Monday, November 24, 2014

Giving Thanks

by the Ladies of Stellar Four

Thanksgiving is days away, and as we prepare to travel, cook a massive meal, socialize with family members far and wide (or take the easy way out and keep it simple), we're taking some time to reflect on all that we are thankful for this year.

Kathy F.

Besides the usual answer of family, kids, friends, all of you lovely readers, right this second I am totally thankful that I paid a grocery store to cook my turkey dinner for me. Why has my family never done this? From now on, this is the only way I'll be putting on a holiday dinner. BEST. IDEA. EVER.

BIG HERO SIX was adorable and fun and yes also made me tear up more than a bit. Getting to share the thematic experience with the kiddos was even better. We all loved it. I even saw it in 3D (something I usually avoid at all costs), but it didn't make me feel like puking. WIN.

As always, I am thankful for my lovely, lovely books. I don't get to read them as much as I would like. Mostly because of that pesky need to sleep. Whatever. Any time spent with them, their characters, and magnificent worlds, it is all worth it. Bonus, the kids are becoming little readers too.

Meghan B.

I am very thankful for my friends and family. My friends keep me sane. My family makes me insane. It all balances out.

I'm always thankful for books. Books are awesome. Did you know I am fond of books? I think I've kept that a secret around here.

I'm thankful for my Lurch II, my new iPhone, for delivering Twitter to me when I'm at work. I'm also thankful to Twitter. It's a place where I've met tons of awesome people and authors and I visit it about a thousand times a day.

I'm glad that Guardians of the Galaxy was awesome, I'm glad that there's still good new music in this world, and I'm very thankful for great cartoons.

But, above all of that, I am thankful for the health of my family, the warmth of my friendships and the fact that I get to be around such awesome people. I love all of you. Yeah, even you.

Sara N.

Friends, family. Books, TV. Time, talent. Heath, wealth. I'm grateful for all of these things, this week and every week. But I've got a couple of specific things I'm thankful for this year, too:

Pandora radio. Yes, yes, I know. Welcome to 2011. But I just started listening to it regularly, and it is awesome. (And the reason my phone battery is dead by 2 p.m. most days.)

NPR. I griped about its format changes recently, but it was completely affectionate. I rely on the station for well-reported, carefully researched, unbiased information on international, national, state and local news on politics, war, business, the economy, health, science, entertainment, religion and pop culture. You name it, I probably learned about it via my local NPR affiliate or the NPR live stream on my iPhone or one of the fantastic NPR podcasts. Thank you for making me a better citizen and human being, NPR.

The world today. Does it ever strike you, as you're going about your daily business, that we're living in a future that our grandparents could never have imagined? My husband and I stood at a kiosk on Sunday, using a touch screen to choose a movie that the magic red box would spit out for us (which itself is actually a dated technology). While we were doing that, a pair of teenage boys walked by us having a video chat with a friend on a mobile phone. Then we got to my car, which opens and starts without me needing to insert a key, and plugged in my phone, searched for a song on the Internet, and played it through the same stereo that displayed a computerized map telling me exactly where I was and where I needed to turn to get home. When you think about how impossible it would all have been even 20 years ago, everything we do today is mind-blowing. I'm deeply grateful to live in such an interesting time.

Outlander. For so many reasons: The feminism, the storytelling, the humor, the suspense, and the most important reason of all:

Megan S.

It's totally a given that I'm thankful for family, friends (especially Meghan, Sara, and Kathy), cats, a roof over my head, etc., right? So, besides those things, I'm grateful for ...

The Internet. I never realized quite how much I relied on the Internet until now. It's like oxygen or indoor plumbing. I need it in my life and, you guys, the Internet has been down at my house for four whole days. It's positively barbaric. This is the longest I've gone without since before my parents subscribed to Prodigy in 1989. (I'm having to type this very statement, HTML code and all, on my slow-as-molasses-in-January phone so dearest Kathy can post it for me.) HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO INTERACT WITH THE OUTSIDE WORLD? ACTUALLY TALK TO PEOPLE IN PERSON?! I DON'T THINK SO. Sara, bless her heart, offered to help me through withdrawal by sending me lolcat postcards.

