Well, at least Kati’s been busy…

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We’ve been on radio silence over here at Mystic Cooking HQ…but some of us have been super busy. I mean super, duper, creating life busy. “What?” you ask. And I’ll answer with a picture:

proud mama

Yes, that’s Kati, proud mama of baby Ember. And just because she’s the cutest niece ever, here’s another pic for you all:

Ember sleeping one arm under her head

So, yeah. Kati’s been doing that. What’s my excuse for not writing? Well, it takes a lot of work to be the world’s best aunt! ;)

We’ll resume posting next week.

Someone's surprisingly chipper after 40 hours of labor...

Someone’s surprisingly chipper after 40 hours of labor…

 

Fiction Friday: Rump

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I know, I know, Fairy Tale February was last month, but I saw this Rumpelstiltskin retelling and just had to read it…and I’m so glad I did.

Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin” by Liesl Shurtliff is an enchanting, delightful read, with lots of good humor. I mean, just take a look at this tag line:

In a magical kingdom where your name is your destiny, 12-year-old Rump is the butt of everyone’s joke.

Here’s the basic premise: Rump’s mother died minutes after his birth, and before she could announce his full name. She whispered it in baby Rump’s ear, but only managed to tell the others the beginning, “Rump,” before she passed away.

Years later, Rump is being raised by his grandmother, who assures him that one day he will find his full name…and his true destiny. Then he discovers a spinning wheel that once belonged to his mother, and learns he has the ability to spin straw into gold. He thinks he’s found his worth, but thanks to the greedy local miller, and the even-more greedy king, instead Rump finds he’s spun himself into a whole tangle of trouble.

What I loved most about this book was how it kept all the traditional elements of Rumpelstiltskin: the talking in rhythms, the spinning of straw into gold, the need to say his name to break the curse, and of course the whole baby thing…but it turns them all around, and weaves them together in a completely unique way. Also the world building is really fun: there are gnomes who deliver messages, pixies who are obsessed with gold, and trolls who purposely enhance their foul reputations so the humans will leave them alone.

How about you? Read any fun, light-hearted books lately?

Pitchathon Panel

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Last week I talked a bit about how to prepare for a writing conference. Today I wanted to discuss the very first panel I went to at the San Francisco Writer’s conference: the MG and YA Pitchathon, where agents Laurie McLean and Pam van Hylckama Vlieg, and editor Natashya Wilson shared information and then gave feedback on live pitches.

Live pitching? That's terrifying!

Live pitching? That’s terrifying!

Live pitching is very different from querying. Maybe all of you already know this, but it took a while for that to sink in for me.

The Hook, the Book, and the Cook

In a query, you have more time. You can start with that hook – what will immediately grab attention in your book? And then in the next paragraph or two you have space to elaborate on your story, not a lot of space, but a little, before you end with “the cook,” which is your own writing credentials.

For more on queries, I’d recommend checking out Janet Reid’s Query Shark, which is super helpful.

Who Fights What to Get Where?

In a live pitch, you only have a very narrow window of opportunity to hook an agent or editor’s attention, so you need to be short and to the point. Your MC has to vanquish/overcome/annihilate what/who in order to save the world/find true love/open the greatest restaurant ever. Keep it short, one sentence if possible, maybe two or three at most.

At the panel they also recommended starting with the basic information so the agent has something concrete to ground them, especially in a situation like a conference, where each agent is listening to many, many pitches. For instance, “I wrote TITLE, which is GENRE and complete at X words.” Then launch into your very brief pitch.

Less is More…Seriously

Before the conference, Kati and I put together our own pitch. It was long…I was under the impression that we had three minutes to pitch, and we would want to fill that three minutes. Thanks to some really great advice from a few of our super amazing writer friends, we cut it way down. But…it was still way too long. I know this because I summoned up my courage and, when they asked for volunteers, I went up front and read my pitch.

In addition to turning bright red and shaking like some kind of demented tomato, I only got about halfway through before I was stopped. They were pretty nice about it, but the feedback was clear: shorter!

That evening, and, lets be honest, throughout the rest of the next day, I worked on my pitch. I cut out the potential romantic interest. I cut out the side elements. I cut out everything except enough of the unique elements of the setting to make it stand out, and was left with the main character, the antagonist, and the stakes. Two sentences, short and sweet.

