Moderately Quitting the Moderate Drinking


So now there appears to be no health benefit to drinking moderately and regularly, which means I’ve had to chuck my gin and tonic habit into the same trash heap as sniffing glue, methamphetamines and goat yoga. (No, I haven’t tried all of these, but I’m sad they’re off the table. Goat yoga is off because I’m allergic. To yoga.)

A goat licks Julia Lewis during a yoga class with eight students and five goats at Jenness Farm in Nottingham, New Hampshire, U.S., May 18, 2017.

Social drinking used to be a thing. My parents’ generation proudly collected fine liquors to stock their home bars, and proudly collected home bars in the shape of globes and umbrella stands to hide the liquor when not in use. The globe bars looked educational and stately on the outside, hiding the jollity within.
Much like Queen Victoria, who started them. (Don’t quote me on that.)

My family home did not have a globe bar. We had a wet bar, which was a tiny room with a little sink and some shelves in it where my parents kept the booze. They only opened it when we had parties, and then they pulled out the dusty old whiskey and vodka bottles Dad had bought on sale and made manhattans and whiskey sours and hot toddies and other exotic sounding beverages that made the grownups laugh way too loudly and play unusual party games.
The rest of the time the wet bar was a kind of hide out for my brother and me. Sometimes we used the sink for scientific experiments, but mostly it just took up its tiny space in the house and was opened irregularly.

In my dotage, I’ve not had a globe bar or a wet bar. My husband travels a lot, and collects tiny bottles of all kinds of alcoholic goodies, so that we have a little something of everything in about two hundred tiny, bubbly bottles. We keep all of it on a pantry shelf in the kitchen. We can proudly serve exactly one full drink of almost any top shelf liquor to at least one guest.

But now, even this infrequent and parsimonious celebrating has been curtailed by the Global Burden of Diseases study. This study has conclusively found from data collected over 16 years and from 195 countries that alcohol just isn’t the gentle panacea we had hoped it would be.

You may read the dire news, if you haven’t already heard it, here: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(18)31310-2/fulltext

All I have left are books and music, which have so far not been determined to be harmful in moderate quantities. Also I have coffee and chocolate, which are not harmful in minuscule quantities. I am trying to embrace the minuscule without resentment. I have only been moderately successful at this.

And well yes, I have only been moderately successful at cutting down on my moderate gin and tonic habit. But as my husband likes to say, “Spread the poisons around so that it’s less likely anyone of them will kill you.”

A Perfect Book for an Imperfect Father’s Day

Having last blogged for Mother’s Day (on my author blog), it seems only fair to blog here for Father’s Day. Not too much direct experience with the mother thing, granted, but I do have experience with being a father. In 2014, I launched my novel AIKO, about a man who discovers he is a father. However, before he can celebrate Father’s Day, he must overcome a lot of obstacles to claim his child. Perhaps it is a simple story. The details make it special. And yet, it is strangely similar to one of the grand opera stories of my youth: Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini. (Here is the Metropolitan Opera’s synopsis.)

As a music student in college, I was not averse to attending an opera or two. Some were more interesting than others. My mother, who always promoted my musical interests, took me to my first opera when I was a boy: Richard Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman, about a ghost ship doomed to sail the seas forever. (Why is there no movie version today? It would make a great paranormal film.) But it was Madama Butterfly that became my favorite, and the only opera I can enjoy just listening to without having to see the stage production.

In the opera, an American naval officer visits Japan and because he is staying there a while on business, he arranges to have a “temporary” wife. The inevitable happens: his business is concluded and he leaves, promising to return, and later she discovers a child will be born. He does eventually return, but with his American wife in tow. He is surprised to find his Japanese lover has a child but he is determined to bring the child home to America. The Japanese woman is so distraught over that verdict that she commits suicide in one of opera’s most tragic scenes.

While I was living in Japan in the late 1980s and early 90s, teaching English to the students of a small city, I wrote the story of an American man who meets a Japanese woman. They have a relationship then must inevitably part. A child is born. Eventually the man learns of the child’s existence and wants to do the right thing. Despite his American wife’s objection, he goes to Japan to check things out. I’m skipping over a lot of details, of course, but you see how the plot is similar to the Madama Butterfly story. That was purely unintentional.

Seeing that similarity, I decided to exploit it and revised my story to use some elements of Madama Butterfly more overtly. First, I wanted to tell the story from the man’s point of view. The opera is all from her side. Before I knew much about Japanese history and customs, I had always wondered why Cho-Cho-san (literally “Madame Butterfly”) decided to kill herself to solve the problem. She should have killed him for trying to take away her child! Not to say killing is acceptable, of course. In my Western mindset, I could not understand her motivations. Now I do. So in telling the story from his side, I would need to show him as a rational, responsible, do-the-right thing kind of guy who has all the best intentions while dealing with the situation.
The next thing I wanted to change was the time period. The opera is set at the turn-of-the-century when American naval forces first begin to rule the Pacific. In changing the setting to the late 1980s and early 1990s (the same time period I wrote it), I could exploit the new “internationalization” focus of Japan. Because of a booming economy and criticism of Japan’s unfair trade practices, the government initiated (among other acts) the importing of foreign English teachers from the USA, UK, Canada, and Australia. I was part of that influx of teachers who went to Japan. I was there at the exact time of the story, and I described the clash of generations: the older World War II seniors and the pop culture youth who knew little about the war. It was an interesting yet awkward time. And it fit perfectly for my version of the story.

So there you have it: Art imitating a life which imitates art.

Being a guy, of course I wanted my male protagonist to not be a jerk, to do the right thing. But he is human and thus has flaws. He also faces the clash of customs, lost among people who think differently, where the acts that make no sense to him seem perfectly logical to the local folk. Japan in the 1990s is a modern place, but in inaka (the rural, “backwoods” regions), the old, traditional ways still hold sway. So our hero, Benjamin Pinkerton (yes, I borrowed the name from the character in the opera, just to make the connection more obvious), tries to do the right thing: save a child he never knew he had while risking everything in his life back home. It is another stranger in a strange land scenario I like to write.

Polidori’s Vampyre

John William Polidori (7 September 1795 – 24 August 1821) was an English writer and physician. He was best known for his involvement in the Romantic movement, an artistic, literary, musical, and intellectual movement that originated in Europe toward the end of the 18th century. He is considered by many as the originator of the vampire genre of fantasy fiction. His most successful work was the short story The Vampyre (1819), which was the first published, modern vampire story.

Perhaps because John Polidori was a physician, he was able to bring all the disparate elements of 19th-century vampirism mythology into a coherent, compelling short story.  With just that one short story, he spawned an entire literary genre.

How did this come about? The story had its genesis in the summer of 1816, the Year Without a Summer when Europe and parts of North America underwent a severe climate abnormality.

Lord Byron and his young, twenty-year-old physician, John Polidori were staying at the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva.

On the run from creditors and Shelley’s ailing, understandably jealous wife, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (who later became Mary Shelley) and Claire Clairmont, Mary’s stepsister, visited them.

The group was kept indoors by the incessant rain of that cold, wet, unpleasant summer during a three-day stretch in June. Bored at being cooped up, the five turned to telling fantastic tales, and which inspired them to write their own.

Reportedly, they were fueled by ghost stories such as the Fantasmagoriana, William Beckford’s Vathek, and laudanum, to which Byron was addicted. Mary Shelley, in collaboration with Percy Bysshe Shelley, produced what would become Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus.

Polidori was the outsider, the man who was only included as he was in the employ of Byron. Lord Byron made him the butt of many jokes at dinner parties, taking great pleasure in humiliating him. This cruel treatment of anyone in his power was well documented by his contemporaries.

Polidori was inspired by a fragmentary story of Byron’s, Fragment of a Novel (1816), which is also known as “A Fragment” and “The Burial: A Fragment.” Over the course of several mornings, he wrote “The Vampyre.” The manuscript was overlooked for three years when it was discovered by a disreputable publisher, Henry Colburn. He published it in his New Monthly Magazine under the title “The Vampyre: A Tale by Lord Byron.” It was received with acclaim, much to Polidori’s surprise and chagrin.

Polidori struggled to assert his rights to the work, and Lord Byron did have the grace to declare promptly the work was Polidori’s and not his. Despite that assertion, proper credit for authorship of the story was muddy for many years.

Still, Byron was firm that he was not the author. Apparently, Byron felt that the destruction of a man’s soul was no great thing, but theft of his intellectual property was a crime.

Polidori’s work had an immense impact on his contemporary readers. Numerous editions and translations of the tale were published. The influence of The Vampyre as described by Polidori has continued into the twenty-first century, as until recently, his work was frequently considered the primary source of what is accepted as “canon” when writing about vampirism.

What are the traditional tropes of vampire fantasy? First of all, we must think Lord Byron. He was an arrogant, self-centered, charismatic sociopath with a gift for writing brilliant poetry. From birth, Byron suffered from a deformity of his right foot, and by the time he hired Polidori, he was addicted to laudanum which had been prescribed for the pain. He treated the young Polidori atrociously, engendering deep antipathy for his patient in the young doctor.

