Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas!

I just want to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas!

Penny says, "Santa better bring me extra presents for this!"

I hope you have a wonderful time celebrating with your loved ones! :)

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Card 2011

This year, I decided to illustrate my own Christmas card to send to my family and friends.  Everyone should have received their cards by now, so I can finally share my picture with you!

"Do You See What I See?"

I made this design for three reasons:

1) I adore sheep.  If you've known me for the past decade, then you may recognize this little guy from a short computer graphics movie I made back in 2004.  I recently re-discovered the movie on my old computer and felt compelled to draw some sheep again.  :) 

2) I looooove the Christmas song, "Do You Hear What I Hear?"  The personification and repetition used in the lyrics is just delightful!  Obviously, the first stanza of the song was the direct inspiration for this piece.  (Secretly, I would love to illustrate a picture book of the entire song...)

3) Over the past year, I lost both of my remaining grandparents and hubby lost his grandma.  Although I had many Christmas card ideas, each time I thought of this one, I just knew it was the picture they would have wanted to see.  Grandmom Sophie, Grandpop Walter and Grandma Ruth--this card is for you.

The inside of the card read simply: "May your season be filled with wonder and joy!"

I hope your season has been one of wonder and joy, too!  Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Recipe: Chocolate S'mores Pretzels!

One of my favorite things about the holidays is the abundance of delicious food!  For several years now, I swore every Christmas that I was going to make chocolate covered pretzels, then ran out of time to do so.  This year, though, I bought all the ingredients and started dipping before the season could fly by once again.  After some trial and error (and burned batches of chocolate), I made three sets of pretzels to give away as gifts: White Chocolate Peppermint, Milk Chocolate Toffee and Dark Chocolate S'mores.  All three varieties have so far been a hit, so I thought I'd share one of the recipes with you!
Mmmmm....S'mores Pretzels....
Chocolate S'mores Pretzels
I loooooooove s'mores, so when I was buying ingredients, I purchased some graham crackers and marshmallows to experiment with.  I think they actually turned out to be the tastiest--and easiest--of the pretzel varieties I made.  To make them, you'll need:
-2 12-ounce bags of dark or milk chocolate chips  (I used Hershey's Dark)
-1 large bag of twisty pretzels (I bought the Family Size bag)
-1 package of mini marshmallows
-1 sleeve of graham crackers
-wax paper
-hook, fork, etc. for dipping (your preference)
-empty spice bottle with shaker top (if you have one)
-lots of counter space
-a friend OR grow some extra arms (Note: a friendly octopus is ideal)
~Fill bottom part of the doubler boiler with an inch or two of water.  Melt both packages of dark chocolate together in top part of double boiler over low heat, stirring occasionally.  My melt time took about 10-15 minutes.  (Note: Slowly melted chocolate is much nicer than quickly burned chocolate.) 
~While the chocolate is melting, cover your counter tops with wax paper.  Empty the sleeve of graham crackers into a large, zip-locked plastic bag.  Smash crackers with a mallet or meat tenderizer until they are a crumbly, powder-like consistency.  (No big chunks!)
~If you have one available, pour the smashed graham cracker into an empty spice bottle.  Conveniently, I still haven't put together my spice rack from my wedding three years ago, so I have plenty of those laying around.  (See?  Procrastination pays off.)  You can sprinkle the graham cracker onto the pretzels by hand, but I think the bottle made it easier and less-messy.  Open the bag of marshmallows and put both toppings where you will have easy access to them. 
~Once the chocolate is melted and the toppings are prepped, start dipping the pretzels into the chocolate.  My pot held about 8 pretzels at a time for dipping.  Flip pretzels in chocolate to cover both sides.  Carefully lift them out of the chocolate and place them on the wax paper.  (Note: If you are messy like me, wear an apron or you will be sorry.  I do not own an apron and was very sorry.)
~If you have a friendly octopus, instruct him to place one mini marshmallow in each hole of the pretzel (total of 3 per pretzel) and sprinkle the top of it with a generous helping of graham cracker crumbs.  (Note: Make sure he has cleaned his tentacles first.)  If you do not have a friendly octopus, you will have to do this yourself and pretzel making will take twice as long
~Continue dipping and topping the pretzels until all of the chocolate is gone.  (I got about 100-125 pretzels for every 2 12-ounce bags of chocolate.)  If the chocolate gets too thick, you can add a teensy bit of vegetable shortening.  (Note: Do NOT add milk, butter, water, or ANYTHING ELSE to thin the chocolate.  Trust me.)
~If your friendly octopus is particularly talented, he can dip, decorate and clean up the chocolate you've dripped on your shirt all at the same time.  (You might as well just go sit in the other room and watch "Rudolph" while he takes care of things in the kitchen.  You'll only slow him down.)
~Once all the pretzels are chocolate-covered and have been given the s'mores treatment, either leave them on the counter to cool and harden (takes about 3-4 hours) OR put them in the refrigerator.  (Note: If you want to go the refrigerator route, place pretzels on cookie sheets immediately after dipping, otherwise your already messy shirt will probably get messier.)
~Put cooled pretzels in pretty tins and give to your loved ones accordingly.  (Note: Remember to reward your friendly octopus with a bowl of marshmallows and tuna fish.  He deserves it.)
So pretty!
And that is how you make Chocolate S'mores Pretzels!  If you don't have a friendly kitchen octopus, I recommend asking for one for Christmas.  They are well-worth the money and aquarium upkeep.  
Some other notes to help you out:
-If you want to make white chocolate covered pretzels, don't use a bag of white chocolate chips.  The white candy melting blocks work MUCH better.
-The white chocolate/candy coating hardens much quicker than the milk and dark chocolates, so apply toppings swiftly.
-*Clean* ornament hooks work great as pretzel dippers!  (Thanks, Dad, for that idea!)
-Wear an apron.  Wear an apron.  WEAR AN APRON.
-Octopi have a tendency to sneak treats when you aren't looking.  Prepare to make extra pretzels in case one or two dozen end up in your octopus helper's tummy.
-Ferrets do not make good kitchen assistants; they will just steal all of your ingredients and shiny tins.

What are your all-time favorite holiday treats?  (Cornflake-Marshmallow Wreaths, Panda Bear Brownies, and my family's yum-tastic Chocolate Chip Cookies are some of the other sweets at the top of my list!)  
Happy baking--errr--dipping!  :)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Book Review #7: The Mousehunter

Boy, it seems like forever since I've done a book review!  But after reading several non-Animal Fantasy books in a row, I recently returned to my favorite genre and picked up a great middle grade novel called, The Mousekeeper by Alex Milway.  I'm a sucker for literature about mice, from Brian Jacques' Redwall series to an awesome little book I had as kid called, The Pop Up Mice of Mr. Brice.  Mice are key players in my own novel, too, and I'm always eager to read about other authors' interpretations of the critters.  Milway does not disappoint, and his mice are both creative and adorable.  Here's the flap copy to whet your appetite:
Across the Seventeen Seas, there is no mousehunting pirate half as feared as the legendary Captain Mousebeard.  He seeks out the rarest and most precious breeds of mice to collect and trade, his fearsome reputation preceding him wherever he goes.

