Saturday, February 26, 2011

What Are You Reading Between the Covers? - #9

I recently joined Goodreads, so if anyone wants to see a full selection of my book selections they can check out the animated widgets in the right-hand column to see what I'm reading.

Prenote: This post contains a graphic review pertaining to the meat industry and the treatment of animals that may be disturbing to some readers.

It's no surprise I am a fan of David Wellington's. I've blogged about him before and enjoy his writing. I recently finished the second Laura Caxton vampire novel, 99 coffins. (The first novel in the series is 13 Bullets, which I recommend). 99 Coffins is a historical novel featuring Gettysburg and some creepy Civil War soldiers. I won't say more about the plot because I am not a book spoiler, but there is a twist at the end I did not see coming and quite enjoyed. The book is a fast-action read. It's straightforward like a video game, but well written and worth the time, if you love vampires. Plus, these vampires aren't full of whining, angst, and lust. They're just killing machines with attitude. Love that!

I switched gears then and read a very sobering novel, which I don't recommend to the squeamish. It's Don LePan's Animals, a story dealing with the treatment of animals in the meat industry, mainly, factory farming. Factory farming is basically bulk farming where animals' standards of living are horrendous. (I've included a link for those who want to explore the term further, but please be warned that the content, both visual and written, is graphic). This book argues that factory farming is cruel and inhumane by making the unique choice to use children as the livestock -- children of lower intelligence who are unwanted by their parents 100 years in the future and are referred to as mongrels and kept as family pets, if they are not sent to the slaughter yards.

This novel is haunting, beautifully written, and sad. It raises a lot of questions about the use of antibiotics and the meat/dairy industry, speciesism, the practice of favoring some animals like dogs and cats with better treatment than cows, pigs, and other animals, whether or not meat is a necessary part of your diet, whether organic meat is better than factory farmed meat, and about how we treat people who are different than what we deem "normal" in our society. I'd like to say it had a happy ending, but it didn't. I ended up crying in bed while my husband slept unaware beside me.

Don LePan also has a blog dedicated to his novel:

For further reading on the treatment of animals in the meat/dairy industries, you can check here:

As always, happy writing and happy reading to all! (Perhaps this week I should have put "productive reading" or something else after my sobering book review...)

Friday, February 25, 2011

10 Fun Writing Facts About Me

1) I write left-handed, though I am ambidextrous. I discovered this when I broke my left arm the summer before 7th grade.

2)  I can also write with my right foot, though not as well as with my hands.

3) I was first published as a junior in high school.

4) In high school, I wrote a paper on the symbolism of flowers in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which is one of the reasons I wanted to study English in college.

5) My mother and I attended a few writing classes together in college. She didn’t get her college degree until she was 53. We both majored in English.

6) My freshman year of college I took Environmental Science. I was accused of plagiarism on my final paper because my professor thought an eighteen-year-old could not possibly write as well as I did. He was wrong, of course. The paper was all my work. I got an “A” in the class.

7) My last semester of college, I applied to a graduate program at UW-Milwaukee for creative writing with an emphasis on poetry. Yes, I used to want to be a poet. I didn’t get in that first semester, but did the second time around.

8) After college, I applied for a job selling funeral plots at a local cemetery. I also wanted to be a cosmetician at a funeral home. My love for graveyard architecture and history led me to join a local group. On sunny days I could be found reading, writing, sketching, and taking pictures in my favorite cemetery.

9) Up until three years ago, I still wrote all my first drafts by hand in lined three subject notebooks.

10) One of my favorite first published short stories is a schlocky piece: Carnivorous Cows from Outerspace. It’s about alien cows coming to take over earth. It was rejected four times before I found a home for it. One editor told me they could believe cows had pet monkeys working for them and that they ate people, but not that some of the cows were dumb enough to get caught and eaten by humans. You can read my free odd tale here:

As always, happy writing and happy reading to all!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Bibliophile Heaven - Recycled Book Art!

There's a hot trend in fashion and interior design in the past few years for recycling books into wearable art and home decor. If you have used books that aren't donateable to your local library or something you'd like to pass along to your friends/relatives, there are so many great ideas to repurpose them into items you'll use.

This past year I completed my first recycled scrapbook using mostly recyclable materials for decorating as well. It was the easiest scrapbook I've completed and affordable because I didn't need to buy paper inserts for premade books. I decoupaged the cover to make it personal, but left some of the original cover showing:

These are just a few of my pages to give you an idea of what you can do with a recycled book:

If you're not into scrapbooking or journaling, there are plenty of other uses for your unwanted books. I'm going to share a few of my favorite links I found on the Internet.

You can make a functional purse from a book. This is great for anyone into retro items. You could do Nancy Drew or Wonder Woman or anything you can get your hands on! I watched the video and the instructions are very easy to follow. There is some minimal basic sewing involved, though.

If you're not fashion-inclined, you could make a functional lampshade for your house. I want one of these, but have to figure out where I would put it.

