Monday, February 27, 2012

The Persistent Voice

I have three hours of Zumba today. I have to lug kids everywhere, shake, shake, shake all over the place to earn my income, dash to the store, do dishes, cook, tend to the house, get papers signed and faxed, and the list goes on.

Why am I still happy? Why do I have a cheesy grin on my face here, at the very start of the day, when no item has yet been crossed off? Because I also have a book waiting for me, the end of a novel I've been happily editing, a few good ideas to flesh it out, to make the climax nail-biting.

And I know, once I'm showered, once I've cleaned and fed everybody, that I'm sitting down here, at my beloved Mac, and working on it. That is the most beautiful thought I can imagine at this point.

More about that later. For now, it's off to make the kids' lunches!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Camera is On

The tape is running
Twenty-four hours a day
Watching people
Cheat and

It's "reality TV"
They say
But don't these people
See the cameras?
Do they act differently
Because producers are eyeing every move?
Are they worse than they portray?
Is this all an act?

It's easy to forget
Easy to act in ways that, if we were watching,
We would horrify ourselves.
Words we say in anger
Shoves, sneers, insults, gossip
Petty problems we blow up
Into mountains

But we have our own cameras
The eyes of others
Our family
Our children
The mirror
Who do we want to see when we play that tape over?
A beast?
A sponge?
An emotional wreck?

That is the choice:
Live with purpose
Or waffle and whine?
Use time
Or waste it?
Add to the lives of others
Or create only pain?

You may think no one's watching,
But your portrait is created step by step
Your scars formed choice by choice
And the final picture is all your own.

So that you don't regret.

Monday, February 20, 2012

New YA Novel--Awakenings

Here's a special treat, an interview with fellow author and newly published Mabel Cowie. Her first book in a new series, Awakenings, is available through Amazon. It takes place in her native Scotland, where she grew up wandering among the hills. She even spent time where some of the Harry Potter series was filmed--you know that hill down to Hagrid's hut? She's been there. So cool. To get her book, click on the cover page of it, below.
Product Details

Your novel Awakenings, the first in a series, is set in Scotland, where you grew up. What is it about this setting that you most wished to convey to readers? 

Scotland is a captivatingly beautiful place, with inspiration around every corner.  It would be difficult as a writer or artist not to have your creativity piqued.Hidden around every nook, cranny and bend there is some ancient ruin or old castle just waiting to be explored. It’s also a country steeped in folklore, mystery and the supernatural, all of which I could use to draw readers in.

The setting for Awakenings is a small rural glen on the west coast of Scotland. I tried to create an idyllic village nestled in the glen, almost hidden from the world. A great many small Scottish villages are still like this, where everyone knows each other by their first name and lives a quiet, ‘tomorrow will do’ lifestyle. Growing up in Scotland, that part of my culture was one of the things I cherished the most. I wanted to get across the appeal of a laid back attitude combined with the unspoiled and timeless countryside. These things seem to be slowly fading from my country.

My dad was an amateur historian and would take us off on adventures all the time, searching the ruins of places like Skara Brae. He once took us to Dunvegan castle on the island of Skye, where we spent hours (and I first saw the Fairy Flag of the McLeods, which is in the book). There was a portrait on the wall from the 16th century and it really resembled me; it alarmed me a bit, to be honest. Dad took this opportunity to start his own story about the picture, adding a few hauntings here and there. I tried to contain my anxiety but was glad when we got out of the castle. Of course, he had bought a book from the castle with that portrait in it and started reading it at night in the caravan. I didn’t sleep for three nights. My childhood was great.

The loss of history is certainly one element I can see working in your novel, and your father's storytelling is another. What do you hope to do to readers with your own storytelling? Who do you envision your readers to be, and what do you hope they come away with when the book (series) is finished?

Of course, I want to provide an escape from our own reality, which we all need at times.  I’ve also developed a diversity of characters that I hope the readers can identify with. For example, Isla is a young ward in the laird’s care. I thought her bubbly personality would appeal to the tween girls that I originally wrote the books for, but I’m finding that a great deal of adult women are also enjoying Isla, and the entire story.

Developing the characters over the course of the trilogy is something that I really enjoy, and I love the progressive discovery for both myself and the character. I would hope that the reader becomes attached to these characters and cares about what happens to them. For Arran in particular, the process of finding out who she is and becoming all she was created for is a journey filled with adventure and risk, love and friendship.

One of the things that’s disappointed me in recent novels written for young teenagers is that they seem to have a great deal of sexual content.  I wanted to write something that was both clean and fun, that they can identify with and enjoy, without being bombarded with what our current society sees as acceptable.  I want them to look inside themselves and find the strengths and qualities that they have to offer the world.
The novel is a story all in itself, of course, but many of its mysteries remain unanswered in the first installment (as they should be to keep the drama going). Since this is the first book in a series, how many books to you intend for the entire series? Can you give us some hints as to how each book will build upon the last (without spoiling anything)?

