Friday, August 31, 2012

Blog Flash 2012 - Final thoughts

Here is my final thought - author FAIL. I missed quite a few posts. In my defense, I had some previous commitments to do reviews and such. But still - FAIL.

So, here are the topics I missed, with some thoughts under each:

Different World

There are some books that really bring me into a different place. Fantasies like Harry Potter accomplish this, of course, but it is even more amazing when a realistic book draws me into its little world. For example, Running With Scissors made me feel I lived in that crazy, filthy house with the psychiatrist and his insane family.

A nonfiction piece that pulled me in was Awakenings, by Oliver Sacks. The book became a movie, and it was pretty darn great, but Sacks' clinical imagination is missing. He describes, for example, the wild movements of one patient as being like "Martian cathedrals."

Wild at Heart
Gosh, I'm just so not wild at heart. Some like drama in their lives; I go out of my way to avoid it. For one thing, I'm really bad at drama. Handed a dramatic encounter, I'm certain to make it worse by my conversational flailings. 

No, the lady by the fireplace reading the Oliver Sacks book - that would be me.

What a strange color. It can be absolutely awful, as that dead blue painted in certain train stations and stairwells. It can be vibrant and shimmering, as the color of the ocean in the southern isles. That sparkling light turquoise - relaxing just to think of it, isn't it?

My daughter loves blue. She was never a pink gal. I think it is part of her constant drive to be different. And bless her, that is awesome at age eight.

Blues that I love: the eyes of one of my very best friends in high school, the dark grey-blue of the Irish sea, the greenish blue of turquoise set in heavy silver, blue veins pulsing under milk-white skin.

This was my worst class in high school, and how I regret it now! I WANT to know about the Pelopponesian War, who all the monarchs of England were, the evolution of the Constitution, the opium wars, the Haitian revolution, the rise and fall of the Roman civilization. I need to have a course that gives me an overview of the history of the world, with a fascinating text and an interesting lecturer, please, so I can catch up and be a real person.

Of course I could have accomplished all this in high school, but nooooooo, I was too busy day dreaming. Shame on me.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Masquerade - BlogFlash 2012

Never been to a masquerade, but we used to go to my brother-in-law's Halloween parties every year. This was pre-kid, which meant we actually had time to make costumes. 

One year my boyfriend (now my husband) and I decided to make Potato Head outfits. He would be Mister, and I was Missus.

We began with the actual potato part, which was really easy - just two large beige pieces of felt cut into potato shapes with holes for our heads and hands. Our legs stuck out the bottom.

We decided to make the face pieces removable, so you could actually play with the costumes. So that was the hard part. The nose was the most difficult, and we tackled that first: one styrofoam cone split in half lengthwise was the bridge, and a styro sphere split in half on either side were nostrils. We covered those with skin colored felt and added velcro to the back.

The lips for Missus were more styrofoam. I cut lip shapes out of a styro flat block and covered them with red felt. Mister just needed a mustache, so we glued fun fur to another flat block, cut in half lengthwise. More velcro went on the back.

The eyes were easy - we got four flat ovals and glued on felt shapes, in order: pupils, lids (missus's lids were blue with eyeshadow) and lashes for Missus. Mister needed two smaller versions of his mustache for eyebrows.

Boyfriend cut out ear shapes from another flat styro block and we glued pink felt. Velcro went along the side, and those were the most pain in the butt parts - the ears kept falling off. If I did it again, I'd make the ears flat to the body.

Meanwhile, the opposing strips of Velcro were glued to the felt bodies - the potatoes, as it were. Note how I never picked up a needle during this entire project?

We found two cheapo softie top hats. Missus's was pink; Mister's was black. I cut out holes for our faces and we put them on right over our heads. 

Two pairs of large gardening gloves for our hands and largish shoes, and we were all set. Imagine the joy of all in attendance when they discovered they could PLAY with our costumes.

Damn straight we won the prize. Vive la Masquerade!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Seeing - BlogFlash 2012

I think I was in sixth grade when it suddenly hit me how amazing sight was. I was looking at something very normal, like leaves on a tree, and I thought, "They are green, and the wood is brown. Isn't cool that I can sense that?"

At that point I probably realized I brought the wrong homework or wore two different colored socks. Or whatever. Real life intervened and the wonder of sight drifted away.

