Sunday, December 30, 2012

How I get new things

My bold and effective strategy revealed!

Kelly (over the phone): "So, the little fridge stopped working for some reason. I came in this morning and there was water all over the floor and I had to throw the milk out."

Me: "Suck." Secretly hoping it wasn't my fault. 

Later, at the coffee shop.

Kelly: "We need to make sure we put all the milk in the back fridge at night. Thankfully we use it up pretty fast, so we can store some in the little fridge while we work."

Me (leaning into fridge): "Uh-huh." Still hoping it wasn't my fault as I examine suspicious puncture wound. Crap. "So, there is a chance this is my fault."

Kelly: "What do you mean?"

Me: "I was chipping off ice with a screwdriver in preparation for defrosting, and I may have accidentally punctured a hole in the fridge. I'm not saying 100% but that could have broken the fridge."

Kelly: "You're fired."

Me: "Well, now we can get a new one. This is how I get new things."

I told a customer this story later and they thought it was a pretty clever strategy. I even mimicked telling Chase to straighten out because I could always stab him with a screwdriver and get a new husband. They laughed, but I was completely serious. Although that could have been the freon talking. Meanwhile, we got a beautiful new fridge from Costco.

Here is a comic Kelly drew to commemorate the death of the old fridge:

Oh, those toilet bowls? Apparently I infected the ENTIRE peninsula with the norovirus (allegedly) resulting in several people (including myself) spending lots of quality time in the bathroom. 

Saturday, December 29, 2012


I have in spades.

Okay, this isnt a real post; it's a "I-am-so-excited-and-I-know-you-are-too-just-be-patient" post. My book is in the editing phase right now and I am eagerly awaiting Kelly's delivery of it into my waiting hands. So I can then hand it off to my next beta reader. Hopefully, they will enjoy reading my book the same way I do:
With lots and lots of wine. This only enhances the experience. 

Total editing count (including myself): 2
Total editors left (including my husband who I swear I will hound until the bitter end until he is finished even if it means he has to stay up until 2am): 2

Until my next update, here is an adorable picture of my son eating a tomato:
Because it's crazy cute, that's why.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Bite me.

   I like to read books in combination. Specifically, 2-3 books in series that deal with a common theme such as 1984 and Brave New World  (frightening alternate futures) or Ann Benson's plague series starting with The Plague Tales and Year of Wonders (the plague, obviously). I'm not sure why 100%, but once I find an interesting tale, I like to stick with it and discover other authors' perspective on the same theme. I would like to recommend a few reading combos, if I may, during the life of this blog in keeping with my theme of sharing a love of reading.

   For your reading pleasure, I would like to recommend reading the combination of Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian and Bram Stoker's Dracula. Both obviously deal with vampires, but it's so much more than that! Let's discuss.

The Historian  is an interwoven story told from the perspective of three generations of scholars beginning in the 1930s (or thereabouts): Professor Rossi, his student Paul (1950s) and Paul's daughter in 1972. All of their adventures begin with the discovery of an ancient and mysterious leather bound book full of empty pages except for a wood cutting of a dragon in the middle.The book prompts Rossi to research clues and track the movements of Vlad the Impaler, and leads him to a terrifying conclusion, which he shares with Paul twenty years later: Dracula still lives and walks among us. After confessing this, Rossi disappears, and Paul, along with Rossi's unacknowledged daughter, Helen, race to not only destroy the monster, but to save his mentor and friend. Another twenty years later, their daughter finds Paul's book and aged, yellow letters, and he reluctantly begins to tell her his harrowing story. Full of marvelous history and tantalizing clues, The Historian is a gripping mystery that will leave you white-knuckled until the riveting conclusion. Wonderful and moving character development make this a book you will want to discover over and over. 

Most of us are familiar with the story of Dracula, but Bram Stoker's classic is more than just a portrayal of a monster. When Jonathan Harker travels to Transylvania, he is struck by the eccentric Count Dracula, and begins to fear that not all is as is seems in the gloomy castle. As the Count leaves for England, Jonathan becomes a prisoner, and strange occurrences plague London, from a ghost ship to puncture marks on a young woman's neck. Pieced together from diary entries and newspaper clippings, Dracula follows the lives of London residents Jonathan Harker, Mina Harker (nee Murray), Dr. Jack Steward, their friends Quincy and Arthur, and Dr. Abraham Van Helsing as they use their brains to stop an evil fiend from draining England dry. It is a study of determination, love, friendship, and the human will magnificently crafted through thoughts, feelings, and atmosphere. A classic that doesn't rely on gore to be frightening, or sex to be loving. An entertaining read that will keep you turning the pages.

Now go dig in and read! Hope you enjoy this combo as much as I did!

Friday, December 7, 2012

12 Steps...Alcohol Encouraged

   A few days ago I completed my second book (pauses for applause) and while I'm sitting here trying not to die from anticipation waiting for my proof to get here, I thought I would pass on some wisdom. One reason I am very excited about publishing, despite seeing my name in print, is that I've found that I have become an inspiration to others to do the same. With this in mind, I would like to sketch out some tips to help anyone out there wishing to publish but maybe you were too afraid or didn't know where to start.
   This is for those of you writing books for yourself that have been gathering dust for the last fifteen years until your significant other asks you the question, "Are you ever going to do anything with that?"
   "Yes, murtherfurker," you can say, "I am!"

   Here are the diamonds, or steps if you will. I chose twelve for the snappy post title.

1. Have an idea.
   Even if you think it sucks, which it just might. You can't get started without an idea, so have one and work it through. You can always toss it if it doesn't speak to you in the end, but you never know until you try. Some of my best characters/ideas started out minor and developed into story lines I am very proud of. Just go with it.
2. Get motivated.
   Probably the hardest, but you have to set time aside for yourself even if you only write a few lines. Having a finished product really helped motivate me to write the next book, so if you have something you're really proud of, draw on that feeling.
3. Find your happy place.
   Don't be gross. Besides, if you haven't found that by now, writing isn't your biggest issue. Anyway, my recommendation is a creative tower of awesomeness, but if you're like me and you don't have one, find a nice spot at home dedicated to writing where there are no kids, spouses, dogs, pirates, or whatever to get in your way of creativity. Which brings me to step four.
4. Eliminate distractions.
   As a wife and mother of two small children, I know how difficult this step is, but trust me you too can find a quiet moment to think! Tell hubby/wifey to watch the kiddos or go to a coffee shop by yourself where you don't have to listen to whining or look at the floor you need to vaccuum. All of life's messes will still be there after writing time is over.
5. Outline your idea.
   Before I've written one word, I know my main characters, their personalities, the main plot, the beginning, middle, and end of my story. Then I just fill in the rest. You can't start a journey without knowing the destination, right? That's not to say the unpredictable doesn't happen, but it's nice to have a map. I like to know certain plot points to keep the story flowing. Remember, though, that some of the best ideas are unpredictable. Don't worry about straying off course a little. Like art, there are no mistakes in writing. Well, maybe a few. Twilight comes to mind, but that's what editors are for.
6. Write.
    Just go for it! Don't worry about editing and write until your fingers bleed.
7. Keep writing.
   Life happens, but don't forget to come back to your story. If you're on a roll, don't stop. This may mean you're up until midnight, but trust me it's worth the lack of sleep. I would rather be tired than lose out on a good idea.
8. Don't stop reading.
   Annie Proulx, the author of Brokeback Mountain, said, "Writing comes from reading, and reading is the finest teacher of how to write." For me, I found this to be very true. I tried setting everything aside, including reading, on order to concentrate on writing, but I found myself blocked. Once I picked up a book again, the words flowed on paper. Get inspired.
9. Finish, then edit.
   Margaret Atwood wrote, "You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it." I love this philosophy because it allows you to write without restraint. Don't worry about grammer, word choice, or even elaboration on parts of your story already written. Just write. Get your ideas on paper, then go back after you've written 'the end' and edit and add.
10. Self-publish.
   I use because it is free and user friendly. Again, you can't reach people unless you get your words out there. Don't worry about sending manuscripts to publishers or spending hundreds of dollars to get your book published. Self-publishing is easy and you reach readers fast. If you are successful enough, the traditional publishers will find you. Be your biggest advocate.
11. Proof. Get outside opinions.
   After you self-publish, before you make your book available to the public, order a proof. Check for errors and find places needing work or where you wish to elaborate details. Lend this copy to friends for them to give feedback. Your book is your baby, and you may not see the errors like an outside source. Ask for honest opinions and constructive criticism; you want your book to be the best it can be. Hopefully, you can remain friends afterwards.
12. Don't be afraid to fail.
   Afraid of failure? Afraid people will not respond to your writing like you'd hope? It's called taking a chance. Maybe you wont be well received as you expected, but it's better than not knowing and living with regret. Who knows, maybe you'll be the next Hemingway or Tolkien. What if J.K. Rowling never decided to publish the stories she told her children? What if Fitzgerald thought The Great Gatsby was a terrible idea? If these authors scrapped their works and never took a chance, we would be deprived without them. And they would live forever thinking they were failures. You may fail, but at least you took a chance and jumped out of the airplane. If nothing else, you can enjoy the ride.

