The Ghosts of Christmas

Dickens' preface to A Christmas Carol famously describes it as a "Ghostly little book." Scrooge's journey is indeed full of ghosts -- the ghosts of memory, of imagined futures, of symbolic spirits and metaphors come to life. And death. Death is the hidden secret of A Christmas Carol, with all the attendant terror of the powerlessness and isolation of the grave. One ghostly vignette in particular is usually left out of stage and screen adaptations (even the otherwise perfect Muppet version):

The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went. Every one of them wore chains like Marley's Ghost; some few (they might be guilty governments) were linked together; none were free. Many had been personally known to Scrooge in their lives. He had been quite familiar with one old ghost, in a white waistcoat, with a monstrous iron safe attached to its ankle, who cried piteously at being unable to assist a wretched woman with an infant, whom it saw below, upon a door-step. The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power for ever.

The book is remarkable for presenting many such scenes of tortured regret, but no corresponding images of Heaven. Do good people even have an afterlife in this cosmology? They seem to vanish from the world, never to be heard from again. Only the unhappy and the damned linger in the mortal sphere. A life well lived might bring eternal rest -- but good or bad, death inevitably brings a severance, isolation from warm hearths and loving hearts.

There are more than a few ghostly Christmases in my own past -- such as the one during my first year of college. My mom, sister and myself all came down with a particularly nasty flu, and my dad was in the middle of a lengthy recovery from a hernia surgery the month before. Later we would learn that his immune system was too busy fighting cancer to be able to heal other things, and it's hard not to let the memory of that news color what came before. I remember the four of us prostrate and miserable, variously nauseated or eating microwaveable pot stickers -- the only thing Mom could manage to cook before collapsing back on the couch with the rest of us. I've never quite forgiven pot stickers in all the time since.

A few years later, Christmas again turned ghostly when we lost both my great-grandmother and her youngest brother three days apart, one on either side of the holiday. An entire generation vanished in the blink of an eye. They'd been an enormous part of my entire life -- my grandma had poured me cup after cup of strong black tea, and let me climb all the trees in her yard-that-was-basically-a-farm, and made the most delicious applesauce you've ever tasted. My great-uncle was also the elementary school janitor who played St. Nicholas to all us Catholic schoolkids -- he made me my first hot buttered rum when I was (not quite) old enough to drink them, and was always in the most unfailingly generous humor. By the time this holiday was done, we were on first-name terms with the gentleman at the funeral home. We would see him again when my dad died a few years later.

And now this year came the news that my grandmother had cancer. A different, new cancer -- not the one she managed to fight off two years ago. This one is much worse, caught at a much later stage. She went into the hospital last Tuesday, certain that the doctors would have a treatment plan for her. I walked around for most of a week with fists clenched, absolutely spoiling for a fight. Then I drove down for a day to visit her along with with a broad coalition of family members, who are camping out in Portland the way they camped out in Seattle during my dad's final decline.

My grandmother passed away Friday afternoon.

This weird space of grief is starting to become familiar. I've visited enough times to know the landmarks and mileposts. I know that wine will help but Scotch will not, that watching Game of Thrones will be a solid distraction but watching Lilo and Stitch will leave me a sobbing, snot-daubed wreck. Time becomes an accordion, compressing and expanding unpredictably. Some hours fly by, while other minutes linger long past their usual welcome. I spent the entire trip to Portland and back listening to Welcome to Night Vale, because the eerie tone and portentous language seemed to acknowledge the weirdness and darkness in my own life.

Times like this we cling hardest to the stories that encompass what we're feeling. I keep thinking of the Ghost of Christmas Present -- the pleasant, hospitable, yet somehow fierce second spirit that Scrooge encounters. He's had "More than eighteen hundred" brothers, but he can't have met any of them -- they are born, live, and die in the space of a single night. (The way the Ghost fades away into sparkles in the Muppet version is particularly heartbreaking.) He is the embodiment of human warmth and holiday feeling, and he is terribly, tragically ephemeral. Mortal, even. What does it mean for a Ghost to die?

