Turn Coat by Jim Butcher

For Carlos: This is a book review!


Turn Coat (The Dresden Files, #11)Turn Coat by Jim Butcher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This book starts with the most disliked character, the one that Dresden trusts the least, coming to Dresden for help. So out of character for Morgan to seek out Dresden that I was sucked in from the first line. It's quite high praise for Butcher that after 10 books, I can know his characters so well that a change in the norm is enough to suck me in.



The rest of the book was fast paced and exciting. There's a traitor in the White Council, and Dresden has to find him before the White Council finds Morgan or an innocent man dies.



And Dresden and his apprentice Molly will be executed with him for protecting him.



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Giveaways

And the winner of the Catching Fire giveaway is Sarahem in the 7th post. Congratulations!

For those who would like another chance to win a free book, I am holding another giveaway to give away two copies of Unlocked, a YA anthology. End date is Monday, January 3, 2011. US citizens only.

To participate, you must
(1) be a member of this site,
(2) post your name and email address.

To get your name in the hat twice, also become a member of the blog UnlockedProject.blogspot.com.

One of my stories is in this book--the story of a teen cyborg who dreams of freedom. For me, this is the closest to an autobiography as I'll ever get. It's the story of how and why I started to write. And whether or not I am an insane cyborg like the characters in many of my stories, I will keep that to myself.

Inspired Kathy, blogger and book reviewer

One of the masterminds behind Best Reads in 2010 agreed to an interview and has offered to host a book giveaway here on Rita's World.

The book being given away is Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins!

To be eligible for the giveaway, you must become a follower of this blog and you must leave a comment to tell me your favorite book you read this year. From those eligible, I'll pull a name from a hat (or a bowl--it might be easier to use a bowl). Available to US residents only. End date is Saturday, December 18, 2010

With no further ado, I introduce Inspired Kathy, reader, book reviewer, and blogger at I am a reader, not a writer.

Rita: How did the blog Best Reads in 2010 get started?
Kathy: I can't take credit for Best I've Read. The event was the brainchild of Cindy from Books Complete Me.

All the participating bloggers met through our love of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series. It's been fun putting the event together and the response from authors and publishers has been phenomenal. I sent out about 50 queries to authors and publishers asking if they'd be willing to donate books for the event. I was shocked when nearly all of them responded that they would. There will be 75 winners on my blog and over 400 books given away between all 10 participating blogs.

Rita: What's your favorite book and why?
Kathy: I'm such an eclectic reader it is nearly impossible to pick just one book. There are many books that are favorites for different reasons. As far as classics I love Jane Eyre and books by Jane Austen. Twilight is a favorite because it got me reading again and I've meet some incredible people by taking part in Twilight events (I even got to have breakfast with Stephenie Meyer). My favorite books to escape with are Marcia Lynn McClure's clean romance books. No one can write clean romance like Marcia. Then of course there are books like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and many others that are favorites too. A look at my goodreads shelf will show that I have many favorites:

Rita: Who is your favorite author?
Kathy: Another tough questions. I guess the number one spot would have to go to Marcia Lynn McClure because I adore her and her books. There would be so many close seconds I hate to start naming people because I'm sure to forget someone... Stephenie Meyer, Rachael Renee Anderson, Nicholas Sparks, Suzanne Collins, Janette Rallison, Shannon Hale, Bree Despain, Ally Condie, the list could go on and on and on.

Rita: I noticed on your blog that your goal is to read 240 books this year. How do you find the time? I'm imagining copious amounts of coffee.
Kathy: Last year I read 114 books and thought that was a lot. I've read double that many this year. I just finished my 235th book last night so I will easily exceed my goal of 240 books this year. I don't drink coffee or caffeinated beverages so that can't be the reason. So how do I do it? I've always got a book with me, it's my favorite form of entertainment. I never watch TV and only rarely watch movies. I listen to audio books which accounts for 1/4 to 1/3 of the books I read. I'm great at multitasking. When I'm driving, exercising doing dishes, laundry or other housework I listen to audiobooks. I usually finish a book every 1.5 days. I'm not sure I can read that many books again in one year. I'm starting 2011 with a much more reasonable goal of reading 150 books.

Rita: Which book really was the best in 2010?
Kathy: It is so hard to choose the best book. A book that is on the top of my list will be on the bottom of someone else's list. But here are some of my personal favorites from different categories.
Juvenile Fiction: Fablehaven 5: Keys to the Demon Prison by Brandon Mull
Young Adult: Paranormalcy by Kiersten White
Memoir: Out of the Transylvania Night by Aura Imbarus
Romance: Weathered Too Young by Marcia Lynn McClure

2011 is looking like it will be a great year too. I've read a couple ARCs for upcoming books that have been fabulous.

As far as a surprise favorite that would have to go to Antony John's Five Flavors of Dumb. I really didn't expect to love his book but it was Five Flavors of Awesome!

Rita: Milk chocolate, dark chocolate, or white?
Kathy: Milk chocolate unless it is a Milky Way Midnight

Rita: Favorite donut?
Kathy: Maple Bar

Rita: What has been the best part of blogging about books?
Kathy: Reading books that I might not otherwise pick up. I've found some fabulous books that I would have missed if it weren't for blogging. I also enjoy helping less well known authors gain exposure for their books and helping out other bloggers.

Rita: Thank you, Kathy, for your time and for the giveaway!

Great Book Blog!

Nine bloggers who love to read and review books banded together to bring you a great site. Right now, these bloggers are doing a massive end-of-year book giveaway.

70 books from great authors!

Check it out!


Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

SpeakSpeak by Laurie Halse Anderson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Plummeting into depression after being raped, Melinda starts her freshman year of high school, friendless and alone. She's unable to speak, let alone tell anybody what happened, and her parents and teachers don't know what to do with her.



Obviously, it's a discipline issue, so she's grounded and watched and sent for in-school suspension. Nobody notices the signs--that she takes down her bedroom mirror, that she wants to do nothing but sleep, that she hides behind baggy clothes, that she has nightmares.



But the story isn't about her pain. It's about the seeds of love that a few people plant in her heart. Like her art teacher who won't give up on her. It's about finding herself under all the pain. As she learns to draw a tree, which is her years project, she finds that she is that tree, warped and twisted and broken, but that she has strong roots and she will survive.



It fills me with deep sadness and pain to think that someone would want to ban this book.



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Stand My Ground by Within Temptations

Angry and bitter doesn't begin to describe how I feel. A slave being frelled into submission describes it best.

A month ago, my boss reprimanded me for only working my required 40 hours a week. "This isn't manufacturing where you work 8 to 5 and go home. The job requires evenings and weekends."

I get paid by salary. If I work more than 40 hours, I don't get paid.

Now I wasn't sure why this was even an issue. Even though I've carefully kept work out of my home life, I've never missed a deadline.

Then this month, my boss overbooked me, agreeing to two different groups that they could have my time. When it was discovered that the work for each project was more than expected, he didn't change the decision to put me on both projects. Instead, he hemmed and hawed and said, "Well, make the numbers work."

Each project lead told me that he had said their project was my priority. So that he can save face, he puts me in the middle of two large projects and lets me drown in them. Is this why he reprimanded me for keeping 8 to 5 hours? So that he can pile the work on me? I wonder, does he get some kind of thrill out of turning his team into little robot slaves?

I've already worked 12 hours today and have another hour or two left to go.

If this was a one day event, maybe it wouldn't be so bad, but I don't see the rest of my month looking any better. I've considered looking for other work somewhere else, but I couldn't handle the stress of job hunting and then pleasing a new boss and learning a new set of duties. My writing efforts come first.

Funny how this is the kind of thing that inspired my short story Symbiote, which was published in the YA anthology Unlocked back in August. The novel version of this story is also my NaNoWriMo project this year. Lots of fuel for the muse.

When I came home, three little girls jumped into my arms, "Mommy, see my project. Mommy, look at these decorations I made. Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!"

"Sorry, girls, but Mommy may have just gotten home from work, but Mommy has to get back to work right away." Otherwise I won't get any sleep tonight.

Yes, bitter doesn't begin to describe it.

I turned on Pandora and here was one of the first songs. I think God was trying to say something to me:



They may own my time,
but they don't own me.
They don't control my heart.
I still dream.
I will still fly.

the chaos of life

Make your plan.

Tweak it, flush it out, tweak some more.

Wait a week and re-read the plan to find the holes.

Finally, a month of planning and you're ready to begin writing.

A week and 15K words later, you find that you still fly by the seat of your pants. Plans can never capture every detail.

Welcome to NaNoWriMo. Welcome to life.

Group Projects: an interview

Some friends of mine, Renee Miller and Henry Lara, co-authored a novelette, a beautiful haunting story. What impressed me most when I read this story was the complete blending of two styles. I've read and edited frequently for both Renee and Henry. I had a good sense of their writing voices, but in reading their joint story, I couldn't tell you what sentence or word came from which author.

1. What was the biggest obstacle in co-authoring? And how did you overcome it?
Henry: I think that the biggest obstacle is simply that two people must agree on everything. When you work on your own, whatever you want to do, you do. In this project, the rule was that we both have to agree on everything. Both I think that, in this case, there was a lot trust between both of us. We also know each other's strengths very well, so that whenever Renee wanted to change something, I knew there was a reason. Even if I was not entirely sure at the time, I trust her instincts so much that I knew she was right almost all the time. What I felt strongly about I questioned, until I either saw her point or we both agreed on a compromise.

Renee: The biggest obstacle was that Henry and I work in totally different ways. I am a tad on the control freak side. Just a tad, mind you. Henry is more giving, which helped alot. I had to stifle my urge to rush him, and he had to try not to rush through his side of things because he knew I was sitting over here tapping the keyboard impatiently. I think sometimes I scared him. But that was the hardest part for me anyway. I had to breathe, slow myself down and allow him to work in his own way. And PS: Slow, meticulous, careful writing is probably the best way to do it. My way is kind of insane and ulcer-inducing.

2. What was most rewarding about the project?
Henry: For me, it would be seeing what I thought was a good idea turn into a finished product. I also had a lot of fun working with Renee. Must do it again sometime soon, ha!

Renee: The finished product. Seriously, if someone had said that I could write something with another writer with a totally different style and voice and have it work; I'd have told them they were nuts. The combination of Henry's voice and mine made a story that felt so different from anything either of us had ever written. I guess because I imagined this story would turn out to be something that alternated with his voice and mine throughout,(which would have been a nightmare) to read this story and find I couldn't pick out his voice or mine, was kind of amazing to me.


