What is your Favorite Christmas Song?

Yes, yes, I am soooo late! I should have had this up two or three days ago! Forgive me; it is the after Christmas head-mush of someone trying to get themselves back into gear.

And before you ask, head-mush is a severe medical condition caused by too much sugar, a bit of alcohol, a marvelous feast, and several days of laying around while reading books, playing video games, and watching the snow fall. Or wishing you were watching the snow fall as the rain laughs at you.

And the final contestansts are:

Parody of the Night Before Christmas by Lauren Stone
T’was the night before Christmas and all through the house,
not a creature was stirring, except Aunt Doreen, snorting coke off her dealer Mouse.
Uncle Thomas was sleeping, passed out in a haze,
while empty beer bottles flew about with malaise.
Cousin Jimmy was crying, his father was cruel,
before going to bed he smeared him with stool.
The feces and liquor permeating the air,
gave tidings of reindeer too weak to repair.
Our fathers were hunters and republicans too.
They shot that poor Rudolf, cause he was a Jew.
“Commie bastard,” they wailed into the night,
“Come here, and I’ll teach you the real meaning of fright.”
So I lie on the floor in my sack made of nylon
and pray for the morning and its sun to shine on.
My dysfunctional family all round the tree,
opening presents while grandma screams, “God dammit, I have to pee.”


Parody of Ding Dong Merrily On High by S.M. Carrière
Ding, dong merrily we're high
In our heads bells are ringing.
Ding, dong eating a whole pie
While praises we are singing.
Gloria, Marijuana in excess!

E'en so into bong we blow
Let stoner's talk be stumblin'
And "io, io, io!"
By priests and people sungen.
Gloria, Marijuana in excess!

Pray you dutifully inhale
Your morning puff, ye smokers.
May you beautifully exhale
Your evening bud, ye tokers.
Gloria, Marijuana in excess!


Parody of Deck the Halls by Andy Love
Deck the halls with bits of body,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Paint the floors with blood from Holly,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Don we now our can of petrol,
Fa la la, la la la, la la la.
Throw the ancient fuel on Carol,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

See the blazing fool before us,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Strike her head don‘t make a fuss.
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Follow me looking for treasure,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
When I kill it’s such a pleasure,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Fast away the old car passes,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Hail the cops, ye lads and lasses,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.


Sing we Phychos, all together,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
We love dead in any weather,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Parody of Joy to the World by Wendy's Children
Joy to the world,
Barney is dead
We barbecued his head!
Don't worry about the body,
we flushed it down the poddy,
And round and round it goes...
shoved it in with just our toes..
and Ro-Ound and round and round it goes!


Another Parody of Twas the Night Before Christmas by The Brit
Twas the night before Christmas when the temperature dropped, to thirty below,
and then the water stopped.

As the pipes burst below, there arose such a clatter, then the furnace blew up! Now what was the matter?

He tried to light the fireplace, but the flue had rusted in, so he banged and pounded until it swung in, raining dozens of birds nests... and an empty bottle of Gallo Cafe Zin.

In the midst of this trial the circuits arced out, just as the water heater screamed like a tea kettle spout.

Up to the roof, he shot with all speed, to confront that old fart about his joke.

Indeed, he intended to confront the old hoke, when two steps from the top, the ladder rungs broke.

He fell into his pool as the water disappeared, through a crack in the earth... could it get any more weird?

Then from down on the street he heard the laughter of the Kringle.

As his house burned to the ground, the sleigh bells did jingle.

When his brand-new ferrari drove out of sight, his iPhone beeped, and to our delight...

The text message said; You're fired you schmuck.
Your insurance's been cancelled and you're now out'a luck.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~


Reminder of the Rules:

  1. Vote for anybody, even yourself, if you truly feel that one is the best.


  2. You can only vote once so make sure it counts.


  3. If there is a tie for 1st place, both contestants will receive the prize.


  4. Talking smack is allowed.


  5. Have fun. If you don't, you're disqualified.


Voting will last one week, closing at midnight on Thursday, January 7th, 2009.

What Was Under the Tree for Me...

The Christmas Eve Intruder

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.


A beautiful story if a bit unrealistic. In our house, the kids zipped about, chasing each other up and down the stairs, hollering and singing and dancing. They get it from their father. I blame it all on him.

It was late before I finally got them to sleep. Because I told them Santa wasn't real, I can't use the line, "Go to bed or Santa won't come." There's no manipulating them into early bedtimes.

And before you scold me for ruining the Christmas spirit, these three little girls with their vivid imaginations create the magic of Christmas all on their own.

OK, the truth is I'm not any good at lying. Since my own parents thought that Santa was against their religious beliefs, I never believed in him (never went trick-or-treating either). So I never got the whole Santa thing. I don't understand why people make such a big deal about him.

Finally curled up in bed, snuggled up warm and tight to TJ, I dreamt of something like sugarplums in my head, but a thud clattering down stairs woke me. I poked TJ. "Someone broke in," I said.

"Grahgrahgrahgrum," he answered and rolled over.

I grabbed my robe and snuck down the stairs. The last thing it could be was Santa. After all, I just said how he didn't exist. Careful not to kick a toy, step on the cat, squeak a floor board, I crept closer, one step at a time, and peeked over the railing. A man wearing combat boots and red Santa hat was sifting under the tree, picking up boxes, shaking them, and tossing them back over his shoulder. In the light from the window, I could only make out some dark hair, a scowl, and a ring glistening on his finger.

Who was this guy?

He wasn't CJ. At least, he didn't seem to have CJ's catlike grace. He wasn't invisible, so he couldn't have been Rico Suave.

Then—oh crap—it dawned on me. GergisKhan!

What was he doing in my living room? Going through our presents? He must have thought there was something hidden here—something that obviously didn't exist. I mean, come on! Why would I hide a dangerous package in my house, under my Christmas tree?

I snuck back up to my room and grabbed my camera. Hey, I may be brave, but I'm also smart enough to know when I'm outmatched! If I could just get the pictures into the right hands (ahem, the Sandbox Investigations Director Paul Mitton)…

Coming back down the stairs, I tripped, tumbling down, and tackled the poor, innocent cat. My mysterious intruder looked up, surprised, giving me a good look at his dark eyes. Then he turned and ran.

I jumped to my feet and raced after him, snapping pictures as fast as I could…

through the school room,
into the kitchen,
past the dining room table,
around the rocking chair,
down the hall,
out the front door…

Then he jumped into a silver car and sped away. License plate started with the characters "7DRA."

Disappointed, I went back inside to check the pictures. I had snapped 10 or so and only one of them came out—




—a picture of his hand with the ring as he swung around the rocking chair.

Now let me just say that my digital camera is not the best. I got it on sale for $80 a few years back. I was proud to have it—my first digital camera—but there is this 2-second delay between when I click the camera and the picture is actually taken. In that time, any moving target is gone.

Hey, if you have a problem with that, I'll email you my address, and you can ship me a new one. I mean, geez, I risked life and limb to bring you this story!

If anyone has any information about this ring or why GergisKhan was searching the Christmas presents under my tree, please let me know.


* ~ * ~ * ~ *


Disclaimer: This is a fictional story, written by reader input. Thanks to Carlos, Gwen, Renee, Joe, and Henry for their cooperation. You all have made this a joy to write.

This story is dedicated to the online Goodreads group On Fiction Writing and the authors of the Ménage à 20.

Tagged

S.M. Carrière and Paige Ray both tagged me on their blogs. It's sort of a game. I'm to answer the same 26 questions and then tag 3 more authors.

So here goes:

1. What's the last thing you wrote? What's the first thing you wrote that you still have?
Other than blog entries, the last thing I wrote was Writer's Dream, a submission for Ménage à 20, which was accepted and then published in December 2009.

The first thing I ever wrote that I still have is a humorous description of how to navigate my childhood home, entering through my bedroom window and moving from one end of the house to the next. My mother read every word as though it was a treasure. From that day forward, I believed I was a writer. In reality, I had a long way to go.

2. Write poetry?
I write a silly line of poetry--here or there, mostly in emails--when the mood strikes. I especially like haikus. How's this for a silly haiku?


