Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

The cookies are baked (and munched on), the presents are open (and giggled over), and the weather is sunny and cold. It's Christmas, and all is quiet (except the kids, busy playing video games and making a lot of sound effects of their own).

Happy Holidays and Peace to all!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Otters on a plane

No wonder they created a delay and all that: who would put otters in the luggage area? Otters travel in first class, of course!

  Otters are creative creatures, we all know that.

Here's what I'm talking about:

Monday, December 14, 2009

I've been invited to guest blog!

Delilah Devlin is off on a cruise, the lucky woman! Unlike this scatterbrained writer, she never abandons her readers (of course her children are grown and they don't need snacks and referees), so she's set up guest bloggers to fill the space.

That works out just fine for me, because when I promise a friend I'll write something, I kind of feel obligated to do it... And then I post on MY blog as well. It all works just fine.

So tomorrow, December 15, I'll be at Delilah Devlin's blog talking about a fascinating aspect of her writing you probably didn't notice. Mind you, she's a great storyteller, so you shouldn't notice, but hey, folk tales and legends are my thing, so...

And while you're there, check out the post by her other guests.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Cooking Day

I don't do this so much anymore. Maybe I have too much time to sit and think and I don't have to be on my feet running around after a small child bent on mischief. Maybe it's just that others have taken over the kitchen. Or maybe I'm just old(er).

Or maybe I just lost the habit of long, complex dinner in the years I worked a full-time, 8-5 job with a long commute.

Anyway, yesterday, I went all out on traditional Russian cooking. Of course, it was at the request of my kids, and they did promise to help.

Well, help is as help does, but I must admit that they did a lot. Because making pirozhki ([pee-rohzh-KEE], singular pirozhok [pee-roh-ZHOHK]) one by one by hand (take small amount of yeast dough, add spoonfull of meat filling, wrap and seal) is time consuming. But they did it. While I did the other stuff.

So we had pel'meni last night (pehl-MEH-nee, the Russian answer to ravioli: meat-filled pasta served with sour cream and a vinaigrette dressing) which we ate with a side of cucumber-and-sour cream salad.

One thing you have to understand about Russian cooking: it comes with sour cream. Everything is better with sour cream. Sour cream gets added pretty much to everything, and then served on the side.

As salad dressing, with salt. As flavoring in pastries, cookies, and bread. In your soup. On the side with almost every dish. As a dip. On bread (why not? on a nice, thick slice of rich, dark bread -- and it's a spoonful of thick, creamy sour cream, not the runny "light" stuff -- you have to eat right!). A little sour cream in your shortbread heightens the flavor. You say buttermilk pancakes, I say sour cream olad'i (oh-LAH-d'yi).

And today? Today we will have BORSHCH.

Not Borsht. Not the dark pink canned beet product you find in stores. Nope. That's not the traditional Russian dish. No more than sweet-and-sour chicken is a traditional Chinese delicacy.

No. Borschch. Don't-call-it-soup Borshch. It's LIKE soup, but not soup. It's LIKE stew, but not stew. It's Borshch, and that's what Russians call it.

It's cabbage-based, with other root vegetables, including beets, carrots, turnips, leeks, and/or onions, potatoes and/or beans. It can be beef-stock based and contain beef chunks, or it can be a Lenten dish and be strictly vegetarian. It's tasty, filling, versatile, it has a million variants, and even though I use my mother's recipe, mine does not taste like hers. Close, very close, but not quite. Anyone would recognize the flavor and aroma of Borshch but each cook, each household has its own variant.

The magic of true Russian Borshch.

That's what we're having tonight. And while the kids don't particularly like soup, they've been asking for Borshch. Because, and it bears repeating, Borshch is not soup. It's just Borshch.

It can be served with thick slices of hearty bread slathered with butter, or, like we're going to do tonight, with pirozhki.

Because we were in a cooking frenzy, we only have meat pastries (meat-filled pirozhki), but you could have some cabbage filling, some mushroom filling, even sweet fillings like farmer's cheese or sour cherries.

And because we're only having an ordinary family night, we're just having borshch and pirozhki. If, however, I was serving up a proper feast, borshch would be a first course, followed by some kind of roast (meat or fish), with a vegetable, and a salad. Followed by a dessert.

Okay. That's enough. I'm hungry now.
But you know what? Ethnic cooking is pretty healthy. Look at all the good ingredients that go into borshch. And just ask the kids (and all the students of Russian who tried it over the years): it's tasty. Especially with pirozhki.

Friday, October 30, 2009

What's Your Favorite Scary Story?

The weekly newspaper at my husband's university asked the professors what their favorite scary story was. They skipped my husband, more's the pity, because he never gives run-of-the-mill answers to anything.

His pick was "It's a good life" by Jerome Bixby. I couldn't find an official online site, so I'll let you look for it yourself.

I went with the more classical La Vénus d'Ille by Prosper Mérimée. Here's a link to the original French text, and here's another one to a Wikipedia article.

Now I was thinking of classic horror stories. But there's one that chilled my childhood and still enchants me (although it doesn't give me nightmares anymore).

It is Nikolai Gogol's Viy. There is a link from the Wikipedia page to the Russian full text, for the brave souls who can tackle it.

From a science fiction author (It's a good life is also a Twilight Zone episode) to a Russian classic by way of a French classic. Yeah, that's our family. The only strange thing is that I'm not the one who picked the sci-fi author this time.

So what's your favorite scary read? Horror story? Good chilling tale?

As I remember, there were quite a few excellent Goosebumps tales worth reading at any age.

It's all in the story! Especially in the dark of night. And in the telling, of course.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Fun Little Blog

... for your pleasure.

It's been a crazy month in a year of crazy months, and I'm growing superstitious about wishes and forecasts... so I'll make none.

Instead, I'll introduce a fun and irreverent little serial adventure blog:

The Vicky Diaries

Talking swords, clueless heroines... or not? The author is having so much fun with his world that you can't help giggle along with him.

Why Vicky? Why a talking sword? Let the author tell you all about it.

If you want to know who this Vicky figure is and why she should be posed, look here.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

All Things Spooky and Supernatural

It's Halloween month and the publishers don't fail to celebrate it.

Join in the fun with The Wild Rose Press. And why shouldn't I toot my own horn? My stories are on sale!

The Joining is 10% off and it got 5 stars from a reviewer on site. Here's what she says:

Strap yourself in for a wild ride. Ms. Holl takes the reader flying through space with the skill of a seasoned pilot in THE JOINING. And delving into the pilot's psyche is equally enjoyable. ~Skhye

For that matter, The Brightest Heaven, a Song of the Muses story, is also on sale. It earned 4.5 books from The Long and Short of It. And here's what the reviewer had to say about it:

“The Brightest Heaven” is beautifully written and entirely unpredictable. Dialogue is snappy and believable. Modern life interweaves with mythological characters as if perfectly naturally; as if indeed, space and time wove them together.

If you're still hesitating, check out the trailers on this blog (look right in the margin) or go to my site for some excerpts.

Have fun this Supernatural month!

Sunday, September 20, 2009


I gave a talk yesterday, and while my conviction that Ann Lamott's Bird by Bird is a great writing book and everybody should read it had been reinforced, I also realized that my favorite quote from that book could be interpreted in many different ways.

To paraphrase Ann Lamott, you should allow yourself to "write a shitty first draft."

I said that in the comments after my talk. I even said that you could submit it to your critique group. Which put my favorite critique coordinator on her high horse.


Because we have different ideas of what a "shitty first draft" is.

Hers includes grammatical mistakes, spelling errors, and other basic goofs of a version that I don't even call a "draft." It's a "rough", maybe. It's something between me and me. Not something for anyone to see. My concept of the "shitty first draft" is a grammatically clean version, checked for spelling, verified for as many basic errors of style as you can spot, but still not ready for the public.

In my opinion, the critique group is a very valuable commodity and should not be abused by off-hand submissions of unchecked pages. But the critique group is also not the (ordinary) public and can help sort through the mess of a first draft.