3. How did you resolve disagreements?
Henry: Er, I remember her saying something about dismemberment. Things went smoothly afterwards. Again, I think the big thing is that we know each other well, and trust each other a lot. Whatever we disagreed on, we discussed until we either saw the other's point, or agreed on a solution.

Renee: We didn't have a lot of disagreements. Henry began and ended most of his emails with "You're pretty" in order to soften me up for any changes or suggestions that might have set me off. So that helped. Actually, I have to be totally honest here; any disagreements would have most likely been on my side. Why? Because Henry is a pretty agreeable person, and he's very giving in terms of ideas and in the writing process. I tend to dig in my heels if my instinct (or my Irish) says no, so the fact that he was aware of my...not so pretty side, really made things smoother. He told me if something didn't seem right to him, and dug in when he was really not liking something or wanted a change made, (and there were a few of those times) but he also was willing to hear me out. FYI: When dealing with a bullheaded or tantrum-proned person, the trick is just to let them vent. Once they've done that, they're usually pretty open to suggestions.


4. Starting off, did you lay out any rules or preliminary guidelines?
Henry: I set myself as a rule not to drive Renee crazy. Seriously, I did. Other than that, I think we set up a deadline, since we wanted to submit by a certain date (we did). The rest we made as we went.

Renee: Um...I think once Henry came to me with the idea, I kind of took over for a bit. I'm sure he'll say I didn't, but I know I'm bossy. What happened was he'd been talking about this idea for a while and I'm not sure how we came to the conclusion we should write it together, but we did and he shared the notes he'd made so far. The concept was his, the inspiration was from a Puerto Rican legend he'd heard and my task was to write the outline. I was dying to see how we could write the story backward, and not totally confuse the reader.

Anyway, the really important thing we agreed to was that we wouldn't keep anything we couldn't agree on and we'd be honest with each other on those things. If it was a draw, he hated it, I loved it or vice versa, we removed it. Of course, I don't think there was much that we couldn't negotiate. Henry is a softy, and some bits he was nervous about putting in because it made our hero not quite so likable. I had to remind him this was a 16th century Spanish soldier, the odds of him being all for the rights of women and such were unlikely. I think that was the only major disagreement. Other than that we arranged it so that I'd write a chapter to the best of my ability, Henry would take it and add the historical elements and rewrite so that my part flowed with his and then he'd send it back to me and I'd rewrite again. We went back and forth with each chapter until we were both satisfied with it.


5. How did you brainstorm ideas over long distance?
Henry: We use e-mail a lot, and we used Skype a couple times to talk. As far as brainstorming, it was a good back and forth. We had some very good discussions.

Renee: Many, many, many emails and Skype. Thank God for Skype.


6. How did you outline?

Henry: That was all Renee. Because our story is told in an unusual way, outlining was particularly crucial. Without a strong outline, it would have been impossible to see this project through.

Renee: I wrote the first outline. Then I sent it to Henry who marked it all up with comments and such where it didn't fit what he envisioned or where things just didn't work. Then he sent it back to me and I threw darts at a picture of him and cursed a few times, then I rewrote it and sent it back to him. I think we spent a couple of weeks just passing that back and forth.

White Night by Jim Butcher

White Night (The Dresden Files, #9)White Night by Jim Butcher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Good book. Fast paced as always. But it was a cetain scene that really spoke to me...



Lasciel (the fallen angel that dwells in Dresden's mind) speaks with Dresden about his apprentice Molly. She expresses doubt that his efforts to teach Molly some important lessons in wisdom will work. Lasciel thinks that who Molly is is already set in stone.



Dresden says that what she's done does not determine her future. She always has free choice. It's a beautiful thought. It's an encouraging thought. No matter how many mistakes I make I can choose to learn from them.





Then the conversation turns to his recent anger issues, which he suspects she's influencing.



Here's the exchange (p. 274):



"Anger is just anger. It isn't good. It isn't bad. It just is. What you do with it is what matters. It's like anything else. You can use it to build or to destroy. You just have to make the choice."



"Constructive anger," the demon said, her voice dripping with sarcasm.



"Also known as passion," I said quietly. "Passion has overthrown tyrants and freed prisoners and slaves. Passion has brought justice where there was savagery. Passion has created freedom where there was nothing but fear. Passion has helped souls rise from the ashes of their horrible lives and build something better, stronger, more beautiful."



I had to put the book down after that. Somehow I just needed to let that get absorbed before I could continue.



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Book Review: Incarceron

Incarceron (Incarceron, #1)Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Claudia's father is the warden of Incarceron, a prison that no one knows where it is but is rumored to be a paradise to rehabilitate the prisoners, but Claudia is certain that her father is keeping secrets. In a strange game of politics, Claudia is determined to end her betrothal to the prince and to get out of her father's strategies for gaining power. She is certain that the key lies within Incarceron. If she can find it, maybe, just maybe, she can save her kingdom, her people, and herself.

Finn is imprisoned in Incarceron and he finds a key, the key that he hopes will lead him to the Outside and reveal to him his secret past. For the key is marked with the same tattoo that appears on Finn's wrist.

This was an amazing well done story with a complex plot and an even more complex world. I loved Claudia--she was smart and stubborn. I found the prison of Incarceron to be quite fascinating, a whole separate world from the one that Claudia lives in.

My only complaint is the ending. A cliffhanger ending is okay; I know that there's another book to this series. But for some reason, the ending just didn't resonate with me.


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Runt of the Litter

Her ankle screamed with pain, the trap’s teeth biting into her foot. Four creatures surrounded her, creatures shaped like her but taller and hair on their faces. She had never seen anyone else like her before. She crouched, hissing.

One poked her with a spear, slicing her arm. He laughed. Another peeled the rags off his body; she watched him warily. Her nostrils flared; something in the air smelled wrong. Fear ran like ice down her spine. She glanced about, searching for a way to escape. Hissing again, she tried to scoot away, but the heavy metal attached to her foot held her down. She yowled, and the creatures jeered.

A sound behind her and then a shadow jumped out of the trees. The creatures, one by one, fell as the shadow spun around them. Then the shapeless shadow crouched before her, a face in hers. Dark brown eyes that reminded her of the flame that had flickered in her mother’s eyes stared at her, and a soft voice mewed gently, a murmur that reminded her of Mother’s voice singing her to sleep. She didn’t know what he meant, but she trusted his tone.

The teeth opened and he slipped her leg out. He picked her up, and she saw Mother Tiger lying on the ground, blood pooling around her. Whimpering, she pressed her face into his chest. His hand stroked her hair, and she could feel the rumble in his chest when he spoke, the words foreign to her ears.

She breathed him in, the smells reminding her of home—fresh pine, animal hides, the musky odor of the earth. And something else too. Something pleasant. This must be the smell of Man, the dangerous creature Mother Tiger always warned her to stay away from.

Through the woods, he carried her to a den built above the ground, made from fallen trees. Inside, it was warm. He set her on something soft and wrapped in warm hides. Hides without fur. It felt strangely smooth to her fingers.

He tugged at the rags around her foot, pushing, jabbing at the painful sores. Hissing, scratching at him, she pulled away. But his low voice rumbled at her, quiet, soothing, and he gently wiped the blood away. At first, it stung, then it soothed, and his voiced made her feel sleepy. He gave her warm milk to drink, and her eyes drifted shut.

###

She woke to the thud of the door banging shut. With a cry, she sat up, and he stood before her, two black tiger kittens in his hands. He dumped them in her lap, her sister and brother.

She cried and smiled as they tumbled over each other, trying to lick her face. Hands on his hips, he stood beside them, grinning. “Looks like you were the runt of the litter.”

She frowned. “Grrr. Rrrnnn. Rrrrrnnnnnt. Ruuuuunnnt.” She poked her chest with her thumb. “Runt.”

Unlocked






Goodreads Book Giveaway



Unlocked (Paperback) by Jaimey Grant



Unlocked



by Jaimey Grant




Giveaway ends October 31, 2010.



See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.





Enter to win

Group Projects, part two

I interrupt the normal broadcast to bring you this question:

anyway, how to join a group project?
--Rollie



By Invitation
My first project was an anthology. I like to hang out on the goodreads group On Fiction Writing (affectionately referred to as OFW), and published author Carlos J. Cortes, who leads the group, had a vision of a group project and invited all OFW members to submit stories. I submitted two stories for the project and both were accepted.

Pros: You have less responsibility when you are invited into a project that someone else has envisioned. It’s a good place to start for someone who has never been involved in a group project before.

Cons: You’d have to be at the right place, at the right time, and know the right people.


By Proposal
My second project was another anthology in which I was one of the founders / editors of the project. Wendy and I planned the project and invited submissions from the group of writers who were members of the writing group we moderated.

Pros: You get to choose who you work with and how the project will be organized.

Cons: The weight of success is on your shoulders as you carry the responsibility of leading the project. It’s a lot of work.

Group Projects, part one

No man dies to himself. No man lives to himself. Art is always influenced by others.

In the past 12 months, I have been a part of 5 different group projects--2 succeeded, 2 failed, and 1 still in progress. A lot of lessons learned came out of both the successes and the failures. When you fail, you can get up and try again. Or you can wallow in selfishness and blame everyone else.

















I am picturing scenes from one of my favorite movies: Meet the Robinsons.

In the quote below, the Bowler Hat Guy is revealing that he is Lewis's childhood roommate. This is the moment when Lewis realizes the truths taught to him by his friend Wilbur and Mildred, the orphanage caretaker.


Lewis: Goob, I had no idea!

Bowler Hat Guy: Shut up! And don't call me "Goob"! How many evil villians do you know that can pull off a name like "Goob"? Bleh!

Lewis: Look, I'm sorry your life turned out so bad. But don't blame me you messed it up yourself. You just focused on the bad stuff when all you had to do was... let go of the past and keep moving forward...

Bowler Hat Guy: Hmm, let's see... take responsiblity for my own life or blame you? Dingdingdingdingding! Blame you wins hands down!


Two things you need for a successful group project: a good group and a good plan.

Group Qualities

#1. Shared vision.
In humility, I must say that my work is a culmination of inputs from so many outside sources: the books I read, the writers I talk to, the friends who edit for me, my life experiences. Yet I don't take input from people who don't share my vision. My husband shares my vision, and that makes him the best sounding board. He listens fully to my idea before he begins to interject ideas. He loves my characters, he enjoys my plots, and he likes my writing.

#2. Respect and trust.
For Unlocked, I worked with Wendy Swore. Prior to embarking on this project, we had been friends for quite some time before we ventured into this project together. We had swapped editing jobs for each other. We managed a goodreads group together. These little projects built understanding, respect, and trust. I knew what kind of writer and person she was.

