Thursday, June 30, 2011

Outlaw Love Songs

"Bonnie and Clyde"
by J.T. Marie

"If you were running,
your life on the line,
I’d be there beside you,
Bonnie to your Clyde,
and when the car slowed
the guns cocked and aimed,
I would hold your hand in mine
as we went down in flames."

"Love among outlaws and thieves" is the theme of J.T. Marie's short-but-sweet poetry e-book Gangster Love. It themes of longing, sadness and betrayal are timeless, and time shifts between the 24 poems, from the Old West to a modern urban crime scene.

Some of the poems address the complex relationship between Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett. According to legend, they were friends until Garrett was elected sheriff. Garrett then hunted down Billy and ultimately killed him. The book imagines some of the feelings that might have been behind their initial closeness and Garrett's subsequent betrayal.

Other poems imagine other kinds of fugitives, outlaws or escapees in various stages of partnership...or loneliness. It explores the hidden, human side of people whose names end up splashed across the headlines and whose bodies end up outlined in chalk.

The characters who populate these poems are pansexual. Gender seems to melt into the background - their loves are situational, not based on a strictly defined sexuality. Their longing is suggested by soft brushes of lips against lips. This is poetry of feeling, not explicit erotica. It seems to flow purely from J.T. Marie's ability to stand inside outlaw shoes and imagine.

Get Gangster Love for $1.99 (at the moment, on sale for $1.59) from JMS-Books.com

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Ballads: Reflections of my Heart, Soul & Mind by Marilyn Ferrell. $3.99 from Smashwords.com
This is a compilation of reflective and inspirational/motivational poems and thoughts that touches on several aspects of life and love.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Top Ten Supernatural Series That Haven’t Made it Big But Should

A guest post by Jill-Elizabeth:

I know, I know – everyone has favorites. Vampires, werewolves, fairies, ghosts – they are everywhere… Here are a few of my favorites. You won’t find the “major” powerhouse series – Twilight, Harry Potter, True Blood/Sookie Stackhouse. Everyone knows those. These are the ones that, in my mind, are due to make it big but just haven’t yet. Check them out – I promise you won’t be sorry!

WARNING: SOME SPOILER INFORMATION REFERENCED IN THE SUMMARIES; NOTHING MAJOR, BUT THERE IS SOME...


1. The Dresden Files (first book: Storm Front) by Jim Butcher: Harry Dresden, the only professional wizard in Chicago, advertises in the phonebook. He is chronically broke, perpetually straddling the line between who he wants to be and who he has to be, and eternally seems to be the last man standing between us regular people and The Things That Go Bump In The Night. The series had a brief, one-season life on Sci-Fi Network – it is a crying shame it was not renewed, because there is tremendous good stuff here.

2. The Parasol Protectorate (first book: Soulless) by Gail Carriger: At last, a heroine with style, with chutzpah, and with a parasol… Alexia Tarabotti is a Victorian lady, despite what her over-the-top mother thinks, with a secret – she has no soul. This secret grants her the ability to walk a line between vampires and werewolves that no one else can manage, and she does it with grace, aplomb, and a best friend with a penchant for silly hats.

3. Nightside books (first book: Something from the Nightside) – Simon R. Green: John Taylor is a private investigator who straddles “regular” London and the Nightside, the city’s dark underbelly where it is always the darkest hour before the dawn. There is some truly gruesome stuff here – the Nightside is not for the faint of heart – and John wanders rather freely between the light and the dark in his own quest for life, livelihood, and redemption.

4. The Negotiator trilogy (first book: Heart of Stone) by C.E. Murphy: Of all the supernatural creatures out there, gargoyles have gotten one of the rawest deals – until now. Murphy’s series is fabulous, featuring an unusual cast of characters to say the least, led by what may be fiction’s only gargoyle hero and – more unusual yet – its only lawyer heroine.

5. Prospero’s Daughter trilogy (first book: Prospero Lost) by L. Jagi Lamplighter: Who doesn’t love a good interpretation of a classic? Lamplighter’s take on the Shakespearean Tempest characters is a lovely journey through classicism, mysticism, and lyricism. The third book in the series is due out in September 2011, and not a moment too soon.

6. Sandman Slim novels (first book: Sandman Slim) by Richard Kadrey: Wow, talk about an anti-hero! The eponymous Sandman Slim (also known as James Stark) escapes Hell itself to avenge his murdered girlfriend and to hunt down the “friends” who framed him and brought about her death. This is another one that is not for the faint of heart; you will find yourself rooting for Jim even when he is at his darkest though, because there is always someone worse lurking just around the corner…

7. October Daye books (first book: Rosemary and Rue) by Seanan McGuire: Talk about your run of bad luck… In the first book in the series, October gets transformed into a fish, loses her family, and spends over a decade living in a pond in the botanical gardens – and that’s pretty much just the backstory. The first book in the series focuses on her reorientation into her “real” life; the series keeps moving her toward revenge for her initial rough run as well as the series of unfortunate events she encounters along the way.

8. Women of the Otherworld
(first book: Bitten) by Kelley Armstrong: I am the first one to admit that I don’t love all of the books in this series, but the first four or five are great. Of all of the eponymous women, Elena Michaels – star of the first two (and repeat player in a number of the other) books – is by far my favorite. Elena is a female werewolf. Her attempts to live a “normal” life and deny who and what she is (and why) are engaging and at times heart-breaking. And I challenge any woman who reads the books to not fall in love with Clayton Danvers…

9. Kate Daniels books (first book: Magic Bites) by Ilona Andrews: With a novel take on the vampire mythology (they are mindless creatures “piloted” by necromancers), more unusual were-animals than you can shake a stick at, and a butt-kicking heroine who can take care of herself AND everyone around her, this fast-paced series is a great and fun addition to the genre.

