Monday, October 31, 2011

STRING BRIDGE - Book review

Happy Halloween, bloggy friends!

Special treat for you all: today I'm helping kick off the STRING BRIDGE (link) blog tour for our good friend, musician, and talented writer Jessica Bell, a.k.a., The Alliterative Allomorph (link).

Jessica sent me an arc of STRING BRIDGE way back at the beginning of June to read, but I have to confess. I was scared to read it.

I've known Jessica more than a year now, and I can tell you, she is an amazing, evocative writer. Her descriptions are so real and intense, and she can conjure a difficult scene and fill it with so much emotion, you'll be crawling for the door...

But I'm so glad I finally did read it. STRING BRIDGE is fantastic.

Yes, it's got a few dark moments, but Jessica has infused her debut novel with so much hope. By the time I finished it, I was squeezing my family members, telling them I loved them.

Yep. It's that good.

Here's my review:

Main character Melody is dealing with a promotion in her job as an editor, a husband who loves her, and an adorable, precocious four year-old daughter, who is just too cute.

Life is good, right? Wrong. She's miserable.

Melody decided after daughter Tessa's birth to stop playing the occasional musical gig and focus on being a good wife and Mommy. The only problem is music is her passion. It feeds her soul, and without it, the monotony of daily life is killing her.

She's spiraling into depression, every little thing her family does sends her into an internal rage, and she's battling fears that she's secretly becoming her bipolar mother.

Melody's mother is a whole other aspect of the story. She's a difficult, strong personality, who during Melody's childhood subjected her to sudden, unexpected bouts of abuse while in her dark times.

Jessica establishes Melody's inner turmoil so well. Her guilt over wanting her own life, and her relationship with her husband and her mother. Melody longs to remember the good days before her mother got sick, and her intense self-analysis is so familiar, you feel like you're working through her struggles with her.

And that's only the first quarter of the book!

There's a lovely scene where Melody recalls visiting her parents' island home while her grandparents were alive. It's so gorgeously detailed, you can feel the water on your feet.

Actually, every observation and memory Melody has ties the characters together and builds to the story's ultimate conclusion.

Jessica does this expertly. You don't even notice as you flow along with her.

The office where Melody works is a nice source of comic relief, and it helps our main character confront her problems. She finally asks husband Alex, a concert promoter, to help her start playing music again, and he agrees.

They draw closer as a result, but too bad their relationship victory is colored by a secret Melody discovers about Alex. She's still deciding what to do when she's faced with the biggest challenge of her life...

I can't tell you any more without spoiling the story, but I can say Jessica's written one of those books that's so real and familiar, it opens the door to great discussions.

For instance, how much turmoil do we create in our own lives? Are there are really any wrong choices or simply choices that lead to different outcomes? And do we control our view of the world by what we choose to focus on in our relationships?

Great stuff.

These characters are flawed, but they know they're flawed and they're trying to find a way to overcome their shortcomings, find healing, and ultimately be happy together.

I highly, highly recommend this book to adult audiences.

Jessica's a frank, realistic writer, so there are clear descriptions of real-life events and F-bombs peppered throughout. Still, I think it will make you sit and think long after you're finished reading.

Here's the links for purchase:

eBook (link)
Amazon UK (link)

Paperback (link)
Amazon UK (link)
Barnes & Noble (link)

On Thursday, you'll get a second treat. I'll be interviewing the author herself! So have a great week, and come on back for my chat with Jessica, reader- and writer-friends~ <3

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Who's Gazumping whom?

Nerd alert: I confess one of the things I love most about being back in Indy is the 24-hour NPR. There's this one show "A Way With Words" (link) that I think is just the bee's knees.

I had it on Saturday on the way to my hair appointment, and they were talking about unusual words. The word in question was gazump, which means to swindle someone at the last second before signing a contract--usually in real estate.

