Saturday, December 31, 2011

Hogmanay: New Year's Eve in Scotland

The Scots invented the modern-day celebration of New Year's Eve, from "Auld Lang Syne" to the big disco ball. In Scotland, New Year's Eve is called Hogmanay.

The word's origins are obscure; it may be of Celtic, Norman (French) or Anglo-Saxon origin. The nearest Gaelic term is oge maidne, or "new morning." Large Hogmanay festivals are now held in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Stirling.

"Auld Lang Syne" is often attributed to the Scottish poet Robert Burns, but Burns was only transcribing and adding to an existing folk song. Translated from the Scots dialect into everyday modern English, "Auld Lang Syne" means "old long since." In Scottish folk tales, "In the days of auld lang syne" takes the place of "once upon a time," and "for auld lang syne" could be restated as "for old times' sake."

The big disco ball is a modern descendant of the fireballs traditionally swung on Hogmanay. This tradition has its roots in pagan bonfire nights, also observed at Samhain and Beltane. The light wards off evil spirits and encourages the days to get longer. You'll see men carrying a 20-pound fireball attached to a 5-foot pole in Aberdeen's southern neighbor, Stonehaven. The fireball's traditional name is the Clavie.

Hogmanay is also celebrated with the custom of first footing. The first person to set foot through your door on the new year should be a tall, dark male. (Blonds, associated with the Viking invaders, were bad luck.) Traditionally, he would bear gifts of coal, whisky and black bun (a really heavy Scottish fruit cake) or another kind of cake. In eastern Scotland's fishing communities, he may also bring herring. Coal meant the house would stay warm for the coming year, and food gifts meant the house would not go hungry.

(Hogmanay 2007 in Biggar - by David Hamilton, Creative Commons)

Clement A. Miles writes in Christmas Customs and Traditions, "Drinking is and was a great feature of the Scottish New Year Eve."

During the Protestant Reformation years when celebrating Christmas was discouraged, Hogmanay became the gift-exchanging day in Scottish custom. Scottish children chose Hogmanay rather than Christmas Eve to go door to door wassailing - a begging custom that will remind Americans of trick-or-treating. Welsh kids carry a gray mare, but the old Scottish wassailing custom is for the leader of each group of children to dress in a sheepskin.

Hogmanay has its own website. This one is specific to Edinburgh Hogmanay.

This is an affiliate link:

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

Thursday, December 29, 2011

My Besties - Favorite Books of 2011, That Is

Looking over the books I read this year, I was surprised by how much YA I read and how little paranormal romance. In part, I blame Amazon Vine - I keep choosing YA books as my twice-monthly free items. My TBR pile going into 2012 has several PNR paperbacks, but I'm in no particular hurry to get to them. I do feel that if I give the genre a bit of a rest, I'll only appreciate it more when I do get back to it.

Not all of these were published in 2011, but this is the year I read them. Here they are in alphabetical order.

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray. The whole thing is a delicious send-up of pop culture and sexism. My favorite character is Adina, Miss New Hampshire, a journalist embedded in the pageant. She's a smart, Jewish feminist - sort of a teenage Emma Goldman. I also like lesbian, comic-book-loving Miss Michigan (Jennifer), the transgendered contestant (I won't give it away) and Indian-Californian Valley Girl DJ-wannabe Miss California (Shanti).

Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris. This is the 11th Sookie Stackhouse book. (Only 2 more to go - .) Loved it! Whether or not Eric actually ends up mated to the vampire queen of Oklahoma, Sookie's turning away from him. Bill's vampire "sister" is out of the picture once again...dare I hope Bill and Sookie will get back together in the series' last two volumes? I'm glad Sandra Pelt is finally out of the way, and I thoroughly enjoyed the Alcide scene (though I'm not sure how Sookie was able to resist the temptation!). If I were Sookie, I think I'd use the cluviel dor to wish Bill hadn't been sent by Sophie Anne, or at least that he hadn't lied about it.

The next book is going to be called Deadlocked.

Dream Lover, edited by Kristina Wright. A collection of diverse, elegantly erotic tales of paranormal romance. Given my personal preference for wolf tales, it may come as no surprise my personal favorite in this collection is Alana Noel Voth's "Moongirl Meets the Wolf Man." Full review here.

Family by Michael Ostow. The young protagonist of this unusual novel-in-verse, 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." Yet it ends on a hopeful note. Full review here.

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. A charming and delightful story, a witches' love story appropriate for all ages. I saw the anime version first (yes, with Christian Bale as the voice of Howl). The plots aren't exactly the same, but they both involve a good deal of green slime, and both are utterly charming. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good fairy tale.