I think, insofar as I can think these days, that it's about memory. The Ghost of Christmas Present may not have met his brothers, but he remembers them. The Ghost of Christmas Past remembers everything. And one of the reasons death is so frightening is that it threatens us with forgetting. There's a shock that comes when you can't precisely recall the face of someone you've lost -- what was their nose shaped like? The precise color of their eyes? Photographs and home movies are not as much help as you'd think -- they are limited, incomplete. They don't so much fill the void as remind us that it exists.

We have to trust that the important things will still be remembered. The way someone laughed, or smiled. The gifts they gave -- and not just the ones wearing bows under a glittering tree. The inextinguishable light they brought into our lives. On these longest, darkest, coldest nights of the year, we night that light the most.

And we will remember, as best we can.

On Bloomsday and Ex-Boyfriends

For those who like classic 20th century Irish literature, or famously difficult books, or stories with memorable poop scenes: tomorrow is Bloomsday! And not just any Bloomsday, but the first one since the book entered public domain in the UK! Which means Stephen Joyce can't stop people from reading the book, aloud, in public, to celebrate. (And yes he did try, the jerk.) Many people are doing many wonderful festive things, and tomorrow I will join them, but today I am reflecting.

My experience with Joyce started with one boyfriend in college, a math major who had figured out how many pages per day he had to read to finish Ulysses in a year. Halfway through, he realized he had forgotten what happened at the beginning, so he doubled his page number and started over while also keeping his more advanced bookmark -- meaning that by this schedule he would finish both his first and his second rereading at the same time. Of course, school and social life (ahem!) kept getting in the way, so he turned out to be reading Ulysses for pretty much the entirety of our year-and-a-half-long relationship.

Sometimes, I could persuade him to read bits aloud right before bed. I never had any idea what was happening plot-wise or character-wise, but it always sounded fantastic.

Many years later I would learn that this is a near-perfect way to approach Ulysses, which is rich and dreamlike and makes little to no sense when you read it in a straight line.

I read the book myself for my masters' thesis in comparative literature. This was a foolhardy, ambitious document I was thoroughly unqualified to attempt, since it started with Ovid's Fasti (Roman calendar poem, super-good), went through Dickens' A Christmas Carol and Great Expectations, and ended with Ulysses. Any one of these would have been more than enough for a thesis, and here I was cherry-picking material on time, ghosts, reading, holidays, bodies, and food. I'm pretty sure my professors let me pass just to get me out of the department. Our budget for grad student pretension was used up long ago.

I thoroughly enjoy Ulysses, especially now that I can hop around and reread my favorite parts (the Lazarus episode!) without having to slog through my least favorite parts (the whole brothel thing, ugh). But even though I've read it, and talked very pedantically about how it works as a novel (while quoting Ricoeur—I KNOW), it still doesn't feel like it's actually mine, in the way that Jane Eyre is mine or Good Omens or Howl's Moving Castle by the great Diana Wynne Jones (genuflects).

Ulysses will always belong to that ex-boyfriend, and I will read it with a mild sense of guilt, in the same way that Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band will always belong to that first guy I had a crush on in 8th grade, who told me the Beatles I loved for songs like "All My Loving" had a psychedelic phase. (Abbey Road, though? Totally mine.)

And there is a part of me that feels Joyce would approve this, or at least get an arch sort of Irish satisfaction out of it, this idea that there is always something furtive about how I approach his masterpiece, that there is no way I could ever fully grab onto it and fold it into my heart. None of the characters in the novel really get to do that with one another, either—and Joyce put so much effort into the poetry and music of his sentences that I know he would love to hear that for the first two years, I only listened to it spoken and never so much as looked at the words on the page.

And there's something pleasing in the idea that people we've loved leave something behind when they go. That this failed relationship lives on between Ulysses and I: awkward and ill-suited, but also still valuable, and worth every moment of the time.

Joyce might call it a gravestone in a cemetery; I think of it as adding one more volume to the library.

Great Expectations: Dickens' Modern Christmas Book

This is the time of year when we as a culture talk the most about Dickens. And we talk exclusively about A Christmas Carol and all its countless adaptations. (The best of which is unquestionably The Muppet Christmas Carol.) Something about a Victorian Christmas is held up as the ideal, truest experience of Christmas—the tree, the family dinner, giving to those less fortunate. And Dickens is the quintessential Christmastime Victorian, with his noble poverty, redeemed misers, and schmaltz-riddled Tiny Tim. So when we talk about Dickens during the holiday season, there's this strange gap that opens up: on the one hand are the families who go to see performances adapted from A Christmas Carol because it's wholesome holiday entertainment, and on the other hand there are the bookish types who look at the slim volume with its moralistic premise and dismiss it as hackneyed sentimental claptrap.