My orange is round
I named him Sam for I feel
Happy and Silly


My professor liked it but didn't know what it meant. He might not've liked it so much if he knew it didn't mean anything at all.

3. Angsty poetry?
Nah. I'm too much of a cup-is-half-full kind of girl.

4. Favourite genre of writing?
Science Fiction.

5. Most annoying character you've ever created?
Jaak from my story Scrolls was quite annoying before I edited. He had an ego problem, insisted he should be in charge, and was as wishy-washy as laundry. I had planned that he would be an honor bound warrior. Instead, he turned out to be just whiny and easily manipulated by T&A and a pretty smile.

6. Best plot you've ever created?
Secrets was my best plot, but maybe I'm biased by the fact that the POV was one of my favorite characters. I am in the process of editing this story now and will re-release it in a few weeks.

7. Coolest plot twist you've ever created?
For plot twists, Peering in the Window was the coolest, at least certainly the most fun to write. The story is about a lonely girl who doesn't fit in. When a man in her office takes interest in her, she's lost. To read more, check out the story in the Ménage à 20.

8. How often do you get writer's block?
I get "Writer's Distraction" more than writer's block. I have a tendency to check my mail or catch up on Goodreads during my writing time. Goodreads is so addictive.

9. Write fan fiction?
No, I'd rather work on something original.

10.Do you type or write by hand?
My hands would cramp too much if I wrote by hand.

11. Do you save everything you write?
I have a great deal that I have written over the years, but not all.

12. Do you ever go back to an idea after you've abandoned it?
I have never abandoned an idea, but I did put aside my novel to work on shorter works. This year, I wanted to practice new ideas, styles, and techniques in order to grow as a writer. I saw my novel as being the only story for me, as if I was married to it, and taking a break in order to date--er, write--new stories made me realize that I'm not hemmed in.

13. What's your favourite thing you've ever written?
My novelette Dreams was by far my favorite story. Writing from a boy's perspective really pushed me.

14. What's everyone else's favourite story you've written?
The story Writer's Dream is the one that most people have responded to favorably. One friend didn't believe I'd written it because it was too good, he said. * sigh *

After much weeping, pouting, yelling, and stomping my feet, I have finally forgiven him. No, it didn't really take long. I laughed at him instead of having a temper tantrum.

15. Ever written romance or angsty teen?
I have added romance to my stories, and I've had angsty teens--and angsty adults--here or there. But I've never written a story that was only romance or only angsty teen. I guess I write the story that needs to be told. The only labels I could put on my writing is Science Fiction or Fantasy (or both).

16. What's your favourite setting for your characters?
A spaceship.

17. How many writing projects are you working on now?
Seven. Four to be edited, two to be written, and one on hold.

18. Have you ever won an award for your writing?
There's always tomorrow.

19. What are your five favourite words?
I don't know if I have favorite words, but I do know some words I use a lot: There. Tada. and That's a good idea.

How do I know I say those words a lot? Because my kids say them to me a lot.

20. What character have you created that is most like yourself?
They all are, to some extent. But most like me? Maybe Jadon. Maybe Barra. I'm not sure.

Maybe Lelea when I'm gluten free.

21. Where do you get your ideas for your characters?
Books, movies, and life. I'm a people watcher. In high school, I knew more about my classmates than their own friends did because I watched the expressions on their faces. Because I know myself, I can understand other people, put myself in their shoes.

22. Do you ever write based on your dreams?
Sometimes, I have some cool dreams, great adventures, but only once did I ever write from a dream. The story was Writer's Dream, in which Jason pursues a new career as a writer. But he's a man who is haunted by his own grief at the loss of his newborn son, hiding in anger and drowning himself in his whiskey bottle.

23. Do you favour happy endings?
I prefer to have an ending where the story continues without me, that when I close the book, I know the hero and heroine are still adventuring in the world that I just left. It's very hard to create such an ending.

24. Are you concerned with spelling and grammar as you write?
To some extent, yes. I edit as I go, correcting typing errors, spelling and grammar, and sentence structure, but I also know that I will come back and edit several more times before I even let anyone see it.

...as opposed to my early days of writing, where I tortured everybody as soon as I was done with the first draft.

25. Does music help you write?
Absolutely. With music, I fall into another dimension in which the story pores out. Once the CD ends, I lose my momentum even if I haven't actually noticed that the music is no longer playing.

26. Quote something you've written. Whatever pops in your head.

From Scrolls:


When they reached the base of the tree, Lelea grinned down at them. She held a red ball in her hand, and she took a big bite from it. Inside, the red ball was white, and the juice dribbled down her chin. She grinned at them. "It's an apple," she declared happily. "Have one." She tossed one to Chester, who tried to catch but missed. The strange red apple fell to her feet.

Chester picked it up and eyed it suspiciously. Lelea tossed more apples down to the ground and then slid down to stand beside them. "You hold it like this," Lelea took Chester's hand and positioned the apple inside. Then she gently brought the apple to Chester's lips. "It's sweet," Lelea promised.

"What's 'sweet?'" Chester said, looking at the apple carefully.

"Sweet is a flavor." Lelea laughed. "Just try it. It didn't hurt me."

Jaak's stomach growled. What he wouldn't give for his ration bar or the occasional rat or roach that crept too close. But this apple—likely it would kill him in an hour.

Chester looked at Lelea as though inspecting her for deceit. "I guess," she said hesitantly. She took a bite, and her face broke into a smile. "How come we don't have any of these at home?"

The smile on Lelea's face died away, and tears spilled from her eyes. "The death of spring, the end of all," she said mysteriously. She held up a half-eaten apple and let it fall away from her hand. A dull thud echoed in their ears.

"She's mad," Ahern said.


One of the reasons that I liked this passage is because I had to teach my children how to hold an apple to eat it whole. They were used to getting apples already sliced, so when I handed them a big, red apple, they tried to eat it at the stem. Like Lelea did for Chester, I situated the apple in their hand, their thumb at the stem, their fingers at the bottom, and then I moved it to their mouths to show them where to eat. If you had never eaten an apple before, what kind of experience would it be?

* ~ * ~ * ~ *


So we now bestow this gift of tagging upon our fellow writers and friends:

Wendy Swore
Kate Quinn
Henry Lara

Makani Caught with a Book at 1 a.m.




At 7-years-old, Makani is an avid explorer. If there is anything to learn, a book to read, a frog to catch, a puzzle to solve, she will stop at nothing until she has mastered it. Somedays, we can't keep up with her voracious appetite for knowledge.

So, to catch her asleep with a book in hand surprised us. Not beacuse she had the book, but rather that she had fallen asleep before she had finished it, even if it was her third time to read it.

Querying Agents

Jump through a hoop, dance on one leg, wiggle your toes, walk while balancing a bowl of water on your head--and don't spill or you are out of the game--run naked through the streets of Nome in January. It would be easier to do any of those things than to get published, I think.

I just read the Jaquelyn Wheeler blog's description of finding an agent, a highly amusing and informative read.

Like her, I chose self-publishing for this very reason, but I have since learned that it takes a team to be successful--to proofread, edit, create cover art, build websites, market a book. No one lives or dies or succeeds alone. Going the traditional route gives you an experienced team to make your dreams come true.

And sometimes experience just means stodgy.

CJ Exposed

The room was dark with just enough light to keep me from bumping into anything.

A noise in the corner, like a shoe scuffing on the tile floor, and my heart leapt into my throat. I could barely breathe.

I stood still, hoping whoever it was didn't know I was there. My ears searched the room for the tiniest sound. Nothing. All was quiet.

I took another step and tripped over a chair in a loud clamor of clanging metal, cursing, and "ow, ow, my toe." It was too late to be quiet anyway.

Then with a knife to my back, I clamped my mouth shut. The pain in my toe was gone, forgotten.

"CJ, isn't it?" I whispered.

"Yes." His voice was husky. Maybe if I didn't have a knife to my back, I might even say sexy.

"You going to kill me?"

"Maybe."

Maybe it was the training, years of drills with the Sandbox, but I couldn't help digging for more information...


* ~ * ~ * ~ *


Rita: Who are you really?
CJ: I could answer 'a dreamer' but I would be playing with words. I'm a young man with old eyes.


