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Monday, April 30, 2012

Z is for Zounds! An Elizabethan Curse Word

It's always cool to learn archaic words. One word game we play at a writing retreat I attend involves finding flowery and bizarro words out of a Victorian era dictionary. So, I was delighted to run across a few Elizabethan curse words during my teaching of Dr. Faustus by Marlowe, a play I've taught now for a good seven years. I tell my students that they can safely curse away, without offending anyone, because no one will know what the heck they are saying!

Zounds is one such curse. It's an abbreviation of By God's Wounds:
Benvolio: "Zounds, Doctor, is this your villainy?"

Another rich curse is 'Sblood! It's short for By God's Blood:
Benvolio: "'Sblood, I am never able to endure these torments!"

And a third curse is 'Snails! This means By God's Nails:
Clown:"'Snails, what hast thou got there, a book? Why, thou canst not tell ne'er a word on't."

For your entertainment, here are more cool late Medieval words:
Pickadevant= a pointy beard
Costermonger= fruitseller
Profess= teach
lollard= heretic
Compass= embrace
Welkin= sky
I've enjoyed this A to Z Challenge, and meeting so many great bloggers. You are all fabulous! Here is a tiny sampling of some blogs I've learned a lot from:
Jaycee DeLorenzo's idioms theme here.
Caitlin's Logically blog where she informed us about important people and points in history here.
Stephen Tremp's blog theme on the habitable zone in space here.
I welcome my new followers and I'm excited to follow many new bloggers myself. As Faust would say, we have certainly not yet "canvassed every quiddity" (discussed every detail), so I look forward to many more discussions and posts! On Monday, May 7th I will be helping M. Pax celebrate her Backworld's book launch, and on May 23rd, the launch of Susan Kaye Quinn's Closed Hearts. Plus, stay tuned for more posts on the writing world and how to keep the creative juices flowing.
One exciting note, the eBook version of my YA thriller, Fireseed One just went on spring sale at $0.99 so if you're looking for a good nail-biter check it out here. Thanks!
How was your experience of A to Z? 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Y for Yellow

One day left for A to Z. Today is Y Day, and I pick YELLOW. It's one of my favorite colors, representing energetic forces, optimism, fire and sun. I realize that in both of my latest novels the sun is a player.
In the novel I just completed, the main character, who I'll only call by her moniker, Sungirl, actually throws a Yellow Party. She's been an outcast but has a new chance to blossom, after coming to Brooklyn, and a new school. Here's her watching classmates make their entrance:

"Little by little, people filter in. From the vantage of the pagoda, I watch their yellow dresses drift over the green of the park and cycle in to the party like so many sunny finches coming to roost. Guys too, with funky yellow jackets, piss-elegant mustard ties, cheesy faux gold sunglasses and hats. One guy is even wrapped in yellow crime scene tape! Still another dude is jumping around in a felt banana costume. It’s exhilarating! I’m filled with a heady sense of pride in my creation.
“Does your party have to do with the sun?” asks the boy wrapped in crime scene tape.
“Well, duh, she’s Sungirl,” Tory answers for me."

In Fireseed One, my YA thriller set on earth in 2089, the sun has become so intense that a dome has been constructed in the sky to filter out the damaging rays. Here's a snippet:
"I decide to take my father’s old Sail Tern for a change. There’s something to be said for old-fashioned boats you have to help steer. The wind’s just right. It whips up frothy peaks to keep me going at a rapid clip, but not enough to make the Tern pitch. The sun pulses hard against the dome-capped sky. Each strobe shifts the tint of the waves—teal, ultramarine, brown, and then back to teal. Just one day of sun so far, but thankfully there’s a MagiCool antiradiation dome in the sky over the whole of Vostok Station, constraining its fury."
And Fireseed's very last paragraph goes back to that sun image. No spoilers though. You must read it for yourself. In both tales, these sunny scenes turn dark and terrifying. But the sun serves as an early beacon of hope.

Yellow, essential photonic bliss. What does yellow mean to you? What's your power color?

