31 December, 2008

On This Final Day of 2008

From the stroke of midnight the day of Christmas, my mind has been rolling over all of the possibilities that await in the upcoming year. When I was younger, the dawn of a New Year meant little more than having to remember to change the date when filling out homework and tests. It wasn't until the year my daughter was born, just two weeks after New Year's Day, that I started to think differently about each and every new year.

For the last week I have thought long and hard about the things I would like to achieve in the upcoming year. Many of my goals are simple, and those are the ones that often fall by the wayside. For example, I want to spend less time thinking of myself and more time thinking about others, and while this sounds like a very easy task, it can be incredibly difficult to shift one's thoughts away from "my wants, my needs and me, me, me!" Nonetheless, I resolve not to use that as an excuse to be selfish.

Another thing I want to focus on this year is being kinder to myself. For far too long I have allowed the shadows of things past to darken my outlook. Too many times have I said, "So much of my life has been hard, why should I expect it to be easy." This year, I will hold my head up high and brave whatever storms life has in store for me by remembering that the earth itself is always cleaner and more serene in the aftermath of a storm, even if there are pieces to be picked up. I will think of every failure as an opportunity to reinvent, and rise from the ashes like a phoenix.

I will devote more of my time to writing and publishing in the coming year, always bearing in mind not to wait for inspiration or motivation, but to motivate and inspire myself through action instead. I will spend more time reading this year and less time watching television. It's too easy to sit down and tune out, even though I enjoy the comfort of a good book far more.

I forgive all who have done me wrong, and hope that my enemies can find it in their hearts to forgive me as well.

And this year's superficial, but still incredibly important, resolution... I will go away for vacation in 2009.

Now, here is my wish for all of my friends this year:

May you always have walls for the winds,
a roof for the rain, tea beside the fire,
laughter to cheer you, those you love near you,
and all your heart might desire.

28 December, 2008

The Merits of Writing Fanfiction

For years fanfiction has been a dirty word, and anyone who took their writing seriously would never be caught dead writing it. They wouldn't be caught... but you'd be surprised how many writers actually partake in it. Seven years ago, while reading the Harry Potter books with my daughter, I found myself itching to tell a story that took place inside the Potterverse. It was during the Prisoner of Azkaban, when the characters of Remus Lupin, Peter Pettigrew and Sirius Black were introduced to the storyline. Friends of Harry Potter's parents, I began to imagine what it must have been like for them... the adults of the story, who must have at one point been teenagers. I found it somewhat easier to relate to them all because I was an adult myself and their situations had already been presented. I sat down and began penning a story called In the Shadow of the Future.

In the Shadow of the Future featured a character of my own making named Perpetua McEllis, whose family had been killed by death eaters during her fifth year at Hogwarts. Of course, early on, Perpetua (or Pet as she eventually became known,) was quite a Mary Sue. Not only was she a clairvoyant, she was also best friends with Lily Potter and stuck in the middle of a love triangle between Remus Lupin and Severus Snape. I worked on that story with a vengeance, and about 9 chapters into the story, I began to post my chapters on HPFF.com, a fanfiction site run by adults, that mostly catered to and encouraged teenage writers. My penname there was Llewellyn McEllis, the name of my main characters older sister, a name that sort of stuck to me like glue.

That first story turned into a series that actually saw seven novel-length fanfiction works, six of which were completed over a two year period. Over the span of the story, my character grew into something I am still rather proud of to this day, though I wasn't sure of that until yesterday.

I haven't been writing a lot lately. In fact, I've written so little this last year that I actually started to feel incredibly depressed about it. I started thinking about one of the most productive times in my writerly life. Oddly enough, it was during those couple of years I was writing a lot of fanfiction. Seven novel length fanfiction stories, a couple of novellas, dozens of short stories, not to mention a host of original work as well... during the few years I was on the fanfiction wagon, I was incredibly productive. Of course I branched off into a few other fanfiction areas as well, like Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Heroes and Labyrinth. My Labyrinth fanfiction turned out to be so unique that I actually stripped the fanfiction elements out completely and have been working on completing the second draft of the story. There was a massive part of me that really missed how inspired and excited I was about writing during that time in my life. I dug out three of my favorite fanfictions in the Shadows series last night and started reading.

I'll admit that for a long time I wasn't all that thrilled anymore about how much time I had sunk into writing fanfiction, but when I started reading through the novels I had written something clicked inside of me. I remembered why I had written those stories in the first place, and a familiar sense of passion started to burn inside me again. While writing fanfiction is definitely easier than creating your own stories and universe, I definitely learned a lot about myself as a writer and a storyteller. Through those stories I recognized my voice again and felt an incredible sense of pride in how well I worked at exposing the sensitive side to things considered wholly dark and evil. The most exciting part about it was that it made me want to write again. Fanfiction, my own fiction, whatever. I just wanted to get behind the keyboard again and breathe life into a few souls.

Now back to one of the earlier points I made, people have often looked down on fanfiction writers, saying they aren't creative just because they pick up characters in a preexistent universe but I'll tell you this: I've read fanfiction stories that were far surpassed the work written by the original author. I've been privileged enough to know writers and work with writers who took preexisting characters and gave them voices and personalities that their original creators couldn't have begun to dream up for them.

Maybe you can't make a living writing fanfiction, but then again, maybe you can. I've known dozens of writers who have written their way into the Star Wars universe, Dragonlance, Warhammer, Forgotten Realms, Battlestar Galactica and even the popular comic series, Hellblazer. If you are a good enough writer with a creative idea, chances are you can get permissions to write almost anything. Another thing to consider is the originality of your fanfiction idea. If your idea is really phenomenal, there is a good chance that you can strip away the fanfiction elements and make the story your own. I've done, and I have had friends do it as well. In fact, a very talented friend of mine has a fanfiction story that she stripped all of the fanfiction elements out of getting ready to be published.

If you're a writer always remember that as long as you are writing, you are living as you were meant to live.

27 December, 2008

Belated Holiday Greetings & Getting Back on Track

I know it's days after the holiday, but hey, it's still Hanukkah until Monday, so :p. I've been pretty busy with the holidays, cooking, baking, cleaning, entertaining, so I haven't taken much time to update my blog or twitter. I've appeared on facebook and myspace briefly here and there, but that about sums up my online existence outside of working. I did do some fun things for the holidays, including baking sugar cookies and gingerbread men. I made my first yule log this year with an chocolate orange center frosting that is to die for! We spent Solstice at my parents' home, which was pretty nice. My Dad had gone to visit my estranged brother to take my nieces gifts, and when he came home he actually brought photos of the girls with him. Then on the Monday after Solstice, I actually got a card from my brother and his wife with pictures of my nieces. My parents then went on Christmas day to visit them, and according to my mother, the visit went well. One small step for my brother, one giant step for the entire family.

My in-laws came in to visit Christmas day, and since my mother-in-law went crazy years ago (and no one told her...) I expected chaos. Apparently she hasn't been speaking to my sister-in-law, so again, I expected chaos, but it wasn't really bad at all. Dinner went over well (bows gracefully and hands out plates of leftover scalloped pineapple...) and while she tends to exude negativity, she actually wasn't as hard to be around as she usually is. My daughter was spoiled ridiculously by both sides of the family, and all ended well.

Aside from the holidays, the season has been a little slow. I've spent too much time under the weather, which makes it easy to brush off the important things and sink into a state that seems to recycle one illness after the next. I started out with a major bronchial infection back in November that keeps recurring. The doctor I went to is an obvious moron, who hasn't addressed the issue at all, so even as it occasionally seems to recur, I just go about my normal life until it gets so bad that I can't breathe at all. Then I call and go back.

I haven't written much and I haven't kept myself motivated, but it's time to get things back on track. I sat down last night and did some thinking about what I want to do in the coming year. It always comes down to what is most important to me (aside from my family, that is,) and that is writing. I was doing so well for so long, writing 2000 words or more every day the entire time I was juggling college, work and family. Now that I'm finished with school and spending so much time on the computer working every day to make ends meet, I make very little time for writing at all. It's exhausting to sit back down here and try to meet my creative goals. So, I've made a decision that I hope will remedy that. I am going to start writing longhand again and bring the draft to the computer. I wrote in longhand for years, and found that transferring it to the computer or word processor (back in the day before computers...) was a very refreshing process. The process helped me really put the overall idea into perspective and the transfer from one draft to the other strengthened the story as well. I know I have to do something. Writing is all I have ever cared about and wanted. It's time to start proving that again.

I was also considering applying to Wilkes University's MFA in Creative Writing program this summer. It's a two year program and the degree would allow me to teach creative writing to college students and at seminars. It would also provide an insider's look into active publication, something that despite my own attempts to understand, has never become quite clear to me. I am still considering it, as I feel it would motivate me to write under threat of deadline again and give me a slight edge in publishing that I've been looking for. It really couldn't hurt to go through with it. It's a low residency program, so the majority of it takes place from home, and I would only have to appear on campus for 2 ten day seminars a year. I have quite a bit of time to get my application and packet ready, so I'm going to be doing some serious meditating on that.