Isis by Douglas Clegg. The most beautiful part of this eerie tale is Clegg's description of what the Cornish call the Isle of Apples (Avalon), the land of the dead. But just as J.K. Rowling warned in "The Deathly Hallows" in The Tales of Beedle the Bard, those brought from the land of the dead do not belong in this world. Iris should have listened to the old legends.

Juliet Immortal by Stacey Jay. O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou some guy named Dylan? It's because in this immensely imaginative novel, Stacey Jay manages to turn everything we think we know about the world's most famous pair of impulsive teenage lovers on its head. At the risk of sounding like a young adult instead of an adult reviewer reading a YA book, OMG, this novel is SO good! Come to think of it, it's both YA and PNR.

Steamlust: Steampunk Erotic Romance, edited by Kristina Wright. There's a good reason why I keep reviewing Cleis Press titles - the publisher consistently puts out high-quality anthologies. I believe the key to good steampunk is the same as the key to good erotic romance: the beauty is all in the details. Fortunately, Wright's editing instincts do not fail her, and Steamlust is full of glorious details. Full review here.

The Inquisitor's Apprentice by Chris Moriarty. It's sort of like The Prestige mixed with Harry Potter mixed with the Disney musical Newsies, but with more Jewish characters. Its protagonist is 13-year-old Sacha Kessler, who lives in the tenements, circa 1900. Magic is technically illegal in America, but still widely practiced, and one day Sacha learns he can see magic. This rare talent leads to his new job as an inquisitor's apprentice.

The Sacred Book of the Werewolf by Victor Pelevin. A Hu-Li is a werefox, but she's so much more than that. She's 2,000 years old, one of a sisterhood of werefoxes from ancient China. These foxes are a kind of energy vampires, using prostitution as a cover to feed off the sexual energy of men. Through a kind of hallucinogenic effect they produce with their fox-tails, A Hu-Li and her sisters never actually have to touch these men. A Hu-Li is, in fact, a 2,000-year-old virgin. For the first time in her extremely long life, A Hu-Li is faced with the prospect of falling in love.

What I'm reading going into 2012: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I read a few of these short stories in grade school, but not at all since then. I'm enjoying them.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

WIP Wednesday, Briefly

Authors, would you like to share approximately 100-200 words about a current work in progress on a future WIP Wednesday? If so, please e-mail the details to erinoriordan AT sbcglobal DOT net.

Having expended a large amount of creative energy on the Winter Solstice holidays this past week, I don't have a new work in progress to mention this WIP Wednesday. I will be blogging about Hanukkah one more time, later today at the Whipped Cream guests blog. Join me; I'm giving away copies of my Hanukkah erotic romance "Spicy, Earthy, Sweet."

For this blog, I'm working on a list of my top ten reads of 2011. Inspired by Shah Wharton, I'm also considering a post about the meaning of the traditional New Years song "Auld Lang Syne." Maybe.

In the meantime, I'm enjoying some other bloggers' year-end lists. Here are a few:

This video is from OCD of Books.

Book Soulmates' take on Book Boyfriends 2011

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez's Favorite Reads of 2011

Literary Centenaries 2012

Book Chick City's Best and Worst Covers of 2011

Alex O'Hurley's Sexy Man Monday picks of the year (NSFW!)

I'd love to hear what YOU are writing about this week - or your favorite book boyfriend/girlfriend of 2011!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Hanukkah Hotness, Night 8: Katerina Graham

Happy 8th night of Hanukkah! Your final Hanukkah gift is the hotness of Kat Graham, best known for playing the witch Bonnie on The Vampire Diaries. She's Jewish on her mom's side and Liberian on her dad's side.

Her sense of fashion is sometimes quirky. She showed up at the KIIS FM Jingle Ball earlier this month wearing a jacket with "Oh Shit!" printed all over it, a tropical two-piece dress, army boots and Venus symbol earrings. Photo HERE.

BUT she looked awesome in a blue ballgown while co-hosting The Ripple Effect charity dinner, which benefited The Water Project. The Water Project saves lives by helping people gain access to clean, safe drinking water. So beautiful, and also such a mensch! It's also a favorite charity of her co-host and TVD costar Ian Somerhalder (so evil as Damon, but in real life, actually quite a nice guy!).

Another of the best things about Kat is her singing, and her propensity for covering great girl-culture songs of the '90s. Here's her take on Garbage's "Only Happy When It Rains," which was featured in a TVD episode:

Here's she's mashed up two classics from Janet Jackson:

She's also tackled the Paula Abdul song "Cold Hearted." Paula Abdul is also Jewish, so this is one Yiddish mama's cover of another's pop hit.

Join me HERE on December 28th for a special Hanukkah post and giveaway.

