Are you a tommyrotter who goes motting for riffle? You can be with Green’s Dictionary of Slang!

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One of the great things about Twitter is how it brings people of similar interests together who might otherwise never have met. That’s how I became acquainted with Mr. Slang, aka Jonathon Green, an expert in and researcher of English slang, which, in my humble opinion, is one of the most fascinating aspects of language. As any North American who’s traveled to England, or vice versa, can attest, two people who speak the same language can easily not understand a word the other person has said for two reasons: accent and use of slang. With the imminent launch of Green’s Dictionary of Slang online database on October 12th, there is now a resource that can help bridge some of those gaps. Once only available in print, the dictionary/database now:

“…stands at 54,500 main headwords, comprising some 132,000 nested terms. The citation count is c. 650,000. The dictionary has increased in size since 21010 by some 59,000 new citations found in 15,500 entries. Geographical depth has been expanded by the reinstatement or addition of many more examples. In all, nearly 30% of the print book has been revised, augmented and generally improved.”

Which makes using slang that much easier and more fun. Mr. Slang’s extensive and ongoing research doesn’t just cover contemporary slang, but delves into the past, teasing out words or meanings that date as far back as the 19th century. The title of this post, for instance, which I cherry-picked from the 1860s-1890s on the Timelines of Slang, asks: “Are you a conman who has sex for money?” But in a much more interesting way.

As a writer of historical romance, I can attest that his dictionary has been invaluable to me. Historical writers often struggle with authenticity in terms of word use and language, and the fact that all that knowledge is now located in one place is such a boon (and a relief–less research for me). Add to that the fact that, in Mr. Slang’s words:

“The dictionary will remain ‘live’ and research will continue. […] It will offer a far wider range of citations. The search for ‘first recorded uses’ will continue. Around 10,000 such antedatings have emerged since 2010. The expansion of geographical spread will be pursued. Where once it was necessary for reasons of space  to offer only a single cite per decade, thus excluding much material, the aim is now to show as wide as possible number of examples from across the Anglophone world. The original printed entries will also be expanded, both historically — through the search for earlier ‘first uses’ but also through the addition of hitherto un-recorded words and phrases — and in the adding of new, contemporary material.”

I recently had the opportunity to help Mr. Slang by providing some resources for Canadian slang, so I can attest that his life’s work is alive and ongoing (and his dedication to it is something to behold). And if you don’t take my word for it, explore the Timelines for yourself. Here are some other accolades he’s received:

“[Green’s Dictionary of Slang] won America’s  Dartmouth Prize for the outstanding non-fiction work of 2011 and was cited, among many positive reviews, as ‘Quite simply the best historical dictionary of English slang there is, ever has been … or is ever likely to be’ (Julie Coleman, Journal of English Language and Linguistics).”

If you are a writer or publisher or just a linguistics nerd like me, this is a tremendous resource. To access the database as of October 12th, simply go to https://greensdictofslang.com/. There are two levels of access:

“Those who wish only for a headword, an etymology and a definition can access that information for free (the material being the equivalent of the author’s non-cited single-volume dictionaries). For those who wish to access the ever-expanding range of citations (which include a timeline of their development) and enjoy the full extent of search functions, we are charging an annual subscription. This is currently set at £49.00 ($60.00) for single users, £10.00 ($12.50) for students. Prices are available on enquiry for institutional subscriptions.”

So if knowing the 1873 slang term for “fool” is as vital to your work as it is to mine (ranker, chowdar, or moony), or you just want some colorful ammunition for your next family dinner, give Mr. Slang’s cheeky, wonderful work a gander.

 

 

First Author Signing at #UKMeet 2016

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To this writer, Britain equals romance. When you think of a place that makes your heart patter and your head tipsy, that inspires those tingly feelings deep inside, most people default to the City of Light, Paris. But if you tally up where all the swoon-worthy classic romances are set, well, Great Britain wins hands-down. Pride and Prejudice. Jane Eyre. Wuthering Heights. Rebecca. The list goes on. So it was with great envy that I read post after post, year after year, about a gathering of UK LGBTQ+ romance writers and readers called UK Meet.

But this year, I crossed that item off my bucket list, hopped on a plane, and joined them!