   I hope these steps inspire you to take a chance on writing and maybe even publishing. There is an abundance of wonderful authors out there, and we are living in such an amazing time where their work is available to us readers. We are out there, and we want to support your efforts, read your book, and share your journey.
   Now, open a bottle of wine, and get on it!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Holy Honey Badger, I'm 30!

Leading up to this most momentous occasion, I have been taking stock of my life for the past thirty years. Not all of my memories are pleasant; in fact many I would wish to forget. They say our hardships make us what we are today. I have been remade again and again.
Bear with me here; I may get a little veklempt.
My life has been anything but easy. Where many of my friends grew up in normal, loving households, my family life was a perfect lesson in disfunction. My mother married my father at the age of 19 and by the age of 20, my brother was born and she knew she had made a mistake. Several years and two more kids later, my parents fought constantly. I was lucky to have a supportive and attentive mother, but my father was a relative stranger. The idea of children was exciting, but once we outgrew our baby cuteness, my father lost interest and spent very little if any time with us at all. I can recall one instance where I sat in the same room with him for hours and was never once acknowledged. At the age of 8, my parents divorced, and it was the best thing to ever happen to our family. I cannot imagine how I would have turned out had I grown up with such a cold, distant man. My resentment toward him escalated as I got older, having to endure guilt trips and pity parties, settling adult problems on the shoulders of a child. My maturity quickly outstripped his until I could no longer stand to be in his presence. Our visits dwindled; we spoke rarely on the phone. The last time I saw my father was when I graduated high school where he acted more like a child than I did. The last time I spoke to him was when I told him I was accepted to WSU. He told me I had better get scholarships because he couldn't afford to send me there. He never once congratulated me. Five years later, I struggled with the choice of whether or not to invite him to my wedding. In the end, I extended the olive branch, mostly  to avoid guilt trips from my grandmother. It was now or never; his last chance to make-up for all the neglect and bullshit. He declined to attend. I haven't cared to think about him since. He will never meet his grandchildren.
Adolescence is difficult for all of us, and I would never presume to say I had it worse than anyone else. I struggled with my identity, my place in the world. I never felt like I fit in; I wasn't girly or popular or talented in any way. My self esteem was non-existent, and at home the nightmares continued. I don't wish to recall every detail, but by the time I reached junior high, we had endured enough for a lifetime.

I was lucky. At a point in my life where I could have spiraled into oblivion, I made the most amazing, wonderful friends. I cannot thank them enough for accepting me, even though I was REALLY weird. And chubby :) Thank you all so much for the laughter, the crazy sleepovers, flashlight tag, "True Colors," green M&Ms, Mud (especially Mud), Monty Python, and all the other goofy inside jokes I will think about over the years and smile...when I remember...old age and all. I feel so incredibly privileged to know you. I couldn't have made it without you.

I was smart. I wasn't pretty or skinny. I didn't have beautiful hair or wear make-up. I didn't have boyfriends or even dates. The only thing I had was a brain, and it was my pride and joy. I am so thankful to have a love of learning, even if it earned me the title of "nerd." I may be a nerd, but I am also the nerd that now owns her own business and writes books. Suck it. I am so thankful for wonderful teachers who challenged me and nourished my brain. It is okay to like school, and I am looking forward to going back.

I was an artist. And not too bad. I suppose every artist is most critical of themselves, but there are moments when I feel pride in a job well done. Being an artist has allowed me not only to express myself creatively, but to find joy in making others happy. I am so grateful for the tears of joy I have invoked with this gift.

High school was awkward as it is for everyone, but thanks to great friends, great teachers, and great classes, I am happy to be able to look back on my high school experience. No, I never went to a dance or had boyfriends, but in all honesty I didn't mind. More important than the social scenes were my best friends and the fun we had. No dance could compete. And of course, I had Jane Austen. When I discovered her books, it was an epiphany, lightning striking, a light bulb going off, that moment in time where you know your life will be forever changed. Dramatic much? Perhaps, but because of her, I decided to write. I had always considered myself imaginative; I drew, I wrote little stories for school, I did a lot of pretend play. And then Jane Austen came along and I discovered my muse, my genre. And the words came. I began writing The Devoted, then titled The Disinterested Intellect, and another piece of the puzzle fell into place. My journey to becoming a writer had begun.

Being accepted to WSU was the most exciting day of my life (up until that point). Ever since I was eight, I wanted to be a veterinarian. I loved animals, and I couldn't imagine wanting to be anything else. I planned on majoring in Zoology, pre-vet. I loved Pullman. The campus is beautiful, the classes were challenging, and the people were friendly. All the high school b.s. was over; we were adults. I admit; I loved my classes. For the most part. Some were incredibly difficult. I still didn't like chemistry, I hated physics, and physiology was my biggest struggle. I excelled in biology, mammology, and anatomy, and I ended up with a minor in history. It was at WSU that I met Chase. My friend was dating his best friend, so our meeting was inevitable. And we hated each other. He thought I was a cold bitch, which was probably because I was looking at him thinking, "Who is this arrogant bastard who won't shut up?" My own Pride and Prejudice beginning. Obviously, we got over the initial impression, and here we are 10 years later. It was also in college that I was introduced to my love of horses. Its true what they say: you discover yourself in college.

In the end, I decided to forgo vet school. Why? I had changed. I still loved animals, but I focused more on wildlife rehab. And I was broke. And tired. I had been studying for 17 years and I needed a break. I graduated in 2005 with my Bachelor's in Zoology and Chase with his Master's in Entomology. We moved to Long Beach, WA when he accepted a job at the WSU extension office. I worked for Skippers Horse Rentals. In 2006, I accepted a job at Long Beach Coffee Roasters, and that summer, Chase and I were married. The rest is history, right?

Here I am, a husband, two kids, a business, a book, a life later. This has been quite a journey, and I would like to thank everyone who rode it out with me. Thank you, Mom, for believing in me, for knowing there was more than met the eye. Thank you to my lifelong friends for letting me find a place in your group. Thank you Chase for seeing me underneath the awkward, shy, chubby girl. Thank you, Kelly, for being my best friend, for gallops on the beach, for beer and rants. Thank you coffee shop for introducing me to some awesome people. Thank you to everyone who encourages me to write, to paint, to be me. Thank you to my beautiful children for teaching me patience and that I have an amazing capacity to love. I look forward to the next 30 years with you.

This has been a long diatribe and it probably seems a little sanguine, but I have been reflecting on my life a lot lately. I have looked back at where I was, and I could have never imagined this is where I would be. Through it all, I have been myself, though ever changing, at the core I have been a geek, an artist, a loyal friend, freaking hilarious, and stubbornly strong. Sinatra said it best: I did it my way.

Fuck yeah, I did.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Blog about a Vlog

Okay we all know I am completely out of the loop when it comes to internet information exchange. This blog and Facebook probably represents the scope of my knowledge. So of course I had no idea what a "vlog" was. But I do know what Fanfiction is and after reading some related to Pride and Prejudice, I was alerted by one of the authors to something called "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries" on YouTube. (FYI: If you're into Fanfiction and you don't already know, had a huge archive that is categorized very well. Don't know what Fanfiction is? Well, that's just sad). I hopped over to YouTube to check it out since I am so obviously obsessed with all things Jane Austen especially Pride and Prejudice and I realized two things:

1) I am way out of touch. I just figured out the whole blog thing and now there's video blogging? I think I'm going to go back to my parchment, quill pen, and sealing wax for a moment and absorb this information.

