Monday, July 30, 2012

Subversive Coffee...

A recent-ish conversation with Balthazar, The Kid:
Me: I wish you knew how to make coffee.

The Kid (with a sneer): I can make coffee.

Me: Oh, yeah? How?

TK: You pour the water in the thing, and then you measure out the coffee, and then you turn on the machine.

Me: How do you measure out the coffee and water?

TK: You know, it's a ratio. It's what's on the coffee bag.

Me: I never go by what's on the bag.

TK: That's 'cause you're a Commie.
Well, of course. I'm amazed I didn't see that about myself before this enlightening exchange.

Pic taken by me.
Just the other day, Balthazar enlightened me further by bringing home a bottle of some curious refreshment, completely new to me. I only really noticed it after he'd consumed it all. I hadn't ever seen this particular brand of beverage and examined the label with interest, wondering what this Bai stuff was. Apparently, it's made of coffee fruit.

I snorted when I read that. Coffee fruit? C'mon, that's some kinda gimmick, yeah?

No. In fact, it's, like, totes for realz.

I was astonished, and chagrined, to learn that what I'd believed to be properly labeled a coffee bean is actually a coffee seed, and that it's nestled inside the actual fruit of a coffee plant. The seed's home resembles a rather largish cherry and it's of this berry that this Bai drink was made.

Well, slap my ass and call me Sally.

That needful nectar, that exhilarating elixir, that divine drink, made of seeds and not beans. How do ye friggin' do?

Did y'all know about that???

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award!


Some weeks ago, L.G. Keltner of Writing Off the Edge gave me the Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award and I'm only now getting around to fulfilling the grueling responsibilities of this honor. ;-) J/K, L.G. - thanks for thinking of me! This gal's a creative and dedicated writer of groovy sci-fi, so y'all should really go check out her stuff.

To accept this bad boy, I must share 7 things about myself and pass it along to 7 lucky blogs. Now, I do feel a bit like my well of creative self-knowledge is running dry, but I'll try not to put y'all to sleep.
  1. I don't dig it when strangers or people I don't know well lay their mitts on me.
  2. My last hair cut was on Friday, December 31, 2010. (This is unrelated to #1, above.)
  3. I've never really "dated," per se. Every guy I've been seriously involved with was someone known to me and, frankly, the very idea of going out on a date with a stranger and having to make small-getting-to-know-you-talk wigs me out. (This is somewhat related to #1, above.)
  4. I regret having filled my son's head with ideas of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy when he was little.
  5. Sometimes, I wish I had a little girl to raise. But, like gas, menstrual cramps, or a headache, that urge soon passes.
  6. I don't feel comfortable showing my face to the world without curling my eyelashes and putting on mascara. (What the world thinks of me, with or without, is probably best left unknown.)
  7. If my body metabolized alcohol better (meaning, if boozing it up didn't cause me to gain weight so quickly), I suspect I'd be a raging alcoholic. :-)
Here are the 7 blogs:








Right, so that's my work done. Have at it, Ladies! :-)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Tagged!


Brent Wescott of Building Castles on the Beach tagged me for this fun little blogger's game a while ago and I'm (finally) making good. (I have a couple of awards to catch up on as well, but need to pace myself here, y'all. All will be done in time. God willing.)

Anyway.

The first part of the game is that I've gotta tell you 11 things about myself. (I'm sorry.)
  1. Whenever I'm asked, "What's your favorite (insert item)?" my mind always goes blank.
  2. The same applies when I'm asked to think up stuff about myself.
  3. As much as possible, I avoid watching the news on TV (because the real world is often le suck and I just can't handle it).
  4. Red's my favorite color.
  5. I love cold weather.
  6. Summertime depresses me (I have reverse SAD, I guess).
  7. Exerting myself (or even just standing around for too long) in the double whammy of high heat and humidity can cause me to faint. (That happened to me last Monday morning at my commuter train station.) (I was totally OK after I lied down for a bit, though I did miss my train.) (Wouldja believe a paramedic just happened to be in the station parking area and a bunch of my fellow commuters flagged him down to come check me out?) (New Yorkers are way nicer than we're given credit for being.)
  8. I can read or I can write; I can't seem to manage writing my stuff if I'm also reading someone else's.
  9. The only time I have any interest in sports is during the World Cup and I lose interest as soon as Portugal's out of the game.
  10. For a Sagittarian, I'm perversely travel-impaired in that I don't drive, can't ride a bike or swim, and hate flying.
  11. I must have an aura of helpfulness about me, as strangers on the street frequently stop me to ask me for directions and whatnot. (Why would anyone think I knew anything?)
The second part is I've got to answer 11 questions that Brent asks in the post in which he tagged me. Except Brent posed only 7 questions, bless him:

1. What kind of thing do you prefer to read?
Regency and paranormal romances, stories of horror, whimsy, and/or the supernatural.

2. When you were 13, what did you want to do with your life?
I wanted to be a detective. (OK, I wanted to be a Charlie's Angel, gimme a break.)

3. Mayonnaise or Miracle Whip? Discuss.
Miracle Whip is an abomination unto the Lord. Just sayin'.

4. If you could join any group or club, what would it be?
Uh...The Extraordinary League of Published and Commercially Successful Beyond Their Wildest Dreams Writers. (What? That's not a group? Aw, man...)

5. What is the last song you listened to?

6. When you have nothing else to do, what do you do?
Surf the Interwebs.

7. If you could make a difference by boycotting one thing, what would it be?
Exploitation ("reality") TV.

The third part is tagging 11 other bloggers and the fourth bit is posing 11 questions for them to answer. (::sighs:: Wow, this is WAY more work than my lazy arse is accustomed to doing, I'll tell you what.)

OK, so here are the poor unfortunates lovely blogs I've decided to harass tag:

The Enchanted Writer

Random Stream of Consciousness

Abso-fraggin-lutely

Brits in the USA

Diary of a Writer in Progress

Elise Fallson

No Natural Mama

Pull Up A Toadstool

Shouldn't Life Be More Than This?

Tahoma Beadworks and Photography

The DM's Screen

AND here are the questions y'all gots to answer:
  1. Who would win in a fight: Captain Jack Sparrow or Willy Wonka (as played by Johnny Depp)? Defend your answer.
  2. What is your least favorite color and why is it so?
  3. Who was your first celebrity crush?
  4. What are your favorite hamburger (or veggieburger) fixings?
  5. What's the lamest superpower ever?
  6. What's a non-conventional method of dispatching vampires and why do you think it would work?
  7. All you really need is...?
  8. What is your favorite Duran Duran song? ("I don't have one," or "I love them all," are unacceptable answers.)
  9. In the song Wannabe, Scary Spice tells us she "...really, really, really wanna zigazig-ah." What the devil did she mean by that?
  10. When the going gets tough, to what (or whom) do you turn for comfort?
  11. What is your favorite cocktail (if you don't dig cocktails, what's your favorite drink, generally)?
Folks whom I've tagged, let me know when (if!) you've posted your answers to these (I'm especially interested in learning the answer to question #9, as it's plagued me for ages).

Monday, July 23, 2012

Mom & The Cat Face

Mom, in her early teens.
July 22 was my mother's birthday and so, to honor her, I thought I'd write about The Cat Face.

A bit of background on Mom: she's the third of four daughters born to poor folks in a small village in central Portugal. It was a very rough life—her father died of tuberculosis when she was about 4, leaving her mother hard pressed to care for herself and her family. The girls had to be left with their maternal grandparents (my great-greats) for a time, so my grandmother could scratch out an income for them all.

The way Mom tells it, while her grandfather was a gentle old fellow, her grandmother was quite stern, and when they weren't working the family farm, they were praying the Rosary. Life was not only hard but mostly humorless for my Mom and her sisters, yet they found a way to make their own fun. The gals developed a method of cracking one another up on the sly in the form of The Cat Face. It's just what it sounds like—when their grandparents weren't looking, they'd catch one another's eyes and contort their faces into expressions they imagined to resemble a cat's. The evening Rosary sessions became less prayer-like and more suppressed-giggle fests. I have to say, knowing what I do of my great-greats' no-nonsense attitude re: the Lord, I'm mightily impressed with my Mom and surviving aunts (the eldest passed away many years ago of heart problems). It took a lot of guts for them to goof off, however innocently, given how dire the consequences would've been if they'd been caught.