Rita: Are you handsome or dark and brooding with anxious eyes?
CJ: Probably both. The great majority of the men and women I know have described me as a fascinating, if a little scary individual; cultured tramp, refined bum, sophisticate hobo; the man of such wit and devilish charisma that women want to mother and men to punch in the face. But the few people who know me, usually leave it at a man with the soul of a poet, the hands of a lover and the eyes of an artist.


Rita: If dark and brooding, can you be saved?
CJ: Since I don't believe in salvation or damnation the question is academic.


Rita: Who is currently in charge of the cult? You, Rico Suave, or GergisKhan?
CJ: Gengis Khan thinks he's running the show, but Rico Suave pulls the strings, as usual.


Rita: Do you peel your banana from the top or the bottom?
CJ: From the bottom, naturally. Tops are overated, I'll take bottoms anytime.


Rita: What will your next steps be? Revenge, take over the world, secure the harem?
CJ: Since the world is a huge harem, I might as well take it over.


Rita: What is your favorite type of donut?
CJ: The one sampled in small bites, in that delicious twilight between sleep and wakefulness to the contented purr, next to my ear, of a two-legged feline.


Rita: How do you take your coffee? No, we're not asking because we're going to poison it.
CJ: Shared, creamy, and preferably to dunking the aforementioned donut.


Rita: Who was the mysterious man that died when taken into custody after the police mistook him for you?
CJ: Balthazar Ho, a Sino-Jordanian professor of subliminal callisthenics at Upper Volta University, was an extraordinary man. Slight of body, with piercing eyes and a clown smile, he would stroll under the stands of acacias flanking the campus, listening to the rustle of leaves and the clicks of insects. Throughout his life, he searched for a woman, a unique woman with whom to share meaningful silences, and welcome dawns holding hands as the stars fade before blushing clouds. Someone had beaten him to her, so he searched in vain. Disheartened from his hopeless quest, he considered monastic life. I convinced him that the slammer was more fun and he jumped at the opportunity.

* ~ * ~ * ~ *


I was out of questions, and the knife pressed closer. I could tell that this would be one of those days that I'd regret not wearing that methril coat for special occasions.

Just then the curtains blurred as if blowing in the wind, and then they detached from the wall, coming at me like a ghost. CJ spun about and ran from the room, the blur chasing after him.

I reached for my back. There was a hole in my shirt, but my skin was intact. I breathed a sigh of relief. Once again, I had eluded death.



Disclaimer: This is a fictional story, written by reader input. Thanks to Carlos, Gwen, Renee, Joe, and Henry for their cooperation. You all have made this a joy to write.

This story is dedicated to the online Goodreads group On Fiction Writing and the authors of the Ménage à 20.

Review of The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks

The intense introduction of this book did not disappoint me. Brent Weeks fulfiled his promise of an amazing adventure in this assassin's tale.

What I enjoyed most about this book was the characters. Azoth is very complex. As a wetboy's apprentice, he knows how to fight, to poison, to leave no witnesses, to become the shadow of the night. But there is one thing he cannot do--the one thing that he swore to his master he would do--and that is to stop loving Doll Girl.

I've written and rewritten this review in hopes of being able to summarize this story adequately. My words just don't seem to do it justice. So I decided to let the author tell the story himself by sharing some of my favorite quotes:

A wetboy was like an assassin--in the way a tiger is like a kitten.
--The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks, page 4



"Life is empty. When we take a life, we aren't taking anything of value. Wetboys are killers. That's all we do. That's all we are. There are no poets in the bitter business," Blint said. "You aren't making art, you're making corpses. Dead is dead ... Don't play with your kills. Don't go for the one-thrust beautiful finish. Cut someone twenty times and let them collapse from blood loss--then finish them. You aren't making art, you're making corpses."
--The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks, page 92


"You're not shit unless I say so!" the king said. He strode forward, coming down his double flight of seven steps to stand in front of Durzo. Tactically, a poor move. He was now blocking at least three of the archer's shots. "You're . . . you're shit! You shitting, shitting shit!"

"Your Majesty," Durzo said gravely. "A man of your stature's cursing vocabulary ought to extend beyond a tedious reiteration of the excreta that fills the void between his ears."

The king looked momentarily confused.
--The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks, page 368

10 things I don't want for xmas

1. Smelly Candles that TJ won't let me even burn



2. Stinky Lotions that make me sneeze



3. Silly Knickknacks that I have no use for



4. a Hippopotamus because I'd have no place to put it



5. my Two Front Teeth because I already have them



6. Christmas Cookies that I can't eat because they are made with wheat



7. another Warm Coat as somebody gets me one almost every year. There's only so many coats a girl can wear at one time. Though I could always use gloves. I've always wanted some of those colorful ones.



8. a Brand New Car because I think those get-him-or-her-a-Lexus-for-Christmas commercials are silly. What will you do next year when you are still paying for this year?



9. CD of Christmas classics because I can't stand Xmas music



10. a Sweater because no one seems to know my colors like I do. If I say I like green, they get neon.


So what do I want? A cup of hot cocoa, warm fuzzy slippers, and the chance to curl up in front of a warm fire, cuddled up to TJ. I'm a simple girl who loves simple pleasures.

The Chase Is On

Paul Mitton, the Sandbox Investigation Director, announced yesterday in a publicly released statement that the stolen corpse was not the body of the cultist/terrorist CJ. The DNA sample still available in the morgue revealed that the man was John Doe, a cult member whose face had been altered with plastic surgery.

On December 2, 2009, police caught John Doe when he attempted to elude authorities. Doe died after swallowing a red earring that contained poison. The body was stolen after Doe's funeral on December 9th.

Currently, authorities search for CJ across continents. Sightings of the elusive CJ have been reported throughout the world. It is believed that many of these reports are erroneous. "There is no way that CJ could possibly be in Moscow and in Washington DC on the same day," reported Mitton.

Some rumors have been circulating that an unknown entity cloned CJ, but this cannot be confirmed or denied. Scientists are currently investigating a medical facility in the South Pacific.

In other news, Rico Suave was last seen in Boston, MA, where he shortly disappeared. No further sign of him has been discovered at this time.

If you have seen either CJ or Rico Suave or know their whereabouts, please do not confront them. I repeat, do not approach these very dangerous individuals. Please contact your local authorities or leave a message here. All information that you give will be compiled and given to the FBI/CIA for further investigation.


Disclaimer: This is a fictional story, written by reader input. Thanks to Gwen, Renee, Joe, and Henry for their cooperation. Thank you to Carlos for his sense of humor. At least, I hope he has a sense of humor.

This story is dedicated to the online Goodreads group On Fiction Writing and the authors of the Ménage à 20.

Plain Donuts by Diane Condon-boutier

Once a week, I go to a bakery. Lined up in rows are cupcakes, shortbreads, pumpkin bars, lemon cheescakes. Every week, I get the joy of picking out one special treat, my only treat for the week, and I always choose something different. Last night, it was a brownie with a chocolate fudge raspberry icing. With Irish cream coffee, of course.

So Diane's story Plain Donuts made quite an impact on me. My husband said, "Yes, that could have been you." Except, after all that studying and dreaming, I never would have picked plain. No, I would have gone for something special, perhaps one with nuts or cream filling or chocolate.

Of all the stories in the Ménage à 20 anthology, I think Plain Donuts stands out the most in my mind, not necessarily as my favorite, but as the one that haunts me. There is a hidden tale that speaks to me, reminds me of the gift life is, and calls me to enjoy the experience before me. There's wisdom in that small gesture, in appreciating, savoring, the good things we've been given.

I contacted Diane and asked her for an interview. She wrote back with some comments about what inspired the story and her own take on breakfast.

* ~ * ~ * ~ *




Well, I do love to go to donut shops when I'm visiting home in the States, and I've always wondered who ordered the plain ones. Why would anyone do that? There's such an orgy of colors, flavors and unique combinations of jams and chocolat, that plain just seems inconceivable. Until one day I realized that sometimes it's not what you eat, but where you eat it, and who you're with.

