Thursday, December 30, 2010

Recommended Reading--Year End Edition

I'm not sure how I wound up with the year end edition of the book recommendations, but since I did, I decided the only right thing to do was to take a poll and compile a list. So, I asked several of my readerly friends which book they read last year was the most memorable and why. They had no genre restrictions. Certainly there are more books on this list that I haven't read than I have. I can't wait to get started. I hope y'all agree and enjoy some of them this year, too.

The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates by Peter Leeson. You do not have to be an economist to understand this book. The concepts are quite simple, and it is an interesting intersection of economics and history.

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. Also nonfiction, this is an interesting read with some substance.

My Stroke Of Insight, by Jill Bolte Taylor. Book written by a brain scientist who has a dramatic stroke at an early age.You learn a lot about how the brain works, about how to support someone in rehabilitation, and about how resilient the human body can be.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbary

Local Girls by Alice Hoffman. Although it isn't what I'd call literary, it was an inspiring, truthful read. And it's
short enough to read on a long, winter day with a cup of cocoa.

Eat, Pray, Love. Sounds trite, but it's about a woman truly finding herself while exploring her passions. I read it like I read books in grad school. Pen in hand. Underlining what speaks to me that day. It's almost all underlined by now.

Half Broke Horses by Janette Walls

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, because it's an incredible and inspiring story.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Make 'Em Laugh

You can’t cry if you’re laughing. That fact alone is reason enough to read and write humor. However, I have dozens of folks ask how I can write something that is funny and how can they imitate it. I’m not sure I have a cut and dry answer for you. All I can tell you is what I do.

First, it helps that I’m from the southern U.S. Southerners can be naturally funny. Why? Because we have interesting drawls and sayings, a penchant for story-telling and a long colorful history from which one can draw material.

My mother grew up in the country in south central Virginia. Most of her family members were highly optimistic, very religious and family-oriented. These people didn’t know a stranger and welcomed anyone who wished to come to dinner or just to visit. Growing up around these people helped me. All I had to do was observe. If I had to give advice to writers who wish to write humor, I’d say that’s number one on the list. Observe and catalogue away vignettes you have seen.

Let me give you an example. Once in the eighties, a friend and I walked into my aunt’s kitchen. My friend was wearing a short skirt with hot pants under it, a fashion trend popular for the day. My aunt took one look at her, and in a chipper voice, she said. “What a cute little short skirt. What’s under it?” She lifted the skirt up without a word of permission and said, “Short shorts. Wouldn’t I have been embarrassed if there hadn’t been anything there?”

She’d made her point without one scolding word, and the episode made us both laugh.

How about sayings? I used many colorful ones in my book, Coming to Climax, releasing from Turquoise Morning Press in September as well as in my co-authored book, Slam Sisters of Serendipity, releasing in June from Eternal Press.

Here are some examples:

Butter my butt and call me a biscuit.

Cuter than a sack full of puppies

Well hit me up the side of the head with a two-by-four.

A newcomer to the area would be spotted faster than a streetwalker in the choir.

The other thing you need to do is listen to conversations, especially between men and women, and most especially married couples and lovers. Note that many married couples communicate in non-verbal cues, and some, who have been married long enough, can even ignore their partners, especially men of the species.

Here’s a short excerpt from a novella WIP, Buried in Briny Bay, where the married woman and her sister need to speak with her husband about something:

“Do we dare interrupt him on Monday afternoon?”

Trixie grinned. “Honey, it doesn’t matter if it’s his day off. You can’t talk to Floyd unless you interrupt him. His concentration on the TV screen is amazing. It comes close to deep hypnosis. I wish he’d concentrate on me that much when we were making love, not that I remember when the last time was. Honestly, why I listened to the other cheerleaders in high school, I have no idea. I should have guessed since his last name was Frye, but I swear they said he was a real stud, not spud. Now I have my own couch potato.”

“Guess when they said small Frye, you thought they were talking about children.” Roxie giggled.

Trixie sighed. “That part is not a laughing matter. Let’s go see what Floyd can do to help.”

They got up and rounded the corner to the hall. Minutes later, they entered the man cave. Wall-to-wall leather, low-lighting and a big screen TV. Just Floyd in a room with theatre seating, languishing on his “throne” with a remote glued to his right hand.

“Sugar plum, Roxie has a problem.”