Practice Makes Perfect

You’ll want to be able to say your whole live pitch from memory – it’s much better if you don’t need to bring notes. But memory is a tricky thing – you want to make sure your mind won’t draw a complete blank if you stumble on a word or get asked a question. For more on live pitching, check out Jae’s post.

In order to prepare for the real live pitching the next day, I spent the morning after the Pitchathon panel trying out my pitch on my fellow conference attendees. This was not only a great way to get used to saying it, but also to hear any phrasing that might sound clunky, and to get live reactions from other people. Even if you’re by yourself, I highly recommend practicing your pitch out loud. Talk to your spouse, your dog, heck, even your pillow, but practice, practice, practice.

How about you? Have any of you ever live pitched before? Do you have any tips to add? Please share!

So You Want to go to a Writing Conference

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Back in February I went to the San Francisco Writer’s Conference, and I promised you all that in March I would share what I learned there. So stay tuned – throughout the next couple of weeks I’ll decipher my terrible handwriting and turn my notes into blog posts – it’ll be just like you were sitting there with me! Fun, right? ;)

But first, for today I thought I’d talk about how to prepare for and what to do at a writing conference. I’ve been to a couple now, so while I’m certainly no expert, this is what I’ve learned:

1. Be Prepared

I don’t just mean reading through the schedule and picking out the panels you want to attend. Also do some research on the agents, editors, and authors who will be present – it can make for a better overall experience, and you never know when you’re going to have a chance for a brief elevator pitch. But even beyond pitching your own work, knowing a little about each of the presenters beforehand might help you choose panels more effectively based on the speakers.

Also, you’ll want to bring business cards with you. Try to find some way for your business card to stand out and remind people of who you are – in the course of a day, most attendees get a lot of cards.

What should be on that card? That’s pretty much up to you. Kati and I have dragons wearing bibs and chef’s hats on ours, but I can see how that wouldn’t work universally. ;) We also have a link to our blog, our twitter handles, and our email addresses, and that’s it. But I have seen people who include a blurb about their book, or a photograph of themselves, too. Including the genre you write is definitely not a bad idea, either.

Our business card dragons...cute, eh?

Our business card dragons…cute, eh?

And I’d recommend having the first couple of pages of your manuscript printed and kept with you. At this last conference I ended up doing a last minute consultation with an editor, but since I hadn’t prepared for that and wasn’t staying in the host hotel, I had to bribe a very nice man with my last granola bar so he would let me into the hotel’s business room to print my first chapter. Not only did printing at the hotel cost me my day’s book buying budget, but I was starving at my next panel.

Which brings me to one final point…bring snacks. Even if the conference includes meals…actually, especially if the conference includes meals. The food we had included at this last conference was very good, but not very plentiful, and I don’t know about you, but I am not a pleasant hungry person.

2. Put Yourself out there

I think this is actually the most important thing I’ve learned, possibly even more important than bringing food. ;)

Conferences are a great opportunity to meet other writers, and you definitely want to take advantage of that. Maybe you’re normally shy, but remind yourself, you’re with people who love to read and write – the best kind of people. So put your introverted self away and pretend to be outgoing and sociable, even if you’re not normally. And network. Collect those business cards, and pass yours out, and meet people. Maybe you’ll make some friends, maybe you’ll find a good critique partner. Who knows?

You’ll have a built in ice-breaker line, too. “What are you writing?” Everyone wants to talk about their book, so this is a surefire way to start a conversation with every single person in that conference.

And by “put yourself out there,” I also mean take advantage of everything you can. Not just being sociable with your fellow conference attendees, but if there’s a chance to read your work out loud and get feedback, take it. It might be hard, it might be painful, but it’s worth it. Maybe there’s an agent pitch session? Go for it!

3. Know your limits

This might seem like a direct contradiction, but be honest about your limits. Conferences are super exhausting, and you don’t want to completely burn yourself out. The combination of nerves, stress, trying to be social, and learning a lot of information quickly will wear out just about anyone, so don’t beat yourself up if you miss a panel or two, and keep your evenings free to de-stress. Unless you’re one of those people who thrive on this kind of atmosphere, in which case, go party it up! Also, I’m jealous of your energy.

