Thursday, April 17, 2014

O is for Overtaken--and a Free Giveaway

My recent novel, Overtaken, is a keeper because--I wrote it! Better yet, I want you to have a copy too! 

From now until the end of the 2014 A-Z Challenge on April 30, all you have to do is leave a comment on any of my posts and you'll be entered into a random drawing on May 1, 2014 to win your very own copy. This goes for everyone who's already commented on earlier posts as well. And if you're a follower of my blog who leaves a comment, it gets even better--I'll throw in a bonus prize! This is to thank all of you wonderful people for taking the time to visit, comment, and join. "O" is for overjoyed to meet you!

In the meantime, here's a little more about the book: Published in 2012, Overtaken is a literary Gothic fairy tale centering on Sara Elliott Bergsen, a portrait artist living in London. You can watch the book trailer here, and get some idea of the story settings from my Pinterest board here. 

I started writing the book as part of an exercise in a workshop I took at the International Women's Writing Guild Summer Conference at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY. We were meant to try a visualization process to invite a story in that we could write about. We closed our eyes, sat in deep silence and meditation, and asked a character to visit us. That's when Sara appeared, climbing the stone steps to a mysterious mansion, on her way to being . . . Overtaken. I was equally overtaken, and for the next several years I wrote every day in my spare time to find out what happened to Sara and why she was at the mansion in the first place. I was as surprised at what I found as she was.

Now Sara and her story are so much a part of my life I can't think of what my world would be without her. One of the strangest things about writing, to me, is how our characters become real--imaginary friends that change our lives as much as we create theirs. What is real, what is illusion?, the exact dilemma Sara faces throughout the book, and questions I still love to explore.

How about you? Looking forward to hearing from you so we can discuss these questions together! See you tomorrow with the letter "P."

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

N is for The Natural House Book

It's been one of those days: up out of bed as early as possible, speed shower, quick trip to a French bakery to buy a pastry and latte, get to work to be greeted with a stack of typing, rush to Home Depot to buy paint for the bathroom so my husband can paint the bathroom tonight, followed by a trip to the post office--which turns out to be closed--then home for a late lunch, back to the post office, now open, but I have so many foreign parcels to mail that when I get to the counter the people in the line behind me are sighing and groaning and tapping their feet, off to the grocery store because I haven't been in two weeks and we are living on pastry and latte, get home with badly packed groceries, and there is a giant cockroach in the middle of my living room. 

And of course I haven't blogged yet.  I'd rather be reading.

Which is why The Natural House Book, Creating a Healthy, Harmonious, and Ecologically Sound Home Environment by David Pearson is a little oasis of sanity in a busy, hectic, crazy world. My copy is a bit on the old side, 1989, and there have been more recent editions published, but I'm happy with the one I have. The book was gifted to me in the mid-90s by a lovely friend on the eve of her move to Maui when she was clearing the last of her own bookshelves. I was delighted to receive it, especially as my husband and I were in the middle of building a tiny little house and workspace in the Georgia countryside, and we needed all the help we could get.

The Natural House book has stayed with me ever since we built that house, lived in it very happily, added on to it, sold it, and then moved to Albuquerque where we have since moved three more times already. What I love about it in particular is it's sincere naturalness. All the photos are of real houses for real people with sweet, uncluttered rooms of airy grace and personal idiosyncrasy--exactly the type of house I try to create for myself. The book belongs to a time and mindset where people didn't enter a home and wail, "No granite countertops?? I can't LIVE without stainless steel! Oh, my God, CARPET! Tear it out before I vomit!"

Instead, the book illustrates and suggests ways to make your home fresh and charming on the smallest of budgets: white curtains, house plants, baskets, minimal inexpensive furniture, and lots of open windows to let the breeze in and the day's woes out. If there's any kind of "message" in the text, it's simply this: seven bathrooms and an industrial kitchen do not a home make. A happy home can be as small as a yert and as plain as a white-washed room. It really is the thought that counts.

So on that thought I'm off to put up my feet, have a glass of white wine, and finish reading Daughter of Smoke & Bone. Oh, and if you're wondering about the cockroach, I captured him with a piece of cardboard and put him in the back yard. I'm sure he has a home to go to somewhere.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

M is for Masquerade in Venice

My favorite romance novel, Masquerade in Venice, written by Velda Johnston, copyright 1973,  is a keeper because it inspired me to join up and write my first NaNoWriMo manuscript. I still have that draft, and one day I might even clean it up and submit it somewhere, but for now it's fine "resting" in my filing cabinet. I'm not a romance writer, but it's nice to dream.