Mom, flashing her gams, but not The Cat Face.
Adulthood didn't mean The Cat Face went into retirement, oh, no. As my sister and I grew up we were treated to it by our Mom regularly. Always surreptitiously, though; if Dad was looking, The Cat Face stayed hidden. But the second his eyes shifted and Mom had our attention, the Face flashed, this bizarrely hideous, wrinkled-up nose, tongue stuck out, grimace. Actually, it could be a bit frightening when we were younger. Now, it cracks us up, because Mom still tosses it out at us.

The "tradition" is that The Cat Face can be shown to females of any age or children of either sex, but never, ever to adult males. Never, never, ever. Mom's speed and stealth have only improved over time, and her daring has grown so that at a table full of family, she will still keep an eye out for a moment that the gals are looking her way and the guys aren't and boom, baby—The Cat Face strikes again, leaving all the men wondering what the hell the chicks are laughing at. My sister has worked at perfecting this art and will often trade Cat Faces with Mom whenever she comes to town for a meal, leaving me choking on my vinho verde. I, alas, am not as adept as they, and can't manage a proper Cat Face to save my life. The shame of it haunts me.

One Christmas around the dinner table, I teased my Mom about no longer being able to get away with doing The Cat Face as quickly as she used to. She didn't realize she was being baited, as I had a camera waiting in my lap to catch her in the very act. So naturally, she had to prove me wrong and SNAP, FLASH! I got a picture of it!!! My aunt and (female) cousin's hoots of hilarity, plus the look of shock, and then fury on Mom's face were all the reward I needed, even if the picture didn't come out (which it totally did). I would dearly love to share it with you all today but, even if Mom hadn't threatened me with unspeakable acts should the photo ever come to light, my sister warned me not to break The Cat Face Code - no men may ever see its grotesque glory. My apologies, y'all—call me a tease if you will, but I must respect the Code or forfeit my honor. (Such as it is.)

So, Happy Birthday, Mom, and Viva La Cat Face!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Booker Award!

Catherine Stine of Idea City bestowed The Booker Award on me, which was super sweet of her - thanks so much, Catherine! Please check out her blog here.

The Booker Award goes to "...those who refuse to live in the real world." (That is sooooo  me!) To receive this award, the blog must be at least 50% about books (reading or writing is OK). Along with receiving this award, you must also share your top five favorite books. (More than five is OK.) You must give this award to 5-10 other lucky book blogs you adore.

Now, I hate having to narrow down my readerly passions to just five  but, as we all know, I'm lazy. So here they be, in alpha order by author's last name:

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (It's a parody of things Gothic, so of course  I dig it.)

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde (Ohmigosh, it's set in an alternative reality in which crimes against literature are avenged by an arse-kicking Brit heroine who winds up leaping into the story of Jane Eyre  to take care of business! W00T!)

The Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer (How can I not luuurve a book featuring a heroine who stutters and a duel fought over a hat?) (Not by the heroine.) (It wasn't really over a hat, that was just the cover story.) (Ha ha, geddit? Cover story? Hat? A hat covers  your head?) (C'mon, that was at least mildly amusing, worthy of a titter, surely?) ~ tied with  ~ These Old Shades by the same author (The Duke of Avon = WOOF!)

Howliday Inn by James Howe (The 2nd book in the Bunnicula series. I go back to it to revel in the comfort of simpler days, when everybody and their Aunt Agatha didn't want a piece of me. Plus, it's HIGH-larious, and I just la-la-love Harold and Chester.)

The Stupidest Angel by Christopher Moore (Parce que j'adore le  whimsical horror, y'all!) (You may wonder at my use of French and Southern U.S.A. slang in the same sentence. You see, at college, a very learned prof found me attempting to learn some French art song or other, and gave me some pointers on my pronunciation. On the word, "parle," he suggested I drawl like I was from Georgia, and from then on, nearly every time I've spoken my pseudo-French it's been with a southern accent. A really bad one, sure, but still. A girl's gotta amuse herself somehow...)