Another decorating idea is a recycled paper mirror. You've probably seen these online or in the store for ridiculous amounts of money, but you can make them cheaper with a little bit of labor. This past year I saw a different version of this one at the Earthbound Trading Company.
For the holidays, I found this amazing recycled book Christmas tree, which makes the perfect centerpiece or table tree for those in cramped living quarters.
If you're not into the holidays, perhaps you like gardening! You could try making this nifty planter for an indoor plant. It's the perfect accessory for crazy bibliophiles everywhere.
For more ideas or to find places to shop for items if you don't want to craft, check here:
As always, happy writing and happy reading! And happy crafting to bibliophiles everywhere!

Monday, February 21, 2011

What Are You Reading Between the Covers? - #8

I've been busy reading the past week and not doing as much writing, but I have been inspired and learned a new writing technique as well.

The first book I read this week was like eating a chocolate cake. The author's words always make me cry. I don't cry very often when I read, but Katherine Vaz has some beautiful imagery in her writing. She has been described as a magic realist author, but I think you could also classify her as mainstream, since she writes about her heritage, which is Portuguese-American. I first discovered her work in Our Lady of the Artichokes and Other Portuguese-American Stories, which is another short story collectionI recommend. Fado & Other Stories is the collection I read this week, and it did not disappoint. Ms. Vaz explains fados on pg. 96:
The fados wailing from our record players remind us that without love we will die, that the oceans are salty because the Portuguese have shed so many tears on their beaches for those they will never hold again. This was a central theme to the collection of magic realism stories.
For those of you who do not know what magic realism is, this is a genre of writing where magical elements are introduced into normal settings to give us a deeper understanding. The magical elements become normal to the reader in the story. For example, my favorite story from Fado was The Journey of the Eyeball. In it a young man is having an affair with a married woman. He pines for Ana so much he decides to win all the contests at an annual festival. He hopes she is watching, but he sees her leaving with her husband, instead. The young man ends up dunked as punishment for not winning all the contests and the prize. During this event, his eyeball separates from his body and goes on this wild journey to find Ana's house and see her. The story is told from the eyeball's point of view. How fun is that!?

The next book I read is not magic realism. It's classified as an urban fantasy and Charles de Lint is the master of this genre. Urban fantasy, for everyone who doesn't know this term, is a fantasy set in a city. A lot of urban fantasies take place in modern cities, but it doesn't have to be modern. It jutst has to be a city. Charles de Lint sets his novel, The Painted Boy, in Santo del Vado Viejo, an Arizonan desert town. The plot centers on James Li, a teenager from Chicago born as a member of The Yellow Dragon Clan. He's on a personal quest to deal with his heritage and its responsibilities and there is a fight going on in Santo del Vado Viejo between the good people of the town and the bandas, the gangs who are trying to take over the streets. But there's a twist -- not everyone you meet in the book is human, and that is all I will say because I am not a book spoiler. Charles de Lint manages to inject the myths of the Southwest into his story with a colorful whimsy. This book will not disappoint. It actually made me a little homesick for Albuquerque, New Mexico where I lived for a year and a half. The landscape of the desert is similar and Mr. de Lint does a beautiful job taking you there.

I also had an opportunity to learn a new writing technique from him, one that will alleviate the hassle of needing a translator for foreign languages. I asked Mr. de Lint on Facebook this week why he used this technique. He replied that he had taken a lot of criticism from his fans for his Spanish in Forest of the Heart. (I personally loved that book as well, but I do not speak Spanish). This technique he uses eliminates foreign translation problems. He commented that he got it from reading another author, but could not find a source online. This is an small example for those of you who are writers. The foreign language, Mandarin, is indicated by these signs: < >.
Paupau frowned... the tone of her daughter's voice and being addressed in their adopted language rather than Mandarin...
"<I was only making conversation, daughter,>" she said.
Susan nodded...
"I thought my children would be free of the curse."
Enough technical talk about writing! I am sure all of you want to know the name of the last book I am sharing with you this week. This one I literally spent half of last night reading and then finished this morning when I woke up. It's Kathleen Grissom's The Kitchen House, a unique southern slave plantation story. This one focuses on a young Irish indentured servant who works alongside the slaves on the Tall Oaks tobacco plantation. Lavinia, the Irish servant, and the young female slave, Belle, her caretaker, tell the story. It is a heartbreaking tale about the definition of family and love. I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys historical novels. This one is well written and well-worth your time.

As always, happy writing and happy reading to all!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

When I Got Bit by the Writing Bug

My third grade creative writing teacher, Mrs. Krahn, was teased by many kids in school. She had graying hair. She didn't dress in the latest fashions; in fact, she wore huge glasses and had legs thicker my entire body and wore heavy polyester/wool skirts, but she had a heart of gold and I loved her. She read us James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl and then had us start working on our own stories. Until then, I'd been an avid reader, but had never really thought writing books was a real job. I'd written plays to perform at home for my family, but that year in school I decided I wanted to be a writer and I've never looked back.