4. Keep an Open Mind

Keep an open mind about the panels, definitely – I ended up switching to a completely different panel last minute because I had enjoyed a panel with that presenter earlier, and it was a great switch.

But also, keep an open mind about your writing. You might think your manuscript is completely polished and perfected and ready to grace the top of the bestseller charts, and maybe it is, but keep an open mind as you get feedback from others, and as you learn from the panels, and be prepared to take an honest, hard look at your work when you get back from the conference. Maybe it’s perfect…and maybe you still have a few revisions to go. Either way, enjoy the journey! :)

I think that’s quite enough there, so I’ll open it to all of you. Any tips you’d like to add?  Any conferences you’d recommend? Please share!

Fiction Friday: Cruel Beauty

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For today’s Fiction Friday, Stephanie, Kati, and I all read “Cruel Beauty” by Rosamund Hodge so we could bring you a joint book review! For those of you who have never heard of this book, it’s a retelling of the classic Beauty and the Beast fairy tale with mythological elements, as well as its own unique spin.

HEIDI:  What did you both think of Cruel Beauty?

KATI:  I really liked it. But the main character did drive me crazy in the one scene near the end.

STEPHANIE:  I loved it! I’ve always loved Beauty and Beast, and I loved that this was true to that story, but I also felt it added some unique elements. But, I also think I know what drove Kati crazy and I agree!

HEIDI:  I liked it quite a bit, too. I loved that it was Beauty and the Beast, but that the heroine wasn’t super pure of heart and sweet. It was a nice change.

KATI:  I also loved the Pandora’s box references.

STEPHANIE:  Yes–I loved the way she tied in mythology. I really liked the characters. I don’t know about you two, but in the beginning Nyx was so difficult, I wondered if she was kinda supposed to be the beast.

HEIDI:  I wondered that briefly, too! But then I decided they were both a mixture of both.

STEPHANIE:  Aw, yeah.

KATI:  But she really did feel like a product of her environment. Her family was pretty awful.

STEPHANIE:  I agree with that too. I didn’t blame her for how she was. Her family sucked.

HEIDI:  I thought it was a little unfair how they were to her aunt, though. It seemed like it was a really bad thing for Nyx’s father to remarry, and I couldn’t figure out why.

STEPHANIE:  I just thought it was weird…

KATI:  It does seem weird to marry your dead sister’s husband.

HEIDI:  Yeah, a little weird and icky, but it had been years…sixteen, right, since Nyx’s mother died?

KATI:  After 16 years, I still wouldn’t want to marry Sean.  ; p

STEPHANIE:  haha!

HEIDI:  Watch it, there, lady! I would haunt you both! >: (

KATI: ;)

HEIDI: So…what did you think of Nyx and Ignifex’s growing relationship? Did it feel believable to you? I think sometimes those hate-turned-to-love romances don’t always work, but I thought this one did.

KATI:  I liked it. It felt believable.

STEPHANIE:  I thought it was unexpected and well done.

KATI:  They felt very similar to each other. Plus, they loved each other for their faults, too.

HEIDI:  I loved that neither one of them thought the other was perfect.

STEPHANIE:  I agree–I thought the romance was best too!

KATI:  For me, it was a toss up between the romance and the setting.

STEPHANIE:  Oh, yeah, I thought the world building was awesome.

HEIDI:  Oh, I thought of my other favorite part – I LOVED the deals that were made, the trickster part of Ignifex.

STEPHANIE:  Yes! I thought that was really cool–although it was depressing, but I liked it!

KATI:  I did like them, but some of them were so sad.

STEPHANIE:  This was another thing I liked, I feel like a lot of books that have strong characters have weaker plots, but I felt like this book had a great combo of plot and character.

KATI:  Good pacing, too.

HEIDI:  I agree. Great plot, unique, strong characters, and, even more unique, it’s a standalone book. Did you have a favorite character?

STEPHANIE:  Oh, good question. I feel like it’s a toss-up.

HEIDI:  Definitely Ignifex for me.

KATI:  Ignifex.

STEPHANIE:  I really liked Ignifex. He was interesting, and I liked how he treated Nyx. But, I also thought Nyx was a great character.

KATI:  She was a great character.