For the latter, I would like to recommend Great Expectations as Dickens' modern, moody, cynical Christmas book—especially when read with A Christmas Carol in mind.

Please allow me to explain why.

A screenshot of Marley and Marley (Statler and Waldorf) from The Muppet Christmas Carol.

In Carol, Scrooge deserves every comeuppance he gets. He's a man of severe moral and emotional failings, and only a night spent time traveling saves him from becoming a cursed ghost like Marley after his death. The problem of the novel is a straightforward one: Ebenezer Scrooge should stop being a jerk.

Ebenezer Scrooge is also the one with all the money, so getting him to stop being a jerk also means he starts throwing huge wads of cash at philanthropists and buying prize geese for his overworked, underpaid employees. This ties in rather nicely with the consumerist agenda of secular Christmas, where being nice to people means buying stuff for them. And in turn, adapting the story for stage and screen can look like nothing more ambitious than an easy way to earn a quick buck.

Where A Christmas Carol really diverges from the modern sense of Christmas, though, is family relationships. On Scrooge's travels he sees many families who struggle financially, and many who do not—but all those families care for each other and are happy to be celebrating together. In contrast, modern approaches to Christmas often regard it as a gauntlet to be run or a battle to be waged. There are lists of guidelines for "surviving" the holidays with family members, as though visiting Aunt Myrtle's were akin to going over the top into No-Man's Land, with hard candy instead of bullets and fruitcakes as mines.

Now look at this scene of Christmas dinner from Chapter 4 of Great Expectations, emphasis mine:

Among this good company I should have felt myself, even if I hadn't robbed the pantry, in a false position. Not because I was squeezed in at an acute angle of the table-cloth, with the table in my chest, and the Pumblechookian elbow in my eye, nor because I was not allowed to speak (I didn't want to speak), nor because I was regaled with the scaly tips of the drumsticks of the fowls, and with those obscure corners of pork of which the pig, when living, had had the least reason to be vain. No; I should not have minded that, if they would only have left me alone. But they wouldn't leave me alone. They seemed to think the opportunity lost, if they failed to point the conversation at me, every now and then, and stick the point into me. I might have been an unfortunate little bull in a Spanish arena, I got so smartingly touched up by these moral goads.

It began the moment we sat down to dinner. Mr Wopsle said grace with theatrical declamation -- as it now appears to me, something like a religious cross of the Ghost in Hamlet with Richard the Third -- and ended with the very proper aspiration that we might be truly grateful. Upon which my sister fixed me with her eye, and said, in a low reproachful voice, `Do you hear that? Be grateful.'

`Especially,' said Mr Pumblechook, `be grateful, boy, to them which brought you up by hand.'

Mrs Hubble shook her head, and contemplating me with a mournful presentiment that I should come to no good, asked, `Why is it that the young are never grateful? ' This moral mystery seemed too much for the company until Mr Hubble tersely solved it by saying, `Naterally wicious.' Everybody then murmured `True!' and looked at me in a particularly unpleasant and personal manner.

This is definitely more like Christmas as we talk about it in the twenty-first century: a gathering of querulous elders who question our life choices and view our ethics and politics with suspicion. Young Pip is essentially condemned to prison by the dinner guests—even though they have absolutely no evidence of moral turpitude.

Gift-giving is also more complicated in Expectations than it was in Carol. Pip steals food to give to Magwitch the convict, who is famished; it's both an act of charity and an act of theft, and it has repercussions that echo years forward into both characters' future. Recent events like the Regretsy/PayPal fiasco and the annual reminder that the Salvation Army discriminates against lgbt people are similarly complicated acts of seasonal giving, and good intentions do not necessarily translate into real-world help.

So fear not, cynics! There is a Victorian Christmas book for you, too—one free of tinsel and easy answers, where good intentions are still the paving-stones of the road to Hell, where moral decisions are murky at best and impossible at worst and nobody at all is redeemed in the end.

