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.

19 October, 2008

Tuning Into the Universe: Zombies! Zombies, Everywhere, and Not a Brain to Eat!

It never ceases to amaze me just how easily things start to fall into place once you've made a decision to focus on something. I am thinking of my current plot and the plot I've chosen for my NaNoWriMo Project at the moment. Zombies. Now, any given day of the week you can pop into the video store and rent a zombie movie, and there are some pretty obscure zombie novel titles out on the market, but we live in Smalltown, Pennsylvania. All too often, even the most popular topics and items don't show up here until two months after everyone else has moved on. Even our local Borders Store didn't stock the latest Neil Gaiman book without a request. Sick. I know.

So, when I began immersing into zombie culture, I expected little, to no help from the local library, video rental store or Borders. When I first started looking three weeks ago, the library had nothing. They still have nothing. I can probably order titles from one of the other branches in our county system, but even the system has NOTHING on zombies. Not even the Haitian voodoo zombies. The video store has actually gotten in some pretty obscure titles, even a few foreign zombie flicks. I was shocked. The greatest shock came from our local Borders store. In the last three weeks they went from having nothing more than the Max Brooks Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z books to putting out an entire display of zombie books, including Zombie Haiku: Good Poetry for Your Brains and The Zen of Zombie: Better Living Through the Undead.

The section containing survivalist books had also added quite a few titles, making recent trips to Borders somewhat expensive. All in the sake of research--completely necessary, of course. It's also nice to expand your horizons and your library, so I'm certainly not complaining.

Now here's the thing. Either the universe is completely tuned into what I need right now, or everyone better start preparing because the zombie apocalypse is coming. I'm giving credit to the universe, but if zombies do attack, at least I'll be prepared. ;)

18 October, 2008

Lazy Days

I had big plans for today, but the day started slowly. I woke up with a sinus headache, and by the time it was gone, so was the morning. I had made plans with my best friend and her husband for this evening. He was coming over to clean our furnace and she and I were going to hang out. So after we ran errands, we came home and I literally got sucked in by the emptiness of television. I wasted an entire hour of my life watching some show on the Food Network about making cities out of cake. Then I fell asleep through Indiana Jones.

I was so disappointed, but the movie really didn't keep my interest. Most of the adventure felt like it recycled over itself... chase chase chase chase chase Mayan temple. The End. I was really looking forward to that movie.

By the time I woke up and got around to anything, Chris and her husband were here. It was nice spending time with them, but man. Where did the rest of the day go?

The TV gods should feel sated. They sucked out half of my soul today. I'm going to lay in bed with some research after I write at least 500 words. I can't let myself go to bed without putting a smidge of effort into writing today, especially since I plan to work tomorrow.

I think we all need a lazy day now and again, but no matter what they always leave me feeling a little guilty. Like I don't deserve to relax.

17 October, 2008

M. Night Syamalan's The Happening

Something happens to me every time I watch one of M. Night Shyamalan's films that draws a line between me and what I feel like is the rest of the world. Sometimes my reaction is so different than that of my peers, I wonder if we've even seen the same movie. Because we don't go to the movie theatre often, I don't get to watch a lot of movies until they come out on DVD. By that time, everyone and their sister's cat has given away secrets or spoiled the ending for me. I will not do that here, in case you haven't seen it yet.

There are three things that all of Shyamalan's movies have in common for me. 1. I hear a lot about what a waste of time it will be for me to even watch it. 2. I tend to be one of the last people on earth to even see it. 3. I actually enjoy them.

The reason I enjoy Shyamalan's films is because despite the "big knock your socks off reveal" that's become a bit of a signature for him since The Sixth Sense, he actually focuses on some of the things I personally feel are really important in every day living. Love, family, intuition, synchronicity and waking up to personal purpose and identity before it's too late.

