more books?

Calvin et Hobbes, Tome 10 by Bill Watterson Hubby also loves Calvin and Hobbes comics and has most of them, so like my book, he’s already familiar with the stories and this is really just an excuse to practice French and have fun doing it. Great crossover interest for the kids, too.

For eldest child!

Amulet, Tome 1: Le Gardien de la Pierre by Kazu Kibuishi Once again, we have a already known and loved graphic novel, but in the French edition. You know the drill by now. This is the first book in an eight book series about a family that accidently gets sucked into a fantastical alternate dimension. A girl must use her great-grandfather’s amulet to protect her family and the new realm that she’s come to love.

Unfortunately, this one isn’t yet in hand. So just in case it doesn’t show up, I’m planning to blitz down to the Barnes and Nobles to collect our backup title:

Flight of the Dragon Kyn by Susan Fletcher The second book in the Dragon Chronicles series, my oldest is head over heels in love with the first book and is itching to get his hands on this one next. Unfortunately, the library doesn’t have it! Oh no, looks like I’ll have to buy it!

For the redhead!

Soeurs Grémillet, Tome 1: Le Rêve de Sarah by Giovanni Di Gregorio Lots of dream books! This is another graphic novel, and one that none of us have read, so this would take a lot of work to imbibe, but it is relatively short and youngish so hopefully manageable. It’s about three sisters trying to untangle a web of family secrets and is heartwarmy and sad and sweet, perfect for my thoughtful little boy.

This one is unfortunately sold out of where I hoped to get it from, so it isn’t looking likely. So in case that doesn’t pan out, we have a backup planned for this dude, too!

The Wonders of Nature by Ben Hoare This was kind of a no-brainer for my curious kid who wants to save the world. A nonfiction reference book with a hundred cool and beautiful things from the natural world, mixed with legends and history, he’d love this one.

For le petit!

La Boîte à Musique, Tome 1: Bienvenue à Pandorient by Gijé Carbone You got it, another French graphic novel. I’m sensing a theme, are you? In this story a girl gets shrunk down and sucked into her late mother’s magical music box. Crazy!

And… also seemingly unavailable. So our backup for our youngest is:

Dogman: Grime and Punishment by Dav Pilkey *sighs* I have succumbed.

And that is it! I’m still holding out hope for some more of those French graphic novels, but it is really truly not the end of the world if they don’t show before Christmas. I’ll just hide them and then happily tuck them into Easter baskets a few months hence. Either way, I’m looking forward to sharing exciting new books with my loved ones.

How about you readers? Any bookish traditions you adhere to? Let me know in the comments! I’m always looking for more excuses to put more books on our shelves.

And until next week, happy writing (and reading)!

Reblog: 7 Narrative Structures

Greetings from the Nanosphere! I am desperately behind, but slowly closing up that gap. I’m not quite as panicky as I was feeling last week, haha. Things might be okay? We’ll see. In fact, I was so wrapped up in writing tonight that I just barely remember that I haven’t posted for the week yet! Whoops!

You’ll remember a few months ago that I wrote about the Hero’s Journey and mentioned that there were plenty of other story structures floating about. And then a couple weeks ago, I reblogged Steve Seager’s Beyond the Hero’s Journey, which highlighted four of those other structures.

Well, this week we have even more! With a hop, skip, and a jump over to the Reedsy blog, you can read up on seven narrative structures and how to use them. And that’ll give me a little more time to finish up my own narrative structure! One week to go!

PS- To all my fellow Americans, happy Thanksgiving this week! Be safe!

Story Structure: 7 Narrative Structures All Writers Should Know

Nothing makes the challenging task of writing a novel feel more attainable than adopting a story structure to help you plot your narrative.

While using a pre-existing blueprint might make you worry about ending up with a formulaic, predictable story, you can probably analyze most of your favorite books using various narrative structures that writers have been using for decades (if not centuries)!

This post will reveal seven distinct story structures that any writer can use to build a compelling narrative. But first…

What is narrative structure?

Narrative structure (also known as story structure) is the order in which elements of a narrative are presented to the reader or audience. It is composed of two things:

  • Plot — the chain of events that occur in the book; and
  • Story elements — the underlying factors that drive the narrative action: protagonists, conflicts, setting, etc.

By weaving together a plot and its driving forces, a storyteller can draw connections between ‘things that happen’ and ‘things that matter.’ A tale about two vastly different people falling in love can also be about the value of compromise. An account of two brothers who rob a bank can become an examination of greed, loyalty, or the failure of the American Dream.

Good narrative structure is about presenting the plot and story elements to allow readers to understand what is happening and what it all means. It unravels the plot in a way that doesn’t accidentally confuse the reader while also pushing along the characters’ development and the central conflicts. Structure helps the storyteller deliver a satisfying narrative experience — whether it’s meant to be happy, hilarious, or tragic.

Writers can turn to story theory and narrative structure whenever their story just isn’t working; when they feel that their writing is awkward, aimless, or — worst of all — boring. Writing is an art, but if there’s one part of the craft that’s closer to science, this would be it. Become a master of story structure, and you will have the world at your feet.

Ready to read the rest? Go check it out! And until next week, happy writing!