You're probably wondering who this Velveteen Rabbit poser stuffed animal is, right? My husband says his creepy factor ranks up there with W.W. Jacobs's tale, The Monkey's Paw. This is my beloved childhood stuffed animal, uncreatively named, Dog. He lost his nose a number of years ago, the red lining on his ears is fading, and his fur is worn, dirty, and in some places nonexistent, but he is the catalyst that started it all for me. I wrote about Dog. Dog rescued my brother's childhood friend, Bunny, a blue blanket shaped like a rabbit. While I wasn't very creative in naming my trusty companions, I was very creative in my daring rescue of bunny by dog on a jet ski at the local marina. My story was chosen to be presented at one of the national teachers' conferences held yearly, complete with my original Crayola illustrations. I got to record my tale on tape. That tape has since disappeared, but I keep hoping to find it at my parent's house some day so I can listen to it.

That same year I also wrote and illustrated a mournful tale about my glasses left out in the rain on a garbage can. (Yes, I was a four-eyed geek in the third grade, which did not fare well for my social life at the time. However, I did get an A on my story and continued to create stories long after our creative writing segment was finished in class).

Mrs. Krahn has since passed away and I never got a chance to share my publications with her, but I am sure she would be proud of me and remember that little girl with the glasses and the stuffed dog.

Do you remember how you got started writing? If so, I'd love to hear from you.

As always, happy writing and happy reading to all!

Friday, February 18, 2011

French Inspiration - Les Deux Magots by Guest Blogger Charley Appenzellar

Let's go back in time about one hundred years to Paris, France. World War I, or the Great War as they called it then, sparked the Dada movement amongst writers and artists. This movement's policy was primarily anti-war and anti-bourgeois; artists believed that excessive rational thought and bourgeois values had brought about conflict and war. 

During the war, Dr. André Breton worked with injured soldiers using Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytical methods. One of his patients was writer Jacques Vaché, who greatly intrigued him. After the war, in Paris, Breton began a literary journal called Littérature where he and other writers began experimenting with Automatic Writing. The goal was to write utterly spontaneously without censoring the thought process. Dreams were recorded and published simply as they had been remembered. The more they wrote, the more writers they attracted. 

Dadaism morphed into Surrealism.

We all know that Surrealism gave birth to phenomenal artists like Magritte and Salvador Dali:

Allow these visual images to give you an idea as to what the Surrealistic movement did to the written word. The goal was liberate the imagination!

Enter café Les Deux Magots in Paris' chic Saint-Germain-des-Pres neighborhood. Beginning life in 1813 as a luxury fabric store, it morphed into a wine shop, and then became a famous café for writers and intellectuals in 1914.

Ernest Hemingway, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Oscar Wilde, Saint Exupéry, Francois Truffaut, Pablo Picasso, all flocked to Les Deux Magots cafe where they sat for hours, debating, philosophizing, arguing, writing. Can't you just imagine them, legs crossed, cigarettes in hand, the debris of tea and espresso cups scattered about the tables ....

How many written works of art were born there?

Every single morning, Jean-Paul Sartre came to Les Deux Magots and wrote for hours on end. Since 1933, Le Prix des Deux Magots has existed, awarding a prize each year to the best French novel.

All my life I've wanted to be a writer. Pulling up stakes and moving to France has helped me to break down the cultural and social barriers that kept me from being able to freely express myself. And I believe that is the key to being a writer: freely expressing yourself with no social rules and regulations to hold you back, no little voice in the back of your head chanting, 'What is everyone going to think about what you're writing'. 

I moved to France, bien sur, a little extreme! Do whatever you have to do to get into your zone. Open up your mind and just let things flow into your head and out through your fingertips. Allow yourselves to be inspired as I have been from these great French writers. Find yourselves a little cafe and order up a steaming mug of tea or coffee. And write spontaneously without censoring your thought process.

Voila, bonne continuation de l'écriture et a bientôt!

Love, Charley

Postnote: If you like Ms. Appenzellar's article, you can read more of her blog here:

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

What Are You Reading Between the Covers? - #7

I've been reading, but I've been so busy I haven't had time to post about the books, until today. It's warmer here in Dallas, so my extra cozy down comforter is packed away. I am mourning its extended vacation while I curl up with my books at night. 

Now on to my book blogging selections...

I finally finished Patricia A. McKillip's Od Magic. Ms. McKillip is a fantasy writer and I love her work, but sometimes, as you probably all have experienced, if you're in a mood, it's hard to get into a story. Even though this book is beautifully written, it took me two months to read it! Anyone who knows me realizes I live on books, not air. This was a huge deviation from habit for me! That said -- the book had a great message for me. Fiction is subjective, so maybe you will take away a different one. The plot centers on the Od School of Magic, which is controlled by the King and his court. They don't want anyone practicing illegal magic that could harm the kingdom, so they monitor everything very strictly. There are a few love interests along the way, but for me, the message was that freedom of speech and the right to the pursuit of happiness are wonderful!

