Monday, November 17, 2014

Version Four Point Oh

Little me. Notice Star Trek on TV. I had nerd creds even back then.
I just hit the big four oh. So far (knock on wood) it hasn't hit me back. It's funny how many momentous birthdays a person has when they're little. The first birthday is a huge one. Actually, it's more for the parents than the kid. It's a way of celebrating the fact that you haven't screwed up and accidentally killed the little human being you're responsible for.

Five seems to be a big one, too. Kids are usually in kindergarten, they're soaking up every single bit of information and experience, and they're charging full steam ahead into childhood. Ten is big because you've reached the double digits. Then there's thirteen and the official start of adolescence. Some people celebrate sixteen with a huge party, while others celebrate fifteen. And of course, eighteen is huge. You're officially an adult! You can vote! Join the military! Move out of your parents' house! In the U.S., twenty-one is a big deal because it's the official drinking age. Then there's twenty-five, which is a nice, round number, and also marks the quarter century mark. Not that any twenty-five year old thinks of it that way. They're too busy being fabulous.

From then on, the big birthdays come by the decade. For a while, anyway. Forty is pretty much the halfway point. If you're lucky, you'll live to eighty and maybe a little beyond, and hopefully with your mind intact and your bladder and, oh heck, the rest of your body, too. Funny thing is, birthdays start to become a big deal more often again. Seventy-five is a pretty big deal. So is eighty-five. And any year you blow out the candles beyond ninety is a downright miracle. If you live to a hundred, you get to be on the local news, telling people your advice for living that long, and secretly hoping your dentures don't come flying out while you're talking.

I wondered what I could do to celebrate my milestone birthday. Then it hit me. I'm supposed to be wise now. Or well on my way to wisdom. So I thought I'd share some of the things that have stuck with me over the years. Some of it is based on personal experience. Other bits are based on what I've seen while treating patients for fifteen years (dang, that makes me feel older than forty candles on a birthday cake does).

Take care of your body or else this happens!
1. Take really good care of your body. Find some sort of exercise you enjoy, and do it often. I'm talking at least three times a week, and possibly more. A variety of exercise is best, but if yoga is the only thing you can stand, then do yoga at least three times a week. Trust me, one of these days you'll go to reach into a cabinet or bend down to pick something up, and after years of doing no exercise and sitting at a desk for forty hours a week, something will give in a spectacularly painful fashion. Keep moving.

2. Here's one I only recently learned. You can choose to be happy. You choose to be happy. You don't have to wait for the perfect person, or the perfect moment, or the perfect whatever for happiness. You can choose to be happy right this moment. You control your thoughts, you control your emotions. Nobody else. Be happy.

3. What's that thing you've always wanted to do? What are your dreams? Not anybody else's dreams for you, but your dreams. Start working on one today. As soon as you're done reading this blog post, take step number one. Then take step number two. When I started writing in earnest, I approached a couple of professionally published writers and (politely) asked their advice. I'm an introvert, and I'm shy, so this was a huge step for me. One writer in particular pointed me in the right direction. It took all of maybe five minutes of her time and some bravery on my part. Then I took the next step. And the next. Go follow your dreams today.

Wondering where the road leads next
4. Sometimes I think of the world as a balance of positive and negative. You can put something positive into the world's net balance, or you can put something negative into the balance. Be kind, courteous, and helpful. Be like Mr. Rogers. Be like Mother Teresa. Make the world better one moment or one person at a time.

It'll take me another decade to come up with number five. Just kidding! I could probably go on, but I think four major insights is enough for one post.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Krampusnacht, Twelve Nights of Krampus

Santa always seemed like an ominous old man to me, watching people all the time to see if they behaved, so I love the idea of Krampus. Read on to find out a little more about Krampus, the anthology Krampusnacht, edited by Kate Wolford, and a short interview by two of the contributing authors.


