Monday, January 30, 2012

Good news and good times

WAHOO!! I just learned that my latest Samantha Brennan & Annabelle Haggerty Magical Mystery, MAGICAL ALIENATION, has received a Lefty Award nomination for the Best Humorous Mystery of 2011, by the Left Coast Crime2012 convention! I’m absolutely dancing on air. Writing isn’t about awards, it’s about doing the work we love. But it is exciting and rewarding when our readers and fellow writers choose our novels for special notice. Thanks to everyone who made this possible. Congratulations to Donna Andrews, Rita Lakin, Jess Lourey, Cindy Sample & John Vorhau, my fellow nominees.

The Lefty Award nomination for MAGICAL ALIENATION makes the Southern California tour I’ll be embarking on this week extra special. Not only will it be great to see my old friends, but really gratifying to share this milestone with them. You can see the tour dates and times here:

Despite the long drive from Northern Arizona to Southern California, I’m really excited about this tour, not just because I’ll get to see old friends, but because it means I’m going home. Although where I live now is also home.

What exactly does “home” mean? I’ve heard it defined something like: “The place where, when you show up there, they have to take you in.” Boy, does that sound comforting. But it doesn’t apply to me. Though I spent my entire adult life in California, I have no living relatives there, nobody who has to take me in.

I know lots of people — all better heeled than I am — who own multiple houses, meaning multiple places are home for them. While I wish I could also afford to have homes in both locales, I’m not sure I would handle it as well as others I see. I suspect that when I was in one house, I would find myself needing the stuff I left behind in the other. The clothes, the books, the little touches that turn it from a generic shell to the much-loved surroundings of the ones who transformed that house into their very personal space. I guess it’s just as well that I don’t have that two-house problem, after all.

I’m a Cancer, and we crabs tend to need our personal shells around us. We’re homebodies. I guess to me “home” translates into a place that offersfamiliarity and comfort. A place that reflects all the things that define me, those things I can name and those that are indefinable even to me. Both the personal surroundings and the larger space in which I feel safe. Where everything I see reminds me of the good times I enjoyed there, and even the tough times I knew, which have helped shape me into the person I’ve become.

So, yes, Southern California will always feel like home to me. I know when familiar places come into view, I will feel an excited kinship again, as I do every time I return, no matter how long I’ve been away.

And I also know that when I return here to Arizona, when my car reaches the crest of Arizona’s 17 Freeway outside of Camp Verde, with the panorama of Sedona and the Verde Valley spread out before me, I will also feel that same sense of belonging.The same sense of being home.

It’s actually a pretty good thing, having multiple places that feel like that good, even if I can’t fully explain why.

How about you? Where is home? What does that mean to you?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Stabbing Perfection

Today I welcome guest blogger, Liv Rancourt. Liv is a writer of speculative fiction and romance. She lives in Seattle with her husband, two teenagers, two cats and one wayward puppy. Writing stories that have happy endings is a good way to balance her work in the neonatal intensive care unit, and she is thrilled to be publishing her first novella with Black Opal Books. Liv can be found on-line at her website, her blog, on Facebook, or on Twitter

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about vampires. There are several of them in my new novella, A Vampire’s Deadly Delight, and while I didn’t do much research before I wrote it, I’ve been reading up in order to write quasi-intelligent sounding blog posts. You’ll have to let me know how I do.

I came across an article by Ananya Mukherjea in the journal Studies in Popular Culture. She argues that the reason vampires are so persistently popular right now is that it takes a paranormal figure to balance all the roles that contemporary women are supposed to assume. Women are supposed to be strong and career-minded, when they’re not wearing slut shoes and flashing their ta-tas on the internet. We’re supposed to raise kids and gardens and keep the house Martha-Stewart-worthy. While working a full-time job. And getting pedicures. Real men can’t keep up. Only a vampire with many years on earth, old-fashioned values, strength, financial stability, and a streak of nasty sexy danger can turn us on.

The article is some twenty pages long, and after reading it I could only agree with her. I’ve sure as heck never fantasized about a reasonably handsome man whose job blows hot and cold and who never remembers to put the carton of milk back in the fridge. Real men are great for some things, but when I want to get away from it all, find me someone who’s pale and fanged, someone who drives a sleek black car and who doesn’t care if I forgot to put the clothes in the dryer.

