Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Between the Covers - Book Review #11

Four new picks for you this week: Charles de Lint's Onion Girl, Deborah Blake's Circle, Coven, and Grove, Phil Rickman's The Bones of Avalon, and Terry Pratchett's Snuff.

1) The Onion Girl by Charles de Lint is my new favorite Newford novel, even though it's an older one. de Lint does a remarkable job explaining the origins of the character, Jilly Coppercorn, the beloved fae artist of his fictional town. As usual, de Lint blends world mythology into a modern tale seamlessly. I personally related to Jilly as the proverbial onion girl, as I am sure all of us can. We have all overcome painful obstacles throughout our lives. And it is how we deal with those challenges that shape our hearts and souls. Jilly Coppercorn has a beautiful soul, as do all her friends that live in Newford. If you love art, the fae, and a tale from the heart, this one is for you.

2) Circle, Coven, and Grove by Deborah Blake is the first coven witchcraft book I have read. Her book is written in a conversational and entertaining style, which makes learning fun. And surprisingly, all of the rituals and work included in each chapter are easily adapted to solitary witches' needs as well. The book follows a year of rituals, discusses circle etiquette, how to set up a group of your own, and also includes a very comprehensive suggested reading list worth checking out. This book is recommended for any witch or those looking for a good research book on the subject of witchcraft.

3) The Bones of Avalon is the first Phil Rickman I have read and it did not disappoint. I love a good Elizabethan book and this murder mystery was well researched. In 1560, Queen Elizabeth commissions Dr. John Dee to return King Arthur's bones to England. But upon arrival in the legendary town of Glastonbury, Dr. John Dee becomes entwined in a plot of murder, intrigue, legend, and romance. And is someone out to kill the queen? Do not miss this one!

4) Terry Pratchett's Snuff is a solid entry in the Discworld series, but not his funniest. I loved that the book paralleled the issues of slavery and the treatment of goblins. And of course, who doesn't enjoy a good Commander Vimes solved murder, but I felt that the last four chapters could have been cut without the plot suffering. However, I enjoyed learning more about goblin culture and all the fascinating poo references were very entertaining. If you love Discworld, then you will like this book, but don't make it your first introduction into the series. It will be disappointing, otherwise.

Happy reading, folks!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Between the Covers - Book Review #10

Two new picks for you, Lena Coakley's Witchlanders and Ellen Dugan's Natural Witchery: Intuitive, Personal & Practical Magick.
1) Lena Coakley's Witchlanders is a great YA novel that kept my interest. Set in a wonderful fantasy where witches and Baen live in a divided land seeded with hatred after the last war, in which the witches won and forced the Baen to the wastelands and poverty, one young man, Ryder, must face his mother's coven heritage and set out to save his family and their way of life from destruction. The characters are wonderfully developed and the plot has a few twists and turns you won't expect. I will be reading more from this author.

2) Ellen Dugan's Natural Witchery fell a little flat for me, compared to her other books on witchcraft. This book focuses on honing in on your psychic gifts in coordination with the practice of magic. It is written in her pleasant, conversational tone and includes information such as how to incorporate your personal power into your own spells and enchantments, the psychic phases of the moon, and how to identify what psychic powers you possess. This book just didn't hold my interest as much. She included her usual amount of spellwork and background information, which was useful, but I felt this topic didn't really warrant an entire book. Though, I am still a fan of her work and recommend her other titles.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

How to Be A Writer by Author Terri Morgan

Terri Morgan is a freelance journalist who's work has appeared in dozens of different magazines and newspapers. She is the author of four sports biographies for young adults, and the co-author of two others. She is the co-author of two books on photography: Photography, Take Your Best Shot and Capturing Childhood Memories, The Complete Photography Guide for Parents. Playing the Genetic Lottery is her first novel. She lives in Soquel, California.
As an avid reader, and a person who is fortunate enough to live in a book-loving community with bookstores that regularly host writer talks, I know a lot about the kinds of questions readers ask. I've been thinking about that recently, as I hope to start giving book talks myself once my novel, which I self published as an e-book in November, is out in paperback later this spring.

One of the first questions to come up is one that I've been asked numerous times during my 30-plus year career as a freelance non-fiction writer. People want to know if a writer has a particular schedule or routine. Over the years I've come to realize that while people are asking if a writer, say, gets up every morning at 5, brews a big pot of coffee, and is at their desk at 6 and toils faithfully away in longhand in black ink on legal pads until noon, they really want to know something else. I suspect they're looking for the secret formula that turns everyday people into authors.

