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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Writer? Yes. Famous?

Today I'd like to unpack the title of my blog. I think we can all agree that I am a writer. All I have to do in order to call myself a writer is write. Granted, my first year of being a full-time writer, I mostly just dreamed about my historical novel without a clue as to how it would ever get written. But I have written articles and fiction (many of which are linked at the Good Reading page to your left), not to mention a lot of words on this blog, so, that half of the title is a given.

Now on to "famous." I'm not actually famous. Gasp! I explained this designation in my first post as more or less a delusion from my childhood. I was famous in my own mind when I declared myself as such for the reasons in the post, but mostly because everyone I knew, knew that I wrote. To me, a famous writer is the kind of person you can ask anyone on the street about and get a decent response, along the lines of "Everyone knows who she is! Jessica Knauss is the author of Tree/House, many short stories, and the silly YA series Sailing Italy."Back when I called myself a famous writer, you could have gotten a similar answer from any of the several adults who knew me, therefore, I was famous. And the blog title has its own kind of validity, independent of how my career goes from here.

But lingering behind "famous" is its partner, "rich." If "rich" is a requirement for "famous," then I definitely am not now and may never be. I'm not getting paid much at all for my writing (copies of the magazines I appear in, sometimes a five dollar honorarium I prize like a pot of gold). My husband recently got a raise, so we can breathe just a little easier, but it's not enough to go back to Pennsylvania and get our furniture and books, so I still feel pretty poor. I couldn't afford to go to Oregon to meet my amazing fans. We had to save up for a trip to the Spanish restaurant, for goodness sake. We hunch over to eat because we decided the one table we could afford worked best as a computer desk (what a relief that was!). We choose Crunchy Oat Squares instead of Life cereal. I'm grateful for the deliciously nutritious Crunchy Oat Squares, because some people can't even afford them, but I hope I'm making the point that we are not rich.

"Rich" lingers around "famous" because people figure that if everyone knows who you are, then someone must be paying you a lot of money. This is true in enough of the cases I've seen to convince me that if I can ever get people on the street to recognize my name, I'll already have several bestsellers and movie deals.

Bestsellers and movie deals are not easy to come by, just to clarify.

I wanted to point out that I'm not famous for the sake of people who click over here from other countries, like Moldova and Ghana, using the keywords "famous writer." Sorry folks. I really appreciate your clicks! You can say you knew me when.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sail To Italy Excerpt Trailer and Release Date Info

For your viewing pleasure, a trailer/excerpt from Sail To Italy. This conversation takes place in the first chapter, when Princess Noreena is desperate to find the man she thinks killed her father, Giovanni Redicci. Lucky Pirate Pierre is there to help her... for a price. The excerpt should give a sense of how silly and fun this thing is going to be. Watch below or here. Noreena really should be younger and have black hair, and Pierre should be a bit more piratey, but these were the best stand-ins the Lego actor's guild could provide.

You can finally see for yourself how silly it all is on April 18. Sail To Italy will become available that day, just in time for Easter presents. It will cost only 99 cents (they won't let me make it any cheaper). And then the news gets even better! Sail To Italy has an even more exciting and more romantic sequel, Sail From Italy, in which all the main characters get to take a (not terribly glamourous) trip to Spain. Sail From Italy will be available April 19, and again, cost only 99 cents. You never had such inexpensive fun.

The grand finale release will be a combined Sail To Italy and Sail From Italy, April 20, for the low price of only $1.49, so if you can wait, this is your bargain option. Two epic adventures for happy, carefree reading, all for less than the price of a cup of coffee. Too generous? Perhaps. It's all because I love my readers.

Here's the cover of Sail From Italy, for your preview pleasure.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Six Sentence Sunday 4

I may have made a mistake with my last six sentences, unintentionally grossing everyone out with some of the scariest imagery in the entire book. I recently decided the rotting corpse dream is the central image of the book, but in my interpretation, it represents Emma getting ready to leave her dull, dead past behind and start to really live -- to experience rebirth, in a way. I've decided to try to redeem Tree/House this week and start at the beginning. Nothing comes before these six sentences, although you'll notice the theme of death already! Someone should write at least a term paper on this...