UK Meet 2016 was held at the Grand Harbour Hotel in Southampton over three days in early September. But my business holiday started a few days earlier, with a short trip to London, aka one of my spiritual homes. My plan: seeing sights I’d missed on previous trips, dining at some of the top affordable restaurants, and theater, theater, theater. The Victorian walk and bookstore at the Museum of London helped me with research for my new historical mystery romance series, Stoker & Bash. I also got to visit the 2016 version of the townhouse I’ve picked as their headquarters in Berkeley Square:

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An improvement on 221B Baker Street, no? 😉

On the theater front, I discovered that Lin-Manuel Miranda is the J.K. Rowling of musical theater. I think I was one of the oldest people at In The Heights, but it thrilled and moved me all the same. This guy is the real deal. Another talented newcomer who riveted me was French playwright Florian Zeller, whose The Truth made some incisive points about modern marriages. And I fulfilled a lifelong dream of seeing Kenneth Branagh live and sparkling in an otherwise mediocre production of The Entertainer.

By the time dinner at the scrumptious Honey & Co. rolled around, I was… Well, I was still a nervous wreck, since UK Meet was starting the next day, and I was going to meet two online friends live and in person for the first time, the darling book reviewer Karen Wellsbury and author inspiration Aleks Voinov. Setting the tone for the whole weekend, they were lovely and generous and sweet and welcoming. I didn’t want the evening to end.

The next morning, the train to Southampton beckoned. As did the three items I packed into 160 red organza bags as part of the romance author booty every delegate takes home. My offering? A flyer designed by graphic wizard Robin Patterson, a Stoker & Bash character bookmark by artist extraordinaire Mila May, and two maple leaf-shaped pieces of maple syrup candy. (Liberally sampled by me prior to bag-stuffing, natch.) The assembly line…

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Having stalled and fretted in my hotel room long enough, I rabbited down to the Grand Harbour to register for UK Meet. I had managed to bulldozer through most of my panic up until then by focusing on all the organizational details, but then I found myself standing in the hotel lobby in front of a large crowd of people and I almost turned tail and ran. But I had come all this way, had been planning for this for months, so I made my way to the registration desk and just about got my pen name out at a volume that could be heard by humans.

I think the most important thing I learned that weekend was that everybody feels this way their first time. Soon enough, I was in the hotel bar chatting with two fellow newbies, May Raymond and Ruby Moone, trying to work up the courage to go chat with my favorite authors. I met even more fabulous people at the event that night and throughout the weekend, notably my Sunday partner in crime and fellow Fortitude obsessive Sam Evans.

On Saturday, a morning panel on designing book covers segued into an incredible keynote speech by Shaun Dellenty, an educator who started his own charity promoting inclusivity and teaching methods that “tackle gender stereotyping, LGBTQI stereotyping, homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying and related derogatory language” in primary schools (visit his excellent web site here). He recounted his personal story of overcoming school bullying and homophobia to excel as an adult with such passion that there wasn’t a dry eye in the hall by the end of his speech.

With everyone teary and sniffly, we segued into the first block of book signing, which meant getting my half-table ready with all my books and swag!

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This is where I bemoan not taking better pictures… But I was just too nervous/excited/emotional/flibbertigibbet to concentrate on something so simple as focusing a camera! And there were so many lovely people, including some fellow Canadians, who came to visit, it was over in a blink. Then it was my turn to freak out over getting books signed by J.L. Merrow, L.A. Witt, Julie Bozza, Jordan L. Hawk, and K.J. Charles. And have a little happy cry afterwards because, wow, the emotion and the enjoyment of the day became overwhelming. Thankfully, sweethearts Alyson Pearce and Teya Martin cheered me up by talking vampires.

And that was the best part of the Meet, conversing with like-minded folk about romance writing, pop culture, favorite books/authors/genres/TV shows/films. The high point of the whole event for me was my lunch with K.J. Charles, Sam Evans, Alyson Pearce, and Ruby Moone, talking historical events we’d like to see written about, what readers want from authors if they change genres, and all things Agatha Christie. It’s these connections that will stay with me and these friendships that will (hopefully) live on past this year’s UK Meet, and will be the thing I remember most about the event once all the particulars have faded from memory.

So, a big thank you to all the authors who took time to chat with me and offer advice, all the wonderful people who made my trip so enjoyable, and to the organizers who worked so hard and gave us so much. Is it 2018 yet?