Years and years later, I went with my husband to the incredible art museum in Chicago. There was a painting in the Impressionist section of a few boats lying on a pebbly beach near the sea. A few people walked off  in the distance. The sky was a bit dark, and you could just tell a storm was coming.

I don't know why that picture grabbed me so. My husband and friends walked on, and I stayed there, entranced. I could hear the steps of the people as they waked on that stony shore. Their footsteps would crunch on the rocks. There would be a smell of brine and water, and the wind would whip your face with a few drops from the incoming storm.

At that point, sight became more than sight. It was another world.

Sometimes paintings that do that for me. They open a window into an alternate universe and offer something that isn't always pretty - sometimes it is quite ugly - but it is alive. For that moment, it lives, and I experience what the painter saw.

I love that.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

In the Weeds - BlogFlash 2012

The actual prompt is supposed to be In the Woods, but alas, I am definitely in the weeds instead. If any of you ever waited tables, then you know that dreaded feeling.
Yeah, she has no clue if this is what you really ordered.

But if you haven't had the pleasure, here's what being in the weeds is like:

You have everything under control. Orders are placed, drinks are served. Out of the blue, a eight top is seated in your section. The crowd is pushy and demanding - they want drinks, then they change their minds. They send back the bread and demand more. They want their appetizers reheated.

At the same time, the other tables still need their orders and drinks, but now it's all starting to wheel out of control. The cook makes a mistake on one plate and it gets sent back. You spill a drink. One person orders hot tea, requiring milk, cup, that fiddly little tea pot, and the huge chest of tea bags.

At that point, it has happened - you are In the Weeds. 

And I fear that is where I am at present, between blogs and edits and books. Believe me, I'd much rather be in the woods.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Dwight Okita, Murakami, and Jellyfish

This summer I've had the pleasure to read both 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami and The Prospect of My Arrival by Dwight Okita. The books were very different, and yet there was a similarity to their style - a deceptive simplicity, deepening excitement, addictive prose, and a sense of melancholy and wonder throughout.

1Q84 is a doorstop of a book that originally was published in three volumes in Japan. It is perfect for anyone who is looking for a book for autumn, one that will last through quite a few rainy nights. Murakami writes about a woman, Aomame, and a man, Tengo. They go through separate adventures that interact in Murakami's signature mysterious existentialism.

Aomame gets out of a cab one day and climbs down from the highway into a world that has two moons. There she finds that things are a bit off. The world has shifted. In that  new alternate universe, a beautiful young girl called Fuka-Eri writes about Little People. They appear out of a dead goat's mouth and build an Air Chrysalis. There are two moons, and a Town of Cats.

Meanwhile, Tengo is working to polish and publish the manuscript by Fuka-Eri called Air Chrysalis. There are fascinating minor characters, such as the man who leads a powerful cult, a man that Aomame is contracted to kill. There is Ushikawa, the man hired by the cult to find Aomame.  Each of these characters is more than they appear - they unfold, like origami, into balanced people with depth and emotion. 

I am already a huge Murakami fan; Kafka on the Shore is one of my very favorite books. To be able to spend a summer reading a long novel by him was a real gift. And he didn't disappoint - 1Q84 satisfied my delight in urban fantasy, science fiction, action, and wonderful writing.

The Prospect of My Arrival was a different kind of read. It is much shorter, for one thing. I read the book in a few evenings, although in part that was because I simply could not put it down. Okita uses dreamy prose that is reminiscent of Murakami. He pumps up the volume on the science fiction, as the book is about a scientific and moral experiment.

Prospect is a foetus, a baby about to be born. He is given enhanced intelligence and a twenty-year-old body and sent out into the world to see if he wants to be born.

To help him in his decision, he is sent to visit Referrals. The book is the story of those visits on one level, but there is a thread of other plots connecting those stories. There are people who are against the Pre-Born Project and who want to stop it at all costs. There is also a love story between Prospect and Lito, his second referral. Okita manages both deftly, making the first exciting and the second lovely and touching.

I have read some reviews on Amazon about The Prospect of My Arrival that complain about the spare prose. Okita uses short sentences and simple description, but to my mind it is done very artistically. The book is like a Mondrian painting. It seems very straightforward at first glance, but there is a complex structure and design behind the simple sentences. And those short phrases echo the soul of Prospect who is, after all, a foetus. 

