Love in the Time of Coronavirus

If you’re not up to the minute on the global COVID-19 pandemic, you’ve probably been living under a rock (and for now you should probably stay there). For me, it’s difficult to read any amount of news without a raised pulse. The situation is unfolding moment by moment, especially here in the San Francisco Bay Area, and each new development seems worse than the last. Today officials in several Bay Area counties issued a shelter-in-place order that will last at least three weeks, so we are all now hunkering down with our stocks of snacks and (oh-so-precious?) toilet paper.

But I don’t need to tell you that.

What I’ve been thinking about, partly to help myself stay calm in the midst of all the anxiety, are the things coronavirus can’t touch. It is easy to feel helpless, to feel defeated, by such a complete global crisis. But one of the reasons I love fantasy literature is that it clearly delineates the conflict between good and evil, and it instills a strong sense that good will win out in the end–if we choose it.

So here’s where I see goodness, hope, joy, and love still very much alive and well, even in the time of coronavirus.

I see it in the faces of a few friends sharing a home-cooked meal (albeit a few days ago), practicing social distancing yet closing all the distance between them.

I see it in a homemade Communion of white wine and sandwich bread, dipped with washed hands and shared among family members around the kitchen table.

I see it in Netflix nights and blanket forts.

I see it in slow-cooked meals made from scratch, savoring the preparation and enjoyment of joyous flavors.

(Do you know what these are? They are DUMPLINGS that I made FROM SCRATCH!)

I see it in church services held on Facebook Live, the viewer count in the upper left corner ticking higher and higher as community comes together.

I see it in connection with elderly neighbors, standing six feet away, yet knowing they are provided for and not alone.

I see it in the slower pace of life, hectic schedules replaced with time for the classic introverted pleasures: good books and movies, writing projects, self-taught skills, feel-good music.

(A sign I saw in a bookstore window a few weeks ago.)

I see it in video chats with loved ones, the screen jerking and halting as a five-year-old bolts up the stairs to show off her dolls.

And I see it not least in my puppy, whose passions for snuggles and crunchy apples are undimmed by any number of global crises.

Though I am terribly afraid and confused and uncertain of the future, there is love, love, love, tenacious and unstoppable, pushing up through the sidewalks and jetting out through the cracks of pandemic lockdown–through text, video, Facebook Live, six-foot-distant smiles in the grocery store, and around the kitchen table.

So be safe, everyone. Follow the CDC health guidelines, and get a good laugh out of these amazing hand-washing music videos from around the world. And in these strange times, whatever the form, hold on to goodness and love. I give you one of my favorite fantasy quotes, taken from The Fellowship of the Ring:

‘The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”

Lessons from Scooter

A few weeks ago I dogsat for my friend Audry’s dog, Scooter. I love dogs, but Scooter is a special favorite. He’s smart, sheepskin-colored, and extremely snuggly.

Little did I realize, he’s also a sage when it comes to life lessons.

Photo credit: Audry Nicklin

Lessons from Scooter

1. Get up each morning like it’s the best day of your life.

Photo credit: Audry Nicklin

Every morning he’d pounce on me, full of energy and enthusiasm like it was his first day of being alive. No coffee. No grumbles. Like a kid who gets to ride his favorite roller coaster. Every. Day.

2. Stare out the window. 

Photo credit: Audry Nicklin

There are beautiful things out there. Trees. Ideas. Cats to chase.

3. Stop and smell the roses (or the bushes and fire hydrants). 

Photo credit: Audry Nicklin

Walkies aren’t just for arriving places. It’s about the journey, not the destination.

4. Snooze.


Because who wants to work straight through a warm afternoon when there’s a soft blanket around? Besides, all the enthusiasm and walkies are tiring. 

5. Cuddle up with the people you love.


Never miss an opportunity to show love through snuggles. Even when the person is in the middle of writing a novel.


Thanks, Scooter. I love you too.


Literature, Kniterature

Today I’m tickled to host my second-ever author interview! My good friend Audry Nicklin has designed, written, and published Lit Knits, a book of ten knitting patterns inspired by works of classic literature that allow you to “wear your favorite story.” 

What a delicious stack of old books!
Ever since I decided I wanted to be a writer at age 14, I’ve loved reading interviews with authors. I love to get inside their heads and learn their habits and tips. Maybe it’s my secret hope that the literary prowess will rub off. 