Beyond Paul, Mark, and David: Tips for Naming Your Characters, Part 1

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The naming of cats is a difficult matter

It isn’t just one of your holiday games

You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter

When I tell you a cat must have three different names

 

First of all is the name that the family use daily

Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James

Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey

All of them sensible everyday names…

-T.S. Eliot, The Naming of Cats

It happens like clockwork. Every few weeks, one of my writer friends will bemoan the fact that they can’t think of a name for a particular character, that this is the part of writing that they hate the most, that inventing a person is easy but giving them the right moniker is mission: impossible.

At first, this surprised me. Why? Because I LOVE to name things. Not just characters or places or cars or stuffed animals, a favorite armchair or sex toy, but anything. I obsess over the names of my characters, doing hours of research until I find the exact right one. To me, a character doesn’t really exist until they have the right name.

I am what is called a name nerd. I have bought more baby naming books than I care to admit, and I never intend to have any children. But I’ve had an ever-changing list of what I would call my hypothetical children that will never exist since I was ten years old (current faves: Persephone and Lorcan). I fret and debate and fiddle with potential names far more than actual parents do over what to call the baby that is at that very moment gestating and will soon be a living, breathing person.

But I came to understand my fellow authors’ grief. When you think about it, unless you’re having a quiverful of J-named tots, most parents will only name one to four children in their lifetime. A successful author could potentially name hundreds of people, from their main protagonist to all the incidental people in a book to family members who get a one-time mention but never appear in a scene. And if you’re writing about a fictional place and/or fantasy world, the number of names rises exponentially. There’s a reason Tolkien invented two languages in order to name his characters with some consistency. When you are a creator of worlds, you’re responsible for the well-being—and the names—of the people and creatures that populate that world. But relief is in sight because…

Authors friends, I’m here to help. Nearly thirty years of name-nerding has taught me more than a few tricks, and I’m happy to share. This post is the first in a three-part series of tips and tricks for naming your characters (and places, and things, etc…). This first one centers on contemporary names, and the two that follow will be on historical names and fantasy names.

Before we dive in, I also want to offer my service as a character name consultant. Email me at selinakray@hotmail.ca if you like these tips and need some help/advice/inspiration. This kind of thing is like crack to me, so don’t be shy!

And now, without further ado, five tips for naming contemporary characters:

1. Think beyond Paul and Sarah. Please. For the love of all that’s literary. In the romance genre, there’s always the fear of being too flowery, too cutesy, too try. We’ve all read those books, where characters have crazy, improbable names that distract from who they are or just don’t fit. I write and read M/M, and a particular dislike of mine is all the macho-man names like Stone, Brock, Jock, or Rip. Soap opera names. These don’t always have to be a bad thing, though. They can be used ironically, or to tell you something about the character. No name is a bad name if it fits the character wearing it.

As a reaction to that, some authors go the complete opposite direction and give their characters the most simple name possible. You know the ones: Mark, Dave, Steve, John, Mary, Sarah, Catherine, Elizabeth. There was a point at which if I read another book with a character named Paul, I considered returning the book on principle.

We can do better, without cracking out the weird Y’s, extra consonants, and Gaelic spelling. There are hundreds of simple, classic names that are a little left of center—maybe a little old-fashioned, maybe too long out of use—that could fit your character. Oscar, Felix, Dario, Stellan, Bram, Lionel, Rufus, Arturo, Barney, Jerome, or Sabine, Clara, Simone, Nadine, Mira, Juniper, Faye, Lena, Carly. All easy to pronounce, all easy to read. Each with their own unique flavor.

A good baby name book, like my bible Beyond Jason and Jennifer, Madison and Montana, or website like Nameberry, will give you thousands of options that don’t get into Jerramy and Kaetelynn territory. So please, go explore the possibilities!

2. Law and Order is your friend. Once upon a time for work, I had to watch around 200 episodes of Law and Order over a period of maybe four months. What struck me at the time—other than, “Please, please don’t let me be assigned another episode of Law and Order”—is the variety of names that the writers of that show had to come up with over 20 seasons of 22 episodes per season. They couldn’t all be variations on John Smith.

