Who is Reading Nowadays?

Good news for writers! There is a huge market for children’s books.  Famous comedian Stephen Colbert and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor both have published new children’s books lately.

The children are reading either voluntarily or involuntarily, reading or being read.  It doesn’t matter.  All I know is that they have to buy books, or their parents have to buy books which is good for the writers.  Children are the ones who must learn how to read and have reading assignments.

Reading and writing are apparently still required skills in our modern society.  But who know how long it will last.  Our lives are increasingly taken over by TV images or video images on our TVs or smart phones.   I find myself so much free time on watching YouTube videos that I hardly have time to read anymore.  The only reading I do is to listen to audio books or read the Facebook or Twitter messages.

Yes, we have to write in our social medias like Facebook or Twitter.  But our writing is easy, and it is limited to 280 characters on Twitter.  It is less than 280 on Facebook because nobody will read a message that are longer.  As for Instagram, the preferred method to share is photograph or video.  On Snapchat, they even put on funny glasses or dog ears on the picture of your face or your friend’s face.  It is getting so popular that Snapchat thinks they can sell you cameras that do that.  Inventor Elon Musk even thinks we should communicate via brain waves in the future, so we can exchange data in a speed that rivals Robots.  It might sound advanced and may be necessary for the survival of mankind.  But language is such a great invention and has been around for thousands of years.  Books play such an important role in the advancement of our culture and society, and in the preservation of our history.  Now they are calling it a bottle-neck of human communication.

Writing for me has been like a friend since I was very young and suffering from unusual cruelty in China due to my parent’s disagreement with the government and political background.  Without writing, I wouldn’t have been able to survive.  So please support reading and writing and let this great invention last for another thousand years.

Lisa Wharton

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.”

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.

 

These re-boots are made for walking…

The latest iteration of Spiderman arrives next week and judging by the multitude of teaser trailers and quirky vignettes for sporting events it’s going to combine all the things that have made Marvel films such as success (namely humour, straightforward plots, fun characterisation, and solid action scenes).

Yet there’s a little irritation inside me that once again, we have a re-boot of the Spiderman films. Now this time there’s a commercial reason: after all Spidey was previously out-with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and then popped up in Captain America 3: Civil War in an Incredible appearance on Iron Man’s team. Yet, for me as a 45 year old comics veteran, this is my fourth Spiderman re-boot. I started in the late 1970s with Nicholas Hammond’s Spiderman, which ran as a TV series with three feature length episodes also getting a cinema release. Then, after far too long a wait, we had the three Sam Raimee films with Toby Maguire (and a great set of villains). This, along with the X-men franchise, really paved the way for Marvel’s success with their MCU (Iron Man, Cap, Thor, and the Avenger films and spin-offs). Sony tried to get back into the game after the Spiderman trilogy had wrapped up, opting to ‘re-boot’ rather than continue onwards.

This re-boot had some great features. It took Peter Parker back to being a high-school kid, agreeably a far cooler one than my memory of him in the original Ditko comics. For two films, with the Lizard, Electro, and the Rhino (briefly) as villains we had a younger fun Spiderman, yet still one that existed outside the MCU franchise. I think these films, despite having used Doc Ock, Green Goblin, Sandman, and Venom in the prior trilogy, had great potential and I was sad to see Andrew Garside’s version disappear.

Now in the latest version we have Peter quite distinctly a kid, clearly a bit of a muppet, with the influence of the egotistical Tony Stark somewhere in the plot. I like the idea of him being a kid, and I also like the idea we don’t seem to be heading for a heavy origin story at present—in the sense that he already exists, has made an appearance, and at most we’ll have a flashback story rather than having to endure the same tale for the ?4th time.

So what am I grizzling about? To anyone under 15 the Maguire Spiderman films will be ancient history, and the re-boot would at least allow a fresh version of Doctor Octopus and Green Goblin (although they would be difficult actors to top for a new bie, Heath Ledger managed to improve upon Nicholson’s Joker). It’s the idea of having to re-boot continually. It’s pervasive in films and comics and TV now. You get a sense that there is no original ideas, that the only way to write a fresh tale is to take something that was established, with characters that are recognisable, and ‘put a new spin on it.’ It gets frustrating.

Take Batman. I’m not a huge DC fan, but I enjoyed Batman when Tim Burton did it, and indeed (after taking Prozac) when the Dark Knight films came along with Christian Bale. Yet now we have Ben Affleck (who I really like) as another Batman, agreeably as part of other films. Gah! And how many times have they tried to re-kindle our waning interest in Superman? At least Wonder Woman feels fresh, having only had a TV series under her golden lasso.

Sometimes the re-boot masquerades as ‘re-imagining’: this riles me up even more! It’s like the film equivalent of a crap cover version. Westworld, The Omen, Psycho, Footloose, Fame, Alfie, Get Carter, Magnificent Seven, Annie, Amytyville Horror, Carrie, The Mummy, Planet of the Apes, Star Trek, Ghostbusters. Some good-ish, some not so good-ish ( I leave that to your discretion).

In the pipeline we have new versions of American Werewolf, Death Wish Big Trouble in Little China, The Birds, Blue Thunder, , Don’t Look Now, Escape from New York, Dune, Jumanji, , Jacob’s Ladder, Black Hole, Splash, Flatliners Bill and Ted… the list is huge, and in some cases you cringe that a perfectly good film of its time is subject to a re-do that can’t be any better than the original. Disney’s current trick of live action versions of classic cartoons is a strange entity—not quite a re-boot, a re-make, or a re-do, but often something quite different and special (Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast, and Cinderella spring to mind).

It can be done cleverly. Star Wars 7: The Force Awakens is, to all intents and purposes, Star Wars: A New Hope. Droids escape with secret plans; desert living teenager turns out to be Jedi material; big scary weapon in hands of dude with mask; mentor-type pops his clogs and gives inspiration. Yet the delivery felt as if a new story was being developed, and with enough references to old characters who had all aged. It ticked the box for me.

The re-boot in superhero films, which is where we commenced, isn’t entirely unprecedented. In particular DC comics flush out their backstory with an literary enema every so often. Given that some characters have had eighty years of stories, one can easily see how the continuity becomes a real nightmare. The DC Universe evolved from the late 1930s through to 1960s in a so-called Golden Era, where cross-overs occurred, team mags developed, and several versions of the same hero were written (such as Hawkman, Green lantern, and the Flash). It became hard to rationalise how Batman was seemingly younger in the early 1960s than in the 1940s, and that the character was quite different (i.e. he didn’t carry a gun!). So in the 1960s, in the Flash, the idea of parallel universes was developed. Here we had a Golden Age Flash (with winged Hermes hat) meeting Silver Age Flash. This alternate world concept was used generously over the 60s, 70s, and 80s, with an Earth-one, Earth-two, etc, etc way of labelling. Yet that simply got even more confusing, a bit like an out of control time travel story, and in 1985 DC tried to re-boot it all by having a cross-over series called Crisis. This had promise, but subsequent stories muddied the continuity, and indeed limitations of this approach, and now each decade DC has a re-boot (Infinite Crisis; Flashpoint; the New 52; Rebirth).

Oddly it was an idea that seemed to inspire the re-boot of the X-men franchise actually in series. I gave up trying to make sense of the X-men film continuity long ago. What happens in X-men 3, then Wolverine: Origins, then X-men Origins: First Class, then The Wolverine, is so higgledy piggledy that the only option left to the writers was to blitz it all with a good old time travel/ alternate reality instalment in Days of Future Past (which I must say I thought was superb); pulling together the characters from X-men 1-3 with the First Class. Unfortunately the indications are that the character Jean Grey in X-men: Apocalypse will go onto become Dark Phoenix, if the title of the 2018 movie is anything to go by… thus rehashing X-men 3…!

