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Charis M. Ellison
01 January 2013 @ 09:09 pm
Books Read 2012


Total books: 101

Audiobooks: 55

Re-reads: 41

My top recommendations out of the books that were new to me this year:

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, To Say Nothing of the Dog and Blackout/All Clear, all by Connie Willis, Are Women Human? by Dorothy Sayers, and the four Tiffany Aching novels by Terry Pratchett. I could go on naming outstanding books, because I read a lot of good books this year, but those are the ones that stand out the most.

The list!:

The Thief of Time: A Novel of Discworld by Terry Pratchett (re-read, audiobook)

Coraline by Neil Gaiman (re-read, audiobook)

Reaper Man: A Novel of Discworld by Terry Pratchett (re-read, audiobook)

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (re-read, audiobook)

Whose Body: A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery by Dorothy L. Sayers (re-read, audiobook)

Clouds of Witness: A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery by Dorothy L. Sayers (re-read, audiobook)

The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century by Ian Mortimer
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Charis M. Ellison
02 December 2012 @ 01:17 am
Prodded by idiosyncreant, here is a meme thing about my current book!

1) What is the working title of your next book?

The Light of Embers (VERY tentative)

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

Reading this blog post on A Practical Wedding and then ruminating about it for a few days.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

YA fantasy, fairy tale retelling.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I honestly have no idea who would be Ember, my main character. It's hard because it's important to the integrity of the story that she be very chubby, covered in freckles, and not particularly pretty in a conventional sense. I don't know of enough actresses with lots of freckles, and it's hard to imagine what actresses will look like when they put on the required weight. She's also young, so that narrows the field. Georgie Henley? Maybe Alia Shawkat?

It should be easier to come up with a name for Annie, who is tall and conventionally beautiful but also warm and delightful, but I can't put my finger on anyone.

...I also can't think who would be good for Prince Rian, or for Flossie. Apparently I'm not very good at this game.

I would fall all over myself to have Maggie Smith as Lady Catherine. Harriet Walter would also be great.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Ember the chubby, freckled, orphaned, and impoverished Duchess of Mellyn, finds a friend in Prince Rian during the year of balls celebrating the prince's coming of age, but at midnight of every ball a mysterious and beautiful woman appears to dance with the prince--and as the year progresses, Prince Rian begins to fall ill.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Once it's done, I'll send it to agents.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

It's in progress--I just finished using NaNoWriMo to get the first 50K, but I'm only a third of the way through my outline. I estimate that the first draft will be 120K, and that the final draft will end up between 80 and 90K. If I stick to my scheduled goals, it will be a total of about three months.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I would compare it to books like Spindle's End by Robin McKinley, Entwined by Heather Dixon, and Sorcery and Cecilia by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermere. I hope, anyway.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

See above--after my ruminations about the article had been going on for a few days, I started thinking about Cinderella stories in popular media, about how girls are taught to wish for/expect a moment in their lives where everyone around them sees them as beautiful, that post-make-over moment when everyone realizes how beautiful they've been all along. Even in movies that are otherwise empowering for girls, in which the girl ultimately wins by being intelligent, or by being true to herself, once she's been made-over she stays made-over, and we're left with the impression that it makes her happier to be pretty in a socially acceptable way. And I think being recognized as beautiful is something that, for girls, is associated with being successful, and we look for that moment in our lives, even though most people will never have it. No matter how often we tell girls that their value isn't in how they look, girls are fed stories about characters who go unnoticed, then get a make-over of some kind and suddenly everyone sees how beautiful they’ve been all along, etc., and once everyone sees them as beautiful THEN they get their dreams, and what does that teach us?

SO I was thinking about all of that, and that led to thinking about how deeply problematic the Cinderella story is, even in its 'empowering' variations, and I started coming up with an idea for a story that would subvert Cinderella. I wanted a Cinderella story with a heroine who dealt with not being conventionally pretty, and who didn't turn pretty. I decided that I wanted a story about love that came out of a friendship rather than 'at first sight'. I realized I'd never read a book about a heroine with lots of freckles--it was always 'a light dusting across the nose', so I gave my heroine full body freckles. I wanted a Cinderella story that didn't villainize female relationships, so I made one of the stepsisters my heroine's best friend, and fleshed out the motivations of the other stepsister and stepmother.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?

There's shoe magic. This is legit folklore.
Charis M. Ellison
30 November 2012 @ 10:06 pm
Charis M. Ellison
23 October 2012 @ 01:09 am
Hi, neglected LJ. I haven't been posting here about minor things--I have been slowly slipping into the cult of Tumblr. This may have something to do with the fact that I don't think anyone is still reading this LJ, but I actually wrote a real post about my day, so there it is:

I had a wonderful day! And it was weird. Nothing particularly fantastic happened to me, except that I felt in control and on top of everything all day. 