And if that fails, there's always the Grinch.

Have Yourself A Sexy Lady Christmas, I Guess

We talk a lot every October about "sexy" Halloween costumes, but lately I've started to think a lot about the "sexy" aspects of the Christmas season as well. Part of it is on account of this notorious monstrosity, but a lot of it is about songs that get a lot of play at this time of year, like "Santa Baby" and "Baby It's Cold Outside" and "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)." And then the hopefully-not-last episode of Community up and brought us this masterpiece:

The good people at Persephone Magazine have already talked about this bit and laid out why it's troubling that incompetence is so hot right now. So they've got the infantilization angle covered.

Which means I get to ask: what is the deal with all the sexified lady Santas?

For instance, when you do a search for sexy Santa on Google Images, here is the first set of results.

First screen of Google image results for the term "sexy santa."

Eight ladies, two dudes, and one shot of normal Santa with a sexy lady in his lap.

That is a ridiculously high proportion of sexy ladies to sexy dudes, and it's pretty representative of the results that follow. And that's without quotes; if you add quotations to the phrase "sexy Santa" one of those dudes gets replaced by a sexy lady, and one of the ladies gets replaced by an even sexier lady (assuming sexiness can be quantified by measures like approximate amount of clothing and proximity of ass to camera).

How do we know those ladies are really Santas? Let's recall our Santa identifiers:

Typical Traditional Santa:

  • dude
  • fat
  • white beard
  • wears long sleeves, pants, and fur because it's cold at the North Pole (and also in Rovaniemi, his office in Finland)

Typical Sexy Santa:

  • lady
  • thin
  • clean-shaven, and we're not just talking about the face anymore
  • wears clothing that, to put it mildly, would not be useful in the warding off of hypothermia

The only indicators that these sexy ladies are supposed to be sexy Santas is that they are wearing red clothing with white fur trim and the occasional black leather accent. And a hat. Really, the Santa hat is doing all the work in most of these photos.

It begs the question: are we expecting these sexy ladies to perform the same kind of duties that Santa does?

My answer would be: no. For one thing, there's rarely a sleigh or a reindeer or a pile of presents or anything that might imply travel or gift-giving. These sexy lady Santas are presented as if they themselves are the gift, something to be unwrapped and enjoyed by someone else (hence the "box" innuendo in that Community clip). They're not going to do anything—they're inviting the viewer to do things to them, in unmistakeable accord with the primacy of the male gaze.

The sexy lady Santa, then, is an illustration of how sexual objectification can unmake reality as we know it. In order to be "sexy", a fat bearded dude becomes a thin hairless lady. A shirt becomes a corset or a bra top. Pants become panties, or a skirt if you're lucky. And the very thing that defines Santa—traveling around the world to bring presents to children on Christmas—gets replaced by cheesecake poses and come-hither pouts, passivity in place of activity.

It's enough to make a Scrooge out of anyone.

All I Want For Christmas Is: Boooo!

The year was 1995. I was in eighth grade. Christmas was approaching, and with it a holiday party hosted by a friend of mine, with both boys and girls invited. Including my first crush.

And oh, my friends, I had it bad. Granted, it was mostly based on the fact that he'd accidentally introduced me to the Beatles' Abbey Road—but the more I look back, the more legitimate that appears as a reason to fall in love with someone.

I was an absolute bundle of nerves, sitting in the tinsel-drenched living room while we all opened presents and sipped hot cider, when onto the stereo came a song I'd never heard before: Mariah Carey's All I Want For Christmas is You.

They say that you know you're in love when all the songs make sense. In this case, not only was Mariah singing what was going through my head at the moment, she was doing it while I was sitting in the same room as the love object in question. The effect on me was a shocking, profound, and secret happiness—the sense that someone understood what I was feeling and had put music around it. I bought the single and learned the words. Singing it felt dangerously expressive, even if nobody else was in the room.

It's been one of my favorite Christmas songs ever since—even though I would be soundly rejected when I later worked up the nerve to ask my crush for a date. That never felt like the important part, somehow—what mattered was that I was putting words around my own romantic feelings for the first time, even if I had to borrow someone else's words to do it.

