29 September 2008

Of Jobs and Careers

There comes a time when you have to stand by what you do or step away from it. That moment arrived for me a few weeks ago and I chose to stand by it. I’m just grateful that I had a solid ground option to stand on.

What am I rambling on about exactly? The continual questioning of my “other job” at my day job by well meaning people who just want the best for me because they like me so much! Usually the conversation goes something like this: “So is this your only job?” “No, I also write.” “Oh, that’s nice. But do you have another real job?” SIGH.

That would be the point in the conversation to direct them to my website and send them off to buy my novella and discuss the other works coming soon. Unfortunately, it wasn’t guaranteed that I could do that and keep my job. The owners were lovely, giving, highly conservative individuals that wouldn’t take my paranormal-poly-pansexual-love fest well at all. And yes, I know that they couldn’t legally fire me for something I do on my own time, under another name and entirely unrelated to them. But I also know that business owners and managers do it all the time and it would only take one member complaining for me to be back on the job hunt again.

In the end however it was more than the threat of sudden unemployment that had me reluctant to stand up and stand by what I write and why I write it. In the end it was the writing itself--or rather the lack of thereof--that had me silent. My ever present passion for writing and all things creative had waned in the wake of a cross-country move and long-term illness. All the half-hearted tries to get back on track had only left the page empty and my satisfaction level non-existent for what little I did get done. How could I stand up and bravely face further financial hardship for something I wasn’t even doing as actively as I once did?

I couldn’t even blame writer’s block as the voices and ideas have been flowing despite my best effort to wallow in stress and illness and do nothing. It’s there, it was simply being ignored and I didn’t know how to start paying attention again. Then that moment happened…

“Are you looking at working in this industry long term?”

“No, I already have a career. I’m a writer.”

“Well you could get your degree in Sports Medicine and always write on the side as a hobby so you have a real job to fall back on.”

A sudden anger, a deep breath, and a pleasant smile later I responded: “No thanks, I’m not the mainstream drone type. But I am going to get my certifications so that I can always do this on the side as a hobby, while I write full time.”

You should have seen her face!

I don’t know if it came out of finally feeling better and more myself, or if I’d just heard the “real job” vs. “hobby” comment one too many times, but that was it. I started giving out my card to any who asked about my writing and haven’t shied away from the conversation since.

As far as doing the work, I’m still struggling to trust my edits and send in the book to my editor. I was in a bit of a fevered funk while working on it and think it may need another once (or thrice) over. But I’m finally back in the game. I’m finally focused on the stories waiting to be told the way only I can tell them. I’m finally a writer again.

It’s good to be back.

"Evil Day Job" Ramble Done--No wait...

P.S. In the end I did have to leave the job mentioned above. I didn’t get fired but after a few conversations too many, my hours were reduced to a point where I couldn’t make ends meet and I had to look for something else. I just finished my initial training and despite being a corporate retail chain, I’m in a LGBT-supportive, Pagan-friendly, Woman-positive work environment for the first time in too long. I wish I’d started handing out those business cards and talking about the joys of Shifter sex sooner. ;)

27 September 2008

All the Pretty Dollies

The Avoidance/Accomplishment Ratio is the name I gave to a theory proposed by a friend about fifteen years ago. Simply put: The amount you accomplish on Project B is directly proportional to how much you wish to avoid working on Project A.

This is especially true if Project A has been hanging over your head like the Sword of Damocles--or the four hundred pictures I have to sort and select for the DragonCon report I've been meaning to write for three weeks now. [Insert sickly grin here.]

Now you know what I've been avoiding. My current Project B isn't even a real project yet. Another friend and writer who specializes in Victorian science fiction mentioned she'd like to do a Steampunk anthology. She was astounded by the turn-out for the few Steampunk-related panels at this year's DragonCon. In one instance, so many people showed up for a panel in one of they larger Hyatt conference rooms, they had to split it in two panels in two big rooms--and both of them filled immediately. The energy effervescing through the discussions, and the number and quality of the Steampunk-related costumes reminded us both of the way Paranormal Romance bubbled up from the fan base in the late 1990s to become the mainstream fiction movement it is today.

And both of us want a piece of it. Which is great for her. This is what she writes--or so close to it even the experts can't tell the difference. The fact she's an expert in the Victorian era doesn't hurt either.

Me--not so much. Sure, I gleefully watched Will Smith, Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branaugh in Wild, Wild West. I've even seen reruns of the original TV series. And don't get me started on The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne. How could I not watch anything starring Michael Praed and featuring a capable, red-haired heroine (Francesca Hunt) who spent as much time in a leather cat suit as she did in her crinoline? Swoon. I still watch the tapes.

So, you'd think I'd be all set. I know what the genre's supposed to do--mix science fiction and fantasy with the clockwork mechanisms of the 18th and 19th century, and wherever possible reference key historical figures like Verne, Mark Twain, Thomas Edison and Ulysses S. Grant. I also know what it's supposed to look like--Victorian.