2) I frickin' LOVE "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries"!

Here's what's it's all about:
Lizzie Bennet is a grad student filming a video blog (or "vlog" as I've come to discover) about her family and life. She has an older sister, Jane, who is perfect and wonderful and a younger sister, Lydia, who is kinda whore-y yet endearing. Her mother is obsessed with finding all three husbands. Yes, this is a modern Pride and Prejudice with a twist.

And its hilarious!

Seriously, even people who have never read the book love the vlog, but if you have read Pride and Prejudice, you have a whole different appreciation for this updated version. Lizzie is smart, goofy, and of course pretty judgemental, but she's Elizabeth Bennet and she's awesome. Her best friend Charlotte Lu edits the vlog and is supportive and spunky. And of course you can't have this classic tale without Bing Lee (AKA Charles Bingley) and William Darcy (I'm pretty sure you can figure out who that is). Right now its episode 50-something and I can't wait for the next installment. It follows along with the book for the most part, but what's refreshing is that "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries" is its own interpretation and not just another adaptation.  The producers make the characters and story their own while still keeping with the spirit of the original. Here's a sample of a few of my favorite episodes just to whet your appetite:


Ah, Darcy, you ridiculous snob, you.

One of my favorite scenes in the book, too.


Gotta love Mrs. Bennet and her desperation to marry off her daughters. 

You know you want to see more...So go and check it out! 

Oh, and I finished reading Steig Larsson's Millenium series and it was awesome! Go read them. Sorry for being so bossy.

P.S. Sorry about the whole "you're sad if you don't know what Fanfiction is." Actually, it probably is just a testament to the fact that I don't get out much. Good for you!

P.P.S. Yes, I am working on my next book whenever I have a spare moment. I have even set aside other projects (i.e. horseshoes and reading top 150 books) in order to devote my full attention to it! Please don't forget to like my Facebook page to keep up to date with progress and just plain talk about books!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Yes, Sir!

OK, I admit I was somewhat hesitant to read Fifty Shades of Grey and I'll explain why. So, I am not a prude by any stretch of the imagination. I've read my share of naughty fiction, nothing over the top, but descriptions of sex in a book does not bother me by any means. However, I have my limits. I don't like to read about painful sex, abusive sex, etc etc...basically nothing I wouldn't do myself. When I first heard about Mr. Fifty Shades, the gist I got was that it was about a very intense, controlling man who likes it really rough and is into BDSM. Not my thing, personally. So, even though a lot of people I knew were reading the series, I couldn't get around the concept that this was about some jerk beating up women to get his rocks off. Finally, I was told that yes the writing was not wonderful, but the story was very hot and it was a great book purely from an entertainment standpoint and that it might be a good gift suggestion for Chase to get me. And one day he did. And it sat on my shelf while I read some top 100 rec's until one day I found my curiosity getting the better of me. One day and a little over 500 pages later, I had to admit the truth: I was consumed.
All three books are written from the point of view of Anastasia Steele, a 21 year-old WSU-Vancouver student majoring in English who is more comfortable with Austen, Bronte, and Hardy than men as she is somewhat awkward and shy, but she is also stubborn, courageous, and outspoken. Sound familiar? Honestly, she is one of the main reasons I was immediately drawn into reading the first book, Fifty Shades of Grey; I find her so relate able. Her best friend and roommate, Kate, is a journalist who is supposed to be traveling to Seattle to interview a multi-gagillion dollar mogul for the school paper, but she's unfortunately sick :( So, of course her beloved and oh-so-wonderful friend Ana will go for her and record the interview. And Kate will owe her big time.
So off Ana goes to interview this guy who she already doesn't think too highly of because he's supposed to be arrogant and he's crazy rich which does not impress her and she's nervous as hell she'll screw up the interview. She's not too worried that he's supposed to be amazingly handsome because honestly she hasn't met a guy yet that has turned her head. She's too busy reading to notice. Then she literally falls into his office and meets Christian Grey. Yes, it sounds cliche, but her life is never the same.
Christian Grey is used to getting his way, and he wants Anastastia Steele. Not as a girlfriend; as a submissive. Yes, Mr. Grey is a Dominant with a room full of whips, handcuffs, toys, and all manner of playthings sure to make sex memorable. For innocent virgin Ana, this is beyond complicated. Can she sign on to be a submissive when her personality is anything but?
Here's why the BDSM angle didn't really bother me: it was so technical. There's a contract and everything. With hard limits and rules and amendments. Maybe my scientific mind approved of the way everything was drawn up to protect both parties. And he was open to negotiations to discuss the terms of the contract if she agreed. Safety was the number one concern, and nothing was forced. This was an agreement between two consenting adults for the purpose of pleasure. No big deal folks.
As far as Mr Grey himself, yes he pissed me off. A lot. He's controlling and emotionally retarded because of a really awful past. But Ana doesn't put up with the BS like so many others. She challenges him and sees into his heart. She decides not to sign on until after a trial period. As they grow closer, Ana fears that she won't be enough to slake his appetite. She also asserts that she wants more: she wants a relationship. At the close of the first book, and after lots of naughty romping that leaves you panting and fanning yourself, she makes a daring decision to push herself to the limit of what a Dom/Sub relationship might entail. She tells Christian to show her the worst punishment she could receive to see if she could handle it. In that moment, she realizes she can't enter into this kind of arrangement; she can't give him what he wants. And she fears that he can't give her what she wants: love. So, she leaves.
End book one. And another two days, two books, and over 1000 pages later, I have finished the series. Yes, they read that fast, and no you can't put them down.

I could go on and on about plot lines for Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed, but I'm hot and bothered enough as it is ;) What one really needs to understand is that this isn't just a series about two people having lots of hot sex. There is a deeper emotional undercurrent dealing with issues of trust, love, acceptance, and self-worth. Both characters evolve throughout the series and you just can't help but enjoy their story. Even control freak Christian. He actually can be rather adorable I admit. And oh so hot.
Seriously, don't even bother buying just the first book because you won't rest until you read the whole series. No, they aren't up for any awards in literature, but they are sure to entertain. None of the sex made me in the least squeamish personally. Well, maybe once or twice, but I got over it.
I am not ashamed to admit it: I am a Grey fan. Just thinking about him makes me giggle a little bit and bite my lip. Which he loves FYI.
And I will be reading these books again. *fans self*

Monday, August 27, 2012

Let the games begin.

