27 December 2013

Christmas blues

Well, it's over. The mad dash to buy, prepare, wrap, bake, clean, and anticipate has come to an end for most of us. The question is: Now what?

Like many people, I always feel a bit 'let down' once Christmas Day has come and gone and the mounds of torn wrapping paper, gift packages and candy wrappers have been cleaned up. It's not that I didn't have a good holiday -- it was fantastic! Each family member was happy with their gifts. We had few arguments and no mishaps that required emergency room trips. ;) We had a pleasant visit with relatives and most of the cats got along peacefully -- that, in itself, a major accomplishment.

But it's over. We dedicated almost 100% of our time and resources to preparing for this one, singular day. Once that day has passed into history, we're often left feeling a bit, as my son would say: 'meh'.

This year, I came to a realization that has helped alleviate a bit of the blues. The journey is what's important, not the destination -- a lesson on the whole of life, as well as the smaller journeys within. The entire trip from late fall to Christmas morning brought with it joy, frustration, good will, irritation, and peace. An odd combination, to be sure.

So I've accepted early on that I would feel a bit 'meh' on this, the 27th of December. But it's a good 'meh'. ;) It's not exactly depression, it's just a bit of sadness that another special milestone in life has come and gone. There will be many more. And the journey to those will be just as chaotic, emotional, sometimes dull, and possibly exciting and exhausting.

I accept the 'meh'; I accept that while we keep up with certain traditions, as our family grows the holiday must grow and be flexible, as well. Best change of all: the children now let me sleep past the break of dawn on Christmas morning.

While I don't necessarily make New Year's resolutions, I do have a special wish for each and every one of us. I hope we each remember to enjoy the journey, every step, every day of the way.

Happy New Year!

Meg Allison

Indulge your senses...

22 December 2013

Grandma Got Run Over By a Shopper


‘Tis the season of peace and joy, or at least that’s what we're told from childhood on. The truth is that anybody who has ever had to go in a store--for anything--between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day knows that people are generally not in a good mood. Drivers lose the ability to drive. Shoppers are rushed, rude, and exasperated. People in general are not at their best.

Why is this? The crazy pace of modern life is a big part of the problem. We are expected to do more, faster, than ever before. There is also more stress than ever before, which definitely contributes to the problem.

On the other hand, this rude attitude has been around for a long time. One of my first memories of this time of year is being knocked down by a woman and her shopping cart. She didn't even apologize. I suspect the exhaustive, crazy, overwhelming feel of this season is mostly caused by the pressure to have perfect holidays, combined with guilt if you don't spend a large amount of money on perfect gifts, food, decorations, and clothing.

In other words, the winter holiday season has been hijacked by retailers. The more the pressure to spend, spend, spend (even on Thanksgiving Day!), the more money the big corporations can make.

Now I have nothing against retailers making money, but my humble opinion is that things have gotten way out of hand. The answer? Beats me. I just hope there is one.

Have a wonderful holiday season,and please don't let it get to you. The important thing is family and friends. And enjoying yourself!




twitter: @cheryelhutton

21 December 2013

A Christmas Giggle!

While researching Scottish Yule/Christmas traditions, I ran across this brilliant comedy channel on Youtube - the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theater!  It's like the double-knit version of Monty Python.

Enjoy, and Merry Christmas, Happy Yule, or however you celebrate the return of the sun!

On a more Medieval note, enjoy this period piece from "Apollo's Fire - Duan Nollaig from Sacrum Mysterium: A Celtic Christmas Vespers."

Youtube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/carolanivey

20 December 2013

Reintroducing Myself!

For those who follow the blog, I may look like a new face, but I’m really not! Nevertheless, I haven’t been posting for a while…ok, it’s been a year since my last post and they were pretty sparse before that for quite some time.

So today is a reintroduction.

Hi, I’m Sela.

[Hi Sela!]

I write romance, mostly paranormal, always funny, and I have four novellas under my belt with Samhain Publishing, with a couple of outliers which have long gone out of print.

Since the publication of my last novella, Carolina Pearl in 2010, I’ve gone through a dry spell. Like, Gobi Desert in August dry. Fortunately, it does seem as though I’ve found the trickling headwaters of a river that may yet lead me to the promised land of new stories.

(I’m kind of digging that metaphor. Must hang onto it for later use.)

So I’ve started writing. Much to my surprise, my newest work in progress isn’t paranormal, but historical. It began from a seed that was planted, lo, these many years ago when I just started out writing fiction. It’s waited over ten years for me to be able to tell it properly, so it’s what I’m working with now.

