Thursday, December 19, 2013

Two Oddly Beautiful Books....

I read two very strange and deeply beautiful novels this week. At first glance, A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book and Peter Heller's The Dog Stars have seemingly nothing in common.

The Children's Book is a lavish, sprawling Edwardian family drama that explores the essence of childhood and the vulnerability to be found in growing into an adult.

The Dog Stars is a poetically constructed, introspective post-apocalyptic tale that balances precariously on the edge of hope and heartbreak.

In my reading experience, however, these two brilliant works share striking commonalities. Both books were daunting at first (I started both of them several times and couldn't seem to get started), and then all-consuming by the end. Both are written in unconventional styles that can take some getting used to and both created all-encompassing worlds that are both alien and echoing with a haunting recognition of the primal instincts of humanity. Both authors clearly love language and expound, though not obviously, on the craft of writing. Both novels are somewhat pretentious, but this is easily forgiven by the absorbing narrative and endearing characters. And both left me wanting the story to go on forever.

Neither The Children's Book or The Dog Stars could be considered a light read, but if you are looking for a story that will carry you away and leave you in awe, either of these novels will do.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Getting to Know... Michelle Bellon

I was recently fortunate enough to catch up with Pandamoon Publishing author Michelle Bellon, whose thriller Rogue Alliance debuted to rave reviews last week. (for more information on Michelle and where to check out her books, see below!) Here's how it looked.....

SP:  If you had the opportunity to meet a famous author (dead or alive), who would it be? What would you want to talk to them about?
MB:  Oh, lord, this question. It’s such a tough one for me. I guess I’d like meet Steinbeck the most. I loved East of Eden and would like to ask him how he came up with the story and characters. Also, I recently heard a radio program where they were discussing a bit of evidence with his son that he was actually involved with the CIA, so I’d like to dig into the truth of that, as well.

SP:  Is there a book you’ve read that you feel has influenced your writing style?
MB:  I have an odd answer to this question, but first let me say that it is quite common for me to learn something by first learning it the wrong way. I learn how I don’t want to do a task before I grasp how I prefer to do it.
When I first started writing I had just passed through a stage of reading a lot of Nora Robert’s books. Her voice and style were strong in my head as I began my first story. It took me over a year before I realized I could not create the stories within my head, the characters that were itching to come out, while in this mindset. I had to find my own style and voice. That was when I really became a writer.

SP:  If you weren’t a writer, what would you do with your free time?
MB:I can’t really imagine not writing. However, I am also a registered nurse and gain a lot of satisfaction from working in the medical field so I guess that’s what I would be doing.
In an altered reality, I’d love to travel all the time!

SP: Do any of your characters resemble you or have traits that you’ve drawn from your own personality?
MB: There are quite a few characters that I put bits of pieces of myself into, as most writers do. The most resemblance I have to a character though, is Roshell in Embracing You, Embracing Me, my YA. A majority of that story and its characters are based on my real life experiences.
SP:  Who has most supported you in your journey towards becoming a writer?
MB:  My husband. His stoic support has given me enough confidence to pursue such a scary and vulnerable career. I’m beyond grateful for that.


Interested in Rouge Alliance? Here's a little teaser for you....

"Trying to escape a horrific past, Shyla has immersed herself in life as a tough cop in the bustle of LA. When the case of a lifetime takes her back to her hometown of Redding, she is thrown into a world of organized crime, deceit, and bitter reminders of her childhood.
As Shyla’s path crosses that of Brennan, a troubled sidekick to the ringleader she’s intent on taking down, she discovers he has a past even darker than hers and she is forced to re-evaluate everything she believes about herself, her job, and what she knows about right and wrong.
Can she face the demons of her upbringing and learn to trust again? Her life will depend on it."

Buy the book at:


Want to learn more about Michelle Bellon and her writing? Check out:

As always, thanks for supporting incredible authors!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Experience of Reading...

I can clearly remember the year I was twelve years old and I read all ten books of David Eddings' Belgariad and Malloreon fantasy series. I was in that sweet spot between child and adult and the whole world was magical to me. I remember the specific chair I was sitting while I read specific scenes. I also remember the summer I turned thirteen and I read Eddings' far-from-fantasy novel High Hunt, a piece of writing that would forever influence the type of author I wanted to be. I hunkered down in my bedroom with the door locked and my music blaring from the boom-box on the floor. I can remember the first time I read The English Patient and I sat on my parent's kitchen floor in the middle of the night and cried my heart out. I remember the lumpy futon I called a bed that I sat on while reading Cormac McCarthy's The Crossing and Faulkner's As I Lay Dying. I remember the sophomoric heart-break I agonized over while reading all of Dan Brown's paperback thrillers, acquired from the all-night grocery store. I remember reading Moby Dick and The Age of Wonder and Harry Potter. I remember throwing Dance with Dragons across the room and dislodging and painting.

We can all remember the stories, the themes, maybe even the gist, of all the books we've read, but some books come with experiences. Either the story was so powerful and spoke to us on such a deep level that everything about the novel, including our own setting, impressed itself upon us, or we were already going through an influential experience and just happened to bring along a story for the ride. Either way, there are books that will be inexorably linked to moments in our life and we will remember the experience of reading them always.

So I invite you to think back: what books will you always remember reading? What novels or pieces of non-fiction will always be linked with a specific moment, event or development in your life?  I invite you to share your thoughts, your experiences and the books that have become a part of the landscape of your life experiences. I'd love to hear from you...

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Book Recommendation: "The Orphan Master's Son"

Before I say anything else, let me just put this out front: go read this book. I mean it. Now. Put it next on your reading list, save some time to read it over the holidays, whatever you have to do. It's worth it, period.

I don't usually check out a book just because it's won a lot of prizes. The last Pulitzer Prize winning book I read greatly disappointed me. So I almost didn't read this book Because of it's Prize winning status. I picked it up at the book store because there was a buy-two-get-one-free sale. Adam Johnson's The Orphan Master's Son was my free book. I read it last out of three. And it changed me.

I know that's saying a lot. And I don't mean that suddenly I wanted to quit my job and become a humanitarian and try to alter the world. I don't mean that I started living my life differently or found religion or my true inner self. But I did change. Even if for just the time I was immersed in its pages, I felt that I was in the presence of something profound and unalterably sad and unflinchingly honest. And to feel that accompanying sweeping emotion is to feel like a piece of you will never be quite the same.

I'm quite aware that this review will not do the novel justice. It's so much more than a chronicle of life in North Korea, however, so much more than a love story or even the depiction of a mesmerizing odyssey. The characters were so far from anything I've known before, and yet I could not untangle myself from them. I felt lost when I had finished the book. Not unsatisfied by any means, but I had that unique emptiness a reader experiences when an epic comes to an end. I wanted to erase my memory of having read it, so I could go back and read it again.

