Aloha, Comfort Zone

Hawaii 01I’ve recently returned from a trip to Hawai’i. My sister and I flew down to Maui to visit our uncle (MASSIVE THANKS FOR INVITING US, dude!), and if I had to summarize the whole experience in a single word, I believe I would choose… “uncomfortable”.

Hold up! That sounds worse than I mean it. Let me elucidate.

Y’know what’s not comfy? Air travel.

Airports stress me out. The crowds and the busyness. The gazillion signs everywhere and the blaring loud-speaker announcements (for me? Not for me? Do I have to try to figure out what they’re saying? Am I doomed?). The sitting around, waiting to stand around, lined up so I can sit for hours longer in a cramped economy seat on a plane that might (probably won’t, but might) crash and kill me. Also, the struggle [between trying to stay hydrated at flight altitudes and not peeing yourself while waiting for an onboard bathroom to open up] is real. Plus Dianne and I neglected to bring travel snacks, so… that was dumb. But we survived, with a little help from Hangman and charades.

Why not rename it Uncomfortable Beach?

I could honestly get into the idea of using HAZMAT suits as everyday-wear. The world is gross, and I prefer to touch it as little as possible. But you can’t live like that on the many and varied beaches of Maui. Sand calls for sandals – or, just as often, for bare feet. It’s the only way to play with the opalescent waves that act all coy ‘til you’re close enough to drench up to the hips.

People sunbathe for comfort??

For some, “vacation” conjures up an image of lounging on a sunny shore doing absolutely nothing. I’ve never done that before. Now I’ve done it for hours. It was… weird. Getting nothing done. Ignoring any kind of to-do list. Anti-productivity. It should’ve been my kryptonite. Instead, I watched the ever-changing water, and let my mind wander with no clear objective, and startled up straight when Dianne and I spotted what we’re pretty sure was a sea turtle, riding under a wave. We also got painfully sunburnt, ‘cause sunscreen, girls. Use it.

“Adventure” and “comfort” are not synonyms. (Unless you’re Gant-o’-the-Lute.)

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Maui is not all beaches.

It’s also mountains under a near-constant cap of hazy clouds, periwinkle shadows in the morning mist, or with and a peach-and-lavender twilight behind them.

Big colorful blooms bursting from every bush – hibiscus, African violets (which are orange, of all colors), and blossoms that serve as harbingers of mangoes.

A hundred kinds of greenery – grass and fronds, leaves and needles, trees that twist or reach up tall and straight or look like they’ve got to be either painted or made of playdough.

And hilariously enough, chickens roaming everywhere. Crowing through the forests. Wandering through backyards and way-out-there wilderness. Quite often, crossing the road. (Your guess as to why is as good as mine.)

Over the course of three days, unser Onkel* drove us all over the island. (* German; “our uncle”.) Along the shore, up mountainsides, through a bit of a national park.  We clambered over rocks and watched for whales and kept cool with shaved ice – a local treat that puts snow cones to shame. We cruised the highway with the windows down, island music bouncing from the radio as we crossed a volcanic wasteland. We hiked treacherous paths to overlook hidden coves of red sand or spectacular cliff-side ocean vistas.

Sometimes a sight was such a special kind of gorgeous that it kind of hurt my heart. My photos couldn’t do them justice. I hope my memory will.

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Nothing comfortable about putting me behind the wheel!

So Dianne and I could explore on our own time, the uncle rented us a car. Dianne, alas, is not yet 25 – the minimum age to drive a rental in this country. That meant the task fell to me: The Shipley voted Least Likely to Be Driving, Because No Thank You. But we weren’t about to let our uncle’s generosity go to waste, so there I was, trying to navigate Maui’s roads of insanity.

Hawaii 03

Why do these street names all look alike? Maybe because you can’t actually read the sign until you’ve almost passed it. Of course, one street can have three or four names, depending on which stretch of the road you’re on; guess you should’ve made that left turn at Albuquerque.

Even with Dianne’s eyes glued to the map on her phone, we got lost as often as we didn’t.