On a wonderful side note, the eBook version of my YA thriller, Fireseed One is finally (as of Sunday morning) on sale at Amazon, iTunes and B&N for only .99!!! Anyone looking for a good spring read that will keep them up at night? Plus, we just received our 20th 5-star review. Thanks, reviewers! Link to eBook on Amazon here.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

X is for Xylophone, Xenodocheionology

Today for A to Z it's X day. This has got to be the hardest letter, and I'm curious to see what others have come up with. That said, I can think of few words!

We'll start with xenodocheionology. This bizarre word is something I can actually use to describe myself. It means a love(r) of hotels and inns. There's nothing more fun, as a writer, to check into a bed and breakfast and hole up for a few days writing.

Xylophone is a word that I can also get behind. One of my favorite jazz musicians played the xylophone and vibraphone like nobody's business. That guy was Milt Jackson. He played alone, with greats like Thelonious Monk, Wes Montgomery and John Coltrane, and with the Modern Jazz Quartet. Later, he formed the Milt Jackson Quartet. I had the privilege to see him in person up in Boston, and it made an everlasting impression on me. Sunflower is his best album ever.
Milt Jackson
Here's a video of him playing 'Round Midnight.

Lastly, Xi is the fourteenth letter of the Greek alphabet. It reminds me that I will be teaching creative writing in Greece in June! And then we'll hop over to Istanbul. Can't wait to hit the bazaar, see the blue mosque and hang out on the Black Sea drinking Turkish coffee. Xi, hah!

Where do you go to get away and write? If you could go anywhere on a writing retreat where would it be? Which jazz musicians do you like? Seriously, check out Milt Jackson's Sunflower.

Two more days for A to Z, oh my!

W for Wonderful Women Writers

Cherie Priest
There are a multitude of talented male writers. But let's take a moment to applaud women writers. It's no easy task to raise kids, make the dinner, work a part time job, and find the time to write! Yet, we do it. At the SCBWI events I attend, Lyn Oliver always starts the conference by announcing odd jobs that authors list on their membership registrations: dogwalker, product tester, ghostwriter of erotica, tugboat driver, fortune cookie writer, braille translator... you get the picture. And we come from such varied backgrounds. I'll talk about three writers who inspire me.

Cherie Priest is the author of Four and Twenty Blackbirds and Fathom, two lyrical and haunting novels. Brangien writes of her in Seattle Magazine: "Priest grew up with a pension for horror and fantasy-perhaps because her mother, a Seventh Day Adventist, promised that the Second Coming could happen at any minute." She makes up her own monsters, no pre-fabs for her.
Alice Hoffman
Alice Hoffman, author of magical realist novels like  Blackbird House had a series of "horrible jobs" and panic attacks every time she had to cross a bridge. She wrote convincingly about her agoraphobia through Vonny, a character in Illumination Night. Hoffman flatly states, "I'm not very good at living in the real world." But we're glad she persists! Here's a favorite line of hers from Practical Magic: "Fall in love whenever you can."

Nancy Werlin
Nancy Werlin is a master of the YA thriller. She also merges thrillers with fantasy. On the nail-biter side is her terrifying Rules of Survival. On the fantasy side is her novel, Impossible. During her teens she worked at an ice-cream store and as a young adult, she sold menswear at a department store. She said she could eyeball a guy and immediately know what size shirt he wore. Important details for writing thrillers, eh?

Who are your favorite women writers? What kind of odd jobs did they have as teens or young adults? 
(A to Z Challenge link)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

V for Villains

Literary villains! Oh, how we love to hate them. How we secretly wish we could be them for a day; how deliciously evil their antics are! Here is a list of some of favorite villains for V Day on the A to Z Challenge. Feel free to add your own in your comments and tell us why you chose them!
O'Brien and Big Brother from 1984
Captain Hook from Peter Pan
President Snow from The Hunger Games
Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter
Sauron from Lord of the Rings
Mr. Kurtz from The Heart of Darkness
Satan from Paradise Lost
The White Witch in the Narnia series
The Wicked Witch of the West
Valentine in the Mortal Instruments series
Mrs. Coulter in The Golden Compass

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

U for Unreliable Narrators

Today for A to Z, I'll talk about the literary term, Unreliable Narrator.
A unreliable narrator in a novel is a character who either has limited knowledge of facts or insight into himself and therefore spouts suspect ideas and "facts". It can also be a character who lies to himself or others, and takes shady paths of action. This is one of my favorite literary tools when creating characters! First of all, it makes the reader really have to think things through: is this character telling the truth? If not, why not? Or, in the case where the character is ignorant or lacking information, it allows the reader to be the smart guy, to have a laugh or two at the expense of the character! Readers like to be in the know, it's a fun logics game.