There's just one problem. The Victorian period is my idea of the Ninth Circle of Hell. The mere thought of the strait jacket fashions, the soup-straining facial hair on the guys, the lethal pollution of the air and water, the repeated epidemics, the pointless wars and the screaming hypocracy of the moneyed classes is enough to make me grind my teeth. The period boasts all the bad of the 21st century and none of the good--wearable clothes, good-looking shoes, mostly safe food, garbage collection and antibiotics. Compared to the 19th century, there really is no place like home.

If I were ever condemned to visit a pre-20th century historical period, I wouldn't go there. Send me instead to the Georgian period. The 18th century had its flaws--and they were legion, as the Duchess of Devonshire could attest. But the Industrial Age had not yet reached the pinnacle of its foulness. The 18th century likewise passed on the smug, narrow-minded self-righteousness that makes you want to strangle all Charles Dickens' heroines at birth. It was rowdy, bawdy and a lot more honest about its flaws as well as its virtues.

It had gorgeous clothes--for the guys as well as the girls--country estates, the Hellfire Club, hot air balloons, Mesmerism, Ben Franklin and his kite, automatons...

Automatons--I've been fascinated with them ever since the first time I saw the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol and looked in the toy shop with Tiny Tim. Oh, the wonders that were there! Gorgeous dolls and clowns that bobbed and waved.

I could do automatons.

And so I have. Over the past 24 hours, I've compiled five, single-spaced pages of references and links. I've read about the the amazing defecating duck of Jacques de Vaucanson (No, I didn't make that up. I'm not that good. Besides, it was the inspiration for one of Voltaire's--that's the French philosopher not America's philosophical rocker--best lines. Though to be fair, it does call up images of the latter's "Zombie Prostitute".) and the gorgeous androids of Pierre Jacquet-Droz. I found a tantalizing article on the remote-controlled prosthetic arm of created by Jean-Frederic Leschott, which weighed less than 17 ounces.

I skipped back in time to read about the Talos, the man of bronze created to protect ancient Crete, who was only defeated after Medea showed Jason how to drain his fuel tank. The Islamic Golden Age produced all manner of mechanical wonders, many of them created by the Banu Masu brothers--the sons of a highwayman turned astrologer! (Now there's a story waiting to be told.) Following the Internet trail back to the 18th century, I took a left turn at Albuquerque and wound up in Japan, where they created the karakuri to star in sacred dramas and serve tea. Karakuri links led to articles about Ranguku, the so-called "Dutch Learning", which helped Japan stay somewhat current with European technology during its long period of isolation. From there it was only a small step to stories of the Hitokiri, the "honorable assassins" of the Bakumatsu period.

Then there's The Turk, the world famous chess-playing machine that wasn't. The Turk was actually an elaborate stage illusion--a lifelike puppet atop a large box, which used cams and gears and sliding doors to disguise the puppet's human operator. Edgar Allen Poe's 1836 essay on "Maetzel’s Chess Player" (after The Turk's then current owner) lay part of the foundation for science fiction by postulating a mind within the machine.

Of course, contemplating The Turk, I couldn't help thinking about The Lustful Turk, not to mention the wide range medicinal vibrators so necessary to relieve female hysteria during the Victorian period. (Heaven knows, they didn't have any other outlets.)

By the time I'd finished compiling my first page of links, I was well on my way to developing a plot--a plot for a story in an anthology which may never exist. But why let that stop me?

Um, when did you want that DragonCon report? Why don't you give me a deadline--and I'll think about...

Did you know Charlotte Bronte wrote about the Crystal Palace? Have you seen the pictures. It's all glass and iron. I bet it was really hot in there. Oooh, I just found pictures!

What DragonCon report?


Since I've yet to figure out how to caption photos on Blogger, here's the info:

The first picture was taken at this year's DragonCon. Notice the artist to the right is drawing something other than the amazing mechanical couple right in front of him.

The second is an 18th century writing automaton in the Centre International de la Mecanique d' Art in Sainte-Croix Switzerland.

The third is a tea automat and mechanism in the Tokyo National Science Museum.

I'm responsible for the bad photography in the first shot. The much better automata shots are Creative Common items found in the Wikipedia article on automatons.

26 September 2008

It's Complicated...or is it?

Out of the mouths of babes…not quite literally, but close enough.

I’ve had the wonderful experience this week of helping out in my child’s second grade class. Why? Because they’re talking about the passion of my heart: WRITING. Yep, that’s right folks…writing as introduced to seven year-olds. Are you scared? Trust me, if you are, you are wise.

Going back to the roots of it has been fun. I’ve gotten to play with all the cool toys in the classroom and the kiddies, too. I hope they’re getting half as much out of it as I am because I had an epiphany. That’s right, folks…an honest to goodness Epiphany with a capital E.

It’s not that complicated…no, not the actual writing part, but the figuring out the HOW TO part. The tools are all there. But good ol’ me, published writer, had forgotten all about them. Do you remember the first time you looked at a story web or character map and said…”What do you want me to put where, again?”

It’s funny because I’ve drawn out this huge process on putting it all together. Bullet plot outlines, detailed character biographical and history forms, index cards and notes galore. But does it have to be all that complicated?

KISS made me blush – Keep It Simple Stupid.

