Monday, December 15, 2014

Pawn Stars 2

As you might recall, I mentioned a while back I'd taken a job at a pawn shop. I'm still there, and fortunately it's turned into a full-time gig. I also LOVE it. Not only do we get the coolest most interesting things in, but it's never a dull moment. It's the most fun I've ever had at work.

When I first started, I had no idea how pawning worked, and a lot of people come into the shop wondering the same thing. So I thought I might explain. Here's how it works: Let's say your taxes come due and you're short $250 dollars which you don't have and can't borrow. What you do have is some collateral you can bring to the pawn shop which will then loan you money on that item. The pawn shop keeps the item in a safe place and you generally have 31 days to come redeem said item for the amount of the original loan ($250) plus the interest (25% or $62.50). If you don't return to pay, your item goes out on the floor to be sold to cover your debt. This is why you never get full retail value for a pawned item. The pawn shop has to be able to make money on it on the chance you don't come back.

At our shop, people can come back at the end of the month, just pay the interest, and carry over another month. In fact, they can do that for as many months as they need. It isn't smart, because if they do it too much, they'll end up paying us far more than the item was ever worth. But shite happens and people get into jams. I will also say that at our shop we never pull an item out of pawn if the person doesn't come back right off; we always give them more time. A lot of pawn shops don't.

The other side of our business is the outright buying of items from people who have stuff to sell. They might be cleaning out a relative's house or be moving or downsizing or maybe they're a picker. We have a few people who scour yard sales and flea markets for finds and then bring those items to us in the hopes of making a profit. Regardless, we love these people, because this is where the bulk of our items come from. We get furniture, gaming systems, movies, bows (composite and cross), china, art (we just sold a painting on ebay for over 2K!!!), and a ton of jewelry. And we get new stuff every day, not to mention the weird stuff, which can sometimes be worth more than you'd think!

Anyway...that's a little about the pawn shop where I work. Oh, and if you're ever in the market for old wooden lobster buoys, we have a couple hundred. My boss got all the fishermen in the county to bring theirs in and he bought them all!


Friday, December 12, 2014

Eight Terrible Titles


I got tagged by LD Masterson in a game called Eight Terrible Titles. Here's how it works. Scroll through your manuscript at random, letting your cursor wander over the pages. Stop. Select the phrase it lands on and–BAM! You’ve got yourself one terrifically terrible title! Repeat this 7 more times. Let the good times roll. Tag eight others (or whoever you want!).

This is from what I'm working on now, RUN (working title):

          
1. “I’m going to kill you!”
2. She tipped her head at him and gave him a blue glare.
3. Everything was as expected: the canned spaghetti decorating the kitchen, the television on its back, lamp broken, and a new hole by the bathroom door.
4. Take Loki and go with Mrs. Stockwell. Use the old Greendale Bridge. Go now.
5. “Um, would you mind turning your back so I can change…?”
6. It was thick and misty but she could see Seth more clearly than she had last night.
7. The wind woke him later, and a strange muffled clicking sound that he soon realized were his teeth chattering.
8. What if it was someone he knew…?


 Hmm...just from this I'm thinking I use way too many long sentences...

Thanks LD :) I'm tagging the following people who may accept or decline the tag as they wish:




Monday, December 8, 2014

The Johnstown Flood



I picked this book up for research purposes originally, having a flood in mind (among other things), and thought I'd just skim for pertinent information. But I ended up reading the whole book from start to finish. It was fascinating. Here's what happened:

In 1879 some wealthy Pittsburgh folks - among them Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and Andrew Mellon - decided to create a lake for a private summer resort in the mountains above Johnstown, PA. There was already an old reservoir and while the earthen dam (by then left unattended for 22 years) was in need of repairs the price for the property was cheap - a mere $2000. The South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club was born and the dam was then rather hastily rebuilt. To be sure there were concerns about its safety but an inspection made was summed up in the local paper thus: "Several  of our citizens who have recently examined the dam state it as their opinion that the embankment is perfectly safe to stand all the pressure that can be brought to bear on it, while others are a little dubious in the matter. We do not consider there is much cause for alarm, as even in the event of the dyke breaking there is plenty of room for the water to spread out before reaching here, and no damage of moment would result."

Nevertheless, concern for the dam did not end there and the management of the Cambria Iron Company sent John Fulton (an engineer by training), to check things out. His report noted two elements of concern: one the lack of a discharge pipe and two a leak that was carving out a new embankment. The report was forwarded the Benjamin F. Ruff, President of The South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club who responded with this:

"We consider his conclusions as to our only safe course of no more value than his other assertions...you and your people are in no danger from our enterprises."

The management, then under the direction of Daniel Morrell, suggested politely that the dam needed a major overhaul, including a discharge system of some sort so that the water in the lake could be let out "in times of trouble." Morrell considered the situation dire enough that he was willing to help fund the operation and said so in his reply to Ruff. Sadly, his offer was declined.

By 1889 the need for lumber had stripped the mountains and nearby hills of the trees that helped hold the soil in place, and the river channels had been narrowed to make room for growth. This resulted in "less river to handle more run off," more flash floods, and eventually the break that few people thought would ever occur.

It happened on May 31, 1889 after a terrific rainstorm dumped six to eight inches in a 24 hour period, causing the lake to rise, and the dam to break. The water swept down into the valley "at a velocity and depth comparable to that of the Niagara River as it reaches Niagara Falls." Trees were uprooted, hills left bare, and a small town called Mineral Point "was simply shaved off, right down to the bare rock."