There will definitely be three books, possibly four, depending on how much my wonderful editor excises from the third book J  The mystery certainly deepens; it isn’t as simple as it appears in Book One. There are new creatures introduced, including the comical wood nebs and the more threatening ater, who are mentioned at the very end of Book One and become a real menace to the lives of those in Ormiscaig.
I personally enjoy reading books where the main character doesn’t seem wimpy, vulnerable, or frankly pathetic. So, I intentionally created a strong heroine in Arran, who gains a greater depth of understanding regarding who she is and of her role in both worlds. Arran has a clear sense of self, and never loses sight of her background, which also keeps her both teachable and grounded. I’ve always felt in writing this story that young readers need a heroine they can identify with, that also has traits that their parents wouldn’t mind them trying to emulate.
I’ve also tried to take the reader to different parts of Scotland, as well as integrate more folklore and history. We get to see these scenes largely through the kings, some of whom have the ability to move through time. Finally, readers of Book One were introduced to a potential villain. For those of you who crave a good, complex villain, you will not be disappointed with the next two parts.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Take a Chance--and WIN Death by Chocolate!

Ahhh, Valentine's Day, the one day a year we think about love. Or about not having it. Or about how we hate Valentine's Day.

I understand, I really do. Love is hard. It's work, and it often doesn't work out. I've been really lucky, though. Twenty-two years ago (sheesh, but I'm old), the hubby and I had just started dating (Jan. 19th was our first day, if you remember, the Eve of St. Agnes). Nearly a month later, we were going to a party together at a friend's house, and I spent a panicked week trying to figure out what to give him.

Flowers? I didn't know at that point that he liked flowers. Chocolates? What kind of chocolates did he prefer? I didn't know him well enough to know that, either. A stuffed animal? Surely not. (I was totally right about this one--stuffed animals are totally not his thing).

So I gave him the only gift I could think of: a poem. Yup, I less than a month after we'd started dating, I wrote him a love sonnet. And not just any old sonnet. A sonnet that said I wanted to grow old with him, spend the rest of my life with him. You know the kind--the stalking sonnet that would scare any sane guy away in a heartbeat (or a quick read-thru, anyway).

I wrote it on parchment, using my calligraphy pens, rolled it up and tied it with a red ribbon. And, yes, I gave it to him.

"Woah!" you might exclaim, "and he married you?" Yup. He thought the poem was fantastic, and he showed it to everybody at the party. And some people were actually jealous. Nobody ran away. Pretty weird, huh? And AWESOME, too!

Now, before you say, with that sarcasm in your voice, "Oh, sure, we're just supposed to take that chance--but what if we get hurt?" don't think for a moment that I don't know the risk I took. In fact, before there was the hubby, I wrote several sonnets--more tentative ones, mind you--to another guy at college. Yup, that's right. This was already my MO.

That interaction didn't go so well. In December, the guy wrote me a nice card saying he was flattered by the poems, and he wished me the best, but please don't write again. I was crushed, but I respected his request and didn't write another poem for him. I took the chance, and I failed at it.

But so what? Love doesn't always work out. But I still have those sonnets--all of them--the ones I wrote the first guy, the MANY sonnets I wrote to the hubby. And, even better, I have the hubby. And it all started with that little Valentine's Day love sonnet, which he still keeps framed right next to his bed after 22 years.

So, in honor of Valentine's Day, I'm giving away a copy of the anthology Death by Chocolate, which contains 6 stories of love and chocolate, along with a box of chocolates for your enjoyment. You need to live in the U.S., since I don't want to pay through the nose to send this little package out (sorry!).

To enter, all you have to do is chime in below, telling me your own thoughts on love and taking chances. I'll draw a name out of a hat and announce the winner by FRIDAY (so comment before then!). Also, today I'm posting in THREE other places as part of the Death by Chocolate blog tour, and each post is different, so check 'em all out:

All three give you another opportunity to win the book (and some chocolates), so feel free to comment everywhere, including at my post on today's Death by Chocolate blog. Remember to comment for your chance to win! And happy Valentine's Day!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Move On

Do memories crowd out
Childhood angst and pain
Make growth impossible?

Move on

The past can't stick to you
Unless you glue it on yourself
And we do
Shading every sunrise
With ugly colors
Unrighted wrongs

Move on

There's nothing wrong with pain
Without it you're a paper person
Lost to color and shape
And depth and feeling
But when you suck on pain like a pacifier
It doesn't feed you
Just leaves a germy rubber taste
In your mouth

Spit it out
Move on

Real life is hope
Thoughtful action
Moving forward
Letting go

Don't be static, a statistic, a rock holding back the current
Flow with it, like a fish
Move on.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Great Review for Our Anthology

Hurray! Yesterday was the first day of our blog tour for the newly released Death by Chocolate anthology, and we've already received a VERY positive review! Gothic Angel Book Reviews blog even reviewed each story one by one, and she liked them all. Pretty sweet.

And here's another review, posted by Jo Cattell this morning on Dreams are What Make Writing Happen.

We're touring through a whole bunch of blogs over the next few weeks. Here's the schedule if you'd like to tour along with us. The book is now available all over, including right HERE.

Now that this is under way, I need to get working on my novel revision!