I recently finished The Hunger Games series, and I have to say, I really enjoyed it. Here's the rundown just in case you're not familiar, or you know you've been living in a cave or something.
Nearly 75 years prior to the opening of the trilogy, the thirteen districts of Panem revolted against the Capitol. When they lost irrevocably, as punishment they destroyed District 13 and as a reminder against further action, every year a boy and a girl from each district will be chosen to participate in the "Hunger Games," where they will fight to the death until there is one victor, who will be rewarded for a lifetime with food and wealth. Every child from the ages of 12-18 participate in the reaping, their names appearing at least once. A child may receive more rations of food and oil in exchange for entering their name several times. Twenty-four children go in, one comes out, covered in blood.
In the first installment of the trilogy we are introduced to Katniss Everdeen, a 16 year old girl who has to grow up really fast after the death of her father in a mining accident resulting in the "checking out" of her mother, who suffers from depression. Her sister is 12 year old Prim, and she's terrified because its her first reaping. Her sister assures her that she won't be chosen, after all the odds against it are huge, especially considering Katniss herself has her name entered several times over. Katniss has dedicated her life to protecting her family, sneaking out past the perimeter fence to hunt, trading for goods on the black market, getting more rations by entering her name. She and her best friend and hunting partner, Gale, carry the weight of the world on their shoulders, and as inhabitants of Disctrict 12, the poorest of them all, they have their work cut out for them. At the reaping, all the children are understandably nervous as the eccentric Effie Trinket reaches in to pull out the name of the girl for the 74th annual Hunger Games. When Katniss hears the name "Primrose Everdeen," the world stops. Without hesitation, she boldly steps forward and volunteers as tribute in her sister's place. Peeta Mellark is chosen as the boy tribute immediately following, and the pair embark on a terrifying journey of survival. Along with their drunken mentor, Haymitch, Katniss and Peeta devise a plan to make themselves appeal to sponsors in order to win gifts, and to survive as long as possible. They are presented as a team, a pair, unprecedented in the games. Together they captivate the audience and steadily become closer. But there can only be one victor. Or can there?
Here's why I enjoyed this book: it is dark and unforgiving. I like Katniss as a lead character: she is realistic and brutal from having to live in a harsh world. But she still has a sense of humor and extreme compassion for human beings. Sure, the writing isn't spectacular, but for the genre (young adult literature), its above and beyond other works (AKA Twilight) that are popular now. The subject matter is disturbing of course (what with kids killing each other and all), so if you are sensitive, you should definitely steer clear. But if you can brave the graphic subject, you will not be disappointed. There are some really endearing characters that were just not given justice in the movie. Haymitch immediately comes to mind. He's a drunken fool, yes, but he's so much more complicated than that. And the relationship between Katniss and Peeta is anything but candy and flowers, but it really touches your heart nonetheless. Once you read the first book, you will be clamoring for the second!
Should I really go on to discuss book two if you haven't read the book or seen the movie? Well, I am, so spoilers abound. Katniss and Peeta have both been named victors in the 74th Hunger Games and Katniss is in trouble with the Capitol over her blatant defiance and challenge. She must convince them that she did it for love of Peeta, as she had been playing the part the whole games. With the upcoming Quarter Quell, the 75th annual Hunger Games, President Snow wants to make an example of her. He announces that the reaping for this games will be drawn from the previous games' victors. In other words, Katniss and Peeta are going back in the arena. And so are 22 other survivors. The message is clear: no one is above the authority of the Capitol. No one is safe. Can they survive the arena again? And is there rebellion stirring in the other districts? What is Katniss' role? I honestly didn't enjoy this one as much as the second. It felt like a repeat. The fact that all the people competing were victors who knew each other and were even friends in many cases did put a compelling spin on everything, though. Katniss and Peeta continue to play the "we're in love" game to try and appeal to the audience and appease President Snow. Katniss struggles with her confusion over her feelings for him and her friend, Gale. She knows she can't afford to be romantic and she doesn't want children, but she knows she cares about both of them. These moments can be bittersweet, but she never stops being Katniss, a badass fighter and smart cynic. The end leaves you in a bit of a cliffhanger, so you must immediately pick up the third.
Again, don't read unless you don't want to be a little spoiled. 
In the third installment, Katniss and some of the other victors have been rescued from the arena as part of an organized rebellion with HQ in District 13, which has been alive and scheming underground for the last 75 years. District 12 has been destroyed in retribution and Katniss finds herself as the symbol of the rebellion, the Mockingjay, that gives people hope. She is reluctant, and before she agrees has many demands to make, one of which is to pardon all victors, namely Peeta, who has been captured by the Capitol. As the war rages on and the death toll mounts, Katniss sinks deeper into herself as Gale finds his place as a soldier and weapons developer. This book is definitely the most complex of the series as far as emotional development of the characters. I admire how the author does not glaze over the effects of war on the minds of those fighting and how everyone, even children can become casualties. Everyone is fighting for freedom, but Katniss is fighting for the chance to kill President Snow. It drives her to train hard and even defy the leader of the movement. She feels the ultimate betrayal when Peeta is rescued and it's discovered that he has been "hijacked," his mind manipulated to believe she is the enemy. She fights for him, as well, hoping he'll come back to her. Overall, I was enthralled, but bitterly disappointed by the hastily whipped out ending. I felt it to be rushed. Katniss never fails to be unpredictable and real: not a perfect, unscathed, perky Hollywood heroine. I won't give away how it ends, but you know I'm a sucker for it...
My overall recommendation: read this series! For its various faults, it really is entertaining and moving. And it's a really fast read. I finished the whole series in a few days with two toddlers, work, and general household chaos.
And may the odds be ever in your favor!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Now you see me...

It took me quite a while to get through my next mind-blowing, life altering read. Not because it wasn't a wonderful piece of literature, but because I just got so bogged down in the meaning that I had to set it aside for some lighter fluff now and again. And this is very difficult for me to do since I am such an OCD reader.
The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison tells the story of a young black man from the south in the 1950s as he struggles to discover the answer to the age old question: who am I? He begins by living the life of the "idealistic" black man, the reformed black man that goes to college and is everything the white man wants him to be: intelligent (to a point), clean cut, and subservient. Through a series of unfortunate events, he is expelled from school and sent to Harlem to work. There, he is in an accident at a factory and ends up in the factory hospital undergoing electro-shock therapy in order to "cure" him. For a while, he doesn't even remember his own name. It is at this point that he begins to question the nature of identity, what is it that makes us who we are? What's in a name? Etc. etc. etc. He walks through the streets of Harlem and wonders why all those things that black people enjoy are considered socially unacceptable and even abhorrent. He soon draws the attention of a mysterious organization called "The Brotherhood," whom he believes is striving for equality. He becomes their spokesperson, and he works hard to better the world for both blacks and whites together. Bit by bit, this reality begins to crash around him as he realizes what he thought was the truth was really their variation. He comes to describe himself as the "invisible man." People do not see him as an individual or even a black man, but a character of his surroundings, circumstances, or imaginings. He suddenly is forced to come to terms with the harsh reality of the world, and finally able to face himself and decide who he really is.
Yes, this is a frightening glimpse into the treatment of blacks in America from a black man's point of view, and it is despicable. But this book is about so much more than racism. It is about the degradation of a person's soul, exploitation, hypocrisy, and the journey to self realization. The nameless protagonist is an intelligent and well spoken young man that is jerked around throughout the book, wanting and needing to trust that those he encounters are truly in earnest to make the world a better place for his people. He genuinely believes that what he does is right, and then life bitch slaps him in the face. He is constantly questioning his own identity and struggling against anything stereotypical of his race that he deems shameful i.e. a preference of fried yams. At a young age, he is taught to suppress those tendencies in order to became a "better" individual i.e. a credit to the race i.e. what the white man expects. His world turns upside down again and again. You feel horrible and outraged at his circumstances, and at the same time screaming, "What are you thinking? These guys are totally using you!" The writing is impeccable and the story flows very well from one trying time to another. You'll be stunned, you'll cry, you'll even laugh, and in the end, you will be haunted.
Honestly, this book really should be required reading in high school. The language doesn't go over the top as far as obscenities and there really isn't any sex to speak of, so there should be no issue there. I wish I could have read this in high school myself as it is a brilliant essay on the nature of man from a very different perspective. It's difficult to explain racism when you never have to face it yourself or see it in everyday life. In reading this book, you will understand how racism reaches into the soul; how it effects the world, people's actions and thoughts; and how it makes a man invisible.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Time I will never get back.

I have been a reading fiend lately and I love it! Now that the kiddos are getting older and entertaining themselves more, not only am I able to read more while they're playing, but I am less intoxicated exhausted after they go to bed and therefore can stay up just a little bit longer. The last book I read from my top 150ish list was John Cheever's Falconer.
 This gem of a book is about a guy named Farragut who is conivcted of murdering his brother and sent to Falconer prison for the rest of his miserable life. So, the back cover blurb claims he struggles to remain a man in a "universe bent on beating him back into childhood." It's a modern crime and punishment prison story. Can you tell how unimpressed I am? If you haven't caught my somewhat sarcastic tone, let me tell you, it's there. Let's begin with our protagonist (if he can really be called that; he did kill his brother after all regardless if the guy was a jerk and asking for it). Farragut is one of the least likeable characters I have encountered. I didn't even feel sorry for him. His marriage sucked (I think there was some mutual cheating), he was a failure as a father, and his family was a nightmare, but he is an arrogant prick addicted to drugs who feels absolutely no remorse for the damage he's caused. He doesn't even own up to the fact that he murdered his brother, even though he admits hitting him with a fire iron, it was the hearth that killed him. Nothing really awful happens to him in prison that makes me feel any emotion other than disgust and he never has a "come to Jesus" moment to redeam his pathetic self. And then he suddenly breaks out and you're thinking, "Huh?" and then the book is over. Thank goodness.