In one scene, Prospect meets his mother in the Shedd Aquarium. They talk about his sister, Joyce, in front of one of the tanks of jellyfish. "As they leave this place, jellyfish descend in slow motion like parachutes onto the bright coral reefs below them." This image is echoed in another Referral's home. "Sheer pink curtains flutter from the open windows of the living room. They move like jellyfish in the summer breeze."

The jellyfish encapsulated the book, to my mind. The words move lazily, dreamily, like underwater creatures, and yet they are mesmerizing. The plot and the prose seem so simple, and at the same time they are lovely and complex.

Can you get excited about the story of a foetus who may or may not decide to be born? Oh, yes indeed you can. As I said, I could not put it down, and I had a very sad feeling when the book ended. Luckily, Okita has other books coming out, such as The Hope Store, and I will certainly be purchasing everything by him.

I read Prospect as a Kindle book. Formatting is an art unto itself, and Okita's format is breathtaking. He includes images and chapter headings that make this a joy to read. However, the story was so amazing that I need to get the print version and beg the author to sign it for me. Okita is a name to be watched on the Indie front.

This review also appears on The Dark Side Book Reviews blog.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Cooking - BlogFlash 2012

It is time to dig up the EZ Bake and start cooking by lightbulb again. My daughter loves the miniscule cakes and tiny cookies.

You can find recipes for the EZ Bake on the web. I mean, you can actually cook from scratch by a lightbulb. We've made cheese quesadillas and pizza, as well as Pink Velvet Cake and other desserts with real flour and butter, not mix from a bag.

I'm fascinated with alternate ways to cook food. My husband and I once went to aKorean restaurant. One dish was served in a hat stone bowl; the food continued to cook in the bowl as he ate. He said it was one of his best meals ever.

I found one recipe for Bidimbap, which is stone pot food, courtesy of the Food Network. You can see it here.

Of course, you can always cook a hotdog or make toast by a lamp, but there are cool ways of alternate cooking. There are fire pits for clambakes and huge iron pits for roast pig. 

I want to try them all.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Night - BlogFlash 2012

Night, and the people who prefer the dark come out of hiding. Musicians wake up, stretch, shower, and prepare to go to a gig. Clubbers put  on their glitziest clothes and head to the city. 

Late night workers arrive at their jobs. Cleaners come into buildings deserted hours  ago and get rid of trash, scrub away the filth of the day. They dust shelves, swipe at desks ... maybe they read the note that one worker left by mistake in the corner of her desk. 

Others emerge as well, from hidden corners and secret attics. They climb onto gutters and pipes, steady themselves for a moment, and launch their dark bodies from rooftops.

Perhaps they fly to spy on the Others, the ones who live by day. The dark ones, the night-dwellers, cling to windowsills and peer in at the sleepers. They wonder what the Day People dream about.

Maybe they have a regret or two, or else they accept it as the way things are. The night dwellers watch a bit longer until the Day People stir and turn over. 

At that, the Dark Ones rise, and fly away again, until dawn's streaky bacon chases them back to their hiding holes, their prisons.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Sports - BlogFlash 2012, Day "I'm confused and behind on my posts"

I'm blogging this month with Terri Long and a group of bloggers. 

(Prepare for whining disclaimer here)

I have missed a few days because I am preparing to get THREE books up on Amazon. So, yeah. I'm behind.

And, coincidentally, that's the perfect position for me in a blog about sports. I'm a really bad athlete, so when I was forced to play sports in the past, or when I do athletic stuff now, I'm waaaayyy behind everyone else. 

Fistbump to my readers who picked up on what I just did there.

For example, when I went on my honeymoon my new husband and I met three other couples. We hung out and did couple stuff, like mini golf. And guess who came in dead last in that golf game?

However, when the resort threw a song-writing competition, I was able to contribute. Writing? Lyrics? On a set topic? Yup, I could do that. And win. Ha!

I've been thinking that it would be really cool if there were sports teams for people like me - hopelessly bad athletes who would still like to learn the game. We'd need a patient coach, someone who would teach slow, clueless adults how to play softball and soccer. 

And, coach, it would be sweet if you give us a chance to write about it. We'll rock that part.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Hootsuite and Tweetdeck - Those Damn Birds

Yesterday I read a post from a publishing blogger that I really admire. In her blog, she talked about how tired she was of reading a stream of spam, especially in a place she had created on Twitter for writers to meet and greet and help each other.

