Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ken Liu's The Literomancer

Normally, I'd include this in one of my What Are You Reading Between the Covers? posts, but this is a review of one short story, not a collection.

Ken Liu is someone I have been chatting with online. We met on the critique forum, Critters, which many of you might have read about in my past blog entries. Ken was accepted by Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine, which if you are a fan of or write in these genres, you know is a big accomplishment to make it into the professional pages. It's a writer's dream. I'm still working on mine, so right now I can vicariously live a little through Ken's success.

The Literomancer is a delightful tale, an artful blending of Mr. Liu's American and Chinese heritage. This is a common theme in his work, from what I have read so far. In The Literomancer, An American girl, Lilly, whose dad is working for the American government in China during the Cold War, befriends a little Chinese boy, Teddy, who dreams of playing for the Red Sox in the World Series. He lives with his grandfather, Mr. Kan, who is a literomancer or one who reads the fortunes in Chinese characters (writing). The story follows their budding friendship between cultures.

What struck me was the poignant message, Mr. Kan gave to Lilly, "Wildflowers can bloom anywhere." I believe this is true. Perhaps, some day, the people of China will have the freedom they want, but more importantly, perhaps, each of us can look into our hearts and realize that a people and a land are not defined by arbitrary borders on a map, but by their hearts and spirits. A person's spirit is enduring. Thank you, for that message, Ken!

I have to add, do not read this story on an empty stomach if you like ethnic cuisine. Food was also a central theme defining cultures in the story, and I suffered a bout of culinary envy at a few points in the tale. I looked up a few recipes to share with my readers. (Please forgive me Ken, if I post a recipe not completely traditional. I am not familiar with all the foods you wrote about, but am curious). Here are a few links for the chefs and the adventurous eaters:

Kòng-uân pork balls: described here as a sweet and sour pork ball, served with rice.
Three-Cup Chicken: This I am looking forward to trying! The name comes from the three ingredients used in the recipe; sesame oil, Chinese rice wine, and soy sauce. (I suppose you could substitute tofu for chicken, but I won't promise it will be the same).
Shangtung Milkfish Soup: I couldn't find an exact recipe for this, but did find a milkfish soup, which is a traditional Chinese soup made from bangus (milkfish).
If you're hungry or love to cook, one of these should suffice. I think of the three, I would try the Three-Cup Chicken, since I do not eat much pork and was vegetarain for over a decade. I Googled and it also appears that milkfish are not an endangered species, which is good, if you have a food conscience like me.
For more information on the history of the American involvement during the Cold War in China, Mr. Liu thoughtfully suggested John W. Garver's The Sino-American Alliance: Nationalist China and American Cold War Strategy in Asia.
You can also find information on the tradition of literomancy here:
And as always, happy writing and happy reading to all!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Suggestions for the Writing Life

I was going to title this Rules for the Writing Life, but then I realized I hate rules and people telling me what to do, which is why I love art. It's late, and I'm feeling reflective. I have a belly full of yummy Japanese food and a giant mug of water by my side and the house is quiet.

No drum rolls, please! You might wake my lizards. *grins*

Here are my suggestions for a happy writing life in no particular order:

1) Write what you want to write. Writing in one genre works really well for some writers, but not everyone. If you want to write a paranormal romance with hot, busty vamps and then a child's story about a flying dragon with superpowers the next day, do it! Go where your heart takes you.

2) Its good to write every day and to set goals, but if you don't meet your goal, don't beat yourself up. You're only human and sometimes you need to reboot.

3) Reboot by playing! Be a kid again, no matter how old or young you are right now. Go out and try something new. Explore! Be open to all the opportunities around you because you never know when you will be inspired to write.
4) Don't let the naysayers around you or inside you best you. Ignore them. Write! Don't worry about making money or if you can write a bestseller because all that worrying and those negative ideas in your head are a roadblock to personal success.

5) Be a reading beast! Devour every book you can. Try new genres you haven't explored. Revisit old ones you love and see how much it influences your writing. (I make a list of every book I read each year. That way I can look back and see the writing journey I have taken. It's very rewarding).

6) Don't let the rejection monster lurking in your closet terrorize you. So one editor didn't like your story! Big deal! There is more than one editor in the world.

7) Join a critique group. Find one that works with your schedule and best suits your style of writing. It doesn't matter if it is online or a group that meets in person, a fresh pair of eyes is a writer's best friend – especially an impartial one not emotionally invested in your story.

8) Take care of your body. If you don't feel good, you won't want to write. Try to get enough sleep. Play hard, but give yourself time to rest. Eat well. Boost your immune system and repeat!

9) And when you've completed this list, go back and do it all over again.

As always, happy writing and happy reading to all!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Belated Happy Natal Anniversary to Joseph Campbell

Yesterday was Joseph Campbell's birthday. Happy belated Natal Anniversary (as my father would say)!