As for Johnstown, nearly the whole of it was destroyed, and the debris the water had brought with it piled up at a stone bridge, creating a huge mound of "boxcars, factory roofs, tees, telegraph poles...dead horses and cows, and hundreds of human beings, dead and alive." Worse yet, the debris then caught fire, creating a horrific funeral pyre and trapping people to burn alive.

In the end over 2,000 people died but none of them the wealthy owners of The South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club. Nor were any of the members ever held accountable despite a number of suits, all of which failed in the courts.

What I found most interesting were the tales of survival: people who flew down the river in or on top of their houses, people who braved the flames at the bridge and rescued as many as they could, even dogs who supposedly towed their owners to safety. More surprising was how quickly rescue efforts began in light of how difficult travel must've been in those days and the dollar amount of the donations that came - not only from the people of the United States, but from other countries as well. The amount donated toward the relief effort totaled $3.7 million dollars!

Overall, The Johnstown Flood was a fascinating tale of a disaster that could've been averted and I highly recommend the book.




Wednesday, December 3, 2014

First Impressions - Lemon Smiles

Today's First Impression (in which author Dianne Salerni and I critique someone's first page) comes from Timanda @TimandaJWertz. LEMON SMILES (working title) is an MG fantasy.


            Hiding in Lord Jarib's storage room may not have been my best idea ever. (lol. Great first line) When I ducked inside, I was sure no one would see me squished in a dark corner between winter robes that smell of cedar and valerian. At least, I was sure before another slave trundled in to straighten up. He’s so close now I could poke him with my crutch. I hold my breath, but if he gets any closer he’ll hear my heart thrashing like a crocodile in a fishing net.
            I try not to think about what will happen if I'm caught. Lord Jarib could beat me just for being in this part of the house. And if he knew the real reason (can we know the real reason or is it going to be revealed shortly?) I snuck in he'd do a lot more than that.
            The door thumps closed, and I count to twenty to make sure he's really gone before I suck in a deeper breath prickled with irritation. No one was supposed to be here now. Lord Jarib doesn't have nearly as many slaves as his uncle, and I purposely waited for a day when I knew his wife would drag most of them with her to the bazaar. Right now, the kitchen workers are busy preparing dinner at the other end of the house, and everyone else should be at the river washing the bed linens.
            I creep to the door and listen to the hum of silence for a few minutes before nudging the door open. The hall is empty now. I take two steps out of the room, but my crutch pounds too loudly on the stone floor. I cringe at the echo. I can't take any more chances, so I tuck it under my armpit and limp for the last room—Lord Jarib's study. By the time I get there, my left leg is aching, but no one has come to investigate.
            The room is small with a single square window, a table and chair, and some leather scroll cases leaning against the stone block wall in one corner. I limp to the table and light an oil lamp so I can see what I'm doing. Sheets of papyrus curl at the edges, held down by map weights in three corners and a glass inkwell at the top. An expensive blown glass stylus pokes up from glittering black ink. Lord Jarib doesn't hide his penchant for extravagance very well, which is what I'm counting on.

***

My first thought is that the mix of tenses confuses me in the first paragraph, especially since the rest of the first page is in present tense. My second thought is that I don’t know the sex or name of the narrator or anything else about him or her. I’m not an MG expert but I think kids need to connect with characters right away if they’re going to keep reading and I think the reader need to know more about the narrator – like why he’s there, what he’s after, and especially, how he’s feeling. Is he scared? Is his heart beating fast? Is he sweating? Does he work in this house somewhere or did he sneak onto the grounds? How old is he? All this info could be woven in with the description and serve to elicit sympathy with the reader which in turn will up the tension in this first scene. Does that make sense?

Readers, what do you think? Any thoughts? And Timanda, thanks so much for submitting! I hope my thoughts are helpful. And don’t forget to go see what Dianne thought of this page!

That's it for First Impressions this month but we do have openings for January of anyone is interested.Check out my sidebar for the FAQs and see you next week with something interesting :)

Monday, December 1, 2014

First Impressions - The Courage of Dragons


I don't know about you but it seems like November flew by and was a lot more like December weatherwise, much to my disappointment. Regardless, it is December and that means it's time for First Impressions, in which author Dianne Salerni and I critique someone's first page. Today we have THE COURAGE OF DRAGONS from Luanne (LG) Smith, whom many of you know. You can find her at her blog, Bards and Prophets.



THE COURAGE OF DRAGONS




Chapter One



I checked my pocket for the sea glass, (is the sea glass important? It should be if you’re mentioning it in the first line.) then unlatched the gate to the abandoned churchyard. I did not (do you want the more formal ‘did not’ or would you prefer the less formal ‘didn’t’? It’s something to think about with fantasy – imo) mind walking among the gravestones. They kept (what? And who are 'they'? This sentence is a little confusing to me) in my heart the day we first washed up on this Scottish shore, carried on the grief-wave of my mother’s death. Back then, Father and I had worked all of an afternoon to prop up the fallen headstones to feel a sense of order in our lives again. My mother did not get a marker with words on it in our hurry to escape Wales, so we had found a favorite among the ruins we pretended was hers. How many times had I watched my father in those early days as he knelt before the chosen stone, whispering vows of revenge? I was ten years old and did not yet understand what had caused our lives to fall so utterly into chaos, but my lips learned to move in time with my father's, echoing his violent promises. That was when they first put the longblade in my hand.