Perhaps what irritates most about re-boots and re-makes is that in many cases there was nothing wrong with the original that a revised version can improve upon. A lot of the films scheduled for a re-make are ones that hold a special place in our heart: I think especially of Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, American Werewolf, and the Birds from that list above. In a nostalgic way we attach fond memories of ourselves and our lives to the era in which we saw the film, often repeatedly, and like a cover version done poorly begrudge the trampling of our past. And I do wonder whether the generation before me felt the same way when films such as 1984, Cape Fear, The Champ, The Good Thief, Miracle on 34th Street, and Scarface were released—all films I enjoyed in my youth, yet all re-makes (if not re-boots). And let’s not forget Hitchcock re-made his own film, the Man who Knew too Much… and when asked said ‘Let’s say the first version is the work of a talented amateur and the second was made by a professional.’

Dinosaurs Among the Birds

I graduated from high school in 1971. My friends and I were so close in those years and we have held onto those connections, despite the rough seas of young adult life. We drifted apart during the ‘blender years,’ but as our children left home and our lives became more our own, we drifted back together.

Fifty years ago, we were young and wild, determined to carve our path in the world and desperate to get on with living. We were tired of the war, tired of politics, and tired of being told what to think by a media that was controlled by pin-headed men in suits. We were tired of Congress selling us out.

We were going to change the world.

We did change it, but not exactly the way we naively believed we would. Even though we were unable to solve all the problems we wanted to, we did manage to make some positive changes. Unfortunately, we were too few, voices shouting in the wind.

And now we are somewhat jaded. The country is still divided, big money still buys votes. Congress is still selling out, and the media is still owned by pin-headed men in suits. There is always a war somewhere, and it is never done with.

My generation clings to our belief that we will see positive changes, but we don’t believe we’ll live long enough to enjoy them. Nevertheless, change is inevitable and it will happen, even if, like Moses and the promised land, we stand on the opposite shore and see only what yet may be.

My old friends and I are not exactly who we were in those wild days. Now we’re an amalgamation of everything we once believed would happen and the reality we lived. We are people who survived Reaganomics, who survived raising children through the MTV years. We held down three part-time jobs because trickle-down economics didn’t really trickle down the social ladder to our rung, and we had kids to feed.

We survived the Bush years with some of our dignity intact and didn’t fold under the “you’re with us, or you’re against us” propaganda designed to shut us up. We will survive whatever comes our way with the current regime because old wood is tough wood and doesn’t break easily.

We are jaded, but we have hope, we old hippies, we old women and men who are dinosaurs among the birds of the modern, hyper-connected world. We still believe the world can be a better place for everyone. The difference is now we know we can change the world… just not in the way we thought we would.

Now we put our money where our mouth is, donating to charities and spending our retirement years volunteering in schools and hospitals. We do it in small ways, chipping away, and little by little we have a positive effect.

We lost the battle to make the world a simpler, kinder place. Our parents were The Greatest Generation, and they won the war with their firm, 20th century belief that only through technology would mankind benefit, and that somewhere a miracle drug was waiting, one able to cure every disease known to man.  It just hadn’t been discovered yet. Now the drug companies have the government’s balls in one hand and a claw-like grip on our pocketbooks with the other. That hoped-for miracle cure is still somewhere out there on the horizon, and likely always will be.

My generation was conquered, despite the struggle to keep it simple. We old hippies now embrace technology and make it ours. We do this because we must either adapt or die, and I am not ready to die. We are a wired society, and we old people have the luxury of a little free time and occasionally, extra money. So, we have become wired.

Writing is my opportunity to live in the world as I would like it to be, and it is my chance to get away from the war, from politics, from family problems. Adult children with complicated epilepsy issues, grandchildren having babies too young (did they learn nothing from my trials and errors?) –writing is my escape.

I support creativity and free-thinking on a local level. I volunteer as municipal liaison for NaNoWriMo. I encourage people from all walks of life, and from every point of view to write. It doesn’t matter to me if we agree politically or not. Everyone has a story to tell. Some stories are real and incredibly moving, and all the writer needs is the skill to tell that story the way it should be told.

They can gain that skill through participating in NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. Children and schools benefit year-round from writing programs sponsored by this organization. For me, November is the busiest month of the year. I will be meeting and getting to know many new people, and I will be writing the framework for a new novel.  For one month, thousands of people will be too busy writing to spend their evening in front of the electronic altar, being fed mindless pap in the form of ‘entertainment.’ Instead, they will entertain themselves and find they are so much more than they ever thought they could be.

With every new book that is written, each new magazine article or essay, the world opens its eyes a bit more, seeing more possibilities. Readers discover they are not islands disconnected from society, cocooned in dark living-rooms, unable to look away from the poorly crafted mind-porn we are force-fed.

I am an old hippy, I admit it. But I am water, wearing away at ignorance, helping the world learn how to tell its story one person at a time.

After Ilium by Stephen Swartz – A Review

Professor Swartz is a prolific writer. He has published 8 books of fiction since 2012.  “After Ilium” is his first published work, which has made big impression on me.  It was humorous and romantic.  It was well written and he was good at stream of consciousness between actions.  It was a thriller with two very attractive main characters, Alex and Eléna.  His skillful writing of this Romantic Adventure has brought Alex and Eléna to life.

Here is a brief description of this book:

Four years of college has not taught Alex as much as he will learn in a couple of weeks on the Turkish coast! Three thousand years ago Greeks fought Trojans below the fortress of Ilium. Now it is 1993 and new college graduate Alex Parris cruises to Istanbul, seeking his own adventure at Ilium. On the way, however, he meets Elena, a mysterious older woman who draws him into an affair—then forces him to fight for her! But Alex finds that escaping from the local jail is only the first of many obstacles to returning to his lover, as he embarks on his own odyssey across the wild Turkish coast! It is a journey that will test his will to survive and make him question everything he has been taught about life, love, and the way the world really works! All that matters in the end is what happens to Alex AFTER ILIUM.

Please also check out other books by Professor Stephen Swartz in Amazon:

A GIRL CALLED WOLF (2015)
AIKO (2015)
A DRY PATCH OF SKIN (2014)
A BEAUTIFUL CHILL (2014))
THE DREAM LAND Book I “Long Distance Voyager” (The Dream Land Trilogy) (2013)
THE DREAM LAND Book II “Dreams of Future’s Past” (The Dream Land Trilogy) (2013)
THE DREAM LAND Book III “Diaspora” (The Dream Land Trilogy) (2013)

Lisa Zhang Wharton is a graduate of Peking University and University of Minnesota. She is an engineer by education and an author by avocation. She has previously published several short stories about life in China in various literary magazines. Her short story “My Uncle” has won a second prize in a WICE sponsored Paris Writer’s Workshop. “Last Kiss in Tiananmen Square” is her first full-length novel, which can be purchased in Amazon.

http://amzn.to//LastKissTS

That Tricky ‘Second Album’

It’s one of those givens for ‘bright new thing’ bands that after stunning debut albums, the second album never quite lives up to expectations. I’m sure everyone will throw out their exceptions, but for me The Killers, The Stone Roses, The Enemy, Mumford and Sons, and the Fratellis I can recall the deflation at listening to the eagerly anticipated second releases.

And films can often suffer the same issues, especially when not being planned as a series. Although loved by hard-core fans, I struggled to love Back to the Future 2 after worshiping the first; Hannibal was a poor shadow of Silence of the Lambs; Matrix Reloaded was best left without loading, and sometimes the third and beyond disappoint (Phantom Menace, Batman and Robin, Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull thingy).

 

As a fledgling author, I can feel the pain of sequels. The first offering, especially in music, is often a synthesis of years on the road, eliminating crap songs, finding what works and what doesn’t, and the evolution of a fresh voice, a fresh way of displaying your art. We go through a similar process ourselves as writers, albeit on a more individual scale. We begin with scribbling, brainstorming narratives and styles, taking critique and refining. Some of us write short stories, dabble in genres, until we find one that suits our written ‘voice.’ And then, for some of us, that’s enough to write something more ambitious—a novella, or a novel.