Image Attribution: © Glenn Francis,

Got your own unique, Kat Graham-esque sense of fashion? Check out the couture collection - and daily deals - for men, women, children and the home at MYHABIT.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Hanukkah Hotness, Night 7: Adam Lambert

Robert Downey, Jr. is just a straight guy, and Adam Levine is a gay-friendly-but-straight cock tease, but Adam Lambert is an ACTUALLY GAY JEWISH GUY. He's the one who's not a designer; that's Nate Berkus, Michael Kors, and/or Marc Jacobs.

Adam Lambert is a rock star. He has legions of adoring fans, known as the Glamberts. This is my favorite Lambert tune:

His latest song is called "Better Than I Know Myself," but the album won't be out until March, and the official video doesn't seem to be out yet. You can listen to the audio, though.

In some alternative queer universe, as in my dreams, Adams Lambert and Levine are a married couple, I'm just sure of it. No doubt all their tattoos would match.

In this universe, Adam's boyfriend is a Finnish reality TV star named Sauli. They got in trouble the other night for a loud argument (according to some accounts, a physical fight) in a Finnish gay club called Don't Tell Mama. They were detained by police, though not booked or charged with anything.

But maybe it wasn't Adam who did those things. Maybe he has a dybbuk. I just finished reading Chris Moriarty's The Inquisitor's Apprentice, in which a young turn-of-the-19th-century New York Jewish man, Sacha, is bedeviled by a dybbuk set upon him by an alternate-history version of J.P. Morgan. One of the last scenes in the book takes place at the beginning of Hanukkah. Sacha's rabbi grandfather calls Hanukkah "not a real holiday," but it's still one of Sacha's favorites.

The Inquisitor's Apprentice is the first entry in what will be a five-part young adult series, but if you prefer books for grown-ups, you might like The Dyke and the Dybbuk by Ellen Galford, about a contemporary lesbian Jewish woman in London and her encounter with the supernatural. It was published in 1993, and I think it might be out of print now (and, for some reason, not yet published as an e-book), but you can still find copies floating around.

Image: TomDog

Join me HERE on December 28th for a special Hanukkah post and giveaway.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Hanukkah Hotness, Night 6: Winona Ryder

What is it about you Jews from Minnesota and changing your names? Bob Zimmerman wants everybody to call him Bob Dylan, and Winona Horowitz is much more famously known as Winona Ryder.

Winona Ryder has:

-Played Mina Murray-Harker in the Francis Ford Coppola Dracula

-Been featured on my all-time favorite episode of my all-time favorite show, the "Lisa's Rival" episode of The Simpsons

-Inspired an essay in The Bust Guide to the New Girl Order, one of the greatest books known to girlkind

-Caused Johnny Depp to get a tattoo that said "Winona Forever." When they broke up, he had it altered to say "Wino Forever."

-Not only starred as Jo in Little Women, but did so opposite Christian Bale as Laurie. She introduced Bale to his wife, makeup artist Sandra "Sibi" Blazic, and so could even be considered an honorary member of the Steinem-Bale family.

-Been featured several times now on Gender Fuck Thursdays at Dorothy Surrenders. In other words, she's shown a distinct preference for dressing in the clothing of the male sex

In other words, she is not only one hot Yiddish mama, she's also an integral part of girl culture. Winona, I'm sorry I bumped from my list of the 10 people with whom I'd most like to drink wine. Forget Colin Firth. He's gone. You can have your spot back.

Join me HERE on December 28th for a special Hanukkah post and giveaway.

Photo by Eric Weiss, Creative Commons License. Not the Houdini one, though - his name was spelled Erik Weisz

Merry Christ(ian Bale)mas!

Awww...cute little guy from Empire of the Sun.

Back then, you had no idea you would grow up to be the teenage hottie from Royal Deceit and Newsies...

...and then just keep getting hotter! The Batman Begins premiere:

The Dark Knight premiere:

At the premiere of Public Enemies:

Oscar night, February 2011. I love Natalie Portman because she was in The Professional and because she's a Hanukkah hottie, Melissa Leo because she was on Homicide: Life on the Streets and Colin Firth simply because he exists.

Image attribution:
Towpilot, 1988, Creative Commons license
John Griffiths, 2005, Creative Commons license
Mutari, 2008, public domain image
Asim Bharwani, 2009, Creative Commons license
Public domain image

Happy Christ(ian Bale)mas to all, and to all a Dark Knight!

Tom Smith Christmas Crackers

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Hanukkah Hotness, Night 5: Scarlett Johansson

This 5th night of Hanukkah is also Christ(ian Bale)mas Eve, so it's only right that the Hanukkah Hottie is Scarlett Johansson, Bale's co-star in The Prestige. Scarlet is Danish and Jewish.

