Monday, July 29, 2013

Girl Who Wears Many Hats and a #Giveaway

Please welcome Donna Huber today, the author of  Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour. She's here to discuss the roles she fulfills - not many people can juggle so many things at once!

Hi! I'm Donna, but you might know me as Girl Who Reads. I learned a few years ago at a book event that I was better known by my online persona. I created the persona in 2009 when I joined an online story site. Most members of the group were writing their own stories, but I was adamant that I was not Girl Who Writes.

Over the past four years, though, my role as Girl Who Reads has expanded and most days I wear many hats.

Girl Who Pushes Papers - This is my day job. I've been an administrative associate in a research lab at the local university for over 12 years.

Girl Who Promotes - In late 2010, I heard of a group of women from the writing community who were establishing an independent small press to help new authors get published. I had experience with organizing and promoting events from my years of volunteer work. So, I contacted the publisher about helping their authors set up book signings and media coverage. Over the next 14 months, I got a crash course on the publishing industry. And in the process I obtained a new hat.

Girl Who Blogs - While searching for ways to get our books discovered by readers, I discovered the wonderful community of book bloggers. Not only was I responsible for promoting the books published, I also worked with authors to build their brand. I'm an experiential learner. I have to do something on my own in order to teach others. Blogging is an important component of an author's platform. In 2011, I started Girl Who Reads blog to experiment with blogging techniques as well as better understand the book blogging community I wanted to introduce our books to.

Girl Who, um, Writes? - Last year, I joined a group of bloggers and authors who were doing events to promote indie authors. A couple of the authors encouraged me to write a book based on my blog's Tips on Thursday series. I still was not convinced I could do it. I wrote some articles for The Indie Exchange and received a good response. I then submitted an article to my state's writer association's monthly newsletter and it was published. Over Christmas last year, I started compiling my tips posts into a book. But it was overwhelming and I shelved the project. The idea though continued to nag me and I thought about a smaller project.

At the same time I was freelancing with a several authors and many had the same questions about how to best market their books. In May, I found myself with some time on my hands and one weekend I took one of my moreasked-for posts along with a few others, and wrote Secrets to aSuccessful Blog Tour. 

Like most hats, the writing hat will take some time to feel comfortable on my head. But for fans of Girl Who Reads, don't worry - it's my favorite hat.

Find more about Donna and her books:
On Goodreads

Find Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour

And join the Rafflecopter giveaway here:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Beauty of Damaged

In the shower, where I get most of my important thinking done (memo - must get Shower Notes) I started to muse about how beautiful damaged people can be. 

Damage itself is very ugly, and of course I wouldn't wish trauma or sadness on anyone. What some people go through, either as kids or adults, can be terrifying even to contemplate.

However, the pain can be a type of bridge, almost a gift, to lead a personality from a basic, settled view of life to a new set of visions - perhaps that life is incredibly precious. Perhaps the damaged people get, more than anyone, the realization that nothing is more important than the people you love, and from the depths of agony, courage and strength can arise. 

In fiction and in film, I've always been "caught" by certain characters, by what their hideous pasts have done to them. Sometimes the pain makes them badass, sometimes they are in therapy or worse, or trapped in a long spiral down.

Yes, the spiral is fascinating, and I don't say this as a sadist. I repeat - I would never wish trauma on anyone. But to see a character spin out of control - it's a lovely dance...


That's the key. An endless descent becomes a VH1 "Behind the Music" special - you know what's going to happen - wealth, fame, and the onslaught of drink, drugs, insanity.

But if there is the possibility of escaping the spiral - an incredibly difficult act to accomplish, and one I do not take lightly - at that moment, I'm hooked. I love when Butch and Marcellus create their own 'honor among thieves' code of conduct. Ditto the friendship which elevates Andy Dufreyne and 'Red' Redding.

The downward / redemption concept captured me in Wool, in the Sherlock Holmes BBC series, in The Fault in Our Stars. 
Hazel Grace by spockward on deviant art

In the last one, Hazel Grace and Augustus are damaged by a dreadful thing beyond their control - the evil villain known collectively as Cancer. Bring two damaged people together and watch them find beauty and redemption - yeah, I read that book twice. And I'll read it again.