The Orphan Master's Son is not a heart-warming tale. It will shock you, appall you and strike you deep in the viscera. And it will make you appreciate moments of beauty and moments of kindness in a way that you never have before. Every word will be worth it.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Gratitude and Writing

I just finished reading this year's Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Orphan Master's Son and aside from being one of the most incredible books I've ever read (book review coming next), it has really opened my eyes to just how lucky most of us are. That's not to discount all of the trials that everyone I know and you know and we all know encounter, but reading a book about life in North Korea definitely made me check myself for a moment. Every light switch we flip on, every Starbucks coffee we order through a drive-thru window, every clean pair of jeans we pull from the dryer is something to be thankful for. This is by no means a pretentious sentiment or call to action: I'm still going to get annoyed every time the internet goes down or the interstate on-ramp is backed up or my neighbors decide to start pressure washing their house during the exact time I've allocated for writing. We're human; it's in our nature to take for granted what we are fortunate enough to have. That being said, and in the sprit of Thanksgiving, I'd like to nod to a few things, both large and small, serious and trifle, that I am grateful for:

-My amazing husband, my mom and my brother
-My incredibly yappy and non-listening pack of dogs
-Gluten-free products available in the grocery store (yay Bisquick!)
-A job that I love
-Florida weather
-Books, movies and television shows that take excite me or take my breath away
-My friends, both close and afar
-Free time and the inspiration to write, keep writing and write some more

Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Book Review: "The Maltese Falcon"

Considering the genre I write in, I'm sort of ashamed to admit that I've just now read Dashiell Hammett's signature crime novel The Maltese Falcon. It's one of those books that I've always had on the shelf, always Meant to read, and somehow never got around to doing so. I was vaguely aware that it was a classic, but I wasn't exactly sure why. Now I know.....

Sure, the storyline isn't anything spectacular and the writing isn't beautiful or brilliant, but here's why I really, really appreciate The Maltese Falcon:

-The characters are biting and shocking
-The descriptions (though very repetitive) are ingenious
-Hammett knows how to say more by writing less and I Love that quality in a writer
-Reading this novel is like witnessing the birth of a genre; you can see the twentieth century crime/detective/noir style being created as the story progresses

If you haven't read The Maltese Falcon yet, it's worth taking the time just to read a little part of literary history. It's taken me forever to do so myself, but I'm thankful now that I have.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Pressure and Writing

Did you know that November is National Model Railroad Month? It's also Peanut Butter Lover's Month, National Sleep Comfort Month, International Drum Month, National Epilepsy Month and Aviation History Month.

Within November we also have Deviled Eggs Day, Gunpowder Day, Marooned Without a Compass Day, Operating Room Nurse Day, Clean Your Refrigerator Day (yeah, that's never gonna happen...) Have a Party with Your Bear Day (really not sure about that one either.....), Occult Day, Sandwich Day, Red Planet Day, Square Dance Day, Look for Circles Day and Chaos Never Dies Day.

Add those your more popular November Celebrations- Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Guy Fawkes Day, and All Saint's Day- and you've got some idea of how the month of November is shaping up. I remember back in elementary school when it was simple: November was when  you traced your hand on a brown piece of paper and drew a turkey's head on the outline of your thumb. Easy.

Now, we've got to deal with No-Shave November.

The reason I bring all this up is not because I have anything against the deluge of seemingly pointless (although probably important to some folks) random holidays, but because November now has a designation that applies to me personally. For those of you who don't know, November is also National Novel Writing Month.

Yeah, I didn't know until a few weeks ago either. And I'm a novelist.

In case you're wondering, I am not participating in NaNoWrMo (as I have come to learn this event is fondly called). I'm not boycotting  it in any sense, but rather I am staying true to the novel writing schedule I've already established and reassuring myself that slow and steady wins the race.

And then I log on to Twitter and see my friends and fellow authors tweeting nightly word counts. *gulp* And when I check Facebook, I read posts with snippets from NaNoWrMo drafts and accounts of fiendish all-night writing forays. *sweating* And I start to ask myself the dreaded question that I am sure lurks somewhere, either deep or bubbling just below the surface, in the minds of all writers: am I writing enough?

At first, a glimpse of the seemingly friendly "#amwriting" seemed encouraging. So-and-so's focused on writing so I need to get to it too! I'm certainly guilty of dropping the writing hashtag bomb. Usually to make myself feel validated for why I just spent my entire weekend holed up away from people and arguing with myself about acceptable diction and syntax. When writers post updates about their own writing progress it has always seemed motivating. Helpful. Uniting us together in the cause.

But now?

Have daily word counts become the new status symbol? Has NaNoWrMo created a healthy sense of competition or a swirling vortex of trendiness and anxiety?

Am I just being paranoid?

Either way, I'll be glad when the event is over. I hope that those participating are writing well and producing drafts that will evolve into great works. I hope that those not participating are still holding true to their writing dreams and being passionate about their own artistic visions.

And I hope that next month is national Nutella month, because peanut butter is highly overrated....

                                                Arrghh!! Too Much Pressure to Write!!!!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Reading Lists and Writing

I looked at the bookshelf next to my bed last and realized that I'm currently reading three vastly different books at the same time: The Maltese Falcon, The Dog Stars and The Last of the Mohicans.

Underneath this stack were the two most recent books I've finished reading: Allegiant and Sea of Glory.

Other books I've read recently include: Under Heaven's Banner, Last Train to Paradise, The Maid's Version, Salinger, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Wiseguy.

Aside from making me feel better about being addicted to The Walking Dead (see "Zombies and Writing"), I started wondering what my current choice in books says about me as a person and as a writer (which are pretty much impossible to separate, so....). A girl in Barnes and Noble the other day asked me what types of books I like to read and I wasn't sure how to respond. Basically I answered "good ones."

So what does my reading list say about me? I tried to break it down to see.....


Noir Bird
Apocalyptic Airplanes
Frontier Americana
Dystopian Teen
Exploring Ships
Psycho Religions
Maniacal Trains
Southern Fire
Disturbed Recluse
Psychological Well
Honest Mobster

Yeah, hmmm.... if anyone wants to take a crack at what these books say about me, I'd love to hear it. Please leave your ideas in the comments. And if you happen to analyze your own reading lists and come up with something conclusive, I'd love to know about it as well. Happy Reading!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Zombies and Writing

I resisted at first. The Walking Dead. It just didn't seem like the show for me. For one, I don't like zombies. Not zombie movies, not zombie graphic novels, not zombie Halloween costumes. And two, I'd heard the writing for the show wasn't very good. I'm the kind of television viewer who gets into a show and then analyzes it to death. I'm so obsessed with the incredible writing of my favorite show, Justified, that I am sure there are episodes I've seen over fifty times (and this is probably a low guess). I like to watch shows, and then re-watch them, and then re-watch certain scenes, all with an eye for breaking down and understand what's going on with the writing. So while everyone else was talking about The Walking Dead at work, I just believed it wasn't my cup of tea.

Well, I still don't like zombies and I still think that the writing in The Walking Dead is nothing to right home about. And I'm crazy about it.

I love The Walking Dead BECAUSE it's not about the writing. It's a show about people killing zombies. Yes, there are some interesting archetypes and yes, it can be viewed as commentary on human nature, but really, it's just awesome entertainment. It's a show that I don't have to think about- I can just enjoy it. The characters run around with guns and shoot (or stab, or decapitate...) about a hundred zombies an episode. And I don't have to think to myself, "hmm... now I wonder why she killed that zombie?" because it's a zombie after all. The zombies want to eat people and the people want to survive. It's as simple as that. The show is dramatic and straightforward and bad ass. Period.