Joseph Campbell was born on March 26, 1904 in White Plains, New York. His books on mythology and the classic journey of the hero have inspired many writers, including myself. In 1925, he earned a B.A. from Columbia University and got his M.A. in 1927 focusing on Arthurian Studies. Following that, he traveled to Germany where he studied Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, which influenced his own career. He also began to study literature in-depth. The Hero with a Thousand Faces, his first book and a very popular one, was published in 1949. In 1985, Joseph Campbell was awarded the National Arts Club Gold Medal of Honor in Literature. He died in 1987.

I was first introduced to Joseph Campbell in a high school English class. His work in the field of world mythology led to me become interested in world religions and enriched my own writing background.

Campbell believed that humans around the world have common patterns in their myths about creation, etc.

Two of his most famous works are The Hero with a Thousand Faces, which discusses the journey of a hero in literature and The Masks of God, which focuses on gods around the world.

In 1988 journalist Bill Moyers hosted the public television special, The Power of Myth. The companion book with the same name was released later. It is a favorite in my library at home. I highly recommend the documentary as well.

If you're interested in further reading here are a few links:

1) Joseph Campbell's complete list of works

2) Suggested reading by Joseph Campbell for students

3) The Joseph Campbell Foundation

4) Myth and Meaning in Contemporary Times

As always, happy writing and happy reading to all!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Thursday, March 24, 2011

How Do You Pick Your Books? Do You Judge a Book by Its Cover?

How do you pick your books? I have seven ways to find a good book that work for me.

1) The cover art.

We've all heard the saying: Never judge a book by its cover. However, does this apply to you as a reader? For me it doesn't. I admit sometimes when I am in a bookstore or at the library, I will pick up a book because the artwork intrigues me. I have found many good books this way that led me in a completely new reading direction and inspired some of my own stories.

2) The title.

A good title will reel me in every time and make me read the book jacket. I don't really hunt for a particular genre most of the time when I'm looking for a new book. I just wander aimlessly down the rows until I find one that catches my eye.

3) Hardcover vs. paperback and the quality of the ink and paper.

As writers generally, we don't always have much say in the cover art or our print type or the paper a story is printed on, but all those things do matter to readers. For instance, I know I am more likely to buy hardcover for my own personal reading collection and gifts, but I like paperbacks for how light they are and easy to travel with. (Of course, with eBooks so popular, this is not an issue for people any more). 

And I know I especially love heavy papers; the way they feel and smell is intoxicating and makes for a more pleasurable read. Thin, less-quality papers rip and smudge ink easily. If the book feels cheap in my hand, it's not going home with me from a bookstore, unless I really love the author/book and this is the only edition available. However, if it's a library copy, I will check it out because it's not going on my shelves.

4) Reviews from other authors on the back of the book.

Not only do I judge a book by the cover art, but I will also judge it by the blurbs from other authors on the back, if I am not familiar with an author's writing. I can gauge how much think I will enjoy reading the book in question, if I recognize a reviewing author's comment. Sometimes, I even take stock of these quotes, if I am not familiar with the author reviewing the book.

5) The first sentence rule.

This is one of my favorites. If I open a book and the first sentence doesn't immediately grab me, I am less likely to buy it or check it out. However, if I am feeling particularly kind that day, I will open the book to the middle to see if it holds my interest, if the first sentence didn't. If it's not any good, then it goes back on the shelf.

6) Recommendations from other people or the author/editor of the book I'm currently reading.

I recently joined Goodreads and am enjoying chatting with other bibliophiles online. I've already come up with a few books to add to my reading list. It's been an enjoyable experience and I highly recommend it.

I also find that close friend and family recommendations are pretty solid. They usually know what I like.

But I love it even more if I find that an author/editor has included a "further reading list" at the back of the book I just finished. In fact, I make a copy of those lists from books I have liked and returned to the library. I keep those lists around forever. More than once, they helped me out of a funk when I couldn't find anything I wanted to read.

7) Discovering new authors through anthologies.

This is a craze I've been on for the past three years. It's a great way to take a new author for a test run. If I find one I liked, I go online for a works published list. Many a good author has found a home on my bookshelves this way or been recommended to a friend.

So how do you decide which books to read? Do you use my techniques or have others I might like to try? I'd love to hear from you.

As always, happy writing and happy reading to all!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Spring Cleaning for Writers: 6 Tips to Help You Get Organized

This may seem like a no-brainer, but writers have to be organized. It's spring and everyone is thinking about their annual housecleaning and planning their gardens for the summer, etc. Now is the perfect time to get your writing life organized before you get too busy soaking up the sun outdoors.

1) Do you have any outstanding submissions?