It's what sucked me into Darkness Rising, books 1,2,3 and now 4. It hooked me in The Lord of the Rings - the horrifying darkness surrounding Gollum and how (SPOILER ALERT, AND FOR GOD'S SAKE READ THE BOOKS) he is the key at the end to deliverance.
Son, that downward spiral has just begun.

I don't mean to belittle those who have had perfect lives, happy childhoods, plentiful friends, fantastic careers. If this describes you, receive my congratulations and a hearty handclasp! 

But, as I say, in fiction and in film and also in real life, those damaged people can be very beautiful. Their eyes are hooded with secret knowledge. Complex passageways are carved through their thoughts. They are careful with their own words, so they do not betray themselves.

They are human: scarred, tattooed, wounded.

They are beautiful.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Wishes and Cake

Somehow it's my birthday again, so I'm planning a few festivities:

1. Numero Uno, the purchase and consumption of sushi for dinner, along with frosty beverages, next to my husband on the couch. It's a tradition of sorts.

2. Some private writing time - a luxury for me. My friend is having my kid over to her house, so I get to plot and pants my way through the day.

3. Also going to treat myself to a workout, which sounds like a bummer except - hang on just a minute - at my age, menopause delivers sleepless nights. If I work out, I sleep. It's as simple as that. So, workout and sleep for me! Woo hoo - living the life!

4. A few minutes, meaning an hour or two, dedicated to reading my new drug of choice: Wattpad. I wrote about some cool writers I've found there before, and I've discovered others as well. Expect an update soon.

5. Another new obsession: fanfiction. There are scores of people around the globe creating content to celebrate their favorite movies and characters, and guess what? Some of them can really write well. It's fluffy and fun - perfect for a birthday.

6. It's my birthday, and I'll go to the library if I want to. And I want to.

7. In that vein, I might just troll through Amazon world, because why not? Any good bookk recommendations?

8. And because I'm a book slut, I'm going to hit the book store too. There, I said. Three book stops in one day. Alas, I only have the supermarket-ish, huge chain version of a bookstore, not the local shop with a large black cat in the window, but it will have to do.

9. And, since I'm on a diet and can't eat cake, I'm going to torture myself with food porn:

Friday, July 19, 2013

Garage Sale

Our neighborhood sponsored a block garage sale last weekend, on Saturday - one of the hottest days of the year. My husband and I found out about it on Friday night, which didn't leave much time to prepare, but still - the opportunity to get rid of some of the junk in our basement and attic was too good to pass up.

Like two crazed people, on Saturday morning we dashed around the house, grabbing items in boxes and conferring - "Can I get rid of this?" "Hell yeah you can!"

Both of us had gone through the Clean-Up-After mode when my mom passed away. Boxes, files, drawers, books - so many things to take to Goodwill or just throw out. It was great to reduce our own stockpile of unnecessary crap.

Why did we have three unused TV's? How had we accumulated so many jello molds? And in heaven's name, where had all those stuffed animals come from?
Dude, you missed it!

Meanwhile, as we triumphantly dragged the stuff to the Sell pile, our daughter watched anxiously. At her end of the life spectrum, she wanted to keep everything - not let anything change.

Garage sale people are early people. It was 8:30, and already the cars had begun to troll the streets with rubbernecking passengers looking for the good haul.

Our old bikes sold right away.
So did old video games.
They laughed at our TV collection - my husband ended up giving those away at work.
A surprising number of books sold (I would have paid them to haul them off!)
Old coats - gone.
The bed rails, right out of the package and never used - spurned.
Ditto the jello molds. But I can't really blame the shoppers for that.

While the cars rolled passed, my husband and I ran back and forth, grabbing more stuff. Garage sale fever had gotten into our blood, as the pile of ones in his pocket piled up and the basement emptied out. The kid kept sneaking stuff back into the house, which didn't help, until we had to resort to bribery to be allowed to sell it.
You know you want them.