                    * * *

The funeral procession Emma had always imagined involved slow pallbearers winding through narrow streets, drizzle, and many women in black cloaks choking back their grief.  She had planned in great detail the way Franklin’s cedar coffin would slide into the ground and the way the moist earth would sound as it fell on top. She would carry white lilies and her grandmother would be there to support her should she faint. Maybe she would carry smelling salts. After that, her plans ended abruptly because what does one do after a funeral, after all.

         The true funeral had involved only Franklin’s mother, the servants, and Emma, without lilies. 
                    * * *

Check out the other wonderful participants' excerpts here. Next Sunday, the excerpt that can be gross... if you want it to be...

Friday, March 25, 2011

Author Pages

Today is the day the Secret Society of Literary Divas of St. Helens, Oregon will meet about Tree/House! Enjoy, ladies! I would join you if I could!

I recently created an author fan page for myself at Facebook (which you can like simply by clicking on the Facebook box on the left of your screen!) which I don't consider a success because only one person other than me is a fan. I'm not sure how to get more fans other than giving away prizes, which I can't afford, but that's okay. I'm happy to remain a regular networking writer with friends instead of fans on Facebook.

But, now I've created an author page on, and I have to say, it's really cool. It has nice pictures of little me, a couple of videos (I hope to post more soon), a never-before-seen, friendly autobiography, a blog feed, and all my books available at Amazon on one page. That's right, it will list Sail To Italy right there when its released! There's even space for listing events, if I ever get to do a reading or signing or anything else. I hope the page is welcoming and encourages readers to contact me if that's what they want. Goodness knows, I exist as an author to give the readers what they want. So tell me what you want, and I'll do my best for you. Enjoy the author page, which I'll update whenever appropriate.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Happy Rhinos

These are a couple of happy rhinos, the sister pair at the Phoenix zoo. They're happy because they have each other, and, appropriately, because I'm getting a rhinoceros story published not once, but twice!

I'm talking about the tale of the shrinking rhinoceros, a microfiction I've mentioned before. I wrote it upon having a dream in Pennsylvania, and have been confounded that I haven't been able to find a home for it. So now, it's found not one home, but two, through the virtue of editing and retitling. One version is called "A Business Venture in Glue," and the other "Rhinoceros Crash." Both are coming out soon. More information to come! Also look forward to excerpts of yet more versions of the "Rhinoceros Crash."

Monday, March 21, 2011

Teaser Trailer for Sail To Italy

To better embrace my new YA status (it's just a label to help people find writing they like, after all) I've decided to work on an adventure story I've had in my bag of tricks for years now, Sail To Italy. Don't worry, all the other projects are still going strong... whew!

Here's the first teaser to let you know what Sail To Italy's all about. I mean no insult to Winston Churchill. I only used him because he's dressed all in black. More to come soon!

Or click here.

The cover, for your preview pleasure. I love the peninsula-swirl design!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Third Six Sentence Sunday

Thanks so much to everyone who's visited my other Six Sentence Sunday posts, and especially you spunky commentators! It's been incredibly inspiring. Readers, find the other participants here.

In honor of the imminent meeting of the St. Helens Secret Society of Literary Divas (Book Club), this excerpt comes from my Tree/House, page 95 of the print edition.  Here, Emma, the protagonist, is dreaming she's on top of a rocky cliff on which hundreds of putrefying bodies are waiting to die. She herself has rotted to the point of missing her right arm and both legs. It's a positive image, really!

                         * * *

He replied before she asked, "To die, you must lie perfectly still, but it's hard. I've been trying for years."

"But Emma, why do you want to die?" asked a young woman in the earliest stages of putrefaction. "You have so much going for you."

