Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Z is for Zigzag Paz


The end of the alphabet, the end of the challenge--today feels a little sad to me! Showing up to blog every day has been an important experience; going through my keeper books even more so. Examining why I have kept a book, and given others away (many, many others) has brought back all kinds of memories, good and bad, and has also confirmed that I've made the right choices. The books I've listed this past month will always be keepers; they make my world whole.

Today's keeper is no exception. Zigzag Paz by Pamela Anne Zolkov, published in 2011, is the only memoir I own. Primarily set in South Africa, it's a journey of the heart that is truly unforgettable. To read my earlier review of the book (which remains one of my most popular posts according to my sidebar!)  just click here. I feel the same way today as I did when I wrote that original post--Zigzag Paz is a wonderful story, well-written and thought-provoking--and it has recipes! How cool is that?

But what I really want to say today is what Zigzag Paz has come to symbolize to me now that I've had my blog for several years, as well as a Twitter account, a Facebook page, a website, a JacketFlap account, an Author's Den page (I think that's all!); in other words, the Internet. 

I met Pam through the Internet via Twitter. Twitter! I would never have thought back when I was first reading, say, The Alexandria Quartet or Vanity Fair, that I would one day have a combination TV-typewriter that would take me to as far away as South Africa, or even the next state over, giving me the chance to meet amazing people like Pamela Zolkov. 

It's been such a privilege, a science-fiction fantasy come true, to be able to communicate with you all wherever you are, whatever time zone you're in. How lucky I am to get up every day and know you're out there somewhere, working on your own creative projects, filling the world with your creativity and good thoughts. I'm so grateful to you all!

Thank you for reading my blog, thank you for the work you do, thank you for sharing your books and art. And thank you, especially, Pam, for writing Zigzag Paz and introducing me to so many new vistas through your book. It means a lot to me.

So with that I'll sign off for a little while. I need to digest this whole "blogging every day" thing. Tomorrow I'll be selecting a winner for a print copy of Overtaken, and will announce who that is in a few days after I've heard back from him or her. There's still time to win--just leave a comment on any of my A-Z blog posts from this month and I'll enter your name in the random drawing. 

But now I have to go find a tissue. I'm feeling very emotional saying goodbye to the challenge and to you. Who'd have thunk it? Take care and I'll see you all again in about a week. Keep reading good books!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Y is for Young Adult Writing, Featuring Marilee Brothers


Although I don't have a keeper book starting with the letter "Y", I do have a special surprise: a guest blogger specializing in Y is for Young Adult! And her new book (which is definitely on my keeper shelf), Baby Gone Bye,  does have two Y's in the title. So all round I feel pretty lucky (more Y's) to have Marilee Brothers visiting today. Yay Marilee!

The author of eight books, Marilee Brothers is a former teacher, coach and counselor. She and her husband are the parents of three grown sons and live in central Washington State. After writing six young adult books, Marilee is currently hard at work, writing an adult romantic suspense.

Her most recent young adult title, Baby Gone Bye, is a keeper for many reasons: I love the story, I enjoy Marilee's writing style, and I think it's an excellent go-to book for staying up-to-date with modern YA writing. I gave the book 5 stars in my Amazon.com review, which you can read on the book's Amazon listing page.



For today's post I asked Marilee if she could share some of her top tips for writing for the YA market. Here's what she had to say:

1. Read, read, read. When I was young, there was no such thing as young adult fiction. The only books available to me featured prissy little girls in white pinafores. Therefore, I had to sneak-read my parents’ books and grew up with the fantastic Travis McGee series by John D. MacDonald and books like The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen Woodiwiss, very likely the first sexy romance novel ever published. 

2. Watch TV shows and movies that feature teenagers. Eavesdrop when you’re in the mall or other teen hangouts. But, be careful when using current slang. It will probably be obsolete by the time your book is published. 

3. Write in a genuine voice because kids can detect a phony faster than I can write this sentence. 

4. Don’t get preachy. If you have a message, make sure it’s an integral part of the story, woven intricately throughout the plot. You may not even know you have a theme until after the book is written. This happened to me. I wrote five books in the Unbidden Magic series and didn’t realize until Book 3, Moon Spun, that I had recurring themes, namely Allie’s search for her genetic roots and the desire to find something larger than herself to believe in. 

5. If you’re writing for young teens, bear in mind you are also writing for their mothers. Moonstone, the first book in my series, featured 15-year-old Allie Emerson. She lived in a rural part of Washington State with her young, single mom. She’d never had a boyfriend until she connected with reformed gangbanger, Junior Martinez. When the book came out, I didn’t hear from the young readers. I heard from their mothers who read the book before passing it on to their kids. The message was, “Thanks for writing a book without vampires and sex.” This surprised me. 

6. Make ‘em laugh. Your plot may be deadly serious. Your protagonist may be in fear for his/her young life. Your characters may be in mortal danger but that doesn’t mean you can’t throw in a dash of humor. Often, the funny stuff is what your reader will remember about your book. For example, I’ve read all of Sue Grafton’s alphabet mysteries featuring her private detective Kinsey Milhone. I’ve forgotten most of the plots, but I’ll never forget her description of Kinsey sneaking into a house via the doggy door and then meeting the actual dog. Laughed my butt off! 

7. Don’t write to a trend. Vampires. Dystopian. Shape shifters. Sorcery. They have all been done to death. Maybe you have a fresh new perspective. If so, go for it, but bear in mind, agents and editors may be sick of these overdone genres. As stated before, write from the heart. Make your story fascinating, original and unputadownable. Is that a word? 