For me, The Happening was another great Shyamalan film. I felt that people overdramatized the extreme violence and horror and save for a few scant scenes, I really didn't see what the big deal was. That said, I consider myself less desensitized by the media than most people because I don't spend 24 hours a day soaking in the doom and gloom. So, I certainly didn't overlook or pretend I didn't see the violence. While nearly everyone I knew came out of the movie saying it was depressing and violent, not one of them ever commented on the overall message.

And before those of you who have seen it start to puff up and prepare to call me a tree-hugging hippie lover, maybe I do smell just a bit like patchouli and I'm not the least bit ashamed of it.

15 October, 2008

Cooking with Beans: Scrummy Shepherd's Pie

I won't lie. I'm Scots-Irish and until Monday I had never eaten shepherd's pie. Something about it scared me for years, meat and tomatoes mixed with mashed potatoes. BLAH! Then I realized that what had typically been presented to me as shepherd's pie was not actual shepherd's pie, but the version commonly called cottage pie. The difference between a shepherd's pie and the American-style cottage pie is mostly in the meat used. Shepherd's pie is made with lamb, while cottage pie in America is often made with ground beef. Talk about a heavy drop in the belly. No thanks!

So, I did some shepherd's pie research after hearing Chef Gordon Ramsey talked about his family recipe on his reality television show, Kitchen Nighthmares. I figure if Gordon Ramsey will put something in his mouth and swallow, it can't be that bad.

So, after doing some research, here is the recipe I put together in the end.

You Will Need:
1 lb minced lamb
1 parsnip, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 cup peas
10-11 oz can of diced tomatoes
4 oz can tomato sauce
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small online, chopped
1 tbsp flour
1 tsp powdered beef bullion
6 medium russet potatoes
1/2 milk
2 tbsp sour cream
4 tbsp butter
Fresh dill weed, parsley and thyme
1 cup of cheddar cheese
salt and pepper to taste

In a medium pot bring about bring about 8 cups of salted water to a boil. Chunk your potatoes and add to boiling water. While potatoes are boiling, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a skillet and add chopped carrot, parsnip, onion and garlic. Before they start to caramelize add minced lamb and stir so that it evenly covers the bottom of the pan. Once lamb begins to brown and appear a little crumbly you'll want to add the teaspoon of powdered bullion. Stir in tomatoes. Add the dill, parsley and thyme and stir. Allow ingredients to simmer for about ten minutes. Check your potatoes. If they are ready for mashing, remove them from the heat and strain the water. Add butter, sour cream, salt, pepper and milk and begin mashing your potatoes. Return to your lamb and tomato mixture and add the tomato sauce and peas. Allow the mixture to bubble slowly, then begin to add the flour. Stir flour thoroughly into mixture and let cook for 5 minuter or so to get rid of any starchy flavor from the flour. Turn on your oven's broiler. Remove from heat and spread the lamb and vegetable mixture in an even layer into a baking dish. Next, layer the mashed potatoes on top and smooth them out. Place the dish under the broiler for three to five minutes, or until potatoes begin to turn golden brown. Remove and add the cheddar cheese. Return to the broiler for another two-three minutes until cheese browns into a nice crispy crust. Allow the dish to sit for about five minutes, and then serve.

Lamb really is so soft and savory in this dish. The carrots and parsnips are a nice flavor contrast to the tomatoes. I'll tell you what, I will never turn my nose up at Shepherd's Pie again, and neither will my family, who incidentally were very impressed with the outcome.

I hope you enjoy.

Zombie Defense Training and Zombedies

I already know that if I want to get my characters out of zombie infested areas, I'm going to have to do some serious zombie defense training. The inner-researcher has prompted me out into the garage twice to look at the machete we found after we bought the house almost four years ago. I keep thinking about how good it would feel to exercise my right arm on some of those pumpkins next door. Maybe a watermelon would be more realistic. Max Brooks' says that the best zombie defense weapon outside of your own physically fit body is a steel crowbar. Not only is it incredibly solid, but it's multi-functional in a world gone mad.