Yep, you guessed it. Those bullet outlines and forms would make so much more sense if I’d not dropped the simplest step of all as being redundant. Story Webs – in a nutshell, how do all the elements fit together.

It’s kind of like life. If you make it complicated and ignore the simple pleasures, you get ulcers.

After watching the lights go on about Narrative Stories and seeing imaginations take flight, I’ve revamped my process. Granted, my story web for my projected 100K next project is a little more complicated than the ones the class is doing, but it’s like everything else – you get older, your projects get bigger…and usually more expensive. And yes, I felt a little silly doing it; however, it has helped me pick up the threads of the story that I was looking to weave in and put them into place.

Go figure…it’s never too late to go back to elementary school and learn something. Maybe I should try middle school or high school? Wait… Awkward stages… SKIP!

So, have you examined your process lately or had an epiphany of your own?

25 September 2008

Winner – “Toy” giveaway

Through the magic of Random.org


the winner of the “Toy” book giveaway is



24 September 2008

Writing Seasons

Well, my summer flew by. It's hard to believe it's late September and the leaves are starting to turn. There are a number of reasons I look forward to September, even if I regret the passing of summer, but one of them is that I can always refocus on my writing. Summers, not so much.

I've started a new book. The opening is trickier than I'd realized. That opening is the foundation of the book for me, and I need to make it solid before I can write the middle. If not, I start feeling like my characters are puppets and I'm jerking their strings around. Not the effect I'm going for.

I hope to be finished this book by winter. Winter is also a good time to focus on writing. Everyone hunkers down, the days are short, and apart from the holidays, it's generally a quieter time around here. So finish this book and, fingers crossed, start another. I've had the seeds of it for a while.

Spring is short and sweet here, but it's when the big distractions begin. It's when I need to finish up any major projects before the arrival of summer. Because summer, while I love summer, is damned hard to write, between vacations and renovations and everyone underfoot.

Good time to read though.

23 September 2008

Congratulations, MK Mancos!

MK's new release, By A Silken Thread, releases today from Samhain Publishing! Congrats, Kat!


Two women…linked by one deadly memory.

On an ice-encrusted road in New Jersey, Tara Johanan loses control of her car and drives off an embankment. At the same moment in Palmetto Springs, Florida, in an unwitnessed attack, Charlotte Durand is shot in the head and left for dead.

Both women die. Both return. But near-death experiences are not always straightforward. Tara woke up with the voice and memories of a comatose woman in her head. And she can remember a shooting she never witnessed.

Telling the family a loved one is the victim of a violent crime is the worst part of the job for Detective Marcus Danforth. When his stepsister is the victim, and the loved ones his family and best friend, it’s crippling. He’ll do anything to uncover the mystery of Charlotte’s shooting.

Believing the story of a beautiful accident victim may be too much for him—even in the face of overwhelming desire. Even as the shadows of death grow darker.

Warning: Book contains determined heroine searching for answers for her psychic visions and hero torn between arresting her or kissing her senseless.

Read an excerpt!

21 September 2008

Anatomy of a novel

So here I am, sitting on the third book in the Library of Athena series. The first draft, which has taken me...about two years. Yeah, there have been some minor issues that slowed me down. At one point I put the thing aside completely and worked on my own Wizard Academies novel, just to get my mind off of it.

This summer I picked it up again and plowed through. Of course I'm not happy with it. It's a first draft, which by default is utter dreck. Crap. I didn't like the way it fell together, the pieces weren't quite right yet. Things were NOT WORKING. Someone gave me a plotting chart, and I tried it...
It looks a mess, but it was very helpful. I can see all at once how the bits of my story are supposed to go together. There's story arc, and character arc, and series arc, and all these things have to work together, or it won't do what it's supposed to. This chart doesn't really contain anything but bare bones notes; not many specifics, but it's the underpinnings of the story - those bits that make it stand up, but that you don't really see. The stickies are my own notes for things I need to remember to change on my next draft. When I use this for my next first draft, I think it'll come out faster and cleaner. This is NOT an outline, but a plot. I hate outlines. Some like them, but I find them too restricting. I also LURVES my whiteboard - it's great for brainstorming. I recommend them to every writer.
Which brings me to the next thing I did differently. I printed out the manuscript. I never do that for a draft - frankly because paper and ink are precious commodities. But I have a new printer that takes cheaper ink cartridges, so I gave it a go.
It's brilliance! I'm able to see stuff much more clearly, like repeated words. Plus I can take the binder to other places, which is sometimes what I need to kick me in the pants. I could take the laptop, but then I get distracted...you know how that goes. Anyway, I discovered the opening was all wrong, based on my plot chart. Here is part of the carnage...

I ripped, highlighted, cut, and basically deccimated my first ten pages. Some of them I actually had to tear the paper to keep the scene I wanted. I've been making my way through the rest, slowly, taking my notes...

So now you can see all the guts inside. This is how a crazed writer takes matters into her own hands and wrangles a story into submission. I'm hoping that once I'm done and actually rewrite the thing, I will have far less work to do before I have a finished product. Overall I'm happy with this new process. Because I just can't take two years to write a first draft anymore.