The Library. No Internet means no downloading books. Thank goodness for libraries. My local branches are oases of the written word in this bleak, unconnected world.

Note: We'll be off the rest of this week. Hope you enjoy your gastronomic celebrations. We'll be back the first week of December with more awesome finds, reviews, commentary, holiday fun, and glitter. Always glitter.
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Friday, November 21, 2014

Geek Tea

I don't know about you, but it's been stupidly cold lately. My home base is on the East Coast and temps have been in the 20s and 30s. You can shut up now, Ed Stark, winter is here.

Generally I stave off the cold by piling about a dozen blankets on top of me and drinking enough tea to singlehandedly put Twinings in the black for the year. I scour the web looking for my favorite tea blends and ordering in bulk because once it gets to the single digits, I am not leaving my house unless you're paying me to do so.

The desire for new and different teas to drink led me to Adagio Teas, a website full of every tea blend you can imagine. They also allow people to make and sell their own tea blends, which is a really cool idea and has led to dedicated fans making some hilariously and tasty sounding geeky teas! Do you want to drink tea about Sherlock, the Winchesters or Doctor Who? Now you can! Why didn't anyone else think of this before?

There are Welcome to Night Vale blends like "Glow Cloud" and "Perfect Carlos". The Carlos one is chocolate chai! There's a Cecil one that's a white and green chai. There's even one for the Weather and it has sprinkles!

Game of Thrones is represented with brews for the Lannisters and the Starks. The Stark blend is a smoky winter brew while the Lannisters have a very spicy chai.

There's oodles of Sherlock teas, but my favorite has to be the "Stag Night Recovery" tea, which includes peppermint, for when you wake up hungover after a very long night. There's even a zombie tea called "The Brewing Dead" that sounds strong enough to wake even the most rotted of corpses.

Basically, any fandom you can think of has a lovely sounding tea you can order and indulge in. Even better, the prices are quite reasonable! There are fandom sample packs (so you can try all six Night Vale flavors!) or you can buy your favorite for just $19 if you buy a 5oz tin.

Of course, since all of these are loose teas, can I offer you an equally geeky tea strainer? How about a Death Star? Nothing says cozy warm cup of tea like a weapon of mass destruction!
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Thursday, November 20, 2014

TeeFury's Take on the Ugly Christmas Sweater

The Sweater That Lived from TeeFury

My friends, sweater weather is indeed upon us and we are nearing the season of the "ugly holiday sweater." TeeFury has their own version, a sweatshirt versus a traditional sweater, in designs so awesome it seems a shame to call them ugly.

The Harry Potter themed sweatshirt is one of my favorites (Hedwig!), but you know I can't pick just one. If you like what you see, act fast. These ugly sweaters won't be around for long.

A ghost from Christmas Action Movie past:
McClane Winter Sweater

It's not Christmas without a little Nightmare:

Nightmare Sweater
 Celebrate the holidays and the upcoming new season of Twin Peaks:

Damn Fine Sweater

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The 12 Sexiest Men of Sci-fi/Fantasy

People Magazine announced that Chris Hemsworth, better known as Marvel's Thor, was named the Sexiest Man Alive. He joins the likes of Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp and Channing Tatum. No one can deny that Hemsworth, he of the shiny blonde hair and immaculate beard, doesn't deserve the title. He's a great actor and damn fun to watch on screen, especially when Marvel has been kind enough to have him wander around shirtless every so often.

It got me thinking, though. There are a lot of attractive guys on the big and small screen but the ones in genre shows are a very special kind of hot. Science fiction and fantasy movies gives a good actor tons of ways to show off. Ever since the days of Han Solo and Captain Kirk, guys in genre shows and films have been knocking our socks off.

In honor of Thor's award, here are twelve other actors who deserve to have their inherit sexiness celebrated.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

I Was Late for Work, and It's NPR's Fault

by Sara N.
Are you feeling slightly off-kilter this week? Like you're always running just a little bit behind, but you're not sure why?

If you're like me, it's because NPR has changed its show clock and COMPLETELY RIPPED MY ENTIRE LIFE FROM ITS MOORINGS.