You mentioned breakfast. A bowl of cereal scarfed down standing in front of the sink followed by a mug of coffee while driving to work is feeding your body: necessary but devoid of much pleasure. The same mug of coffee and bowl of rice krispies can be savored outside on the patio furniture on a sunny day with somebody you like to talk to. While all of our days aren't sunny, it sure makes you like the ones that are. And your rice krispies taste a whole lot better if you put a banana in them and smile at the person you love who's sitting next to you, talking about the day to come, or what your plans for the weekend are.

So, you can imagine all the fun you could have with exotic donuts....right? However, some people simply like the plain ones, shared with somebody special. That special person can be yourself, if you take the time to chew slowly and enjoy the flavor. Life rushes by so quickly that sometimes you forget to chew it. I know people who have indigestion of life because of that very thoughtless consumption of it. As you mentioned before, wisdom can come from enjoying your breakfast.....

* ~ * ~ * ~ *


If only she were at our house, she could enjoy her breakfast with 3 children who dance about the table after every bite.

You can download this story for free by going to the Ménage à 20 site. If you would like to discuss the story with the author or with other readers, please check out the author groups on Facebook and Goodreads.

5 Tips on Writing Blurby Blurbs

1. Don't write a summary.
Summaries are boring. Summaries don't catch your eye. Summaries don't make you take the book to the check out counter.

2. Imagine you are a news reporter.
What would your reporter see as news worthy? Murder, heroes, monsters. How would the ten o'clock news talk about such events.

3. Think about the headlines.
The headlines have to be eye catching. Pay attention to the blog titles, the magazine articles, the newspaper posts you read. Why did that headline catch your eye? What in your story deserves such a headline?

4. Practice writing headlines about mundane matters in your life.
Write a blurb, consisting of strung together headlines, about your new car, your kids, your spouse, your friends, your job, your grocery list. Hey, they make headlines for the supermarket ads!

5. Practice writing blurby reviews about the books you read.
Sometimes it is easier to see the headlines about somebody's else's work. So when you write a book review for your blog or for Goodreads, practice these blurby techniques.

Where in the World is CJ?

In the news article Police Caught Cultist Responsible for Idaho Terrorist Act, an anonymous message was left indicating that CJ may yet be alive.


Anonymous Said...
How dare you? You though a bunch of puny SWAT jokers could get rid of me?

My döppelganger fooled you all with his capsule-in-a-ring routine--rest in peace.

The itches will start soon from the mites and bedbugs infestation I've sent your way... about now. And this is only the beginning.

My revenge will be terrible.

CJ



If anyone has spotted or knows the whereabouts of this villain, please leave a comment. The Webb Times reporters are currently trying to track down this criminal.

Rico Suave

Messages left after Renee's interview indicated that CJ's acolyte Rico Suave had taken over the cult:

Information has come to light indicating that he was training an acolyte to assume his mantle after his demise.

We have npo [sic] conclusive proof of the inheritor's identity yet, but know that he sometimes answers to the name of Rico Suave

--Anonymous Poster


After much research, Webb Times reporters found an email address for Rico Suave and sent the new cult leader some questions.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


Rita: What was it like as an acolyte under CJ?

Rico Suave: Unnerving, exhilarating, impelling and I would dare to say, alluring.

Rita: How did you get involved in this cult group?

Rico Suave: I do not know. I know only that once I was a man, with a mind of my own. I had a job, and a cozy apartment I called home. Day after day I toiled in one of the towers at the heart of my city, making the numbers balance for one of those pointless endeavors men called "business".

One day I dreamed of being a writer. It was then that CJ came. From where I do not know, although a vague memory tells me of a time when I heard of a "Perfect Circle" and "The Prisoner" destined to be free.

"This is good," I thought. And it was indeed good.

Then the world changed, and it got quiet, and CJ sent us out. We walked and we laughed and we thought our actions were our own, but they were not. We would gather in places without knowing how it was that we knew where to go; my days became haunted by images of events, terrible events involving fire, and animals, and other...things. They were like dreams, only that deep in the crevices of my mind I knew they were not. I would look at people I didn't know, but know nonetheless. We would share a knowing glance, for we knew what the other thought.

CJ. He has come. It was he that lead us on, an army numbering in the millions, guarding his harems, doing his bidding. All of us mindless, voiceless, a whole whose soul was CJ.

Wait what was the question?


Rita: As the new cult leader, what can the public expect?

Rico Suave: Mwahahahahaha!


Rita: What kind of donuts do you like?

Rico Suave: Boston Cream!!! Anything with coconut comes a close second.


Rita: If you could be a fruit, what would it be and why?

Rico Suave: Banana.

What?


Rita: Well, there you have it folks. The Banana known as Rico Suave is ready to take over the world.

Disclaimer: This is a fictional story and in no way represents real events.

Written in honor of the members of the On Fiction Writing group. Thank you to Renee, Carlos, Wendy, Paul, Joe, and Henry for their cooperation.

Please check out the Ménage à 20 for more great stories by Twenty Goodreads Authors, some of which have contributed to or have been referenced in this story.

Sandbox Interrogation of the Mysterious GergisKhan

The body of cultist CJ was stolen by a mysterious character known only as GergisKhan, according to comments left in response to an interview with the Sandbox member Renee.

GergisKhan said...
Silently, stealthily, the figure moved towards the goal. To the casual observer, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Just another tech wheeling just another body to a non-descript room in a no-name mortuary in some podunk town.


Yet, what is ordinary, in death? Is death not that ultimate voyage from which no one has returned, at least in recent history, to tell us the tale of what lies beyond?


And so, in a most un-ordinary fashion, what seemed like the standard preparations for a viewing turned into something far more sinister. The casual observer saw a mortuary technician wheeling a body, draped with a sheet, from one room to another. Few people suspected, let alone knew, that it would be the last time either were seen. And it only took five hours for anything wrong to be noticed.


Going deep undercover, reporter for the Webb Times intercepted the following conversation:


The Sandbox: State your real name, rank, and serial number.

GergisKhan: Pavel Andreievich Chekov. Rank - Admiral. Serial number 656-5827B


The Sandbox: Are you a threat to the security of The Sandbox?

GergisKhan: What is secure? How do you define 'secure'?


The Sandbox: Don't be smart with me, Mr. Khan. Answer the question: Are you or are you not in contact with Rico Suave?

GergisKhan: I am not familiar with the man formerly known as Gerardo.


The Sandbox: What is your stake in this situation? Why did you steal the body?

GergisKhan: Steal what body? Body? I ain't seen no body!


The Sandbox: Where were you on the night of January 22, 2006?

GergisKhan: Hmmmm. I actually know the answer to this one. I was on my couch, I believe. I was recovering from a back injury.


The Sandbox: If you could be any animal what would you be and why?

GergisKhan: I already AM an animal. Animalia Chordata Mammalia Primate Hominidae Homo Sapien. And I have no choice but to be one in the matter.


The Sandbox: Smartass. What type of donut do you like with your coffee?

GergisKhan: Crullers are nice.


The Sandbox: Good thing you didn't pick plain; we'd have had to kill you instantly. Do you like shark soup?

GergisKhan: A more appropriate question is whether sharks like Khan Soup.


The Sandbox: You imagine yourself to be a dangerous man, Mr. Khan. I don't recommend that you play games with us. Answer our final question or die: what island in the Caribbean would you prefer to live?

GergisKhan: 25N 71W


The Sandbox: Clever. Thank you, Mr. Khan, that is all we need for now. Please, don't travel too far for a while. We'll be watching. In the meantime, please read your copy of the Ménage à 20; perhaps all could be forgiven.

A Night of Music

Last night, my husband waited for me in the parking lot of my work place, ready to whisk me away for a night on the town. I knew this would happen, but where we were going, I had no clue. After dinner at a steakhouse--mmm, rack of lamb--we went to downtown Cincinnati to an orchestral performance of Star Wars.

There is something about live music, kerfluffing me all the way down to my toes, as though it envelops me in a soft warm blanket, soothing, warming, satisfying, spreading through me like a fine wine.

The music wakened something inside me, the internal core of who I am which I had lost in the hours focused on my writing. A person can only take so many hours of work a week. Today was a day for living--a walk in the park, a bubble bath, cuddles with kids, time for games with friends. What a beautiful day!

Kidnapped.