“Mmm-hmm.” Floyd’s eyes stayed fixed to the screen.

“Does he hear us?” Roxie stared up at Trixie. “Besides the murmur, I didn’t see any recognition, not even a flinch.”

Trixie sighed again. “Honey, he heard us, just doesn't want to answer. I thought the fact someone besides me needed help would register. I should have known better. The man is currently absorbed into the screen. We have to try something more desperate to get his attention.” Trixie cleared her throat and raised her voice. “Sugar, I was thinking of making some popcorn. What do you think?”

His head turned. “Great sweetheart. Plenty of butter.”

“You have to be quick,” Trixie said to Roxie in a low voice. “Hit while his focus is off the action.” In a louder voice, she addressed her hubby. “Right, will do. Look, before you go back to the show, we need your help.”

“Make it quick.” Floyd turned in his chair. “Gold Fever.”

“It’s also a re-run. I’ve seen them pan that river before.”

“Best of the Best. Whatcha need?”

I hope you also noticed the play on words here. Hope I’ve given you food for thought and would love any questions.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tina's Review of A Cold Day for Murder by Dana Stabenow

The stack of books in my To Be Read pile is growing into skyscraper proportions. It’s a mix of mysteries and romance, memoir and scientific non-fiction, all of it fresh and new and waiting for review.

And yet the book I chose as my companion over the past week is not new to me at all. It’s not new to anyone. It’s A Cold Day for Murder by Dana Stabenow, the first of her Kate Shugak mysteries, which will be debuting Though Not Dead, the 18th novel in the series this February. I pulled this book from the stack because I wanted to read it from a writerly perspective, to watch a master at her craft, to study the arcs of her plot and the depth of her characters.

And yet this did not happen. I got too caught up in the story — this story that I read almost twenty years ago — to do anything but be swept along by the twists and turns and revelations as Kate struggles to solve the mystery.

Kate’s background is what makes each novel in the series so satisfying, for while each book’s mystery unfolds and unravels and comes back together in the conclusion, Kate’s emotional struggles — especially her romantic ones — span the series. Each time we meet Kate, she has changed in significant ways, yet she always remains true to her Aleut heritage and her own moral code.

In A Cold Day for Murder, Kate is reunited with her former lover Jack Morgan to search for a missing park ranger and the investigator who was sent to search for him. Another strong point of this series is its setting, the rugged Alaskan bush. The snow and cold and seasonal progressions of this land create and much tension and drama and complications as any of the secondary characters.

Re-reading this book prompted me to go back through the whole series (the librarians know what’s coming every time I bring in another request card). And even though the writer in me is awestruck by Stabenow’s talent and craft, it’s the reader in me that’s most excited to see another Kate Shugak adventure on the top of the TBR pile.

I highly recommend this series from start to finish. Make yourself some hot chocolate to go with — use Hershey’s cocoa and canned milk, no marshmallows — and season with a dollop of whiskey or whatever strong spirit keeps you warm.

To read more about Kate Shugak and to explore Stabenow's other works, go to Dana Stabenow's official website. Look for Though Not Dead, debuting on February 1st, at a bookstore near you.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

My Traditional Scandinavian Christmas

By Susanna Ives

The following was written with the help of my Scandinavian in-laws. I can’t vouch for the historical accuracy of the information, but it makes for a great story.

The Scandinavian Christmas celebration starts on the first Sunday of advent. Back in the old country, the nights are long and the days are dark this time of year. Children spent their evenings making Christmas tree decorations out of paper. We bought our decorations at IKEA, but here is a star my husband made back when he was a young sprout.

IKEA also supplied our traditional Julbock or Yule Goat. The straw Yule goat dates back to times when a goat was slaughtered during the pagan Yule festival. Here is our pagan Julbock.

My husband feels I should include this link about the giant Julbocken i Gävle in Sweden.

Without fail, every December 13th, my husband and I forget Santa Lucia day. Santa Lucia is a Sicilian saint. Above is a picture of a Santa Lucia's statue that my in-laws photographed during their trip to Sicily. The Scandinavians became acquainted with her when the Normans (men of the north) occupied Sicily. Santa Lucia is associated with light during the dark wintertime.

On the morning of the 13th, the eldest daughter of the house puts a wreath of candles on her head and serves coffee and Lucia buns to her family. Below is a Santa Lucia bun made by my Danish mother-in-law.