Ahem. Let me back up. More than a year ago, NPR began looking at its show clock, which controls down to the second when all of the segments run during Morning Edition and All Things Considered, from news to features to music bumpers to underwriting announcements. NPR execs say they were responding to changes in the way people listen to the radio, commute, stream on-demand music and news, and use their new gadgets, plus (as I interpret the public statements) they wanted more airplay for the program sponsors.

So here's how it's always gone down at my house: My husband is up first, and he flips on our local NPR affiliate, which is what I wake up to. While lying in bed, I can tell what time it is by what's on the air. National news briefs? It's the top of the hour. Local news stories? It's half past. Business news? It's 10 'till.

Practically speaking, this means my morning goes like this: Business news = Sweet, I have 10 more minutes to sleep. National news = Ugh, I must get in the shower. Local news = No more messing around, I need to get in my car to drive to work right now.

Starting this week? It's total anarchy, people. I don't have my rhythms down at all. News updates now come every 20 minutes, and there are more frequent local news segments. Underwriting announcements pop up at unexpected lengths and times. Longer pieces run earlier and later. My local station has even added a second host to Morning Edition. He's a welcome addition, but it can be confusing because he used to be on air during the afternoon programs.

Long story short, I fear change, although I'm sure I'll get my new morning routine down soon enough.

How about the rest of you? Anybody else struggling with their internal clocks this week?

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Monday, November 17, 2014

Party Perfection

by Megan S.

Twilight Zone by Michelle's Party Plan-It
Gosh. I love parties. The decorations, the food, the details. Just thinking about it makes me want a party. Pink macaroons and a million balloons and performing baboons and give it to me now! I want the world. I want the whole world. I want to lock it all up in my pocket. It's my bar chocolate. Give it to me now! 

Errr, what was I writing about?  Oh yes. Parties. I stumbled across a fantastic blog, Kara's Party Ideas, this week. It showcases fantastic functions by professional party planners. It's a great place to pilfer ideas from for your next soiree. The site also has an online store where you can purchase a number or decorations to help you achieve your desired look.
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Friday, November 14, 2014

Fear and Writing

by Megan S.

With all due respect to President Roosevelt, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," is a bunch of motivational bullshit. Being afraid of the "nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance" isn't the worst thing ever. I mean, let's be honest, there's never an actual rock bottom. Things can always get worse when I fail.

Failure is one of the most overwhelming fears, no matter the situation. The dread of having my hopes dashed at the very same time I confirm that there's yet another thing I'm horrible at is enough to scare me into inaction. This is why I can't bring myself to start writing a novel.
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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Countdown to Christmas with ThinkGeek

In a couple of hours from now, we will have 41 days until Christmas.

I know, I know, it's not even Thanksgiving yet. Last year, I would have been angry with myself  for even thinking of announcing a countdown before turkey day. However, last year, since Thanksgiving hit so late, I felt like I missed out on Christmas fun. As we have another late November holiday again, I figured screw it. Bring on the holly jollidays.

I like to do my online shopping early, since shipping is a PITA in December. One of my favorite sites for fun presents is ThinkGeek. What do they have for us this year?

Harley Quinn jammies. Giant sledgehammer not included.

K-9! In slipper form! WANT

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Why I'll Probably Never Watch Supernatural

Supernatural, darling of genre TV shows, just hit the epic milestone of 200 episodes this week. That's hard enough for a regular sit-com to it, it's damned impressive for something like Supernatural. Its fans are legion, its gifs numerous, and its impact on pop culture undeniable.

I've only ever seen three and a half episodes.

I like to tell people that I'm bad at TV. I'm not one of those hipsters who thinks TV is below them, I just have absolutely no space in my head for remembering when shows are on or what channel. If it's more complicated than a cartoon, I'm out. I almost never watch live TV. I either catch up on OnDemand or marathon on Netflix. Hell, even if I absolutely love a TV show I tend to complete forget it's existence. Despite my love of Sleepy Hollow, I haven't seen one episode of this season. Don't get me started on TV shows that started years ago. My chance of catching up with them? Slim to nil. I'll probably never watch Twin Peaks or Pushing Daisies even though I've been told they're classics. Catching up on 200 episodes of a show? Impossible.