STEPHANIE:  Here’s my final question: Would you recommend this book?

Kati:  Of course. It was well written, with believable characters, great setting, and a great pace.

HEIDI:  Definitely! Two thumbs up! I think anyone who enjoys romance, or fairy tale retellings, would love this book.

Kati:  Or mythology.

STEPHANIE:  For sure! I agree with it all!

How about you? Have you read this book before? Do you have your own favorite retelling? 

Fairy Tale Movie Monday

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I hope everyone had a great weekend! Today for Movie Monday I want to recommend two of my favorite fairy tale retellings that aren’t animated Disney films. And so you know, I don’t have anything against Disney’s movies, I’m just assuming that most people have already seen a lot of their classic retellings.

Hook

First movie I’m going to recommend if you haven’t already seen it is Hook. You really can’t go wrong with Robin Williams as a grown up Peter Pan, and Dustin Hoffman as Captain Hook. Also great was Julia Roberts playing Tinkerbell…”I don’t believe in fairies!”

What’s so good about this movie (besides the stellar cast) is the character growth. The grown up Peter Pan starts off as, well…less than likeable, and it was great seeing his character transform into someone you could cheer for in the end. Also great was Hook’s character, acting like the father Peter’s son had always thought he wanted.

All in all, this movie is a fun family film with good action sequences, fun characters, and of course a great fantasy setting. If you haven’t seen this movie, and you like Peter Pan, I highly recommend it. If you have seen this movie, it’s probably been a few years, so you might want to dust it off and watch it again.  ;)

Ever After: A Cinderella Story

Ever After is a Cinderella retelling. It’s interesting how this movie took out the magic in this fairy tale in the fantasy sense of the word, but still kept it pretty true to the original tale.

Like the original Cinderella, Ever After is a love story, but what’s a bit different is Cinderella’s character, whose name in this movie is Danielle. She’s a bit of a tomboy, and tough, too. Like in the traditional fairy tale, she is put to work by her step-mother, but unlike the traditional story, one of the step-sisters really isn’t so bad.

Besides having a really likeable main character, this version of Cinderella has a cast of other fun characters, even though they aren’t birds and singing mice. The character growth in this movie isn’t as great as in Hook, but the light tone of this story is just as fun to watch. Now, if I was going to recommend any romantic fairy tale retelling movie on Valentine’s Day, this would be it.

So, have you seen either of these two movies? What are your favorite fairy tale retellings?

Fiction Friday: Frozen

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I know, I know, “Frozen” is a movie, not a book, but I wanted to talk about it today anyways. Next Friday we’ll be doing a joint post about a really great new fairy tale retelling, so we’ll make it up to you all then. ;)

My cousin dragged me to see “Frozen” when it first came out. I went in skeptically – I love animated films, but was expecting the same kind of formulaic storyline…and I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised!

For those of you who don’t know, “Frozen” is loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s story, “Snow Queen.” It features two sisters: Elsa, the eldest, about to be crowned queen and terrified of her increasing ability to create ice and snow, and Anna, her younger sister, naive and desperate for love and attention. Elsa and Anna started off super close when they were younger, until Elsa accidentally injured Anna with her powers. Anna is healed, but she loses all memory of Elsa’s magical abilities, and meanwhile Elsa essentially locks herself away from the world as she struggles to control her power, terrified she’ll end up hurting someone else.

When their parents die (because of course, this is Disney), Anna hopes Elsa will open up to her again. She can’t remember the accident, so has no idea why her sister, once her closest friend, has completely shut her out of her life. On the day of Elsa’s coronation, they finally open the doors of the palace, and Anna thinks this is the new beginning she’s been waiting for, one where she won’t be alone anymore. She meets an attractive new prince, has a whirlwind romance, and things seem to be going really well…until Elsa’s power bursts out of control.

Elsa runs off into the wilderness, creating her own kingdom of ice and snow and accidentally plunging the whole land into perpetual winter, while Anna journeys out to find and stop/save her. Along the way she picks up some side characters, including Kristoff, an ice seller, and Olaf, a magical snowman who loves the idea of summer but doesn’t quite understand what that means for him.