Are you still fuzzy about this concept? Let me give you some specific examples. A guy might be lying to himself about how much in love he is with a girl, but the reader knows differently through careful analysis of the text, and by how the guy is acting in a way that proves what he says is emotionally untrue. Or a criminal could be trying to verbally convince someone, even himself, of his innocence.
In the celebrated novel The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, the narrator, literally Death is the quintessential "outsider". Death is an unreliable narrator in that he is opinionated and intentionally misleads people. He tries to make sense of the human condition, without ever having been human. Arguably the most famous unreliable narrator is Vladimir Nabokov's Humbert Humbert in the novel Lolita. Humbert's mind is so clever that he makes an almost convincing case that pedophilia is just fine. Of course, the reader knows better, and determines that Humbert is quite troubled. But the uncanny magic of using the unreliable narration tool, is that we can see the character's humanity--whether it be Humbert or Death itself--seeping through all of the warped layers.
Have you ever created an unreliable narrator? In what way was your character unreliable? Do you know of other great unreliable narrators in books?

Monday, April 23, 2012

T for Titling Your Novel

Today on A to Z it's all about the title. So, you've finished writing that fabulous novel and now you need to settle into a title for it. You wonder if there are any no-no's, or tips. I'll try to offer a couple of each.
I like the punch of a one-word title. BUT, and there is a big but... a one-word title may not be specific enough, in the sense that when someone Googles it, the Net comes up with many titles that include that word. For example, I titled my first YA Refugees. When I type it into Amazon, I get The Refugees by Arthur Conan Doyle, The State of the World's Refugees, by the UN Commissioner and Human Cargo and a Journey Among Refugees by C. Moorehead. (Even though my novel is awesome!) It's also a mistake to make the title long, because it's a mouthful and hard to remember. 

On the flip side, a medium-length title is great--say, three or four words. One that startles you and makes you think. Perhaps one that combines unusual concepts like Veronica Rossi's Under the Never Sky. It makes your synapses fire up. What IS a "never" sky? How can you even have a "never" sky??? Another great tip is to use a key line from your novel's text. For instance, in Sarah Dessen's novel about Remy, a girl falling in love with a musician like her dad who abandoned her, Dessen chose the title of a song that Remy's dad wrote for Remy that now haunts her: This Lullaby.

What is your best title? Why do you think it works?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

S is for Silly, Slaphappy Saturday!

Yow! Books were only 15 cents.
Today is S day on A to Z. It's just past the middle of the challenge, and like many of you, I'm a bit frazzled, but determined to complete the challenge. My theme is the Creative Life. What do creative heads do when they need a recharge? LAUGH! Laugh at really stupid, mindless, silly stuff. So, here's a fresh dose for everyone to laugh their way into the weekend. And there are a couple of redeeming children's books mixed in, including my sons' old favorite series, The Teacher From The Black Lagoon by Mike Thaler, and Captain Underpants by Dave Pilkey. Yee-haw!


What's your favorite silly book? Silly joke? Silly sign?

Friday, April 20, 2012

R is for Nancy Rawlinson, on Writing Workshops

Today, Nancy Rawlinson, one of my favorite writing workshop teachers will talk about what she's learned about teaching workshops over the years. Take it away, Nancy!

I think of writing workshops as being one of the crucibles of the writing life: they are a place where work is shared, critiqued, and forged anew. I've been in many workshops over the years, and teaching my own since 2006. At this point I have a good idea of what makes one work. I like to provide structure, because when everyone knows the rules and what’s expected of them, it provides the freedom and space for interesting work and talk to bloom. I also like to include a discussion of process in my groups, as often craft challenges are process challenges in disguise. I make sure that each work is honored and assessed according to its true nature – not what the readers in the group think it should be.