If you have pieces beyond the normal response time, think about sending a letter to check on the status of your submission.

2) What are your writing plans for the next few months?

Consider gathering all the notes you jotted down and putting them to good use, instead of letting them serve as coasters for your coffee mug. It's easy to word process them and store them in files on your computer.

Here's a great blog article on another organization technique that may come in handy for you:

You can also purchase a digital recorder that's compact and with easy to access to files whenever you them. They're also lightweight and can be taken on vacation.

A few reviews on different recorders can be found here:

Software is also an option, like Scrivener 2.0, a word processing program. You can find a review of it here on Kathryn Pope's blog. The article is from January 31, 2011, entitled: Writing Through Life: Scrivener (like Bartleby, only different):

Scrivener looks to run around $45 on this site:

3) Have you updated your writing information on any forums/groups you have joined and your own site, if you have one?

Make sure your bio and writing credits are current. It's also a good idea to have your bio and writing credits saved electronically to pull as needed for submissions, interviews, and anything else.

4) Have you checked your links on your site/blog to make sure they work?

This can be tedious, but it's necessary. There's nothing worse than trying to share information that doesn't exist anymore with a reader.

This is an older article on why checking links is important, but it's still relevant:

This tool will check all your links for free and save your sanity:

5) Manage your computer files. If you haven't invested in a portable hard drive to backup your writing, I suggest you get one. I back up all my work to a portable drive so that if anything happens, I still have a copy. Portable hard drives have really come down in price and there are always great deals, if you shop around.

Here's a list of reviewed drives from CNET to help you make an informed purchase:

You can also backup your computer with online services for a fee. PC Magazine has an article reviewing some of the services out there:,2817,2288745,00.asp

In addition, if you don't have dedicated folders on your computer for your writing, you might want to consider it. I usually have one folder for the current year I am writing in; all my writing goes in that folder. Then I don't have to hunt for a file when I want to work on it; it's also easier to transfer just one folder from my computer to my portable hard drive.

6) Now is also a great time to organize your bookshelf and make room for new books.

Keep your favorites, but consider donating ones you aren't keeping to a local library or charity or book swapping with friends on sites like You can also sell magazines and books at used bookstores like Half Price Books in your area, but the magazines have to be current. Recycle your old ones that you can't sell in an art project or two. My blog article about recycled book art might come in handy here!

Happy organizing!

As always, happy writing and happy reading as well!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

What Are You Reading Between the Covers? - #12

It's late Friday night or early Saturday morning, depending on how you look at it. Another night of insomnia hit me like a ton of books. It's a full moon tomorrow and I never sleep around this time of the month for some reason, but I spent most of the late evening hours curled up under a sheet with my fan running because its already in the 80s here in Dallas in the springtime.

Warning: Plot spoiler below!

I have three books to blog about tonight. The first one is a gothic novel, The Spiritualist, by Megan Chance. This book caught my attention because of the subject matter. I have always been attracted to the Victorian era and particularly the Spiritualist movement, which Houdini spent a lot of time debunking. Spiritualism, for those not familiar with the term, was a movement from the middle 1800s to around the 1920s embracing the séances to contact loved ones on the other side while still maintaining a belief in a sentient God. Most followers were of the upper or middle class, those who could afford to participate in the séances, as is our main character in the novel, Evelyn Atherton.

Evelyn Atherton is part of the upper class society, having married her husband, Peter, a wealthy lawyer with his own firm. After his mother dies, he becomes involved in the Spiritualist movement and introduces Evie to the medium and other characters in the book that help Evie clear her name and escape the gallows when she is accused of her husband's murder. What I found particularly interesting about this book was the focus of the treatment of women in Victorian society and the issue of being gay in Victorian society, which it turns out, Evie's husband, Peter was. How tragic and lonely that must have been to be part of an alternative lifestyle in such rigid times or to be born female in that society. I would recommend this book. There are more than a few twists and turns that will keep you guessing; the characters are colorful and well written.

The second book I'm blogging about tonight is Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera. I was unsure whether I would like this book. Usually, I can tell by the first couple of pages, but this one I remained neutral on until a few chapters in when I couldn't put it down. It follows the love story of Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza, which spans several decades before the two lovers actually consummate their relationship and can be together after Fermina Daza becomes a widow. The book is so passionate and
reminds of Il Postino a bit in its level of emotion and also Katherine Vaz's writing, particularly her short story collection Fado and Other Stories, which I recently blogged about. Certainly, more than a few fados or passionate love songs could be written for Marquez's story. While I liked the book, I was disappointed by the ending. I expected more when they finally got together afte the big buildup towards that moment. That is my only complaint. Marquez is a superb writer and I highly recommend his work.