Some of the research I have been doing has been really interesting. The survivalist book I started with, How to Survive Anything, Anywhere by Chris McNab has some incredibly useful information for every day situations too. We hike, sometimes in state gamelands where there aren't marked trails, and it really pays to know how to set up an emergency shelter, but how many people know to trap a fish with a plastic soda bottle...

In honor of my zombie training, I rented the zombie comedy (zombedy) film Fido: all about a boy and his er... zombie? My daughter and I recently saw the previews on the Irish zombedy: Boy Eats Girl. I can't wait to watch it, but since tonight is Wednesday, I am going to tune out for two hours with TAPS and Josh Gates from Destination Truth. Maybe tonight, Josh will find the truth...

BTW, I haven't forgotten about posting my shepherd's pie recipe. I will definitely add it in later this evening.

And before I head out for a couple hours, I'd really like to hear anyone's thoughts about surviving a zombie apocalypse. What would you do to survive?

14 October, 2008

Apparently I'm from WissCANsin...oooh yuh? Oh yuh.

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Inland North

You may think you speak "Standard English straight out of the dictionary" but when you step away from the Great Lakes you get asked annoying questions like "Are you from Wisconsin?" or "Are you from Chicago?" Chances are you call carbonated drinks "pop."

The Midland
The Northeast
The South
The West
North Central
What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Cooking with Beans: Zesty Fiesta Chicken and Pasta

Lately we've been longing to spend less time running around and more time at home. That was why we bought a house in the first place, wasn't it? So, as part of our quest to spend more time at home I have been trying a lot of new things in the kitchen so dinners stay interesting.

I wanted to share two of my new recipes because both end results were so tasty, I can't wait for an opportunity to make them again.

My first dish was inspired by a bite from a frozen dinner I had a few years ago that was actually pretty good for frozen, prepackaged food. I wanted to recreate the dish with my own spin, so I sat down and tried to think about the flavors I remembered. Here's what I came up with.

Fiesta Chicken and Pasta in Cheese Sauce

You will need:
1 lb. Penne Pasta
2lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breast
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small white onion, chopped
1 tsp. Cumin
1 tsps. Chili Powder
8 oz. can of green chiles (undrained)
8-10 oz low fat sour cream
10 3/4 oz can of cream of chicken soup
3 cups shredded colby-jack cheese
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 cups crushed corn chips
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place a medium sized pot of water on a back burner on medium-high heat and add a dash of salt. While you're waiting for your water to start boiling add oil and minced garlic to a large pan. As the garlic browns, chop chicken breast into bite sized chunks and add into the oil. Once the chicken begins turning white, cut open a piece to make sure it's about 3/4 cooked. Add the chiles, cumin and chili powder. Simmer the chicken and chile mixture for about five minutes, and then add the cream of chicken soup. Stir until all ingredients are mixed well. Allow to simmer on medium heat for five minutes. Slowly stir in sour cream and simmer once more for about five minutes. About this time your pasta water should be boiling, so pour the pasta in and stir to keep them from sticking. Returning to the sauce, add two cups of colby jack cheese slowly your sauce mixture. Reduce heat to low, and allow the sauce to simmer. Stir occasionally while the pasta cooks. When the pasta is finished cooking, drain the water and pour it into a baking dish. Add the sauce mixture and thoroughly stir. Spread the remaining cup of colby jack cheese over the top and then do the same with the crushed corn chips. Bake for twenty minutes, or until sauce starts to bubble up into the chip crust.

This is so simple to make, but it's zesty and melt in your mouth cheesy. Low fat and/or organic ingredients can easily be substituted for a healthier alternative. This is a great covered dish to take to pot luck suppers! ENJOY.

Tune in next for Shepard's Pie a la Beans.