Emiline, mousekeeper to one of Old Town's wealthiest citizens, is anything but feared.  So when her master puts a bounty on Mousebeard's head, she sees it as the chance of a lifetime.  Her journey takes her on a high-seas adventure, filled with swords and sea monsters, betrayal, lies, and the chance to capture the most dangerous man in mousing history.
It's important to note that there aren't actually any talking animals in this book.  However, the story is completely mouse-centric, so it definitely falls under the Animal Fantasy category.  This book is a really fun read with a mix of humor, swashbuckling adventure, and delightful mice.  Milway executes many great writing techniques throughout the book, but I think the two most impressive aspects are his use of world building and animal representation.  
The Mousehunter is set in a slightly-steampunk Fantasy world where countless species of mice populate society alongside humans.  The culture is shaped by mice, with Mousekeeping Academies present in the towns, a variety of mousing careers available to humans, and everyday tasks being performed by mice themselves.  Milway's keen attention to detail and mouse-use brings this world to life, from the Powder Mice that assist in loading cannons on ships to the Dung Mouse excrement that is used as fuel.  The human characters even drink mouse-inspired beverages like ''Pipsqueak Beer" and "Rodent Rum."  If not for these elements, it's likely the world would have seemed rather similar to any other pirate story set in the days of pillaging and plundering.  But this prominent sense of mouse-ness makes the world unique and one I'd wish to return to.  On top of an already vivid world, Milway also inserts "excerpts" from The Mousehunter's Almanac in between chapters with a picture of a mouse species, information blurb, and tips for anyone who aims to catch or keep each particular mouse.  This tactic makes the reader feel like a Mousehunter themselves, ready to set off into the wild to discover new species or catch a glimpse of the rarest critters.  It really adds that extra-oomph of fun and authenticity to an already great story.
As I mentioned above, the mice "characters" in the story are well-executed, even though they don't actually speak.  (There is really only one main mouse character, Emiline's pet Grey Mouse, Portly, but there are plenty of other mostly nameless mice who participate in the plot, too.)  Despite the fact they don't speak, it is obvious the rodents are intelligent beings with an array of personalities.  One of the first mice readers meet is a wayward Sharpclaw Mouse who obviously takes great pleasure in wreaking havoc and avoiding re-capture by his Mousekeeper, Emiline.  Emiline's own pet, Portly, comforts her, defends her, and assists her throughout the book.  The mice execute schemes together, come to the rescue, and blush at their inappropriate flatulence.  They don't need words for the reader to tell they are happy, scared, worried, or proud, which is a difficult feat for any writer to accomplish.  There are a million ways Milway could have taken his mice, and they way he presents his critters is both satisfying and imaginative.  If you are thinking about populating your own Fantasy world with non-talking yet intelligent creatures, then you will definitely want to check out how Milway pulls it off.
If you like Animal Fantasies or have a soft-spot for mice, I definitely recommend picking up The Mousekeeper.  It's also a winner for anyone who likes pirate stories, tales of exploration, and mysteries (did I mention there's a cool curse?)  And it's certainly a great book to use for studying world-building and species-crafting techniques, too!  Book two in the trilogy, The Curse of Mousebeard, is already out in the US, with the third installment, Mousebeard's Revenge, still to be released.  (All three books in The Mousehunter trilogy have already been published in the UK--those lucky ducks!)  I know I'd love to read about more Moose Mice and Mousehunting adventures, so I'll be picking up those other books as soon as I can!
You can check out Milway's website here:   And if you read the book, do let me know!  I'd love to hear what you think.  :)
Happy reading!  
Note: Flap copy is borrowed from the actual book--I had problems finding an authentic book-blurb online.  Cover art is from      

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Best Simpsons Ever!

My friend, Ruth, recently brought an episode of The Simpsons called "The Book Job" to my attention.  I am a big fan of the older Simpson's episodes (I haven't watched many of the newer seasons), so this one slipped past my radar.  (In fact, if I turned my Influence Trifecta into an Influence Rectangle, The Simpsons would be added as the fourth leg for giving me my wacky sense of humor!)  This episode is a MUST SEE for any writer.  In short, the episode is about Homer and Bart scamming the publishing industry by writing the next best-selling tween fantasy series.  Lisa struggles to write a "real" book; Homer and Bart head an intricate heist team ala The Italian Job; and hilarity ensues.  The script writers for this episode are spot-on with their jokes about writers, the writing process, and the publishing industry.  (Must come from personal experience!)  I literally could not stop laughing the entire episode.
Homer's partners-in-crime.
If you have an extra 25 minutes and feel like a good laugh, you can check out the episode on Hulu here: "The Book Job".  I'm not sure how long the show will be available for viewing, though, so if it disappears, I apologize for getting your hopes up.
(Disclaimer: After viewing the episode myself, I can attest it is generally full of "clean humor," but there may be a mild curse word or two.  Don't say I didn't warn you.) 
If you are a writer, know a writer, or just like to laugh, I highly recommend watching "The Book Job."  It will make you forget (momentarily) about all those revisions you really should be working on...  ;)
Lisa says, "Aaah! I just wasted another 25 minutes slacking off!"

 Note: The Simpsons and all characters are owned my 20th Century Fox.  Pics are from google images.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Christmas Pact

Today is December 1st, which means it's officially the beginning of the best time of the year!

Or rather, what I used to consider the best time of the year.

Christmas used to make me feel like this:

You'd think that box had a pony in it!

But over the past few years, Christmas has made me feel like this:

Bah humbug!

And I don't enjoy feeling like Scrooge McDuck.  Although kids may get a little greedy around the holidays, they know how to appreciate the season.  They see snow and think, "Snowmen!  Sledding!  Yippee!" not, "Schnox!  Now I have to go clean off my car!"  They hear Jingle Bells and say, "Batman smells; Robin laid an egg!" not, "If I hear this song one more time, I'm gonna scream!"  And they see Christmas cookies and go, "Nom, nom, nom!" not, "I so don't need those calories."  Somewhere between stressing about decorations and cursing Christmas cards, adults have a tendency to lose themselves along the way...

My last few Christmases have not been so fun.  If the Ghost of Christmas Past turned back the last four years, you would witness (in order of occurrence but not gravity): extra jobs adding extra stress every year; a bad reaction to migraine medicine resulting in weeks of vertigo; surgery for our poor baby ferret and a holiday season giving him 8 un-prounouncable medications like Chloramphenicol; frantic manuscript revisions; relatives in the hospital; a death in the family; frenzied ornament painting for extra income; our car getting totaled; and hubby losing his job.  (Thank goodness we still had each other!)