You have reached Rita's blog, but she is not here right now. She has been kidnapped for the evening and will return in the morning. If you need to contact her, please leave a message after the beep.

* Beep *

Special Report: The Body of Cultist CJ is Missing



Funeral Picture by Luis Cano,
Back Cover Picture of the Ménage à 20 anthology


After the funeral for cult terrorist CJ, held yesterday, December 9th, 2009, the body has disappeared, reports the funeral director, name withheld. "I went to cremate him after the funeral," the director said, "but the casket was empty."

The CIA and the FBI still refuse to answer questions. It is unknown whether authorities believe CJ to be alive or dead at this time.

In the meantime, please check out the Ménage à 20 web site for your free download or purchase your paperback or hardback copy.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


This series of short stories is dedicated to Renee, Carlos, Paul, and Wendy. You can read more here:

Terrorist Attack in Pocatello, ID
Police Caught Cultist Responsible for Terrorist Attack
Exclusive Interview of Renee, Sandbox Member

Exclusive Interview with Renee, Sandbox Member




Authorities are still at a loss to explain the recent events that led to the mysterious suicide of the cult terrorist CJ. Renee Miller-Johnston, a member of the secret society The Sandbox, a human-interest group, reluctantly agreed to an interview with Webb Times. Perhaps she can shed some light on the Pocatello attack that occurred in the summer of 2009.

Rita: The question of the decade: Who is the mysterious CJ? Everyone wants to know.

Renee: I'm afraid we must keep CJ's identity a secret, for his identity could expose the Sandbox. I will say, he is a very talented and respected author. He has a way with the ladies; I'm not sure I've ever seen one come away unscathed, or quite the same after an encounter with him. This is why it was imperative that he be stopped. Can you imagine the power he would hold should he manage to seduce a larger portion of the female population? Terrifying.


Rita: How did the Sandbox get involved in solving this crime?

Renee: Several members of the Sandbox happened to be watching a friend's farm while she was away. Little did they know the madness that would ensue next door. CJ went nuts, drunk on his own power, painting barns, plucking chickens, burning piles of manure. His followers would do whatever he asked; it was escalating out of control. I can't imagine what would have happened if we hadn't been there. I'm sure the pigs would have been next. We wanted to take him alive, to examine him and figure out just what it is he has that these women want and how much he really knows about the Sandbox. Now, we'll never know.


Rita: You mention the Sandbox a lot. They seem to have eyes and ears everywhere. Who are these secret people in this secret society known as the Sandbox?

Renee: The Sandbox is a secret society of writers. Of course, we do much more than write, but our other activities must remain secret. I'm sorry, but I'm sure you understand. Should I reveal what we do I could vanish without a trace. I don't want to do that. I'm not at liberty to reveal the other members' identities. Some of them are in deep cover, so to name them would ruin their current operations. Perhaps some day we'll be able to come out more fully into the open. I don't do undercover work, so my identity isn't secret. I'm far too public to do undercover. People always find me out.


Rita: Now that CJ is dead, what will the Sandbox do next? After the funeral, of course.

Renee: As for what we'll do now--we're waiting until after the funeral to decide. There are several members of CJ's harem waiting in the wings, hoping to get even. Then there's the matter of the body. Until we see a body, we will not have confirmation that CJ is in fact dead. He is a slippery individual. Those women would do anything for him. I wouldn't put it past them to stage his death using some other poor fool in his place. The plan is to confirm that he is dead, and then move on to other lesser threats. Maybe we'll write something. It's been a while since we've had time to do that. CJ has kept us very busy.

Written in dedication to Renee, Paul, Wendy, and Carlos. Thanks for your sense of humor.

Also dedicated to OFW and the authors of the Ménage à 20.

Out of Focus

I have returned to the real world and have found that in my absence my body was not well taken-care-of. Three days, lost in a place where assassins lurk, where the good guys are only slightly better than the bad, shere the enemies are poised to invade, and where, in the end, the city is blown to smithereens, I find that I did not get much sleep.

I am looking at my computer and can only see it if I squint. I can't seem to focus, and my mind is as bleary as tea. Is tea bleary? I'm not sure.

The short of it is that this teleporting in and out of strange worlds is not good for the health. Maybe I should take a few days off, stay home, prop up my feet, and sleep rather than picking up the next book in the series.

Intense Intros

I just started this book The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks. Within the 1st chapter, a mere 6 pages, there are no less than 7 highly stressful situations, each worse than the last.

Mr. Weeks starts off with suppressed action: "Azoth squatted in the alley, cold mud squishing through his bare toes." This is a very unassuming sentence, simple, almost bland. Nothing is happening. No dialog. No danger. No stress. But there are two very important things that happens in this first sentence: squatting and squishing.

To squat requires tense muscles, as if one was about to spring into action. This gives the reader the sensation that something interesting is about to happen, much more than, say, standing. Standing in an alley seems very ordinary. No tense muscles for that.

And cold mud squishing through your toes gives a very real sensation to the reader. Cold. Mud. Squishing. Bare. Toes. Each word has a sensual reaction within me. I can feel my toes, squishing in the mud.

First Problem
The next paragraphs show the kid climbing into a small crawlspace under a tavern to find coppers that had slipped through the building's bamboo floor by drunken. In this crawlspace are spiders, cockroaches, rats, and a wild tom-cat, but that isn't his primary concern. Patrons, stepping overhead, could press the bamboo into his back, pinning him. He must maneuver carefully. Or he would get stuck like he did last time.

Second Problem
He must collect 4 coppers to give to Rat for his guild dues, or Rat will beat, possibly to death like he did Little last week.

Third Problem
His shirt catches on a piece of splintered wood, and he can't get loose.

Fourth Problem
The room above is occupied by arguing assassins. Azoth is likely witnessing something that could get him murdered.

Fifth Problem
The first problem became reality when one of the assassins steps on his back and slams his face under a muddy puddle. In his surprise, he almost breathed in the water, which would have revealed his presence to the assassins.

Sixth Problem
As the fight occurs over his head, he realizes that something is crawling up his leg. Too small to be a cockroach. It had to be a white wolf spider. If it bit him, not even a healer could save his leg. He must not squirm or it'll bite. Furthermore, he must move his waist band to let the spider out.

Seventh Problem
The spider crawls onto his thumb, and he looks at it. It is the white wolf spider he thought it would be, and he flings it away. Then he reaches for the splintered branch to break it off, to set himself free. The sound echoes in the eerie silence after the fight between the assassins. Who is left? Did they hear him?

Eighth Problem
As he crawls out, 6 coppers in hand, a sword is struck through the floor and into the mud, barring his escape.

So there are four basic problems throughout the chapter: the space he had to work with, the possibility of being pinned by the bamboo floor, the poisonous spiders, and the assassins over his head.

One thing I liked about how the author handled the scene is that each possible danger took its swipe at the kid, some at the same time.

Yes, this book holds much promise. I must go now. I have something I must read.

*big grin*

Writer's Dream cloud



Here's the cloud for Writer's Dream, one of my short stories that will be published in the Ménage-à-20 anthology.

Okay, I'm having way too much fun with this thing. Go make your own at http://www.wordle.net/, post it on your own web site, and leave a link here for others to check yours out.

Police Caught Cultist Responsible for Idaho Terrorist Act

A member of the human-interest group The Sandbox reported vital information last week to authorities that led to the whereabouts of the famous cultist that was allegedly responsible for the terrorist attack of a farm outside Pocatello, Idaho.

"He was lurking in some online chatroom," Mark Anderson, sheriff of Pocatello, said in an exclusive interview with Webb Times Newspaper. "We lured him out, but he caught onto us and slipped away."

After leading police on a high speed chase through the Idaho country roads, the cultist known only as CJ died shortly after being taken into custody. The coroner's report revealed poison.

"A secret compartment in his ring held a red capsule," Anderson said. "There was nothing that we could have done."

The police are still baffled as to who the mysterious cultist, code name CJ, is. The trail led to Barcelona, Spain, and then died. "It is as though he never existed prior to the week before the attack," Anderson said. Local authorities are currently talking to the FBI and CIA, which have refused to answer questions.

Funeral arrangements for CJ have been arranged by The Sandbox and will be held December 9th. Speaking with Webb Times anonymously, one Sandbox member said, "No one, not even a terrorist, should be buried without a proper service."