Skip forward to 2011. I've married a lovely man (unrequited crush < thoroughly requited passion) but that Mariah Carey song still gives me goosebumps of happiness. And then Twitter tells me it's been recently covered by Justin Bieber and the video features Mariah Carey.

Despite my better instincts, I couldn't stop myself from watching.

You will be unsurprised to hear that the video is terrible.

I am not going to rant about the ravages of Auto-Tune or Justin Bieber's melodic cop-outs in the second verse. (Though I could.) Instead, I'm going to tell you how they've killed all the power of this song in some very specific and very troubling ways.

First, The Original Version

The song has two official videos. The first is a home-movie-style romp with snow and sledding and an astonishing number of baby animals. It is flirty and fun and warmly intimate.

Mariah throughout is active: she's wrestling Santa in the snow, running, sledding, opening presents, laughing, waving her arms, snuggling with bunnies, and scratching reindeer under the chin. There's not a lot of skin shown (she's got an off-the-shoulder dress at one point, but is wearing it with gloves and leggings). Her smile is frank, open, and friendly. She's sexy, to be sure—but it's the kind of sexy that happens when someone feels good about themselves and the people around them. It feels like a glimpse into a happy, fulfilled life. Actual presents are either adorable baby bunnies, or just an excuse for the kids to put boxes on their heads and make people laugh.

The other Mariah video ups the sex appeal with a little 1960s black-and-white glamor. The aesthetic is a callback to classic girl groups like the Ronettes—a visual reference which would also be picked up later by Alicia Keys' stunning Every Little Bit Hurts and, of course, Beyoncé's Single Ladies.

In her achingly good book Where the Girls Are, author Susan J. Douglas talks about girl groups and sex and girls' experience: "In the 1960s, pop music became the one area of popular culture in which adolescent female voices could be clearly heard." Groups like the Ronettes, the Shirelles, the Supremes, and so on sang about women and girls' approaches to sex and romance, whether traditional ("Goin' to the Chapel"), assertive ("Be My Baby"), or wary ("Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?").

It's pretty clear that the Mariah Carey, Beyoncé, and Alicia Keys videos mentioned above are explicitly weaving their voices into this pattern of female expression. Mariah is front and center at the microphone, in control, making her desires plain. She sings with her whole body, so even though she is on that stage for the whole song, she is neither static nor trapped. Note that this video is also completely free of dudes, even though it's ostensibly a love song addressed to one.

{An aside: The parallels between the power Douglas ascribes to girl-group music and modern explorations of romance reading are pretty interesting. Both are things enjoyed primarily by women, and which serve as a source of bonding and way of navigating the tricky waters of dealing with men and relationships. Both are also ridiculed in the culture at large. In a familiar echo of the constant dismissal of romance, Douglas cites a male music critic discussing girl-group music: "I feel this genre represents the low point in the history of rock 'n' roll."}

The other significant element of this song is its disdain for commercialism—gifts are explicitly dismissed in favor of love, lust, affection, seduction, whatever you want to call it. "I won't even wish for snow," claims the lyric. The idea of Christmas as a time of shopping and buying and money matters is entirely pushed aside in favor of sexual satisfaction. (And if you ask me, there's a clever little double entendre when Mariah sings that "Santa Claus won't make me happy / with a toy on Christmas Day").

This message is more subversive than it may appear. It refutes both the stereotype of the woman as a money-grubbing gold-digger, and the stereotype of the woman as a passive object of sexuality. She's a complete subject, in both grammatical and Foucauldian terms.

And those are basically the two halves of the song: a woman's desire, and the unnecessary nature of presents.

So it makes total sense that it would be covered by a teenage boy standing in the middle of a mall.

The Bieber Variation

I can't compete with the brilliance of Linda Holmes' satirical riff, but there are a few points I'd like to set down.

At the risk of echoing Arrested Development: Who is the "you" in that chorus? Is this really supposed to read as a romance between forty-one-year-old Mariah and seventeen-year-old Justin Bieber? Because whether or not you intended to portray a romance between our two singers, a word that you are going to see tossed around a lot is: uncomfortable.