I was guilty of the same thing in my teens. I thought writers needed a special gift that enabled them to turn ordinary words into magical prose that captured a reader's imagination. I used to wonder, when I was scribbling out my early attempts at fiction, how I could find that magic myself by emulating the writing schedule and habits of a famous author. I discovered, much to my surprise, that there is no magic bullet. To quote the Nike slogan all one needs is to Just Do It.

To become a writer, all one has to do is write. That's it. There's no secret, there's no short cut, there's no magic. All it takes is time, energy and a willingness to put words on paper, and the perseverance to keep writing and honing your skills. Does this mean I think writing is easy? No. Writing, especially writing well is hard work. It takes time and a lot of effort. And it takes a lot of thought. Think about what you want to write, whether it's a diary entry, a love letter, an angry retort to a newspaper article, a magazine piece, a bulletin for your bird watchers club newsletter, or a novel. Then start putting your thoughts onto paper. A good grasp of grammar and spelling is helpful, but those skills can be taught. A love of language is certainly helpful, so is a love of reading. I couldn't imagine ever becoming a writer if I hadn't been addicted to reading from an early age. Other than that, the only other criteria is a desire to communicate your thoughts via the written word. Once you've captured the essence on paper you can edit your work and polish your prose if necessary.

As for myself, no, I don't have a writing schedule. Most of my work for magazines, newspapers and businesses is deadline driven. I've found the pressure of an upcoming deadline is a good incentive to turn on the computer and start producing. For projects that don't have a deadline, like my novel, I work on them when time allows. I wrote Playing the Genetic Lottery while caring for my husband during his 18 months of life. When Gary was napping, and I wasn't driving him to and from doctor's appointments, medical tests or visiting him during hospital stays; I turned on my computer and wrote. When he woke up, and needed me, I printed out the day's work and turned off the computer. Somehow, even without a schedule or special work habits; I managed to write a book. If I can do it, so can anyone else who wants to share their thoughts, stories or imagination with others.   

Monday, March 5, 2012

Monday Musings # 11 - What Character is This?

While in Gun Barrel, Steve Anderson gifted us with his artwork. This piece will soon be framed and hanging proudly in my collection at home. It's rare that Steve gives any of his artwork away and my husband and I were pleased to get an original.

Art tells a story when I look at it. This pencil drawing immediately conjured up a complete character for me. The image is so striking; I thought it might inspire you to write as well. So I'm asking for you to share a character profile. Who is this crazy man in the sketch? I'd love to hear from you on here.

Here's my profile in stream of consciousness unedited:

Faralel is The Keeper of the Snowflakes. He lives in the far north in the Caves of Montralla where no human sets foot, cursed to live as a nomad until his true love comes calling. After living alone for a decade, he's not used to hearing his own voice. His ears have become attuned to the subtle intonations of melting icicles as spring approaches. He wears the mother crystal used to create all snowflakes. It hangs around his neck, a tiny snowflake pressed into a dried brown leaf preserved in clear resin that hangs on a cold, silver chain. Not having much use for appearances, Faralel is a practical elderly curmudgeon. He collects scraps of cloth discarded by pilgrims on their soul-searching journeys into the mountains and sews them together with great white rabbit sinew scavenged from his meals. At night, he plays the tunes of the mountain folk on a small rabbit bone whistle beside his fire. On one particularly cold eve, an injured and frightened young maiden stumbles into his dwelling, drawn by the smell of roasting rabbit, the light of the fire, and a faint jolly jig. His life will never be the same again.

And what will you write, demon hunter? Share with me!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Serial Sunday, The Telling Place, Part II.

Read Part I.

Ms. Sinclair sensed Logan’s fears quivering in his stomach like green jelly. She pushed past the grinning, goofy image of the idiot dog not even fit to carry fleas and searched deeper into Logan’s mind. She saw a blue painted room with plaid clad bunk beds and a spaceship nightlight. Her tongue flicked over her lips and her fingertips itched with anticipation as she honed in on a secondhand desk strewn with tubes of colored paint, model glue, and assorted paintbrushes held in an old Jiffy peanut butter jar.

She grasped her bird whistle until Logan saw her knuckles turn gray and he closed his eyes, trying to hold onto Shep’s face. He wanted so bad to pull his hand away from hers, but something primordial told him it was better to remain still, not to wake whatever beast lay slumbering behind Ms. Sinclair’s eyes if he wanted to be eating mom’s meatloaf for dinner that night. Logan concentrated on fluffy garlic mashed potatoes and meatloaf while Ms. Sinclair talked. Her hand felt oddly uncorpselike, which puzzled him. Maybe, it was just nerves last time, as mom said.