It's not about the writing. And that's why I love it.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Book Review: "The Maid's Version"

Daniel Woodrell is one of my writing idols. Without Winter's Bone, without his stark, heart-wrenching stories, without Woodrell's dedication to the authentic voice and unflinching honesty of his characters there would be a deep hole in my perception of what it means to truly be an author.

So I was beyond excited when Woodrell's latest novel, The Maid's Version, was released this past September. I bought it the very first day it came out and dove in greedily, ready to enjoy the tale and analyze his writing style. And I have to admit that at first I was disappointed. I was expecting the rawness of Winter's Bone and the violence often found in his short stories, and I found something very different. I was slightly unsettled when I finished the novel- I set it down after turning the last page and tried to wrap my head around what I had just experienced.

It took me a while, but I've come to the conclusion that the merit of The Maid's Version lies not in its deliverance of expected Woodrell style, but rather that it is the most accessible of his works. This novel is a story for all readers, not just those who like dark tales and jagged prose. The Maid's Version is much more literary than thriller and certainly wider in its thematic scope. The writing is gorgeous, and the story- which takes through the reader through different moments in time as the narrator explores the mystery of a tragic, dancehall fire- is intriguing without being disturbing. Woodrell may have taken less of a risk with The Maid's Version, but I think this novel will encourage more readers to gravitate to his work. And, in that sense, I am very thankful for The Maid's Version indeed.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Paradox of Writing

I just wanted to say thanks to everyone who came out to the Feed My Reads and Friends Facebook Event for my hosting session Monday night. (and to everyone who supported all of the many other talented authors at the event!)

Writing is a paradox.... It is at its essence a solitary, closed-door activity. We spend all our time in alone in our heads, then holed up in a room in front of a computer or pile of paper, then maybe we open the door a crack and let a few brave souls in to the read the pages and test the waters, then it's back to being alone, editing, revising, maybe trusting a few more readers, and then, eventually, when the story is as right as it needs to be, and the timing is perfect, we yank the door off its hinges and let the sunlight- and the general public- come pouring in.

This transition can be a little akin to that moment of being shoved out into the light from some interminable time in a comfortable darkness. The author stands there nervous, blinking as his or her eyes adjust to the contrast and then either stumbles, or strides, or leaps into the opposite side of being a writer: the public life. In this world, our ideas- our characters that we love, our stories that seem as real to us as our own lives- are on display for everyone. Indeed, this is what most of us write for in the first place- to be able to share our stories, or to enlighten or entertain. After all, in the end, isn't that what writing really is- connecting?

Still, it can be a daunting, at times confusing, at times troubling, way to live. Scribbling alone one minute and then defending your work in another. Living inside the safety of your head and then living in the precarious glare of the spotlight. But no one ever said writing was easy, and no one ever said that writers were rational human beings. We just do what we do, because we can't function otherwise.

So once again, thank you to those of you who read, who sympathize, who support your authors and fellow writers, who come out and lend a hand, and connect. It is much appreciated.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Feed My Reads and Friends!

Have you ever finished reading a book and then immediately wished you could call up the author and ask them a million questions? What gave you the idea for the plot? Why did you kill off so-and-so at the end? What on earth inspired you to become a writer in the first place? Well, here's your chance! Feed My Reads is hosting a 10 day Q and A extravaganza at from October 18th to October 28th. Authors from all over the world will be hosting at the site for an hour each. I'll be at the event to field your questions and share some insight into the writing life from 5-6pm on Monday, Oct. 21 (EST US Time). Please stop by to support me and all of the other amazing authors participating in the event! Thanks!!!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Everybody needs a good laugh...

Hi All! In addition to books, I've got a couple of blog recommendations this week. Be sure to check out:

Parri Sontag's "Her Royal Thighness" Blog has had me laughing out loud every time I read a new post. Seriously, you have to read this stuff....

Chrissy Leesy posted a Pandamoon Publishing Author's Roundtable where Pandamoon author's have answered the very important question of "What is your most embarrassing moment?" If anything, this post will remind you that authors are actually human after all. :)

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Book Review: "Salinger"

In my experience as a high school English teacher, people either seem to love or hate J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. There's usually no middle ground; Holden is either a hero or a self-indulgent idiot, the writing is either magical or moronic, the story either speaks to a student's heart or elicits a loathing for symbolism and reading in general. This intense dichotomy is one of the main reasons why I love to teach Catcher. It's a book that demands a reaction, even if that reaction is a violently negative one.

So naturally I was excited when David Shield and Shane Salerno's new biography of J.D. Salinger hit the shelves last month. I honestly didn't know much more than the average reader about the mysterious author and was interested in knowing more. Somehow the fact that Salinger is no longer with us made it okay to finally dissect the famous recluse's life (although there were some voyeuristic guilty moments that made me wonder if the ghost of Salinger could possibly be looking over my shoulder and grimacing). I was slightly intimidated by the book's size and length (it could serve as a decent paperweight in the middle of a hurricane), but determined to make a go of it. I'm glad I did.

In all honesty, Salinger is not for everyone. The format of the book is difficult- the entire 600+ pages is a collage of interview snippets that doesn't always flow- and there were a few times when I really wished Shields and Salerno would stop analyzing every aspect of Salinger's life. While I appreciate editor's offering their commentary, I felt that these two really pushed the envelope when it came to unbiased reporting. While it might be interesting to speculate on how life influences art, and vice versa, I don't agree that every single word an author writes must come from some traumatic event in the life. That's the beauty of fiction.

So I liked this book not for its style or groundbreaking secret information, but rather because I felt closer to Salinger himself as I read about his life and his work. As a fiction writer myself, I sometimes get lost in my own head and forget that the ecstasies and woes I experience while writing are really part of the collective unconscious of writers. There was something oddly comforting in reading about Salinger's struggles. Not because I want him to be dragged, or that I want to make myself feel good by gloating over another's suffering- but because it reminds that all writers have a purpose and a vision and must learn to embrace it, no matter how slippery, no matter how challenging. J.D. Salinger has been hailed by generations as the essential American voice, but I see now that, in a dark, perhaps twistedly morbid way, he is an inspiration for the soul of a writer as well.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Just In Case You Missed It...

Here is a link to Pandamoon all-star Rebecca Lamoreaux's fantastic blog post, recapping last Saturday's Panamoon Facebook party (which was all kinds of awesome). Her post also includes links to all of the other fabulous Pandamoon authors, as well as a link to the event itself (in case you happened to miss it). Thanks to everyone who came out and to all those who show their support. It means a lot to us.....

Come on, who doesn't like a good party?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Book Review: "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle"

I will have to say that Haruki Murakami's epic novel, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, isn't for everyone. It's imposing, prosaic and, at times, convoluted. It's a mind-bending reading experience that is somewhat akin to staggering through a labyrinth and not knowing whether you want to leave or travel deeper into the mystery. It is also a novel that made me want to come home and immediately delve into its pages, rather than relax in front of television, although at times I wasn't sure if I was swimming along the surface of the story, or drowning.... for the duration of the read I felt like I knew the characters intimately, though they were unlike anyone I've ever met and I was aware of many universal truths being unveiled before my eyes, though I wasn't sure what to make of them. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is challenging, but worth it: a complete contradiction back upon itself and well worth the time and mental energy needed to understand its secrets.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Stress and Writing

It's no secret that I've been a little overwhelmed lately. Physically, mentally, emotionally. It's been one of those months where I swear I've been put on some kind of hit list at my job and my body just wants to give up on me. The kind where all I really want to do is eat my weight in chocolate, drink a bottle of wine a day and sleep for fourteen hours at a time. You know what kind of stress I'm talking about....

