28 November 2008

Gods of Gluttony

Warning: Not Work Safe image below.
Fitting, don't you think?

Or not, based on the straining of my seams today.

Yesterday, we feasted. There were 11 dishes on the Thanksgiving dinner table, not to mention the two desserts. Seven people had no hope of consuming even a quarter of what was made. Dh and I tend to, umm, cook for leftovers. I predict that at this rate, we may finish the leftovers just in time to make Christmas dinner.

Anyway, the way we're waddling around the house today put me in mind of the venial sin of Gluttony. Over-indulgence. Greed. Rapacity. Of ravenous appetite. Pigginess. Even edacity.

Did you know that there are gods of gluttony? It seems reasonable, in fact. Gods were typically aggrandized versions of humanity. Their sins or nobility amplified a thousandfold. Surprisingly, however, there are only two reliably mentioned gods who symbolized indulgence in food.

The first is the minor goddess Adephagia. There is very little documentation about her, but while some sources list her as a goddess of gluttony (phagos means "a voracious man, a glutton.") there are others that hail her as a goddess of bounty, rather than excess. Unfortunately, her name is also synonymous with bulimia: adephagia.

Japan, on the other hand, gives us the shapeshifting Tanuki. Comical and round, the Tanuki is "plump, comical brother of the fox, equally prone to mischief and
shape-changing and the deception of humans."

Tanuki is round and tubby, often depicted holding a big bottle of sake. He can make leaves look like coins, so he doesn't have to pay for his indulgences and yeah, those are his testicles. The money he tricks people with is used to pay for wine and women, so those are...wow. Kind of distracting!!

Modern statues of the Tanuki often leave out this, er, little detail. *gg* But he's a very popular figure in front of bars and stores. No doubt the shop-owners hope that their patrons will pay out in real money what the Tanuki pays out in yard trash and IOUs.

Gods do depict human frailties, and our sins are no exception. Nevertheless, enjoy the after-turkey glow while you can!

26 November 2008

When is it "a sign"?

Honestly - when do you start to think the world is conspiring against you?

I went to post this morning - my internet was down.

I waited.

I tried again when it came up, but Monkeyboy, who is sick, started to cry and needed medicine and ginger ale.

I "will come right back". (which of course turned into doing most of the morning and lunchtime before sitting back down.)

I went to post this afternoon, blogger wouldn't let me in.

Double checked my password information.

I went to post once that came in, and my son woke from his naptime, crying and miserable (he's getting teeth.)

Was it a sign I shouldn't post? Or just Bad Timing all around?*

But it got me wondering. How many 'signs' do people need? In fiction, it tends to come in threes - once your poor character has had three warnings, or three failures, or three successes, it's a sign. In real life, every individual seems to have a limit on how many things they need to see/hear in order to believe they're being given some sort of message.

So how many is it for you? How many cute little babies do you have to see and coo over before you're willing to take it as "A sign" you should have just one more? How many books have to fall off the shelf in your local bookstore or library before you decide it is one you should read?

Is it just "internet issues"? Or was there some reason I was supposed to post on this topic today?

I love these questions :-D They're why I'm a writer ;) I can answer them a thousand different ways, depending on my mood.

*I often say I'm going to post these ahead of time, but never manage to do it. Which is just bad time management, and not A Sign.

24 November 2008

Bookish Body Image

As Thanksgiving rapidly approaches, and with the average turkey day meal consisting of some 2000 calories, I keep hearing people around me lament on how much they'll likely gain throughout the holidays and how much they already had to lose--it got me thinking...

If you’re a woman in the world, you’re a person with body issues. Hopefully they’re minor issues, curly hair you want straight, an upturn nose too cute to be taken seriously, things you live with and move on. But all too often they’re major issues that come with negative self-talk, dark thoughts that can number in the triple digits in a day concerning weight, body shape and more. Magazines and other mass media are given the blame for unrealistic expectations, but what part do books play? And if they aren’t part of the problem, have they done enough to be part of the solution?

I read more and more books where the heroine does not have a perfect body by Western standards, many of them romances or urban fantasies where romance plays a factor. This of course is wonderful, but I’m noticing a pattern that disturbs me. The hero, (especially if he’s supernatural and long-lived enough to have seen beauty standards change), is always perfectly happy and deeply aroused by the “curvy”, “womanly”, “voluptuous” body of the heroine. Yay for men who like real women! Our heroine is a different story however.

Many times her negative self-image is displayed on the page and there’s the utter conviction that the handsome hero in question couldn’t possibly want her. It’s real. I’ve had that conversation with girlfriends so I know. But is it helpful? Does it liberate readers to have a main character with the same insecurities they’ve gone through? Or does it make it seem like the heroine is being loved despite her weight/shape/size rather than because of it?

As readers, should we demand more heroines that have found peace with their bodies, or even better, those who revel in who they are? As writers should we work to write more heroines who are bold, sexy, sassy, sizes 12/14/16 and unapologetic about it? And do we fully believe they’d sell? I know I do, but I’m not entirely sure about the industry.

Chick-lit often covered the body-image topic in the aforementioned “he wants me?” pattern of romantic adventure. Or it walked the road of the successful diet where the heroine was finally able to feel good about herself having earned it through sweat and tears and perseverance; becoming a creature worthy of love. I’m thinking we’ve done that dance and can move along. Where are the confident and capable heroines who feel good about their bodies and whose size is a descriptor not an obstacle?

What are some of your favorite books that dealt with average (or near average) size women living their lives without a diet or negative thought in sight? What have you written that fits the picture? What else would you like to see more of on the pages of your favorite genres?

My, this was more questions and than commentary, but it’s what’s on my mind. What’s on yours?

"Happy Heroines/Holiday Calories Ramble" Done


22 November 2008

A Turkey To Remember

The season of jolly has officially started at Chez Ward/Uchrin. The turkey lands on Thursday. I’m wrapping presents to mail before the spouse and I leave on a two-week pre-Christmas vacation, plotting where to put the tree, and humming my new holiday theme song.

That thudding you just heard was the sound of my fellow BtV bloggers fainting dead away. I can understand their shock. I thought I’d never find a song that perfectly expresses the totality of my holiday experience.

