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Sunday, 22 December 2013

What I Know For Sure About Christmas

As inconvenient, messy, and high-maintenance as they are, real Christmas trees are cheaper, cooler and better than good fakes. Except silver tinsel trees from the fifties. Those rock.
Kids are great tree decorators. Even with the glass ornaments. Especially when they create vignettes, like the Star Wars scene and Toy Soldier corner.
And they have much more patience with glitter than their fathers.
Tree decorating is best done with wine, no matter what time of day it is.
Traditions matter.
Even the ones they've outgrown.
And naps are never overrated.
Activity advent calendars are a great idea until they become work for the mom.
And that kind of planning is always work.
Organic pastry flour makes terrible spritz cookies.
Whole milk and real butter are the only options.
And bacon. But not for the cookies.
Perfect cookies are not worth the disappointment of boys who didn't get to operate the cookie press.
Another batch of cookies will always be worth it.
Glitter is forever.
Homemade presents are always better than store-bought. Made by a child is best of all.
Even with glitter.
It's ten times more satisfying to find the perfect gift for someone else than to receive one.
And ridiculously satisfying to wrap it beautifully.
A first tooth lost while eating a candy cane on the last day of school before Christmas break is the best kind.
Tooth fairies know this and save two-dollar bills for those occasions.
Elves on the Shelves are not cute bringers of swag on the days leading up to the big haul. They're evil little spies and should have the dogs set on them for their skulking, destructive ways.
Because seriously? They're elves. Minions. Tricksters and troublemakers all.
And who in their right mind has time to plan their shennanigans?
ABC Family is a great default channel in December. At least until 8pm.
Donnor was mean. The other Reindeer were bullies. And I always though Hermey the wanna-be dentist pulled the Abominable Snowman's teeth to make him gentle. But no, toothless bumble was kept in chains and paraded through the north pole like a madman on display.
Sometimes it's hard to keep the magic.
But if we don't, how can we keep it alive for anyone else?
Because the key to Christmas is magic.
And glitter.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Book Crack

Sounds vaguely nasty, doesn't it? Book crack.

In my world, the meaning is clear. It's the book I open when I've finished reading to the boys, the lights in their room are off, their voices are down to a whisper and the odd giggle, and I've turned off the heat and crawled under the covers to read (I've developed climate control stinginess as I've become my father). But that's not the crack part. Because the crack on the chin from the iPad when I fall asleep does not book crack make. No, it's the butt crack of dawn that shines through the window when I finally turn off the kindle (really, the facial bruises from the iPad suck) and debate getting up to write, or snuggling down for an hour, maybe two if I'm lucky and don't have something to shower for that morning.

Because it's always with a frown at my own self-indulgence, and a smile of satisfaction at the experience of reading a GREAT story that defines true book crack.

And of course, book crack must be shared. Like any good book junky knows, some of the best friends you'll ever make read the same books you do. And the even best friends are the ones whose book crack recommendations you take without question. Linked me to a book? Yep, bought it. Thank you.

I am very lucky to count extremely discerning readers among my friends. And as such, I constantly seek to step up my own game and find that book that impresses the hell out of them. Gives them a sleepless night, or keeps them holed up in their hotel room on vacation. And even better if it's a genre they haven't read before, or never really took seriously as an option for them.

And my go-to list for book addicts isn't messing around:

The best fantasy novel (first in a trilogy) I've ever read. And I read a lot of fantasy in college. Patrick Rothfuss is a ridiculously gifted storyteller with a wit and way with language that makes readers swoon.

“Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.”  - Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind

Technically, this book is science fiction. But I don't read science fiction, I read about great characters doing extraordinary things. Despite the 6-year-old hero, the book was written 25 years ago for adults, and remains brilliantly timely and incredibly entertaining. One of my all-time favorites.

“I think it's impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves.” 
 Orson Scott Card, Ender's Game

You'll always find this book in the romance section, and I believe there should be a shelf just for historical fantasy. Diana Gabaldon is a consummate researcher and the world of time travel and Scotland she created is vivid and utterly real.