For example, you agree to buy a house for $200K, but then at the last minute, right as you're about to sign, the seller says, "Oh, the trees on the property are worth more than I thought. That'll be another $20K."


Then they went into a discussion of how to indicate sarcasm in text. This piqued the writer in me, as I'm always looking for creative ways to avoid adverbs in dialogue tags. My little writer-ears perked up.

Apparently there's this site that's promoting left-leaning italics to indicate slang. (She said, not sarcastically.)

The problem is all the typefaces will have to be redrawn (or whatever) to make that work. Too bad, because I think that's a great idea.

Digression: While searching for sartalics, I also found the Sarcasm Society's website (link), which is worth a look. Hilarious.

Back to Sartalics! It raised a problem I've encountered in my writing before. I mean, I'm pretty good at indicating the way people are delivering their lines based on what's gone before and body language, but sarcasm is tough.

How do you guys indicate sarcasm in dialogue without resorting to adverbs? I'm just curious.

In the meantime, have a great weekend, reader- and writer-friends! If you're celebrating Halloween, have fun and be safe.

I'll have a special TREAT for you on Monday. Til then~ <3

Monday, October 24, 2011

A SCARY GOOD BOOK Review by a Special Guest

Since it's getting close to Halloween, I asked my nine-year-old daughter Catherine to read Anita Laydon Miller's middle-grade mystery (link) A Scary Good Book.

Anita did a blog tour about a month ago to promote it, and it sounded then like a fun mystery. It involves a kidnapping and clues left in library books. And the cover looks super-exciting.

Anita also has a great middle-grade blog (link), which I'd encourage you to check out and follow.

So without further ado, here's Catherine's review!

I think A Scary Good Book (by Anita Laydon Miller, link) is good because it's a mystery with a touch of romance, which is my favorite kind of story.

The story starts with (main character) Hannah helping Mrs. Beechman with a five-gallon Colorado blue spruce and two bags of mulch that Mrs. Beechman bought from Hannah and her mom’s nursery/house.

Hannah Stone’s father, Louis Stone, had been killed when a car hit him when he had been walking across the street, and people from all over Colorado came to the scene of the crime.

No one knows what caused the accident… until the end of the book. (LTM edit: I had to explain not to give away the ending.) The other mystery is about Katie Lyon.

About a year before that, Katie Lyon was abducted. Hannah saw marks that Katie left in books that she had checked out from the library telling that she had been abducted by a madman.

The rest of the book is about Hannah trying to find out who put the marks in the book. Then she finds out it was Katie, then Hannah gets abducted.

Reading at the dentist's office.
I can’t tell you any more or it’ll ruin the book. But it really was a scary good book.

My questions for Catibug:

Who is your favorite character?
My favorite character is Katie Lyon because she reminds me of my little sister Laura. She is smart for using her eyeliner to mark the books because she didn’t have a pencil. That’s something I could see Laura doing if she had eyeliner.

What was your favorite scene?
My favorite scene was when Hannah and her friend Oliver “Ollie” Ortega broke into the library to see if they could find out more about who marked the books. It is cool to think about two 12-year-olds sneaking into the library.

What was the scariest part?
The scariest part was when the kidnapper set his house on fire.

Would you recommend this book to other kids your age?
I would recommend this book for kids at least eight through twelve, because it is a scary mystery with a little bit of romance. (The romance is between Hannah and Ollie.)

And there you have it folks! Straight from Anita's (almost) target audience. Seriously, Catherine read it in less than 24 hours, and then asked if she could borrow her dad's Kindle so she could read it again.

Grab a copy, and have a scary-fun time reading, reader- and writer-friends. Til Thursday~ <3

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Another reason to tell your story

So I was catching up on my Entertainment Weekly reading, and it was that "reunions" issue. I'm sure most of you've seen the pictures.

They reunited the cast of Family Ties, Romey and Michelle, Glen Close and Michael Douglass for Fatal Attraction, and of course The Princess Bride.