My workshops used to be exclusively for nonfiction writers, but then I ran a couple of fiction groups too. Now my workshops are cross genre, open to fiction and nonfiction writers alike. I love the cross pollination of ideas and approaches that occurs when writers with different genre perspectives talk about craft issues. The fiction writer asks: how can you bring in more omniscience to a memoir’s point of view? Is there such a thing as omniscience in memoir? The memoirist asks: what are the memories that this fictional scene is based on? How can they be further excavated? And we are off, into new and fertile territories.

And then, every now and again, a workshop experience can totally suck. I hope that none of the participants in my workshops ever feel that way, but I know I have been in some sucky groups. There was the one where a writer submitted thinly veiled caricatures of other people in the workshop. There was the one when every single submission was late, and two members of the group seemed as if they hadn’t even read the work. There was the one where a writer went off his meds and started barking like a seal and leaping up at random moments! Hopefully none of this will ever happen to you. If you're considering a workshop, here are my tips for how best to prepare yourself, and make sure that you are not the kind of member causing other people to grit their teeth.

* Decide before your first deadline, what work you will submit, and make sure it’s ready. You can change your mind last minute, but you’ll feel less stressed about submitting if you are prepared.

* Double space your work, use 12 point type, and ADD PAGE NUMBERS.

* Refrain from starting everything you say during a workshop discussion with the words: “If I were writing this piece…”

* No doodling on classmates' manuscripts – it doesn’t convey great consideration if the author finds a sketch of a deformed duck in the margins of that emotional scene in which the protagonist’s mother dies.

* Read your classmates’ work twice – once to capture your first impressions, and again, once the work has marinated in your mind, so that you can formulate deeper insights too.

* Never argue against feedback, even if you think that it is stupid, even if some of it wounds. Receive it with Zen equanimity, and say thank you. Anything that isn’t relevant, you will forget. Anything that sticks with you – even the negatives – is a spur to reinvention.

Thanks Nancy! Here's where she lives on the web. I'll leave you with a blurb from a happy client:

“Nancy did a thorough manuscript review of my novel. Her insights were highly astute, and her recommendations for revision revealed a deep insight not only into the book's technical weaknesses, but showed that she understood what I was trying to accomplish.  My subsequent revision is much, much better because of her help.”   -Helen W. Mallon (see Helen's short stories here)
A to Z link here.
What are your experiences in workshops? What do you feel is essential to make one work?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Q is for Queens--Which one of These Fits Your Inner Queen?

Today for A to Z it's the letter Q. It's a natural for the word QUEEN. So many fun literary queens come to mind! The question is, which one fits your inner-queen for the day?

Evil Queen in Snow White

Mary, Queen of Scotts

Queen Nzinga of Angola

The Red Queen

Queen Elizabeth

Drag Queen

Toy Queen

Queen Bee

Crowned kid

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

P is for Pieter van der Heyden, Engraver Extraordinaire

Merrymakers in an Oyster Shell
Pieter van der Heyden was a Flemish engraver, which is a form of line art etched into a sheet of metal, and then printed. He lived from 1530 to 1575. Bosch was a big influence on him, and a few works attributed to Bosch (who died in 1516) were actually engraved by van der Heyden. Talk about false attributions! I guess it was rampant in the 1500’s. Van der Heyden liked to create images based on proverbs, such as the one about big fish eating little fish, or his images of the seven vices (Anger, depicted here).

Anger, 1557
Van der Heyden is not to be confused with the Bruegel’s who were both painters.
Peter Bruegel the elder lived from 1525-1569
 Peter Bruegel the younger lived from 1564-1638
The Big Fish Eat the Little Fish, 1557

I will stop writing now, and let Van der Heyden's engravings speak for themselves!
Here's the A to Z link. Before you hop over to another blog, what do you think of these engravings? Engravings that teach some kind of proverb or lesson?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

O is for Ocean, and Future Marine Technology

The first (and only) time I took a transatlantic cruise from New York to England, I was really scared. When I returned and showed a friend the photos I took, he laughed and said, "Do you have any photos of anything besides the porthole?" Indeed, I spent way too much time staring out of my bedroom porthole, convinced that the ocean liner had sprung a leak a la Titanic, and was sinking.