13 October, 2008

The Vegan Thanksgiving Quest

I found this while working on Vegan Thanksgiving Recipes and it was too funny not to share:

12 October, 2008

Prepping the living dead for NaNoWriMo 2008

This is my third year doing NaNoWriMo, and I am very excited to be participating. Last year I didn't do so well, bombing out somewhere just around 10,000 words. The year before, I managed to make it, but the end result today feels like it needs a complete overhaul before I can even think of using it. This year, I've got my basic plot established. I'm having a zombie apocalypse.

Revealing major plot details to the general public always feels like telling people what you wished for when you blew out the candles on your birthday cake, so I will only say this: I am charged about the overall plot I'm working on. I'm about to start creating the host of characters and a small outline to go off of once the massive writing fest begins. I've never been a big fan of outlining, but you can't dive into NaNoWriMo without a good plan.

The inspiration started mid-summer, when I began working on a zombie-inspired short story. Right after I had established the early plot elements, a great How To opportunity came up on Mahalo: How to Survive a Zombie Attack. Hello? Kismet? Is that you? So I took on the assignment, and like the Solanum Virus, zombie fever was in my blood.

Before I could start gnawing on the nearest human being, I reached for Max Brooks' Zombie Survival Guide, and the zombie fixation escalated. Zombie films have been a staple in our household for years anyway, but it was time to have massive marathons. I also had the desire to dig up a series of books featuring zombie short stories from the 90's, but have yet to unearth them from the dusty past. I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a John Joseph Adams edited short story collection that just came out near the end of September entitled, The Living Dead. Featuring short stories by Poppy Z. Brite, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King and a host of other phenomenal authors, it promises to be a fantastic read.

So the research period has begun. Over the next couple weeks don't be surprised if my blogs take on a strange, survivalist undertone, with tips on where to find underground water, how to identify edible plants and fungi and improvise cookware on the fly. I mean, let's face it, when zombies attack, how long you survive is going to depend on a host of things like:
1. How fast you can run.
2. How well you can plan and think under pressure and depression
3. Your wilderness survival skills

Because there are so few people living in the wilderness, the zombies will probably not venture too far into the woods in search of food. Wilderness survival knowledge is going to give anyone a major leg up in the event of a zombie apocalypse.

I'm excited about this coming NaNoWriMo competition. I can't wait to get started, and I'm avidly devouring research, both of which are very good signs. Stay tuned throughout the coming weeks for more details, and of course, once the competition begins I will be logging my progress as often as I can.

10 October, 2008

Before You Carve your Jack-o-Lantern...

We live next to a small farmer's market on a back country stretch of highway, and as the fall foliage shifts from green to beautiful shades of yellow, orange, brown and red so too do the colors at the farmer's market. In the spring loads of annuals and perennials take over and brighten up the roadside after the dull and dirty tones of winter begin to wash away. Green summer brings beautiful baskets of berries and local fruits, tomatoes and cucumbers for pickling and canning, but autumn remains my favorite and this is why:

Photobucket Photobucket Photobucket

So of course, I feel very lucky every day that I wake up and get to see such an undisturbed and beautiful display. It also makes me want to pick out pumpkins for carving, which I am still very enthusiastic about even after watching this video.

If all pumpkins are as melodramatic as Marvin from The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, I'll be happy to put an end to their misery. :D I know, I'm such an evil witch.

09 October, 2008

If I had a million zero dollar bills...

Would that make me a zilchionnaire?

Artist Laura Gilberts expressed her frustration over the current financial crisis by passing out zero dollar bills on Wall Street.

I want one!!

Where you goin' with a head like that?

During the summer I kept my three year old niece overnight nearly every weekend, and in order to keep her busy and distracted I did a lot of crafts with her and my thirteen year old daughter. We really got into making masks, and I especially enjoy making feather masks.

I decided that this Halloween, the last one in which I will probably be able to trick-or-treat with my daughter, I wanted to make a statement about how I felt in my life with my costume. My first choice was to dress as a zombie. After falling into a sluggish, writerly slump for nearly 18 months after graduating from college, I rose up out of the ashes and found my muse again. I honored my muse by making a feathered Phoenix mask.