#3. Common knowledge.
My friend and fellow author Renee Miller is an excellent resource to go to for editing. She has studied writing as extensively as I have and shares my opinions on what's the best way to do things. Sometimes she's more insightful than I am, but there is a common ground in the knowledge we share.

#4. Variant skills.
In publishing Unlocked, Wendy was handy with a camera. Jaimey was great with the turning Wendy's photos into a cover. I did the typesetting. Gwen made bookmarks. Everyone helped with the editing. So much to be done, and it never would have worked if we hadn't pulled together. No room for egos when you have a deadline!


More coming tomorrow on coming up with a plan.

Mockingjay



*** CAUTION!!! SPOILERS!!! ***


Nothing I've read has ever moved me like this book. Suzanne Collins has written a trilogy that has festered in my soul since finishing Mockingjay back in August.

The world filled my senses. I could taste the soup. I could hear the crunch of the bones as Katniss walked through what was left of District 12. I could smell the hospital and the sweat. I could feel Katniss's tears. I wanted to reach through the book and rescue Peeta, and when they mind-raped him, I cried.

I've heard people complain about the deaths. "Not necessary," someone cried. But Hunger Games isn't entertainment. Mockingjay is a story about war. One death was the loss of potential. A girl with hopes and dreams, plans for her future. Killed by a bomb. A man who finally marries the love of his life. It was potential realized. Someone needed him. He finally found peace in a lifetime of tragedy.

In the words of Arya, "...this book wasn't "fun". It was horrible, but it was beautiful."

My husband read the book first. "A happy ending?" I asked him.

"It was the right ending," he answered.

This isn't the story of victory. This is the story of war. And for every victory, Katniss and Peeta took deep wounds to their spirits, until their souls were empty. As Arya said, horrible.

And yet when Peeta planted the primroses next to Katniss's house, it was beautiful.

Poetic Moments

Reading Lisa Schroeder's (author of I Heart You, You Haunt Me) blog about her new book touched my heart.

There was something beautiful and encouraging as she looked back at what she has accomplished this year and where she failed. Hey, it's okay to fail! I loved the line about how she was working on a project and hating every minute of it. Then she looks through some of her ideas and finds something that sparks her imagination. Suddenly the chore became a blessing. I'd love to feel that way.

Reading her blog got me thinking. What have I accomplished so far this year?

#1. I finished a novel that is currently looking for an agent. (Yes, I'm not the one looking for the agent; my book is. Don't all your creative endeavors have sentience? Maybe you haven't talked to them enough.)

Fourteen-year-old Lelea Sythe is insane. A military project since age two, she endured surgery after surgery to transform her into the ultimate soldier. Somewhere along the way, the dreams haunting her nights spilled into her days.


#2. I was an author and editor for Unlocked. My short story Symbiote is included in this collection. Wendy Swore and I, along with 7 other authors, put together the YA anthology Unlocked, which you can download free on our website or buy on Amazon.

#3. I've outlined my next novel Symbiote, the novel version of the short story published in Unlocked. Outlining to this much detail is a first for me. Planning a romance-focused story will be a challenge for me.

RW is a cyborg slave girl who dreams of freedom. With the help of TJ, a corporate guard, she escapes into the city. Together, they must learn to survive.


#4. I'm working on outlining a trilogy geared toward children. I'm really excited about this project, co-writing with my dear friend Wendy. Her style and my style mesh well together.

#5. I failed a lot this year. Didn't you know failing is an accomplishment? You can't fail unless you try and that in itself is something to celebrate.

#6. i got my health in order. The first half of this year, I was very sick, trudging from one day to the next, guzzling coffee to get by. Finally, I visited an allergist and scheduled some testing, and then armed with the knowledge that I am allergic to everything I had been eating, I battled to get my life under control. It took a lot of study and perseverance and cooking from scratch.

#7. I taught Rowena how to read. She makes me so proud when she reads me stories. Home schooling is such a joy to me, and we've had a lot of fun with it.

#8. I built a raised garden and planted flowers and a pumpkin patch. A pumpkin patch that nearly took over the yard.

#9. I made yummy Peach Sorbet today. I might have allergies, but I am not deprived.

Look back over your year. What do you have to celebrate?

Banning Books

I read an article by Risha Mullins about censorship in the classroom. Growing up with parents who tried to control what I read, I should understand why people want to censor books, but I just don't get it.

It's like my sister-in-law who won't trust her 17-year-old son to go to the park on his bike alone. He does dangerous things, like ramping. A year from now, he'll be in college. Who is going to control him then? Who will protect him?

For him, there's no period of time between being controlled as a child and being free as an adult. There's no time to test himself in a safe environment where mistakes are still fixable. There's no adult coming alongside him and coaching him through making his own decisions, mentoring him into being his own person.

And that's why I am so bothered by the censorship in the high schools. The parents aren't reading these books with their kids and discussing the pros and cons of what is going on inside the books. The parents aren't passing on their values to their kids by talking about what they find wrong with the book. They're just saying, "You can't read this. It's bad."

In another article I read about a parent who wanted to ban a children's book (not a YA), the parent was upset by the opening line, "I am ______ (insert character's name) and I hate school." As a society, we so want our kids to succeed, that we don't want them to question the value of their education. Successful students love school. Successful students get good jobs. Successful students have swallowed the happy pills and will sell themselves for their job. Only to be laid off when the company thinks they can find somebody cheaper.

Only in questioning can we find truths. Only in doubting something's value can we truly find its worth.

If school has value, then in questioning we will seek the answer. We will find meaning in what we don't understand.

If school doesn't have value, then in questioning we can find a way to fix what is wrong.

To me, the problem with the school system is the way it instills this need for validation. Huh? What'd she just say?

I said, children are taught to get good grades, but no one tells them why. They take that attitude to their jobs, where they want their boss to pat them on the back, so they slave away for middle-class wages while someone else gets rich. And if you ask them about their dreams, they'll tell you they don't have time or it's too risky or they don't know how to make it happen.

"Dreams happen to someone else. Dreams happen in the movies. Not to me," they tell you.

Getting a job is the safe thing to do. Until you get laid off and realize just how much your employer really valued you.

What's your dream? What are you going to do to make it happen? Are you going to let them tell you what to think? Are you going to let them hide thoughts from you? There was a reason black slaves weren't taught to read.

Who Am I?

Who do I want to be?

Three years ago, I embarked on a road with hopes of starting a new career. I wanted something valuable for my life. I wanted something lasting, meaningful.
To create.
To love.
To breathe.
To influence others.

Build people up.
Encourage and enlighten and inspire.
Spark imaginations.

For three years, I spent every moment studying, writing, editing, or marketing. I've become a one-dimensional character in my own life's story so that I can pour my soul into the characters I drew on paper.

I lost myself.

This year, I have often thought of quitting. Is it so wrong to work 9 to 5 and relax in the evenings?

But still, I plow forward. One foot in front of the other, dragging myself through the dry desert. The sands blow around me, through me. Burning.

If I give up now, would I ever hope again? Can someone truly be alive when they have no hope?

Okapi



Love the zebra legs and the big ears. I need to try to draw a picture of this creature.

poetry

the words spin and dance inside my head
my brain fizzles and pops
whistles and frizzles
looping and swooping
eyelids drooping
you'd think i'd learn by now
take a deep breath
put the book down
enjoy a moment with a rose

Finding Obstacles in Writing





The problem about art is not finding more freedom, it's about finding obstacles.
--Richard Rogers


As a family, we are doing these drawing lessons where each lesson forces you to put a limitation on yourself to learn something new about drawing. Last week, we had to draw cats with our paper on pillows. If we were trying too hard to be perfect, we were supposed to draw left-handed. Today the lesson was to draw giraffes while looking at pictures of giraffes.

Not all that hard, huh?

Except you couldn't look at your own drawing.

After drawing, we decorated, but we actually looked at our pictures for that. Mike and TJ were good sports about the project and even gave me permission to share with you. First is from my husband TJ--The Clydesdale Giraffe; second is from our friend Mike who came over for dinner and got dragged into our project.






In writing, it is the same thing. Challenge yourself with limitations: write a love scene without cliches, describe a scene from the viewpoint of someone who has been blind from birth, experience life through the eyes of someone with autism, create dialog without tags. By doing such, you learn something new.

Over on goodreads.com, I'm a member of the group On Fiction Writing. We have monthly challenges just like this. Come check us out!

Freedom



I have had this song in my head these last few weeks. It's the story of two friends. One plays the game of success. The other doesn't see the game worth playing. Thus the friends part ways, each taking a different road.

I'm the kind of person who doesn't see the game worth playing. My ambitions have nothing to do with someone patting me on the head and telling me I've done a good job. Climbing the corporate or political ladder will only lead to the death of my soul.

And that's what my story Symbiote from the YA anthology Unlocked is about. A cyborg slave girl gazes at the stars with longing. If she gets caught, it would mean her death.

Download the free eBook today at UnlockedProject.com

Malia's Journal

5:30 a.m. – I may be 16 now but haven’t changed much from the 8-year-old girl who chased frogs and climbed trees. The only difference is that now I’ve got my notebooks, field guides, and camera stashed in the backpack I carry everywhere I go. Today, we’re supposed to be leaving, and Mom will want me to help pack. An endlessly boring chore and near impossible because everything we brought never seems to fit back in the packs they came in.

But yesterday, I saw a dragon. A real-to-goodness dragon!

No way am I leaving without cataloguing it in my journal!

So before sunrise, I snuck out of camp, a panther slinking in the darkness, and found a tree to hide in, camera around my neck, notebook clutched against my chest. Goosebumps tiptoeing over my skin, I shiver in the mountain air.

The sun creeps above the mountains, a rosy shade against the dark spikes blocking the view.

And a green scaly nose peers out from the vines hanging down over the hole in the riverbank.

6:15 a.m. – The dragon disappeared below the surface of the water, and I waited. And waited. I had been thinking about the granola bar in my pack when the dragon returned. Perching on a rock in the middle of the river, her long tail held high, she slashed a claw through the water. With a swish and a splash, she caught a fish and slurped it down—raw and wiggling and slimy as algae.

I wasn’t really hungry anymore.

While she stood on the rock, I could see her green underside. No male genitalia could be seen.

(Note to self: Research male and female organs in known species of reptile.)

6:35 a.m. – The dragon caught two more fish and carried them back to her den. I thought I heard mewling noises, but then maybe that was wishful thinking.

