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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Rhino Thanks

A grateful kiss from a black rhino.
Thanks to everyone who has purchased Rhinoceros Dreams already... all one of you. Not to worry, it's still September and all proceeds from the book will benefit real-life endangered and orphaned rhinos.

Read all about it here.

Get it (cheap!) here and here and soon, many other places. Note the great review at Amazon or Goodreads!

Thank you!

A grateful kiss from a white rhino.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Grail Knight as Inspiration

WTF? You're going to throw my cup in a crevasse, wreck my home, and then just leave me here? Really?
They were showing the Indiana Jones movies on cable, as they do, and I always like to see if I can turn to that channel only while they're in the cave of the holy grail so I can see the Grail Knight. I just adore that guy. The first time I saw Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the prospect of being able to talk to someone from the fourteenth century, to span that unspannable chasm of 600 years, thrilled me beyond belief. I wondered why we had bothered with all the chase scenes -- why wasn't the whole film all about the mind-blowing conversations a twentieth-century person could have with this guy? Surely that must be the true holy grail.

That's just one reason I ended up studying the Middle Ages: to send people from today back in time, to put a bridge across the fourth dimension, so we could experience how things had happened, what things looked, tasted, and smelled like, and what people felt about it all. It took quite a bit more popular culture and college courses before I realized this destiny, and much, much more school before I began to grasp what would be necessary to strive toward that goal. If you're interested, I'll tell you about it.

This last time I watched that portion of the movie, and the Grail Knight was waving goodbye to Indy and his dad before they rode off into the sunset, my sympathy stayed with the knight and I imagined what he must be thinking. It's along the lines of, "What a bunch of jerks. They come here, convert a guy into a pile of ash, steal the holy grail, utterly destroy the place by trying to take the grail outside the boundary, throw the grail down a deep dark hole, and then just leave me here to clean it all up!" Is he supposed to keep living there in that mess? Do his grail guardian duties extend to having to go into the hole and to retrieve it? Or is it so far beyond the boundary that he can't reach for it without dying? So many questions.

You're just going to leave me here without asking any questions about the fourteenth century? I oughtta box your ears!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

World Rhino Day -- Five Species Forever

I've been fascinated with rhinoceroses for some time now. They're majestic, their babies are extraordinarily adorable, and the ones I've met exude an incredible sense of calm. They have no natural need for or interest in humans, and yet when kind humans and rhinos get together, beautiful relationships develop.

Rhinos are also endangered, because it's not always kind humans who come into contact with them. I cannot comprehend why anyone would want to harm a rhinoceros. Two of the stories in my new rhinoceros anthology inevitably deal with this issue. "Rhinoceros Dreams" and "A Business Venture in Glue" have been previously published, so today I would like to discuss the inspiration and intent of "Not Extinct Yet." It ties in beautifully with the theme of this year's World Rhino Day: Five Rhino Species Forever.

I came up with the idea for "Not Extinct Yet" through a writing prompt that asked for a story about bringing an extinct species back to life. I thought, "Wouldn't it be easier just to not let them go extinct in the first place?" Of course, if I was going to write about that issue, I felt a strong pull to write about my beloved rhinos.

I wanted to give rhinos a voice among humans, and I decided the easiest way to do that was to literally give them a voice. In the alternate world of this story, many different species of mammal are found to be capable of human speech. Some editors have made a weird assumption that the rhinos in this story represent some aspect of human society. Nope. They represent rhinos. I've always been a literalist.

The human protagonist, Suzanne, heads the team that discovers rhinos are one of the species that can talk. She makes friends with several crashes of white rhinos and black rhino individuals while she lives in South Africa and takes on their cause as her own. Through up and downs, laughter and tears, she finally solves the problem by asking the rhinos what they think would help them the most. At the risk of spoiling, the story ends happily. It's more or less my personal blueprint for the way I hope the future will go for the five rhino species in this world. It's optimistic and probably naive, but it's my story, my world, and things happen (almost) exactly the way I want them to. The real world is a different story, but we can still make decisions to influence the outcome.

Let's have Five Species Forever. Let's not allow any one of them to fade away.

Read excerpts of "Not Extinct Yet" here, here and here. Get the anthology at Amazon or Smashwords. Thank you for supporting rhinos by reading these stories!

Organizations spreading the word and helping all five species hang around: (I've been here. It's amazing!) (Don't forget to buy your rhino 2013 calendar in support of the Sumatran rhino here)

Highly recommended rhino nonfiction books:
The Last Rhinos by Lawrence Anthony and Graham Spence
The Soul of the Rhino by Hemanta Mishra

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Don't Forget the Rhinos

September is such a full month! Lest we forget:

And, on a more serious note:

And to motivate:

Who would want to harm such a cutie?