Ironically, I think my dread has most to do with my absolute respect and awe of the sea--its vast, liquid landscape and frigid depths. Its deep sea creatures with glowing tentacles and its life-giving seaweed rich in minerals and iodine.
Pelamis Wave Farm
The future will exist in large part, on the ocean. I'm convinced of it. My imagination caught fire when I pictured that future. MY YA thriller,  Fireseed One is set in 2089. It opens with a boy, Varik whose marine biologist father has drowned under mysterious circumstances. Varik has just inherited a vast ocean farm that he doesn't quite know what to do with. I made up hybrids that are part fish, part grape vines so that Varik and his farmhands could grow them up in floating warehouses. Other hybrids I created could eat up the floating toxins.

Vertical Farm Concept
In the real world, scientists and marine biologists have already started to invent the ocean technologies of the future. There are underwater tidal turbines and wave farms like the Pelamis Farm in Portugal that produces clean energy for 15,000 houses. There are plans for real ocean farms. Depicted here is one such vertical farm concept.
I'll leave you with some great websites that tell you more about them. Enjoy! And here's the A to Z link.
Web Ecoist talks about vertical sea farms
Nandu Green talks about tidal turbines
World Culture Pictorial talks about wave farms
What amazes you about the sea and its future possibilities?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

N is for Narrative, and Alice Neel

The Family by Neel 1970
Today on A to Z it's N day. I'll talk about narrative, and about my favorite portrait painter, Alice Neel.
A narrative is a telling of story, whether in fiction or another creative form. In fiction, it's most often narrated by the main player, in either 1st person (I did this), or 3rd person (she or he did this). Sometimes a story is told in omniscient point of view, but this is not often the case in YA or children's fiction, with the exception of some fairytales. In fact, the YA "police" have a derogatory term for omniscient POV when it's done badly. They call it "head-hopping", which makes one think of head lice or some equally creepy-crawly critter.

Girl in Red by Neel 1967
The trend in YA narrative is to create a high-concept plot. What does this mean? Partly, it's about putting your protagonist in a postion where he or she must act on heroic levels or risk being destroyed. It's much more exciting to have the fate of the world on the heroine's shoulders than to have a story about her saving a cat from a tree (not that saving a cat is a worthless thing!). This trend has flamed into huge proportions because of books like The Hunger Games, and other dystopias where the world is in danger of extinction. I admit it, my YA thriller, Fireseed One has high stakes too. In the stampede, "quiet" books can get lost.

Books aren't the only things containing narrative. Paintings tell stories too! Look at these stunning modernist portraits by painter Alice Neel, and imagine the tales behind them. It's not hard to do, as she put so much raw emotion into them. They have a touch of Diane Arbus to them, but humanity wins out over the macabre in Neel's work. By the way, click here to see a new and amazing documentary about this artist created by her son, Andrew! Now isn't that the perfect homage from a son to his mother? Alice Neel was born near Philadelphia in 1900, and grew to be one of the most celebrated portrait artists of the twentieth century, despite her disregard for the limelight and disinterest in being part of a rarified clique.
Two Girls, Spanish Harlem 1959

What do you think about "loud" vs "quiet" narratives? Does a character always have to be a hero or heroine to make a story great? What piece of art that you know of, feels most engaging to you in terms of telling a story?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

M is for Miraculous Wordsmiths, Mary Karr & Mark Doty

Mary Karr is best known for her memoir The Liar's Club, but Cherry is my favorite of hers. It's a beautiful coming of age. The San Francisco Chronicle says: "Fleeing the thrills and terrors of adolescence, she clashes against authority in all its forms, and hooks up with an unforgettable band of heads and bona-fide geniuses. Parts of Cherry will leave you gasping with laughter."
I recommend anyone that is writing YA read this. It brings back the wildness of those scary, exhilarating years in neon color.

I first read Mark Doty's transcendent book, Still Life with Oysters and Lemon, when I was designing a themed college lit course I dubbed The Creative Life. Creative Life is also my theme in A to Z!

Doty's work is an extended meditation on a Dutch still life painting of oysters and lemons. Yet it's also much more!
Mark Doty paints with words. He wanders into a meditation on memory, the emotionally loaded symbol, and the irony of a "still" life. A snippet of Doty's words: "We enter the cool, gray suite of rooms, a space that seems to me, in memory, hallucinatory...Beautiful chambers, skylit, room after room of these somber poems of materiality... here are Beert's resplendent living oysters, ashimmer on their silvery shells, their pewter plate... the translucent asparagus spears of Adriaen Coorte, strudy good-natured vegetables that verge on mystery."