Unfortunately, this seasonal bad-luck has struck many of my loved ones these past few years, too.  And with all this unpleasantness, it's been hard to get in the holiday spirit.  Decking the halls and making merry has just not been a priority--and I even shocked myself last year when I said, "I don't want to put up the Christmas tree." 

While the jury is still out on what this season will bring, I'm ready to try to turn things around.  Each of these past years, I ended up hating the holidays--and I absolutely hated my Scrooge-like hatred.  I want to love Christmas again--and I want others to love it, too.  (The Christmas Grumblings have already started in many of my acquaintances....)

Even Scrooge doesn't like to be a Scrooge...

Hubby and I have made a "Christmas Pact" this year that things will be different--that we're going to actively make an effort to wiggle our ears, and chuckle warmly, and say, "Hee hee," and "Ho ho..." all season long.  (Ah, the wisdom of Christmas specials!)  We've already experienced our fair share of deaths in the family, job insecurity, frantic book revisions, and a sick ferret (yes, the same one again) over the course of 2011, so it's time for fate to leave us alone.  (Same goes for my loved ones--I'm shaking my fist at you, fate!)  Total jobs I am working this year?  One!  Just one!  (That hasn't happened since High School!)  And I'm not even going to let the whirlwind Year-end Financial Planning Season at my office get me down!  :)

So what are we planning on doing?  (You know, instead of wrecking cars and administering ferret meds?)  Things of togetherness: watching Christmas movies; baking cookies; eating said cookies; going to the Columbus Zoolights; spending time with our families; watching more Christmas movies; eating more cookies; snuggling with our healthy pets; and doing all those other things that made us love the season when we were kids.  If I don't put up all the decorations, that's okay.  If our tree doesn't have dozens of presents underneath it, that's okay.  And if I don't get accomplish everything on my "X-mas To Do" list, then that's okay too.  Because as the Grinch learns, "Perhaps Christmas means a little bit more..."

I'm telling you this because everyone I've shared the the "Christmas Pact" with has really liked the idea.  It's so easy to get caught up in the chaos of Christmas and forget what's really important.  Although there are obviously many things beyond our control, we can choose whether we're going to freak out that we didn't buy enough snowflake-shaped Ritz crackers or say, "No biggie," and just be happy we have loved ones around the dinner table.  You've worked hard all year and deserve to enjoy this season of celebration!  So lift your mug of cocoa high, kiss those cares and lists goodbye, and try to love this season--TRY!  (And please, have another slice of pie.  You'll be back in shape before July.)

Um, I promise I'll stop rhyming now. 

Cheers to the start of a Merry Christmas Season!  Let's see if we can keep our spirit levels like this until the 25th: 

Much better!

Note: Mickey's Christmas Carol and Scrooge McDuck are owned by Disney.  First image is from google; second and third images are screenshots I took with my own TV and camera.     

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Kathryn Says, "En Garde!"

As a Fantasy writer, if there's one thing I've always wanted to do, it's try my hand at sword fighting.  To my delight, Groupon offered a discount on fencing lessons just a few months ago.  I purchased a set of lessons for my hubby and I, and we finally got to use them this month.  The lessons took place at the Royal Arts Fencing Academy in Columbus, Ohio.  (I didn't even know this awesome place existed until the Groupon came along!)  The introductory classes consisted of four one-hour sessions with a group of fellow newbies ranging in ages from 8-40ish.  (Yes, hubby towered over the 8 year-olds.  And yes, the middle schoolers towered over me.)  Despite the obvious differences in attention spans between the adults and kids, our class had a lot of fun together as we learned the basics of fencing.

So, what did I learn from my foray into fencing?  Well, for starters, I found out that sword fighting is rife with rules and precise techniques--not willy-nilly sword-swinging and slashing at your opponent (um, even though some of the kids may have thought otherwise).  I also discovered that it is a brain-over-brawn sort of sport, which (for once) worked out well with my petite stature.  (Let's just say flag football and weight lifting have never been my forte.)  Before I started the class, I had no idea that there are actually three types of swords used in fencing: foils, sabres, and epees.  Each sword has its own unique qualities and calls for different techniques and "target areas" on your opponent.  For example, with the foil, you aim for the chest of your opponent; with the epee, you can strike them anywhere you please.  We tried out all three swords in the class and my favorite was the epee.  (Not too heavy, not too light, and far fewer rules to trip me up during a fencing bout!) 

I even found a chart online!  Blue means, "Hit opponent there!"

We also spent a good deal of time practicing the footwork and learning the terms.  We learned "advance" (move forward), "retreat" (move backwards), "lunge" (front foot forward to cover more ground) and, of course, "En garde!" (aka, "Find your ready stance!")  You never look backwards or side-to-side in fencing, so these few steps are all you need.  (And why don't you look backwards or side-to-side, you ask?  Because it leaves your defenses open and results in a sword at your side!  Ouch!)

Isn't my lilac fencing jacket just divine?

With all those pointy objects swinging around, safety is a big concern in fencing.  We wore jackets, chest guards, a glove (only on our fencing hand), and helmets.  (You know, those wacky ones with the hard, mesh front.)  Royal Arts provided all the equipment we needed and helped fit everyone with the correct sizes.  (Yes, I wore mostly kid's gear.)  The helmets were the funniest part out of all the equipment; I felt like I was wearing one of those old-timey diving helmets.  They were also the most annoying part, though, because fencing etiquette calls for the removal of the helmet before and after every bout.  (Long hair gets tangled and pony tails fall out very quickly.) 

Helmet is also good for bee-keeping and alien impersonation.

Once we finally got all this equipment on (which understandably took up a decent chunk of the class), we spent the rest of the time going over the proper fencing moves and participating in 1-on-1 practice bouts.  Whoever scored 5 points first won the bout.  Hubby bested me with the foil, but I kicked his tushy with the epee.  We then saluted each other at the end of class and had fun trying to figure out where the heck our gear went back in the storage room. 

Although we didn't get into the meat and bones of parrying, feinting, thrusting, and all those juicy terms we writers love to throw into our fight scenes, I enjoyed getting an introduction to the basics of swordplay.  Just holding a sabre in my hand and getting a feel for the footwork will certainly be beneficial to my writing and help me craft authentic scenes.  If you write sword-clashing Fantasy and have the opportunity to try out a fencing class, I highly recommend it.  (And if you live in Columbus, the highly-respected Royal Arts Fencing Academy is right in your own backyard!)  It's not everyday you get to try your hand at the medieval arts, and any personal experience you can get will definitely add that extra oomph to your Fantasy writing!