“There are things that I canna tell you, at least not yet. And I'll ask nothing of ye that ye canna give me. But what I would ask of ye---when you do tell me something, let it be the truth. And I'll promise ye the same. We have nothing now between us, save---respect, perhaps. And I think that respect has maybe room for secrets, but not for lies. Do ye agree?” 
 Diana Gabaldon, Outlander

Because everyone should read this series, and then read it out loud to their children. And because...magic.

“It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.” 
 J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Because laughing out loud at 2am in a silent room is the best way to read. This first book of a brilliant series defies categorization: Romance? Mystery? Paranormal?


“I stood and walked around the desk so I could stand over him. Menacingly. Like Darth Vader, only with better lung capacity.” 
 Darynda Jones, First Grave on the Right

Because romance is best served funny, and because real life is well-served with generous dollops of laughter and truth.

“There are only 10 types of people in the world. Those who understand binary, and those who don't.” 
 Penny Reid, Neanderthal Seeks Human: A Smart Romance

Laini Taylor writes like an artist with an imagination that creates a world of vivid new colors, and a smart and lovely wit and makes a reader fall in love.

“It is a condition of monsters that they do not perceive themselves as such. The dragon, you know, hunkered in the village devouring maidens, heard the townsfolk cry 'Monster!' and looked behind him.” 
 Laini Taylor, Daughter of Smoke & Bone

A lovely beginning to a fantasy series appropriate for all ages. It's a favorite read-out-loud book, and drew an audience on the beach in Mexico last time I read it.

“All I wanted to do was lie in the dry grass with my feet in a ditch forever. I could be a convenient sort of milemarker, I thought. Get to the thief and you know you're halfway to Methana.” 
 Megan Whalen Turner, The Thief

My list of book crack continues on indefinitely. So, please, don't frown at the self-indulgence of your own book crack, just smile at the lovely experience of having read until dawn, and then share those titles with me!

Monday, 18 November 2013

Happy Book Birthday!

*A picture of my wedding cake - the best cake EVER!
Marking Time is one year old this month, and to celebrate its book birthday, I'm giving it away.

Yep. Free.

Well, the digital version anyway. Here's the link for Marking Time on Amazon, but it's also free at Barnes and Noble, Kobo and iTunes.

Last year I made big promises of a November release for book two in the Immortal Descendants series: Tempting Fate. Sadly, I may have overstated my rule-of-thumb that all other books can't take longer than a year.

(Sigh) Let's face it, I lied.

I'm not proud of that. It's been the big pink elephant in the room for a couple of months now, staring at me, laughing its pink elephant know, through it's nose.

So in the interest of wresting control of my floorspace away from Pink, possibly regaining a little of my ability to look readers in the eye when they ask about the second book, I'm tossing a couple of details from Tempting Fate into the winds to see if they catch anyone's eye as they float past.

1. I'm currently in London, ostensibly homeschooling my kids for a month while we spend time with my husband as he works here. Really, I'm inventing excuses to drag said kids all over the city so I can research locations for Tempting Fate.

2. There's an amazing exhibit about Queen Elizabeth 1 at the National Portrait Gallery. Just saying.

3. I LOVE the history of the Tower of London. A castle, a prison, a fortress, and a royal residence with a history of secrets, tunnels, torture, death, dismemberment and very famous prisoners - Ahhhh!

4. Ringo is an excellent thief.

I'm not going to promise a new release date for Tempting Fate because that would be, well...tempting fate. I live too much in fear of the sophomore slump, the first-book fluke, or whatever it is that makes readers say "Oh, that author had an okay first book, but, you know, that one took years to write. After that...(shakes head), well, you know."

I'm writing as fast as I can, I promise.

And I'm really having fun with this story. Saira's voice is alive and kicking (in my head, of course - anything else would be just weird) and all the characters continue to surprise me with the things they do (did you know Adam gets really sick when he travels through spirals? I mean like really, don't-try-this-at-home sick).

In the meantime, I've raised my glass to Marking Time and made it free to celebrate its first year of publication. May it enjoy a long life making readers as happy as it's made me.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Book Club Magic

I accidentally, on purpose, became a member of an online book club. The on-purpose part was because I actually did request to join the group of now twenty women in a closed facebook club called "Hopeless Romantics." The accidental part was that it's romance. I don't read romance. Oh wait (looks through kindle list and gasps), maybe I do. Somehow, in the last year of inhaling books, I've become a romance reader.