7:03 a.m. – The dragon crept out of her hole with a little brown fuzz ball. Compared to her, it was so tiny! No crests on its head and instead of scales, it had feathers. Feathers!

Mother dragon floated on her back in the water, baby dragon on her belly. Baby clung to her, and when the water lapped against its feet, it mewled like a kitten. Mommy dragon licked it with her tongue. It seemed to calm but still hated the water.

8:23 a.m. – B.D. (baby dragon) actually swam a few feet. M.D. (mother dragon) made a yipping sound much like a fox bark. I think she was laughing.

But then there was the sound of raucous laughter and feet stomping. M.D and B.D. disappeared under the water’s surface, only to appear next to their den a few minutes later.

Just in time to climb inside before five hunters stepped out onto the pond’s bank, orange caps, camouflage coats, rifles and a six pack in each hand.

“So where did you see this thing again, Bob? Sure you didn’t imagine the whole thing?”

“It was right here. At least six feet long.”

In Which Three Girls Find a Knucker in the Woods



The quiet hum of wildlife—birds singing, crickets chirping, squirrels chattering, gurgling streams—pervades Malia’s dark corner of the forest. The hammock swings as she stretches her sore , tired limbs. The family camping trip had been full of long days hiking, crawling through caves, and exploring the forest.

Mmm, the smell of cooking bacon over the crackling fire! Malia yawns and sits up. “I hope you’re making some for me, Mom.”

“And good morning to you too.”

“Can we hike up the stream after breakfast?”

“Take your sisters with you. I don’t want anybody underfoot while I pack up for our trip home tomorrow.” Mom dumps a pile of bacon and eggs and buttered toast onto Malia’s metal camping plate.

Nothing like a filling breakfast to wake up the senses! Somehow the fresh air, the smell of pine trees and musty earth, made everything taste like nectar from the gods. At home, she might have had half as much, but here, she gobbled every bite and still wanted more. “Can I have some more eggs, Mom?”

“No, you’re only hungry because you are missing some fruit. Grab some dried fruit from my pack.” Busy scrubbing the skillet in the river, humming as she works, Mom doesn’t even look at her.

Malia smiles. If she had it her way, they would live out here forever. They could build a cabin for winter; Dad could hunt; Mom could grow a garden. Maybe Malia could make a bow and arrow. They could live like Native Americans, enjoying the fat of the land…

“Are we going yet?”

“Yeah, I’m ready.”

Malia sets out with her sisters, Rosie and Katie. With a camera and her favorite field guide tucked into her backpack, she hikes along the stream—her feet sloshing in the water, cold as it soaked through her shoes—until they come to a bundle of logs and a pond. The heads of two beavers move along the pond’s surface, bobbing up and down; the water ripples behind them.

Katie leans over the bank and peers into the water. “Think we can catch some fish for supper?”

“Look down there. It’s a hole.” Rosie points to hole in the bank above the water line.

“That’s strange. Too big for a rodent or a snake and beavers don’t dig. They make a den out of logs in the middle of the pond.” Malia chews her lip, her mind racing through all the animals she has studied. Nothing she knows would do this.

“Big enough to hold a bear! You don’t think the bear will eat us, do you?” Rosie asks.

Just then, Malia hears a fox bark and some bushes rustling further down the embankment. “Shh, a fox is up there a ways.”

“No, you know Mom won’t let you keep a fox.”

“Shh, I just want to get a picture.”

Crouching, Malia creeps through the woods; each step pads as soft as a cat, avoiding leaves and twigs so as not to alert the fox. She ducks under a branch and then lies on her belly to crawl along the muddy ground. It squishes beneath her as she slides forward, pushing with her toes. She hears the bark again. She’ll get the best close-up snapshot anyone has ever gotten of a fox! It’s just on the other side of the branches blocking her view.

Raising the camera, she pushes the branches aside and snaps the picture before the fox can run.

But it isn’t a fox!

It’s blue and green and scaly and stands about as tall as her dad! In its knobby hand, a fish wiggles.

Screaming, she stands and runs right into Rosie. They tumble to the ground.

“Come on. Hurry!” Malia pushes her sister up, and then grabbing Katie’s arm, she races up the stream, her feet slipping on the slick rocks. Soaked up to her knees, she doesn’t stop until they are back to their camp, falling in the grass, panting to catch her breath. Looking down, she sees mud covering every inch of her.

Lips twitching, eyes sparkling with laughter, Mom stands over her with her hands on her hips. “What happened to you?”

“I think I saw a dragon.”

Narwhal



A real animal taken from a fantasy. I wonder if its horn gets in the way as it tries to swim.

...smiling as if she were happy

I recently read a book where the author used the words "as if" an awful lot. The problem is not the words themselves, but how he used them.

"He grimaced as if he were in pain."

"He screamed as if he were angry."

"He shook as if he were scared."

"She smiled as if she were happy."


Ugh, after the fifth time in the first chapter, I rolled my eyes. I did a lot of eye rolling while reading this book.

The problem is that this author wasn't using "as if" to create a metaphor. He was using it to tell what he had just shown as if we couldn't figure out that smiling meant happiness and shaking meant fear and grimacing meant...

You get the idea. Rather silly really.

Not-So-Helpful Writing Advice

Have you ever shared your writing endeavors with someone who doesn't write? It usually ends with some ignorant advice.

"You need to read this book because
this author knows how to write."


Implication: ...and you need to learn.

For someone who refuses to read anything I write, who doesn't write himself, who hasn't studied the craft, that was some of the worst advice ever. Sure, reading is a good way to improve the quality of your writing, and I did need to grow. But that wasn't what I needed at the time.

Besides, I had no desire to read that book after that.



"You should write a children's book.
There's a lot of cute books out there."


I'm working on writing YA fantasy and science fiction. I've worked really hard on my craft and building an audience. Now is not the time to try to change my direction.



"Getting published in a free anthology
isn't going to help your writing career.
You have to get paid for your work to
be considered by a publisher."


What a way to rip a person apart.



"Your character should be more angsty."


I have two characters in this story, both characters have faced the same painful experiences. One is angsty. The other snapped and went insane. It was the insane one that they thought should be angsty, and that totally didn't fit the character or the story.



Had any experiences of busybodies telling you how to write when they know nothing about writing? Please share.

Edit the Ego Out of Your Work, Part 4

Once I've written my first draft, added scenery, and fixed my dialog, I work on wordsmithing.

1. Watch your sentence patterns. No two sentences should have the same pattern and cadence within a paragraph. Use simple sentences, complex sentences, compound sentences, complex compound sentences, fragments to keep the words flowing.

A sample from my story Symbiote to be published in the YA anthology Unlocked in August:

Standing on the highest roof in the city, I leaned over the side and peered down. Far below me, clouds swallowed up the lights and noises of the city. My hands clenched, nails digging into my palms, tears streaming down my face. Lost. Alone. Empty. I felt as if the world had devoured me and left me to die.



2. Watch for echo throughout the paragraph, the scene, the story. Cut out or change words to keep things fresh.

I recently read a battle scene that contained the word titanic twice and titanically once. The whole scene sounded riciculous.



3. Watch for similar subjects within your sentences. I read a book where every sentence had the POV as the subject.

Thomas looked around the room. He saw the book on bedstand. He wondered what it could be.

Boring.



4. Watch for weak verbs. Words like was, were, seemed, looked, had, etc. make for very boring prose.

"Darkness crawled along my skin" is more active than "The room was dark."



5. Watch for too many words.

He smiled at her.

Editing the Ego Out of Your Work, Part 3

You've written your first draft; you've added texture with the 5 senses. Now it's time to clean up the dialog.

Here's the rules as I follow them:

1. Group the dialog.
2. Group the action; try not to interrupt the natural flow of conversation.
3. Keep the tags to a minimum.
4. Don't let tagless conversation go longer than 4 lines.
5. Keep the character voices unique.

When I read, my eyes slide over the tags. Most of the time, I know who is talking by context and voice. In the passage below, I set the set the stage with some description and action, and at the end, I add some internal commentary to solidify the scene in the reader's mind.

In the middle, the dialog speaks for itself.

Rising to my feet, I face her. Her bald head, freckles, and dark eyes--it's like looking in a mirror. But she wears the blue uniform of an elite soldier. I wear the white scrubs of a patient. Jadon folds her arms across her chest; lips press together; chin juts out. Not one emotion flickers across her face as she studies me.

Fidgeting, I glance away. “The dragon told me to.”

“That’s what you told me last time.”

“I had to come.”

“Father will kill you if he finds out.” If her face wasn’t made of stone, she would be frowning at me.

But I know she is right. Favorite project or not, he won’t let me live if he can’t control me. Should I be afraid? Could death be any worse than living here, in the army’s barracks? Or am I already dead? I’m not really sure. I could be.

Editing the Ego Out of Your Work, Part 2

My first draft is a brain dump, empty of anything other than action, more of an outline of events than a story. I don't care how it looks; I just want to barf my ideas onto paper. Most of the time, I grit my teeth and close my eyes, cringing at every horrible word I've spewed, reminding myself I can fix it later.

If I think about how terrible it is, I'll never finish.

Different authors have different methods of editing. For me, the process is like adding layers or shading. The first draft is a rough sketch, then I add the shading with sensations (sight, sound, smells, texture) to make the world real.

In this passage below, I originally said that Jadon stood at the top of a cliff. Nothing about her emotions, what she saw, how she felt. It was the beginning of a new chapter, and even though I had painted the scene in the previous chapter, I needed to reinsert the reader into the scene.

Adding the "sensation" layer gave me an opportunity for some character development. Jadon had just shot someone point blank. By describing the scene through her eyes, it took on a whole new dimension.


Standing at the top of the precipice, Jadon looked down at the men milling about on the quarry floor, at the body lying lifeless by her own hand. She pictured herself falling to the bottom, her arms spread wide. Then she would be free, her memories wiped clean.


In this passage, Jadon and Lelea are tracking down a stowaway on their stolen spaceship. Lelea moves down one passage while her sister takes another. Written in Lelea's perspective, the story originally focused on Lelea's movements--walking down the hall. In trying to add the sight, sounds, and smells, this is what it became:


Jadon disappears around the corner, her boots clinking on the metal floor. Click, click, clack, click. Click, click, clack, click. I raise my gun and step in the opposite direction, matching Jadon's rhythm. Click, click, clack, click. Signs, directions, rules, patriotic slogans, and pictures of the General fill the walls. I put my hand on my father’s face as I pass. Would you have loved me if I hadn’t been broken?

Likely not. You don’t love Jadon either.

But I’d rather have my brokenness than your love.