8. Here's an exercise guaranteed to put you in a YA frame of mind: harken back to your teen years and pick an age when you were alternatively miserable and euphoric. For me, it was age 14 going on 15, which is why I made Allie Emerson that age at the beginning of my series. Think of an incident that made you miserable. Try to remember how truly awful you felt and write about it. Then, do the opposite. Pick something that sent you over the moon with happiness and write it down. Tap into your inner teen and you will find the age of your protagonist. I promise you it will work. 

Last bit of advice: Write. Write. Write. Exercise that writing muscle! It gets lazy if we let it. Not only does it get lazy, doubts begin to set in. I recently finished a contract with my publisher. After writing a book a year for six years, I took some time off. Big mistake. The longer I waited to start something new, the more I began to wonder if I still had the juice. I know. It makes no sense. So, after a serious talk to myself, I began writing again. And, guess what? The act of writing woke up my lazy brain. The ideas began to flow and all is right in my world. 

Thank you so much, Marilee! Great advice which I certainly will be taking to heart for my next YA project. Wishing you the very best for continued success.

P.S. Marilee loves hearing from people who have read her books. Feel free to contact her at www.marileebrothers.com. Thanks again--and see you all tomorrow with the letter Z (and the end of the challenge!).

Monday, April 28, 2014

The X Factor: Maxfield Parrish


I don't have any books that start with the letter "X." I don't think I've even read a book starting with "X"! So today's fill-in will have to be keeper book Maxfield Parrish, by Coy Ludwig, the closest I can get to any title with an "X" in it, other than The Alexandria Quartet, the first book I posted for the A-Z Blogging Challenge. 

"Twilight" has always been my favorite Parrish painting. Oh, yes, I adore all his wood nymphs, fairy tale princesses, gorgeous waterfalls and morning skies—I’ve even had drinks at San Francisco’s Pied Piper Bar with its splendid namesake painting, but for some reason, this tame little scene of a white-washed house in the middle of nowhere speaks the loudest to me. 

When I first started taking art lessons, my teacher said something very interesting that I’ve never forgotten: she said that the world was full of landscape paintings, still life pictures, portraits, fantasy art, you name it. The full range of techniques and expressions from abstract acrylic on glass to humanist marble sculpture has already been done, and by artists of every skill level imaginable. But what differentiates the pieces that truly speak to us is what she called “the X factor.” That little, indefinable unique something-or-other that makes the work different, and special. It might not even be seen by everyone who views the work—but when you see the X factor, you know it, and you want that piece of art in your life. 

I don’t think there’s any Parrish painting that doesn’t hold some kind X factor for me, but "Twilight" seems to carry a special message, one that speaks to me of home and hope. I’ve moved so many times in my life that I don’t really have a very clear image of what “home” means. The places I lived in as a child were scary and unfriendly, somewhere to escape from, rather than seek refuge or feel any sort of safety or comfort. It wasn’t until I lived in my own apartments and houses that I understood how to make a place warm, welcoming, and peaceful—in other words, a home. 

“Twilight” has given me that inspiration and a model to follow. Other than my years in the Georgia countryside (and that was pretty suburban; the college was right down the road next to a smooth highway leading straight to the heart of Atlanta) I’ve never lived in quite the full extent of isolation as in this painting. If I did, I know I’d go stir-crazy in a matter of days. After a few walks up and down that creek bed I’d be itching for libraries, art supply stores, and a quick trip to the mall for a latte. But . . . it’s nice to dream. 

It seems I carry the image of this particular house in my mind wherever I live, and it’s what has made me seek out an X factor in my own sense of style of interior decorating, maybe even my own writing and art. I can't say exactly what that is, but it’s a striving for something quiet and tranquil, a space that allows me to think and create and just be me. It’s a good place to go, and I hope you have a special heart-place of your own, too. Let me know if you'd like to share!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

W is for Writing Poetry from the Inside Out


Happy "W is for Weekend"! Hope you're having a good one. It's dark and cloudy in Albuquerque this afternoon, just the right weather for today's keeper book: Writing Poetry from the Inside Out, Finding Your Voice Through the Craft of Poetry, by Sandford Lyne. 

This particular book is so important to me I've written my name on the inside cover, just like I did in the fifth-grade with Little Women and The Wizard of Oz: My Book, Hands Off! I carry it with me to all sorts of important places like the library for some quiet writing practice; my writer's group for more writing practice and group exercise; for inspiration when I'm waiting in the Lowe's parking lot while my husband shops for gizmos. As Lyne states in the preface, ". . . poetry writing is the most portable of the arts . . ." It's true--all you need is a pen and a notebook, pencil if you prefer.

Here are my three favorite things about the book:
  1. I love the way Lyne refers to a writer's journal/sketchbook/notebook as the writer's "studio." Choosing just the right size, paper, binding, and weight of your book goes a long way to feeling comfortable with it, making you want to write more often, or as Lyne calls it, trying your hand at some "poem sketching." The simple act of opening your notebook can become a touchstone, transforming wherever you are to writing space, helping you to block out noise and other distractions. So choose well!
  2.  There's a lot more than poetry "form and function" here. Yes, there's lots of "how to" instruction on "how to write a poem" throughout the text, but this is also a book about how to reach that deep and sacred part of you that wants to express itself through the written word. In many ways, this is secretly a book about how to live, and live well.
  3. Word clusters. There are about 30 pages of word clusters at the back of the book, divided into groups of four. For example: barefoot, evening, shadows, king. Or: wall, ancient, dawn, dusk. These have been provided as writing prompts (which makes this such a great book for writer's groups). I've used these clusters in all kinds of ways: singly, as the given set, or taking words from across the pages to make new combinations. I've also used them for more than poetry, too, e.g., essays and fiction. And if you manage to work your way through every set, you can always start adding some fresh words of your own to the mix, cutting out words from magazines, or going through the dictionary for fresh and unusual ideas.
There's still five days of National Poetry Month left (and only three more blog posts till the end of the A-Z Blogging Challenge!). How about joining me to write some new poetry over the coming days? Here are a few word clusters of my own gleaned from magazines to get you started:
mirage
romance
harvest
escape