I cut my teeth on fantasy fiction, first of all writing a piece based on Role-Playing Games for friends, then short stories for an on-line fanzine. The latter was critiqued by other authors, sometimes unfairly, but usually constructively, until it passed the ‘publishing’ test. Finally I worked up the bravery to write a fantasy novel, which evolve into a six book series (from a planned long single volume, similar to Stephen’s Epic Fantasy with Dragons).
In the midst of the six book Darkness Rising series, my kids nagged me into writing something lighter and more sci-fi based. Being fervent Dr Who fans (the term Whovian still rankles a little for me), I put a lot of alternate reality, televisual action into it and the kids loved it. It took a few rewrites and jiggles, but end-product—the Infinity Bridge—is probably by favourite single thing I’ve written. Naturally, the kids want more. And, indeed, having put the book up on Wattpad (the international Empire of Shaun Allen, as it shall be forever known ** proud colleague moment**) and reviewed on Goodreads, it seems there are readers not just loyal to me because I control their allowance who want to read some more of the ‘Nu Knights.’
And there the difficulty began. Although I’d written Infinity Bridge as having the potential for a series, the book is still fairly standalone. The events that occur in it, and how would they pan out in the course of time, were never fully fleshed out for a whole ongoing series. Not long after I published it, I had some great ideas for plots, and especially sub-plots of where I could take the characters, and began furiously typing these down. And as they hit the virtual page more ideas arrived, and evolved, and story arcs, and set-ups for books 3 and 4, and…

Boom. It’s written, and it all ties together in my brain, and I think ‘hot diggety, it’s ready to go.’ And then my steampunk mentor reads it, and says… ohhh—kayyyy, see what you’re doing here, but it’s like you’ve tried to do a dinner party for ten, including a vegan and someone who’s gluten intolerant, and served starters, main and dessert on one huge plate. That’s my analogy by the way, hers are far more exquisite. Too many ideas, too many characters, in too confusing a plot.

Now I’m embarrassed to say, that beyond a few paragraphs, and extra material to flesh a sub-plot out, I’ve never actually rewritten any of my work. As in never done first draft, second draft/ revision etc. Largely this was because I kind of actually just wrote as a hobby, mainly not really caring who read it, and with no expectation or precedent. Also, in a rather childish way, I get the buzz from that initial flurry of plotting, evolving the narrative and plot as I go along. It worked for Ian Fleming, why not me? So to tackle this rough diamond I have created, and refine and polish it until it’s worth putting on display is new territory for me. And I’m simply not sure how to do it—but then, when I evolved from short stories to novels I wasn’t either, and learned the best way—by others experience and mistakes, and by becoming part of a collective of like-minded motivated (and, honestly, more talented) writers.

Stephen King’s advice to new writers was to first and foremost be a reader—to digest everything on offer, in as many genres and styles as you can. In doing that you become acutely aware that some mainstream authors, usually riding on their success, have fallen into the trap of not refining their diamonds. I read some books and want to get a red pen and slash through the padding and indulgence that even top authors (and I’m thinking of George RR Martin especially here) put in their weighty tomes. And I hope it’s a sign of my progress of a writer that it’s time to do so to myself.
Nu Knights 2: The Spectral Assassin will be out this year.

When you get what you want …and it’s Winter!

Winter

 

Once there was a time

when the snow finally fell,

spreading like diamonds across the yard,

back when winter was a reason

to light the fires and embrace one another.

 

I counted the days

through the spring and summer,

watching the flowers bloom,

seeing people shed their clothes,

feeling the warmth cut through me.

 

I counted the weeks

through the falling leaves

watching them sweep my path,

seeing them blow casually away,

feeling how life fled from me.

 

And winter returned

as forever I prayed it would:

when all the birds take flight

yet there is one that remains,

willing to brave the cold

 

and shiver to death rather than escape,

wanting to believe rather than deny.

 

—Stephen Swartz (© 2007)

 

[Stephen likes to write about winter. His most wintry novels are A Beautiful Chill and A Girl Called Wolf.]

The Story So Far

Having recently completed my own writing challenge, namely finishing a series of fantasy books that I set about commencing six years ago, I’ve taken the opportunity to reflect upon the journey. Before you worry that this’ll turn into a mawkish post about what I learned about myself, and the industry, and all the wondrous people I’ve met (I have, but that’s not what I’m blogging about), console yourself with the title of the post. The Story So Far…

One of the difficulties of writing a six book series is deciding what to put into each book with regards the prior events. The problem spirals as the sheer complexity of events expands throughout the epic. Now, not being a vastly successful mainstream author, it’d be unlikely that anyone would pick up my series half way through, although possible. And the books themselves are meant to be a part of a series, not standalone with a common thread/ milieu running through. Yet, given the books came out roughly one a year, I don’t flatter myself that my readers are so obsessed with my work that they remember very last detail from the prior one… I know I don’t!

When I began editing and rewriting sections of book two to cope with the fact it had originally being the last 40% of a mega-volume one (for those that don’t know, Darkness Rising 1 and 2 were originally Dreams of Darkness Rising, and clocked in at Tolstoy length, so was split) I began considering my ‘story so far’ options. Option 1 is some slightly clunky prose between characters where they reminisce and ruminate on recent events to the degree that the reader can catch up. That’d read like…

Emelia smiled wrly at Jem. “It’s funny to think that my latent Wild-magic powers were so successfully manifested at the time you and Hunor sneaked into Lord Ebon-Farr’s rooms, fought that hidden Air-mage, and procured that darned blue crystal that turned out to be part of a prism of power.”

“And all the stranger that that would then lead to Ebon-Farr’s niece, Lady Orla pursuing us across to Azagunta and capturing us, before flying to Thetoria, fighting a demonic humour, and setting Aldred on a course of investigation that would lead him far away.”

With a flicker of nostalgia, Emelia began to recall all the events that had lead up to that fateful day…

final-dr6-front-cover-only-large

AAaaaarrrggghh! Stop, just stop. No-one talks like that out with TV fantasy series. Yet it’s slightly preferable to the… ‘Story so Far’ info-dump that by book six would run to eight blooming pages!

It was our own literary goddess Alison DeLuca who edited Darkness Rising Book 2, and when faced with the info-dump story so far section I’d written to start the book, she got her virtual red pen, drew a big line through the forty paragraphs, and simply commented ‘we’re writers, we can find better ways of doing it than that.’
Challenge accepted.

Six books, five ‘story so fars’ and because of the plotlines and structure, several disparate groups and POVs , often in ignorance to one another. How to maintain originality…?

Well, here were my top five:

1. The Dream Play (book 3: Secrets)

Emelia, whose dreams are so significant to the plotline, and who through dreaming becomes linked with the main protagonist , Vildor, recants a ‘story so far’ by dreaming she is watching a play.

I know this place. It is a hall of deception, and for this I am glad. For all here wear cloaks of secrets, which wrap around their souls with the strength of iron.

I am seated in the decayed stalls, and before me the first Act has commenced. At my side sits Emebaka. She holds my hand with her own tiny scaled one. Her eyes glitter like diamonds in the winter sun. I make to speak, but she shakes her head. The dream must command my attention. My wayward mind needs order—I need to reflect on all that has passed.

There are children on the stage, stuttering their lines like nervous suitors. The faded backdrop is of the Splintered Isles. A man is taking a sack of gold, and the children are wailing as they are carried off stage.

My father is selling me. To the Eerians.

No more spoilers!!!

2. The Prayer (book 4: Loss)

In this ‘story so far’ the knight, Sir Unhert, offers a prayer for his companion, Aldred. This allows a reflection on their actions, and the second ongoing plotline in the series.

Blessed Torik, hear my prayer.

I have never been a devout man. I placed my faith in the strength of steel and the might of griffons, yet this day I ask for your forgiveness in this matter, and your aid. There is one I hold dear who lies dying before me, every passing day taking more of his vitality away, stolen like a thief in the dark.

And though we are far away from the majestic peaks of Eeria, and your great temples in Coonor, I know that my prayer will carry on the four winds, across the ravines and gullies of the Emerald Mountains, to your omniscient ears.

final-front-cover-only

3.The Crystals (book 5: Broken)

This one was quite random: the crystals, the focus of the quest and the goal of both Vildor and Jem, begin discussing the current situation. I was proud of this one, as it was fairly off the wall, and I think worked well.