Reblog: Why e-Learning Is Killing Education

Okay, first off, completely ignore the title, because it’s a click-baity title that really has veeeery close to nothing to do with what the video is actually about, when in reality, Aaron Barth’s Ted Talk is actually about storytelling. Not sure why they didn’t just say that.

Also, this guy super looks like my high school physics teacher. It’s verging on creepy. Maybe long lost twin separated at birth? Who knows!

Native American Heritage Month Booklist

Hey, pals! I hope you’re having a good November so far. Also, did you know that November is Native American Heritage Month? True story! My kids love this month and have especially enjoyed the tremendous amount of work their music teacher at school has put into teaching them about the abundance of foods, dances, songs, and stories that are still very much a part of Fairbanks, Alaska. Living on traditional Lower Tanana Athabaskan lands and in a population center that draws Alaska Natives from all over the state, my family appreciates the vitality and beauty of the cultures and the generosity of the Alaska Native people in letting us share in them through countless potlatches, projects, festivals.


To celebrate Native American Heritage Month, how about a cool new book? I grabbed titles from a variety of tribes, genres, and age categories. I hope you find something you love!

Picture Books

My Heart Fills with Happiness (Monique Gray Smith; Julie Flett) This is a sweet story about recognizing and treasuring the good things in our lives. It’s lyrical and simple and deep, and in our music teacher’s sweet gentle voice, it’s just about perfect.

Fry Bread (Kevin Noble Maillard; Juana Martinez-Neal) I know I’ve mentioned this book on this blog before, but it’s worth mentioning again. This is an awesome book. And one of the many things I love about it is that isn’t filled with stereotypical “Native” characters. It’s a modern, extended family with different builds, skin colors, hair colors, styles, but all connected by blood and culture (and a love of fry bread. Because who doesn’t love fry bread?).

Sweetest Kulu (Celina Kalluk; Alexandria Neonakis) Oh my gosh this book is so beauuuuuutiful! This is a sweet bedtime poem about the gifts the Arctic animals bestow on a newborn baby. It’s full of love of land and preciousness of people and it’s just so gorgeous. Go buy this for your babies, y’all.


Middle Grade Books

I Can Make This Promise (Christine Day) Okay, disclaimer, I haven’t read this one yet, but I am super excited to. It’s about an adopted Native girl who doesn’t know anything about her heritage and doesn’t feel like she can ask her white family. But when she finds a box of letters and pictures of what looks to be her birth family, she finds more questions than answers, including this: can she trust the adopted family that kept all this a secret from her? I can’t wait to find out!

Indian No More (Charlene Willing McManis) A girl and her family are shocked when their tribe loses its status as Native Americans. Economic need forces them to move away from (what had been) their reservation and, finding herself in a new place, without the social network and traditions that sustained her in childhood, the main character must adapt to life in California among an array of people and cultures, none of which look familiar. This moving story is set in the turbulent years of the Civil Era, and based on actual events in Umpqua history.

YA Books

How I Became A Ghost (Choctaw author) This story is about a Choctaw boy whose family and entire tribe are suddenly driven out by the neighbors they thought they could trust and sent on a grueling journey in winter to their new reservation far away. And, like so many others, the main character doesn’t make the journey alive. But his family and his people still need him and the Choctaw dead are never far. (And there are more books to follow! Huzzah!)

Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian (Sherman Alexie) So I actually grew up very close to the reservation this takes place on and we were constantly passing through, so I extra loved this book. And I love how well this expresses the dual lives of people who have to code switch between white culture in public and their family culture at home. With deft and hilarious doodles throughout, we get a front row seat in this book to watch a kid struggling to embrace a brighter future without abandoning his past. And it is difficult.


Adult Books

Tales of Burning Love (Louise Erdrich) Oh my gosh, this book is hilarious and terrible. The women in these stories are survivors, body and spirit, even when each of them falls for the wrong man (and in this case, the same man, if not all at the same time). I haven’t read any of the other books in the series (set?), but it apparently brings all the characters together from the other books to review their lives with the calamitous ex-husband they share. No happily ever afters here, I’m afraid.

Empire of the Summer Moon (S.C. Gwynne) So, this author isn’t Native, but I still learned a lot from this nonfiction book about American history and the clash of multiple cultures with vastly different traditions and ideals. The book did a good job of emphasizing both the beauty and ugliness of the westward expansion and the groups and individuals involved in it, dismantling and examining the myths we white Americans have about the settling of the country. I’m planning to read Blood and Thunder (Hampton Sides) at some point soon, and it’ll hopefully be just as thought provoking.

Hopefully you’ve found a book here (or on the rest of the vastness of the internet) that you can pick up soon and give a read. Enjoy! And happy Native American Heritage Month!

Trick or Treat

Howdy! Sorry about the lateness of today’s comic. I got wrapped up in my kids school stuff last night (and this morning and this afternoon and this evening–it never ends, really) and completely failed to finish inking the comic on time! So here it is, late but great.

Also, this is your customary warning about next month: it’s NaNo time again! So I’m going to get lazy about the blog, with reblogs, terrible art, the works, starting next week. See you then!

Happy writing!