What could possibly be worse than reading about Farragut's pointless journey to anticlimactic freedom? All the prison sex. Yeah, and I'm not talking about rape. Because men have needs and god forbid they don't achieve release because that would lead to anarchy and riots, so the guards turn a blind eye and ear to all the "relationships" and a special room in the basement where the men go for communal jacking off. I am not joking. And I just love hearing all the details about that. Really this was one long jack off of a book. I seriously cannot believe this is a top novel of all time. I don't feel like a better person, and I certaintly don't think I learned anything of value except that a brilliant prison escape imagined by Alexandre Dumas can be stolen rewritten in modern times. I am so happy to be done with this book, but John Cheever owes me for all the time I wasted reading it.

Maybe there was something I missed? Maybe I'm not smart enough to have enjoyed the irony, the case study of our American judicial system, what it truly means to be a man? No, I got that. I just didn't care. And this book got so many positive reviews! One person even said that if you don't like this book, you don't like American literature.

Well, call me unpatriotic.

Next, please.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

This is my junk food and trash tv.

As I continue to check books off my All Time List, I find I'm also getting emotionally bogged down. It appears that every book on the list so far has been "serious," a serious shocker, she said sarcastically. Apparently, to be considered brilliant literature, it must move you to tears and wine. Lots and lots of wine. Of course, that's the point, right? As a writer, we want to evoke strong emotion, make you think, be memorable, and what better way to do that than to appeal to the basest feelings of devastating heartache? What I want to know is, what happened to a good belly laugh a la Sedaris, Brautigan, and one of my favs, Christopher Moore? So memorable because they crack me up and I end up telling everyone silly little anecdotes that made me about wet my pants. But, alas, I must admit that the literature I recommend most often are the ones that made me think.
But if you're anything like me, reading book after thought provoking book can really wear you out. Its like watching nothing but the news: its important, but sometimes you just need to change the channel and watch some Maury. But instead of trash tv and junk food, readers have oddball novels. So, with this in mind, I'm not only going to share my journey of betterment through the masterpieces of literature, I'm going to recommend some great books to help "clean the slate" if you will, especially after reading something particularly deep. Don't forget, just because they're not on a list, doesn't mean they don't deserve some props. They'll make you laugh (whether intentionally or just because they're so ridiculous), they'll melt your heart, and they'll lift your spirits. At least until the next depressing, yet brilliant, read.

A lot of the great random books I've read have been recommended by my best friend and business partner, Kelly. I've loved every book she's told me to read, and A Countess Below Stairs is one of my favs that you could go back and read over and over. It's the story of Anna, a countess who after the Russian Revolution is forced to go into hiding as a servant, trying to keep her past a secret while performing her duties as a maid and trying not to fall in love with Rupert, the earl of the house. Good luck with that. This book will definitely lift your heart after a depressing read that may not have ended quite the way you would have liked.
This next book, I Never Fancied Him Anyway, was a random selection from a Barnes & Noble trip. I was attracted to the witty title and then intrigued by the blurb on the back, and decided "what the hey." I am so glad I took a chance, because it was almost impossible to put this one down. The story is kinda odd. It's about a late twenty-something woman living in Dublin and working for a magazine answering "Dear Abby" type letters. Oh, yeah, and she's psychic. She can predict the future for everyone but herself. Her love life sucks, but her friends are awesome. And suddenly, the man of her dreams enters her life. Rather, her best friend's life. And hilarity ensues. I read this one after the emotional ride that was Seabiscuit.

OK, I am not a Twilight fan. Do I need to go into why? I think you all know me well enough that you've heard my rants into why the sparkly vampire series is probably the worst waste of paper in the history of ever. Want to read a series with some real vampires? That actually have fangs and are charming and *gasp* have sex? Want to not roll your eyes every five seconds at the awfully weak female lead? Then please read the Sookie Stackhouse novels. Another awesome psychic that hangs with vampires, werewolves, fairies, and pretty much every supernatural creature you can think of. Deadlocked is the 12th book in the series, and there is one more after this. *tear* Sookie has a great sense of humor and a strong, independant will. Lots of drama thats better than any trash tv sitcom. Oh, and don't forget to watch the series on HBO. The plots are somewhat different between the books and the tv series, but there's lots of eyecandy and great entertainment. Watch it after the news.
Hope these get you off to a great start. I'm currently back onto the list with John Cheever's Falconer. I'll let you know how that turns out. Until then, great reading!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

So then I read Richard Brautigan and felt so much better.

     I'm in love with the work of Richard Brautigan. For those of you who dont know, Richard Brautigan is a writer of poetry, short stories, and novels the most well known of which is Trout Fishing in America. His work is full of dark humor, inventive metaphors, and just plain crack-ups. He lived a tragic existance growing up in the Pacific Northwest in the 40s and 50s, moving around with his mother and her abusive relationships, living on welfare, and going days without eating. When he broke a window in a police station in 1955 in order to have a bed and a meal, he was sent to a state hospital and diagnosed with depression and paranoid schizophrenia. All the while he wrote his quirky poetry and stories based on his experiences. He was finally published for the first time in 1958 after being rejected continuously because his work didn't "fit in." He soon became involved in the San Fransisco counter-culture scene, participating in poetry performances and other events. When Trout Fishing in America was published in 1967, Brautigan became internationally famous. Even though he hated hippies, he was credited as being the most representative of the counter-cultural youth movement of the late 1960s. He published at least four books of poetry, a collection of short stories, and five novels since then. 
     Though his professional life was taking off like a rocket, his personal life suffered dramatically. He married twice, both ending in divorce as a result of his alcoholism and abuse. He had one daughter.
     In 1984, Brautigan was living in California when he was found dead by a private investigator. It was speculated that he had been dead for at least a month, having shot himself in the head. He left a suicide note that read simply, "Messy, isn't it?"
     Brautigan left a legacy of works that are still as influencial today as they were in the 60s and 70s. His humor and insights have transcended proprietal boundaries and leave a lasting impression.

     I adore him.

     I have read several of his works and there is no other author that has provoked more thought than Richard Brautigan. Even a few short lines are enough to put a smile on my face or leave me pondering. One of my favorite short stories is only two lines about a woman who shot the man she lived with and I laughed my ass off. My favorite poem is only 4 or 5 lines (and its about a penis) but dammit its beautiful. His off the wall metaphors seem utterly random, but his randomness makes crazy sense. His world is where I go to disappear from reality. You pretty much have to in order to understand him. He is heartbreaking and hilarious all in the same breath. And he would call me an ass for being to adoringly fluffy and mooning over his writing. And then later, he'll write a satrical story involving me and my three-legged blind dog that drives a stick shift.

     He's so brilliant.

     Right now, I'm reading The Abortion, which so far centers on a librarian who works and lives in a very special library full of unpublished books that are never checked out or read by anyone else but him. From 6 year old boys to 80 year old grandmas, they bring in their precious works at all hours of the day or night and he catalogues each one. How awesome is that? Knowing Brautigan, it will probably go in a whole new crazy direction before the next chapter is over. Alien cowboys could be involved.

     He's creative, he's fun, he's unexpected. I've been reading him since one of my former bosses gave me a collective works book in 2001 and I was instantly hooked. Since then, I have been passing on the good word. Read Brautigan.