It all started because I woke up with an awful headache, of the 'oh my gosh did I stab an icepick into my temple in my sleep?' variety. Most mornings I wake up and go back to sleep several times, but since there was no going back to sleep with this headache I just got up. At 8am, an hour and twenty minutes before I usually claw my way out of bed. 

Since I was getting up, I made my bed (it helped that I had just changed the sheets and made up the bed the night before--is it weird that I feel powerful and triumphant when I put the sheets on and make tight hospital corners? Because I do). 

With an hour and a half before leaving for work, I decided to take care of the big item on my to-do list for the day--exercise. First I drank a glass of water and took some painkiller for the headache, and ate breakfast (it was re-heated pizza, but hey, normally I rush out of the door and then eat a fiber bar at work). 

Then I did half an hour on the elliptical, and drank an Emergen-C, and showered (and while I was waiting for the water to warm up I wiped down the outside of the toilet).

Usually I run out of the shower, dress frantically, and leave late. Today I came out of the shower with nine whole minutes in which to leisurely don the clothes that I'd laid out (and okay, I laid them out after I took them off on Friday--but I only wore them for a couple of hours and thought 'hey, this is a good outfit for work on Monday' and left them out on purpose. Totally counts). I left the house on time for the first time in weeks/months/almost ever, and got to work early. 

I felt focused all morning, and the day didn't seem to drag on forever. I had an hour for lunch (all of last week we were told to talk half an hour because we were slammed) and I got to go to my beloved Panera (Panera. Marry me). But I finished my lunch with twenty minutes to spare!

So I went to the store and bought deodorant and pens. 

And I worked the rest of the day, still feeling focused and not clawing at the walls, even though I worked an hour overtime. 

The downside to going to sleep late and getting up early is that by the time I got home the focus was wearing off and I was starting to feel tired and glassy, but I still added notes to the outline for my NaNoWriMo novel, folded and put away two loads of laundry (and put away a load of towels), washed my face (I've been neglecting my oil method routine), put out clothes for tomorrow, and I'm about to go and put my butt into my beautifully made bed. 

This interest in productivity has been slowly building up--I've been trying to make and accomplish to-do lists so that regular tasks like laundry and cleaning don't get out of hand, mostly because I've been inspired by the no-nonsense awesome of UfYH, but last week I worked a lot of extra hours, which completely threw of my everything and I didn't exercise or work on writing or tidy my room or anything all week. 

Dear Monday: I have kicked your ass. Fear me, for I am mighty! ALL SHALL LOVE ME AND DESPAIR!

I feel like I deserve some kind of medal. 

Charis M. Ellison
31 August 2012 @ 01:10 am
Dear Charis,

Hello from yourself! The weather is lovely, wish you were here. Haha. But, seriously, I have some sage words for you. From yourself. I would staple them to your forehead, except that your forehead is also my forehead and our masochist tendencies are a lot more passive-aggressive (have you noticed your habit of eating a lot of carbs or dairy when you want to punish yourself? I'm not judging, I'm just saying that it's totally weird). So, words of wisdom. They go like this:

It's pointless to judge something that's incomplete. You wouldn't pass judgement on someone's drawing before it was finished, you wouldn't hate on a half-sewn dress, because you know that you aren't seeing the whole picture. It doesn't mean that you don't see areas that need improvement, and it doesn't mean that you can't give them critical attention, but you would never be dismissive of them and you would never judge them until you saw the finished product.

So stop judging your own writing so much. Of course it's not good. It's not finished. How can it really be good before it's finished? A novel isn't going to come bursting fully-formed out of your skull, because that would just be weird. It takes work, and it takes time, and you know that. You've let yourself get really distracted by your own anxieties, by how badly you want everything you do to be amazing and for everyone to love it and by extension you and that would be nice but it wouldn't solve the problem here. Because, I have to tell you, you didn't burst fully formed from the head of Zeus either. You aren't finished yet, so stop judging yourself.

You didn't write a bad novel. You wrote a complete draft of an incomplete novel.

You aren't a fundamentally unlovely, unlovable person. You're an imperfect, unfinished person.

Who is sometimes a whiny bratface, I won't lie, but the more energy you put into worrying about whether/how much people like you, the less energy you have to spend on being loving to other people (because they are also imperfect and unfinished and they need love too), and on writing novels.

Stop giving so much floorspace to useless emotions. You're letting them get between you and your work. Have a little more grace for us, okay? And for other people. And for your writing.

Do your work. Make it better. Be better.

And for heaven's sake, stop subconsciously self-punishing us with dairy.


Charis M. Ellison
Here are some thoughts that I’ve been turning over lately:

In the last year or two years, I feel that I’ve turned a corner or flipped some kind of switch, because suddenly I feel like I really know how to write a book. Not just write, but write a whole story from beginning to end, and then re-write, and edit, and polish, and end up with a book.