“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” always made me want to gnash my teeth. “White Christmas”? Faggeddaboudit. The only thing snow at Christmas ever did for me was turn the three-hour car trip to visit my Philadelphia-based relatives into fourteen hours of white-out torture on I-95. I admit a sneaking fondness for Madonna’s “Santa Baby”, but there’s no way I could limit its application to a single season. One look at my shoe closet and the secret’s out; I’m a Material Girl the whole year round.

Then I saw the first episode of True Blood, the HBO series based on Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire novels, and heard Jace Everett sing the show’s opening theme. Now I realize, the only thing most women think about when they hear “Bad Things” is hot, sweaty vampire sex with Stephen Moyer’s Bill Compton or Alexander Skarsgard’s Eric Northman. Not that I’d throw either of them (or Robert Pattinson’s Edward Cullen, if it came to that) out of bed for eating crackers, but when Everett wails “I want to do really bad things with you” over the opening montage of car-struck possum and decomposing fox, I don’t think about sex. I think about food—specifically, my mother’s cooking.

Which isn’t to say my formative holidays were roadkill. My childhood Thanksgivings and Christmases were filled with love and the kind of comic catastrophes you can dine out on for life—and where I come from, dining out is very important. I was blessed with a wonderful family and a great mother in every way that mattered. But when it came to all the traditional “wifely skills”… Let’s just say, in my mom’s hands, an oven qualified as a WMD.

Mom was a registered nurse and Army officer. Cooking wasn’t listed anywhere on her efficiency reports until her job description changed from officer to officer’s wife. This was fortunate, because the kitchen was not my mother’s natural habitat. For one thing, her medical training had left her with some rather unique notions of nutritional hygiene. Many was the time I’d come home from school to find her washing frozen steaks with soap and water before sticking them, still hard and glassy, under the broiler. Do you remember the part in A Christmas Story when Ralphie’s about to get his mouth washed out with soap and he fantasizes about going blind from swallowing too much of the wrong brand? The first time I heard his cinematic dad, Darren McGavin yodel “I told you not to use the Lifebuoy!” I laughed so hard I almost needed to change my underwear. I knew that piquant flavor well, though in my case, the taste of soap was more of a seasoning than a punishment.

When Hormel experimented with injecting chili inside their hotdogs, people Mom barely knew wrote to congratulate her on being hired as a consultant. She thought they were complimenting her. But then, she also thought the officers and their wives who attended her cocktail parties adored her Alaskan King Crab dip.

At eight, I knew better. There was a SOP (that’s “standard operating procedure” for those of you not raised on acronyms) passed from the wife of each of my dad’s commanding officers to her successor. The CO, his wife, his executive officer (XO) and the XO’s wife always arrived at my mother’s parties in a group. While the XO’s wife distracted my mom with loud cries of gladness, the CO’s wife would grab me by the elbow and frog march me down the buffet table. She’d point to each dish in turn and demand, “Who made this?”

Since Mom was well-liked, most of the food on her table came from the kitchens of friends and neighbors. But she always included one or two of her “specialties”. Once she identified Mother’s handiwork, the CO’s wife would neutralize it by using the appropriate cutlery to push the contents of the dish under the parsley garnish my mom used to hide the burnt edges circling the plate. Dad’s colleagues and spouses diligently avoided the dishes with the watery holes in the middle, and Mom was never the wiser.

Even my dad, who worshipped the puncture marks in the ground made by the stiletto heels of Mom’s size six shoes, practiced gustatory avoidance tactics. But he was a lot sneakier about it. He’d drag himself home after working a twelve-hour day and croon, “Jean, you look beat. Why don’t you let me take you out?” On a major’s salary, we ate out more often than any full colonel’s family on the base. (Generals’ families didn’t need to eat out; back then, they were entitled to the service of professional cooks. The dogs.)

Thanksgivings we ate in the hospital mess hall. My dad claimed it was critical to the morale of the troops under his command. In fact, since he was a hospital registrar, most of his “troops” were civilians—who were probably at home enjoying home-cooked turkey with all the trimmings. But it was a good line. I didn’t learn the truth until years later, when a medical issue prompted him to confess. I think he wanted to clear his conscience just in case. But it’s telling that, for all confession’s supposed to be good for the soul, he never felt quite close enough to death to confess his dining lies to Mother.

However, the kitchen crimes Mom committed as an Army wife were only a foretaste of mess-terpieces to come. The first years after dad retired weren’t so bad. I learned to cook early. It was a matter of self-preservation, and Dad reaped the giant, man-sized portion of the benefits. But much as I loved my parents, these halcyon days of healthy eating doomed to end. And soon. I always planned to leave the nest as soon as I graduated college.

Still, what happened next was mostly Dad’s own fault. The year after I graduated college, he bought Mom a big house with the spacious, modern kitchen of her dreams and a basement filled the party equipment of the previous owners. These implements of epicurean destruction included something Mom called a “roaster”—a rectangular crock pot with a temperature dial and strange cooking racks studded with circular holes. Then he bought her the ultimate stove—a gleaming, self-cleaning convection oven, which could also be used as a microwave. Mom was so smitten with it, she wouldn’t even use the self-cleaning fixture. She insisted Dad clean it by hand, as he had all her military-issue stoves.

That oven was the culinary equivalent of Pandora ’s Box. It filled Mom with the drive to cook as never before. Harkening back to her days in the military, Mom warmed up by figuring out the formula whereby whole eggs could be nuked into C-rations.

Then she exploded a pot of spaghetti sauce.

She exploded the pot—the porcelain enameled, cast iron pot—of spaghetti sauce. Ironically, spaghetti sauce was the one thing Mom could cook really well. This ability must’ve been a weird genetic memory passed down from her Italian ancestors, because she certainly couldn’t cook anything else. She used to make the sauce in industrial-sized portions and freeze pots of it for when her family came to visit. (Knowing her longer than the rest of us, visiting relatives generally refused to eat anything else she made unless it went straight from the box to the toaster.)

On the evening in question, Aunt Neli and Uncle Mickey showed up unannounced. Mother reasonably concluded she could never thaw a pot of sauce in time for dinner. Since the sauce she needed was in a porcelain-enameled iron pot, she couldn’t defrost the sauce in the microwave, either. So she set it on one of the stove’s electric burners and turned the dial to the highest setting… and forgot all about it while she and Aunt Neli settled down for an intense discussion of the character, ancestry and personal grooming habits of the in-law of a second cousin once removed.