Here's a section that had absolutely no scene description when I started. Ahern walks up, and they start talking and looking for the intruder. What a missed opportunity!

Alone, I tremble.

People, memories of things I never experienced, trudge down the halls, in a continuous flow away from the cockpit. Weary lines streak their gray faces. Empty eyes stare out from ragged souls. I shiver as one of the cold figures pass through me.

From the posters on the wall, my father’s smiling face cheers them on to their duties, which they race about to achieve like faithful dogs, wagging their tails, even as the master raises a gun to shoot them. I want to scream at them, shake them, tell them the truth. You are the army’s slaves. The ones I vow to rescue.

But you don’t really exist. I have imagined you. My waking dream.



Everytime your characters enter a room, turn a corner, or fall through a trapdoor, take the opportunity to add sensation. Ask yourself these questions:


  1. What do you see?
  2. What colors are there?
  3. How much light is there?
  4. What do you smell?
  5. What do you feel?
  6. Is it warm or cold?
  7. What is the weather like?
  8. What does the wind feel like, smell like, taste like?
  9. What do you hear?
  10. How does the POV feel about these sensations?

Editing the Ego Out of Your Work, Part 1

Egos do not belong in the editing process. Ever.

If you are editing your own work, the process is cold and calculating. You (and I) must be willing to sacrifice every sacred word on the altar. If we as writers didn't make the baby bleed, we've failed in our jobs. The most important thing the author can do is to make the reader forget that the writer exists. Your ego (and mine) must die for the story to live.

The same goes for editing the work of others. Your ego (and mine) have nothing to do with the refining of someone's story. Again, it is a cold process, more analytical than creative. Treat it like a mathematical equation, and leave your heart and personal preferences out of it.

I have met two types of writers in the world: those that sacrifice to learn the trade and those that refuse to learn from anyone. I've come to the conclusion that the submission process to find a publisher is designed to weed out those that are unwilling to submit to the learning process. After all, if you can't write a query letter to industry standards, how are you going to write a quality manuscript?

Recently, I was involved in a group anthology. I submitted a 5K story. It took me a week to write and a week to edit before I sent it out. Then I humbled myself to listen to the critiques of my editors. I had four people read it, two of which felt there were major plot holes, and I had to go back and beef up the story.

Then it went through another round of edits for word tweaking. I didn't fight my editors. I let them tear me apart, and I listened and learned from their advice.

As a dear friend said, if you want to be a writer, "Pay your dues!"

Interview with Kate Quinn, author of Mistress of Rome



It is with great honor that I share this interview of Kate Quinn, author of Mistress of Rome, with you.

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


Rita: Reading Mistress of Rome, I didn't feel like I was reading history. It felt more like a fantasy novel, and I had magically transported into a whole new world. What did it feel like for you, writing it?

Kate: Extremely immersive. No other words for it. Part of that might have been the setting in which I wrote “Mistress of Rome.” I was a freshman in college and I didn't have a computer, so I had to trek over to the university computer lab, which was just about the most cheerless place on earth: ninety computers stuffed in a basement with flickering fluorescent lighting and a lot of grad students hammering sourly away at their thesis. Somehow, though, it was the perfect blank slate for the imagination to take off. Rome really sprang to life for me – the colors, the smells, the sounds; everything seemed triply vivid. As I typed away, I was seeing the Colosseum and the palace and the forum much more clearly than I was seeing that windowless colorless cinder-block cell.

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


Rita: As you wrote, did you ever second guess yourself, wondering what you were doing, questioning if you could find an agent, doubting you could pull this off? If so, how did you handle these doubts?

Kate: Did I have doubts/second-guessing moments with this book? Yes and no. No, because I'd been writing novels since I was ten years old – it was a way of life to have a project on the back burner. I wasn't really thinking about getting it published yet, just trying to write the story that was clamoring in my head. But also yes, there were some doubts and fears, because this book was the first thing I ever wrote entirely on my own. As a teenager I had my mom – classical scholar, voracious reader, and merciless editor; every writer should be so lucky – and I was used to bouncing my ideas off her, talking out my plotting problems, getting input whenever I got stuck. But when I wrote Mistress of Rome I was a freshman in college three thousand miles away from my mom or anybody else I knew. I had no help. So I just gulped down the worry and went at this massive project alone. A little scary at times, but exhilarating.

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


Rita: For all of us who want to follow you, how did you find your agent and publisher?

Kate: At the time, I wasn't even trying to get Mistress of Rome published – that was sitting in my desk drawer while I touted around another novel I'd written about the Hundred Years War. I lugged Literary Marketplace home from the library and incurred astounding late fees on it while I combed through looking for agents willing to look at historical fiction. Not so many as you might think. I googled each one to make sure they were legitimate (I'd had a previous near-miss with an agency that, I realized just in time, was a scam) and sent off a round of query letters. I got a prompt round of rejections – and one “I like your style but this book isn't quite doing it for me.” That sounded encouraging, so I emailed the agent back and asked if she might like to see something else I'd written. She gave a somewhat unenthusiastic ok to that, and I shipped off Mistress of Rome. When she read that, she offered to represent me.

Later, I realized she'd taken a real chance on me. Mistress of Rome was in very rough shape – about twice as long as it is now, with twice as many plotlines. It needed a lot of work, and my agent took a gamble that I could edit it down to something marketable. I spent a few months cutting it up and putting it back together; she liked the result and sent Mistress of Rome off to several publishers. A few months later, I had an offer.

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


Rita: What was the inspiration for Thea and Arius?

Kate: Thea's character fell into place once I realized I could make her a survivor of the suicide-massacre of Masada. Her various quirks – her dark view of the world, her cynical humor, her habit of cutting herself when things get rough – all flowed from that. I loved the idea of a heroine who is so cosmically troubled, yet still functional. We live in the era of therapists and self-help books which tell you it's okay to wallow in your traumas, but Thea didn't. She doesn't bother feeling self-pitying because she had a tragic childhood, or because her master treats her as a sexual convenience, or because she is a slave. She just copes as best she can, and goes on with her life.

Arius began as a challenge that I set for myself: could I make such a violent man into someone readers would still root for? During the course of the book, he does a number of fairly unpalatable things: kills women in the arena, for example, or beats up his son for becoming a bully. Heroes in books normally do not do these things; they talk to their kids rather than give them black eyes, and if they are told to kill women they find a way to say no. I didn't want to make things easy for Arius; he keeps having to do terrible things through no desire of his own. I don't know how my readers feel, but I adore him even in his black moments.

I felt bad for Thea and Arius for all the things I put them through, but at least I gave them each other. Their romance was another thing I tried to turn against the trend: they fall in love fast and hard in the first fifty pages rather than postponing the inevitable till Act III; they have the most unromantic settings possible for their romance (dank cells instead of luxurious beds), and when they first have sex it's Arius rather than the much-younger but much-preyed-upon Thea who is the virgin. Really, the two of them shouldn't be able to make it work – any normal person trying to love a man with such a short fuse or a woman with so many self-destructive habits would run screaming in the opposite direction. But they are both so screwed-up that they can look on the other's problems with complete equanimity. Hey, whatever works.

Rita, thanks for having me!

Book Review: Mistress of Rome



My daughter sat in the grocery cart, and I was supposed to be picking out a book for her. But instead, I steered us down the adult books aisle--it wouldn't hurt to check if my local Target carried a book I already owned, right?

"Can I help you?"

"Do you have--?"

And then my eyes lit on it. The Mistress of Rome. Only two copies left.

I wanted to jump up and down, and I had this overwhelming urge to tell the salesclerk, "I know the author! I even have a short story in the same anthology as one of hers. No, I've never seen her face to face. No, I've never heard her voice. But really, I do know her!"

I felt like a stalker.

Well, I've read all the reviews, wanted to argue with anyone who said anything bad about it, and nearly jumped down someone's throat for ripping on my favorite characters. Even after finishing the book several months ago, I still feel like Thea and Arius are friends that I will defend to my dying breath.

"It's a book," you may say. But it didn't feel that way when I read it.

The Story
Mistress of Rome follows the lives of two girls of fourteen, Thea the slave and Lepida the slave's master. Lepida is ambitious. She wants power and jewels and men. First on her list is the gladiator Arius the Barbarian. When Thea and Arius fall in love, Lepida sells Thea to a whore house.

Pregnant, Thea is then sold to a musician who trains her to sing and play the lyre. Her fame grows until she catches the eye of the emperor and is taken as his mistress.


The Characters
For me, Thea made the story. I really identified with her. She's human--failings and all. A loving mother who must leave her child in the hands of another in order to keep him alive. A woman made of steel who would do anything to survive. A survivor who feels guilty for surviving. A dreamer who wants freedom. A lover. A fighter. A believer. I felt like she is me.

The World
Kate's portrayal of Ancient Rome didn't feel like a dry history book. She painted the world with vibrant colors. The gladiator games. The fights. The parties. The politics. It felt more like I was stepping into one of the best fantasy books I had ever read.

The Writing
I started thinking about what I would rate this when I was halway through. I figured I would give it 4 stars, leaving me room to give her next book 5 stars, for I expect Kate Quinn's next book will be even better. But by the end, I knew rating her 4 stars would by lying.


The Author
Stalker that I am, I requested an interview from Kate Quinn, and she graciously agreed. So please return tomorrow for the conclusion of my review.

Warning: I would rate this book as NC-17 for violence and sexual content and Roman orgies. I do not recommend this book for anyone squeamish.

Drabble Tales

A drabble is a story with a beginning, middle, and end, containing 100 words, no more, no less. Such as:

Mick hated fishing. Slimy fish, wiggly worms, hot sun, long boring hours—when you finally catch one, you toss it back cuz it’s too small. Watching his bob bounce in the water, he imagined burning down the local fish-and-tackle.

A tug on his line dragged him from his reverie. Jumping up and down, he reeled it in.

“Grampa, Grampa, look! I got one.”

“You got yourself a live one! That’s my boy!”

Fat and wiggly and about as long as his arm, the bass struggled so hard Mick could barely hold it.
He grinned up at Grampa. He loved fishing.


Think you can write one? Then check out this contest over in Wendy's Cornfield.

Banned Books

Walking through the book store, I found a table labeled "Banned Books." I was shocked to find many of my childhood favorites were on this table. The Lion and The Witch and the Wardrobe? Tom Sawyer? Witch of Blackbird Pond? Come on! These books are classic.

Recently author Dan Gutman received an angry letter from a parent who had vowed to get his books banned. Here's a great article he wrote in response.

I never heard of this author or his books before, but now I want to read them.