There’s a great twist at the end which makes this whole movie much, much better. I actually guessed it right away (my cousin was very unamused…) but it was still well-done and definitely a nice change to the normal formula. I liked how the sisters’ relationship was at the heart of the movie for once – even though there’s romance, it’s their sibling bond that is the driving force here. My only real criticism is they could have fleshed out that relationship a little more. Instead of just the briefest of flashes of them when they were kids together, an extra five minutes showing us a little more would have made a big difference.

Still, I think “Frozen” was definitely worth seeing. The song “Let it Go” is all over the place now, and even I find myself humming it from time to time. The animation is cute, the story is unique, and like all my favorite fairy tales, it has a lovely Happily Ever After ending.

How about you? Have you seen “Frozen” yet? What did you think?

A Little Known Fairy Tale

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Hello folks! I have recently returned from the San Francisco Writer’s Conference, where I learned a lot! Check back in March and I’ll talk about the tips I picked up, the most interesting panels, and the rather controversial keynote speeches – it will be just like you were there with me! :) But now, back to Fairy Tale February!

When I was little, I wanted to be a princess, just like pretty much every other girl I knew, except for Kati. Kati did not have princess tendencies…But for me, I devoured all the books on princesses, insisted on wearing dresses everywhere, and walked around with a doily on my head, which led to my rather unfortunate childhood nickname of Princess Doily. (Interesting side note – Kati’s childhood nickname was “the bear.” Heh heh.)

One of my absolute favorite princess books was “The Paper Bag Princess” by Robert Munsch, and illustrated by Michael Martchenko. It was a lovely fairy tale where a dragon burns down the castle and carries off the prince. Princess Elizabeth has nothing to wear except a paper bag, since all her lovely gowns were destroyed, but she doesn’t let that stop her from rescuing the prince from the dragon. Only he’s not at all grateful. In fact, he’s downright rude, and tells her to come back when she looks like a real princess, so she calls him a bum and leaves him there.

This was a whole revolutionary kind of princess to me – someone who was strong and determined and not afraid to walk around in a paper bag. The kind of princess who didn’t wait around to be rescued, but did the rescuing. I immediately decided this was the kind of princess I wanted to be, and I took the doilies off my head and stopped wearing dresses all the time. Besides, the other kids could see my underwear when I swung on the monkey bars at school…it had been a growing problem.

Nowadays there is much debate about the Princess Problem, but I think if all girls today aspired to be like the Paper Bag Princess, there would be no problem at all. She was one of my first book heroes, and she was wonderful.

How about you? What was your favorite fairy tale when you were a kid? And please, please tell me I wasn’t the only one walking around with a doily on my head.

A Fairy Tale Valentines Day…

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Happy Valentines Day, everyone!

Now with that said, I thought I would do something a little different with Valentines Day this year, and in honor of all the years where my dates were Ben, Jerry, and a good book I think I’m going to talk about some fairy tales and retellings that have nothing (or very little) to do with romantic love. So, here we go…

Alice in Wonderland

This is a story that I go back and forth on whether I feel it’s a real fairy tale or not, but there is no denying that it certainly is a magical tale. By the definition that I gave back in this post, it fits the qualifications of a fairy tale, but not really a folk tale. Probably most people remember the Disney retelling of Alice in Wonderland with Alice falling down the rabbit hole into Wonderland, but the version that I’m going to recommend is The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor.

I picked it up because it had and awesome cover, but I was certainly not disappointed reading it. I especially love the twist with the Cheshire cat being an assassin with 9 lives. Interesting enough about this book, even though it’s YA, there is very little romance. It’s hinted that there could be a romance in future books, but it certainly doesn’t play really a prominent part in this book. The driving force behind this book is it’s amazing setting, and imagination. If you’re looking for a good retelling of Alice in Wonderland, you should really give this book a shot.

Pinocchio

Here’s another one that I believe whenever anyone thinks about it they think of the Disney version of Pinocchio. But to go on a slightly darker note, the version that stands out most in my head is the movie A.I. Artificial Intelligence. It’s an incredibly dark, futuristic version of Pinocchio following the story of a child robot. The acting in it is incredible, and there are some scenes that stay with you long after the movie is done.

Even though this movie has more or less of a happy ending, I would not recommend this retelling if you are looking for something light, or a feel good fairy tale.