IMG_2435, etc

We also figured out routes to a couple of cool touristy areas, where we could browse potential gifts for our family, and Dianne could get a bangin’ new tattoo, and we could eat perfect ice cream beneath a banyan tree that spread for a block. We made our way to a spot where the waves crash up through a hole in the ground. We somehow survived miles and miles of twisted mountain roads that liked to narrow to one lane with a rock wall on one side and a sheer drop on the other, just in time for traffic coming the other way around a blind curve.

Heaven and hell on a single island. I’m shocked to be alive. Mahalo*, Lord.

(*Hawaiian; “thanks”.)

“Comfortable”s not the word for a night beach.

Because we could, we also drove to a nearby beach after sunset.

Walking the shadowed shore felt illicit, even though we were hardly the only ones out there. The water seemed a dark and formless thing – a place for ghost ships and monsters of myth. We didn’t dare anymore to get close enough to let the waves touch us. Instead, we sat on a lifeguard station abandoned for the day.

Listened to the surf’s stage whispers.

Tipped our heads back to gaze at the stars.

Sang a melancholy medley at the bedazzled sky.

Never comfortable. Better than.

^ Hawai’i in a coconut shell.

An Unexpected Detour (Jack and the Genre-nauts, Act 2)

W.A.I.T. Button, 78 percent

“Welcome, one and all,” says Will Scarlet, with a broad smile and a bow, “to Will & Allyn’s Interactive Theatre!”

“Every Saturday,” says Allyn-a-Dale, “Will and I and our friends from the story world of ‘The Outlaws of Avalon ’ trilogy—”

“Coming one of these days to a book retailer near you!”

“—Will take at random two of the suggestions gleaned from you, our gentle audience, and incorporate them into… well, the sort of tomfoolery Will calls entertainment.”

“So make yourselves comfortable,” says Will, “as we now present to you: ‘An Unexpected Detour’!”

<<<>>>

Hobbit Hole

[The curtain rises on an idyllic backdrop of rolling green hills. Before one of these painted hills stands a round wooden door, and on a padded garden bench before that sits Allyn-a-Dale, portrayer of Jack Snow, checking and rechecking the pocket watch chained to his waistcoat with an impatient sigh. From across the stage, Will Scarlet wanders over, robed and bearded in gray with a tall, broad-brimmed hat and a taller walking staff.]

Allyn/Jack [pocketing his watch with an expression of relief ]: Ah, good morning. I’d wondered whether you intended to leave me at this little under-hill bed and breakfast forever.

Will/Gray Wanderer [leaning jauntily on staff ]: “Good morning”, is it? And what do you mean by that? Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?

Allyn/Jack: I meant that it is both morning and good to see you, though I begin to question that, now, Hatter.

Will/G.W.: Hatter? Who’s that?

Allyn/Jack [irritated ]: It’s you. Artifice Cheshirecott, the Mad Hatter of Wonderland. For pity’s sake, you just introduced yourself one act ago. Have you forgotten yourself already?

Will/G.W. [cheerfully ]: Shows what you know about hatters and madness. With my wizard hat on, I’m no Arti-what’s-his-face. I am Gandalf! And Gandalf means… me! And I’m looking for someone to share in an adventure!

Allyn/Jack: I’d hoped I made it clear I don’t want an adventure. I just want to return to the North Pole.

Will/Gandalf [glowering over his beard ]: What kind of talk is that, Jack Snow? Can it be the one who’s forgotten himself is you?

Allyn/Jack [standing, straightening waistcoat with dignity ]: I perfectly well know who I am: The Fairytale Forest’s chosen Santa Claus.

Will/Gandalf [jabbing his staff toward Allyn ]: Wrong! Well, also right, but wrong! You are the son of Peter Pan, the greatest adventurer Neverland ever saw! Why, so clever was he in seeking out new excitement, he once picked a fight with a fearsome pirate captain on his ship anchored in Diamond Cove. The struggle looked likely to go either way, until – with a crow of triumph – Peter slashed off the pirate’s hand and knocked it right out of the bay with his sword, then flew circles ‘round the diamond while a crocodile caught the fly body part in his jaws. Thus the battle was won! And the game of baseball invented at the same time.

Allyn/Jack [shaking his head ]: I could believe it.

Will/Gandalf: There you are, then. Blood will out, Jack Snow. Blood will always out. So come along. Pack your pocket handkerchiefs, and we’ll be off by way of the Lonely Mountain! Hahahaha, will you ever have a tale or two to tell when you get back!