I first came across this sweet and lovely book one winter when I had the flu but was just well enough to go to the library for some much-needed reading material. I'd been in bed for days and had been too sick to read anyway, but I was at the point where the only thing I had energy for was reading, so off to the library I went. Except when I got there, nothing appealed to me. 

Rows and rows of new books and all I could say was, "Bleh." Then I saw an old-fashioned, plain blue "library bound" copy of Masquerade in Venice and knew this was exactly what I wanted. I took it home, read it, and loved every word. Then I had to give it back. (The big problem with library books, in my opinion!) A few months later, I wanted to read it again, and when I went to the library--it wasn't there! No one knew what had happened to it--it was gone. Stolen, lost, vanished into the ether. It no longer existed. Time passed and something worse happened: I forgot both the name of the author as well as the title, so I couldn't even buy a copy. I gave up.

Then one fortuitous day at a writer's group meeting, the group was holding a second-hand book sale, and bingo, there it was in paperback: Masquerade in Venice. My book! Mine, mine, mine. The original price printed on the cover was $1.25 and I got it for .25 cents. Good deal? You bet.

It had been a few years since I'd read it, and it was a joy to re-read. Then a good friend suggested we sign up for NaNoWriMo and I thought, if I could write a book like Masquerade in Venice, that would be time well-spent. And it was, even if the one thing I learned was that I'm not a romance writer. Which is okay. We can't write in every genre, but it's good to explore, learn, and discover what is, and is not, our true calling. The key is to have the courage to take the journey: nothing ventured, nothing gained. Seeing Masquerade in Venice on my keeper shelf reminds me of that maxim every day. 

How about you? What book(s) keep you on the journey? Let me know, and I'll see you tomorrow with the letter "N."

Monday, April 14, 2014

L is for The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun

The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun by Sebastien Japrisot is an exciting book. Newsweek described it as: "A chilling, baffling psychological fooler. . . Sparkles with all the juicy terror that can attack the heart and body." Le Monde said: "Sebastien Japrisot is a magician who gives voice to silence and lays out truth naked on the page." My goodness. Who wouldn't keep this book forever and ever? Except I'd dearly love to give it away.

My sole reason for hanging on, tooth and nail, to this "fooler" is that I want my husband to read it. And I can tell you, forcing someone else to read a book is not an easy task. I have placed it nicely by his bedside. Packed it in his carry-on luggage for long flights. Set it out by the mini-bar in foreign hotels. Put it on top of How to Build a High-Performance Mazda Miata MX-5. I even bought two very attractive bookmarks which I placed inside the cover: one from the Picasso museum in Barcelona (where of course the book was waiting to be read back at the hotel), the other a 3-D scene of the African veldt with moving lions, zebras, giraffes, and a baby rhino! I mean, how hard is to NOT read this book?? It's not like it's cold spinach  with slugs.

Here's the opening:
"I have never seen the sea.
The black-and-white tiled floor sways like water a few inches from my eyes.
It hurts so much I could die.
I am not dead."

At this point you may be asking why I put all this effort into a single book. The answer is simple: my husband will like it. Once he starts reading, he will LOVE IT! I know this with every fiber of my being. I refuse to part with this book it is read cover to cover by DH. And if he doesn't hurry up I just might read it again myself. After all, it's a very good book. Maybe you'd like to read it too?

Saturday, April 12, 2014

K is for Knitting in Vogue

Knitting in Vogue by Christina Probert, a collection of vintage knitting patterns from 1932 to 1979, is a keeper for a single reason: I live in hope.

In all the years I've owned the book, purchasing it in San Francisco and hauling it from one side of the country to the other more than once, I have only knitted one garment from the entire text. And that was a very easy 1950s ski sweater that didn't even have long sleeves. But I have plans, I tell you, plans.

One day when I'm not writing/painting/cooking/reading/sleeping,  I will make:

Thick Tri-colour Windjammer
Diagonal Pattern Shirt Blouse
Twisted Rib Sweater and Scarf (sounds a bit painful)
Shetland Honeycomb Pattern Sweater

And my absolute favorite: 

Butterfly and Moss Stitch Jacket

That's just for starters. I've got the book, I've got the needles, now all I need is the time. Anybody got some extra to spare? No, I didn't think so. Oh, well. See you on Monday with the letter "L." Happy weekend!