It still baffles me that I read a genre I've always slightly winced at. Believe me, there's still plenty to wince at, but I've also stumbled across wonderful writers with funny, real, genuine voices who write truths in their stories and create lives and loves that give readers the warm fuzzies for days.

This book club was started by just such a writer. So I joined, and the facebook-chat conversations we've had for the past month have made me giggle, nod, laugh out loud, and smirk in ways that have my boys raising eyebrows and shaking their heads. It's like having an instant group of friends I know almost nothing about. But Penny is tall and funny and snarky and smart and much nicer than me. And Shirra is a fan of all the best geekery, and her politics closely resemble mine. And Silvia makes me laugh and wince with her tweets of the most cringeworthy lines in whatever book has most recently displeased her. And then Dawn, with the Texas drawl you can hear through facebook, slides in with the sweetest zinger you ever did hear. I love these women. I look forward to catching two or three of them on-line and getting engaged in the most random conversations about Tom Hiddleston's dancing and the meanings of pen names.

But then there are the books. The first one was chosen at random off a list of recommendations by romance readers. I read it in about three days. It took me that long because I had to keep putting it down before I accidentally threw my kindle in disgust. But I powered through, because as Dawn said so nicely in her Texas voice, I didn't want to flunk my first book club assignment.

It seems I'm not the only one who didn't care for the book (see how nice I'm being. I'm not usually that nice about books with characters I can't stand. Not a character. All of them.) The good thing is that Wednesday's all day, weigh-in-when-you-can book club discussion will be fun. Fun in the way creative shredding with smart, funny, discerning readers can be. But here's the rub. Next month's book is on me.

My choice.
My responsibility.
I think I have a headache.

If this book had been good I would have had a better idea of which direction to go in with my choice. But it's not good, so the next book needs to be everything this wasn't or we'll start losing people. It's been threatened. Kind of.

So now I'm re-reading my top three choices, and they couldn't be more different from each other. Do I go with the YA contemporary romance about the snarky-voiced, totally endearing damaged girl whose romance you root for with all your heart? Or the very sweet, funny, set-in-the-90s romance about a video-game designer whiz who just happens to be slightly magic? Or the incredibly funny, laugh-out-loud Paranormal/Mystery/Romance that steps pretty far outside the traditional romance department, but has a steamy relationship under all that mystery, paranormal, laughing stuff? Sense the theme running through all these? I guess I need a little laughter with my romance or it just gets too significant and... wincy.

So, here are some quotes from the three books.Votes are welcome.

“Do real boys actually call girls baby? I don't have enough experience to know. I do know that if a guy ever called me baby, I'd probably laugh in his face. Or choke him.” 
 Katja Millay, The Sea of Tranquility

“Some ground rules. In my place, cookie baking isn't a spectator sport. And if you eat all the chocolate chips, I'll turn your underwear pink and sparkly.”

― Deborah Geary, To Have and to Code

“Ambulances were cool. “You just want to fondle my extraneous body parts,” I said to the EMT as I picked up a silver gadget that looked disturbingly like an alien orifice probe, broke it, then promptly put it back, hoping it wouldn’t leave someone’s life hanging in the balance because the EMT couldn’t alien-probe his orifices.”
― Darynda JonesFirst Grave on the Right

“You pretty much annoy me and thus can kiss my ass”
― Darynda JonesFirst Grave on the Right

Yeah, that's romance these days. Funny, smart-ass, slightly paranormal, damaged or off-center, and definitely magic.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Wine is the Key

