Monday, October 29, 2012

Preparing for Sandy

About this time last year we were getting ready for Halloween when a freak storm piled inches of snow on top of us (it was to be the only snow storm of the year, as it turned out.) Months before that we had endured Hurricane Irene.
Oh, poop.

And now, one day before trick or treating, Hurricane Sandy is bearing down on us, bringing wind and rain in her wake. Sitting here at my kitchen table, I can see plenty of leaves on the sodden ground already. I have the feeling that soon large branches and, perhaps, some trees will join the mix.

We prepared by buying milk and toilet paper, of course, AKA the necessities of life. Also, Spaghettios in cans. Not that we ever ate them before, but they were the closest thing to an MRI in the grocery store. I figure Hubby can punch through the lid with a pen and we can spoon them out with sporks, should the situation grow dire.
Bring. It. On.
There is one thing I forgot to buy, though - enough reading material. I'm coming to the end of 11-22-63 by King (it's excellent) so I really must go shopping. 

I certainly won't be driving anywhere, oh dear no. Instead I'll download some books for my iPad and have them for tonight and tomorrow:

Gone, Girl : Have been meaning to read this one for a while.

Heart Search (It's for those of you who heard all about Fifty Shades and didn't want to go quite that way - a WELL-WRITTEN love story and adventure.)

The Night Circus - Also been meaning to read this one for a long time but haven't had the chance. If I lose social media contact, that's my chance. NICE

The Body Wars - I loved Ednor Scardens, a book about coming-of-age in a Catholic neighborhood in Baltimore, so I can't wait to fire up this baby.

That should get me through the next thirty-six hours; if you don't hear from me tomorrow I'll be breaking into the Halloween candy (since trick-or-treating will, I fear, be a bust) and flipping the virtual pages.

Best of luck to my readers on the East Coast!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Kids' Movies

It's that time again - today I'm going to take my kid to a movie. I always put up a mental struggle in my head when this happens:

Me: OMG. This is going to be really bad. Despicable Me? Are you kidding me? And I have laundry to fold.

(30 minutes into movie) 

Me: Haw, haw, haw. This is pretty funny.

(At end of movie) 

Me: *SNIFF* I can't believe I'm crying at the ending. What an incredible movie!

I went through this with several films. I mean, who cries at the end of Toy Story 3? Any parent who (SPOILER ALERT) has pictured her kid going off to college, that's who.

I've been dragged unwillingly to the following flicks, and I ended up loving all of them:

Shorts: The Adventures of The Wishing Rock - First of all, great title (NOT.) And the trailers looked dumb. But I loved the character called Helvetica Black - wish I had thought of that name - as well as the way the stories were all linked by the wishing rock and the two kids having a staring contest. 

My recommendation: Pretty good, but do look away during the Mucus Monster scene.

Aliens in the Attic: I really protested at this one. First of all, it starred the actress who plays Shar-Pay in HIgh School Musical. Second, the aliens looked cheesy. Ditto special effects. 
See what I mean? Looks worse than Ninja turtles. Good movie, though.

Then Kevin Nealon and Tim Meadows turned on the heat. Meadows, in particular, was charming as a small town policeman who tangles with the kids and the aliens. 

Plus, the concept of being able to control an ex-boyfriend's body with an alien device is just really, really satisfactory. Not only did I enjoy this movie, I dragged my kid back to see it again. 

The Corpse Bride and Coraline: Got on my high horse about these. "This movie is too scary for my kid... blah blah blah..." Yeah, my kid LOVES them. She accepted the concept of the Bride as well as the Other Mother and never had nightmares. Tim Burton rocks. Plus, the music in Coraline is so lovely that I want to get the CD now. 

We ended up buying both DVD's.