After that, I promise to go back to the heaps of half-formed paranormal, monsters, Steampunk, and otherwise odd-ball stories that have been in dry dock, awaiting my return to the keyboard.

It feels really good to be back - to be really back, without that niggling sense that I ought to be doing other things instead of writing.  

19 December 2013

Thorin: A House Divided Cannot Stand

Our theme this month, characters in conflict with themselves, suits the recent movie The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug perfectly. Several of the characters have inner conflicts, but nowhere is it more visible than in Thorin's struggle to reclaim his homeland and restore his family's honor.

Tolkien wasn't just writing about fantasy characters, dragons, dwarves, and elves. While The Hobbit was, admittedly, less of an epic than The Lord of the Rings, he still saw his characters as foils for people around him and universal challenges facing humanity. In Thorin, Tolkien saw a grieving son trying to restore the honor of his family as well as his people. His grandfather had been driven mad by wealth and power and received the harshest punishment imaginable: a dragon came and destroyed his kingdom, killing hundreds and scattering his people to the winds.

At the time Tolkien wrote, the backdrop of World War I and the factors that led up to World War II informed his storytelling. He fought personally in WWI and lost comrades. More than that, he saw WWI through the lens of history and, in some ways, The Hobbitis a reflection of that – a cautionary tale for a king. Beware the lure of gold, the story says, or you may go mad and destroy your homeland.

What I find interesting about Richard Armitage’s performance is that he’s utterly at home in his character. He is Thorin, a flawed man, but a hero none-the-less – and a king. He sacrifices and does what is necessary for his peoples’ survival. But he is also grieving for his lost father, which we see more in this movie than in the first one. In the opening, he meets with Gandalf because reports of his father have surfaced and he desperately wants to find him.

In contrast, King Thranduil is an insular king, closing his borders to the outside world and refusing to aid Thorin. He is a character worth hating, a man blinded by power and prestige within his own borders and uncaring what happens outside it or how it may affect his people. He saw the ravage of the dragon, and the greed of Thorin’s father, and is unmoved to help Thorin now. He no longer has an inner conflict because he’s given up, and given in to his baser instincts where Thorin still struggles to be larger than he is.

I am looking forward to Peter Jackson and his team’s vision of the final chapter in this story. I found myself wishing that the story were longer (and the movie was nearly three hours as it was!). The portrayal of Middle Earth reflects modern life and informs it, makes it richer – and cautions us about undue greed, loyalty and power.

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”
- E.E. Cummings

The Chicagoland Shifters series:
Book 1 BURNING BRIGHT, available from Samhain Publishing.
Book 2 TIGER TIGER, available from Samhain Publishing. An All Romance eBooks Bestseller!

The Persis Chronicles:
Check out EMERALD FIRE, available from Torquere Books.
Check out "Seeking Hearts", available from Torquere Books.

Check out COOK LIKE A WRITER , available from Barnes and Noble.
Coming soon - "Taking a Chance" is being re-released from Torquere Books!

My links: Blog | Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | LinkedIn | Pandora
Knoontime Knitting: Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Ravelry
Noon and Wilder links: Blog | Website | Facebook
The Writer Zen Garden: The Writers Retreat Blog | Forum | Facebook | Twitter | Meetup
Team Blogs: Nightlight | Nightlight FB Page | Beyond the Veil | BtV FB Page
Publishers: Samhain Publishing | Torquere Press

14 December 2013

Characters in Conflict with Themselves

Sometimes you eat the blog topic; sometimes the blog topic eats you.

Autumn Frederickson's illustration for
C.A. Verstraete's "Songbird" in Athena's
Daughters. I haven't seen the picture
for my story yet, but between the wood
and the birds, I figured this fit the theme.
I was pretty sure December had it in for me as soon as I read this month's Beyond the Veil topic:  "Gifted or Cursed: Making your Characters' Greatest Strength, their Greatest Stumbling Block".  Uh oh.  Am I supposed to do that?

The first thing that popped to mind was a writing book I read so long ago I can't remember the title, much less the author.  The book recommended creating characters by picking a principal personality trait (or two) and throwing a person with that trait against their polar opposite.  Bad against good.  Hero against coward.  Crowd-pleaser against agoraphobic.  You get the picture.  It was, according to the author, a foolproof a recipe.  You take your sweet and mix it with your sour, and baddaboom, you got yourself a book.

The second was something William Faulkner said in his Nobel Award acceptance speech: "The young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat."