After reading of such passion, I turned to the legend of Robin Hood and Maid Marian, which I finished earlier tonight, Elsa Watson's Maid Marian. This book focused on Marian's story, not Robin Hood's, which was refreshing. Her writing is in the tradition of Marion Zimmer Bradley who wrote The Mists of Avalon series focusing on the women in the King Arthur stories and Rosalind Miles's Isolde (the first book of the Tristan and Isolde trilogy), which is about the Queen of the Western Isles. Watson takes a feminist perspective on Maid Marian, creating a strong, independent, opinionated young woman who is determined to take back her birthright, the lands she inherited at her parents' death, from Lady Pernelle, the noble woman who has weaseled her way into control and murdered one of her sons to keep it. Maid Maria is also very concerned with remaining independent and following her own destiny in the book. There is a love interest with Robin Hood of course, but that is plot is second to Lady Marian's personal journey and her friendship with her childhood nurse, Annie. While this book does not deal much with the historical hardships of the period, it does minorly address the grievously unfair tax system imposed on peasants. This is a good, light read that I recommend.

As always, happy writing and happy reading to all!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

More Writing Oldies from the Vault

So yesterday, I dusted off my published pieces folder and shared my first writing ever published. Today I'm going to share two more poems with you.

The first poem is a short one I wrote around my senior year of college. It was written for a creative writing class lead by my professor and mentor, Peter Blewett, who now serves as Board Vice President for Milwaukee Public Schools. This poem was featured in my friend and fellow English major's senior project. For those of you who aren't familiar with a college English program, your senior year you are required to do an indepth project, usually a paper with a presentation of some sort. My friend, Amy Murre, chose to present on the need we have for art in society and made her own independent magazine. This poem was in Unsung, 1998.


I am on the ledge of knowing,
and soon I will stretch my self,
and with a silent prayer,

This second poem is very close to my heart. On Friday the 13th in November of 1998, I lost my half-brother, Greg, to the new strain of tuberculosis resistant to antibiotics. My brother was an alcoholic, something I discussed when I presented this poem in a Fox 6 News featured poetry month spot that ran
in 1999 or 2000. (Sorry, the date escapes me right now. I looked and I can't find it anywhere on the net or I would share that with you too. But I have it on VHS, which is totally useless now *grins*). My brother drank and would not see a doctor. He thought it was just a bad cold. By the time we convinced him to go to the hospital, they couldn't save him. I don't share this with you for sympathy, but to make other people aware of the serious issues surrounding alcoholism. I had to watch my elderly father bury his second son and he has never been the same since.

This poem was part of a trilogy about this family tragedy and a way for me make peace with the situation, though I don't think there truly ever is peace when something like this happens to you. It was first published in The Neovictorian/Cochlea in the Fall/Winter of 2001.

A Red Carnation
In memory of my brother, Greg
Born Dec. 27, 1954-Died Nov. 13, 1998

So this is where it all ends,
right here inside this wind-shelter
in the middle of dreary November
with a tinny pre-recorded version of "Taps"
whimpering through the veterans' speakers
like a pitiful puppy.
All of us struggling to stay strong.
and for what -
all of the get-better-soon's and we-love-you's
muttered amongst the sighing of ventilators
and the bleeping of heart monitors,
the painfulness of time stretched out
like a winding road,
waiting for the phone
to slice through the tension
of silent dinners of cold spaghetti and dry meatballs
and forks scraping on plates?
And for what?-
to follow our mundane routines,
to rise stoically every morning
and go to work and to school
while you lay there dying,
suffocating on your own phlegm?

No more vows of you going back to school
and making dad proud,
no more sketching winged dragons
and  knights riding majestically into battle on Arabian horses,
no more Thanksgivings or Christmases
with you stealing all the mashed potatoes,
just this cold piece of ground
and a temporary marker until the spring thaw
when your headstone can be set on your grave.

And next Memorial Day we will attend
the ceremony for the veterans at Woods National Cemetery,
and drink lemonade and eat sugar cookies
while listening for your name to be called out from the roster,
and we'll walk through rows of white gravestones standing at
to place a single red carnation on your grave,
our father's favorite flower.

Thank you for listening today, reader.

Important Writing news: I have landed my first blog interview. More information to be announced when I have it!

I also just found a nice mention of my blog on someone else's site, Horror Books with the Undead Rat. Apparently, they liked my article about exercising your writer's imagination.

And my Godzilla/Hello Kitty story met with mixed reviews on Critters. I had preivously blogged about this story. People either thought it was funny or just plain weird. I got some feedback on focusing more on Kitty's character and checking up on some of my Godzilla facts, which is great. Always check your facts before you submit! Otherwise, you will hear about it from your readers in email some day.
As always, happy reading and happy writing to all!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Do You Remember Your First Published Writing?