I know I'd probably love Supernatural. I know all about the characters (hey Dean heeeeey) and the plots. Cultural osmosis and tumblr have me up to speed on what's generally going on and I've seen youtube clips of some of the funniest bits. Sam and Dean stuck in a commercial talking about STDs? Hilarious. But it's 200 episodes. I feel like I've discovered an awesome sounding book and I've discovered it's actually 27th in a huge series. It's impossible to start. It feels impossible. There's just no way. Especially since I have so much other stuff going on.

I've only seen three full episodes and they happen to be the first three. A long time ago a friend of mine in college lent me the first disc of her Season One box set. She took it back before I was able to finish it. I wanted to watch the rest of it but Netflix wasn't a thing back then and she had lost the third disc and, well, what was the point? 

200 hours of a show. If I started tomorrow and watched one episode a night, I wouldn't be done until next JUNE. JUNE! It didn't even take me that long to read all seven Harry Potter books! Sometimes I think I should just try and watch the best episodes of the various seasons but I'm a completest. I'd never feel comfortable with that. I'd have to watch them all.

Goddamn, I am so bad at TV. Supernatural, I want to love you, but it's just logistically impossible. I'm so sorry, Dean. No, not the puppy eyes! Oh god why!
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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Happy 200th, Supernatural! Let's Celebrate With Epic GIFs.

by Sara N.

Everybody's favorite improbably long-running show about super-attractive demon-hunting brothers airs its 200th episode tonight on the CW.

To commemorate this momentous event, which very few television shows live long enough to reach, I'm hoping you'll all join me in a little celebration featuring a ridiculous number of GIFs.

Look, it's no secret that Supernatural's best days are behind it. Like, five years behind it. After a rocky first season in which the show struggled to find the proper tone and character development, it morphed into a dependably scary, twisty genre show in season 2.

Original showrunner Eric Kripke envisioned a tightly plotted five seasons and left after a gut-wrenching Season 5 finale that featured one of the brothers dying for the other. Again.

After those first five seasons, the show continued under the guidance of Sera Gamble, and while it hasn't quite recaptured the magic of those first seasons, it's surprisingly not terrible for a show in its 10th season. It's found a comfortable groove with its mix of humor, violence, tough guy swagger, and touches of vulnerability.

If you've watched even 10 minutes of a Supernatural episode, you know that in addition to sharp writing, a huge chunk of its success rests solely on the chemistry between Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles as Sam and Dean Winchester. Their dynamic of love, anger, frustration, and support elevates even the most mundane monster-of-the-week plotlines (not that many of the episodes are mundane).

The show is also known for its fourth-wall breaking meta episodes, which it handles far better than it has any right to. And although I'm a Dean girl, I appreciate that Sam's shoulders are as broad as I am tall. (I'm not the only one; this show has famously created scads of smutty, brother-based fanfic.)

Supernatural has shed some key characters over the years; some absences were more keenly felt than others. Papa Winchester's death did more to drive the plot than his presence ever did. Uncle Bobby, on the other hand, was a hard, hard loss. The show's also chewed up and spit out a number of enjoyable female characters, from the always welcome Ellen and Jo to tart opponent Ruby (the blond version) and posh annoyance Bela.

And of course, the surviving supporting players are still great fun. The show wouldn't be half as watchable without regular appearance by grumpy king of hell Crowley, game and goofy Charlie Bradbury, and of course, Castiel, who is flawless, now and forever, amen. (His introduction remains my favorite moment of the show.)

Oh, and then there's Chuck. And Lilith. And Meg and Garth and Anna and Kevin and the Trickster and Lucifer and Abaddon and Sheriff Jody and the Ghostfacers and ol' Yellow Eyes. Some good. Some bad. All delightful. So many gone. It's almost too depressing to continue.

So, happy 200th, Supernatural! And for fans, both former and ongoing, keep scrolling to experience a bounty of GIFs featuring highlights of the last 10 years:
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Monday, November 10, 2014

Terribly Beautiful

by Megan S.