The joy and terror of the season. For bad children, a lump of coal from Santa is positively light punishment when Krampus is ready and waiting to beat them with a stick, wrap them in chains, and drag them down to hell--all with St. Nick's encouragement and approval. Krampusnacht holds within its pages twelve tales of Krampus triumphant, usurped, befriended, and much more. From evil children (and adults) who get their due, to those who pull one over on the ancient "Christmas Devil." From historic Europe, to the North Pole, to present day American suburbia, these all new stories embark on a revitalization of the Krampus tradition. Whether you choose to read Krampusnacht over twelve dark and scary nights or devour it in one nacht of joy and terror, these stories are sure to add chills and magic to any winter's reading.

***

Nothing to Dread by Jeff Provine

1) What about the Krampus myth inspired you?

Krampus inspires me as the idea of a punishment figure. Here in the States, we have such a positive sense of Christmas, practically even to the point of being spoiled. Even if kids are bad, they get coal, which may be burned to help keep the family warm. The idea of St. Nick going around giving reward to the good kids is easily familiar. The idea that someone is out there counting you on their "naughty" list to come beat you or even haul you away is such a foreign idea that it took some creative thinking just to wrap my mind around it. Maybe it is a good idea to punish the wicked.

2) Why do you think Krampus is of increasing interest outside of Germany nowadays?

I think a lot of other people share my thoughts on the aspect of punishing the wicked as a foreign concept. Another reason Krampus appeals is because he's so out there. A goat man with a wicker basket beating and kidnapping kids? That's crazy! Crazy fascinating.

3) What was the most challenging aspect of writing your story?

The most challenging aspect of writing the story was getting the historical setting right. I'd traveled through Austria and southern Germany where Krampus is said to roam years ago, so I had a feeling for the setting. But it needed to fit exactly into place and time to put naughty little Adolf in a position where he would get away with not doing his studies.

A Visit by Lissa Sloan

1) What about the Krampus myth inspired you?

 I am captivated by the art of the old Krampus cards.  The humor and horror of this terrifying beast-man menacing well-fed, rosy-cheeked Victorian children is deliciously creepy.  I also love learning about old winter holiday traditions, the wilder and closer to nature the better.  Krampus feels very far removed from Black Friday madness, all-holiday-music radio stations, and artificial Christmas trees.  He is fierce, uncompromising, and definitely uncivilized.  This wildness, along with the gleefully twisted art, made Krampus an irresistible story subject.

2) Why do you think Krampus is of increasing interest outside of Germany nowadays?

 The world is an unjust place.  Many people follow the rules.  They work, struggle, and do what they can to get by, rarely getting what they deserve, while others lie, cheat, and take advantage, also rarely getting what they deserve.  So even during the season of the Christmas spirit, peace, and good will towards all, I think many of us find enormous appeal in thinking there’s someone (or something) out there breaking into the houses of wrong-doers and dealing out “just deserts”.  And I’m not talking about fruitcake.

3) What was the most challenging aspect of writing your story?

I am bothered by cautionary tales.  The punishments are ridiculously extreme.  “Stay on the path or you’ll be eaten by a wolf.”  “Don’t unlock this door or your husband will cut you into bits and put you in a cauldron with his other curious wives.”  Krampus is the same.  “Do as you’re told or a savage goat-man will take you away in a giant basket, beat you with a birch rod, and lick you with his nasty long tongue.”  I had to come up with a premise that appealed to my own sense of justice.  Eventually I thought up a character who truly deserved a visit from Krampus.  At that point, I had almost as good a time writing about him as Krampus did visiting him.

***

With new stories from Cheresse Burke, Guy Burtenshaw, Jill Corddry, Elise Forier Edie, Patrick Evans, Scott Farrell, Caren Gussoff, Mark Mills, Jeff Provine, Colleen H. Robbins, Lissa Sloan, and Elizabeth Twist.