I've been trying to keep it all together and not let the feeling that I'm drowning every time I take a breath affect my writing. I'm staying mostly on schedule with writing the first draft of my latest novel, but always, in the back of my mind, is the worry that I'm somehow letting all the stress ruin the writing. Which, of course, stresses me out even more and thus the vicious cycle continues.

Last night I couldn't sleep because I was obsessing over theme development in my book and then today was an especially hard day at work. This afternoon, I caught myself staring vacantly into the fridge for about five minutes without even realizing it, as if I somehow I would be able to subconsciously find the answers to all my problems hidden behind a half empty jar of pickles and a Tupperware of leftover gluten free spaghetti. I closed the refrigerator and suddenly it hit me: maybe I can USE these feelings in my writing. Maybe I can cash in on the frustration, anger and desolate sense of helplessness. I mean, those are perfect emotions for the characters I write about- why not let the stress work for me instead of worry about it so much?

This is probably easier said than done, but it's my new goal. If any writers out there have suggestions on how exactly to do this, I'd love to hear your thoughts. The stress isn't going away (any time soon, it seems) and the writing isn't going away (ever), so I've got to figure out how to make peace between the two. Wish me luck.

I don't want to be stressed out... I want to be like Vegas and not have a care in the world....

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Book Recommendation: "The Secret History"

If serious literature were to be marketed and sold next to the trashy gossip magazines at the supermarket check-out lines, it would take the form of Donna Tartt's The Secret History. This novel was guilty-fun, deliciously wrapped sordid scandals juxtaposed with Greek philosophy and ethical arguments, all set against the backdrop of an elite, small-town collegeThe novel clocks in at around four hundred pages, but you'll never notice because it reads with the pace of pulp fiction- it's near impossible to put down because the characters will burrow into your skin and haunt you whenever you're not turning the pages. You certainly won't love them- but you won't be able to walk away from them either. The Secret History reads like the illegitimate love child of E.M. Forester and Bret Easton Ellis. If that makes sense to you, then this novel should already be in your hands.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Book of the Week: "A Land More Kind Than Home"

A Land More Kind Than Home, the debut novel from Wiley Cash, fills me with hope for the future of the Southern gothic genre. Cash's story of a boy navigating a series of terrible events is rich in Southern themes- religion and family drama in particular- but it also stays true to the gothic style and deftly blends in the more modern genre of literary thriller. A Land More Kind Than Home is subtly terrifying and heartbreakingly stark. It was another book that I didn't want to end and when it did, every other book I picked up afterwards seemed dull in comparison. There is a spark burning throughout this novel; it starts out as an ember, igniting the story from the very first words and blazes into a wildfire by the final pages. For fans of Southern fiction, or well-written fiction, or absorbing, stay-up-late-until-early-in-the-morning-to-read-one-more-chapter fiction- A Land More Kind Than Home was written for you.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Best News Ever... and Writing

I am thrilled, stoked, ecstatic, pee-my-pants, over-the-moon, beyond belief excited to announce:

I have just been signed by Pandamoon Publshing for my latest novel A Tree Born Crooked! Please check out my author announcement at to read more about the story, the characters and the Southern, literary thriller style I'm bringing to light in this work. Working with Pandamoon Publishing has already been a fantastic experience and I feel so blessed to be a part of this new family. Please support them and the other Pandamoon authors as well.

Thanks so much to Ryan Holt, Janet Sokolay, Phillip Sokolay, and everyone else who have supported me, encouraged me, pushed me, put up with me and always, always believed in me. Thank you.

Yeah, I'm pretty happy right about now...

Friday, August 16, 2013

Book Recommendation: "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks"

First of all, I'd like to apologize- it's been a while since I've reviewed a book here. Part of the reason for this is that I've been incredibly busy and distracted, but another reason is that I've gone through a string of disappointing books (I plan to write about this later). Fortunately, Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks broke the "bad book cycle" and reassured me that yes, there are still mind-blowing books to be read.

Skloot's book is a carefully researched work of non-fiction that reads like a page-turning novel. It is the story of the infamous HeLa cells and their contribution to modern science, but it is also a family drama, an ethics debate and an enthralling biography of one of the most interesting and important personas in science. Skloot is dogged in her search for the truth behind Henrietta Lacks and open and honest about the trials and conflicts she dealt with during the many years she perused this story. From the first page, I was engaged in Skloot's search for Henrietta and, although I couldn't put the book down, I desperately wanted to slow down in my reading so that I could stretch out the experience longer. This was a story I didn't want to end, and if that isn't a hallmark of riveting writing then I don't know what is.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Vacations and Writing (or not...)

I just got back from a few days vacation in Key West. It was wonderful: I went to the Hemingway house (and his favorite bar), sat out on the second story porch of the old guesthouse we stayed at and read Faulkner while the breeze rustled through the overhanging palm and mango trees, and walked up and down Duval St. in the evenings, weaving through packs of drag queens, small children hyped up on key lime flavored ice cream and tourists from the Midwest who clearly had never experienced giant fruity margaritas in blinking, neon fishbowl-sized glasses. I ignored my Twitter account, abstained from Facebook and did not respond to emails. And...

I did not write.

And yes, there were times when I felt guilty, even anxious, about this. When I gazed in wonder and awe (and not a little jealously) at Hemingway's writing cottage, I thought about the essence of writing. When I saw parents desperately trying to compromise with their sweaty, sticky-fingered kids, I thought about an interesting scene. When I observed very drunk, middle-aged and overly tanned women who had stuffed themselves into cut-off denim shorts and neon tube tops, but were still walking, though sometimes stumbling, in their strappy high heels, I thought about character sketches. And when I watched the sun dip ever lower toward the horizon, painting stretched shadows across the brilliant white buildings, I dreamed of settings. But I did not write a word.

Sometimes writers need to write. And sometimes they need to put the pen down and push the keyboard away. Sometimes writers need to be still, and absorb the world unfolding around them and know that the words will be there another day, but the actuality of what they are trying so hard to capture is, indeed, right there before them.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Birthdays and Writing

Today is my birthday and I tend to liken birthdays to new year's eve- I always like to look back over the past year, reflect, and then think about what I want the coming year to be for me. What are my goals, my dreams, my intentions? How do I want to carry myself and perceive the world around me? Most likely, these ideas don't change much from year to year, but I like to think about it anyway. I believe that staying true to yourself also involves sifting through layers of yourself and not being afraid of being open to change.

Of course, this also applies to my identity as a writer. Sometimes it's easy to get caught up in the story, in the words, in the process, and not reflect on the direction. Today is also a day to think about how I write, why I write and where do I want my writing to take me. I'm not sure I have all the answers yet, but in seeking I find comfort and a measure of peace. Perhaps those are the very things that keep me going when the writer's block hits, when the doubt creeps in and when success, or even sanity, seem a very small light in the darkness.