But back to the "shitty first draft." My perception, when I need to remind myself that it's okay, you can, and must write a shitty first draft, is to turn off the long-term editor and to let the movie reel play out.

Stay in the moment and forget the fine points of style and the elegance of narration. Just do it. Get in on the page. Get the images and the speeches and the actions of your characters out onto the paper (or the virtual paper of your computer screen).

It's not about writing badly, it's about just writing when something's holding you back and the story is pushing to get out.

I couldn't NOT check the spelling on my pages. Or switch a word for a better one on the fly if the substitution occurred to me. Because my mind would keep going back to THAT spot.

But I would make myself stop worrying about how I'll get myself out of that situation. How it will lead to the conclusion I vaguely foresee. How I will resolve the new conflict.

I just write.

And worry later.

The smoothness and perfection (such as it may be) will come later, after many, many revisions and interventions, and applications of sandpaper and buffing cloth.

Friday, September 18, 2009


South Texas is not green. It's not cool, it's not fresh, and it's not a land of soft, rolling, verdant hills, or tall stately trees.

But then sometimes, after a few days of heavy rains, it does green up. And it revives in spectacular fashion. On a fall day like today, when the morning is cool (all things being relative, of course, after almost two months with highs around 100F), and the sky is a soft blue, and the grass begs to be cut, and the trees have some fresh growth that make seasons irrelevant, you could pretend to be just about anywhere.

Driving through my neighborhood, looking at the bushy trees lining the suburban streets, I can feel other places. The old forests of Europe with their 90-foot trees and trunks so thick you can't wrap your arms around them. The shade so deep that sunlight never pierces it and it's always sweater-cool while the meadows just yards away are burning hot in the summer. The sweet-tart red berries hiding under the tiny umbrellas of their lacy leaves. Or the carpets of knee-high bilberries you pick and eat on the spot.

All this from a five-minute ride through a South-Texas neighborhood. Just because the street turned and went up the hill, and trees bracketed the road and framed the pale-blue sky. And because I didn't have the air conditioning on in the car, just the fan, and I could smell the actual morning air.

And the music? The radio was playing "Black Magic Woman" by Santana. A song that's always been slick and urban to me, a nighttime song of city lights. Not just any city light -- big city lights, slick city lights. Paris, glitz, a night club. High fashion and expensive champagne. Wide avenues and old architecture. High society and old money rubbing elbows with new. Movie stars and financiers. Lust, greed, and cold, cold minds.

A Paris I never lived in, but one I saw and imagined easily enough. My Paris was a middle-class city, of schools and children and neighborhood stores. Of cafés and warm Sunday-morning croissants and hot, strong coffee. Good wine, good food, and large family gatherings.

All this from a quick drive to drop of my kid at school?

Well, yes. It's called imagination. That's how I can sit in a dark room, with a sweltering 100+F summer outside, and write my characters lost in a cold, northern winter. Because I'm wearing a T-shirt and the A/C is blowing on my bare arms.

On the other hand, maybe I'll write about a mysterious desert city next time. To commemorate the time when the A/C broke.

Or not. Some things don't need to be imagined.

Friday, September 11, 2009


September 11

Eight years ago.

I was sitting at my computer like any other day, having sent the kids to school, checking my email and going through my morning routine. Happy and oblivious.

I saw the newsflash on AOL. I didn't believe it. I turned on the TV and I saw the second plane hit the Twin Towers.

I thought this might be it.

You know, it. The End.

When you grow up, as the child of politically engaged Russian émigrés, with the perfect awareness that the Bad Guy is not a fictional construct and that They Are Really After You, anything of this magnitude will glue you to your seat with a mixture of fear, fatalism, and helpless fascination.

Add to that a lifelong preference for fantasy and science-fiction, and you start building scenarios for the counter-strike and retaliation once you realize that it's not an accident.

And you've seen War Games. You know there can be no winner.

Fortunately, they've seen War Games, too.

But there is one realization that doesn't go away.

Someone has done this on purpose. Someone took several civilian planes and used them as weapons. Someone broke the most basic rules of engagement. Someone perpetrated an uncivilized, barbaric act worthy of the darkest moments of the most dramatic post-apocalyptic movies. Something that would have driven Mad Max to tears.

Today, we have monuments to our losses. Memorials. A minute of silence. A moment of rememberance. The president spoke briefly on the occasion. The local newspaper has a small front-page note. Google doesn't have a touching graphic attached to its name.

Has it been so long? Aren't we angry any longer? Almost 3000 people died in one day. I can't believe it wasn't yesterday. It's one of those moments that will always be there. Right in front of me.

Because like eight years ago, it's unbelievable.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Guest Blogger Sandy Lender

Welcome back, Sandy! And congratulations on the release of the sequel of Choices Meant for Gods. Let me say that I love your titles. Of course, I'm a big fantasy fan, and these titles just invite the reader's imagination to fly!

And don't miss the blog-tour special excerpt!

Inspiration in All Places

By Fantasy Author Sandy Lender

A lot of folks have asked me about inspiration. It’s a question that folks like to ask of creative types like artists and movie stars and writers. (Please notice how I just lumped myself in there with artists and movie stars. Cool, eh?) I don’t like to be glib because anyone asking the question deserves a real answer, but, honestly, everything inspires me.

Duran Duran, baby sea turtles, my parrots, sci fi shows/movies, thunderclouds over the Gulf at dawn, short elderly drivers in huge Lincoln town cars, bizarre chicks in L.A. bars, snow in the mountains, etc. At my fancy new Web site that just launched this summer, my letter to visitors tells of a funky incident from my early teens that inspired a short story in the Choices-supporting chapbook WHAT CHOICES WE MADE.

Something I know that fires the flames of inspiration for me is setting up my writing space. I participated in the annual 3-Day Novel Contest over Labor Day Weekend this year and found myself going through an almost ritual getting everything nice and “set” before the start time. What I’m curious about is readers’ “inspiration.” When you pick up a new book and prepare to crack open the front cover, do you need a special setting or a special mindset or some special music softly in the background to inspire you to drop easily into another world?

Thank you for checking in today and for participating in the conversation! “Some days, I just want the dragon to win.”

Good question, Sandy! And posters will be entered into a drawing for a hard cover copy of Sandy's book! So speak up: how do you prepare to enter a world of fantasy we create for you? And writers, what do you need to step into a world of your own creation?

Choices Meant for Kings.

Chariss is in danger. Her geasa is hampered by the effects of a friend’s marriage. The dashing Nigel Taiman hides something from her, yet demands she stay at his family’s estate where he and her wizard guardian intend to keep her safe. But the sorcerer Lord Drake and Julette The Betrayer know she’s there, and their monstrous army marches that way.

When prophecies stack up to threaten an arrogant deity, Chariss must choose between the dragon that courts her and the ostracized kings of the Southlands for help. Evil stalks her at every turn and madness creeps over the goddess who guides her. Can an orphan-turned-Protector resist the dark side of her heritage? Or will she sacrifice all to keep her god-charge safe?

A Tense Little Excerpt From Choices Meant for Kings

By Fantasy Author Sandy Lender

You won’t find this excerpt anywhere except Sandy’s current online book tour…

As the soldier stepped toward him, Nigel reached out his arm and caught him by the neck. He slammed the captain against the far wall. He pinned him there with his body, leaning against the man as if he could crush the wind from him with his presence.

He brought his face close to the soldier’s ear and spoke lowly, fiercely, so that no one could have overheard him. The menace and intent behind the words was as surprising to the captain as the words themselves.

I asked you to accompany [Chariss] on this journey tomorrow because I have faith in your sword, and until this moment I trusted you to keep your distance from her. Now, I find her down here at your side with a look upon your face that suggests more than you realize. So help me, Naegling, the only thing that stays my hand is how displeased she would be if she learned that I sliced you open.”

The look you see is merely my concern for her honor. Nothing more.”

I’m not a fool. And I’ll use every last piece of Arcana’s treasury to pay the prophets to justify my reasons for marrying that woman, so you can unconcern yourself with her honor.”