I iz a professhunel wryter now. :)

20 September 2008

Playing with toys

Most of us never outgrow a desire for toys. We may stop calling them toys - talking about our hobbies, our passions, or our games. And then we play with our pots and pans, seeds and trowels, cameras, or video games. What are these things but toys for grownups?

Some of them are tools as well. To the chef, a $75 knife is a necessity. To a professional photographer, the next generation DSLR camera is a tool. But to most of us, any knife would get the vegetables chopped; any point-and-shoot camera would capture the moment and save it in print. Getting the shiniest and most accessory loaded version is just another way to have a more enjoyable toy for the job.

I do love my toys. In the kitchen, it's my name brand mixer, my french press, and my satisfyingly heavy Dutch oven. A Florida garden is a bit to hot and humid for me to have ever fallen in love with it as a potential playbox – my tomatoes are a hearty bunch, forced to live or die with minimal gardener assistance - but cameras and tech gadgets I have aplenty. And then there's my secret stash.


Not the books. The little people down in front.


They keep me company in the still, quiet mornings when it is just my keyboard and me, watching when my fingers fly and when they droop. They’ve acted out hundreds of scenes, and there’s times when I don’t really know if the words came from them or me.

One went missing once.


I found him, in another room of the house. I’d like to think he took to his wings and went searching for adventure, but it is much more likely he was helped on his way by sticky fingers and a first grader’s curiosity. The first grader has now been told to keep her fingers to herself.


Last time I posted here, I was about to head off to San Francisco for the RWA conference. Now it’s time to share some of the books that came home with me!


Want to win this supernatural book package? It’s easy enough. Leave me a comment here, telling me what your favorite toy is. Or drop me an email at ember@embercase.com with “Toy” in the subject.

Deadline for entry is Sept 24th; winner announced Sept 25th. Please make sure you leave a valid email address so I can get ahold of you to send you your prize.

17 September 2008

The Growing Pains of Writing

I’m in the middle of edits for my third Samhain release. Wow. Sometimes I still have to pinch myself to believe it’s all real. And yet, I still feel like such a newbie at this game even though I’ve been published for three years now.

I’ve come to the decision that writing is like aging. You start off brand spanking new, wobbly on your feet, unsure, maybe even a little bottom heavy, but so darn proud of yourself. “I’m writing!” you tell people with excitement. “A story. Fiction. What’s it about? Oh, let me tell you!”

Usually when you submit your first chapter for your first critique is when you take your first fall. And, man, does it hurt. You’re bruised and in pain and maybe you might go back to crawling for a bit. Maybe you stop walking altogether. You realize that this writing thing isn’t nearly as easy as you’d thought. Point of view? What’s that? Head hopping? But Nora does it, why can’t I? Backstory? But my readers need to know where my characters are coming from before they can know where we’re going.

But then that muse starts talking to you again, whispering to get on your feet. Forces you to start walking again. At first you’re more wobbly than when you began but slowly you gain speed. Ah, now I see what they mean about backstory, and no one can write like Nora, so let’s not try. Your next critiques come back a little better and before you know it, you’re a toddler, running down the road, still stumbling, but exhilarated by your freedom.

So when do you become a teenager? When you first submit? That first “official” rejection? Ah, teenage angst. You’ve submitted your first query and you anxiously stand by the mailbox every day until you know your mailman’s whole life story. It’s kind of like waiting for that cute boy in English class to call you. Will he call? Will he ask you out? Will the editor like your stuff? Will she ask for more? And when the rejection comes, you cry. And cry. And eat a lot of chocolate. Stupid editor. What does she know anyway? My story is good! You sulk for a bit and then you stand up and start running again. This time you set your eye on a different editor and you hone your craft more.

And then the offer comes. Oh, man, someone likes your story enough that they WANT TO BUY IT! It’s like the boy asking you to prom. He noticed you! He likes you! You scream and jump up and down. You call all your friends and share your good news and they’re so excited for you that they scream and jump up and down too.

So are you an adult now? You would think. But not so for me. Even after seven books I still feel like that teenager. Anxious, nervous, scared. I still find myself falling. Still find myself brushing my butt off (larger now because of all that chocolate), and toddle on.

I’m not sure I’ll ever be an adult. Every contract gets a scream of excitement and a little dance. And I still shed a tear with every rejection. I’m dating that boy in English class but it still feels so new and sometimes we’re a little awkward around each other. But I’m still hopeful, still excited and still loving what I do. Maybe I don’t ever want to be an adult. Adults tend to be cynical, tired, worn out, burnt out. No, I like being a teen.

About Sharon: Sharon Cullen is married to her high school sweetheart and they both act like teenagers together, even though they have two, real live teenagers living with them as well as a teenager-to-be. Sharon’s writing has been compared to Tara Janzen and her newest release from Samhain, Deception (romantic suspense), has received excellent reviews. Sharon also writes about vampires and her current work in progress is the next story in her Samhain vampire series. Visit Sharon's website to learn about all of her books.