10. Fever Series (first book: Darkfever) by Karen Marie Moning: The series is all about transition - from sunny Georgia to rainy Dublin; from sweet light innocent MacKayla to dark vengeful bitter Mac. Moning's take on the au courant fairy-tale is not necessarily the most original out there, but is certainly one of the more engaging.

A former corporate attorney and government relations/health policy executive, Jill-Elizabeth walked away from that world (well, skipped actually) and toward a more literary life (equally challenging, but infinitely more enjoyable). If you enjoyed this review, please visit her at Jill-Elizabeth.com, the official home of All Things Jill-Elizabeth – that is, all of the teehees, musings, rants, book reviews, writing exercises, and witticisms of her burgeoning writing career.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Addendum: My Historical Hebrew Crush


At the risk of seeming a little boy-crazy this week, I can't seem to get 5 Jewish Dudes I'd Most Like to See Lewd out of my head. It feels like it won't rest in peace until I add at least one more guy - my historical Jew crush, George Gershwin, originally Jacob Gershovitz.

Some years ago, when my Catholic grade school sold off some of its withdrawn titles, my mom rescued a little volume called The Jews in America by Frances Butwin. It was published in 1969, and it's a nice book, totally pro-Jew. It says this about the prettier of the Gershwin brothers, my future baby daddy as soon as time travel is perfected:

"George Gershwin (1898-1937) first played Rhapsody in Blue with Paul Whiteman's orchestra in 1924 - the same year that Lady Be Good! opened on Broadway. His use of jazz rhythms marked a turning point in American music. Most of Gershwin's lyrics were written by his brother Ira."

He's a tragic figure, having written great and beautiful music before dying from a brain tumor at age 38. In college when I took a music course (about the same time Jake Dylan was giving me Sixth Avenue heartache), I did a little independent study by reading some huge biography of Gershwin. I discovered he was...kinky. Alas, I can't remember all the delicious details, but I do recall reports of brothels and voyeurism.


Perhaps this historical detail will surface in the as-yet-untitled movie Steven Spielberg is making about this curious George. A girl can hope. The hottie set to play the composer is
Zachary Quinto, who is Irish and...Italian. Eh, he's Mediterranean. Close enough.

Now listen to Rhapsody in Blue and tell me if this jazz masterpiece doesn't make you a little wet.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

5 Jewish Dudes I'd Most Like to See Lewd

Am I a little late to jump into the Anthony Weiner fray? Maybe so, but this isn't really about an ex-Congressman with an awesome Muslim feminist wife and a sexting habit. This is book blog, damn it, and the inspiration for this one is The History of Love of Nicole Krauss, a nice Jewish book like your mother always wanted you to read. It happens to be what I'm reading right now.

As you may have guessed from previous blog posts about Hanukkah and "Spicy, Earthy, Sweet," in addition to being Irish on my dad's side, I'm Jewish on my mom's side. I belong to the Templin family, formerly of Warsaw, Poland. That's right, I'm straight-up ghetto. Ethnic Judaism comes to me straight through my motherline: my mother is Jewish because her mother was Jewish, because her mother was Jewish, and so on and so forth.

The History of Love is not my favorite Jewish fiction ever. That might be Nomi Eve's The Family Orchard, Markus Zusak's The Book Thief or possibly Mona in the Promised Land by Gish Jen. I like it, but I don't love it. I understand why my alma mater chose it for the college's first-ever book club selection, because it's well-written and charming, but nonetheless it fails to knock my socks off.

And speaking of socks off...

Call it tribal identification, or simply acknowledge I have widely varying tastes in sexy, but I like the Semitic look. I kinda think Weiner's hot. Jewish Mayhem magazine has the Hebraically hot chicks covered, so this post goes out to the five Jewish dudes I'd most like to see lewd.

1. Adam Levine
Wish granted! The Maroon 5 lead singer took it all off for a Cosmo photo shoot, with only his Victoria's Secret supermodel girlfriend's hands to cover up his junk. Someone on Zimbio commented that this photo makes him look like there's not too much to cover. To that person I say, Israeli-American dudes are internationally world-famous for having not so much the inches, but the fatness. Beer cans are often referenced in comparison.

(In her book Thanks for Coming, Mara Altman went to Israel to test this theory.)


He has a lot of tattoos for a Jewish guy. He was the inspiration for temple cantor Ilan Kauffman in "Bat Mitzvah" and "The Hope."

2. Harrison Ford
I wrote a bit about the Harrison Ford thing already...part of it's historical, left over from the days of Star Wars, part of it is yet another one of my old-guy crushes (cf. Gabriel Byrne, Jean Reno, Liam Neeson), and part of it is, well, he's Irish and Jewish, too. Great combo.


As an added bonus, he's married to Calista Flockheart who, in addition to being completely sexy in her own right, touched her lips to the lips of Christian Bale in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Excuse me if I space out for a few moments thinking about Harrison Ford kissing Christian Bale...




3. Leonard Albert "Lenny" Kravitz
Lenny sings. He rocks out. He looks great with long hair or short hair. Either way, I say "Let Love Rule." Does he not have the most kissable lips?


Added bonus: Neneh Cherry wrote the song "Buddy X" about him, and it's one of the great '90s female anthems.

4. Jakob Dylan
Bob Dylan's blue-eyed baby got the looks and the voice! No visible tattoos on this Jewish rock star, but I'd still like to check.


Jakob Dylan was probably my #1 celebrity crush of the '90s. Guy crush, I mean. Uma Thurman was the actual #1. I borrowed his first name for the husband of my fictional ancestress, the pirate Raven Rachel Templin.