That, and more. We must understand if we are to prevail. We must understand if we’re to be whole again—our four primary facets, and our newer darker aspect.

Then I shall go first, sister. For is it not the wind that drives the water, the wind that fuels the fire? I was first to be found, two centuries from when we were cast asunder by the jealousy of a son.

The emperor who bore me, whose blood is barely dry?

Hush, brother, let our sister speak. Let her tell you how she came to be here in this desert of flame.

4. Words (book 6: Redemption)

This was a tiny bit of a cheat, as I used a character from a prior book (Orla’s old flame, Muben) as a storyteller, who learns of the historic events and their precursors by meeting a goddess. Very Greek. I figured by book 6 most readers would just want a recap of key events that are relevant to the finale.

Words. Words as keen as a magnate blade, or as dull as a mace. They can freeze a man’s heart, or ignite his soul. And words… words are all I have.

When I was a young man I craved books. The intricacies of the script held such majesty, such power, that even before I could read them they made my spirit soar. Their wonder became my life, my livelihood, as I slipped the chains of my Eerian masters and took to the infinite roads of Nurolia.

The druids of Artoria, they carry their words on their flesh. Whorls and swirls of ancient scripture cover them like walking parchments. I often wonder if you took the contents of my skull and smeared it across the ground would it leak ink not blood. For words, dancing together in fables and tales, flow through me.

I sit watching as the fire peters out, my audience dwindling back to their farmsteads, I reflect upon one word. Ty Schen—that’s what they call me in Mirioth. It means ‘chronicle.’ They come from miles to hear the stories, the histories, and the legends. Yet once I had another name, one given to me by my late father, in the tongue of my homeland, the Sapphire Isles.
“Muben?”

Oh, I know, I’m a tease… leaving you with that excerpt… of a recap! And finally, I used this device in couple of books…

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000037_00032]

5. The Journal (books 2 and 3)

Very similar to the letter idea (which I used in book 4, and turns up in a later book for someone else to read), I used the idea that some of my characters would write a journal as a recap device. It felt less contrived than the joking dialogue method I tried above, and served the purpose in earlier books where the plotline was perhaps easier to realistically summarise from a key character’s point of view.

It feels odd writing this in the pages of Livor’s journal, but it’s what he would have wanted, what he would have told me to do if we had had a chance to speak more in life.

Is there folly in conversing with the dead? Once I would have said so. Once life was simple—you lived life to the full, embracing every moment as if it were your last—and then you died. You died like my mother did, rotted by a wasting disease. You died like my father did, killed by his traitorous servant, a Dark-mage


So now I’m editing the sequel to my sci-fi/ steampunk series, The Nu-Knights, I’m toying with different ideas: files/ dossiers, diaries, confessions… The nature of the series makes it easier to do succinctly, and as a gradual dialogue in the story, so perhaps I’ll not need one for book two.

What about you other authors out there? How do you tackle it? And for the readers, is info-dump a big turn-off, or do you accept that fantasy=massive amount of summarised plot detail in first five pages?

And that length of post, probably needs a summary of its own!!!

ss7

The Little Princess

EPIC FANTASY *WITH DRAGONS is a forthcoming novel about the quest of a dragonslayer banished from his home. But wait! This novel is wrapped around a novella which follows the story of a little princess who has her own problems. This excerpt concerns the birth of Princess Adora.

 

The story is clear to all who live on Sannan Island.

A palace guard captain bearing the name Yvik stood tall and straight one day after the mid-day meal, checking the correctness of her charges. In a bright yellow uniform, crimson epaulets and trouser stripes, a tall crimson cap with yellow bill atop her head, the woman made a wonderful sight when Queen Dorothea rounded the wide turn in the palace corr7215e3e5e547ae0042bafed856c24116idor, the passage between the Great Hall of Talk and the smaller Hall of Show.

The guard captain Yvik was fair and square, and sporting very yellow hair, her jaw in full alignment with the latitudes of the world. When the queen appeared in the corridor, Yvik had swung her sword up in salute, blunt edge against her shoulder. Her mistake was to allow her lips to part and her gleaming teeth to show, what some might call a grin.

The queen halted, and her procession crashed against themselves behind her in the corridor.

“What is your name?” asked the queen of the captain.

“Your Majesty, I am Yvik, captain second-class, first of the fifth, of the palace guards,” she replied in formal manner, keeping herself tall and rigid.

“I dislike the name yet your face pleases me,” said the queen with a flick of her fan. “You shall arrive at my slumber chamber at the edge of night.”

“Tonight, Your Majesty?” she asked, overwhelmed by duty.

“Did I fall over my words?” the queen retorted. Her staff chuckled for her. She turned to her note taker. “See that she is properly attired. And give her a better name. I won’t be calling my painful delights to the name of Yvik!” Her eyes returned to Yvik. “Oh. And bring your pet.”

“Pet, Your Majesty?”

“You have a pet, don’t you? Most upper level staff have one, I hear. I’d think a guard captain, even being second-class, would be able to afford one. If not, I’ll need to raise your wage.”

“Yes, Your Majesty, I do have a pet.”

“Then bring it!”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

So at the designated evening hour, Yvik arrived—briefly renamed Destina. She arrived dressed in a floor-swishing crimson velvet robe with golden flourishes provided by the queen’s staff and smelling of the spice-laden perfumes and the musk of wild rutting beasts which, the queen’s body maid knew, never failed to excite Her Majesty and made her body quiver, respond in heavenly fashion, and in the end assured that she would achieve success in the ancient ritual.

Destina was let into the chamber, taken to the edge of the slumber seat, and was ceremoniously unrobed. Beside the woman knelt her pet, naked but for a narrow cloth wrapped around the dirty parts.

“There’s my lover!” cried the queen from atop the stack of eight mattresses. She pressed them down to the height of five.

A single golden sheet covered the queen save for her rounded head and coiled hair and the tops of her meaty shoulders. Her chubby hands and rotund arms rose and clapped the air above her chest, the signal to begin the ritual.

Her body maids assisted in maneuvering Destina and her pet into the proper positions, her perfect un-uniformed body aligned over Her Majesty’s great wealth of flesh.

Beside Destina crouched her pet, a short, thin man formerly of the stables, having the name Gup or Gunt, not that it mattered. She had bought him from the stablekeep about a year before, when she dared believe she owed herself a small measure of enjoyment at the end of her duties each day. Fortunately, he had proven worthy of her choice. Now she must give him up. When Her Majesty invites you to visit her slumber seat, you do not arrive without a pet to share.

As everyone assembled in the queen’s slumber chamber knew, it was the time of the great mating, when a woman chooses a pet for her slumber seat. A bow to ancient ritual was all it was. Otherwise, the few men allowed in Sannan worked the fields and the farms and kept to themselves as best they could, awaiting a welcome respite in the service of a mistress. However, twice each year a festival was held and men were let into the city. Much mating occurred during the festival weeks, despite the laws allowing only the officially arranged unions. The remainder of the year, many of the high-born ladies kept a pet for an occasional evening’s dalliance. Her Majesty, however, could not abide such a poor, dirty thing being in the palace anymore than might be absolutely necessary for nature’s briefest call.

Thus, ointments and oils were applied by the queen’s body maids, and after some time a union was made. The pet shrieked and grunted and the wildness of its actions delighted both the queen and Destina, who had never shared her pet with anyone. The queen, too, squealed in something between a cry of pain and a plea for mercy. The strained voice Destina shared with the queen when the peak rolled over her was similarly a combination of animal noises and a strange, annoying whistling. The women shared a gasp.

“What is that?” the queen asked, huffing and puffing.

“My pet has made a noise, Your Majesty. My greatest apologies!”

“It smells so foul!”

“A thousand pardons, Your Majesty!” cried Destina.