Let me give you some background on my life as a writer: I wanted to be a writer since I was about five, and began to understand that the stories in books had come out of the mind of a person, that The Hobbit and The Chronicles of Narnia (which my dad had read to me by then) started with a person putting words on paper, and that this was an actual job, something that adults could do with their lives. As a kid I made little books all of the time—granted, most of them were the same Robin Hood story over and over again, but I did eventually branch out, and by the time I was eleven I was plotting to write an epic, multi-generation fantasy series, and I wrote outlines and did world building and made up part of a language and cornered adults and told them all about it in painful detail. In retrospect, the patience of adults astounds me, because when I see young versions of myself in other people I definitely duck and run.

I didn’t manage to do much actual writing on this ridiculous epic because I never figured out the plots, but in my early teens I started writing fairy tale retellings and peppering the internet with them—most of them were one to three page stories that were mostly atmospheric pictures, not real stories with plots. I tried one long Cinderella retelling, which is probably still up on FictionPress, but it fell apart not very far in because of the complete lack of, y’know, plot. But I did get good reviews on the things I put online, and I had a lot of confidence. Then in my late teens I started to think about the realities of getting published, and stopped posting things online and started trying to really improve my writing.

This was a good idea, but it backfired because I tried to improve by being a perfectionist. I tried to plot things out in detail, I tried to re-edit incomplete stories so that the beginning would be perfect before I went on, and I managed to suck all of the joy out of writing. After much effort I did manage to write the first draft of an actual full-length novel, beginning to end…but it was a terrible novel. I tried doing a second draft, but it…wasn’t very much better. It was overblown, it was cliched, it was full of stereotypes and the two ‘main characters’ were tedious and irritating and underdeveloped. One of the people who read it for me said that it ‘didn’t have enough heart’ (although irritatingly she didn’t give me this feedback to my face, she said it in passing to someone else. This was the kind of information that I was looking for when I asked for critiques! it would have been nice to know! hmmph).

In college I didn’t have as much time for writing, and the little that I did was still lacking depth, I guess you could say, and nothing happened with it, and by the end of college I had managed to produce half of a novel by doing NaNoWriMo, but after that I hit a point where I lost all confidence in my writing and was very busy being depressed and miserable. After college I made a few tentative efforts at finishing the novel, and did edit the beginning and shape it up a bit, but I couldn’t make it go anywhere, and I wasn’t writing anything new, and I was starting to wonder if I had lost the ability to be a writer, or if I had ever had any real ability to begin with.

I was really upset and miserable about the fact that I hadn’t managed to sell a short story in all of this time—not one. Granted, I didn’t submit to many different places, as I should have, but I was deeply discouraged.

Then, in a fit of spontaneity, I decided to do NaNoWriMo again, and to write something fun. Something silly. Something completely ridiculous. And I sat down with three of my friends, all of us high on sugar and caffeine, and we outlined a plot that was interrupted with giggling fits. The plot centered on a joke about Super Mario Bros.

And then I wrote it. The month in my memory is a delirium of giggling over my keyboard and ridiculous victory dances at word count milestones, and suddenly I had 60,000 words of a complete story.

I hadn’t written it in an attempt to be The Best Writer Ever, and I hadn’t written it with any idea of getting it published. I wrote it to have fun. After the fact I decided that I liked it so much that I wanted to make it publishable, and I went in to clean up the plot and rearrange things and take out the most ridiculously obvious fandom references and in-jokes, and then re-wrote it again, and again. Then I took a break and finished writing the second half of the novel I’d started so long ago, and was startled to find out that I had an ending for it now, and with a little effort I could make all the words I’d been looking for come out, and suddenly I had a longer, more serious novel that was full of emotions and that said a lot of things I hadn’t realized I wanted to say.

And then I went back and re-wrote my ridiculous, silly novel one more time, and now I have a completed, clean manuscript. I have another first draft waiting to be rewritten. And I have a five pages of brainstorming waiting to be turned into a loose outline for the next book that I’m going to write.

It all feels surreal and rather like magic, that suddenly I know how to get a book going (talk about the idea, because the more I talk through an idea the more detail and complexity it picks up, until it is a giant snowball of story), that I know how to write a first draft (sit down and write it, every day, and just keep going even when it gets sticky), that I know how to edit and re-write (sit down and read it, and re-write, and re-read, and re-write, and ask friends to read and point out problems, and ask them to read it again and point out smaller problems, like putting the book through layers of mesh that get finer and finer). And I know I can do this, that I have this book finished, and another one to finish, and that there’s another book to write after that one, and another book after that, and then another.