Hrazon stepped off the staircase then and saw Nigel pressed against his guard.

I still believe you’re one of the best soldiers Arcana’s ever seen,” Nigel continued, “and I want you at her side for this journey, but, so help me, Naegling, she comes back alive and well and not confused in the least about her affections for me, or I will string you up from a tree in the orchard and attach your intestines to your horse’s saddle before I send it—”

Hrazon cleared his throat. “Excuse me. Is there an issue here I should address?”

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Guest Blogger this Wednesday

Sandy Lender is coming back next week for another post... and another book! Choices Meant For Kings is the second volume of her epic fantasy Choices trilogy.

Remember to come back and to comment for a chance to win a copy of her book!

Monday, August 24, 2009


No, the sky did not fall on our heads.

No, there was no earthquake, no hurricane, not even a big storm. No flash flood, no worsening of the drought, so water rationing, none of that.

And yet, it feels as if something has crashed and landed right on our house.

It's nothing big in and of itself.

Well, maybe it is. My oldest went to college and moved into a dorm. Still, she didn't move out of state, she's still forty minutes away and I can bring her whatever she's forgotten almost at the drop of a hat.

But she's moved out.

And the youngest has started high school.

No, I don't feel old. I feel proud. I know, I'm kinda weird, but you knew that.

If that's all it was, I'd be sitting here working on my edits and grumbling at all the interruptions.

But of course, in this family, nothing is that simple. For one thing, transitions happen with high drama. Even so, by now, I'd be sitting here working, etc.

But the minivan, the mom-mobile sometimes appropriated by our oldest, has had a meltdown. Literally. The fan went out and melted some wires and some hoses. And they're having trouble finding replacement parts.

Any other week, we'd shrug and handle it.

But the first week of classes? And of course this would be the week when I have appointments and errands I can't postpone.

The strangest thing of all is that not one member of our family has had a real meltdown over this yet. I really expected someone to start pacing and moaning and grumbling, or whining and crying and complaining, or something. Something. I mean, the timing is really awful.

But no. Somehow, we all went into a we'll handle it mode.

What's wrong with us?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Movie Night

It's a rare occasion in this book-heavy family, therefore it is a noteworthy event. Even more so when it's a couples movie night, loudly hailed and encouraged by the kids, who merely expressed their desire to see the same film, but no envy that we went and they didn't.

Miracles do happen. And the kids' enthusiasm at seeing us go somewhere together, for our own selfish pleasure, definitely multiplied our enjoyment.

And enjoyment it was.

We went to see District 9. It was a bit of an odd choice, because usually my husband and I have very, very different tastes in movies. You'd think we'd have very, very similar preferences in reading -- after all, we went to graduate school together and shared more than one course -- but you'd be wrong.

And sci-fi? He's so not into sci-fi, and I'm so not into reality.

But it was good. I'm not going to give any spoilers, but I'm going to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the characters. The special effects were just enough to fit both the story and the filming style, and make it believable, and they were well done (of course, they were thorough and tight, but then it's a Peter Jackson movie, and he's raised the bar on attention to detail).

Good plot, good character development, and the very pleasant sense that the audience is an insider and knows more than the clueless public "out there" in the story world of the movie.

It's a tale told exactly as I want them to be. Exactly as I want to write them.

Guess what. I'm going to get the director's cut when it comes out in DVD. With all the commentaries, of course.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Listen to the Pros: Literary Agent Blog

It just so happens that my husband is a big fan of Thomas Pynchon, and he finished the latest book yesterday. He enjoyed it very much (he said so, but I could tell from the obsessive way he read it). And then I stumble across this:

Nathan Bransford - Literary Agent: The Myth of "Just An Author"

It also just happens that I was wondering about this same question myself--could you be a Thomas Pynchon nowadays?

I don't mean could you be as good as... Because for one, I'm not even going to raise the issue. I would be judging a great author and comparing myself to him, and I just don't do that. Either I would come across as vain and self-congratulatory, or envious and petty. There's no way around that.

Besides, my true literary idols are long dead and gone, and emulating them would be absurd, since their world is as long past and buried as they are.

So what was my point...?

Oh yes. Could you hide out like Pynchon and be famous for it nowadays?

Read Nathan Bransford's post. I totally agree with him. And he says it better than I could. But then he's given it more thought than I did.

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Friday, August 7, 2009

Bloggers Beware

From Russian Notes
BBC: "High-profile websites including Google, Facebook and Twitter have been targeted by hackers in what is described as a 'massively co-ordinated attack'. Reports suggest the strike may have been aimed at a single user, pro-Georgian blogger known as Cyxymu."

Here's a new twist to the old plot: in our imaginations, the hacker is still an independent loner out the get "The Man." But there's a new breed of hackers out there. They belong to "The Man". They live in the world of The Matrix and they apply their skills neither for random maliciousness, nor to uncover the failings of security systems, nor even for the sheer entertainment of one-upmanship, but to serve the highest bidder.

The thing is, dystopian worlds such as The Matrix, or 1984, or the book-burning universe of Farenheit 451, do not survive. They cannot. It takes imagination to perform even destructive tasks beyond flattening everything under a huge machine, and imagination is what dystopias fear most. But imagination is what dystopias require to achieve domination.

Do you see the paradox? Misdirected minds help the dystopia achieve a certain power, then similar minds bring it down when its walls become too confining. What shall it do? Destroy all the minds? It tries. But then it starves, and something else, non-dystopian, takes its place.

It's not a sci-fi scenario, or a philosophical thesis. More of a lesson in history.

And what is the moral of the story? Watch out for hackers, down with the hackers, long live the hackers, and start getting very familiar with network security. Yes, all of the above and all at once. Like a well-balanced organism, cyberspace needs both harmful and beneficial microorganisms to function properly, and illness can turn one into the other.

Oh, and my first reaction to the attack was that is looked targeted. Why? Not sure. It just did. Maybe because of the sites that were hit.

The Matrix
(1999) Director: Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski Cast: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving

1984 (1950) by George Orwell

Fahrenheit 451 (1953) by Ray Bradbury

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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Welcome Clare Austin!

Today, let's welcome Clare Austin to Alien Places. She's stopping by on her tour of cyberspace to celebrate the launch of BUTTERFLY. Make yourself comfortable and listen to her tale.

After the interview, you will find more information (including a blurb and excerpt) about Clare's book! And prizes!

Thank you for having me on your blog today. My novel Butterfly is now available and if I don’t talk about it I’ll go mental. Mental: the state of being a little bit nuts. That’s Irish. Well, Irish English at least.

Though Butterfly takes place in Boston, nearly half the characters are Irish. When I wrote their dialogue, I had Irish speakers…mostly Dubliners…talking in my head. After I sold my manuscript to The Wild Rose Press, I worked with a wonderful editor, Eilidh MacKenzie, who helped me tone down the accents and concentrate on cadence and context to achieve a balance…readable but still obviously Irish.

Many Irish are going to sound a bit like this “Werah ye goin’ no bell on yer bike an’ yer knickers wringin.” The answer being…“Ta der an’ back ta say how fare it ‘tis.” If written this way all through a three hundred page book, it’s exhausting to read.

Often the Irish of every socio-economic group will not pronounce the “th” in words like “this, thanks, three…etc.” they come out sounding like “dis, tanks, tree.” Don’t ask me why, it’s just the way it is in the land of saints and scholars. I even asked a linguist and teacher of the Irish language, an Gaeilge. He “tanked” me for my interest in Irish…but hadn’t a clue what I was referring to.

In Butterfly I also have a Puerto Rican character and at least one person who speaks with a heavy Boston twang. I left them with fairly heavy written accents because they appear briefly and it is not as distracting as having every other word end with an apostrophe. Thankfully my editor was sensitive to the feeling of getting just the right amount of accent so that my characters didn’t lose their Irishness. I tried to do this very much with the kinds of words and speech patterns. The Irish will often use five words where with Americans, particularly men, one will suffice. Irish folk love to talk, tell stories, elaborate on a tale. They think like Irish, not like Americans. That makes a huge difference in how they talk. I had to stay in my Celtic brain for some characters and switch to American, Puerto Rican, Bostonian for other characters. It was fun and a challenge.