     And don't forget the mayonaise.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Geek romance at its best

I could hardly put down the last top 100 (actually more like 150) book I just read. Possession by A.S. Byatt was almost like porn for word geeks. Its the story of two literary scholars, Roland and Maud, who study the poetic works of Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte, respectively, as they try to discover the mysterious connection between the two authors. It begins when Roland discovers a draft of a letter in one of Ash's personal books written to an unknown woman, who is evidently not his wife. Unlike much of his other letters, this one is very personal and almost passionate, so unlike Ash who is considered a dry scientific scholar through and through. Using clues in the letter, Roland begins to suspect it was written for Christabel LaMotte, a poet very popular with feminists and a dedicated lesbian. Did Ash send the letter? Did she reply? His questions lead him to Maud, an authority on LaMotte, and the two begin a quest to discover the connection between the two that wil change traditional scholarship completely. I don't want to go too much into the search because each clue is so integral to the plot, and I so much want everyone to go out and discover them personally.
Its part detective mystery, part steamy romance, and total geekery at its best. Full of traditional poetry and amazing word use, this is easily one of my top favorites. The character development was top notch, especially the relationship between Maud and Roland, which was in no way formulaic boy meets girl and they get wrapped up in the romance and immediately fall in love (or into bed). The interactions between them are honest and real. And of course I love the historical background story. It is important to note that these poets are entirely fictional, which makes it pretty impressive that the author wrote pages of epic poety in their styles throughout the book, Ash being very male and LaMotte strong female. Byatt tells their histories in so convincing a fashion, I had to look them up to see if they actually existed. Very moving page turner. Really, don't bother with the movie; it's a pale imitation. It's nearly impossible to reach the depth of this story in two hours, although I love Jennifer Ehle and Jeremy Northam as the star-crossed poets.
A thick read, over 500 pages, but well worth it. There were some extra characters that dragged the story down for me, and the old style poetry can get a little thick, but very deserving of the honor of top book of all time. Especially for word geeks.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Just to clarify...

There has been some confusion about what the whole "tower of creative awesomness" is about. Here's a photo story to clarify:

This is a tower of creative awesomeness.
Where I will write


While wearing

In the company of a

The shelves will be filled with books, there will be a place for all my supplies, an old typewriter, and my art desk.
It. Will. Be. Mine.

Just for future reference. Hope this clears everything up. And don't laugh, it could happen. One day...

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Feeling a malenky bit bezoomny in me gulliver, brothers.

Robbery, severe beatings, general havoc, theft, more beatings, and a viscous rape. All in the first thirty pages of A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. All committed by fifteen year old Alex and his droogs. And that's just the beginning. Oh, man where do I even start...
First, its important to realize that this boy Alex is living in a frightening alternate universe where there are basically no laws that govern the night. Its a good idea to stay indoors because boys like Alex are on the prowl, looking for mischief and aching to draw blood. There are not many police about at night, and really parents aren't governing their kids as they should. Alex is a known criminal. He loves the thrill of violence, especially when the blood begins to flow, tearing up the night with his cronies and going home to his parents' house like nothing happened. His passion for violence is matched only for his passion for classical music, especially triumphantly powerful composers like Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven. The music conjures up images of chaos and destruction for Alex, almost as satisfying as the acts themselves. So far, he has escaped harsh punishments, but one night his luck runs out and he's taken to prison for murder.
Ok, I never saw the movie, but I heard it was pretty disturbing. The story is difficult to follow at first because Alex speaks the nadsat language of his generation, but it doesn't take long to catch on. And its scary to think about children, yes he's fifteen in my mind that is a child, so devoid of empathy. I guess its not so far-fetched considering the horrible things kids see and hear now. They are constantly being desensitized by movies, music, and video games...but that's another argument. It's more for Alex. He derives pleasure from the violence, and he doesn't want to change no matter how hard they try. While he is in prison, he learns how to work the guards, pretending to study the Bible and ask for help in changing so he can re-enter society as a clean fellow. He knows there's some research going on to "cure" criminals and he's pretty sure he can fake it enough to get out and get back to business. Of course, he's a prime candidate for re-education. And he's all for it. All he has to do is watch some movies...
What is the meaning of freedom? Burgess explores this question as Alex undergoes aversion therapy to "'cure" his violent nature. Take away a man's freedom of choice, is he still a man? Is it really better to force behavior change rather than allowing a person to be who they are, even if it's violent? Are we doomed to become mindless automatons, living by routine, no more unique than a piece of fruit? Very thought provoking and moving. Honestly, I felt sorry for Alex. Was he a product of his generation, or truly evil? He's used and abused, and in the end...maybe he grows up a little.
What I found interesting beyond the scope of the book was the forward by Burgess. A Clockwork Orange was not his favorite book. Far from it; he almost wishes it would die. Other works he found personally more satisfying as a writer are forgotten. He theorizes, and I fear, that many artists feel the same about their early works. What one may write as an amateur is celebrated as the creator moves on to mature and meanwhile everyone is still talking about the "breakthrough" or "debut." How can the artist recover from that? I always like hearing the story from the author/artist's perspective; their take on the work we talk so much about. I wonder what Beethoven would think about Fur Elise being a ringtone and how Shakespeare would like our studying Hamlet and Romeo & Juliet in high school as opposed to his less critically acclaimed works.
For myself, I guess I'll just have to save the best for last. Keep 'em guessing, keep 'em talking.

I highly recommend his version as it has a previously unpublished chapter (in America). Such a tragedy considering the last chapter seems incredibly important to the development of Alex's character. Another fear of mine as a writer...if I go the official publisher route one day, I will fight tooth and nail to keep my words in their entirety!
I need something fluffy now...

Monday, February 13, 2012

A momentary flash of brilliance.

So, just because I am in the middle of writing two stories doesnt mean the ideas stop coming. The overactiveness of my imagination can get distracting, and in the past I have simply tried to push forward and focus on the task at hand. But lately I have learned to embrace the momentary flashes of brilliance and at least sketch out a rough outline and character descriptions to return to later. A while ago, an idea started rolling around inspired in part by a name of a relative (ancestor? He lived in the 1800s and I never know when to call a person a relative or ancestor. What's the timeline?). When I heard his story and his name, I was instantly attracted to it. The other day, a rough opening to his story came to me and I seized the moment and jotted it down. Here's what I came up with:

    "Mr. Ashley was born with nothing, and by the time he married his wife, he had less. Their poverty was the pity of her entire family, for Mrs. Ashley had all the beauty and she had wasted it on a bad marriage. A love match, the worst curse for a pretty girl and a poor man. Nothing could be gained from it, and all the love in the world could not fill their bellies.
    Two children were born and died before the age of three. Thus, when the boy was born, he did not have a name until his fourth year. On that day, as his mother lay dying, she felt the despair of life with Mr. Ashley. She had nothing to give her son; no fortune, trinkets, property, nothing but a name. It must declare to the world his intrinsic value, more than the value of wealth or family connections. It must also be a promise, a hope, of the man he might someday become.
    And the name she gave him was Diamond."

As I said, very rough random idea. I'm looking forward to writing Diamond Ashely's story. It's been a long time coming. But first, must finish the other works in progress!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

This book changed my life. No, seriously.

"Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge."
Thus begins "The Blind Assassin" by Margaret Atwood. It pretty much goes downhill from there, at least for Iris Griffen, an elderly woman from a once prominent family in Port Ticonderoga, Canada. The book is a memoir of her and her sister's life beginning in the 1920s. More accurately, its an expanation for her granddaughter, whom never speaks to her. Iris and Laura's life is fraught with hardships, from their Mother's death, to the market collapse, wars, marriage, and other unspeakable things I wont give away. The book jumps between the life of Iris now and her life then, mostly in chronological order. There is also a novel within a novel, written by two lovers in back alleys and seedy hotels. You're not really sure who they are, and as the book progresses, more and more clues are dropped so you think you know, but then something else happens to question your theory. There's a lot of mystery to be solved.
Honestly, its been a long time since I've read a novel that has grabbed my attention so completely. I snatched every available moment to read the 500+ pages as fast as possible. The characters are endearing and your heart breaks for them again and again. There isnt much happiness to be had for these sisters. Atwood has an incredible way with words. Her descriptions paint an exact picture without being excessive, which can sometimes bog down a story. Its like I say to Chase, "Too many words!! Just spit it out!" There is just such a beautiful usage here, almost like poetry, but without the fluff. Make sense? Apparently, I havent mastered this skill.
Yes, you'll cry. A lot. But you'll laugh as well. There are some great moments of humor for Iris, as a youth and in her old age. And in the end, there's hope. This is a book I would read again, and there are not many I can say that about. I also did something else I dont usually do while reading: scramble for a pen. I read one particular line over and over and in the end I had to highlight it. This will be my motto; how I want to be as a writer:
"The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it."
To write without fear of judgement, that is what I want to strive for. To first please myself, and afterwards others.
If I feel like it.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Just leave the flowers on the doorstep; I'm grieving in here.