Let’s go behind the scenes of a real live author’s creative process. Welcome to my virtual living room, Audry! 

1. We all know that a book takes a long time to produce. How long has your book been in the making, from concept to publication?

This book has been a long time coming. It took me roughly 2.5 years from concept to publication. And within that 2.5 years, I was also working part time at a yarn shop and submitting patterns to other publications.
2. How did you get the idea for Lit Knits?

After reading Anne of Green Gables in early 2011, I was inspired to make a shawl that had bits of the story knit into it. So I made up a stitch pattern that looked like the house, Green Gables. Below that I knit a texture of a fence followed by a field of flowers leading down to the Lake of Shining Waters. 

The “Avonlea” shawl from Lit Knits. I love Anne of Green Gables!
After completing the shawl, I started working on a pair of mittens inspired by the white rabbit in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. One thing led to another and I realized that I had a solid theme for a collection of patterns. It did take some time to figure out how to make the collection as cohesive as possible. I thought about doing a knit for A Tale of Two Cities by Dickens and one for The Raven by Poe. But Anne of Green Gables and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderlandare considered classic children’s literature, so I kept within that theme.

3. Of the 10 patterns in the book, which is your favorite?

I can’t say that they are all my favorite, can I?

Each pattern represents a different part of my knitting journey, so I like each one for a different reason. “Down The Rabbit Hole” is based on one of my favorite childhood stories. But the “Robin Hoodie” represents the culmination of all my knitting abilities. I couldn’t have written that pattern when I started the book. But I gained enough experience while writing the other patterns to make it a reality. 

The “Robin Hoodie,” the culmination of all of Audry’s knitting abilities.
4. What would be the 11th work of literature you would add if you could?

This collection almost had 12 patterns. Before I designed each garment, I read the book I wanted to base the knit on. I read Little Women and Heidi, but when it came down to it, I had trouble designing knits that didn’t look kitschy. So I cut the collection down to 10 patterns.

5. The photography in your book is incredible. However, we all know that serene images don’t always come from serene photo shoots. What were some funny stories that happened while you were taking pictures for this book?

Well, you were part of one of the more amusing photo shoots. Since the socks you modeled were Black Beauty themed, we needed to have horses in the background. After getting permission to go to a field where there were horses, we couldn’t find them! It took a good half hour of circling around groves of trees before we found the herd. Then three curious horses came over to investigate. Just as we would shoo one away from the equipment, another one would sneak up and have a look. I still have horse spit stains on my camera bag.

Glamor? More like cold mist, grass stains, allergies, and horse spit. Photo credit: Juliet Nicklin
I know you were cold during that shoot since it started to mist by the end of it, and I had horrible allergies for two days afterwards because I spent the entire time with my face practically rubbing the grass. And I never did get those grass stains out of my jeans.

6. I know you made extreme efforts to use authentic props in your photo shoots. What was the coolest prop you collected for this book?

I was lucky to have all sorts of neat props for this book. But my favorite prop was the real Piece of Eight that I used in the “Sail To Treasure Island” shoot. It came from my Opa’s coin collection and was minted in 1744 during King Philip V of Spain’s rule. 

The “Sail To Treasure Island” blanket, its inspiring book, a compass, and a real Piece of Eight. 

7. Okay, let’s get into your secrets of creative success. On a “normal” day, what does your creative routine look like?

I know some people like to have strict time schedules. I find that keeping up with a schedule stresses me out, so I just have an order I do things. I’ll get up mid to late morning, shower, and walk the dog, Scooter. Then I walk myself to and from a local coffee shop to get tea, after which I eat lunch and read a little bit of a book before I sit down and work. I typically make a list of what needs to be done the night before, so I just start working down the list. Then it is a second dog walk followed by more work. After eating dinner, I might watch a little TV with Scooter while knitting. (He gets grumpy if he doesn’t get at least a half hour of TV time.) 

Audry’s four-legged creative muse, Scooter.
Depending on what stage I’m at in a design, I might be doing “work” knitting or “personal” knitting. After TV time with Scooter, he and I head to bed, where I might work into the wee hours if things are going well. If not, I give up and go to bed. Before my head hits the pillow, I’ll typically list a few things that need to get done the next day.

8. 2 1/2 years of dedicated work is a lot. What kept you from quitting on this project when the road got tough?