Butterfly, and the whole Fadό Trilogy, also has a sprinkling of the Irish language. Some of my characters are native speakers of the Gaeilge. I always try to subtly or boldly…whatever works for the context…define the Irish words. An example is … “Thank you. We are Fadó. It means ‘once upon a time’.”… It’s as simple and sometimes as complicated as that to make foreign words understandable.

I had the most wonderful experience when passing though Galway last spring. As I often do when in a shop or just out for a stroll, I will stop and chat with the locals. I was browsing at a road side shop where a young man had ceramic pendants. His work was truly lovely. I ended up staying quite a while after I had decided on the pieces I wished to purchase because he started telling me stories. I was in stitches! He told me how he had been fishin’ and had dis pile o’ goots from gootin’ da fish. And he’d feck da goots down into the mout a’ dis eel. This wonderful tale came complete with sound effects. What does an eel sound like?

Listen to how people talk, what they talk about and you will learn more about writing than you would years in school. An’ it’s brill altogether like.

If anyone has questions, comments or would like to read excerpts from my other books, please go to my website or email me at

Thanks for inviting me to blog today.


Thank you for stopping by, Clare! I can hear your characters just from your description. Can't wait to get into the story!

Here's what Butterfly is about:

Flannery Sloane is a free spirited bohemian with a soul blessed by Irish musical tradition. She doesn’t give a care for where she’s going or how she’ll get there. Joy and passion are her only map. And, though she’s not interested in falling in love, she wouldn’t mind a little fun with a fine looking man. Hunter Kincade looks like he could fill that bill and have a bit of change left over.

Flannery never wears a watch. She’s late for everything but the downbeat of a fiddle tune. She’s happy serving pints in the pub and playing for tips and smiles. Hunter thrives on punctuality. He is in the music business with his focus on the bottom line. The pretty fiddle player with the bright green eyes would make his next production worth the price of a CD.

Their only common ground is the belief that falling in love is a danger to health and sanity.

Will it take more than Irish magic to pull a man like Hunter into the spell of a woman like Flannery? They are all wrong for each other...and they are so right.


He lost sight of the fiddler in the mobs of tourists enjoying the April sunshine.

No sooner had he decided to give up on his quest than he heard hands clapping in rhythm with the beat of the now familiar Irish drum.

Then he saw her.

She lifted her instrument and, with the surety of a bird’s wing slipping through the air, bow was laid to strings and life was breathed into melody.

He moved to the edge of the gathering where he could have an unobstructed view of the musicians. She looked up, and he thought she recognized him for an instant. Then her eyes turned and followed another. She smiled and nodded.

Cade had never thought of himself as the jealous type, but he did feel cheated out of that smile.

As soon as the last vibration of strings quieted, a man Cade recognized from O’Fallon’s came up behind the fiddler and, with disturbing familiarity, spoke in her ear. She responded with a hug and an adoring look in her eyes.

Cade had been raised to be competitive, in sports as well as in business, and the appearance of a rival on the field made him want to draw blood. He wanted the fiddler in his studio, and if she ended up in his bed, that might be as nice.

He stood and listened until the sun set and the air held a chill that thinned the throng. The musicians were packing it in.

He hadn’t realized he was staring, until she walked up to him and stood so

close he could smell the scent of her warm skin in the cool evening air. Her approach to introduction took Cade completely by surprise.

“Are you lookin’ at me or waitin’ for a bus?” she said, one hand on her hip and a sassy smile on her lips.

Now please leave a comment for Clare! There are prizes for those who dare! Clare will be giving away a free download of her book each week of her tour to a lucky commenter, randomly drawn from the comments during that week. At the end of the tour, one commenter will win an autographed copy of the novel.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Life is Crazy

Somehow, this week was crazier than most. What's more, it wasn't crazy in a run-around-everywhere-and-accomlplish-nothing kind of way. Instead, it was a sit-at-the-computer-and-stare crazy.

I had time. I had bursts of energy. I woke up every morning knowing where the next scene should take my characters, but as soon as I poised my fingers above the keyboard, I hit a wall.

You know, when you're riding your bicycle happily and you hit a little something, a branch, or a pothole, or something, and your bike just stops but you keep going?

That's what my fingers were doing. Stopping. When my brain would catch up, it would shut down, and then trying to wake it up again... Have you tried that? Getting your inspiration back to speed when it's sulking?

What, what? I said I had a crazy week. No wonder I sound like I'm being split into several personalities all battling themselves. And the dominant whatever keeps sending itself into a panic at the thought of bringing up the manuscript on the screen.

I mean, usually I can go back and edit, backtrack, recap, find the spot that's giving me trouble and figure out what the problem really is. But how can you do that when part of yourself very conveniently shuttles the thought of editing away from your conscious impulses and softly redirects you into pointless Web surfing.

Well, it wasn't entirely pointless. It was pleasant and soothing, and I made contacts, and met a dragon... Of course, that's another story. But it wasn't productive. I need another 10,000 words, darn it! It's not like I have a magic wand and I could just transfer my idea straight onto paper!

No, I have to build it, and compose it. To do that, I have to picture it, and feel it...

Darn brain.

No, I don't have writer's block, because I know what I need to write, and where my story is going, and even how it's going to end. Come on! I even have an idea of a good final fight scene. Among other things...

What's left? I think I need to throw a temper tantrum. But how do you do that when you're grown up and the heat index is 100F?

You know it's bad when you're wishing for a good snowstorm.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Joining has a fan

Check out what a reader has to say about my story: Strap yourself in for a wild ride...

Wild rides is what I hope to write. I'm so glad when readers enjoy it.
Get The Joining at The Wild Rose Press.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Welcome Donna Marie Rogers!

Today, let's welcome Donna Marie Rogers to Alien Places. She's stopping by at my blog on her whirlwind tour of cyberspace in celebration of the launch of her fourth book, Meant To Be. I'm just hoping that her title is an omen in my own writing life!

After the interview, you will find more information (including a blurb and excerpt) about Donna's book!

Romance author Donna Marie Rogers lives in a renovated old schoolhouse in beautiful Northeast Wisconsin with her husband and children. She's an avid gardener and home-canner, as well as an admitted reality TV junkie. Her passion to read is only exceeded by her passion to write, so when she's not doing the wife and mother thing, you can usually find her sitting at her computer creating exciting new characters, fresh new worlds, and always happily-ever-afters.

Hi, Donna! Welcome to Alien Places. Thank you for stopping by my corner of the universe. Please take a seat and make yourself comfortable. Congratulations on the release of your new book!

Thank you so much for having me, Masha, and for helping me celebrate the release of Meant To Be! *getting comfortable on the sofa*

The first thing that caught my attention about your book is the setting. I went to school at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and my husband was born near there and also attended UW. Now we're down in Texas, but we still have relatives all over the Midwest. Why did you choose such a northern area for your story? Not just Wisconsin (I love that state), but Green Bay? Can't be the Packers, because according to my husband, they're not having a great year.

Definitely not the Packers, though I am a fan. My husband, however, is a huge Bears fan. *grin* We both grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago, but decided to move up to Northeast Wisconsin about 15 years ago. I think Green Bay is a beautiful city; I’ve really come to love it. And since I’ve always preferred a Midwestern setting, it just seemed natural to set my series here.

How much research did you need to do for the setting? The physical setting, the characters, the atmosphere?

I really didn’t have to do too much. I know the city well enough, especially the homey neighborhood I set the series in. I think watching reality shows ad nauseam helps a lot with writing interesting, and often quirky, characters. LOL

Where did the idea for Meant to Be come from? Did it start with characters? Setting? A premise?

I knew before I'd even finished my first draft of There's Only Been You that I'd be writing Garrett's story. Garrett is Sara Jamison’s oldest brother, and I fell hard and fast for the big moody cop who’s just too sexy for words. But it was the close relationship he has with his sister and the special bond he shares with his nephew, Ethan, that melted my heart and locked it for me. I couldn't imagine Garrett not having his own happily-ever-after. He so deserved one.