I happened to be home on holiday and looking forward to the one good meal I didn’t have to cook for myself. I moseyed into the kitchen in time to see what I thought was steam curling from under the lid of the pot. It was starting to shake too. I was about to open my mouth to ask if the pot was supposed to do that when I heard what sounded like a shot.

Having been raised on a succession of military bases, I knew there was only one possible response to that sound. I hit the deck. Luckily, so did my mother, aunt and uncle. Believe me, porcelain-enameled cast iron makes some serious shrapnel.

A less loving man—or a less fatalistic one—would’ve declared the stove off-limits at that point. Not my father. He not only paid to replace the top of the stove, he sprang for redecorating the whole kitchen.

As a result, my mother was still committing cooking atrocities when I finally got married and dragged the spouse home to the ‘rents. I picked a man who could cook too. I was so proud of myself. But I should’ve realized Greg’s ability was no defense against my mom’s determination to reinvent herself as a culinary virtuoso.

She fixed him her special eggs. I nearly lost him then and there. If Greg could’ve found where I hid his running shoes, he would’ve been across the border to Maryland before anybody could catch him.

For dinner, Mom asked us to pick up a rack of pre-cooked spare ribs. Words cannot express the relief we felt at this request. What could she possibly do pre-cooked ribs? All she had to do is throw them into Pyrex dish and nuke ‘em for a few minutes.

We sorely underestimated her.

Well, my mother did microwave the ribs for eight minutes on “High”, as specified in the instructions. But she couldn’t smell the ribs when they were done. Being concerned about safety of improperly heated pre-cooked pork, she set the timer for another ten minutes and nuked the ribs again. She still couldn’t smell them, so she repeated the process. After forty minutes, she figured the meat had to be done, regardless of cooking method. She called everybody in the house to the table and, with a flourish worthy of an Iron Chef season champion, opened the door to the oven. A cloud of gray ash billowed from the stove. Even this did not dampen her enthusiasm. She set the smoking plate on the trivets and announced, “Dinner is served.”

Greg and I were incapable of speech. The ribs looked like something from Ground Zero at Nagasaki. There was nothing left except blackened fingers of bone clawing the sky.

My father, on the other hand, was in his element. His face split in his biggest, sweetest smile. “Well, Jean,” he told my mother brightly, “nobody will ever get trichinosis from this pork.”

Then the s-o-b drove up the street to buy himself a hotdog.

After that, Greg and I knew it was cook or be killed. The next year, with Dad’s help, we shanghaied Christmas dinner. We prepared everything, from the fresh-killed, locally grown turkey Dad bought at the Chestnut Hill market to the homemade gravy and mashed potatoes, to the stuffing, the salad, the vegetables and dessert. The only thing mother was allowed to do was pick out the pre-sliced, pre-cooked ham.

She wasn’t even allowed to warm the ham. Earlier that year she’d made Dad Jello with the pineapple she’d cooked on a canned ham, and he’d been off his feed ever since. Considering my dad had been orphaned at an early age, liked mess hall food and had, by that point, survived more than thirty years of Mother’s cooking, that’s saying an awful lot—emphasis on the awful.

Mom’s family raved about the dinner. They couldn’t sing Greg’s praises loudly enough. They even spared a kind word for my contributions to the feast.

Mother could not allow this insult to her culinary honor to go unavenged. She bided her time. The next year, she bought a fresh-killed local turkey. At the after-Thanksgiving sale. She stuck it in the freezer. Two weeks before Christmas, she set bird out in the unheated, glassed-in breezeway between the house and the garage to thaw. Nobody paid any attention, because that’s where she always put gifts of fruitcake and cookies, and any large tchotchkes displaced by her holiday decorations. Who’d notice one more lump of butcher paper and plastic wrap in the middle of all that stuff?

Greg and I didn’t know to look. In blissful ignorance of all her plans, we arrived late that Christmas Eve. Exhausted as we were from work and the after-dark drive from Virginia to Pennsylvania, we immediately inquired about the turkey. Mom ordered Dad to bring it in. Something about the bird didn’t look right. It wasn’t packaged the way it had been the year before. Concerned, Greg prodded it through its wrappings. It didn’t feel right, either. When he said as much, Mom snapped, “Oh, it’s all in your head.”

Too tired to argue, I shrugged and asked Greg to carry the bird to the frig in the garage. “What are you doing that for?” my mom demanded. “It can stay in the breezeway.”

“No,” I said. “It needs to be refrigerated to keep it from spoiling. The temperature in the breezeway’s too variable.”

Mom pouted, but she let me rearrange the contents of the garage refrigerator to accommodate the bird. At that point, I should’ve suspected something was wrong. But Greg and I were so tired. We could barely work up the energy to ask for an early wake-up call and haul our suitcases to our bedroom.

The wake-up call never came. My first clue that the day wasn’t going to go as planned came when I opened my eyes to a light-filled bedroom. The bedroom we used in my parents’ house faced northwest. It never saw daylight until almost noon. Frantic, I pushed Greg out of bed and staggered into the kitchen.

A pot of sausage stuffing was warming on one burner of the stove. Turkey giblets and water—nothing but water—were boiling in another pot. The remaining burners were occupied by the hot water kettle and something that might’ve been oatmeal in another dimension. The oven was cold. I opened it and found the racks loaded with pyrex dishes filled with canned refrigerator rolls and a mush Mother identified as mixed turnips and sweet potatoes. “With the skins,” she added proudly.

“Oh God,” I groaned, squeezing my temples. “The family’s going to be here in an hour and a half. We’ll never get the turkey cooked in time.”

“Don’t be silly,” Mom said. “It’s almost done.”

“How?” Greg asked.

“I cooked it, of course,” Mom replied.

The prospect of any turkey cooked by my mother was bad enough, but what was worse was she couldn’t possibly have cooked it in that cold oven. For one thing, my mom never woke before 8 a.m., and then only with the greatest reluctance and the kind of maddened roaring usually associated with Boris Karloff’s depiction of Frankensteins’s monster. For another, she’d insist on roasting the hapless bird until it resembled cracklings stuffed with sawdust—a four-hour process at the very least. It was barely noon.