Emma wondered what she had that they didn't. Most of them still had all their limbs at least.

                        * * *

Try Tree/House for your book club today! Only $2.99 for the Kindle edition of this inspiring work! Ask me about discounted signed paperback copies and free bookmarks for your club: at gmail dot com.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Something Else Weird About Arizona: Daylight Savings Time

... or rather, the lack thereof.

My husband works on Sundays now, and starts at a time that seems ungodly because of his other hours: 8 am. So, he had to use an alarm clock to get up in time, and like any other person in this day and age, he uses his phone as an alarm clock.

The company has programmed the system to help out everyone and automatically adjust for daylight savings. In Arizona, we do not observe said hour adjustment, so the alarm, synced with the phone and its helpful adjustment feature, went off an hour too early, and we lost an hour's sleep like everyone else, anyway!

I think daylight savings time is one of the wonders of the modern world. Twice a year, we get most of the country to participate in a global synchronization that reminds us that time isn't real and we're all just agreeing to a certain system. It boggles the mind.

The really weird thing, though, is the way some other Arizonans talk about daylight savings time as if it affects them. "The change," they say. "Next week, after the change, we'll have crazy long daylight hours." As if the sun suddenly decides to linger a little bit longer over Arizona just because all the states around us have fiddled with their clocks. It remains to be seen if there's something to that, or if we've all got Valley Fever lodged in our brains.

I've heard that longtime residents are sick of newcomers who moan about the flora, fauna, and weather, but I can't help but marvel at this place and occasionally find it strange. There really is nowhere else like it in the world, so every time I point out something unique about it, consider it awe instead of complaining.
This Saguaro, in the Saguaro National Monument,  shows its perseverance. The arms droop in a frost, but in favorable conditions, they can continue to grow upwards again, creating these swooping tangles.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Tucson Festival of Books

On Saturday, I volunteered for behind-the-scenes work at the Tucson Festival of Books.
It was huge! They told me it was the fourth largest in the nation, but I couldn't really get a concept of it until I saw the hundreds of tents, the enormous eating space, the open air acrobatic circus, and the people, people, people! The workshops took place underground so they could fit them in! A warning for any future festivalgoers: the events and tents east of Cherry on the map are serviced by Port-A-Potties. Out here in the Wild West, it's actually the East that's most rugged.
See how the tents stretch into infinity! I wondered why I had to apply seven layers of sunscreen. Why have a book fair outdoors in the middle of the desert? Because there was so much to see and do, no building could contain it. (There are only a few fairgoers in this picture because I took it at the end of the day.) Among the volunteers, one of the many stories circulating was about the authors from Back East who weren't feeling well. When asked if they'd had anything to drink, they said no. So the story ends with, "Duh! In the desert, you have to hydrate!"
Here, amazing junior musicians bring down the house... erm, tent, in the Third Annual Nuestras Raíces Mariachi Contest. This is in addition to the workshops, the displays, the talks, the circus, the book signings, and all the other events. 

I was setting up and ensuring the smooth running of author signing area #5. The size of the festival guarantees a bit of confusion, on the part of the organizers as well as the people who come to enjoy it. For example, we couldn't keep track of Derek Haas and Michael Brandt, involved with turning 3:10 to Yuma from a book into a movie. It was later reported that they had refused an escort because they felt like they knew where they were going, so maybe they just forgot they had the engagement. Below, see the throngs of people in line for autographs from Leslie Marmon Silko, who also suffered some kind of scheduling confusion, next to the calmer romance table with the very personable authors Julia London, Karen Hawkins, Mary Jo Putney, and Sabrina Jeffries.
The authors who made the biggest impression on me were: 
1. Lisa Napoli, who wrote the intriguing Radio Shangri-La and signed postcards for the volunteers, because we couldn't leave our post to go and buy the book... yet. 
2. Lisa Dahl, owner of a couple of restaurants in Sedona, whose culinary book The Elixir of Life is the most gorgeous of its kind I've ever seen. Her husband was there to help her unpack the books, take the money for them, and even open them to the title page to be signed. I couldn't help but imagine myself at next year's festival accompanied by my husband! 
3. Romance-with-a-kick author Vijaya Schartz, who's now so focused on selling her e-books that she had her "leftover" print copies on the table to give away! I got Ashes for the Elephant God, about lovers who are murdered in the time of the Raj, only to reincarnate and flee from the same assassin one hundred fifty years later. Ooh! 
4. Romance author Amylynn Bright, who's also shifting her focus to e-books. She had large postcards with a space in which she could sign her name. Given that most people don't have the new app for signing e-books, this is a brilliant solution! Way to go!