The rain started, of course. Why would it not? We only had a table full of TV's and books in the front yard. DH flapped a tarp over the junk and continued to sell.

At the end of the day, we were sweatier than we had ever been before. My calf muscles ached. We still had to bring the unsold goods back downstairs. Still, we sold a lot - some of it baby items to a young couple who seemed very happy to get it. And isn't that what it's all about?

However, if anyone wants a set of bedrails and some jello molds - call me.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Great Reads on Wattpad

I've been spending a lot of time on Wattpad. Yes, I write stuff there, but I read a lot too.

The site is not merely a collection of One Direction wish-fulfillment stories - there is some great literature on there.

Literature? Really?
The Fairy-Feller's Master Stroke, by Robert Dadd


Let's start with the Atty Awards for poetry, sponsored by Margaret Attwood. She's the author of The Handmaid's Tale and a terrific poet in her own right.

The winning collection for the 2012 awards is called The Dictator's Guide to Good Housekeeping. Not only is it a terrific title, the poems are mystifying, deadly, insidious ... I read them several times, wondering, "How did she do that?" It's as though @valeriemw (the poet) was able to pull not  rabbits but tigers - heck, an entire zoo of creatures - out of a hat.

In particular, I was caught by Terza Rima, a piece crafted like a delicate Moebius strip. It starts as something simple and becomes a door to a new concept, done so deftly I can't, after several reading, see how. 

Of course, this collection is pretty well known, since it's the award winner and all. However, there are other writers who are relatively undiscovered and just as talented, in their own ways. 

@ScottWhitaker astonishes me afresh with each posting. First: his poems about Adam and Samantha, a pair of beautiful, sociopathic twins. Filled with horror, the language is still gorgeous. He takes me, with everything he posts, to another world - one where a woman tattoos her body with recipes and remedies,  one about breath, bone, and children on a beach ... They deliver the sense of impending action, great change, with goblin sensibility, much like the inexplicable painting called The Fairy-Feller's Master Stroke, by Robert Dadd (above.)

Whenever I see there's a new Scott bit, I trip over myself to read it.

It's no secret I'm really good friends with Krista. We met on a prompt thread and promptly fell into friend love; it doesn't hurt that she's a terrific writer and a painter of ink. One of my favorite pieces by her is Mauve Wings; Gold Fever is put up as prose but to me it reads like poetry.

And the Unfairytale - this golden bubble is just a picture, a skin of joy, that's all.

And there's more, like this short story by @SeeThomasHowl called Dirty Box of Pandora. I started by snickering, and at the end I got blasted out of my seat and across the room by talent, by writerly courage, and a trip I never saw coming. You definitely need to buckle your seatbelt for that wild ride.

@AlexPaul1 makes me laugh, and his series on Stephen Hawking (What if the speech interpreter got it wrong? What if Stephen wasn't talking about time continuums and the nature of mankind, but Indian takeaway and disco music?) deserves a few readings. Each time I go through it I snortle.

But he has a wistful side, too. I love his Aliens collection, where a pair of aliens talk about earthly things like comets and Adolf Hitler from their own perspective.
The Wood Between the Worlds

And his Spirits collection, which addresses living statues and angels among us.

@sageivans nearly frightens me with her intelligence - she's cool, fun, and spins words like a dj throwing down on Io. I keep returning to her Suicide Lane Cafe collection - it's filled with color, as in this piece. 

If you like more realism with a touch of retro perfectly done, try @sloanranger. She has a weekly serial called My Blue Haven uniting small town vision with China. My favorite of hers is Camptown Lady - it encapsulates a time period perfectly, with enough hot sauce to deliver a serious kick.

And there are more - so many more. I think of reading WP works like being in the Wood Between the Worlds place visited by Polly and Digory in The Magician's Nephew - a silent forest filled with puddles of water. The pools look the same, but when you jump in, you are transported to another world.

Wattpad is like that.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Four Paws - An Orangeberry Book Tour

The Quillective Project is an ongoing writing project to help no-kill animal shelters. Their first publication is a collection of poetry called Four Paws, available on Amazon.