And maybe the key is that I want to go on writing these books even if I never sell one of them. I want them published, of course, because I want to share stories, but even if that doesn’t happen I want to go on producing finished, polished books, even if no one reads them outside of my circle of friends. Maybe the key is that I remind myself that if I’m not prepared to sit down and do the hard work of writing that I don’t deserve to be published in any case.

Whatever it is, I feel like I’m more in touch with the eleven year old that I once was, bursting with confidence in my ability to be a great writer, and (thankfully) more distant from the frustrating, self-punishing young adult who tried miserably to be perfect and couldn’t figure out why her writing felt so flat.

I think that tomorrow I’m going to start going through Changeling to do the first re-write (after which I will give copies to friends to ask for detailed feedback—I’ve gotten several responses with general feedback, mostly letting me know that the plot holds together and pointing out the biggest areas of weakness, so after the first re-write I’ll ask people for more line-by-line critiquing), and soon I’m going to take my brainstorming for Ember and lay it out as an outline and start thinking about how to solve some of the plot difficulties, so that I can hopefully start writing the first draft during the next NaNoWriMo.

And I can think about these things without feeling like an imposter playing pretend as a writer and without feeling overwhelmed, and instead just feel that ‘Yes, of course, this is my right and proper job, this is the work that I should be doing’ and that is kind of amazing.

I feel so sure that this is the work that I’m meant to do. It makes me feel unshakable.

(this does not mean that I don’t get frustrated and annoyed and lose confidence in my work, and that I don’t have trouble forcing myself to sit down and write—that still happens. But it’s hardest to sit down and write after skipping a day, and the more often I sit down and write, the better everything is with me)
Charis M. Ellison
08 August 2012 @ 10:47 pm
The year is halfway over! That means it's time for a book list:

Books Read 2012

The Thief of Time: A Novel of Discworld by Terry Pratchett (re-read, audiobook)

Coraline by Neil Gaiman (re-read, audiobook)

Reaper Man: A Novel of Discworld by Terry Pratchett (re-read, audiobook)

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (re-read, audiobook)

Whose Body: A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery by Dorothy L. Sayers (re-read, audiobook)

Clouds of Witness: A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery by Dorothy L. Sayers (re-read, audiobook)

The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century by Ian Mortimer

Unnatural Death: A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery by Dorothy L. Sayers (re-read, audiobook)

Strong Poison: A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery by Dorothy L. Sayers (re-read, audiobook)

The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club: A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery by Dorothy L. Sayers (re-read, audiobook)

Five Red Herrings: A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery by Dorothy L. Sayers (re-read, audiobook)

To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis (audiobook)

The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope (audiobook)

The Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome

Have His Carcase: A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery by Dorothy L. Sayers (re-read, audiobook)

Murder Must Advertise: A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery by Dorothy L. Sayers (re-read, audiobook)

Interesting Times: A NOvel of Discworld by Terry Pratchett

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carre

The Nine Tailors: A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery by Dorothy L. Sayers (re-read)

Gaudy Night: A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery by Dorothy L. Sayers (re-read, audiobook)

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Winter Rose by Patricia McKillip (re-read)

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Busman's Honeymoon: A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery by Dorothy L. Sayers (re-read, audiobook)

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee

Lord Peter Views the Body by Dorothy L. Sayers (re-read, audiobook)

Hangman's Holiday by Dorothy L. Sayers (re-read, audiobook)

Echoes of Betrayal by Elizabeth Moon

In the Teeth of the Evidence by Dorothy L. Sayers (re-read, audiobook)

Striding Folly by Dorothy L. Sayers (re-read, audiobook)

Looking for Alaska by John Green

Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of Engish by John H. McWhorter

Entwined by Heather Dixon

The False Princess by Eilis O'Neal

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach

Storm Front: The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher (re-read, audiobook)

Fool Moon: The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher (re-read, audiobook)

Grave Peril: The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher (re-read, audiobook)

The Protector by Madeline Hunter (re-read)

By Arrangement by Madeline Hunter (re-read)

Summer Knight: The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher (re-read, audiobook)

Death Masks: The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher (audiobook)

Blood Rites: The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher (audiobook)

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson

Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson

Proven Guilty: The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher (audiobook)

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

Small Favor: The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher (audiobook)

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Turn Coat: The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher (audiobook)

Fire by Kristin Cashore

Changes: The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher (audiobook)

Monstrous Regiment: A Novel of Discworld by Terry Pratchett (re-read)

Ghost Story: The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher (audiobook)

Making Money: A NOvel of Discworld by Terry Pratchett

Are Women Human? by Dorothy L. Sayers

Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Unseen Academicals: A Novel of Discworld by Terry Pratchett

Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley (audiobook)

Carpe Jugulum: A Novel of Discworld by Terry Pratchett (re-read, audiobook)

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

The Know-it-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World by A.J. Jacobs (audiobook)

Maskerade: A Novel of Discworld by Terry Pratchett (re-read, audiobook)

The Shadow Cats by Rae Carson (novella)
Charis M. Ellison
19 July 2012 @ 11:17 pm
So, I know that I just got back from a trip and that my last several posts were long rambling descriptions of that trip....