Tune in on Saturday for my tribute to World Rhino Day! It's fun.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Map of the Sky by Félix J. Palma

As I write more reviews, I realize that my favorite books are the devastating ones. The Map of the Sky by Félix J. Palma is devastating almost from the first page. So many times hope raises its meek head only to be struck down by ineffable powerlessness. I don't read sci-fi or horror, and some of the scenes are so terrifying that I sometimes wondered what I was doing reading this thing. Answer: I was compelled. The book addicted me completely and -- I'm not sure if it's because of the length or in spite of it -- I never wanted it to end. In this book the reader witnesses the complete genocide of earthlings, and yet the universe is full of awe, so that, like Emma, I want to look at this "map" and savor its imagination.

The plot itself is a virtuosic piece of mapping out a story. I could never tell exactly where it was going (and I just love that), but in the end the pieces fit together so well I thought I must have been distracted not to see that that was how it was going to turn out. I haven't read the first book, The Map of Time (but I will now, as soon as I can), but the references to the events of the first book were easily understandable in terms of plot.

Criticism? Perhaps one could say the female characters aren't well developed, but if you think about it, the males aren't that developed, either. Rather, the characters represent different concepts, as witnessed by a couple of different characters commenting on the "roles" they and their companions play during these crucial events. The represent things like love, the ability to dream, hope, strength, and also their corresponding opposites as well as the human capacity for redemption. The ending especially proved that the author knows real love. Some readers (those who haven't really loved) will probably find that the end rings a bit false, but it resonated strongly with me. Tied up in the philosophizing about love is something I've never seen before, which is a logical conclusion about what time travel would mean to the traveler, and that was simultaneously a delicious mental exercise and another devastating emotional experience.

It's clear that Palma and his able translator Nick Caistor love books from the Victorian period. The language is very much of this time, which some readers might find boring or impenetrable. I thought I would be one of those readers, but I wasn't. I couldn't resist a book in which H. G. Wells has the opportunity to speak with Edgar Allan Poe or Charles Dickens or -- well, I won't say any more, so as not to spoil it. This was one of those books my husband was astounded to see me read, and possibly more astounded as I told him about all the incredible occurrences and exciting ideas in it. If you're like me, you'll want to be in a discussion group for this one.

I take comfort knowing that in some alternate universe, I translated this book for the English-speaking market, and in another, I wrote the original version.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Happy Anniversary, Year Three

I can just about count the years I've been with my husband by how many different states we've lived in. Today marks the third anniversary, and despite the other troubles we've been having, our love is still fresh.

Here's a picture from that effervescent day with the officiant, Carol Merletti, who, I might add, has made the Best of Boston list every year since she married us. Hooray!

We met on a 13th, and married on a 13th. Just in time for this third anniversary, I have 113 Google followers! Lucky 13!

And because my guy loves Manolo García almost as much as I do, here's one of his finest love songs.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Litmus Test for Writers: Yes, I Have to Write!

Writing is not for sissies. Professor Darby Sanders gave one of the presentations at the SCAD writers' conference the weekend of the Decatur Book Festival (August 31st). Instead of giving us an information dump (which I thoroughly enjoy and benefit from as well), he presented us with a series of questions meant to weed out people who might have come to the event thinking that writing was a career option for anyone with a vague idea. Sorry, it's not. It's hard and it takes more dedication than I would be willing to give to anything else in the world (except my beloved husband).

The questions (modified and condensed by my scribbled notes) follow, with my honest answers. A sort of self-interview for those of you who are curious about what's important to me.

1. Should you write what you know or what you love?
Fortunately, we can research even while writing, so the draw toward writing what I love doesn't result in lower quality. And there's really no reason the two can't be the same thing.

2. What part of your body do you use to write?
The right answer here is anything "not with the intellect." The question put a picture in my head of my hands at the keyboard, the fingers furiously gesticulating to express the dictates of a mysterious inspiration. So I suppose I write with my "muse," if that's considered a body part.

3. Which reveals more about the human experience, fiction or nonfiction?
Duh. Fiction can explore the motivations and humanity of actions while nonfiction has traditionally kept to describing merely the actions. On the logic that what people felt while the actions took place is also a fact (even if a less objective one), creative nonfiction has been blurring the dichotomy. But if we're sticking to strict definitions, fiction has infinite capabilities to explore the human condition while nonfiction is limited by empirical experience.

4. Are you in it for the story or yourself?
I write the stories out of a felt need to give a body in the shape of words to these formless gifts that come to me from the cosmos. I know that sounds too otherworldly. To answer the question, story is everything and I don't let my ego get in the way. This self-effacement makes it difficult to actually SELL the stories, since the media is perversely focused on personality, but these questions are about writing, not the aftermath.