The Festival is completely non-profit and free to the public. The whole thing runs on tent fees and the good will of loads of volunteers who work for $0. If the event makes any money, they donate it to literacy resources in the community, so, if you are so inclined, you can feel good about making donations to such a great cause.

A word on shyness, a. k. a. social anxiety. I'm terribly shy, and for me that meant a Saturday morning of clenched fists and heart pounding. I wasn't sure what I was going to be doing or whom I was going to talk to at this enormous event, and my body interprets that as extremely threatening. My husband spent the morning trying to get me to breathe normally. When I got there, I nervously signed my name tag and changed into the T-shirt, and, clutching my two envelopes full of signs, schedules, and instructions, made my wobbly way to the signing area. The friendly volunteers were waiting for me, so they said, "Are you here?" Yes, I was. Then, there was so much to figure out and do that I had no more time to worry. The festivalgoers were all non-threatening book lovers, like me, so I had common ground with them as well as with the authors. I would have liked to chat with them more, but there was actual work I had to do. By the time the next rotation of volunteers showed up, I was in charge of operations, the go-to gal for signing area #5. 

I wasn't able to tell more than one person that I'm an author, too, and I didn't give out any of my business cards or mention that anyone at the festival might show up on my blog, but, considering that I went from practically hyperventilating to relative smoothness, I still have to count the day as a social anxiety success story. So, a good time was had by all. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Review and Guest Blog: Kay Springsteen's New Release, Heartsight

The motto of Astraea Press is "Where Fiction Meets Virtue." You can be sure any story published here will maintain the highest moral standards. Within this framework, Kay Springsteen delivers a stirring love story full of well-crafted language, vivid imagery, and hope in Heartsight.

Heartsight is the story of Trish, the now single mother of Bella, a delightfully drawn girl with Down Syndrome. Although Bella's father couldn't handle her different needs, she is the center of her mother's life. She quickly captures the heart of Dan, a veteran Marine who was blinded in Afghanistan and has come to the remote Carolina beach to escape. The tension builds nicely as Dan and Trish try to understand the meaning of their feelings for each other, and Bella's father is reintroduced as an uncaring villain who could tear their world apart. But Mother Nature herself provides the culmination of the story in the form of a hurricane the characters must walk directly through in a truly life-and-death chapter. Masterfully switching between the perspectives of the two lovers, Kay Springsteen shows herself to be an experienced writer who cares as much about language as she does about her characters and her happy ending. Using Dan's "handicap" as a new way of experiencing the world, Springsteen creates sensory-intense scenes filled with perfumes, sounds, and textures the reader will not soon forget.

Heartsight doesn't hit you over the head with prescriptive morals and the characters have their doubts about the existence of God. Their lives have given them a realistic degree of uncertainty that makes it all the more rewarding when they make the final decisions of the book. While never crossing the bounds of propriety, the sensual scenes evoke the mixture of heartfelt longing and hesitation in the characters.

Kay recently shared with me the fascinating, roundabout way her inspiration works.