My mother-in-law tells me Santa Lucia is a Swedish and Norwegian tradition, and she only observes the day because her husband is Swedish. However, my mother-in-law bakes delicious Santa Lucia buns and brings them to our house every year to enjoy at Christmas. She also makes traditional Danish Christmas cookies: ginger snaps, vanilla rings and almond cookies. Very tasty.

The next big day in the Christmas celebration is Lillejuleaften which means the evening before Christmas Eve. On this day, the grownups would cut down the Christmas tree, bring it inside, and decorate the branches with candles, glass bulbs, and the children’s paper decorations. In olden times, the children weren’t supposed to see the tree until Christmas Eve, however, now decorating the tree includes the entire family.

Typically, we have the tree set up before Lillejuleaften so we can concentrate on the smorgasbord. We have to shop at farmer’s markets, IKEA, and specialty grocery stores to gather various herrings, Greenland shrimp, smoked salmon, cold cuts, hard rye bread, schnapps, and a variety of cheeses including Fontina, Havarti, Port Salute, blue cheese and others. The sandwiches are open faced so the breads have to be strong enough to support loads of herring, egg, caviar and other yummy things. My father-in-law tells me that the schnapps is drunk for affect, not taste. The strong spirits warms and cheers you, but must be chased with beer, else it will burn your throat. Back in the day, there was formal drinking or open drinking at smorgasbords. Formal drinking means you must drink when the host does. My father-in-law contends this is how the Danes drank the British under the table. He also says that the advantage to formal drinking was no Viking could cut your throat as you drank. There are two sizes of schnapps glasses: large Swedish and small Danish.

At the smorgasbord, the guests make a sandwich with fish and then wait for the host to Skål, a Scandinavian toast for good fortune andhealth. Skål means drinking vessel but my family claims the term actually means drinking out of the skull of your enemy. Then the host welcomes everyone and wishes them happy glaedelig jul.

A proper smorgasbord should take several hours. The last course is coffee. Then the family and friends take a walk in the snow or such and gather a few hours later for a supper of pork loin, potatoes and red cabbage.

In Denmark, you eat a light breakfast and lunch on Christmas Eve or Jule aften because the kitchen is taken up preparing a goose stuffed with prunes and apples soaked in Port. The bird is accompanied by more potatoes and red cabbage. For dessert, you have rice, almond and cream pudding topped with hot cherry syrup. (I have a recipe if anyone is interested.) You must be very careful when you eat this dessert, for it is really a treacherous family game. You see, hidden in the pudding is one whole almond. The lucky family member who gets the almond wins a marzipan pig. In our home, in lieu of such a pig, we give out a chocolate orange.

Meanwhile, across the Kattegat in Sweden, Lutefish is served (or was). This, ummm, delicacy, is cod that has been cut by a carpenter saw and soaked in water and lye for months. Lutefish is tasteless except for the pepper and onion cream sauce and can turn your silver black. My husband gave me a little chemistry lesson on preserving fish. According to him, you have three ways to preserve fish. 1.) pickle it and make sil. 2.) let the fish rot and make surstömming. 3.) freeze dry. To reconstitute the dehydrated fish, you have mix it with lye and water and then wash away the lye.

The Swedes also had veal jelly with vinegar, pickled anchovies including the heads, and potato sausage made with pork, potato, and veal. After the meal was done and the dishes washed, glasses of Cognac were passed around.

In Denmark, the grownups would open the door to the room housing the Christmas tree and let the children see the decorated tree with all the candles burning. Everyone danced around the tree and sang carols. (I have a CD of Danish Christmas music if you want to know the name). In our house, we light the tree candles, have a fire extinguisher handy, and keep the kids far away from the tree. We don’t keep the candles burning for very long.

If you were Swedish, on Christmas morning you went to church at 5:30 to greet the sun while the Danes slept in. After church, the Swedes opened their gifts, ate ham for dinner and then took a nap. The Danes had another smorgasbord on Christmas and then continued to party for second Christmas day or Anden Juledag.