Tell us about writing the characters of Meant to Be. Did they barge into your life and interrupt your thoughts? How do you create characters? Do you build them little by little or do you know them in detail as soon as they appear to you?

Holy moly, Masha, no easy questions from you...LOL Of course, the entire Jamison clan from There’s Only Been You is in Meant To Be. They basically told me if they weren’t in the sequel, they were going on strike. *grin* And frankly, I love them all, so no problem there. Jessica McGovern developed slowly for me, but she was feisty from the get go. ;-) I’m sure all my characters have similarities with people I’ve met, seen on TV or in a movie, etc. I can’t say I have a particular way I create characters. I just start with an idea of who they are, and their personality develops as the story unfolds.

Who is your all-time favorite hero? What about from your own books?

For me there’s nothing sexier than a typical alpha hero, and nobody writes them better than NY Times Bestselling author Lori Foster. I love all of Lori’s heroes, but my favorite is Joe Winston from Say No To Joe? In fact, I dedicated Meant To Be to Lori & Joe. I’d like to think Garrett Jamison from Meant To Be is a little like Joe. Big, strong, sexy, loyal, super protective of those he loves. Though Garrett is also moody and a “drama king” according to his sister Sara. *grin*

So tell us about the best review you’ve ever received.

I’ve been blessed some really nice reviews, but the one that comes immediately to mind is the 4-1/2 star from Romantic Times for Welcome To Redemption. I wrote the four-story, small town anthology with my good friend Stacey Joy Netzel, and I think we’re both still a little in shock over this one. *grin* Seriously, the reader and reviewer response has been amazing. There’s definitely something special about the town of Redemption and it’s inhabitants.

Do you plot and plan, or do you fly by the seat of your pants? If you plot, what kind of method do you use? Do you have any tricks you'd like to share?

I started off as a pantster, which worked for my first two books. But I realized I like the security of having a plot fleshed out, a rough outline at least, before I dive into a new manuscript. Tip? If you don’t already have one, find a good critique partner—or two. ;-)

Do you have an office? What does your work area look like? Do you like to spread or to keep everything within reach? Do you need coffee to sustain you while you work? Or is it tea? Or Coke?

My desk is set up in my bedroom, so I guess my bedroom is my office. I have my TV mounted up on the wall because I need the background noise when I write (though there are certainly some drawbacks to that *grin*). I’m a nibbler, which is also a problem since I don’t have the greatest metabolism (LOL), and I tend to suck down sweet tea by the gallon.

If you could have the perfect office or work area, what would it be like? Would it be a single room? A sea-side bungalow? Or would you sit outside in perpetual springtime? Would you like to have a personal, um, assistant at your beck and call?

Since this is fantasy, I’m going all out. *grin* I would love to own a mansion with a gazebo-style office that attached to my home via a long hallway so I’d have plenty of privacy from my chatty hubby and ever fighting kids. This gazebo office would sit on a bluff overlooking a clear blue river with a picturesque, tree-lined shoreline on the other side. There’d be plenty of colorful wildflowers to perfume the air and trilling birds would be nice, too...LOL Maksim, my sexy shirtless butler, would make sure I’m well fed and dance for me whenever I need a distraction...LOL Man, that sounds like freakin’ heaven!

How about your favorite set-up for reading? Chair? Couch? Recliner?

Bubble bath, without question. *grin* As it says on my website, “A good romance novel is like a bubble bath—steamy, relaxing, and over way too soon.” I also like to read in bed at night if I’m not too tired (I tend to be a night owl).

How about your future books? How do you keep track of new ideas? Or do you?

I’m much better than I used to be. I have files for all of my stories, and loosely written synopses for most. I’m still not as organized as I should be, but I’m working on it!

What's next on your agenda? What's the next story you're working on?

I have two novellas to write for Return To Redemption, the sequel to Welcome To Redemption. I’m also working on a new Liza James story, Three Alarm Blaze. Plus I’m about 50K words into Jack Sutton’s story, who you meet in Meant To Be. I do plan to write Nick Jamison’s story, Head Over Heels, and hope to have that third book in the trilogy started before the end of the year.

Thank you very much for visiting with us. Good luck on your virtual tour! Now if our visitors have any additional questions, let's hear them in the comments...

Thanks again for having me, Masha, and thank you to everyone who stopped by! **I'm going to give away a download of my new release, Meant To Be, and all you have to do to be eligible is tell us about your favorite summer cocktail (recipes are always appreciated but not necessary *grin*). Thanks again, everyone, and a special thanks to Goddess Fish Promotions! Please visit me at

She's running from her past, he's unsure about his future. Maybe together they can figure out what was MEANT TO BE. Officer Garrett Jamison is at the lowest point in his life. He’s lost faith in his ability as a police officer after unwittingly setting his sister up with a dirty cop. Garrett ended up getting shot, and his sister's son kidnapped right out of his own bed. He takes a leave from the force, in need of some time to make a decision about his future. Too bad he can't get a decent night's sleep thanks to his sexy new neighbor and her howling cat.

Jessica McGovern moves halfway across the country to start a new life in Green Bay, Wisconsin after her ex-husband is convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the death of their young son. Her new neighbor is as infuriating as he is handsome, but when her ex is released from prison early and shows up in town, Jessica discovers she's never needed anyone more...

Read an Excerpt:

"Come here, Miss Crabbypants."

Jessica resisted, but it was no use. The big oaf outweighed her by a ton. "Look, I just want to finish my tea and relax. Today's my last day off for almost two weeks."

He leaned back and frowned down at her. "Why are you working so many hours?"

She rolled her eyes. "Um, I have bills to pay...?"

His gaze became pensive as he massaged the back of her neck. Slowly, she relaxed until she was leaning into his broad chest, eyes closed, inhaling his spicy masculine scent. He always smelled so good...Damn, the man was a magician; she'd already forgotten why she was mad at him...Wait, oh yeah. "So what's with all that hammering?"

"We're building a doghouse."

His busy fingers moved to her shoulders wringing a groan of ecstasy from her. Oh, God, was she drooling on his shirt? Then his words registered. Jessica leaned back and swiped her mouth with the back of her wrist. "A doghouse? But you don't have a you?"

"No, but Ethan's been begging for a puppy for a couple years now. I guess he finally wore Sara down. And Mike's still in the ‘buy-Ethan-anything-he-wants' phase." Garrett glanced down at his T-shirt and chuckled. He reached out and recaptured the back of her neck. "Liked that, did you? You do seem a little tense—"

"Oh, no you don't." She ducked out of his reach and took a few steps back. He started to follow but she held up both hands. "You stay right where you are."

He propped his hands on his hips. "So do I have a date tonight or what?"

"Or what."

He grinned. "Wear something sexy," he said with a wink before strolling out the back door. The jackass even had the nerve to whistle.

Jessica walked over and slammed the door with a muttered, "Nutjob." Then she headed into the bedroom to search through her closet.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

San Antonio is Not The Middle of Nowhere

... or (not so) little things that can put your kids in a very good mood.

So we were taking my husband to the airport at an ungodly hour this morning. Or maybe for some people is was a truly righteous hour -- 4 am -- but for me, that's just wrong. It's a time when you're either fast asleep and deep in the most inspiring dreams, or awake and writing in the throes of insomnia.

Or in a murderous mood plotting bloody demise because some neighbor's dog... No, I think that was in a story, and I'll stick to that.

Anyway, this morning, I was at the airport with my daughter keeping my husband company while he was checking in. We shuffled with the other half-awake zombies in the long line at United, wondering why some people got special treatment and what we could do to speed up the process next time. At least I did. Who knows what went on in my family's sleepy brains.

No one waited in the first-class line, of course. The three people who breezed through received personal attention, and accepted it with good humor and gracious smiles, not as their dues, but with a pleasant, friendly attitude. I'm not sure why I paid attention to them. Maybe it was because they looked just like people next door, not like any typical first-class traveling San Antonians (I don't know what typical first-class traveling San Antonians should look like, but apparently they weren't it).