“Only a thousand? I would think a million might get you closer to saving your position in the palace guards.” The queen regarded her body maid. “Remove the dirty thing this instant!”

Two beefy women grabbed hold of Destina’s pet, pulling him off the queen’s wide body.

“Then we have finished? It’s done?”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

“Thank the goddesses! I don’t know how much more I could have taken.”

The pet was promptly pulled from the slumber chamber and no one knew or cared what became of it.

Destina was wiped clean, put back into the robe, and dismissed to some new location where she was unknown yet again called Yvik.

The queen’s body maids wiped her prodigious skin, washed her in the inward places, then set about testing the success of the ritual. It was a delicate procedure. After several hours in which the nursing staff pushed a long, thin tube up and inside the queen, measuring the dripping at the top of each hour, listening for just the right gurgle, just the right pop, just the right hiss, the chief nursing maid finally was able to pronounced success.

“Thank the goddesses!” the queen repeated at the bottom of each hour. She hated the testing but knew it was necessary. Better that than the need for a repeat performance. Pets could be so disgusting. Palace guards could be so quirky. If only the goddesses could flick their holy fingers and make a child appear fully formed.

On the fourth day after the ancient ritual, a royal announcement was made, stating for all the people in Sannan that the queen had, in this time of union, achieved royal success. And the word success was the golden prayer all who performed the ancient ritual hoped to speak and dared to hear. Obviously, a great cheer arose throughout the city. At last, their queen would bear a royal heir, already ten years since the passing of her mother, Queen Marvala.

And so, after some time, like in all stories big and small, whatever was required for the goddesses to mix together the perfect specimen of ladyhood, it was Queen Dorothea who opened her mighty thighs and with great effort and pain pushed out the perfect babe.

The fleshy thing was immediately identified as a lady and given straight into the arms of Her Majesty.

“She looks so adorable!” the queen was heard to say. “I shall call her Adora.”

“Hail Princess Adora!” the nursing staff cheered.

 

[Read the next section here on the Edgewise Words Inn blog, concerning when Princess Adora is nine years old and gains a baby brother.]

 


 

What Are You Carrying to Class?

A few years back, I wrote a song called “Pretty Little Gun”. It was meant to be ironic, poking fun at the idea of guns as a fashion accessory and “go to” mediation tool in Texas.
You can listen to it here: Pretty Little Gun Tune

I sang it with the swagger of a wealthy, know-it-all Texas cowgirl, stylishly intimidating everyone with my ability to riddle them with bullets on a whim. But because it was ironic, I dedicated my performance of it at South by Southwest to Texas Governor Ann Richards, who stood up to the gun lobby and refused to sign any laws allowing open carry of guns in Texas, despite her own bona fides as a gun owner.
Ann Richards gun

Many believe this stance cost her the reelection. Texans love their guns.

Thanks to our current governor, Gregg Abbott, who loves pandering to lunatics, we’ve got open carry in Texas now. And lots more guns. We’ve got lots more guns all over the country. And people dying as a result.

Here’s a link to the Gun Violence Archive, a non-profit group that is keeping accurate and up to date records of gun deaths: Gun Violence Update

Inevitably when I or one of my peace-minded friends posts these statistics on Twitter or Facebook, someone will come along and claim that we need more guns, not fewer. They want everyone to carry a gun. Because they believe a “good guy with a gun” can stop a madman with a gun.
gun rights tom tomorrow cartoon

Except that a man (or woman) who carries a gun can lose his temper and start his own rampage at any time, no matter how good he thinks he is. Even well-trained professionals like (hopefully) the police can’t always tell who’s good or bad or even what the hell is happening when guns are going off.

Countries with stricter gun laws than ours don’t have these mass killings as often. Yes, they sometimes do happen, but far less than for us. They’ve made it harder for all people to get guns, which has made it extremely difficult for madmen to get them. This means there are far fewer deaths overall. As Kevin Quealy and Margot Sanger-Katz reported in this recent New York Times article: You’re much more likely to die of a lightning strike than a gun in Japan. In fact, your odds of dying from a gun are monumentally lower in almost all other countries.
Death by Gun Likelihood By Country

People who are against all this gun carnage are looking at a long, hard fight. This summer, after the worst mass shooting in American History in Orlando, we’ve even seen a filibuster and a sit in in Congress in support of very limited gun control. But as of this writing, not even that could get the Republican-controlled Senate or House to agree on even the most basic of measures.
Which brings us to dildos.

student with dildo

In August, the University of Texas at Austin is going to have to allow students to openly carry guns. This is a horrible mistake, because students are a volatile lot and there are going to be deaths. But meanwhile, students led by UT alumna Jessica Jin, are organizing various Dildo protests.

Dildo protests UT

The University of Texas has a policy against carrying dildos openly on campus. They really do. But open carry of guns will be allowed as of August 1st, 2016. When classes start on August 24th, in answer to the open carry law, there will be a “strap in”, with hundreds and possibly thousands of young people openly brandishing dildos in classrooms and on campus in protest.

Will the dildo carrying protests be stopped by the outraged bullets of an armed man who values violence over sex? Will more violence ensue? Or will the absurdity of the situation allow some leniency from the people who feel they must carry guns to be safe and who are in fact enjoying intimidating people (girls with vibrators) who scare them? How long will the dildos be carried? One day? All semester? As long as open carry of guns is allowed?

Will this result in UT policy being changed so as to allow open carry of dildos? What about other tools of sexual gratification?
UT can’t stop allowing open carry, as a public university, it can’t opt out, as most of the private colleges in Texas have.

And will the absurdity of it all jar lawmakers into supporting stricter gun laws?

I watch with worried anticipation.

And of course, I’ve written a new song commemorating this event. Here are the lyrics. And a link to a rather rough recording of the tune. Not suitable for work, I’m afraid. But then, neither are gun battles. (Feel free to imagine the Eagles singing it a la Hotel California style)

My Arousomatic 153:

If you must have an artificial penis
Cause that’s the only way you’ll feel free
Couldn’t you get one
That takes batteries
And offers up to ten different speeds?
Do you have to have an AR-15?
That spits bullets at a lightning fast pace?
Wouldn’t you be happier
With something else that vibrates
And puts a big grin on your face?

Dildo lee doo!
Dildo lee dee!
Dildos or vibrators please!
I’m plenty good
Without a gun
With my Arousomatic 153
With my Arousomatic 153

The Arousomatic may not be legal
To carry around like a gun
But if you stow one of them in your backpack
You know you’re always ready for fun!
And if you feel a little unstable
And in need of security
The Arousomatic holds its charge for hours
And can also go AC/DC.

Dildo lee doo!
Dildo lee dee!
Dildos or vibrators please!
I’m plenty good
Without a gun
With my Arousomatic 153
With my Arousomatic 153

I don’t believe your reasons.
For carrying round your toys that kill
I know you’re not hunting for your dinner
You’re just looking for a bloodlust thrill.
But you know what puts the lust in bloodlust?
It’s a need to get off in some way.
Why not go back to basics
And use the kind of toy
That won’t get you killed or put away?

Dildo lee doo!
Dildo lee dee!
Dildos or vibrators please!
Give me a good guy
Without a gun
Or my Arousomatic 153
With my Arousomatic 153
My Arousomatic 153.

Sing along here:

by Marilyn Rucker

A Costumer’s Life, by Gypsy Madden

Gypsy as Harry Potter
Gypsy as Harry Potter

Each weekend I make plans to work on writing or editing, yet each weekend I find myself hunkered over my sewing machine or prowling around malls with a scavenger list of costuming supplies. In a month I have Comic Con Honolulu where I’m planning to wear 6 outfits to a 2 day convention and then one month beyond that is Dragon con which is a 4 day event (5 if you count Registration Thursday), which I right now have 12 outfits planned for and I’m not certain they’ll all fit into my two large luggage bags.