But their pain is your treasure. The show is set in New York, the original melting pot of cultures and ethnicities, and all of these are represented in the names used on Law and Order and its various spinoffs. Need inspiration? Go to their IMDb page and scroll through the list of names. I guarantee you will find something offbeat but authentic.

Any favorite television show, film, or book can provide character name inspiration. Are you a fan of Judy Blume? Buffy the Vampire Slayer? The Godfather films? All great starting points.  

This brings up a prickly issue in the character naming game, which is cultural background. Most of the names I’m going to suggest in this post are from a white North American perspective because I am a white North American and not qualified to speak about other traditions. But I hope we are all committed to writing diverse characters and, when doing so, using the naming traditions of that particular culture. All names are beautiful! So do your research, reach out to people within that particular culture, and get it right. We’ll get into this more in the historical post.

3. Balance is key. The person who inspired me to write this series of posts and my personal naming guru—though she prefers the moniker ‘name therapist’—is the wise and wonderful Duana Taha, who gives name advice in her bi-weekly column over on LaineyGossip.com (search for the name nerd tag in Lifestyle).

Duana, who has one of the loveliest and most unique names I’ve ever heard, is the ne plus ultra of name nerds. I just finished her book, The Name Therapist, which I suggest all authors pick up, and it is a goldmine of naming tips and theories.

One of the things I’ve learned from her over the years is that names need balance and flow. To achieve this: first, middle, and last names shouldn’t have the same number of syllables. The ideal would be any variation on a 1-2-3 balance, i.e. 3-1-2, 2-3-1, etc. Richard Brice Westinghouse. Francesca Ines Behar. Gideon Abel Dershowitz. Catriona Leigh Byrne.

She tends to come down against alliteration, again because of the cutesy-twee aspect. But that cutesy-tweeness might tell you something about that character or their parents, so try to avoid it, but don’t rule it out entirely. She counsels against too many names ending in A for girls—especially in both a first and middle name—and also having a first name end with the same vowel that a last name begins with.

Say the name out loud, listen to the flow. If you stutter or stumble, go back to the drawing board.

4. Avoid stereotypes. We’ve all read books with a cop named Jake or Mac (apologies to Josh Lanyon) or a plain girl named Jane. A doctor named Richard. A princess named Kate. These names take on lives of their own by being used over and over again in similar contexts, leading us to make associations with jobs or characteristics, even causing us to categorize certain names as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Staying away from these stereotypes helps to avoid reinforcing them.

But names aren’t neutral, far from it. We each have our specific, personal experience of people with certain names that are either beloved or have bad associations. For instance, I love the name Astrid because of a dear friend, while childhood bullies have forever soured me to the names Louise and Kerri. A fun exercise might be to name a misbehaving or misunderstood character one of the names you dislike, or an annoying character a name that doesn’t have music in order to help shape their identity. But using a name you love might spell trouble for you as a writer. If you love the person behind the name too much, you might not have the right perspective on the character’s actions.

Whether a name ‘fits’ your character’s identity can help shape them in your mind and define for you some of the major challenges/traits/flaws they have as a person, so choose wisely.

5. Think generationally. Another thing Duana talks about in her excellent book is the popularity boom of Jennifer in the ’70s and ’80s, a phenomenon that is unlikely to be repeated. I lived through that era and knew my share of Jennifers (and Julies, since I live in Quebec). But nowadays, Jennifer is a mom name. So is Stephanie or Jessica or Pamela or Karen. Dad names are Kevin and Josh and Jason and Steve and Patrick.

Some names, like Michael, are classics that transcend generations, but most common names speak volumes about specific decades or eras. What do names like Ethel, Doris, Herman, and Bernard evoke? The 1920s and ’30s, when our grandparents—and for this generation, great-grandparents—had their heyday. Conversely, someone who’s in their teens/early 20s in 2016 is unlikely to have the name Judy or William. Don’t believe me? Go hang out at a playground.

A simple Google search can clue you in to era-appropriate names. But don’t be too reliant on those top-ten lists. One thing that never goes out of style? Originality. There are thousands of names that have no decade or era association at all. Yet another reason to research, research, research.

Or consult your friendly neighborhood name nerd. I hope this post has been helpful! Drop me a line in the comments and let me know your name obsessions and pet peeves.