I had to dig in the vaults for this one, but I found it!My first publication was right out of high school for a small press magazine, Primitive Bikini, which is no longer in print. I had thought it was published when I was in high school, but it seems my memory was fuzzy as I pulled it out from the filing cabinet this afternoon. I'm going to share a poem with you about my time spent in the Appalachian Service Project, but first I want to tell you a little about the organization.

I blogged a little about this experience earlier this year. A.S.P. is a Methodist organization helping repair homes for the poor in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia. Every summer high school kids from all over the U.S. volunteer. Long after I left the church and organized religion all together, I still traveled with the program to do this service work because I believed in the people who ran it, people who were open-minded and accepting of everyone, regardless of their religion or lack of religion.

It's amazing and sad that there are still people here in our own country who live without indoor plumbing and running water in their homes. These people in the mountains have some of the biggest hearts and I was humbled by them. I volunteered for six years with A.S.P., my last year as a youth leader, which was truly rewarding.

Here's my poem about my experience. I don't write anything like this now, but it's good to remember where I come from. If I don't remember where I came from, I can't grow as a writer.

Morning Song

In the misty morning the
mountains swell as we
join hands in the
circle of eternity
our souls intertwine
to become one
our witnesses are the
whispering leaves and the
families whose lives have
been warmed with love
and affection
like the morning star
which rewards us with
life-giving light
as our spirits
dance in
for to give love
is to receive

What was your first published piece?

As always, happy writing and happy reading to all!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Eyeball Injury Leads to Lack of Writing

I lived up to my oddball reputation yet again this weekend and it has cost me a whole weekend of writing, including finishing my Jack Frost story I blogged about last week. Ugh! I'm blogging on painkillers and squinting out of one eye, so please bear with me. Being the incredibly multitalented human being that I am I managed to scratch my right cornea and tear my sclera, the white part of my eye, causing fluid to buildup underneath and giving my eyeball the appearance of a wrinkled apple for the past few days. Lovely! All this because I rubbed my eye when I was sleepy. I spent late Friday night in the ER and was sent home with an eye ointment that completely impedes my vision and vicodin, which completely impairs my judgment, but has given me a lot of great writing ideas to draw from when I can finally focus. The vicodin has also brought out the insomniac in me and so here I am blogging out of one eye at 1AM on Sunday night.

Before I was seen by the ER doc, I had to sign all these consent forms and I freaked out quietly to myself when asked to sign a form consenting to electronic records. In my painful state, I wasn't thinking clearly and my writer's imagination raced to Philip K. Dick and William Gibson cyberpunk stories with visions of tiny nanotech robots boring into my brain and transmitting data to the government. Then I flashed to an article I had read about microchips being implanted in humans now with all their medical data -- all very Big Brother 1984 and scary! Of course, I quickly realized she was talking about emailing my doctors, which was a great relief.

Then I had a lot of time to think while I waited and stared at the fancy light they used to check your eye for scratches and all the other medical equipment labeled in cupboards. It was a full ER and I was prepared to wait until Charon's pups grew up to see anyone since I wasn't having a heart attack or a baby or bleeding to death or suffocating. The irony struck me that I had recently blogged about Katherine Vaz's short story collection, Fado. My favorite was The Journey of the Eyeball, a wonderful magical realist story about the journey of a young man's eyeball detached from his body and seeking his lover. I tried to picture my eye wandering down the sterile hospital corridors plastered with generic modern art prints, its optic nerve dangling like jellyfish tentacles as it bounced along. The soundtrack for the entire scene was Phish's The Mango Song, part of the chorus playing over and over in my head, "Your hands and feet are mangos. You're gonna be a genius anyway..." I don't know why I cast this song for my music video, except that it's a happy tune and at that point, I thought my eye would be quite happy bobbing away from its accident-prone owner.

I went home with my eyeball intact, though not very happy. And as far I as can tell, though I haven't seen a doctor for a recheck, my eye is going to be just fine, even though I managed to lose a weekend of writing and will probably do something equally as stupid in the future at some point. After all, you're speaking of the same girl who slammed her own foot in a car door in high school. It's a good thing I work with a keyboard and not any sharp instruments on a daily basis!

As always, happy writing and happy reading to all!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

What Are You Reading Between the Covers? - #11

I need a vacation from my vacation to recover all the sleep I lost due to delayed flights. I haven't read much since returning home to sunny, springtime Dallas, but I finally am able to keep my eyes open long enough to blog about my latest whirlwind of books. I got a lot of reading done on my vacation, though admittedly, I missed my book companion, Toshio. I read three novels the last few days in Wisconsin.