Susanna Ives is the author of RAKES AND RADISHES. You can learn more about her book at

Monday, December 20, 2010

i was the jukebox Review by Katrina

Sandra Beasley’s second book of poetry, i was the jukebox, catches your attention from the title, and doesn’t let it go ‘til the last line of the last poem. These 45 poems remind readers what good, timeless poetry is. If you think you don’t like poetry because you can’t understand it, read this book. Beasley will convert you. She has written real, honest poems that catch you off guard, insist that you pay attention, change the way you think. Love poems to college, oxidation, Los Angeles, and Wednesday in this collection, nestle among poems written from the voices of the Minotaur, piano, platypus, eggplant, orchis, sand, and the world war. Though there are three whose titles begin “Another Failed Poem About…” there are no failed poems here.
I was hooked as soon as I read the first lines of “The Sand Speaks,” the book’s initial work: “I’m fluid and omnivorous, the casual/ kiss. I’ll knock up your oysters.” “I’ll knock up your oysters” forces you to stop and evaluate what you just read, and it’s a line that readers will remember. The final line of the book’s last poem, “Proposal” is no less thought-provoking: “Promise you’re worth my weight in burning.”
Time and again, as I read and reread, I stopped to think and reorient myself to the way I fit in the world. It is a gifted poet who can do that several times in a series of poems. It is an amazing poet who can do it as many times as Beasley does in this work. Her Bernard Women Poets Prize is well-earned.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Best of 2010 BlogFest

Hey ya'll,

Angelina Rain at Author in Training is hosting a blogfest over New Year's.  Everyone is invited! Between singing Auld Lang Syne off-key and champagne toasts, come share your best or most bizarre 2010 accomplishments along with your goals for 2011.  One of my 2011 goals will be to not consume an entire Belgian chocolate bar in one sitting. Seriously.

Go to Angelina's site for more details, the shiny graphic, and to sign-up on the linky link.  Click here!

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Thursday's Recommended Reading from K. Cat

This week's Recommended Reading comes from K. Cat, our household's expert in all things literary and pre-adolescent girlie. She's reading The Unicorn Girl by M. L. LeGette yet again. This is probably her 11th time through the book, and she says it just gets better and better. "The setting is especially good," she says. "And I like that the heroine is a girl, and that she is strong and can make a difference. This book shows that a girl can save the day." K. then offers the first sentences of the book as proof of its wonderfulness:
"In a stone cottage, deep in a dark and entangled forest, sat a tall, thin woman in a high-backed chair. She drummed her bony fingers slowly on the chair's thick arms, her black eyes roaming the room. She had inky black hair with a few streaks of gray and her high cheekbones were heavily pronounced under her sickly pale skin. Her name was Mora . . . and she was waiting."
K's copy is scratched and stained on the cover, its spine bent, its pages somewhat less than crisp and pristine. It is obviously a well-loved book.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

You can read more about The Unicorn Girl or LeGette's second novel For The Kingdom at her website:

When Little Plastic Animals Attack

You can tell I'm in THAT stage of novel-making by the state of my house. My housekeeping skills have never been of the white-glove variety, but I do like to have things in their place. Now, however, there are dirty tennis shoes and dog toys under the Christmas tree, stray bones and eyeballs and pumpkins from Halloween on the kitchen counters, random half-created gizmos and art projects hiding here and there.

These are the products of sharing living space with a bored aerospace engineer and crafty pre-adolescent girlchild. I must confess, however, that one of these bits of weirdness is mine -- this one right here, the sheet of graph paper adorned with a Wild Kingdom of tiny plastic creatures. It sits right where the centerpiece used to be on my dining room table, and I am afraid that's where it will continue to sit for the next month or so.

It represents the opening scene of Book Two, the murder that must be solved by my intrepid protagonists. This scene is dense with characters both major and minor, both heroic and villainous, moving about a tight limited space, seeing only what they're supposed to see, so that the murder will be a Mystery and not an Omigod So-and-So Just killed So-And-So! (because that would make for a lousy mystery novel).

Pulling this off was providing ridiculously difficult. I couldn't remember who was where, much less keep track of what they'd seen. So I decided to stage the scene in 3D, with my setting drawn out (badly but efficiently) on some graph paper. Then I picked out little plastic critters from my daughter's toy chest to represent my characters.

That's Tai, my sleuth, played by a frisky red fox. And there's Trey, my hero, represented by a kinda pissed-off looking black bear. I chose a dung beetle to play my odious bad guy/victim, then threw in a lizard, a dolphin, and a deceptively innocent-looking chicken as suspects. The role of the red herring is played by an ornamental carp.