After reading Od Magic, I moved onto Delia Sherman's Changeling. This YA book is a delightful trip through the world of the Fae in Central Park, New York, and The New York Between. If I had a daughter, I would share this book with her; it's that entertaining! The main character, Neef, a young changeling, violates the Green Lady of Central Park's geas during the summer solstice. She eventually meets the fairy that she was switched with at birth and they go on a quest to get back to their rightful homes. Along the way, you meet so many colorful characters; I can't name them all here, but my favorites definitely center around Neef's fairy godmother and her time spent in the museum. This is a quick read, but a memorable one.

Then I switched gears from fairies to ghosts in Sarah Waters's gothic novel, The Little Stranger. This book had a really great depressing ending. Nothing ended happy and I love that she went there. The story centers on a rundown mansion in 1940s rural Warwickshire, England, Hundreds Hall. Strange happenings are afoot, beginning with the odd party incident surrounding the Ayres's family dog, Gyp, and a visiting girl. However, while this ghost story kept my interest, I think it could have been a bit shorter. It did seem to drag at times, but I still recommend it, if you are a lover of gothic novels.

As always, happy writing and happy reading to all!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What I Did - My Two Writing Days Off

Thought I'd mislead you with a photo of me drinking at Trinity Hall pub, my new favorite Irish watering hole. Actually, I am not really much of a drinker, so it's rare you will get a picture of me like this one. I just wanted to post about Scottish ale. I had this amazing one, Dogma by BrewDog. Yummy -- heather honey, poppy seeds, and a hint of kola nuts. My husband took me out on Friday for a traditional Irish dinner. I had a chicken curry bap, which is a chicken sandwich on a bun, for those of you who are Irish-challenged. (FYI: I am Scottish, Polish, and Bavarian gypsy, with probably a tiny fairy fart of Irish in me).

Then we traveled to, and I could not make this name up if I tried, The Pocket Sandwich Theatre for The Lollie Bombs burlesque show, which totally bombed, no pun intended. The costumes were tasteful, but the women had not talent, which is key in burlesque. The best routine of the night was Angie B Lovely's hula-hoop dance. The rest of the time, I found myself wishing I was back at the Irish pub with another Dogma in hand. However, kudos to the women for feeling empowered enough to prance around in pasties and frilly lace because I know a bunch of women out there too self-conscious and self-hating to feel comfortable enough in their own skin.

Then yesterday, the real fun began!

I took another day off from writing to bathe my three cats. I managed the feat without even a scratch! It was a miracle.

Here's the mad kitty trio in order, Toshio, Tiggyr, and Houdini:

I celebrated my success with my husband at a Greek restaurant, Stratos, last night. They had belly dancers who did these amazing dance routines with swords balanced on their heads. Awesome! We ordered a flaming appetizer that went well with my glass of Pinot Grigio. Wine, women with swords, and food on fire -- what a combination! I was a little worried, though, when the waiter asked me to move so he wouldn't set me on fire!

And now I must return to the writing grind of faeries, mermaids, dragons, and other creatures. Such is life!

As always, happy writing and happy reading to all!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Memorializing Your Loved Ones in a Story

I don't really celebrate Valentine's Day, but I know many people do, so I am blogging about memorializing your loved ones in a story. I think it's a great way to show someone they are special to you.

I am currently mulling over a fantasy piece where my beloved pet, Tatsu the bearded dragon, will be the hero of the story. It's an unconventional love to blog about for the big Hallmark day, but there's a reason behind it. Tatsu passed away on December 4, 2010. I had him for almost eight years. He was a wonderful pet, friend, and even a matchmaker. (Yes, he even introduced me to my husband online on a pet forum). He was a late Valentine's Day gift almost eight years ago that changed my life forever.

My first husband and I found Tatsu in Schaumberg, Illinois at Lee Watson's Reptile swap in a big barn. I had no idea when we walked in the doors that a little lizard would melt my heart so much.

He was running around, climbing on the other juvies, and trying to get my attention. He did and he came home with us to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. My husband and I named him Tatsu, which is Japanese for dragon.

We quickly learned that Tatsu had quite the personality. He liked soft blankets, baths, and Saturday morning cartoons. He also had his own favorite T.V. programs that he would come running up to the front of his tank to watch. I don't know how he recognized the music to his shows, but he did. Tatsu loved snuggling with me on the couch.

In 2005, I was going through a divorce and I had been on a pet forum for bearded dragons for a few years. I started chatting with members all over the U.S. and soon became friends with my current husband, Will. I traveled to Albuquerque, NM to meet him for the first time in August of 2005 and to celebrate my 29th birthday.

We hit it off. In 2006, he came to Wisconsin to move Tatsu, my cat, Tiggyr, all my belongings, and me to The Land of Enchantment. We had quite the road trip.