Deep in the darkness my heart still sees
Everything that I'll never be
Behind these eyes I'll go everywhere
There's no need for sympathy
Everything breathes and I know each breath
In my world there's no compromise

Those are the words from a song from a Warner Brothers full length animated movie called Quest For Camelot, which came out in 1998. It was a play on Arthurian legends and had a lot of cute kid-moments. But the thing that made this animated children's movie different was that the hero, Garrett, was blind. But he was by no means pathetic, even though he definitely felt sorry that he couldn't see, especially when he fell in love with the heroine of the story and couldn't see her. However, despite his blindness, he saved the day and helped King Arthur save Camelot. In the movie, Bryan White sings the song for the character, but it was Steve Perry from Journey singing solo who made it a huge hit in 1998. That song is one of 2000+ songs on my MP3 player because I am a huge Steve Perry/Journey fan. My MP3 player is set to random unless I am writing to a self-made sound track or writing a scene that calls for specific music to move me. That song came on one day and I hit repeat because I hadn't heard it in a while. 

I wanted to write the story of a blind man overcoming his handicap. I researched activities people who are blind can do. I had vaguely heard of blind people participating in various very physical sports - swimming, hiking, mountain climbing, and other extreme sports. So I researched these. But I came to realize that I needed someone who had an active, productive, intensely fulfilling life before blindness. I happened to see the story of a blind U.S. Army soldier who was fighting (and subsequently won) to stay in the Army. And it struck me. A warrior, struck blind, would feel the despair of being useless. Because we have family friends who are U.S. Marines, and my daughter is engaged to a Marine, it seemed natural to make my hero a Marine wounded in Afghanistan. He needed to do something spectacular. He could have been instrumental in saving the world...but I wanted this to be realistic. So I decided he needed to rescue a child. This was another idea literally ripped from the headlines as I had recently read of an girl with autism who had been missing for several days in a swamp somewhere. I don't recall the particulars, but the basics stuck. I thought of various scenarios, from winter storms to forest fires. I realized he needed to be the only person who could rescue her. So it had to be that sight would not be an asset in the child's rescue. My thought was when the child's mother would say "I can't see!" his response would be "I can," meaning because he "sees" differently than a sighted person. When I started playing with this outline in September/October 2010, a hurricane was heading for the North Carolina coast. I've lived through hurricanes. Definitely it gets dark and impossible to see in these storms. Add in the mom, and make her divorced (unattached), and there are the basic elements of the story. All I had to do was put them together. 

Yes, the inspiration for Heartsight, as with all of my stories, was that complicated. I am a news junkie and a music junkie, and very often my ideas form as a result of the weird combination I just described. 

Buy Heartsight hereFor every copy of Heartsight purchased through the Astraea Press link from March 1 to June 1, 2011, $2 will be donated to the USO Wounded Warriors Program. 

See the beautiful trailer here.

And find Kay Springsteen's blog and Facebook pages here:

See her Amazon author page, too!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Second Six Sentence Sunday

This little scene of teen rebellion comes from a work-in-progress about the strange relationship between two sisters. Check out other authors' snippets here. And thanks so much for all the comments last week. To answer the two main questions, yes, of course the rhino talks, and no, it hasn't sold yet. Unbelievable.

* * *

I was almost sorry I hadn’t let [my mother] in on the process. But, no, she had been too preoccupied with washing Beth’s silverware with baking soda to notice my big decision-making saga. 

“Brown is the only university in the country with an Egyptology department.”

“Egyptology?” my parents both intoned.

The dirtiest, germiest, most contaminated subject I could imagine: Mummified bodies, dusty bandages, bones filled with age-old marrow, ancient embalming fluids, canopic jars teeming with the pulsing remains of internal organs. My mother changed my sister’s sheets every day, but these things hadn’t been washed for 5000 years.