taste
scarlet
theory
world

horizon
balance
window
snow

image
ancestral
passion 
world 

They almost make a poem on their own! Have fun, and I'll be back on Monday. (Yay for free Sundays!)

Friday, April 25, 2014

V is for Vanity Fair

I'm feeling rebellious today--sitting at my computer writing a blog post when it's so nice and sunny outside is starting to feel like homework! So I'll get right to the point with: V is for Vanity Fair, by William Makepeace Thackeray, a book with one of the most rebellious heroines in memory: the ruthless, amoral, and quite wonderful Becky Sharp.

Thackeray was born in 1811, and he published Vanity Fair in 1847. It's a book as relevant today as it was back then, giving credence to the theory that "the more things change, the more they stay the same." I bought my copy as a teenager when I was determined to read every British and Russian classic I could. It was a good plan, and it also taught me what makes a classic a keeper: the characters are timeless and universal, enduring the highs and lows of "modern life" regardless of era. When I first read Vanity Fair with all its absurdity coupled with Becky Sharp's machinations to get ahead in life, I thought it was just like high school! I could identify with her social woes, and I still can.

Becky Sharp is a fascinating character for writers to study. She's a dreadful person--bad, wicked, self-centered and narcissistic, and yet you can't help but feel sorry for her. You want her to win, and it's sad when she doesn't. She's also very, very funny. Becky never asks for permission--she just goes ahead and grabs life by the fistful, consequences be damned. 

She's an interesting role model--bad girl, smart girl, determined girl, product-of-her-times girl. I think there's a little bit of Becky in all of us (that goes for the guys, too!). The trouble is,  it's difficult to 'fess up and say, "Hey, I want to be just like her! I want my own way, and I want it right now! Move over." 

Giving in to your inner-Becky Sharp might be a risky path, and probably isn't the best way to gain friends and influence people. On the other hand, it just might be the key to creative success: being bold enough to send a manuscript to an editor who claims not to want submissions, but you know she's reading them anyway. Or having the confidence to take your artwork to a gallery for the very first time, even when you don't think you're "good enough." Becky never let the "rules"stop her, usually she just made them up as she went along.

So on that note, I'm going to follow Miss Sharp into the sunshine and play for awhile. Enough of this blogging madness! See you tomorrow when I promise to be much better behaved.




Thursday, April 24, 2014

U is for Urgent 2nd Class

Yesterday the strangest thing happened to me: I was in a bookstore searching for a new art book (totally realizing that the last thing I need is a new art book), and when I opened a how-to on watercolor techniques, there was a letter inside. A hand-written, angsty "I-don't-mean-to-be-passive-aggressive-but-I really-hate-you-because-I-love-you" letter. Wow. It was written on lined notebook paper and made me feel like I was a character in a movie or a novel. All I could think about was: Who was supposed to receive this letter and why was it in this book? In a public space!

The part that was really strange to me, though, was that I had already planned to make today's post for "U" be a celebration of Urgent 2nd Class, Creatimg Curious Collage, Dubious Documents, and Other Art From Ephemera, by Nick Bantock, the creator of the Griffin & Sabine series of books. If you are a Bantock fan, you'll immediately recognize the significance of finding a letter in a book. If you don't know Bantock's work--run, don't walk to the bookstore and get yourself a copy of Griffin & Sabine, an Extraordinary Correspondence right now--skip reading this post, just go!

In my opinion, Nick Bantock is the foremost mixed media and collage artist/author ever. The End. I have admired (and envied) his work most of my adult life, and taking one of his workshops is so on my bucket list I get dizzy just thinking about it. Fortunately, I have a way to stay sort-of sane while I'm waiting because Urgent 2nd Class is one of my all-time keepers. The book is full of Bantock's artwork, and better yet, great ideas and tips on how he does it. Not only is the book beautiful, it's genuinely useful.

Bantock is the reason I first became interested in making collages of my own. I've often mentioned in the past how important magazine cut-outs have been to both my artwork and writing, but to get that real "fine art" kind of effect, magazine pics can sometimes be too "slick" or commercial-looking. 

Bantock uses all kinds of strange and interesting materials in his work, much of it found from combing through vintage shops and yard sales. My own collection of collage materials is rather paltry in comparison, and one of the things I'd like to do this summer is start creating a better selection of items. To get started, I brainstormed a list:
  • Used costume jewelry: pins, beads, chains.
  • Old jigsaw puzzles--doesn't matter if pieces are missing. All the better if they are.
  • Vintage postcards, travel brochures.
  • Vintage greeting cards.
  • Vintage theater programs and tickets.
  • Stamps. International, used, pretty, weird . . .
  • Buttons, laces, and fabric trims. Preferably used.
  • Old books in bad condition (so I can tear them up with a clear conscience).
  • Vintage menus, paper placemats.
  • Doilies, both fabric and paper (good for making imprints and texture in paint).
  • Wallpaper scraps.
  • Really bad condition wall-art prints and posters (again for tearing up).
I have a feeling that searching for these items is going to be just as much fun as finding ways to use them. Let me know if you're planning to hold a yard sale any time soon!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

T is for The T.E. Lawrence Poems


When I first moved to Albuquerque nearly eleven years ago, one of the first things I did was join a narrative poetry writing group. I saw their notice seeking new members up at my local indie bookstore, and wanted to join on the spot. I called the listed number, talked to a very nice poet, and attended my first meeting several days later. It was a great group, even if I didn't know that much about narrative poetry at the time, other than having read Gaudete, the subject of my "G" post for the A-Z Challenge. 