Or else the romance is between Justin Bieber and a Nintendo DS. I'm not sure that's any better.

And just what is with this one shot in the middle of nowhere?

A screencap of Mariah Carey, wearing a Santa hat and large snowflake earrings. Her head is tilted up and to her left, her eyes are closed, and her lips are parted. She leans slightly forward, and the frame cuts off her shoulders and collarbone before her bodice starts so that she appears to be naked.This is a screencap from the video. It looks as though Mariah is singing, but she is not. This is a brief clip that is inserted at around the 1:08 mark. It is so short as to be almost subliminal, but during that brief window Mariah appears to have a tidynice little orgasm. In a cutout Santa dress. While we watch.

And this takes place between all the pose-y, cheesecake shots of Mariah flashing booty at the camera, which start to feel really creepy by the time four minutes full of them have passed. She's not romping in the snow anymore. She's not owning the stage, or dancing with her girlfriends in Nancy Sinatra boots. She's trapped against this one mystery wall being leered at by a gaggle of high schoolers.

And presumably by the audience, or at least a portion of it. The whole thing reeks of the male gaze.*

*{Aside: sometimes, when I think of the male gaze, this is what comes to mind:

People who have boobs might as well be carrying the One Ring.}

The only explanation for this colossal misstep is that someone wanted to hit as many demographics as possible: Bieber will appeal to the teenage and preteen girls, and Mariah Carey will appeal to middle-aged women who remember her from their youth, and if we sex her up we can get all the straight men and boys watching too. It's a trifecta!

But Bieber & Pals at least get to do something in the video, even though it looks like they're trashing a retail store during the holidays to the dismay of the Macy's daytime staff, who will have to clean up all those boxes they're flinging around. Let's hope there's nothing fragile in there! Meanwhile, Mariah Carey must be content to flirt with the camera in close-up, and we have lost all track of what we're supposed to be feeling and what the song's story is trying to tell us.

And oh, there is product placement everywhere. All I want for Christmas is to mob-rush a mall at midnight where teenagers start handing me gifts for free. I guess that's not as catchy a song title, though.

TL; DR

Maybe being a grown-up these days means you're doomed to see new versions of old things that fail to resonate with you in the same way. (I'm looking at you, Star Wars.) And it's true that holiday albums can be a wasteland of retreads and tired old melodies worn thin from overuse. But this cover feels so nakedly contrary to the original song's theme and presentation that it could be a parody, if it were funny for even a single moment.

It's not Bieber's fault, either. If this were merely a Justin Bieber cover of a popular Mariah Carey tune, that would be one thing. I don't expect pop stars not to make albums they think will sell. I'm an author; I have no stones to throw from my house with the Buy My Books welcome mat on the porch. I also have no particular antipathy for Justin Bieber, who must be having a hell of a time with the voice changes in a frighteningly public setting. (Can you imagine?)

If they'd written a new song, I could have dismissed it easily and gone about my day. If I had never heard the original before, I would not have cared enough to write almost two thousand words about these two different versions and what they mean for our future. But I care, and I cannot exorcize my disappointment except by talking about it. This is the uncanny valley between pop music as a product for sale and pop music as an experience in our lives.

I'm Thankful For You—And You—And You ...

Right now it is raining outside. I am on the couch, wearing knee-high purple argyle socks, a soft grey long-sleeved t-shirt, and my favorite pair of underpants. There is a soft blue blanket wrapped around me, in one fold of which is bundled a sleepy miniature dachshund who does his best napping after lunch. He huddles close enough for me to use him as an armrest while I do work on the laptop. He likes this: makes him feel like he's helping. And by "work," I mean: looking up what the contents of the British Museum were in 1816. Or writing a scene where an incubus seduces a virginal-but-curious heroine. Or tweaking some descriptions of an artificial aether-powered heart in a futuristic steampunk space opera. Whatever seems most exciting to work on at the time.

Days like this I am so thankful to be an author that I could damn near cry.

It's been a little over a year since I signed my first contract with Ellora's Cave. I've had two short books out since then with a third on the way, and Jesus H. Jones have I learned a lot.

