Summertime & Society6 Style

2019 has been the year of launching new projects. In February, I opened the Etsy shop I’d been contemplating for months. In March, I re-started the first draft of NIGHT GARDEN, a novel I hadn’t touched since 2015.

And this summer, I kicked my Society6 shop into gear.

Society6 is, in my (slightly-biased) opinion, one of the coolest online shopping venues around. Artists can upload their original work, then see it transformed into all manner of lifestyle goods ranging from blankets to bar stools, cellphone cases to coffee mugs, shower curtains to stationary.

I was super excited to see what I could do with my paintings. But I was nervous, too. What if my work didn’t showcase well?

But thanks to my most faithful patroness (merci, Mom!), I recently got to road-test some products. The trio of beach towels she’d ordered accompanied me on a father/son/daughter surf session at one of my favorite beaches in the world–North Packery, in my hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas.

I can now report that the towels held up valiantly to the abuse of sand, sun, and saltwater. And Society6 did an excellent job ensuring every color was vibrant, every detail crisp. A pretty impressive feat, considering that it involved converting 11″ x 14″ paintings into 74” x 37” towels.

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Treat Yo’ Self: Gemstones & Georgetown Jewelry Shops

I should start by saying that though I’ve gotten to do some fancy things in my life, I am not a fancy person.

I’m happiest when covered in sand and sea salt, preferably mid-surf session. In my ballroom/etiquette class, I was a terrible dance partner, constantly stumbling, stepping on feet, mis-executing moves. When my husband treated me to high-tea at the jaw-droppingly posh Mandarin Oriental Hotel, I spent much of the time wondering why they let me in, recalling every time I’d been elbows deep in blood or mud or sweat after a father-daughter hunt.

But I can’t lie: I’ve also retained into adulthood that little-girl desire to be a princess. I loved getting gussied up for Marine Corps Balls. And when a chance to snag custom jewelry recently arose, I’ll admit: I got a little giddy.

The whole process started when my sweet brother brought me back a handful of gems after his stint serving overseas: one black diamond and three tanzanite drops.

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Libraries & Leisure

Here’s my confession: I’m a workaholic.

In the nearly thirteen years we’ve known each other, my husband and I have lived in a variety of locales: Indiana, Ireland, and the Czech Republic for college, Texas, China, Suriname, and Washington, D.C. for work. And every time we hit a new spot, I’ve vowed to prioritize getting out and experiencing whatever makes that place special.

But every time, my to-do list tugs me back: to my laptop to write, my palette to paint.

It’s a flaw I’m trying to pray through. But in the meantime, I’m super thankful when people like my brother–who’s infinitely better at sallying out to try new things–come visiting.

It’s that push I need to go forth and explore.

So my brother gets all the credit for coaxing me to visit the Library of Congress–the largest library in the world, housing millions of books, penned in 470 languages. Sad as it is to admit, this is my third stint living in D.C…. and my first trip to the Library. Which is kind of unacceptable, considering my bibliophilic little heart.

But better late than never, right?

Just a handful of the many, many highlights included:

  • The gorgeous architecture of the Thomas Jefferson building
  • A complete version of the Gutenberg Bible (the 15th century innovation that rocked the worlds of religion and books)
  • A still-in-progress replication of Thomas Jefferson’s personal library, being gathered text by text from around the world
  • The Main Reading Room (one of several research enclaves accessible to anyone over 16 wishing to study… provided you can keep up with their code of conduct [Cue finger-wagging librarian])
  • The office of the Librarian of Congress (currently Carla Hayden)

Confession no. 2: I now have office envy. But it’s probably for the best that my own workspace isn’t quite so nice.

It’d be a poor fit with my efforts to combat workaholism.

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Letters & Literature

I felt like a Jane Austen heroine, receiving this eagerly-anticipated (8 page!) hand-written letter containing a friend’s thoughts on my historical novel.

The stationary may have changed a bit since Austen’s time, but I’m guessing the sense of eager excitement’s just the same.