Allyn/Jack: Can you promise that I will get back?

Will/Gandalf: Sure! Maybe. Probably not. But if you do, I can promise you this much: You will not be the same.

<<<>>>

“Aaaand SCENE!” says Will.

“Thank you to audience members Steven Bourelle  and Chelsea de la Cruz,” says Allyn, “for providing us with the inspiration ‘baseball’ and ‘“Hobbit” spoof’.”

“If you enjoyed yourselves,” Will says, “(or if you didn’t, but you totally did, right?), don’t forget to leave suggestions for future productions in the comments! Words or phrases we’ve got to include, a prop to use, a prompt to run with… anything goes! ‘Til next time, friends:  Will and Allyn out!”

Gant-o’-the-Lute’s Adventure Companion Compatibility Quiz (“Song Caster” Launch Week)

Caution: He doesn’t mince words. His words mince you.

So, you wish to adventure with Gant-o’-the-Lute?

Let’s find out if you’re a companion to suit.

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1) Sleeping indoors bores me. I propose we bed down on the hills tonight. Are you the outdoorsy type?

  • A. Yes, I love the outdoors! All those wide-open spaces!
  • B. I can’t say I’ve been out much. Sounds like it could be interesting, though.
  • C. I’d rather stay in.

2) I daresay we’ll do much on this journey you’ve never attempted before. Are you confident?

  • A. Why wouldn’t I be? I can tackle anything!
  • B. Reasonably so. Goodness knows a little determined effort can go a long way.
  • C. I’ll tend to expect the worst while holding out a weak hope I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

3) Of course, even confidence can only take you so far. This could get dangerous for non-extraordinary humans like yourself. Are you brave?

  • A. Daring as they come!
  • B. I can be, at need.
  • C. Not so much.

4) It will be just you and me for some miles to go. I know I’m enjoyable company, but what of you? How’s your disposition?

  • A. All sunny enthusiasm and exclamation points!
  • B. Pretty even-keeled, I’d say.
  • C. A bit on the gloomy side, honestly.

5) Hmm, two roads diverge in Wilderhark Forest – one well-traveled, the other unknown. I’m inclined to explore the latter. Do you like new things?

  • A. Yaaaay, new things!
  • B. I’ll try most things once, I guess.
  • C. Let’s stick with the old and familiar, please.

6) Oops. That didn’t go quite as planned. We should run. Immediately. Are you fast?

  • A. Like the wind!
  • B. I am now.
  • C. No, I’m not, which is why I told you not to do that, and now I’m going to DIE!

7) Well, we survived! Ready to do it all over again?

  • A. Born ready! Let’s go!
  • B. Give me a minute or month to recover, then we’ll talk.
  • C. Please tell me you’re joking.

If you answered mostly “A”s = Skies above, you’re more excited about this than I am, aren’t you? Well, no tight-held leashes here, eager pup. Off we run! Just try not to do anything so stupid I can’t save you from yourself.

If you answered mostly “B”s = You seem calmly prepared to face whatever comes your way. An admirable quality in a traveling companion. I think we’ll balance each other well. Let’s put it to the test!

If you answered mostly “C”s = Dear me, I’ve never seen anyone more badly in need of adventure. High time someone pushed you well outside of your comfort zone – which shouldn’t be hard, your bubble’s so small. You’re coming with me. Ah-ah! Not a word! You’ll thank me later.

Share your quiz results in the comments below, and you’ll be rewarded with an entry in the “Song Caster” Launch Week Giveaway, of which the Grand Prize winners will be announced tomorrow! For full giveaway rules, go here. To purchase the fantastic new book at the heart of it all, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or CreateSpace will provide.

And now, to announce the winners of Days 5 and 6. Congratulations to

J. Keller Ford and Emerald Barnes!

J for Jenny, you get your choice of any two postcard designs pictured below. And Emerald, no need for you to make that tough choice, because all four designs are yours to enjoy!

''Song Caster'' prize postcards

Thanks for participating in the raffle, and everyone remember that this is the **last day to earn entries** before I draw the Grand Prizewinning names tomorrow. So share the giveaway news, leave those Wilderhark Tales reviews, and if you haven’t bought your copies of “The Song Caster” (of Tirzah Duncan’s “Cry of the Nightbird”) yet, carpe diem!

