Teatime Tuesday #10

Hello again! I’m pleased to say I survived the cold/flu/plague I contracted during Christmas, in the grand tradition of getting sick on holidays. And I’ve come out no worse for the wear, save for a chapped nose. With that said, onward to teatime!

Today I’m doing it up old school, with some jam-filled shortbread cookies from Wolferman’s, and tea from Harney & Sons.


Harney & Sons is a pretty famous tea company—so famous that they provide tea for the Historic Royal Palaces of England, with blends inspired by imperial English history. Which brings us to Tower of London, today’s tea blend. It’s a black tea mixed with stone fruit, bergamot, and honey flavors. Very English, very Elizabethan, and a fitting tribute to the Tower. Plus the sweet jam notes go well with the buttery shortbread cookies.


Incidentally, if you’re ever in London, make sure you take a day to visit the Tower. It’s spooky and old and beautiful. The first time I visited England, I spent two whole days there, climbing up and down stairs and taking photographs in the vain hope that a few ghosts would show up on my film. (This was back in the ancient days before camera phones.) And where else can you find so many stories about princesses, traitors, and tortured spirits? It’s the very definition of Romantic. (Which admittedly is kind of my thing, but still. Ravens! Prisoners! Beheadings! What’s not to like? And did I mention the supreme bling that is the Crown Jewels?)


Well, that’s it for today’s ultra-English teatime. Thanks for joining me!

The Best Holiday in Fiction

So, about Christmas… I could wax poetic for today’s post, enumerate in detail all of the reasons why I love the holiday. I’m guessing you’ve heard them before: family, presents, twinkling lights, gingerbread cookies, etc.


Instead, I want to talk about why I love to read about Christmas in fiction. Christmas scenes are one of my favorite things to read in a novel. (When appropriate to the setting, of course!)

Why? There are lots of reasons, but here are a few key ones:

  1. Setting – Let’s be honest, I’m all about a pretty set piece. So the chance to read about characters interacting amid a backdrop of falling snow and evergreen boughs and flickering candlelight is always welcome. I like beautiful settings, and the aesthetics surrounding Christmas are gorgeous, sometimes even breathtaking. This point leads nicely into…
  2. Victoriana – I’m obsessed with the nineteenth century, and many of the tropes we associate with Christmas come from that time period. So it’s no surprise that my love for the Victorians extends to the yuletide season. I still watch some film version of The Christmas Carol every year, even if it’s just the Mickey Mouse one. I would venture to say that it’s my favorite story by Dickens. Classic Victoriana with a dash of gothic flair? Yes, please!
  3. Sentiment – Christmas is indeed pretty. It’s also a perfect catalyst for all kinds of emotion, in stories and life. Family members are crammed into close quarters. The year is ending, making the time ripe for personal reflection… Not to mention all the drama of gift-getting and gift-receiving! Any time when people are likely to make wishes and confess secrets and interact with their fellow human beings with heightened emotion of any kind makes for great story fodder. Which, of course, I love to read.

These are just a few of the things that bolster my obsession with Christmas in novels. To conclude, then, here are a handful of my favorite stories with pivotal Christmas scenes or settings. (I just finished the last one, Clockwork Princess, a week ago. It has an adorable Christmas scene, along with plenty of Victorian goodness, buckets of angst, and quite possibly my favorite love triangle ever—and I say that as someone who is generally weary of love triangles in YA.)

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

“A Christmas Carroll” by Leanna Renee Hieber

Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare


Merry Christmas, everyone! And Happy New Year.


Teatime Tuesday #9

Apologies for last week’s hiatus, dear readers! I took a few days off while a friend visited from Tucson. We had a lot to catch up on, and we saw The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies together. (Probably not my favorite Peter Jackson movie, I admit. But it was worth seeing, just for the sheer joy that is Martin Freeman and Richard Armitage on screen. Sweet Tolkien, those two know how to play on a fan’s heartstrings.)

My friend gave me a thumbs-up on my latest story premise, though, and left with a copy of my latest manuscript to read (once I’d hooked her with the first chapter). So I’m prepared to call that a win, even where writing is concerned.