Johansson is a queen of literary adaptations. In addition to The Prestige, based on the novel by English author Christopher Priest, she's been in:

The Girl With the Pearl Earring, a novel by Tracy Chevalier

The Other Boleyn Girl, a novel by Philippa Gregory

Ghost World, based on Daniel Clowes' comic book, and

The Nanny Diaries, a novel by Nicola Kraus and Emma MacLaughlin

...And these are just some highlights - there are others. The Prestige is my favorite, though. In the book, Olivia Wenscombe is a bit more of a vixen than Scarlett's version; when she first auditions as a magic assistant for Alfred Borden, he asks if she brought a costume. She says yes, and then proceeds to take off her clothes and has absolutely nothing on underneath. Her blatant seduction works, and they make love on a nearby couch. I wish that scene had made it into the movie. Also, if I had directed it instead of Christopher Nolan, there would have been an Olivia-Borden-Angiers threesome. It wouldn't fit the plot, but I don't care. Scarlett Johansson, Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman would all be naked.

Also, Scarlett released an album of Tom Waits covers. If that doesn't say "You go, Yiddish girl," I don't know what does.

Image: Tony Shek, Creative Commons license

Join me HERE on December 28th for a special Hanukkah post and giveaway.

Need a last-minute Christmas gift? Books = Gifts

A wonderful quote from author/editor Kristina Wright: "Love to read? Looking forward to a new year and new books? Do your favorite authors a huge favor this holiday season. Buy a book. Buy two books! Give them as gifts, keep them for yourself, donate them to a coffee shop or women's shelter. Start your own book club. Can't afford books right now? That's okay. Really! You can still do something meaningful for your favorite authors. Pick a book you read and loved this year (or any year) and pop over to Amazon (or B&N or Twitter or Facebook or your blog or your PTA mailing list) and post a review. It doesn't have to be long. It doesn't have to be a summary of every character and plot point. Just tell people why you loved the book. Your enthusiasm will be contagious. Trust me. Someone else will buy the book because of your recommendation. Your favorite authors will make a few extra dollars this holiday season, yes. But more than that, those positive reviews and enthusiastic recommendations mean your favorite authors will garner enough sales to justify their next contracts--and their next books. Which means you will have more books to look forward to in 2012 and beyond. It's win-win, see? Remember your favorite authors this holiday season. They will thank you for it by writing stories that you love."

One of the gifts I'll be giving this year is World Vision Fair-Trade Coffee. I won a coffee set, including a bag of coffee and a hand-carved wooden coffee scoop, from Tiny Green Mom. The coffee is a blend of fine strains of the bean from Africa, Latin America and Indonesia.

World Vision is a wonderful organization dedicated to making the lives of the world's children better (including children in the U.S. as well as other countries). It publishes a catalog through which you can target your donations toward fighting hunger, sponsoring education, providing clean water, helping women find gainful employment or helping women and girls who've been sexually exploited.

This is an affiliate link:

The Impossible Quest Of Hailing A Taxi On Christmas Eve by George Saoulidis. $3.99 from
Scrooge Is Looking For A Taxi In this modern retelling of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," Scrooge is looking for a taxi to get home on Christmas Eve. But he will get the ride of his life, as he is walked through his past, his present and his future to end up a changed man. Set in modern day Athens, this science-fiction version of the classic ghost story is guaranteed to make you smile.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Hanukkah Hotness, Night 4: Adam Levine

Happy fourth night of Hanukkah! Hanukkah may not require a pine tree, but man, do Israelis love their trees. So much so that they name their kids Ilan, which means "tree." Ilan is one of the romantic heroes in my Jewish-American short story "The Hope." A temple cantor, Ilan's singing voice and look are inspired by Adam Levine.

(Photo by Robin Wong, Creative Commons license)

The makers of “How to Play a LoveGame in 5 Gaga Steps” (okay, it's just me) would like to remind our readers that Lady Gaga is not the only pop star producing ultrastylish videos and songs with not-so-delicately suggestive lyrics. While many male rock stars could play the yin to Gaga’s yang – hell, she can dress in drag and do it herself - we subjectively choose Maroon 5.

L.A.-based band Maroon 5 is five guys: Mickey Madden, James Valentine, Jesse Carmichael, Matt Flynn, and Adam Levine. They are, however, victim to the classic lead singer syndrome, as the most high-profile of them is Levine. He stars with Christina Aguilera, Cee-Lo Green, and Blake Shelton on the musical talent show The Voice.

When the band performed at the 2011 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, Levine was dating model Anne Vyalitsyna. She’s played the female lead in some of the band’s videos, including “Misery” and “Never Gonna Leave This Bed.” He’s made media waves by posing nude for Cosmo UK, mocking the lack of music on MTV and telling Fox News not to play the band’s music. That last one was a protest against the conservative news channel’s stance on LGBTQ rights.