Much to my sadness, our four week class ended last night.  In addition to the kid's classes, Royal Arts offers an adults-only fencing program which includes both fencing instruction and open-bout evenings.  Hubby and I are definitely interested in pursuing the sport, but alas, now is not the best time.  With yucky winter weather on the way and my office's busy season just around the corner, we know icy roads and an exhausted Kathryn will hinder our enjoyment.  (If only we lived on the other side of Columbus!)  However, we are certainly going to reevaluate the matter (and our wallets) come Spring!

If you want to learn more about Royal Arts Fencing Academy, you can check out their website at:  The instructors are wonderful and so enthusiastic about the sport!  And if you live in the area, you should give fencing a try.  You'll be glad you did!  (And if you live somewhere else, I bet they'd even know about fencing academies in your region!)

Note: Logo is (c) Royal Arts Fencing Academy.  I borrowed it from their website. Sword chart is from Google images.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Although I may not be fond of fall, I LOOOOOOVE Thanksgiving!  What can be better than getting together with the people you love and stuffing your face with delicious food?  In this whirlwind of a world we live in, it's also a much-needed opportunity for us to all slow down and remember what's really important.  Today, I am particularly thankful for:

-My loving hubby
-Two (momentarily) healthy ferrets and one wonderful dog
-My awesome family (both the one I was born into and married into)
-My supportive friends
-Having a non-leaky roof over my head
-Having ample food in my belly

And of course I can't forget....

-All of my faithful blog readers!  (Why, this blog wouldn't even be here if it wasn't for you!)

What are you thankful for?

I hope you have a great holiday and make some special memories with the people nearest and dearest to your heart.  Now, go feast until your pants won't zip!  :)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Note: clip art from Microsoft Office.                               

Sunday, November 20, 2011

7th Grade Kathryn Takes Over

Today is a momentous day--a day that makes the spirit of 7th Grade Kathryn jump for joy and grin from ear to ear.  That's because today is the day that the new Legend of Zelda game, "Skyward Sword" is finally being released!  And 7th Grade Kathryn has good reason to be happy--new, main console Zelda games are a rarity, coming out on average once every 3 to 5 years.  And that is a looooong time for a seventh-grader to wait!

I've mentioned before that the Zelda games are one of the three points of my Influence Trifecta (along with The Lion King and Harry Potter) that put me on my current writing path.  (Heck, in the spirit of the day, I'll even call it my Influence "Triforce" like a true Zelda-nerd!)  I actually played my first Zelda game, "Ocarina of Time," when I was in 7th grade and it affected my life in ways I would never have imagined.  I'll tackle this topic another day, but in short, Zelda gave me adventure in a mundane world.  In a life filled with homework, chores, and futile crushes on boys who didn't even know I existed, Zelda gave me the chance to conquer dungeons, ride a noble steed, rescue the princess and save the world.  (Well, the world of Hyrule, at least.)

Nowadays, my adult-life is filled with laundry, bill paying, manuscript revisions and (of course) emptying ferret litter boxes.  (Ferrets are poop machines!)  And with all that poop, there just isn't much room for adventure.  As I mentioned in this post here, this situation doesn't make 7th Grade Kathryn very happy.  And 7th Grade Kathryn wants to be happy today.  The last new Zelda game I played, "Twilight Princess," came out in 2006 when I was a junior in college (boy does that seem ages ago!)  7th Grade Kathryn has been looking forward to rumors of "Skyward Sword" ever since.  Nintendo is a bit of a tease, and I've had Christmas money saved up for "Skyward Sword" since it's "scheduled release" date over two years ago.  (After all this time, I'd almost forgotten where I squirreled it away!)  But now, that wait is over and look!

It's so beautiful...

Here is my brand new game (and special edition golden Wiimote that makes 7th Grade Kathryn's mouth water!)  But wait--what's this?

A pile of laundry?

A stack of bills?

Pages of revision notes?

Ferrets say, "Eww--we are poop machines.

Why, cruel world, why?

Ordinarily, I would look longingly at the game, sigh, and turn my attention to that "To Do" list.  BUT NOT TODAY!

Today I am taking a page out of 7th Grade Kathryn's book and doing what I want to do.  I am going to sit all day in my jammie pants with a cup of hot chocolate and play "Skyward Sword" until my eyes fall out.  (Adventurers don't have time to be bothered with bills and ferret poop!)  Coincidentally, today my hubby is following his 7th Grade heart and picking up his newly-purchased Triumph Spitfire project car.  And so, I encourage you to do the same!  Go indulge your 7th Grade Self!  You have no reason not to slack off.  The weather's yucky, there's frozen pizza in the freezer, and the holiday craziness is still a few days away.  In true 7th Grade fashion, you don't even have to shower if you don't want to!  (Although, I did.  Just saying.  I didn't want to be that stinky-geek in line at GameStop.) 

If you were still in middle school, what would your 7th Grade Self want to do?  Elaborately paint your toenails?  Bake cookies?  Take a 5 hour nap?  Read a book, watch "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," or gush over the hunky actors in celebrity magazines?  DO IT!  I give you permission!  All hail your 7th Grade Self just for today!

As such, 7th Grade Kathryn is currently tapping her foot impatiently and glaring daggers at me, demanding, "Why are you wasting precious Zelda-time by blogging?!"  And so, I bid you goodbye and hope you have a delightful, 7th Grade-inspired day.  (I may have to make this an annual event!)

"Skyward Sword," here I come!   

Note: Picture of Link and Skyward Sword logo are borrowed from google images and (c) Nintendo.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

COSCBWI Nov. Meeting: Edith Pattou and Writing Fantasy

This month's COSCBWI meeting featured the lovely author Edith Pattou and a discussion on writing Fantasy.  As a Fantasy writer myself, this topic is near and dear to my heart and I always love hearing advice from talented, published authors.  Pattou is the award-winning author of East and the picture book Mrs. Spitzer's Garden, as well as the first two books in a trilogy called Hero's Song and Fire Arrow.  (You may remember that back in June, I reviewed East and met Pattou at COSCBWI's Barnes & Noble Bookfair.)  Pattou is always a joy to hear speak and gave our COSCBWI group lots of great pointers for writing Fantasy books.

Since not everyone is familiar with the sub-genres (and sub-sub-genres) of Fantasy, Pattou first spent some time discussing those.  I learned about them back in college and they include such sub-genres as: "High/Epic Fantasy" (think Lord of the Rings); "Urban/Contemporary Fantasy" with the uber-popular sub-sub genre of "Paranormal" (yes, we're talking Twilight here); "Alternate History" (like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell--which I haven't read, but very much want to); "Steampunk" (like the Leviathan series and even The Golden Compass); "Dystopian" (oh, a little book called The Hunger Games comes to mind); "Humorous" (Pattou recommended Half Magic which sounds hilarious); "Tales of Pure Imagination" (like Peter Pan and Tuck Everlasting); and lastly, "Inspired by Folklore/Mythology/Etc." (like East!)  That's a lot of sub-genres!  Each one has their own standards and characteristics and demands different styles of research and writing.  Once you figure out what sub-genre your Fantasy book falls in, it's a good idea to study as many books as you can in that category.  (Hence why I read so much Animal Fantasy!)