She really was upset about tweets sent via TweetDeck and Hootsuite. If you don't know these apps, these are services that let you schedule tweets in advance, for weeks at a time, to go out over the waves.

Writers, myself included, are guilty of sending out loads of prepackaged tweets, hoping to garner new readers with our perfects composed tweets.

Now, this blogger, who I completely admire, said that doing this is like stating, "I am going to send you content, but I don't care what your response is. Because I am not here at this time; a bot is sending out my tweets."

And she's right. If you hop on Twitter, there are tweets after tweets that are nothing by links to where to buy a book.

Does that mean, though, that Tweetdeck is completely useless?

For one thing, the service can help me read my tweets. I can sort incoming messages by subjects I'm interested in (books, publishing, parenthood, steampunk) so I can read what people have to say. 

But I also believe that there is a way to schedule tweets and do so without losing our personalities in the process.

Don't hate me just yet - read on.

First, I schedule tweets for readers who are in different time zones than I am. My tweet to someone in Australia might not get picked up if I send it now, but if I schedule it for 2AM there's a better chance they'll see it. 

Heck, I can contact regular people this way too. They say the best time to send stuff is from 10 pm - 11 pm. Guess what? I'm hormonal - I'm asleep by then. I need to schedule.

HOWEVER, my blogger mentor / muse is right. If I simply schedule spam for those times, then I am guilty of being a bot. 
Don't be that guy.

I think that as I schedule posts, I need to include humanity. Instead of a mere link to my book, I need to have a question or a quote - something that includes my Twitter followers and starts a conversation.

And guess what? If they answer my question, I NEED TO RESPOND.  I must do this to prove that I'm not a bot, to make a friend, to be human, for crying out loud.

As well, I must go and read the main stream on Twitter. I've had a lot of people tell me that they have too many Twitter followers to look at the stream. They only look at the interactions page (tweets specifically directed to them.)

I was doing this for a while too, and while I did so, my head jammed in my inbox, my spammy pigheaded bot self send out tweets to the general public with book links. (Confession is good for the soul.)

Well, if we all did this, no one would read our tweets. We'd all be sending out links and checking our own mail, not heeding what other people were saying to the Twitterverse.

So I decided to jump back into the main stream. Now, I read general tweets again. I laugh at some, retweet others, and guess what? There are some tweets out there from writers that make me buy books.

This said, there are those (such as my wonderful publishing mentor) who have specifically requested not to receive book links on their group hashtags. I must, as a human and not a bot, honor that request and only send out links to those who actually want to see them.

My tweets in the past have garnered me readers. I've had responses of, "Thanks so much for telling me about your book! I'm reading it now."

Still, as I said before, my muse has a great point. I must shed the bot and up my humanity game, if I want to hoot my deck, that is.


I'm blogging with Parvati Tyler from Fighting Monkey Press over the weekend in honor of Community and Eid.

I'm one of those people who adores to be alone. When I have time to sit and write or read on my own, in silence, with a cup of tea by my side, I'm in heaven.

And yet, groups are important too. I have many important communities in my life. Most important in my life: my family. We straggle together and fight together, sometimes we weep and there are loads of laughs as well. My daughter, my husband, and my sister are first in my life, forever more.

I am supremely lucky to have a host of wonderful friends. I've known some of them since I was six. And with these friends, I must add some that I have never met. I correspond daily with writers and readers across the globe, and they are some of the most dear, caring people I know.

The funny thing is, communities can create themselves constantly. When I studied in Valencia, I ended up as part of a group of students. They were a lot of fun, and we hung out constantly. We helped each other out and explored that beautiful city.

It was the same when I stayed in Mexico. I immediately became part of a group of friends who traveled around Cuernavaca with me. We negotiated the Mexican bus system, museums, supermarkets, and it was spontaneous. It was community.

I think that there are groups yet to come into my life. Others will pass out of it. It's like I'm swimming through a series of bubbles, each filled with different communities of people. They greet me as I pass through, and for that one moment, although our names and skins are completely different, we are family.

PS - Don't forget to enter the huge giveaway run by Pavarti and Fighting Monkey Press. You can find the Rafflecopter code below on the right side of this blog. Just scroll to the bottom of the page.