Unfortunately, several months later the group was the target of a hostile takeover (bet you didn't know groups could fall prey to things like that) and almost overnight it became a . . . science fiction novel writing group! Huh?? I don't write science fiction. I needed a new group, and soon.

Except there were no other narrative poetry groups in Albuquerque. When I told a poet friend in Canada about what had happened and how much I wanted to learn more about the genre, she immediately sent me a very special gift: a copy of The T.E. Lawrence Poems by Canadian poet Gwendolyn MacEwen, a book my friend described as "narrative poetry at its best." She was right.

The T.E. Lawrence Poems is a fictional "autobiography" told in verse from the point of view of Lawrence of Arabia. This Lawrence isn't Peter O'Toole, and maybe not even the author of Seven Pillars of Wisdom, but he sure comes across as real. Reading this book is worse than having an endless bowl of Fritos--once I start, I can't put it down.

I have never been the type of person who can describe poetry very well. I use words like amazing, fantastic, beautiful, soul-stirring, but none of them say what I want to say about poetry. Maybe it's because I just don't know how you can write about poetry, except maybe to write another poem!

Which is what I did on a trip to Taos, New Mexico a few summers back. It started with a simple misunderstanding: During much of the trip I kept talking about how much I wanted to see all the places D.H. Lawrence had been while he lived in Taos. It wasn't until we were at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House that I realized with a jolt that my husband thought I'd been talking all this time about T.E. Lawrence. I was stunned. Sons and Lovers had NOTHING to do with camels. I had to process this in my art journal before I felt as if I'd fallen down the rabbit hole:

Lawrence in Taos

There were no deserts he could recognize;
His motorbike too small and industrial;
His politics unpopular;
His clothing suspicious.
Arrested over and over for assisting--they thought--Al Qaeda, 
He could not convince them he wasn't who they thought he was:
LAWRENCE OF THE INDIANS.
It was terrible how narrow their vision was
And how much he wanted to go home . . .


Whew, that felt better.

I hope you get a chance to read The T.E. Lawrence Poems one day. The copy my friend sent was a used edition, and I was lucky to get it. There are some pencilled annotations in the margins from previous readers, and whoever they were, they seemed to have enjoyed the book almost as much as me! 

Happy National Poetry Month, everyone, and I'll see you tomorrow with the letter "U."

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

S is for Sunset Vegetarian Cookbook

The real title of today's keeper selection is: Sunset Menus & Recipes for Vegetarian Cooking; Entertaining Specialties, International Favorites. But to keep life simple, I just call  it the "Sunset Vegetarian Book."

It's the only cookbook I own, and I've had it for years and years. I don't think there's a recipe  in it that I haven't changed, altered, substituted, rewritten . . . whatever works, right? After all, you can't really go wrong with vegetables! 

But the real reason I've kept the book so long is for a recipe that isn't even part of the book. Instead, it's one I've handwritten onto the inside front cover, and its a recipe I do follow (pretty much) to the letter. And that is for:

THE COLONEL'S MUESLI!

This is a recipe I got from my late father-in-law, a larger-than-life character straight from the pages of any runaway bestseller of a novel. Heck, they could make an entire mini-series from his life: hunting tigers in India for his 21st birthday (yes, yes--it was a different world back then); fighting with distinction in the second World War and being highly honored for his service; continuing to serve in Libya and Malaysia (where he took my husband and his siblings into the Malaysian jungle to meet with headhunters) . . . 

Eventually he moved to New Zealand where he became a strict vegetarian, one of the reasons he could go on yearly European skiing vacations well into his eighties. (He was also very kind to cats of all shapes and sizes.)

One of his daily rituals was to eat a bowl of his own homemade muesli every morning. He gave me the recipe when he was staying with my husband and me in California one year, and I wasn't able to find ANY kind of muesli for him to eat. I could find Fruit Loops, Coco Pops, cornflakes--but noooo muesli. 

After searching every store in my area, I realized I was going to need help and just make some myself, hence the need for a recipe. The Colonel scribbled one down for me, and guess what? It was so good, I've continued making it to this day:

The Colonel’s Muesli

4 cups of oatmeal
3 cups of bran
3 cups of wheatgerm
1½ cups coconut
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup sesame seed
1 cup stoneground wheat flour
2/3 cup honey
1/3 cup vegetable oil

Melt the oil and honey together in a saucepan over low heat. 
Mix the remaining ingredients in a deep oven-proof casserole dish. 
Add the honey and oil. Stir well.
Bake at 350 degrees for half an hour, checking occasionally, 
stirring to rotate the ingredients.  
When cool, place into a large lidded container.
 Lastly, add 1-2 bags of your favorite trail mix. (You have to open the lid for this.)

Note: be careful not to overcook. This isn't granola
so you don't want it too dark or crunchy.
"Lightly-toasted" is what you're going for.