Written in dedication to Renee, Paul, Wendy, and Carlos. Thanks for your sense of humor.

Also dedicated to OFW and the authors of the Ménage-à-20.

wordle



Pretty, isn't it? It's composed of the words from my blog, my own personal cloud.

Just go to http://www.wordle.net/ and you can create your own cloud by copying/pasting text or by entering a web address.

You can use it to make T-shirts, to check your most used words within a story, to decorate your blog, or maybe even make a book cover...

What would you use it for?

The I-Hate-Xmas-Music Contest

I am not a Scrooge. I am not Grinch. I love Christmas--the cookies, the tree, the presents, the lights, the miracles, the Christmas story--but I hate the music. Over the last few years, I've noticed that there are hundreds of remakes of the same few songs, and everybody competes on who can sing the prettiest.

If I have to listen to one more "Walking in a Winter Wonderland" or "Silver Bells," I'm going to scream. The only music I have enjoyed in the last 10 years is the Transiberian Orchestra, a symphonic metal group that performs Christmas music.

So I propose a Christmas contest: original Xmas poetry that has a fresh perspective or a parody of an old song. Anything to breathe new life on the Christmas spirit!

Here's the rules:

1. The competition is open to a Christmas poetry or musical parody.

2. Submit as many entries as you want.

3. All entries must be in English, original, unpublished, and not submitted or accepted elsewhere at the time of submission. CYA maneuver.

4. To enter the contest, post a comment with your entry and then email me your mailing address to rita@ritajwebb.com along with an author's bio. In case you win, I'll need this to send you your prize and to post some information about you.

5. Entries must be submitted by midnight Friday, December 25, 2009.

6. I will choose several of my favorite entries and allow readers to vote to determine the winners. Voting will start Tuesday, December 29, 2009, and run to midnight Tuesday, January 5, 2010.

7. Winners will be announced on this blog shortly thereafter.

8. The first-prize winner will be determined by the entry with the most votes. The winner will receive a the latest Transiberian Orchestra's album Night Castle, as well as free publicity by having the winning entry and author's bio posted on my blog.

9. The runner-ups will be determined by any entry that I enjoyed but did not receive the top votes. All runner-ups will have free publicity by having their entry and author's bio posted on my blog.

A Full Heart

Thanksgiving Day, and I am full of praise to the One who has held me through this year. A year ago, I was facing an impending layoff in December with no job to fall into. We're a single income of 5, with 3 young children. Without a job, we lost our house before I finally found work as a testing contracting.

We actually now have a nicer home and a better job than the ones that were lost, and I have found meaning in my life in my writing. In December, I will be starting a full time job to replace my contracting one (the 4th job in a year and a week), and two of my short stories will be published in the Ménage-à-20 anthology, put together by Goodreads authors.

I thank the Lord for all that he has given me, for my family, a roof over my head, and food on the table. May we all have a blessed holiday.

Book Review: The Prisoner by Carlos J Cortes



In the year 2049, I'll be 75 years old. What will the world be like? What technology will be invented between now and then? What wars will be fought? What politicians will ruin our nation?

Spanish writer Carlos J. Cortes tackles these questions in his book The Prisoner, a sci-fi thriller about escaped convicts Laurel and Raul who race through the sewers of Washington, D.C., trying to flee the city before the DHS catches up with them. With them, they carry the secrets that one woman would kill for.

No one has ever escaped the cryogenic chambers--the sugar cube--that have replaced the expensive prison system. The execution of their escape plan is far from flawless, and now Nikola hunts them. Only by trusting strangers and depending on their wits do Laurel and Raul reach safety.

Author Cortes paints a picture that the reader feels like they are there. I could smell the rot, feel the slime on my skin, see the "shit-cicles" jiggling on the ceiling, hoping they wouldn't fall on me, and I squirmed at the sight of the rats and the roaches and the hairballs floating in the water. And I could feel Nikola's hands reaching for me as I narrowly escaped his grasp.

Warning: Do not read this book if you are are pregnant and experiencing morning sickness, currently eating a meal, or have just finished a large meal.


Cortes is one author that I look forward to following in the future. His storytelling is smooth; his plots are well developed, and his characters deep. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys sci-fi or an action-packed novel.

Kaylee-isms



My youngest daughter has been called a firecracker. She exudes attitude.

When she was one-year old, we called her Jack-Jack because she seemed to have some power to get the clothes on the upper, unreachable shelf. Everyday, when she got up from her nap, she was wearing something new, something she couldn't have reached.

One day, TJ and our friend Jacob asked her, "Kaylee, how did you get those pants?"

She batted her eyes and looked away, as if she was innocent. Where does a 1-yr-old learn to bat her eyes?



When she was two, she loved Moe from the Doodlebops. She always likes the comic relief characters. One night she was supposed to be in bed, asleep, but I heard noise coming from her room. I opened the door to find her standing in the middle of the room, her lights on, and in her hands, she held paper rolled into the shape of drum sticks. "I'm Moe," she said. But then she realized someone had caught her and scrambled back to bed.

I'll never forget that look on her face as she brandished her drumsticks. A year later, she still shows interest in drums. I have since caught her with a line up of pillows that she was using as drums as her sisters were playing their recorders.

Kaylee is now 3 years old and has only gotten more fiery. This last summer, I overheard a conversation between Kaylee and a neighborhood boy who was teasing her.

The boy: You're a baa-aaaby.

Kaylee: I am not a baby!

She was on her skates, scooting about on the side walk. When she got to where the boy was, she rounded on him.

Kaylee: Baa-aaaby.


I wasn't sure whether to scold her or cheer her on.

Lately it has been the adult way in which she speaks her mind or expresses herself. Sometimes it is the words or the inflection she uses that surprises.

Beggar's Night, I overheard this exchange:

Neighbor: That's a pretty dress.

Kaylee, throwing the words over her shoulder: I know. It is my Trick-or-Treat dress.

She paused for a moment, still not looking at the guy as she continues to her next house.

Kaylee: It's my Halloween dress, actually.


It was the word "actually" that got me. It was stated with such precision and poise. Where did this girl learn to talk like that?

Finally, here's an exchange between me and her on the drive to the gluten-free bakery that we visit weekly:

Kaylee: Mommy, look I have a bunny on my shoulder.

There is no bunny. hop. But I play along.

Me: Oh, a bunny. But where's Mikey?

Mikey is her invisible friend. She holds his hand when we walk around the park, and I've heard her having conversations with him. She's scolded me for sitting on him.

Kaylee, pointing to the floor of the van beside her chair: Oh, he's over here.

An hour later, we drove to church after finishing our meal.

Kaylee: Oh no, I forgot my bunny at the gluten-free place!

How do you forget to bring your imaginary friend? She wanted us to go back and get him.

Kickass Heroines

Here are three tips to develop a kickass heroine worth remembering:

#1. Create a unique heroine.

Many cliché heroines are one-dimensional: the lioness who needs help from nobody or the sack of useless that needs a clue or the nerdy girl who just needs a handsome jock to teach her how to be a lady or the ... [fill in the blank]

The truth is that people--male or female--are multi-dimensional. The lioness should have some hidden self-doubt, the sack of useless should have some hidden strength, and the nerd should have more to offer than what meets the eye. So design a character that is human, with strengths and flaws, desires and motivations, and a certain amount of grit.

Make her human.

I think I like seeing all kinds of heroines - there are hard ass bitches, and weak helpless creatures, and bossy mommys and ignorant aunties in this world and they all need some attention to give a well round world view.
--Malin Larsson



#2. Avoid the feminist soapbox.

With the rise of the feminist movement, many authors write heroines that dance circles around the men. Where the hero fails, the girl steps in and saves the day. That's a bit unrealistic, don't you think?

Men and women make a great team, balance each other out very well. A truly strong woman doesn't need to prove it and isn't afraid to show weakness. There's nothing wrong with accepting help.

Strength and courage do not always roar like lions.
--Sonia Carrière



#3. Embrace the femininity of your heroine.

I've known so many women who run from their femininty, preferring to be men. But a good heroine has stage presence, a certain charisma that makes them jump from the page, just as an actress with her feminine appeal makes the movie worth watching.