Joseph Gergis and the Passage to Eternity



Joseph Gergis is not one to let his dreams slip away from him.

In February, I had the honor of watching him produce his second album Passage to Eternity. Even with lack of sleep, stumbling to work each day, and living on caffeine, he poured his soul out each evening as he composed, crafted, and recorded an album in 28 days.

Listening to the final piece, my jaw hit the floor--Watch out for flying hyperboles!--he has far outpassed many of the musicians in the Electronica genre of music I have heard and enjoy. The closest group I could compare him to is Bond, a string quartet that leaves me breathless whenever I hear their music.

The music in this album is constantly changing, moving, growing, and building, each song more intense than the last. There is a story in this music, the story of a man who went out to find freedom and in that pursuit, he found eternity instead. Isn't that not what all creators find?

I interviewed Joe last February, and here, I follow up with another interview as his new album is now available on Amazon and iTunes.

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Rita: Tell me about your album.

Joe: I've already put out quite a bit of information about the circumstances and development of 'The Passage to Eternity', between my blog and the album jacket released for iTunes. Instead of rehashing that, let me take a different perception and share with you my impressions of listening to it as an informed listener, a couple of months later.

I have to admit that when I listen to an album, I get hung up on it. I believe I listened to 'Fallen' by Evanescence constantly for nearly six months. That's not to say I listen exclusively, but I do listen quite frequently. That's precisely what's happened with this album, and not for any self-congratulatory reason. I'm listening with different ears this time; the ears of someone who knows how something was created, but wants to experience the whole work as a finished piece.

What I keep finding out is that I'm in awe of the work. Maybe THAT sounds self-congratulatory, but remember this: all through the development I listened to individual sounds. Snippets. Threads of melody. I had not had an opportunity to listen to this work and analyze it critically as a whole. Now that I have my composer's hat off, I can appreciate this in a different light. My most common question is, 'how in the world did I pull THAT off?'

It's also true that I am finding my 'errors' (I'll NEVER tell) and evaluating how to do better. What to learn, what to improve upon, these are the points I need for my next album.

But enough of that, what of the album? In short, what started out as a hastily thrown together effort became a journey. I did not intend for that to happen and to be so blatant in the music, but with each song, with each title, the idea of this being a musical journey, reflected and mirrored by the fictional story that wrote itself as a result of the music kept being reinforced. When I listen without judgement, without reflection, and become lost in the music, all I see is the journey.

You should see my mind's eye when it creates the video for the music.

In the beginning I had no idea where this would lead. As the elements came together, it very clearly became the expression of a trip, a long trip, taken as an exploration of very deep philosophical concepts. What is eternity? What does it sound like? What happens if you step through its door? What stops lay along the way as you get to the door to eternity? Maybe this sounds like overly pedantic philosophy, and maybe I have no idea what or where this came from, but there is an intent in this album that wasn't there in my prior work.

Rita: What advice do you have for anyone wishing to create music?

Joe: Advice is something that is so freely given, and so very often wrong. I should not choose to burden others with my modes of thinking. Let everyone come to their own conclusions on how to create. But in the interest of answering the question, let me say a few things.

First, I realize I could talk endlessly about programs, about hardware synths, about VCOs and arpeggiators, about modes and scales and when to break the musical rules, and the reason I won't is that this is all knowledge anyone can gain. If anyone's interested in specifics I am always happy to answer emails.

What I really want to talk about is the why of it. As I said, I'm not about to dole out advice on why one should, or should not create, or how they should, or should not do so. That is the absolute joy of the creative process, in my opinion. Finding out HOW to create something is at least as enjoyable as actually creating it.

Music is a joy of expression. It is a mode of communication, to me, where I can speak without words to everyone. The language is universal. It may not appeal to everyone, and nor should it. But for those of us called to speak in that language, it is a torrential river that cannot be stopped. We speak in music because we must. If you ever recognize this in yourself, do not deny the call. To do otherwise is to deny who you are. Speak. Sing. Create.

Others will say that your created work is 'not very good', 'not appealing to the mainstream', and other great nay-sayings of our time. To that, I say, GOOD. I do not write music for others. I write because I must. I hope that the joy I feel in creating it is shared by whomever chooses to listen. I hope my music will be widespread, but I am a realist and don't foresee this happening for a long time to come. And that's fine with me. Being a rockstar was never my intent. I am not saying I wouldn't enjoy it, but composing to be in the limelight was never, ever, my intent. Find out why you want to do it, and if you judge to be a good reason, then go forth and do it.

And don't quit. I have wanted to quit so many times it's not funny. When I tell this to my friends who know me well, they are astounded. But the truth is that I am just as human and my ego is just as frail as everyone else. I get beat up and beat myself up pretty hard during the process. How else will I improve? I am quite sure I have a long way to go, as well. If I quit though, I will not improve, and the river that runs so violently, as I mentioned, cannot be stopped.

So what this amounts to in words is this: dream. Love. Create. Do not look back, except to learn and improve. Drive forward with a strength of purpose fueled by the certainty of knowing that you do this because you HAVE to. Sing. Let you, or your instrument SING. Let it sing so loudly that you feel it to the core, and then see if you can do that to your audience. And when you've done that, do it again. Try to make each song, each note, better than the last.

And lastly, when you find that your voice doesn't have the strength it needs to create something beautiful, turn to someone else's creation that you love so desperately and give thanks for the existence of something so beautiful.

That's my process for creation and if it helps anyone else go forth and write some great music, then I am humbled to know that I've added to the world.

A Lesson on Imperfections



My four-year-old cut her hair. Youngest of three, she's the only one to have done this. Her sisters told her not to, but being the little firecracker she is, she didn't listen. But I couldn't really blame her--her hair was so long it went past her butt when wet. Dry it curled up to her waist. I imagine that could be quite bothersome for a preschooler always on the go.

So I put what was left of her hair in a ponytail (to be donated to Locks of Love) and snipped it off.

Which turned out to be one botched up mess. A very cute mess, at that. Somehow those mismatched lengths looked absolutely adorable. I loved it.

But then I had to go and even it up. Just a bit. A little here, a little there.

I ended up with a slightly more even but much shorter hairdo. And it just looked too stylized. Too perfect. And too short.

Sometimes we do that with writing. We try to make our latest WIP's perfect. But perfection is overrated--stale, empty, dead. Writing should teem with life, and imperfection makes stories real, giving it style and personality.

Don't get me wrong. Editing is important. We should all know how to edit and how to take harsh critiques. Half-assing a good story can ruin it.

But at some point you have to say, "Enough is enough. I'm done."

The other lesson I learned is I have no clue how to cut hair.

Thinking Inside the Box

Poetry is not my thing. But there are times when something strikes me funny, and an impromptu verse pours out of me as if it had dislodged from the cobwebs in the corner of my mind.

So today I was jabbering with a friend who complained about business cliches that incited him to frenzy--phrases like "touch base" and "take this discussion offline". But then he mentioned "thinking outside of the box" and suddenly I started spewing.

Enjoy.


I climb into a box before I start to think.
And imagine the world beyond my horizons.
From my box, I sail the ocean
Climbing waves
And fighting pirates on the high sea
From my box, I climb Mount Everest
Or dive from the sky like an eagle
And when I am done with my thoughts
I crawl out of my box
And make my dreams come true.

A Reminder of Who I Really Am

I got reprimanded at work today for going above and beyond the call of duty and being detailed, precise, and careful to do my job.

In need of reminding myself what my goals really are and where I am going, I wanted to share with you an excerpt from the novel RESURRECTION I am working on. I hope you enjoy:

She put her arms around him and pulled his head close. And kissed him. Good and hard. His body answered, heat spreading through him, waking something deep inside. Something stronger than he had ever known. Before he could respond, she pulled away. Her chin trembled. "I'm not Chester. I'm not Jadon. But I'm still a woman."

He pulled her back to him. She wore some kind of soft gown, and underneath, she was naked. Not quite sure how he knew that, but he did. His hands ran down her side. The curves of her body fit perfectly against him. He didn’t know what to do next. Desire and fear warred inside him.

"You're looking at me."

He blinked his eyes. Lelea wasn't in his arms. She stood across the room, in front of the computers, staring at him, her eyes wide, her mouth open with surprise, as if his thoughts flashed like lights above his head.

He cleared his throat. His face burned. It had all been some strange dream. A living dream. He shook his head, trying to wake up. "No, I—"

"You looked at me."

Even now he could see the shape of her breasts through the gown. Her nipples stood out—beautiful, innocent, pure, like a fresh water stream hidden in the rocks. A wild stream that no one could tame. He couldn’t breathe.

"The way a man looks at a woman."

"I'm sorry." Ahern glanced at his feet. Shame gnawed at him. He had no right to think such thoughts; Lelea wasn't even the one he wanted. Nor had he taken her into his tent, presented her to his mother to bind them.

But his mother was dead now, murdered, along with all their people. He alone survived, and he had a vow to fulfill—to kill this girl's father. He must fulfill his oath—before he could ever consider binding a mate.

"No," she said, her voice harsh.

He looked back at her, surprised.

"No. You honor me, Ahern." She had come very close. He could have touched her, pulled her close like he had dreamed. She touched his face and smiled.
This can't be real.

She took his hand and put it on her breast, as soft as he had imagined. His hand tingled; they could have melted into her skin. She turned her head towards his and met his lips with hers. Gentle. Like a soft breeze.

"This can't be real."

"What's not real?" Lelea stood on the other side of the table, holding the plug that she had pulled out of Jadon's neck. A black jumpsuit replaced the soft dress he had imagined.


So who am I? I am a writer, an author, who makes a little money testing software on the side. They don't own me.

Down the Rabbit Hole: The Never-Ending Story

Thanks to everyone who participated in this contest.

The winners are as follows:

First Post: Renee Miller
Best Post: Amelia Sides (for her entry: "He was perfect for my experiment.")
Most Posts: Paige Ray
Last Post: Michael Keyton

Please contact me at rita@ritajwebb.com so that we can discuss your prizes.



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I looked at the sign and sighed. The man had no shoes, his toes a sickening color of green, like burnt snot, and his hair had things crawling in it. I wondered what good my dollar would do anyway; he'd probably just use it for booze, not a bar of soap or even a loaf of bread. I continued walking, deciding to use my shoe dollar to by a lottery ticket. If I won, I'd come back to this spot and give him a thousand dollars.

Then a bullet winged past my head, thudding into the wide-toothed smile of a tooth-paste advert. The Bill-board was ruined, and so was her smile. I ducked then turned in time to see a punk dancing on asphalt. Veering around a corner, he vanished.