The final photos in the slideshow are of my three year old niece. She's a real clown. The funny part about the mask is that the finished product reminds me of the Fire gang from the 80's film, The Labyrinth starring David Bowie.

One of my greatest inspirations came from wanting to make masquerade style masks like the ones in the ballroom scene in the same movie. I'm going to start working with paper mache and clay this winter as well, and will definitely post my results here.

Now, I just hope no one tries to take off my head this Halloween!

08 October, 2008

The Tombstone Project: Results

Welcome to my front yard cemetery.

As you know, near the end of September I embarked on the Tombstone project. Inspired by a page I put together for Mahalo on Halloween Tombstones, I set out for Lowes hardware and purchased styrofoam insulation and a can of flat grey spray paint.

For my first attempt at do-it-yourself tombstones, I'm pretty proud of the turnout. I did learn a few lessons along the way, most importantly that if you want to use the 3/4 inch thick panels of insulation for anything higher than 18 inches, you'll want to double up. Overall, if I decide to expand the cemetery next Halloween, I'll definitely be upgrading to 1 1/2 inch thick panels for durability and a better carving surface to add awesome detail. The thinner panels don't stand up as well against heavy winds and the wire pieces used to stake them in the ground often pierced the back.

I'm pleased with the finished product. I added a ghost to our dead tree and some stake in the ground crows for a classic, old cemetery feel. Jason was actually surprised by how realistic it looked from the field across the street, quite a bit like one of those family cemeteries often found in Pennsylvania backyards.

Here's a slideshow of the final products. Like I said, I can't wait to expand the cemetery next year. I have a few ideas for some really cool relief etchings that just can't be done on such thin styrofoam.

The Halloween doesn't stop there! When you're done strolling through the cemetery, pop on over and visit Susan at Salt and Lemonade. She's been in the kitchen all afternoon baking delicious, pumpkin cupcakes!!

Taking the Glimmer Train to Memoir Town

Glimmer Train is running a Family Matters submissions category through the month of October. Though I have had zero luck with Glimmer Train (or true understanding of what they're actually looking for despite pouring over a dozen issues in the last three years...) I put together a short memoir this morning that I plan to polish up and submit.

I've been thinking a lot lately about memoirs. So many strange, painful and interesting things happened to me while growing up that I think constantly about writing them. In the past I got wrapped up in the emotional side of reliving the memories while writing memoirs, and while that can pack a powerful punch into a story, it can also make it seem too edgy and personal for every day people to relate to. A part of me worries too that my family will be offended by my memory of things. My dad believes my memory is warped and unkind, that my imagination allows me to color the truth with creative lies. He has convinced himself that many of the things my siblings and I remember are figments of this liar's imagination...that I have the power to change the memories of my brothers as well. Who knows, maybe I do.

I do know that all of my publishing success this last couple months has been with memoirs. It's like some kind of sign for me to get back into the creative side of nonfiction even if it isn't pretty or even along the same vein of memory for everybody else who experienced it.

The area I grew up in, and returned to raise my own child in after spending a year out in the world, is one of the poster children from the Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful campaign. Rich in wildlife and long stretches of forest and farmland, it's the kind of place where kids run barefoot in the yard and learn how to swim in the Susquehanna River. I want that atmosphere to flavor my work, which is something that blows my mind when I think about how the first 18 years of of my life were a struggle to get out of this area.

Now I never want to leave.

07 October, 2008

Calling All Artists

eMuse wants to feature your artwork. In the past we've featured work by amazing artists like Liz Markus, James Neely, Peter Schwartz, Scott Christian Sava and others.

If you're interested in submitting your artwork, you can contact me via email at Jenny or submit directly to: eMuse Artist Submissions

Check out our website for more details and submissions guidelines: eMuse Submissions

This is a great opportunity to put your artwork out there and gain some exposure. I look forward to hearing from you.