 

Selina

O Captain, my Captain

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I am a creator of worlds. That may sound arrogant, but it’s the truth. Tuck in with me on a lazy afternoon, and I’ll shape castles and characters and conflicts out of the clouds of steam from our teacups. I knew how to tell stories almost before I knew what stories were. Whether playing with my Star Wars or She-Ra figures, plotting elaborate adventures across the field of our backyard, scratching out my first poems for a supportive teacher, or imagining fantasy celebrity lives for friends in my teens, mythologizing the world has always been my way of understanding it.

Unless you’re a writer or a video game developer, this isn’t exactly a marketable skill. Very few parents, and certainly not mine, want their children to grow up to be artists. Especially if you’re brought up in an immigrant family, like I was. The Protestant Work Ethic has its merits, but there was no one to teach me how to apply it to the arts. My father preached science and higher education from the head of our dining room table every night, and my grades only supported his rhetoric. If I had the smarts to do anything, then why settle for this? It’s not even real work.

So my imaginary friends stayed in my head, where I could play with them without judgment or consequence—although at this point there were so many, it was getting a little tight in there—and at the ripe old age of 12, I set out down the road oft-travelled. Until the last day of secondary one, when I saw a movie that would change the course of my life forever.

Somehow, my wallflower self managed to convince four friends to see the new Robin Williams laugh-fest after our last exam. We had all loved Good Morning, Vietnam the year before, were fans of his stand-up, and couldn’t resist the idea of getting out of school at noon and taking the bus downtown by ourselves for the first time. Giddy as only teen girls can be, we took over the back of the bus, teasing and shrieking our way down to the Loews cinema to see Dead Poets Society.

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Three hours later, my mom drove up to the curb and, to her astonishment, picked up five sobbing girls. The laugh-fest had been a tragic, lyrical master-class on why art is important. And I was transformed. If Neil Perry could die for his art, then I could live for mine. I memorized every poem recited in the film. I tried to get my friends to start our own dead poets society (unsurprisingly, a bust). I saw the movie at least five times in the cinema and countless times since. Carpe diem became my mantra.

I screwed my courage to the sticking place and joined the drama club the next semester, acting in every production from then on, eventually contributing a monologue to a student-written collaborative piece and, by my final year, directing the school play. I joined a local youth theater. I wrote stories for school, stories for my friends, stories in my head just to pass the time. I fought with my father almost every night of my last two years of high school, first over my choice to do creative writing over chemistry as my elective, then over applying to the creative arts program in college. Always in the back of my mind were Neil Perry’s father’s cruel words to him, the ones that made him take his own life, and Professor Keating’s inspirational ones, which I let guide me. Not that I could have been anything other than what I am today: an artist, a writer.

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I heard this week that they are adapting Dead Poets for the stage, which got me excited and a little bit sad. Because I wrote and staged a partial adaptation for my senior project in college, directing my theater friends in two versions, one all-boys and one all-girls. I love the film that much. While part of me wishes I could be on the team that brings this vision to life, I’m also just grateful that a new generations of artists will sit in Professor Keating’s classroom and learn to sound their barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world. Will be inspired into careers in the creative class. Will be encouraged to write, to play, to sing, to be the best versions of themselves.

To seize the day.

Five Things I’m Loving Right Now – Winter 2016

After the January we’ve had, I think we could all do with a little positivity. A generous dollop of fun in your fancy coffee to ward off the winter blahs. A sprinkle of the old pop culture fairy dust, if you will. Periodically on this blog, I like to trumpet a few of my latest obsessions. Some I may end up loving and leaving in a few weeks, some I’ll be happily ever after with. All are best enjoyed with a steaming cuppa, under a fleece blanket, with a cozy (or furry) someone by your side.

Christopher Fowler’s Bryant and May mysteries

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With the Peculiar Crimes Unit, it’s all there in the name. The eccentric septuagenarian British police detectives Arthur Bryant and John May, along with their equally lovable support team, investigate crimes that are, well, peculiar, and always involve an occult/mythical aspect. Their superiors may always be trying to shut them down, but no one else can solve these gripping cases with as much bumbling panache as Bryant and May. Whether it’s a highwayman terrorizing the city’s museums, a disappearing pub, or a murderous elk creature stalking the streets (or the famous Leicester Square vampire), Fowler always finds a way to tie the fantastical to contemporary issues. He knows more about the hidden history of London than some leading historians, but also how to write endearingly flawed characters and terrifyingly vivid villains. I would recommend all of his books; he only started writing this series when he was around twelve books into his career and is also a master of the short story. But on a chilly winter’s night, I personally love nothing better than to tuck in with my friends at the Peculiar Crimes Unit and see what mad clues they are chasing down this time. You truly never know what strange places they will lead you.