It felt silly to start with, but then I realized how many plot holes I was uncovering as I moved my characters around in real space and time. Who would run into whom in the hallway. Who could eavesdrop. Who I had in two places at once (oops). All of which saved me a ton of re-writing.

Wild Kingdom meets Clue is still set up on the dining room table. I'll have to move it before Christmas dinner. Or maybe I'll just throw some holly on top of it and call it decoration. Either way, I think I've found a new tool for my writer's toolbox (which is getting more eccentric by the day).

Monday, December 13, 2010

Review of THE NIGHT BEFORE, a holiday novella by David Fulmer

THE NIGHT BEFORE by award-winning writer David Fulmer is a story about years of broken dreams and mistakes culminating on one Christmas Eve. From the beginning, the reader knows that this Christmas Eve is special. Fulmer writes, “The storm began late in the afternoon after the sky had darkened from crystal blue to cobalt, delivering snow on Christmas Eve for the first time in seven years.”

The main character is a novelist named Joe Kelly. He is a good man, an excellent parent and loving husband. Yet, his writing career has been on the skids for several years. He has had rely on his wife’s lucrative salary to support their family. As Christmas approaches, he gets a small bit of luck: his book is optioned by Hollywood. With money in the bank, he buys his wife Mariel an antique piece of jewelry that she remembered from her childhood: an Epiphany Star. Coming home with his present in his pocket, he finds Mariel having a tryst on the dining room table with their neighbor Don.

Crushed, Joe runs into the night and embarks on a series adventures involving strangers and old forgotten friends.

Fulmer excels at creating sensually tactile stories. The reader feels soaked in his settings. In this novella, he captures that eternal yearning for old-fashioned Christmases that probably only existed in Hollywood movies. Yet, this isn’t a saccharine holiday story; it is a gritty tale of broken people who cling to hope in the bleak midwinter. The characters are complex and sympathetic in their failings. The reader even feels empathy for the cheating wife.

Fulmer’s writing is lyrical. Reading his works evokes the emotional response of listening to music.His words are almost poetic without being over-the-top.

I highly recommend this book if the shallow, over-commercialized tales of Christmas leave you empty and desiring something “real.”

reviewed by Susanna Ives

Friday, December 10, 2010

Interview with Rebecca Johns, Author of The Countess

Today on MLS we invite Rebecca Johns, author of Icebergs to discuss her recently released new novel, The Countess, a fictional memoir about the Hungarian noblewoman who was the archetype for many vampire stories. Johns speaks to us about the excitement of doing research for her work and writing about a much misunderstood character in history.

LV: What inspired you to write about Countess Bathory? What was the trigger that drew you in and kept you interested?

After writing Icebergs, a book about ordinary people and their lives, Bathory appealed to me because of the extraordinary nature of her life. She came from one of the most wealthy and powerful families in Eastern Europe; she was given an extraordinary education for her sex and for the times. And of course she was accused of the most awful crimes anyone could imagine.

Yet in many ways her life was entirely recognizable to me. As a woman who struggled with infertility for ten years the same way the countess did, I sympathized with her. And then when I read how she lost two of those longed-for children to the plague, including the heir who would have protected the family name and fortune, I wondered, how could any woman survive such a loss? What would it do to the psyche to lose, and lose, and lose again everything and everyone you loved?

She was a contradiction. And the more I read, the more I realized how little of that contradiction had been explored in literature. She's been Lady Dracula, cackling and wielding her whip, and she's been the poor victim, a powerless woman taken advantage of by the men in her life. But the more I read, the more I realized the truth was probably somewhere in the middle. That's where I wanted to go.

LV: Your version of Bathory is more compassionate and complex then the accounts of her sprinkled all over the Internet. Was it difficult to do research for this character? What were some of the most interesting challenges you ran into when trying to uncover the real story?

RJ: The biggest challenge in researching the story of Bathory is the sheer volume of misinformation about her that exists. People take as gospel the stories of her bathing in the blood of virgins, or the stories of her diary of 650 victims, and those two bits of fiction have proliferated and spread, so that even otherwise "serious" historical works have not, until very recently, challenged those old lies. The blood-bathing rumor, for example, came from a single line of text in the trial documents that said she got blood on her clothes and needed to change her blouse. (Blood-bathing is technically impossible at any rate; the liquid congeals and separates outside the body.) The rumor of 650 victims came from a single witness who had it secondhand from someone else. Yet those two stories are the ones repeated about her most often. They're interesting, of course, but not realistic, and I knew that if I was going to write another book about her, it was time to put those old stories to rest.