Naturally, I don't agree with either of them.  Not entirely.

I'm sure by-the-numbers character creation works for some. After all, I know people who use spreadsheets to write their award-winning books. But for me, it would only result in fake people in artificial conflicts.  No one and nothing in my world is entirely one thing or the other.  Everything in my universe is a double-edged sword.

I'm better with Faulkner...if you ditch the aging lion's complaint about all them young whippersnappers.  People in conflict with themselves--like Death in Kimberley Troutte's Soul Stealer --can make for powerful stories, but...



But what about Bram Stoker's Dracula?  The Transylvanian dude isn't in conflict with himself at all.  He wants blood, and he's going to do whatever it takes to get it, without guilt or second thoughts.  Everyone else in his story is simply a means to an end.

Consider Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind.  She wants something that no one can take away from her, and she'll do anything to get it.  Her problem is she doesn't know what that something is until the very end.  But once she figures it out, she's going after it.  No guilt.  No apologies.  No angst. 

Likewise, Rhett Butler isn't her opposite. He's her mirror.  Her greatest strength doesn't cause her to stumble, either.  Her strengths are wit and determination.  All her problems arise from applying her wit and determination to unworthy goals.  The problem isn't her strength.  It's the application of that strength and the consequences it entails.

Consequences--that's the key for me.  It doesn't matter if the character is operating from their strengths or weaknesses.  Their actions have consequences, and those consequences drive the conflict.

In "The Gap in the Fence", my story for Athena's Daughters (inserting plug for the Kickstarter here :-) ), ten-year-old Ana's greatest strengths are her determination and her empathy.  They aren't stumbling blocks, but they do force her to act in certain ways.  Those actions bring her in conflict with her best friend's mother, a powerful fairy, and ultimately, the friend she was trying to help. 

But those character traits aren't stumbling blocks.  They're necessary to her sense of self and agency.  But they do have consequences.

Likewise, the other characters aren't her opposites.  None of them are, for example, bad or weak-willed in opposition her goodness and strength.  But their own needs entail consequences, consequences which bring them into opposition with Ana.

For me, it's all about consequences.  And heart.  And creating characters who act like people, not emoticons.

And if they wind up in conflict with themselves, well, that's fine, too.

Jean Marie Ward

PS, For those who are interested in reading a taste of "The Gap in the Fence", you can either pop over to my website, or check out the blog I did on the Athena's Daughters Kickstarter.  You can even go straight to the Kickstarter.  It has pictures.  And a video.  And an astronaut...

13 December 2013

The Flip of the Coin

Yeah, I know it's the holiday season, but at the moment I'm trying to ignore it, so I'm going with the theme!

Aren't all good attributes only the flip-side of something darker? Ambition is only a hair away from greedy, charm just a word away from manipulation, benevolence just a step from martyrdom, self-assurance a sneeze removed from assholery. Many strive for self-reliance and end up self-contained and lonely. Others look for an outlet for their love and affection and end up being used. Don't we always have to self-check to make sure the pendulum doesn't swing too far and we let our best characteristics turn into the thing that makes everyone run when they see us coming, or turns us into the person who's always taken advantage of? And, as writers, isn't it just plain old fun to push our characters into choppy, ugly waters before we let them redeem themselves or find the upside to being what they are?

Even when it's something a character can't help, a place or situation they've been born into and can't escape, there has to be a downside to being... well... them. There has to be. Otherwise, what's the point?

In my latest release, Jaguar in the Sun, the hero Xbal is a jaguar god. Wouldn't being one be just freakin' awesome? He can shift into jaguar form, do magic (including a particularly intense form of sex magic that takes eons to perfect) and is immortal. What could be better than that?

Ahhh... well, that last one is the bugbear. Immortality. In a world where very few other beings live forever like he does. Love, which he's experienced in the past, is something to be avoided when you know there's no doubt you'll outlive your mate...and have eternity to mourn him or her. As Queen sang, "Who wants to live forever, when love must die?" Xbal isn't against love, he just wants no part of it because it hurts too damn much. There's nothing he can do about the immortality, but he can control his heart.

Or so he thinks.

Have a great holiday everyone, and see you all in the New Year!

Book four in the Unveiled Seductions series.
Cassandra Solinar has a bucket list and jaguar god Xbal Montegro is on it. About to undergo an essential rite she won’t survive, she wants to wring every ounce of pleasure out of the time left. Including discovering if Xbal’s sex magic technique is as good as rumored.