So what did I do? I wrote a book where one of the main characters stabs vampires with her demon blade, ending their undead lives. It’s a Buffy meets Spiderman kind of thing. In hindsight, I can only wonder what I was thinking. Given the perspective of the article, my character’s primary function is to repeatedly kill the perfect man. Wow. That’s enough material for a whole lot of therapy sessions.
I’m going to put a positive spin on this and say it shows how much I value the Real Man in my life. Hugging someone with a pulse is the only way to go. If he would just put the silverware away correctly, so that all the salad forks go in the same little slot, he might be perfect, too. What, me, issues?

Thanks so much, Kris, for giving me this opportunity to post on your blog. I very much appreciate it.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What's in your wallet?

THE ARTIST’S WAY by Julia Cameron, along with some of her other books, have been incredibly influential in my life and have spurred my writing career. In case you’re unfamiliar with her work, I like to describe THE ARTIST’S WAY and some of the others as do-it-yourself therapy for artists. I probably do THE ARTIST’S WAY again every couple of years.

I say “do it” rather than “read it” because, although it is a book, THE ARTIST’S WAY, along with others of Julia’s titles, present a program of multi-week creativity-enhancing lessons and exercises, which have probably been successful in increasing the creativity of millions of struggling artists.

Actually, while Julia Cameron’s books are marketed to artists, I’ve been the bookseller at two of her conferences, and I’ve met loads of her devoted fans who don’t consider themselves as artists of any kind, but who regard THE ARTIST’S WAY as do-it-yourself therapy for everyone, who’ve made, not artistic growth, but life-growth, using Julia’s lessons and exercises.

With all that said, while I’ve made such artistic strides thanks to her books, I haven’t found her some of her recent books quite as stirring as her earlier ones. I’ve read them all, but they haven’t had such a profound impact on me.

Until now. With THE PROSPEROUS HEART: CREATING A LIFE OF “ENOUGH,” which she wrote with Emma Lively, Julia Cameron has once again captured the stirring, life-changing lessons and exercises of her earlier works.

Some of the tools used in THE PROSPEROUS HEART will be familiar ones to her readers, such as the morning pages, which instructs those following the exercises to write three solid pages of stream-of-conscious writing as soon as they wake up, and the recommended weekly walks. But other tools, such as counting every penny in and out, and the time outs are different.

At first glance, this doesn’t seem like a book that should have a stirring impact on me. Sure, like lots of people, I don’t have as much money as I’d like. But I’m not a shopaholic — sometimes it seems as if I was born without the shopping gene, since it’s usually my least favorite activity. No smoke coming off my credit cards!

So it might seem strange that a book that helps people to manage their finances and stop over-shopping and running up debt they can’t afford should have make such a strong impression on me, but it did. That’s because, according to Cameron, prosperity isn’t a financial issue, but a spiritual one. She maintains that the opposite of prosperity isn’t poverty, but anxiety. It’s the fear of not having enough that makes us feel the desperation for more.

She shows her readers how to recognize the abundance they already have their lives, but which probably goes unnoticed in their quest for whatever magic number they think will satisfy them. She points out that the magic number rarely does satisfy. Other exercises easily help readers to bring more fulfilling prosperity into their lives. For instance, in one exercise, she instructs the reader to list five things they’d like, which they can’t afford — and then encourages them to search for some small step they could take in each of those areas.

When I did the exercise, I listed five large things I’d like, but when I didn’t immediately think of five small steps I could take toward each one of them, I poo-pooed the exercise as ineffective, at least for me. And yet, within hours I did think of small steps I could take, and each one proved to be an inspired choice and wholly satisfying.

But as with all her do-it-yourself lessons & exercises books, my gains greatly exceeded her intended subject matter. While THE ARTIST’S WAY and some other titles, including THE RIGHT TO WRITE and others, did help me to enhance my creativity, THE PROSPEROUS HEART made me to appreciate the level of abundance I already enjoy and aided me in bringing more prosperity into my life — my greatest gains exceeded the financial realm, and helped me to make life-improvements in areas that seemed to have nothing to do with money.

The book’s voice — Cameron’s voice, to those who have had the good fortune to have heard her — at times quirky, at other times stern, but always confident in the efficacy of the lessons she has to offer — will comfort those who’ve derived much from her books in the past, but should also prove welcoming to Cameron newbies. For those of you who might be shopoholics, I’m sure you’d derive even more than I did. If THE PROSPEROUS HEART offers you half of what it gave me, you’ll find it worth the time, money and personal energy you’ll invest in it.