Manhattan

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There are so many treasures in the current trove of excellent television that some gems are bound to get overlooked. Manhattan is one of those. Possibly because it’s about two competing groups of scientists racing to invent the atomic bomb before the Germans do in the midst of WWII. If a top-secret military outpost in the middle of the Nevada desert doesn’t exactly strike you as an exciting place to set a TV series, well, you would be wrong. Wherever big egos clash, drama is sure to spark, and Manhattan doesn’t just follow the intellectual battles and spy-vs-spy intrigue of the narcissistic scientists, but adds in military men with their own twisted agendas, lethal and covert CIA operatives, and the innocent but not clueless wives fighting for lives of their own, not to mention the ethics of this whole ‘building a nuclear weapon’ thing. Best of all, this series promotes intellectual curiosity, critical thinking, and humanitarianism. Its “heroes” are complicated people confronting the biggest questions of human existence/nature, and the result is just plain riveting. Don’t let its lack of sparkle fool you–this series is gold.

Black Sea

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Made redundant by his long-time employers, estranged from his wife and son, with a specialized skill that new technology has made obsolete, submarine captain Robinson doesn’t just need a hail Mary, he needs help from the father, son, and the holy ghost. When he hears about a downed Nazi submarine containing $40 million in gold at the bottom of the Black Sea, he hears a choir of angels. Assembling a half-Russian, half-British crew of fellow laid-off technicians, they convince a rich dude to bankroll a rickety old sub for a cut of the treasure they mean to salvage. A gang of surly, desperate men, only one Russian translator, and a vessel that’s seen better days cruising under the Russian militia–what can go wrong? Finding out is half the fun. With a quorum of great performances, mostly from Jude Law as the captain and Ben Mendelsohn as, duh, the dodgy one, this masterfully suspenseful thriller from director Kevin Macdonald will have you clutching to your cocoa (and vowing to stay on dry land). Serious fun on a frosty Sunday night.

Ryan Adams’ 1989

I’m not proud of this one, but if I’m honest, I really enjoy this record. I’ve never been a fan of Taylor Swift. I respect that she’s a female artist basically owning the world right now, one who writes all her own music and is the boss of her career; I just don’t like her stuff. I’m not a huge pop music fan in general, and… well, I should probably stop there. But my sister played me Adams’ version of her latest record, with completely different production and tempo to the songs, without telling me what it was, daring me to guess. Once she made the big reveal–because there’s no way I ever would have figured it out on my own–I couldn’t believe it. Same songs, but completely different aesthetic–more indie, more moody, definitely more my thing. I’ve had it on rotation ever since, and the songs just get richer the more I listen to it. A credit to both Swift and Adams, IMHO. Consider this my mea culpa, Taylor… though I won’t be buying the original 1989 anytime soon.

Valrhona Hot Chocolate

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Hello, my name is Selina, and I’m a chocoholic. Not being able to drink tea or coffee, my winter poison of choice is hot chocolate, and there is no better chocolate on the market than Valrhona. Don’t believe me? You’ll find that the pastry chefs of the best fine dining restaurants all use this brand of chocolate to make their delectable creations. But thanks to an expanded product line, it’s not out of the reach of regular consumers. If you’re going to splurge–because this is a luxury item–the hot chocolate should be top of your list this time of year. More like a cup of melted chocolate than its milkier cousins, if you like chocolate like I do–and when I indulge, I indulge in the best–you have to sample some of this liquid heaven. Valrhona is also a great baking chocolate and is available in large bars at reduced rates, if you hunt around. So, cheers to you all!

Hit me up in the comments with some of your lately obsessions, and enjoy the season!