Ms. Sinclair stroked the whistle, feeling the warm bone stir beneath her fingertips. She peered closer at the modeling table in Logan’s room. “Now, Logan, you know that you need good grades to get a good job someday, right?”


She saw a tiny zombie miniature on the table, its face drawn back in snarled agony, a miniscule dagger in its fist. She smiled. “And you know you have to obey your parents and that your mom wants you to get good grades, right?"


Ms. Sinclair focused on the graveyard model displayed on the desk, the undead locked in limbs with the living, creeping, sneaking from clawed graves, shuffling out of the rusty cemetery gate, staggering around toppled gravestones, their lips pulled back in menacing howls, blood feast in their eyes. And she stroked her whistle. “Then you’ll work harder to better at your homework, right? To do your homework before your models?”

“Yes.” Logan felt something viscous and slippery crawling up his arm into his mouth, probing with its wet tongue. He spat and opened his eyes, startled. Yanking away his hand, he noticed nothing was there, but tasted vile brine in his mouth. “Sorry.” He wiped the palms of his hands on the front of his Star Wars shirt. “I thought a bug flew into my mouth.” He blushed, realizing how foolish he sounded with the window closed.

“That’s quite alright, Logan.” Ms. Sinclair glanced out the window. “Your mother’s back.”

The red door opened and Logan heard the faint tinkle of the ice cream truck outside.


“Yes.” He hugged his mom.

“Did everything go okay, Ms. Sinclair?”

“Yes, it did. I’ll see you at the same time next week.”

“Thank you, Ms. Sinclair.” Mrs. Martin winked at her.

“Goodbye, Logan.”


Ms. Sinclair waited until their tomato red Toyota Camry turned the corner on Wabash at the light before she raised her whistle to her lips.

* * *

Mrs. Hammond, I assure you that hypnotism is a widely accepted form of therapy proven to show significant results almost overnight.” Clarice smiled at young Johnny who sat on the floor repeatedly crashing two Hot Wheels® on the braided rug.

“You’re going to die in a fiery pit of burning hell,” the eight year old screamed. “Burn, burn, and die!”
“See what I mean, Ms. Sinclair? It’s just not normal, the aggression he displays. And the fighting with his sister at home has escalated.” Mrs. Hammond rubbed her weary face. “I just don’t know what to do any more. And I’m working such long hours at the hospital now that I can’t even begin to think of putting him in an afterschool program with his behavior like this.”

“I’m sure I’ll be able to help you out, Mrs. Hammond. It’s a good idea you brought him in. If you’ll give me a half hour alone with Johnny, I promise you’ll see results before his next session.”

“Fine.” Mrs. Hammond was almost out the door already, needing no prodding to escape for a half hour from her son.

“Mrs. Hammond, if you don’t mind my asking, where did you hear about my services,” Clarice stopped her in the vestibule.  

“From Logan’s mother.”

“Oh.” Ms. Sinclair smiled. “Enjoy your time alone, now. Most mothers do.” She winked.

As Ms. Sinclair closed the door, Mrs. Hammond thought she saw the old woman’s small bird talisman squirm against her purple blouse. But no, it couldn’t have been. It was just her imagination.

“In a pit of fiery burning hell!”

“Yes, Johnny, some day we will all die in a fiery pit of burning hell. But in the mean time, why don’t you come over here and talk to me for a minute.” Clarice stared at the black boy on the rug, following his gaze to a brightly painted wooden chest on the opposite wall. Well, if he won’t listen to me, we’ll just get his attention, won’t we? The little maggot. Clarice glowered as her feeble fingers stroked the bone bird whistle hanging from her waddled neck.

Johnny sat mesmerized by the chest, his arms poised over the rug with his cars suspended in mid-cataclysmic crash. The chest boasted a jungle scene carved in base relief and painted in electric blues, hot magentas, neon greens, and psychedelic yellows. Lions, giraffes, moneys, and parrots and long serpents capered and danced with the dark African figures under leafy umbrella palms. The greens were so lush Johnny could almost drink the sweet, cool water from their stems. As he reveled in the details of the scene, the silhouetted figures began to shiver and quake as one tall, lean man raised a machete and decapitated a giraffe. Its shiny yellow wooden body ran bright red with rivulets of blood. Johnny hurried away from the gruesome pandemonium scene as animals fled shrieking and squealing into the jungle. He clambered for the warm safety of the couch by Ms. Sinclair’s rocking chair and wrapped the granny square afghan around his quivering shoulders, hiding his blue “The Dog Ate My Homework shirt”. 