5. Eli Roth
This guy you either love or you hate. I think he freaked some people out with Hostel, which I have not seen. As The Bear Jew in Inglorious Basterds, IMHO he managed to be hotter than Brad Pitt. With that buff body, he looks like a hot Krav Maga instructor.


Honorable Mention: Adrien Brody
Do I hate almost all of his movies? Yes. Cadillac Records especially, as it seemed to hit every Jewish stereotype in the book. He walks around saying, "The money!" like he's starring in an episode of The Jew, The Italian and the Redhead Gay. Written by Louis Farrakhan, directed by Borat? Maybe. Even if he makes me say, "Et tu, Brody?" and makes terrible film choices, I still want to kiss his badly-reset Hebrew nose.


That's my list. Blog symmetry dictates that I go out on the note I came in with. So, for your viewing pleasure, I close with a gratuitous photo of Huma Abedin's dude. Dignified? No, but kinda fun nonetheless.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Intriguing New Memoir From Bettie Young's Books

Diary Of A Beverly Hills Matchmaker, by Marla Martenson (Bettie Youngs Books, April 2010) - guest post

Beverly Hills: just the name conjures up a town chock full of aspiring actresses, wannabees, gold diggers, poseurs and opportunists on the hunt for Daddy Warbucks, and dreaming that their fabulous fannies will be seated in nothing less than a Rolls Royce, Lamborghini, or Ferrari. Then there are the Goldman Sachs size male egos on the hunt for a bevy of beauties, but only if they look like Heidi Klum or, as the author calls them in the book she's penned Diary of a Beverly Hills Matchmaker, a size 0 waif who literally looks like "tits on a stick." The groups, you might contend, deserve each other.

It's no wonder that these types of introduction services are cropping up faster than hair plugs at the Men’s Club. So is everyone looking for the perfect 10? Well, pretty much yes, says the author. Since men are visual their main concern is that the women are in great shape and beautiful, with personality and intelligence coming in second and third on their list, and women are looking for security and an easy, breezy, lifestyle, which translates to, “I would like a man who makes at least a million a year” and on occasion Martenson would receive demands such as, “I will only date a man who has a private jet; I just refuse to fly commercial!”

Says the author, "The American dream is “to have it all,” “hold out for the best” and “don’t settle.” After all, it’s just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as a poor man, right? But just how long are singles willing to wait for the perfect specimen with whom to hook? It’s fine and dandy when a woman is in her twenties and looking like a million bucks, but when she has reached the forty mark and higher, things start to crinkle and sag, eggs dry up and dreams are dashed. The competition is the new arrivals with taut young bodies and stars in their eyes and the over forty male is often considered “distinguished” rather than the over forty woman who is just considered “old.”

No wonder online dating and matchmaking services are no longer taboo. One is not considered “desperate” to reach out for some help in finding love. But with that convenience and technology comes the expectation of “putting in an order” for the perfect mate. Martenson writes about the mentality of many male clients and the attitude, “I’ve paid you thousands of dollars to match me, so find me exactly what I want even if that means specific hair color, eye color, height, weight, and nipple preference. Yes, nipple preference. Martenson tells a story of a member who broke up with a woman because her areolas were “too big.”

Another concern of her male clients is the size of their match’s derriere. Here is an email to Martenson after a first date:

Dear Marla, I really found Sandy to be attractive, fun, intelligent, and cultured. We had a great time. The only thing is, I am wondering if she has a big butt. She was wearing one of those puffy dresses. She says that she does all kinds of activities like dance classes, working out at the gym, and hiking, but I just can’t be sure how big her butt is. Is there any way you can let me know if it’s big or if the dress she was wearing just gave that illusion?

Joseph


And did Martenson find her fairy tale ending with her perfect ten, or did she settle for second best in a heartless city in the knowledge that her clock had all but stopped ticking? A hopeless romantic, she is certain that it was kismet meeting the woman late one Friday night at a Rite Aid store on Sunset Blvd. who would introduce her to her husband a month later.

Ten years ago, Marla Martenson never dreamed that she would launch into a new career as a Beverly Hills Matchmaker, working tirelessly to find her financially upscale male clients the perfect ten to walk down the aisle with. But when a friend of her husband’s offered her a job at a video dating service, the course of her life was changed for good. After a year and a half at the dating service, she accepted a position at an exclusive Beverly Hills introduction agency as the head matchmaker.

After years toiling in the trenches unearthing the most exquisite gems to match to her well-heeled gentlemen, Martenson felt moved to write her third book, a memoir, Diary Of A Beverly Hills Matchmaker. For a woman who had given up on finding her soul mate and accepted her fate of remaining single, living in a studio apartment in Hollywood with her dog, having an open heart and mind has proven to be golden.

Marla Martenson
www.marlamartenson.com

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Celebrating Midsummer Night

Midsummer Eve and Midsummer Night are celebrated in Europe around the time of the summer solstice (which sounds a little odd, since we now consider the solstice the beginning of the season, not the middle). It’s typically observed some time between June 19 and June 26. It's a particularly popular celebration in northern Europe, especially the Scandinavian countries. In the British Isles, Ireland and Cornwall celebrate Midsummer most actively.


American cities with large Swedish populations, including New York and Chicago, sometimes have public Midsummer celebrations. Midsummer is also celebrated in New Orleans by those who practice Voudou.

In the agricultural year, Midsummer marks the transition from spring planting to summer hay-making. It’s also the harvest time for early potatoes and strawberries. In folklore, Midsummer is one of the times of year when magic is at its strongest. It’s one of the nights to be on the lookout for fairies (as in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream) and/or evil spirits.