Six years we have kept our heads low in this village, reciting our vows.


Wind and rain kicked up, blown in from the ocean. I kissed the piece of green sea glass and placed it on my mother’s headstone, (okay; it was important) and then hurried inside the mausoleum where the dank scent of old paper wafted out, familiar and welcome. It was not a dark, morbid workspace where we hid the books. (wait, who said anything about hiding books?!) Marble pillars topped with crouching cherubs watched over an ancient couple in their stone coffins, and the oak-paneled ceiling bore the traces of a once colorful painting. When sunlight shone through the windows, it was more shrine than tomb.


But as the sky was its usual listless gray, I shut the door behind me and lit a pair of candles on the table. Father always worried I’d be careless with the flame and preferred I use an oil lamp with a glass guard when working near the books, but I feared knocking it over and having the seal-oil catch fire. To see our precious collection of books, already the survivors of war, and weather, and misguided laws, go up in flames would be a disaster of ironies I could not bear. (why? What makes the books so precious to her?) Better would be the electric lights that turned on with a switch. You could still see the exposed wires in the walls and ceilings of the buildings that had been eaten by water rot. I’ve read about such lights, but don’t yet understand how the electricity traveled through the wires. Of course, anything can be learned in a book. That’s why our enemies hate them so much. Like this.

***

My first thought is that there’s a lot of back story on this first page. In fantasy sometimes it’s necessary but I always like to start with character. Have the character do something that makes her think/remember/feel, something that can be tied into the past and thus prompt an explanation, not of everything, but maybe over the course of the first few pages. 

My second thought is, I want to know more about the books being hidden! How did this come to pass? Maybe this is where you want to start, with our mc bringing the sea glass to the tomb and then to the hidden books. This will immediately arouse the reader’s interest in why the books are being hidden and explaining could then be woven in with the back story. Would that work?

Finally, the last paragraph, while offering a smidgen of info into the past, definitely whets my appetite for more. I think what’s needed is a dose of doing sprinkled with glimpses into the past.

Luanne, I hope this helps and readers, I hope you’ll offer your comments and suggestions. Don't forget to pop over to see what Dianne thought of this first page.

We'll be back on Wednesday with another first page :)

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Cephalopod Coffee House - Before I go to Sleep


http://www.simply-linked.com/listwidget.aspx?l=3D2CD241-6CF4-4495-9CBA-AB816AA7117A

Hello and welcome to another edition of the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, whereby we get together and post about the best book we've finished over the past month while visiting other bloggers doing the same.  In this way, we'll all have the opportunity to share our thoughts with other enthusiastic readers.  Please join us by clicking on the pic to see the other participants.

Today I'm going to tell you about a book I stayed up way too late to finish.

Every day Christine wakes up not knowing where she is. Her memories disappear every time she falls asleep. Her husband, Ben, is a stranger to her, and he's obligated to explain their life together on a daily basis--all the result of a mysterious accident that made Christine an amnesiac. With the encouragement of her doctor, Christine starts a journal to help jog her memory every day. One morning, she opens it and sees that she's written three unexpected and terrifying words: "Don't trust Ben." Suddenly everything her husband has told her falls under suspicion. What kind of accident caused her condition? Who can she trust? Why is Ben lying to her? And, for the reader: Can Christine’s story be trusted? At the heart of S. J. Watson's Before I Go To Sleep is the petrifying question: How can anyone function when they can't even trust themselves?

 I don't know what to say about this book except that I was pretty much riveted from the start, in large part due to the fact that I couldn't guess how things were going to play out which made me keep reading one more chapter until there wasn't enough to savor for the next night. If you like literary thrillers, then I highly recommend this.

My only complaint might be that I didn't love or hate any of the characters. Christine seemed vague, which made it hard to connect with her. But then again, why wouldn't she seem that way when she doesn't quite know who she is any more? Regardless, I still recommend this book because any book that can keep me up all night is doing something right.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Plan C

A long time ago I started out writing and I just wrote whatever came to mind. Idea after idea poured into notebooks and computers, the majority unfinished. That was Plan A. At some point I came up with Plan B; to finish what I start. This led to a number of completed projected, which was pretty gratifying until it came to...revisions.

Let me just say one thing about revisions (okay maybe two...). I love them and I hate them. I love them because it means I finished something and can now work on making it shine. But I hate them because I write rather messy first drafts and sometimes polishing them seems like an overwhelming task.

This has led me to Plan C. Write a nearly perfect first draft, one that will require only minimal revisions, the kind that doesn't look like a mountain of cut and paste and inserting scenes and deepening character and finding overused words and most importantly - for me - having everything in order. Because that seems to be one of the things that makes my first drafts messy. Not having things occur naturally and/or in the order they should. I don't want the reader to be happily engrossed in my story and then stumble over something that pulls her out and makes her think, 'hey, wait, wasn't there...?'

For example, reading over the first few chapters of my current project (in addition to my revisions on GRIMOIRE which I'm not letting myself slack on that because I've recently found some awesome agents to send it off to) I discovered that the family's dog is first mentioned later in chapter 3 when he should actually be mentioned earlier. It's a little thing. Some readers might not even wonder about where the dog was before it's first mention. But I noticed. And I want all those little discrepancies gone. I don't want to stumble over a single word. I'm tired of spending too much time revising when I could be writing something new.