Heterosexual but not heterosexist, part of the L.A. garage band’s success strategy has been turning out pop-rock hooks – a musical flavor audiences associate with the feminine, according to L.A. Times chief pop music critic Ann Powers. “This decade is a pop decade,” Powers has said. “Artifice and affect are in, roughness and ‘authenticity’ are out.” For Powers, the ingredients of “artifice and affect” include prettiness, dance beats and theatricality – see any Maroon 5 video for examples. It hasn’t hurt the band that when Levine sang a duet with Rihanna, her voice was the lower of the two.

In keeping with that slightly hermaphroditic aesthetic, Maroon 5 can produce lyrics that straddle the line between sweet, heart-felt, soulful and sexy/dirty. ("Dirty" is a bit of a pun; the name "Adam" is derived from the Hebrew word for "earth.") How to play a lovegame in Maroon 5 easy steps:

1. I Want to Make You Feel Beautiful (“She Will Be Loved”)

2. Paint a Picture With My Hands (“Sunday Morning”)

3. Remember How My Body Tastes (“Shiver”)

4. Writhing in a Naked Sweat (“Harder to Breathe”)

5. Pleasure That Made You Cry (“Makes Me Wonder”)

Join me HERE on December 28th for a special Hanukkah post and giveaway.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Hanukkah Hotness, Night 3: Gyllenhaal Sibling Edition

Happy third night of Hanukkah! Tonight we have two for the price of one: the Swedish-Jewish siblings Maggie and Jake Gyllenhaal. Beyond general hotness, there are at least three compelling reasons to love Maggie Gyllenhaal:

-Her gutsy/sexy performance in the BDSM film Secretary

-Her Rachel Dawes in The Dark Knight; come on, she's a way better Rachel than Katie Holmes

-She will star in Hysteria, the film about Victorian women and their orgasms

We need no reason to love Jake G., Maggie's lil bro, other than Brokeback Mountain. In 2008, I wrote, "I just watched Brokeback Mountain for the first time last night. Now I am sad.

"Not just sad for Jack and Ennis, though their love story is tragic. Tragic in all kinds of ways. There is nothing O'Riordan loves more than a good love story; Goddess knows it's just about all I write about, all day every day. And this one's just so profoundly sad. In the special features, screenwriter Larry McMurty says that when he read the Annie Proulx story on which this film was based, he wished he'd written it. I wish I'd written this movie. I've never written a MM romance half this sweet, or this heartbreaking.

"And I'm not just sad because Heath Ledger will never get to make another film. Or that his family lost him. That, too, is tragic.

"But I'm also sad because now I want to be Jake Gyllenhaal's bitch. And that's just not going to happen, is it?"

Join me HERE on December 28th for a special Hanukkah post and giveaway.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Hanukkah Hotness, Night 2: Meital Dohan

Tonight's Hanukkah hottie is the Israeli actress and singer Meital Dohan. Meital is kind of the Israeli Lady Gaga. (She's also an actor and a comedian, starring in the Israeli version of Ugly Betty. On American TV, you may have seen her on Weeds.) She's at her naughtiest in "Yummy Boyz":

Meital is also an author, having written Love and Other Bad Habits: Unmasking the Most Intimate Feminine Moments. She collaborated with photographer Karen Gillerman-Harel. It examines the many faces of Israeli Jewish and Arab women, and first came out in Hebrew in 2007.

I'm pretty sure Meital likes boys. But if you're a Jewish woman who loves another woman, the book for you just might be Milk and Honey: A Celebration of Jewish Lesbian Poetry, edited by Julie R. Enszer. I haven't read it yet, but it looks amazing. And you don't really have to be Jewish lesbian/bisexual/queer woman to read it. I'm sure the poetry therein will dazzle readers of all tribes.

Photos: Erik Hansen, Creative Commons License
Gillerman-Harel and Dohan, from Coolil blog

Join me HERE on December 28th for a special Hanukkah post and giveaway.

WIP Wednesday/Winter Solstice Wednesday, Week 3

Authors, would you like to share approximately 100-200 words about a current work in progress on a future WIP Wednesday? If so, please e-mail the details to erinoriordan AT sbcglobal DOT net.

Erin O'Riordan: My current works in progress? I just finished editing another Hurricane book by Joe Cacciotti, and I'm collaborating with Rushmore Judd on a short story called "The Witch."