I was telling Jason this morning that I noticed I tend to feel more spiritually connected this time of year. While some may say, "Well of course, it's Christmas, everyone feels a little more spiritual then..." I am not a Christian and don't celebrate traditionally. We actually celebrate Winter Solstice and go through the holiday motions with my husband's family. I actually think it has more to do with how tough this time of year can be for us financially. The economy is crap now, but for us it feels a little harder. This is the time of year when my husband's job comes to a lull, but it's been in a lull already for the last three years, so instead of lulling it's come to a complete standstill. There have been years I really couldn't understand how we made it through, and so that strengthens my faith a little and makes me feel closer to my spiritual center.

I hope everyone is thinking about the dawn of a new year, making their resolutions now and getting ready to embrace the old one last time before welcoming the new. Keep your eyes peeled for upcoming holiday photos, and expect to see a lot more of me here than has been appearing in recent weeks.

16 December, 2008

When Families Fall Apart...

It's the holiday season again, the second year that my family has gathered without the presence of my youngest brother, his wife and their two little girls. Truth be told, no one in the family except my dad has actually even seen the youngest of their two girls, who was born last December. As she is opening the presents on her first birthday and exploring this Christmas with a sense of awareness, our family will not be welcome. My brother has not spoken to any of us since last October. He did not even tell his own family that his wife was expecting another baby.

I try not to let it get under my skin, but my brothers and I went through a lot together as children, and I always considered myself to be very close to them. After we were adults, my youngest brother and I grew even closer. He spent a great deal of his time at our apartment after my husband and I got married. He came over to play games with us and have dinner. He brought his girlfriends around. We had a really great relationship. Then he met Tierney, the woman who would one day become his wife.

She and my sister are the same age, about five years younger than my brother. They were in the same grade at school together, and my sister hated her from the start. I, on the other hand, very rarely form an opinion about someone until I meet them myself. Because of her crappy relationship with my sister at school, my brother's wife was afraid to meet our family. She assumed that because my sister and she didn't get along at school that everyone would hate her. That was the first indication that she was a little insecure... So she and my brother dated for nearly a year before she finally found the bravery to come around. Oddly, my mother fell in love with her, but the feeling was never mutual. Tierney obviously harbored a lot of anxiety and insecurity from her relationship with my sister, even after she and my sister set their differences aside and became friends. Tierney always felt like my mom was interfering in her relationship and life, telling her how to live, think, etc... Who knows. Maybe my mom was doing that unconsciously. She's always had a habit of trying to provide solutions to everyone's life, and more often than not she offers that advice without being asked. So began the early tensions between the two of them.

Then while she was pregnant with my niece, my sister began dating Tierney's brother. The four of them became inseparable as far as couples go. After about two years on and off, my sister and her boyfriend broke up and she started seeing someone else. Tierney's brother wasn't ready to let go, so he came over to my parents' home on New Year's Day in 2007, drug my sister out of the basement apartment and basically kicked her down the driveway.

My mother called the police. Within minutes of the police showing up at Tierney's parents' home looking for her brother, they were on the phone to my mother telling her that if she pressed charges she would never see her granddaughter again. My brother told her she would never see him again either. Months later he would tell me that Tierney's brother was his family, and one didn't mess with family, but what about his baby sister? "She got what she deserved..."

I know that my mother and sister aren't perfect. No one is. My brother isn't perfect either. He's got one hell of a temper and a major superiority complex. He's proud and stubborn and will never admit that he is wrong. Two days after my mother apologized to him and tried to make things right, I ran into my brother at the grocery store and he told me that if she would just apologize, he'd let her see her granddaughter again... She had already apologized, but that wasn't good enough for him.

No one in our family talks to him anymore. My dad has sided with my mom, and rightly so. He has always been good when it came to respecting our mother, and he more or less feels like my brother is a lost cause. The thing is, my mother has become a different person since all of this happens. She and I used to talk at least twice a week, but now she will barely even talk for more than a minute if I call her on the phone. The only time she does want to talk to me is in the middle of the night after she's been drinking. Then all she does is cry about how unfair it is that she doesn't even know her own granddaughters.

Now it's coming up on the holidays again. We gather every year at Yule, but last Yule was incredibly depressing. Even though the only people missing were my brother and his wife, it felt so empty. I'm sure this year will be no different.

The worst part is, I miss my brother. He used to be such a good-hearted and loving person, and now any time I've run into him, he seems like someone else. Someone angry, bitter and full of rage. I've tried talking to him, but it always turns into a disagreement about our mother and she deserves.

I very rarely long to go back in time, but sometimes I wish I could go back to the time and place when my brother was still a good person and relive it just so I know I wasn't imagining that time. The worst part is, I used to like my sister-in-law, despite all of her insecurities and paranoid delusions. Now, whenever I think about her it just makes me feel like the Incredible Hulk.

06 December, 2008

Hancock: A View on Relationships

Last night we sat down to watch the movie Hancock about the superhero gone wrong. I am writing this blog for those who have seen the film already and will probably mention things that may be considered spoilers to those who have not yet seen the film. Consider this fair warning not to read on, but feel free to return after you've seen the movie and let know what you think.

The concept of Gods evolving into angels and then becoming superheroes with the times was a fascinating view on mankind's inability to find the extraordinary amidst his own kind, but what really struck me was the commentary on relationships. This is my own personal interpretation, and not something I read elsewhere so it is riddled with speculation and opinion. I am not claiming that what I am about to discuss was in any way intended as a message by the writer or director of the film.

During the film Hancock becomes associated with a PR man named Ray and his family after saving he saves Ray's life. Upon meeting the Ray's wife, Mary, one gets the impression that Mary is somewhat disgusted by Hancock, and rightly so considering the lifestyle he's led. She warns her husband not to get involved with Hancock, but Ray has plans that he is sure will change the superhero's life and image.

After Hancock begins to turn himself around, he tells Mary and Ray his story. He woke up in a hospital with nothing but a pack of bubble gum and two movie tickets in his pocket. He'd had his skull cracked, and amnesia set in. Later the next day he discovers that Mary knew him at that time. She at first claims that she is his sister, but later she tells the truth. They were paired together. All of the gods were paired when they were born, but when drawn together they become mortal and die. Together they had survived more than three thousand years, and Mary had left him in the hospital that day so he could live.

After a showdown with the movie's bad guys, both Mary and Hancock are mortally wounded in the same hospital and the only way to save their lives is if they are separated. With every ounce of his being, Hancock flees the hospital, bringing Mary back to life and restoring both of their powers. They can only be immortal heroes when they are apart. Only by sacrificing their desire to be together can they function as heroes.

This made me think about how heavily many people in today's society rely on relationships. From the minute teenage girls enter into the fifth grade they are already planning out which boys they want to spend the rest of their lives with. Many graduate high school and enter into relationships immediately. Some wait until they finish college and enter the workforce, but it seems as if everyone is searching for their soulmate all the while.

Once the soulmate is found, many set aside dreams they once had and never pick them up again. They sacrifice their wings, or at least he dreams that once inspired their souls to fly, and sink into relationship mode. Soon there's a wedding, a house, possibly kids, a dog, a white picket fence... but no more dreaming. But what if we knew our soulmate was out there. Like a guarantee on the future we could set out to live our lives to the fullest potential unhindered by the restraints and confinements of love. Through sacrificing that bit of time with our soulmates, we would really find out who we are and what we are capable of becoming. We would get in touch with our true selves. There would be no fear of loneliness because we would entrust the universe to bring us together when the time was right.

Imagine if you managed to fulfill your plans and goals before settling into relationship mode. The wanderer would be quelled, the dreamer fulfilled. Wouldn't that time with our soulmates be all the more satisfying? There would be less divorce, less dissatisfaction with our relationships. In knowing ourselves fully, we would take the time to know our soulmates and there would be no strange surprises.

Maybe that's crazy. I know that I wouldn't give up my soulmate for anything. He's been my rock, my support system and my best friend through many long and difficult trials, but I know even he has wondered what wonders we might have achieved in this world if we had met after we'd had time to pursue the dreams that fueled our souls.

There are others who believe that without their soulmate they could not have gotten to the place they are today, or become the wonder they are now, and maybe that's possible too. Some of us need a boost, a little rocket-fuel to shoot us into the stars, and maybe the rocket fuel comes from the love and support of one's soulmate.

There's no way of knowing. If you've taken one path, you can only speculate what the outcome of the other might have been, but in the film the suggestion seemed to implicate that while they were soulmates, they were more valuable to the world if they were apart and focusing their energy on mending the world and its people.

Probably nonsense, but it was a nice bite of food for thought while I was in the bath tonight.

04 December, 2008

Santa Claus is Watching You...

If you don't believe me, ask Ray Stevens. He made an entire video about it back in the day.

Though I have very little to show for it, I am in the holiday mood. I am hoping to have my tree and decorations up this weekend and I've already started baking even though I'm not going to be eating a lot of those nummy cookies this year. There are just sixteen days until Solstice, and twenty until Christmas day. The next two weeks for me and just about everyone else on the planet are going to be incredibly busy!