“Where?” Greg asked as I croaked, “You didn’t. Not the roaster. Please, tell me you didn’t try to cook the turkey in the roaster.”

The roaster which burned the edges of whatever was cooked on those funny racks with the circular holes. The roaster which left the middle uncooked and runny.

“I don’t know why you don’t like it,” Mom said. “It always worked fine for me.”

“That sounds ominous,” Greg said as Mom left to retrieve her turkey from the basement.

“It gets worse,” I said, pointing to the giblet water that would never in anyone’s wildest dream turn into anything resembling gravy.

Greg gulped. “At least we have ham. You did say she bought a ham.”

“She said she did. I’d better check.” I turned to open the kitchen door to the breezeway. An unearthly keening from the basement stopped me in my tracks.

“You never told me your house was haunted,” said the love of my life. It was as close as he ever came to death at my hands. The only thing that saved him from instant strangulation was the sound of Mother’s feet pounding up the cellar stairs, and the sure and certain knowledge I needed my fingers free to deal with whatever disaster she was about to foist upon us.

Still caterwauling, Mom ran into the kitchen. At first I was afraid she’d burned herself. Steam whistled from the foil-wrapped aluminum roasting pan she carried in front of her. But her hands were safely gloved with oven mitts.

“I think I overcooked it!” she wailed.

Greg pressed his lips together to keep from stating the obvious. “Put the pan down,” I said in a strained voice.

Mom dropped the pan on the hot pads she’d placed on the kitchen table for that purpose. Stripping off her mitts, she ripped the foil off the pan.

The turkey, I swear to you, sighed. Then, with a great whoosh of air, it imploded. All that was left was a concave mass of flaccid, quivering flesh with moist, brown wing tips and legs sticking out like the four cardinal points of the compass.

Eyes wide behind his glasses, Greg stuck a cigarette in his mouth and headed to the basement. It was the only place he could smoke inside my parents’ house. For once, I was tempted to join him, and I’ve never smoked in my life.

Mom yowled an invocation to Cthulhu. Dad appeared. She held out her arms like she wanted him to pick her up and carry her away from all this. She was small enough and he was tall enough that it was still technically possible, despite their age. But like me, Dad couldn’t tear his gaze away from the nameless horror that used to be a turkey.

“Hotdogs. Must. Get. Hotdogs,” he gasped and ran out to the garage. He started his car and zipped down the street in less time than it took Greg finished his cigarette and return from the basement.

“Don’t forget the parsley,” Mom yelled after Dad's retreating back. “If we put enough parsley on the plate, they’ll never notice how it looks.”

“No, Mom, they will. Give me the bird. We need to bury it before Greg’s parents arrive. You don’t want in-laws—” I italicized the word “—to see it like this.”

For once, the terrible threat of embarrassment in front of relatives by marriage failed to bring Mom to her senses. Using the mitts like potholders, she clutched the pan as close to her chest as she dared. “No, it’s my turkey. You had your turkey last year. This one’s mine. Mine! All mine!”

“Okay, Mom, it’s yours. But you need to put it down and get dressed, right?”

“So do you,” Mom said, her expression sly. Think Golem talking about his Precious, and you’ve got the look pasted across my mother’s face at that moment.

Greg emerged from the basement. “I’ll lay out the turkey,” he said.

“You promise,” Mom demanded. “You’ve got to promise.”

“Sure, I promise,” Greg said. “It probably isn’t any worse than a turkey cooked in the dishwasher.”

Satisfied, Mom scurried to her bedroom to get dressed. I crossed my arms and glared at Greg. “How could you serve that, that thing to your worst enemy, much less people who know where you live? And what’s this crap about cooking in a dishwasher?”

“That thing you call a roaster—it’s the rectangular pot with the thermostat on top of the white cabinet, right?”

“Yeah,” I said uncertainly.

“It’s got racks with round openings the size of quarters.”

“And your point?”

“That isn’t a roaster. It’s an autoclave. It’s what they use in hospitals to sterilize test tubes. With steam. Your mom was a nurse. Didn’t she ever mention it?”

No, as a matter of fact, she didn’t. She didn’t mention the whole two week “defrost” in the breezeway either. This meant that no matter how hard Greg, Dad and I tried to steer the company toward the ham, salad and vegetables I prepared in the last hour before dinner, they insisted on trying the bird. To be fair, Greg’s parents and all my aunts and uncles were in their sixties and seventies, and very worried about what the salt in the ham would do to their blood pressure. But knowing Mother, they really should’ve worried more about other parts of their anatomies. Those parts weren’t as young as they used to be either.

But in keeping with the spirit of the season, they were all very kind about it. No one charged Dad for the emergency room visits they all made later that night. Or all the new prescription medicines and antibiotics they had to take. For a month.

Mother thought the party was a tremendous success—a triumph undimmed by the fact Greg’s parents carefully arranged to never eat in her house again. Of course, considering how she felt about in-laws, that might've been made of win too.

She didn’t get sick either. I never could figure that part out. Greg muttered darkly about Lovecraftian mutations, but Dad was the Ward out of Providence. Mom was a Biferie out of Philadelphia, so that couldn’t be it. Even so, I’m awfully glad she didn’t live long enough to see the True Blood credits. I shudder think of what she might’ve done with possum.

And parsley.

Happy feasting!

Jean Marie

19 November 2008

Lioness mothering antelopes

A few years ago I followed the story of a lioness, apparently childless or cubless, who kept adopting baby antelopes. I was fascinated. On the surface, the story is cute, but unfortunately doesn't end well, which isn't really surprising. What it does show is this lioness's drive to mother.

In 2002 on a game reserve in Kenya, a lioness adopted an oryx calf. Usually lions eat oryx calves. But this lioness protected the calf from other predators and lay down with it, the calf apparently "curled up under the belly of its adoptive mother". I remember thinking when I first read about it, oh, it was an orphan. But, no. The lioness "chased away the oryx's natural mother". When I realized that, I thought, uh-oh. Because not matter how good its intentions, I just don't think a lioness is as well equipped to mother a baby oryx as a mother oryx is, even if the lioness sometimes allowed the calf to nurse before reasserting her relationship.