What I know for sure:
A child or a chicken will get sick the day before I leave for a trip. Especially the “getaway” trips.
I am most productive when there’s no time for anything. When I have time set aside to work, I find anything else but work to fill that time.
I am afraid of very few things, but well-dressed, rich French women are among them.
Sometimes I wonder if it’s too early to have that glass of wine.
Sometimes I have it anyway.
Fish and chips wrapped in newspaper is the food of the Gods.
French fries in Amsterdam taste better with mayonnaise.
Everything tastes better with bacon.
Sometimes all you need is a perfect pair of shoes.
You can’t go wrong with leopard print.
Writers love reading, but hate writing. We write so we have something to read.
My best friends are the ones who read and drink like me. Even better if our kids are friends too.
There are few things more frustrating than chickens who hide their eggs.
I rarely crave a salad.
When I was nine, my favorite weekends were spent reading until 2am and then waking up to finish the book. They still are.
“Truth or Dare” is overrated. “I Never” is not.
The best movie quotes are from The Princess Bride.
Val Kilmer in “Real Genius.” Christian Slater in “Pump up the Volume.” Yeah, seriously.
Huge Actorman in anything.
The volleyball scene is 40 minutes into “Top Gun.”
Tom Cruise has weird shoulders.
Patrick Rothfuss is a genius.
My kids love it when I read his blog posts out loud. Especially the inappropriate words.
Apparently seventy is the new forty. Just ask our mothers.
Guilt is overrated. Except when it’s the reason you stayed home from the trip, and the other child got the fever from his brother. Or the chicken died.
Very little can repay the friend who packs your dead chicken in ice on Saturday so she can UPS it to the lab on Monday.
But it can be done.
And wine is the key.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Tumbles and Catches

I got a very intriguing e-mail in my inbox today from a retiree living in Arizona who had read Marking Time, enjoyed it, and had found four typos to correct for the next edition. That was all - he didn't include the corrections, just let me know he'd found the mistakes.

That was about the most awesome way to get notes I've ever encountered. Not "here's where you screwed up." Just "I found some, let me know if you want them." I e-mailed him back right away and he very thoughtfully provided the location numbers, percentages, and line corrections. They were tiny errors - only two, in fact, that hadn't already been corrected on the final drafts of both print and e-book (which was odd in itself considering he found four), but the extra "it" and the missing "he" are the kinds of things that garner poor reviews and make readers put down books without finishing them. Both of which draw gasps of horror from writers.

I'm currently writing my way into the heart of Tempting Fate, and it was so good to revisit Marking Time to make those corrections. It showed me that Saira's voice has matured with her experience, like mine has, and reminded me how much fun she had discovering her own abilities.

Re-opening the e-book copy also inspired me to include the thing I miss in most kindle books - the back-cover teaser. When it's been a month since I bought a kindle book, and twenty more are stacked on top, and it's time to choose which one to read next, having the teaser right behind the title page makes me ridiculously happy. Then that sparked the idea that the teaser from book one should be at the beginning of Tempting Fate, maybe even with a link. Pretty fancy, huh? Now to channel all that creativity back into writing book two...

By the way, Karen, the Awesome Parkour Moves video you tagged me in on Facebook was VERY inspiring in the (spoiler alert) Saira-and-Ringo-escape sequence I just wrote. Thank you!

And, thank you, Bob! You've made a wonderful contribution to my day, not only with your very astute catches, but also with the reminder that sometimes looking back is a necessary and fun way to run, leap and tumble forward.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Tempting Inspiration

I just did my pinboard notebook for Tempting Fate. I covered a composition book in these images to remind myself of the plot points my story will dance around, slam into and free-run over as I navigate the fascinating places the story takes me. Of course it's also work-avoidance to compile, so... back to the book.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Great Kindle Book Deals

I'm a ravenous consumer of books, a kindle-app iPad reader, and perpetual deal-seeker. In my constant trolling of Amazon for great books, I've come across fantastic deals for kindle app readers, many of which are the first books in great series. The prices are always subject to change, but I've read all these books and think they're well-worth the investment of time and money. The book covers are linked to Amazon, and every book on this list is very highly rated by many more readers than me. Enjoy!

Under $6


Under $5


Under $4



Under $3


Sunday, 5 May 2013

Review: Neverwhere

It's no surprise to anyone who's ever read anything by Neil Gaiman that he's a master of words. Actually, he wields words like a sword or a feather, crafting a feeling about a thing that one never realized they should, could or might feel.

"His skin felt clammy, and his eyes felt like they had been put in their sockets wrong, while his skull gave him the general impression that someone had removed it while he had slept and swapped it for another two or three sizes too small."

And then there are the characters he... illuminates. Because reading his stories, one gets the feeling the characters actually exist - have always been there, just outside the average person's realm of "normal" - and it's only with Gaiman's introduction that we finally get to meet them.

"The boy has the towering arrogance only seen in the greatest of artists and all nine-year-old boys."