The next topic Pattou focused on was "world building" in Fantasy.  World building is a huge part of Fantasy books because the author is taking their readers into a brand-new world/culture/society (i.e. "High/Epic Fantasy," "Dystopian," etc.) OR presenting the world as we know it in a different way (i.e. "Urban," "Paranormal," etc.)  Pattou pointed out that names and vocabulary are particularly important because they can set the mood, setting, and flavor of the entire book.  (You wouldn't name a knight "Bob" in a book set in medieval England!)  Pattou shared that when she writes a new book, she reads books with similar voices and creates word lists she can use for her own reference.  She also recommends doing a lot of research to make your world as authentic as possible and (if your budget permits), going to on-site locations.  (She got to travel to Norway while writing East--what an inspiring way to collect information!)

Lastly, Pattou recommended a few books Fantasy writers should be sure to pick up on craft and Fantasy-roots.  These included The Hero With A Thousand Faces and The White Goddess, which she always finds inspiring and informative.  She recommended plenty of blogs, too, particularly those by Patricia Wrede, Holly Black, and Cynthia Leitich Smith.  (Hooray for more blogs to follow!)

And do you want to know something really cool?  Pattou scored her first agent after meeting Madeleine L'Engle!  (Yes the Madeleine L'Engle of A Wrinkle In Time fame.  I'm only a little jealous...)  Pattou was wonderful to have as a COSCBWI presenter and bestowed a wealth of Fantasy knowledge on our lucky little group.  And to top it all off, members could buy her books right there at the meeting and get them signed as well.  (I adored East and eagerly scooped up both Hero's Song and Fire Arrow for signing!)  All I can say is, what a great way to end COSCBWI's 2011 year!

These books are mine, ALL MINE!  :)
If you want to learn more about Pattou and her books, you can check out her website at:  I look forward to sharing my COSCBWI meeting experiences with you all in 2012!     

Note: The cover art for East is from Pattou's website.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Rule Following vs. Rule Breaking: A Debate

It's no secret that the odds are stacked against aspiring authors.  With so many published books out there and seasoned writers writing more every day, publishers are simply taking less chances on debut authors.  (And why would they?  Why take a risk with Johnny No-name when Stephen King is guaranteed to make your wallet fat and happy?)  But of course, all hope is not lost, and agents, editors, and authors are always giving aspiring writers tips to increase their chances of success.  The most common tip I've heard is to not rock the boat--to "play it safe" and follow all the standard writing "rules" to make sure your book is as polished and professional as it can be.  We writers then throw ourselves into workshops, classes, and conferences, desperate to learn what these "rules" are.  
From my experience, the "rules" consist of common, tried-and-true newbie writer issues like tense changing, weak dialogue, sagging plots, and HEAD HOPPING.  Eagerly, we writers eat up these lessons and hasten to eradicate such issues from our manuscripts, hoping that little extra shine will make our work stand out from the slush.  As an overachieving, rule-abiding, straight-A student throughout my entire life, you don't need to tell me twice not to do something before I'll avoid it like a peanut butter and tuna fish sandwich.  (Yuck.)  My logic has always been: follow the rules and the rewards will come.  But what happens when somebody shatters that logic and BREAKS THE RULES?
Recently, I picked up a 2011 children's novel by a debut author.  I'm not going to say what book it was, but it was published by a well-known house and even recognized as a Junior Library Guild Selection.  I had been super-excited to read the book and heard wonderful things about it.  But when I opened the first page, I found--to my utter horror--HEAD HOPPING!  And on page two?  More HEAD HOPPING.  And pages three through 300+?  HEAD HOPPING GALORE!  I furrowed my brow and frowned at my walls, puzzling, "How is this possible?  HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE?"
For all you non-writing folk, "head hopping" is when a 3rd Person Point of View story hops from one person's perspective to another (and another and another) all within the same scene.  It has been drummed into my head as a huge Writing No-No.  It has also been stamped into my "rule book" that if you want to tell your story from multiple characters' perspectives, then the proper thing to do is to break up each viewpoint by chapters and/or chapter breaks (you know, those "* * *" things).  When I found out I inadvertently did this in my own book (as we all do from time to time), I grabbed my writing rubber gloves and mop bucket and scoured the pages until those POV's were as squeaky clean as I could make them.  (And I guarantee, some spots still linger despite my best efforts--that's what critique buddies are for!)  But this debut author broke that rule--and neither their agent, nor editor, nor anyone else on the publishing staff, made them change it.
While I applaud this debut author for dragging themselves out of the dredges of the slush pile, I am perplexed.  Don't get me wrong--the book itself had an interesting story, likeable characters and vivid details--but this technical issue seemed to be a biggie.  And because this Writing No-No is on my radar, it made the book difficult to read.  For me, it was very hard to keep track of which character knew what secret and was plotting what scheme when I was in everyone's head.  And I mean EVERYONE'S head, not just one or two characters.  One chapter alone looked something like: Character A, Character B, Character C, Character A, Character D, Character B, Characters E,F,G, and then back to Character A.  My inner rule-follower screamed, "Not Allowed!"  But, this author got a book deal, earned glowing reviews, and seems to be getting along just fine without my precious "rules."  (Although, I can't help but wonder how the book would have turned out if someone on staff said, "Let's try a rewrite following just one or two characters instead...")
This situation has rocked the foundation of my writing code.  I'm starting to feel that the rules of writing are like the rules of Fight Club: Rule #1--There are no rules in writing.  Rule #2--There are no rules in writing.  (Rule #3--Writing is full of frustrating contradictions.  Arm thyself with chocolate.)  
So what's an aspiring author to do?  Follow those suggested "rules" like an obedient, good little writer, or scoff and say, "Rules, schmules--I'll write my book as I darn well please!"  (Or, as Captain Jack Sparrow would reason, "They're more like guidelines anyway.")  I'm honestly not sure which road is the best to follow, although I doubt I'll be forging my own rebel path anytime soon.  (I am more of a, "Rules?  Yes, please!" sort of person.) 
Cap'n Jack don't care much for rules.
What do you think about this conflicting situation for newbie writers?  Would you play it safe or blaze your own defiant path to publication?
 Note: Images are from Google.  Jack Sparrow and POTC quote are (c) Disney.      

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Big Thank You!

In case you hadn't noticed, I recently passed a big milestone on my blog: over 1,000 page views!  When I started my blog back in April, I thought it would take a year (or two) to reach such an audience--not mere months.  I am pleasantly surprised by this staggering number and thrilled that it keeps climbing every day! 