 Now, I realize Plan C is rather ambitious. After all, who the heck writes a near perfect first draft? But maybe if I can pay attention more, be a little more of an editor while I write, maybe I can write a better first draft. I think I can.

Anyway. That's what's up with me. What's up with you?


Monday, November 17, 2014

Eats, Shoots & Leaves

A Panda walks into a cafe. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air.

"Why?" asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.

"I'm a panda," he says, at the door. "Look it up."

The waiter turns to thr relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation.

"Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves."*


For more fun with punctuation, come on over to Unicorn Bell this week for lessons, bloopers from the real world, and a quiz or two :)



* from Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Beaver Update

A while back I told you about the beaver living in my little pond (which is really just a small bit of wetland).  Since then the beaver has built his lodge, which I have a great view of from my bedroom window, and continued to try to keep the water level up, by blocking the culvert. My son and I have also been learning more about beavers and watched a very cool video which showed how they build their lodges, raise their young, and even shelter other animals in their lodges over the winter like muskrats, frogs, and filed mice. They also can make lush ecosystems out of deserts and help retain our wetlands which many areas of the country are spending big $ to replace. Bottom line, beavers are cool and we should try to live with them.

Unfortunately, the town I live in didn't bother to do any research on beavers or how to live with them and this weekend traps were set, either of which could easily have injured or killed a dog or any other animal who wandered into the shallows. My plan was to call the town first thing this morning and protest and explain how there were other things to do besides killing the beaver, like installing a beaver deceiver or a beaver fence or an 'excosure,' Any one of these things might have allowed the beaver and us to live happily as well as prevent future problems like a new beaver moving in and causing the same problems.

Sadly, my neighbor just informed me that the second trap they set did its job and the beaver is now dead.

I will still be calling my town office this morning to find out who authorized this and why the action was taken on a weekend, thereby preventing any protest from being lodged. I will also be writing a letter to my local paper, outlining my disappointment over the town's actions and point out that while they might have killed this beaver, there may well be another one to take its place next spring.


Now, you may wonder why am I expending all this energy over a beaver when there are far worse things happening all over the world. I guess my answer would be that this is my neighborhood, my street, and I believe that we should all be able to live here peaceably. Silly maybe. Naive for sure. But if I can't do something to try make that happen here, then how can I expect it to happen anywhere else?

Anyway. Sad Monday for the beaver, but I hope you'll take the message and spread it.

Namaste.


ps for more information about beavers check this site, and the PBS show, Leave it to Beavers, available on Netflix streaming. Very cool.


Friday, November 7, 2014

First Impressions - Nightstand

Our final First Impression comes from Christine Danek, who makes our third repeat offender! Hopefully that means Diane and I are doing something right if peeps keep coming back for more, right? Anyway here is the first page of
Author Dianne Salerni is also critiquing this first page so don't forget to check out her thoughts here.  
*** 

NIGHTSAND

   The sheets are slightly chilled when I stretch my hand under the pillow. I crouch over her and lay my palm as flat as I can so I don’t disturb the sleeping child. The moonstone (what moonstone? Is it in the narrator's hands?) light casts a bluish hue all over the room and across the side of my clients (client's) face. Her features are small, delicate, and her hair is either brown or red. It’s hard to tell in the dim light. An ink black streak runs through her natural color. I’m not sure how the sorceress has gotten to her because this is the first tooth this little girl lost. Poor thing was left in an orphanage in Rhanem. Her room is bare except for a bed and a tiny table with an oil lamp. And the blanket and curtains are tattered and dirty. A greasy smell rises from her. She hasn’t bathed recently. 
   There it is.
   My fingertips rub across something hard and tiny. Her tooth. I slide it out and plop it in a small black bag marked Mirim Clemins. (I wonder if this should be in italics? Does it mean something special?) On the back of the suede pouch is my name—Piper Stev. I have to burn this as soon as I get back to the cove so the sorceress doesn’t get a hold of it. I tighten my jacket belt. The straps to my small crossbow itch under my sleeve.
   Gently, I slip a small gold coin under her pillow. For a moment, I watch her breathe. Her chest rises and falls. She’s so innocent. Too bad she has to grow up with Sorceress Anel’s nonsense. (the word nonsense makes me thing this sorceress isn't terribly dangerous. If she is, I might use a stronger word) I don’t normally linger this long watching, but there’s something about her. I’m drawn to her. Part of me wants to hug her, hold her tight, and let her feel safe--even take her with me. But I can’t.
   I’m supposed to be in and out just like my mentor taught me. I release a quiet breath. The fur around my collar sways when the air hits it. The wind outside rattles the glass on in the window. The clouds take on a reddish tone as the deeper night comes. I haven’t seen the sun in years.
   As I turn, something slips across my mouth. Hot, sweaty and rough. A hand. I hold a yelp in my throat. The smell of leather rises between me and my captor.
   “Don’t say a word.” A low male raspy voice whispers in my ear. He pushes me toward the closet.
***


My thoughts: First my apologies (again) for being late although this time it had nothing to do with power outages - or maybe it did since my brain simply forgot what I was supposed to do last night BEFORE going to bed. Duh! Anyway. This is an interesting first page, a little bit creepy and a lot curious. Who's the little orphan girl? Is she important? And who is our narrator? The tooth fairy? That was my first thought except in the book Daughter of Smoke and Bone teeth have a more ominous use which makes me wonder whether the same is true here. I also want to know who this sorceress is. Is she someone to be feared?