Within the pages of Polidori’s diary, I see “The Vampyre” as an allegory of Byron’s abuse of John Polidori himself. It is easy to visualize Byron as a man possessed of the power to drain one of their soul when seen through the eyes of the man he had in his power, and whom he treated abominably as an employer.

Byron was described as the devourer of souls in the book, Glenarvon, by Lady Caroline Lamb, one of Byron’s former lovers.  “Ruthven” is the name Lady Caroline Lamb referred to Byron as in her novel. Polidori had read Glenarvon that summer, and blatantly used Lamb’s protagonist’s name for his vampire, and Byron proudly admitted he was the role model.

The Public Domain Review article, The Poet, the Physician and the Birth of the Modern Vampire, says this about the rocky relationship between Polidori and Byron:

“It was no great leap for Polidori to believe that Byron was sucking the life from him, just as others had accused Byron of possessing a charismatic power that eclipsed their own identities. Amelia Opie, one of the many women Byron had charmed, described him as having “such a voice as the devil tempted Eve with; you feared its fascination the moment you heard it,” a mesmeric quality that critics also found in his verse, which had, according to the critic Thomas Jones de Powis, “the facility of…bringing the minds of his readers into a state of vassalage or subjection.”

So we know vampires are charismatic and seductive. Their bite would enslave their victims. Folktales from hundreds of years ago tell us they can take the form of bats and fly through the windows of even the tallest buildings. Historically, vampires are powerful, but unable to withstand the light of day, which would burn them, and destroy them forever.

However, that which was once canon regarding vampires is no longer set in stone.

Modern vampires are often able to stay outside during the day, and some even sparkle.  Many are model citizens who get their blood from robbing blood banks.