Said relationship lasted a fortnight before a lion stalked the pair, killed the calf while the lioness was sleeping, and then ate it. The lioness was apparently very angry and "went around the lion about 10 times roaring".

Three months later she was on her third adoption. The second adoption failed because the oryx (and the lioness who did not hunt during this time) was becoming malnourished and the wardens removed the calf from the lioness and placed it in a zoo. The third adoption was a 3-day old calf. The poor calf's mother kept hovering around trying to presumably reach her baby while the lioness was fiercely protective of the calf, not letting humans near them.

Well, the lioness became a tourist attraction, which must have been a bit intrusive for her and the calf, being surrounded by vans and tourists. They even named her Kamuniak, meaning "blessed one".

By the fifth adoption, one animal behaviorist describes the lioness as having a mental disorder. After rescuing three of the oryx calves from the lioness, the wardens decided to let nature take its course. So the fifth adopted calf died of starvation. Clearly the lioness had figured out how to protect her "babies" from other lions—she didn't hunt while in mother-mode—but not how to feed them.

After the fifth calf starved, the lioness…well, she ate it. And there doesn't seem to have been more adoptions since. At least they didn't reach the international news. Perhaps that put an end to her adoptions. She hasn't been seen since 2004.

There is a wikipedia page for Kamuniak. There are also some video clips of the dysfunctional relationships. It's an unusual story, I think. Some people hold it up as heartwarming, but I actually find it more sad than anything. I mean, what a life for the calf! There is some suggestion that the lioness did not have a pride and this may have played a role in her adoptions.

Jorrie Spencer
Now available: Puma

17 November 2008

Confessions of a Galley Slave, Part One.

Passenger: "So how far will this plane take us?"
Ron White: "All the way to the scene of the crash."

Last summer I finally got my disability judgment and payment. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to buy a pair of cheap computers and upgrade my office. I considered it a business expense, which of course it was.

My husband and I picked up this pair of e-machines for a mere 250 bucks each. It was a sweet deal. They’re brand new, and although they were purchased in June they still have that new computer smell. My husband got one, and I took the other.
The pair worked happily together ever after...that is until, last week, the router connecting the pair died silently while the cable guy was installing our new broad band service. (I'm sure my computer is depressed about this.)
So I can write all I want on my machine in the office, but I have to use my husband’s computer here in the living room.

Of course he doesn’t mind. And I figured, it wouldn’t be such a big deal anyway. It’d be a couple of weeks before we could go out and purchase a new router, but I’d use this computer to my check out email and do research. I’d write on my computer.

Well…Not exactly….
A few days ago Mercer’s Bayou galleys showed up in my inbox, along with instructions and the form to fill out to do error corrections, along with deadline.
I sat and whimpered.
The computers are of course, identical. They have the exact same OS. But working on this computer is like driving someone else’s car. I felt uncomfortable writing on it.

My husband, understanding the situation said it wasn’t a problem. He set up a folder just for me and told me to get to work.

The form looked straightforward, but I have learned, especially after my stint working at an army ammunition plant (that’s now a game preserve) that straightforward could be misleading. But of course, I ignored this lesson from ages past, and decided to plow through it anyway.

I am super author. Able to leap typos with a single bound!

So I soared through the manuscript and grumbling to myself over the number of little nitpicky errors I had left in the earlier mss. These are the exact same kinds of errors I usually rake other authors over the coals over in my book reviews. The last thing I wanted was my fellow horror authors to extend me the same…ahem…courtesy… Besides, I really hate having a book going out only ‘half dressed.’ And I quickly realized as I scanned the lines, that Mercers did indeed go out in e-format with her top off.

Soaring, turned to crawling. After two hours of slow tedious line editing, slogging through misplaced quotation marks, typos, and minor grammatical errors, I developed the bizarre desire to slam my head against the keyboard.

Tsuki, our Akita mix wanted out. I took this as an opportunity to get some fresh air and get away from the computer for a bit. While we’re gone, Georgina our blue cameo crème kitten took a stroll of her own…right over the keyboard. So when Tsuki and I returned I noticed the form had Georgina’s moniker written on it. She was sitting happily on the keyboard, looking smug. I picked her up and told her that under no circumstances could she look up ‘kitty porn,’ much less post about it on my galleys form.

I also jotted down a note to contact the Local Humane Society to help me get both the cats fixed. The last thing I need right now is for strange toms showing up looking for a good time. Especially now that I know how they find their way to my house.

I clear out Georgina’s moniker. I go back and look at the galleys. Great. I finished up 40 pages in nearly two hours. I figured that at this pace I could do roughly 50 pages a day I could be finished well before the December 8th deadline.
Not only can I leap tall typos in a single bound, I’m also faster than a speeding bullet! Who knew?

Feeling happy, (I am after all super author) and thinking about how I could get this done and shipped back to Samhain in a week, so I could return to my own computer and to the two novels waiting in it for me, I took Danny our elderly poodle out for a brief walk. When we came back, Georgina was back on the keyboard. I displace her, and go to the kitchen and make me a fresh cup of mint tea.

When I return my husband is standing over the monitor looking at my work.
“You know you’re doing this wrong,” he said.
“No I’m not,” I said. “I’m the writer I know what I’m doing.”
He laughed at me and said, “Did you read the directions?”
“No, I didn’t need to.”
“Well you should have,” he said, as he picked up a printout of the directions that came with the galleys. “Because it says here you’re supposed to put in the entire sentence, plus highlight what needs corrected. All you did was put in a word or two. You screwed up.”
He handed me the instructions. I looked at them, feeling crestfallen and definitely foolish. He was right. I didn’t do the galleys right and now I have to start over.
“Remember what old Doc, Wright used to say,” my husband said.
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” I grumbled. “When all else fails, read the directions.”
So I’ve lost standing as super author, my kryptonite being the glib expression from my former biology professor. I can’t leap tall errors in a single bound after all. I should never be faster than a speeding bullet. I have to sit down, slog through this slowly and thoroughly, and get the job done right, because God knows, the next time I want to see Mercer’s is in print form and error free. And without the pointing and snickering from my horror loving collegues.
So, sighing, I went back to my oars and resumed my duties as a galley slave.
Row. row. row your boat....