Krampusnacht is available in trade paperback and ebook via Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com, Kobo.com, WorldWeaverPress.com, and other online retailers, and for wholesale through Ingram. You can also find Krampusnacht on Goodreads.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Guest Post with Jenn Lyons

Today I'd like to welcome Jenn Lyons to the blog. Jenn recently released the second book in her series, Blood Sin. That cover is smokin' hot! You can find Blood Sin on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and at worldweaverpress.com. And without further ado, here is Jenn:

When the first book in this series, Blood Chimera, was released, I remember discussing how we’d
categorize these books, what we’d call them. Labels and all that. I had assumed the books would be called urban fantasies, because they conformed to the main tropes in all the basic ways.

Werewolves? Sure. Vampires? You betcha! Alien cybertech fairies? Uh…what? Million-year-old global dinosaur conspiracies? Wait…I don’t know... Extra-dimensional Cthulian angels? WHAT?

Okay, yes. I guess that is a little weird.

(Hey, I watched a lot of X-Files when I was younger.)

But no! my editor said. These are paranormal mysteries.

My editor is wise. She realized what I hadn’t quite put my finger on even though I wrote the books -- at heart, these stories are mysteries, whodunit tales, filled with greed, revenge, and harsh vigilante justice.  Grudges and feuds going back centuries shape current events as individuals with lifespans stretching back millennia don't overlook the opportunity to get a little sweet, sweet retribution against their enemies.

Once my editor pointed it out, I realized just how deeply I’d embedded this idea of mystery into the series (I know, I know, since I wrote it, surely I’d have gotten the idea prior to finishing several books, right? But no…) On it’s most basic level, the Blood Chimera series operates on a tenet of ambiguity, on the idea that no mythology or folklore in human history will ever be completely accurate. You can’t visit a bookstore, read up on a particular culture’s mythology, and expect to understand the supernatural beings that inspired those mythologies or religions in the Blood Chimera universe.

Balor was never going to be a monster who literally had one eye, one arm, and one leg, no more than the Furies would literally be born of the blood spilled from castrated Uranus. In both cases, however, there are figures who really exist who could be said to have inspired these tales. Sometimes, in fact, a single figure is responsible for multiple mythologies in multiple cultures, such as is the case with Raven, who (in the Blood Chimera series anyway) frolics at the core of myths involving the Norse god Loki (hey, come on, you knew Loki HAD to be maran, right?)

What I like best about this situation is it means that characters can be mistaken. People can believe something because it’s in their cultural background to do so, rather than because it is in fact the truth. Faith, belief, and superstition all have a place in this universe.

Everything is allowed. Nothing is forbidden. And most of all, nothing is what it seems.

***

Everything is permitted… and everyone has their price. Zander Sin is the bad boy of rock-n-roll, known for his wealth, his temper tantrums, and his love of hedonism, but to K&R expert and newly born maran vampire Jackson Pastor, Zander Sin is something else: murderer, monster, and kidnapper. After Zander’s Whore of Babylon tour comes to Los Angeles, Jackson also learns that Zander Sin has a grudge with Jackson’s family that goes way beyond money or power, and stretches all the way back to ancient Rome.

Zander may be on everyone’s hit list, human and supernatural alike, but when Jackson learns that Zander’s keeping his younger sister Monika prisoner, he finds himself face-to-face with the most objectionable of outcomes: being forced to help Zander Sin get what he wants. Even if it means Jackson may have to betray everyone he loves to do it.

***

Jenn Lyons lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband, three cats and a lot of opinions on anything from Sumerian creation myths to the correct way to make a martini. At various points in her life, she has wanted to be an archaeologist, anthropologist, architect, diamond cutter, fashion illustrator, graphic designer, or Batman. Turning from such obvious trades, she is now a video game producer by day, and spends her evenings writing science fiction and fantasy. When not writing, she can be found debating the Oxford comma and Joss Whedon’s oeuvre at various local coffee shops.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

My Mid-Life Crisis

My view of the starting line
This past Sunday I ran my first race, a 5K as part of the Duke City Marathon. When I played sports in high school, I never enjoyed running. I tried it a couple of times as an adult and hated it both times. So what changed? Why take it up now?