 

Gypsy Star Trek
Gypsy Star Trek

Just like reading, costuming can put you into the character’s shoes (slightly more literally) and you can imagine you’re within that world. My favorite convention and fandom moments are the times when fantasy and reality have blurred and I’ve crossed the line into a different world. Imagine my friend and I dressed as Cedric Diggory and Harry Potter while taking pictures at the Dole Plantation hedge maze. It was a grey and lightly drizzling day with a chill in the  air, just as if we were in England. And in the distance I could hear the whistle of the Pineapple Express, the mini-train tour ride to the further reaches of the plantation, which sounded exactly like what I imagined the Hogwarts Express to sound like. It was a moment like that I could easily imagine I was in the Goblet of Fire movie, starring as Harry Potter in a place where magic was real.

 

Gy[sy Journey to the Center of the Earth
Gypsy Journey to the Center of the Earth
I’ve been on a pirate ship while dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow, tracked dinosaurs while dressed as Dr. Alan Grant from Jurassic Park, walked through the ruins of Atlantis (from Journey to the Center of the Earth 2), came to the rescue of various charity organizations with my fabulous crew of fellow superheroes, explored alien landscapes while in a Star Fleet uniform, and even graced a dance floor in a ball gown with a feathered mask (and on my way home, slightly before midnight I passed by Cinderella’s carriage – I kid you not, around Christmas they have horse-drawn carriage rides through the city with the carriage decorated with twinkling Christmas lights).

 

I have no idea where the next book or costume might take me, but adventure always awaits.

 

Gypsy, Godzilla Footprints
Gypsy, Godzilla Footprints

Summer Reading, An Audio Edition

Being a full time engineer, a mother and wife, people ask me how I can read so many books. I cheat. I listen to books instead of reading them while running or doing chores. It works out really well. For almost 10 years, I have listened to more than 100 books and spent more than $1000, which I called the tuition. As for what kind of education books I have listened, that’s debatable. I don’t remember what books I have started listening. I think the most educational books I have listened are several Jane Austen’s books and the original Brian Stoker’s “Dracula”, but I preferred “The Historian”, the model Dracula book. I also tried Tolstoy’s “Crime and Punishment”, hard to follow. “Anna Karenina”, which was my favorite book and I read in Chinese before, was a little easier to follow, but not as enjoyable as I hoped. Then the “War and Peace” was a book that I hoped to listen instead of reading. Of course, I gave it up soon after I started.

After a while I found that comedies and mysteries worked so much better. I remembered I could run much longer and happier when listening to Carl Hiaasen’ books, Sophie’s Kinsella’s romantic comedies or Janet Evanovich’s comic mysteries.

My recent favorites are two series by writer British Rhys Bowen. I have bought and listened all her 25 books for two series. One is called “Her Royal Spyness” and 9 other books in the series. I have listened to most of books in this series twice, which is easy to do in audio. It is a series of comic detective books that involves Queen Mary and many Royal members of British aristocracy. Famous people like Charlie Chaplin and designer Coco Chanel have made appearance in them. Many stories are based on real historical events. It happened in London, Scotland, Nice or in the Capsaicin Mountain in Romania. With fictional real events and people, she made it so much fun.

The second series” first book is called “Murphy’s Law” and 14 others follow. Then I discover the podcasts and they are free. Here are some of my favorite podcasts:

RadioLab
TED Radio Hours
Wait Wait..Don’t Tell me
Serial
The New Yorker Radio Hours
Dan Carin Hardcore History
Open Source with Christopher Lydon
The Moth Podcast
This American Life
MarketFoolery

Please check some of these out.

Lisa Zhang Wharton

The UnBlogger

Waterfall MarilynRude Jogger Video

Well, I didn’t write my blog. I am a bad Myrddin author and will be sealed in a yew tree and burned if I don’t get something out. So I’m submitting a music video I did instead, of a song I wrote a year or so back about the Rude Jogger of Steiner Ranch. It’s a true story, mostly, based on a news article by John Kelso, the humor columnist from the Austin American Statesman. The video was shot by Gary Feist of Yellowdog Video. The song is on my album: Interstellar Pirate Queen. If you’d like to jog to it yourself, you can get it at www.marilynrucker.com.

Also, just because it came to me in a panicked flash this morning, I wrote an apology blog in rhyme. Feel free to stop reading if such things hurt you, as they should:

The Blog Apologetic

I woke with soul and mind agog
To find I’d failed to write my blog
But “How?” you ask, so reasonably
“Since here appears blog poetry?”
You wince, I know
To see the truth:
“A fecking doggerel!”
“How uncouth!”
You snarl and snap your finger left.
I am dismissed, ignored…
Bereft.

But no,
You are a sturdier soul
A calmer mind
A purer prole
Who isn’t stuck so stiff to labels
And reads with patience
Rhyming foibles
Churned out in stressful, instance dire
Humbly begging you hold your ire.

Until I serve up more of meat
A strong opinion
A literate feat
Perhaps in poetry uncovering things
Usually hidden in coffee rings
Or is that grounds?
Or maybe tea leaves?
Or Ouija boards?
Or wandering thieves?

At any rate, I have to go.
Google gonged and told me so.
Just as it did to warn too late
I’d missed my deadline.
Here’s my fate:
Three months after this sorry verse
I’m sure I’ll serve up something worse.

Apologies! But hope you like the music video! It was fun!

My Writing Inspiration

http://amzn.to//LastKissTS
http://amzn.to//LastKissTS
Writing found me by no accident. Before I was 18, I lived a life of misery and tragedy without knowing it. When I went to college, the renowned Beijing University and studied physics, I discovered the literature and realized that I lived a typical writer’s life. It is my duty to write it down and tell it to the world.

After this realization, writing has become an obligation and has followed me from Beijing, China to St. Paul, Minnesota. No matter what I do, I always manage to find time for writing.

Initially, I wrote about my family exclusively. I actually just wrote about my mother who married a much older man, my father, who beat her while drunk. My mother was exceptionally beautiful and courageous. Even under the totalitarian communist government, she had many affairs behind the curtains. She compared herself with Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina”. To add complication, I fell in love with her Vronsky, Uncle Yuan. My love story with my mother’s lover had won a second prize in the WICE sponsored Paris Writer’s Workshop. Also because of my mother’s life, I published my first novel “Last Kiss In Tiananmen Square” in which she was the most beloved character and overshadowed the main character Baiyun who was based on my own life. I also have written a short story collection “Chinese Lolita” in which my mother, her childhood or her shadow appeared everywhere.

Until five years ago, I have always been writing about my mother, my own tragedy filled childhood and part of my adult life in US that was influenced by my mother and my childhood. For instance, I also married a much older man and lived a rather interesting life with him except he was very nice to me.

In the last few years, I started writing about other people who were not my family, not related to my mother, my former husband or boyfriends. I have been writing about interesting people I met at work. My first piece “Asshole” was a hit when I read at the Reading by Writers program at the University Club. Then I wrote at least five more stories and each one of them brought laughter to my friends at the writing group.

I realize that my writing has become more public since I joined the writing group where each one of us has to read out loud. My writing has transformed from private painful therapy into a form of entertainment. I think this is an important transformation for me. My writing has found a public voice. Even though I was writing about other people, I was still writing about myself. I’m still discovering myself. See the following example:

Asshole

If I could, I would smash his ugly face. If I were allowed, I would pull his blond hair off his stupid head. If I don’t get into trouble for killing him, I would stomp him to death. That was how much I hated him for calling me “Stupid”.

I met him at work, which is how I meet most people nowadays. Work had become my home away from home. His name was M. He was a short, blond and well built middle-aged man. When I first met him I found him weird because besides constantly typing at his computer, he also would continually eat Grape nuts. He always kept a big bag of it in his cube. Who would eat Grape nuts all day for fun unless he was a “nutty person”. For a while, our workgroup either had celebrations for finishing our projects to the 50%, 90% or 100% point, or “Goodbye” lunches for many contractors we had laid off. I could soon be one of them. Sometimes I could imagine myself lying on the chopping board, being slaughtered or simply being run over by a car. Luckily I was still working due to my long hardworking experience or my pleasant personality. Maybe it was both, or neither. Surviving as a contractor in a technology company was not easy. Not showing up at parties would not be looked upon as a positive. Once I asked M whether he was going to a free lunch/barbecue. He said, “No. Why would I want to socialize with people who are not married to me or related to me?” This comment was the most blatantly anti-social behavior I had ever seen. I was even impressed. I mentally added another comment next to his name besides “Weird”, “Lovely eccentric”.