But underneath it all, I still have a fondness for the mad, bad, dangerous-to- know Lord Byron style of vampire.

~~~|~~~

Myrddin offers several varieties of Vampire for your reading pleasure:

Carlie M. A. Cullen’s Heart Search Trilogy

Stephen Swartz’s dark Stefan Szekely Trilogy

Nicole Antonia Carros’s hysterically funny Brawn Stroker’s Dragula


Credits and Attributions

Polidori’s Vampyre by Connie J. Jasperson was first published on her blog, Life in the Realm of Fantasy, on 20July, 2016, under the title Physician to the Vampyre. Reprinted by permission.

The #CockyGate Trademark Kerfuffle

Cockygate takes over Twitter!

This weekend, Twitter blew up with the #cockygate or #cocky scandal, where a romance author trademarked the common English word cocky. Normally, these kerfuffles are way over my head and I don’t pay attention but I used to work in a patent agency and I have a little, read very little, knowledge of intellectual property and what I read filled me with horror.

Quick disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are the author’s personal opinion alone and do not reflect Myrddin’s.

I worked in the search department. It was my job to check the validity of patents and report to clients on them as well as other duties. Because of this I had to attend ‘lessons’ with the ‘baby’ agents (affectionate term for trainees) on patent law. I know this isn’t trademark law and that they are very different but it did kind of crop up in conversations now and again. It was drummed into us that patents had to be unique. Part of my job was to find other patents or find inventions in use before an application was filed to ‘blow it out of the water’. I thought of myself as a bit of a pirate. Arrr!

Trademarks were supposed to follow a similar vein. Trademarks were supposed to incur protection for novel and unique marks. I may have not paid the proper amount of attention when they were talking about it, the smoked salmon bagels were particularly delicious in those lessons, so I admit I may have got the wrong end of the stick. I’m always willing to be wrong.

This brings me back to cockygate. An author filed and was granted a trademark for the word ‘Cocky’ as well as another for the stylized word to do with her book series.

The USPTO is notoriously busy and things can slip through which probably shouldn’t. Saying this, it does only take a few seconds to determine on Amazon that there were pre-existing books on there with the word Cocky in the title and even (so I’ve heard) there was a series with that word in the series title.

The danger of letting this trademark happen is that authors could trademark other common English words. This could be ‘the’ or ‘billionaire’, how about ‘star’? The last one could be great. You could retroactively sue the Star Wars or Star Trek franchises as well as untold books. This lady is a genius. Edit:  I’m pretty sure you can’t do this. I thought you could only threaten people who use your trademarked mark AFTER you’ve got it. Prior use and all that. It doesn’t stop people from trying though and sometimes just the threat is enough to scare someone to do what you want. End of edit.

I’m not saying trademarking words is stupid. Apple for example is a trademark of the computer company. An ordinary every day apple of the fruit variety cannot be confused with the maker of computers and iPhones etc. I’ve always believed that was why some are allowed and others not. Cocky on the other hand is a descriptive word which is used on a daily basis in the field the author inhabits. It has been used before and it makes it difficult to remove that word from that field without affecting others. You do not need to refer to apples in any way when talking about computers, I suppose you could give away a bag of apples with every purchase, but that is stretching it!

There may be a happy ending with this. An attorney with knowledge in the field has filed a petition to get rid of the offending trademark. I believe with my little and limited understanding that he has a real chance of this working. Also, allegedly, one of the trademarks granted was using a font that was not permitted to be trademarked. Unfortunately, I think this trademark has a genuine basis. It was the word cocky but only written in a certain way. This meant that an author could use cocky in their title but they would have to use a different font, no biggy. Except she was given the word cocky as well which meant cease and desist letters went out when maybe they shouldn’t have.

The attorney is also an author and so has a stake in this debacle as all authors do if this precedent stands. He has my undying admiration for undertaking this, not just for filing the petition but also for not seeking damages or any financial penalties. After all, the trademark happy author may have just received bad advice and is acting on that advice. I do like to think the best of people.

However this pans out, there will still be fallout even if this trademark is annihilated. Authors will be out of pocket and let’s be frank, authors don’t make a ton of money unless you are one of our heroes like Stephen King, James Patterson, JK Rowling or the other heavyweights.

I really hope this can be resolved soon and no one suffers too much from what could be traced back to a simple mistake of not enough staff at the USPTO to assess the viability of a trademark.

I Know Nothing

Like John Snow and Sergeant Schultz before him, I know nothing about marketing a book. Anticipating the release of my first book, Gates of Fire and Ash, I developed a woefully inept marketing plan and forged ahead like Wile E. Coyote in pursuit of the elusive Road Runner. I’m here to share my experience.

Remember I know nothing, so I read what other writers had done and what the gurubloggers had to say. Pronounced Goo-Rub-Loggers, a gurublogger is an internet blogger that claims to know the answer. The answer to what you ask? Oh, I’m glad you asked. The answer to anything that gets you to generate revenue on their site. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not opposed to bloggers making money from their sites. I’m opposed to bloggers using teasers and snake-oil techniques to sell high dollar items or provide useless information in order to collect impressions and clicks for advertising fees. At any rate, I came up with the “plan.”

My plan was pretty basic:

  1. Have a good cover
  2. Prepare a catchy description
  3. Use social media effectively
  4. Obtain reviews
  5. Pick perfect Amazon categories & keywords
  6. Try Amazon Marketing Services
  7. Spend as little as possible

I can confidently state that Step 7 was accomplished. I’m less sure of the others.

Good Cover

I’m not a graphic designer, and Step 7 precluded hiring one. I cobbled together a cover with a good deal of help from my Myrddin Publishing friends. I spent $29.00 for a couple of photos and at least two dozen hours working with an old copy of Photoshop Elements that had come bundled with a long gone printer.

 

Did I get a good cover? I don’t know, but it was good enough.

Catchy Description

It is harder than you might think to write a book description. It’s supposed to encourage people to click Add-to-Cart using just a sentence or two. Lines that capture one person’s fancy may be a complete turn-off to another. The truth of this became clear when I asked for feedback from writers and non-writers. In the end, I went with the majority vote because I agreed with it.

Social Media

Social media will make your book the key that unlocks the door to success. I’m not so sure about that, but many gurubloggers seem to believe it and are willing to share their hard-won knowledge for a free pamphlet and a paid subscription. My social media effort was limited to making a few posts on Facebook letting folks know that the book was coming and announcing its launch on Amazon. What about Twitter and the other sites, you might ask. I don’t know a Twit from a Ter and even less about the others. I didn’t have the energy to find out. Oh, I unintentionally “boosted” one of my launch adverts on Facebook. It cost me $7.00. I probably could have gotten a refund but decided it was a cheap lesson look before I click.

Reviews

Reviews are the lifeblood of successful independent authors. Get as many reviews as possible and as quickly as possible is the mantra. If you succeed, the magicians at Amazon will brew a potion in their algorithmic cauldron that brings readers to the altar of your product page. So, I solicited people to read an advance review copy (ARC) of the book hoping to get reviews. I sent out emails to my friends (some are now former friends) offering a free copy in return for an honest review. I also made the offer on Facebook as part of my clever social media marketing plan. I received ten acceptances to be an ARC reader. Five of them posted a review on Amazon. They averaged 4.5 stars, though. Oh, well. I tried.

Amazon Categories & Keywords

Categories and keywords are supposed to make it easier for readers to find my book by browsing. Think of it like the sections of a physical bookstore says Amazon. Excuse me, a monitor and mouse have nothing in common with a physical bookstore. I don’t believe readers browse in the physical sense. They can’t, there are too many books, 1.8 million titles by one account. Still, I played the game.

Amazon’s help screen: Selecting Browse Categories, includes this quote, “During title setup, you’ll select a BISAC (Book Industry Standards and Communications) code. The codes you choose, along with your selected keywords, are used to place your book into certain categories, or browse paths, on Amazon.” I  didn’t actually select a code number. Instead, I  picked from an outline of options. For example 1. Juvenile Fiction > Action & Adventure > General, or 2. Fiction > Science Fiction > Apocalyptic & Post-Apocalyptic. I need to mention that none of my options seemed to fit my book.

Keywords are different. I created them thinking they’d be a good way to help readers find my book. I’m not so sure now. They may be more import as a way to narrow the books I’ll be compared against for sale rank purposes. My story intentionally excludes magic as a plot element, but it involves a quest to find a cure for a disease. I used quest as one of my seven keywords. Amazon included my book in a Sword & Sorcery subcategory as shown here, (2241 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Teen & Young Adult > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Sword & Sorcery). It turns out that using the keyword quest triggered the classification. I’ll be changing that soon.

Amazon Marketing Services

Amazon receives a piece of the action from the sale of each book. I have no problem with it because I can publish a book on Amazon without spending one dollar. Zon even offers me free tools to help.

Amazon Marketing Services (AMS) is one of the few ways it can get extra moola from me. Remember I know nothing, but I wanted to try AMS to boost the visibility of my book. AMS offers two types of advertising: Product Display and Sponsored Products. In a nutshell, Display ads appear on a competitors Amazon sale page.

 << Display ad

Sponsored ads appear in search results.

 << Sponsored ad

I tried Product Display first. The $100 minimum budget scared the hell out of me, but I was feeling confident and went for it. Twelve days later, I terminated the ad. The AMS report showed that my ad had been displayed 17 times. Each display being an “Impression” on the Big A reports. Sadly, no one checked-out my book by clicking or tapping on my ad. Clicking or tapping is reported as a “Click”—clever.  The cost to me was $0.00 because I only had to pay for clicks, not for impressions.

Unimpressed with Product Displays, I tried Sponsored Products next.  Sponsored ads let me pick search words that AMS calls keywords. Why did Amazon choose to use keyword for two distinct purposes? Seriously, if you know, please tell me. But, I digress.

If a reader used one of my AMS keywords to search for a book, my ad might appear to them (an impression), and if they clicked on my ad I’d be billed for it; a daily budget limited my risk.

I played with the system because I know nothing. Initially (2/26/18), I let Amazon pick my search terms. It chose 35 terms and over 12 days generated 792 impressions and 24 clicks. Amazon’s report (see below)  implies that the ad generated $8.99 in sales at the cost of $3.89 for a healthy 43% cost of sale percentage.