And in this world of handy-dandy, insta-communication, there’s a particular specialness about a letter that someone took the time and effort to physically craft.

Of course, that could just be my romantic, literature-nerd sensibilities talking.

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Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “The Things She’s Seen”

Given my tendency to write long, winding novels that later have to be hacked back like overgrown rosebushes, I’ve come to really respect those writers who’ve mastered the art of trim fiction.

The Things She’s Seen, the work of brother/sister duo Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina, is a prime example. At just 193 pages–half of which are in verse, making them even less text-intensive–this young adult novel nevertheless tackles heavy themes with succinct, heart-pricking grace.

Set in small-town Australia, Things is told in two voices. 15-year-old Beth Teller, recently dead, has lingered as a ghost only her detective father can see. When he’s dispatched to investigate a suspicious death, she accompanies him, desperate to help him survive his grief. Isobel Catching, found wandering near the murder site, is the sole witness of the crime… but will only tell her story in poetic riddles.

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Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “Spinning Silver”

Full disclosure: I bought this book way back in July. But I’ve delayed reading it for this simple reason: Naomi Novik’s last book (Uprooted) ruined my life. While I was reading it, I skipped workouts. Forewent human companionship. Stayed up to 3 am reading, when I had to be into work by 7:30 am. All because I.couldn’t.put.Uprooted.down.

Since the moments in adult life when one can just opt out and read are rare, I knew I had to be strategic about cracking Spinning Silver.

But my self-discipline finally cracked. Again, I stayed up stupid late to finish–1:49 am. (Or so my husband told me after I knocked over our shredder in the dark and woke him up.) But I can now report that if Spinning Silver isn’t quite as compulsion-inducing as its predecessor, it’s still darn good. In other words, if it missed the 99 mark, it scored a thoroughly-deserved 98.

Spinning Silver is an incredibly clever retelling of Rumpelstiltskin, with so much of Novik’s own intricate plotting and world-building woven throughout that finding those Rumpelstiltskin references is like spotting a bread crumb along an unfamiliar and alluring path. At the novel’s heart is Miryem, the daughter of a moneylender. Her talent for turning silver to gold draws the terrifying notice of the king of the Staryk, a race of ice fey slowly burying Miryem’s land under endless winter. Her efforts to save herself and her family entangle her fate with that of Wanda, a peasant girl, and Irina, the new bride of the young tsar… a man whose own secret threatens his kingdom and the Staryks’.

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Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe”

The newest offering by Matched author Ally Condie, The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe is not unlike crowd favorite Firefly in its futuristic-meets-Old West atmosphere. But where Firefly is about traversing the skies, The Last Voyage is all about navigating waterways.

Set on what appears to be a near-future Earth where the human population has fragmented and thinned, The Last Voyage follows Poe Blythe, the 17-year-old captain of the Gilded Lily. A gold-mining dredge, the Lily is designed to scoop up riverine gold for the Admiral, who leads the remote Outpost where Poe’s society resides. But for Poe, who designed the ship’s deadly armor, the dredge is the means to a very different end–revenge against the raiders who destroyed all she loved. But this time, there’s a traitor aboard….

I found a lot to like in Poe’s story. Condie clearly did her research on river-based gold mining and the corresponding destruction. I recently spent a few years living in Suriname, a South American country with a large gold mining sector. My day job at the time included reporting on the impact of mining on Suriname’s rivers and rainforests. The effects are bleak indeed. Condie’s evoking of the heat and noise, grime and devastation of mining is spot-on.

The Last Voyage is also well paced. The novel has a fair number of twist and turns and Condie manages them nimbly–the pace is tight without being rushed. The various story complications unfold gradually, keeping the reader guessing. And flashbacks are skillfully woven throughout, in support of later plot revelations. There’s also disinformation sown by various characters, both intentionally and accidentally. By leaving the reader unsure what to believe, this sprinkling of deception replicates what Poe would experience as she hears rumors and reports, accusations and counter-accusations: deep uncertainty about who to trust.

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