Monday, February 6, 2012

E-Readers: What Do You Think?

I'm way behind the times, I know. For years and years I've been a book addict. Not just a reading addict, but a touch-the-pages-smell-the-binding sort of book addict. Nothing smells as good to me as fresh book.

I've hit a wall, though. I've encountered several books I would love to read, but they are only in e-book format. I'm considering asking for a reader for my birthday, but I have heard bad things about Kindle, and I've been told it matters a LOT what reader I choose to get. I want one that will pretty much read anything--I don't want to find out after I've bought the stupid thing that it only reads SOME books--and I want one that is easy to manipulate and read. Can I read it in the sunshine? Do I have to be in a darkened room? How heavy is it?

I know already that a bunch of you have these tools at your disposal. What do you like? What do you hate? What are the limitations of e-book readers? Any info would be welcome!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Good and the Bad--Reviews for the Week

From Blah to Awe
    I've been reading quite a lot lately, with decidedly mixed results. I read Jenna Lucado     Bishop's book From Blah to Awe most recently, and it has made me decide that perhaps reading nonfiction about Christianity isn't the best use of my time. This book, provided free to me by Thomas Nelson publishers, is meant for teenage girls, so I have to qualify my review with the surprising news that I'm far from a teenager. That said, I'm also a writer for YA and middle grade novels, so I do actually know a thing or two about teens and their responsiveness to writing. 

I can tell what Bishop is trying to do in this book. She is writing to teens who find their regular practice of religion tiresome, or boring, or not so applicable to their lives. It's a common problem, too. Apathy grows as a person ages, and church attendance drops a TON in college. Bishop's aim is to help teen girls find a path through this time, one that will keep them involved in spiritual pursuits. It's a fine goal, but I was utterly disappointed in how it was handled. Bishop's tone is intended to be conversational, to reach girls in ways that adult books can't, but it fails to do so. I actually found many passages and their tone both demeaning to girls and even offensive to myself. The tone might actually lead girls to reject the ideas altogether. Furthermore, her "solutions" are nothing but the typical advice: read the bible more, pray more, and consider constantly how much of a sinner you are. I cannot see this advice working for most teenage girls, especially those who are troubled by their lack of spiritual motivation. I'm not sure the advice works well for adults, and teens are simply not the same. My daughter is eleven, and I cannot fathom placing this book in her hands were she to express any issue with church or prayer or her belief in God. I simply can't recommend this book at all.

Social_Studies_Old.jpg (39633 bytes)

Another book I read recently is Nurture Shock: New Thinking about Children, and I devoured every word of it. If you are a parent, be prepared for your assumptions about parenting and the effects on your children to be significantly challenged. Do you tell your child how smart she is? I wouldn't. Think your kids don't ever lie to you? Think again. Hate it when they argue with you? You should appreciate that they do. I'm forever interested in parenting theory, and this book was fascinating and extremely well documented and researched. 

Believe it or not, I actually prefer fiction to nonfiction. So I've been digging into a few of those books, too. Again, I had one loser and one winner. First, the loser. Okay, so that isn't really fair. I bought Kneebone Boy through Scholastic, along with a bunch of other YA books (which I have yet to get to). 

Front Cover
I can't honestly call it a "loser," for the narrator in this book is one of the most entertaining and delightful ones I've encountered in quite some time, right up there with J. M. Barrie (of Peter Pan) and Lemony Snicket. Very funny, with tiny interjections and sidebars that made me giggle all the way through. 

No, my beef with this book was the total vacuousness of the plot. Sure, stuff happened, and I'd give more detail if I didn't think it would spoil your surprise when you actually do read it. But when the book finished, I looked over all that had happened and felt let down. None of it really meant anything, and it was made complicated, not by real drama, but by misunderstandings and deception, rather in the way the old "Three's Company" show used to work. Nothing was actually wrong, but everyone would run around for half an hour because they thought something was wrong. 

But that just wasn't good enough for me. 

My last review is of a better book, but I can't exactly call it a "winner," since it had issues as well. I'd been recommended to read the Charlie Bone series for quite some time, and I finally picked up a copy of the first book in the series, Midnight for Charlie Bone. I'd post the cover, but it wasn't anything special. The story, on the surface, was a bit too close to Harry Potter, and I'm guessing the author was a bit influenced by Rowling's series because this one was published several years into the Potter series. That's the main reason it doesn't get my whole-hearted seal of approval. Still, I found the reading much more entertaining than I'd expected, and I love that so much of the conflict is created from Charlie's own family members. Reminds me of my own family! In the end, though, I wished Charlie had been a bit less foolish, a bit stronger, and a bit more... well... heroic or something. I liked other characters more than the main one, and I'm not sure how well that will do in future books. Still, I'm willing to try. 

Last but not least, I really loved the movie The Woman in Black. So right down my alley for good suspense, creepiness, etc. Beautifully filmed--only the last shots left something to be desired... And I can't wait for Hunger Games, for that series of books was one of the best I've read in the last few years. 

What about you? Good reads? Not so good ones? Anything I might like to read?