That single sentence description introduces a very minor player in a story filled with much bigger personalities, and yet it's the kind of truth that gives the boy more substance than many people we see every day.

And that's the thing Neil Gaiman does with his stories, with Neverwhere. He gives wonderful, horrible, magical substance to things normally associated with dreams and nightmares, with the almost-real, the could-be-possible, and the only-seen-by-small-children-and-dogs.

Neverwhere is a story of good and evil, of above and below, seen and unseen, real and more real, and of a quest to find what was lost and lose what was found. It's a fairytale and a true story and the kind of book one reads again and again, just for the pleasure of the words.

(Shrugs as if it says all that needs to be said) It's Neil Gaiman.

Monday, 29 April 2013


Stephen King on writing:

"If you want to be a writer you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot."

He also said: “No one likes a clown at midnight,” and there are no truer words.

So, since I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the relationships among characters as I write the second book of The Immortal Descendants series, I’ve also been doing a lot of reading. A lot. Like 42 books so far this year. No mysteries. I’m done with mysteries. Too many years spent as a private investigator to buy into the glamour of the job. But peppered among the urban fantasy and Elizabethan history books on my iPad are romances.

The romance reading is new. With the exception of Outlander, which is always mistakenly shelved in the romance section when it should be in time travel fantasy, I’ve never found a romance book of which my pride would let me read more than a couple chapters.

But there’s a whole new crop of romance books for the new adult audience (the characters are in their twenties, are finding their first true loves and having, or thinking about having, incredibly graphically-written sex). I think Fifty Shades of Grey must have been the mainstream turning point in what’s acceptable to admit to having read. For the record, I haven’t read Fifty Shades. I’ve heard the writing isn’t great and no amount of heat can override bad writing.

But I’ve read some pretty steamy NA (new adult) romances - each of which cost less than a double cafĂ© Americano at Starbucks. Besides the, you know… steam, the thing that resonates most with me about these books and all the very enthusiastic reviews they get is how much people want to lust.

I don’t just mean lust as a concept. I think people want to lust - to desire, to want, to wish for or fantasize about. And the flip side of that is that people want to be lusted after. Now, granted, I’m speaking from the female perspective, but the idea of being the object of someone else’s desire is definitely high on the list of things that make life entertaining.

One of my favorite terms I’ve learned since reading NA romances is “swoon-worthy.” Since most of the reviewers are women, it is most often used to describe male love interests, and is a great litmus test to apply to characters. Is he swoon-worthy? Would I, as a married woman, well out of my twenties, ever wonder what it was like to be wanted by a man like him? It’s an interesting question to ponder – what is the really satisfying thing about reading romances: to want, or to be wanted by? To lust, or to be lusted for?

To me, the most swoon-worthy characters are the ones who want the other person so much that they go well outside their own comfort zones to seek them. It’s not just about lusting, it’s about risking themselves, about putting something real on the line in pursuit of fulfilling the fantasy. And then there’s the object of that desire. Is she a better person because he wants her? Does she feel confident and interesting and beautiful because he thinks she is?

(Yes, I know, the really confident women aren’t that way because a man wants her, but I’m talking about romances here).

Of course steam is the most visceral way to experience lust, and the one most often pandered to in the NA romances. But I think the characters who get the greatest response from readers, who are the most swoon-worthy, are the ones who make the objects of their lust feel as confident, beautiful, sexy, and interesting as every woman wants to feel in real life.

And as I explore the lives of Saira and Archer in Tempting Fate, I'm enjoying infusing a little swoon-worthiness into their story.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

"I feel brave today, Mom."

So, the last two months have been hard. Not in real life, just in my brain. I'm way more sensitive to criticism (3-star reviews? Really? Weren't just content to give the book 3 stars and move on? Had to say something too?). And I'm way quicker to take everything personally with friends and family and people I don't even know. It's not my usual MO - I'm basically too lazy to be so annoyed all the time - but lately it's been easier to be annoyed than not, and that's just... well, annoying.

I've been working on getting out of my head since the moody blues came to visit, especially with my kids. Because what could be worse than a moody mom? Pretty much nothing good can come from it, so I'm taking extra care to listen, hear things beyond the words, and mostly just breathe a couple times before reacting to whatever it is they didn't do the first two times I said to.