The Christianized named for Midsummer is St. John’s Day. It refers to St. John the Baptist, who is called Ivan Kupala in Russian. Gwyl Ifan is the Welsh name for St. John’s Day, and its Irish name is Oiche Fheile Eoin. The saint’s official feast day in the Catholic Church is June 24, corresponding to six months before and after Christmas. St. John’s Day is also a Masonic holiday, as John the Baptist is considered one of the “patron saints” of Masonry.

Before the Christian era, Finland celebrated Midsummer as the holiday of the god Ukko. The Irish associate it with Aine, the goddess of the moon and of love. On the Neopagan calendar, Midsummer is sometimes called Litha, a Germanic word.

Midsummer customs include gathering or ingesting certain herbs; herbs with healing powers are said to be especially effective at this time of year. Plants associated with Midsummer include the elder flower, fennel, fern, foxglove, oak, rosemary, rowan, and of course, St. John’s wort.

Some visit a stream, well or other water source said to have healing powers. In Poland, women throw wreaths of flowers into the Baltic Sea after wearing them in their hair. Young men swim out to catch the wreath of the girl they want to marry. In Spain, women who stand in the ocean until they are lapped with nine waves are said to have increased fertility.

Bonfires are also common. Jumping over the bonfire is an ancient fertility custom, and it also represents cleansing and purification. The fires are said to “call down” the sun, encouraging the sun to help the crops grow. In Ireland, on the day after Midsummer, the bonfire’s ashes are scattered in the field for good luck. In Christian times, religious icons that became broken or worn out could be destroyed in a Midsummer fire without disrespect.

In Cornwall (the south-western tip of England, south of Wales), a Midsummer (Golowan or Gol-Jowan in Cornish) ceremony has a Lady of the Flowers who casts a wreath of both medicinal and poisonous plants into the bonfire. Her traditional chant goes:

Otta kelmys yn-kemyskys
Blejyow, may fons-y cowl leskys,
Ha'n da, ha'n drok.
Re dartho an da myl egyn,
Glan re bo dyswres pup dregyn,
Yn tan, yn mok!

(In one bunch together bound
Flowers for burning here are found
Both good and ill.
Thousandfold let good seed spring
Wicked weeds, fast withering,
Let this fire kill!)


In very far northern latitudes, Midsummer is the time of the midnight sun, when there is no sunset. Further south, people might keep torches or other lights burning all night at Midsummer. Latvia observes this custom, and in more recent times has added a 3 a.m. nude run through the town of Kuldiga.

Midsummer is almost as popular as Christmas in some Scandinavian countries. The Swedish celebration includes a bonfire, a maypole, decorating the outsides of homes with flowers, and divination. Midsummer divination, like the customs surrounding St. Mark’s Day, often involves trying to find out whom one’s future spouse will be. In Denmark, witch effigies are burned on the bonfire, as is the custom in some parts of Spain.

Sources:
Midsummer
St. John's Eve
Scandinavian Midsummer's Eve
Midsummer in Cornwall
Midsummer in Ireland
Masonic holiday

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The Wheel of The Year. . by Maureen Murrish. $5.99 from Smashwords.com
The Wheel of the Year is a beginner's guide to celebrating the eight traditional pagan festivals of the the year.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Carnal Machines: Steampunk Erotica, Edited by D. L. King (review)

What is it about the Victorian era that we modern readers/writers find so compelling? For me, some of its allure is that it wasn't so long ago that it seems inaccessible. Victorians lived essentially as we do, with more restrictive social customs and a less evolved understanding of technological possibilities. They had some knowledge of electricity, but homes were still lit with gaslights. They rode in horse-drawn carriages, wore crinolines and waistcoats and had to hold perfectly still for long stretches to be photographed. Still, the inkling that there were brave new worlds to be explored using technology inspired the great early speculative fiction writers, from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to H.G. Wells, and that newly uncovered mindset of being on the cusp of innovation seems to drive the steampunk writers of today.

The writers in this collection are also inspired by Victorian society's collective sexual repression, a great reserve of innocence, shame and untapped energies that had yet to produce Sigmund Freud to explain it. The juxtaposition of innocence and experience, of caution and desire, of social mores versus human needs create most of the tension in these tales.

Honestly, this isn't my favorite Cleis Press anthology. In any anthology, there are bound to be some short stories the reader responds to better than others. In the other 5-6 Cleis titles I've read, I've been delighted by almost everything. I actually thought a few of these stories were ho-hum. You wouldn't think a story about a steam-powered vibrator could be uninteresting, but once you read a few of them, you realize there are ways to write acceptable steampunk erotica, and then there are ways to write exceptional steampunk erotica.

The opener, Teresa Noelle Roberts' "Human Powered," is a rousing start, with a sympathetic heroine and sex that arises organically from the story. "Mutiny on the Danika Blue" by Poe Von Page, the only story in the anthology that takes its characters into space, is a wonderful meditation on power play. "Deviant Devices" by Kannan Feng has a rather nice male-female dynamic as well. Lisabet Sarai's "Her Own Devices," with its Chinese setting, is one of the nicest, and most sensually detailed, of the bunch. The other bookend, Elizabeth Schechter's "The Succubus," closes nicely by flipping the typical point of view on its head.

My true favorite is the collection's lone m/m piece, "Infernal Machine" by Elias A. St. James. Its begoggled tinkerer is Elijah Saloman, the son of a French rabbi. The young inventor's lover is Sasha, a Russian noble. At the exact moment Sasha is called away to perform the duties of his station, Elijah is entrapped by one of his machines, a helpless prisoner to exquisitely pleasurable mechanical torture. Pleasurable mechanical torture is the theme of many of these stories, but this one manages a certain stylish romance and charm among the clockwork and steam engines. It's like red velvet marred, or rather decorated, with Elijah's greasy thumbprints.