I never knew the backstory of Princess Bride. That it had once had Robert Redford attached as director. That it almost didn't get made.

That Rob Reiner had to cut everyone's salaries, had to cut all the expenses for sets, basically had five guys portray the "army of Guilder."

And it didn't fare very well at the box office.

But it became a cult classic. Who under 40 can't quote at least five lines from that film?

The starter, "As you wish," to the ender, "You'd make a great Dread Pirate Roberts." Or my favorite... Heck, I don't know if I can single out a favorite!

Anyway, it got me to thinking about movies that "shouldn't" have done well, for whatever reason. Or the movies that no one would get behind that everyone ended up loving.

Since we're getting close to Halloween, I'll toss out two scary ones: Blair Witch Project and Halloween.

I mean, seriously. Nobody believed those movies would be hits? NobodyHow does that happen?

Then my thoughts went down a different path. Can you imagine how different Princess Bride would've been if Robert Redford had directed it?

I doubt it would've been as silly-funny as it is, and I'm not sure it would've become the cult-classic it is today.

I feel like there's a lesson here. See what you think about this: We've talked about telling your story before. What if these examples illustrate why you're given the stories you're given.

Other writers might be just as good as you, possibly better. But no one else can tell your story the way you can.

What do you guys think?


Have a great weekend, reader- and writer- friends! Til Monday~ <3

Monday, October 17, 2011

Don't argue with Yosemite Sam

So Anne Kenny (link) and I were swapping Zombieland quotes last week, and since it's almost Halloween, I had to rent the movie.

Upon rewatching, I remembered Cardio and the Double Tap and Avoiding Bathrooms... You know, The Rules to survive in Zombieland.

JRM asked me if he'd laughed as hard the first time Woody Harrelson asks Jesse Eisenberg if he wanted to see how hard Harrelson could punch.

That got me to thinking about characters and character development.

When I was a little kid, I didn't talk a lot. I'm making up for it now. (insert laugh-track)

Anyway, as a child, I spent a lot of time watching and listening to the adults around me.

I try to impart this wisdom to my two young daughters, who like to ignore the adults in their lives. You can learn a lot by just watching and listening.

One of my relatives is a lot like the Woody Harrelson character in Zombieland. Heck, I'm from south Louisiana. I have several relatives who are like that character.

My point is, when I was a kid, he might've been a bit... intimidating.

Don't get me wrong. He's sweet and loyal and would give you the shirt off his back. But this character-type is not the Scarlett O'Hara, swoon, "dropped mah hankey" sort of gentlemen.

It's making me want to get back to that little south-Mississippi sci-fi I've got sitting in the drawer.

I've written two books involving gentlemen. And trust me, I love the gentlemen.

But sometimes it's fun to hang out with Yosemite Sam. You know, the guy who just needs a Hummer and some hollow-point ammo on a quest for a dang Twinkie.

Characters. All sorts. Just keepin' it rill.

Til Thursday. Have a great weekend, reader- and writer-friends~ <3

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Mother Superior Pays it Forward

Matt Rush, *cough* MacNish, (link) and I have been friends for a while, so when he mentioned this blogfest, I gave him the virtual pfft.

He immediately blamed Alex J. Cavanaugh (link), who I sort of know, as he's Mr. Sci-fi, and I'm Ms. ... not sci-fi...

What's all this about, you ask? 

Me kicking off the supercool "Pay it Forward" Blogfest (link) a day early (b/c I post M&Th)! It's OK--they said I could.

Here's how it works: we're supposed to list three blogs we follow and think are awesome, and that we think you should follow, too!

This is a really great idea, but I have to confess: it's REALLY hard for me.

I would automatically send you to my beta/critter's blogs because I love them all, and they are all super-great ladies with super-great blogs.

(That would be Tami-Hart Johnson, Carolyn Abiad, Anne Kenny, Jen Daiker, and Jessica Bell.)