I did notice their clothing. It was normal. It wasn't flashy, or fancy, or fashionable, it was just comfortable, cute, and normal. They looked like happy people doing something they enjoyed, satisfied with their existence -- living a life we should all aspire to.

As always, I worried about the long wait, the early hour, and having my husband travel by himself, and being left alone to take care of the household, so I didn't pay much more attention to the first-class travelers for a while. When I looked at them again, I got a full-face view of the man.

I turned to my daughter. She grinned and nodded. She'd recognized him too.

Naturally, realizing that something was going on, my husband switched to Russian and we had to explain without naming any names or titles that we just saw Cesar Milan, the host of the Dog Whisperer.

Just like that. In the regular San Antonio airport taking a regular United flight, except in first class (well duh, I would too if I could afford it).

No, we didn't get any autographs, no one made any fuss, we didn't squeal or anything, we just let him have his quiet boarding, but we had our little unexpected adventure.

In the words of my daughter, it put her in a great mood for the rest of the day. "Of course, if it had been one of my absolute favorite stars, I'd have been in a puddle right then and there, but it was Cesar Milan! That's just like the coolest!"

We spent the drive home speculating about his trip, and trying to list the big names who live in San Antonio.

You think San Antonio will feature on a future episode?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A Few, Free, Nifty Programs

I tend to do all of my work on the computer, from brainstorming to the first draft to the outline, my correspondence, my research. True, I don't limit myself to Google (or Bing) since I have access to a number of academic databases.

I know, I know. I'm spoiled.

To tell the truth, sometimes I do need to get off my chair and reach for an actual book and leaf through the pages, either in a concerted search or at random, just to jump-start my muse.

But otherwise, I rely on free (freeware and opensource) software to do my work.

For word processing and other office-like work, I rely on OpenOffice.Org
Open Office. I can save documents in Word format and open them on just about any computer anywhere I need. From their website: 3 is the leading open-source office software suite for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics, databases and more. It is available in many languages and works on all common computers. It stores all your data in an international open standard format and can also read and write files from other common office software packages. It can be downloaded and used completely free of charge for any purpose.
I add to that a little dictionary and thesaurus that works from inside most word processing programs. On my computer, I can highlight a word in my OpenOffice document, click on the WordWeb icon in the taskbar, and get an instant definition and extensive synonym screen for that word.

Word Web

Word Web is also available in a for-pay, "Pro" version.

From their website:
WordWeb is a comprehensive one-click English thesaurus and dictionary for Windows. It can be used to look up words from almost any program, showing definitions, synonyms and related words. It includes pronunciations and usage examples, and has helpful spelling and sounds-like links.

Next, I like to keep track of word count, chapters, scenes per chapter, POV characters, and other structural elements with yWriter from SpaceJock Software. The creator of the program is a writer himself and yWriter continues to evolve as the creator refines it for his own needs. Big thanks for sharing it with us. Check out his sci-fi comedies while you visit his site!


From the website:
What is yWriter?
First, and most important, yWriter is FREE to download and use!

Second, and still rather important, it's a word processor which breaks your novel into chapters and scenes. It will not write your novel for you, suggest plot ideas or perform creative tasks of any kind. It does help you keep track of your work, leaving your mind free to create.

For Web browsing, I use Firefox

Is my browser of choice. For the occasional site that doesn't work in FF, I don't switch to Internet Explorer, but instead, I use a Firefox add-on that allows me to run pages in FF as it was Internet Explorer: IE Tab.

For my email needs, I use Thunderbird
I receive all my mail from my AoL account and from my web host in one place and I can keep track of my correspondence. The only thing I find awkward and haven't been able to solve so far is the interface with Yahoo! web mail. But since most of what goes to Yahoo is also forwarded to one of my other mail accounts, I'm OK.

One final cool thing to subscribe to: something I learned about from fellow writer Delilah Devlin. It's a site that will send you a "Giveaway of the Day", a program to download and install within a given period of time. Those are NOT freeware programs. They're full-featured, for-pay programs available to you for a short period. You get to read about them, and make up your mind whether you want to try them. Check it out here: Giveaway of the Day.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Welcome to Sandy Lender

Today, let's welcome Sandy Lender to Alien Places.

Creating a story-world isn't easy, even when you research real places in today's world. Even when you've been to those places and can still walk those streets in your memory.

But what happens when you have to build an entire universe from scratch, invent its rules and rulers, its positive aspects and its dangers?

Let's hear from Sandy Lender how she does it. And don't forget to leave a comment! Sandy will be giving away a signed copy of her hard cover book to a lucky winner!

Sandy Lender!

Researching an Alien Place

By Fantasy Author Sandy Lender

I don’t get to do this for a living yet, but, for my second career, I build alien worlds in my imagination. I use research skills honed by 21 years of writing research papers and magazine articles to borrow from the Anglo-Saxon past of our real world, keep track of the legends, lands, and characters I create, and double-check the traditional elements of fantasy literature against the pros who’ve come before me. I’m a fantasy author who loves to put medieval symbolism in her work.

It’s difficult to explain why. Maybe I lived (for a really short time) in Anglo-Saxon England in a past life and I still carry part of the romance inside me. Or maybe I just enjoyed my Old English literature classes in college too much. Or maybe the year I lived in Mallorca, Spain, impressed upon me a yearning for old buildings alongside cliffs that overlook the spray of crashing ocean waves. Of course, in Anglo-Saxon times, those old buildings were quite drafty and cold…and I don’t do well with the cold.

So I made some changes to the OE themes that I admired so much in my research when I plugged them into my made-up world in CHOICES MEANT FOR GODS. First of all, I’ve brought everyone’s lodgings “forward” a bit in technology. No drafty, cold castles. Also, the “hero” of CHOICES MEANT FOR GODS is a lady. It’s all girl power with Amanda Chariss as far as I’m concerned! A writer also has to tone down the OE propensity for mead-drinking and boasting in our modern book marketplace. While the folks sitting around listening to a scop tell the tale of BEOWULF would have loved all that, readers today think it’s kind of annoying for a hero to go about bragging on himself. So, of course, my hot and handsome Nigel Taiman sits in the shadows that blanket him like comfortable clothes and doesn’t tell a soul how he protects his family from his father’s rages.

Mostly, the elements I put in my fantasy novels don’t come from the real world. You can’t pick up an encyclopedia and find the origination of The Ungol race. I made it up for my fantasy world of Onweald. In my early scribbled notebooks, you’ll see them called Lognu, but I thought that sounded strange when I read it aloud. The Ungol are a peaceful, artistic race of beings that live in the underground network of sapedrels known as Tiurlang. (And then, just recently, I found a reference to ungol in a Tolkien book and, once again, cursed Tolkien for being a literary god. I was already upset with him for using the ultimately perfect name Smaug for a dragon.)

Be that as it may, the names of gods, goddesses, villages, and rivers in the alien land of Onweald are reminiscent of OE words and people. Symbols all over the series hearken back to OE themes of exile, ring-giving, serfdom, and loyalty to one’s leader that send me to the research books from time to time. The problem with checking on something in, say, ELENE or THE BATTLE OF MALDON, is that I get sucked in and end up reading the whole thing. The next thing I know, I’ve used up my writing time for that evening…Bummer!

Other than that, it all comes from my slightly off-kilter imagination. My research books for Onweald and the CHOICES MEANT FOR GODS series currently consist of tons of spiral notebooks, file folders full of stories and legends and character descriptions on the computer, a recipe box full of vocabulary words, and a bunch of other papers and notes and napkins with scribblings. My research includes a huge desk calendar with the phases of the moons of Onweald mapped out so I know exactly when both are full and when both are waning. It’s important when you’ve got an announcement to make by their light, you know. To a new reader, it’s only an alien place for a little while. I welcome you all to travel there with me!

“Some days, I just want the dragon to win.”

Friday, June 26, 2009

Making Stuff

... or a day with my daughter.

Sometimes, your day just won't go the way you plan it. But it may go better.