So here's to a year that is like water- always moving, always changing and always constant.


Friday, July 26, 2013

Book Review: "Death in Venice"

Thomas Mann's Death in Venice is not so much a story, as it a feeling. The plot- an aging writer travels to Venice and becomes obsessed with a teenage boy because of his youth and beauty- is more  a mere delicate framework for the layers and layers of atmosphere, inner turmoil and self-reckoning that swaddle, and almost suffocate, this novel. In many ways, it perfectly encapsulates one of the greatest emotions of the modernist era: anxiety. Like Camu's The Stranger and Tennessee William's Suddenly, Last Summer, the heat, the air and the assaulting world on the edge of the self seem to take on a life as volatile as the main character's and create a deep sense of desperation and paranoia. This is not a feel-good book and it will probably leave you unsatisfied, perhaps feeling a little anxious, perhaps now haunted with an unexplainable echo of dread.

But it will also give you tremendous insight into the life of a writer, an artist or maybe even yourself. Mann's genius is in being able to write about the human mind in such detail, and with such nuance, that, for a moment, you can actually step into the soul of a character and truly understand him. You may not be able to relate to Gustav von Aschenbach, but you will understand him, and that pure, raw moment where the author and the reader connect and become in sync within a character is worth the read on its own.

      "And his soul savored the debauchery and delirium of doom." (129)

Friday, July 19, 2013

Book Review: "The Ice Master"

So I'm still on a non-fiction kick and one of the best narrative non-fiction books I've read this year is Jennifer Niven's The Ice Master. Even if you don't usually read non-fiction, or don't care about artic exploration or ships or explorers with a desire to do the impossible, this book will capture your attention. Because this is not a book about discovering a new continent, or breaking records or even succeeding (there's a reason the subtitle of the book is "The Doomed 1913 Voyage of the Karluk"). This is a story about survival. It is the story of the endurance of the human spirit- what it means to be alive, and what it means to Want to be alive. It is harrowing, it is heartbreaking, and it will have you holding your breath until the last page.

Monday, July 15, 2013

First Person and Writing

So, I've been having a problem with voice lately. (no, not "voices"- I may be going a little crazy with all this summer vacation time on my hands, but I'm not to that point.. yet...) I had to put down the last three books I've attempted to read, even though they were all critically acclaimed, award winners, etc. I usually read non-fiction when I'm working on a novel- but I thought I'd spice it up a bit.

After I set down the third book, deterred and dismayed (I almost never give up on a book), I tried to figure out what was turning me off to all of these, seemingly radically different, stories. Then I figured it out: they were all written in first person point of view.

When I think of first person point of view working well, I think of Catcher in the Rye or The Book Thief. I think of books with main characters that I fell in love with or wanted to die a brutal, agonizing death. Characters that I wanted to be, or have a glass of wine with, or hunt down to the ends of the earth. Characters whose breath I could feel on the edge of my cheek, their imagined presence creating a shadow over my shoulder as I read. Those types of characters. And if a book is written in first person and I'm not desperate to interact with the narrator, then, well... you have a week among books as I have: turning the pages, shaking your head, finding something better to do.

So my question to you, intrepid writers and readers: what are your experiences with first person point of view and narration? What novels written in first person have blown your socks off and made you beg for more? What has worked, what hasn't, and does voice even matter? I'd love to hear your thoughts....

(If my dog Vegas wrote a book with first person narration it would go something along the lines of this: "I... am.... a dog. I am.... confused. I am trying to look... regal? I.... think. Snausages....")

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Blue Diamond

A run-down hotel in the middle of the desert, a man with a secret he is desperate to keep, and, oh yes, horse heads.

You know you want to read it.....

Go Read Your Lunch: The Blue Diamond  |  Steph Post

Friday, July 5, 2013

Book Review: "Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout"

I find science alluring and romantic, probably because I don't understand much of it. Sure, I managed to eek my way through biology and astronomy in college, but that's about as far as it goes. I couldn't tell you how electricity works or what's the difference between a proton and an electron and if any math enters the picture then you might as well be talking to a concrete cinder block. But I love the Idea of science. I love reading the stories behind discoveries and the biographies of those who devoted their entire lives to a concept that we now take completely for granted.

I love the intersection, that blazing spark, where science and art and literature and the humanities all come together.

Lauren Redniss' gorgeous book Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout throws gasoline on that spark and then waits for you to be consumed in the blaze. Not only does it address myriad aspects of science- love, passion, fights to the death, obsession, bitter sorrow, and, oh yeah, discovering elements crucial to the fate of the human race- it takes myriad forms itself as Redniss spins her biographical tale. Radioactive is a work of art, with mythical illustrations comprised of watercolors, chalk drawings, found object collages, photograph compilations and other techniques that seamlessly and beautifully blend together to give the reader the full experience of the story. Just the act of flipping through the startling, brilliantly colored pages can be stirring and awe-inspiring.

If you are a fan of science, or art, or love, or the intricacies of the human spirit, this book should be in your hands....

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Laundry and Writing

I love doing laundry. Not because I'm a clean freak (I'm not- come on, I live in the same house as a Pack of dogs) or because I'm into fashion or have some weird, obsessive issues with folding clothes a certain way (I have obsessive issues with other things..... :), but because doing laundry is one of the best breaks from writing. Whenever I'm stuck, or overwhelmed or just can't sit at the computer any longer, I can walk out to the garage, switch a load of towels from the washer to the dryer and feel like I'm accomplishing something. Maybe it's really just procrastination or maybe it's self-defeating in some way, but it makes it so I can take a deep breath and go back to the words without wanting to scream that I can't take it anymore. I've said before that writing is an absolute love/hate battle with me. But a writer has to write in the same way that a runner has to run or a painter has to paint: it's a driving force that can't be escaped, even when it hurts or creates frustration or seems to take over the rest of your life.....

And the upside: at least I always have clean clothes!

Anyone else have any small, strange ways to cope with the writing process? Feel free to comment and share!

Friday, June 28, 2013

"The Ocean at the End of the Lane": A Review

Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane is brilliant. When I say this, I don't mean 'smart' brilliant (although it is this as well), I mean 'moonlight' brilliant. Reading this novel is like walking through the woods at night, coming to a clearing, looking up at a patch of sky encircled by tree braches and being overwhelmed by the dazzling brightness of a full moon you never even knew was above you all long. Take-your-breath-away-piercing-somewhere-in-the-back-of-your-heart-in-a-place-you-thought-you-had-forgotten kind of brilliant. Yeah, that kind.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is terrifying- "nightmares tearing at a nightmare" (pg. 128) in that it is primal and calls upon childhood fears that I believe resonate deep within everyone. It is also comforting- "I would stay here for the rest of time in the ocean which was the universe which was the soul which was all that mattered" (pg. 145) in that it brushes against certain undeinable truths that we all intrinsically ache for, but want only to reach out to, not actually touch. Gaiman's writing in The Ocean at the End of the Lane is reminiscent of Lewis Carroll's and Roald Dahl's and Stephen King's and classic fairy tales and his own earlier work, but it transcends comparisons as well. It is a jewel of a novel- sparkling while you read, and shimmering on the back of your eyelids long after you have turned the last page.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Summer and Writing

When I was a child, summers were magical. They were comprised of moments like this:

Jumping into the alligator infested river in the middle of the night to swim alone in the rippling moonlight, eating cool-pops on the front porch, slurping warm, metallic tasting water from the end of the water hose, climbing oak trees, swinging from vines and crashing to the ground, water balloons, splinters, copperheads and black snakes, grilled cheese sandwiches, bonfires, picking blackberries, thunderstorms, heat lightning, and reaching out into the darkness to catch fireflies with my brother while the stars shimmered overhead and we knew that we were participating in something ancient and miraculous and divine.