In any case, I’m back with another Teatime Tuesday! My grandmother who lives in Chicago was kind enough to send my family some English muffins from Wolferman’s for Christmas, as well as some strawberry preserves.

Naturally, I sampled them right away, like the carb fanatic I am.

English muffins! Also preserves.

For my tea selection, I chose Verdant’s Black Laoshan Chocolate Genmaicha. Genmaicha is a type of tea (usually green, though not in this case) mixed with toasted rice. Verdant also added cocoa bits to this particular blend. The taste is incredibly cozy, with lots of roasted chocolate notes.

English muffins, with the preserves!

Thanks for joining me for tea, and have a wonderful week. I plan to post a brief entry on Christmas Day, about why it’s my favorite holiday in fiction. In case I don’t post it on time, though, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

The Plot Versus Character Conundrum

So I’ve been thinking about something. When my friends and I talk about books or movies or TV shows, why do we almost never mention plot? For the most part, we only talk about characters—who was brave, who was sweet, who was strong, who was deliciously wicked or witty or angst-ridden. We don’t talk much about plot. If we do, it’s only in relation to what a specific moment revealed about the characters. “Oh man, that character was so cool when they did [x]!”

A lot of my favorite stories are criticized for not having much in the way of plot, or for a plot that drags too much. Take Game of Thrones, for example. I’ve heard multiple people say that A Song of Ice and Fire barely has a plot, that all George R. R. Martin does is write about interesting people who bump into each other and interact in unusual (and often bizarre or dramatic) ways. But the fans love it! We don’t care about tight plotting; we just want to find out what Arya or Tyrion or Daenerys or Jon Snow will do next. Because they’re fascinating characters, and we like them, and we love to watch interesting personalities collide.

As a story fan, I guess don’t care much about plot, per se. For me, character trumps everything else. And it seems like that holds true for most of my fellow story geeks. A story with a tense plot or exciting premise might catch my attention, but I’ll never fall in love with it unless it has an emphasis on character—specifically, on character interaction and character development. Maybe this is why some “page turners” don’t stick with me, or fail to catch my attention at all.

Honestly, this is a conundrum for writers. We are often told to write as tightly as possible, to cut any character interaction that isn’t essential to the main plot. It’s not bad advice, far from it. The last thing you want as a writer is to bore your readers, and risk losing their interest. But according to that rule, most of my favorite moments from books should have been shortened, or cut entirely.

In the end, this isn’t an “either/or” situation. A story can have an exciting plot and plenty of character interaction. One of the best solutions at a writer’s disposal is to combine the two. When a story focuses on interesting characters who make choices, and those choices reveal something about them, their character development becomes the plot. Often, boring stories are boring because they fail to connect plot and character, not because they need more of either element.

Still, this subject does give me pause when I write. I often wonder if I’ve included enough interaction between my characters, if I’ve revealed enough about them as individuals to catch the interest and affection of a reader like me. Ultimately, I try to write what I love to read—and to do it as efficiently and effectively as possible, without removing every fun moment from the story altogether.

And when in doubt, writers can always go for the Joss Whedon method. Just make your characters witty enough that no matter how action-packed the plot gets, the story has plenty of humorous dialogue that reveals what the characters really think about each other…

Teatime Tuesday #8

Welcome back to teatime! For this post, I wanted to talk about one of my new favorite companies, Verdant Tea. They work closely with local farmers in China, and air ship their teas so they stay as fresh as possible. Plus they have a cool blog with stories about their teas, and advice on how to prepare and taste them.


For today’s tea, I’m sampling their Traditional Tieguanyin. I’ve tried their greener Spring Tieguanyin (which is delicious, by the way). This one is partially oxidized, which gives it a light toasted flavor. Verdant’s site describes it as having notes of violet and caramel, and I agree. It’s a smooth, delicate tea and keeps its creamy flavor over multiple steepings.


I highly recommend browsing Verdant’s website. They have a lot of delicious teas and tea blends. Some of my favorites are Autumn Harvest Laoshan Green, Laoshan Village Chai, and Golden Fleece. You can read lots of reviews about their teas here on Steepster.

Thanks for joining me for tea!