There's writing planned for every one of my days. At least three kinds. And Internet work, and some computer study time... But some days, I don't really get to sit in front of my monitor and do all that stuff.

Like today. I was pulled out of my comfy cave by my daughter's pleas for help and by colorful scraps of fabric.

We made a tote. Doesn't seem like much, does it, to you crafters out there? But to a beginner, that meant learning patience. Thinking things through. Making choices. Learning about types of fabric and the purpose of different notions. Discovering the sewing machine. Learning to measure and cut and pin.

Learning about patience again, and listening.

But most of all, it was having Mom's undiluted attention. And doing something I like with my daughter and having fun.

Next training session: spending time together in companionable silence.

But that may be a very advanced skill.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Last Day to Register

It's Sunday, and it's the last day to register for this session of the Blurbs Workshop!

Hurry in! The fun starts in earnest tomorrow!

Click to join blurbs101

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Get some great reads!

On the heels of the previous post, I'm happy to announce Delilah Devlin's summer contest (see the sidebar). The prizes are cool, the reading is hot, and I'm happy to spread the word about her stories.

Check it out here!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

I just read a great story...

I had the wonderful luck to read an ARC of a coming novel by Delilah Devlin: Darkness Burning.

Here's her blurb to whet your appetite:

Beware the place where darkness rules and bloodlust is the ultimate aphrodisiac…

An apocalyptic storm has transformed New Orleans into a city of lawless terror—and Mikaela Jones is standing in the center of the nightmare. A beautiful, courageous journalist with a mysterious past, she sees monsters prowling all around her. But the gravest peril of all awaits Mikaela when she is taken captive by a mesmerizing male who is not mortal—a breathtaking creature who arouses the fire in her blood, making her burn for the exquisite erotic ecstasy of total surrender.

For seven centuries Alex Broussard has been waiting for the chance to free himself from the threat of the matriarchal undead society that seeks his destruction. And now, finally, that time is at hand—until the opportunity is ruined by the stunning, innocent, human interloper Alex is compelled to rescue from certain doom. Now they are joined, for good or ill, as they give in to the burning need that neither can resist—risking everything to experience the ultimate sensual release as the darkness rises all around them.

You might have guessed that I wouldn't be talking about it if I didn't like it.

For one thing, every book by Delilah is worth reading. With one caveat: she writes hot!

If you like tame stories, don't go there.

But if you like a wonderful, sensual celebration of life and love, amazing storytelling, great plotting, powerful worldbuilding, and delightful writing, try her!

Darkness Burning is a fantasy set in post-storm New Orleans, filled with vampires, demons, and other supernatural creatures. Don't expect any Hollywood monsters in Delilah's books, though. Her worlds are full of well-researched mythology, of legends based on ancient archetypes and myths that are the very foundation of our imagination.

Her characters are powerful and complex. No cardboard villains here, or white-hat heroes. Good deeds may have unintended repercussions, and sometimes, you must rely on your very enemy at a moment of need. In the best tradition of swashbuckling intrigues, Delilah Devlin creates a larger-than-life cast of characters with motivations that peel away like onion skins. And once you reach the core...

You'll just have to read it. Because Delilah only promises more at each turn of the road.

And you will want more, because you will fall in love with her characters from the first page, and in lust at the second. Love, lust, need, irresistible attraction, and unstoppable fate mix and weave together to form the lifeblood of Darkness Burning. You can never fully trust your allies, and you must never close your ears to your enemy.

Only love is a certain beacon in darkness.

Or so you think.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

I don't usually do politics, but...

My husband directed me to this item on his news blog:

Russian Notes
"Yale University, which displays a Van Gogh painting seized after the
Bolshevik revolution of 1918, was sued by a man who claims he’s the
descendant of the former Russian owner and the artwork rightfully
belongs to him."

Of course, I followed the link, which took me to this reported response by Yale: Yale, which sued Konowaloff in March seeking a court ruling that it’s the rightful owner, says sales of artwork
“nationalized” by the Soviet Union were valid

Now I have to admit I didn't do any further research, and therefore I won't assign blame or comment on the validity of Yale's rights to the painting.

I do want to draw a picture, however.

Say you've worked very hard to be able to afford the kind of home you've always dreamed of. You fill it with the kind of artwork you desire, honestly and rightfully purchased by your hard-earned money.

Then a new administration comes into power and declares (I do not mean passes a law, which would take years of debate and would never roll in the United States), but just declares that all art is the property of the government. Regardless of who paid for it, of who labored to acquire it, of who loved it enough to buy it.

And the entire world approves.

How fair is that?

Not fair at all. No one approved when Hitler did it. The entire world seeks to put that wrong to rights.

But it's OK when it's the Soviet Union who did it? Why?

And if you're wondering why I'm so fired up about the issue, well, it's because the same Soviet Union stole all of my grandparents property, reduced them to begging, and ultimately caused my baby aunt's death by hunger when they exiled my grandparents to a frozen labor camp.

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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Book Review: The Left Hand of Darkness

I dropped by Skhye Moncrief's blog today because she has yet another cool research book suggestion, Kinship and Gender.

It made me think of Ursula K. LeGuin's novel The Left Hand of Darkness. I commented on that on Skhye's blog, but I couldn't say much in a comment. And the book deserves a bit more.

The way genres cross today within books, we should dare navigate from our familiar aisles in the bookstore and explore the less familiar areas. If you like world-building and emotional stories, then The Left Hand of Darkness is a good candidate for a change.

It's a classical sci-fi novel in the best tradition, combining a wonderful, well-told story, strong characters, emotional scenes, and a deep philosophical subtext that is raised through storytelling and character development.

The Left Hand of Darkness is about the clash of cultures, about misunderstanding and intolerance, but also about friendship, love, and discovery. It is about honor, fidelity, and devotion. It is, ultimately, about the victory of what is essentially human within us, once the veneer of civilization is stripped away, and cultural bounds are made irrelevant by the demands of a struggle for sheer survival.

It is also about gender identity and how we perceive ourselves -- or don't -- through the eyes of an alien people whose physical gender is not as visible, or as determined, as ours.

It is also a love story, although not in the traditional sense. But then, it is science-fiction, and sci-fi readers do expect something "untraditional" in their tales. It is, however, powerful and compelling, emotional, and it will make you think and feel for the charactes for a long time after you turn the last page.

From Barnes and Noble, a short synopsis: In The Left Hand of Darkness, an Earth ambassador, Genly Ai, is sent to the planet of Gethen, whose inhabitants are androgynous. Through his relationship with a native, Estraven, Ai gains understanding both of the consequences of his fixed sexual orientation and of Gethenian life. As in many of her works, Le Guin incorporates a social message in her science fiction tale.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Guest Blogging

Here it is. I'm stopping by Skhye Moncrief's blog today. No long post here, because I've posted myself out there.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Life, the Universe, and Everything

...yes, it's a quote, but sometimes, that's all we can do.

It hasn't been a very productive week on the writing front. It's not that I'm stalled, but life has been seriously interfering with the craft. But on the plus side, I'm working on a trailer for Violetta Caprice, I will make an appearance this Friday on Skhye Moncrief's blog, I promised to give a workshop on Showing and Telling to a writer group, and I promised a workshop on book trailers to our local RWA chapter.

For the last two workshops, you would have to either be a member, or travel to San Antonio to attend in person. Of course, if there's some real interest, I might be talked into turning the in-person workshop into an online workshop/tutorial.

In the meantime, look out of the very hands-on Blurb Writing workshop coming in June, and then for the long version of the Show and Tell workshop coming in July. A full 3 weeks on the subject! Exercises! Tips! Revelations!

(Am I beginning to sound like Barnum? No? Not yet? Pity. He was a great salesman.)

And all the while, free for your pleasure and entertainment, there will be visitors right here on Alien Places, bringing prizes and delights! Come discover Sandy Lender and Donna Marie Rogers in July. Sandy will be giving away an autographed, hard cover, first edition of Choices Meant for Gods each week of her blog tour to one lucky commenter. Donna Marie will give away a free download of Meant to Be to one lucky commenter (to be determined by random drawing).