And there you are! Now just keep an eye out for those tigers . . . 

Monday, April 21, 2014

R is for River Bones


Mary Deal is one of my favorite authors. I own four of her books, all keepers, but the only one that starts with "R" is River Bones, so that's the title I'm featuring today. River Bones is an exciting page-turner of a mystery set in California's Sacramento River Delta area.




It has a bone-chilling book trailer:




And I want to re-read it RIGHT NOW! Except I can't. I'm at work.

One of the main reasons I enjoy Mary's work so much is her voice. When I read (and re-read) her books, it's hard to remember I'm reading about fictional characters. Instead, all of her story people feel like real people to me--people I'd like to invite to dinner one day--well, the good guys, at least! Mary is an expert at portraying villains, and I would never want to know any of them in person.

Exactly four years ago (almost to the day, where does the time go??) I wrote a post about Mary's book, The Tropics. Since then, Mary has come out with a completely new version of that book, titled Legacy of the Tropics, available on Kindle. Whichever version you read, though, I think that first post sums up my thoughts on River Bones, too.

Mary also teaches writing, and she has a great website full of excellent tips for writers at all stages of their careers. For more on Mary and her books, plus invaluable writing info, please check out writeanygenre.com

In the meantime, I hope your week is off to a great start and you've been inspired to start searching through all your own bookshelves, discovering which are keepers and what titles you might want to pass on to friends of the library. See you tomorrow with the letter "S"!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Q is for Quick & Clever Drawing



Street Scene, Barcelona

Participating in the A-Z Blogging Challenge has been fun, no two ways about it--but it's also been very, very time consuming. I've had to give up a few of my daily routines and practices, and one of these has been sitting down to draw or paint every day. Which is why it's good to have a nifty keeper book like Quick & Clever Drawing by Michael Sanders.

I haven't owned the book for more than a year, but it's been a handy reference guide for when I'm feeling lost and falling behind in my artwork, like right now. Originally, I purchased the book to help me gain some pointers with my travel journal and sketchbook when I went to Barcelona last summer (oh, no, not Barcelona again, I can hear you thinking. Apologies for bringing it up so often, but it's a very interesting place!).


La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

But back to Quick & Creative Drawing. Basically, the book encourages artists at all levels to just go for it. My favorite quote from page 5 is: "Drawing is simply making marks on paper." Yay! That's the spirit!

Sanders encourages his readers to keep those initial "marks on paper" simple and uncluttered, in other words, be quick; be clever--e.g., if you need to use a cardboard template to get the angle of a roof right, don't be shy, go get the scissors. And be very willing and open to "make mistakes" while you're experimenting. As he also states, rather than tell yourself, "I can't draw," say, "I can LEARN to draw."
    Good advice--and what we all need to keep in mind about every creative endeavor we pursue, whether it's painting, writing, or learning to sew. And because it's the weekend and we get Sunday off from the challenge, I'm setting aside everything else in my life to grab my paper and pencils and go learn some more drawing tips. See you on Monday, and have a wonderful weekend. Eat chocolate!

    Friday, April 18, 2014

    P is for Past Recall

    Happy Friday! Today's keeper book is Past Recall, When Love and Wisdom Transcend Time, a time-traveling, paranormal romance set in the south of France by author Nita Hughes:


    Past Recall was published as an indie book before it was cool to publish an indie book, and has always been an inspiring and fascinating book for me to read. I met Nita through my writer’s group back in Carrollton, Georgia, and the most exciting thing I remember from that meeting was Nita’s deep love and dedication to her theme and subject of the Cathars, a small but powerful movement throughout southern Europe; people who were considered heretics by the Catholic Church. The Cathars were the victims of the only Crusade into Europe, with thousands of people killed and tortured as a result, culminating in the final destruction of the sect.

    When Nita was ready to publish her book, I had the privilege of writing a short blurb for the back cover. I wrote: “A haunting blend of metaphysics and historical romance at its best. Past Recall is filled with rich characterization and a great sense of style.” Still rings true for me today!

    Nita is a wonderful writer, with a special gift for bringing her characters and settings to life. Her high-tension storytelling combined with spirituality and historical information is particularly impressive. I thoroughly enjoyed Past Recall when it was published, and I enjoy it to this day. A sequel, The Cathar Legacy, is equally compelling, and it shares keeper shelf-space right next to PR.  

    A few years ago I asked Nita some questions for my blog just before she was about to leave for France to teach a writing workshop in Cathar country: 

    Q. When did you first decide to become a writer?
    A. I always loved to write since age 4, holding a pencil. And to speak-- communicating, stirring passions and prompting thought via words seemed miraculous.

    Q. How did you become interested in the Cathars?
    A. Cathar interest hit me out of the blue, literally, as I sat in the corner on a stool in a Melbourne bookstore, perusing books to buy. A book fell above me, landing in my lap, and opened to Cathars. Never heard of them and from that moment felt duty bound to bring them back to life.


    Q. Do you have a writing schedule and if so, what is it?
    A. 3 hours-between breakfast and lunch.

    Q. What is your favorite book?
    A. Many, but loved Anna Karenina by Tolstoy, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera (heavy on passions and magic realism).

    Q. Any writing advice to share?
    A. Write from your passion(s) –whether fiction or non-fiction.

    Nita’s advice is invaluable. Are you writing from your passion?
     

    Altogether Nita has published three books, with Safe Haven, a romantic thriller set in the Philippines, being her most recent. To learn more about Nita and her books, please visit NitaHughes.com. See you tomorrow!