Tatsu always loved being in the car. In fact, he behaved better than my tabby, Tiggyr, who cried the entire 1500 miles over three days.

Not only did my love for bearded dragons lead me to my second husband, but his love for bearded dragons inspired him to create his own custom lizard harness business, in which Tatsu frequently modeled. Taking pictures is one of my hobbies and I accrued a mass of Tatsu pics over the years in various harnesses. These are a few of my favorites.

He was so gentle; we could even get doll boots on him. This is his Darth Vader costume.

Tatsu went everywhere with me -- to the library, to restaurants, to Petroglyphs National Monument to hike, various pet stores in three states, even to Walmart and Home Depot shopping. He loved meeting people. There are dozens of photos of my husband, me, and our dragons in strangers' vacation albums somewhere. We were stopped together all the time in New Mexico.

Tatsu became a legend on the beardie forums because of his size. He was exactly 2 feet long and had all his toes and a complete tail, which is a rarity. People loved him so much, they were inspired to send me artwork of him. He even amassed his own army of over 250 dragons by the time he passed. I answered his fanmail for him weekly. It was a joy to write as Tatsu trying to take over the world.

He even has his own oil painting my husband commissioned for my birthday.

R.I.P. my friend. Happy Valentine's Day to you! Thank you for your many years of unconditional love and for inspiring me to write a wonderful short story. I'll be working on it soon.

For those of you who have lost someone, working through your grief in writing is very cathartic and a beautiful way to remember your loved ones.

I hope everyone has a Happy Valentine's Day.

As always, happy writing and happy reading to all!

Postnote: After posting this blog article, I went to the beardie forum where I first introduced Tatsu to the world. They are starting a memorial booklet: Tatsu's Celestial Army. It is a book of memorials to bearded dragons that have passed over The Rainbow Bridge. I was touched they named it after my baby, and of course, I am submitting his picture and a paragraph about him as well!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Writing Exercises to Work Your Imagination

I like to think of my imagination as a muscle in my body. If you don't exercise your imagination regularly, it atrophies and loses strength and flexibility. Writing on a regular basis is good exercise for your imagination.

Here are a few writing exercises you can try, if you don't have a story ready to begin. These are also great ways to cure writer's block. One of these exercises I was introduced to in a creative writing class and the others I devised on my own, though in checking the Internet, I've found there are variations of them out there. Great minds do think alike!

1) Get a newspaper or go online and check out your favorite current events site. Find an article that interests you, read it, and turn that article into a story. For example, this past year, being a transplanted Texan, I read a lot of articles on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. I put a fantastical spin on this news story. I wrote about what happened to a mythological creature that left her home because of the disaster.

2) Pick one of your favorite music groups and listen to a song. Songs tell stories. I read a lot of authors who mention the music that inspires their writing. This is where I came up with the idea. One of my favorite bands is The Misfits. They have great punk lyrics like Astro Zombies and Skulls. The lyrics I linked to have great images and plot beginnings to choose from, but they are graphic in nature.

3) For this exercise you'll need a bunch of different business cards. You draw three random cards from a bowl/pile. Read the job title from the first one you pick and give that job to the main character in your story. Read the setting from the second card and make that your setting. And from the third card you pull, you take the name of the person on the card and give it to your main character. Now all you need to do is add your own plot. It's a fun exercise that yields interesting results. I wrote a short story in my creative writing class, Lucky Thirteen, about a bellhop who gets called up to fix a plugged toilet and gets lucky.

4) Pick any fiction book you have and open to a random page or if you prefer order, open to the first page. If you chose a random page, you can be really daring and close your eyes and point to a spot on the page. Whatever sentence your finger has landed on is now the first sentence of your new story. If you chose to be more traditional, the first sentence of the first page of your book is now the beginning of your story.

I hope these exercises lead to engaging stories for you! They have for me.

As always, happy writing and happy reading!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

E.B. White's Inspiration for Charlotte's Web: The Writing Spider

Charlotte's Web by E.B. White is one of my favorite childhood stories. This week I came across a bunch of articles discussing the type of spider that inspired White. It is the harmless black and yellow garden spider, Argiope aurantia. They are also known as the writing spider because they weave stablimentia or zigzag patterns into their webs, which resemble writing. What a beautiful creature! I love their yellow and black banding.

In this photo you can clearly see the stablimentia.

These spiders are harmless to humans. If you pinch them hard, they will bite, but they will not if you pick them up gently. You will not get sick from their bite like the black widow or brown recluse.

Writing spiders are beneficial to the environment, so if you see one hanging out in your garden, please don't disturb them. They eat mosquitos, moths, and other flying insects.

Next time you're outdoors, perhaps you'll be inspired too. I'm sure Charlotte will be looking out for you.

Fun spider fact: Spiders are venomous, not poisonous. Venom is injected into the skin. Poison is ingested.