I keep joking that I took up running as part of a mid-life crisis. I turn 40 next month, and that's the sort of landmark age that gets you thinking. What do I want out of the next ten years, twenty, forty? How do I want to feel during those years? As a physical therapist, I work with 80 year old patients who could run laps around me, and I also work with people my age who are a complete wreck. Those in the former group tend to have one thing in common: they take really good care of themselves.

Before June, I wasn't doing much in the way of exercising except to walk a couple of times around the block, once or twice a week. I wanted to do more. I wanted to feel good about my health by the time my fortieth birthday came around. I wanted to enjoy playing with my son, running after him and playing games without getting tired. So on the first of June, I joined a gym and started working out. After a couple of weeks, I wanted to really challenge my cardiovascular system, so I started running. Then I figured I needed a more structured plan than, "Well, I guess I'll run a minute, then walk a couple, then run if I feel like it, then walk some more." So I downloaded the Couch to 5K app because people had talked about it on a writing forum I belong to. Then I figured I should have a race goal to work toward, because what's the point of using this app and then letting all of that hard work fizzle away? So I signed up for the 5K.

The morning of the race was a little surreal. I've volunteered at races before, but I've never run one. I've never run as far as I did that day. All together, my running app showed that I ran 3 and a quarter miles. And I ran all of that, with the exception of walking at the water table. I could barely run a minute at a time when I started training, but when I finished this race, I had run for 41 minutes and some change. I could hardly believe it. I had worked hard for three months, and then it all paid off on Sunday morning.

Ready to run
I don't think this is a mid-life crisis so much as I didn't have the necessary patience before now. So yeah, age has something to do with it insofar as I now realize that a lot of time, practice, and energy goes into building up to the final product, whether it's running a race, writing a book, or getting a degree. A dear friend of mine told me about Road ID, which is a way of wearing your pertinent contact and medical information in case you're out running or biking and have an accident or a medical emergency and can't communicate. I got a little pouch that goes onto my running shoes, and I added a saying: Slow And Steady Wins. It's a reminder because I often have a lot of enthusiasm at the beginning of an endeavor, but I sometimes lose steam along the way. It's a reminder that I need to look at the big picture and my goals and take my training one day at a time. It's a reminder that setting a goal, working toward it, and achieving it is winning, no matter where I am in the pack. So this past Sunday, I'm happy to say, I was a winner.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Hold on Loosely

I've been working on the third book in The Necromancer's Inheritance trilogy. And working on it. And working on it. This book has been a bear. And not just any bear. It's a hungry bear woken early from hibernation. It's been the hardest to wrangle out of any other book I've written. The bad news is, I'm far from done. The good news is, I think I realized what's gone wrong and what I need to do to fix it.

Before I started writing this book, I had a couple of great scenes in my head. I was excited when I finally got to write them. But what I figured out shortly afterwards was that they didn't work. Both of them took my story in the wrong direction, added little to the plot, and introduced way too many characters. There was a lack of depth in my work. It's taken me a couple of months to realize this, and it's quite frustrating. I need to cut the scenes and cut several characters. I need to streamline. Trust me, when I figured this out a couple of days ago, I was ready to pull my hair out. But the most important thing to me is to make a story as good as possible before launching it into the world. So out came the scissors, and those scenes and characters are gone.

Of course, when you're up this high, don't let go of anything
This has dramatically changed the story, which has already dramatically changed since I started on it. I've had trouble finding the true beginning. I just rewrote the first scene again. I've done it I don't know how many times. But this time, it feels intimate, and I slipped right into the main character's head. I think I'm on the right track.

So the big takeaway is that it can hurt you to hold onto things too tightly when you're going into a new project. That shiny idea or scene or character you've been dying to write is probably just fine. But it might not work for the story you want to tell. I tried forcing my two scenes into the story, and it weakened the entire thing. So I pulled back, reminded myself of the three main plot lines of the story as well as the themes, outlined the first chapter yet again, and started over. Sometimes you've just got to let go.