Here at Fresh Pot of Tea, we join other bloggers and writers to celebrate this important effort. Check out the rest of the tour here!

The Quillective Project has put out Four Paws, a poetry anthology featuring bestselling authors Scott Morgan, Ben Ditmars, Amber Jerome~Norrgard and Robert Zimmermann, with a "fourward" by Russell Blake.

100% of all proceeds from the sale of Four Paws will benefit The Dallas Humane Society's no-kill shelter, Dog & Kitty City. Your purchase of this book makes a difference.
You can find out more about Quillective on Facebook and Twitter.

Here is one poem from the collection:

And another:

four paws quillective

Sunday, July 14, 2013

New Interview

Hurray, I'm on Lorna Suzuki's blog today, doing a fun interview and chatting about steampunk! Have a look here.

And, if you are looking for more fantasy novels in your life, try a sample of Lorna's Imago novels, available on Amazon here.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Pizza Crust, Natural Cleaners, and What's on Deck

We just returned from a long trip to Ireland (see my write-up here) and I'm just now catching my breath. I won't leave you without a few bonuses, though, at the end of the week:

1. Pizza Crust recipe:

This easy dough can be thrown together in a few minutes. If you like, you can freeze half before rising, or you can make two pizzas and freeze the leftovers for your husband, when he decides to eat a alice at midnight. Or is that just my house?

2 cups warm water (do a wrist test)
1 packet dry yeast
2 Tbls sugar

Mix and let stand 5 minutes. Add:

6 cups flour (King Arthur is good)
2 tsps olive oil
2 tsps salt or to taste

Mix with dough hook on standing mixer. Oil in bowl and allow to rise for 45 minutes in warm, dry spot.

I like to roll out my crust and prebake it for a few minutes to make certain it is cooked all the way through. Carmelized onions make a dandy topping, just sayin'. Plus my kid like a small pizza shaped like a kitty's head - a good way to force tomatoes into the body of a child who refuses all veggies.

2. Natural cleaners:

 Our mom was one of the first organic farmers in Chester County, so we grew up with Amway's LOC as our only cleaner of choice. Now, thank heavens, there are many other natural and organic cleaners available, as well as shampoos and detergents.

However, the organic stuff can get really pricy. I've found there are still some that don't have phosphates but are still super cheap:

Bon Ami - 99 cents for a can of powder, and it cleans a mean toilet bowl. 
Ivory Dish Soap - also doubles as liquid hand soap in an emergency.
Borax - Laundry booster and also a good scrubber.

Why don't the manufacturers slap a photo of a field on these products and charge triple the price? Wait, forget I said that. Nothing to see here... moving along....

3. Coming up on my blog:

A review of Ruby's Fire, the second book in the Fireseed series by Catherine Stine. 

A really cool column on writing about Native Americans, a cooperative effort with Kara Stewart (you can see her stuff here. And she knows what she's talking about.)

A review of Ready Player One.

A column about some of the best authors on Wattpad - they are writing some amazing, new, mind-bending stuff. This isn't your English Lit professor's poetry anymore.

Several book blasts and tours with giveaways.

Yup, it's going to be a great summer!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Climbing the Diamond

From - yes, the beauty is that ridiculous
In Galway last week, we rented a house with two other families for a total of five children. That's five cousins, all together for seven days. For those who did the same thing when they were kids, you know it means magic, no matter what the scenery. Of course it doesn't hurt when there is a secluded beach just across the road, bordered by cliffs, sheep fields, and the Twelve Pins of Connemara.

The kids would have been happy to stay in the house, playing Shop and Newspaper (an electronics-free rule was in effect) but we adults decided to rout them out. We took them on a hike to Cong and Ashford Castle, and anyone who saw The Quiet Man will recognize those areas.

My husband led a trip to a local mine, and we also went to Kylemore Abbey in the rain and mist. How deliciously creepy to come across Margaret Henry's mausoleum hidden among trees loaded with moss and said mist. I felt like I had walked right into a computer game. Who needs electronics???
Kylemore abbey

All this was great fun, but we decided to push the limit and take the youngest kids up the Diamond, a small mountain in the Connemara National Park. To get them up the hill, we did a geocache run.