As always, happy writing and happy reading to all!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Borrowing a Sandbox: Writing Fan Fiction by Guest Blogger Elaine Garner

I have a driving compulsion to write. It doesn’t matter if it’s shouted from the roof tops or if I’m the only one who ever reads it. I have a story lurking inside the slushy wilderness of my brain, and it refuses to stop harassing me until it’s told. I’m different from the professional writer, however. I like to stop in and play in someone else’s “sandbox.”  I step into worlds which are already established and belong to others. Even my original work is dependent on material which legally belongs to someone else. My inspiration flows around characters who don’t always belong to me, but have taken up residence in my imagination.

I’m a fan fiction and hobby writer, and I won’t be paid for a single feverish keystroke pounded out in the dead of night.

So why do it?

My answer: because it’s fun. Other fan fiction authors I know write for positive attention through comments left for them on blogs, forums, etc. Others want something to continue which has otherwise ended, be it a video game, book series, comic series, television show or movie. In writing and reading about it, the experience lives on.

Fan fiction writing can also be good practice to flex the writing muscles. There will always come a time when a writer must step outside their own skin, eventually writing about things not personally experienced. Fan fiction makes me study the characters in my tale. I listen to vocal inflections, observe expressions, body language, what they wear, setting, try to get into their minds, and orient on details. In some ways, this is more demanding than writing about one of my own. A freshly minted original character can behave however you want them to, but other fans have expectations on how established characters act. By doing all of this, a writer trains their brain to start picking up details. This will carry over to original, marketable material as you observe people around you in life. You can transfer what you absorb into your next short story or novel.

Fan fiction does, unfortunately, have some drawbacks. One of the most obvious is copyright issues. In rare cases, authors are allowed to write under the umbrella of a company. I can’t share specifics on how it works because I’ve never done it, but I’ve seen novels based on comic characters. There are entire chains of books spun from Star Wars and Star Trek. Obviously, these authors were the exception to the rule. They gained full legal permission from those who owned the sandbox and presumably were paid for their novels.

On the other side, there are authors who are protective of their work and will do everything in their power to shut down web sites or places who borrow from them. Most people are satisfied with a disclaimer on the fan fiction which includes who is the original owner and states there is no profit being made. Some authors like Wendy and Richard Pini ( even encourage fans. They love to see what others do with their ideas. For anyone who wants to delve into the world of fan fiction, it’s wise to do a little research to make sure you aren’t going to offend anyone if you plan to publish it in any format to share with the world.

I began writing fan fiction for television shows as a teenager. Some of the stories sprung into characters of my own, but I never pursued it in a professional capacity. Later, I picked up the pen again in my college days to write as an outlet for stress in my real life. This was before the internet became the household presence it is today, so I actually published what was called a “fanzine.”  These were self published magazines which I charged just enough subscription money to almost cover my costs of producing them. I had people send me stories and artwork, combined it with my own, and ran each page through a copier. I then bound them and mailed them out in hard copy. Now there are places on the internet dedicated to nothing but fan fiction, but many years later I’ve found myself wanting to write about a video game universe. Instead of going through all the trouble and expense of a fanzine, it goes to my blog.

One day my muse might stop bashing me soundly over the head with conversations I wish I could have had in a game called Dragon Age: Origins. Until then, however, I will be a fan fiction writer.

For more of Elaine Garner's fan fiction check out her blog:

You may also look for additional fan fiction writing at:

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Was Beer the Catalyst for the Invention of Writing?

Could it be true? Could beer be the catalyst for the invention of the first written language?

Up late the other night, I stumbled across The Discovery Channel's documentary on beer, How Beer Saved the World. According to scholars collaborating for this documentary, beer sparked the dawn of the agricultural age. Egyptians even used beer to pay the pyramid builders. In fact, scholars suggest ancient society invented the first written language to keep crop records for their grain used in beer production.

Two other points in favor of beer and mentioned in the documentary:

1) Because Louis Pasteur studied the fermentation of beer and why it spoiled, scientists learned about germs, which led to a breakthrough in how medicine was practiced.

2) Ancient beer actually contained the first form of antibiotics, tetracycline, about 2000 years ago before Alexander Fleming got credit for discovering penicillin in 1928.

I was skeptical about the premise that beer saved the world, but I watched the entire documentary. Now I am a believer and while I have never been a beer drinker, I just might start. Sorry wine! I still love you!

So the next time you're out with friends at a pub or party, take a moment to appreciate all that beer has given you.

The documentary is running through February 18, 2011 on The Discovery Channel, according to their site.

As always, happy writing and happy reading to all!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Interview with Historical Mystery and Horror Writer, Charley Appenzellar

Charley Appenzellar is passionate about historical mysteries and thought provoking horror. She has written two novels, two screenplays, a whole batch of short stories, and has a blog entitled 365 Things That I Love About France. Charley has recently finished translating a French historical manuscript that will be published in the spring and is putting the finishing touches on a haunted guide to France. When Charley is not pounding away at the keyboard, she adores exploring France with her two children.