What book leaves you breathless, or talks about much more than just the story itself?

Friday, April 13, 2012

L for Leitmotif and Lang, as in Jonny

Leitmotif is defined as 1. an associated melodic phrase or figure that accompanies the reappearance of an idea, person or situation, especially in a musical drama.
2. a dominant recurring theme
In novels, a leitmotif serves as a threat, a promise, a reminder of the high-stakes, and also as the theme encapsulated.
Here are two well-known ones from literature:
From The Hunger Games: "May the odds be ever in your favor". It's very similar to "May the force be With You." (Star Wars). This leitmotif is repeated as a scary reminder that the odds are hardly ever in one's favor, thus it amplifies the impending danger and possibility of death.
From 1984: "The future lies in the Proles". Ironic because the proles, or proletariats (peasants) are illiterate, poor and ostracized. Ironic also because their inherent power lies in those very same flaws. If they cannot read, they cannot be brainwashed, if they are not a part of Big Brother's inner or outer Party, they have total freedom to see the world as they like. And they happen to be in the majority. So, in this case, the leitmotif is used as a promise, in the midst of soul-killing fascism, that someone, even the little guy, if made conscious, could rebel.
Jonny Lang, Blues Master

Jonny Lang, blues musician extraordinaire is my favorite male vocalist and guitarist.
He started playing guitar at 12. By sixteen he was playing with BB King, and had recorded his first album. He sings with his entire soul. Blues runs in his blood. Mostly, he can be found on the west coast, but he does play around the country, and in true embodiment of the creative life, he tours a lot!

Who's your favorite musician? Your favorite example of a person who is living the creative life? Do you have a leitmotif in your novel? Your work-in-progress?    (A to Z Link)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

K is for KOOKY!

You know you love it!
Kooky art, music, film, novels, so BAD they're awesome. 
Insane Clown Posse
Kooky Music:
Insane Clown Posse: metal rap band that wears clown faces and douses the audience with soda.
Tiny Tim: born Herbert Khaury in 1932 of a Lebanese dad and Jewish mom, Tiny Tim went on to create the most bizarre ukelele act evvveeer. Here he is on YouTube singing his trademark Tiptoe Through the Tulips. Kaury even joined the circus for a month!
Kooky Films: 
Leprechaun 3:  A very nasty little leprechaun in Vegas. check both Lep films here.
Leprechaun in the Hood: Close to Lep 3 in tasteless hilarity.
Tiny Tim, Super-Kook!
Gigli: Horrid movie, starring J Lo and Ben Affleck! Tagline: "A violent story about how a criminal lesbian, a hit-man with a heart of gold, and a retarded man came to be friends through a hostage." Really? HUH? Check it out here.
Killer Klowns from Outer Space: Tagline: "In space, no one can eat ice cream!"
The Loved One, a satire about the funeral biz, with Liberace as coffin salesman! A British poet goes to work in a Hollywood Cemetery. Here 'tis.
Kooky Books:
Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach--a seagull delivers lessons about life? I can't believe this book is still selling! Check out the huge amount of reviews it has. Here's a quote from it: "Why, Jon, why?" his mother asked. "Why is it so hard to be like the rest of the flock, Jon? Why can't you leave low flying to the pelicans, the albatross?" Can you say OY?
Damian Hirst's The Dream
Candy, by Terry Southern. A spoof on Voltaire's Candide, starring the sickly sweet Candy Christian, a googly girl out to find love, sex and some freaky mystics too. Still in print after a zillion years. William Styron says: "Wickedly funny to read and morally bracing as only a good satire can be." Definitely so bad it's great!
Kooky Art:
Damian Hirst: a contemporary British Artist who specializes in showing dead animals encased in formaldehyde. Here's his piece called "The Dream" using a real pony. His work is sad, offensive and amazing.
What do you think of all this KOOKINESS? Are you scratching your head yet? What do you think is the weirdest art, novel, music, or film?
(A to Z link here)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

J is for Journey, Donna Galanti talks about A Human Element, a Journey into the Supernatural!