Anime: I thought anything anime would be like Pokemon cartoons, with bad dialogue and terrible animation. Boy, was I wrong. When my friend introduced us to Totoro and Kiki's Delivery Service, I fell in love with Miyazake, an affair that lasts to this day. He is probably at his best in those two, but Arietty was amazing, and Spirited Away is one of the most beautifully animated films I've ever seen. Plus, that fantasy concept is breath-taking.

So, I may complain today as we head off to see Hotel Transylvania, but don't pay any attention to me. I'll be the one in the back, laughing and sniffling through the popcorn. Plus, it is a few hours that I get to spend with my daughter. Isn't that really what it is all about?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Fine Hand

Image courtesy of the Queen's Table blog
I am the first to admit that I have horrible handwriting. It's a big old bummer, because to my mind script can be an artform. I love artistic block capitals, copperplate, and calligraphy.

My parents had their own styles of writing. Dad wrote in fine Italics always with a fountain pen. Mum had a fine, British hand. Both reflected them in a way I can't describe - I instantly recall them when I see pages that they wrote by hand.

As a girl, I had a long-standing correspondence with my cousin in Ireland. We wrote long letters to each other. She was very artistic (still is) and had a lovely, sloping hand. I pitied her having to read my crabbed, sloppy script in return.

I always vowed that I would change my writing and make it nicer to look at - or legible at least. Alas, it never happened. Dad gave me a fountain pen and tried to teach me Italics. I understood the dynamics of it and learned the letters and strokes, but the thing was - it was too slow. There were words and phrases pressing to come out, and they couldn't wait for fine flourishes and lovely scrawls.

For that reason, when I attempted to write long works, I never succeeded. The sight of my scribbles on my page took away from what I tried to convey. So when my boyfriend (now my husband) gave me his old Apple IIe computer, it was a revelation.

Finally, I was able to write without worrying about what the words actually looked like on the page. It was as magic as an incantation or a spell.

Perhaps I reflected that subconsciously in my Crown Phoenix series. The Crown Phoenix is, after all, a quantum typewriter that can move time and space.

And in a way, my laptop does move time and space. When I sit down to my story, I am transported to an Edwardian world. I'm in a stone cell with a black-haired orphan, or the garret of a huge, country house, with a boy who cannot leave his room.

I wish I did have beautiful script, especially when I'm signing a book for readers. They deserve the best I have to offer. I don't think it will ever happen. However, that magic, the machine, the Crown PHoenix - for me, that is real.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Halloween Stuff I Love, Sugar-Free Version

I'm all about Halloween. Not obsessively so - I don't decorate the entire house, just plop out the same decorations (wreath kid made with spiders and bats, glowing eyeball lights in the bushes - really) and prod the husband to pick up a huge bag of candy at Costco.

But I do love the month of October. For one thing, the weather is so beautiful. Except for today, of course; the sky is grouchily covered with clouds as if to say, "You writin' about ME?"

And I love the food associated with Halloween and October. Candy of course, but ever since I - I can hardly bear to say it - gave up sugar - that is out for me. No candy corn, no fun size, no pumpkin pie. I can still have pumpkin soup and pumpkin raviolis though, right? Right.

Here is a list of other Halloween and October stuff I love:

1. American Horror Story, season 2 - Season 1 was good, although I was disappointed in the Rubber Man story arc. But Season 2 looks like it could be seriously scary and horrifying, with an asylum, aliens, and nuns. SWEET! I'm not a horror movie fan, by which I mean: I scream like a tween at a 1 Direction concert and head my head and stuff. Still, I love horror books, and this series serves up enough thrills for my wuss self. Plus, I tape it and watch it at noon. Feel free to mock.

2. Retro H'ween stuff:

3. Buying costumes for my kid - Since the catalogues start coming out in August now, that's when Kid and I start shopping around. This year she is a Bride of Frankenstein, a cute, little girl version. I wanted the Eskimo Girl costume, (for her I mean) but maybe next year.

4. Seasonal Microbrews - I don't drink them myself but I vicariously enjoy it when the Husband pops open a spiced ale or an Oktoberfest. It just sounds so autumn-ish.