The first was Dayhunter, the second novel in the Dark Days vampire series by Jocelynn Drake. It was a good second book, but nothing really stood out as spectacular. We learn who Danaus really is, which was exactly what I thought he was going to be, disappointing that it was predictable, but he's still a cool character. I like this series because there is no gratuitous vampire sex in it. There was actually only one sex scene in this story and it was plot related -- imagine that! I don't even remember any sex scenes from the first book. In this one Mira and Danaus are continuing their fight to stop the naturi from breaking the seal and releasing their queen so they can purge the earth of mankind (the parasite). It was a fast and entertaining read. These books cannot be read as standalones the way some series can. If you miss one, you miss essential plot elements, so reader beware!

After sinking my teeth into the vamp tale, I switched gears and read Dark Cities Underground by Lisa Goldstein, a very refreshing urban fantasy. Much to my delight, all the childhood stories I loved like Peter Pan, The Wind in the Willows, and Alice in Wonderland, turned out all to be true accounts. In this story children who had discovered an underground world beneath the world's subway system come back to tell their tales. Hence, the classic children's stories are invented! Ruth Berry, one of the main characters, loses her daughter in this dark fantastical world based on Egyptian myth. She and Jeremy Jones, from the famous childhood books in the story, must recover The Eye of Horus to free her daughter and escape using the underground subway system. This book was amazing! I cannot begin to say enough about it. A must read! I couldn't put it down. If you are a fan of urban fantasy and haven't read this one, pick it up!

After that wonderful story I knew Diana Wynn Jones would not disappoint with Howl's Moving Castle, an oldie, but a goodie. I had just watched the movie adaptation by Hayao Miyazaki of Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away fame (good animes, if you haven't seen them. Actually, any of his work is great to watch, very whimsical and fun, just like Diana Wynn Jones's work). Ms. Jones actually helped write the screenplay for Howl's Moving Castle, so the movie remarkably mirrored the young adult book, with a few minor plot cuts. The book is about the wizard Howl, his moving castle propelled by his demon fire Calcifer, and a young hatter named Sophie, cursed by a famous witch to look old. She falls in love with Howl after coming to live as a cleaning lady in his castle, but she cannot tell him or anyone else about her curse. Sophie enters into a bargain with Calcifer to free him from Howl's service in return for her curse being broken. The characters are adorable; the ideas are unique and playful. Adults will enjoy this young adult novel too. I highly recommend it! And do see the movie! It is a masterpiece. Even better, this is the first in a trilogy. The next two books are Castle in the Air and House of Many Ways, which I will certainly be reading myself.

As always, happy writing and happy reading to all!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Author Paparazzi

I'm not a household name, yet, so I can't even dream of having paparazzi following me to the grocery store, but watching Joan Rivers on The Fashion Police for The Grammy's got me wondering where are all the best dressed authors in the news? I was curious to see how much paparazzi litter I could find floating around the Internet concerning popular authors, so I Googled two big names, J.K. Rowling and Stephen King.

It seems that Ms. Rowling has had her encounters with the paparazzi, but her concern over the years has been directed towards her children, not herself. In August of 2001, Ms. Rowling was outraged at photos of her eight-year-old daughter being taken without her consent on vacation in Mauritius, according to reporter James Morrison of Independent Media.

Here is the complete article:

Then in March of 2008 J.K. Rowling went back to court over a dispute of a photo of her four-year-old son, David. She claimed he was harmed during the taking of the picture and was seeking damages and banning of further publication of the photograph in question, after settling with the newspaper out of court.

You can read the full article here:

According to The Paparazzi Reform Initiative, she won that case in May of 2008.

Apparently, The King of Horror has also had his run-ins with the paparazzi as well. He had this to say in his Entertainment Weekly Interview in 2007 on his own experiences:
Let's get one thing straight, okay? In that strange, vulgar, brightly colored section of the popular culture known as Celebrity World, the paparazzi are the lowest form of human life. I have been touched by them only peripherally, and it's been years since I really engaged their flea-like attention, yet recalling their exuberant shouts — ''Hey, Stephen, look over here! Stephen, just one more! Hey, Stephen, where ya goin'?'' — is still enough to make my skin prickle with shame and fury. The intrusion is part of it, the sense of entitlement is more of it, but the constant bray of your first name is the worst of it. They use your first name the way the cops on The Shield do when they're interviewing child molesters.
My conclusion: The paparazzi do follow big name authors, but I couldn't find any of them on the best or worst dressed lists. Until I hit the bestseller list I'm safe going through a drive thru late at night in my skull and cherry pajamas and I won't be mobbed at the grocery store.

As always, happy writing and happy reading to all!