Final notes:

1. If you enjoy this book, you will also like the novella 'Hysteria' by Rushmore Judd, which you can find on Smashwords.

2. My husband thinks the woman on the cover looks like Lady Gaga.

3. I received a copy of this book at no charge from the publisher. I was not otherwise compensated for this review.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Review: 'Family' by Micol Ostow

Several years ago I went to a performance of MacBeth at my alma mater, an all-women's college. The cast was composed entirely of women. As the director noted in the program, this was a deliberate choice, harking back to the Celtic matriarchal tradition, in which women used storytelling to pass on the culture's morals and values.

I imagine Family by Micol Ostow being read by a chorus of women for just such a purpose.

If you're younger than me, you may have read a book called Out of the Dust, by Karen Hesse, in school. It's a novel in episodic verse, a series of linked poems that tell the story of a teenager named Billie Joe living through the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. Family is written in a similar style.

Like Billie Joe, the 17-year-old narrator of Family is a young woman. Her name is Mel. Mel is one of those tragic young adult characters, the likes of which inspired Meghan Cox Gurdon to write her controversial Wall Street Journal essay "Darkness Too Visible." Mel lives with her mother and her mother's boyfriend, whom Mel calls Uncle Jack. "Uncle" Jack is an alcoholic who sexually abuses Mel. Mel's mother knows about the abuse and does nothing. In Mel's mind, her mother offers her up as a sacrifice.

Mel decides to run away from home. Now the historical context becomes important: the book is set in the late 1960s, the era of free love, hippies, beautiful people and Haight-Ashbury. With the vague sense that she'll be able to survive there, Mel heads for San Francisco. Instead of a utopia, she finds a park bench, where Mel sits down and is overcome with inertia. She doesn't have a clue what to do or how to take care of herself.

Along comes Henry. Henry is loosely based on Charles Manson, and as Mel as drawn into his inner circle there is a terrible sense of foreboding. Younger readers may not be aware of the historical events on which the book is based, but will probably not find them terribly shocking compared to crimes that routinely play on the evening news. Still, readers young and not-so-much, those familiar with the Manson Family and those just learning of the crimes, must wonder the same thing: what causes a seemingly "normal" young woman to participate in something like that? This is precisely the territory Ostow's poetry explores.

It's all very well done. The reader is aware of Mel's "brokeness," as Mel frequently calls it. She often refers to being full of empty, hollow places, places inside her she longs to fill, fears to have filled. She always feels as if she's drowning, treading water, caught in the undertow. Henry offers her a lifeline, though Mel soon comes to realize that not even Henry can hold back the tide. Henry, who at first seems so godlike, has his own broken, hollow, empty and drowning places, places that will have terrible consequences for an innocent couple.

The subject matter is chilling. Yet the ending, remarkably, is a hopeful one. It's enough to keep the reader from drowning in the book's darkness, enough to keep Mel from descending into utter despair. There is a spark at the end that makes this narrative-in-verse seem redemptive, a cautionary tale, a morality play that makes it ideal to be read as poetry traditionally was, by a chorus in front of a large audience.

Family is told in the first person, entirely from Mel's point of view. It seems like a tale told collectively because of the historical aspect, the sense that Mel speaks for an important time and place in American culture. It seems like a collective tale because of the way the "family" absorbs Mel and makes her part of it. It seems like a collective tale because there are at least two versions of Mel, including one who seems trapped in a mirror, helpless. I'm sure it will be absolutely stunning to hear as an audiobook, even without a chorus of women's voices.

Still, read the print version first. Micol Ostow's writing style includes short words and phrases set apart from the rest of the text by italics and braces. Some of the words that appear set apart like this are

static
white noise


In my head, the words that are set apart, sometimes complementing and other times contradicting Mel's narrative, sound like they're coming from a radio, not quite tuned to the right frequency. I imagine them as the words of mirror-Mel, the other, left-behind self who struggles to break through to Henry's Mel, but can't.

All in all, it's a remarkable achievement for Micol Ostow, one that's sure to be much talked about and debated among fans of young adults books, parents, librarians and book bloggers.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Find Me on Smashwords

Eminent Domain, the second crime thriller I co-penned with my hubby Tit Elingtin, is now available in paperback and e-book. You can find the e-book for Kindle and Nook, or get it from Smashwords and download it in any format you like. Through October 10, 2011, you can get it FREE on Smashwords with coupon code FG99J.

Visit my Smashwords profile and you'll see I've put out three books. One is Midsummer Night (Pagan Spirits Book 2).

The other full-length book I have on Smashwords is The Erotica Anthology. It's a bit of a teaser for Beltane (Pagan Spirits Book 1), but it also contains some of my previously published short stories, and the exclusive short story "Herbert." I was giving the anthology away free for a while, and I may do so again in the future, but for now you can download it for $0.99.

My other $0.99 e-book on Smashwords is the short "Josephine Baker in Berlin." An aging, lonely Josephine Baker has one last chance to dance across the stage, but only if she accepts an invitation to visit Berlin. The destination unlocks long-buried memories of the decadent pre-World War II Berlin, and of a beautiful young woman who reached out the star and eased her loneliness.

My short stories also appear on Smashwords in several anthologies listed under the incomparable erotica author and publisher Selena Kitt:

Happy Endings - Contains "Bat Mitzvah," a m/m romance in which the bat mitzvah's Uncle Mark rarely goes to temple, but has a revelation when he lays eyes on the gorgeous new cantor, Ilan Kauffman.

Wonder - Contains "Butterfly Boy," a f/m paranormal featuring good fairies and a very bad fairy.