The Kylemore geocache had let us down; we never found the prize. This was written up in the kids' newspaper under the headline: Geocache Fail.

So we were determined to find the goods on Diamond. We climbed up the mountain (OK, large hill) and did some bog-jumping on the way; when someone near you jumps on the bog, you feel the entire ground move, as though you were standing on a giant sponge, which indeed you are.

As we hit the upper slopes, the wind started up in earnest and nearly blew us off the hill. Thank heavens for my cousin's youngest daughter, who kept us all going upwards with exhortations of "Not much longer now! Getting really close! Can't give up now!" 

LOVE her.

My husband's iPhone (okay, we allowed one electronic item) showed we were close to the prize. The clue was a small white rock embedded in a larger rock. The kids jumped around while I did my mommy "Please don't fall off the mountain" thing.
Diamond Hill

And - they found it - a white rock studded in the center of a large grey one, with a small shelf. The kids pried the rocks at the entrance of the shelf and found the cache.

HURRAY! And there was much whooping and hollering.

On the way down, the sun came out and we passed fields of horses, one with a mare and her foal. The kids picked wildflowers and bog cotton. By this point we were anxious for our tea, so we headed home to our Galway House.
A bit of mist. (author's photo)

Did I mention the view from the peak? We were surrounded by a green velvet counterpane, as well as loughs, waterfalls, bog, and the Atlantic itself. 

However, the best view was the bright faces of the children, calling encouragement to each other as they slipped over the cold stones. I know it's something they will always, always remember.

Honestly, you can't buy that.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Zaremba, by Michelle Granas


In Warsaw, a shy and high-minded polio victim lives a life of seclusion caring for her odd family until a chance encounter plunges her into the intrigues of dirty politics; Zaremba, a wealthy businessman, is about to be arrested on trumped-up charges and only she can save him. Swept along by events, Cordelia finds her feelings increasingly involved with a stranger for whom she is both rescuer and victim. When Zaremba disappears, Cordelia must overcome surveillance, corruption, the media, and mounting humiliations and difficulties to learn the truth. 

Although set in Poland, this is a story that could happen anywhere, as young democracies struggle against the temptations of covert operations and older democracies sometimes lead them astray.


Her father was still fussing angrily as he reached across her to slam open and shut the glove compartment as he tossed in the ticket. The police car had disappeared behind them, leaving them in the dark by the side of the road. Her father threw himself back in his
seat and sat there, his arms dropping from the steering wheel. He made no move to restart the car.
“It’s too bad,” said Cordelia soothingly, “but it can’t be helped now. Let’s go on.”But her father had become curiously silent.
“Tato?” asked Cordelia, suddenly worried. “Are you all right? Tato?”
Her father’s hand had come up to his heart.
“Are you all right?” She asked again urgently.
He turned his head slightly towards her and shook it, ever so
“Your medicine! Where’s your medicine?”
He didn’t answer her, but closed his eyes as she sought quickly and awkwardly through the pockets of his blazer, through the glove compartment. No medicine; he must have forgotten it.
“An ambulance, Cordelia,” her father murmured.
An ambulance? But how would she call one, here on the deserted highway? Oh, a car was coming, its lights cutting the darkness ahead. The driver would have a cell phone – everyone did. She struggled from the car, the beginnings of panic making her more than usually clumsy, and rushed into the middle of the highway, holding up a shaking hand
to the car.
The car slowed, she could see a man and his wife looking her over as the headlights caught her. She was standing in the middle of the lane, waving her crutch. But as the car came to a near standstill and she headed towards the passenger window, the driver suddenly
stepped on the gas again and departed at full speed.
“Stop,” she cried after it “Stop! Stop! Please! We need an ambulance!” But the car didn’t stop. She knew they were afraid of a trap, she knew it was reasonable, and she cursed them from the bottom of her heart, her breath coming in a sob.
What to do now? She looked up and down the highway, but there were no signs of light anywhere – not another car coming or a house light or anything. She turned back to her father.
The door on her father’s side was open and a dark shape was kneeling there; it rose. She stifled a scream. 