(And in case any of you were wondering about my own quiz score, I managed to eke out mostly “B”s. ;D)

10 Lessons We Can Learn from “The Magic School Bus”

“Please let this be a normal blog post.” “With Danielle? NO WAY!”
“Please let this be a normal blog post.”
“With Danielle? NO WAY!”

Life Lessons

1) Even in a series founded on scientific learning, we’re taught our lessons by a woman who routinely does the implausible, if not the straight-up impossible, on a bus that can only be described as magic. There’s room in the world for both quantifiable facts and firm belief in the unexplainable.

Magic School Bus, Phoebe's Old School

2) Just when you’re thinking you should have stayed home today is sometimes when the coolest adventures get rolling.

3) Never mind how they did it at your old school. Fix your gaze ever onward and embrace the wild and wacky changes that take your humdrum life up a level.

4) There will be recurring characters in your life who don’t seem to serve any function other than to make a nuisance of themselves where they don’t even belong. These people probably deserve to be left on Pluto. Be better than these people deserve.

Arnold, nooo! Don’t be a hero!
Arnold, nooo! Don’t be a hero!

(Seriously. Janet. In Arnold’s place, I would have kept my space helmet on and abandoned my obnoxious cousin to her fate.)

5) Piggybacking on that, don’t discount the biggest weasely wimp in the group; he may end up doing some of the most courageous things.

(Props where they’re due. The boy chased down a dinosaur so he could return a paleontologist’s fossilized egg. That’s a sense of responsibility you can’t buy!)

6) Forget the naysayers. If only for one glorious half-hour a day, let yourself believe your teacher’s a vampire, the sound museum is haunted, a hastily manufactured robot will do all your chores, and you are totally Weather Man.

Shika, shika, ka-BOOM!
Shika, shika, ka-BOOM!

(Dream on, Ralphie. Dream on forever.)

Writer Lessons

Magic School Bus Plays Ball

7) Just like when trying to play a baseball game, things work much better if the story has friction.

8) Creating a distinctive ensemble cast is totally doable. Snazzy catchphrases and signature outfits/color-combinations work well. Don’t forget to include dynamic relationships within the group!

(Again: Friction.)

9) You don’t have to do anything explicitly romantic; the fandom will still ship your characters like nobody’s business.

(Carlos/D.A. and Ralphie/Keesha, anyone? C’mon, everybody knows they belong together. It was there in all the friction.)

Lesson with an Arguably Narrow Window of Applicability

10) The first time you eat your classmates, it’s an honest mistake. After that, it’s just carelessness.

Magic School Bus For Lunch

“War” or “Make Love (or Awesome Books Worth Loving) Instead”

Eli’s back!!! Not that the blog’s hyperventilating with excitement, or anything… *pant, pant, pant*

The bloggin’ Buccaneers have yet another outrageous demand: “Recommend or review a book of choice. Tell the interwebz why you love it!

Well, they’ve got the timing of a sea captain’s finest chronoscope, because there just happens to be a book I’ve been wanting to rave about.

The Book: “The Spirit War” by Rachel Aaron.

Genre: Fantasy adventure.

Blurb (because I seem to be incapable of just saying, “It’s about X and Y, and then Z happens.” Oh, no, I’ve gotta be all authorial about it.):

In a world where everything from doors to swords to grains of sand has a living spirit… they all adore Eli Monpress, rogue wizard and self-proclaimed greatest thief in the world. But as much as the everyday spirits love Eli, no one loves him more – or with more dangerous obsession – than the Shepherdess, Benehime, a formidable power with a disturbing lack of attention to responsibility. She’ll pull any stunt to get her favorite back where she wants him, even if it means letting the inexorable Immortal Empress loose on a world with no might to oppose her.

Preparing to make a stand nonetheless is the island of Osera. Its people beat back the Empress’s armies once before, and they are determined to do it again, with help from their truant prince. There is, however, one small complication: That prince is none other than infamous swordsman Joseph Lichten, accomplice and friend of a certain wizard-thief. The price on his head is now higher than Eli’s, and if anyone thinks Eli’s pride will allow him to take the situation lying down, they may have another think coming.