It’s no hardship for Xbal to accept Cassandra’s invitation for one erotic encounter, but far more difficult to let her go once he gets a taste of the explosive passion between them. Now he’s determined to hold on to her, no matter what.

Cassie can’t tell Xbal the truth about what she’s about to do. It’s illegal, but without her death the entire world will perish. It’s a job she’s been preparing for from birth, but the loss will be greater now. For in Xbal she finds a soul-deep connection she doesn’t want to lose, and the one thing she made a point of not putting on her bucket list—love.

12 December 2013

Characters and Holidays

It's my day to blog but instead of something profound, I give you something silly! I give you how my favorite Christmas movie, It's a Wonderful Life, should have ended, by the cast of the Saturday Night Live, with Dana Carvey as Jimmy Stewart.
The good stuff starts at about the one minute mark.
Have a happy holiday! ---Corrina Lawson (corrina-lawson.com)

11 December 2013

2014 Will Be Epic!

Where did 2013 go? I feel like it was just January a few days ago. The new laptop I'm working on I got in January, and now it's almost a year old. My car accident was in January, so my new car is almost a year old too. Wow. Unbelievable. Thanksgiving is over, and the holiday season is upon us. Three weeks until Christmas *yikes!* and then a month until 2013 is over. 

I'm kind of sad to see 2013 go, because even though it didn't start off great -- Hubby having surgery, car accident, computer dying, the passing of so many people we loved -- it had some nice times too. Great vacation with the family. New car. New computer. Great conferences, time with friends, new friends, new conferences. It was pretty good, overall.

However, I am SUPER EXCITED for 2014 to start because there are so many BIG THINGS coming next year.

First of all, I have a story in a Steampunk anthology that comes out next year. The anthology is called Gaslight and Grimm and will be published by Dark Quest Books. It's all Steampunk fairy tales. I wrote a version of The Three Little Pigs, which contains no pigs whatsoever. There are some other authors whose Names You Might Know who will also have stories included. Not sure of the release date yet, but I will make a big announcement when it comes out.

I SHOULD also finish the final Library of Athena book next year. Should. It's coming along and I really like where it's going. It will be a fitting end to the series, with a couple of twists I didn't even know about until I wrote them down.

The other bit of news is a BIG HUGE SEKRIT. I cannot tell you. Or, I could, but then I'd have to kill you. Or give you kittens, or something. This is the Most Exciting piece of news of all the news that I have to share. Hopefully it will be able to be shared in the next two weeks. I am BURSTING.

I'd love to tell you. But I can't. Just know that 2014 Will. Be. Epic.

10 December 2013

The Gap in your Library You Didn't Know You Had

It's been a loooooong year on this side of the screen staring at the cover for The Modern Fae's Guide to Surviving Humanity.

It isn't that I don't love the book--and "Fixed" my story in it.  I do.  There are scenes in that story that still make me giggle.  And I can't begin to describe my delight at sharing space in the table of contents with writers like Seanan McGuire, Barbara Ashford, Elizabeth Bear, Jay Lake and Jim C. Hines. But "Fixed" was my last story to to see print or pixels, and it was published in February 2012!

It isn't that I haven't been writing.  I have, and I've got the callused fingertips to prove it.  It isn't that I haven't sold stories. Or signed the contracts. Or done all the things writers are supposed to do.

No, the fault lies with the vagaries of the publishing stars.  Anthologies that were supposed to appear in 2013 were pushed back to 2014.  Meanwhile, more recent stories have been slated for--you guessed it--2014 publication dates.

Finally, 2014 is almost here, and I can draw back the curtain on one of those projects, a story called "A Gap in the Fence" in the 2014 anthology Athena's Daughters from Silence in the Library Publishing. Yes, there will be an excerpt, but first I want to tell you about the project.

The participating authors include friend of Beyond the Veil Gail Z. Martin, multiple award-winner Mary Robinette Kowal, Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Sherwood Smith, Janine Spendlove, Vicki Johnson-Steger, Cynthia Ward (no relation that I know of, alas), and that other Ward girl--me!  Veteran editor and bestselling author Jean Rabe will be doing the editing honors (and she may even add one of her own wonderful stories).  Not only that, we're going to have a real, live astronaut writing our introduction: Colonel Pamela Melroy, USAF (Retired), the second woman to command a space shuttle!  How cool is that?

Almost as cool as the ideas behind Athena's Daughters.  The stories are all by women, about women, celebrating their strength at every phase of their lives, from ten to eighty.  Not just physical strength either, but all the ways women show their strength.  Wit and grit.  Determination.  Adaptability.  Empathy.  Courage in the face of overwhelming odds.