One day, he came near my test station to talk to D who was my friend and also a Caucasian. There were many East Indian engineers working here. I thought M had a hard time relating to them due to his small pea brain. Even though I was not Indian, I had already made many Indian friends within a few weeks. He started talking to D about “chips”, the “computer chips”. I was fascinated. Even though we were engineers here, most people preferred talking about potato chips. After half hour of intellectual jostling, my mind started wandering. I knew what his problem was. He couldn’t stop once he started talking. D was smart. He told M to talk to me instead, so he could get back to work. I didn’t know when I stopped listening. All I knew was that for the next half hour I just nodded my head while whispering to myself, “Nerd, Nerd”. I definitely would put “Nerd” next to his name. I began to worry that if I kept listening to him, people would start calling me “Nerd”. That was how serious it was.

One day, I was sitting in a station next to M’s station, typing away. The reason I used this station was that it had a faster computer. Since I had automated my tests, I could let it run by itself. So I started chatting with him to pass the time. He told me that he was going on vacation. “Where are you going?” I asked. He told me about some place in Iowa, which sounded so boring that I didn’t pay attention to which town it was. He told me that he could put in 40 hours work in two days and go on vacation the rest of the week. I looked at him with my mouth open. “How could you do that?” I asked. “Just work 20 hours a day!” He said causally. “I can go 20 hours on and 4 hours off.” He was not only weird but also the hardest working person I had even known. Later I found out that he actually didn’t work twenty hours a day. He just said it. Did he try to impress me? If so, there was no need. He had already impressed me with his weirdness.

I didn’t know at what point he started to dislike me. He gave me no reason or warning. All he did was being rude to me. Then I realized that it was not him who didn’t like socializing, but rather the other engineers who didn’t like to mingle with him. Also he had a habit of ignoring every woman engineer’s opinion.

One day, I saw him chatting with another engineer, which intrigued my curiosity so much that I made a mistake of joining in. Of course, it was not pretty afterwards. He and the bearded engineer were talking about driving accidents. I remembered that I had something spectacular to report.

“One day, as I was driving to work, the car in front of me rear-ended the car in front. I slammed on the brakes, knowing that it might be too late. Miraculously I stopped just one inch behind the car. Hurray. Without stopping for another minute to calm down, I went around the cars and drove away because I didn’t want to be late for work.”

“Do you know there is a state law requiring a material witness to an accident to file a report with the police?” He cocked his head with one of his satirical smiles.

“I didn’t know that.” I said honestly.

“You are stupid for not knowing such a simple law,” said M.

He called me stupid. He called me STUPID. I didn’t remember anyone ever calling me “STUPID”. I could feel my head expanding, blood rushing toward my brain, and vessels on the verge of bursting. Actually, a few capillary vessels had already burst.

“You, asshole!” I couldn’t help blurting this out. “You, asshole!” The second time, it was louder.
Then I raised my fist.

“Stop, lady.” He tried to stop my fist from hitting his face.

“You stop! You try to use the rule: that the more you ignore a lady, the more she likes you. Let me tell you that I’m not that kind of lady.”

I hit him in the face. The blow was so weak that didn’t break his nose or anything. He smiled, a big smile showing his crooked teeth that I had never seen before.

If It’s Winter, It Must Be Cornwall

poldark from amazon

 

 

If you are like most people, you watch more television during the cold, winter months.  That was me, too, until the arrival of a streaming box.  You are scratching your head now, wondering why I would not watch even MORE television with this commercial-free viewing device.  I did…at first.  I cannot diminish the joy of snuggling under a down throw and binge-watching shows I’d postponed or just plain missed.  Two series were so addictive that I wound up reading the books (more than once) as only a single season had been filmed.   First was the Starz channel adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” and the second was Masterpiece Theater’s “Poldark”.

My viewing of the “Poldark” series was completely by accident.  I was depressed by the long wait for the next season of “Outlander”, which is supposed to resume in March 2016, and had already read the approximately 10,000 pages of the books.  Slowly, the story of the British soldier returning from America to his neglected, inherited property in Cornwall began to grow on me.  By the time I finished the televised series, I found myself in a similar state of mind as post-Outlander before discovering that the Masterpiece series was based on actual books.

Quickly doing a google search, I found that Winston Graham had written a slew of novels – 32 in addition to the Poldark books (of which there are 12).  They have opened a new world to me: the world of 18th century Cornwall with all the mountains and valleys of human existence in this mixture of society.  The first of the series was written in the 1940’s and more than once has been the subject of a television series.  The BBC broadcast an adaptation of the first seven books back in the 1970’s.  I haven’t watched the older series, as I don’t want to lose my identification of Aiden Turner as Ross Poldark.  Author Graham also wrote “Marnie”, which was made into an Alfred Hitchcock motion picture in addition to a Nazi spy thriller and a history of the Spanish Armadas.

If you want to try one of this prolific author’s works, they include the following:

  • 1945 – Ross Poldark (original U.S. title: The Renegade)
  • 1946 – Demelza
  • 1950 – Jeremy Poldark (original U.S. title: Venture Once More)
  • 1953 – Warleggan (original U.S. title: The Last Gamble)
  • 1973 – The Black Moon
  • 1976 – The Four Swans
  • 1977 – The Angry Tide
  • 1981 – The Stranger from the Sea
  • 1983 – Poldark’s Cornwall (non-fiction)
  • 1982 – The Miller’s Dance
  • 1984 – The Loving Cup
  • 1990 – The Twisted Sword
  • 2002 – Bella Poldark

Other works

  • 1934 – The House with the Stained Glass Windows
  • 1935 – Into the Fog
  • 1935 – The Riddle of John Rowe
  • 1936 – Without Motive
  • 1937 – The Dangerous Pawn
  • 1938 – The Giant’s Chair (revised edition, 1975, as Woman in the Mirror)
  • 1939 – Keys of Chance
  • 1939 – Strangers Meeting
  • 1940 – No Exit
  • 1941 – Night Journey (revised edition, 1966)
  • 1942 – My Turn Next (revised edition, 1988, as Cameo)
  • 1944 – The Merciless Ladies (revised edition, 1979)
  • 1945 – The Forgotten Story
  • 1947 – Take My Life
  • 1949 – Cordelia
  • 1950 – Night Without Stars
  • 1953 – Fortune Is a Woman
  • 1955 – The Little Walls (Gold Dagger Award)
  • 1956 – The Sleeping Partner (filmed as Sócio de Alcova / Carnival of Crime)
  • 1957 – Greek Fire
  • 1959 – The Tumbled House
  • 1961 – Marnie
  • 1963 – The Grove of Eagles
  • 1965 – After the Act
  • 1967 – The Walking Stick
  • 1970 – Angel, Pearl and Little God
  • 1971 – The Japanese Girl (short stories)
  • 1972 – The Spanish Armadas (non-fiction)
  • 1986 – The Green Flash
  • 1992 – Stephanie
  • 1995 – Tremor
  • 1998 – The Ugly Sister
  • 2003 – Memoirs of a Private Man (autobiography)

 

kate barker headshot

Kathleen Barker is the author of

“The Charm City Chronicles” which include the following:

“Ednor Scardens” http://www.amazon.com/Ednor-Scardens-Charm-City-Chronicles-ebook/dp/B008BODK0E/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1454536041&sr=8-1&keywords=ednor+scardens

“The Body War” http://www.amazon.com/Body-Charm-City-Chronicles-Book-ebook/dp/B008D983ZY/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1454536168&sr=8-1&keywords=the+body+war+by+kathleen+barker