Monday, March 7, 2011

More on My Snow Faery Short Story

I'm still on vacation in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where there's snow. It reminded me of the snow faery short story I am revising for submissions soon. A sister and brother find a small faery in the snow outside their house. He's been wounded by a cat. The sister, Nell, wants to help him, while her older brother, Natty, wants to hold him hostage until he grants him a pot of gold. Originally, the title of the story was The Snow Faery, but that seemed to lack punch. As the plot progressed, I realized that the snow faery was going to seek revenge for the abuse he suffers at Natty's hands. In order to do that, I had to make him more than just a faery. He had to be the biggest mythological character there is -- Jack Frost. Now the story is titled: Fool's Gold because of Natty's obsession with obtaining riches from the faery. Obviously, he's uneducated about faeries in the story or he would know not to piss them off! Of course, then I wouldn't have a very interesting story, would I? *winks*

I had some time this afternoon to walk around and take some photos outdoors, one of my favorite relaxing hobbies. These photos I snapped reminded me of Jack and the story I am completing, which will be up on Critters for critique as soon I can get it there! I will post when it's up for review and then you can all read my work in progress in its entirety. Here are my photos. Maybe, they'll inspire you to write something. If not, at least they're pretty.

You can read the opening scene from Fool's Gold in my previous blog entry:

As always, happy writing and happy reading to all!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

What Are You Reading Between the Covers? - #10

Well, it's cold in Wisconsin where I am vacationing. Spring has come to Dallas and I am not there to enjoy it, but it's still under the cover book reading weather in Milwaukee. As usual, I raided the local library the day after my flight home to see my folks. I've read three novels on vacation so far, Nightlight, a parody of the Twilight series by The Harvard Lampoon, Dean Koontz's What the Night Knows, and Nightwalker, the first Dark Days novel by Jocelynn Drake.

Nightlight didn't even take me a full day to read. Whether or not you are a fan of the Twilight series, this is a funny parody. (For the record, I am not a fan. I think Bella and Edward are whiny and annoying. Bella is not a strong female character and Edward annoyed me with how indecisive he was about being near Bella or staying away). The parody plays on a lot of the plot from Meyer's work. Belle Goose is the female protagonist. Her klutziness is even more apparent, which is funny, so is her need to cook for her father. She drives a U-Haul she is obsessed with. Her relationship with Edwart is very dramatic and you can't help but snort at the way The Harvard Lampoon pokes fun of Meyer's drawn out love triangle. However, about halfway through the book the humor becomes a bit heavy and the read gets slower. This is not a book I would recommend for anyone looking for a stellar parody, but it is passable.

What the Night Knows by Dean Koontz was a wonderful read. I really enjoyed this one. The two sisters, Naomi and Minnie were my favorite characters. Naomi is the older sister who still believes in fairytales and knights, while Minnie, the younger sister likes to keep her grounded in stark blazing reality. Minnie's personality is essential to the conclusion of the story. The plot centers around a serial killer's ghost coming back to finish the job he started. Not a new idea, but Koontz writes an engaging plot. And who couldn't love the endearing ghost of the family dog, Willard, who tries to warn them of impending doom?After recently losing a pet, this small detail really touched my heart. I recommend this read, if you are a fan of Koontz. It is more like classic Koontz than some of his newer books have been. It was nice to see him back again.

I was skeptical about Nightwalker, mainly because of the cheesy artwork on the cover. It looked like it was going to be the same type of vampire novel I read before, but Drake managed to freshen up the vampire image with her female character, Mira, also a fire starter. And then of course, there's the naturi, which are her version of the fey. Mira is searching for the naturi to stop them from completing a magical rite that would open a mysterious seal and change the world for supernaturals and humans alike. Along the way she meets, Danaus, a hunter, who has some odd powers of his own. We don't learn what he is in the first book, but I have my suspicions he is not fully human. I would recommend this book, if you like Rachel Morgan in Kim Harrison's Hollows series. Mira could match Ivy fang for fang, in my opinion.

As always, happy writing and happy reading to all!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Discussion on My Writing with 83 Year Old Aunt Betty

I am on vacation in Milwaukee, Wisconsin this week visiting the folks. There is still about a foot of snow on the ground while back in Dallas it is in the 70s and I just saw from a Facebook friend's post the trees are starting to bloom. Seems cruel and unfair, doesn't it? However, I did get to visit with my Great Aunt Betty yesterday. Aunt Betty is 83 years old. She's really my dad's first cousin, so technically, she is also my cousin, but out of respect, my parents have me call her aunt. That's fine with me because I can't see calling a relative who's more than 40 years older than me by her first name, anyway. Just wouldn't be right...

Aunt Betty asked me over lunch what I had been doing with myself these days. I told her I was still working on my budding writing career, which had been derailed last year for health reasons, but is up and running again. She wanted me to send her a copy of my book and one of my magazines, which I agreed to do, but with a warning that my work was much creepier than what she was used to reading.