In truth, the $8.99 was for the purchase of a paperback by a personal friend and had nothing to do with my ad.  I made three more attempts using search words generated by KDPRocket. KDPRocket analyzes Amazon data to find terms that buyers have used in the past. In theory, I could do it myself, but it would take many hours, if not days, to find as many terms as KDPRocket can in minutes. At $97.00 it’s not a cheap program, but it saved me many hours.

Each of my attempts used at least 250 search terms but was generated with different beginning criteria. As I hope you can tell from the table, I didn’t sell enough books to pay for KDPRocket. However, about 200,000 prospects saw my ad. Marketing is about building brand awareness more than generating current sales according to my Marketing Professor who is probably dead by now.

Spend as little as possible

Excluding KDPRoceket, I’ve spent less than $50.00 so far to create and market my book. Am I happy? No. But, I’m not unhappy either. I’m experimenting and haven’t finished yet. I see KDPRocket as an investment more than an expense and can use it for future projects that may be more profitable. Actually, profit isn’t my motive. I hope readers will enjoy my writing, but they must find it to do that, which is why I’m making an effort to advertise.

Do you have comments? Please share them.


Copyright by David P. Cantrell 2018

Sunrise, sequel to A Dry Patch of Skin, launches!

SUNRISE …the end of the workday for vampires…

For Stefan Székely it is a fate worse than death: To be a vampire yet stuck with his vampire parents. After 13 years Stefan can endure it no more. He wants a castle of his own. But first he must visit his family’s bank in Budapest.
With endless strife rumbling across Europe, Stefan hardly recognizes Budapest, now capital of the Hungarian Federation. The world has changed.  Nevertheless, he embarks on the reign of terror he always denied himself, living the vampire playboy lifestyle.  Until he gets a stern warning from the local vampire gang. He is not welcome – unless he plays by their rules.
Should Stefan fight for his right to party like it’s 2027? Or will an unexpected encounter with a stranger change everything? As clashes between vampire gangs and State Security escalate, Stefan realizes he just might be the key to changing the fate of Europe forever!  . . . If he can survive three bloody nights in Budapest.
Budapest at sunrise

In 2014 my medically accurate vampire novel A DRY PATCH OF SKIN came out to a couple rave reviews. My main purpose then was to counter the hysteria of the Twilight experience with some medical research crossed with an understanding of established legends. I wanted to tell a realistic vampire tale. I even set the story in my own city and the action in the story followed the actual days and months I was writing the story. The story and my writing of the story ended the same week. Of course, I revised and edited after that.

Then I thought . . . what might possibly happen next? So I chose a gap of, say, 13 years (the number seems significant in horror stories). Now, where did I leave my protagonist? How is he doing? What could have happened since the end of the first book? What has changed in the world during these 13 years? How would what’s different in the world affect his own corner of the world? How would he cope with these changes?

As I started on another vampire story I quickly realized that I had to also write essentially a science-fiction story. A futuristic story. If I were setting the story 13 years after the end of the previous novel, then this sequel would be set in 2027. And it would be somewhere in Europe, which is where our hero was at the end of the first book.

What do I know of 2027? Not much. Like many science fictioneers writing about the future, I took the present circumstances, the way things are now (good and bad), and extrapolated how they might progress. Remember that novel by George Orwell1984? It was published in 1948 just as fears of a Communist takeover gripped Europe. It was supposed to be a warning. Orwell imagined how the concerns of his present might play out in the future.

With the current strife in Europe, mass immigration, refugees coming to Europe from the Middle East and Africa, the increase in crime, warfare between left and right political groups, I could see all these happenings extending, continuing and growing through the following decade. The moral question that arises is whether an author should follow his/her own beliefs; that is, how the world should be, a Utopian view – or choose a path of development which would be the best setting for the story, however the society might become – or try to take an honest look at current events and let things fall where they might, for good or ill.

I chose both. If I have to make a choice, I will lean toward what makes a good story over what my own beliefs might be. For the sake of this story and for the way I think society will continue to progress/digress or develop or evolve over the next 10 years, I’m letting the European conflicts play out in the sequel: my now less-medically accurate vampire novel, titled SUNRISE.

In this sequel, the new Hungarian Federation is a strictly run Euro-centrist society. The State Security apparatus runs a tidy ship and getting in is very problematic. Staying in if you are a “diseased” resident such as a vampire is dangerous. However, our hero, Stefan Székely, is already within the boundaries of the Hungarian Federation at his family’s estate in the former Croatia; therefore, I, the author, must deal with the vagaries of that location. It was not an unpleasant effort. I love to travel vicariously.

Needless to say, our hero has difficulties – or there wouldn’t be a story. Yet as I charged through the final chapters and then undertook the revision stage, the look and feel, the horrors, and the dystopian ambiance seemed right. Will Stefan escape from the repressive Hungarian Federation? Or will powers greater than himself and the vampire gangs of Budapest have the final say? 
In SUNRISE the world gets darker before the light shines again. Book 3, to be titled SUNSET, picks up the story even further into the future. By then, we are in full-fledged Dystopia territory. But, hey! I’m sure everything will work out just fine…if you transform into a vampire in time.

Food, Fun, and Family

Easter is coming, and while I have no small children at home, my husband and I still celebrate the advent of spring on that day. I will make a special holiday dinner and invite our friends, all of us retired. This year the menu will include a coconut cream pie, which I can hardly wait to try out. I found the recipe on the Minimalist Baker website, and have included the link to it here: Vegan Coconut Cream Pie.

When I first began eating a plant-based diet, I started slowly, with truly meatless Fridays. My first forays into vegan cooking were not good. I had no idea what ingredients to buy and no idea how to make the food taste good. I had the mistaken notion that vegetables were bland.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

I realized that I needed to learn how to cook all over again. The first thing I did was to go to the internet. There I found the wonderful website, The Minimalist Baker. There I found an endless source of amazing, plant-based recipes, all requiring 10 ingredients or less. Even better, they could be made with one bowl, and usually took thirty minutes or less to prepare.

I believe that food should be clean, that is, raised without chemical sprays and fertilizers. To that end, I only buy non-GMO (genetically modified organism) food. Why am I so strict about this? Soybeans and wheat and other grains that are commercially farmed in large factory farms are genetically modified so the fields sown with those seeds can be sprayed with ‘Roundup,’ which is a chemical herbicide manufactured by the Monsanto company. Monsanto also manufactures the seeds that can withstand their chemical.

At first glance, this seems like no big deal. But Roundup is glyphosate, a broad-spectrum systemic herbicide, and crop desiccant. It is used to kill weeds, especially annual broadleaf weeds and grasses that compete with crops. Glyphosate is absorbed through foliage, and minimally, through roots and transported to the growing points within the plant. In March 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

This chemical is used in many aspects of large factory farming, including desiccating grains for harvest.

The principal of eating organically grown foods is the same as not eating too much fish because of high levels of mercury—the small quantities ingested in each individual plant may not be harmful but the accumulation over time is bad. Because glyphosate is so pervasive in the standard foods available at the grocery store, I am strict about only buying organically grown produce, sugars, beans, and grains, as they are ‘clean,’ that is, grown and harvested without the use of pesticides and herbicides.

Organic food is more expensive than chemically raised food but eating a plant-based diet is far cheaper overall.  And, the costs of organic foods are going down as small farmers increasingly embrace the craft. In the Pacific Northwest, where I am from, the small family farm is making a comeback, driven by the demand for clean food. The pressure against the small farmer from “Big Ag,” as the factory farming corporations are known collectively, is great.

But despite the lack of tax incentives and federal subsidies that the largest corporations receive, small organic farms are not only taking root, they are also thriving. A great article on the rise of “Food Forests” can be found here: These Oregon organic farmers figured out how to have nature do all the work.

My new favorite cookbook is “Field Roast: 101 Artisan Vegan Meat Recipes to Cook, Share, and Savor” by Seattle chef, Tommy McDonald. This book now resides on my kitchen counter alongside the cornerstone of my personal cuisine, “The Homemade Vegan Pantry: The Art of Making Your Own Staples” by Miyoko Schinner.

With just these two books and my favorite vegan websites, I have developed a style of cooking that makes each meal a small celebration of the food we are so fortunate to enjoy.

Whether you are vegan, a carnivore, or somewhere in between, food is more than just something we eat to stay alive—food and how we prepare it is a central facet of our lives. I’m so fortunate to live in the Pacific Northwest, where the food culture is leading the way to a healthier lifestyle, and where small farmers are able to do what they do best: grow amazing food for me to prepare for my family.

Myrddin Has All your Valentine’s Day Romance Needs Covered!

find love with myrddin publishing

Here at Myrddin Publishing, we cover a lot of genres and romance is no exception. Whether you like contemporary, historical, or paranormal romance, there is something for everyone on your list. Below is just a sample of where you might find your next Valentine’s day treat! you can find the full list of Myrddin romance here.

find love with myrddin publishing

Contemporary

A Beatutiful Chill by Stephen SwartzA Beautiful Chill by Stephen Swartz

Life is impossible when every moment of the present is haunted by the past.

Íris is a refugee from an abusive youth in Iceland, further abused on the streets of Toronto – until she sees Art as an escape. With a scholarship, she drifts from depression to nightmare to Wiccan rituals to the next exhibit. There’s a lot she must forget to succeed in a life she refuses to take responsibility for.

Eric is settling in at Fairmont College, starting a new life after betrayal and heartbreak. Divorced and hitting forty, he has a lot to prove – to his father, his colleagues, and mostly to himself. The last thing he needs is a distraction – and there’s nothing more distracting than Iris.

A Beautiful Chill is a contemporary romance set in the duplicitous world of academic rules and artistic license.

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Ednor Scardens by Kathleen BarkerEdnor Scardens (The Charm City Chronicles Book #1) by Kathleen Barker

Growing up in an Irish Catholic neighborhood in Baltimore in the 1960’s was hard enough when everything went right. Kate Fitzgerald wasn’t that lucky.

Struggling to cope with unwanted attention from older boys and men, Kate’s childhood friendship with shy classmate Gabe Kelsey begins to blossom, but quickly becomes tangled when she falls hard for his darkly handsome older brother, Michael.