Divine Matches - Contains the f/m paranormal "Black Bear Skin," a Norse myth-inspired tale featuring Freya, the naughty queen of the Valkyries.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Abused Werewolf Rescue Group - Review

I haven't read Catherine Jinks' previous book in the series, The Reformed Vampire Support Group, so I came to this series fresh. I don't think it made much of a difference. The 13-year-old narrator, Toby, doesn't know what's going on when he wakes up in the hospital after having been found in the dingo pen on a wildlife preserve. Not knowing what happened in the first book allowed me to figure things out at about the same time Toby did, though Jinks does drop lots of hints that Toby's new friends, especially Nina, might be vampires.

The title tells us two things: there will be a werewolf, and the werewolf will be abused. The book starts out in a somewhat light-hearted tone, with many references to Toby's perfectly ordinary suburban Australian life and the pranks he and his friends like to pull. Then, about 170 pages in, Toby gets kidnapped, and the story starts to get very bleak. If Toby were a little younger, more sensitive or more vulnerable, some of the things that happen to him might be horrible. But, with his maybe-werewolf DNA, Toby is just tough and resilient enough to emerge triumphant.

The middle section of the book is of the dark action-adventure variety, and there's a hefty dose of paranormal intervention towards the end. The last chapters imply that if there is a third book in the series, it's likely to involve zombies. The more menacing tone makes it a different class of YA paranormal from the breezy paranormals of Marlene Perez's Dead Is series, but it should appeal to young horror fans.

I received an ARC of The Abused Werewolf Rescue Group through the Amazon Vine program. I was not otherwise compensated for this review.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

I Made a Recipe From '100 Perfect Pairings'

I won it in a blog contest: 100 Perfect Pairings: Main Dishes to Enjoy with Wines You Love by Jill Silverman Hough, published by Wiley. I forget which blog I won it from - I haven't even been able to find a link to it by scrolling through my last month's Twitter feed. Since I can't repay the favor to the blogger I won it from, I'll pay it forward instead:

Leave a comment for your chance to win a copy of 100 Perfect Pairings. I'll randomly choose a name on Sunday, June 12. (Make sure your e-mail address is accessible through your profile, or leave it in the comment.)

You can't have my copy, though. I'll send you your own.

The recipe I made today was curried pumpkin and potato stew. You can either make this stew vegan, or you can add chicken broth. I used chicken stock because I was out of veggie broth. The recipe also called for pumpkin...




...red potatoes...




...coconut milk (I used what my local organic market had, a concentrated coconut product)...




...and raisins. Boghosian raisins are the best ones I've ever tasted. I get the big bag from Gordon Food Service (a restaurant supply store also open to the public).


(This is not a complete list.)

The finished product looked like this, sprinkled with shaved coconut:




The verdict? It's absolutely delicious. I like the thick, rich texture of the coconut milk and canned pumpkin as a base for this stew. The suggested amount of curry was just right. The recipe also calls for cinnamon and cayenne pepper, but I didn't have cayenne, so I substituted some ground red chilies my friend Betty grew. Mmm, perfect.

As for the wine pairing...well, I didn't have any gewurztraminer on hand, either. I ate this flavorful stew with diet ginger ale, and that was a perfect pairing, too.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Why Adults Read and Love Young Adult Fiction - Sierra Greenman guest post

Lately I’ve found myself caught up in young adult fiction. It’s easy to do with all of the attractive and unique covers and magical stories. I’m in my late twenties so I sort of can justify reading YA fiction because I’m still a young adult at heart. However, I’m also aware of women and perhaps even men who are in their 30s, 40s, and above who devour young adult fiction. My question is why? What makes young adult fiction so appealing that adult fiction may be frequently ignored to devour the latest Twilight or The Hunger Games novel?

I took some time out to think about this and came up with the following conclusions. Adults love young adult fiction because it’s relatable, usually full of fantasy, and it gives them a break from all of the “serious” adult novels that are available. It also gives them the opportunity to briefly escape from their own life. Granted, the print is also bigger and that makes the book much easier to read. They take less effort to read as well, but that doesn’t make them any less important or influential than adult fiction.

Admittedly, we all were teenagers once and we can all relate to growing up and going through the teenage angst that took place, and then finally finding a place in the world. Instead of being reminded of your current day to day adult life, why not pick up a young adult book that will take you to another time and space? The characters in young adult fiction are usually created with such an intensity of emotion, it is impossible to tear your eyes away from the pages. I’m guilty – I’ve recently become entangled with The Hunger Games trilogy, only to silently mourn my characters’ “endings,” simply because I could see the books going on forever without me ever growing tired of them. They are that enticing to read.

Most teen fiction also takes place in a fantasy dream land where princes exist or a strong willed woman or man dares to change her fate or question the rules. We can relate because we all have questioned the rules and perhaps our beliefs, only to come out a stronger and more independent adult later in life. Going through the transition is what we remember – it made us who we are today. Being reminded of that transition from girl to woman is sought after; it reminds us of our inner beauty and strength that again can be pulled again and again from a character in a book.

We all need to escape from our lives now and again. Young adult fiction does a perfect job at mirroring real life while still allowing us to get caught up in a fantasy element. After a day at work, a night with the kids, or talking about finances with the husband, you’ll most likely find a woman in her favorite space in the house, getting all caught up on her latest YA read.

Guest Blogger Bio: An ocean dreamer at heart and in real life, Sierra Greenman thrives on visiting and living near the beach and could never imagine herself anywhere else. She recently ventured out into the freelance world and now is a Freelance Writer and Social Media Specialist and absolutely loves it. Writing about fashion and style are one of her many passions. You can also find Sierra at her blog Ocean Dreams and follow her on Twitter @oceandreams4u. She also is a featured fashion blogger for JoeShopping.com and her e-mail is oceandreams4sierra@gmail.com if you want to say hello!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Pride and Prejudice and Mitzi Szereto


Talented erotica writer Mitzi Szereto, author of In Sleeping Beauty's Bed, has a new book called Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts. It's due to be released by Cleis Press in July. Adding sex to literary classics is the newest mash-up trend, following hot on the heels of the classics + monsters trend. (And the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies movie isn't even out yet!)