And the thing about kids is they're about the most generous beings on the planet. My boys would still rather snuggle in and listen to me read Harry Potter than play a video game, and talking about Lord of the Rings with their parents on a long drive gets more votes than watching Tom and Jerry. Which goes a long way toward giving Moody Mom perfectly administered doses of perspective when she needs it most.

Like this morning, when a straightforward comment about a Christmas toy that had been laughed at by a friend brought tears, and it was 8am and the small boy was still in pajamas, not even close to being ready for school that starts at 8:30, perspective kicked in and I pulled him into my lap. We talked about what had happened then, about what it felt like when his friend made fun of him for loving Sophie the Giraffe, and what he had made it mean about himself and about the favorite toy. We talked about kids who laugh, and getting "hooked" into anger or frustration, and what it might feel like to shake off the hook, shrug your shoulders, and decide the laughter doesn't change anything about who you are and what you love. And when the tears dried and we raced around like banshees doing all the getting-ready things that sometimes make me yell but didn't today, we raced off to school. On the way, the small boy held my hand and told me he felt brave today.

Let me just say, a five-year-old's bravery isn't just a dose of perspective to Moody Mom, it's an effing cure. Thank you, small boy, for reminding me what's real.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Review: Through the Ever Night

There's nothing better than possibility living up to potential. Take books, for example, though movies work too. The first book of Veronica Rossi's distopian YA fantasy series, Under the Never Sky, was brilliant. The characters were complex, strong, able to roll with the curve balls the author threw at them, and not whiney! I can't over-emphasize the importance of whine-free leads in any book, but especially one starring teens. Ms. Rossi created believable flaws for her characters to overcome, and the story held up beautifully, even on the second read-through.

Just in time for the sequel.

When the sequel  to a book or movie you loved comes out, especially a full-paperback-priced-even-though-it's-a-kindle one, there's a hope/fear/anticipation combo going into it. Will the sequel live up to the standard set by book one? Will the possibility for greatness actually be realized? Or were all those pent-up words and amazing ideas that went into the first book the sum-total of the author's brilliance, and nothing else she writes will ever have the same passion or possibility of her debut novel? (Extrapolating a bit here - they always say, put yourself into your writing).

Through the Ever Night is a FANTASTIC sequel!

Aria and Perry are still flawed, still believable, still strong and complex, and they've grown as human beings in ways a reader hopes and expects them to, and yet still Ms. Rossi surprises the reader with the twists the characters themselves didn't know. And each character she introduces or revisits, including one villainous young man who begins to find his own strength, is alive on the page, no matter how small their role in the story. So often the second book in a series is the bridge - the part of the story that takes you from beginning to conclusion - the thing that fills in all the gaps and leaves you dangling over the precipice waiting another year or two for book three to come out. Veronica Rossi has enough respect for her readers not to do that to them. Through the Ever Night is its own story, has its own beginning, middle and end, and just like Under the Never Sky, completes one journey in a very satisfying way while enticing you to go on another one with the next book in the series.
Veronica Rossi has woven together all the elements of human stories that make them captivating: friendship and love, courage and passion, fear and strength, and a deep, abiding loyalty to her characters and her readers that gives depth and purpose to  the journey she takes us on.

The possibilities that Under the Never Sky created, with Aria, the formerly sheltered girl who came into her strength like she was born to it, and with Perry, whose fierce loyalty came with a huge price tag, became the fully realized potential of Through the Ever Night. There was no "Sophomore Slump" with book two of this wonderful series, and now I can look forward to re-reading both of these books with anticipation when book three finally emerges from Veronica Rossi's amazing skill, creativity and imagination.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

The choice to write

I've been talking about this a lot recently, to English classes full of teenagers, to book clubs of women my own age, to anyone who wonders "how did you write a book?"

I had to choose it every day, sometimes every hour or even every minute. I still do. When I think about the laundry piling up in corners of the boys' room becoming a habitat for the things that go bump in the night, I have to close the door and choose to write. Or the raised garden bed I emptied of the litter box-- I mean sandbox -- that mocks me and the shriveling herbs I bought three weeks ago to plant in it, I have to park my booty at the computer and pretend the wheelbarrow of chicken poop is still just "aging." To say nothing of the car that kids are leaving snarky messages on, or the leaves that need raking because they cover the dog and chicken poop exactly long enough to be stepped in by said snarky children. I have to choose to write instead of managing all the things that come with being a homeowner, a mom, a wife, a sister, daughter, friend, and sometimes even a human being.