Friday, April 11, 2014

J is for (Modern) Japanese Stories

Today's keeper book doesn't exactly start with the letter "J" but it's close enough. The only other "J"book I have is Holly Schindler's The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky, which I've recently posted about here. (It's a good post--Holly shared her top 12 tips for writing Middle Grade fiction. Please visit!) So in order to not repeat myself,  Modern Japanese Stories, an Anthology edited by Ivan Morris and illustrated with 25 full-page woodcuts will have to fill-in today.

I bought the book in Southern California at a tiny Japanese mall where I had lunch one afternoon. The bookstore next to the restaurant was a cool, dark space decorated with fluttering cotton flags and carrying rows and rows of books printed in Japanese. The books themselves intrigued me with their rice paper pages, plain but colorful fabric-textured covers, and the way they fit into my hands with a lovely, balanced weight. Holding one was like handling a scented melon, warm and satisfying between my palms. Unfortunately, I couldn't read a single word of any of the text! The shop owner could sense my dilemma, and kindly pointed me toward a small shelf of books in English. Modern Japanese Stories caught my eye. Just like the rest of the books in the store, it had that same weight and size I found so appealing. I bought the book right away and started to read it that night.

I wasn't disappointed. Over the years I've read it many, many times and have developed quite a fascination with all things Japanese. I've since read a large number of both modern and early Japanese novels; watched Japanese films whenever possible; studied Japanese ceramics, which have been a huge influence on my own ceramic work; and last year for National Poetry Month I went so far as to write and illustrate a Japanese-inspired art journal I titled "30 Days of Kimono." I wrote a blog post about it here, and created a Pinterest board for the project as well. The journal/sketchbook turned out to be so interesting I'm still adding to it, this time exploring the world of the Geisha.

One day I hope to go to Japan. My husband has been there five (!) times for business, but I was never able to accompany him. He assures me that downtown Tokyo is nothing like my romantic vision of a quiet mountain inn complete with our own private tea garden and a view of cherry blossoms in the snow. I don't care--I want to see Tokyo too! Both places are on my bucket list. In the meantime, I'm happy to re-read Modern Japanese Stories and dream.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

I is for Isadora Duncan

Isadora Duncan became my I-is-for-Idol when I was ten years old and read a Reader's Digest condensed version of her biography that summer in Anaheim, California. I was staying at my grandmother's house for a month, and we were so close to Disneyland I could see the Matterhorn from the end of her street. 

My grandmother also had a swimming pool, and every day I pretty much followed the same routine: cinnamon toast for breakfast, swim, baloney and mustard sandwiches for lunch, read, swim, dinner (usually tacos or burgers), read, swim, read. I was in heaven! (I also hadn't become a vegetarian yet.) I lived in my bathing suit and read and ate outside next to the pool. I also remember some bad sunburn because my grandmother's favorite suntan lotion was olive oil, LOL! We were cooked to bruschetta on a daily basis.

However, it was Isadora Duncan who really stood out for me in between swimming sessions. I'm sure I didn't understand very much at the time about her complicated love life, or how truly innovative her contribution to the art and dance world was. But I did know she was different and interesting, and I continued my fascination with her life well into adulthood. Which is why my husband surprised me one Christmas with a book so beautiful it's really a piece of art rather than reading material.

Isadora Duncan with Art Deco Sculptures by Chiparus, Preiss, and Others published by Franco Maria Ricci with text by Alberto Savinio is so special that rather than a dust jacket, it rests in its own black silk-covered box. The oversize pale indigo-blue pages are of handmade paper from Milan, and the Art Deco photographs of rare and decorative dance sculptures are first-class. My copy is one of a limited edition, and half the time I don't read it because I'm afraid of ruining it somehow.

And that's a shame because it's a book worth reading whenever possible. Unlike most biographies, the section on Duncan's life history is written in a literary and poetic style. The sections describing the artwork are equally entertaining, making this a very special and unique keeper. Best of all, it inspired one of the characters in my current WIP, The Abyssal Plain. Now to just be able to afford some of those Art Deco sculptures for my living room.