...but by the way, I just got back from another trip! I will try to go into more detail later, but the short and sweet story is this: Melody is working for the summer the YMCA of the Rockies in Colorado, and so we (Mama, Papa, Travis, and me) piled into the car and drove up to visit her! In a perfect world it would have been more than a week and a half after my last trip, but there wasn't a date set for this trip when I planned my SF trip (...which I planned mostly by picking a date at random), and these things happened. For about two seconds I considered not going to Colorado so that I could work, but it just would not have done.

So, we spent two days driving to the far side of Colorado, then spent two days (three nights) at the YMCA of the Rockies, exploring Estes Park (very much a tourist town, but really enjoyable to visit) and admiring the scenery (guys, my heart craves mountains. I love Texas out of a deep seated sense of familial loyalty, but I don't live here because I love the climate. If I could move my family and my friends to Colorado or to the West Coast or to Georgia or to anywhere in the UK, I would be out of here like a shot). We also went rafting! Not white water rafting, though--black water rafting, because we were right by some of the areas that were burning a few weeks ago and the rain had washed a lot of ash and debris into the river. Despite out best efforts we never actually turned the raft over (although at one point it was a VERY close call), and we were woefully uncoordinated and probably a trial to our guide, but it was a lot of fun! Pictures to come.

Then we spent two days driving home. The Honda Odyssey, by the way, is a very comfortable car to road trip in--I had plenty of room to get comfy, we listened to audiobooks (Frankenstein, because Travis needed to read it for school, and Carpe Jugulum, because it is one of the best Discworld novels), we had enough car chargers that I didn't have to worry about running out of cell phone battery, and enough cell phone coverage all along the interstate that I could touch base with the internet whenever I felt like it, and on the long stretches of straight highway I didn't have any problems with car sickness, so I was able to do a lot of knitting and even read a little (in between audiobooks).

The only real problem with the trip was that both of my parents snore. And by snore I mean that separately they each sound like a construction zone and that together they sound like the destruction of worlds. We're talking about loud, penetrating, sawing noises--and they don't snore for a bit and then eventually roll over. No. Once my parents fall asleep, they don't move. And they will snore all night. Without stopping.

Spending the night in the same room with my parents means that unless I fall asleep first--which I must have miraculously managed to do on the first two nights--I do not sleep at all. And as a rule I have a really difficult time falling asleep, even when I'm exhausted, and even when I'm at home in my own bed. When I'm in an unfamiliar, uncomfortable bed, in a room with four other people and their breathing and their snuffling and their moving around and their snoring, sleep is even more elusive. Which is how, on the night before we had to get up at 5:30 to go rafting, I was in the bathroom of our YMCA lodge room, wide awake and crying because I was so freaking tired and I couldn't sleep and everything was bad. I spent the whole night lying awake and occasionally venting my feelings by tweeting about my desire to lovingly smother my entire family.

So now I'm home, and more than anything else I am excited about sleeping in my own room, alone. I'm going to go in there and lie down and no one will be snoring. Until I fall asleep, because, full disclosure, I snore too.
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Charis M. Ellison
On Friday my mom, Sharon, and I piled into a rental car and drove off into the wilds outside of the city in search of adventure. I'd plotted out a scheme that would include three important California sights that I was anxious to take in, PLUS a bonus meeting with Kate and her husband Joel! Huzzah! It was a perfect plan!

Hahahahaha, past Charis, your naivety is adorable.

There was a scramble in the morning as we gathered things and fetched Mom from the train and stumbled about sleepily, but we left in good time to get to our first stop--the Winchester Mystery House! It's something that I've wanted to see my whole life--if you're too lazy to hit up Wikipedia, the brief story is that Mrs. Winchester, after the death of her husband left her inheriting the massive Winchester rifle fortune, moved to California, bought a farm house, and began remodeling it and building around it. The story is that a psychic told her to build continuously so that she wouldn't die, or that she was afraid of the spirits of people killed by the Winchester rifle and hoped that the continuous noise of construction would keep them at bay or appease them somehow, but no one really knows for sure. But it is a fact that she built on her house continuously from the time she bought it until the time of her death, and it is also a fact that the house twists around itself and has doors that open onto nowhere and stairs that go to nowhere and windows that look into other parts of the house and other craziness. It's also a fact that the house is full of clever touches like washboards in the sink and sloped counters to conserve water that Mrs. Winchester designed herself and had patented. So she was an intelligent, eccentric, hermetic person with a crazy house. Her house also has one of the largest collections of Tiffany glass windows in the world--some of it installed in the house, and some of it in a store room of things that she had stockpiled put not used yet. The tour was extremely fun and interesting!