The other challenge is the language barrier. Hungarian is a notoriously difficult language--the pronouns, for example, are gender-neutral, which makes translating the trial testimony into English a nightmare. Modern translations that attempt to be a bit more neutral and recreate the language with more precision are more useful than the older ones (like Valentine Penrose's poetic but probably biased translation) that use a bit more creative license.

LV: What was the most interesting piece of research you found?

RJ: There were two bits of information that I thought were particularly fascinating from a writer's perspective. The first was that after Bathory's arrest, the palatine's wife Erzsebet Czobor came to Csejthe and stole Bathory's jewels. The Lord Chief Justice even had to intervene with the palatine on the family's behalf, and the Chief Justic was no fan of the Bathorys. That seems to suggest pretty strongly that there was more to the story than the official account.

The second was a translation of a letter from Bathory herself, in which she threatens a neighbor who, thinking he could get away with it, took over one of the family's unoccupied estates. It was interesting not only to realize how precarious her situation was, but the tone in it was so like the voice I'd already created for her, I knew I was on the right track.

LV: Your first novel, Icebergs, was also a historical novel, based on three generations, from War World II, through Vietnam, and finally to modern times. Would you say that history inspires you? Or what connects these two novels if anything at all?

RJ: Both novels are about family, about the effects of one generation on the next. They're both about war and its aftereffects. And they're both about the disappointments of love and how the human heart manages to continue despite those disappointments. The outside trappings might be very different--Wo

rld War II and Vietnam vs. the Ottoman wars, ordinary 20th-Century Canada vs. exotic 16th-Century Eastern Europe--but the themes are really incredibly similar.

LV: What’s coming up next for you? Can you give us a hint on your next novel?

RJ: My next novel is in the very early stages, but let's just say it's a turn for the contemporary, and that it's likely to include an element of the fabulous. More than that I wouldn't want to say.

Rebecca Johns's first novel, Icebergs, was a finalist for the 2007 Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for first fiction and a recipient of the Michener-Copernicus Award. Her second, The Countess—a fictionalization of the life of Elizabeth Bathory, the “Blood Countess”—was published in October 2010 from Crown Books. Her work has appeared in Ploughshares, the Harvard Review, the Mississippi Review, the Chicago Tribune, Cosmopolitan, Mademoiselle, Ladies' Home Journal, Self, and Seventeen, among others. A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and the Missouri School of Journalism, she teaches in the English Department at DePaul University in Chicago.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Jenny Schwartz talks about her awesome new eBook ANGEL THIEF

Today the Mojito Literary Society welcomes the talented Jenny Schwartz to talk about her latest release from Carina Press ANGEL THIEF. After reading this post, be sure to stop by her awesome blog Acquiring Magic:


Hi everyone! It's so lovely you're letting an Aussie post here. I promise to mind my language and keep the kangaroos under control.

"Angel Thief" gave me a chance to share the romance of the Australian Outback with international readers, but it also reminded me how lucky I've been in my own experience of Australia.

I grew up in a small community on the outskirts of the suburbs. Preparing this blog post I stopped to think of the pets my friends and I had. It's actually pretty impressive, although my family generally limited itself to a dog (the fish couldn't survive Mum's cleaning regime).

There were horses, dogs, cats, a grey kangaroo, an emu, a peacock, budgies, lovebirds, wieros, cockatoos, ferrets, guinea pigs, rocks (did that craze for pet rocks hit American shores?) and hermit crabs. I don't think silk worms count as pets, but they were around too. Fortunately, there was a huge mulberry tree across the road from the school, so they had plenty to eat.

I'm mid-thirties, which I wouldn't call old, but my generation certainly had the last of the freedom. We could leave home in the morning and go wandering through the bush or visiting friends and no adult would worry about us. We knew everyone in the neighbourhood and everyone knew us. The track in the photo above is the sort of trail we'd follow to our "secret" hideouts.

The community is gone now, wiped out to make way for a new industrial centre. The people who lived there have scattered, but when our paths do cross, there is an immediate sense of connection.