    Thursday, April 17, 2014

    O is for Overtaken--and a Free Giveaway

    My recent novel, Overtaken, is a keeper because--I wrote it! Better yet, I want you to have a copy too! 

    From now until the end of the 2014 A-Z Challenge on April 30, all you have to do is leave a comment on any of my posts and you'll be entered into a random drawing on May 1, 2014 to win your very own copy. This goes for everyone who's already commented on earlier posts as well. And if you're a follower of my blog who leaves a comment, it gets even better--I'll throw in a bonus prize! This is to thank all of you wonderful people for taking the time to visit, comment, and join. "O" is for overjoyed to meet you!

    In the meantime, here's a little more about the book: Published in 2012, Overtaken is a literary Gothic fairy tale centering on Sara Elliott Bergsen, a portrait artist living in London. You can watch the book trailer here, and get some idea of the story settings from my Pinterest board here. 

    I started writing the book as part of an exercise in a workshop I took at the International Women's Writing Guild Summer Conference at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY. We were meant to try a visualization process to invite a story in that we could write about. We closed our eyes, sat in deep silence and meditation, and asked a character to visit us. That's when Sara appeared, climbing the stone steps to a mysterious mansion, on her way to being . . . Overtaken. I was equally overtaken, and for the next several years I wrote every day in my spare time to find out what happened to Sara and why she was at the mansion in the first place. I was as surprised at what I found as she was.

    Now Sara and her story are so much a part of my life I can't think of what my world would be without her. One of the strangest things about writing, to me, is how our characters become real--imaginary friends that change our lives as much as we create theirs. What is real, what is illusion?, the exact dilemma Sara faces throughout the book, and questions I still love to explore.

    How about you? Looking forward to hearing from you so we can discuss these questions together! See you tomorrow with the letter "P."





    Wednesday, April 16, 2014

    N is for The Natural House Book

    It's been one of those days: up out of bed as early as possible, speed shower, quick trip to a French bakery to buy a pastry and latte, get to work to be greeted with a stack of typing, rush to Home Depot to buy paint for the bathroom so my husband can paint the bathroom tonight, followed by a trip to the post office--which turns out to be closed--then home for a late lunch, back to the post office, now open, but I have so many foreign parcels to mail that when I get to the counter the people in the line behind me are sighing and groaning and tapping their feet, off to the grocery store because I haven't been in two weeks and we are living on pastry and latte, get home with badly packed groceries, and there is a giant cockroach in the middle of my living room. 

    And of course I haven't blogged yet.  I'd rather be reading.

    Which is why The Natural House Book, Creating a Healthy, Harmonious, and Ecologically Sound Home Environment by David Pearson is a little oasis of sanity in a busy, hectic, crazy world. My copy is a bit on the old side, 1989, and there have been more recent editions published, but I'm happy with the one I have. The book was gifted to me in the mid-90s by a lovely friend on the eve of her move to Maui when she was clearing the last of her own bookshelves. I was delighted to receive it, especially as my husband and I were in the middle of building a tiny little house and workspace in the Georgia countryside, and we needed all the help we could get.

    The Natural House book has stayed with me ever since we built that house, lived in it very happily, added on to it, sold it, and then moved to Albuquerque where we have since moved three more times already. What I love about it in particular is it's sincere naturalness. All the photos are of real houses for real people with sweet, uncluttered rooms of airy grace and personal idiosyncrasy--exactly the type of house I try to create for myself. The book belongs to a time and mindset where people didn't enter a home and wail, "No granite countertops?? I can't LIVE without stainless steel! Oh, my God, CARPET! Tear it out before I vomit!"

    Instead, the book illustrates and suggests ways to make your home fresh and charming on the smallest of budgets: white curtains, house plants, baskets, minimal inexpensive furniture, and lots of open windows to let the breeze in and the day's woes out. If there's any kind of "message" in the text, it's simply this: seven bathrooms and an industrial kitchen do not a home make. A happy home can be as small as a yert and as plain as a white-washed room. It really is the thought that counts.

    So on that thought I'm off to put up my feet, have a glass of white wine, and finish reading Daughter of Smoke & Bone. Oh, and if you're wondering about the cockroach, I captured him with a piece of cardboard and put him in the back yard. I'm sure he has a home to go to somewhere.
     

     

    Tuesday, April 15, 2014

    M is for Masquerade in Venice

    My favorite romance novel, Masquerade in Venice, written by Velda Johnston, copyright 1973,  is a keeper because it inspired me to join up and write my first NaNoWriMo manuscript. I still have that draft, and one day I might even clean it up and submit it somewhere, but for now it's fine "resting" in my filing cabinet. I'm not a romance writer, but it's nice to dream.

    I first came across this sweet and lovely book one winter when I had the flu but was just well enough to go to the library for some much-needed reading material. I'd been in bed for days and had been too sick to read anyway, but I was at the point where the only thing I had energy for was reading, so off to the library I went. Except when I got there, nothing appealed to me. 

    Rows and rows of new books and all I could say was, "Bleh." Then I saw an old-fashioned, plain blue "library bound" copy of Masquerade in Venice and knew this was exactly what I wanted. I took it home, read it, and loved every word. Then I had to give it back. (The big problem with library books, in my opinion!) A few months later, I wanted to read it again, and when I went to the library--it wasn't there! No one knew what had happened to it--it was gone. Stolen, lost, vanished into the ether. It no longer existed. Time passed and something worse happened: I forgot both the name of the author as well as the title, so I couldn't even buy a copy. I gave up.