Right, so—that business sorted, I now present The Booker Award to these groovy gals:

Annalisa Crawford - Wake up, eat, write, sleep

Aurian - boeklogboek

Jackie Felger - Bouquet of Books

Kendra - Flame Writer

Lori - Romancing the Darkside

OK, that's it for me, folks. Thanks for stopping by and y'all come back soon, now, entendez-vous? (You're totally having a go at saying, "entendez-vous" with a Southern accent yourself now, aintcha? Don't try to deny it, I know you are.)

Monday, July 16, 2012

WIBWIW ~ "Here I belong...


In my first WIBWIW (Whatever, I'll Blog What I Want!), I mentioned I needed to take better care of myself. Without getting into too much detail, I've taken some steps in that direction and have been feeling somewhat better. Well, I haven't been feeling so awful, which, while a small victory, is better than none, I reckon.


But one problem I was having I've not yet resolved - when I don't have to get up early for work, I just don't get up at all, not till 11 or noon. I can't seem to get myself moving sooner than that, and when I do move, it's begrudgingly, gracelessly. Aimlessly. A few hours go by before I feel able to do anything, and then it's 3 or 4pm and I feel like the day's gotten away from me, and—oh, look, is that a Law and Order: Special Victims Unit marathon?

This goes beyond my congenital laziness, beyond procrastinating, beyond surrendering to distraction. I've been in a bad way. But I haven't yet fixed this. Wiser heads than mine have urged me to be patient and give the changes I've instituted time to help. So I'll do that. But this seemingly unbeatable inertia frustrates me, greatly.

Today (Sunday), I kept putting off my alarm clock until about noon and awoke in my dark living room, wanting nothing more than to go back to sleep. My eyelids fluttered repeatedly and I thought, "Just turn on the TV, that'll be something." I did that and the only thing that was coming on that appealed in any way was the 1986 movie Highlander. I'd never seen it and wanted to, so that's what I focused on for a couple of hours. What was good about me tuning into this particular flick was that a French/Swiss-accented fella (Christopher Lambert) played the titular Scottish Highlander and a Scotsman (Sean Connery) played a Spaniard. A Spaniard!!!


Each actor spoke in more or less his natural accent, though Lambert attempted a brogue now and again. This annoyed me so much I was motivated to go brew some coffee as I muttered darkly to myself. I made breakfast, I ate. I watched the movie, alternating between enjoyment of the scenes set in the New York city of the day, bobbing my head to the Queen soundtrack, and raging against the casting and those ridiculous choices. (I nearly threw something at the TV set when Lambert murdered the line, "My bonnie Heather!") The movie finished, finally, and I booted up my laptop and got to work on this blog post.

I had to get mad  to get moving.

I'm taking note of this, though it isn't the way I want to live. I want to move for the joy of it, not because I've been irked into movement. But I suppose that this, too, is better than nothing. In fact, I know it is. Anything is better than giving up.



Thursday, July 12, 2012

Tuneage ~ What You Waiting For?

You know how, apropos of nothing, a tune comes to mind? The other day, Gwen Stefani's What You Waiting For  popped into my head. I'd gotten a kick out of it when it was released in 2004 and still enjoy it today, though I'd not thought about it in a while. I remember, when it came out, amusing myself with imagining a robotic, electric keyboard type voice reciting the lyrics, "Look at your watch now, you're still a super hot female..." (Because I'm utterly ridiculous, obviously.)


The video's a bit long; the song doesn't actually start till around the 1:45 mark.

After locating the video, which I'd not seen before, I discovered there were (at least) two covers of the tune by artists whose work I've admired. The first surprised a snort out of me: Franz Ferdinand. I mean, I imagined it would be fun, but they didn't seem likely candidates, to me, for a cover of this particular song. Then I heard it and was hooked - I like it as much as, and possibly more than, the original (but then, I do adore these fellas' energy and sound, anyway).


Keep an ear out for a little musical twist toward the end.


The cover version by Marina & the Diamonds, however, did not prove as successful, in my opinion. I dig the singer, Marina, and her groovy vocal stylings, especially in their song Mowgli's Road, which I heart, heart, heart. But their take on Stefani's tune didn't really thrill me. Maybe it's 'cause they lowered the key, or stripped it down, instrumentally...I dunno. It just didn't seem, to me, to work as well as the Franz Ferdinand cover.