Winter Solstice Wednesday: According to, Rhiannon was the Celtic goddess of the moon and inspiration and Queen of the Fairies. She married the mortal king of Wales, who first spotted her as she rode a fine white horse. Falsely accused of killing their infant son, she was punished by being forced to wear a horse collar. When travelers came to the kingdom, she would tell them of her crime and offer to carry them on her back to the castle. Her son, raised by a farm couple, was later restored to the throne, and Rhiannon regained her place in royal society.

Some legends link Rhiannon with Vivienne, the Lady of the Lake in Arthurian legend. She is closely linked with horses, and sometimes associated with the Gaulish-Roman goddess Epona, the Great Mare (a name the Romans also bestowed on the grain-goddess Demeter). Epona was especially beloved among the Roman cavalry.

Rhiannon's part on the Winter Solstice was to ride through the Welsh people's dreams, giving them visions and bringing them inspiration for the coming year. The Irish version of Rhiannon's name is Mare, pronounced MAH-ray, which is said to be the source of the word "nightmare."

Although associated with a white horse, Rhiannon inspired the Welsh custom of Mari Lwyd, or Gray Mare. A mare's skull, sometimes made of wood or cardboard, is mounted on a pole and draped with a white sheet. It may be finely decorated, with colorful ribbons for reins, glass eyes and even snapping jaws. The mare is carried through the streets by a colorfully-dressed party singing traditional songs, sometimes mixed with Christmas carols. Sometimes, a rhyme contest would take place between the members of the Mari party and those inside the houses they visited. The party hoped to be rewarded for their entertainments with cakes and perhaps ale. It was a form of wassailing.

Of course, "Rhiannon" is also a Fleetwood Mac song written by Stevie Nicks. She also inspired the English nursery rhyme:

Ride a cockhorse to Banbury Cross
to see a fine lady upon a white horse,
With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes
she shall have music wherever she goes.

The goddess Rhiannon shares her name with author Rhiannon Mills, who has written the paranormal romances Immortal Ties and Immortal Embrace. Her beautiful, sex-positive blog is Rhiannon's Paranormally Romantic Bits and Pieces.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Hanukkah Hotness, Night 1: Robert Downey Jr.

Happy first night of Hanukkah! I love how the Festival of Lights falls around the Winter Solstice this year. This is my Hanukkah gift to you, my readers: eight crazy nights of Hanukkah Hebrew hotties. First up is a guy I mentioned in my Howl post the other day as one of David Strathairn's co-stars in Good Night, and Good Luck: Robert Downey Jr. (originally, Robert Elias.)

I have a confession to make: for years, I thought Robert Downey, Jr. was bisexual. I don't know where I got such information (probably from National Enquirer, which Yiddish grandma used to read with regularity, then pass on to me), but it doesn't seem to be true. All his significant relationships have been with women, including the red-hot Yiddish mama Sarah Jessica Parker. I won't hold being a straight guy against him, but it does ruin my vision of RDJ ascending into GLBT heaven, where he would sit at the right hand of James Dean. Amen.

(In actual spiritual practice, RDJ does not believe in heaven. He's a combination of Jewish, Buddhist and Hare Krishna.)

He is in a particularly awesome Elton John video. I love that this is one continuous take, no cuts.

RDJ is best known as Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes these days, but he got his start acting in Less Than Zero, the film adaptation of possibly the second-best Bret Easton Ellis novel, after American Psycho. This landed him in a Bangles video, the Simon & Garfunkel cover from the soundtrack. (As an added bonus, Bangles lead singer Susanna Hoffs is also Jewish!)

He's also a Shakespearean actor: he was in Richard III with Sir Ian McKellan and Dominic West. (West played Lysander in the 1999 A Midsummer Night's Dream - with David Strathairn.)

Photo by Alan Light

Join me HERE on December 28th for a special Hanukkah post and giveaway.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Are swear words in book titles appropriate? - Guest Post

Written by Marisa Quinn, author of “Echoes in the Wind” which is scheduled to be released through Champagne Books in March 2012.

Earlier this year an adult humour picture book written by American author Adam Mansbach called “Go the Fuck to Sleep” reached number 1 on Amazon bestseller list a month before its release through word of mouth.

Why? Because of the title. People were shocked and horrified to see that word on the front cover of what looked like a children’s book. Suddenly they wanted to learn more about it. Who would write a book with that word in the title? What could it be about? Do I dare read it to children? What type of parent is the author?

People immediately split into two groups: there were those who thought the title was horrendously inappropriate and actually feared that people would read the book to children and that it would emotionally scar them.

And then there were people intelligent enough to realise that the book was satire and not meant to be read to children and were able to appreciate the book because they themselves were parents and had secretly longed to utter the words “Go the Fuck to Sleep” to their precious off spring at least once while struggling to put them to bed.