I like the atmosphere (good use of senses - we get sight, smell, and sound to help us 'see') of this first page and the mystery of what's going on but for me what's missing is more of an emotional connection. All we know about our narrator is that he/she steals teeth (unless she is the tooth fairy in which case she's merely making a trade), hasn't seen the sun in years, and is a little bit worried about the orphan girl - but not enough to do anything about it. I want to know more about how our narrator feels about what he/she is doing. Is it a job? Does she have to do it? Does she like doing it? Is there an alternative? Something else she thinks about? I don't think there needs to be a lot added here, but I'd like something to help me know who this narrator is, how she thinks, feels.

All that said, I would definitely turn the page to find out who the person is taking our narrator toward the closet! Yikes!

Readers, what do you think of this first page? Any comments or suggestions to help Christine?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

First Impressions - Ashes


Whew! I just got my power back in time to finish this post, our second First Impression for November. Today we have the first page of ASHES, a YA post-apocalyptic dystopian, from Ashley at The Tattered Page. You might recognize Ashley - like Pk, this isn't her first time at the dance. Author Dianne Salerni is also critiquing this first page so don't forget to check out her thoughts here
***

Till the sun explodes.
          As the sun was bidding goodnight to the star littered galaxy and dipping into the welcoming horizon of Earth, it flew into a blazing rage. A brilliant sight it was. A burst of vaporizing heat and radiant light. The shattered sky was stained in splashes of color for the first couple of weeks of The After.(this wording sounds awkward to me)
          That is the story they spit out at us in The Anthill, anyway. “They” being The Globe. The Globe is the all-seeing. Or at least that is what we are supposed to believe without a shadow of a doubt. Still, I will bet a week of my Meal Twos that some of us know otherwise. But who are we earth dwelling folk to dispute what The Globe tells us is the truth? Besides, The Globe does not tolerate blasphemy even if anyone had the nerve.
          Till the sun explodes, his smooth, comforting voice had come through the receiver. Those were the words he (who is he?) always used when he ended our conversations over the phone. Or any other conversation he could mangle it into. Those are the very words that continue to haunt me to this day. Yes, that was how long he said he would love me. And he kept his promise. He lived up to his word. Or rather he died for it. How was he to know that the sun was going to explode that afternoon?
          Or maybe he did know.
          Scientists had been working for years to harness the sun’s energy to fuel and power, well, everything. Not just homes and the occasional building but vehicles of transportation, factories, bombs and other lethal weapons. Entire cities. Like I said, everything. By trying to squeeze all of that power into single battery that would last forever. (were the scientists trying to drain the sun of its energy and thus destroy it?)         
          So the sun retaliated. (then the sun is sentient?)

***

My thoughts: There's a lot going on in the first page. The first paragraph starts out sounding like a myth or a story about the sun, but the second slides into first person pov, which was a little confusing only because the tone was so different. The third paragraph flashes back to the past, briefly, before connecting the memory to how the narrator has arrived at his/her present situation. It feels like a lot of jumping around but I think the real problem here is that the narrator feels distant, almost disconnected from the events. Now maybe that's on purpose but generally speaking, readers want to connect with a character, feel what they're feeling, see the world through their eyes. What does this world without a sun look like? Smell like? Feel like? That's what I want to know. 

Readers, what do you think? I know Ashley would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions...

Monday, November 3, 2014

First Impressions - Mended by Love: A Mother's Memoir of Faith and Forgiveness


Hello all, it's the beginning of November and as I write this the snow is flying outside my house (I know - snow! Can you believe it?!) and the wind is blowing the last of the leaves off the trees and it's bloody cold as hell! But regardless of the weather, it's time for First Impressions again and today we have something different: a memoir from Pk Hrezo. Author Dianne Salerni is also critiquing this first page so don't forget to check out her thoughts here.

Here is the first page of MENDED BY LOVE: A MOTHER'S MEMOIR OF FAITH AND FORGIVENESS, the story of Queena, who was was raped, beaten, and left to die outside the library where she was returning books. Although now confined to a wheelchair and unable to speak or feed herself, she still makes strides every year in overcoming the brain injury she suffered. Pk Hrezo, is co-authoring this memoir with Queena's mother, Vanna Nguyen.

If you want to learn more about Queena and how you can help, check out her website: JoinQueena.
***

They say life can change in a blink. It may sound like an exaggeration, but looking back to a few years ago, change came so abruptly, that it truly was a mere blink in the timeline of life’s steady, wide-eyed gaze. In the span of only minutes, my family’s life sunk sank from wonderfully average and content, into an abyss of cruel uncertainty. Of endless nights watching my once healthy, vibrant daughter struggle for the future she’d so desperately worked for.

A future that had been set off course within a blink.( You could use the word 'instance' or 'instant' in place of blink - or moment...)

On a Thursday afternoon on April 24, 2008, I was smiling. At the time, I never had any reason to suspect it would be the last day I’d smile for weeks. I was on my way to pick up the key to the beach condo where my youngest daughter Queena and her best friends would stay the weekend. Queena had turned eighteen two days earlier, (I don't think you need that comma) and had been waiting for this beach birthday bash for weeks. Friday would come as a gifted day off for honor students, making it a nice long weekend, while graduation lurked (the word lurked here makes graduation sound ominous, imo) in the near distance at only a month away. (I would use just one of those phrases.) Queena would be off to college soon. Such little time I’d have left with her. I wanted to give her the play time she deserved. She’d worked so hard, and earned every moment of fun that surely awaited her this weekend.