And so, I would like to say thank you to all my readers--the faithful ones I know by name and the new ones I haven't met yet.  Thanks for your presence and support that keeps me blogging and striving to find something important (or simply funny) to share.  I promise to keep writing as long as you all keep reading.  :)

Now, let's go work towards 2,000 page views!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Squirrel Babies!

Remember back in September when I posted about all the things I love (and mostly hate) about fall?  Well, squirrel babies at my office are one of the best things about the season!

As much as my job may drive me bananas, I am extremely fortunate that when I look out my window, I see this:

Ah, calming, pretty trees....
And in that big tree just a few feet away from my desk lives Momma Squirrel.  She moved in about three years ago and has a litter of adorable squirrel babies every spring and fall.  I start getting excited around September and March, wondering when those furry cuties will first appear on the branch.  This fall's litter was no disappointment.  However, catching them on camera was a bit of a challenge.  (I now have a new respect for the limitless patience of nature photographers--and a plethora of blurry squirrel-tail pics!)  I swear, those guys must have thought it was a grand game to sit still until the moment I pushed the button, then chuckle in their little squirrel way and scamper to another branch.  Sneaky little things....

This season's litter had three babies and I was shocked to see they were already kindergarten-sized squirrels by the time I spied them.  (I'm guessing the weather must have kept them in their nest during their earliest days.)  Although I snapped a good two-dozen pics, those wily critters out-squirreled me time and time again.  I did score a few good shots, though!

Squirrel baby is not so confident on the ground...

Squirrel babies use their tails as umbrellas in the rain!  Too cute!

Squirrel baby raided Mr. Chipmunk's hole.  He is a smug squirrel...

Squirrel babies like to hide.

And of course, I can't forget Momma Squirrel herself!

Momma Squirrel says, "Those kids drive me nuts!"
If it wasn't for the antics of squirrel babies bouncing from branch to branch, tackling each other, and mimicking Momma Squirrel, I seriously think I might have lost it in the office on more than one occasion.  But seeing those adorable babies brings a smile to my face--and a chuckle or two--every time I look out my window.

Now that it's November and my squirrel babies are now squirrel teens, I know they'll leave the nest soon and start their own adorable families elsewhere.  It will be a few bleak months, indeed, but Momma squirrel's spring babies will be here before you know it!  :)

I hope my squirrel babies put a smile on your face, too!  Do you get to enjoy any critters or scenic views at your place of work?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Legend of Zelda Calendar Contest

Hello everyone!  Enormous apologies for my lack of blog activity as of late.  Remember in my last post when I told you I was up to something?  Well, that something was another calendar contest!  The contest featured my favorite video game series, The Legend of Zelda, and was put on by the Zelda fansite, "History of Hyrule."  The contest theme was, "Festival with Music."  Here's my interpretation:

"Race Day At The Romani Animal Festival"

So what is this picture about?  Well, if you're a Zelda fan like me, then you know it's fanart based off the game, Majora's Mask.  (If you aren't so into Zelda, this probably just looks like some crazy kid with a bunch of happy animals--which isn't that far off, actually.)  My favorite part of the game is when the main character, Link, puts on the "Bremen Mask" and plays a little tune on his ocarina, causing animals to follow him around.  It's just adorable--and the dogs even bark in time to the song!  And what about that racetrack in the background?  In the game, Romani Ranch has dog and horse races and if you wear a different mask, the doggies will tell you how they are feeling and who you should bet on.  (Boy I love this game!  And yes, I'll admit this probably sounds crazy to non-video gamers.)

I took all of these ideas and turned them into a festival concept, titling the piece, "Race Day at the Romani Animal Festival."  Here's my contest blurb:

"It's the big race day at the Romani Ranch Animal Festival!  Every year, Link dons the Bremen Mask and leads the animal racers on a parade.  The cows and cuccos cheer as the racers strut their stuff, prancing and leaping to Link's ocarina tune.  Who will win this year?"  
Yes, I am a total Zelda nerd and I don't care who knows it.  (Now that I'm an adult, I can openly admit that without my cheeks even turning red!)

This was so much fun to do (yet sooooooo intensive and time-consuming!)  Since it was only my second attempt at painting with Photoshop, I think I bit off a bit more than I could chew with this piece.  But, I'm overall very happy with how it turned out.  I tried my hand at perspective and adding visual depth to the picture.  This was also my first effort to shade furry and muscled critters (which, I must say, is not easy to do on a computer!)  Of course there are things I would like to change, but I think I did the best I could with the time I had and my novice-Photoshop abilities.  Overall, it was a great learning experience and I'm proud to say that I didn't repeat the mistakes I made on last month's SCBWI contest submission.  (I did run into plenty of new issues and technical snarls, but now I can avoid those in the future, too!)  Now, I just need to get FASTER!  When it comes to the art race, I am definitely the tortoise and not the hare. (And this tortoise had to pull an all-nighter to make it to the finish line...)

The winners for the contest get chosen soon.  There are over a 100 entries, so fingers crossed mine makes it into the calendar!  The other entries are so beautiful and creative.  You can check them out here.  Contests like this simply fascinate me.  I love how one prompt can inspire people in so many different ways.  I wish the very best of luck to all the other contestants!

Now that my entry has been submitted, I can get back to blogging and sleeping!  (And those Simbas.  Guess who drew #16 today...)  This was also a great way to pass the time until the new Zelda game, Skyward Sword comes out.  November 20th is just around the corner!  Maybe I'll be inspired to do more fanart then!  :)

Note: Link, cuccos, etc. are all copyright Nintendo.  This is just my humble homage to them.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