15 September 2008

Near-death Experiences and new horizons

I've always wondered where people go when they take that trip down the tunnel of light, only to get snatched back by the fickle hand of fate and come screaming back into a body that might be broken beyond all repair. Unlike the scientific community who believes the lack of oxygen to the brain (hypoxia) causes the same effect experienced by pilots under G-forces, I think the soul goes on a little Aussie-inspired walk-about in some heavenly sector of space.

This idea plagued me for so long, that the first novel I'd ever written was based on what would happen if two women who lived 1000 miles apart died at the same time, traveled down the tunnel and were spit out in the after-life. The first attempt was, I must say, on par with most attempts by first-time writers - horribly lacking in in those small things that make a book sing - like voice and plot and logic.

And so it became my very first drawer dweller. *intro meloncholy tune*

Years past, and I learned more about craft and how to actually pull a story together. Make it topical and *gasp* readable. I ditched a character. Took the boyfriend of one character and gave him the job of the character I cut and moved him 1000 miles away to be the stepbrother of another character. Confused? Keep reading and you won't be.

By A Silken Thread by MK Mancos

Two women…linked by one deadly memory.

On an ice-encrusted road in New Jersey, Tara Johanan loses control of her car and drives off an embankment. At the same moment in Palmetto Springs, Florida, in an unwitnessed attack, Charlotte Durand is shot in the head and left for dead.

Both women die. Both return. But near-death experiences are not always straightforward. Tara woke with the voice and memories of a comatose woman in her head. And remembers a shooting she never witnessed.

Telling the family a loved one is the victim of a violent crime is the worst part of the job for Detective Marcus Danforth. When his stepsister is the victim, and the loved ones his family and best friend, it’s crippling. He’ll do anything to uncover the mystery of Charlotte’s shooting.

Believing the story of a beautiful accident victim may be too much for him—even in the face of overwhelming desire. Even as the shadows of death grow darker.


It releases on Sept. 25th from Samhain Publishing.

Happy Reading!


12 September 2008

Babylon A.D.

I’m a movie buff. I love movies though I’ve only been watching them for about five years now. I LOVED Pitch Black ‘00. Loved it! It made me an uber fangirl of Vin Diesel. In fact, I was so taken with Vin’s Pitch Black character he was the muse for my hero in Torc’s Salvation a futuristic romance co-authored under Melany Logen.

I also very much enjoyed The Chronicles of Riddick ‘04.

Babylon A.D. is a good fantasy/science fiction film starring the above mentioned Diesel. Has anyone else seen it?

Toorop (Diesel) is a mercenary hired by an old ally, to transport a young girl named Aurora from Eastern Europe to New York City. In the violent futuristic Earth world, she needs someone with Toorop's skills as a smuggler. I won’t spoil the rest for you… Yet, I will admit I was hugely disappointed in the romantic element. It failed miserable. Which is kind of sad since the possibility of really working the romance out was there.

The next movie on my “gotta see” list is MAX PAYNE! This one looks awesome! Anyone else looking forward to this one?

Until later~

A SIMulated world

Hello, everyone. My name is Meg Allison, and I've been invited to join the group for a time until life settles down for one of the regular bloggers. :)

I'm a writer, obviously, but first and foremost I'm a wife and mom. Those two 'jobs' take up most of my time and attention. My dh and I have been married for almost twenty years and we have five beautiful, intelligent children. Yes, they're all mine. No, it's not always a picnic. ;) Especially when you consider three of them are now teenagers.

Unlike the horror stories you hear about teens, ours haven't given us much grief. (knock on wood) But they do have their moments. Honestly, most of our difficulties lately have to do with computer games...namely, SIMs.

Most people have probably heard of SIMs, but not everyone has the chance to experience it first-hand. Lucky you. I find it to be a huge drain on time -- like many games, it's somewhat addictive. Once you start playing it's difficult to stop. If they don't stop, then Mom doesn't get on the computer when she needs to be.

In the game, the player is a god-like entity who first creates characters -- including facial features, clothes, hairstyles, etc -- then builds their homes, puts together their families. Once this is done, the player happily manipulates the digital people through their lives. And yes, my girls have tortured a character or two -- but only the ones who really deserved it. ;)

I watch my kids play the game sometimes -- over their shoulders which they find highly annoying. I hate to admit it, but it's rather fascinating, actually. SIMs have personalities, hopes and dreams... but they're also too stupid to live. They literally have to be told to do almost every basic thing. And life passes quickly in SIM-land. A baby becomes a toddler in three 'SIM days'.

I think I prefer writing. While the concept is similar, there are subtle differences that attract my particular personality. Okay, yes, I enjoy manipulating the imaginary people in my stories. But they are rarely stupid -- at least, not the hero and heroine -- and often the characters take over, telling me what they will or will not do and say. Sometimes, when I'm in the zone, it's more akin to taking dictation than actually making up stories. I like those moments.

As the writer, I am in control... but if I'm doing it correctly, at some point the characters themselves will come to life. For me and the reader.

Although I will say that giving birth for SIMs is something I can appreciate as a mom five. The mom-to-be has a couple of contractions, does a funky spin and POOF! The baby is there, in her arms -- all diapered and ready to be adored.