On the walkway to the condo’s front office, I paused, letting the salty ocean air caress my cheeks. It was the kind of perfect Florida spring weather that made you ask how you could ever live anywhere else. Breezy and warm. I almost envied the girls their weekend getaway, but not in a spiteful manner—in a way that held so many fond memories of that vigorous (this seems like an odd word to use - carefree maybe?) time in a young person’s life. So many possibilities. So much potential. Eighteen was a time to be happy and healthy and full of hope.
***

My thoughts: Aside from where I marked, I don't have any other suggestions. All I'll add is that I think this would make for a compelling read and my heart goes out to Queena and her family, especially her mother.

And readers, thanks for your thoughts in my absence - my power is finally back after two exceedingly unpleasant days and nights. Hallelujah!

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse - The Goldfinch

Hello and welcome to another edition of the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, whereby we get together and post about the best book you've finished over the past month while visiting other bloggers doing the same.  In this way, we'll all have the opportunity to share our thoughts with other enthusiastic readers.  Please join us by clicking on the pic to see the other participants.

http://armchairsquid.blogspot.com/2014/09/the-cephalopod-coffeehouse-october-2014.html




This month I'm going to talk about The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt.



This third book by Tartt is told from the point of view of Theo Decker, a 13-year-old New Yorker whose mother is killed in an explosion at a Museum, resulting in his acquisition of a Dutch Masterwork called The Goldfinch, a ring from a dying man, and a lifelong obsession with Pippa, a girl he meets minutes before the explosion. Having been abandoned by his father he ends up - practically by chance - living with the family of a wealthy but geeky friend - mean older brother, typical younger siblings, the strangely cool mother, and the mentally ill but nice father. I think it was this part, when Theo first goes to live with this family, that was most poignant. The way Tartt describes how Theo misses his mother was heartbreaking and the limbo he lives in (more like a guest than anything else), serves to keep Theo apart from the family, and alone.

Then his awful father shows up out of the blue and takes Theo to Las Vegas where he meets Boris, and enough booze and drugs to help him forget. But of course, the painting is still with him, wrapped up tight and hidden in a pillowcase, a constant reminder of something beautiful as well as a source of supreme anxiety for Theo, who fears more than anything its discovery - and the consequences.

My thoughts about this book are perhaps best summed up by this excerpt from the Publishers Weekly review: "...there's a bewitching urgency to the narration that's impossible to resist. Theo is magnetic, perhaps because of his well-meaning criminality. The Goldfinch is a pleasure to read; with more economy to the brushstrokes, it might have been great."

Which was why I was 5 days late getting the book back to the library...

So. What are you reading? Have you read The Goldfinch, or any of Tartts other books? 



Thursday, October 30, 2014

Soulless




Today I’ve got an interview with Crystal Collier, cheese lover, and author of Soulless, sequel to Moonless, AND a rafflecopter giveaway with some pretty darn cool prizes.

http://www.amazon.com/Soulless-Maiden-Time-Book-2-ebook/dp/B00N636ITK/ref=sr_1_10?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1413756408&sr=1-10&keywords=soulless


Crystal, thanks for coming and congrats on your release of Soulless. This is the second book in The Maiden of Time books, but tell us a little about the first, Moonless.

Moonless is Jane Eyre meets Supernatural.

In the English society of 1768 where women are bred to marry, unattractive Alexia, just sixteen, believes she will end up alone. But on the county doorstep of a neighbor’s estate, she meets a man straight out of her nightmares, one whose blue eyes threaten to consume her whole world—especially when she discovers him standing over her murdered host in the middle of the night.

Things that change for her that evening: her physical appearance—from ghastly to breathtaking, an epidemic of night terrors predicting the future, and the blue-eyed man’s unexpected infusion into her life. Not only do his appearances precede tragedies, but they’re echoed by the arrival of ravenous, black-robed wraiths on moonless nights.

Unable to decide whether he is one of these monsters or protecting her from them, she uncovers what her father has been concealing: truths about her own identity, about the blue-eyed man, and about love. After an attack close to home, Alexia realizes she cannot keep one foot in her old life and one in this new world. To protect her family she must either be sold into a loveless marriage, or escape with the man of her dreams and risk becoming one of the Soulless.

What an interesting premise! Did you plan this to be a series or did it evolve?

MOONLESS was definitely a stand alone when I wrote the first 100 page draft years ago, but as the key characters came into focus (characters who had been in my head for 20+ years), it became pretty obvious this was only going to be a piece of a much larger puzzle.

Where did the original idea come from?

A dream. I saw the girl who had been shunned by society, but who had finally found her own way in the world--with or without her father’s approval--and I loved her. I had to write her story. Her blue-eyed mystery hunk only moved the process along.

I love dreams that prompt stories. What did you learn from writing these two books?

How amazing it is to have my characters live in other people’s heads too—because they’re stinkin’ awesome.

Favorite cheese?

Vanilla cheese (that goes with anything): Muenster. BUT to pick an actual favorite? Erm, that’s like asking me which star is my favorite, or which kid I love most. Seriously.