But those ladies are established rock stars, and I think we're supposed to showcase bloggy buddies who might be more new or less known. (Still, if you haven't, check out those guys--they're fantastic.)

In that spirit, I'll toss these guys in the mix:

Elle Strauss (link) is not really a newbie, but I was surprised by how many of you *aren't* following her. She recently published her debut novel Clockwise, which I read and gave two enthusiastic thumbs up--here's the link to my review--and she's just a great writer who typically posts really cool writing tips and advice.

Liz Fichera (link) also has fun posts about stuff. (Yep, I just wrote a sentence that would make my sophomore English students proud.) But Liz has a few new books coming out, and I recently finished her book Craving Perfect. It was really cute and fun, and I think you'll like Liz.

Finally, (last but not least)

Old Kitty (link). I just can't tell you how much I love Kitty's quirky little blog. Maybe it's her pictures of Charlie (her cat) or maybe it's just her little cottage in England and her short posts on writing or baking or rain or people who don't act right. Or maybe it's just that she's so encouraging to me. Everyone should follow Kitty. I know her real name, but I'm sort of an Old Kitty myself, and I forgot.

But that's not even mentioning Tracy Jo (link), who is just the most amazing, strong person and takes gorgeous pictures, or Carol Riggs (link), who perks my little chin up all the time...

Now I'm frustrated that I can't list more than three... Malex!

Have a great weekend, reader- and writer-friends. Til Monday~ <3

Monday, October 10, 2011

When the Revolution Starts

Over the weekend, I chatted with a friend about the "Occupy Wall Street" protests, and we both agreed it reminded us of the French Revolution.

I proposed the question: Who do you think will say, "Let them eat cake"? (You know, Marie Antoinette's infamous response when she was told, "The people have no bread"?)

Supposedly that's a journalistic cliche, and the beheaded French queen never actually said those words. 

As for who'll demonstrate his/her cluelessness today, I like to think it'll be one of those Kardashians. 

But perhaps that's the writer in me.

My guy friends have always played the "when The Revolution starts" game whenever another of our friends does anything militia-ish (like purchases a big truck or moves to a remote location or mentions owning a gun).

Example: "We'll all be in so-in-so's barn with the gun collection when The Revolution starts." (laughs)

I don't actually know anyone with a gun collection, but I have been pondering my lack of fire-starting skills. The last time I thought of it when I watched that Tom Hanks movie where he was trapped on that island. 

You know, in Castaway. I'dve never got that fire going.

To bring all this nervous laughter around to writing, I was also thinking this weekend about how popular dystopain fiction has become.

How did everyone know to start writing about the end of the world as we know it about two years ago?

I've never been one of those writers who tries to capture "Our Times," but here's my question: Is it possible our writing is always marked by what's going on around us? 

Like, even if we're spinning tales of romantic comedy, are they still laced with the meltdown of the global economy? Or something else?

I do know when the Revolution starts I'll be headed South. Those country boys can survive, and they all seem to know how to get a good fire going.

Have a great week, reader- and writer-friends. Stay safe. Til Thursday~ <3

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Life and Luck

Steve Jobs died yesterday. So did civil rights leader Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth (link). I have to confess, I didn't know Steve Jobs was sick (again), and I'd never even heard of Rev. Shuttlesworth.

And I call myself a southern reporter.

Yesterday morning I went for a walk with a new friend and neighbor who has a big dog. She needed to exercise him, and the weather's been gorgeous lately. So we headed to the nearby university to stroll around.

I told her about catching leaves.

Catching leaves is a game I discussed in this post (link). My old "boss" Susan, who was Jewish-Irish-British-living in south Louisiana, taught it to me.

Basically, if you catch a leaf as it's falling to the ground (from the tree), it's good luck. But don't throw your leaf away, or you lose your luck!

My friend asked me how long the luck lasted. I hadn't asked Susan that question, so my answer was I guessed as long as you kept your leaf.