16 November 2008

Recycled Posts

Since something terrific happened this week, I'm going to recycle this post from my own blog, earlier this week. Two posts, actually, but the first is a Public Service Annoucement:

There's a movement circulating 'round the web to help out the economy, bookstores, authors, and people buy encouraging them to buy books as gifts for the holidays. I can't find the original link, but I'm sure you've already heard about it.
Buying books is ALWAYS a good thing.
*You support authors - and we need all the support we can get!
*You support bookstores - and with the economy, they need all the help they can get too.
*Books don't expire, can be used again and again, and are pretty inexpensive, gift-wise.
*Most books are cheaper than a movie ticket (unless you're buying the fancy-schmancy hardcovers), and are portable entertainment.
* When you give a book, you're promoting literacy.
So, this holiday season....GIVE BOOKS! (I have some suggestions if you need them...)
ETA: Wait...found it! Here's the blog: Buy Books for the Holidays!

Now for my other recycled post:

Today, while not a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day (whoa, I am spending far too much time in elementary school) was not the best day ever.
Then I got home and THE BOX was waiting. I was hoping it'd be in time for Philcon. And it is:

Yes, it IS a box of real live copies of The Crown of Zeus. Ain't they purty? Yes, they are, even on the back:

Yessss......love the books, so pretty and shiny.

And the product in proper usage:

Wow, I hardly remember how funny that part is! Go me! The Crown of Zeus in paperback is up for pre-order on Amazon now, and will officially launch on Dec. 29! (If you happen to be at Philcon next weekend, you'll be able to snag an early copy - autographed! Makes a terrific gift!)

15 November 2008

The crowded cave

I've been in my writing cave this week. It's been a productive one - Flawed is off to wiser minds, although I know the final scene is going to need more than a little tweaking when it comes back. But it gave me my usual emotional rush to get to The End - and then ten seconds later to hear that brooding voice in my head say "what's next".

I told that voice to go talk to itself, and get back to me when it has something.

Because when I looked up from my writing, I found my "cave" had become a disaster. I took over the front room of the house a bit ago, filled it with book cases (and books), a desk, my comfy green chair, and labeled it library. Unfortunately the furniture fairy seems to have declared it a breeding zone. Right now there are a desk, a white board, two couches, six chairs, three tables - no wait, four - an easel, a rolling laptop cart, and an extra lage dog bed taking up almost every inch of floor space. (I just found another chair - seven chairs.) There are also a rather large dog and a kitten determined to torment him in here.

As soon as her morning cartoons are over, I'm guessing my daughter will find her way in here as well.

Quiet, soothing and peaceful, my library is not. It's more than just a bit crowded. So today, that voice in my head is going to have to keep quiet just a bit longer. It's going to be a cleaning day in the cave.

What do you have planned this weekend?

11 November 2008

Thanksgiving, Recipes and Works in Progress

I live in Ohio and believe it or not it's just now starting to feel like fall. For some strange reason we've had unusual weather in which summer would not let go. But autumn is now knocking on our door and I'm loving it. Of course ask me in January and I'll be singing another tune.

Now that the leaves are off the trees and the hat and mitten tub is out again, I've been thinking a lot about Thanksgiving. I love Thanksgiving almost more than Christmas (notice I said almost). Thanksgiving is less rushed, less hectic and a wonderful time to indulge yourself and bond with your family.

I don't host Thanksgiving dinner. Instead I get the luxury of going to two houses and eating two huge turkey spreads. But I do cook a lot of the dinner for my mom. Deserts are my favorite to make. If I could toot my horn a little, people rave over my deserts and each year I try to outdo the last. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't.

This year I've decided my "new" recipe will be the Pumpkin Roll. Click here for the recipe and tell me what you think. Just looking at the picture makes me smell ginger and cinnamon and pumpkin. Oh, wait. That's the pumpkin pie candle I have burning.

Now I'm hungry.

My other favorite and one my kids beg me to make all the time and the guys my husband works with just die for is Chocolate Caramel Brownies. This is a favorite everywhere:

Chocolate Caramel Brownies

1 German chocolate cake mix

1 bag caramels

2/3 cup evaporated milk

1 stick butter

1 cup chocolate chips

preheat oven to 350 degrees

Melt caramels and 1/3 cup evaporated milk in saucepan. Mix cake mix, 1/3 cup milk, and butter until crumbly. Press half of the cake mixture into a greased 9x13 pan. Bake for 6 minutes in a 350 degree oven.

Pour chocolate chips over cooked cake layer. Poor melted caramel over chocolate chips. Crumble remaining cake mixture over caramel.

Bake 15-18 minutes.

As for Works In Progress, well I just finished another Vampire story that I am completely excited about. I can't tell you much because I haven't even submitted it to my editor yet, but I can say I absolutely love the two main characters and their journeys to each other (yes, I did say journeys). My romantic suspense, Redemption, was on Samhain's bestseller list for two weeks in a row and I couldn't be more thrilled. Thank you all for purchasing it and I hope you loved John and Hope's story.

I won't be posting again before Thanksgiving so here's hoping you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

10 November 2008

Dream of the Big Cats

I've never written a shifter story. I do have one on deck that is set in a fantasy world. Which suits me just fine as most of the shifter tales (or is it tails) I've read are in contemporary settings and have crossed lines into the romantice suspense genre. (And by the way, those are some of my favs to read!) but I don't like following the pack..er..a pride. So, fantasy it is.

I don't know why I've never gone over to the furry side with my books. I enjoy a good shifter story, I'm just usually engaged in crafting stories having to do with some kind of psychic phenomenon more so than physical ones. So why then do I often dream of big powerful felines - fangus scariotis .

And that leads me to this topic. Cats. You know the ones. Big teeth. Fierce growl. Bite your head off variety. Now, I can't say for sure if my dream this morning had more to do with the breakfast melt I ate before laying down to sleep after a long and hectic night shift, or my love of the majestic animals. All I can say is that a huge tiger appeared in my dream and proceeded to battle a grizzly bear bent on ripping my face off. Thanks to my striped guardian, I woke to find my face intact, but heart beating out of my chest. Why did I have such a bizarre dream? What did that bear have against me? I bode no ill will to the bear populace. As a matter of fact, I think they're pretty cool. I'm not one to think that such powerful, albeit strange, dreams are given to us to forget. No, they're a gift we have to figure out what to do with. And me, being me I have to see how the Battle of the Paws could translate into fodder for a novel or novella.