As the brothers vie for Kate’s affections, she doesn’t know how to choose between them without tearing their family apart. She looks to her girlfriends for advice, but the tragic death of a classmate brings them face-to-face with mortality, shattering their facade of invincibility.

Her dilemma deepens when a predatory priest with a hidden past arrives at Holy Sacrament School. And when she silently witnesses a frightening scene between Gabe and Fr. O’Conner, Kate unknowingly becomes O’Conner’s intended next victim.

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Historical

The Truth About Lagertha And Ragnar by Rachel TsoumbakosViking: The Truth about Lagertha and Ragnar by Rachel Tsoumbakos

 

Lagertha was known to be one of the wives of the famous Viking, Ragnar Lodbrok. But did you know they first met each other at a brothel? And just how long did their marriage last? Was Lagertha really the revered shield maiden we see her as today? ‘Vikings: The Truth About Lagertha And Ragnar’ aims to unravel all these secrets.

‘Vikings: The Truth About Lagertha And Ragnar’ is so much more than a history book though.

In Part One their story is brought to life with a historically accurate retelling. Part Two then explores the historical facts surrounding this story.

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Paranormal

Heart Search by Carlie M A CullenHeart Search (Book #1) by Carlie M.A. Cullen

One bite starts it all . . .

When Joshua Grant vanishes days before his wedding his fiancée Remy is left with only bruises, scratch marks and a hastily written note. Heartbroken, she sets off alone to find him and begins a long journey where strange things begin to happen.

As Joshua descends into his new immortal life he indulges his thirst for blood and explores his superhuman strength and amazing new talents while becoming embroiled in coven politics which threaten to destroy him. But Remy discovers a strength of her own on her quest to bring Joshua home.

Fate toys with mortals and immortals alike, as two hearts torn apart by darkness face ordeals which test them to their limits.

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K. K. Hatch talks about Katherine Graham

Recently, I had the opportunity to see the movie “The Post,“ with Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. I was intrigued not particularly by the central theme of the Pentagon Papers, but more by the life and personality of Katherine Graham, the daughter of the founder of The Washington Post and the person who took over the helm at the paper after her husband committed suicide.

After the movie, my friends and I discussed some of the more poignant aspects of the movie for us, including the whole idea of a woman being in charge of a major company back in that era. One woman in our group talked about how she had read the autobiography of Katherine Graham and how interesting it was looking at her entire life and seeing how Hollywood portrayed the snippet of her life that involved the Pentagon papers. My curiosity was piqued by what she said and I seemed to remember that my father-in-law had given me a book from his collection a few years back that was about her. I resolved to go home and look for it, and if I didn’t have it, I’d find it at the library. Sure enough, the book was on my shelf, neatly placed in between Cokie Roberts’ Ladies of Liberty and The Real George Washington.

These three books have been displayed in the bookcase in our family room for who knows how many years now without being read. So, as a belated New Year’s resolution, I decided to read these three books by the end of the year, starting with a Personal History: Katherine Graham. After pulling the book off the shelf, I remembered why my father-in-law had given it to me in the first place: it was because I was a journalist in my pre-married, pre-kid life and he thought I would find it interesting.

I’ll admit, the read is a bit daunting. The book is about two inches thick and tops out at 625 pages, but so far it has kept me captivated. I look forward to learning more about Katherine Graham and maybe in the near future having a fun discussion with my father-in-law, who has incidentally read ALL of the books in his bookcase.

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Author Bio-

K. K. Hatch is the author of “Silent No More,” a work of historical fiction set in the world of Nazi Germany during the waning years of World War Two. She is a busy wife and mother of three teenage girls and little bunny boy named Coco. Up until recently, she and her family called Colorado home, but now she lives in Northern Virginia, opening a new chapter of their lives.

Men Reading Women

With the passing of fantasy author  Ursula K. Le Guin, it seems a good time to reflect on the women authors of my life, especially in science-fiction and fantasy where the percentage has been more skewed.

When I was a young reader, science-fiction got my attention. Imagining other worlds, traveling in space, or dealing with futuristic possibilities was my thing. I started at a young age reading such sci-fi authors as Ben Bova and Robert Silverberg. Also an author named Andre Norton. Mostly these were short stories, often in an anthology edited by Silverberg. One day, though, I was surprised to learn that one of my favorite authors was a woman. I thought Andre was a boy’s name! It made me think.

Boys tend to want to read stories of other boys or men doing things, heroic things. At that age I honestly didn’t care what the girls did in stories. It was just that male authors tended to write about men doing manly things (I’m generalizing, of course), so I had no reason to try female authors. I also did not have much knowledge then of how difficult it was for female authors especially in the genre of science fiction and fantasy; I just wanted a good story. My mother pushed A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle on me, telling me it was a good story, but as a young boy I was not so interested in reading a story about a girl!

Gradually, I grew up. Focusing deliberately on a wider range of fiction, literary and decidedly non-SF works, many of them were written by women. I enjoyed them: I got to experience life as a female character, got to understand the issues they dealt with, and perhaps gained from perspective I did not previously know. It was educational. Whether or not the authors were women still did not matter to me as a reader more than what the story itself was. Marion Zimmer Bradley’s books about Authorian legend interested me, not because of the author but because of the Arthur. Nancy Kress and her sci-fi and books on writing mentored me for a time, as well.

Classic women authors starting with Mary Shelley and continuing through the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen entered my experience in college by making me play along as the man in the pages of their books. I could empathize, to a point, with the women in the novels. That experience helped develop the Romantic qualities which have eventually ruined me. I can’t confidently say, just from reading, that I now “get it” or that I understand all the characters endured and could cheer as they rose up and took whatever position they deemed in the story to be a success. Yet my empathy continued to grow.

In grad school, read Francine Prose and Annie Proulx, partly to see a view of life which I could not see without the lens of a woman author writing about a woman protagonist. A couple years ago I read a teenage romance series by Stephanie Perkins, not for the thrills of young love and relationship conundrums but to understand how a young girl thinks and acts. I used what I learned from those books for my own novel which featured a young girl. More than research, I deliberately tried to learn to see what I could not with my own experiential eyes. And then a film on cable TV one night prompted me to check out Margaret Atwood’s novels, starting with The Handmaid’s Tale. Now, of course, it has returned in a new series.

Having a daughter further instilled in me the urge to seek women authors for her to read. The Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer became a milestone in my daughter’s life. Inspired, she even wrote fan fiction herself. No matter what word or label you may apply to me and my experience with women authors, I want the best for my daughter, and for her to understand other women’s lives and times, struggles and triumphs.

More recently, as I worked on my own epic fantasy involving dragons, I returned to the novels of Anne McCaffrey. While her dragons and their world are remarkably different from the ones I was writing about, I very much appreciated the craft, the imagination, the pure exhilaration of the world she invented in Pern.  Then the sci-fi/dystopian trilogy by Marie Lu caught my attention as something my daughter might like to read…but I read it first. Before reading these authors, Marian Perera, a fellow newbie, came out with Before the Storm, which wonderfully taught me how women think and act in sci-fi romance. It was liberating as I was composing my own sci-fi trilogy.

Now Ursula has passed on, never to write another novel. Yet we remain blessed to always have the products of her mind, the outpouring of words that frame and construct and fulfill our own hopes and aspirations for years past and years to come…for the world of make-believe is our world, today’s world, in disguise.

 

Going Home, a memoir

October had arrived in the Pacific Northwest, chill and damp as always. Our friends, Jonna and Jake, lived on Black Lake, on the north end of the lake where my sister and I had spent our childhood.

A true Northwesterner, Jonna had planned a day on the lake despite the weather. A women’s day out with my sister, Sherrie, our old school friend, Evonne, and our dear friend from Texas, Irene. We planned to cruise the lake and show Jonna and Irene where we had lived from 1963 through the 1990s.

Jake was worried we would wreck the boat, calling instructions as we pulled away from the dock. “Don’t worry,” we called back to him. “Jonna knows how to drive.” Nevertheless, he stood in the rain, fretting at sending his beloved boat out under his wife’s control, loaded with sparkling cider and a group of women he knew all too well. This despite the fact Jonna would drink no wine until after we returned.

Despite Jake’s misgivings, Jonna neatly negotiated the deeper channel between the half-sunk, rotting posts of the old Black Lake Mill, which had burned in 1918, and was never rebuilt. Like many parts of my childhood, the old posts had simply been left where they were, rotting corpses of a time when Timber was King, and money grew in the forest surrounding Black Lake.

Our boatload of women and laughter slowly passed the new summer homes and palaces of the nouveau riche jammed onto narrow lots, professionally landscaped and manicured. Crammed between the mansions were the familiar, now-ancient mobile homes and the older, rundown shanties. Our childhood friends, “Black-Lakers” all, had lived year-round in these flimsy, drafty homes. Oil was expensive, so feeding the fireplace or woodstove was how we stayed warm back then.

In the 1930s, when my father grew up in the hills above the other side of the lake, the area had been exceedingly rural, a poor place teetering on the edge of poverty. In the 1960s, when I was growing up, it was working-class but still small and insular. Many of the people around the lake had gone to school with my father, and he knew them well.

Jonna slowly followed the shore past those homes, old and new. It was surprising which tattered old cabins stubbornly held on, clinging to their places despite being elbowed aside by the beautiful new homes of the well-heeled few.

Hugging the shoreline, we went south, passing down the eastern side of the lake toward the house that had been my family home for thirty-five years. I was curious, wondering what it looked like. As we idled along, I thought about those years that we had spent there, the good and bad.

How many evenings had I sat beside my grandmother at the picnic table, gazing out across the water to the Black Hills rising above the lake and dominating the view? How many campfires in the fire-pit on the beach, and barbecues? How many summers were spent swimming from morning to evening? I couldn’t wait to see it again.