5. Do you like to talk or do you have something to say?
I'm an introvert. I only say something if there's something to say, genuinely. Again, for the selling part, I'm going to have to find some extra charisma under a rock somewhere, but at least my writing doesn't have a lot of extra verbiage or ego.

6. Are you cynical or optimistic about humans? Are you interested in them, discouraged by them, or afraid of them? Do you believe people can change?
It's imperative to be fascinated by humans in order to engage in storytelling. Otherwise there's no point at all. There's equally no point if people don't change -- where's the story in that? I'm mostly optimistic, but this question made me think about my current WIP, The Seven Noble Knights of Lara. The original story could be seen as pretty darn pessimistic. There's a risk that I'll try to salvage that as I approach the ending, and I sure hope it turns out believable! Cross your fingers for me!

7. Do you have to write? Do you have to write well?
I absolutely have to write. I don't know what life would be without writing. If no one wants to read it, I can go back to just writing for myself, but I do also feel a need to write well. Writing well increases the quality of life and flatters the language as well as making it less embarrassing to show to others and perhaps sell to them. If I can get my life stabilized, I have a few ideas, aside from writing every day and reading good books, to continue to improve my writing. Wish me luck with that, too.

8. Can you finish or just begin?
I've completed many stories of which I'm proud. Finishing weighs heavy on my mind now as I move into the final chapters of SNKL. Although it's scary and I do tend to have more ideas than I can possibly carry out in several lifetimes, I have to believe that finishing is on the agenda.

9. Would you rather succeed at something you hate or fail at something you love?
There is so much more quality in failing at something you love that I don't even know if I would be capable of succeeding at something I disliked. In other words, give me writing. I'll write and I may well fail, but the love I bring into the world while failing is its own contribution.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Guest Post: Rooting for the Underdog by J. Bridger

J. Bridger presented the book Shifted Perspective to me with the tagline "What would you do with what you believed was the world's lamest ability?" This resonated with me because I'd been wondering lately about all the characters who are incredibly special. After all, if everyone is special, no one is. There have to be a lot of other characters who are not so special to support these all these people with amazing abilities and powers. What about their story? I have a novel on the back burner about just that subject, but J. Bridger's Shifted Perspective comes out today, so I was keen to ask what motivated the author to write a book about someone who is definitely not the Alpha Dog.

Why I Chose a “Loser” Character

I love a Chosen One. I do. I was an obsessive Buffy fan for years, and of course I’ve read Harry Potter and watched the films. It’s cool to see someone who is the in-charge type, the one who has epic prophecies all about them. You want to imagine yourself as the best, the enhanced warrior or The Boy Who Lived and is destined to stop evil. Who wouldn’t want to daydream about secretly being that special?

That said, I wanted to point out two things about Buffy and Harry. Buffy subverted the Chosen One archetype by sharing her power with every potential slayer in the series’ finale, thus creating a group of possibly thousands of other heroines out there with shared strength. Similarly, Order of the Phoenix started really creating the idea that Harry was important because Voldemort made him so in his own mind. After all, wasn’t Neville, who eventually destroys Nagini, the final horcrux, also born in July? It’s ironic to me that two of the most famous “special heroes” in recent pop culture either decided to share power or might not have been so fated overall.

This brings me to my own story, Shifted Perspective. I made the choice here not to have Caleb Byrne be anything special. He’s a late bloomer at best and never shape shifted until he was seventeen, which is far, far older than the average canine shifter or werewolf. Even as a shape shifter, all he can become is a Cocker Spaniel, which isn’t powerful or dangerous. Often, Caleb laments that couldn’t he at least have been a Doberman or a German shepherd. You know, something with bite? 

So why would I go this route when the story could have had the Alpha’s son as the protagonist or someone in the pack who’s top dog? Well, I think that I wanted to do something a bit different and also subversive in the same way that Buffy and Harry turned out to be. I’ve never been much of a fatalist. I think people end up making their own destinies and all the prophecies in the world don’t mean a thing if you work hard enough to change them. Besides, we always root for the underdog and want to see him succeed. I hope readers feel that way about Caleb, too.

-- J. Bridger

Shifted Perspective is available at Amazon and Smashwords. Be sure to visit J. Bridger's blog for more about this unique series.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Sweet Saturday Sample: Rhinos!

September 22 is World Rhino Day, so I thought I would provide you a sample from the story collection I've put together in honor of that.

None of the stories have explicit material, though the real-life situation of rhinos is certainly disturbing.