Sort of like asking me what my favorite book is; how could I possibly choose just one? Speaking of books...Last and next book on your TBR list.

Last: Forever Fredless. Next: Rise and Ruin (probably).

And, just for fun, what was you first car?

A midnight-blue Chevy Blazer, and man did that thing have spunk. 

THANK YOU CRYSTAL AND CONGRATULATIONS ON THE RELEASE OF MOONLESS!

Monday, October 27, 2014

So...I have this dog

His name is Jonah and I was sharing a pic of him the other day with a fellow blogger who asked why I never post about my pets. So I thought, well, why not post about Jonah?

This is what he looked like when I first brought him home:


Then he got bigger:




And bigger:


And finally all grown up:


The trouble is he doesn't act like he's all grown up and he is now SEVEN years old. Plenty old enough to know that counter surfing is NOT okay. Neither is pulling the lint out of the garbage in the bathroom. Or rummaging about in the cat boxes. And definitely not eating empty cereal boxes (there might be a crumb or two left...), all the pears in the bowl (even though the bowl was pushed way back into a corner), a nearly empty box of sugar, toothpaste, grass, more grass, and especially not the special Jim (the cat) food at $1.69 a whack! Which btw, was in a box with plastic on it and, more importantly, IN CANS! Yep. He got all those cans out of the box, opened them all up, and ate all the Jim food.

 Thankfully he leaves the cans behind, crushed and scattered around the living room, and for a second, looking at him, I think, my God! He's seven freaking years old?! Can't he finally grow up and behave? But then I look at him again and that face (so kissable), and all I can manage is a half-hearted, "Jeez, Jonah..." Because the fact is, he's never going to grow up. He just isn't, and anyway, he's only going to be here for a short while so why waste a lot of time scolding him for stuff he can't help? Why not just make all his years as happy as possible? Which I think is ultimately a pretty good idea.

So, yeah. That's the story of my dog, Jonah, who isn't very well-behaved - but he is very much loved.





Friday, October 24, 2014

Mage Revealed

Today I want to introduce you to a very special friend of mine, author CD Coffelt, aka Huntress. You might know her from Unicorn Bell, the blog she founded, or you might know her from her first book, Wilder Mage.

http://www.amazon.com/Wilder-Mage-Magic-Withheld-Book-ebook/dp/B00EUI4XTW/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1414110827&sr=1-1&keywords=wilder+mage

I can't remember exactly how we first met, but at some point we started exchanging manuscripts, and I credit Huntress with making me more aware of all my passive verbs and my overuse of the word 'which.' She's one of my most valuable critique partners. I've also read Wilder Mage, the first book in The Magic Withheld series, and an early draft of Mage Revealed, both of which I highly recommend if you like urban fantasy ala Jim Butcher style. Don't know Huntress? Here's what other bloggers you might know have to say about her...

"A do-or-die writer, Huntress is honest, honed, and ornery. Her characters are bold and deep and meld together like the colors in a Van Gogh painting. I enjoyed working with her in the early days of Unicorn Bell and reading her awesome stories!"
Tara Tyler, author of Pop Travel The Cooper Chronicles, Book One and Broken Branch Falls Beast World, Book One. 

"CD is an awesome writer with a generous heart, a genuine spirit, and a devotion to friendship. She rocks. Now, go buy her book before I go all Ninja on you!"
Alex J. Cavanaugh, author of the Amazon best sellers CassaStar, CassaFire, and CassaStorm.


"Carol is truly one of the blessings in my life. Although shy, she's a great listener and always knows how to calm me down. She's been my critique partner and friend for years. Congrats on the release!"
Charity Bradford, author of The Magic Wakes, and Stellar Cloud.  


"I'd say that I'm not sure what to share about Huntress, but when I think of how gifted a writer she is, how spectacular she is when providing critiques, and how much fun I have interacting with her in Bloggy-land and Facebook, well, I guess I DO have something to say. So for Huntress, I make this wish: May the golden threads you've woven for this and every story reap you all the bountiful fruits your hands and heart can hold, okay, maybe overflow a little...or a lot :-)"
Angela Brown, author of NeverloveFrailties of the BondAtone, and They All Fall Down


http://www.amazon.com/Mage-Revealed-Magic-Withheld-Book-ebook/dp/B00OV8EPRG/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1414182064&sr=8-1&keywords=mage+revealed




Struck with enough malevolent Spirit to turn him into a raving beast of a man, Bert Reese fights to remain human. Alone, he walks a slender path between sanity and madness. Then, an unlikely source enters his life to help—one of the now-hated mages.
   But Ashleigh is different and calms his butchered senses. Her fierce nature is the only rock that stands between him and the crevasse that is beast. In all ways, she walks beside him toward a new beginning. But at the end of their journey lies the one who used Spirit against him. Questions arise; did Tiarra, head of the Imperium, lose her magic, die, or simply give way to the new order? Or, like a spider, does she wait for a mage to blunder into her web?
   Forced on him without a care for his humanity, Bert is the mage who should not exist, born with a different kind of magic. 
   And the gates of Hell are no match for the magic he wields.


Author C.D. Coffelt’s world of magic started in Wilder Mage with the words “The earthquake wasn’t his fault. Not this time.” It continues in Mage Revealed, the second book of the three-part series. Watch the book trailer on YouTube.