As many of you know, I am one of the luckiest employed people in the world due to the fact that for the past couple of months I have worked almost exclusively on holiday terms for Mahalo. I was on here digging up crazy costumes and foraging for homemade tombstone how tos before Halloween. Then in the weeks building up to Thanksgiving, I was neck deep in delectable recipes and other turkey-day activities. I am now swimming merrily through the winter holiday season playing dreidel and winning all the Hanukkah gelt. When I'm not prepping for Hanukkah, I'm building snowmen and flipping through the never ending collection of phenomenal holiday baking recipes on Mahalo. I even spent some time learning about Kwanzaa the other day.

I've had the pleasure of creating and updating some pretty phenomenal pages, so I wanted to take a moment to share some of them with you.

For the environmentally conscious, here is a phenomenal page I updated yesterday on having a Green Christmas. If you check the links at the bottom of the left-hand guide note, there are even more fun Green pages.

For the gamer in everyone, here is a page I built today that contains some of the best online Christmas games on the net: Online Christmas Games.

This is only a short stub of a page, but it is by far my favorite page of the week. The Christmas dialer is an online site that you can plug the phone number of your favorite kid into so they can get a free telephone call from Santa Claus before the holidays. I will tell you, I tested this out personally and never have I seen a more excited three year old than I did when my three year old niece was over on Monday and gushing about her personal call from the big guy in the red suit.

After you're done hooking up with Santa, be sure to check out some of the phenomenal bloggers in my sidebar, like Just Nikki, Jae's Rants, Salt and Lemonade, and of course, everyone wants to know what Neil Gaiman and Holly Black are up to, so check out their blogs too.

02 December, 2008

29 November, 2008

Maybe We Should Return to Medieval Times

My friend Susan brought this video to my attention today and in light of a lot of the things that have been going on lately, I really wanted to pass it on.

A lot of what Louis C.K. talks about in this short video rings true today. I grew up during the 70's and 80's when things like everyone having a computer in their home seemed like a joke. I remember my parents had a one of those early home computers like the Commodore 64. My mom would sit around for sixteen hours coding this massive sequence just to get the screen to repeatedly roll the words: "I LOVE YOU" until you hit escape. The games were rough too, nothing like these near virtual reality trips we take every time we plug into WOW or Everquest. We didn't have cable growing up, so we were stuck with 3 channels on antennae until I was 12. Around that time CBS became available, and shortly thereafter we could tune in one of the Fox stations but we had to wear foil gloves and hold hands while standing on the top of the sofa just to see the Bundy's semi-clearly.

Today we walk around with wafer thin iPods and cell phones watching tv shows and videos or texting people who live on the other side of the globe. It's amazing.

And yet it seems all too often like it's not enough. Everyone wants more, more, more because we're never satisfied. We're growing virtual gardens in the car on the way to the mall to buy more gadgets while they plow over fields to build more malls so we can buy more things that'll inspire us to want, want, want. When does the wanting stop and the satisfaction begin? Is it possible for our race to resume a state of simple life now that we've tasted science fiction come to life, or do we all step back and let ourselves disconnect from our very essence and existence?

Of course I know we can't go backwards. It seems a silly thing to even suggest it. They had plague in the Middle-ages and I can't even begin to imagine the smell since there were no showers or flush toilets. But the frame of mind and sense of purpose in simpler times makes us appreciate the fact that we have life. Though part of me longs to return to even the 1980's when life seemed simpler, I wonder if it isn't just because I felt safer as a child. On the other hand, I have a hard time imagining the future from here.

28 November, 2008

Twilight: From Book to Film

One of the reasons I am thankful to be the mother of a teenage daughter is that the young adult books are so much cooler today than they were when I was a teenager. I could go on for days about everything the Sweet Valley High series was lacking back in the late 1980's and early 1990's. For starters, there were no vampires gnawing away at Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield. Yes, I was a morbid teen with a major fascination with vampires, werewolves and witches. Apparently, judging from the young adult literary market today, I wasn't the only one who wanted more out of books. Many of my favorite young adult writers are right around my age, suggesting that they grew up to write the kind of books they wanted to read.

Stephenie Meyer is among that list of thirty-somethings who took the pen in hand and sought out to create a better love story. The Twilight series has been on fire since shortly after the first book, Twilight, hit shelves in 2005. The series tells the story of a young woman named Isabella Swan, (Bella for short, if you please,) who moves to the small town of Forks, Washington, to allow her mother room to breathe with her new husband. Reunited with her father, there is a part of Bella that is unhappy with her choice to move to Forks. She's spent most of her life living in bright and sunny Phoenix, Arizona. In Forks it always seems to be either raining or snowing, and Bella quickly falls into a somber mood.

Joining school mid-semester, Bella finds herself intrigued by the Cullen family, particularly Edward. The Cullens are the adopted children of a local doctor and his wife, Carlisle and Esme Cullen. Not only are they obviously rich, they are the most beautiful and mysterious people on campus. The Cullens keep to themselves, that is until Edward saves Bella's life for the first time and opens her up to a forbidden world of secrecy. It isn't long before Bella puts the clues together and discovers Edward's true nature: he is a vampire. Bella is excited by the danger attached to Edward and Edward is drawn in by an uncontrollable desire for Bella's blood: components for disaster or one of the greatest love stories of the decade?

Between the release of the final book in the series, Breaking Dawn, in August 2008 and the film adaptation of Twilight on November 21, 2008, many critics are torn. I have stated in many of my reviews past that Breaking Dawn was somewhat anti-climactic for me, so I won't go into that here. What I will say is that the Twilight movie was fantastic. After my disappointment with Breaking Dawn, I wasn't sure what to expect from the film. I never read or rely on the critics, because frankly I like to draw my own conclusions and form my own opinions. Nine times out of a ten, if a critic says a movie is bad, it rises quickly to the top of my favorites list. So, I wasn't surprised when after hearing all the negative reviews on Twilight just how much I enjoyed it.

The thing about Twilight that drew me in from the start was how realistically Meyer captured that head over heels abandon with which teenage girls often fall in love or at least daydream about it. There are very few girls who did not daydream of their very own Edward, be he a vampire, a prince or some other fantastical savior from the mundane life. Edward is the portrait of the perfect boyfriend. Noble, loyal, charming and gentlemanly, his best qualities are enhanced by his conflicted nature. Here he is a "monster" in a man's body looking for redemption when the ultimate temptation lays down at his feet and says, "Take me, I'm yours."

The directors and screenwriter took very few liberties with the adaptation. There was hardly a scene I couldn't recall with a delighted grin as the story unraveled across the screen. The Cullens were exceptionally beautiful, Bella's insecurity balanced well against the wisdom of an old soul that resulted after years of caring for her flighty mother.

Robert Pattinson did a fantastic job portraying Edward and Kristin Stewart played the perfect Bella. It was like watching the characters I'd envisioned while reading the book come to life from the pages. The most accurately portrayed character of all was Alice Cullen. The moment Ashley Greene stepped up to Bella, hugged her and announced that they were going to be very close friends, I got chills. Alice was one of my favorite characters in the series, so it was awesome to see her live and in person.

The only scene I had a complaint with was near the end, when Bella is being tracked by the bloodthirsty vampire, James. I really loved the scene in the hotel when Jasper and Alice were with Bella and Bella learned more about Alice. In the book, Bella really had to think on how she could outsmart Alice's ability to see the future, but the in film she just easily walked away and no one noticed.

If you're a fan of the books, the film won't disappoint. I can honestly say I enjoyed it and had a great time talking with my teen on the way home about my favorite parts in comparison to hers. On many things we both agreed, including that the actor playing Jacob Black has the whitest teeth in the universe and Robert Pattinson is a fantastic Edward Cullen. Get out and see it if you haven't already! It's a great reason to go to the movies--with or without a teenage daughter.

24 November, 2008

The Vampire Appeal: An Essay for Susan

After my last post about the beautiful, but deadly vampires that had been forgotten in the lists of hottest vampires of all time, Susan broached the question: What makes vampires so appealing. Of course, being the lifelong vampire lover that I am, I could not let this question go unanswered.

For many of us, the first brush with death comes early in life. Be it the loss of a beloved family pet or even more tragically, a friend or family member. I was seven years old when the reality of my own mortality sunk in. While I had been through the funerals of a couple of great-aunts by this point, it hadn't quite made sense to me what was going on at that time. It wasn't until my grandfather died that the truth started to sink in. Everyone dies, and there's nothing we can do about it. Quite a revelation for someone so young. Like many other children who attended church, my questions at that time were steeped in religion. Some said upon dying our souls went to heaven, my Roman Catholic neighbors said purgatory. Either way, it meant leaving Earth, a prospect that didn't seem appealing to me at the time.

Being only seven, I didn't struggle with it very much, but it had sparked something inside of me that would drive a lifelong search for answers about the truth. Now before I diverge from my intended path, let's just say that when at least three teenagers I had known on some level wound up dead during my time in high school, it really opened up a can of fear. Teenagers tend to be self-destructive simply because they are laughing in the face of their own mortality. It's a "you can't touch me, Death" sort of game that nearly all teens play on some level. This began my obsession with vampires.

Many of the myths surrounding vampires made them seem dull and listless, but the novel and film industry found sex appeal. Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee lured the lovelies in with hypnotic powers, but in the 1970's Anne Rice gave literary birth to Lestat de Lioncourt. A tragic, Byronic rock star of a hero, Lestat made clear the agony and ecstasy entwined around both life and death. Lestat's suffering made the ability to live forever seem exciting and dreamy, while many of the fledgling vampires he created seemed loathe that life went on and on for ages.