What do y'all think?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Writerly Things ~ Query Letters

For this episode of "Writerly Things," I'll touch on a subject near and dear to the hearts of those aspiring to publication—query letters (also known as the "pitch letter.") (And by "near and dear," I mean, "which causes much grinding and gnashing of teeth and, possibly, alcoholism and/or abuse of cold medications with sedating properties.")

If you're not familiar with this term, lemme 'splain. (No, there ees too mush—lemme sum up.) In the business of publishing, the query letter is similar to the cover letter you write to accompany your resume when you apply for a job. Only, the query letter isn't selling you, but your book. (OK, by extension, it's selling you as well, but mainly, it's meant to highlight your work.) In a query letter to a literary agent or editor/publisher, the writer endeavors to interest the reader in requesting a look at the work in question, with an eye to securing either representation (in the case of an agent) or publication (in the case of an editor).

Now, I'm no query letter expert. My own experiences with hooking a person's interest have been mixed. For my first book, That Fatal Kiss, I queried publishers and managed to get a nibble from one editorial assistant, bless her heart, who requested the full manuscript (or MS) but passed on the project. For my second novel, Bedeviled, I concentrated on querying agents instead and got three bites but no offers of representation. Le suck. This sad reality notwithstanding, I have had plenty of experience in formatting query letters/query packages and will share them with y'all here. (Please note: this is just how I do stuff, which isn't to say it's the best way, but it's one way, and if you've never done this before, it might prove helpful to you.) Also, I query for fiction, so the info below is for that sorta query.

How I Get Started
I identify the agents who seem to be interested in representing the kinda stuff I like to write, using resources like:
At a query workshop, one agent suggested looking up the acknowledgement pages in my favorite books to see if the authors thank their agents and perhaps query those cats (assuming they're open to unsolicited queries).

To research the more promising dudes, and make sure I really want to query them, I'll check out:

Once I've got a list of folks, I visit/bookmark their agencies' Web sites to learn their submissions requirements. If none can be found, I'll go with the guidelines on AgentQuery or QueryTracker, and/or I'll use my best judgment (such as it is).

What I Include in A Query
That'll depend on the agent or publisher's stated requirements. Sending things in excess of what they say they want is a waste of time, energy, and money. And I'm both lazy and cheap, so I like to keep things simple, if I can.

A Query May Comprise:
  • The query letter
  • That and a synopsis*
  • These and anywhere from 1 - 50 pages of your MS
  • These and an outline*
  • Any combo of the above items
*I'll write more about the synopsis and outline in a future post. God willing. (I'm of Portuguese descent, which equals superstitious, which means nothing is certain till it actually happens.) ('Cause we're fatalistic like that.)

How I Format My Query Letter
  1. 1" margins all around (for paper; I don't sweat margins in an e-query)
  2. Font: If a paper query, something with a serif, like Times New Roman. If e-query, a sans-serif font, like Arial
  3. Block style business letter (though mostly I've been querying via e-mail, but either way, it's all aligned left)
  4. One page in length (check each person/place's requirements, though; sometimes 2 pages are acceptable but generally, from what I've read, less is more)
What The Hell Goes Into a Query Letter?
These folks give good advice on the matter:

Once I've got the basic letter written, I get to e-mailing/posting to the individuals, being sure to check I've got the right names in the right letters and tailored each query to each agent appropriately. If mailing a query, I include a self-addressed stamped envelope for a reply. My experience is that, generally, only a negative reply will require the SASE (unless, I suppose, the person you're querying doesn't do e-mail).

OK, so, that's all I got. Fellow writers, what words of wisdom would you add to this query letter primer?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Blog Props ~ Absconditus Creations

It's time for my monthly Blog Props, or words of praise for a fellow blogger's work.

For today's Props, I feature the blog of someone I "met" through the Blogging from A to Z Challenge this past April. Nikki Parker, New Zealand native, is the talent behind Absconditus Creations, aka "Art of a Hidden Heart."