So, I know I should be working on my book or writing a blog for Long Beach Coffee Roasters, but the truth is, I just cant bring myself to do anything remotely productive. I will be losing a very valuable asset in a few months, and this has cut me to the core.
It's the photo editing site, Picnik.
I know what you're probably thinking: WTF, Mandy? Is that all? I about crapped my pants!
You don't understand! Ever since I discovered this gem it has helped me work wonders with photos and making brochures and flyers and general entertainment. Super important stuff like this:
Hold me, Alex, hold me.

And of course I would be lost forever if I wasnt able to indulge in fantasies like this:
It's just so unfair, isn't it James?

Picnik is one of those great tools that allows me to express who I am! It's about art, people. And self All that fancy shit. (The UPS guy just brought my saddle bags and tail wrap! Moment of extreme excitement! Woot!)
Someone help me out here, please. What do you use to awesome up your photos? My blogs just wont be the same without snarky comments on photos. Help me put the pieces back together. Honey badger does care!

On the other hand, this drama has put me in the writing state of mind...hmmm...

Friday, January 20, 2012

OMG I'm, Like, An Author Or Something!

As many of you have already learned, I am a badass author now. So, I guess all there is left to do now is sit back, pour a glass of wine, and let the royalties pour in!
HA! And then later I'm going to slip into a size 4 and James McAvoy and I are heading to the Oscars together to celebrate my nomination for best writer in this year's hit blockbuster staring Jimmy himself and Alexander Skarsgaard.
But seriously, I cant express how exciting this is for me. I've already sold copies online and in the coffee shop, and its like watching someone take one of my children away. But not in the creepy sense...okay, poor example. Its the same feeling I get as an artist after working long hours on a pet portrait and then seeing someone's face light up with joy upon seeing the finished product. Lots of pride, a sense of accomplishment, and a reassurance that in fact I do have some talent and to keep at it! Thank you everyone for all the support over the years. This has been a project long in the making!

Next!! Yes, I have two more stories in the works right now and a lot of motivation. And there are a few other ideas rattling around in my head, so there will be no lack of entertainment. Here's a sneak at the cover of the next story on my publishing to-do list:

So on it, folks...

Sunday, January 15, 2012

"A Death in the Family" Review

I just checked off another book from my top 100 lists: "A Death in the Family" by James Agee. I can sum up my feelings after reading this book in two words: Holy Eff. This is the story of a man, Jay Follet, who, on his way home from visiting his family, is in a terrible car accident and dies. The book focuses on the day of his death and the following few days after including his funeral. Its an intense study of the range of emotions his family experiences upon hearing the news and dealing with the aftermath. The book is made even more meaningful when you learn the author himself died suddenly before the book was finished. Its a rough draft put together by the author's family and is as he wrote it with no editing. Its pretty much like looking into a person's thoughts.
OK, I knew going in that this was going to be a depressing read. What else would I expect considering its about a guy who died tragically, leaving behind a wife and two small children. The emotions are so raw and not Hollywood dramatized, ie no screaming, blubbering, throw yourself out a window type stuff, that you are completely sucked into these people's heads and feel the exact same way. What really got me was the kids and how their poor mother was trying to explain to a 5 and not quite 2 year old what was happening; why their father wasnt coming home. I could feel her frusteration and pain as she tried to tell her little daughter over and over that no, Daddy wasnt coming home today or ever. As in never. And I could understand the little girls thoughts and confusions. Its hard to explain to a child was death and forever is like. I especially appreciated how the author wrote the little boy's feelings. At first, the idea that his father is dead doesnt quite hit home. He feels almost a sense of pride in being different from the other kids at school and is ready to relish in the attention he knows he'll get when people find out his Dad died. Its real, no fluff, and very touching. The funeral is the most heart wrenching scene. All the emotions come flooding out and his mother is openly sobbing, the rest of the family is subdued, and the kids are starting to finally realize the impact their father's death will have on their lives. Everything is changing and nothing will be the same. The scenes where the author describes the appearance of Jay in his coffin as seen through the eyes of his son are so powerful they bring up memories of seeing my grandfather at his funeral, and I admit I got very teary-eyed. I dont think I've ever cried so much over reading a book. Be warned.

You'll need a good piece of mindless fluff to recover. I recommend "The A Circuit" by Georgina Bloomberg & Catherine Hapka. Its full of teenage drama. With horses thrown in. I read it in a few hours, and it was terrible, but it wiped the slate clean for my next read, "The Blind Assasin" by Margaret Atwood. It opens with the line, "Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge."

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Play: Chapter 1

Here's chapter 1 of "The Play: The tale of a clever Russian noblewoman." When I last wrote a brief description, I mentioned it was in the 1860s, but it is now 1830s. Nicholas I is czar and he required people to show loyalty to the unlimited authority of the czar, to the traditions of the Orthodox Church, and to the Russian nation. Hope you enjoy chapter 1! Remember, its a VERY rough draft!

     It was my first day playing the role of the stablemaster’s daughter and the man himself was staring at me blankly. I had just explained to him the situation at hand: that he was to instruct me in all the duties expected of a lady in my position and to address me as his child for the duration of my suitor’s stay. He was obviously confused, but he said nothing, a reaction entirely opposite that of daughter, who was now being fitted for gowns and learning which fork to pick up first at dinner. Indeed, she seemed utterly delighted by the prospect.
     “Will I get to sleep in your bed?” Nadya asked after a moments shock. Her body began to tremble in excited anticipation.
     “Of course.” I replied. “We cannot have the gentlemen believing the daughter of Ivan Kostov sleeps on straw in the stables.” This seemed sufficient to secure her compliance in the matter. It appeared her father would be somewhat more difficult to convince.
     “I assure you I will do all you ask with no complaint.” I tried to elicit some response, but the man was stone. I was almost afraid this would be the end of my scheme: a frail, aging man that smelled of horses and straw and who apparently forgot that despite the fact that I was dressed in a similar fashion as he, I was still his mistress and therefore had command over him. I was prepared to tell him so when he slowly shook his head and with a sigh handed me the pitchfork he had been holding.
     “I don’t suppose I have much choice, mistress,” he lamented as I took the tool from him.
     “No, sir, you do not,” I reminded him. “And if you please, call me your daughter or we fail before we begin.”
     After spending above eight hours cleaning stalls, brushing horses, oiling saddles, feeding livestock, and other general duties of a woman in my position, I was more exhausted than I had ever been in my entire life. From the tips of my toes to the roots of my hair my body ached with every breath I took. As I lowered myself into a hot bath, the last I would take for some time, I glanced at my previously polished fingernails and was heartbroken to see them all chipped, cracked, and soiled. I sighed pitifully and leaned my weary head back. I would be sore beyond all reason tomorrow, I knew, but today was perfect. I had spent all day in the dirt like a common serf and had enjoyed every moment. What would my father say to that?