Feminine means remembering you are a woman and there is strength in that alone.
--Renee Miller-Johnston

Reviewing Stories

I treasure every critical word given to me by my harshest critic, and when he actually says something good about my work, I know he really means it. Recently, I wrote a short story that will be published in the Ménage-à-20 anthology in a few weeks. As usual, I sent my editor a copy. His response?

"Did you write that?"

"Yes, of course." Why would I have sent it to him otherwise?

"I didn't know. It was too good to be yours."

What kind of answer was that? An insult or a compliment? But I was too amused to be offended.

Even though I appreciate his harsh criticism, my reviews are much different. There are two kinds of writers: the beginners who don't have a clue yet and the experienced who have studied, carefully applied their skills, and have only missed a few things. Each of these need to be critiqued in a different way.

Beginners:

"Anyone who writes is too precious to lose."
--Carlos J. Cortes



I once made the mistake of critiquing a beginner too hard, and the person almost quit writing. After that, I had two rules: (1) Never critique when I am too tired and (2) Focus on what is right more than what is wrong. My purpose is to teach new writers to critique themselves and a few tricks to improve themselves.

As a mother, I have found that telling someone what they have done right builds in them the desire to do more of that. Pointing out the character's strong voice helps new writers dig deeper into POV and keep element strong. Finding the spot with the most showing (dramatization) and then explaining why you admire that section is more useful than saying, "You're doing to much telling." This is called constructive praise, so much more helpful than "Good job."

After that, I will give a few pointers, areas that need a bit of work, things like, "Watch your verb tense" or "Stay in character." Constructive criticism--another means of teaching.

Experienced Writers

However, when I critique an experienced writer, I'm not trying to teach or encourage. My purpose is to respond honestly to the story that I've read. As with the critique of a beginner, this will include what I like and what I don't, and I will try to do so constructively.

But my focus is now different, for I am ultimately responding to the work of art rather than to the author.

Recommended Reading

Several other bloggers have written on this topic. If you want to read some more, check out these articles:

What is good? by Patricia C. Wrede

Accepting and Giving Reviews on the blog Canines, Equines, Aliens, and Felines

Reviewing Book Reviewers by D.B. Pacini

Take Your Criticism Like a Pro, Words of Wisdom by Kate Quinn

Family Food Issues

I have Celiac Disease, and so do my oldest two children. This means that we can't eat wheat, barley, or rye, or anything that has even touched one of those grains. No pizza, no spaghetti, no cake or cookies, unless of course I go to the gluten-free bakery. And we definitely can't go to buffets, and eating at someone else's house can be a very scary endeavor.

We've worked hard to cut out wheat from our diets, choosing corn tortillas and corn chips, corn spaghetti (the rice spaghetti was too slimy), millet bread, rice crackers... TJ doesn't have the problem, but he's been my champion, diligently keeping the gluten grains out of the house.

Then TJ went for some allergy testing, and low and behold, he can't eat corn, eggs, soy, or coconut. Did you know that coconut is often used as a preservative? The only things he's not allergic to is milk and wheat. Go figure.

I am reminded of a nursery rhyme:

Jack Sprat could eat no corn
His wife could eat no wheat
So betwixt the two of them
They licked the platter clean


Hmm, that doesn't rhyme. Maybe I should say "They licked the platter neat"?

Author's Pics

This weekend, my friend took close to 200 pictures of me. We had about half an hour before the light waned and dusk fell.

Let me tell you, I dreaded this moment. The very thought made me want to cry, and I darn near had a panic attack. The closer the day came, the tighter the knot in my stomach grew. But the pictures turned out better than I imagined--thanks to my friends Kat-n-Joe.

So what do you think? Never mind, don't answer that. Just tell me I look pretty.

What is it about me and swords lately?

I don't know. Perhaps it's not me. It's TJ, and his weirdness is rubbing off on me.

All the same, I thought you might like this.


Kat with a Sword




This picture is of my friend Kat with a frickin' huge sword, and she has the happiest evil grin I have ever seen.

Take your Criticism Like a Pro, Words of Wisdom from Kate Quinn




Kate Quinn is one author/friend I greatly admire, whose books I look forward to reading, whose blog I go to first, whose smile gives me cheer. Spring of 2010, her debut novel Mistress of Rome will be released, and I will be one of the first in line to buy this book.

I have already read the opening lines of this novel, and there are only two things I can say: (1) it is not the kind of book I would have expected from a historical novel and (2) it will be very hard to wait until spring to read this book.

Recently during an online discussion, Kate shared some of her thoughts on how to handle rejection. With her permission I share her words here. I hope you benefit from her wisdom as much as I have.



We talk a lot about being able to "take" criticism - but not how one does that. Here's my hard and fast rule: When you receive criticism, don't respond to it for at least a few hours, except to say, "Thanks for the critique." Unless it is a misspelled vindictive rant filled with unflattering observations upon your character and not your writing, leave it at "Thanks for the critique." I made this rule for myself because one of my first impulses upon receiving criticism, even constructive criticism which I asked for, is to defend. "I know you didn't like that character, but if you'll just see it my way, you'll see he's a central part of the plot!" etc.

Therefore I resist the urge to defend, and sit back. Rant a little to myself sometimes - "Well, he had good points about the point-of-view switch in chapter 1, but how could he be so insensitive as not to see the importance of that character!" Then think about what was offered. "That character is important. But maybe I see his point about how it's going over the top."

Then initiate a talk, if necessary, with the one who offered the critique. This talk can go one of two ways.

1. You decide the reviewer has a point, even if a minor point. So the talk goes: "I see why you objected to that character, but he's pretty central to the book as you'll see from looking at plot points B and C, or at least that's how I planned it. What do you think?" In this case you have a civilized discussion on your hands. Maybe you'll talk them around to your point of view. Maybe they'll talk you around to theirs. Maybe you'll just get a screen to bounce ideas off of, and come up with a brilliant middle-ground solution.

2. You decide the reviewer, after mature thought and reflection, is completely wrong. In which case you say, "Thanks again for your critique", discard everything they said about your character as bunk, and move on to the other parts of their critique which you evaluate on their own merits as useful or not.

I make this rather lengthy argument because at some point, the person you will be arguing with will be your agent or your editor - and you have to know how to rationally discuss changes to your baby with them, in a cool and professional manner. My agent says 50% of new writers, in her experience, just can't or won't take criticism effectively. None of us wants to be part of that 50%.

Nook

I love that word--nook. It reminds me of a lazy Thursday afternoon, rain pouring down, drumming against my windows, and I'm curled up in the nook of the couch, a book in my hand, lost in a world that doesn't exist except in the words that jump from the pages and into my imagination.

How funny it is to me that I have never been one for electronic gadgets. It used to be that I'd never touch a computer after I got home from work. I was on one all day, so why slave over one all evening? If it wasn't for my writing hobby, I still wouldn't touch it. Then I only got my first cell phone two years ago. I still don't have any kind of e-Reader, iPhone, iPod, so on and so forth. I'm usually the last to care about such things.

But this Nook from Barnes and Noble did catch my attention. Maybe I'm just getting more sophisticated as the days go by, or maybe my geeky friends are rubbing off on me. No, that can't be right. I've been called a geek myself, just not in my gadgets, more in my tastes in art and entertainment. I do love my sci-fi, anime, and fantasy.

When I do pick an e-Reader for myself, it will be the Nook. I do like how that word speaks to me. However, in a practical sense, the Nook has some wonderful features that you just cannot get from Amazon's Kindle:


  • Share books for 14 days
  • Look up words in the available dictionary
  • Make notes and mark favorite passages


So what do you prefer? The familiar feel of paper in your hands or smooth plastic? Leave a comment or answer the poll at the top of the right-hand side bar.

What are you doing for NaNoWriMo?

My first novel took a year to write. How can anyone write a novel in a month?

Well, many have taken up this challenge to write 50,000 words in one month. Broken down to daily goals, that's only 1,667 words a day! Such a bite size chunk. That seems doable.

Some have bigger personal goals, aiming for 100,000 words in a month. For me, I will be happy just to finish the two novelettes for the Scrolls series, about only 25,000 words. However, work is hectic right now, and I was learning about balance between life and writing and parenting. It will be rough to do that many words. What would that be? 834 a day.