Which came first for you, your love of history or your love of storytelling?

Oh, that's a tough one. I would have to say my love of storytelling, as I was a voracious reader before I even knew what history was.

In your story, The Modern Cathar, you discuss this form of Christianity. The Cathar community was quite large in France. Did you develop a fascination with this religion after you moved to France or before?

After I moved here. There are a series of Cathar castles in the Languedoc region of France, haunting ruins perched on rocky precipices, which utterly fascinated me when I saw them. The more I learned about Cathar culture and beliefs, the more I was convinced I had to write about them.

Their religion is fascinating; there are many similarities between Catharism and Buddhism—amazing for the Dark Ages. But what is thoroughly intriguing to me is their story: how they were utterly wiped out by an early form of the Inquisition, and how it is said that they were the keepers of a great treasure. Mystery ….

Do you think that your blog, 356 Things I Love about France, helped prepare you for your recent work, A Sumptuous Guide to Haunted France?

My blog helps me prepare for everything! It is an excellent disciplinary tool, being obliged to sit down and do a certain amount of research and text each and every day. Along the way of researching interesting persons, places, food, and events in France, I have stumbled across more haunted venues than I anticipated.

I am planning to stick with the theme, and will have a new 365-day blog coming out in the late spring.

You’ve lived and traveled in a lot of places around the world. How do foreign libraries compare to the U.S. library system for writing research materials, etc.?

As I am primarily a fiction author, I don't visit a whole lot of libraries, what I need I find on the Internet, or the Internet leads me to specific books. My spoken French is completely fluent and I am lucky to be very immersed in the French culture; people recounting oral traditions tell many tales to me.

I am translating a French non-fiction historical manuscript at the moment, and the French author spends hours and hours in the municipal library here in Lyon. I know he has dug up some fascinating stuff in medieval texts. When my medieval French is better, I look forward to joining him.

What do you see as future challenges for authors with the increased popularity in electronic media? Do you think paper books will go the way of the dinosaurs?

The future challenge in electronic media is not to get lost in the massive shuffle. To have a voice will become more and more difficult.

I certainly hope that paper books don't go the way of the dinosaur. There is nothing like the sweet smell of a book or a bookstore. I can't wrap my brain around cozying up with a cold, electronic gadget to read. I need to open my book and have that smell waft up to greet me.

Since you designed your own author site, what advice do you have for other authors looking to do the same?

Be professional. Take your time. Do it right. Your website represents you, is the image you present to agents and editors. Make sure it is honest and symbiotic with your work and your essence.

You’re currently looking for an agent. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in this process?

Oh, boy! Do you have a couple of hours, days? laughs Have faith in yourself and don't give up. Listen to your inner voice, not the voices of others.

Do you have any other future works in progress?

Bien sur! laughs There is always something brewing on the back burner. I have been writing a lot of short horror stories lately, and am wondering if I might turn a few into full-length manuscripts. I am also working with another author on a fiction story filled with many historical facts on the Knights Templar.

If you could only write one more story, what would it be?

The history of the world. I believe that all the answers to so many of our questions are right in front of our noses.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

So How 'Bout the Wily Writing Beast, the Story Title?

As writers, we all face the hairy eyeball of the title beast and live to tell the tale. But just how do we pick the perfect title for our new story?

There are two methods that lead to the same conclusion:

1) Title your story and then write.

2) Let your story write its own title.

The first option led to writer's block for me, which is never a good thing. With option number one, I found myself staring at a blinking cursor until my seat went numb from sitting too long. However, I realize what doesn't for me may well be the golden key for someone else.

I subscribe to the second option. I pick my titles midway through my first draft or after the completion of the first draft. The title is the cherry on the sundae for me. I find it cathartic to use the backspace key and replace "Untitled" with something more witty and polished.

Ask yourself three questions when writing your title.

How does it relate to my story?

Be content relevant. If you're writing about zebras, you wouldn't name your tale: The Story of the Angry Writing Desk. Unless, there is an angry writing desk in your story. *wink*

Would it catch your eye in a bookstore?

Will your readers find it interesting enough to pick up? Make your title engaging. Use active verbs and gripping images to draw in your readers.

Has my title been published before?

Search the web to see how many hits for your potential title pop up. If there are a lot of them, scrap that title and go with another. If there is only one, you might still consider it. If you do pull up a piece of writing with your title, is it in the same genre as yours? If it's in the same genre, you might want to pick another title so your work can truly stand out as original.

If you follow these three suggestions, you will definitely tame the wily title beast.