Steve Hockensmith, who wrote the PPZ prequel Dawn of the Dreadfuls, says, "Thank God for Mitzi Szereto! Now the literary purists have someone new to go after with their pitchforks. Adding zombies to Pride and Prejudice was one thing, but SEX SEX SEX? It’s sacrilege! Raunchy, hilarious, subversive sacrilege…which is the best kind, of course.”

I'm looking forward to this one, but even more so, I'm looking forward to reading the sexed-up version of one of my very favorites, Wuthering Heights. Annabella Bloom assists Emily Bronte in creating Wuthering Heights: The Wild and Wanton Edition. It's been out since January, but I haven't picked up a copy yet.

My TBR list is long. The next book I'll read from Cleis Press is likely to be Carnal Machines, a collection of steampunk erotica edited by D. L. King.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

"Advice for First-Time Writers" by Guest Blogger Judith Marshall

My first novel, Husbands May Come and Go but Friends are Forever, was released in 2009. It took twelve years off-and-on to complete and was professionally edited and revised three times.

Here’s my point: when you start a first draft, you have no idea whether your writing is any good. Most times, your inner critic tells you it stinks! Ignore her. Keep writing. Keep pounding away. Even if the writing does stink, it’s the only path to producing something worthwhile. Writing on a regular basis keeps you from having to start over.

What if you’re not inspired? Or worse, what if you are blocked? Don’t think about the whole story. Think small. Pick a scene or a moment and write about it for fifteen or twenty minutes. Another tactic is to start a paragraph, “I remember…,” and just keep going. Or think about three things you observed in the last few days: a frazzled mother, a homeless person, a conversation you overheard in the super market. Let your imagination go. Maybe you can use some of it in your story.

Remember, writing is about revision. 1st stage – get it down, 2nd stage – flesh it out, 3rd stage – check the flow, 4th stage – polish and fine tune (word choice and syntax), 5th stage – punctuation and line editing, 6th stage – self-dialog. But you have to have something to start with. Write on!

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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Creating a Novel With An Emotionally Numb Main Character

A Guest Post by Bill Johnson

One of the most common problems I see when I real novel manuscripts is an emotionally numb main character. Writing a novel around an emotionally numb main character is difficult because the character often has no feeling about what's happening. Since a story's readers often access a story's characters through their reactions to events – their feelings -- when characters have no feelings, it's hard to experience a story world through them.

It can be done. A great example of how it can be done is demonstrated in the novel The Accidental Tourist.


The novel begins, 'They were supposed to stay at the beach a week, but neither of them had the heart for it and they decided to come back early.'

The questions here, why were they 'supposed' to stay at the beach for a week, and why didn't they have the heart for it? These questions draw readers forward.

Continuing,

'Macon drove. Sarah sat next to him, leaning her herd against the side window. Chips of cloudy sky showed through her tangled brown curls.'

There's a subtext here of Sarah sitting as far from Macon as possible.

Continuing,

'Macon wore a formal summer suit, his traveling suit – much more logical for traveling than jeans, he always said. Jeans had those stiff, hard seams and those rivets.'

These details are not just a description of Macon, they tell us that Macon has thought about how to travel comfortably. These details speak to a truth about Macon.

Continuing,

'Sarah wore a strapless terry beach dress. They might have been returning from two entirely different trips. Sarah had a tan but Macon didn't. He was tall, pale, gray-eyed man, with straight fair hair cut close to his head, and his skin was that thin kind that easily burns. He'd kept away from the sun during the middle part of every day.'

These details emphasize how different Macon and Sarah are. The line about 'two entirely different trips' is especially telling. This 'trip' has been the beginning of a formal split of these two different people. Their differences raise a question, why have they stayed together?

Continuing,

'Just past the start of the divided highway, the sky grew almost black and several enormous drops spattered the windshield.'

The storm is symbolic of what is happening in this relationship. This kind of metaphor is often used in stories because it works, just as in a movie a cab arriving, a plane landing, a ship coming in to dock, speaks to a character on a journey.

Moving forward,

'Sarah continued to grip the dashboard. She had a broad, smooth face that gave an impression of calm, but if you looked closely you'd notice the tension at the corners of her eyes.'

This author will be looking closely at Sarah and her tension.

Continuing,

“I don't know that you really care that much,” Sarah said. “Do you?”

Macon said, “Care?”

“I said to you the other day, I said, 'Macon, now that Ethan's dead I sometimes wonder if there's any point to life.' Do you remember what you answered?”

This is the purpose of the trip. Macon and Sarah are trying to regroup as a couple after the death of their son, Ethan. How Ethan died will come out later.

Continuing,

“Well, not offhand,” Macon said.

“You said, 'Honey, to tell the truth, it never seemed to me there was all that much point to begin with.' Those were your exact words.'

“Um...”

“And you don't even know what was wrong with that.”

“No, I guess I don't,” Macon said.

Sarah is pointing out here that Macon doesn't have much feeling about life. A subtle point, Sarah doesn't have much more feeling than Macon. Being married to Macon her lack of feeling isn't an issue.

Soon after,

“You're not a comfort, Macon,” Sarah said.

And soon after that,

“Macon, I want a divorce,” Sarah told him.

This couple has moved forward along this divided highway.

Continuing,

'For some reason, it was this that finally made her finally break down. She turned away sharply. Macon switched his right blinker on. He pulled into a Texaco station, parked beneath the overhang, and cut off the engine. Then he started rubbing his knees with his palms. Sarah huddled in her corner. The only sound was the drumming of rain on the overhang far above them.'