In the face of eternity, many believe impulsively that they would want to live forever. The young who are in their prime believe that eternity will always feel so fresh and exciting, but then there are those who have lived past that wonder who might not be so quick to choose eternity. Eternity to someone who has lived a full life might seem like too much. One of the greatest appeals of the vampire is the opportunity to continue. Knowing that one had an eternity to live would make it easier to relax. "No need to climb Mount Everest today, I have all eternity for that..." There's no hurry. Since many people spend their days thinking about how there isn't enough time to get it all done, it can take away from the quality of life and make you long for more time.

Sure, they make vampires beautiful in fiction. We need only look at the lists that have been popping up all over the net with the release of Twilight to see the sex appeal is definitely there, but what about the story? Bella Swan tells us that the entire Cullen family is indescribably beautiful. It practically makes one ache just to look at them, but Bella's real reaction and attraction to Edward does not begin until after he saves her life the first time and she discovers what he really is. Again, there it is. The potential for more time.

In a nutshell, the physical appeal of the vampire is only a small fraction of what draws us to them. In essence, they are freedom from death, the opportunity for more time in a world that is absolutely governed by time.

23 November, 2008

Hottest Vampires of All Time

In response to Nikole's post Hottest Vampire of All Time, and the moviefone poll on the hottest vampires of all time (check out the results here Hollyscoop,) I thought of a few smoking hot vampires that the polls left out.

Here's my sexy vampire top five:

How on earth could we forget Shane Brolly as Kraven in Underworld: Kraven

Then there was Angus Young as extreme sports vampire, Shane Brooks in Lost Boys: The Tribe. Yeah, the movie itself was not so hot, and he may not be the bets actor, but let's face it: Angus was sizzling:


In 1992 an almost unheard of independent Vampire flick called Tale of a Vampire starred sexy Englishman, Julian Sands:

Another horribly obscure 1990's vampire film, Son of Darkness: To Die for II starred the dashing English actor, Michael Praed as Vlad Tepish. My best friend and I walked around quoting the lines from t his movie until yesterday because they were so sexy... that's over 15 years of line quoting. Photobucket

I could go on for days and days, but I will end this vampire sexiness with one of the sexiest vampires of all time: Gary Oldman as Dracula.

22 November, 2008

Battlestar Galactica: Is it January Yet?

You have no idea how itchy I get thinking about January. January is when the final half of season four, the end of Battlestar Galactica, is set to air. Our beloved characters have dropped anchor on a dead Earth and all of their shattered dreams have been hanging in the balance since the middle of June. The series has been phenomenal and I know the upcoming episodes and made for TV films will be well worth the wait, but is it January yet? This is the current Sci Fi Channel promo for season 4.5:

Now, being the obsessive BSG fan that I am, every couple weeks or so I dig through the entertainment news for updates on Caprica, the bridger webisodes for BSG and of course, any new details or hints on what we can expect in Season 4. Today, I found this article on Buddy TV: Battlestar Galactica Outing Two Gay Characters in Upcoming Webisodes.

Apparently this has been a big deal to some viewers, since it has been rumored that one of the male characters is a sexy, female-fan favorite. Now I don't have the inside scoop, but come on, haven't we come a long way both on television and in real life this last couple decades. While many would say that Proposition 8 suggests that we have actually moved backwards, the fact that gay and lesbian couples and those of us who support them are fighting to change the system says otherwise.

The thing is, David Eicke, Ronald D. Moore and the writers at BSG have always worked actual current affairs into the series very well, so that despite the futuristic setting, viewers are able to identify with the characters and the situations they face. I am not saying that the webisodes and the outing of these two gay characters has anything to do with Proposition 8, but I wouldn't put it past the series or its writers.

For those who are disappointed, remember what they always say: "The good ones are always either married or gay!" So he's still a good character, and just unattainable as all the hot married BSG men.

Oh, and the fact that they're imaginary characters... yeah, that kind of puts a damper on any real relationship anyway. ;)

By the way, what is going on with Caprica? Inquiring minds want to know. I want to know.

20 November, 2008


I love that word, and not just because I'm a writer. It's also got very little to do with the fact that I just submitted a personal essay to a magazine I've admired for a couple of years. I think my love affair with that word has more to do with its multiple meanings. Submission could refer to the above mentioned literary endeavor, or it could mean to give over and yield power to someone or something, to surrender.

All too often, the idea of submission or surrender feels like a negative thing. The weakened warring nation had no choice but to submit to their enemy. The dominatrix forced her naughty client to submit (though for the submissive this is probably a positive thing.) After giving everything she had to keep her head above water, the only option left was for her to submit.

And yet, when carrying a burden on one's back, is it not best to surrender worries to a higher power? She faced her goddess and knelt in submission. When battling an illness, we submit to treatment. When you know your best friend is right, you submit to her better judgment. I browsed through the contents inside the envelope one last time before dropping my submission into the mailbox.

The word originated from the Middle-English word submitten, which is what I would have done had Geoffrey Chaucer written a poem in my honor. The Middle-English word was derived from the Latin word submittere.

So what about you? Are your submissions in order?

17 November, 2008

Book Review: The Graveyard Book

Nobody Owens is a normal boy, just like other little boys. He learns his letters and loves to read, but what separates Bod, as he's known to his friends and family, is that he lives within the confines of a cemetery. His parents and teachers are all ghosts, and his guardian is something even more strange and mysterious, but Bod doesn't know the difference. He's lived in the graveyard every since he was a toddling baby, which just goes to show that sometimes the things that go bump in the night are far less dangerous than that which walks in the light.

Master storyteller, Neil Gaiman, returns with yet another fantastical tale that will make you look at the every day ordinary world with wonder and surprise. The Graveyard Book begins with a dark and sinister man named Jack who has only just finished brutally murdering a small family. He's just about to finish off the family by killing the final member, a toddling baby boy, but the boy is nowhere to be found.

Taken in and protected by the ghosts in the graveyard just blocks from the scene of the crime, it is only within the walls of the cemetery that the baby can remain safe. Named Nobody by his adopted ghost parents, as Bod grows and learns the truth about the outside world and the danger that awaits him there, he becomes adept at walking the line between the living and the dead. More haunted by the details of his past than the ghosts that surround him, the outside world proves to be repeatedly dangerous in every instance Bod ventures out, which makes it remarkably difficult for him to make friends with anyone else alive.

Only from the mind of Neil Gaiman could such a realistic tale be spun from the threads of dreams. Each character in every scene from page one through page three-hundred and seven is delightful. Gaiman continually writes the kind of urban fairytales that make adults and youths alike daydream long after the final page has been read with a delighted sigh.

The Graveyard Book is absolutely as memorable as Coraline, Stardust and Mirrormask.

16 November, 2008

Cooking With Beans: Hawaiin Stromboli

We are a busy household, and often dinner is the only time we find to sit down together and talk about what's going on in our lives. Even as it's just the three of us, we tend to have a hard time agreeing on what makes good eats. I'm outnumbered in the house as the only "fool" who likes onions, and our teenage daughter would gladly eat Fruity Pebbles 24 hours a day if we let her.

I am always looking for healthy new dishes to try out that don't take a lot of time, or that can be prepped ahead and then popped into the oven. This one only takes a few minutes to prepare and it is absolutely scrumptious!

You will need:
1 loaf frozen bread dough (you can make it fresh if you're feeling ambitious)
1 can pineapple rings
8-10 slices of Canadian Bacon
1 medium sized diced tomato (fresh, not canned)
1 Tbsp honey mustard
2 cloves fresh minced garlic
2 Cups of shredded cheese blend (I used Colby, Jack, Mozz and Cheddar blend)
1 tsp olive oil
1 1/2 Cups of Pizza Sauce

Follow the direction on your bread dough and allow it to fully rise. When the dough is ready preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Spread some flour over a smooth surface and begin to stretch your dough out. You may need a rolling pin to get everything even. Once the dough is stretched to your preferred thickness layer Canadian bacon along the bottom, allowing a one inch lip for when you're ready to seal it up. Break the pineapple rings in half and add one half to each slice of Canadian bacon. Stir the diced tomato with the honey mustard and garlic and once even coated, layer it in on top of the pineapple. Generously spread cheese over the top of the tomato and garlic mixture. Pull the top half of the dough down over the inside and tuck that bottom lip up around to seal it. Make three or four small vent slices in the top and brush the outside with olive oil.

Pop that into the oven and bake for twenty to twenty-five minutes.

About five minutes before it comes out of the oven, heat your pizza sauce. When you take it out, slice it into Candian bacon sized servings and top with a dollop of steaming pizza sauce.

The honey mustard adds a nice zing to the sweet and salty mix of the Canadian bacon and pineapple. My teenage picky-eater devoured three slices of this at dinner time tonight!!

The possibilities when it comes to stromboli are endless. My husband, who also said it was pretty darn good, was already adding ingredients like fresh mushrooms and black olives... you know, for next time.