J for JOURNEY in the A to Z fest. Donna Galanti guest posts about her new thriller, A Human Element.  It's a journey into terror, romance and other worlds. Donna, tell us all about it!

In my paranormal suspense A Human Element we’re faced with the question: Is there life out there? And if there is, will it be hostile or welcoming? The theoretical physicist and cosmologist Steven Hawking says he's nearly certain that alien life exists in other parts of the universe. He also advocates that instead of trying to establish contact, humans should avoid contact with alien life forms. "If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn't turn out well for the Native Americans."

I like to imagine intelligent worlds out there. Perhaps some would be hostile, others would not. This is the undercurrent of A Human Element.  Catherine so beautifully creates another futuristic world in her YA thriller Fireseed One. Its future is so different from our life that even though it's set on earth it could easily take place on another planet. And although A Human Element is an adult novel I wanted to share the young voices in it who discover the existence of another world.

Here we meet Ben Fieldstone, age nine, the night he runs away on vacation. The night that changed his life.
A blast of green broke through his dreamy thoughts. It sliced the night in two. A bright streak barreling toward the earth. He stood, mesmerized. A meteorite? He had just learned about them in school. It grew larger and larger. A fiery ball. In his excitement, he forgot he had run away. He couldn't wait to get back to the cabin and tell his parents. He jumped around and trotted back along the shoreline. The green light grew larger. He tripped over a rock and fell sideways into the thick brush.
      And then something so frightening happened he decided to stay where he was. 

The heroine, Laura Armstrong, believes the same meteorite that crashed in her hometown years before may have held something besides rock. At eleven, she finds proof through her ability to see events in the past.
"Someone was here the night it struck. It wasn't a meteorite." Laura shook her head and closed her eyes, her hands still pressed to the ground. "He crashed here, I feel it. I know him. Not know him as met him . . . but know of him."
She looked up at Jim with tears in her eyes. "So much sadness." She put her face in her hands and cried. "He was here under the ground all alone and dying."
Jim didn't know what to make of all this. He still didn't understand her powers, but believed miracles happened. "Who was here? Who do you know?"
"I don't know. But he came here from far away and was so hurt and alone. He had lost everything. He needed to do something important."

In 1961 US radio astronomer Frank Drake developed an equation to help estimate the number of planets hosting intelligent life - and capable of communicating with us - in the galaxy. He estimated 10,000. A lot, right? In 2001 more rigorous calculations connected to the 1960s "Drake equation" suggests that our galaxy may contain hundreds of thousands of life-bearing planets. Just imagine.

Laura, as an adult, does imagine this. Here she conveys her fears and thoughts to Ben about life “out there” and if it’s possible.
"Why do these Elyon people exist? And does it mean there are more beings out there in this infinite universe, watching us, on their way to us? Maybe here already?”
"I don't know, Laura. The more we learn, the more questions there are," Ben said.
"I wonder if we'll ever know the full story and history of what happened here." Laura looked through the loft window at the night sky. "Up there, somewhere, millions of miles away is another planet with intelligent life. Beings loving and living and dying, just like us. Having babies. Like we do. Like you and I could. Are they coming again now or is their planet already dead?"

The movie Contact, based on a novel written by astronomer Carl Sagan, raises the debate too about whether life is out there. I saw Sagan speak in 1995. His goal was to educate the world on the infinite wonders and discoveries to be found in space. He died the next year but he forever leaves his imprint on not only how we look at the stars-but how we should dream about what's amongst them. At one point in Contact, Dr. Arroway says: the universe is a pretty big place. It's bigger than anything anyone has ever dreamed of. So, if it's just us... seems like an awful waste of space. Right?"

I believe that too. We should dream about what’s beyond our world, as Sagan inspired us to do. In writing A Human Element I enjoyed finding my YA voice through Ben and Laura. I enjoyed it so much I went on to write a middle grade adventure fantasy that’s in its final editing phase. Where's the book set? On another world of course! 

What do you believe and imagine?