Graveyard - BlogFlash 2012

YESSSSSSS. I've been waiting for this prompt from BlogFlash. Because the books and the furry pets and the creativity are lovely and all, but I'm all about graveyards.

Why? I'm a writer, that's why. Strolling around an old graveyard is like taking a trip through inspiration land. Not only is each headstone a possible story, but the cemeteries themselves are silent, enclosed places. Anything could happen there.

I've always found graveyards to be really peaceful places. There are usually trees and ivy, and you can sit and dream of frightening or wonderful things that happen there.

Obviously, this does not happen in the modern above ground mausoleums. Even the name is awful to me - MAUSOLEUM. They're fine for burial purposes, of course, but for a writer looking for imagination and skeletal hands reaching up out of the earth - not so much.

No, give me the old, crumbling graveyard with cobwebs and dreams. I'll grab my book and sit there instead.

Friday, August 17, 2012

A Different World - BlogFlash 2012, Day 16

In my Junior year in college, I went on a trip to Guatemala. That country, more than any other that I have ever visited, truly was a different world.

Everything was strange, as though we had entered a different dimension. There was a spicy smell in the air. Colors were different - brighter, more lush. The bright statues in the churches, the clothes and the markets, they all struck my vision in a new range that I hadn't experienced before.

Radio was different. The one station seemed to play nothing but political propaganda - military marches continuously interrupted by a commanding voice proclaiming the newest government victory.

The blankets in the bed were damp. My sister and I curled up on top of the bed and wrapped ourselves in the Guatemalan rugs we bought at the market and ignored the gunfire from the streets outside.

Weeks later we heard that fifty indigenous Guatemalans had been beheaded at that same market.

The roads curled up mountainsides, rising higher and higher into the clouds. Our driver drove at speeds that made us gasp, especially when there was a chunk missing from the lane. The road had fallen down the cliff, leaving a huge gap in the road. The driver merely veered into the other lane to avoid it. He turned up the government propaganda, seemingly bored by it all.

We went to visit Mayan ruins. We had to cross a border, and our truck was fumigated there with a large smoke machine. I still have no idea what the purpose was or the content of the foul-smelling smoke. 

In the ruins, we could crawl over the piles of rubble, covered with vines. I descended into the catacombs below one pyramid and hastily withdrew; it was dark as sin. 

That was a strange trip to a strange world. I think I was in the country in a very difficult point in its history. Still, it was like going back in time at least a century, on a strange planet. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Catching up with BlogFlash 2012; days 12 - 15

My goodness, I'm behind. It's a normal thing for me, like when we had to run that mile in track ... back in gym class.... good times.
Ah, the glory and joy of wearing a "Gym Suit"

I missed a few posts of BlogFlash since I had promised Goddess Fish a stop on the Justin Ordenez tour. And I'm glad I did; Sykosa was amazing. You can read more about that here and here.

However, I see that I've missed Day 13 - 15, which have the prompts Forest, Children, and Books.

I'm going to totally cheat here, just like I did in the running of the track back in 11th grade, by combining the three into one post. I've been rereading classics lately (I just finished The Prisoner of Zenda) and these blog prompts made me think of The Children of the New Forest.

This book is the story of the children of Colonel Beverley. During the battle of the Royalists and the Roundheads, everyone thinks they have been killed in a fire. They are not dead, however, and they escape to The New Forest to live there with their former gamekeeper. 

The two boys and two girls have to learn how to live off the land, after being raised in a wealthy household. They begin by being spoilt brats ("boisterous romps") although they are willing enough to learn how to live in the forest. 

There is loads of excitement and adventure, which are my drugs of choice, as the children escape being found by the Roundhead soldiers and grow up in the Forest. 

The book is compelling enough, although it is written in the style of The Swiss Family Robinson : This happened, then this occurred, etc. Character development is a bit rudimentary, and I think the book would make an excellent candidate for a modern rewrite.

Still, if you enjoy reading about hunting and sport, there is loads of that in The Children of the New Forest. The boys learn how to hunt and dress stags, and the girls learn to milk and take care of cows and chickens. 

Drama increases as the plot continues, and the historical background is excellent. I recommend this for anyone who likes to read classics or about survival.

PS - You can read this bad boy for FREE from Project Gutenburg, here, on your Kindle or PC. 