15 November, 2008

Why I'm a Lucky Writer Gal

After spending days or weeks, sometimes even months, writing a short story, there is a sense of joy that comes with the act of polishing up my manuscript before I begin the submissions process. I look forward to the feedback and criticism of my fantastic writer's group and relish in finding those little errors I missed during the writing process. I love reading back through the completed draft and listening to the story's tone and the speaker's voice.

I have been fortunate enough to be one of the founders of a fantastic online writer's group for nearly four years now. We started out rather large, but over the last two years our numbers have dwindled a little bit. Some lost interest in writing, while others simply no longer seemed to have the time they once had to commit to the craft. Nevertheless, we are blessed with a core group of people who I feel both blessed and lucky to count among my friends. Some of our writers are published, while others simply write for fun, but while we workshop together everyone is an equal willing to give what they have to help their fellow writers move on to whatever next step awaits them.

I know that when I finish a story, if I am serious about submitting it somewhere, I can count on any of those friends to help me out with feedback and proofreading. Let's face it, an extra pair of eyes or two is always welcome. The last thing anyone wants is to get rejected because they typed the the or missed a vital word or two.

As I was prepping my most recent manuscript for submission, I was so grateful for all of the help and feedback I received. Friends and fellow writers alike took time out of their busy schedules to offer feedback, criticism and editing. The venue I submitted to closes tomorrow, so I was very fortunate when one member and friend offered to proofread the entire story for errors and consistency at the last minute.

Having a writer's group is a learning experience and a blessing. Writers from all levels of experience putting their heads together to help each other get a leg up is a beautiful thing. So, this is an open thank you to all of my friends at the CoC. You have all helped me grow as a writer so much in the last four years that I couldn't imagine life with you. Thank you!

If you're interested in learning more about CoC, navigate through our homepage. Whether you write nonfiction, fiction or fanfiction, all writers over the age of 18 are welcome to swap ideas and workshop with us. We have a safe, password protected archive capable of supporting full drafts without compromising future publication opportunities. The archive also offers a review feature where your fellow writers can offer feedback on your draft. We also have a full forum for interaction, so check us out! We even set up a special section we revisit every year for NaNoWriMo.

By the way, don't let our name fool you. CoC stands for Circle of Crones. The crone is referencing the memory of our meeting, and the fact that we started out a full circle of adult women, any of us over thirty.

CoC Writer's Group

14 November, 2008

Beer for My Horses: A Review

I grew up in the era of great movies like Smoky and the Bandit and Canon Ball Run. Even though Smoky and the Bandit was about bootlegging, it was still a fun film. I rank Toby Keith's Beer for My Horses right up there with those classic comedies.

Deputy Sherrif "Rack" Rackman (Toby Keith} and his goofy partner Lonnie (Rodney Carrington) find themselves in deep after they arrest a Mexican drug cartel's younger brother. When Rack's girlfriend is kidnapped and held for ransom, it's up to Rack and Lonnie to save the day. In a souped up pick-up truck, the partners hit to the road to Mexico with the silent and mysterious "Skunk" (Ted Nugent}. The group manages to get themselves into some hilarious situations, including broken down amidst a family of wandering circus performers headed up by Willie Nelson.

I probably would not have picked up this film if I wasn't such a big Toby Keith fan, but I'm glad I did. It was laugh out loud funny, romantic and had some great action scenes. Keith's sense of humor never fails in his music videos, and that same playful bad boy transfers well to the big screen. While there were definitely a couple of potty humor jokes, they definitely tended to be slightly more wholesome than many of the supposed comedies that pour into the box office these days. Ted Nugent's character was a fantastic addition to the Keith and Carrington comedy duo. The film also featured Tom Skarret, Barry Corbin, David Allan Coe and the beautiful Claire Forlani.

The film did a short stint in theatres before debuting on the Country Music Television channel (CMT) and then releasing onto video November 11. If you've got CMT, definitely check it out when it comes on, but I'd be willing to bet it's a lot funnier on DVD!

You can find out more about the film on the Official Site.

13 November, 2008

Cooking With Beans: Vegetarian Bean Wraps

I am not a vegetarian, but I definitely embrace the goodness of a healthy vegetarian meal from time to time. One of our family favorites is vegetarian bean wraps. These zesty wraps have a southwestern flare you can taste, but are mild enough not to upset spice sensitive tummies.

You Will Need:

1 1/2 cups prepared black beans
1 1/2 cups prepared pinto beans
1/2 cup kidney beans
1/4 cup diced onion
1 diced green bell pepper
1 diced
1 can of diced, stewed tomatoes
1 cup corn
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tbsp olive oil
Whole wheat tortillas
Spices: fresh cilantro, 1 tsp. cumin, 1 tsp. chili powder, salt and pepper to taste

In a large skillet heat 1 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat. Add in garlic, cilantro, onions and green pepper. Saute until onions and pepper begin to soften. Add in corn and stir. Allow everything to cook together for about two minutes, then stir in your tomatoes, cumin and chili powder. Let everything simmer for about 5 minutes. If you are using canned beans, drain off all of the liquid before adding them. Slowly add in the beans and stir in salt and pepper. Cover and simmer on medium-low heat for ten to fifteen minutes.

Remove from heat and spoon into warmed tortillas. Wrap and eat!

You can garnish these with sour cream, cheese and a little picante sauces adds a some zing. This colorful, vegetarian dish is a good source of fiber and very filling. Enjoy!

12 November, 2008

When Your Mother's Curses Come True...

I am the mother of an almost fourteen year old girl. To date, I have been incredibly proud of the young woman she is growing into. She's an individual. She's artistic. She loves to write poetry. She isn't afraid of what anyone says about her or the choices she makes. Overall, she's a pretty good kid.

Why am I complaining? I'm not, but I will tell you this: she has the worst taste in friends. I blame myself. We sheltered her when she was small. We didn't do play dates. She was the firstborn and only grandchild on both sides of the family until she was ten. She didn't go to daycare until she was four. She had very little interaction with other kids until she headed into school.

Right about that same time she started to play with some of the neighborhood kids. All of them were girls. All were within two years of each other's ages. Now my daughter is a Capricorn, and anyone who either is a Capricorn, or knows a lot of Capricorns can tell you that they are headstrong, powerful, influential and even a bit bossy. No offense. Bossiness can be a great asset. Maybe one day she'll be a world leader. THe thing is, when she would play with other kids that side of her always got overpowered. She felt insecure and unsure of herself around them, so a lot of the time she got bullied.

In first grade she asked to invite her first friend over. This girl was the epitome of nasty. She refused to talk to my daughter for an hour while she was at our home because my daughter didn't want to swing on the swingset anymore. They quickly became BFFs All through elementary school my daughter and this little nightmare were friends. Then we bought a house and moved away the summer before sixth grade. That limited how much time they could spend together and my daughter started to hang out with another girl that was friends with both her and the evil girl.

For her twelfth birthday party my daughter decided to have a big slumber party since she had a much bigger room than in our apartment. She invited 9 girls to the party and 6 of them spent he night afterwards. At three o'clock in the morning I woke up because my daughter was in her bedroom crying over something the evil girl said.

That ended their friendship. This gave her more time to focus on the other girl. For the most part she seemed nice. She was a little shy, but she and my daughter had a lot of musical favorites in common and they both liked to stand out in a crowd. The thing is, this girl was really needy. She liked to try and control my daughter so her focus was always on them. Typical teenage friendship, but this girl has taken a turn for the worse in recent days. She's actually 8 months younger than my daughter and just turned thirteen. She's got a boyfriend that she's been talking about having sex with. She's been smoking pot. Today she was expelled from school for having cigarettes in her backpack.

My daughter wouldn't tell me why the girl was suspended because, and I quote, "You won't let me hang out with her anymore."

Well duh. Seriously, the last thing I want is for her to get involved with a group of people who are making bad choices. She says that she knows about peer pressure and we should trust her, but statistics show what happens to kids who run with bad crowds. Maybe she won't drink and smoke pot herself, but what happens when she gets into a car with one of those morons and they kill her?

Call me paranoid, but this is exactly like one of those curses my mom laid on me when I was sixteen. "You're going to grow up and have a daughter just like you!"

I wasn't an angel, and my daughter is an angel compared to my behavior all those years ago. That is why her dad and I both worked very hard to teach her about life firsthand. On one hand, I don't want to deny her the freedom of learning and making her own mistakes, but on the other, I don't want her to make the same mistakes her friends are making. I don't want her to make the ones we made either.

Kids. I swear.

10 November, 2008

The NaNoWriMo Blues

I have not worked on my NaNoWriMo story since last Thursday. Friday I had my three year old niece overnight and Saturday I opted to finish a short story I'd been working on. I don't regret Saturday's choice because I finished the story and I'm very happy with the first draft! Sunday night I wound up falling asleep at 7:30, and by the time I woke up again, it was time to go to bed.

So here I am on Monday night, ten days into NaNoWriMo, with my word count still idling at 8560. I'm having issues with my main character. He started out vibrantly. His personality was coming across nicely, and then the action started. It was like the first sign of insanity kicked in and he clammed up. Sure, he made it through the action really well, but his personality fell flat. We can't have that.

I will be returning to the early half of the chapter to the place where the action started to see if I can give Ryan mouth to mouth. Hopefully he doesn't deflate, because his lackadaisical response to zombies is really pushing me toward either starting a new project, or just going back to the edits on my nearly completed summer novel.