Now here's the thing. I love my Aunt Betty, but Aunt Betty goes to prayer circle every week and is very active in her church. Aunt Betty is your typical sweet lady relative with the mismatched dishes in the kitchen from her grandparents, the white crocheted doilies sitting out around the house, and the Christmas decorations still festive in March. She even has the ancient plant that's been with her for years and years and a binder to keep all her church clippings in. I am thinking she will not appreciate my work, even though I know she is very proud of me, but she insisted I send her my writing. She told me she reads Dean Koontz, for heaven's sakes, so how bad it could be?

I wanted to snort, but that would have been rude. Instead, I responded that I had been told I was creepy and twisted. One reader even told me they wouldn't want to be my husband or boyfriend. She insisted she was proud of me for pursuing my dream and wanted to read my work, anyway.

So now I have to send Aunt Betty a copy of Twisted Tongue magazine from the U.K. with a crazy she-demon illustration on the cover with my story about Persephone, the seductress in daisy dukes and cowboy boots who will eat a man alive. And I have to send her a copy of Deadlines: An Anthology of Horror and Dark Fiction from Comet Press, in which my story features a lesbian kiss and a twisted murder. I am wondering how she is going to handle these tales, but I guess I'll find out the next time I talk to my parents, if they're still talking to me after Aunt Betty reads her mail! *chuckles*

If you'd like to read either of the stories Aunt Betty is going to read, you can find them here:

La Nuit du la Chat Noir

A Taste of Murder

As always, happy writing and happy reading to all!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Interesting Places to Use as Story Settings

Everyone is attempting to save money these days, so here's a great tip. When planning a vacation or an outing, think of places you'd like to write about too. You can have fun while also doing your writing research. Remember to take pics to document your visit. They will come in handy later, when you want to write.

This doesn't mean I always double my entertainment and vacations with writing research, but I always take a ton of pics just in case.

I'm going to share four places I've gone and would like to use as settings for stories in the future.

The first setting is infamous.

The entire town is completely tourist crazy. Every storefront features aliens. Even the local lawyer's office got in on the action.

The streetlamps were even decorated for the alien holiday.

Of course, while I was there I visited the museum and took many pics. (A word for the interested -- the museum is a waste of money, but if you are an alien nut, you still have to go anyway just for the experience). I enjoyed my trip into Oddville and I have an alien Xmas ornament to put on my tree from the experience!

The second trip I want to incorporate in a story is The House on the Rock. Neil Gaiman already incorporated a scene from this house in American Gods, which is a book I highly recommend. This is one of my favorite trips. I've gone three times actually, and plan to go back again. Alex Jordan Jr.'s house is wacky and kooky, inspiring any writer.

Here are a few pics of the oddity that is The House on the Rock. Perhaps, they will inspire you to write as well:

This first sculpture is suspended from the ceiling above the great carousel.

The carousel hosts unconventional mythological creature seats such as these. It's a beautifully creepy and I can see why Neil Gaiman was inspired.

There is a wide variety of odd collections like guns and moving miniatures. Some of the more famous items in the house are the giant whale sculpture and the whimsical mechanical band that plays The Beatle's Octopus's Garden.

The third trip I took that will inspire a story, I am sure, is to Ripley's Wax Museum in Grand Prairie, TX. This museum is amazing and there are so many possibilities for a plot amongst all the famous movie monsters, celebrities, and historical displays. Here are just a few of my favorites:

The museum entrance:

Classic Frankenstein:

Billy the Kid:

And an amusing sign good for a chuckle:

The fourth setting is so inspirational! It's my recent trip to Savannah, Georgia this last December. If you have not been to Savannah and you love reading ghost stories, horror, historical, or gothic novels, then this is the vacation spot for you.

I stayed at the very famously haunted Marshall House, which got my ghostly writer juices flowing. It was nicely decorated for the holidays. All the woodwork is original to the hotel and is gorgeous, by the way.

I spent the weekend visiting with family and walking around downtown Savannah, which has a great atmosphere. It was raining too, which only added to the fun of it. Everywhere you walked was the famous Spanish moss on the live oaks. If that isn't haunting, I don't what is!

All the buildings downtown are kept up historically. The architecture is gorgeous and just gets your writer's imagination going.

We even managed to take in a ghost trolley tour, which was the perfect way to spend a chilly, rainy night on the riverfront and learn more about the history of the city.

There are tons of touristy shops set in  historical buildings that will set your writer's imagination alight, but beware of the treacherous stairways, which I can imagine a villain lurking in on a dark and lonely night.

I also found time to tour one of the historical graveyards in the area, Bonaventure Cemetery. The background was hauntingly seductive, so much so, it's already been featured in famous books like Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt, and in the movie directed by Clint Eastwood.

These are just four of the places I've visited and plan on featuring in my work.

What places have you featured in your writing? Happy travels!

And as always, happy writing and happy reading to all!