The first story, a fun, surreal love story, was recently made available again in Jake's Monthly (read about it here). This excerpt is the opening from my beloved alternate reality piece, "Not Extinct Yet," published in this collection for the first time anywhere.

* * * 

Suzanne came into the kitchen dressed for work in a sensible suit. With bitten-down fingernails, she had affixed a pin showing the two-horned face of an African rhinoceros, surrounded by a heart, to her lapel. “Hey,” said her husband Derek, rustling his daily news at the table. “The British are at it again.”
Suzanne sighed. “Always with the sheep.”
“Yep. Apparently, there’s a law for debate in Parliament this time.”
“Not legalization?”
“Marriage between human and ovine may soon be a reality! Get this.” He started to read aloud. “An anonymous source recounted his personal experience. ‘Miranda was out in the moor grazing with the rest of the flock when I looked deep into her eyes. It was love. We fell to talking and we’ve never been apart since.’ The Miranda in question gave no comment.”
“Call me traditional, but there’s something not quite right about that,” said Suzanne as she buttered some toast.
“Sure, she can talk, but does this guy let her? No. It’s the same old story. Control, control, control.” Derek crumpled the paper and took his plate to the sink.
Suzanne kissed her husband. “All right, off to the university’s salt mines with you.”
“You know he made up that name. Who ever heard of a sheep who called herself Miranda?”

* * *

This collection is now available at Amazon and Smashwords. It's my first Smashwords title, but I think it formatted well. Let me know if not! And yes, it has two different covers. This one with the sleeping rhino won the votes on Facebook, but I liked the other one too much not to use it.

Thanks for stopping by! I plan to celebrate World Rhino Day by writing more about this story, its inspiration and intent. For now, enjoy more Sweet Saturday Samples!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Rhino Calendar to Support The Five Species

The International Rhino Keeper Association has put out a gorgeous rhino calendar for 2013 in support of all rhinos in general, but specifically to help the littlest ones, the Sumatran rhinos. Although they're the smallest in size among the five species of existing rhinos, Sumatran rhinos are the most direct descendants of the ancient wooly rhinoceros. They need our help because there are only about 100 of them left in the world.

Get your calendar here at a discount until World Rhino Day, September 22.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Pictures from the Decatur Book Festival

Last Friday I had an amazing time at the writers' workshop at the Savannah College of Art and Design in conjunction with the Decatur Book Festival. The fun heated up on Saturday and Sunday but did not stop in spite of 90+ degrees, sun sun sun and humidity that must be felt to be believed.

 The Decatur Public Library (a lovely and welcoming bastion of literacy) was never far from the action.
Lynn Garson reads from her new book, Southern Vapors, in the Emerging Authors Tent.

Jane Austen discusses her life and writing with today's readers.
Jane Austen Then and Now booths and their thronging hordes
Full of action, but mostly people in search of shade.
More amazing architecture as a backdrop and venue for the festivities
Books, books, everywhere! What to do first?
Thanks to all the organizers and authors and of course, the readers who made this incredible event possible.

On another note, September 22 is World Rhino Day! I hope to have something special to present to you for that special day.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama

I suspected mermaids were the next wave in YA fantasy creatures, and Monstrous Beauty has proven that even if they aren't, they should be. Author Elizabeth Fama creates a well-defined mythos full of terror and the sorrow of never being able to love without tragic consequences. Many non-YA books wish they were as well conceived and constructed. Mermaids allow readers into the female side of the fantasy world in a way vampires and wizards have thus far been unable to do.

The history of a place like Plymouth, Massachusetts, makes it the perfect setting for a book like this. I was skeptical when I first picked this story up, but the setting and the history-loving protagonist drew me in even more than the vivid descriptions and mysterious atmosphere.

The best feature of this novel is that the origin story is interspersed with present-day chapters, so the reader not only has time to care about both sets of characters, but also to enjoy an important dramatic irony by the middle of the story. The reader knows what Hester is looking for better than she does, but the complete sequence of events only becomes clear at the end, when Hester herself finds out the final pieces of the puzzle. It's masterfully done.

One sticking point for me was Hester's antique perception of love=marriage=babies. Perhaps I just can't sympathize, but it seemed like a weird leap to me, and her admission near the climax of the book that she's planning to never have children (in order to escape her family's curse) fell a little flat for me because it was only logical. In the end, I decided to forgive it because the century-long curse really doesn't have any effect unless the women are having babies. There is a rape in this book, which is necessary because it sets all the other elements in motion to create the curse. Without it, there's no story. Or, at least, there could have been a happier one. That doesn't make it less disturbing.

In spite of the intertwining stories, the novel is fast paced. Hard to put down, especially for readers who love the ancient lore of the sea.