I'm thinking to make it even more interesting and outragous, it should be steam punk. Kind of like The Island of Dr. Morou meets The Golden Compass. The bear is naturally the villian since he wanted to play WWF smackdown with me- the tiger the hero. The lovely heroine is caught between them. The mad genius of her past whom she was once engaged, versus the noble and gentle lover she met by chance - but whom remains a great mystery. And no wonder, he's part of an underground cadre protecting her majesty's interests abroad. (I'm thinking a twisted version of the Victorian Era).

And now the ideas are cascading through my brain. I can't wait to write them down.

Moral of the story here - listen to your dreams. And if a big goregous golden eyed tiger saves you in a dream, thank him by turning him into a hero.

I'll keep you posted on where the story goes.

What kind of odd ideas have you gotten from dreams?


(Beautiful painting is by Thomas Canty)

07 November 2008

Imaginary men aren't easy...

I recently finished and submitted book two of The Sentinels. Still waiting to hear from my editor on that one as I look forward to the release of DREAM WALK. Seems like I'm always waiting for something. (sigh)

In the natural order of progression, I should begin book three. After all, I know the characters and the basic skeleton of the plot, including some meatier details. I even have an inkling of the 'black moment' that will briefly tear the hero and heroine apart. So what's the problem?

Lack of focus, for one thing, not to mention the annoying life roller-coaster that I've been stuck on for the last two months. It's a ride that shows no sign of ending anytime soon thanks to the holidays looming on the track ahead.

Yes, it could be all those things -- some of the more personal stuff you can read about on my own blog -- or it could be the fact that my muse has an attention deficit problem of epic proportions.

But that's not where I cast blame. No. I blame a figment of my imagination... a tall, dark, sexy, enigmatic figment.

His name is Davu Johnson, and he's the hero of book five. FIVE, not three. He does, however, appear in each story. He's the old man. The very ancient Sentinel with a shadowed past. I don't know all the details, yet. He also has the ability to read minds, see the future (to some extent), and a sarcastic sense of humor.

Before you start to wonder, NO, he is not an Acheron knock-off. Davu is mine. All mine. He's not a god. He wasn't horribly abused throughout his childhood, and doesn't actually lead the Sentinels. He's more of an advisor. A councilor. The guy who kicks them in the ass when they get out of line or act like babies.

Until recently, he's also been very quiet. Didn't want to divulge much about himself, his past or his preferences in women. In fact, he's been a big pain in the rear to write. But all of that has changed. He's become more and more real to me...more and more vocal. And he wants to tell me his story. Now.

Did I mention that I need to write book three? NOT book five. NOT Davu's story. Not yet. I tell him that -- internally, of course, no need to expose my unique 'talents' to the world -- and he just grins. Oh, yes, even the imaginary men in my life are difficult.

06 November 2008

Thursday Thirteen

13 things about Gamer Love

1. Gamer Love is my latest release!

2. Online role-play is the concept behind Gamer Love.

3. Gamer Love is a multicultural romance

4. Gamer Love is a modern tale.

5. Gamer Love is set in Las Vegas and Arizona

6. Abram (Gamer Love's hero) is a Border Patrol Agent.

7. Lindsey (Gamer Love's heroine) is a librarian.

8. Abram & Lindsey met online in a paranormal fan-fiction group.

9. Gamer Love flowed easily through my muse.

10. Already anxiety grows as I wait to hear from a reader or reviewer on their thoughts of Gamer Love.

11. Writing Gamer Love allowed me to dabble in my former addiction of writing fan-fiction & role-play.

12. Here's Gamer Love's story video.

13. Here's a short blurb for Gamer Love:

After months of online games, Lindsey's finally meeting her playmate Sandulf in the flesh. And what gorgeous flesh it is! When cyber role-play turns reality, Lindsey has to learn to show the gamer she wants to give him real love.

Melissa Lopez
JOURNEYS OF LOVE every woman needs to take.

05 November 2008

Hot Mess

My most recent release from Samhain came out yesterday. Liam's Gold is a hot paranormal romance about a rascally leprechaun and the girl next door, and if you're interested, here's the link: http://samhainpublishing.com/excerpt/liams-gold

This book is hot isn't the "hot mess" I'm talking about in the title of this post, though. That refers to something else. My cooking--rather, my cooking when I'm in the middle of a writing or promotional project and don't exactly...pay attention. Or plan ahead.

This particular cooking fiasco, in fact, is partly due to this blog. Yes, I blame Carolan :). I was distracted, my mind on a piece of serial fiction I've been posting at another blog and what I wanted to blog about here tonight. I wanted a meal that was quick, healthy, easy, tasty, and comprised of items already in my cupboard.

Too much to ask for? You be the judge....

“Quick and Easy Black Beans”

2 cans black beans (plain, not seasoned)
2 cans diced tomato (Mexican, chili-ready, your preference)
1 can corn (or frozen corn)
chili powder to taste
garlic powder to taste
cumin optional

1) Empty beans into the saucepan.
Note 1: I do not recommend turning on the burner beneath the saucepan and then forgetting it was on so that the saucepan gets really hot and sizzles and splatters the bean juice into your face when you dump them in.
Note 2: Not even if your kid is in the bathroom yelling for you to come quick.
Note 3: Unless she says the toilet is overflowing. And if so, be aware she’s been standing there watching it for 45 seconds already and the bathroom has an inch of toilet water in the floor.
Note 4: Back in the kitchen, finally, you may want to drain and rinse the beans in a colander first. It rinses the excess sodium and reduces the sauce that *may* later give the beans an overly soupy consistency. That your child will refer to as "poopy" for obvious reasons.

2) Empty tomatoes into the saucepan.
Note 1: I do not recommend using tomatoes with added hot peppers if you are planning on trying to convince your kids to eat the beans.
Note 2: I also do not recommend adding sugar to the beans to reduce the burning sensation with the bribe of sweetness.
Note 3: Or salt.
Note 4: Or barbecue seasoning.