I am an adult now. And I've moved away from the woods and the swamp; I live in a city, by the ocean.

I'm more likely to run down the shell crusted beach, instead of a splintering wooden dock, and crash into salty waves instead of slipping into velvety stillness. I'm more likely to drink sangria, eat gluten-free chips and salsa and not get lost among the trees.

But I am still guided by my imagination. I still believe in daydreaming, still believe that reading is the perfect way to spend a rainy afternoon, and that inhabiting other worlds in my mind is not a means of escape, but simply a better way to experience life.

We don't have fireflies here in the city, but I am chasing much the same thing with my words. When I write, I am stretching back to something ancient and forward to something miraculous. I am seeking the divine in a phrase, in a description, in a character, in a scene.

Summer is still magical.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Why "Kon-Tiki!" is My New Battle Cry

I love books that are beautiful without meaning to be. Books that make you sit up and examine your own life when the author was only attempting to record a story, a moment in time and pass it on to the reader.
Okay, so Kon-Tiki, the true and infamous book about a Norwegian who built a raft and sailed from Peru to Polynesia just to prove that it could be done, is not just an everyday story. And no, it did not inspire me to go build a raft out of sticks and hop in the ocean. I live five miles from the beach. I like to watch sea life documentaries. That’s about as far as I want to take it when it comes to the seafaring lifestyle.
No, Thor Heyerdahl’s wild adventures on the Pacific and candid writing style inspired me in another way- the “shut up and just do it” kind of way. Heyerdahl was no Shackleton or Amundsen; he was not out to discover a new land or become rich and famous or get girls. So why did he set out to attempt the impossible? Because no one would read his manuscript! He had written a book on his theory that people from South America had sailed across the Pacific Ocean and colonized the islands of the South Seas. Everyone thought the idea was absurd and publishers refused to even read the manuscript. So he decided to prove that it could be done. This is what I find so inspiring: when I get a manuscript rejection, I eat a pint of ice cream and go outside to kick a tree. Thor Heyerdahl built a raft out of balsa wood and successfully sailed across the Pacific Ocean. Talk about sticking it to the man….
And then there is Heyerdahl’s breathtaking ability to kindle the spark of the sublime among chapters filled with sharks, whales and flying fish. In describing a night on the raft he writes:
            Coal-black seas towered up on all sides, and a glittering myriad of tropical stars drew a faint reflection from plankton in the water. The world was simple—stars in the darkness. Whether it was 1947 B.C. or A.D. suddenly became of no significance.
When I read those lines, “The world was simple—stars in the darkness,” so many things made sense for me. The world can be simple, is simple, if you look at it the right way. People don’t like your book? Build a boat. People say you’re going to drown when you sail it? Prove them wrong and end up on a tropical island drinking coconut milk and dancing the hula. Feel the weight of the world, of deadlines, rejections, failures and complicated relationships pressing down on you? Take a deep breath and look up at the sky. In the end, Thor Heyerdahl reminds us, we control our destiny and that is all that really matters.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Transitions and Writing

Change is good. And now the best change of all for a high school teacher has finally occurred: the end of the school year. Yes, I love my job. And my students. And the faculty. And most of all that perfect moment in the classroom when everything just "clicks" and it makes sense why I do what I do. BUT... there is nothing like the feeling of having worked incredibly hard all year and then knowing that I now have two months all to myself to relax, re-center and, oh yeah, write. My goal is to finish the first draft of my third novel by the start of the next school year- it can be done! And now I have the time to do it. Happy Summer....

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Book Review: Karen Russell's "Vampires in the Lemon Grove"

     As with her two previously published works (Swamplandia! and St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves- also a collection of short stories) Vampires in the Lemon Grove borders on the bizarre. Each short story makes me wonder if Russell wakes up in the morning with a question, such as: "what happens when a president dies?" or "where does silk come from?" and then answers them for herself- "Oh, he becomes a reincarnated horse!" and "kidnapped, furry, mutant girls, of course!".

    Yet the beauty in this collection of haunting, awkward and even grotesque stories doesn't lie only in the breadth of Russell's imagination and her penchant for the otherworldly. The real strength of Russell's writing comes forth in the gracious curve of her sentences and her uncanny ability to balance narrative diction with lyrical syntax. She makes it appear effortless. Reading her stories is like watching a tightrope walker meander on a tiny wire above your head, and feeling certain that the acrobat will never fall. For anyone who enjoys the artistry of well-crafted fiction, Vampires in the Lemon Grove is not to be missed.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Television and Writing

I don't really have too much extra time to sit around and watch TV, but let me tell you, when I do get into a show, I Really get into a show. And by Really, I mean eight/nine/ten hours-straight season marathons. And hands down, the best shows have the best writing. Fantastic actors and intuitive directors and ingenious premises are all pluses, but I believe that what absolutely makes or breaks a television show is the writing: insane plot twists, gorgeous dialogue and most importantly, characters that are either so believable, or so otherworldly, that I can't help but fall head over heels in love with them.

So, here is my short list of the best shows on television, the ones I can watch over and over and always find something to keep me watching yet again:
     The Wire

I'm sure this is a very incomplete list and as soon as I post it, I'm going to hit myself in the forehead because I'll realize that I've left out some of the best ones, so I'll put the question out there to you all so we can add to the list: what are the best television shows, based on the quality of the writing? *Bonus Points for Explaining Why and Convincing Me to Watch!*


Sunday, May 26, 2013

Book Review: "The Remains of the Day"

My husband called this novel "the butler book." As in, "are you still reading the butler book?" He came up with this title, I'm sure, because every time he would ask me what the book I was reading was about I'd say something along the lines of "well, it's about a butler..." and then not know what else to say.

Upon finishing this book, I'm still not sure how to explain what Kazuo Ishiguro's novel The Remains of the Day is about. A road-tripping butler on a six day reminiscing streak would probably the closest I could come to a plot summary and I understand that this description doesn't exactly illicit sparks.

But I can tell you what this novel is: subtle, quietly provocative, brilliant in its use of syntax to create character development, gorgeous in its use of layers to build tone. This is a book that sticks with you, even though its hard to explain why. If you enjoy literary fiction, take a chance on it- I think you'll see what I mean.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Goodbyes and Writing

Tomorrow is the last day for seniors at my high school. As can be imagined, I've spent a lot of this past week signing yearbooks, doling out hugs and having heart-to-hearts with anxious and intrepid teenagers about to step out and embark upon a journey to the world of adulthood. (My biggest piece of advice: "It's your time- relish it, savor it, embrace it and then confront the future without fear...) One thing I don't do, though, is say farewell. Goodbyes are reserved for stories;  see you soon, stay in touch and go forth and kick some ass is what we say in the real world. So graduates, go forth and do what you need to do....