I think that Adam Mansbach’s decision to title the book Go the Fuck to Sleep was pure genius and not vulgar or wrong. There are some who think that putting a swear word into a book title is risky, that it could have a negative effect on sales and is a tacky way of trying to attract attention from readers.

And they are absolutely right. If you put a swear word in your book title be prepared that some people will find it offensive and might not even want to stock your book in their shops. You’ll get complaints. Bad reviews. Letters from hysterical parents complaining that their child saw your book in a shop and asked them what that word on the front cover meant.

Bad reviews happen to all authors. If people don’t find your title offensive they will find something else about your book to complain about. I learnt a long time ago not to spend time worrying that my writing might offend someone. Writers should never censor themselves out of the fear that something they write might come across as offensive. Be honest. Not just to yourself but to your book. If you feel like your book should have a sex scene in it! If it needs some it! If it needs a swear word in the title...for fuck’s sake, do it!

Just let yourself write.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Review of 'The Package' by Nobilis Reed

Many elements of this brief, but thoroughly enjoyable, short piece of erotic fiction by Nobilis Reed make it read like the perfect fantasy. There's the element of mystery - who is the masked lover? Is the masked lover a man or a woman? It's not a scary kind of suspense; we're sure the narrator, known as Rose Tattoo, is safe and playing willingly. It's the kind of suspense that keeps the reader on the edge of her seat, eager for what comes next.

The surprises that await Rose Tattoo are the other delightful elements, and they lead to a satisfying (literary) climax. At the low price of this e-book (as of this writing, $0.99), no one will be disappointed they took the time to read this one.

This book is also available on Smashwords.

You can find Nobilis Reed at his website, Nobilis Erotica.

Image: Markbritton

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

WIP Wednesday/Winter Solstice Wednesday

WIP Wednesday: " Good news, everyone! My m/m erotic short story Hungry Things" has been accepted for the A Lover's Feast: Sensual Food Tales series of anthologies, to be published by Renaissance EBooks. The main characters are Dr. John William Polidori and George Gordon, Lord Byron, not in the 18th century but now. A small sample:

"His Lordship looked suddenly serious. He flicked off the telly, set down the remote and reached over. His long, thin fingers intertwined with mine. 'Give me your arm, Poli.'

"I couldn’t imagine what he wanted with my arm. To sink his teeth into my flesh? To inject me with an experimental diet drug? Still, I obeyed him, unbuttoning my cuff, rolling up the sleeve of my favorite robin’s-egg-blue shirt and presenting the underside of my bare forearm to him.

"He took my arm in one hand and brought it to his lips. The kiss was soft, faint, but distinct. In his other hand he brandished a fountain pen, the kind he used in the old days. Without saying a word, he took the pen to my arm and wrote I love you."

Winter Solstice Wednesday: Last week I promised more on the goddesses of Winter Solstice, and in particular, Amaterasu and Sarasvati.

Amaterasu is the Japanese sun goddess, says She was "born" at the Winter Solstice.

According to Encyclopedia Mythica, Amaterasu was so bright, her divine family placed her in the sky. She retreated to a cave when her storm-god brother made too much racket. She was offended by his violence, says Much the way Demeter's search for Persephone threatened the earth, Amaterasu's retreat was a disaster in the making. She was finally lured out when the goddess Uzume did a comical burlesque dance, and the laughter of the other gods piqued her curiosity. Amaterasu sustains the world, being in charge of the cultivation of rice and wheat.

This incident was captured in Eternally Bad by Trina Robbins, the ultimate guide to goddesses gone bad.

In ancient times, the celebration of Amaterasu's reemergence from the cave at Winter Solstice was observed with a night-long requiem for the dead, which ended when the sun rose. Japan's celebration of Amaterasu at the Winter Solstice seems to be a metaphorical reference to the fact that it gets lighter (longer days) after this astronomical event, as if the sun were coming out of a cave of darkness.

According to, Sarasvati is India's goddess of knowledge, and her birth is celebrated around the Winter Solstice.

Also the goddess of the arts, Sarasvati holds a book, prayer beads, and the musical instrument known as the vina. She is the shakti (power) and consort of Brahma, the Creator, and thus is considered Mother of the Universe, according to Stephen Knapp.

With a little further research, however, it seems that the major holiday dedicated to Sarasvati, Sarasvati Puja or Vasant Panchami, takes place in February. It was held on February 8th this year and is set for Feb. 4th in 2012. This places its significance closer to Imbolc than Winter Solstice. Interestingly, yellow and white are the colors associated with Sarasvati Puja, and people wear yellow garments on that day - also an Imbolc custom.