Celebrations and Carrot Soup

For the next few days I'm blogging with Parvati Tyler at Fighting Monkey Press. In celebration of Eid, we are posting blogs to celebrate community.

The first thing to think about at any celebration is food, so I'm giving you my uncle's recipe for amazing carrot soup. And stay tuned at the end - I'll show you how you can personalize the soup to your own tastes.

Carrot Soup

9 medium carrots (organic are best)
5 medium potatoes
1-2 leeks, the white bulb portion only
1 box organic chicken stock

Peel carrots and cut up into inch long pieces. Peel the potatoes and cut into smal cubes. Slice leek into 1/4" slices. 

In a saucepan, melt 1 oz butter. Soften leek in butter for 5 minutes.

Add the other vegetables and let simmer.

Add chicken stock. Bring to boil.

Turn down simmer for about 30 - 40 minutes, until carrots and potatoes are soft. 

Using an immersion blender, puree soup.


You can make this soup your own by adding any of the following:

Fresh dill and sour cream
Curry powder
Crumbled bacon
White pepper and fresh parsley

Don't forget to enter the Rafflecopter, found on the left side of the blog. There are loads of great prizes!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Next Big Thing

I was tagged to do The Next Thing by Coral Russell, the lovely author and blogger at Alchemy of Scrawl. We are doing The Next Best Thing, which is ten question about a WIP.

What is the working title of your book?
The last book in the Crown Phoenix series is called The South Sea Bubble.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I already had my story in place from the previous book, but I started to obsess about bathyspheres and postboxes. I played around with those ideas and came up with the framework for the book.

What genre does your book fall under?

Steampunk, but my books are set in the Edwardian era, not the Victorian age. My stories have loads of adventure and a little bit of romance.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

My beautiful, magical governess, Mana, becomes the Queen of Lampala. Zoe Saldana would be perfect for that role. As for the rest of the cast, I'd love for some unknown young actors to pick up the roles of Miriam, Simon, Lizzie, and Ninna.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Lizzie and Ninna learn how to be nurses in a hospital where mysterious things happen at night.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

My book is published through Myrddin Publishing, an author collective.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I suppose it's a bit like Hugo. My real influence, however, was Enid Blyton. She's dated, especially in her world views, but my goodness that woman could create great adventure stories.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

Enid, as I said. I was also inspired by the music of Angelique Kidjo, a wonderful singer from the country of Benin. In fact, I based the language in the book on some of her lyrics.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Hmmm... if you like antique machines mixed with quantum physics, as well as adventure and Edwardian characters, you might give my series a try. It should be ready to purchase in September.

Now I'm tagging these excellent authors:

Cabin Goddess

I've mentioned Kriss Morton's blog, Cabin Goddess, on here before in connection with foodies, and she does serve up a great array of dishes that you can just happen to cook over a campfire or, say, in a dry cabin in the Alaskan wilderness.

There's a lot more to her than that - she's also a book reviewer and a fantastic writer. Take, for example, this post that she wrote to celebrate seeing a moose with twin baby moose in her driveway. (What do you call baby moose? Meeselets?)

She writes amazing poetry too, such as this one titled A Kiss of Sin. 

Besides all that amazing creativity, she creates beautiful photography and graphics. When anyone in my blogger's group needs a banner or a button, Kriss is right there to help. Ditto if anyone is doing a giveaway or a blog hop - she always jumps right in to help.

I've spoken with Kriss on the phone on the transcountry Alaska - New Jersey line, and she's even better on the waves of aether. She is funny and passionate, and she adores good writing. You have to work to chat with her, though - her mind is so full of ideas and concepts that the conversation is a freewheeling Magical Mystery Ride, zooming from zombies to bacon to The Hairy Eyeball.

Kriss is one hell of a good friend. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Review of Sykosa, by Justin Ordonez

Sykosa is not my kind of book, and Sykosa, the main character, is not my kind of girl. I got sucked in by the title, however, and I'm really glad I went along for that strange, dreamy ride.

Sykosa the character is an Asian-American young woman. She thinks about Prom, about her boyfriend Tom, about Niko (who is Niko3.0 - the new version) her friend.

She doesn't think about what happened to her the year before. It was traumatic, we know that much, and anything that brings her close to remembering it makes her nearly pass out. Ordonez says that we don't know what it is because the characters don't know what happened either.

No, she is not my kind of girl, but it feels fantastic to climb inside the skin of girl who is so different from me. And that is what Ordonez has provided - a sealskin, a different mentality to inhabit during the course of a book that slips and slides and treats the reader to a ride that unfolds like origami.

Each aspect of the book: Prom, the event, Niko3.0, and Sykosa herself, is presented and represented so we get to see them again and again. And yet we never know what they are. The girls, Niko and Sykosa, go shoplifting, they talk about boyfriends and sex, they go to a party - but are they even friends? Niko is now Niko3.0. "And doing this stuff to the Bitches is what Sykosa and Niko did together pre-Tom. They were best friends and they stuck to the group and everything was perfect."

So something has changed, or is in the middle of change, but we can't put our fingers on what it is. Heck, the characters themselves can't say what it is.

Ordonez switches seamlessly between poetic writing and the quasi-sexual obsessions of high-school girls. "The Blackness may not have her today, but she can't deny her Prom dream has affected her." It's as though while creating this character, this girl-suit for us to wear, Ordonez himself has crawled right into the high-school girl psyche to explore it.

Tom himself is a perfect example of the duplicitous nature of the book. He is Sykosa's boyfriend. He is a straightforward young male - he wants sex. Yet, is he her boyfriend? He doesn't talk to her the way he does with Mackenzie, the girl who is his friend. And will he really ask her to Prom? He's a mystery to his own girlfriend.

If you are a bit weary of the stream of self-published 50 Shades wannabe books and are looking for something completely different, I highly recommend Sykosa. Be aware that it is for those who are 18 and older, as the book discusses sex and sexual topics in frank, uncensored language. However, the language and the sex make sense within the theme of the story; therefore, I really enjoyed it, since it wasn't sex for shock value or for titillation.

Did I mention this book costs less than one dollar? All this talent and originality, and it is only 99 cents. Really. You can buy it at the link on the left, or by clicking here.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Sykosa by Justin Ordonez: Social Elements

(I must mention here that the book Sykosa is for those 18 and older. The novel contains explicit sexual content as well as strong language. However, as I read the book I was struck by the beautiful writing and the how the author captured the feelings of a young Asian-American woman who has experienced trauma. I'll be reviewing this book tomorrow.)

Justin will be giving away a fifty dollar gift card to one randomly drawn commenter during the tour, so do leave a comment here. You can also visit the other stops on the tour, seen here (scroll down to see the tour dates, with live links.)

The author has written a very thought-provoking guest post for us here at Fresh Pot of Tea. I hope you enjoy his essay as well as his book.

Social Issues in Sykosa.
In writing Sykosa, I knew I wanted a story that, for lack of a proper way to phrase it, peeled itself like an orange. So that its outside appeared rather ordinary, but upon examination, the reader comes to view the story as being not what s/he first suspected it of being. A review of Sykosa at Libby’s Book Blog, stated it better than I currently am:

I start reading Sykosa, and at first, I just think it's this nice little book about this nice little Japanese-American girl sitting in class at this nice little school thinking about painting her fingernails. Seriously - that is how the book starts,” followed by, “And, then... And, then author Justin Ordonez, starts dropping subtle hints that something is wrong. Something happened to Sykosa - but, what? This book really snuck up on me. Because during the time that I was reading it, I would find myself thinking about it when I was driving or doing other things. I would be mulling it over, trying to put the pieces together.

During Sykosa, we first get the overview of Sykosa, her friends, her parochial school, her parents, her boyfriend Tom, and that they were all involved in a mysterious incident that happened “last year.” As we progress, we come to see that the construction of Sykosa’s world is no incident. It’s been derived by sets of values and the various institutions who propagate those values. In such, the social construct of Sykosa’s life is a driving factor in the novel’s events.
First and foremost is probably race.
Sykosa, by Justin Ordonez
High schools are places of intense racial segregation, and I mean this beyond its obvious manifestations.  Sure, black kids tend to sit with black kids, white kids with white kids, and Asian kids with Asian kids, but the issues of race go far deeper. Legal battles for equal education opportunity in America are part of everyday history classes—from “separate but equal,” to Brown vs Board of Education, to inter-district busing, to white flight, to vouchers, the American education system is a good measure of how racially equal we are as a country. This pertains to Sykosa as she is a Japanese-America women who attends a mostly white school in an affluent part of Washington. At her school, there’re a large amount of white kids, a few packs of Asian kids, and very few black kids. This dynamic has created an unspoken superiority for the white kids. (It’d be hard to create an atmosphere where this wasn’t true—they’re 90+% of the school. It’s almost unnatural for a superiority-complex not to emerge). For years, this balance was uninterrupted, but that changes during Sykosa’s sophomore year when Niko, Sykosa’s best friend, attempts to oust the social establishment, a group of white girls known as the “Bitches.”
I want to avoid spoilers, so the general takeaway is that an undercurrent of racism becomes fueled when Niko and another girl named Donna, leader of the Bitches, being to squabble. It leads to a tragic event endangering Sykosa’s life and leaves her permanently affected. During the tragic event, she was saved from danger by a boy named Tom, and he was physically injured in doing so.
For these part, the novel discusses the mental aspects driving Sykosa over the societal aspects. Sykosa was always sort of a moody, introverted personality, which is not the majority personality for a female, and probably explains why certain women don’t like Sykosa as a person. (Though, it explains how Sykosa and Niko, a type-A dominator, have kept such a close friendship). Yet, while Sykosa’s is not the majority personality type for a woman, hers is not uncommon. Where Sykosa is most conventionally female is how, for most of her life, she has experienced bouts of depression. (Women experience depression 50% more frequently than men, and something like 90% of women experience one long bout of it in their lives). Sykosa’s poor management of her moods and her anxiety transforms into Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) following the events of “last year.” PTSD is characterized by either continually re-imagining the traumatic event or feeling numb to it and, by extension, the totality of life. Either way, the traumatic event is predominate in a victim’s thoughts and actions.
This condition is a source of frustration and shame for Sykosa. Her community, as well her friends and family, wants to move past “last year,” yet she cannot let it go, nor can she stop herself from fearing its second occurrence. In short, she’s lost her trust in the institutions she thought would protect her, and now she is uncertain what to feel or think.
            Sykosa, Part I: Junior Year establishes these two concepts in simultaneity, each working in the background of her life and her decisions. In that way, it’s a very human book. There’re no superheroes to save these characters from themselves. This is because, unfortunately, there’re no innocent characters in Sykosa. Everyone is guilty. That is partially what Libby refers to when she says, “I would be mulling it over, trying to put the pieces together.” In Part I, the reader sees how institutional racism, Niko’s ambition, Sykosa’s mental illness, Tom’s sexism, and the school’s traditional ideology lead to rape, addiction, and assault, yet the reader cannot fully figure out what happened, “last year,” since the characters themselves cannot figure it out. None of the ideological constructs (religious, political or philosophical) are answering the question of “why.” They only offer a refuge, a place to explain away what happened, a mechanism for blame, which allows for the superficial sensation of justice.
For anyone who is interested in these aspects, or you’ve experienced or known someone who suffered of mental illness, Sykosa will probably be a reading experience that rings true. Certainly, for a reader interested in a decisive plot developing alongside the story itself, Sykosa is definitely be a book that meets the mental puzzle you’re seeking out.

Hey! Justin OrdoƱez wrote a book called Sykosa. It’s about a sixteen year old girl who’s trying to reclaim her identity after an act of violence destroys her life and the lives of her friends. You can find out more about Justin at his blog. You can also find Sykosa, the novel, on Amazon. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Celebration: BlogFlash 2012 Day 12

Our house has been doing a lot of celebrating lately. We held our annual swim party last weekend, and Game Night was last night, with a group of dear friends. This means that at the moment, I'm tired, sitting in a kitchen that needs a really good mopping up, and I'm a bit hungover as well.

The year seems to be pinned to the wall by celebratory dates. Everything is going along, normal normality, and then - boom! it's a birthday. Or an anniversary. Or the first leaf fell, whatever. 

That means I need to take a deep breath, clean the house (especially the windowsills, which I just discovered were coated with dust behind the window frames) go to Costco, get out my gladrags, etc. etc.

I complain a great deal throughout this process.

And when the day comes, and the friends arrive, and the conversation and the laughter starts, I get into Celebration Mode and it is all worth it. It's more than worth it - it's that great connection between friends and family a few times a year. After all, no matter how we pray or vote, we all act quite alike when that grill starts to sizzle.