To help keep me focused, I am starting with my outlines. It's just a two page summary of what will happen in the stories. I won't be staring at a blank screen, wondering what happens next.

So what are you doing for NaNoWriMo? What have you done to prepare?

Makani's Blades



Biting Ladybug


TJ helped with this one. It was his steady hand that moved the mouse; Makani directed him on what she wanted--color, shape, ladybug hilt.





Sparkle Sword


This one was all Makani's own doing. She has watched TJ designing a sword as big as a door, and this was her rendition of it.

Word Challenge Winners

* drumroll please *

We have a tie, so I will order the book for both Joyful Chaos and Kat Gergis. You can check out the winning entries here.

Normally, I have a bio about each winner, but neither contestant provided me with this information. So I will say a few things about each contestant.

Kat, a friend of mine, is sometimes called my clone. We share a birthday and often say the same things at the same time. Even when playing Rock, Paper, Scissors, we tie more often than not. But one thing that Kat has that I do not is the ability to draw. She is an awesome artist who has contributed some of her works to share here. Check out Kat's Monkey or Kat's Wolf.

Joyful Chaos writes a beautiful blog about growing up Amish. Her stories are full of the wonder and magic of childhood, when life was innocent and troubles were full of laughter.

Joyful Chaos, I don't have your address. If you can email that to me, I'll send the book your way; otherwise, I will hold the book for two months or so. If you don't claim it by then, I'll donate it to the library. Hope to hear from you.

Feminine Influence on Sci-Fi

Saying I was a bit miffed after reading this article is putting it mildly. So I have a few things to say:

#1) Science Fiction, like any other genre, needs to have good story elements. Plot is a story element. Characterization is a story element. You leave one out, and your story is only half-baked, leaving the middle a slimy mess.

#2) I actually do agree with him that emasculated men in science fiction is really annoying. When the 95% of the woman in a story are superior to 95% of the men, you gotta wonder abour the writer's agenda. But having 95% of the men superior to 95% of the women, just makes me wonder about the writer's prejudice.

#3) If science fiction is about "doing things," then it is plot focused. If adding a feminine focus means more character situations as this author indicates, then there is now a better balance between plot and character development. A good story has both.

#4) Even Orson Scott Card writes for plot and character both. It deepens the meaning, the impact, and the power of his novels.

#5) It's not the fault of science fiction that boys aren't taking more interest in science and in accomplishing great things. Without a strong father figure in the home, there is a breakdown in the male ego. I have watched many families where the mother is doing the raising and trying to turn her boys into sweet, mild-mannered girls. The Christian church has gotten in a big huff, "Mothers should be in their homes." But I say that fathers are just as necessary. While growing up, it was my father that I needed to give me my sense of self.

#6) Why is it that boys are the only ones you want to entice into science? Because they are the ones who accomplish things? Excuse me, but women can add to the field of science too.

#7) Families need both strong male and strong female influence to survive. Society needs strong men and strong women to work. Government also needs strong men and strong women. For it is the balance of both that makes everything better. The fact is that men and women are different, and when they work together, that's when our world is in perfect harmony.

#8) I am not a feminist. I don't believe in a female agenda to drive out man, and I am not so insecure as to think that I don't need my husband's strengths. I know I make a better beta than an alpha. It's not a weakness on my part; it's just a different skill set. So instead, I believe in balance--balance between male and female, balance between plot and characterization, balance between yin and yang. That's what makes good science fiction, good stories, a good life, a good family...

Blades



My husband TJ has a strange fascination with blades. He has notebooks full of exotic weaponry, strange and fantastical, and so I wasn't surprised to come home from work to find this on the computer today. He's even got the kids designing swords and drawing them on ArtRage 2.5.

I'll post some of the girls' swords in the next couple days.

Worse than an Asshole

In the book Xenocide by Orson Scott Card, Miro is a cripple, bitter at the blow life dealt him. With his blundering speech, he questions his brother, a priest, on matters of faith. Oh, not to learn from him but to challenge him. Finally, the scene leads to these words:

"You know what's worse than an asshole, Quim?"

"Sure," said Quim. "A hostile, bitter, self-pitying, abusive, miserable, useless asshole who has far too high an opinion of the importance of his own suffering."

It was more than Miro could bear. He screamed in fury and threw himself at Quim, knocking him to the ground. Of course Miro lost his own balance and fell on top of his brother, then got tangled in Quim's robes. But that was all right; Miro wasn't trying to get up, he was trying to beat some pain into Quim, as if by doing that he would remove some from himself.

--Orson Scott Card, Xenocide


These lines struck me like a ton of bricks. Hearing those words, I thought, "That's me." I'm bitter and self-pitying and miserable and useless because I'm angry life hasn't always gone my way. OK, I'm not a cripple. I'm healthy--mostly. And I have a job and a wonderful family, a roof over my head, food on the table, and gas in the car. But for the last seven years, I have wanted something that's been beyond my grasp: Financial Freedom.

At times, I have grown bitter when things didn't go my way. Angry at God. Hostile toward the world. Desperate to get beyond what today had to offer. And where did all that striving get me? It made me worse than an asshole.

Orson Scott Card is not an author. He's a prophet, using words like bullets to strike us with wisdom.

Exploration

"You are really sad. What's the matter?" I asked.

"There's nothing left for me to explore," Makani whined. We were having a history lesson on the explorers throughout history. There are no textbooks in our home schooling, just library books, and normally she loves these kinds of books, reading about intriguing people in history or fascinating animals in science.

I flipped through to the end of the book. "See? Space and the ocean haven't been explored yet."

"But I want to explore an island."

"You still can."

"No, I want to be the first."

I can't blame her; I felt the same way when I was a kid. These stories ventrue into places that had never yet been seen by the civilized world. I tried to point out to her that it was the civilized world, not the human eye, that had never seen these places. "Look at this picture again. See, they had a guide. They didn't discover it. There were people already there."

There was no consoling her though, and I realized she needed to work it out for herself. I sent her off to bed but continued to think about it for myself. There really is a world out there that can still be explored. It only has to be new to me for it to be exploration. Isn't that why I write? Challenging myself to weave a story is a type of exploration. It is why I take long walks, read new books, study a new subject like learning Japanese, dream big dreams...

What do you do to explore the world around you?

Word Challenge Finalists

Please vote for the one you like the most:

A Joyful Chaos

I'm feeling twangled about this competition. Since I would really like to enter and yet can't think of a witty way to use my favorite non-word.




Kat Gergis

It is 3:30 and I run out to my Catruck to meet my husband for lunner.

Finding Peace: Practicing What I Preach

I haven't been writing as much. Usually, I put up a post about every other day, but this month, I've barely put up a post each week!

I admit I'm tired. But I have also been doing some soul searching, thinking a bit about where I want to go & what I want to do next, dreaming some interesting dreams. And so I have slowed down a bit and tried to keep some balance and perspective to my life, just as I've been writing about recently.

My kids have been missing me, and I've been trying to give them what they need. I can't walk through the kitchen without my littlest one Kaylee leaning on me. Rowena alternates between total rejection and total dependence to get my attention, and Makani, normally so free-spirited and independent, has been a bit whiny.

I spent most of last Saturday night with her; she woke up coughing and couldn't stop. Unable to give her some cough medicine because she'd already had a dose before bed, I slept with her in a chair. A juice cup was tucked by my hip, and when she coughed, I'd hand it to her. Everytime she squirmed, coughed, farted, I was awake, groggily trying to comfort her. She woke early and was ready to play while I just wanted to stumble into bed.

The week before, Makani had a fever for 3 days. That was another weekend of worry while I tried to keep her comfortable. Mostly self-sufficient, she is the one child who gets the least amount of my time. So I took her aside and read The Ordinary Princess with her. We snuggled up and read until I had no voice left. She loved the story as much as I had as a kid. What was wonderful about the book was that the princess had freckles just like she did.

And Rowena has been healthy but lonely. And so the never-ending job of being a loving parent continues, and blog posts don't get written and chores begin to slide. But I'm finding joy in my children and some long forgotten peace as I remember what it means to be a child.