Now that would have come in handy. ;)

10 September 2008

Butternut Novel Writing

My two year old helped me grocery shop a couple days ago, and since I was in a generous mood, when she latched onto a creamy orange gourd I figured was some kind of squash, I bought it. After we took it home, I did enough research to confirm it was, indeed, a butternut squash, and the dishes one could make out of it were many and varied. I found recipes for soups, fries, lasagna, pizza (with goat cheese), cracker spread, stir fry, tart, au gratin, ravioli, crisp, sauce, pie, bread, smoothie, chow chow, and even ice cream, which kind of horrifies me, but then again, I couldn't ever recall having eaten butternut squash in my life. Maybe it was an even tastier ice cream flavor than chocolate, especially when you add spinach syrup and bits of turkey bacon.

First image from: http://glennys.blogs.com/nutrawiz/2004/11/ez_recipe_butte.html

Imagine my surprise when I got out my biggest knife and prepared to slice and dice some fry cuts and could hardly force the blade through the squash's very firm flesh.

It was a lot more like a pumpkin inside there than the little yellow squash I was used to cooking, that's for sure. And yes, our household palate is not sophisticated, but give me credit for willingness to experiment!

Second image: http://www.jodeyskitchen.com/2007/10/21/butternut-squash-part-one/ and no, that's not THIS Jody, but that part is cool.

Well, instead of getting out my pumpkin carving kit and a candle, I perservered. I tried cutting off the rind first and realized it was going to result in a trip to the emergency room if I weren't more careful, so I cut it into long, thin curves like cantaulope and then hacked, peeled and pried the skin off of those since they were easier to jab the knife through. I worked up quite a sweat and wasted a lot of edible parts. My toddler may or may not have overheard some particularly choice four letter words, but in the end we had a nice portion of dices, which we sprinkled with a little olive oil, garlic, nutmeg and cinnamon.

Third image from: http://bostonchef.blogspot.com/2007/10/roasted-butternut-squash-soup.html

The end result?

Frankly, it was delicious. At least, *I* thought so.

The toddler, who'd chosen the squash and "helped" prepare it, threw it across the dinner table with a howl of protest.

The six year old starting gagging and bleching as soon as I said the words, "I made something new!" but then pretended to like it because I said if she didn't try it, she was grounded.

Hubby liked it okay, but he didn't have seconds.

Sister appreciated the fact I hadn't made soup because she said she totally burned out on squash soup in Wisconsin.

And what does this have to do with writing, you ask? As I was struggling through the whole chopping and skinning process, I had a bit of an epiphany.

Writing a book is like cleaning and cooking a butternut squash.

There are ten billion ways you can prepare it, it's hard as hell to do the groundwork, everyone thinks they know an easier way to do it, and in the end, your "dish" is not going to be universally loved, no matter how much it cost you, no matter how much hard work you put into it.

Fourth image from: http://www.tasteofhome.com/Recipes/Rice-Stuffed-Butternut-Squash

Various "easy" ways to peel and prepare a squash:





However, if the spices are right and you don't end up in the emergency room while you're trying to battle the rind, it can really hit the spot, plus it's low in calories, high in vitamins, and apparently goes great with a Pinot Noir.

Jody W.
So much cyberspace, so little time!

08 September 2008

Jean Marie's Magical Maryland Roadshow

Okay, so it's not all mine. But I will be on the road in Maryland this Saturday, September 13, as part of a double signing with seven Washington DC-area authors at Fort Meade's Main PX and the Columbia Borders. And it should be magical.

Four of the authors are fellow Samhain writers--D. Renee Bagby, Dana Marie Bell, Melissa Schroeder and Eve Vaughn. Also joining us are Stephanie Burke of Ellora's Cave and Anthony Stevens of Lyrical Press.

We'll be signing at the Main Fort Meade Post Exchange from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Our signing at the Borders located at 6151 Columbia Crossing Circle, Columbia, MD 21045, will run from 2-4 p.m.

Of course, there will be giveaways and prizes at both locations. More importantly, at the Fort Meade PX, there will be a very special book to buy: Here Be Dragons (ISBN 978-0-8095-7331-8), a collection of thirteen short stories about the weird and wonderful fan convention known as Dragon*Con written by some of today's top science fiction and fantasy authors. For reasons unfathomable to anyone but the editor, I'm included in that number. Plus, the copies I'll be selling--and signing--at Fort Meade have been autographed by Jody Lynn Nye and our fearless editor Bill Fawcett as a tribute to our men and women in uniform.

I don't even know if I'll be able to sell them at the Borders later in the afternoon. The book hasn't been officially released yet. It isn't scheduled to appear in most stores until November, and the print run is very limited.

Here Be Dragons is special on a number of levels. In addition to stories by Jody, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Susan Sizemore, Todd McCaffrey and me, the collection features the Robert Asprin's last story, finished the day before he died. Ironically, Bob's story doesn't boast a single alien, dragon or elf, just real people doing what comes naturally at Dragon*Con--which can get a lot stranger.

Our Maryland signings, even with me hanging around, will probably be mundane by comparison. But you never can tell. Hope you'll join us and find out.