 * * *

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Great Works of Fiction in the YA Section

I've been having a bit of an identity crisis as a writer. As I've mentioned a few times here, my style tends toward the light and the positive. I might be going through the most depressing episode of my life, but my writing will stay within a range that most readers interpret as light and fun. I first remember coming across this reaction in translation school, when the venerable Danny Weissbort said I had "a light touch," which might indicate me for translating foreign children's books into English. At the time, I was translating a delightful book in which animals talk, but my final project for that degree was No Turning Back, originally Camino sin retorno by Lidia Falcón, a novel about women's rights and the communist party in Franco-regime Spain. The main character has a lot of angst, sexuality is explicitly explored, and the prison scenes are all the more harrowing because they were based on the author's experience. I translated it because I was attracted to its serious themes and the possibility of literature raising readers' consciousness. It was probably at least partially a reaction to the "light touch" comment, with which everyone in the room (some ten other translators) agreed. Some part of me said, "I'll show them how serious I can be!"

I didn't think children's or young adult literature could accomplish the same great things as "grown-up" writing. I've kept that judgment in the back of my mind, so a week or two ago I was offended when one of the members of my writing group asked if I was directing my chapter at a YA audience. And then of course I got the rejection of the happy rhino story, at least partly because the style was too light. Oh, God! I cried. Will anyone ever take me seriously? 

Giving it a little more consideration, I thought of some of the extraordinarily mature books I've read recently from the YA section of the library.

The Bartimaeus Trilogy (plus the new fourth book) by Jonathan Stroud. These books meet the following children's lit criteria: 1. the main character is a child (but only in the first book), 2. it's pure fantasy, with magic and genies (djinn) and an alternate-universe setting, and 3. the writing is flippant and goes for the laughs. How it's adult: 1. the main character is an adult in the second and third books, and goes through situations that call for maturity beyond coming-of-age stuff, 2. adults can appreciate the fantasy, especially with the references to real history and literature littered through the whole thing, 3. the writing, while highly comedic, is also sophisticated and entertaining on all kinds of other levels.

His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman. Like the Bartimaeus books, The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass take place in an alternate universe, so the series belongs firmly in the fantasy section. The main characters are children; in fact, a big part of the plot is their coming-of-age. Do those facts justify the series being "for children"? The writing is lush and engaging and it certainly doesn't pander to a certain grade level. The plot is an extended metaphor about consciousness and what it means to be human, which are fine ideas for children, but better appreciated by adults who have some experience of the world. Plus, the series starts heavily focused on two taboo subjects: politics and religion.

Is it a coincidence that both of these series are distinctly British?

These books accomplish just as much if not more than the most adult of bestsellers. The long and the short of it is that I wouldn't be put off to see these supposedly YA books on the shelf of the most serious scholar.

So, a certain lightness to the writing style and a fantasy setting don't make these books any less enjoyable for adults -- especially if, like me, those adults have an optimistic outlook. On the other hand, if my most serious efforts end up on the YA shelf next to the likes of these, I would be honored. It's just a shorthand label for the booksellers and librarians, after all.

So, dear readers, I invite you to follow me and my vision into whatever section it happens to take me. Thanks for taking the trouble. You won't regret it.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Sleep Surface Saga

I've written about my husband's and my difficulties finding furniture that fits our budget, which in these past months has ranged from $0 to loose change. We were gratifyingly able to get a $50 refund on our futon when a sale went into effect at the store. We were feeling pretty settled, and even venturing into thinking about using the refund to get a cheap table to eat at and maybe use the computer when we weren't eating. Of course, that's when our air mattress got a leak in it. We slept on the futon while arranging to find some rubber cement to plug the hole, and even had an amusing time using the method my husband learned while briefly working at a gas station: we wiped soapy water over the plastic surface with a sponge (like he used to rub over tires) and the hole revealed itself with a little volcano of bubbling air.

Of course it was never the same once it was patched. We like to keep it pretty firm, and it insisted on sinking underneath us more than we wanted. We figured it was par for the course: we'd been using the thing every day for months, both for sleep and for extracurriculars, which we figured was beyond the scope of its design, anyway. It agreed with the thought by going completely flat within days and becoming unresuscitable.