3) Empty corn into saucepan.
Note 1: I do not recommend allowing the children to accompany you into the garage, where the deep freezer is, when you go look for your bag of frozen corn.
Note 2: At the same time, I do not recommend leaving your children alone in the house, not for a second. Remember the toilet?
Note 3: I do not recommend, after you’ve pulled the children out from under the car, off the workbench and made them pick up all the recycling, forgetting to take your husband’s tools off the lid of the large chest freezer before you open it.
Note 4: I do not recommend, after you dragged the tools out from behind the stupid freezer and then, to add insult to injury, failed to locate that blasted bag of frozen corn, resorting to a can of CREAMED corn from the seldom-seen back corner of the pantry.
Note 5: Just because the can of CREAMED corn is expiring this month doesn’t mean you have to use it. Really!

4) Add garlic & chili powder to taste. Cumin optional.
Note 1: After you *might* have added CREAMED corn instead of normal corn, I do not recommend doubling up on chili power in hopes of counteracting the sugar you *may* have added to the beans in step 2 and the sugar in the CREAMED corn that expires this month. Your taste testing is not reliable.
Note 2: I also do not recommend adding a little cayenne pepper since the chili powder, well, it seems so mild compared to the cloying sweetness that the CREAMED corn has given your go-to pot of easy beans.
Note 3: I seriously do not recommend asking any of the children to taste the beans because it will set their backs up against it before they even see the soupy mess on their plates at dinner.
Note 4: And when the child in question, pretending to gag on the beans you asked him or her to taste, spits beans on the cat, I do not recommend sending the child to a time out session on the couch. The couch is still within earshot. Send the child to his or her room until it’s time for dinner.
Note 5: But do remember to call the child for dinner, because those scars can last a lifetime. Or so the child would have you believe.

5) Heat through and enjoy!
Note 1: I do not recommend serving this hot mess to the already resistant children. I mean, if you obeyed my recommendations, it’s probably fine, but otherwise, bad idea.
Note 2: When your spouse tastes the beans, I do not recommend that he or she ask what in the world you did to the beans tonight while making a horrible face.

This "recipe" and others like it appear in my bimonthly newsletter here: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/jodywallace/

Jody W.
LIAM'S GOLD--Available now, Samhain Publishing

03 November 2008

New Releases from Bianca

Sweeter Than Wine is now available in print! Here's the blurb:

An abused woman has the power to unite werefolk, fey and vampire against an evil that would see them all dead—if she can learn to love again.

Christy lies near death after a brutal beating by her estranged husband. Her preternatural friends reach a desperate conclusion: The only way to save her is to turn her. Sebastian steps forward to take on the burden of being her Maker.

For him it’s no burden at all. She draws him as no other woman has for centuries. With the help of a werecougar friend, Sebastian teaches Christy about her new life and abilities, making certain she is as strong as he can make her. Only then can she face her abusive ex-husband and put her old life behind her. But Christy’s ex-husband is involved in something more dangerous than any of them had guessed.

Vampire, were, and even a fey knight must work together to put an end to the threatening evil. To overcome her past, help keep the darkness at bay, and fight for a new life with Sebastian, Christy must draw on all of her new-found strength.

Samhain link - MBAM link - Amazon link

And on Friday, a new, much longer version of my very first vampire story will release. Here are the details on that...

One & Only by Bianca D'Arc
ISBN: 978-1-60504-264-0
Length: Novella
Price: 3.50
Publication Date: November 7, 2008

A deadly crash forces the hand of one lonely vampire. Should he save the one remaining human survivor, or end it all for both of them?

Charmed by an intriguing mortal woman upon boarding a doomed mini-bus, vineyard owner Atticus Maxwell saves her life after the vehicle crashes over the side of a rain-slick mountain road in the dark of night. Only her faint heartbeat calls him back from the edge of his own oblivion. He'd almost given up on life -- until he caught sight of her.

Lissa is heading for a conference at the mountain resort in a last-ditch attempt to find a job. What she finds instead, is the love of her life. When he saves her from the wreck, she learns quickly that he is not quite human. He's weakened from his injuries, but he gains strength from drinking her blood. Now that she knows what he is, she is even more fascinated by the man who stirred her latent psychic abilities from the moment she first saw him.

Breaking the news of her rescue by one of the most eligible, if reclusive, bachelors in the valley to her closest friends, Lissa gains acceptance for Atticus and the relationship that seems to have blossomed overnight. Things are moving along according to their plan when Marc LaTour, the Master Vampire of the region, reveals the accident that brought Lissa and Atticus together might not have been an accident after all. He warns them to be careful, but without knowing who their enemy is, all they can do is try to be careful as they go about their lives. Will it be enough?

More Information: http://samhainpublishing.com/coming/one-and-only or http://biancadarc.com/tales/OnO.html

Buy Link (after Nov. 7th): http://samhainpublishing.com/romance/one-and-only

I hope you all had a great Halloween!

01 November 2008

Halloween Wrap-Up

Well, between my book release this past week, work, and having to drive my son two hours to spend the weekend with friends yesterday, Halloween kind of slipped by me. I didn't even have time to dig out my costume! Waah.

Never mind. My husband took up the slack.

Mm hm. My knight in shining armor, gleefully scaring the snot out of small children. To his credit, he'd take the mask off for the littlest ones! (And some of the parents. LOL)

The conditions were perfect for the fog machine. We had it behind the bush on the left. The fog would kind of filter out of the bush then creep sloooooowly across the hard. Kewl. :)

I had my share of getting spooked when I dropped my son off to be picked up by his friends for the weekend. It was the first time he drove off in a car with three other boys, no parent at the wheel.

EEEEEK!! I think I just got three new grey hairs.

So who watched the live broadcast of Ghosthunters last night/this morning? I stayed with it until around midnight then my old-fart genes kicked in and I turned into a pumpkin. Who else found some of the celebrity guests and the international team annoying as hell? They were more interested in hearing themselves talk than actually doing their job.

The only exception was Amanda Tapping - at least she wasn't constantly flapping her jaw. The Brit, Steve, was a yacker but at least he knew how to handle a camera. Grant has never learned how to hold one steady. LOL

Happy Celtic New Year, everyone!!