“You w-wanted to talk to me, Ms. Sinclair?” Why couldn’t Johnny see her pupils? It almost seemed she didn’t have any. Strange, like a witch. He shivered, pulling the afghan tighter around his body.

“Yes, I wanted to talk with you, Johnny. Just a friendly talk. Nothing bad. Give me your hand,” Ms. Sinclair beckoned, sliding her rocking chair closer to the couch.

Johnny knew that voice. It was the lying voice, the kind of voice Dr. Martin used when he told him the shot wouldn’t hurt much or the voice his sister used when she promised to take him to the park if he left her alone for awhile and then didn’t. It was a dark, bruised voice, the lying voice. Johnny didn’t want to disappoint his mother again. He really didn’t, so he gave Ms. Sinclair his left hand, palm up, and squeezed his tongue tight against the roof of his mouth to keep from screaming.    

“Close your eyes, Johnny.”

He closed his eyes.

Clarice put her bird whistle to her wizened lips and blew once. A piercing squawk hurt his ears. He winced. “Tell me about your sister, Johnny.”

Johnny’s voice hung wasp nest thin on the air, his eyelids fluttering like insect wings. “I don’t like her. She threatens to cut the heads off my G.I. Joes and steals my candy. And she tells on me and gives me purple nurples and stuff."

“I see.” As Clarice held the boy’s soft, clammy hand, she saw a long-legged girl with a slender coltish neck and a delicious mischievous grin. “Is that why you beat her up?”

“No,” he blurted. “She beats me up first.”

“I see. And how does that make you feel?"


“Keep talking.” Clarice pressed deeper into the boy’s nubile consciousness, searching, searching for … Ah yes, there it was. She wet her lips and stroked her bird talisman. It grew hot and malleable like the boy’s hand.

When Johnny was younger, two, maybe three, his mother had read him the story, Three Billy Goats Gruff. The long rickety bridge they had to cross didn’t frighten him and the troll with the nasty eyes didn’t frighten him, but for some reason he did not like the goats, even though they were the heroes of the story. Goats were vile and dirty. They stank at the petting zoo. They ate your nametags and slobbered slimy spit in your hand, leaving you all germy, while flies buzzed around them to bite their smelly legs. At night he’d gone to sleep and the goats plagued him with their malodorous odor and their red eyes like glowing pinpoints in the dark as they bared their brown stained teeth, their hooves tapping with anticipation. Click, click, click … Why was he thinking about this now?

The boy was strong -- almost too strong. He knew something was wrong. Clarice saw it written in his scrunched up face, his mouth tinier than a shriveled raisin. She tasted his fear in the air, alkaline and slippery. Continuing to stroke her bird whistle, she whispered, “Johnny, do you remember the goats?”

“Y-yes.” His grip on her hand could have crushed a drinking glass.

“When I say ‘hippopotamus’ and tell you to open your eyes you won’t remember me asking that question.”

“’Kay.” His lids fluttered and stilled. Johnny thought of the ballerina elephants in Fantasia now. It must be the mention of hippos. He grinned.

“Hippopotamus. Open your eyes, Johnny.” Clarice startled as her office door opened. Mrs. Hammond had a bag of Einstein Bros® bagels in her hand.

“Hi, Johnny. Did you have a good talk?”
“Y-yes, mom.” He really couldn’t remember. That was odd. He remembered something about a hippo or a dancing elephant. His tongue felt swollen and his head felt thick like he’d been sleeping.

“Well, Johnny, you’d best get out of here and make the most of what’s left of the daylight while you can. It’ll be dark before you know it.” Ms. Sinclair grinned.


“Johnny, why don’t you wait for me in the car? We’ll go get a Happy Meal after I finish talking with Ms. Sinclair.”

She waited until he safely rounded the corner. “Anything I should know about?”

End of Part Two

Saturday, March 3, 2012

A Writer's Day Off - Photo Essay

On Thursday, my husband and I took the '66 mustang on the road to Gun Barrel, Texas to visit our friends, Steve and Paul. (The proverbial foot shot on the dashboard has been a standing inside joke for the past two years. It seems I have a habit of doing this without realizing it. LOL) Steve and Paul own a beautiful country property, complete with a goose pond and an artist studio. Steve is an artist and a magician. He and Paul collect an eclectic mixture of antiques and art, create their own pieces, garden, and rescue an assortment of wild and domestic animals on their property. You never know what you will find waiting for you at Steve Anderson's house. With my new camera in hand and hobbling around the property, I managed to score a few pics, though not as many as I, the crazy photo nut, you have come to know and love, would normally. Here's what I saw on my day off.