What the writer suggests here is that both Sarah and Macon are emotionally numb, even while Sarah suggests she has more feeling than Macon.

As the novel continues, Sarah moves out and Macon tries to continue his work of writing travel books about how business people can travel anywhere in the world in a kind of cocoon. The irony is that Macon could not prevent his personal cocoon from being ruptured.

As the novel continues, Macon's inability to deal with his grief and loss lead his dog to internalize Macon's unexpressed feelings, and the dog begins to attack others. Because Macon travels, he must find a place to board Edward, but Edward's biting makes that difficult.

Macon meets Muriel, who boards dogs. She's lower-class, the opposite of the careful, neat Macon. She also has a sickly son, the last thing Macon wants in his life. But she's also fully, deeply alive. Being around Muriel, Macon slowly learns to feel, to go from being emotionally numb to alive to his own life, and then a life with Muriel and her son.

Then Sarah returns. Sophisticated Sarah, the opposite of Muriel.

Now that Macon has changed and learned to feel, she wants him back.

In the end, Macon decides to stay with Muriel and a haphazard life instead of returning to a new cocoon with Sarah.

The Accidental Tourist, by Anne Tyler, is a wonderful example of how a story can be told about an emotionally numb main character.

If you're a new author trying to write a novel about an emotionally numb character, consider whether you're using that story character as a vehicle to experience feeling. This creates a story designed to help move you through states of feeling via the situations you place your character in, while leaving your audience unmoved. Our personal wounds can provide much dramatic fuel to write a novel, but the risk is that we consume everything we create for our own needs.

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

Bill Johnson is author of A Story is a Promise and The Spirit of Storytelling, a writing workbook, and web master of http://www.storyispromise.com, a web site that explores principles of storytelling through reviews of popular movies. Spirit is now available on Amazon Kindle at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004V020N0

This is an affiliate link:

Celebrity Authors’ Secrets - The World’s Greatest Living Authors Reveal How They Sell Millions of Books by Stephanie Hale. $12.99 from Smashwords.com
Twelve of the world's greatest living authors reveal their tips for writing a book that sells over a million copies in Celebrity Authors' Secrets. A must-have guide - filled with publishing and book marketing info - for aspiring writers, authors, publishers, editors, writing coaches, creative writing tutors and anyone who loves books. Find out how to make your book stand out from the masses!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

That Yugoslavia! Thing

You may think this has something to do with the recent arrest of Ratko Mladic, but Chaz Wood started it. In his book review post yesterday, Chaz mentioned a scene in one of his own novels (Maranatha), a scene of disturbing violence set in a Serbian church. This made me realize that in 2 years of blogging at Pagan Spirits, I had never specifically addressed The Yugoslavian Thing. I'm shocked by this.

Do I have a fascination with the former Yugoslavian republics in southern Europe? Absolutely. Observe only this dream I recorded in my journal in February 2010:

"I dreamed my husband and I went to see a movie called Yugoslavia! It was sort of like Borat in reverse, with a couple of clueless Americans dropped in the middle of the former Yugoslavian cultures. It starred Will Ferrell as a man who, as a child, wrote on his to-do-before-I-die list that he wanted to visit Yugoslavia. As an adult, he went to start doing the things on his list, and he was severely disappointed to find out there wasn't a place called Yugoslavia anymore. He decided to visit Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, etc., with his best friend, played by Hugh Jackman. (That's a Hunk du Jour link. You're welcome.)

Dream heroine Brandy Norwood in a 2011 Creative Commons photo by Bob Bekian
"Hugh was a Croatian-American. He was trying to get a woman (played by Brandy Norwood) to go out with him, but she wouldn't unless he knew something about his Croatian heritage. They were the romantic subplot, and in the end, she went out with him. Meanwhile, the Will Ferrell character somehow ended up playing basketball for Serbia in the Eurobasket, with comedic results. There was a cameo by former Chicago Bulls player Toni Kukoc, who made a stirring speech about playing in the Olympics for Croatia and how all he wanted was to buy his mother a car."

One of my favorite book EVER is Pretty Birds by Scott Simon, in which both Toni and his Serbian/Laker rival Vlade Divac are mentioned. (If you dug the men's NBA in the 1990s, you may vaguely recall the Lakers traded Divac to Charlotte for the rights to draft Shaquille O'Neal. Divac and his best pal, half-Serbian/half-Croatian baller Drazen Petrovic, were separated by the war; Petrovic died before its end. Their sad bromance is the subject of the ESPN film Once Brothers.) Simon's teen heroine, Irena Zaric (a Muslim girl from Sarajevo) has a crush on Toni. Me too! Irena's story is incredibly violent, disturbing, sad...and funny. That book is surprisingly funny.

I'm neither Serbian nor Croatian, so why am I so fixated? Because I went to high school with a guy from Sarajevo. In the '90s. While the war was actively going on. He had a Serbian dad and a half-Muslim, half-Croatian mom. They were stuck in Bosnia while he lived with foster parents. I'll never forget the experience of sitting through Schindler's List with him...an experience I translated into fiction in I Made Out With a Teenage Communist!

In fact, many of my stories have at least one former Yugoslavian character. In "Fall of the Estrela," it's Milos, the honey-eyed stranger from the Adriatic isle of Vis. The Smell of Gas has Nenad, the Serbian dishwasher, a very minor character. The Pagan Spirits erotic romance series, however, stars a half-Slovenian guy, Orlando Parisi, in the alpha male role. It may be true that tall, hazel-eyed, dark-haired Orlando looks a tiny bit like Toni Kukoc. Maybe.

So that's the Yugoslavia thing. Will Ferrell, you're welcome to steal that dream and make the movie.


(You can't tell from this picture, but Toni has the HUGEST feet on earth.)