Monday, September 29, 2014

My Lifelong Obsession With Ghosts

It's almost October, which means it's almost Halloween, which means I'm thinking about spooky things, like ghosts, for example. I love a good ghost story. I love the gooseflesh that breaks out when someone tells a story that scares me. As a kid, I believed absolutely in ghosts, and I wanted to see one and speak with it. I felt it was only a matter of time before I stumbled across a ghost. After all, a lot of people had lived and died before I ever came along, so somebody's spirit was bound to be hanging around.

The Stanley Hotel, which inspired the Shining
Over the years, people have told me their personal experiences with ghosts, or with unexplained phenomenon that they attributed to ghosts. I found this exciting, and further proof that ghosts exist. I was going to see one any day. I grew up in an old house, I went to undergraduate school on the grounds (and in the buildings) of an old fort, and I even hung out with dead bodies my entire first semester of graduate school.

But I got nothing. Nada. Zip. Not even an inkling of being watched. I began to think that either ghosts didn't exist at all, or they didn't like me. After all, being super eager to speak with ghosts could very well be off-putting to them.

So I decided to write about ghosts in The Necromancer's Inheritance series. Or rather, I decided to write about a person who can see and talk to spirits. In a way, it's me working out my idea of what the afterlife might be like, if an afterlife exists. Does everybody really zip right on to the next place, or do some people hang around for various reasons, and what would those reasons be? Do ghosts really exist, or do people see things they interpret as ghosts because of the power of suggestion or the random firing of synapses in their brains?

At this point in my life, I've pretty much given up on seeing a ghost. I'm not sure I would want to. I'd be as likely to have a heart attack as to strike up a conversation with it. But I still love a good ghost story and the chills that come along with it.

Monday, September 22, 2014

On Banning Books

This week is Banned Book week. Every year around this time, I find more books to read thanks to this list. The ones that end up on this list are typically raw and honest, and even if they fall flat for me, I can usually appreciate the truth in the work. Although I have to admit, E. L. James's 50 Shades of Grey is on the list for 2013, and while I sampled the first few pages, I couldn't find anything deeply honest about it, the writing was mediocre, and I didn't care for the main character. But that doesn't mean I think the book should be banned. People should have the right to sample a book and decide for themselves.

I've only read a couple of the books from the top ten of 2013, but one interesting trend I noticed is that seven of the ten books were banned due to being "unsuitable for age group." Now, there might be books I would steer my child away from because I might think he's not mature enough to handle it yet, but I wouldn't want that book taken out of the library or made unavailable to the public in any way, so when people do this, it leaves me flabbergasted. You could pick a dozen thirteen year olds at random, and all of them will have vastly different maturity levels. Some might be able to handle, for example, The Hunger Games, while it would give nightmares to others. But just because my child can't handle, let's say, jumping from a four foot perch on the playground equipment to the ground doesn't mean I think all kids his age should automatically be banned from doing so. There are plenty who could handle it, and some, like him, who couldn't.

A few months ago I had the pleasure of hearing Sherman Alexie speak at The University of New Mexico. His book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is one of my favorite books of all time, and it's also been banned. A lot. He seemed to take some pride in this. He also found the humor in it. The main character is a fourteen year old boy who… wait for it… masturbates. Shocking, right? It's the main reason people want the book banned, along with the depicted alcoholism and language, and I'm sure there are some other things that got people's knickers in a twist. But think about a teenager picking up the book and thinking, Hey, yeah, I'm not the only one going through this whole weird thing with my body and my family and my community! What a great feeling. Adolescence is so damn lonely to begin with that any little gesture that reaches out to someone should be encouraged, including reading a book that a person might identify with.

I find that as I strive to write more honestly, I delve deeper into things that make me uncomfortable, which might make readers uncomfortable. I think it's good to face one's discomfort and fears, loves and hates. But sometimes readers don't want to be uncomfortable. They don't want to look at the truth, and when you show it to them, they flip out. It's actually one of my dreams that someday I write something so profoundly honest and disturbing that people try to ban it.