COSCBWI October Meeting: Choosing The "Best Of" Books

My goodness, this month is just flying by!  Our COSCBWI October meeting featured a great chat on how "The Best Of ___" books are chosen with librarian Claudia Fett.  Claudia works in the Upper Arlington school district and spends her days instilling a love of reading in kids.  Outside of the school day, she reads mountains of books to keep up with what's on the market and to help her decide what she should acquire for her library (and ultimately share with her students!)  With so many books out there--and more being added constantly--Claudia says she often relies on reviews and awards to help her choose what books to pick up.  Some of the reviewers and organizations Claudia recommended checking out include the Horn Book Magazine, NY Times Reviews, School Library Journal and any websites with starred reviews.  But how do books get chosen as the pick of the litter?
The "best" books are, of course, subjective to opinion.  But a fair assessment includes a panel of multiple readers who follow a list of criteria in order to bestow the title of "best" on a certain book.  Claudia has experimented with this process with her students, giving them the opportunity to determine their own "Best Books of 2011."  She compiled criteria from various committees and reviewers, creating a list her students could use when rating books.  The criteria varies from committee to committee and reviewer to reviewer, but most are generally objective observations including originality, readability, quality, and kid-appeal.
Claudia gave us a taste of being the book reviewer by handing out books and asking us to judge them based on the criteria her students used to evaluate picture books.  The criteria list included aspects such as, "Do the pictures match the words?" and "Do you want to read this again and again?"  I choose a humorous little book called, "The Runaway Wok" by Ying Chang Compestine.  In it, a poor boy buys an old, beat-up wok on Chinese New Year, unaware the wok is magical and will dupe the royal family into giving the less-fortunate one heck of a feast.  The illustrations were detailed, funny, and adorable--and who can resist a mischievously grinning wok?  I gave the book 4 out of 5 stars, rating it high in terms of art, content and originality, but lower in re-readability.  (It was a little dense, so I couldn't say I was raring to read every single word over and over again!)  It was interesting to evaluate the book with a list of criteria.  Usually, I can judge a book however I darn well please.  But with certain aspects chosen for me to look at, I felt I was forced to give a more objective review.  This activity was great for emphasizing how important specific criteria is for funneling subjective opinions into as-fair-as-possible judgments.  Criteria lists certainly make you focus more on what's on the page rather than what opinions and preferences/biases you already have in your head!
Because librarians are so intimate with books and children, it was wonderful to hear Claudia's input on the literary world.  Librarians are "in-the-know" for what books are missing from the market, too, and what books she's dying to have in her library.  Shhh...I'll spill the secret on what she'd like to see, but it's just between you and me, okay?  ;)  Claudia says that in her opinion, the market is in dire need of kid-friendly, non-fiction books on plants, amphibians, invertebrates, and unlikely friendships.  So, if you happen to feel like writing a book on sequoia trees or have a passion for newts and octopi, the time may be ripe for you to pounce on those publishers!
I hope to see you at our next meeting featuring the lovely author of East, Edith Pattou!  (And in case you've been wondering where I scampered off to the past week or so, well, let's just say I've been a little busy with a special project.  But I can show you what I've been up to in just a few more days!) 

Note: Cover art of The Runaway Wok is from Amazon.  You should check out the book--it's adorable AND makes you want to go get some Lo Mein!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Book Review #6: The WindSinger

This week's book review is Peggy Harkins' unique contemporary fantasy, The WindSinger.  You may remember that back in July, Harkins spoke to my local SCBWI chapter about her foray into self-publishing.  (You can read my meeting summary here.)  As I mentioned in that post, I was lucky enough to win a copy of The WindSinger signed by the delightful Peggy Harkins herself.  I was thrilled to discover the book can actually be categorized under my favorite genre of "animal fantasy" (at least in my opinion) and eager to see how a self-published book stacked up to those published by the bigger houses.
Here's the book blurb from Harkins' website:
James Braden was like any other twelve-year-old boy, except for one thing. He had a secret. A big one. As a young child, James had slipped away from a family outing and vanished into the forest. He reappeared three days later – alone but unharmed, and miles from where he was last seen. Where had he been? Who had helped him? James wouldn't say. He had promised to say nothing about meeting the WindSinger.

The WindSinger was a creature with the power to care for and heal all living things. She suspected she was the last of her kind. Because humans had exterminated many members of her species, she'd been taught to fear them. Yet, in the three days they spent together, she made a connection with James that would cross time and space.

Nine years after their first encounter, the WindSinger came back into James's life. This time it was she who needed help. Conscious of the debt he owed her, James willingly became her protector. But he didn't anticipate the dangers he'd face in returning to the forest with her. What happened there would leave him with an even bigger secret. And it would change his life forever.
The story is told primarily from two perspectives--James' and Z'Nia's--with a few chapters here and there from other side-characters' POV's.  Because Z'Nia is a Tazsmin--a bigfoot-like creature with the ability to communicate via mind-link--I think this totally counts as an animal fantasy.  What I particularly love is the way Harkins has Z'Nia "speak" and think.  You can tell Harkins put a lot of thought into her word choices, phrasing, and Z'Nia's general attitude.  She is mature in comparison to humans, but youthful within her own species.  There is also a distinctly non-human quality about her "speech" that is rather magical and allows the reader to see through to the very core of the Tazsmin society and beliefs.  It's enlightening to experience the world through Z'Nia's filter--and an enviable author-talent if you write animal fantasies!
The second thing I want to impress is how The WindSinger breaks all those stereotypes and misconceptions that self-published books are "lesser" books.  The publishing house Harkins chose, Author House, did a wonderful job across the board with her book.  Everything about The WindSinger looks professional, from the layout and editing to the paper quality and beautiful chapter title fonts.  (There are even whimsical little designs between the section breaks in the book.)  Harkins' self-designed cover is visually appealing, and in my opinion, looks just as enticing as any of the novels you'd find on a bookstore shelf.  Of course, as pretty as a book may be, it's the content that's important and I'm pleased to report that Harkins does not disappoint.  The plot and perspectives of The WindSinger are truly unique (and even better than some of the traditionally published books I've read!)  The plot is gripping, the characters are engaging, and the powerful themes are conveyed in a quiet, dignified way.  I'm very happy to say I didn't find a single "unprofessional" thing about The WindSinger during my reading experience.  :)

If you like books about self-discovery and seeing the world through another's eyes, then The WindSinger is definitely for you.  If you're thinking about jumping into the self-publishing pool, then you should certainly pick up this book to see what kind of product your own novel could be.  And though you can't find The WindSinger in stores (at least not yet!), you can buy it online from Harkins' website and  (It's even an easy-to-download e-book now, too!)  Despite all the misconceptions, self-publishing is no easy feat.  It takes a special kind of writer to brave the publishing world on her own and create an outstanding book from scratch--then somehow get that book into the hands of readers!  I am so happy I had the chance to read this book and pass my experience along to you.  I wish Harkins the best of luck with The WindSinger and hope she brings us many more great books in the years to come.
You can check out Harkins' website at: 
And if you pick up a copy of this awesome book, let me know!  I'd love to hear what you think.  Happy reading!
Note: Cover art and book blurb are both from Harkins' website.     

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Guest Post COSCBWI Sept. Meeting: Creating Websites & Online Presence

Today I have my very first guest post for your enjoyment!  I was feeling under the weather and missed September's COSCBWI monthly meeting, so my good friend, Andrea Hall, wrote up her reflections on the presentation to share with you all!  Andrea is our local chapter's Critique Coordinator and a hard-working, aspiring author who writes some pretty sweet manuscripts. :)  Here are her thoughts on websites and online presence for unpublished authors:

There seems to be an ongoing debate right now regarding aspiring authors needing a website.  Some say that it’s necessary, even if you haven’t published a thing.  Others claim you should spend the time on your actual writing, and worry about the ‘online presence’ later.  I tend to agree with the latter, but find myself agonizing over starting a website anyway.

At the September COSCBWI meeting, Dr. Asma Mobin-Uddin weighed in on this very subject.  She is the author of the books My Name is Bilal, The Best Eid Ever, and A Party in Ramadan.  She struggles herself with the technology of building a website and actually hired someone else to create her's.  If you have the money to spend, she says it’s not a bad idea, but to make sure the person will be around to update as necessary.  Her best advice was to not be afraid of the process.  While it may seem scary now, it’ll be worth the agony and effort later.

The first step is to buy your domain name (i.e. your website address).  Several years ago, it was recommended that I buy mine.  I didn’t listen.  Now, I’m in a pickle as the web addresses I wanted to use are all taken.  I found this out by looking them all up at  It’s super simple.  You just type in what you want to use and it tells you whether or not it’s available.  Perhaps I should add something on the end, like andreahallauthor, andreahallbooks, etc., or I can take the route of the pseudonym.  I have a feeling if I pick a fake name, and down the road give an author signing, I would automatically use my birth name, though.  It makes for a tricky situation.

Assuming you have an easier time buying a domain name, the next step is to start designing your site.  There are several options that can help you do this, but before anything else happens, you should know what you want on your site.  How many pages should you have to begin?  Do you post your work in progress?  What should you have for contact information?

My advice: keep it simple.  Start out with a few core pages, such as an ‘About Me,’ ‘Contact Information,’ etc.  Check the websites of your favorite authors to see what features you like, as well as those you don’t.  Make your website representative of your personality, but don’t overdo it.  Remember your audience and keep it family-friendly.  Consider creating an email account that handles inquiries from your website only.  As for your current writing, if you post any, ensure that it is solid work.  You never know when agents or editors will come across it.

Also, be careful with any clip art or photos you post.  Most clip art is copyrighted and you don’t want a lawsuit for using it without permission.  The same is true with photos.  Make sure you have permission from the photographer, as well as anyone else that might appear in it.

Happy creating and I hope to visit your site soon!   -Andrea Hall

Big thanks to Andrea for her insights--and giving us all a lot to think about!  I want to add that you can use blogs to boost your online presence, too.  I also HIGHLY recommend following the advice to purchase your domain name NOW.  (I did and sleep much better at night knowing it's all mine.)  What do you think about aspiring authors and online presence?

You can learn more about Dr. Asma Mobin-Uddin at:

Note: The cover art for The Best Eid Ever is respectfully from Dr. Asma Mobin-Uddin's website.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

3rd Grade Kathryn Is Changed Forever

In case you hadn't heard, my all-time favorite movie, The Lion King, is being re-released today to inspire and delight a new generation.  As part of the release, Disney ran a special 3-D engagement of the film in theaters over the past two weeks.  I couldn't pass up this rare opportunity to see my favorite film on the big-screen and wasted no time getting myself to the theater with my Lion King-loving little sister.  When the lights went down and the "Circle of Life" started blaring, raising goosebumps all over me, I found myself transported to 1994 when 3rd Grade Kathryn stared up at the same film in complete awe.

I remember that moment vividly.  3rd Grade Kathryn was mesmerized from the opening title to the end credits, crying when Mufasa died, laughing at Zazu's lame jokes, and gaping open-mouthed when Simba triumphed in the end.  The movie captured my thoughts long after I left the theater and manifested itself in a large collection of Lion King plushies, clothes, toys and trading cards.  I saw the movie twice in the theater during the first run, watched it a bazillion times on VHS, and was able to recite most of the script from memory (and I probably still could!)  Once the story and characters grabbed hold of me, they just wouldn't let go.  I've never been affected by a movie in such a way before or since.

As an adult, I still love the movie as much as I ever did, but now I can put words to my appreciation.  Though it may sound silly, The Lion King is one of the three biggest influences that shaped my writing and, ultimately, my life.  (The Legend of Zelda video games and Harry Potter books claim the other points of my influence trifecta.)  So what's so great about The Lion King?  In my opinion, practically everything.  (Um, apart from Timon and Pumbaa.  I don't like fart jokes.)
Simba Sketch Day 12--he's happy, yet still sad...

What impresses me the most, is that Disney accomplishes something remarkable by taking an incredibly deep and dark plot and making it completely accessible to kids.  Over the years, I've learned that people normally fall into two Lion King camps and either loooove the movie or don't like it at all.  I can understand why people wouldn't; overall, it is not a happy movie.  This really hit home while I was drawing my "30 Simbas in 30 Days."  In the second half of the movie, adult Simba is rarely happy.  His expressions are riddled with pain, remorse, anger and uncertainty, and even when he does smile, his furrowed brow still reveals the turmoil within. 

Considering the plot is essentially Hamlet (minus all the boring parts) + lions, I suppose this darkness should be expected.  I've spent just a wee bit of time with Disney movies over the years and truly think The Lion King is the weightiest of them all (followed by The Fox and the Hound, Brother Bear and Mulan).  The sheer amount of heavy and not-so-PG topics Disney throws at kids in The Lion King is astounding: regicide; fratricide; identity-crisis; betrayal; self-loathing/guilt; usurpation; revenge; death; grieving; the afterlife; persecution; exile; and ultimately growing up and self-actualization.  I didn't know that's what I was being fed when I was little; I just knew the movie was powerful and so much bigger than myself.  If you think about it, these concepts are topics most parents would shield their children from, but the sugar-coating of cute, fuzzy lions makes it acceptable and easy for kids to digest.  Just think if Simba was an eight year old boy who grew up believing he killed his father while his uncle took over his kingdom.  Whether animated or acted out by real-people, I think the movie would have quickly left the realm of kid's films and entered PG-13 cinema.  Having these terrible things happen to animal characters, though, removes the audience just a degree, making the themes and concepts a little less scary to young minds and a lot more pallateable. 
Aww!  I have a puppy AND Lion King lunchbox

This combination of a mature, powerful story conveyed through animal characters simply amazes me and ignited my respect for animal fantasies.  Add in animation that is an artistic masterpiece and an achingly beautiful musical score, and I don't know what more you could ask for in a film.  Like the other legs of my influence trifecta, if I had never experienced The Lion King, I'm not sure I would have chosen to follow my writing path.  Even in 3rd grade as I watched the movie for the first time with a jumbo bucket of popcorn in hand, I knew deep down I wanted to do this.  (Heck, I'll be happy if my characters and stories are even a fraction as resonating!)  And though my love for The Lion King may make me sound a teensy bit crazy, I'm glad a new generation of kids will have the opportunity to experience this film and maybe find themselves in Simba's epic story, too. 

Now that you've had the chance to gaze into the inner-workings of my (slightly-insane) creative mind, are there any movies, books, games, or other works that have profoundly influenced your life?  

And in case you're wondering, "Hey!  Where are those 30 Simbas you promised?"  I am terribly sorry to disappoint.  I had to pause in the middle of the endeavor to work on my SCBWI calendar contest entry instead.  (At least I was still doing something artsy!)  But you can bet those remaining Simbas will be finished up and posted just as soon as I can!  :)

Note: Simba, The Lion King, and anything Disney-related in this post (including the poster artwork) is respectfully owned by Disney.