Excerpt from Mage Revealed:


Energy slithered around him, encased him and…
Bonded.
All the elements slammed into him at once filling him like a bursting dam, sloshing into a maelstrom of Fire, Earth, Air, Water, and Spirit. Magic filled him, cascaded into every pore of his skin until there was nothing left that was of his essence.
He raised his arms. “I am a wizard,” he said.
His words echoed, like the roll of a bass drum in an empty coliseum.
From his fingertips, fluid lightning forked and shot into the empty sky. A violent whirlwind as tall as he wanted it to be caught up a whirl of leaves. A roar of Fire sprang from the palms of his hands, crowned his head. And Spirit, the silvery element waited for his command, to charge into any foray he so chose.
He turned to the panting women, frozen in the grip of panic and fright.
“I am a wizard,” he said again.

C.D. Coffelt lives outside Skidmore, Missouri with a bemused husband and way too many cats. She is a member of the Missouri Writers Guild. But despite that bit of conventionality, she adores all things fantasy with a special love for urban and epic.

With a passion for good writing and Doritos as companions, locating Middle-Earth on a dusty road in rural Missouri wasn’t difficult. All it took was a little Magic, hours of reading, and an overactive imagination.

She blogs as Huntress on www.spiritcalled.blogspot.com, Facebook, Twitter, and her writer’s critique site, www.unicornbell.blogspot.com. Find her books at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.


Congrats, Huntress :)



Sunday, October 19, 2014

A few more pumpkins...





this one was my favorite :)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Pumpkins

As many of you know, every year at this time Damariscotta and Newcastle, aka the Twin Villages, celebrate Pumpkinfest, which features massive pumpkins that local artists decorate, a prize for the biggest, a pumpkin catapult (hey, we know how to have fun here), and a pumpkin regatta (yep, guys - and gals - in pumpkin boats). It's a lot of fun but my favorite part is always the big pumpkins lining the streets all carved and painted. Here are a few that caught my eye...

oops.



loved this one with the sea monster



and this one with the purple flowers...



yep, that's 1695lbs!!!





Monday, October 13, 2014

Why I love Buffy



Recently my son and I have been re-watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And yes, there's a significant cheese factor I may have overlooked the first time, but guess what? It's just as funny - if not more funny - than it ever was before. And I mean funny in a brilliant way. Let me give you an example of just how brilliant.

Oh, and if you haven't seen the show, spoiler alert.

In this episode from season 3, Spike returns to Sunnydale and kidnaps Willow in the hopes of creating a magic spell that will make Drusilla love him once again. Meanwhile, Willow and Xander are secretly lusting after one another (with Oz and Cordelia clueless); Angel is back, no longer demonic, and Buffy is trying to resist her feelings for him (why, I ask you? Why? Okay, so he killed a few people when he was demonic, but he's good again now and anyway everyone knows he and Buffy belong together. right?). Anyway, there's a lot of emotion in this episode between the secret lust, unfulfilled passion, and of course, poor broken hearted Spike. At one point he goes to Buffy's house and gets her mother to invite him, then, instead of doing something horrible, Spike pours out his heart to her.

Then, just to make things more interesting, the Mayor of Sunnydale (and is he awesome or what?!) has sent a few thugs to take care of Spike who's on his do-not-pass-go list. Buffy and Angel are forced to join Spike in order to save Willow and Xander, and Spike delivers these words of wisdom:




See? I told you they belong together.

Anyway, the obligatory fight scene ensues, after which all the vampires and demons are dead, and Spike does an about face and says,

"Now that was fun! It's been so long since I had a decent spot of violence; it's put everything in perspective. I've been all wrong-headed about this. If I want Dru back I've just got to be the man she loved. I'm going to do what I should've done in the first place: I'm going to find her, wherever she is, tie her up, and torture her 'til she likes me again."

He then tells Buffy and Angel where Willow and Xander are, and off he goes. Unfortunately, by this time  Cordelia and Oz have found them (thanks to Oz's wolfy nose), and caught them kissing. The last few scenes show the fallout. Buffy tells Angel she can't see him any more, Willow is all sad in her room, Xander moping  in the library, and Cordelia and Oz broken-hearted. It's a total dwell scene for everyone.

Except Spike. In the final scene of the show there he is, driving down the road in that car of his with the windows all blackened against the sun. He's got some punk rock blasting away and he's as happy as a pig in shite.

That's why I love Buffy.








Friday, October 10, 2014

Unbreakable


Unbreakable is the second film M. Knight Shyamalan directed, produced, wrote, and acted in. Bruce Willis stars as the hero who discovers he's literally unbreakable after a train wreck kills everyone except him. Samuel L. Jackson plays his opposite and nemesis, a man who's stricken with a rare disease in which bones break all too easily.

I loved how their stories unfolded over the course of the movie, how Elijah (Samuel L. Jackson's character) is born broken and suffers all through his life with bones like glass. Comics are his only friends and it's through them he comes to the conclusion that if there's someone as breakable as he is, there must be someone who isn't. This leads him to seek out, and find, David Dunn (Bruce Willis' character). How the two interact and what happens after is riveting, from the parts where David explores his ability, to his private life with his son, excellently played by Spencer Treat Clark, and estranged wife, played by Robin Wright (who I will forever picture as Princess Buttercup, but that's another movie...).

I remember when I first watched this film and wishing there was a sequel.

Have you seen Unbreakable? Like M. Knight Shyamalan?


A big thanks to The Armchair Squid for hosting Mock Squid Soup: A Film Society.