And I have so much to be thankful for. I'm thankful for my supremely talented editor—hi, Meghan!—and the print book that's now out. I'm thankful for my wonderful readers—you know who you are—who are worth their weight in gold, regardless of whether or not they liked my books. (I learned quite a bit from the people who didn't like my books, to be frank.) I am thankful for a galaxy of authors whose stories delight me and whose examples I am eager to follow. I am thankful for my marvelous husband who is the world's best beta reader (as well as his other sterling qualities I'm just too much of a lady to discuss here).

And I finally am thankful to have a job that lets me use all the parts of my brain and heart to their fullest extent.

It's not all sunshine and roses—I've had my share of down days and rough patches and moments of sheer pants-wetting metaphysical terror. And that's just in one year of authorship! But even the worst days are better than the best days at many other jobs I've had. And then I'll write a sentence I just know is perfect, or I'll discover the reason for that scene I didn't have a place for but couldn't get out of my head, or I'll see something perfecly ordinary in daily life and suddenly be caught up in the passion of a new story idea that has to be outlined right now, or I'll talk to another author on Twitter and they'll say something to make me laugh.

This is the first time in my life I have looked at a job and thought, I will do this happily until Death pries the keyboard from my twitchy, arthritic hands.

This week we've lost Anne McCaffrey, and earlier this year we lost Diana Wynne Jones, both of whom had as profound an impact on my reading and writing life as Shakespeare or Homer or David Foster Wallace. It's been marvelous to see how people respond with warmth to the loss of authors they've loved. Good storytelling saves lives and refreshes hearts in ways nothing else can. It makes us more at home with ourselves, and with each other.

And I'll talk a lot about how I love doing my job sans pants, or that I can create worlds where things happen because I say so—but what it really comes down to is that desire to brighten lives, to say something true enough that someone's heart will leap up when they read it, to discover people and places that only exist on the page but which may be a key to something in our real world.

Being an author is a privilege, and I am humbly thankful.

We Are Chock Full O' Gratitude Up In Here

We here at Olivia Waite consider Thanksgiving the best modern holiday of the pantheon. It's a whole day where you sit down and think about all the wonderful things that have happened to you, all the marvelous people you know, and all the delights of life both big and small. And then you eat beige foods until you can't eat any more because you are too busy falling asleep.

With other holidays, you have to worry about gifts (Christmas) or explosives (Fourth of July) or fires (Hanukkah) or papercuts (any of the false Hallmark holidays that right-thinking people legitimately despise). But the worst thing that happens on Thanksgiving is that the turkey comes out dry. And then there's gravy right there in a boat shaped like Aladdin's lamp!

In short, Thanksgiving is too amazing to let it happen only for one day. So for this whole week, I will be posting daily to talk about what I am thankful for.

Today I am thankful for: this amazing recipe from the amazing Bake It in a Cake: Pumpkin pie cupcakes with cinnamon buttercream.

That is a miniature pumpkin pie baked into a from-scratch vanilla cupcake. I am not a talented baker and I still managed to make a delicious dessert for a Saturday crafting party—a feat which speaks admirably to the recipe's author rather than to my skill. Laziness and the lack of a mixer did compel me to use a powdered-sugar glaze instead of the cinnamon buttercream, but believe me when I say that this is a cupcake where the frosting is optional. Blasphemy, you say? Try it, I dare you!

{Olivia is also thankful for: the 1300 words she wrote today on the sequel to Damned if You Do, the fact that she did not have to go out in the cold winter rain this afternoon, the coziness of dozing dachshunds, and the one pumpkin pie cupcake left on the plate downstairs—which will be hers since Mr. Waite is out on the town this evening.}

Cthulhu of Love!

We here at Olivia Waite are privileged to have some incredibly talented friends—one of whom has an Etsy store under the name sockfiends. And she has something new just in time for Valentine's Day: the Cthulhu of Love!

A pink three-tentacled squid-god plushie with tiny red and white hearts and adorably round black eyes.

Get yours today and be the envy of everyone who now has this stuck in their head: Rock the Cthulhu of love . . . rock the Cthulhu of love . . . oh the Cthulhu of love . . . don't rock eeeeeasyyyyyyy, it's true.

The same pink, white, and red squid-god plushie, back view, showing cuddly white plush wings.

Alternate view of the squid-god plushie with arms happily outspread.