06 October, 2008

The Customer Is Always Right....

In this day and age, I think that this concept is somewhat outdated, but should still be looked upon as something of a guideline in the way one interacts with customers. Whether waiting tables, bagging groceries or working on commission, it is still important to treat the people (who essentially make your paycheck possible) with respect.

To me, this doesn't mean that as a customer I have the right to bully or belittle the people taking care of my business, but I expect to be respected.

Now some may not even find this offensive at all, but this afternoon while I was shopping for odds and ends I forgot at the grocery store last Friday, I put myself in the self-checkout line and started scanning. Overall, I had about 13 items and with my last item in mid-scan the lady working the front of the store stepped up to start bagging my groceries. Personally, I hate this. Usually I use green bags (which I unfortunately forgot this afternoon,) so I will often tell them not to worry about it if the store's not busy. Well, there were all of 19 customers storewide, and only 4 of the 12 checkout lanes had people in them. She was bored, I get that, but I don't like people to touch my groceries.

I politely told her not to worry about it, I was on my last item and would take care of it myself. She looked at me like I was Medusa and my snake hair was hissing venom at her. She then proceeded to start bagging my gallon jug of green tea... conveniently with a handle on it so it can be carried (did I mention conveniently?) So I tell her again in a very nice voice, "Hey don't worry about that, I'll do it. I'm done here."

You know the outside of a pomegranate? Well, that's what her skin looked like in color and texture thanks to her fuming rage, which prompted her to haughtily announce, "That is what they want us to do as our job, it's my job."

To which I replied, "Well, now it's my job because who puts a gallon jug in a plastic bag?"

It would have been okay with me if she had been polite or even sort of scared, like she was going to get in trouble for not doing anything, but she was nasty about it. So now I am calling the store and complaining to her boss about her attitude and feeling guilty because times are tough and I don't want to be the reason some grumpy lady loses her job.

With everything changing, lately it seems for the worse in a lot of cases, wouldn't a little human kindness go a long way. I realize everyone has bad days. I have them ALL the time, but I do everything in my power not to ruin the day of people around me with my bad mood.

The crazy thing is that it isn't even the holiday season yet, when people should be at their cheeriest, but are usually at their nastiest. I don't even want to imagine what November is going to be like if October 6th is already up mean creek without a paddle.

But is 51 Seconds Enough Time??

I could survive for 51 seconds chained to a bunk bed with a velociraptor

05 October, 2008

Tina Fey as Sarah Palin

In all honesty I don't think I've ever seen anything as hilarious as this:

Tina Fey has got Sarah Palin down to a pat, in fact, I think Fey may even be more believable than Palin herself. The guy portraying Joe Biden was equally funny, so check it out!

For more about Tina Fey as Sarah Palin on SNL

04 October, 2008

CoC at NaNoWriMo again this year!!

My online writer's group, CoC is gathering a few of our writers to tackle the NaNoWriMo competition for the third year in a row. We've got our NaNoWriMo thread established if there are any writers interested in a great support network:

CoC Koffee Klatch @ NaNoWriMo

CoC has a great forum and password protected safe online archive for workshopping novel length works. If you're looking for a great group of folks who aren't afraid to offer their honest opinions on your work and who is incredibly supportive, please feel free to join us:

CoC Online Writers Group

I have been writing with this group online for more than five years, and they are really wonderful people. Join us!

03 October, 2008

Forget about Obama and McCain, Vote ROTH!!

One of my dearest friends has had a load of publishing success this last year, and one of her books has been nominated by Night Owl Romance as "Best Fantasy and Futuristic Off World Novel of 2008." I am so excited for her. She has come such a long way. I'd be grateful if I could count on my readers and friends to vote for her. You can do so here:

2008 Fall N.O.R. Awards

The title of her novel is Access Denied and her name is Jacqueline Roth. If you're interested in checking out her work, please don't hesitate:

Jacqueline Roth at Cerridwen Press and under her alter-ego, a more daring and delicious side Elyssa Edwards at Elloras Cave

Thank you in advance for helping someone see a dream come true.