    “When Masseur Mensky arrives tomorrow you must wear this orange gown for it is the most unflattering color I own,” I instructed Nadya the night before the scheduled arrival of my experiment, though I tried not to think of him in that manner. My design in having Nadya dress less than impressive was to give the gentleman a chance to glance away from her and perchance see the humble figure I would present standing by. That was the idea, however. I sincerely doubted that particular result as I was convinced that I could have dressed Nadya in rags and he would declare it the best of fashion since my name would come with it. But enough cynicism for the present.
     “Anna, are you sure this a wise plan? I admit that I have enjoyed the past two weeks and your bed is very soft, but I believe we may have lost sight of the fact that this man will most likely not appreciate being played with. What is your own opinion to this?” Oh, simple Nadya, how I wish I could be as free as you to express myself so decidedly.
     “You may be right and your scruples do you credit, my dear Nadya, but I will not be dissuaded. I am determined to be loved honorably. Is this wrong?”
     “No, indeed. It is what we all wish.”
     “Then what possible harm may come of it?”
     “None worth regretting, I hope.” Do not count on any regrets, it thought, for if the man exerts the effort to prove himself worthy, there can be nothing but good results. And if not, well, than I am vindicated at last, Mensky will marry someone else much to that woman’s misfortune, and I will be left alone by my father. There was no going back now.
     “How shall I speak to him at this meeting?”
     “Be correct, but say as little as possible. If he enjoys conversation, he will not find it with you, therefore, he must seek it elsewhere.”
     “Like my father’s stables? A perfectly reasonable alternative.”
     “It will be the only alternative if he prefers the company of females under the age of sixty, which is the average age of the other female staff on this estate.” I prepared to leave my room to Nadya’s keeping when I glimpsed my own reflection in the mirror. The weeks of labor and few baths had turned my hair wispy and tangled, my skin was beginning to brown, and I was still unable to remove all the dirt from underneath my fingernails. Then I looked down at Nadya seated at the same mirror. Her hair was intricately plaited and pinned, her skin had liberal amounts of powder, and she was dressed perfectly for her role in this farce. Yes, we were both ready as far as appearances where concerned.
     “Is there something else?” she asked. "Any advice to offer?" I smiled wickedly. Why should this be a somber moment?
     "Yes," I finally replied. "Don't forget to enjoy yourself. This is going to be fun."
     I first glimpsed Petr Leptoff was is inconsequential as it was mundane. There we all stood in our fineries; my father wearing his regal beaver longcoat despite the high temperature, Nadya corseted until she could scarcely draw breath, and the household servants donned their itchy wool breeches for the occasion. So much to sacrifice in order to make a favorable first impression, and I laughed at the absurdity of it all. Here we gathered, suffering in the heat, and only to impress a man not even high enough to polish the czars boots. Only I, whose future happiness depended on this meeting, remained unmoved. Indeed, I had little hope in the exchange and I only wished to return to my horse, for I had need of a decent ride and the weather had been made for good gallop. Not having to contend with "proper" employments, I was able to practice my riding; an additional benefit to the scheme. Now I was impatient. What could be keeping him? Does he not know who my father is? Woe be the fellow who keeps Ivan Kostov waiting more than five minutes.
     Just as I was beginning to think, much to my own amusement and to my father's distress, that my noble suitor would not show after all, he suddenly appeared in all his glory and splendor. The carriage was quite impressive shouted to the world "I am rich, stand aside for me," as was only expected of a man with such high social standing. The horses, like that which they preceded, with coal black with red feathers atop their heads. Red was also the color which trimmed the equipage, as well as the interior I would come to discover. It was indeed large enough to house the entirety of Masseur Mensky's importance with just enough room to spare for a skinny young lady; but only if she had been deprived of nourishment for a week. As the carriage pulled around the front of the house, all the ladies surreptitiously fussed with their hair and the gentleman straightened their posture. All prepared to look their best, except for me. The coachman brought their charges to stop, and as the door was opened I thought with a smirk: "let the games begin."
     Stepan Mensky did present a fine figure of a man even I had to concede that he was indeed quite handsome. He was tall, lean, dark-haired and smiling. His eyes were ebony pools glistening with laughter and ease. He declared himself pleased with the house and the extensive grounds and commenced with the introductions to my father and whom he presumed was myself.
     "Masseur Mensky, I would like to present to you my daughter, Ryanna Akilinovich Kostova." Well done father, not a hint of hesitation. I was pleased with his performance. But his was nothing compared to Nadya's. She curtsied perfectly and extended her hand in invitation just as I had taught her that nobles do. The gentlemen smiled, clutched the outstretched hand, and bowed elegantly over it.
     "It is with the greatest of pleasure that I declare I am honored to finally meet you, Miss Kostova. Tales of your beauty fall far short of the reality. I am enchanted," and then he kissed her hand most tenderly and without regard to decorum. My father was slightly taken aback, but he did not protest and I tried not to laugh. They were words well spoken, but he probably read them in a book somewhere. And that is assuming he read anything besides racing forms, if he could read all. He continued to walk down the line of servants, my father introducing each one as they went, and I trembled as they drew closer to me. Vaguely I noticed a man falling behind, but I paid him no more attention beyond acknowledging his presence.
     Finally, after much anticipation, my father, Nadya, Masseur Mensky, and his companion stood before me and the stablemaster. I could feel the whole lot of them holding their breaths and wait. Would he say anything to me? Would even look at me?
     "Masseur Mensky, this is my stable master, Mr. Popov. He will see to all your horses during your stay. You will not find a better man to trust them to."
     "Excellent," his voice was pleasing, to be sure. Very melodious the man's can be so. "They should give you no trouble; very well mannered. But I do expect them to shine every morning. I will inspect the myself to ensure they are groomed to my satisfaction. A dirty horse is a reflection on his master, and I will not be judged wanting. The hooves should be polished and will need trimming within the next week. And do not neglect the manes and tails; I want to be able to run my fingers through them at a moments notice. Not a tangle or burr, do you understand? Oh, and do have them exercised twice a day, but not too strenuously; I do not want them worked into a froth. Is all this perfectly clear, my good man?" Was he serious? Could be this ridiculous? Should I discount him now, or blame this behavior on the long journey and allow him to redeem himself?
     Before I could decide, and indeed a before my father could even introduce me, Mensky had turned to go into the house without so much as a glance in my direction. To my father's credit, he said nothing nor betrayed any indication that the young man had made a potentially fatal error. Nadya's eyes fell on mine briefly, but she too stayed in character and quickly followed the pair inside.
     I was horrified, humiliated, and my pride was irrevocably wounded. How could he love a servant if he would not even look at me?
     "Hello," came a voice beside me. I was startled to say the least. The servants have begun to disperse, save for my pretend father keeping a wary eye behind me, and I had not noticed that I was not alone in my reverie. I turned and found the voice belonged to the companion I had barely gave two thoughts to only minutes ago. It was a young man, perhaps Mensky's age, but I was always a poor judge, a little shorter and a lot less handsome the aforementioned. His hair was longer than was in style and relatively unkempt. The color was brown, as is always desirable, but of course not exactly the right shade. His nose was too large, his lips too thin, and his dress less expensive as to be considered common. In short, he was plain. Only his eyes, though not brown, were noteworthy. Not a brighter blue could be found in nature as was those eyes.
     Did he say something? I become distracted once again. He was looking at me quizzically, expectantly. Features relaxed and he stuck out his rough calloused hand; a hand of a working man.
     "I am Stepan's oldest friend, Petr Leptoff." In response I swept and elegant curtsy, admonished myself for the slip as I could sense his confusion, and quickly recovered by grasping his hand in mine and saying:
     "Surely not the oldest. You don't look a day over eight-and-twenty." To my amazement, he laughed.
     "I meant we've known each other since childhood. Neither of us have had a single friend half so long."
     "Yes, I know what you meant." Do think I was stupid? Or was he? Did he really not understand it was a joke? He frowned and drop my hand. I hardly cared with this Leptoff character thought; I was watching my intended disappear through the front door. It took several seconds for me to realize that his friend was still there and talking to me.
     "What?" I asked irritably.
     "My have the pleasure of your name, miss? "
     "What for?"
     "Nadya, my daughter's name is Nadya, young man," Popov had broken in with, was it amusement mixed with a touch of annoyance? I have yet to master his moods.
     "My pleasure," he bowed clumsily. I had a terrible notion that I was going to have to entertain him when he was thankfully called to join the others in the house. He quickly bade me goodbye and scampered off in that direction. Yes, I said scampered, and I stand by my description.
     "What was the meaning of that?" I asked my temporary 'father' when the man was out of earshot. "He is not important; why does it matter if he knows who I am?"
     "He must hold some importance being the masseur’s best friend," the old man said cryptically. "Don't you agree?"
     I was about to protest when I suddenly realized, much to my astonishment, that he was right. Mr., Leptoff was it? Was the closest to Mensky I could ever hope to get as things stood at present. He could very well be my window into the man's soul. My questions as to his character, views, deeds could be answered without raising suspicion. I may have use for the presumptuous, and comical, Mr. Leptoff after all.