There's a mad genius afoot.  I have no idea who the culprit may be, but they write the most droll makeup and fashion tips on Facebook under the moniker Beauty by H.P. Lovecraft. It's the tongue-in-cheek feminist beauty consultant for eldritch horrors you never knew you needed.
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Friday, November 7, 2014

Zombie Shoes and Impulse Purchases

by Sara N.

I bought zombie shoes yesterday.

I didn't need them. I don't know where I'll wear them. They're actually kind of ugly.

And yet, I now own them. It was a spur-of-the-moment purchase, brought about by a quick click of the "buy" button.

Impulse purchases happen for a number of reasons, according to Psychology Today.

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A Vampire, a Dragon & a Power-full Romance

Over the last two weeks I have read 3 fantastic books. Two were books I had pre-ordered the second I could, and the third was a slightly older book that I finally pulled off the to-read shelf. Every one made me a happy reader and left me wanting more.

TAINTED BLOOD (Generation V #3) by M.L. Brennan

I've talked about my love for this series before. Brennan's vampires exist is a thoroughly f'ed up world, with an equally messed up family dynamic. This time around, Fort and Suze have to solve the murder of the leader of the werebears, deal with Fort's increasingly vampiric nature, and the implications of the frailty of the Scott family matriarch. While I love Fort and Suze's ever evolving relationship, it's the almost-vampire's interactions with his older sister Prudence that were among my favorite parts of the book. She's terrifying, but she also loves her little brother, in her own totally inhuman way. I really can't wait to see what happens next. This was a fantastic book three, and while it is setting things up for more hazards in Fort's near future, it also didn't feel like a middle book or set-the-stage book for me. We got character progression, a conclusion to the main issue, and more trouble on the horizon. Just what I was looking for, and it means I will be hitting that pre-order button for book 4.

Buy at Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Powell's | Indiebound

BURN FOR ME (Hidden Legacy #1) by Ilona Andrews

This is a new Paranormal Romance series by one of my favorite authors. Loads of action, phenomenal supporting characters, humor, interesting magic system, slow-burning romance, and did I mention action? Nevada Baylor, a PI, has been tasked with the seemingly impossible job of bringing in a bad-boy pyro. She crosses paths with Mad Rogan, a very powerful mage on his own manhunt. Banter, power and sparks fly as they race to save the city from an ever growing conspiracy. While a faster-track romance than the Kate Daniels books, this is still a slower moving romance than you'll see in most romance series. Nevada is different from Kate, less brash and stabby, but also completely relatable and endearing. Was rooting for her from page 1. Rogan is very alpha without being an alpha-hole. That is very important for me in romances. I also really liked the family interaction. The story is definitely not over. I will be pre-ordering book 2.

Buy at Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Powell's | Indiebound

THE LAST DRAGONSLAYER (Chronicles of Kazam #1) by Jasper Fforde

This is a Young Adult Fantasy completely devoid of romance or angst. In fact, apart from Martha Wells' Emilie, Jennifer Strange is one of the most mature main characters that I've encountered in a young adult book in a while. By mature I don't mean sexually or in a "too grown up" way, but in her sense of responsibility. At 16 she is the de facto manager for a group of wizards. She is resourceful, logical, and has her own Quarkbeast. It kind of reminded me of the Luggage from Pratchett's Discworld, except not so boxy and with more teeth. The world is magical and unique and surreally satirical. With a despotic King, a country on the brink of war, corporate shenanigans, Big Magic, and a prophecy that the last dragon will be killed on Sunday, it will take all of Jennifer's ingenuity to come out on top. Or at least sideways and not six feet under. I really liked this book. It was a slightly slower pace but had no problem holding my attention. I will be reading on in the series.

Buy at Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Powell's | Indiebound

What have you read and loved lately?

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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Almost Finished

One of the best feelings in the world as a reader is when a series you love with all your heart comes out with a new volume. Oh, the thrill of it! The delight! That sad feeling when it's over much too soon. The latest release to come swaggering into my life is the second to last volume in Gail Carriger's incredible Finishing School series. Waistcoats & Weaponry is the third outing for Sophronia, the intrepid protagonist of the series, and it's the best volume yet!