Then we loitered about the gardens a bit, and went to have lunch, and then we got on the road again. Our next goal was Monterey Bay Aquarium, and I was all worried because I'd gotten mixed up on the distance and the aquarium would be closing at five and we wouldn't have time to see anything, but then it turned out that it closed at six, so we'd have an hour and a half, and I was relieved.
Until we hit traffic.
Until we hit stop and go traffic. Which was mostly stop.
It was incredibly frustrating, not just because it was traffic, but also because there was never a discernible cause--we never passed an accident, or anything like that. It was just congested, super-slow traffic for no reason at all other than that there were a lot of cars on the road. And the long we sat in it and the longer it took to get to the Monterey, the more stressed out I got. After a while I was just plain bent out of shape and upset. I really wanted to see the aquarium, and I had really tried to plan everything out correctly, time-wise, because I had done all of the planning and scheduling, but I'd failed to get earlier Winchester tickets and failed to keep track of time and failed to keep in mind when the aquarium closed and been wrong about the distance AND failed to consider the possibility of traffic, and I just felt awful because I had clearly ruined everything forever.
In the end, after hours of me snapping at other drivers and making clawing motions at the air (...which is a thing that I do when I'm stressed out and annoyed), we did get to Monterrey. We'd already decided not to try to do the aquarium--we would have had forty minutes, which with the entry fee would have been almost a dollar per minute--but I was too fussed to change the GPS, and we needed a break anyway, so we went and looked around, stopped outside of the aquarium where there was a restroom, and I looked at the bay where there were some sea lions on a rock, and I saw a sea otter swimming by, and then we got back in the car and went on down Highway 1 toward San Simeon.

Highway 1 is the coast road, and it is epically scenic. It weaves around the coast and up and down the sides of the mountains and there are spectacular views every couple of feet. We were constantly stopping to take pictures, and there were plenty of official and unofficial turn offs full of other cars of other people taking pictures. It was gorgeous. I took quite a few pictures that totally fail to capture the gorgeousness. Along the way we passed a field full of cows, plus a bonus zebra (more on that later), and we passed a cove with a beach that was full of elephant seals. We stopped to check out the elephant seals, from the boardwalk above their beach, and frankly that's as close as I would like to come to an elephant seal. Those suckers are terrifying. They're huge, with huge slug-like bodies, and they flump along, and make noises like whoopie cushions, and they look like science fiction movie monsters. There were probably fifty or so on the beach.

It was freezing and getting dark, so we only stared in terrified wonder at the elephant seals for a few minutes, then we went on to San Simeon, found our hotel, checked into it, and got settled into our room. It wasn't long after that before Kate and Joel arrived! We did the awkward first meeting thing, although I skipped straight to hugging, and then we went over to the hotel restaurant for dinner (we hadn't eaten yet, and Kate and Joel joined us for visiting). I had clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl, which was yummy. After dinner we moseyed back to the hotel room for more visiting, and also presents! Kate had brought us packages! Which was awesome and so sweet, because they were full of wonderful things.
Eventually we all went to bed, so that we could all be up in the morning. I was sharing a bed with my mom and guys, my mom is a champion snorer. And by 'champion' I mean someone who snores a lot. I know that my dad is also an amazing snorer, and between the two of them I wonder how anyone in the house has managed to sleep at all, ever.

In the morning we had a pathetic 'continental' breakfast, consisting of danish, coffee, and tiny orange juice, and then we went to Hearst Castle, where the magic is.

Hearst Castle is another building project that was always in progress--it's the mansion that William Randolph Hearst built for himself, and he was always fiddling with it and adding on to it, and there are a few unfinished walls where construction was halted at his orders after his doctors told him that he was too ill to travel back to his 'ranch'. It's an excessively lavish place--on a hill with a gorgeous view of the ocean, a completely decadent swimming pool, several elaborate guest houses, an even more decadent indoor swimming pool, oodles of fancy (and sometimes suspect) statuary in the beautiful gardens, and that's not even getting to the house yet. The house itself is huge, and gorgeous, and lavish, and it is chockablock full of antiquities. Choir stalls from medieval monasteries used as paneling, Flemish tapestries, carved and painting ceilings from Spain and Italy, and a simply incredible amount of priceless artwork. There are also priceless first editions and antique furniture and really remarkable architecture, all designed by Julia Morgan, an innovative architect who had been a protege of Hearst's mother. While Hearst lived there (and threw lavish parties there, which is when things happened like the Marx Brothers doing cartwheels on the expensive Turkish rugs in the library and Joan Crawford beating all of the men at pool and took their money under a carved Moroccan ceiling) he also had a private zoo, and a few animals like zebras continue to live wild on the property (because although the house itself is now owned and maintained by the state as a national landmark, the surrounding property is still a privately owned ranch run by the Hearst family).