In addition, the anthology seeks to help women find their strength.  A portion of the of every book sold will go to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization.  RAINN created and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline in partnership with more than 1,100 local rape crisis centers nationwide, and operates the DoD Safe Helpline for the Department of Defense.

Athena's Daughters also marks a publishing first for me.  This will be my first post-submission crowd-sourced project.  Silence in the Library doesn't solicit funding until they've assembled and readied a project for production.  As a result, the folks who contribute know what they're getting in advance.  They know the book will be published and can see how great it will be, because it's already almost done.  For a $5 pledge they are guaranteed an electronic copy in the format of their choice.  And it gets better from there!

As the stretch goals are reached, you get signed postcards and additional ebooks from the contributing authors--and the anthology adds more stories.  Bigger pledges net paper copies of the anthology (including a very special hardcover edition), Tuckerizations (a character named in your honor in one of the anthology's stories) and original art.  Yeah, art.  Did I mention every single story will have its own original illustration?

All for a click and a pledge.

Not sure, yet?  Well, how about this: my story, "The Gap in the Fence" features two little girls, three special dogs, and one box-obsessed cat.  The jacket copy reads: "Ten-year-old Ana will do anything to save her best friend's dog from being put down--even braving the fairies who live behind the Gap in the Fence."

Finally, here's that excerpt I promised you:

The corners of the fairy’s eyes crinkled, like he was hiding a smile under his beard, but it didn’t last.  “Nothing like that.  I’m sorry.  I can’t stop anybody from dying.  There’re some things you just can’t fix.”
“Then what can you do?  There’s got to be something.”
All the birds and Gurt seemed to gasp at once.  Even the leaves seemed to hold their breath.  The man’s bushy eyebrows lifted.
“What do you want of me?”
His voice sounded different somehow.  It was still slow and gravelly, but there was something sharp and cold underneath the words that brought back all my fear.  Me and my big mouth—Mom always said it would get me in trouble.
He waited for me to say something, staring at me from under his eyebrows with eyes as hard as his voice.  “What do you want of me?”  
A cloud passed overhead, shadowing his face.  Gurt ogled us with big saucer eyes.  Her head turned from side to side to keep us both in view.
What I wanted was for him to save Willy from dying, but he said he couldn’t.  At least I thought he did.  I wanted to be smarter, so I’d know what he meant and what I was supposed to say.  But this might be my only chance.  My head whirled with all the bad things about to happen—Willy dragged away from the people who loved him when he was sick and hurting, Shari waking up to find out her mom… I couldn’t finish the thought any more than I could face her and tell her what her mom was going to do.
“What.  Do.  You.  Want?”
The breeze roared into a wind.  My hair skinned away from my face.  Branches as big as my whole body shook.  The grass bowed flat.  The fairy hadn’t moved, but he seemed to have grown until he was too big to see without lifting my head.  I almost peed my pants, but I knew if I broke and ran, he’d be on me in a second.  Then I’d be dead.  There was only one thing to do.

Now you want that link, right?  It's the Athena's Daughters Kickstarter.  And we've got an astronaut!

Jean Marie Ward

09 December 2013

Gifted…or Cursed? Making Your Character’s Greatest Power Their Biggest Stumbling Block

Ah, this is a good topic.

It's fun to make things challenging for our characters. Why? Because the harder it is for our hero to succeed, the more likely readers will read on to make sure that he does.

In SOUL STEALER, my first novella for Samhain Publishing, my main character was Death himself.

Cain's job was to help a person's soul pull away from the body and head on to heaven, or you know, the other place.

Killing was Cain's power. And he was good at it. He'd been perfecting his skills since the dawn of man.

The problem occurred when he fell in love with a woman he couldn't have. When his lips met hers, his power kicked in and wham-bam she died. Yeah, hate it when that happens.

Cain then had do what he wasn't meant to do--bring her back to life and keep her that way. This went against the rules and before he knew it everyone from heaven and hell were after the couple to try to drag her soul up to heaven where it belonged.

I won't give away anything more, but hopefully you get the idea. A person's greatest gift can turn into a nightmare in the hands of a crafty author. Waahaha. (That's supposed to be an evil laugh).

This is the last post from me until 2014. Have a happy and blessed holiday and a safe New Year.

And as always, thank you for stopping by. My compadres in crime and I appreciate it.

Kimberley Troutte