My options were to either finish the book or go look for another job. Working on the book looked like the better option. After a while, I had told so many people about the book that it would have been terribly embarrassing to not finish. So avoiding humiliation is what kept me going after a while. That, and I didn’t want to disappoint my parents.

9. Self-publishing v. traditional publishing is a big conversation in the book world these days. Why did you choose to self-publish rather than seek traditional publication? Are you glad you did?

I chose to self-publish because I didn’t want to sign over the rights to my work. The thought that a publisher could do one print run and let the book go out of print was a little too much to take. However, this also means that I am in charge of all the promotion. So while part of me is frustrated that I don’t have the resources to promote Lit Knits as widely as a publisher could, I’m still satisfied that I’ve chosen to self-publish. I’ve been lucky that my background is in print design. I don’t think I could have done it myself without that experience.

I’d say she did a pretty good job designing her own cover.

10. Now that Lit Knits is done, do you have another creative project in the works? Can you give us any hints?

I think I’ll always be working on some sort of knit. I have 2-3 more book ideas, but at the moment, I’m working on some single-pattern proposals for knitting magazines. It’s been interesting seeing how each of my previous jobs has led to the next. I look forward to seeing where this book takes me.
Thanks for having me, Alina!

My pleasure! It was a fun privilege for me to both copyedit the manuscript of Lit Knits and model a pair of socks. But above all, seeing my friend successfully pioneer her own book enterprise inspires me to take my own novel seriously and see it to completion. 

If you love to knit, know someone who does, or just like whimsical pictures of cool, literature-inspired clothes, check out the book on Audry’s web site. She’s got a special preorder deal going until September 25. You can also find her author page on Facebook.
Have more questions? Leave a comment! Audry and I will both be around for some Q&A! 
Unless otherwise noted, all photos are courtesy of Audry Nicklin. 

Cats, Dogs, and Grammar

When I’m not writing irresistible blog posts (*ahem*) I actually make a living by fixing people’s grammar. As a freelance editor and English tutor, mostly, but occasionally for free in conversation. I really try to keep that knee-jerk reaction under control, though.

Grammar is descriptive rather than prescriptive, meaning that what is “correct” changes over time, according to the way people really use words in speaking and writing. Unlike in science, there are very few absolute laws in grammar. So anyone who tries to collar you and tell you that ending a sentence with a preposition is a cardinal sin is probably just…overreacting.

Overreacting. Image courtesy of stock.xchng and xvoltagex

That being said, the goal of language is to communicate, and to accomplish that, the way we use language has to be standardized. Publications like the MLA Handbook, the Chicago Manual of Style, and the Associated Press Stylebook exist to teach us how to write standard English (and even write with style). And because of them, here are a few of my pet peeves from the last few weeks:

1. Take your sentences to the gym

I think of a sentence as a person going for a workout. Get rid of all the extra flab, and you’ve got a toned, healthy, athletic body. You can’t get attached to that extra bit of tummy fat; it’s about the health and fitness of the whole body. So for the sake of the sentence’s health, ask yourself, “Can I say the same thing in fewer words?”

Image courtesy of stock.xchng and ctr

2. “The difference between the right word and the almost right word…”

“…is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug” (Mark Twain). I love big words. I am enraptured by big words. My favorite word in English is tintinnabulation. (Go look that one up for a grin.) But every word has a shade of meaning, and you have to choose the one that best suits your sentence. So don’t use incursion when you mean raid, or hirsute when you mean bearded. There’s a time and a place for big words, but they’re not one-size-fits-all. Make sure you understand what you’re really saying.

Image courtesy of stock.xchng and Catrya

3. Be nice to apostrophes

This one’s best explained with a couple of formulas and a picture.

Your=belonging to you
You’re=you are
You’re about to step on your French poodle.

Whose=belonging to whom
Who’s=who is
Whose French poodle is that? Who’s a French poodle? 

(Note: who’se is not a thing…)

There=a place
Their=belonging to them
They’re=they are
They’re picking up their French poodle from there.

Poor poodle.

Image courtesy of stock.xchng and crs_171

Loving the grammar (or need some more help)? Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips is one of my favorite quick-reference websites. I also just found out that Grammar Girl has a whole Pinterest board of hilarious cartoons for grammar nerds. Enjoy!

Do you have any pet grammar peeves? Feel free to share them in the comments!