I don't do goodbyes......

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Mornings and Writing

My favorite time of day to write is the morning. I would have never said that before becoming a teacher. When I was a waitress, a bartender, and a student, mornings were not my time. When I was wiping down barstools at 3 am or staying up all night finishing graduate projects, the sunrise meant only one thing to me: that I should be sleeping. And then I became a high school teacher which (in so many other ways as well) was akin to falling down the rabbit hole. Managers became administrators, drunk patrons became whining teenagers and day became, well, day. After being on this new schedule for a few years it seems perfectly natural to wake up at 5:30 and be half-way through the day by 10 am. When the weekend (or summer- yes, almost here!) rolls around, I can't seem to relax my internal clock and so I've become a morning writer. Something I never in a million years thought I would become, but which now makes so much sense to me.

So aside from the obvious schedule correlations, here are some other reasons for writing in the morning:

1) Coffee. Now, I can drink coffee any time during the day, but I can drink three cups of coffee in a row in the morning, and we all know that too much coffee and writing go hand in hand.....
2) It's quiet. The dogs are still asleep. Enough said.
3) Because most everyone else is asleep or just starting the day I'm not as tempted to procrastinate by checking my email/twitter/facebook.
4) If I can get the writing out of the way early, I can spend the rest of the day not feeling so guilty for not writing.
5) It's easier to write, and not think and obsess about writing and not writing and not writing enough and not writing well enough, etc., when I'm not quite awake yet.

Oh, and breakfast is awesome. And writing is awesome. So it all makes sense somewhere in my head.....

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Book Review: "The Children's Blizzard" by David Laskin

This is the type of book that makes you stop, look around, and appreciate every single modern convenience surrounding you. Especially conveniences like electricity, school buses and the Weather Channel. The Children's Blizzard is the true story of an 1888 blizzard in the northern Midwest. It was a perfect storm of  bad timing, miscommunication, and hard luck.

David Laskin has a perfect voice for non-fiction. He gets the facts straight and his research skills are impeccable, but the real key to the book is Laskin's ability to hook the reader with harrowing and heartbreaking stories. The Children's Blizzard is terrifying, gripping and awe-inspiring. It is also eye-opening. If these pioneers of America could suffer unimaginable daily hardships and brutal climate catastrophes, and still endure and still hold on to the spirit of adventure and cling desperately to the beauty of life... well, then- I think it certainly puts things like traffic lights and commercial breaks and running out of Nutella into perspective.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Starting a New Novel and Writing

After months of thinking, planning and obsessing, I began writing my third novel this past weekend. I hope to be done with the initial draft by August. So, in the spirit of starting this new book, here's to....

-The anxiety of influence
-Sleepless nights
-Euphoric plot breakthroughs
-Characters and story directions so real I can taste them
-Mental breakdowns when I can't see what happens next
-Mental breakdowns when I can't find the right adjective
-Endless cups of coffee
-Unwashed dishes
-Student papers not being graded on time
-Multiple dog walks to think through the timeline

And oh yeah, reminding myself every day that I'm not a writer because it's fun, I'm a writer because it's what I do. It's in my blood. It's as natural as breathing, dreaming, wishing on a star.

Here we go, kiddos....

Friday, May 3, 2013

Book Review: "The Outlander" by Gil Adamson

I have to admit that it has been a little while since I read this book. The two books I read this week, however, weren't really up for reviewing (one wasn't the greatest and the other- Thomas Hardy's "The Mayor of Casterbridge" doesn't lend itself to the most exciting reviews, although I personally love literature from the 1880s). While staring at one of my many disorganized and in-need-of-dusting bookshelves, this novel kept catching my eye and so here we are at the weekly review...

Seriously, though, Adamson's The Outlander is one of those dark, strange and haunting books that never quite leaves the reader. I picked this book up years ago because of the praise of Michael Ondaatje and Jim Harrison- two writers I deeply admire. It is the story of a woman's race and pursuit through the wilderness at the turn of the 20th century, but more so, it is a poetic exploration of the boundaries, or lack thereof, between the mental and physical landscapes a person dares to inhabit. There is a ghostly tone of alienation and anxiety echoing throughout the pages of The Outlander that is deliciously raw and lyrical.

As a reader, this book satiated my need for stories that blend thrilling and compelling plots with stark characters and lush language. As an author, this book pushed me to carve out a writing style and identity that I could own. The confidence of Adamson's writing is as inspiring as the heroine of her tale.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Book Review: "The Power of Myth" by Joseph Campbell

I wouldn't go so far as to say that this book can change your life. But I would say that it can change the way you think. The Power of Myth is a conversation between renowned scholar Joseph Campbell (who is responsible for everything from creating the comparative mythology discipline to inspiring George Lucas to create Star Wars) and the journalist Bill Moyers. The entire book is a question and answer session between these two great minds and gives the reader the impression of being in the very room with them at Skywalker Ranch. The conversation dances back and forth between stories and myths from across the world and glimpses into a deeper insight towards the self and humanity.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book, to give you a taste for what you're in for when you start reading:

"But the goal of your quest for knowledge of yourself is to be found at that burning point in yourself, that becoming thing in yourself, which is innocent of the goods and evils of the world as already become, and therefor desireless and fearless."

"I say, follow your bliss and don't be afraid, and doors will open where you didn't know they were going to be."

"The demon that you can swallow gives you its power, and the greater life's pain, the greater life's reply."

Whether you are already a fan of Joseph Campbell's more academic work (Hero with a Thousand Faces, etc.) or have no idea who Campbell is in the first place- this is a book that begs to be read. And re-read. And thought about. And discussed with your friends. And yourself. And then maybe read once more.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Working and Writing

I find it fascinating that William Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying in six weeks while working at a power plant. I have this terribly romantic image of him working late at night, sitting hunched over on a box or a packing crate and scribbling out stream of consciousness in the dim, dusty light while waiting for the order to turn on or off a giant electricity switch.

Obviously, I have no idea what working at a power plant entails.

But this image in my head got me thinking about working and writing. Most authors have, or have had sometime in the past, a "real job." Probably one that involved either cleaning or acquiescing to the general public and asking if they would like their check separate or together. And yet this is where the writing happens. I cannot count the many times I scratched out poems on flimsy cocktail napkins and silverware wrappers while letting someone's prime rib grow cold in the window.  Now, I am fortunate enough to have a job that I truly love and doesn't require me to wear all black and smell like grease and wet floor mats (although I still liken teaching to bartending- you have 25 people all demanding your attention at once and yet you still have to smile, stay cool and remember every single thing they all want). But between classes, fighting the copy machines, faculty meetings and the impromptu therapy sessions with heartbroken teenagers, there is little time left to write down ideas or even drift toward them with daydreams.

So my writing life and my "real job life" are mostly separate these days, which is probably for the better. But I'd like to hear from my fellow writers: How do you balance working and writing? What jobs are the most conducive to sneaking scraps of verse or lapsing into the world of your latest creative undertaking? And most importantly- is there anybody out there, sitting on a packing crate at midnight, and writing the great American novel?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Weather and Writing

Today is a gloomy day. But not gloomy in a cold, misty, Gothic Romantic type of way. Gloomy in the almost summer, you can already feel the humidity clinging to your skin, Florida type of way. The sky is oppressive. The air is stagnate. Today is not a day for writing.