Like this blog, for example. I'm writing this, so I'm not working on Tempting Fate. I had sick kids and a sick husband last week, so I didn't write. It's Sunday and I'm still not working on my book. I'm closer because I actually opened the file and diminished it on my screen. But writing isn't horseshoes or hand grenades. Close to writing isn't doing it. Thinking about the story isn't writing. Even researching for writing isn't putting the words down on paper.

Writing the book is the only writing that counts. Not the blog, not book reviews on Goodreads, not tweets of cool and pithy quotes from other authors. Just the book.


Choosing it now.

Thursday, 28 February 2013

sparkle-free and angst-less

I just devoured the Elemental Mysteries - a very entertaining series of books by Independent Author, Elizabeth Hunter. Ms. Hunter has done something remarkable in these books; she created a new vampire mythology in an age of moody teenaged bloodsuckers. Her vampires have an inherited affinity for one of four elements (earth, air, water, fire) from which they draw power, yet her mythology maintains all the rules for vampires that make sense (death by sun and beheading, blood-drinking for sustenance, passing out cold during daylight hours, and age equals strength). They're not sparkly, or angsty, nor are they inherently evil, and the ones we hang out with spent a considerable amount of time training to fight when they were human, so their enhanced vampire hand-to-hand combat skills are Matrix-worthy and cool.

I come from a long history of contemporary vampirism-in-literature readership, beginning with Anne Rice (because why wouldn't you?), and leaving off most recently with Charlaine Harris - the books, not the show. Vampires have been done to death - yes, I went there - and it's a wonderful surprise to find something fresh, entertaining and new that doesn't break the obvious rules.

Even better? The first book, A Hidden Fire, is free for kindle on Amazon. And with over 500 five-star reviews it's hard to resist downloading it, even if it sits in your library for awhile (like my copy did). But then I went to Portland for a couple of days, and it rained... and rained... and rained, and I kept wandering across A Hidden Fire in the "if you liked this, you'll like this" sections on Amazon, so I finally opened it. And about eight hours later I spent the whopping $3.99 each for books two, three and four, and devoured them with the same relish and enjoyment.

Elizabeth Hunter has crafted wonderful stories set in a world that surprised and delighted me, even as it lured me into its provocative vampire mythology. It's a series worth the investment for pure escapist fiction, especially if you've ever, even secretly, enjoyed a book about vampires.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

The big stuff

You know those days when you feel like you just put a chink in your kids' armor?

I'm having one of those days.

Maybe I've been up too late reading, or up too early not-writing (guilt, frustration, more guilt), or maybe I just woke up on the wrong side of the planet from friendly, warm, tolerant and patient. And even though the point I was making to my boys this morning about jumping to help when someone asks for it is a good/valid/vital point to make, I wasn't patient or kind. I was distant and annoyed, and I could feel the hurt pouring off both of them in waves. I didn't need to do it that way.

I think about all the ways we put ourselves together as human beings; the things we love, or dislike, the way we trust, or not, and the things we risk every time we try something new. Every disappointment adds a little armor, every success loosens the armor so it's not so tight and restricting. A lot of armor gets heavy and unwieldy, and makes walking through doors difficult. Not to mention the number it does on happiness.

As a writer, I'm always looking for ways to strip away my characters' armor; to take them to their most vulnerable place and then let them put themselves together again. That's usually when the story starts to get really good, when the reader becomes invested in the person whose imaginary struggles have just become something tangible. But as a parent, my job is to build up the confidence and self-assurance that makes armor obsolete. To give my kinds the sense of security that I'm not part of the problem, I'm part of whatever solution they're willing to let me in on.

I read a facebook post recently that said something like: "Listen when your kids tell you the little stuff now, so they'll come to you with the big stuff later. Because to your kids, it's all big stuff."