Luck is delicious.
Flower likes to eat my leaves when I get home and leave them out on the counter.

I also interviewed and wrote a feature about Billy J. Brown II yesterday for the Baldwin Register. Yep, I'm still writing for those guys.

Brown was trapped in the backseat of a burning car when he was only two years old and suffered third-degree burns on 65 percent of his body.

His face was disfigured and he lost a hand. He went on to become a married, father of two, and as a businessman, he did one of those Tony Robbins motivational events where everybody walked on hot coals.

A burn victim walking on fire.

After meeting Robbins, he said he realized he could affect people for good with his story. So he wrote and self-published a book Rising from the Ashes (link), and his message is this: Your past doesn't equal your future. Find your ultimate goal, your vision, and pursue it because that's what'll get you through the hard times.

I'm thinking all of these things are related somehow. Here's what I got: First, it's fun to play games and to believe you're lucky if you catch a leaf. But the truth is, luck = preparedness + opportunity.

Steve Jobs was a brilliant creative thinker whose ultimate goal was changing the way we handle information.

Shuttlesworth had a vision of a Birmingham (Ala.) where little black girls didn't get bombed to death on their way to Sunday school.

Maybe we all don't get such world-changing goals as Jobs and Shuttlesworth, but maybe we do. Brown said he often wondered as a teenager why God even kept him alive.

His ultimate goal now is helping teenagers and college students see their worth and find their vision. He described parents who drop off their kids and never even get off their cell phones to tell them goodbye.

I bet Brown makes a difference.

I think that's how you make your life lucky. Or something. What do you think?

Either way, do try to catch a leaf--it's fun! Just make sure you're on a flat, open surface. Otherwise you'll be lucky not to get hurt running around while looking up in the sky.

Have a great weekend, reader- and writer-friends. Til Monday~ <3

Monday, October 3, 2011

Aging and Growing Up

I've been watching the teen shows lately, and last night, one of them made a reference to Gilmore Girls.

Two high-school-aged characters were chatting, and the younger one says, "You're Lorelai, because I'm obviously Rory." (Lorelai's the mom; Rory's the daughter for those of you who never watched. I was a huge fan.)

It got me to thinking about aging and looking one's age--and how (I hope) these shows are clearly being targeted at my demographic rather than the kids who are the same age as the characters.

Anyway, I'm often told I look young for my age. Lately, I haven't been feeling it, but I do notice others my age and how they dress. They do sometimes look *a'hem* more mature than me.

I've also noticed these same ones have teenagers.

Perhaps that's part of it. JRM and I didn't get married until we were in our 30s and didn't have our first child til then. But even before, I was being told I looked 14 when I was 21, and trust me, I hated it. Now it's just puzzling... what's the math on that?

OK, I'm way off where I was headed with this. All these thoughts had something to do with character development, and the way we see the people we've known all our lives as we grow older.

I have a friend I've mentioned before, who I've known since we were babies. Actually, I don't remember a time I didn't know her.

Over the weekend, a mutual friend of ours posted a picture of her on Facebook from senior prom. I saw it and smiled. She was a grade behind me in high school, so I ran over to hang out while they got ready for the big night. It was such a clear memory.

Here's my point: to me, she looks exactly the same. OK, she was a little chubbier around the cheeks at 17, but I could still hear her voice even. It sounds the same.

More than that. I remember every funny secret, every not so funny secret, every first love, every dream, every hope, every wish... Every all-nighter spent eating guacamole and chips while watching Out of Africa and crying.

I think about her two boys--she's just Mom to them. I think about my own daughters. Ditto.

Character development. People who've known each other all their lives still see each other with those eyes--no matter what changes.

Hmm... or do they? What would it take to change that? Something major, I bet. Thinking about this...

I'll never truly see my friend as someone's mom even though I know she is, and she'll never look our age to me (even though she is).

I wonder how old I look to her.

Til Thursday, reader- and writer-friends~ <3