D'Arc Side Update

Bright and early Monday morning and here I am trying to think about things that go bump in the night. Hmm... Let me start off by telling you what I've been up to and where I'm going to be... I've been rather remiss in my blogging duties of late due to a lot of excitement in my writing life. First, my most recent ebook release - Jaci's Experiment - hit the streets last month, with all the hoopla associated with a new release. The book mixes psychic abilities with aliens in a post-apocalyptic world and is the third in a series that will contain five books when all is said and done.

I've also received the new cover for my upcoming re-release of One & Only, the story that started my venture into the paranormal. It's been re-written and greatly expanded and will be released from Samhain Publishing on November 7th. Isn't the cover yummy?

Edits are going along nicely on this book so I've had time to write some new things, including a cat-shifter urban fantasy story that mixes big cat shifters and martial arts in a cool urban setting. More information on that project as it becomes available.

And I've been gearing up for a number of appearances. First, I'll be doing a signing at the Borders store in Middletown, NY next Saturday, Sept. 13th. If you're in the area, please drop in! I'll also be at Lora Leigh's Reader Appreciation Weekend (RAW) in at the Pullman Plaza Hotel, Huntington, WV, on the weekend of Sept. 19-21.

The newest and most exciting addition to my schedule has to be Albacon. On the weekend of Oct. 10-12, I'll be a guest at Albacon in Albany, NY. I'm thrilled to be part of this event, since the Guest of Honor is none other than Anne McCaffrey! Woo-hoo! I'll be co-hosting an after-banquet get-together with my good friend, author Stella Price, so look for more information on that if you plan to attend the con. I think it'll be great fun.

One more item of note, my cat-shifter/vampire menage novel, Sweeter Than Wine will be in print at the end of October. It's already available for pre-order on Amazon and will hit stores right around Halween some time. Great timing, huh? :)

Now that I've taken up most of my blog with news, I find I have little room for the creatures of the night, but perhaps we'll get to talking about them next time, eh? ;-) Have a great week everybody!

Come over to The D'Arc Side... http://www.biancadarc.com/

06 September 2008

Divination: Celtic Ogham - Straif

Welcome back to my continuing series on Celtic Ogham divination. Enjoy!

Ogham Letter: Straif (the "st" or "str" dipthong)
Plant: Blackthorn
Month: Samhain
Color: Red
Bird: Thrush
Animal: Wolf, Black cat or Toad
Planet: Depending on the source: Saturn, Mars or Venus
Deities: Morrigan, Eris, Scathach
Crystal: Obsidian
Old Irish: sraib

Brace yourself! Take stock, batten down the hatches, and count your blessings, because wWhen Straif appears in your reading, it's an indication that rocky times lie ahead. The situation is clouded with confusion and strife; seek clarity by pulling the veil from your eyes that prevents you from seeing the truth. It's a strong, complicated energy (kind of like the Morrigan - don't mess with her!) that reminds us that our own negative attitudes can make a situation worse if we don't recognize and learn to move past them.

But don't dispair! The fruit of the blackthorn may be bitter, indeed, but after a hard frost it turns sweet. Blessings come after the challenge is overcome!

Blackthorn is a relative of cherry and plum, and the source of sloe (anyone a fan of sloe gin?). It's a twisting hardwood popular for walking sticks. Because it grows wild, some think of it as representing independence. It's also thought to be the plant from which Jesus' crown of thorns was made. Also known as the "witch tree", its thorns were used in spellworkings. It is associated with the dark aspect of the Goddess, the shadow self, the part that we'd rather not deal with but we'd better if we're to grow and overcome. :)

Click the "ogham" tag to see the rest of this series!

Coming soon: Legends, book 2: A Ghost of a Chance

05 September 2008

Fairy tales!

I love fairy tales!

Today I happened to be wandering around one of my favorite sites, Sur La Lune Fairy Tales. It's like walking through a candy store. I could spend HOURS in there!

They have about 50 stories directly on their site, but they point to hundreds more. Hundreds! From cultures all over the world, too.

They also have illustrations. I admit it, I'm a sucker for a pretty picture. One of my favorite fairy tale illustrators is Kay Nielsen. A Danish artist, he illustrated one of my favorite volumes, East of the Sun and West of the Moon. Sur la Lune also features gorgeous images by Arthur Rackham, who illustrated Peter Pan, and Maxfield Parrish, whose surreal art blends sweetly and sharply with the gentle stories. Aubrey Beardsley illustrated Le Morte D'arthur in stunning pen and ink.

But what's really wonderful about fairy tales -- and I know I say this all the time -- is the scope for imagination that they provide. All the wonderful "what ifs." What if a girl fell asleep for a hundred years? What kind of hero would go through all the pain and agony of the thorn forest to find her?

What if a man was cursed into a bear's form? What kind of heroine would travel east of the sun and west of the moon to rescue him?

Fairy tale archetypes still work today because they provide the framework for infinite variations. I borrowed East of the Sun and West of the Moon as a pattern for my free read, Runespell.

What are your favorite fairy tales? And have you ever used them as a basis for a story of your own?

04 September 2008

13 Ways WereCats Are Better Than WereDogs (As Written By Ms. Anonymous of Halle, PA)

Please welcome our guest blogger, Dana Marie Bell!