It's a remarkable place--remarkable because it's beautiful, remarkable because of its innovative design (according to our guide, the house has never suffered from earthquake damage because it's so well designed), remarkable because of its history, remarkable because of the time is represents...it's just really amazing and cool. I would happily go back and tour it over and over again.

After our tours we scrounged up some food in the visitor center, admired the range of overpriced and irrelevant things in the gift shop (NOT as extensive and random as the gift shop at Winchester Mystery House, though!), had goodbye hugs with Kate and Joel, and then we were back on the road.

This time we got to Monterey and actually got into the aquarium, although we still had less than two hours to see everything before they closed. It's a very cool place, though--extremely kid friendly, too, with lots of hands-on exhibits. We saw the sea otters, and the octopus, and the penguins, and the bat rays (which Mom insisted that I touch), and jellyfish and seahorses and sharks and all kinds of other sea life, and it was really cool. But the BEST thing was that I went outside to look for more sea otters out in the bay, and I spotted one immediately (apparently one of my superpowers is spotting sea otters? this is hilariously useless because central Texas has no sea otters). Even with the telescope on the balcony it was too far away for me to see clearly, but it had something fuzzy on its stomach, and I got all excited. I went in, located Mom and Sharon (we had split up by then), and then dragged Sharon off to have another look from the telescopes on the lower level, which would be closer. I found the sea otter again, and we saw three aquarium employees making a fuss about something at the telescope, which seemed like a very good sign, so we hustled over and I was right. The fuzzy thing was a baby otter. BABY SEA OTTER! Being groomed by its parent! (mom? do otter parents trade off or does the mom do it all? I have no idea). IT WAS SO CUTE. SO OVERWHELMINGLY CUTE. DEVASTATINGLY CUTE. SO CUTE I WAS GONNA DIE. It was getting late and the aquarium was closing, and Sharon and I kept saying 'okay, we really need to go....' and then just stayed glued to the telescopes, watching the otters, because baby otter. Oh my gosh.

Eventually we tore ourselves away, and went back to the car, and drove back to SF, with the normal series of road trip adventures and mishaps before we made it back to Sharon's apartment :P

That night we slept! In the morning we were all dragging, and the rental car needed to be returned, and we were a bit of a mess, and after church I left my make-up bag in Sharon's car and then spaced out and forgot to have my phone handy so that Jason could reach me, but he heroically tracked us down and brought it to me anyway because he is the best. But THEN it turned out that Mom left her phone charger at their apartment and apparently I had left a belt and it was just ridiculous. Ridiculous! Apparently the goal for the day was to leave our possessions everywhere and be an inconvenience to our friends. Success.

But! We had lunch and ice cream at Fenton's, which is the actual ice cream shop featured at the end of Up, and Sally took us to wander around Golden Gate Park, although I was feeling stressed and grumpy and kind of just wanted to be at the airport because WHAT IF TRAFFIC so I didn't enjoy it that much :P

Then we got on the plane, and I read through Mara and Sharon's notes on the Celia & Uther MS (yay, notes!), and the flight seemed to take forever, and then we got home and I crawled into bed, the end.
Charis M. Ellison
29 June 2012 @ 02:46 am
On Monday, Sharon and I went into the city to meet my mom and another old friend of hers at the Ferry Building, which is full of fancy specialty shops and also full of people. Rhonda (Mom's friend, who knew me as a baby) snuck up on us while I was being starry eyed over the kitchen supplies in Sur la Table. I bought a t-rex cookie cutter, and then we had lunch at Gott's, which included the most amazing onion rings. After lunch, Sharon and I went back into the Ferry Building to visit the mini Miette bakery (they have a full sized bakery, the Ferry Building location is just a tiny branch). They have the most adorable treats, and I wanted them all, but I restricted myself to a mini Scharfenberger cake (chocolate cake covered in chocolate ganache) and a slice of strawberry mousse cake, and we split each one up between the four of us. Mmm, delicious.

