Monday, December 28, 2015

A New Year, A New Reading Challenge

 Guest post by Jaylee James

The end of the year is a great time for reflecting on what you’ve accomplished in the past year, and where you want to go in the next – what things you wish you had done differently. My planner has a section at the front suggesting I make a list of what I did well in 2016 – what major things happened over the last year – in order to celebrate. It also suggests I take time to think about where my 2016 resolutions went off track so I can better prepare for 2017.

But let’s talk about the most important aspect of the New Year.

It’s time to make our 2016 Reading Challenges on Goodreads.

I’m aiming for 100 books this year. Last year I aimed for 50, then later upped it to 100 because I finished my challenge in June and that’s just no fun at all. No. A reading challenge is no fun unless you are scrambling to finish off your Currently Reading shelf the week after Christmas to a chorus of “Who cares?” and “What does it matter?” and “It’s just a reading challenge,” from your non-reading friends and family.

As I write this, I will need to read … a book every three days in order to finish. Not bad. I’ve definitely done worse. Thank goodness for holidays off from work so I can spend time with family read for hours on end.

Reading should be fun, and personally I think challenges make it more so.

There have been a lot of reading blog challenges floating around the internet this month, such as only reading female authors, or reading two diverse books for every book by a boring ol’ white dude. I saw one on twitter the other day that suggested reading in an alphabet pattern. Your first book begins with A, next must begin with B, etc. (My hearty well-wishes to them for finding books beginning with Q, X, and Z.)

In 2014 I challenged myself to try out new genres, and found that I actually adore mystery novels, and romance novels are not nearly as terrible as I thought they were (in fact, I wound up loving romance so much that I’m now attempting to write it!).

No matter what your reading challenge for 2016, may I suggest that you push yourself to try something you’ve never tried before? Read a genre you’ve never attempted, or make an effort to try out books you previously scorned because of their hideous covers. Maybe pick up a book set in another country, or on a hard topic you generally shy away from.

Surprise yourself next year. I think you’ll find it’s worth it.

What about you… What are your challenges for 2016? Did anything awesome come out of your 2015 challenges?
Jaylee James is a writer of science fiction, fantasy, romance, and variations thereof. She is most well known as the Senior Editor of the LGBT lit mag Vitality Magazine. Her work has appeared in Wings of Renewal, a solarpunk dragon anthology, and her time-travel romance short, Choosing You, was released in November. Visit her at to learn more about her upcoming projects.

Wings of Renewal:
Choosing You:

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Twas The Night Before Christmas

Guest post by Simon Kewin

One of the Christmas traditions that has grown up in our household is to read Clement Clarke Moore’s poem A Visit From St. Nicholas (more commonly called ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas) every Christmas Eve. It’s become a vital part of our family’s celebrations, something our children would miss hugely. I know others do this too. I have a relative whose grown up child lives on the other side of the planet - and still gets the poem read to her via a phone call.

It always amuses me, though, how Christmas as represented by the poem (which was written in 1823) differs from our modern version. Clearly Santa Claus, despite being a timeless and magical entity, is not averse to the vagaries of fashion.

Santa wears fur
 These days he prefers the red outfit with the fur trimmings although for many years he also wore green. In the poem he is dressed in neither – instead he is “all in fur, from his head to his foot”. Hopefully the red outfit keeps him as warm as the fur one did.

Santa is an elf
These days we tend to think of Santa as a man who has elves to help him make the presents and so forth. Back in the early nineteenth century they appeared to think he was one himself, as the poem describes him as “a right jolly old elf.” Of course, this might be metaphorical - or perhaps there is elven blood in Santa’s origins. It might explain some of his incredible magical abilities.

No sign of Rudolph
the most famous of the reindeer – the one with the very shiny nose – doesn’t always help pull Santa’s sleigh. In the year the poem was written, for instance, there were eight reindeer listed and Rudolph isn’t among them. Instead we have Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder and Blitzen. Presumably there is a large stable of reindeer at the North Pole, and Santa picks a different team every year. Or perhaps Rudolph was simply having a rest that year.

Santa doesn’t always stay out of sight
Thee days we tend to assume we won’t see Santa when he arrives, but that wasn’t the case back in 1823. The narrator of the poem sees Santa come down the chimney, and Santa doesn’t appear to be concerned. Instead he gives “A wink of his eye and a twist of his head” to tell the narrator “I had nothing to dread”. Perhaps Santa has become more careful over the intervening years.

Santa has the power to alter size
As well as the ability to move at huge speed (or bend time), and to carry a vast weight of presents, Santa also appears to have the ability to change size at will. At one point in the poem his carriage is described as “a miniature sleigh and eight tiny rein-deer”, but clearly he can be big enough to carry large presents, too.

Santa has given up smoking
Santa, as an ageless and magical being, presumably doesn’t suffer any of the side-effects of tobacco, but clearly at some point he has given up smoking. In the poem he smokes a pipe, and the smoke “encircled his head like a wreath”. Perhaps he stopped so he didn’t set a bad example to anyone who did manage to catch a glimpse of him.

So, the poem gives us a fascinating insight into Christmas past. I wonder how things will be different in a couple of hundred years from now?

The poem can be found here.

Simon Kewin is the author of over 100 published short and flash stories. His works have appeared in Nature, Daily Science Fiction, Abyss & Apex and many more. He lives in England with his wife and their daughters. The second volume in his Cloven Land fantasy trilogy has just been published. Find him at

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