I hope that all of my NaNoWriMo friends are having better luck. I know now that it's not that I don't want to write. I just don't know if I can keep on trying to breathe life into characters that don't want to live. In all seriousness, he's not even a zombie, and the zombies have more life right now than my main character. That can't be good.

I do have another idea, one that I am almost positive I can whip out 20,000 words in a week over if I actually start it. Tempting, tempting.

09 November, 2008

The Spell Has Been Broken

For a few months I had been feeling like I had cursed myself. No matter how much effort I put into a story, finishing it seemed like an impossibility. Maybe I was psyching myself out too much. I had even taken on the challenge of not writing another story until I finished my last novel. Well, I finished it all right, but was so unhappy with how quickly it all ran together when it was done, that it has been placed on the backburner until further notice.

In July, I started writing my first zombie horror story, but it was slow going at first. I worried that the idea that compelled it in the first place was just a whim, and once the novelty wore off the story would wind up in limbo.

Last night the self-inflicted curse was broken. We were driving our daughter to the skating rink and talking about Eckhart Tolle. I had spent most of the evening writing and mentioned that I really wanted to finish the story. I knew where it was going, how I wanted it to end, and had known that information since mid-September. Why wasn't I finishing it? My husband said it was excuses. No matter what I said, I was just continually making up excuses for why I hadn't finished it. We came home and I updated my status message on AIM and Facebook with what I was doing in the story.

Then it hit me.

I was putting off what needed to be done because I liked the characters too much. I jumped up like a light bulb had just gone on over my head and explained to my husband why I was making up excuses. I didn't want to hurt the characters. Even though I know you have to to make good story in many cases, their situations already seemed dire. What I was about to do seemed downright awful. I imagined myself in that world, in their position and cursed whatever gods put me through that hideous horror.

It occurred to me that the reason my last novel is still sitting on the backburner was based on similar inhibitions. The situation wasn't as "dire" as it is in the short story, but it still involved causing two of my characters a great amount of discomfort and pain. The difference is, they got to have a happy ending. So instead of pushing the pain on them, I muddled through it and gave them the ending, but I know now that it is my job as their creator to wreak havoc in their lives.

Philosophically, I can't help but wonder if that is how our creator feels as it wreaks havocs great and small in our lives. "Oh man... I just really did a number on the Sones's. Maybe I should hold off on killing their Grandpa right now."

Either way, it was an eye opener that allowed me to go through with what needed to be done, and the first draft of the story was completed. I felt great. And while I know I need to go back in and do some serious editing, add more to a couple of scenes that I felt were lacking, I don't feel like I skimped out on my duty as the great havoc stirrer in my characters lives. Sure, they're cursing me in their world, but that's life.

07 November, 2008

TAPS, Ghost Hunters & Honesty

Apparently there have been a recent string of criticisms circulating the net, even some supposed video garbage claiming that the guys in TAPS faked evidence in their recent live Halloween show. I don't know why it bothers me so much that there are skeptics out there. As someone who has experienced paranormal phenomenon first hand, Ghost Hunters is the type of show I have been longing for as long as I can remember. The chance to sit back and feel somewhat assured by the experiences of others who have seen things similar.

While I don't claim to know the guys in TAPS personally, I can tell you that they have a reputation for the thorough work they do and have found more ways to disprove hauntings and so-called paranormal activity than any of the other wanna-be shows. As much as I love a good psychic, they don't rely on intuitives to declare a place as haunted and gather information from the other side.

Researching the paranormal is a risky business, and sharing the evidence one uncovers is always going to be open to criticism from skeptics and nonbelievers. I'm sure that TAPS has faced their fair share during their time together, and while it hasn't killed any of them, it has served to make them stronger. Anyone who has ever watched the series, or read the book Jason Hawes put out last year, can tell you that Jason Hawes himself has an incredible time declaring a property haunted. He and Grant Wilson both have trained their team members to look for alternative explanations, every day causes for what might be considered paranormal activity. They have long argued against the accreditation of things like spirit orbs as actual evidence of paranormal activity.

TAPS have changed the face of paranormal research for the better. They have provided well documented evidence time and again, called in experts for second and third opinions on cases and evidence both and they put their reputations on the line every time their show airs on the Sci Fi Channel.

They have done amazing work for years, and I hope this skirmish of boo-hissers and nay-sayers washes down the drain where it belongs. Yes, we're all entitled to our own opinions, even the fools who aren't happy unless they're crushing other people's excitement and happiness, but those on the second half of that spectrum can laugh now. It's the people who aren't afraid to believe that there's something more to all of "this" who'll be laughing later. That's a guarantee.

Cooking With Beans: Chicken and Rice

As the weather starts to grow colder and the days shorter, we spend a lot more time indoors where it's cozy and warm. This also means a lot of friends dropping by, sometimes unexpected. My family and I tend to eat a lot of slow cooked, savory meals that stick to the bone this time of year, and one of our favorites is a chicken and rice recipe that I inherited from my mother. The great thing about this dish is that it makes enough to feed a small army well, and the ingredients can be easily multiplied if your kids bring in a few extra friends at dinner time.

You will need:
3 cups of chicken stock
4 Chicken leg w/thigh
2 bell peppers cut into strips
1 small onion coarsely chopped
15-20 button mushrooms, whole
2 lbs. coarsely chopped turnips
15-20 cherry or grape tomatoes
2 cups of rice
1/2 lb. of sliced bacon

Spices: Tarragon, parsley, 2 bay leaves, thyme, salt and pepper

Start by spreading the bacon strips out on the bottom of a stock pot. Begin cooking bacon on medium heat and layer the chicken on top. Add turnips, peppers, onion and turnips. Allow the bacon on the bottom to sizzle for about ten minutes so that it forms a nice layer of fat. Add chicken stock and spices, cover and simmer on medium until the chicken is fully cooked. Remove the chicken from the broth and take out the bay leaves. Drain chicken and allow to cool. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Once the chicken has cooled, pick it from the bone and toss pieces back into the broth. After all of the chicken has been added pour in the 2 cups of rice. Return the lid to the pot and pop the whole thing in the oven for about thirty minutes. Pull it out and dump in the tomatoes. Return to the oven covered for another ten minutes.

This is one of the most delicious dishes I have in my recipe box. I hope you'll try it out, and don't be afraid to experiment. No one in my family likes onions, so they are often omitted, or chopped into large enough pieces that I cook with them for flavor, then remove the evidence before deboning the chicken. I have also used turkey bacon and chicken breast when making this for a lower fat solution.

If you do make this dish, definitely let me know how it turned out. Enjoy!

06 November, 2008

Limbs, Blood & Gray Matter Everywhere

Well, despite the fact that I spent most of my day procrastinating, I did manage to add 2537 words to my NaNoWriMo total today. That brings the overall total to 8560. I'm currently on chapter three. The body count is rising. There are six dead so far, one of them a suicide who had been bitten by a zombie.

Chapter two was pretty gory. It was where most of the violence and vomiting took place so far, and I am feeling a little disconnected from the characters right now. I feel like Ryan has fallen a little flat because all of it has been the interaction with really limited emotional response. I may need to go back in and connect emotionally or I don't know if I'll be able to go on. It's very rough.

In my procrastination today, I did manage to have great conversation with some friends I went for a nice walk and did a lot of thinking. All in all, I feel it was a good day. On to the next.

Dylan and Brenda vs Kelly and Dylan

During the 1990's, I did not watch Beverly Hills 90210. My friends and I were nothing like the characters on that show, and the drama we faced often seemed much more intensive than the things that go on on that show. Recently, I've taken to religiously watching all the old episodes on SoapNet.

Yes, SoapNet is the devil. Soap operas in general are very nasty things to get involved in because they are a stretch out there from real life. The glamorous characters make us feel empty and small. Every woman on these shows is incredibly beautiful (okay, Donna Martin didn't get attractive until after graduation. She had the most poofy and hideous hair in the world, but I digress...) The men are all either perfect and gorgeous or beautiful, exotic and dangerous. Let's face it people, Brandon Walsh was the perfect boyfriend every teenage girl wishes she had. He was intelligent, kind, thoughtful, encouraging and between him and Dylan McKay it's hard to tell which one of them is more like James Dean half the time.

We had a friend once who watched Little House on the Prairie every night while watching dinner because he said it was like his daily dose of religion. So, as my obsession with this show of my youth grew into monumental proportions, my wonderful husband made a joke that Beverly Hills 90210 was like my daily dose of religion.

From the church of Peach Pit, the big question that continually baffles me is what on earth would possess Dylan McKay to choose Kelly Taylor over Brenda Walsh? Yeah, sure, we all know Kelly puts out. She was the bit slut of West Beverly High before she met Brenda. Maybe Kelly changed her ways, but let's face facts people. Kelly Taylor is a bitch. Okay, so Brenda Walsh isn't perfect. She certainly has her own bitchy edge about her, but she was much more suited to Dylan's tastes academically. All he and Kelly ever seemed to do was fight and have sex. He and Brenda shared a love for poetry, drama, great literature and the passion for life itself.