Absconditus Creations, aka Art of a Hidden Heart

One look at that banner should tell you what drew me to this blog — the whimsical darkness, of course! Her art contains elements that evoke, for me, the fantastical expression of works by Edward Gorey and Tim Burton and I just la-la-LOVE IT!!!

Balance

D is for Dee Monic

Don't wait for your prince...

Bubble Girl

Reflections

Nikki's created a Facebook page for Absconditus Creations, which hosts much more of her fabulous art. I urge y'all to "Like" it by clicking here. And if you'd like to wear some of these groovy creations, you can shop for them here.

The above images belong to Nikki Parker and have been posted here with her kind permission.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Dark Romance #6 ~ Karen Harbaugh's "The Vampire Viscount"

***THAR BE SPOILERS BELOW!!!***

I've been on a Regency romance kick of late. Been reading some Heyer, some Austen, been catching the brilliant Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle "Pride and Prejudice" mini-series on telly, that kinda thing. For my next read, I wanted to stay in this era but wanted something with a twist - and that's when The Vampire Viscount by Karen Harbaugh came to mind.

I'm pretty sure I first learned about The Vampire Viscount from Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches' Guide to Romance Novels by Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan. (Beyond Heaving Bosoms is a hilariously fun read with the additional benefit of providing a boisterous trip through romance novel history.) But back to the Viscount - the book was published in 1995, the year my Kid was born, so I reckon I was a bit busy and that's why I missed it back then. PS: the title of Viscount in British nobility is a rank somewhere in the middle of the range from Knight to Duke and is pronounced VEYE-count, in case you were wondering.

Right, so; Nicholas, the Viscount St. Vire, as the titular vampire, has been around a while and he's worried. Vamps who go on, er, vamping for too long go a bit mad. OK, they go crazy insane, a fate Nicholas desires to avoid. He studies various magical arts and comes across a spell which could potentially reverse his unfortunate condition. However, the spell requires a virgin (natch). Luckily, virgins are plentiful in Regency England (I suspect he'd be hard pressed to find one in the 21st century, though they magically do seem to turn up on a regular basis in romance novels). All he has to do is marry one, take her—ahem—maidenhead, and keep her with him for a year to become human again.

As easy as a walk through Hyde Park, right?

Well, the thing is, the maidenhead-taking has to be timed just so and Nicholas has to find his bride quickly. So he wins her in a game of cards (like you do). But he sets out to charm his prize, the fair Leonore, as his bride must willingly give herself to him for the spell to work. So she agrees to marry him and thus settle her alcoholic and abusive father's debt and proceeds to spend their two-month engagement period attempting to resist Nicholas' appeal and failing. She attributes his extreme pallor and refusal to go out during the day to illness and comes to believe he'll die at the end of a year, which torments her as she falls deeper and deeper in love with him.

As time goes by, Nicholas does find that marriage to Leonore is slowly but surely restoring him to his former self, which is le awesome, only a dangerous blast from the past turns up to mar his happiness. Mercia, the she-devil who turned him into a vampire in the first place, arrives in London, and guess what? She wants him back. This forces the Viscount to dance attendance upon her to keep Leonore safe from his sire's deadly clutches, which does not go unnoticed by his wife (or all of London society, either). Can Nicholas keep his love long enough to effect his cure? You're gonna have to read the book to find out, y'all, 'cause I ain't tellin'.

The dark romance of it all: It's hard not to fall in love with Nicholas, as he's charming and attentive, clever and caring, and treats Leonore (and her family) far better than her dastardly father ever did. And Harbaugh turns some delightfully romantic phrases, and ideas, in the book, which only add to the allure of loving the Viscount. (OK, and the sexy bits are le woof!) But Nicholas is essentially using his wife, which was tricky to get past because he's deceiving her. In my study of Frank Langella's Dracula, I support Lucy's choice to throw in her lot with the vampire because she's savvy to what's going on. Granted, Leonore does agree to marry Nicholas, but it's only toward the end of the story that she realizes what he really is and why he was so desperate to have her. This casts a bit of a pall over the tale for me, but not enough to kill the buzz I developed for it. I'm just sayin'.

The Vampire Viscount is relatively light on the vampiness but heavy on the romance and an enjoyable mash-up of the two genres. I'm glad I was able to get my hands on it!

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