The old landmarks had changed radically–we only recognized where we were because the contours of the shoreline was still the same. Having fished those waters for so many years, Sherrie and I knew which half-sunken log meant we were nearing the neighbor’s house. Ours had been beyond the woods next door.

The neighbor’s house had seemed large and modern when I was young and had been referred to as “the airplane hangar” by the locals when Ken Nolan built it. I was surprised to see how small it really was. It was greatly changed, but I recognized the mid-century wall of glass facing the lake. The new owners had abandoned the small lawn and gone to simply having a large deck, surrounded by tall salal and Oregon grape. They had sacrificed much of the view from inside in the interests of privacy, I suspect.

Even though the neighboring house was so changed, I was filled with anticipation for the first sight of our childhood home, with me going on and on, telling our friends how beautiful the property was.

We never saw that house, despite my eager searching.

Just beyond the now-ancient grove of alders that had separated our property from the neighbors was a rundown building. It did resemble my parents’ house but was definitely not the home I had grown up in.

It had been made into a duplex and was clearly a rental unit for the large house that now sat behind in what had once been the swamp. The acre of lawn and gardens that had been my parents’ pride and joy was lost to the wilderness, with a dilapidated fence cutting the yard in two. On either side of the fence, narrow paths snaked through the weeds, muddy trails to the beach. Grass and weeds stood waist-high, obscuring the once-beautiful home.

The beach and swimming area were gone. A marina dominated the waterfront, with five dilapidated power boats moored at several docks. Thinking back on that sight, I suspect that summers there see few children playing in the shallows, as the formerly sandy beach is now a swampy morass.

I confess I was devastated to see the old family home in such disrepair.

The last time I had approached the house from the lake had been in 1995 after my grandmother passed away, while my mother still lived there. That day, as we returned to the shore, I had viewed the modest home in its park-like setting, with a broad lawn that took an hour to mow even with the riding mower. Cherry trees, alders, and maples had shaded the yard, with roses, camellias, rhododendrons, and other heirloom shrubs framing the house. Blueberries, cascade blackberries, and loganberries had pride of place in the immense vegetable garden that was to the right of the house when viewed from the lake.

When we were growing up there, the inside of our home was cold and damp and frequently in disrepair. There were no carpets because Mama said they would be ruined, and certainly the linoleum hadn’t stood the test of time. Our furniture had been worn out, and Mama wasn’t really into interior decorating.

Besides, as she was always reminding us, there was no money to fix things up. Dad had a good job, but money was tight. Nevertheless, however shabby it had been compared to the homes of our wealthier classmates who lived in town, it was immaculately clean inside and out. Nothing was ever out of place, because what would people think? Mama had strong opinions about people with poor housekeeping habits and was rather vocal about it.

As I said, the house itself had been nothing special, but the yard… 350 feet of waterfront and five acres going back toward the road. The yard and the view were what my parents had made themselves house-poor for.

When I was a child, the yard had been a magical place of refuge from disapproving adults, with many places to hide and read and to be important to someone, even if it was only the cat.

I didn’t know what to think when we saw the rundown hovel with a flock of boats parked in front. I was glad to be in the company of my friends and my sister, as I fought the sting and burn of tears. I think because I’m four years older than Sherrie, her memories were of happier times than mine, when Mama rebelled against Dad’s wishes and got a job outside the home so she could have some extra money.

Our friends in the boat, Irene, Evonne, and Jonna – they knew. These women could tell what had occurred, how it had set me back. They were united, a wall of strength, silently commiserating and allowing us to just take it all in, yet there for us if we needed to talk about it.

I didn’t. I couldn’t.

At last, Jonna turned the boat, and we idled along the shore, cruising south around the swampy end where the Black River begins its journey to the Chehalis River, and then to the “new” development of Evergreen Shores, built in the 1970s. Then we went north along the west shore, passing the strange dichotomy of shanties mingled between high-end vacation manors. Having circled the lake, we finally negotiated our way back through the rotting pilings at the north end and approached Jonna’s dock.

Jake had been standing there the whole time, likely expecting we would sink his boat. But we hadn’t, and bless him, he was happy to help Jonna park it.

I’m an author now, middle-aged. I’ve lived a long and interesting life, and still I find I have lessons to learn. A place is a place, and a building is only a home when someone lives there. I think that what I really discovered by going back to the lake house is that you don’t go home by returning to the scene of your childhood.

My childhood home still shines in my memories, but nowadays home means comfort and cozy evenings on the back porch with my husband. Home is a wall with photographs of our children and grandchildren.

I carry home within my heart and memories, and wherever I am, that is home.


Connie J. Jasperson is an author and blogger and can be found blogging regularly at Life in the Realm of Fantasy.

Black Lake Sunset, by Florence Lemke, 1973. Painted by the author’s aunt, image reproduced from the private collection of Connie J. Jasperson. © 2018 All Rights Reserved. Printed by permission.

Happy New Year from Our Kitchen

This week has been filled with parties, dinners, breakfasts, lunches – all hosted by Moi. And, as in other years, my kitchen has decided to celebrate by breaking down.

Wonderful, isn’t it? Two years ago my kitchen faucet handle snapped off the night before we had a group of friends coming to dinner. We replaced the handle with a deck screw (really) and used it throughout the season. I made huge vats of pasta, trays of cookies, washed loads of dishes – all with the deck screw.

My husband made it festive by covering the screw with red duct tape. Testosterone for the win.

It’s laughing at me.

This year it was something simpler that broke down: an entire REFRIGERATOR. Not like I need a fridge as I whisk and cook and serve up loads of food for the four separate sets of company we had planned.

Luckily, this happened a bit earlier on. I convinced Mr. Man that we really couldn’t make it through December without a fridge. Hanging sacks of food from the trees to keep them from bears just wouldn’t cut it.

We ordered a new fridge (painful right before gift-giving season, but there was no other choice) and waited for arrival. It was scheduled to land on our doorstep a week before Christmas. The local recycling was called in to pick up the old one.

All was well in Whoville.

Until, that is, some Vice-President or middle manager decided to revamp the delivery process. I’ll never know what this Grinch did to our purchase entry, but Delivery Night came and went, sans fridge.

I spent the next day on the phone with the large store chain that handled the sale. Imagine my joy as I eyed piles of unwrapped gifts, unsent cards, unbaked cookie dough. This all happened to the background of On Hold music. In a burst of irony, I heard I’ll Be Home for Christmas several times.

This tune could only make me think sadly of my fridge, lost in depot hell.

I have a beautiful family, wonderful friends, and my health. I publish with an amazing group of authors. There’s really no reason to complain – other than the patched-up fridge that is limping its way through the last of our social whirlwind.

2018 will arrive, bringing resolutions and joy. It will deliver new babies, new loves, new jobs.

In my case, I really hope the new year also delivers … you-know-what.

‘Twas the Night B4 Xmas

‘Twas the night before Xmas, when all through the base
Only robots were stirring, but none with much haste.
The backpacks were taped to the air vents with care,
In hopes that old Santa would find his way there;

The kiddos were tucked in their coffin-shaped beds,
As a Twix induced sugar-rush played with their heads;
Mom in her flannel and I in tighty-whites
Had just settled in after saying good nights.

When suddenly our module shook to and fro,
I leapt from my bed and was soon ready to go.
Away to the view screen I flew like the Flash,
And focused the monitor in a hurried dash.

The blue Earth above gave an eerie luster
To the dwellings that formed our lunar cluster.
Then, a vision beyond belief did appear,
A tiny red shuttle, manned by tiny reindeer.

Anon, a weird looking pilot escorted them out.
“I am Captain Saint Nick,” he said with a shout.
His four-legged crew must surely be tame,
Because clearly I heard him call them by name;

“Now, Crasher. now, Lancer. Now, Rancher and Buttless.
On, Gromit. On, Wallace. On, Dander and Gutless.
Gather your pouches, gifts stuffed to the top,
We must hurry and scurry there’s no time to stop.

And then in a jiffy, I heard from the ceiling
The clatter and chatter of eight little beings.
I stood from my perch and then turned around,
To see the pilot materialize with nary a sound.

Unsure of his purpose, my phaser at ready,
I stunned the old guy, my aim was quite steady.
His bundle of toys were thrown to the floor
“Oh no, this must be Santa,” I had to implore.

His eyes – how they twinkled, from the stun no doubt.
His cheeks soon grew as red as if they had gout.
His mouth formed a circle like a black hole,
His chest expelled the growl of an evil troll.

The sound of his anguish filled me with grief;
I feared for my life when he gritted his teeth.
He had a narrow face and surprising round belly.
Plus a wicked smile; I thought of Machiavelli.

With the wink of his eye he turned his head;
The look on his face filled me with dread.
But soon I realized I feared without reason
When he chuckled and said, “I love this season.”

He looked to the floor and gathered the toys,
Several were for girls and others for boys,
He filled all of the packs hung by the vents
Then touched his comm-unit and off he went.

From my viewer I saw him gather his troops,
The eight little reindeer were a strange group.
He walked up the ramp, his team close behind.
When the shuttle rumbled, it began to climb.

The craft hovered high over our airless dorm;
Through some unknown magic a dome did form.
These words were written on the white hemisphere,
Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


By David P. Cantrell (c) 2017 with apologies to Clement Clarke Moore

Star Wars

With the upcoming release of the latest Star Wars movie, yes, I confess that I am a Star Wars fan and have been for as long as I can remember.

I grew up on the bickering of C3-PO and R2-D2 and the clashes of sparkling lightsabers and I never knew a world without them. But behind all that, is the ages old battle of good versus evil, but also with redemption of evil and rogues with hearts of gold. But it’s that triumph of heroes over villains that makes me watch it over and over. Not to mention the original story, new experiences, imaginative creatures, and exotic vistas. I even accepted the underperforming prequels considering they did still have characters to look up to, like courageous Padme who was more than just her office of Queen.

Admittedly though, I didn’t care much for Force Awakens. I keep trying to put a finger on why, since it wasn’t the performance by Daisy Ridley who has now become a hero for a new generation of girls. And it wasn’t the exotic locales with the desert planet very reminiscent of Tatooine, or the impressive ship interiors, as well as the return of the iconic Millennium Falcon and Han and Leia, and the remote end location.

Yes, the villain who threw temper tantrums like a 5-year-old was extremely hard to take seriously and not itch to make him do a time out in a corner, but I think the largest issue I had with it was originality in the plotline. So much of it felt like a retread of the very first Star Wars movie, so much that I started to wonder if they were aiming for a remake rather than a new story. Which brings me around to the upcoming new movie.