One by one, Laura Armstrong’s friends and adoptive family members are being murdered, and despite her unique healing powers, she can do nothing to stop it. The savage killer haunts her dreams, tormenting her with the promise that she is next. Determined to find the killer, she follows her visions to the site of a crashed meteorite–her hometown. There, she meets Ben Fieldstone, who seeks answers about his parents’ death the night the meteorite struck. In a race to stop a mad man, they unravel a frightening secret that binds them together. But the killer’s desire to destroy Laura face-to-face leads to a showdown that puts Laura and Ben’s emotional relationship and Laura’s pure spirit to the test. With the killer closing in, Laura discovers her destiny is linked to his and she has two choices–redeem him or kill him. Readers who devour paranormal books with murder, mystery, and steam will enjoy A HUMAN ELEMENT, the new novel about loss, redemption, and love.

Reviewers are saying…
“A HUMAN ELEMENT is an elegant and haunting first novel. Unrelenting, devious but full of heart. Highly recommended.” –Jonathan Maberry, New York Times best-selling author of DEAD OF NIGHT.

“A HUMAN ELEMENT is a haunting look at what it means to be human. It’s a suspenseful ride through life and love…and death, with a killer so evil you can’t help but be afraid. An excellent read.” –Janice Gable Bashman, author of WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE, nominated for a Bram Stoker Award.

Donna Galanti is the author of the paranormal suspense A Human Element. She has a B.A. in English and a background in marketing. She is a member of International Thriller Writers, The Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group, and Pennwriters. She lives with her family in an old farmhouse in PA with lots of nooks, fireplaces, and stinkbugs. Her website.

A Human Element is available on Amazon, B&N & Smashwords. 
Donna can be found on her blog and on Twitter. LIKE Donna's Facebook page for news and updates! To view her entire book blog tour, including interviews, guest posts and prize giveaways,  click here.

Monday, April 9, 2012

I is for Incredible Musicians

3+3, My fave Isley Album
I is for incredible musicians that start with I, for the A to Z challenge. 

The Isley Brothers is still one of my all-time favorite bands. I love their combination of soul and funk-rock. Ernie Isley, the youngest brother was only 11 years-old when Jimi Hendrix began playing as a tour guitarist for the Iselys. Jimi was a huge influence on the young Ernie, who grew up to play a wicked rock guitar himself that rivals that of Hendrix.

Ernie Isley
Charles Ives (1874-1954) was an experimental musician, and a true American maverick. In 1902, he "quit" traditional music as an organist to embrace experimental music such as the piece Central Park in the Dark, and a sort of "cosmic landscape" of The unanswered Question. In 1915, he composed the Universe Symphony, which he described as "aspiring to paint the creation, the mysterious beginnings of all things."

Which musicians do you think are incredible? True mavericks?

H is for History in Fiction

A Medieval Witch
Today for A to Z Challenge I'll talk about history. In high school, I was often bored by history, or at least the way that my history teachers approached it. So, when I got a job teaching college lit, and was told I'd have to lecture on the historical periods surrounding our texts, I was petrified. For instance, I recalled next to nothing from high school Greek history. I actually went to B & N and bought Greek History for Dummies. I'm no dummy, but I needed a quick shot. Turns out that there is a way to make history come alive. I do that in large part through talking about the odd moments that stick in my mind. Here are a few, from the Greek period through to Elizabethan.

The big hypocrisy of Pericles' radical democracy in Athens was that while women were not even allowed citizenship, men had to prove that their mothers were born in Athens to prove their own citizenship! Also, Athenians and Spartans had a rivalry in more than just fighting style-they were jealous of each others' fashions and the fact that Spartan women could work out in gymnasiums and have multiple lovers!

In Medieval times, people believed that gap-toothed women were highly sexed, and that a pimply man had a flawed soul. This was a time when people were truly judged by surface appearance.

In Dr. Faustus, written during the Elizabethan period in England, there is a reference to Native Americans as "Spanish Moors". This proves that people "across the pond" were quite aware that the Spanish were lording it over the Native American Indians in what's now America. Also at that time, white and black magic were seen as coming from the bible. People believed literally in the devil, and prayed both to God and Night Hags!

It's fun to learn about history, and quite helpful when contemplating writing an historical novel or fantasy. I considered my first YA novel, Refugees, about the friendship between and Afghan boy and an American girl, historical fiction, even though it was about contemporary matters. The reason? It dealt with the fallout from 9/11, which immediately made it a pivotal point in history.

If you were writing historical fiction or fantasy, which period would you love to set in in? Which historical periods interest you the most?