So it was back to the futon. Why be dissatisfied with the futon? It's pretty lumpy and narrow for sleeping, and it's in the living room, where my husband can wake me up far earlier than before by grinding coffee and generally having the lights on. If we decided to sleep permanently in the living room, the bedroom would become useless and our pocketbook would ask loudly why we didn't just get a studio apartment.

It was time to get a mattress. We have a completely useable mattress... in storage in Pennsylvania. Knowing that, we really didn't want to spend the money on a mattress that would, in the best of situations, be a duplicate of something we already had, and in the worst, be something we would have to throw away if we left for greener pastures. We considered my dad's suggestions of getting thick foam pads of the kind people by for camping, but we couldn't find any such materials for sale near us. We looked for free and cheap things on Craigslist, and that's where we found our mattress provider.

We had to call ahead and make an appointment. The warehouse was in a nondescript building on a deserted-looking street. In the picture on our GPS app, it looked much cheerier than it was in person. For some reason, it made us feel less secure about our purchase when we saw Better Business Bureau insignias posted everywhere. We were shown a mattress with a garish balloon pattern that my husband wouldn't even touch, much less consider.

We were shown the next price point up from there and it seemed about as thin as a camping bedroll. The next price level was a "pillowtop," but the pillow aspect of it is still in question. It feels more like adobe bricks. I was surprised when my husband said okay, we'd buy it. The next level up was much more cushy, but we said to each other, as if convincing ourselves, that we wouldn't be using it long before we'd go back and get our deluxe memory foam dream machine in Pennsylvania. It wasn't worth it to pay that much more.

The delivery was same-day. They were going to charge $35 for the service, but we'd just had professional delivery of the futon for only $20, so, faster than the blink of an eye, the salesman lowered the price on our mattress by $35. We used a debit card for the purchase and it felt ever so risky. We wondered if every traffic cop was going to stop us for trafficking in stolen goods.

But only for a little while. Miraculously, a friendly man delivered the mattress a matter of hours after the purchase. In spite of its brick-like surface, my husband and I have been sleeping like the dead on it. It's much easier to get out of it in the morning since it doesn't slide around like the air mattress. The disconcerting squeaking is gone, too. Only two things nag at me: we still don't have a proper table to eat or work at, and when we happened into Big Lots the following day, they had a fresh shipment of Sertas for $50 less than we'd paid for our no-name.

Some day we'll win, and we'll be well-rested when we do!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

My First Six Sentence Sunday

Here's a six-sentence excerpt from "Not Extinct Yet," the happy rhinoceros story I'm hoping (with all my might) will soon find a publisher. Enjoy!

                      * * *

Suzanne stood still. Her throat like sandpaper, she whispered, “Hello?”
The rhino snorted and tossed her head as if she were shooing flies. The moonlight made her eyes sparkle. 
“Um, the parrots have talked,” she continued. “We humans have found out that most mammals have the power of speech….”
              * * *

Friday, March 4, 2011

A Second Glimpse at My Exciting New Project

The cathedral at Burgos, constructed 300 years after our story takes place. 
Although my novel's pitch didn't win first prize or the reader's choice award for the Pitchapalooza thing, I was glad just be reviewed. Thank you very much to everyone who voted for me! Here is a revised version of my pitch for The Seven Noble Knights of Lara. Let me know if it makes you want to read the whole thing.