My Thoughts: I did not want this book to end – particularly not on the note that it did! There’s little I can say without giving it all away, but just know that the final pages of this fourth book in the Eli Monpress series had me craving Book Five even more than I already was. (“Spirit’s End”, coming in November 2012!)

For those who wanted a “state of open, armed, often prolonged conflict carried on between nations, states, or parties” story, this book delivers on its title’s promise. There are plenty of political head games throughout, and nail-biter battles as the conclusion draws near. There’s also a healthy dose of familial dysfunction, treason and treachery, and enough emotional warfare going on within characters’ own selves to rival the action happening on Osera’s front lines. Readers may even see some characters of which they’ve grown fond meet tragic ends ere the book’s close; certainly, one of the losses hit me rather hard. But, as I’ve been heard to say, the threat doesn’t seem real if nobody dies.

HSYRT? (Hey, Should You Read This?): I’ve yet to come across an installment of the Eli Monpress series that I don’t think you should read. Whatever you’re waiting for, knock it off and buy the book. …Unless what you’re waiting for is to have read the first three books, in which case, knock it off and buy the omnibus.

“Reviews” or “How to Make Me Love Your Book Like My Own Flesh and Blood”

To my list of largely inexplicable mini-phobias, add the aversion to writing book reviews. Whatever the reason or lack thereof (a psychiatrist would have so much fun with me…), it is what it is. But when two super-nice authors give you their books for free (explanations here and here, for those who care) and you sincerely enjoy them, you can’t in good conscience keep that information to yourself. …Or maybe you can; but my conscience is sensitive.

            For the sake of literary honor, then, I shall hereby “write or give a critical report on” a pair of recently-read books and attempt to trick myself into thinking it’s no big, scary deal (‘cause, let’s face it, it really isn’t) by being all soothingly systematic about it.

            Book 1: “All Good Children” by Catherine Austen.

            Genre: Dystopian YA.

            Blurb (because I seem to be incapable of just saying, “It’s about X and Y, and then Z happens.” Oh, no, I’ve gotta be all authorial about it. I think I’ve found part of the reason I dislike trying to write reviews…): All the kids around Maxwell Connors are turning into unnaturally compliant, personality-dead shells of their former selves – a town full of zombies too terrifyingly well-behaved to even eat his brains – and Max has no intention of joining the ever-swelling ranks. But if Max can’t withstand the pressure of lying low enough to avoid the mandatory drug behind the horrible change, losing his brain to the drug could become a secondary concern: He might just lose his mind instead.

            My Thoughts: As a general rule, I’m not a fan of dystopian fiction. (I dislike being horrified!) Even so, I immersed myself in Max’s nightmare ungrudgingly. Why? Because I really, really like Max. He’s smart and a smart aleck, which made for really sharp narration and dialogue. (The whole book struck me as being quite well-written, by the way; always a massive plus.) He comes off like a jerk – and, well, partially is a jerk – but mixed in with the obnoxiousness was a really decent kid, and within I-don’t-know-how-many pages, I found that I’d grown to love him like a brother…or at least like a good protagonist.

            HSYRT? (Hey, Should You Read This?): The more you like dystopian YA to begin with, the closer to “absolutely” my answer goes. If you don’t tend to like the genre… well, if you made yourself read “The Hunger Games”, you may as well give this a try, too; I’ve read both, and I think I like “All Good Children” more. (Hard to be objective; “H.G.” 1 and 2 were good, but the third installment left a bad taste in my mouth. On a purely protagonist level, though, I personally prefer Max to Katniss Everdeen.)

Yes, you’ve seen this around here before. No, I may never tire of looking at it.

            Book 2: “The Legend of Eli Monpress” by Rachel Aaron. (Technically three books for the price of… well, less than three, so a definite bargain: “The Spirit Thief”, “The Spirit Rebellion”, and “The Spirit Eater”.)

            Genre: Fantasy adventure.

            Blurb (etc.): In a world where everything from doors to swords to grains of sand has a living spirit… they all adore Eli Monpress, rogue wizard and self-proclaimed greatest thief in the world. With a legendary-weapon-bearing swordsman and demon-powered girl at his side, and a gutsy, ghosthound-riding, spirit-wielding nemesis on his heels, Eli skips merrily from high-profile crime to high-profile crime in bold pursuit of a madman’s goal. And he may just be mad enough to pull it off.