That won't be all! I promise to host more gift-giving authors! Not to mention that in addition to the prizes they'll bring they will be speaking of their craft or lives. Or writing some fascinating article. Or some combination thereof. Whatever it is, it promises to be... something!

So come back and meet someone new, or say hi to an old friend!

You're bound to discover a new great read!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Actors in Roles

Some writers cast real actors in the roles of their characters. They do this with as much care as the casting directors on big Hollywood production teams. They take into consideration the look of the actor, and the mannerisms, and whatever else it is that inspires them about the actor and makes their characters come better to life.

I don't do that.


I've wondered about that. I still do.

The thing is, while I can appreciate an actor's skill, and while, when I was a teenager, I used to do all the heart-thumping swooning of your average fan-girl over some actors, it was ever only a phase. It didn't take me long to realize that I was more interested in the fantasy I built than in either the real person or in the legend created by movie studios.

Today, if I particularly enjoy watching an actor, it's an actor in a specific role.


Because I enjoy the complete fantasy. The look of the character and the personality of the character as portrayed by the actor with his peculiar mannerisms -- even better if he's good enough to develop specific mannerisms for a given character.

Oh yeah, I'm talking male actors. Hey, it's my fantasy, isn't it?

What would I do if I met the actor in person? Would I be impressed? Awed? Fan-girl dumbstruck?

Probably not the latter. I hope I outgrew that awkward stage. But impressed and awed? Possibly. I don't have any acting skills, and I'd want to know all about what it takes to get into a character's mind and project a non-me onto a screen (or stage) like that.

So would I enjoy a romantic dinner with Hugh Jackman?

Yes, but probably not the way you imagine it. I'd want to quizz him about his craft.


Did you still have illusions that writers are not strange?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

There are Aliens... and then there are aliens....

And then there are aliens like me.

I almost don't consider myself one. Really. You couldn't tell from my writing. Besides, I've been well trained... I mean, educated in the ways of American pop culture by my husband and my kids. I get most references, even some pretty obscure ones. If I didn't tell you about my Russian background, you wouldn't know just from reading my writing.

But then something happens. And I really, really feel that I am truly an immigrant.

Now don't get me wrong. I dont' feel alienated. I don't feel like an outsider. In fact, I never felt more the sense of homecoming than that one day when my plane was slowly descending towards Texas and I was following the flight plan on the onboard GPS. And I was flying back from Paris, from visiting my brothers, and from attending one of my nieces' wedding.

Yup. I'm certainly home. I chose to be home here, and there's not one day I'm not amazed at just how home I feel. But that's a post for another day.

What brought on the post about aliens?

The prom tradition.

Yes. That.

It's that season, and my oldest child is a senior in High School.

It's not the social dance gathering part of the event.

I grew up in Paris in the Russian emigre community, and we had our share of formal annual events with their formal and old-fashioned dances. In formal dresses. With a display of formal, old-fashioned manners.

It's not that.

It's the school event part of it, and the whole mystique of it, the buildup, the talk, the memories everyone seems to share.

The kids were cute. Sweet. They went to the prom as a group, they stayed together, and I was happy about that. After all, each of them is headed for a different college and has college and career plans.

But still. Some part of me just doesn't get it. Some part of me is standing on the sidelines and watching it happening, and is bemused. The other kids' mothers are so excited, so thrilled that their own children are going through this... rite of passage.

Ah yes, that's it. I'm not a member of this tribe. I've been adopted, but I was too old to undergo certain rites of passage.

Like the prom.

So even though this vibrant, friendly, warm, American tribe has adopted me (and I, it), I am still the "adopted outsider" for having missed the rites of passage that would have made me an insider through and through.

My kids don't have that problem. I also think they get a perverse enjoyment out of their alien mother's occasional confusion.


Sunday, May 3, 2009

And the Winner is...

Well, I am behind. But as always, when I'm getting ready for something, I end up in a mad scramble.

We had our conference this weekend at the San Antonio Romance Authors, and I was there to help out.

We had a great time. I met some wonderful people. I got a ton of books to read.

Now it's back to work.

Oh yeah, and the winner is...

This is becoming a tradition. My younger child picks the winner and makes a face. But she does it.

So the winner is...

Karen H!

Contact me and claim your gift certificate!


Saturday, April 18, 2009

It's Easter! (go look for eggs!)

What?! But it was LAST week!

For you, maybe. But for millions of Eastern Christians, Easter is only THIS Sunday.

Easter is the only Christian holiday that has no fixed date, and because its timing depends on calculations (full moon, first day of spring, and other calendar considerations), a few other holidays have a variable schedule. But but not on their own! Lent begins 40 days before Easter. Pentecost happens 50 days after.

And those facts are the same whether you're in the Eastern Church or in a Western denomination, that is, Catholic or Protestant.

Traditionally, Russian Christians are for the vast majority Eastern Orthodox, like the Greeks, the Bulgarians, the Armenians, the Serbs.

How do we celebrate Easter? Pretty much like everyone: Church, food, and family.

Having been raised in an educated family, I know more than my share about the formal aspects of the religious rites, but I will refer you to the real experts in the subject if you want to learn more. The Orthodox Church of America maintains a great number of sites with a variety of articles, links, and images. Most individual parishes have their schedules on the web today, and you can catch up with folks at home if you're traveling to the ends of the universe.

The family aspect of holidays, well, it's universal. There's the grandmother, the kids, the mother and father, the relatives who make phone calls (or forget to). There's cheer and strife.

The food, well, that's something else.

I don't take the time to cook ethnic dishes very often anymore. Modern life doesn't give you the leisure to spend a whole day preparing a one-pot dish and baking bread, nor will your family agree to eat the same meal several times in a row, even if you disguise it with interesting sides and desserts.

So ethnic dishes are relegated to special occasions.

Like Easter.

Kulich, or Easter Bread, a rich, yeast bread, full of good stuff like butter and sugar, vanilla, almonds, raisins, cardamom, takes three risings and a lot of kneading. It doesn't lend itself to modernization. Forget transposing the recipe to bread machines. Oh yes, I've tried. It's too rich, too dense for the poor appliances to handle it.

No, you have to mix it and knead it by hand. You have to get your hands messy. You have to sprinkle flour all over your kitchen.

Three risings, with mixing in ingredients after each one, that takes hours. And baking this kind of bread, that takes another hour and a half. So you see why I don't do it more than once a year.

But when they come out... Ah, the pride.

The other dish in demand is Paskha, or Syrnaya Paskha, Cheese Paskha, is made from fresh farmer's cheese and, you guessed, more butter, eggs, and sugar. It's like cheesecake, but smoother and meltier. Oh, and I found a recipe here, with pictures, that will give you an idea of what I was doing yesterday. One comment though: I'd rather skip making Paskha than using cottage cheese. It's much too watery, and too bland. It has to be farmer's cheese.

Guess what breakfast was this morning? Tea or coffee, and Kulich with Paskha.

Decadent? For sure! But you have to remember, if you really follow the tradition, then you haven't been eating any meat or dairy products for 40 days. None. At all. No milk, cheese, yoghurt, butter, no beef, chicken, pork. Vegetables and fish and oil. But if you think it makes for a boring diet, you're wrong! Don't forget that lobster and shrimp are "fish," too! And caviar, and wine is made from grapes, and sauces don't have to be cream-based, and spices are most often seeds or flowers.

Umm... I'm getting hungry...

But I confess, I'm not so hard-core. Not like my Mom used to be. I haven't forgotten, though, and I'm still capable of baking all the traditional dishes.

It has to count for something.

I haven't forgotten that you came here for the Big Contest! So go look for the Contest Egg on my site for a chance at the basket, and post a comment on this blog to be entered in a drawing (at the end of the month) to win a $5 gift certificate to The Wild Rose Press -- and remember that the Rosettes are on sale until the end of April!

And the next stop in the blog hunt will be: Ashley Ladd will post her contribution tomorrow!

Happy Reading!