If Force Awakens was a retread of New Hope, I worry the new movie will be a retread of Empire Strikes Back. From the previews I know there will be an extended Jedi powers training session with Rey standing in for Luke and Luke standing in for Yoda. Makes me wonder just how much else will be copied. Will there be a scene on the run with Rey hiding out in a field of asteroids?

And will there be a showdown at Cloud City with Rey and Kylo where one loses a hand and a reveal of the relationship between them will be made? (I really doubt he’ll say that he’s her father, though brother is likely. It’s amazing all the bets that are being made over Rey’s parentage. I’m still hoping for her being a Kenobi rather than trying to turn them into Jacen and Jaina from the books instead of the writers coming up with their own original ideas).

Still, all of my quibbles won’t stop me from running to the theaters to see blinding lightsaber duels on a gigantic screen, and visiting new worlds, while the iconic theme of Star Wars blasts, heralding another out of this world experience.


Gypsy Madden is an author and costume designer, living and writing in the Rainbow State, Hawaii. She is the author of Hired by a Demon.

All Hail the Pumpkin King

The abrupt appearance of pumpkins and shops clogged with cobwebs is enough of a clue to even my sleep addled brain that Halloween is nearing. I have mixed feelings about this time of year. I love the cold fogs that we get in my elevated patch of Yorkshire, those mists that soak up sound so readily and make my boots muffled as I walk the dogs with my head lamp bobbing away. The actual night of Halloween less so. Sure when I was a kid I loved the macabre festival nature, and the infiltration in the Eighties of the Americanised Trick or Treat (which no-one had heard of in Leeds until ET came along). As an adult, less so—given that my primary role is trudging around in the drizzle whilst my kids beg at doors in costume.

Now I’ve always been aware that Halloween was one of those hijacked events, a bit like Easter—where the Christian faith had built a new meaning on a day/period/festival with more pagan origins. But it wasn’t until I researched for my new book—The Spectral Assassin—that I discovered the beliefs about Halloween were especially relevant to my new book, and the Nu Knights series.
So, from the new book we discover more than we really wanted to know about Halloween from Aunt Gaynor, whilst her son Nick cringes nearby…

‘Trick or treat?’

The three children regarded Gaynor with eyes half way between hope and doubt. She tugged her shawl around her shoulders and smiled.

‘However such a wondrous festival has been corrupted by the commercial taint of Americanism I shall never know. Are you aware of the Gaelic origins of All Hallows Eve, children?’

The tallest of the children was dressed as a werewolf and he shrugged. ‘Is Gaelic what dad likes on bread at Pizza Paradise?’

‘Umm, that’s garlic, child. No, Halloween is a corruption of Samhain, the Gaelic festival at the middle point between autumn’s equinox and winter’s solstice.’

‘I told you we should’ve skipped this house,’ hissed a second child dressed in fairy wings.

‘It was held that on Samhain that the barriers between worlds were weaker, more malleable, and that those of the faerie world, and other such lands, were more able to cross into ours.’

‘Mother!’ Nick said, pushing past Gaynor. He held forth a bowl with a dozen brown squares inside. The children took them with all the zeal of picking up a dead crow, before leaving.

‘Granola, mother, really?’ Nick said.

‘I can hardly give them chocolate formed in the bowels of a multinational corporation can I?’

Nick glanced at the trio of children as they skipped off to the next cottage, and then closed the door.

***

Samhain is one of the four Celtic seasonal festivals (the others being Bealtaine, Imbolc, and Lughnasadh) and is the event marking the end of the harvest period and the commencement of the winter period. For some pagans it marks the Celtic new year (for others this is Imbolc). The belief was that at these times that the barriers between worlds were weaker—so called ‘liminal times.’ So for the Celts that was the barrier between the normal world and that of the faeries that had become weakened and thus it was a day when the faeries could more easily enter the world.

The boundaries between worlds, in the case of the Nu-Knights series ‘alternate worlds’, are often dangerously thin. These rifts are perceived by two of the key characters—Sam, and his schizophrenic older brother, Ben. In the first book—the Infinity Bridge—we learned that the rifts were windows into realities where history had taken a different course, so called alternate worlds. We also discovered that passage was possible—in the Nu-Knight’s case via use of an EMP (electro-magnetic pulse). Perhaps Samhain and other liminal times were instances where the passage between alternates was somehow easier, the rifts more frequent or more stable… And of course, in the multitude of alternate worlds, there may even be one where magic is real, and faeries are rife.

On Samhain the Celts also believed that the weakening of barriers occurred between our world and that of the spirits of the dead. Accordingly the spirits were honoured and remembered at feasts, and they also believed that the presence of spirits allowed their priests—the Druids—to more readily predict the future. At these celebrations the Celts brought food for feast, had slaughtered animals for the winter, and often wore costumes of animal heads and skins. Pieces of the bonfire were then taken to homes as protection.

The common traditions of Halloween can be seen evolving from Samhain. The apple was a symbolic fruit of the afterlife and immortality (yeah, seriously) and the game of apple-bobbing comes from the ancient feasts. More recently (as in 16th century recently) the tradition of wearing costume and journeying from door to door was observed. The costumes harken back to those Celtic feasts and were felt to protect one from the spirits by impersonating them (presumably if you had a crap costume then you’d be sleeping with the light on in case you’d offended some spirit). Agreeably in the 16th century the costumed pagans would go around singing for food rather than candy, but I was fascinated to see just how far back the costumes of ‘trick or treat’ went.

All Saints Day (also called All Hallows Day) was a Roman Catholic holy day from the Dark Ages, originally in May but later moved to November. There’s debate as to why this happened, with some historians believing that the Celts influenced the Catholics to change to coincide All Saints Day with Samhain. Whatever the reason, the amalgamation lives on as All Hallows’ Eve (or Even, or E’en).

So what does the weakening between the worlds mean for Sam, Nick, Annie, and Ben? Nu-Knights 2: The Spectral Assassin is published next month, five years after the first book. Watch out for the cover reveal soon, and then get ready for an adventure even more exciting than the first book.

 

Good People

 

The world is a seemingly dark place, with natural and man-made disasters striking almost every day. My heart goes out to all of those who are suffering the loss of friends and family members in the Las Vegas tragedy. Their wounds – as are those of others who are reeling from recent events throughout the world – are fresh, raw and exposed. I was listening to the radio this morning and something that country singer Jason Aldean said struck me. He said basically that he fears to raise his children in the world as it is today. This is a perfectly logical sentiment. As a parent, the first people I think to protect when there’s a tragedy are my kids.

On the other hand, his statement made me focus not on fear but rather on hope. How can we change the world? We can change the world by being good citizens, good neighbors, loving and forgiving family members, and joyful volunteers wherever we’re needed. We can change the world by just being Good People.

Good People turn what normally would be tragic endings into hopeful beginnings for others.

Good People love and forgive their neighbors.

Good People love and forgive their enemies.

Good People create beauty.

Good People are joyful and share that joy.

Good People stand up for what is right and stand against injustice in all of its forms.

 

Good People are morally courageous.

There are more Good People out there than you might think.

Each and every day, let us pray to God for help to become Good People. Then, let us go out and live like Good People and show our children, and children everywhere, what a world full of Good People can do.

 

Morality and the Flawed Hero

When we write a tale that involves human beings, it is likely morality will enter into it at some point. What is our responsibility as authors, when it comes to telling our tales? Do we sugar-coat it and pretend our heroes have no flaws or do we portray them, “warts and all?” For myself, I gravitate to tales written with guts and substance. Give me the Flawed Hero over the Bland Prince any day.

In Huw the Bard I describe a murder, committed in cold blood. I take you from what is the worst moment in Huw’s life and follow him as he journeys to a place and an act which, if you had asked him two months prior, he would have sworn he was not capable of committing. Sadly, this is not the lowest point in his tale. It is, however, the beginning of his journey into manhood.

Does my writing the story of this terrible act mean I personally advocate revenge murders? Absolutely not. I have lived for 64 years, and my view of life is that of a person with some experience of both the joys and the sorrows which living brings us. I believe no human being has the right to take another’s life, or do harm to anyone for any reason. Still, I write stories about people who might have existed, and who have their own views of morality. In each story I write, I try to get into the characters’ heads, to understand why they make the sometimes-terrible choices which change their lives so profoundly.

I have a responsibility to tell the best story I can, even if I am writing for my own consumption. This means sometimes I stretch the bounds of accepted morality, and make every effort to do it, not for the shock value, but because the story demands it. It is entertainment, yes; but more than that, I want the tale to remain with the reader after they have finished it. If I am somehow able to tap into the emotions of the moment and bring the reader into the story, I have achieved my goal.

In the forthcoming months, I will be launching another book in the Billy’s Revenge series, set in the world of Waldeyn, Billy Ninefingers. Billy appears at the end of Huw the Bard and is the man the series is named after.

Having just inherited the captaincy of a mercenary band known as the Rowdies, Billy is on the verge of having everything he ever wanted. However, an unwarranted attack by a jealous rival captain seriously wounds him, destroying his ability to swing a sword. Desperate to hold on to his inheritance, Billy must build a new future for himself and the Rowdies despite his disability. In keeping with the theme in this series, his tale explores the way we justify our actions for good or ill, and how his worst moments shape his life.

Toward the end of this book, Huw’s story converges with Billy’s, a small glimpse his life as a mercenary. Some of my other favorite characters will also make appearances in Billy’s tale of trouble and woe because his story and the Rowdies are the backdrops to their story.

Due to a family emergency over the summer, I was delayed in beginning my final revisions on Billy Ninefingers, but he will launch in the first week of December, in time for Christmas.

 

Nut-free Banana Bread #recipe

I not only hate walnuts, I’m allergic to them. Finding a recipe for banana bread that doesn’t get funny when you take out the walnuts is challenging. This one works and has my kids’ stamp of approval. Makes one loaf of bread, which you can slice into as few pieces as you want.

This is too many, but they look nice.

Ingredients:

  • 1⅓ cups flour
  • 1 Tbsp rolled oats
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp baking powder
  • 5⅓ Tbsp unsalted butter, softened but not melted
  • ⅔ cup sugar–brown or white
  • 2 very ripe bananas
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs

Equipment:

  • Electric mixer
  • Wire whisk or similar tool
  • Three mixing bowls
  • Something to mash your bananas
  • Scraper spatula
  • One loaf pan, prepared for baking in your preferred manner

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350.
  • Combine flour, oats, salt, baking soda, and baking powder in one mixing bowl and whisk together. Set aside.
  • In the second mixing bowl, use the electric mixer to beat the butter and sugar together until creamy. This will be the bowl you add everything else to. Set aside.
  • Use the third mixing bowl to mash the bananas with the extra tablespoon of brown sugar. Set aside.
  • Return to the butter mixture. Gradually add the flour and beat together so you don’t coat yourself with flour.
  • Beat in the eggs, one at a time.
  • Using the scraper spatula, fold in the mashed bananas. Use only as many cutting strokes as it takes to combine the two.
  • Pour the batter into your loaf pan.
  • Bake uncovered for 60 minutes.
  • Turn off the oven, prop the door open, and leave the bread inside until the oven cools.
  • Remove from the pan and let cool as long as you can wait to eat it.

Notes:

  • The baking time may need to be adjusted by as much as 10 minutes in either direction for your oven. When the crusty edges on top darken to a deep brown, turn off the oven to avoid burning.
  • This recipe adapts well to gluten-free flours used with xanthan gum.
  • Adapting this recipe to vegan can be done, but I recommend instead using a recipe designed for vegans.
  • Replacing up to half the flour with whole wheat flour works fine.
  • Change this to apple by replacing the banana with 1 cup applesauce and adding 1 tsp total of apple pie spices.
  • Change this loaf to pumpkin by replacing the banana with 1 cup pumpkin puree and adding 1 tsp total of pumpkin pie spices.
  • This bread freezes well, sliced or unsliced.
  • If your bananas are frozen, make sure to thaw completely before using.

The Hero as Social Justice Warrior

Do you write what you preach? 

Are fiction authors supposed to promote their personal values? Or is the story supposed to be a self-contained entity with its own political views and separate from the author’s? Must (or should) the author reveal personal positions on every social and political issues undergoing discussion in the public arena? Or is the story just a story and everything political is thrown to the wind for the sake of the story?

The writer is supposedly imbued with a welter of imagination, able to leap tall plots in a single bound, about to stop dastardly antagonists with bare hands (obviously, on a keyboard). So it should go beyond the “write what you know” –shouldn’t it? It is the mark of a true author if he/she can make you believe he/she knows what he/she is writing about.

However, there are plenty of instances where readers get in the way. I mean that in a wholly innocent sense. If writing for a particular category of reader, the writer may shape the story in certain ways to appeal to those readers. Part of that may be, say, to use initials instead of a name or to use a pen name completely to hide the gender of the author. Because a Romance author cannot be a man…in theory. And a hardcore sci-fi author cannot be female…traditionally.

If an author is against guns…would the story be gun-free?

If the author believes in a nation having a strong military and the government protecting its citizens by militarizing city police forces, would that idea be reflected in the author’s latest book? If the author is opposed to abortion, would the character in the story who gets pregnant have an abortion or have the baby and offer it for adoption? It starts to get complicated. Or perhaps it’s very easy. Do your characters act as you would act?

And then there is the marketing question.

If an author writes books in which characters act as he/she would, hold views the author holds, act as the author would act with regard to a whole host of political and social issues, views, and positions, where does that leave the reader? Could that reader like a story enough to buy it and read it even though that reader and the book’s author may have different views on, say, immigration reform? Or do we authors censor ourselves so as to be as mild-mannered as possible and not offend anyone who just might be tempted to buy our book? Do we write so as to not alienate half the potential readership, or do we go forth boldly proclaiming where we stand on this or that issue, and hope or expect that we will be praised for our stance(s)? Tough questions–or non-issues?

Perhaps many writers, authors, dabblers in words, whatever the label, just don’t care about such matters because just writing an interesting story is hard enough and we don’t have time to be concerned about things outside the story. Or are we politely disingenuous, hiding our true nature and our true beliefs and values for the sake of that interesting story, afraid to speak out about something we feel strongly about because we worry about offending fellow authors and potential readers. Compare the statistics of recent voting and decide which half of the book-buying population you will market to.

I don’t believe fiction writers, as a clan, deal much with pushing agendas. Or do we? Or should we? Or…why shouldn’t we? When I’ve written sci-fi and fantasy, I’ve invented political systems which run the spectrum from left to right, not as a reflection of my own view of “how things should be” but only for the sake of plausibility in the story and influence on the plot.

Sure, the literary canon is full of authors who pushed agendas, who wrote dogmatic tales, who gave us strongly-worded suggestions of how we should behave, what we should think, what we should do or stop doing–woven more or less subtly through a fictional narrative that served to entertain us long enough to get the message across. And others wrote to warn us of possible future scenarios we may not wish to experience.

The world of literary imagination is both a safe space and a war zone. Reader beware.

Or are they simply stories which only in hindsight do we see a message or a warning? And if the warning may be too strong, too upsetting, too triggering, then such a book might be moved into the banned book pile. Fearing the ban, authors may self-censor, keep it clean, water it down, set it all in a land of make-believe where nothing is actually meant to be real or serious, certainly not as a commentary on the present political climate, oh no!

And yet, in this present day world of saying the right thing, being politically correct or decidedly not, what is the author’s responsibility…or compulsion? Must a novel follow a political agenda? May a work of fiction illustrate differing views on particular social issues?

Should our protagonists be social justice warriors? 

Life in the Fast Lane

As readers of my author blog, Life in the Realm of Fantasy, know, my husband and I share five children, all adults, two of whom have a seizure disorder.

Both my daughter and son were diagnosed with epilepsy when they were well into adulthood. Both have been hospitalized with severe injuries, but while our daughter’s journey with the seizure disorder has been relatively trouble free for the last ten years, our son has not had such luck.

Daughter 1 responds well to the medication and rarely has issues. Son 2 has had trouble getting his medication regulated, and his high stress lifestyle has often interfered with his ability to stay on track.

In conversation, as soon as folks hear the word ‘epilepsy’ they begin armchair prescribing cannabis, as the new cure-all for seizure disorders, and while the CBD end of the cannabis spectrum does have a miraculous effect for some patients, it is like any other medicine—it is not useful for everyone. My children are among those who do not benefit from it.

A ketogenic diet may help, but again, not every type of seizure disorder responds to this diet. However, it doesn’t hurt to try anything that may help.

Surgery is an option when a cause for the seizures is clear and operable, but for most patients, there is no discernable cause. My children fall into this group, and until a more efficient type of brain scan is available, MRIs and EEGs remain inconclusive.

Epilepsy is caused by a range of conditions that are not well understood, and it is one of the less popular afflictions for research. The way it is treated is to throw medication at it until they happen on one that works, rather like Edison trying to invent the lightbulb.

At times, epilepsy rears its ugly head like Cthulhu rising from the depths, and when that happens life goes sideways for a while. This summer was difficult in many ways, making me unable to focus on my own creative writing. Having deadlines and writing posts for various blogs on the technical aspects of writing was my lifeline, keeping me connected to the craft.

On June 13th, my son had a seizure while cooking, and severely burned his right hand. He then spent four days in Harborview, the regional burn center for the Pacific Northwest. The burns were situated in such a way they were not good candidates for skin grafts, so they healed slowly, over the next two months. In the process, I developed some mad wound care skills.

Now my son is healed, with new meds the seizures have abated, and he is back in his own home, getting on with school and a new direction in his career. This was just life, just the way stuff happens. It wasn’t a hurricane like Texas just experienced. We suffered no widespread devastation, and no one died. The creative muse has returned to me, as it always does.

I was home all last week, and still, my house is trashed. A mountain of dirty laundry lurks in the hall by the washer. Every counter-top in the kitchen has some item waiting to be put away. Two weeks ago, sand from the beach made the journey home in our clothes. Despite having vacuumed several times since then, the carpet needs a good shampooing or replacing, but that’s another story.

My editor’s hat is firmly on, and I am editing for Myrddin author, Carlie M.A. Cullen, a creative fairy tale that will be an amazing book. Revisions on my own work, Billy Ninefingers (a novel set in the same world as Huw the Bard) are progressing well. The first draft of my new series, set in the World of Neveyah (Tower of Bones), is on and off—sometimes more off than on, but each writing session sees progress.

Events in my family during May, June, and most of July temporarily stalled my creative mind. Many projects and plans fell by the way, but there was no other choice. Now, with my son on the mend and back in his own home, I am back to work. No more mornings spending two hours doing wound care, no trips to the burn center in Seattle for follow-up—all that is over and done with.

No cooking and cleaning for an extra person, no trying to find ways to entertain a bored, unwilling houseguest.

Now I am free to get up at 5:30 a.m. and edit until 10:00 or so. Then, when my ability to think critically is exhausted, I have the luxury of writing until noon. If I feel so inclined, I can do a bit of putting away, and maybe a little housework, but then I can sit and write again. This house will never be clean, but my family is once again on track and doing well, my ability to write has returned, and I am privileged to be an editor for Myrddin. This is where I get to read the best work before anyone else and hobnob with the authors.

Every life has challenges, whether it is epilepsy or hurricanes. The west is on fire, forests and grasslands burning and displacing people. Hurricanes are devastating the South. If you feel moved to donate to Hurricane or fire relief but don’t know a good, reliable organization, or for whatever reason choose not to donate to the Red Cross, you can make a donation through:

the ELCA Hurricane Relief website at https://community.elca.org/ushurricanerelief.

Wildfire Relief Fund at: http://wildfirerelieffund.org/

Your dollars and prayers will make a difference, far more than donations of second-hand goods and stuffed animals. What the displaced people are in desperate need of now is food and shelter, which your charitable donations of cash will give them.

Despite the terrible things we sometimes must deal with, life is good. The real task is to not let the bad days destroy all that is good.

________________________________________________________

Connie J. Jasperson is an author and blogger and can be found blogging regularly at Life in the Realm of Fantasy.