5. Cool nights - Apparently, along with the switch that turned off my metabolism, my body got kicked into super heat mode. Now I can sleep at night, since the room is chilly and I can snuggle under flannel sheets.

6. Horror books - Yep, I'm a fan. Here are a few I want to read:

7. Writing horror - I have an idea on the back burner that has been itching at me for a while now. I've got a really scary villain and a concept. As soon as I'm done with The South Sea Bubble, I'll let my first draft marinate and write my horror story. YESSSSSS

8. Bonfires.

9. Homemade soup. Chicken noodle, vegetable, carrot, cheese-ale - all good.

10. Beer bread.

11. Honey-Crisp Apples.

See? you can have fun without sugar at Halloween, and even during the entire month of October.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Four Eyes

When I was I was in third grade, I sat at the back of the room. I think it was autumn when I realized I couldn't read what was written on the board. The teacher told us to copy the work, and I had no idea what it was.
Mine were complete with rhinestones. Lovely!

I remember squinting, pulling one eye and the other, trying to make out the meaningless hieroglyphics that were scrawled. I remember the feeling of shame - I was going to fail the lesson, and there was nothing I could do about it.

Perhaps some teachers would have ignored the struggling student in the back. Wonderful Mrs. Laige, however, stepped in and told my mother I needed glasses.

A few days later I was taken to the eye doctor. I chose a horrible pair of pointed plastic frames (this was the sixties, so you can just imagine the horror) and was given my first pair of glasses. Spectacles. Glazing cheats.
You can see the original here at deviant net. This perfectly captures my world before glasses.

The first time I put on my glasses, the world rushed up to smack me with clear focus. I couldn't believe the difference. To go from a fuzzy universe which, as a child, I thought was simply the norm, to crystal clear vision was a revelation. I could read the board. I could see the expressions on other kids' faces as they talked. I was able to go to the movies. 

Those with perfect vision cannot, perhaps, understand that moment. In a split second, I was given a new life. Yes, that sounds melodramatic, and yet - it was true. Not being able to see properly is murder on a very shy young girl.

The third book in my Crown Phoenix series is seen from the perspective of an older girl who goes through the same thing. She is very poor, and her Edwardian world offers no nice Mrs. Laige, no rescue from the shadows that surround her.

To write from Lizzie's perspective was a joyful challenge. She had to guess at what was going on or rely on constant updates from her sister, Ninna. I couldn't cheat and tell what was happening on the other side of the room - Lizzie wasn't able to see it.

When she is finally presented with a pair of eyeglasses - glazing cheats - by a boy called Toby, it is a miracle for her. She can't believe that she is able to see what is an entirely new world. 

I love my shortsighted, bespectacled heroine, and I related to her more than any other character, perhaps because we both went through the same "Passage" - that miraculous journey from fuzzy darkness to clear vision.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Steampunk Version

I read once that steampunk is the future reinventing the past. I am fascinated by the possibilities of steam technology and what can happen in closets under the stairs, in dark studies, underground laboratories, and Victorian train stations. 

Much of our current technology has its "Steamy" counterpart. For example:

Emails - Steampunk replaces them with letters. Extra points if they are in a code or a special ink that self-immolates or grows visible under the light of a certain kind of candle. I picture sealing wax, loads of stamps, a long address written by a rusty nib, and a fat missive within.
The image for this letter comes from a blog about Frank Kingdon-Ward, an explorer and plant collector.  Do check it out - it's fascinating!

Computers - Instead, use a Difference Engine or typewriters. My own preference is the Hansen Writing Ball or the Bar-Lock. Of course I added my own quantum element to the machine to create the Crown Phoenix.
Difference Engine

Lasers - I used pistols instead, but there are many weapons that are far more creative in steampunk novels out there. Rotating shooter cuffs, deadly assault hats, exploding corsets - why not?
Edwardian era pistol

Digital - Replaced with Analog, of course. Numbers rotate on dials instead of flickering on a screen. This requires some investigation into the physics and science behind clockworks, gears, and steam engines.
Electroshock therapy, Edwardian style. SWEET!

TaiKwando or Karate - (or any kind of fighting style) Replaced with Bartitsu, the Victorian counterpart used by Sherlock Holmes and still taught today. I love the movements and names of the various methods, such as "How to Assist a Gentleman Out of the Room." It includes a long study of how to use a cane as a weapon, I believe.

Planes or rockets - Of course airships are the travel method of choice. I would also include steam trains, steam ships, and my new favorite : bathyspheres.
Steampunk bathyspheres. I love these.

All of the above do, as I said, require research and some study. That can be very eye-opening and suggest entirely new plot points or, perhaps, other manuscripts.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Needful Things

I need to have several things in the house when I write:

1. A Fresh Pot of Tea, go figure.

2. Eclectic music. I like to listen to world cafe stuff, as well as classics.

3. Benedict Cumberbatch, in one form or another, as much as possible, please.

4. Books and more books, and while I'm at it may I just mention that I desperately need new bookshelves? Cause I'm in that phase where the volumes are double- and treble stacked. And I don't like it.

5. Pumpkin seeds - A seasonal phase, but a good one. Those things are delicious.

6. Fresh apples - Again, seasonal. Will be replaced by fresh oranges in the winter and peaches in the summer.

7. Comfy socks - I buy white ribbed ones from Target in brushed cotton. 

8, A workout - to keep the old ticker pumping.

9. A really good night's sleep - helped along with milk, calcium, and chamomile.

10. Organic Lavender Spray - for my sheets, to also help along the sometimes elusive good night's sleep. 

There are other things I must have, like my husband's warm bulk next to me or my kid's sleepy head on my shoulder, but those are a given, a part of me, like a limb or a facial feature. All that other stuff I have to go and buy.

If you haven't entered my giveaway for a chance to win a Kindle Fire, steampunk jewelry, Amazon gift cards, and other swag, you may do so here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Girlie Magazines

They used to come from Ireland - Jackies and Mandies, sent to us by our indefatigable grandfather from Sandycove. His gloriously crabbed writing addressed the envelope to my sister and me. He was also not above adding sly commentary on the magazines themselves. One particularly dreadful cover of David Essex, shown swimming with red-rimmed eyes, bore the words, "Old Nyuck."
Sweet shirt, and I just may have rocked this hairdo 

The Mandies were filled with stories of girls who had wonderful talents - they were dancers, singers, actors - and all of them lost their parents and had to go and live with dreadful stepparents who mistreated them shamefully. Or they had a way with animals that defied explanation. And there were the Valda series. Valda was a girl who was very mysterious. She needed light to refresh herself from time to time, and her heartbeat was very, very slow. 

All of the stories were told in beautifully drawn detail. Some of them were silly, but they held us in thrall.

Jackies were another breed altogether. The history of Jackie magazine is funny - it purported to be a cutting edge fashion mag for teens, and for a while it was the rage in the UK. It had posters in the center of every issue, of David Bowie and the Mael Brothers, of Gary Glitter and, yes, David Essex. There were gossip columns about the stars of Poldark and Doctor Who.
The Amazing Valda!!!!!!

It also featured stories done as comics, but they were romance, of course. Some of them were humorous, and some were dolefully sad ("He Left Me for my Best Friend" etc etc)

Later, an editor for Jackie admitted that the magazine was developed and written in  a far corner of England, not on Fleet Street. The issues were mailed to London, to seem more cosmopolitan. 
Stuff like this was always happening to Mandy. She was a crab magnet.

Alas, I suppose hiring artists to illustrate stories became too expensive. The comics were replaced by dreadful Photo Stories, featuring spotty youths which made the whole thing seem a bit ridiculous. Jackie died out soon after that.

My sister still has a huge pile of Mandy annuals that she has promised to lend to my daughter. I only hope she can get the same enjoyment we derived from reading them every week.

If you didn't enter my huge giveaway yet, you can sign up for it here.

Monday, October 15, 2012

My Big Wonderful Blog Tour

Miriam, the heroine of the series. 
It feels like spring outside today, and how fitting that is. My Big Wonderful Blog Tour starts today, and it's kicking off at Book Vacations. (Four stars, yippee!)
Mana, the magic governess.

In order to celebrate the sparkly new release of my books, I am offering a giveaway of some cool stuff, if I do say so myself. You can win a Kindle Fire, big old Amazon gift cards, bling, signed books, and a bag full of swag. Entering is really easy, in the Rafflecopter form at the bottom of the page.

My books are newly edited, with sparkly new covers by my dear friend Lisa Daly and maps (yay, maps!) designed by the very talented writer and cartographer, Ross Kitson. I do hope you will give the books a look, and of course you can always download a sample first from my author page, here.
Barbara, the beautiful villainess.

They are also available on Nook and Smashwords.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, October 12, 2012

Heart Search, by Carlie Cullen

My dear friend Carlie Cullen has published her first book, Heart Search.

I'm featuring an excerpt from it today:

I pulled onto the drive and glanced at the clock on the dashboard before switching off the engine. It was only 5:25pm – I’d made good time getting home for once. I grabbed my bag, climbed out of the car, locking it remotely as I walked to the front door and let myself into the house.
As soon as I crossed the threshold, I knew something was not quite right, but couldn’t think what it could be. I walked into the kitchen, but it was exactly as I’d left it that morning – a mess. I wandered into the lounge and let my eyes drift slowly around the room, searching for anything amiss. I didn’t spot anything at first, but then I noticed the coffee table was out of place. I moved towards it meaning to put it back when I saw a letter addressed to me lying on the surface.
I recognised Josh’s writing on the envelope and a chill shivered down my spine. I reached for it, my hand trembling. I picked it up and managed to extract the contents on the third attempt; I unfolded the sheets and began to read.

            My darling Remy,
It’s hard for me to put into words how disgusted I am with myself right now. When I saw what I’d done to you, I felt so sick inside and I hate myself for it. I really don’t remember doing it, which makes it really weird and scary. I’m obviously not safe to be around, I’m a monster and I can’t risk hurting you like that again, so I have to go away. I don’t want to leave you, but there’s something wrong with me and I couldn’t bear it if I injured you again.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Twitter Party - Millicent Marie Tour

Millicent Marie Tour

Today is the day - the official launch of Millicent Marie is NOT my Name by Karen Pokras Toz! To kick things off you are invited to a Twitter Party. Join award winning children's author Karen Pokras Toz at 10 am, 11, am, and Noon EST and then again at 10 pm, 11 pm, and Midnight EST for 30 minutes of chatting, fun, and prizes.

The easiest way to join the conversation is with Login with your Twitter account, then enter #MillicentMarie to join the room.

The Twitter Party is just the beginning of the fun. Karen will be on tour for the next 21 days. Check out the full schedule here.

Twelve-year-old Millicent Marie does not like her name. After all, she was named for a woman who died more than fifty years ago and was not the most loveable member of the Harris family. Her friends call her Millie, but when she writes in her diary she refers to herself as Amanda – the name she always wished she had.

When Millie’s younger brother finds her diary on her computer, he decides to publish it as a blog for the entire world to see, including the boy Millie has a crush on. In the midst of all the mayhem, Millie/Amanda discovers she is suddenly Springside Elementary’s most sought after sixth-grade mystery gossip and advice columnist.

But not all is fun and games, as Millie quickly learns, once she realizes feelings are at stake. Nobody, least of all Millie, expects things to turn out as they do in this tale of friendship and respect.

Learn more & get your own copy (ebook and paperback):  

About Karen Pokras Toz:
Karen Pokras Toz is a writer, wife and mom. Karen grew up in Connecticut and currently lives outside of Philadelphia with her husband and three children. In June 2011, Karen published her first middle grade children’s novel for 7-12 year olds called Nate Rocks the World, which won First Place for Children’s Chapter Books and the Grand Prize Overall in the 2012 Purple Dragonfly Book Awards, as well as placing first for a Global E-Book Award for Pre-Teen Literature. In 2012, Karen published the second in the Nate Rocks series, Nate Rocks the Boat, followed by middle grade novel, Millicent Marie Is Not My Name. Karen is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI).

Follow the tour on Pinterest and don't forget to check out Millie's blog.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Guilty Pleasure

It's been a bit dreary here, weatherwise, for the past few days. The sound of the wind and rain made me long for a mashed potato book, a book that would comfort my soul and whisk me away.

And so I started in on Friday's Child, a book by Georgette Heyer. I've written about her before, here. 

This was a doubly guilty pleasure because 1) the book is a frilly romance and 2) I was rereading it. Personally, I consider Georgette's books much more than frilly romance, since she had a complete grasp of the Napoleonic wars, 19th century farming, London society, smuggling, and Georgian fashion.

Be that as it may, I was tucked up in bed, giggling away at Hero Wantage and her escapades with Sherry, Gil, and Ferdy. After a particularly loud snort, my husband wandered in. "What are you doing?" he demanded.

"Reading," I replied.

"You already read that book," he pointed out.

"Rereading," I amended.

He shook his head. "I don't get how you can do that."

He's always on me about reading books more than once. We were at the beach, and he asked me, "Are you really reading that Janet Eerie again?" (Reader, it was Jane Eyre.)

Honestly, each time I've read Jane, I find something new. I loved this passage, which I had somehow missed before:
My favorite onscreen adaption.

"I saw that in another moment, and with one impetus of frenzy more, I should be able to do nothing with him. The present--the passing second of time--was all I had in which to control and restrain him: a movement of repulsion, flight, fear, would have sealed my doom,-- and his. But I was not afraid: not in the least. I felt an inward power; a sense of influence, which supported me. The crisis was perilous; but not without its charm: such as the Indian, perhaps, feels when he slips over the rapid in his canoe."

Now, Friday's Child is no Jane Eyre, but the novel was perfect for my mood. So I indulged in that guilty pleasure, a total time waste, a moment of zen, when I slipped away from the world of 2012, hand in hand with some every old companions.

Monday, October 8, 2012


My fruit eating habits are very seasonal. Oranges in the winter, cherries and peaches all summer, and now that  it's fall - it's apple time.

My favorite apples are Honey Crisps. I tried them for the first time last year and cursed all the years I had spent NOT eating these beauties. If I peel one and serve it with sliced cheese - a nice, sharp cheddar, for example - my husband will eat the entire plateful.

My least favorite apple is the Red Delicious variety. It is a beautiful apple to look at. The color is gorgeous, and I love the ones that have tiny "stars" all over them. There's one problem - someone forgot to put in any taste. Plus I always eat the skin on my apples, and the peel on Red Delicious tastes like exploded balloon to me. Except thicker and harder to chow down.
Gorgeous to look at, but - no thanks.

For pies, I prefer the hard types that aren't as sweet. Granny Smiths are an easy choice. I hear Pippins are good too, although I've never had one. (I dream of trying a Cox's Orange Pippin, which I hear are spectacular.)

I'm not above having a caramel apple if it's homemade, although I'm on a diet now so I suppose I can't do that. They are delicious in salads as well, green and chicken, and a pork roast isn't complete without some apples on the side, IMO.

My daughter has been bugging me to go apple picking for a while now, so today we are  going to venture out and give it a try. I see that it is cold and cloudy - a perfect fall day for picking apples. Afterwards some of us can have mulled cider and apple donuts. (Not  me - diet, etc.)

Did I mention that I love Bulmer's hard cider to wash down a hearty meal of roast chicken? Because I do.
Or with brown bread? Yup, that works too.

But my favorite way to have apples is the time-honored way - held in the hand, unpeeled, as I take a big, crunchy, juicy bite. There's nothing better than that.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Friday, October 5, 2012


Every year, around this time, the spiders come out of the woodwork or the webs, whatever it is. The babies hatch and scuttle around the steps and hidden corners. Momma arrives too, and as for Dad - I suppose he has already been eaten.

During my lifetime I have cultivated a tolerance of spiders. I know on some commonsense level that spiders are good things to have around. They destroy the bugs I seriously hate, such as mosquitos and ticks. 

Although, I did find a butterfly and a ladybug in one web the other day - not cool.

Still, last night, when the LARGEST, FASTEST SPIDER IN THE WORLD emerged from some dark spot and ran across my kitchen floor ... well, let's just say there may have been shrieks, and leaps, and bashings of brooms. 

I don't like it when they have what my mother used to describe as "muscles," see. A Daddy Long Legs is tolerable, but a tarantula? There are glutes involved there. No thank you oh so very much.

It all makes me think of an October morning, one year ago. I was out on the front lawn with the neighbors and my daughter, waiting for the bus. One of the kids pointed up and said, "Hey, cool Halloween decoration!"

I looked up and saw - now, I live in a tall house, and the thing was just under the roof - the living grandmother of all spiders ever born. This thing was huge. And it had a huge home. I'm talking handspan here.

Shall I bump it up another level? Brace yourselves - it also had and egg sac. Nay, TWO egg sacs.
You're still awesome, though, Charlotte.

Suddenly I received a vision: of hundreds of spiders just like that one, crawling all over the grounds. And in the house. 

Did I say crawling? Allow me to self-edit. They would have been pounding around. There would have been audible footsteps involved. 

So just maybe I cried, and perhaps I forced my husband up the long ladder to get Mrs. Arachnid and her young and fling them far, far away.

Yes, I can put up with spiders. I will capture most with a cup and a flat sheet of paper and release them out into the wild. However, I won't do that with the muscular ones that took steroids. No, sirree.

(BTW, I just read a fantastic blogpost from my friend, Johanna Garth, here. If you are a writer you can't miss this one.

Thursday, October 4, 2012


Recently I did my first flash fiction for Lascaux Flash. It was a lot of fun, and I got to read some amazing stories. 

The cool thing with flash fiction is the constraints - you are given a tiny time period and, in this case, only 250 words to create a story. That is really hard to do. If you have an extra hour, why not give it a try? It is a great writing exercise, and you'll find that it is very challenging to create something that is so short and yet still tells a story.

We were given a visual prompt, which you can see here. I immediately thought of mirrors, and I had an idea knocking about in the back of my mind already. Once I saw the prompt, I couldn't wait to get started.

Here is my attempt, for what it is worth,and I must caution you that it is for the 18+ age group.


I felt Snow’s breath on my neck after class. “Prince is mine,” she breathed. “Watch your ass.” I turned to say something, but she was already in motion, followed by her fangirls. Or boys - it was hard to tell.

Apples. I had to research apples for a science project. Besides, the library would be a safe place. AC splintered on my cheeks as I sat at a table and opened a book.

Apple trees take five years to produce their first fruit.

Another breath on my neck, but it was warm and male. “Hey,” Prince said. I concentrated on the page in front of me as he sat in the chair across from me.

The science of apple-growing is called pomology.

His foot nudged mine. I closed my notebook. Prince looked up and started to say something. I ignored him.

There was a bathroom in the far corner of the library. The air was even colder in there. I entered the last stall, opened my purse, and took it out. The mirror.

Apples belong to the rose family.

The baggie was small and half-filled with a white powder. I cut out two lines, rolled up a twenty, and snorted.

My own face looked back at me, dusted with snow. “Get rid of her,” the girl in the mirror whispered.

The rush hit me, and I dropped the mirror on the floor. Dark blood streaked down my skin when the silver glass shattered. Red on white. Snow.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Age of Miracles

I read Karen Thompson Walker's book, The Age of Miracles, while I was away on vacation last week. Once I started reading, it was really hard to stop. I love apocalyptic books, and this one is so grounded in reality - sixth grade reality - that it makes the horror of what is happening much more compelling. 

Julia is eleven, an age that is puts her between two worlds - childhood and adolescence. She worries about her friendships, longs after Seth, a boy at the bustop, and is tortured by a bully. These very real fears and longings are played against the backdrop of a world that has started to unwind. For some reason, Earth's rotation begins to slow down, so that nights gain thirty minutes and days last for forty hours. 

There are many reactions: some people are convinced that it is the end of the world and gather in religious sects, such as Julia's best friend, Hanna. Others insist on following "clock time" - getting up in the dark, sticking to a 24 hour schedule. Another sect wants to follow new time - staying in during the dark, waking at the strange new dawn. The two groups clash, as humans always seem to do, and one is driven off to the desert to live their new schedule.

The birds begin to die. Crops fail. The sun burns with a new intensity.

And Julia is changed by all of this, but her changing relationships matter more. Her parents begin to grow distant to each other. Hanna moves away with her family. And her proximity to Seth becomes more intense - in many different ways.
Image courtesy of Housatonic Museum of Art

Walker writes with a slow style that mirrors the new revolutions of the planet. Don't think that means that there is any lack of excitement, however. I was sucked in from the start, wanting to find out more about Seth and what would happen to Julia. 

She also continually surprised me, with new concepts and ways of describing unimaginable events. For example:

Later, I would come to think of those first days as the time when we learned as a species that we had worried over the wrong things; the hole in the ozone layer, the melting of the ice caps, West Nile and the swine flu and killer bees. But I guess it never is what you worry over that comes to pass in the end. The real catastrophes are always different - unimagined, unprepared for, unknown.

And, on the micro scale of the revolutions within Julia's emotions, Walker is just as powerful:

"It's not fair to your mom," he aid. "I hate things that aren't fair."
I nodded. "Me, too."
We said nothing else, but the secret buzzed between us. It felt good to have told. It felt good to be known by this boy. 

I loved the story on both levels: the story of a young girl, and the sci fi nature of the background. I highly recommend this book.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Blah Cycle

Here's what happens: you are moving along, doing things the way they should be done (like blogging) when all of a sudden life demands that you not blog (or other stuff) for a while.

So, fine. Except, when you have to get back to it (or, as in this case, when I have to get back to it) you discover that you're in the Blah Cycle. 

Because, how do you come crawling back? How do you admit, "Yeah, I'm a loser. It's just as I thought - and all my past accomplishments have been washed away by a week of sins."

So you put it off for another day. Which only makes the Blah Cycle stronger and more vicious, do you see.

As I come crawling back to my blog, covered in sin and abject shame for not posting for over a week, I am trying to come up with ways to break the Blah Cycle:

1. I could remind myself that I owe my readers something much better and that I have to - HAVE TO - get out of the doldrums. That seems to make the Blah Cycle stronger, though.

2. I can hide all my other stuff to do, like laundry and dishes and reading one last post on Facebook.

3. I can promise myself wine or chocolate if I post today.

Hey! That one worked!

I'll be back tomorrow with a review of The Age of Miracles, a book I finished at 2 AM during Blah Cycle week. And do stick around - I have a HUGE giveaway planned for October and November. We're talking signed print copies and bling and Kindles.  Yupper!

Free steampunk bling will break the Blahs anyday.