I understand the need for excessive drama in a soap opera. And teenagers, having been one once myself and now being the mother of one, I can tell you that they really do trade off boyfriends and girlfriends and toss around the words, "I love you" as casually as they might say, "Can I have ketchup, please?" The point being that I can see where a high school Kelly and Dylan fling could carry off into the first few months of college, but after that break up when Dylan thought they should see other people I really think they should have called it a day and moved on with their lives.

How in the hell can Kelly Taylor be Dylan McKay's soul mate? I don't care if they do have some random child together in the new series. Dylan and Brenda belong together.

I hate to say it, but I think that Kelly was more suitable for Brandon. She balanced out his goody-two-shoes air with her sleazy past.

So to the writers of Beverly Hills 90210 and the new series rekindled, grow a brain. Dylan McKay is too complicated a character to be worthy of Kelly Taylor.

See all the wonderful distractions one can come up with when procrastinating? I'm going to end this rant here, and really start writing now, but I know it won't solve the travesty that is Dylan and Kelly! The only way to solve it is to kill Kelly off. I hope the writers get the hint. Kill Kelly Taylor's character. Dylan and Brenda or bust. :p

04 November, 2008

And then his secretary ate his face...

There was a part of me that worried it would take me too long to get into the action in my NaNoZombie novel, but tonight I got right to it. Of course, the zombie attack had to take place right in the middle of a boring executive meeting. What better way to get out of a meeting? Though after watching the zombie secretary quickly devour two suits, I'm thinking maybe I might have actually enjoyed the meeting better. My poor protagonist is currently vomiting into a hallway radiator and trying to figure out how to help the people still trapped in the conference room.

Four days in and I'm about 2000 words behind. My four day NaNoWriMo total is at 6023 words, but I will kick that totals butt tomorrow.

For now, it's late. It's been a long day filled with zombie secretaries and of course, new presidents. Apparently the results are in. Barack Obama will be the new president of the United States. I'm excited. This is the first time that I felt good about my vote, that it wasn't just choosing the lesser of two really icky evils. Our country is ready for change, and I look forward to where the future will take us!

The Most Important Election in History

So, I just got home from doing a bit of holiday shopping, and of course, while I was out I stopped and voted in what journalists are calling most important election of our time. If you haven't gotten out to vote yet, what are you waiting for? No matter who you are planning to vote for *COUGHOBAMACOUGH* the results of this election are going to alter the face of politics forever. So, while you're out and about, or on your way home today, don't forget to stop and vote.

By the way, a great way to keep track of election results is to check in with Mahalo's real time coverage of the 2008 Election Exit Polls and Election Results.

02 November, 2008

A Bad Place to be When Zombies Attack...

So, day two in NaNoWriMo and my current word total is at 3141. I'm not done for the day, but definitely taking a break to do some reading, eat dinner and maybe catch an hour or so of television.

I'm at the early stage of chapter two and things are coming together rather nicely. While the story is written in third-person omniscient, I am mostly focusing on the character of Ryan Greene. Ryan used to be a travel writer, who spent his twenties making a living exploring remote, exotic countries. The more removed from urbanism, the better for Ryan. He's something of a survivalist, and has a degree in cultural anthropology and archeology. He is now the co-host of a television travel show that balances between the remote wonders of the world and their neighboring night life. His co-host is a nightmare. I've only known her for two days and I already hate her guts myself.

It occurred to me as I was writing the introductory scene of chapter two that Ryan hates the city. He's on his way to a network meeting in New York City's Time Square, which is where he'll be when the zombie outbreak takes place. What more awful place could you possibly be when zombies attack than a place that makes you want to break out in hives?

So, as the scene comes together, I keep asking myself if I'm going to be able to hold poor Ryan together. After all, he's going to be the one that has to lead everyone to safety in the end...

I am also intrigued by a secondary character that has sort of stepped into the spotlight. I'm anxious to see how the two characters come together, and can't wait to get them to that point. It should be fun.

01 November, 2008

NaNoWriMo Kickoff!

I did everything in my power to stay up last night to start my NaNo novel after midnight. I started out watching the Ghost Hunters Live seven hour Halloween investigation hosted by Josh Gates, and though I was completely engrossed, I did manage to get out the first 100 words between commercials. Then, I passed out just fifteen minutes before the end of the investigation.

So, after spending most of my afternoon procrastinating with everything from cleaning, bathing and working to cooking, napping and chatting on twitter, MySpace and the phone, I finally managed to glue my behind to the chair so I could squeeze out 1903 words.

The zombies have yet to appear, as I am trying to establish characters and their current relationship and situation before the big apocalypse, I did manage to sprinkle mysterious sickness in through a phone call. Yay for mystery Solanum virus.

Now, I didn't do a lot of pre-plotting. I have no outline I'm working from, except for the basic plot outline that started in my head. I did start out with two main characters, but about halfway through the introductory chapter a third character emerged that proved to be equally important, so now I have the three main characters already introduced along with their relationship to each other and their current situation.

I'm off to watch an inspirational zombie flick, but hope to get more written before I drop off to bed tonight. I'd like to get to at least 3300 so I have a nice buffer.

Good luck to all of my NaNoWriMo friends. May the word force be with you today!

31 October, 2008

Happy Halloween! Blessed Samhain!

I wanted to share the Halloween slideshow with all my friends. Here are the photos from our Halloween adventures, from my very own bloody cupcakes and vampire kids to zombie best friends and even Little Elly Bo Peep.

Enjoy, and Happy Halloween!

While the veil between worlds is at its thinnest tonight, the dead walk among us. Don't forget to set out an extra plate at dinner tonight for lost loved ones. They just might decide to join you.

30 October, 2008

The Every Day Zombie


If there's anything I've learned during my recent foray into zombie culture, it's that the best zombie stories in the world are not the typical zombie apocalypse tales they terrorize us with in the movies. While I won't deny George A. Romero is one of my heroes, and that his films are a definite inspiration, many of the better zombie stories I've read have been different. Zombies as advocates for painful death, zombies rising to support anti-gun laws, murder victims rising cursed from their graves to follow their killers like lovesick puppies... all relative in a world gone mad without the apocalyptic pressure. Those situations are all on the more extreme level, but there are worlds in which zombies and humans coincide, where teachers hang onto their drive and try to teach the zombie children even though there is no hope for the future.

One of the nice things about zombies is that there is an abundance of material for research, and writers like Max Brooks make their fictional contributions so incredibly real that you can almost imagine you're living in an upside down world infested with the walking dead.

I started to have a moment of anxiety over the fact that I hadn't drawn up a master plan for NaNoWriMo, even though I rarely plan before hand. Then I decided to adopt a zombie mentality about it. Zombies have no plans. They don't have elaborate or extensive plots driving them; they simply are. While I have the basic idea formulating always in the back of my mind, I know that anything can shift the plan at any time and I'm not afraid.

I do still have my zombie short story to finish--a piece I hope will be connected to the world I am creating in the novel. I had a point where I wanted the two female protagonists from the stories to at least cross paths, so that should be fun. Here's hoping I get it done before tomorrow night. At least the rough draft anyway. The Ghost Hunters Live seven hour episode hosted by Josh Gates has me hesitant to even start my NaNo novel at midnight, but I'm sure I'll find a way. I'm also still debating on whether or not I want to go to the local kickoff. Meeting new people is scary. Zombies don't meet new people, they eat them. :p

29 October, 2008

A Writer's Soundtrack: Musically Inspired

As long as I can remember, music has existed side by side with writing as one of my passions. While I only dabbled very uneducatedly in making music myself, it has played an important role in my personal inspirations as a writer. Often, I put together soundtracks to keep me company while writing, while also acting secretly as inspiration.

While dreaming up my NaNoWriMo plot bunny for 2008, a zombie apocalypse with a possible humorous twist, I dug into the dark side for bands like Tristania, Siren, Cradle of Filth, Old Man's Child, Type O Negative, Children of Bodon, Dimmu Borgir... you get the point. I've also got great zombie-themed songs like the Horror Pops "Walk Like a Zombie," Wednesday 13's "I Walked With a Zombie," and The Cramps' "Zombie Dance." I wanted to create a dark atmosphere with an air of hopeless beauty. Music like the above listed bands really gets me into that mood. I will probably also tune into AOL's streaming Halloween station from to time as well, despite the fact that Halloween will be over, because they play some great tunes.

As I was working on my last novel project (first draft down, major edits to go!!,) I listened almost primarily to country music. Artists like Dierks Bentley, Toby Keith, Montgomery Gentry and Big & Rich were my soundscape, while creating the mood and atmosphere surrounding a successful young journalist who has forsaken family, friendship and love for her career until she's forced to return to her small hometown after her mother's death. Nothing like a little country music to get you depressed, but then turn around and lift you up as well.

I know a lot of people who can't even think with the radio on, but I couldn't imagine not having a backdrop of music weaving through my creative process--especially when exploring the emotional side of my characters. How much of a part does music play in your writing? Do you create soundtracks to help get you into and sustain the mood you're trying to capture?

In other news, for those of you writing about vampires, or simply looking for a great Halloween treat, check out this awesome page I did for Mahalo yesterday: Vampire Cupcakes Be sure to check out the links on bleeding vampire bite cupcakes! They are AWESOME!! I can't wait to get the stuff to make some of these for my niece and daughter. have I mentioned lately that Halloween is my favorite holiday.