So that's my nostalgia moment. Tell me about yours. What do you remember from your childhood that makes you smile?

Angel Thief, from Carina Press

She’s breaking the rules. Again.

An archivist in the heavenly library, Sara must follow protocol when it comes to curating the knowledge of the universe. But "liberating" an ancient text from the collection of a human—an Australian drug lord—could save a boy’s life. Sara has no way of knowing that one of the man’s other treasures is a sexy-as-sin djinni, bound by a wish to guard the estate.

He’s only following orders

Filip is compelled to turn over intruders, even celestial ones, to his master. When he catches Sara in the library, he isn’t above indulging in some sensual kisses with her, or using her to trick the mobster into wasting a wish. It’s what he must do to preserve his facade of freedom and protect his heart.

But the kidnapping of the drug lord’s daughter forces Sara and Filip to work together—bringing out the hero that lurks within the soul of the djinni, and the passion within the angel.


You can find Jenny:

at her website


or on Twitter @Jenny_Schwartz

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Susan and Tina on Sloooow Writing

Ah, December 1st! That happy time when when millions of NaNoWritMo writers un-hunch themselves from their word processors and take their first post-50,000-word breaths. I missed the excitement this year. And last. Which always leaves me feeling a bit left out . . . until the next November rolls around and I find myself not signing up yet again.

As much as I like the idea and the philosophy behind it — just write, dammit! — and as much as I love a group challenge, I find myself wanting to take a stand for a different type of writing. I want a month celebrating the leisurely wordsmithing that proceeds at the pace of molasses, the kind where you savor each syllable, savor the process, savor the slow craft of word by word.

I’m getting to that age when a woman’s got to know her limitations. I suppose I could write 50,000 words revising one scene. Does that count? I mean, the possible word combinations in just one sentence are staggering. Jane could walk, stride, stalk, stomp, amble, saunter, or glide to the tall wooden door. And what about that door, one should be more descriptive. Tall wooden door is akin to eating literary cardboard. Should it have iron hinges? Should the wood be ancient?

Jane rushed to the ancient door; its hinges creaked when she pulled the knob.
But now you see, I have a clumsy “it” right there. And semi-colons cause people such problems. That slight relation between two independent clauses.


Jane hurried to the ancient door. The rusty iron hinges creaked as she pulled the knob.
I’m thinking “rusty” might be adjective overkill. And “creaked” could be cliché. I think that “as” should be a “when.”


Jane rushed to the door. When she pulled the knob, the ancient iron hinges let out a sigh.
Now that just sucks, and I’ve anthropomorphized (is that a word?) the hinges.

Word count so far: around 50.

That Jane. She just can't make up her mind. Neither can the door.

When I write fast, Jane gets stuck without any variety in her thoughts or words or deed. At least you managed to make the hinges have some personality -- I couldn't manage that.

Because I can makes words, that's for sure. I can hit a vein and they flow sweet and right. Or, they can just flow, like spilled milk, into something I have to clean up later. 1500 words a day? That would take me about an hour. And it would be a totally wasted hour approximately 95% of the time.

Because as satisfying as that other 5% of the time is, it's much more enjoyable when I can sink into slow writing. It's work, yes, but work like slicing a ripe honeydew into slices and wrapping them in prosciutto, a glass of Muscat at your elbow, jazz playing in the next room. Soul work.

Soul work. A recent NY Times article said people are happier when they engage in deeper conversations. When the words matter. Slow writing is about just that: words that matter. Communication is volley; you send a message to me and I will respond in kind. Some prose comes wrapped in fast food paper, some odd monster created in a factory far away with ingredients that have more do with return on investment than quality. I will eat those words without thinking and toss the leftovers sentences and such on the floor board of my car. Then several months later, I will be cleaning out my car, see those old words, stuff them into the trash bag and murmur to myself that I need to start reading better. These are expendable words of the over-salted or sugared-up variety. A fast carb hit that leaves you hungry not an hour later.

But then there is prose someone dreamed about, went to the farm and hand selected each word, kneaded with their hands, stood by with some literary spoon, tasting the balance of rosemary, thyme, or pepper. Artisanal writing. This is the writing that reminds me of the small family-run restaurant in the hotel my husband and I stayed at off the coast of Italy. The father, a chef, would go out to the boats and get the fresh catch. Then every course of the meal was created around that fish. The fish was the muse. When you ate, you tasted the chef’s joy and art.