No one can safely ignore doña Lambra. Her need for revenge leaves the plains of tenth-century Spain stained red with the blood of her seven warrior nephews. That same blood rises up from the rich soil of Andalusia in the form of Mudarra. This knight of noble lineage can bring meaning to his life only by exacting revenge on doña Lambra and her pawn husband.
In an age of superheroes and superpowers, this book returns to a simple hero, a mere mortal born with a special purpose. The setting is exotic, but the complicated web of rivalry and admiration between the cultures means that it fits seamlessly into our multi-ethnic, multi-denominational, and multi-problematic world.
I hold a PhD in Medieval Spanish literature. This historical tale brings together the violent family culture of Mario Puzo and the rugged realities of medieval Spain of María Rosa Menocal. Gleaming silks spill out of treasure chests. Heavy, rough coins are traded for taken lives. Diners turn the goblet to avoid drinking from the same spot as their neighbor. Our young hero holds his hands out to catch falling almond blossoms as if they were snowflakes, then takes his glittering sword to the throats of his betrayers. Can Mudarra bring balance to the feuding families? Will he be satisfied with a simple revenge?
Inside the Great Mosque at Córdoba, finished around the time of our story. 
This novel is based on a medieval Spanish epic, thought to have been sung by minstrels, and which now only survives prosified in history books, primarily Alfonso X el Sabio's Estoria de Espanna. It has never completely faded from the popular imagination through the ages. Most recently and notably it took the form of films and comic books in Tagalog in the Philippines. Bringing together my knowledge of the era and of the craft of writing, I make it a compelling story for todays' readers.

This year, I had several smaller writing projects to complete, and with the help of critique partners and set deadlines, they are done. Because I mentioned in my New Year's resolutions that I would make good progress (okay, I said I'd finish a first draft!) on a big project, there's now nothing for it but to get to work. The daunting part is strictly the assembling together more than 50,000 words.

It's time to get my specialty, medieval Spain, back into my writing. Who doesn't love a little exotic adventure with castles and palaces, knights and battles, desire and hate? I hope you will be as excited about the new project as I am. Tune in to this blog for periodic updates and teasers. 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Sad Rhinos

This is Yebonga, the Southern White Rhinoceros at the Tucson Zoo. White rhinos are the most sociable of all the species, and so, when we visited this one, I couldn't help but feel a sense of wistful loneliness from her as she went about her daily business. Yebonga is about 35 years old, a bit older than the average life expectancy of one of her wild relatives. I'm under the impression that she used to have a companion in her enclosure who has now passed away, possibly of old age, because no proper zoo would have a single white rhino on purpose (and overall the Tucson Zoo is very well done). Even her horn looks droopy with sadness, poor old gal. My husband and I wanted to take her to another zoo to be with other rhinos, just because there aren't any big rhino refuges that we know of around here.

I'm using Yebonga's picture to illustrate my disappointment at having a rhinoceros story rejected recently. I had written what I thought was a charming fantasy that included a (possibly naive) solution to poaching problems in Africa. The idea sprang from the call for papers from the very anthology that rejected the story, so I wrote it specifically for that publication, which feels especially personal. Some people (a lot of people?) just don't like charming fantasies. Every time I get one of my many upbeat stories rejected, I think the only stuff that gets published is chronicles of addiction, alienation, illegal activity, and man's inhumanity to man. That's probably an exaggeration, but really, lighten up, people! Don't we have enough doom and gloom in real life? Why would I be interested in writing about it?

Yebonga has a lesson to teach us. Even though she's sad, she keeps right on being the best rhino she can be, with a great deal of dignity. So, following her example, I will assimilate the rejection and keep plugging away to find a place for my happy rhino story. I think Yebonga would love to read it. I'm hoping some people will, too.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Book Club Selection

Great news! Tree/House is the official March 2011 selection for the Secret Society of Literary Divas Monthly Book Club of St. Helens, Oregon. Congratulations, ladies! I hope you enjoy it!

Oddly enough, I completed a large amount of the first draft of Tree/House in St. Helens, OR.

It will be my pleasure to come to any book club group who so desires in order to talk about any aspect of the book. I only require transportation and lodging.

If your book club or classroom is interested in Tree/House, please comment here to get information on discounts and free bookmarks.

And don't forget, it's an economical Kindle single! Also available for Nook at

Coming soon: a discussion-starting guide to Tree/House.