Afternoons echoing with thunderstorms are for writing. Nights glittering with heat lightning are for writing. Mornings reflecting blinding sunshine  are for writing. There needs to be energy in the air, a spark of promise, a suggestion that the world will be different in the next few hours. The potential for transformation needs to buzz in the sky. And then, it will be time to write.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Book Review: "Feast Day of Fools"

I have always viewed James Lee Burke as a master of crime fiction, but one who was firmly rooted in his genre. "Feast Day of Fools" has completely changed my thoughts on Burke. Yes, there is crime, there is mystery, there is blood, there are grim, tough-talking characters, but honestly, it is everything beyond the genre constraints that kept me reading. Not always because I had to know what was going to happen next, but because I was in awe; reading "Feast Day of Fools" feels akin to standing in the presence of a master story teller and having him tell you to sit down and take a load off.

By that, I mean that as I turned the pages, I could see how Burke crafted the novel. It is not effortless- it owns up to its greatness with its imagery-intense landscapes and philosophical musings on the human condition- but it never reaches a level of pretension. I could easily compare this novel to works by Cormac McCarthy or Steinbeck, but I believe it is worthy to stand up on its own.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Not Writing and Writing

I have a love/hate relationship with writing. I think most writers do. When I'm not writing, it's all I think about. When I actually sit down at the keyboard and stare at the letters, suddenly anything- washing dishes, scrubbing floors, doing taxes, chasing down my angry Jack Russell Terrier to try and wrestle her into the bath tub- seems more appealing. I think writers- and artists, musicians, etc.- are both blessed and tormented by their overactive creative minds.

When I fractured my elbow a few weeks back (see "Broken Bones and Writing") I was faced with the prospect of physically not being able to write. I was furious and frustrated and it got me thinking about what really keeps us from writing. For me, in this instance, it was a broken bone. But what about the other times? Exhaustion? Fear of the story ending? Television?

So I pose the question to you, my fellow creative kindred spirits: what keeps you from writing/dancing/painting/playing the banjo? And if you're in the mood to delve deeper: how do you over come your obstacles? I invite you to share....

Friday, April 5, 2013

Book Review: "The Night Circus"

Erin Morgenstern's novel "The Night Circus" is beautiful and, for me at least, surprising. I wasn't exactly sure what to think when I started- I'm really not much of a Fantasy reader. The book was recommended to me because of the circus theme (my first novel, The Hunter, the Hunted and the Thief  is set in the midst of a depression-era travelling carnival) and so I thought I'd give it a try. It was worth it.
"The Night Circus" is a quick read, an easy read, but a totally immersive experience. The circus itself is probably the most fascinating character. It is gorgeous and mysterious and invites the reader to become a part of its world. This book is a wonderful escape from the everyday- its realm is imaginative and thrilling, glittering and deceptive. A wonderful place to find between the pages of a book.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Breaking Bones and Writing

Yes, I know there are worse things in the world than fracturing your elbow (which I managed to do last Sunday night). But let me tell you, it's still no fun. The pain is not exactly a party, but the level of frustration is beyond belief. I'm right handed, and it's my right hand/arm that's been out of commission for a week. Here are just a few of the things that we take for granted every day, but have had me howling/cursing/throwing things:

1) Brushing my teeth. Oh, you think that's funny? Try brushing your teeth tonight with the other hand tonight and you'll see...
2) Using a fork.
3) Zippers. Oh my God, zippers.
4) Putting my hair in a ponytail.
5) Opening Tupperware.
6) Putting an insane Jack Russell Terrier on a leash.

You get the idea.... but the number one most ridiculously frustrating thing of all about not being able to use my right hand? NOT BEING ABLE TO WRITE! Never mind that I could barely scratch out my initials on some student's field trip form or library pass- I couldn't write down an idea when I had one and was about to burst. I do all my novel pre-writing by hand and the first time I picked up a pen and couldn't even write the word "the" I almost cried. Seriously. Then I'm pretty sure I threw the pen across the room. And then cried some more because that hurt like crazy.

My point is- sometimes we just take things for granted. Like writing down a word. And then when you can't do that- you realize just how much you appreciate the smooth glide of ink on paper and the satisfying release of knowing that your idea is safe and you can forget about it now and come back to it later and go on with your life. It really puts it all in perspective....

(ps- the pain has diminished to the point where I can now type with two hands and slowly, gently, pick up a pen and get those ideas down. ahhhh.....)

Friday, March 29, 2013

Book Review: "Modoc" by Ralph Helfer

This book is so much more than "just" an animal book, or even a book about the relationship between animals and humans. This is a book about friendship at a deeper level than most people will ever experience love. Modoc: The True Story of the Greatest Elephant that Ever Lived, by Ralph Helfer, is transcendent. There are circuses and wild adventures- so wild that at times I had to stop and remind myself that yes, this is all true- and the reader will ultimately be whipped through a range of eviscerating emotions, but at the deepest core of the story is the simple, and profound, connection between two beings, two souls- a boy and his elephant, an elephant and her boy. I read Modoc many years ago and yet I still carry the story with me. I am reminded of it whenever I encounter something sublime, something perfect and unexplainable, because after reading Modoc's tale I know that the impossible is possible and the mysteries of the world do not have to be understood, but, rather, simply appreciated.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Racing and Writing

"The smell of burned rubber"- it sounds so cliche. Until you actually smell it. And hear the roar reverberating into the vast space between the straight away and the sky. And feel the tension singing through the air, creating a live wire that connects the driver to the engine to the stands and up to you. It buzzes behind your ears and slows your breath and prickles your skin. It stops your heart for a half-beat.

And these are the sensations I experienced from only watching the Honda Grande Prix Indy Race. I can only imagine what I'm going to feel when I write one of the characters for my next book into the driver's seat. THAT is going to be incredible......

Friday, March 22, 2013

Book Review: "The Last Viking"

I live in Florida. I complain of being cold when it's 75 degrees and sunny outside. I'm that annoying, whiny person sitting next to you in the car who is constantly turning the AC off when you're not looking. So maybe this is why I love non-fiction books about explorers who test the limits of human survival. Books such as Endurance and In the Heart of the Sea mesmerize me- how could those people stare cannibalism in the face and keep going while I can barely contain my anger at being stuck on the interstate in afternoon traffic? It's incredible....

Stephen Bown's The Last Viking: The Life of Roald Amundsen is just such a book to make me wonder at the sheer willpower of the human spirit. What impresses me so much about Amundsen is not just the fact that he was the first man to reach both the north and the south pole, but that he simply made a decision to do so- and then did it. His vision, tenacity and commitment to near-impossible dreams is awe-inspiring. Yet The Last Viking is not written as an inspirational tome, just as Amundsen did not see him self as an inspirational person. It is written in a frank, vivid style and let's you make up your own mind as to your opinion of Amundsen's character. Many saw him as a hero; many also saw him as a villain. Undoubtedly, though, he was a pioneer and Bown's account of his life is well-worth reading.