When I pick the boys up from school today they'll most likely have forgotten what happened this morning, or at least it will cease to matter in the grand scheme of friends and homework. But I will apologize to them for trying to teach a lesson from a place of annoyance and disappointment. Those are the places where armor gets made, and frankly, a foundry is too hot and uncomfortable to spend time in. I'd much rather be the parent who looks for the lessons in their greatness; who hangs out on the warm, friendly and tolerant side of the planet where Valentines get homemade and conversations about Lego castles and excavating the sand yard are the best ones of the day.

Because no matter how small it may seem, it really is all big stuff.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Cool Books

I just sent this list to Becky at The Book Frog, where I get to talk about books next month; other people's (which is really fun to do) and my own (which tends to make my guts twist up in little knots).

Compiling the list was fun. First, the easy books - the ones that directly or indirectly influenced the story, characters, or writer (that's me) of Marking Time: On a Pale Horse, by Piers Anthony, Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card, Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon, The Name of the Wind, by the incomparable Patrick Rothfuss, and The Ivanhoe Gambit, by Simon Hawke. Those are piled in a precarious stack on the most beautifully useless piece of furniture in our living room - a display shelf made from a repurposed Indian wedding carriage that's too narrow to hold anything other than family photos. Which, in a room groaning with books, is totally wasted space.

The other books, the ones I buy extra copies of because I'm constantly loaning them out, or the ones I read out loud to the boys (my excuse for re-reading really cool middle-grade books), or the ones I burn through on my iPad at 4am when it's too cold to get up and write; those took some hunting.

On the living room shelves I found Dragonsong, by Anne McCaffery, the entire Charlaine Harris collection beginning with Dead Until Dark, The Liveship trilogy from Robin Hobb, all the Time Wars books (The Ivanhoe Gambit is in the easy book stack), The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart, all the Gregor the Overlander books by Suzanne Collins, and all of Diana Gabaldon's books including another copy of Outlander.

From the bedroom bookshelves I gathered Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor, Graceling, by Kristin Cashore, The Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner, A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness, and The Graveyard Book, by the master of his genre, Neil Gaiman. Also in the bedroom were my favorite non-fiction books: Wild Stories, the best of Men's Journal, Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea, and Shadow Divers.

And the iPad holds my bargain YA books, the treasures I find as I troll amazon's kindle deals, and the indie authors whose work I've stumbled over in my random midnight "if you like this, you'll love this" searches: Divergent, by Veronica Roth, Time Mends, by Tammy Blackwell, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs, Under the Never Sky, by Veronica Rossi, If I Stay, by Gayle Forman, Girl of Fire and Thorns, by Rae Carson, Beautiful Creatures, by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, and the not-YA books; Bloodsong, by Anthony Ryan and the entire Fever series, by Karen Marie Moning.

 And you know, the most exciting thing about doing this author-talk/book-signing event in a bookstore? Becky's going to build a very cool display of books "recommended by the author of Marking Time." Now that is cool!

*And because linking books makes the names turn blue (and unreadable) on this blog, here's the linked list in case anyone's interested. They're all linked to amazon, because that's easiest, but is an awesome place to find used paperbacks, and of course, your local independent bookstore (in my case, The Book Frog) is the best of all.

On a Pale Horse, Piers Anthony
Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card
Outlander, Diana Gabaldon
The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss
Ship of Magic, Robin Hobb
The Ivanhoe Gambit, Simon Hawke
Dragonson, Anne McCaffery
Dead Until Dark, Chairlaine Harris
Daughter of Smoke and Bone,  Laini Taylor
The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern
Graceling, Kristin Cashore
The Thief, Megan Whalen Turner
A Discovery of Witches, Deborah Harkness
The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman
If I Stay, Gayle Forman
The Mysterious Benedict Society, Trenton Lee Stewart
The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
Gregor the Overlander, Suzanne Collins
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, Ransom Riggs
Under the Never Sky, Veronica
Bloodsong, Anthony Ryan
Girl of Fire and Thorns, Rae Carson
Faefever, Karen Marie Moning
Divergent, Veronica Roth
Time Mends, Tammy Blackwell
Beautiful Creatures, Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

The Code Book, Simon Singh
Guns, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond
Wild Stories, The Best of Men's Journal
Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea, Gary Kinder
Shadow Divers, Robert Kurson