13 Ways WereCats Are Better Than WereDogs (As Written By Ms. Anonymous of Halle, PA)

1. Cats pick one human to love; dogs love everybody. Seriously. You've watched them lick complete strangers, you know you have. Do you know where your Dog has been, and why he's got that goofy, sloppy smile on his face when he comes home? Think about it.

2. Tree climbing. An important skill to learn, especially if your Hero/Heroine is caged in his/her room/tower by an evil Stepparent/King. While the Dog howls below her window inconsolably, the Cat merely climbs the tree, scampers agilely into the room, and rescues the knight/damsel in distress.

3. Dogs will spread their legs and lick themselves anywhere, any time, regardless of the presence of women, children, and Cats. At least Cats find a nice, quiet corner to do their business in, and if you happen to run across one whilst in the midst of performing his daily "cleansing", he still manages to look both dignified and pissed off that you interrupted his bath.

4. Dogs do not have the innate grace and balance of a Cat. Or the stunning beauty. They're just big, hairy animals with saliva running off their tongues and onto the carpet. And you wonder why we walk along the back of your sofa?

5. Dogs stink. Have you ever taken a good whiff after he comes in from rolling around in whatever he found out in the back yard to scratch his itch? It's like, "Oh look, stinkweed! Let's go roll in it, guys! Arf arf!" And then they have the nerve to look upset when you shove them in the shower before they can touch you.

6. Cats are attractive, no matter the breed. Dogs? Sharpei. Nuff said.

7. Dogs chase Cats. That makes them bullies. And nobody likes a bully.

8. Because we're just. That. Cool.

9. Cats can get away with a little nip at your fingers and still get petted. Dogs get overnight trips to the backyard if they bare fang, or worse... vet trips!

10. Cats are both feared and revered across the world, and rightly so! Can you imagine a world were a DOG was the sacred animal of the Pharoahs? We'd probably be greeting each other by presenting butts instead of hands.

11. Speaking of butt sniffing, Cats take a different view of that than Dogs. Cats will sniff delicately once or twice and move on. Dogs, on the other hand, will sniff butt, back, sides, crotch, and then sneeze all over everything they just smelled, all the while wagging their tails like demented metronomes. No wonder humans shove them away!

12. Cats can point at Dogs and say "He did it!" with a reasonable expectation of being believed. Although we have not yet mastered the technique known as "puppydog eyes" that invariably get the silly canines out of trouble, we do have the "It wasn't me, that's too undignified" look down pat.

And finally...

13. Our Alpha is smarter/stronger/faster/handsomer/cooler than their Alpha. And how could he not be? Theirs is a Dog.

Dana Marie Bell

Web site
Newsletter group

The Wallflower, Book 1 of the Halle Pumas
Sweet Dreams, Book 2 of the Halle Pumas
Coming soon: Cat of a Different Color, Book 3 of the Halle Pumas

01 September 2008

Labor Day

In 1882 the Central Labor Union of New York City sought to create “a day off for the working citizens”. In 2008, nearly everyone I know had to work today and I was nearly among them as the “day job” is open until 1pm.

From New Years to Christmas most of us have taken to working through the holidays without a second thought. Shorten the hours, throw in a little extra pay (depending on your state) and all is well in the land of the holiday worker. That's because holidays aren’t about the time off or even the time spent with family. National holidays are about being on the same page at the same time as the group you feel embraced by (or merely the ones you pass on the street).

The "Holiday Spirit" is often about the "National Spirit", especially in America and that is something we desperately need. You see, regardless of what the extreme religious right likes to think, we are a nation of diverse faiths and those celebrations of church and temple must also reach into the secular in order to be enough.

I have friends that celebrate Easter and those that celebrate Ostara, a segment that’s all about Thanksgiving (more quasi-religious each year), and another all about Mabon and Cornucopia. I celebrate Christmas with my family and Yule with my extended family, and in the end, for us at least, it is the similarities rather than the differences that keep us smiling all year. For others it is those unifying secular days that keep up from falling out over the differing spiritual ones.

New Years, the Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Labor Day and several others let us set aside our differences and for a moment simply be Americans coming together in the spirit of America. She’s a young country that has stumbled greatly along the way and it is these rituals and cycles that give a bit of cohesion to a diverse populous throughout the year. And I believe that it is these things we do together that remove the sting and perceived threat of those things we do apart.

So for my fellow Americans, whether you worked or rested today, happy Labor Day. I appreciate all of your hard work and that of those who came before us to build this country and forge a nation in which anything is possible. May you find comfort and strength in all the similarities and differences we will experience in the months to come.

And as you relax and watch a parade while eating the last fruits of summer, take a moment and give a nod to the other celebrants of September 1st this year. It is the first day of Ramadan for those who follow Islam allowing the secular and religious to meet for Islamic-Americans today. I experience this duality each Halloween when others forget we’re not all in it just for the candy(*grin*).

So I pause a moment to think of everyone for whom today holds meaning along with those for whom today was nothing more than a great day to be alive. May whatever you believe in bless and keep you. And as Americans may we find a way to always be in the same book even when we can't always be on the same page.

Holiday Ramble Done