            My Thoughts: Condensed version? I swoon for Eli Monpress. Yes, I’m also driven breathless by the hair-raising action, the hairpin plot twists and turns, the hairy situations from which surely there can be no coming out alive! What’s more, many of the characters, including a number of the spirits, are epic, amazing, and twenty kinds of cool. (Rachel Aaron can write some boss characters, y’all.) In truth, this oft-mentioned omnibus contains much to love. But even if it weren’t all-around awesome (which, I repeat, it is), I’d still probably cuddle the book and coo sweet nothings at the cover, because Eli has charmed me as he has the lion’s share of his world. And once I get attached to a character, I get attached hardcore.

            HSYRT?: Um, YEAH. And the Ink Caster wholeheartedly concurs. What are you waiting for? Go buy the books! Support this woman! She created Eli Monpress!

            So, the overall takeaway, here? Write a worthy character, and I’ll read anything to get to him. (…Or her. But frankly, the quickest way to my heart is a literary dreamboat.)

“Read”

When my saintly mother took it upon herself to homeschool her beloved firstborn child (a.k.a. me), she had but a single goal in mind: To make me love to read. If she managed to accomplish only that much, she figured, she could pretty much retire.

            “On what possible premise could she base such an idea?!” some scandalized audience members may exclaim. Well, how about the verb itself? The numerous definitions of the word “read” are riddled with phrases that smack of education: “To examine and grasp the meaning of”, “to discern and interpret the nature or significance of through close examination or sensitive observation”, “to receive or comprehend”, “to study”, “to learn or get knowledge of from something written or printed”… Pattern established, and conclusion obvious: When you love to read, you cannot help but learn.

            My mother understood this, because she is kind of a genius. And under said kind-of-genius’s tutelage, I learned to love to read.

            People who love reading are addicts. You couldn’t keep me supplied. Thank goodness for regular trips to the public library, or who knows what would have become of me. It was a rare occasion when I came back from such a trip without at least one book, and far more likely that I’d have anywhere from five to a dozen. I was Roald Dahl’s Matilda, working my way through the kiddie corner until there was nothing left to tackle but the shelves dedicated to the big people. I was Disney’s Belle, looking around to see if there was anything new in since yesterday. No? That’s alright, I’ll borrow this one. That one? But you’ve read it twice! …A-a-and now we bring it back before this turns into a full “Beauty and the Beast” quote-fest.

            I learned that library cards are not only free, they’re priceless.

            People who love reading are not picky. I would read anything (more or less), anytime (except while sleeping), anywhere (no exaggeration, actually), because to do less made me sad. Books came with me in the car on errands. Books came with me inside the buildings where those errands were housed. (Come on, you know there’s always a wait time. And on the off-chance there isn’t, there’s always reading while walking.) Books came under the bed sheets with a book light, because the only thing more fun than reading is reading when your parents think you ought to be getting a healthy amount of rest. And when there weren’t books immediately at hand, there were magazines. And cereal boxes. And labels on cans of air freshener.

            I learned that if you want something desperately enough, you’ll find creative ways to get it.

            People who love reading are escapists. Those minutes snatched to read just one more page in between the demands of life were minutes well spent inRiverHeights, sleuthing with Nancy Drew. Or in the billiard room, with the candlestick, wondering whether Colonel Mustard or Professor Plum had done old Mr. Body in. (Yes indeed, that board game spawned a slapstick mini-mystery book series, and I ate it up.) Or in a magic attic with the girls’ club named for it. Or back in American history, meeting Addy, learning a lesson with Felicity, saving the day with Josefina. I went all kinds of places, experienced all kinds of adventures, looked over the shoulder and got in the heads of all kinds of characters. I had so much fun getting into stories through the door marked “Readers” that I wanted to see what they looked like when one stepped through the authors’ entrance. So I invented my own places, devised my own adventures, and resigned myself to having my own characters perpetually looking over my shoulder and taking up permanent residence inside my head.

            I learned that I don’t only love to read: I love to write.

            And someday, some book I’ve authored will be in competition with some can of air freshener for some person-who-loves-reading’s eager attention. Air freshener’s going down, baby.