Carriger's Finishing School series is closely linked to her wonderful, and now sadly complete, Parasol Protectorate series. It's a delight to read the Finishing School series and see how certain plots began. This time, Waistcoats & Weaponry deals with the werewolves of Carriger's universe and the results are explosive!

So far, Sophronia and her friends have proven to be wonderful companions in these books and it's great fun to follow along in their adventures. The girls are starting to get older and come into their own now and this book showcases it the best. Everything changes in this book.

While the last two books were vampire heavy, the wolves finally get their time to shine. Sophronia's friend Sidheag Maccon is called away from school because of a massive upset in her family; the Kingair pack's beta had to be put down by Lord Maccon, who flees to London. Sidheag travels to Scotland to help and Sophronia and Dimity rush to her aid. These events have huge implications since Lord Maccon leaving Scotland becomes the reason he meets and later marries Alexandria Tarabotti.

While on the way to Scotland, the girls pick up two of their gentlemen friends, Soap and Lord Mersey. They encounter malfunctioning robots, a sinister plot involving an old school enemy and manage to steal both a dirigible and a train.

The action in Waistcoats & Weaponry is top notch. It's full of daring do and impressive feats of espionage. The dialog is Carriger's usual brand of wit and whimsy and the characters are all at their best here. The story rockets around and doesn't let up for a second. The ending was so incredible I didn't breathe for the last five chapters. I couldn't believe what happened. It was ASTOUNDING. The next book can't come fast enough!

Overall, Waistcoats & Weaponry was another fantastic romp through Gail Carriger's wonderful, witty Victorian world and I can not wait to return to it. The fun characters, sharp wit and zany antics all lead up to an explosive, game changing finale. You do not want to miss this book. Grab your most trusty parasol, steal a dirigible and head to your local bookseller to pick this volume up!
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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Hey, You've Got Your Scrivener in My NaNoWriMo!

by Sara N.

Or is it that you've got your NaNoWriMo in my Scrivener? Either way, they're two great tastes that organizers of the monthlong novel writing event think go great together.

But first, is anybody else attempting to write a novel this month? I'm giving it a another shot after enjoying my first go-round last year. This year, though, I'll be writing my book on Scrivener thanks to the a free trial being offered through November for NaNo participants. If you write your 50,000 words this month, you can get 50 percent off the cost of the program so it can be yours forever. Those who don't get all the way to 50,000 still get 20 percent off. (It's $45 for Mac and $40 for Windows.)

So what is Scrivener? It's a document-composition tool that lets you turn the ideas in your headspace into a novel, a screenplay, a legal brief, an academic article — you name it, and if it's complicated to structure and organize, Scrivener promises to help.

I've been wrestling with it for three days now, and there's a learning curve, but I'm liking the overall setup so far. It lets you break your work into individual scenes or beats, save them on virtual index card, and move those cards around the program's cork board. So if you, like me, know several of the scenes you want to include in your story, but you're not sure when or where or how to order them, you can slop them all up on your cork board, then organize them as you start to add more tissue to the bones of your story.

But don't take my word for it; Scrivener has some high-profile devotees. Ilona Andrews is an outspoken fan. She's done screenshots of her custom background ..
... and even created a tutorial that could be useful to newbies:

Other well-known Scrivener users include author Neal Stephenson and Neil Cross, the creator of BBC's Luther, and one of my favorite romance authors Jennifer Crusie, among many others. And maybe you, if you use the program to write your novel this month and sell it for a six-figure book deal.

Anybody else trying out Scrivener this month? Let me know if you've found creative and useful ways to get it to work for you. I feel like I'm using about a tenth of its capacity right now.
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Monday, November 3, 2014

I Want To Believe (In Miracles)

by Megan S.
by Chris Piascik
Ho-ho-hello and welcome to the 2014 holiday season!  Yes, December 25 may be more than 50 days away and, yes, you may not be feeling all that jolly about the coming onslaught of crass commercialism or nonstop carols for the next month and a half, but before you get your sugarplum fairies in a twist, consider this: it's also the start of the holiday movie season.

Actor portrayal of me right now.
And I loooooove holiday movies.
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