    Then one fortuitous day at a writer's group meeting, the group was holding a second-hand book sale, and bingo, there it was in paperback: Masquerade in Venice. My book! Mine, mine, mine. The original price printed on the cover was $1.25 and I got it for .25 cents. Good deal? You bet.

    It had been a few years since I'd read it, and it was a joy to re-read. Then a good friend suggested we sign up for NaNoWriMo and I thought, if I could write a book like Masquerade in Venice, that would be time well-spent. And it was, even if the one thing I learned was that I'm not a romance writer. Which is okay. We can't write in every genre, but it's good to explore, learn, and discover what is, and is not, our true calling. The key is to have the courage to take the journey: nothing ventured, nothing gained. Seeing Masquerade in Venice on my keeper shelf reminds me of that maxim every day. 

    How about you? What book(s) keep you on the journey? Let me know, and I'll see you tomorrow with the letter "N."

    Monday, April 14, 2014

    L is for The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun

    The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun by Sebastien Japrisot is an exciting book. Newsweek described it as: "A chilling, baffling psychological fooler. . . Sparkles with all the juicy terror that can attack the heart and body." Le Monde said: "Sebastien Japrisot is a magician who gives voice to silence and lays out truth naked on the page." My goodness. Who wouldn't keep this book forever and ever? Except I'd dearly love to give it away.

    My sole reason for hanging on, tooth and nail, to this "fooler" is that I want my husband to read it. And I can tell you, forcing someone else to read a book is not an easy task. I have placed it nicely by his bedside. Packed it in his carry-on luggage for long flights. Set it out by the mini-bar in foreign hotels. Put it on top of How to Build a High-Performance Mazda Miata MX-5. I even bought two very attractive bookmarks which I placed inside the cover: one from the Picasso museum in Barcelona (where of course the book was waiting to be read back at the hotel), the other a 3-D scene of the African veldt with moving lions, zebras, giraffes, and a baby rhino! I mean, how hard is to NOT read this book?? It's not like it's cold spinach  with slugs.

    Here's the opening:
    "I have never seen the sea.
    The black-and-white tiled floor sways like water a few inches from my eyes.
    It hurts so much I could die.
    I am not dead."

    At this point you may be asking why I put all this effort into a single book. The answer is simple: my husband will like it. Once he starts reading, he will LOVE IT! I know this with every fiber of my being. I refuse to part with this book it is read cover to cover by DH. And if he doesn't hurry up I just might read it again myself. After all, it's a very good book. Maybe you'd like to read it too?


    Saturday, April 12, 2014

    K is for Knitting in Vogue

    Knitting in Vogue by Christina Probert, a collection of vintage knitting patterns from 1932 to 1979, is a keeper for a single reason: I live in hope.

    In all the years I've owned the book, purchasing it in San Francisco and hauling it from one side of the country to the other more than once, I have only knitted one garment from the entire text. And that was a very easy 1950s ski sweater that didn't even have long sleeves. But I have plans, I tell you, plans.

    One day when I'm not writing/painting/cooking/reading/sleeping,  I will make:

    Thick Tri-colour Windjammer
    Diagonal Pattern Shirt Blouse
    Twisted Rib Sweater and Scarf (sounds a bit painful)
    Shetland Honeycomb Pattern Sweater

    And my absolute favorite: 

    Butterfly and Moss Stitch Jacket

    That's just for starters. I've got the book, I've got the needles, now all I need is the time. Anybody got some extra to spare? No, I didn't think so. Oh, well. See you on Monday with the letter "L." Happy weekend!

    Friday, April 11, 2014

    J is for (Modern) Japanese Stories

    Today's keeper book doesn't exactly start with the letter "J" but it's close enough. The only other "J"book I have is Holly Schindler's The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky, which I've recently posted about here. (It's a good post--Holly shared her top 12 tips for writing Middle Grade fiction. Please visit!) So in order to not repeat myself,  Modern Japanese Stories, an Anthology edited by Ivan Morris and illustrated with 25 full-page woodcuts will have to fill-in today.

    I bought the book in Southern California at a tiny Japanese mall where I had lunch one afternoon. The bookstore next to the restaurant was a cool, dark space decorated with fluttering cotton flags and carrying rows and rows of books printed in Japanese. The books themselves intrigued me with their rice paper pages, plain but colorful fabric-textured covers, and the way they fit into my hands with a lovely, balanced weight. Holding one was like handling a scented melon, warm and satisfying between my palms. Unfortunately, I couldn't read a single word of any of the text! The shop owner could sense my dilemma, and kindly pointed me toward a small shelf of books in English. Modern Japanese Stories caught my eye. Just like the rest of the books in the store, it had that same weight and size I found so appealing. I bought the book right away and started to read it that night.

    I wasn't disappointed. Over the years I've read it many, many times and have developed quite a fascination with all things Japanese. I've since read a large number of both modern and early Japanese novels; watched Japanese films whenever possible; studied Japanese ceramics, which have been a huge influence on my own ceramic work; and last year for National Poetry Month I went so far as to write and illustrate a Japanese-inspired art journal I titled "30 Days of Kimono." I wrote a blog post about it here, and created a Pinterest board for the project as well. The journal/sketchbook turned out to be so interesting I'm still adding to it, this time exploring the world of the Geisha.

    One day I hope to go to Japan. My husband has been there five (!) times for business, but I was never able to accompany him. He assures me that downtown Tokyo is nothing like my romantic vision of a quiet mountain inn complete with our own private tea garden and a view of cherry blossoms in the snow. I don't care--I want to see Tokyo too! Both places are on my bucket list. In the meantime, I'm happy to re-read Modern Japanese Stories and dream.