You can buy Zaremba on
Amazon,  B&N, and Smashwords.

Ms Granas is running a giveaway :

Prize: 1 paperback copy (open internationally)
Enter the giveaway here:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Michelle Granas was born in Alaska, but currently divides her time between Oregon and Poland. She has degrees in philosophy and comparative literature, but now works s a translator. Over the past dozen years she has translated for many of Poland's major politicians and writers, including short pieces for the Nobel Prize winner Lech Walesa and Nobel Prize nominee Ryszard Kapuscinski.

You can find Michelle on Goodreads here.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Fault in Our Stars

Amsterdam, champagne, poetry, stars - and cancer... 

The Fault in Our Stars grabbed me from the first meeting of the Cancer Kids Support Group, where Hazel is forced to go and interact with other teens who are in varying stages of cancer. Hazel herself breathes with the aid of an oxygen tank, thanks to stage 4 Thyroid cancer. And then there's Augustus Waters - gorgeous, former basketball star, who has one leg but is in remission from osteosarcoma. 

Hazel and Augustus sparkle like stars together immediately. He introduces her to the Max Mayhem series; she shows him her favorite book, An Imperial Affliction. He calls her beautiful. She finds him also beautiful - terrifyingly so. How can she have a relationship if she is terminal? It's bad enough knowing she will break her parents' hearts one day, let alone a boyfriend's. 

However, Augustus is the kind of guy who loves protecting people (maybe because he has so many younger brothers and sisters?) When he plays video games, he loses because he has to rescue the characters. 

I'll interrupt myself here to point out the title comes from my favorite quote from Julius Caesar, when Cassius talks Brutus into murdering Caesar Augustus (Augustus - get it?) :

Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonorable graves.
Men at some time are masters of their fates.
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.

The action moves from Indiana to Amsterdam. Green does a nice job of describing the city through Hazel and Augustus's eyes. They go to a lovely restaurant, Van Houten's house (he's the guy who wrote An Imperial Affliction) and the Anne Frank museum. Oh, and 

... Augustus's hotel room - complete with tubes, oxygen, and a Venn diagram.
(select the white text in the line above to read it.)
Amsterdam, courtesy of

The Fault in Our Stars sucked me right in, but like Hazel's lungs, the book is not perfect. Hazel and Augustus just don't act like teens - she quotes T. S. Eliot, he speaks philosophical wisdom so profound it's difficult to believe it's coming from a human mouth, let alone from a teen dude who was a basketball player. 

I've read a lot of reviews saying the same thing - and yet, here's the deal. Green somehow performed magic and made me care about Hazel and Gus so deeply that I finished the book in  a few days and immediately read it again. It's hard to create that sort of emotional bond between reader and character, so kudos to him for performing it.

The descriptions of cancer are very intense. Green doesn't hold back - no soft, fuzzy "Love Story" haze over the hospital rooms here. No, he details body fluids and puke, as well as heartache. 

It is then Augustus finds there is someone he simply cannot save.

I heartily recommend Fault if you are willing to suspend your disbelief and accept dialogue along the lines of The Breakfast Club - extremely smart and philosophical, but not quite  real : more stage-y than teenage-y. Certainly, the car-egging scene makes up for it, as well as the minor characters: Isaac, Hazel's parents, and Van Houten himself.

I love this tumblr image for the book, found here

This review was a difficult one to write, I found; it would have been easy to trash the characters as idealized versions of kids going through something that really, really sucks. However, there are several things which didn't allow me to do that:

1. My fifteen year old niece loved the book and identified with Hazel and Augustus. Creating that sort of emotional attachment with ink and paper is a very tricky thing and quite an accomplishment. 

2. Green doesn't hold back on teenage anger. I loved that.

3. Did I mention I read this book twice? Flawed as it is, for me this was a portal to a new universe - one with faulty stars, but stars nonetheless.