I started running, like I did the night war was declared in December 1941. As I ran the wolf ran alongside, and somewhere along the line the two of us merged and became one, the supreme predator, the beast from the primordial swamp. A fierce howling burst out from foam flecked lips, the howl of the hunter, the howl that rejoiced in the warm trail, the scent of a kill.

Another minute and the punk would be finished. Doomed. Yeah doomed, because I would get to him before the law and its lily-livered liberal guardians arranged for him a mink-lined, padded cell. It was hard to contain that final howl, the howl that proclaimed to all the world—that goddamned punk is mine

Surely that's not what I remember. Finally awakening in a hospital room after days spent in a coma, I was told that my light turned green, and I proceeded to make my turn and was broadsided. Where do these dark thoughts come from, am I someone else living in this body? My head hurts, as my thoughts drift once more to the man holding the sign on the street corner if I'd only given him my last dollar would I be lying here now?

My thoughts moved with the traffic. Just this once I didn't want to pretend like I didn't care for this person, these kinds of people. I pressed the break and came to a stop. Stopping traffic, I got out of the car, turned around and yelled to the man with the sign. "Come on!" I waved him on. "Come on!" He looked at me with trepidation. Gauging from his demeanor, he probably gazed on the entire world with trepidation. Then he started my direction. No, I didn't want to give him money. I had a better idea.

He was perfect for my experiment.

He edged toward me, still unsure whether he should trust me or not. I smiled, batting my eyelashes prettily and allowing a slight blush to dot my cheeks.

He ran to my car. Worked every time.

"You should buckle," I said as I reached behind the steering wheel to the hidden red button.

He glared at me, sighed, and then obeyed. The belt clicked into place, and I hit the button.

The car lifted into the air, the wheels tucked underneath, and we flew away. Nobody paid a whit of attention to us. Just as I knew they would.

And there we were, the Universe at our fingertips as the dash transformed into something that resembled the Starship Enterprise.

We darted through black empty space until we reached my lair.

"What's that?" He asked, sounding a little panicked.

"Oh, don't worry. I'll have some food for you in no time."

I stomped on the gas pedal and flipped the switch to my automatic garage door opener, size quadruple X for those extra large spaceships.

I'd also have to remember to make a stop at The Universe Emporium later; I was out of Peanut Butter.

"Why do you need Peanut Butter?" The Bum asked me when he was cleaned up, and we were on our way to The Universe Emporium, Galactic Department.

"Well, I happen to like it," I replied.

Then, accidentally, it escaped me, a guilty, freakish chuckle that I suppressed with a cough. I saw him watch me suspiciously from the corner of his eye.

"I do love me some Peanut Butter," I whispered under my breath.

He glanced at me, his eyes wide, and he placed his hand on the door. "You know, I do love peanut butter too, but I never thought I'd find a woman who also enjoyed that sticky brown goodness."

All at once, the absurdity of the situation struck me. Hard. Like a mallet right into my skull. We were not in a futuristic space cruiser, the dash was just the same old dusty, cracked dash it had been when I bought the car from that guy in Winnipeg four years ago. It was an awesome deal—all he wanted was a Snickers and my socks. I obliged.

I didn't even like peanut butter due to the severe allergy that would render me, well...dead. I forgot to take my meds that morning and now I sped down the highway, dollar in my shoe, bum in my passenger seat making cow eyes at me while he imagined doing all sorts of disturbing things with the jar of peanut butter he imagined I was buying.

I knew I'd forgotten something this morning. The question was, did I turn around and go home to take my meds, or just enjoy the ride?

The question was decided for me.

From the corner of my eye, I noticed a glint. Metal has a certain reflection, and that metal reflects very specifically.

I was being followed, and if I turned my head just so, I would likely see something I really wished I wouldn't.

I took the next exit, ran through the cloverleaf, and headed back the other way. Unfortunately I was JUST fast enough to see what I'd hoped I wouldn't.

Gay Deceiver was following me.

Damn him! Of all the people, in all the universes, why did Lazarus Long have to follow me home, now? It had been eons since our last encounter, and I hoped never to meet him or his precious Sharpie again. Or Deety. Especially her—she was a poison I would rather not deal with.

I ignored my instincts and looked.

There were four of them in the Gay Deceiver—all of them—same as they were 8 years ago when we'd last tangled.

Screw this. I would NOT let them interrupt the experiments this time.

"Here, hold this," I told my passenger as I placed his hand on the steering wheel. His look of horror suggested we might have about six seconds to live.

As he screamed and flailed his free arm, I busied myself fishing for it. The thing I hoped no one in that other rat-trap knew I had. I couldn't remember most of the control commands, and I certainly was not sure if they hadn't locked me out, but it was the only thing I could think of at this point that could buy me precious seconds.

They were gaining on us. Fast. Faster. They'd overtake us.

I raised the gray, cylindrical metal tube to my mouth and spoke.

"Gay Deceiver! Bounce, bounce, bounce!"

I waited until they came up close, real close, and leapt out, all thoughts of peanut butter forgotten. Three of them I took out with a single shot. Call me lucky. Then I went for recreation. I threw the gun aside and smiled at the one remaining guy.

He screamed for mercy, or maybe he just liked screaming. Then I heard the word 'Pardon'.

Pardon him? I’d not stop till he screamed for absolution. I hate punks, and this guy had punk written all over him in bright flashing lights. Hell, I was about to enjoy myself for the second time that night.

“Hey, punk, just who gave you permission to breathe?”

“Piss off, yank!” His last act of defiance was destined to be his epithet—shit—epitaph.

Goddamn commie! I hate reds and I hate punks and this guy was both.

I moved in close, and he squeaked. Then I saw his face full on. It was the pan-handler, the one I'd first ignored and then beaten up. I'd do a better job this time.

It was so easy; I almost felt guilty. Only who gets guilty squashing a louse?

I pushed away a feeble left handed jab, caught a quick glimpse of teeth beaded in sweat, and then my foot was up so hard he passed out on impact. I kicked him again and felt boot and flesh grinding into pelvic bones that no specialist would ever set right again. Then he was down, and I was kicking him, a wild and crazy music rushing through me as I worked.

And then there was no resistance, just a cloud of sour smelling dust and a shape that could have been anything. He’d had enough. Teach him to pick fights with strangers!

I then remembered the peanut butter. Something screwy was going on. I hate peanut butter, but somebody else was writing my script. I hoped they'd be kind.

"That's a wrap!" shouted the Director.

I shook my head. Man, I am such a great actor. I get really into my characters.

I waved at the crew, then walked to my trailer, hoping that my favorite entree, spaghetti, waited for me.

But it wasn't spaghetti. It was another peanut butter sandwich. And without jelly or honey or even banana either. Creepers, I hate peanut butter sandwiches. It sticks in your mouth like glue.

I sat there, eating my peanut butter sandwich with a look of disgust on my face.

All I could think to myself was this:

Why am I filming a Robert Heinlein book? And we're not even sticking to the storyline! Jeepers, how did my agent rope me into this? This will be worse than Starship Troopers!

What. The. Hell? Four corpses and a mouth sticky with peanut butter. Somebody was writing my goddamned script and I didn't like it. Time to find out what was going on. I began searching pockets starting with the stiff nearest too me. One good thing about cadavers—however badly they smell, they don't argue or struggle or do anything much at all.

On the third pocket, I struck lucky—a note with the low-down I was after:

Why am I filming a Robert Heinlein book? And we're not even sticking to the storyline! Jeepers, how did my agent rope me into this? This will be worse than Starship Troopers!


I sat there immobile for a moment, my screwy left eyeball going berserk.

Agents. Commie agents. And the Bolsheviks had starships. America was in trouble and there was only one man that could stop them—with or without peanut butter

I looked into the sky. "Why me? What the hell is going on?!" I yelled.

"Well, I'll tell you, but please stop yelling at the sky, you look like a madman," came a soft voice in my ear.

"Who's that?" I asked as I turned around and around looking for the source of the pleasant voice.

"Me."

"Who's me? And where are you?" I asked, stupified.

"Well, now, would'nt you like to know."

Now, I was getting irritated.

Which as you know isn't exactly a rare thing. I am an irritable person. It's difficult when you're as talented as I am to maintain the accepted level of sanity.

So say the voices anyway. This voice was new, and I didn't like her. She sounded like that bitch in high school who used to stand in the hallways snickering with her clones while I walked by. I showed her, didn't I?

No, they never found her. But that's not what we're talking about here. The voice was messing with me.

"Stop playing games," I said. "If you don't tell me who you are right now, I'm outta here. I have better things to do than play guessing games with some ghost."

"But I'm not a ghost, silly."

"Okay, what are you?"

"Your worst nightmare."

I sat there for a moment or two, taking it in. Maybe I'm a suspicious guy—gal—whatever I am; maybe I had every right to be suspicious. First the questions: Why the peanut butter; why the goddamned voices, and why the hell was I speaking like a goddamned woman? Those were a lot of whys, and I reckoned they were all kind of connected: your worst nightmare, the voice had said.

Thank you, you commie pervert bastard, I snarled, wiping my lips feverishly, wiping them free from Stalin's wet dream: How many American's ate this filthy stuff that made men dames and women punks, punks who heard voices, voices that taunted and mocked. Had peanut butter always been a commie perversion, sucking the soul out of America—and what would be next—apple pie?

And what the hell was going to happen to me? One thing for sure, a high velocity slug would be tearing into the guts of anyone who tried opening the door for me, yours truly, Clay Cross.

Wait, Clay Cross? Who the hell is Clay Cross? Certainly not me, last I checked my name was Isabella, and I wrote about sandwich games with my roommates and the occasional love story that I gave away for free.

Something happened to me after I let that homeless man in my car; something really bad. Since when did I go on manic rants about commie peanut butter? Since now, apparently.

I clutched my head, closing my eyes and hoping that this insanity would soon start to make sense. The dollar, the bum, the peanut butter...when did everything go so far off course? I just wanted to buy a damn lottery ticket.

Isabella...the pieces were beginning to fit. Isabella—my controller—the Kremlin broad who thought she was going to take over my mind. She sounded nice, kind of ditzy and cute, but I knew the reality...a hardnosed dame from Lubyianka, cropped haired and booted, with those tiny metal-framed glasses the butchers of Krondstadt tended to favor. Isabella...well okay, Isabella, this private dick is going to lay low for a while, spy out the land, bide my time before the final strike.