26 October, 2008

NaNo Planning: To Plan, or Not to Plan... That is the Question

I have never been a major fan of planning ahead. I write much like I go through life: by the seat of my pants. In the twenty-two years I have been writing, I've always just dived right in and gone from there. Maybe once the plot thickens and I need to keep track of things, I will start o record them in a neat manner for future reference, but when it comes to planning most of that is done inside my head.

Characters come to me. Maybe you'll think that's crazy, but it's how it's always been. They come to me and tell me their story, and I record it for them. When the relative experience is really deep, or I feel particularly connected to it, the story comes out in first person. Many of them are written in third person limited because the characters are what drive a lot of my stories. Personal experiences that reach out and grab others... things that someone can read and say, "Oh my word! I have felt like that!"

So, when it comes to planning out where and when things will happen, most of that is done in my head. It's similar to planning, I suppose, but without all the structure to limit my creative process. I have tried to be neat and tidy... the second year I did NaNoWriMo I had a great structure all mapped out. Character sheets, chapter-by-chapter plotting, the works, but there is no story. In fact, the few thousand words I actually expended on the story don't even feel salvageable to me.

I started to plan and plot once I decided on a subject for this year's NaNoWriMo, but then I realized that one of the pushes of NaNoWriMo is finishing a novel in thirty days. The drive is in the deadline. Finishing the first draft is what is important. So, I tossed my written plans out the window and have returned to mentally tossing ideas about until it comes time to start dropping them onto paper on November 1st.

So, do you plan before your write? Do you feel as if you can't get through the first draft without a strong plan? Do you wing it, and worry about filling in any holes once the first draft is done?

25 October, 2008

Yes, My Friends, The World Has Come to This!

So I popped by Mahalo this morning, like I always do, to see what was in the news, and the story that caught my eye was this one: Maple Story Murder

Maple Story, if you're not sure, is a Korean virtual gaming world similar to the Sims and WoW. Possibly even a bit of a cross between the two. So this woman gets mad at her virtual husband for not telling her he wants a divorce. She logs into his account with information he entrusted to her and deletes his user information. Now she's facing up to five years in prison.

In a similar story two Dutch teenagers bullied another boy into giving over his magical items.

It's as if the supposed anonymity of the internet has given people an impression that they can just do whatever they please without any consequence. Well, guess what? The internet police are watching, and they aren't going to put up with internet crime!

22 October, 2008

Why Days Like Today Suck...

Back in the day, when I was a smoker, I used to get headaches like mad. It was pretty common to wake up with a migraine, especially this time of year. After I quit smoking, the headaches all but stopped, save for a few rare here and there doozies. The thing that sucks about them, is life can't stop just because I have a headache. I logged into work today because I have a long list of terms to get through, but after four hours I found myself going over and correcting more mistakes than I'm used to making.

I took some meds and ran to the store. When I came home, I started up a pot of coffee, not thinking about their being extra caffeine in the meds I took, or the coffee I drank this morning. I logged back into work, and about two hours into a delicious cup of coffee I start to feel dizzy and jacked. Caffeine overload. :( So, the headache is pretty much gone, but I spent the rest of the evening on the couch waiting for the jittering earth to stop moving so obviously.

Why does all of this suck? It's now 10:30. I have a short story that's about 3/4's of the way through the first draft. I know how it ends, but I don't have the energy or motivation to work on it tonight. Instead, I'm blogging nonsense, whining about how short the last season of Destination Truth was and crawling slowly toward my bed.

Tomorrow will be awesome. I already know that. I'm looking forward to it.

21 October, 2008

Writers Don't Need No Education... or Do They?

A fantastic post on the The Blood-Red Pencil called Rules of Artistic License by mystery author Lillie Ammann got me to thinking about education and writing. Her post reminded me of one of the earliest rules I learned as a writer, over twenty years ago: You have to know the rules before you can break them.

In all honesty, I don't think I understood what that really meant for years. I thought if I spent a few years with my nose buried in grammar books, it gave me some kind of artistic license. I also thought that writing was a talent, not something that could be learned in a classroom. Naive, you betcha! Sure, you needed to know how to string sentences together to write, but there are devices we use as writers that may come naturally to some, but not others. After years of writing with absolutely no idea how to publish, I finally had the opportunity to go back to school and get my bachelor's degree.

My nonsense about not needing a classroom to learn about writing was quickly swallowed like a steaming bite of humble pie when the Act-101 adviser slapped me into a remedial writing program based solely on the fact that I never took my SATs. Sure, I breezed through the class with a perfect A score, but it was only the beginning of an education I will cherish for the rest of my life. Once I was able to enroll in actual writing courses, I was introduced to other writers. Some were my age, others younger, but our greatest asset was mutual experience and the workshop environment. I had shared my writing with friends in the past, but never a group of fellow authors.

I learned more from my writing classmates and professors than I could ever imagine, and while I'm certainly no Stephen King (yet) I know a bit more about publishing and writing these days. One thing I took away from school that has aided me continually since graduation is that even if I've heard it all before... even if I think I know everything there is to know about writing, there is always something else to learn. We can always use a refresher course in grammar, style, plot and character from time to time. It's like sharpening a pencil. The more you use it, the duller it becomes, so keep it sharp.

The internet is a great educational tool, but I also love to read about writing. Whether I'm researching a novel concept, or simply reading a great book like Jordan Rosenfeld's Make a Scene, I always want to grow and expand my writerly horizons.

So, writers, what are some of your favorite educational tools and books? What as a writer would you rather not live without?

20 October, 2008

Why Write Horror in a Horrific World and Time?

Recently a friend of mine asked me why I wanted to write about zombies, especially in light of dismal world circumstances. "Isn't there enough doom and gloom in the world without adding to it with another apocalyptic horror story?"

My answer was complicated. I knew why I wanted to write about zombies, but I wasn't sure how I could put it into words so someone else might understand my reasoning. Did you ever see that "Scared Straight" program the correctional facilities do to youth offenders? Instead of sending you to prison, we're going to give you a hardcore glimpse at what awaits you if you don't straighten up and fly right. The concept I'm employing for myself is similar, only with zombies and life.

I reached a point where I started to feel like my own life was askew. Not that I'm eating brains, or anything horrid, but I had fallen into some serious patterns in my life that were detrimental to my physical and mental health. Sluggishly moaning through life, the purpose behind my every move revolved around the next paycheck, the next meal, the next night's sleep... I felt like I was hardly existing in a world that was slowly crumbling down around me.

Depression? Maybe a little, but for the most part it was just this empty, lacking feeling in my life. The last big risk I had really taken had been going back to college at 27, and after I graduated I fell into a comfortable, but risky freelancing lifestyle. Life was comfortable. Even if our lifestyle didn't always feel comfortable there was a lot of pressure and fear about maintaining our comfort level. Zombies don't think about comfort. Zombies don't think about anything, they just go through the motions and devour in order to maintain their existence. To me, that is the same thing as sacrificing your wants to exist comfortably.

So, my zombie desire awakened. Suddenly I started to think about life in a new way. I thought about humanity, and how all too often things seem impersonal and disconnected in our world now. I wondered if there were an apocalypse tomorrow, how would people react. It made me think of this old episode of the Twilight Zone. A man spent a year building a fall out shelter for his family, and all of his friends laughed at him. Then the big one hit and when he and his family fled to their shelter, no one else had a safe place to go. The friends became violent, insistent that he owed them space in his fallout shelter. Even for the time it was filmed, it was brutal.

I started to question myself about how I might react in an apocalypse situation. We tend to live in a remote area, but we're also along a major highway. We have a nice plot of land and could easily slip into the woods if needed, but if people came to us looking for help would I turn them away? Would I run, constantly motivated by my own safety over everything else? Now, I don't want to be a hero, but I certainly don't want to be a coward either, so that is where my desire to write about zombies really kicked in. I wanted to explore the human condition. I wanted to put people in different situations and see how they would react under pressure. Maybe I even wanted to create a zombie slaying heroine or two that started out afraid of the world, then rose to the ranks and became a bit of a leader. Because if there is anything I learned in college that changed the way I will think about my actions for the rest of my life, it was this: There are three types of people. 1. People who latch onto leaders because they don't want to be responsible for the outcome 2. People who willingly aid leaders in an attempt to make a better situation 3. Leaders. In my life I have done everything in my power to be a #3, and when I fall short there, I do my best to be a #2, but as long as I live, I never want to be the #1.

Of course, there is a fourth type of person, but that is the zombie, and even though they once lived, zombies aren't really people anymore. I know I never want to be a zombie either.

So, in answer to that question, I do think there is enough horror and violence in our world. I could probably live out the rest of my life rather peacefully if I never saw the trailer for another SAW movie or psychopathic serial murdering Hitchhiker film. See, there's a difference between zombies, vampires and werewolves. They are the kind of nightmares we can recover from at the end of the movie. We may look over our shoulders a few times, peer through the blinds as the wind moans through the night like a corpse from the grave, but at the end of the night we can go to bed without losing much sleep. We see enough true horrors like murder, mutilation and terrorism every day in the media that it's actually nice to step back and slip into an imaginary world where the horror is supernatural and not the cruel result of our fellow man.