After saying goodbye to Mom and Rhonda, Sharon and I went on to Pier 39, where we strolled through the tourist shops, I went ga-ga over the double-decker carousel (which, I found out later, I rode on as a little girl, and now I wish that I had overcome my scruples and ridden it, adulthood be damned :P), and we hung out to admire the sea lions for a little while (there were babies!)
From there we walked toward Ghiradelli Square, although we got a little turned around and had to double back toward our actual goal, the Musee de Mechanique (where we were met by Mara), a free, open to the public collection of vintage arcade games. They are remarkable and numerous--from a huge model of a fair ground that lit up and moved, to a mechanical puppet show, to 3D flipshows of natural disasters (or, if you wished, scantily clad ladies), to psychic machines that typed up your horoscope, to animated dioramas of executions (a hanging and a guillotine). It was insane and fascinating, the sheer strangeness of some of them, the weird things that people apparently once found entertaining, the surreal and sometimes terrifying.
After spending ages in there examining each thing, we went to get on a cable car, which involved standing in line. This was a little rough, after the walking we'd already done on top of all the walking the day before, plus it was surprisingly bright and hot, and Sharon wasn't feeling very well at all. We finally got on the fourth cable car to come, and we were the first on so I got my pick of seats and sat in the very front. None of us opted to stand on the outside :P I loved the cable car--it was like riding a roller coaster, and I thought it was a blast, plus the operator we had was awesome, very lively and engaged the whole trip. Sharon got off about halfway through the trip to meet Jason and some friends from out of town for dinner, and Mara and I went on to the very end, getting off only when the line ended. Then we got on the train, briefly, to go to another part of town to visit Buca di Beppo, an Italian restaurant. It was a maze of kitsch, with every inch of wall taken up with pictures and weird things, and the food, served family style, was delicious and enormous. By the end of things I wasn't sure I could every face the idea of eating ever ever ever again, even though all of the eating was interrupted with a lot of lively conversation.
After staggering back to the train station Mara put me onto a train, and I went to Sharon and Jason's station, where the plan was for me to ride the free shuttle back to their apartment and let myself in, since they planned to be back late and share a taxi with the friends they had dinner with, and we all thought that I'd get back first. Except that apparently we were all on the same train, and Jason saw me at the station as they were leaving, so they called and told me not to get on the shuttle (which would have taken me the long way back), and once they were home they just got their car and came right back to fetch me :P Yay for friends!

On Tuesday I went into Berkeley with Sharon, because she had an eye appointment and thought she might not be able to drive after having her eyes dilated--I spent the time lurking in the public library (with my Kindle, reading Insurgent :P), and then we got ice cream cones! Then we came back and loafed about, and if we did anything noteworthy I cannot remember what it was....

On Wednesday my Mom came in on the train again, and we met a couple of friends of Sharon and we all drove into Napa Valley, where we visited a couple of wineries--well, first we stopped for lunch as Mustard's, which was delicious, although busy enough that we chose to sit at the bar rather than wait for a table, but then we did a tasting at Mumm, which was all sparkling wines, and followed by a visit to V. Sattui, where everyone else tried more wine while I wandered off to take pictures of the pretty grounds. There were lots of climbing ivy and wisteria vines, and a fountain, and general loveliness. I also saw a bride having her portraits done, and almost jumped in to offer help when I saw her having trouble with her dress, because I am that person :P 'Oh no, a dress in trouble! LET ME', but later I saw her with more helpers around her, so I'm sure she was really fine without random assistance from zealous bystanders....
From there we went to Bouchon Bakery, where everyone else got one thing, and I got three, because wine I am largely indifferent to, but baked goods? I MUST TRY THEM ALL. Even though the selection wasn't particularly overwhelming I was still overwhelmed, because I wanted everything. In the end I got a lemon tart, a macaron (because I'd never actually had one, so I've had no idea what all the fuss is about) and an ohnoyoudidn't, which is a macaron covered in chocolate. I'm still not sure what all of the macaron fuss is about--I liked it, but didn't adore it, the texture wasn't my favorite thing I've ever had--but the lemon tart, that I could make a fuss over. Shortbread crust, lemon custard, toasted meringue on top? Marry me. I covered for my excess by getting other people to eat some of them, and saved half of each macaron for later.
That evening Sharon and Jason had a church meeting, so I stayed at their apartment complex to do some laundry (packing for ten days is hard! I ran out of certain essential garments, and with the unusually hot weather the clothes I'd worn more than once were perhaps a little fragrant). I only did one load, and the two cycles--one for the washer, one for the dryer--matched perfectly with the amount of time that it took for me to read and annotate Dorothy Sayers' Are Women Human?, although most of my notes were me putting 'yes!' next to comments by Kay and Sharon that were already in the book.

On Thursday, which was today, Sharon and I did practically nothing except loaf around on the internet all afternoon--we did go and pick up the rental car that we'll be driving this weekend, and made a trip to the grocery store, and made chocolate Guinness cupcakes and made fancy pizzas with sauteed onions and mushrooms and truffle oil, so I guess not really practically nothing...but we definitely stayed relaxed all day.

And tomorrow! Tomorrow we go on our road trip adventure! Tomorrow we drive down the coast and see more sights! And tomorrow night we meet Kate and Joel! It will be The Most Exciting!