I decided it was bad luck to carry the dollar. What good was it anyway? A useless, germ infested piece of paper not nearly as nice as my gleaming piece of plastic in the form of my debit card. I did the only thing I could; I threw it out the window as the traffic began moving. How was I supposed to know the dollar would land on the windshield of the car behind me, momentarily blinding the driver and causing an eight car pileup?

From the rear view mirror, it didn't seem like there were any injuries. Nothing was reported on the news that night. Despite the nagging ache of guilt, I went to sleep peacefully, knowing I was right. That damn piece of paper was bad luck.

I woke to snoring. Whose snoring? I wasn't sure. Momentarily disoriented, unsure whether my name was Isabella or some Clay fellow, I knew one thing—

I lived alone.

Turning my head, trying to make as little noise as possible, I found the source of the snoring.

The bum.

In his hand, that godforsaken dollar, and a peanut butter sandwich.
Every man has his price, but sleeping with a bum for peanut butter and a one-dollar bill...I gritted my teeth, wondering how this goddamned story was going to pan out.

I eased out of the bed, careful not to wake the sleeping bum. He snorted, licked the jar of peanut butter and slipped back into his not-so-peaceful slumber.

I had hit rock bottom. I mean, how much lower could a guy/girl sink?

That's when I noticed the elf sitting next to the window. The look in his beady little eyes told me stories I didn't want to know. This story had completely gone off the rails, and I wasn't sure what I'd do about it.

He snickered at me.

"Ya know, you two make a cute couple." Then he burst into laughter.

"SSShhhhh!!!! You'll wake him. Who are you, and how do I get out of here?"

"Well, that would depend on where here is exactly, my dear."

I just stood there with a dumb look on my face.

He sighed.

"Follow me." Just like that he hopped down from the windowsill and grabbed my hand and yanked me to the closet door.

"Through there, we will find your answers."

So, I followed him. I jumped in head first, which was an awful idea.

We plummeted down through a black tube, the elf laughed hysterically as I tried not to scream at the top of my lungs.

We landed on a stack of mattresses. The smell from the dust as we hit was enough to gag me, the smell of an unwashed ass.

"Where are we going? I need some real answers if I'm going to keep going along with this." I shouted through my gagging, holding my nose.

"We're almost there. Hurry. You don't want to wake up Fluffy."

He pointed in the direction of the pitch blackness to our right. I heard a faint scratching and decided it was time to move it away from this particular spot. I didn't want to find out what Fluffy was.

On top of everything, the ass smell had stuck to my clothes. I groaned and ran after the elf.

Too late. Fluffy had got there before us—only I didn't know where. Something in Fluffy's demeanor told me I would never find out.

"Mr. Cross...or shall I call you Isabella?

Goddamnit, Fluffy's voice had the oiled precision of a Smith and Wesson .44, its tone casting a spell of devastating yet subtle potency, each sentence spun with a wily spider’s art, every silken syllable a snare to the unwary, a web of lies and ugliness made to appear as the very essence of beauty and truth.

I felt a sudden upsurge of a strange, unnatural emotion that I didn’t quite recognize or trust. Although quite alien, it jarred my memory, revealing a glimpse of another world. A world fifteen years younger. Fifteen years wiser. A world viewed by eyes not knowing yet grayness and waste.

And I remembered.

It was love.

I loved Fluffy. I loved his mind, and I loved his poetry. I glanced out of the window that hadn't been there before. Two stately cedars paddled in a pool of incipient sunlight whilst I bathed in the rich and satisfying warmth of this new experience. Love.

If some goon hadn't just bound and gagged me to a chair screwed to the floor, I’d have rushed, sobbing with gratitude, into his arms, a prodigal son. But the elf had tied me up, the lousy punk. So now I was trussed up like a turkey and with as much hope of survival. I’d get even with that smooth talking snake. I hated the bastard. I hated every last fiber in his evil twisted body. Most of all I hated his strangely familiar eyes.

Why the sudden feeling of utter love and devotion to that man? Powerful yet fleeting emotions, gone so fast one would doubt it was ever there.

True, his eyes were familiar, but since when did I have feelings like that for a man named Fluffy? Or any man for that matter?

I smelled a rat, and it wasn't the one chewing on the rope that tied my hands.

Wait...a rat chewed the rope that tied my hands! Perhaps my odds of escape just went up a notch.

Nice rat. The ropes around my wrists loosened. Any minute now, they would slip right off. The room was empty, and I could sneak right out. Nobody would notice.

Finally the ropes fell to the floor.

The door swung open with a loud bang. Framed in the doorway stood my one-time friend and now most hated enemy Reeves. The last time I won the lottery, I had hired him to be my butler. I thought it was cool to have a butler named Reeves until he robbed me every cent, every article of clothing, every bath towel, and every pot and pan in my house.

"So you're behind this!" I gasped.

Reeves just cackled like the evil witch that he was.

"You still don't get it, do you?"

He sauntered off into the next room and waved his hand for me to follow.

Why was I still in love with him after all he did to me?

Silly question, I was in love with him because of all he'd done to me. In fact, I practically begged him to do more. So I followed.

Down a darkened hallway that smelled faintly of Mr. Clean and Jimmy Dean Sausage. Why did that combination always put a hop in my step?

I sniffed loudly, remembering many fun nights with Reeves. I smiled.

He laughed.

"I see you remember our time together."

Oh how his accent always got to me.

This was the total loss of control that I had thought I had lost a long time ago. Well, here it was. I had totally lost it all.

"I've missed you." He turned around and stopped me, facing him. I could feel his heat radiating towards me. My breath raced along with my heartbeat. Who would win that race?

He laughed again. He gave me a quick kiss on the forehead then turned around and kept walking. I couldn't help myself. I followed.

Grrr. I was biding my time. Pretty goddamned soon, there would be a goddamned bloodbath, and I'd be the one holding the knife and the sponge.

Reeves turned right, and so did I, right into a wall. What the—?

Okay, either I was dreaming or this adventure just went from weird to completely unbelievable.

Running my hands over the wall, I hit a switch and the room flooded with light. I blinked and looked around.

Well, I'll be a monkey's uncle, (and if things continued the way they were, that was a possibility), just when I thought things couldn't get worse.

Things did get worse.

I stood in a hallway with nothing but myself and a mirror. It was cold, I had had an incredible, if not insane, adventure, and I was all alone. My reflection smirked at me.

I turned around in a circle three times, repeating that rhyme the girl with the ruby slippers chanted when she was hopeless.

Nothing happened.

Until...

Heh, heh, heh; I was back and everything changed...for the better. The walls disappeared revealing a winter-black forest, and crows, lots of them, circling lazily, some drifting eastwards as though giving directions.

A hint was all I needed. I hefted the Wesson Smith .44 and kissed its cold metal barrel and whispered, “Okay baby, your time has come.” I was after that little pervert Reeves, and I wasn't going to need the goddamned help of Kansas Dolly and her goddamned ruby slippers!

Wait...I needed a reality check. I pinched myself, and yes, it hurt. What the hell was I talking about? Crows, winter-black (is that new?), and ruby slippers?

Yeah, I hefted that gun with the wonky name, and I aimed it, at myself. I would jump off this crazy train. Only one thing would make sure I stayed off.

The silver manacles encasing my ankles snapped me back, enraging me. The leather masked gimp beside me cackled, enjoying my distress as I realized that I was again in an intolerable situation.

What? Where am I? Oh, shit, I'm sorry. My brain wandered away for a moment. That was a different story, a different time...sometimes they blend together. But when you live a life like mine the crazy moments are bound to happen.

Where were we? Right, I turned the gun to my head, and then I saw him. Reeves, the dirty, sexy bastard, sauntering across the field, his shape outlined by the setting sun. So, he thought he could just screw with me and walk away. Not this girl...

Not this girl. Jeez, I guess I was going to have to get used to having this dame in my head for a time. Least I could do was give her a reality check. If you're going to point a gun at anyone's head, first rule is make sure it's not your own, and if you're going to point it at anyone else—especially a dumb-onion pervert like Reeves—you're going to be aiming it at his goddamned balls. The head can come later, when he's registered what you've just done.

The shot was perfunctory. The screaming was not. Then the screaming stopped as a head turned into a red and grey pumpkin.

A red and grey pumpkin? Jeesh, I had to stop licking postage stamps. There's a reason they're all batshit crazy you know.

Acid trip or not, I still had to deal with the situation. What I had now was a ballless...balless...ball-less? Ahem, a castrated pumpkin head that was headed straight at me. Fast. Amazing with all that blood...

...and seeds, dripping everywhere. His laugh reminded me of an old movie I watched as a child.

I grew up... I wasn't a child anymore, and these silly imagination worlds that I went to had to stop.

I tried to do my fool-proof move that would knock me out of whatever world I had ventured to, punching myself in the temple, and fell down.

When I looked up, I was still there. This was real, one of my imagination worlds had come true, and for some reason, I could still hear Reeves.

"Come now, darling; you're going to mess up that pretty face hitting yourself like that."

I looked up, his pumpkin mouth curled into a creepy grin. Blinking, I tried to will the image away. Not only was he a pumpkin, but he was a messed up pumpkin. He wasn't even the right color.

The gun...in my hand. Feeling it in my palm, I closed my fingers around it and smiled up at Reeves.

"I didn't know you cared," I said and raised the gun.

I fired. Pumpkin guts sprayed over my face. God, that stuff was disgusting. Reeves crumpled into a heap next to me. His body rippling into a slimy mess.

"Oh no, you shouldn't have done that."

I turned toward the voice, pushing myself off the ground. For crying out loud, what else could go wrong?

"Reeves was the one man who could have gotten you out of here," the voice continued.

"What the hell, this place don't seem too bad to me. Leastways, plenty of crows to eat."

Now that's what I shouldn't have said. You ever see kamikaze crows? Let me tell you—if the Pacific War could have been won on bird shit, we'd be cleaning our teeth with Sushi, eating noodles in MacDonald’s. Hell, we'd be doing a lot of things different.

I tried to tell the crows that, but they seemed more concerned with keeping me topped up with crap—like some kind of goddamned crow hors d'oevre, hoping I'd fill up before the main course.

I wasn't going to give them the satisfaction.

The piece of cardboard in my hand would be the perfect shield. I held it up, covering my face. The sound of beeping grabbed my attention, and I peeked out over the top. A black, sleek, seven-door limo pulled to the curb next to the road where I stood.

The chauffer—looked a lot like Reeves—opened the back door, and the bum, dressed in a three piece suit, his hair was pulled back in pony tail, stepped out. I shifted uncomfortably as I waited for him to approach.

“Nice sign,” he said and handed me a dollar.

I read the cardboard in my hand. Will work for food, it said.