    Thursday, April 10, 2014

    I is for Isadora Duncan

    Isadora Duncan became my I-is-for-Idol when I was ten years old and read a Reader's Digest condensed version of her biography that summer in Anaheim, California. I was staying at my grandmother's house for a month, and we were so close to Disneyland I could see the Matterhorn from the end of her street. 

    My grandmother also had a swimming pool, and every day I pretty much followed the same routine: cinnamon toast for breakfast, swim, baloney and mustard sandwiches for lunch, read, swim, dinner (usually tacos or burgers), read, swim, read. I was in heaven! (I also hadn't become a vegetarian yet.) I lived in my bathing suit and read and ate outside next to the pool. I also remember some bad sunburn because my grandmother's favorite suntan lotion was olive oil, LOL! We were cooked to bruschetta on a daily basis.

    However, it was Isadora Duncan who really stood out for me in between swimming sessions. I'm sure I didn't understand very much at the time about her complicated love life, or how truly innovative her contribution to the art and dance world was. But I did know she was different and interesting, and I continued my fascination with her life well into adulthood. Which is why my husband surprised me one Christmas with a book so beautiful it's really a piece of art rather than reading material.

    Isadora Duncan with Art Deco Sculptures by Chiparus, Preiss, and Others published by Franco Maria Ricci with text by Alberto Savinio is so special that rather than a dust jacket, it rests in its own black silk-covered box. The oversize pale indigo-blue pages are of handmade paper from Milan, and the Art Deco photographs of rare and decorative dance sculptures are first-class. My copy is one of a limited edition, and half the time I don't read it because I'm afraid of ruining it somehow.

    And that's a shame because it's a book worth reading whenever possible. Unlike most biographies, the section on Duncan's life history is written in a literary and poetic style. The sections describing the artwork are equally entertaining, making this a very special and unique keeper. Best of all, it inspired one of the characters in my current WIP, The Abyssal Plain. Now to just be able to afford some of those Art Deco sculptures for my living room.

    Wednesday, April 9, 2014

    H is for House of Leaves


    Today’s post should really be titled, "H is for Hello, I'm very, very tired." A-Z blogging is, well, um, challenging! Put that with the staying up all night because I went to the Laini Taylor booksigning/launch for Dreams of Gods and Monsters here in Albuquerque, and when I got home I couldn't sleep. At all. Which may be a good way to describe my love for  Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves: it, too, leaves me sleepless. 

    House of Leaves is a keeper because it’s so darn weird. WEIRD. I mean, how many novels have indexes? Or contain so many footnotes you forget whether you’re reading the core story, or the footnotes to the footnotes' story, or—hey, does it really matter? It's all entertainment.

     The book was first recommended to me by a cheerful woman who explained that she was, at that particular moment in her life, mentally ill, and the only book she could read or understand was House of Leaves because, in her words, it was "where her mind was." She thought I would enjoy it too.

    Rather than wondering if she had perhaps noticed something about me that I had failed to see, I took her advice and bought a copy. She was right--it's an amazing book no matter where your head is. 

    Here’s a direct quote and the full text of page 221 of the Remastered Full Color Edition: 
    “after”

    If you thought that was unusual, just wait till you see what's on page 223. 

    And f you want to know what it all means--plus have the most exciting (and puzzling) reading adventure of your life--you’ll have to read the book. Personally I need a nap. See you tomorrow with the letter “I.”

    P.S. The Laini Taylor event was fabulous. Thanks to our local Albuquerque indie store, Bookworks, we had cake and punch, sketchbooks, a giant puppet, games, henna, masks. . . . Laini was a wonderful and gracious speaker, and she signed three books for me! It might not start with the letter "H" but #DOGAM (along with the rest of her books) is definitely going straight to my keeper shelf.

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014

    G is for Gaudete


    Before I signed up for the April A-Z Blogging Challenge, April was always associated in my mind with National Poetry Month. It still is, just now with a little twist. So in order to honor one of my favorite months and subjects, I’m dedicating the letter G to the next of my keeper books: Gaudete by Ted Hughes. 

    Gaudete was another purchase from Foyle’s of London, and to be honest when I bought it all I knew about Hughes was that he had been married to Sylvia Plath. I had no idea what his work would be like, but the cover, a creepy pen-and-ink drawing of a giant screaming head by Leonard Baskin, caught my imagination and wouldn't let go. When I read the back cover, I was fascinated to learn that the text had originally been written as a film scenario, and that may be one of the reasons I ended up reading it over and over.

    When I was a child, one of my favorite things to do when no one was looking was to watch English black-and-white horror movies, especially the ones set in sinister villages where it turns out the headmaster of the local school is leading a coven of witches, or the neighbors regularly sacrifice newcomers on Midsummer’s Eve. I loved the way the hoity-toity villagers sped around in open-top sports cars, the gentlemens' ties flying in the wind, or the ladies' silk scarves protecting those beehive hairdos. When they met for afternoon tea to plot their next evil deed, my main thought was not "how awful," but, "Wow--just look at that Royal Doulton. And that Tudor oak wainscoting. I HAVE to go there one day!"

    Gaudete is straight out of this traditional very British and very proper horror vein, with plenty of humor directed toward the genre to make it even whackier. A dark and, yes, philosophical, tale of changelings and elementals and overgrown hedgerows, it’s a real page turner, and some of the best and most accessible poetry you’ll ever read. It's a keeper!