As always, happy writing and happy reading to all!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

What Are You Reading Between the Covers? - #6

I have to tell you how dedicated I am to you, my readers. I was up at dark-thirty again in the freezing cold, snuggled under my covers waiting to find out if my husband got a snow day from work. I had only two pages to go in the most recent novel I'm blogging about today, when the power went out. Naturally, it conveniently occurred right after my husband had mentioned we might have rolling blackouts in Dallas today every fifteen minutes. For you reader, only for you, okay, and well for me too because I was mad and wanted to find out how the book ended, I grabbed my trusty flashlight and finished reading in the dark. Now let's pray to the book review gods that my computer doesn't need charging during this post and the power is out. That I cannot fix!

I have three books for you today. The first is a nonfiction book about the tattoo industry. Tattoo Machine by Jeff Johnson was a rocking read. Mr. Johnson has eighteen years experience tattooing. This book changed my entire view of the tattoo world, which until now had been based solely on my few personal experiences and shows like L.A. Ink. This book is not a fluffy, Hollywood glam piece. This book tells you the dirty truth about the tattoo business -- the good and the bad. Jeff Johnson even shares some of his own personal tattooing mistakes, which I respect because a lot of artists would just gloss over that part. His writing has a bite and will leave you laughing at the most insane stories. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the truth about tattooing.

The second book I just finished reading is Carol Goodman's The Ghost Orchid. I got this book as a recommendation from Wendy Webb's book jacket, which is an excellent example of how I learn about new authors. If I like a book I always check out all the authors mentioned on the jacket. (I previously blogged about Wendy Webb's book The Truth About Halycon Crane in What Are You Reading Between the Covers? - #5). The Ghost Orchid is a beautiful modern gothic murder mystery set in a historical artist's retreat in upstate New York. There are so many twists and turns in this plot that when you are finished, you'll need to lay down and mull it over for awhile. It's very good storytelling. The characters are well-developed and the setting is beautiful.

And the third book I have to share today is Midori Snyder's Hannah's Garden. This book is close to my heart because Midori Snyder lives in my hometown, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. If you are a fan of myth or fairytales or both, then you need to read this story. The woodland Fae in this book are imaginative and whimsical and the story is a treat. It's about a young woman discovering her true family tree and reconciling her relationships with her mother and her grandfather while coming into her own. If you are a fan of The Word and the Void Trilogy by Terry Brooks or The Green Man: Tales from the Mythic Forest, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, then you will definitely not want to miss Hannah's Garden.

For all you readers buried under snow and ice today, keep warm!

As always, happy writing and happy reading to all!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

There Are No Snow Days in Writing

I was nestled under the covers with the cats, sleeping peacefully, and then the phone rang at dark-thirty this morning. The Texas weather gods had smiled on my husband. He got a snow day. I found myself thinking two things:

1) When you're a writer there are no snow days. You can write from anywhere.

2) It's a horrible thing to be awake, cold, and still tired, and unable to sleep at dark-thirty in the morning.

It seemed the gods of sleep had eluded both me and my husband, so we trudged out of bed and downstairs while the sun was creeping over the apartment roofs. I am writing this blog entry with my Kensington Flylight 2.0 while my husband catnaps on the couch next to me. It's a pretty nifty holiday gift from a friend; the light plugs into a USB port on your computer and you can sit in the dark with your keyboard illuminated. Perfect for mornings when you are awake at dark-thirty, tired, and blogging.

I ventured outside to document the snow day. Brace yourself. It's not very dramatic for some, but you have to keep in mind that we're in Dallas, Texas and there is a lot of ice coming our way with a light snow mix. This is the wily culprit that caused the snow day:

It may not seem like a formidable storm, but if you were born and raised in the Midwest like me and knew how Texans drove in any form of frozen precipitation, you would be scared too. (For any Texans reading this, I love how welcome you have made me feel in your state, but you need to learn to drive in snow).

Might I add, having been spoiled by the balmy weather gods with 75 degrees just two days ago, this is a cruel punishment and I want to know what we mortals did to incur your wrath! Perhaps, it was my lovely neighbors' fault who keep littering in the parking lot that pushed you over the brink. I know I'm teetering on that brink myself, if one more person doesn't pick up after their dog.

Appropriately this morning, I am working on a new piece, Snow Faery. I am unsure whether this will be a shorty story or something longer; storytelling is a wild animal and you just have to grab it by the mane and go! I don't create plot outlines before I sit down at my computer; I just have a vague idea like: Hey, let's write a story about a snow faery held hostage by a mean child. What would happen in that situation? And then I go find out...

Here is a small excerpt of the work in progress:

Nell stood, staring in horror at the tiny body of the man curled up next to their igloo. He clutched a small bowler hat in his right hand to his chest. If he had been standing upright in her palm, he would have been only a few inches tall.  His face was translucent blue.  She could see the tiny threads of veins running across the hard angles of his face. His jaw was pointy like an icicle.  His hair was the color of fresh snow in moonlight.

And that's about all I will share with you. I don't like sharing works in progress much outside my close circle of friends, but the snow day was a serendipitous moment I could not pass up.

As always, happy writing and happy reading to all!

And today, happy snow day to all!