Sarasvati image: Raja Ravi Varma, public domain image

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Feminine Yule Traditions: December 13 is St. Lucia's Day

Saint Lucia, also known as Saint Lucy, is venerated as a Catholic/Anglican/Lutheran saint, though her legend is most likely apocryphal and not based on a real historical figure. She's one of the church's virgin martyrs. In one version of the story, a young suitor told her how lovely her eyes were, so Lucia plucked them out so that she could better devote herself to the monastic life without distractions. Thus, she is the patron saint of the blind. Appropriately, her name comes from the Latin word for "light."

I do not know why the French named their beautiful Caribbean island in the Lesser Antilles after this saint.

Although revered in many countries, Saint Lucia is hugely popular in Sweden. In Swedish tradition, at the first crow of the rooster on St. Lucia's Day, a beautiful young woman of the household would rise and dress in a white robe tied with a red sash. She would wear on her head a crown of twigs, into which nine white candles were placed and lit. This is the popular representation of St. Lucia. The young woman representing the saint would wake up the household with singing and a sweet drink (coffee, when it was available). The household then sat down to a candlelit breakfast.

Lucia is also venerated in Sicily. An effigy of the saint is carried through the street in procession; she's depicted as carrying a dish containing her eyes. At the end of the procession, there's a large bonfire.

The extensive use of candles and fire on St. Lucia's Day links the celebration to other traditional Winter Solstice celebrations, including Hanukkah, which prescribe light for the shortest, darkest days of the year.

In some parts of central Europe, St. Lucia serves the function of Frigga and her folkloric descendants, punishing young people who've been naughty or neglectful and rewarding the good. Some regions put Lucia in charge of gifts for girls, while St. Nicholas, whose feast day is observed December 6th, serves this function for boys.

Eves often have special significance in Winter Solstice celebrations, owing to the ancient custom of reckoning days from sunset, still observed by Jews and Muslims. St. Lucia's Eve is also associated with witchcraft. Some observers go around saying special blessings to protect themselves from wayward magic. In other places, St. Lucia's Eve is used for divination, often of the "whom will I marry?" type practiced on St. Mark's Eve, St. John's Eve and All Hallows Eve.

Denmark has a particularly lovely prayer for this occasion:

"Sweet St. Lucy, let me know;
Whose cloth I shall lay,
Whose bed I shall make,
Whose child I shall bear,
Whose darling I shall be,
Whose arms I shall sleep in."

Again I refer to Christmas Customs and Traditions: Their History and Significance by Clement A. Miles.

Tom Smith Christmas Crackers

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Blessed Yule! and Welcome, Witches Yuletide Ballers

Rather than a Yule tree, I like to put up a large wreath, wrapped in lights and garlands, then suspended from the ceiling. I have a theme to many of my Yule ornaments. Many of them have to do with my favorite children's books.

First, there's Hedwig. She was a gift from the aunt and uncle who got me started on Harry Potter in the first place.

Did you know that J.K. Rowling chose the name Hedwig for the beautiful white owl because St. Hedwig is the Catholic patron saint of orphans?

Here are a few of my many Alice in Wonderland collectibles. I have many different editions of this book, one of my all-time favorites. I even brought back Alicia en el Pais de las Maravillas from Madrid.

A couple of my ornaments are from Dr. Seuss stories. The little bell has The Grinch and his dog Max on it, and the silver one is either Thing One or Thing Two from The Cat in the Hat. I've also included the adorable Pat the Bunny ornament - this was quite possibly my first favorite book.

I actually don't have a lot of my childhood Dr. Seuss books anymore - I donated them to a school where I used to work. I do have I Can Lick 30 Tigers Today, which wasn't originally mine, but which resided at my grandparents' house, in a book box on the enclosed front porch, for years. I have many pleasant memories of Christmas Eves at that house.

Next, we have Rainbow Brite. Okay, she's really more of a cartoon character than a book character, but as you'll see, I also have a Rainbow Brite book. (The read-along cassette went missing years ago.)

What girl doesn't want a horse with a rainbow mane and tail?

My newest acquisition (thanks, Mom!) is Hallmark's Twilight Eclipse ornament, depicting Bella Swan, Edward Cullen and Jacob Black.

If I could have an ornament from any kids' book in the world, I'd like to have one from Dianna Wynne Jones' Howl's Moving Castle. They could be the anime versions of Howl and Sophie from the Studio Ghibli film, but preferably it would be right after Sophie cleaned up in Howl's bathroom, he tried to dye his hair blonde and it came out slightly pink. He's so vain about his hair!

But Howl and Sophie are the cutest fictional wizard-witch couple this side of Ron and Hermione. I want her power to make things happen to inanimate objects by talking to them. And he saw her once (on May Day) and fell in love with her - so romantic. Cheesy fan video? I think so.

My Yule wreath will look stylish and well-read this year. Thank you to the gracious hosts of the Witches Yuletide Ball!