Yes, that is the word. Artisanal. Tasting of joy and art and deliberate attention.

When you read words like that, you don’t want them to end. Closing the back cover on such a book is like scraping the bottom of your soup bowl, satisfied yes, but sad to have reached the coda.

Reading organic prose is satisfying. The best writers make the glory look effortless. Real writers know it’s not, that those gorgeous words are most often born from hard work and desperate faith, like the proverbial blood from a turnip.

But today, just for one day, this can be my intention; to fully and joyously inhabit both process and product, with mindful presence, even the tough parts. Good words appear like grace, like the black rook in Sylvia Plath’s “Black Rook in Rainy Weather”:

Miracles occur.
If you care to call those spasmodic
Tricks of radiance
Miracles. The wait's begun again,
The long wait for the angel,

For that rare, random descent.
Let us not rush our miracles. Let them come, word by word. And let us appreciate them for the complex, luminous, lapidary gifts they are.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Fiction Writers Review Interview with Susanna Daniels

A Texture the Facts Can’t Convey: An Interview with Susanna Daniel

I recently had the pleasure of talking with author Susanna Daniel about her debut novel, Stiltsville (HarperCollins, 2010). A fictional memoir about the span of a long marriage, this book is set in the real neighborhood of Stiltsville, which is built of stilt houses over the ocean on the periphery of Miami. The novel was voted one of Amazon’s Best (August 2010), was chosen as a Barnes and Noble Discover Pick, and has received wide critical praise. Daniel’s short fiction has been anthologized in Best New American Voices and published in One Story, Epoch, the Madison Review, and

In the following conversation, Daniel shares her insights on the process of writing, the power of quiet stories—which she terms eminently readable—and the perseverance and faith that writers must nurture for their own work.

Go to Interview

Friday, December 3, 2010

Laurie Lovell's Lovely Non-Lin Art

I consider myself lucky to know so many talented people. I'm proud to present my friend Laurie Lovell's art work. These lovely pieces were recently for display in a downtown Savannah shop/art gallery.

Hands off the basket (titled nest): that one has my name on it, but friends, I have two of Laurie's window chakra non-lin hangers and they are be-au-tiful (see Laurie's picture: those things hanging behind her are kind of like mine).

Below is Laurie's artist statement and some of her work. Just in time for Christmas shopping. You can contact her at for a catalog and pricelist. Or just stop downtown at Cafe Gelatohhh and say hi to Laurie in person. She's a lovely person. You won't be sorry.

Artist's Statement:

This body of work is constructed of "Non-Lin" material process I developed to create a paper-like material from linen flax. Non-woven, non-spun long flax fiber worked with water and an adhesive to form a fabric that can be molded and presented both two-dimensionally and three-dimensionally. I have utilized additional textile techniques in these works to create a texture-depth and interest.

My goal is to create art objects that project a contemplative feeling with an underlying connection to the natural world. In my creative process, I transform what I observe into tactile imagery utilizing the language of visual communication: texture, line, light and shadow, color, form, space, and repetition.

Laurie Lovell can be contacted at She is the lovely lady in the picture above.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Kicking In The Window

There's something to be said for starting out small.  Sometimes it's the only way.  Usually it's the only way, especially when it comes to getting published.  And for those of you who know me well, you know my motto:  "When you can't enter through the front door, kick in a window."

I've certainly kicked in my fair share.

A few years ago, after wallpapering my office wall with rejection letters from agents and editors, I decided to submit a few short stories to magazines and online publications.  I was so glad I did.  That experience was like a shot in the arm for me personally and professionally.

It was nice to hear, "Wow! I loved your story.  Got any more?"  Lest you think it was all wine and roses, I certainly heard plenty more of  "Thanks, but no thanks" but it kept me going.

While magazines and online publications pay very little, if at all, it was still a good way to make new contacts, get new perspectives on my writing and, yes, even get published every once in a while.  It was also a welcome addition to my agent query letter when I could close with  "I've had short stories published in X and Y."  Now, of course that doesn't mean a hill of beans unless the query knocked the socks off an agent but perhaps it gave one or two of them pause to request a partial or a full of my manuscript. 

What about you? What have you done to kick in a window?  Anything unusual or not so unusual that you can recommend?