Selina

 

Best Movies 2015

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I see a lot of movies because of my job. Around 150-200 a year. I am not kidding. So while my tastes and yours may differ in terms of what’s good, I promise you that I am a rock-solid authority on what’s bad. I have seen the worst movies of the year. Every. Single. One. Of. Them. I have seen things that I can never unsee. I am intimately acquainted with the garbage that Hollywood and indiewood produce on a weekly basis. That comedy that looks like the worst thing ever committed to film starring a beloved movie star? Seen it. That fantasy occult movie starring some marble-mouthed action star? Sat through it. Twice. That gratuitous, exploitative horror movie made for five cents in someone’s backyard? Watched half of it, puked, had to go back and watched the rest. (Spoiler alert: I am not a fan of horror and therefore haven’t seen It Follows.)

So when I see a movie I enjoy, it shines like a diamond. Sometimes I weep with relief. It’s like Fagin brought me a cookie after months of eating gruel. That’s why I love to celebrate the best movies of the year. Also why I couldn’t limit myself to just ten, but awarded a bunch of honorable mentions as well. Because for the first time in a long time, this list could have been 20 films long. Filmmakers got their act together this year, and we are the richer for it.

Without further ado, here’s my list of the 10 best films of the year, in no particular order, with honorable mentions because I just can’t make the tough choices, damn it!

Ex Machina–One of the best science-fiction films to come out in a good long while, a creepy, prescient tale about a remarkable woman and the men who try to control her. Also highlights one of my favorite themes of the year: great roles for women.

Spotlight–You think you know the story of how the Catholic church covered up rampant pedophilia for so long, you think you understand the scope of the problem and the human element, but you don’t. This is more than a film about great journalism. It’s a film about how the system doesn’t always fail the victims.

Steve Jobs–This could have been an epic disaster. The director and screenwriter seemed mismatched. Fassbender seemed miscast. Instead, it’s a visual and verbal symphony, and every single actor captivates you. But none more than Fassy, in the first of two Oscar-worthy performances he gave this year.

Macbeth–This is the second. But more, it’s a streamlined, visceral, and mesmerizing interpretation of the Scottish play. It strips the text away, but in the service of really making the story into a film, with visuals and reaction shots conveying more than even Shakespeare’s prose could. And Justin Kurzel is a major new talent.

Mad Max: Fury Road–A batshit crazy feminist action film. The epic visuals. The death-defying practical stunts. Furiosa. All from the mind of an unsung master.

Inside Out–Still sobbing.

Diary of a Teenage Girl–A beautiful, honest, and enrapturing coming of age film about the real travails (and dreams and ambitions and fumbles and fights and love affairs) of a teenage girl. Must-see.

Sicario–Another portrait of a flawed female character thrust into circumstances not only beyond her control, but a situation that governments and law enforcement agencies are struggling to come to grips with. It’s strength, like hers, is in its stillness. And props to my fellow Quebecois Denis Villeneuve for his masterful direction.

Crimson Peak–A love letter to the Victorian Gothic. Two strong vital female leads in Mia Wasikowska and Jessica Chastain, and Tom Hiddleston at his creepiest and most romantic. What’s not to love?

Star Wars: The Force Awakens–Watching this was like being a kid again. There are movies not on this list that might be technically better, but nothing that comes close to rivalling the experience of watching this and loving it. And loving the new characters as much as the old. And seeing Han Solo be Han Solo again.

Honorable Mentions:

Excellent movies about difficult but riveting subjects: Room, ’71, Beasts of No Nation

Best comedy that didn’t quite make the list: Trainwreck

Mediocre movie I loved: Victor Frankenstein

Has everything working for it but just fell short of perfection: Carol

I liked this a lot more than everyone else: Avengers: Age of Ultron

More entertaining than any movie about real estate and economics has any right to be: The Big Short

Because seeing movies on film, in the cinema, with a crowd is still the most fun thing ever: The Hateful Eight

Further proof that Andrew Haigh is one of the most insightful and observant filmmakers working today: 45 Years

Further proof that Ridley Scott has still got it, even if he often hides it: The Martian

Furthermore (i.e. not among the best of the year):

Film critics are falling all over each other for that I loathed with every fiber of my being: Anomalisa (seriously, do not waste your money)

Yes, I am a woman and I sat through this macho BS twice: The Revenant (cinematography is beautiful, though)

Films I haven’t seen yet: The Danish Girl, Sisters, Creed

Hit me up in the comments with your picks and pans!