Spirited Away

And finally I’m going to recommend an original Fairy Tale that has many allusions to some traditional ones. Spirited Away is a Japanese anime movie done by the same people who made Princess Mononoke. It is about a young girl who has to do seemingly impossible tasks after her mother and father are turned into pigs for eating food at an abandoned amusement park, which is really an enchanted bathhouse.

This story is referred to as Japan’s version of Alice in Wonderland, but it seems to have more in common with the fairy tale Vasilisa the Beautiful (which happens to be one of my favorites). It even has a character called Yubaba, who is very similar to Baba Yaga. Anyhow…if you like animated movies, Japanese Anime, or just fairy tales in general, this movie is a total must see. The animation is beautiful, and the story is a lot of fun, too.

…there might be a little bit of young love in this movie, but since the main character is like 10, that certainly is NOT the focus.  :)

Maybe next week I’ll do a post on my favorite romantic fairy tales, or fairy tale retellings, but until then, what non-romantic fairy tales did I miss? Have you read or watched any of these fairy tales? What’s your favorite non-romantic fairy tale?

Grimm vs Once Upon A Time

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When Heidi first mentioned the idea of Fairy Tale February, I was so excited. I’ve always loved fairy tales. When I was a little girl, I think I believed it was actually possible to grow up and be a fairy tale princess. Thankfully, I got over that delusion. But I have never gotten over my love of fairy tales.

So, three years ago, when it was announced that two new, fairy-tale-inspired televisions shows were coming out. I was totally sold. The shows were Grimm and Once Upon A Time. I don’t even think I’d watched the trailers for either show and I had already set series recordings.

For those of you who have never heard of either show, Grimm is a sort of fairy tale version of a cop show. It takes place in Portland, where, apparently, all sorts of fairy tale creatures live because they commit murders every week. Fortunately, homicide detective, Nick Burkhardt is a Grimm and he can see these creatures for what they really are.

Once Upon A Time has a completely different feel. In this show, it’s Disney fairy tales that have come to life. Under a curse from the Evil Queen, they all live in Maine, unaware of their true identities, until someone breaks the curse.

For a while I watched both shows faithfully, although initially I was more impressed by Grimm. It had an amazing pilot, weaving a dark and twisty, modern tale of Little Red Riding Hood—with just the right amount of humor. Once Upon A Time’s pilot was not so stellar. I wasn’t crazy about the main character, who came across as a stereotypical tough girl, afraid to love anyone. And the scenes set in the fairy tale world came across as cheesy—Snow White and Prince Charming were a little too dramatic for me.

But then slowly over time, my opinion of each show changed.

I started avoiding my recorded episodes of Grimm in favor of re-watching episodes of Once, I still thought Once was cheesy (and I still think it is, from time to time). Grimm remained far from cheesy, but I also felt as if it was a little too far removed from fairy tales as well.

And, to be honest, Grimm became too dark for me. I don’t mind dark things, but I found myself disturbed more often than entertained, and for me, as the series went on I felt as if it lost it’s connection to the original fairy tales. Grimm is full of all sorts of supernatural beings that are supposed be somehow connected with fairy tales, but instead of using the real names of these fairy tale character, like they do in Once Upon a Time, in Grimm they use names like, blutbad, Hexenbiest, & Fuchsbau—and only occasionally, do they say what these character would be in a fairy tale story.

Once upon a time, on the other hand, got deeper into fairy tales, putting unique twists on each story – Red Riding Hood is actually the wolf, Peter Pan is the villain, Captain Hook is the good guy (sort of), and the Evil Queen has a really good reason to hate Snow White.

In a lot of ways I felt Once began to surpass Grimm. And maybe I only love Once Upon A Time because I totally have a crush on Captain Hook, but I think the main reason I love it is because it has heart. Once Upon A Time captures the feel of a fairy tale. Fairy tales are dark, but they are also magical. Grimm has all the darkness, and it has magic as well, but it doesn’t feel magical. Not in the way I want to think of magic—pixie dust, and happy thoughts that take me to Neverland. And I’m okay with Neverland being dark when I get there, but I still want it to feel like Neverland, even if it’s different than the Neverland I grew up with.

So what about all of you? Do any of you watch Grimm or Once Upon A Time? And if you do, which do you like better?

~Stephanie

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