“The Hurting Year” http://www.amazon.com/Hurting-Year-Charm-City-Chronicles-ebook/dp/B00CR8K8T6/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1454536228&sr=8-1&keywords=the+hurting+year+by+kathleen+barker

“On Gabriel’s Wings” http://www.amazon.com/Gabriels-Wings-Charm-City-Chronicles-ebook/dp/B00EG5VK54/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1454536276&sr=8-1&keywords=on+gabriel%27s+wings+by+kathleen+barker

Barker also blogs at “Dashboard Confessions of an Undisciplined Mind” http://kateinla51.blogspot.com/

 

 

 

 

Getting Malled

I’ve been dragged to the seventh circle of hell, aka the Mall, for holiday shopping two days in a row. This means sniffing perfumed cards thrust under my nose, drinking over-priced coffee, and hauling bags the approximate of several kettlebells.images-1
The truth is both trips were really fun, so ignore my weary attempt at hipster chill in the previous paragraph. But the reason I had a good time was not the shops, nor the food courts, and certainly not the constant offers of reward cards as long as I hand over lots of sensitive info.
Yesterday the trip was with my daughter, who’s reaching an age where things get … sensitive. Let’s just say there are hormones involved. Lately we’ve been a terrible rut where I’m sick of myself. Yes, I grow more and more tired of my squawking voice as I howl at her to GET THE HECK OUT OF THE BED and don’t you miss the bus, young lady, because I surely am not driving you today.
Spoiler alert – I drove her that day.
So, it was lovely to forget all the homework, the grades, and the constant need to get a pre-teen lump out of warm blankets. We made each other laugh, especially when we realized the sweatshirt she wanted at Pac-Sun featured reindeer who were quite “friendly.”images
Today I hooked up with a pair of old friends and continued the carnage. There was more overpriced coffee (oh dear, I think I’m hooked) and more laughter. In fact, we guffawed so loudly about the poor oil baron’s wife who’ll end up having to wear that jeweled Victoria’s Secret bra we might have startled the guy at the calendar cart.
It’s been great, but I surely don’t mind being in my house for the next few months, the way things should be. I’ll crawl out to get staples like milk and chocolate, but that’s about it. In any case, the real shopping is about to begin – downloading the new books coming out this month.
I highly recommend it. I plan to do this shopping in pajamas and slippers, with a glass of something jolly firmly in hand. I want a few Gillian Flynn books as well as Nightingale, the historical novel about a pair of sisters in WWII.
And *shameless plus alert* don’t forget the upcoming Myrddin collection of short stories, featuring horror and romance and fantasy.
Oh yes. It will be mine.
While you’re shopping to feed your Kindle or the blank space in your bookshelves – do you have any blank spots? I definitely do not – why not toss together a batch of tassies? You can make the pecan or lemon version, and they’re delicious. Here are my recipes for both:

PECAN TASSIES
1 cup butter, softened
1 (8-oz.) package cream cheese, softened
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
Preparation
1. Beat 1 cup butter and cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add flour to butter mixture, beating at low speed. Shape mixture into 48 balls, and place on a baking sheet; cover and chill 1 hour.
2. Place 1 dough ball into each lightly greased muffin cup in mini muffin pans, shaping each into a shell.
3. Whisk together brown sugar and next 5 ingredients. Spoon into tart shells.
4. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes or until filling is set. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes. Remove from pans; cool on wire racks 20 minutes or until completely cool.
Note:
imgres
Prep: 45 min., Chill: 1 hr., Bake: 20 min., Cool: 30 min. If you don’t have four mini muffin pans, you can bake these in batches. Keep the extra dough chilled until you’re ready to use it.

LEMON TASSIES
INGREDIENTS
FOR THE CRUSTS:
• 5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks, plus more for pans
• 1 cup all-purpose flour
• 3 tablespoons sugar
• 1 large egg yolk
• 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
• Pinch of salt
FOR THE FILLING:
• 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
• 1/3 cup sugar
• 1 large egg
• 3 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
• 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
• 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
DIRECTIONS
1. For candied lemon zest: Remove zest from lemons with a vegetable peeler, keeping pieces long. Remove white pith using a paring knife, and finely julienne using a very sharp knife. Place julienned zest in a small bowl; cover with boiling water. Let stand for 30 minutes; drain.
2. Bring 1 cup sugar and the cool water to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. When sugar is completely dissolved, add julienned zest, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand overnight. Remove zest, and drain on wire rack. Roll in sugar. Dry on wire rack. Store zest in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with rack in upper third. Lightly butter a 24-cup mini-muffin pan; set aside. In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, combine the flour and butter. Pulse until mixture is the consistency of fine crumbs. Add the sugar, egg yolk, vanilla, lemon zest, and salt. Process until evenly incorporated and smooth; do not overprocess.
4. Divide the dough into quarters. Divide each quarter into 6 pieces. Shape into balls. Place each ball in a muffin cup; press down in the centers so that the dough fits the cups snugly. Set muffin pan on a baking sheet.
5. Bake until lightly browned all over and slightly darker at the edges, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer baking sheet with muffin pan to a wire rack to cool.
6. Make the filling: In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat cream cheese, sugar, egg, lemon zest, lemon juice, and vanilla until completely smooth. Using a 1/4-ounce ice cream scoop, fill the cooled crusts. Bake until filling is set and just beginning to color at the edges, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer muffin pan to a wire rack. Garnish with candied lemon peel. Let cool completely before serving. The tassies may be stored in an airtight container, refrigerated, for up to 3 days.

Peace and Pastry for the Flaky

I am having a hard time concentrating lately. Maybe it’s my constant but unsuccessful effort to tune out what’s going wrong in the world. If only I could keep myself off of the internet, cruising for cute pictures of kitties and rabbits cuddling in boxes ten times too small for them. Instead I end up fighting with people about gun control, global warming, treatment of refugees, and religious freedom. This doesn’t make for peace of mind.

So for a few weeks now, I’ve been concentrating on peace. Peace and pastry. I immersed myself in the Great British Baking Show, which was a kinder, better kind of reality t.v. The hosts were firm but not cruel, the contestants didn’t punch each other, and the pastries all looked superb. Yes, there were tears, when a contestant’s pastry wasn’t flaky enough, but the show never got nasty. Even when a contestant was sent home each week, hugs and gentle regrets were always given. No one spat on the losers or attempted to undermine the winner. The show is a superb antidote to the Hell’s Kitchen, Bachelor, and Housewives of Buda, Texas shows out there. See? Reality shows don’t have to be cruel!

Reality doesn’t have to be cruel either, but it is. I’m not sure why we don’t seem able to convince each other to work for the common good, or even to agree on what the common good is. I believe that competition itself isn’t that good for us, even when it results in spectacular gingerbread castles.

spectacular gingerbread house

And for those of us who are pre-diabetic or gluten intolerant, pastry cannot stand in for the common good. We can awaken our empathy and compassion, which will move us towards the common good, if we experience art. By experiencing art I mean making and/or appreciating music, art, literature, film, dance, theater and poetry etc. Folks who don’t get into any of that would call me snotty. (These are people whose poetry must sneak up on them in country western or Top 40 pop songs.)

I wrote a poem about peace. Not the peace of total domination or annihilation of the enemy, but the peace and prosperity that everyone deserves. I am currently thinking it’s unattainable, but essential to pursue. So I offer this poem with a wish for peace, compassion and prosperity for the whole world. And may everyone’s pastry be flaky.

Lady and unicorn

Peace, the Unicorn

Peace, the Unicorn
Peace elusive
Hunted to extinction
Hunted to dreams
Peace, the rare and impossible
With Mercy, Compassion and Justice
Entwined in its mane.
Its horn
One of plenty

(Yes that’s a mixed metaphor
An improbable but necessary cornucopia)

Peace, the Unicorn
Glows just ahead of its hunters
Who will never catch it.
They are too loud, too violent.
And the legend is
The Unicorn will come
Willingly
And lay its head
In the lap of
Someone gentle and innocent.
Then the hunters will kill it.
And start the hunt again.

Marilyn Rucker Norrod 2015