02 October, 2008


About ten minutes ago, while I was outside decking the halls with snakes and spiders, Owl perched on the porch and announced, "Today is Windsday." As if I needed someone to point out the obvious, but then Owl loves to do that, thinking he is by far the cleverest in all the Hundred Acre Woods.

So as I continued to spit out strands of spiderweb, I went about my task of Halloweening the house when much to my surprise one of my favorite tombstones that I had crafted just last Sunday went flying down the road. I had staked them in the front yard, hoping the backing of the house would help to windproof the area a bit, but unfortunately the taller tombstones are not fairing well against the blustery day. I can see how the thicker insulation would have held up better, but on the other hand I don't think anything made of styrofoam that has a greater height than 2 feet could withstand Windsday.

I'll have to quest to Home Depot for the thicker insulation, maybe this weekend, since Lowes is completely inadequate and doesn't even seem to carry either drywall or thick styrofoam insulation. Further proof as to why I prefer Tony Stewart over Jimmie Johnson.

01 October, 2008

Book Review: Untamed: A House of Night Novel

Zoey Redbird, Vampyre fledgling and high priestess-in-training, is back in P.C. and Kristin Cast's Untamed: A House of Night Novel.

It's barely been three days since the brutal massacre on campus of the drama teacher, Professor Nolan, and Vampyre Poet Laureate, Loren Blake (who turned out to be a total user jerk!). Nepheret cancelled winter break the students are called back to campus without winter break by Nepheret. Loren is dead, Erik hates her and the imprint bond she had with Heath was broken during her impromptu fling with Loren Blake. After all the secrets she's been keeping, Damien, Jack and the Twins are still not speaking to her, and her once enemy, Aphrodite, is now her only friend and ally.

That would be okay if a strange, ghoulish creature hadn't just attacked her in the courtyard on her way to the dining hall. No one really seems to care much until she turns to Aphrodite, who shares a vision with Zoey that requires everyone to either pull together and make nice again, or scatter like marbles. When the threat of doom takes the form of a dark angel with a host of demons paving the way, Zoey will not only need to be able to rely on the closeness of her friends, but she'll have to call on her Cherokee heritage to make things right.

The fourth installment in the House of Night Series weaves nicely into this mother/daughter tapestry of teen triumph, adversity and angst. Amidst a world turned asunder, they manage to incorporate realistic human behaviors powerful enough to make the reader laugh and cry alongside the characters. The language is natural and the characters incredibly real. My only complaint is that we now have to wait until March 2009 for Book 5!

House of Night as a series is right up there with the Twilight Series by Stephenie Meyer. There are elements of romance entangled in the complicated everyday troubles of teen life, but to charge those troubles even more the characters must deal with their vampire nature.

House of Night also embodies the spiritual dilemmas faced by many teens in today's society, especially teens who have chosen to follow pagan and/or wiccan paths. Zoey Redbird comes from a Cherokee background, raised by a grandmother who still practices many of the old native spiritual customs. Zoey's mother is married to a man who is part of a Christian extremist group, and when she is marked by the goddess Nyx as a Vampyre fledgling, her mother and stepfather completely disown her. These actions are played upon in such a way that it's difficult to find a sympathetic view on Christianity until Untamed, with the introduction of Catholic nun who runs Street Cats.

I could easily see this series turning into an awesome TV drama. Check it out! Oh, and be sure to visit their website, they have a lot of fun things for teens--vampyre and human alike.

The Horror Pops

Whether it's Halloween or not, the Horror Pops rock! I have had this song stuck in my head for weeks, so I thought it was time to share the mind-numbing goodness: