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Jana Begovic talks about POISONOUS WHISPERS

If you’ve followed my site for very long, you know I love books and authors. And I’m especially fond of fantasy.

Although POISONOUS WHISPERS isn’t a traditional fantasy romance, it does have fantastical elements.

Today, I’ve invited author Jana Begovic to talk to you about her debut novel.

PoisonousWhispers_Cvr

Jana, thanks for coming today. Reincarnation plays an important part in POISONOUS WHISPERS. How did you become interested in this idea?

Thank you, Sharon for your excellent questions and willingness to feature my novel. The first time I found myself mesmerized by the concept of reincarnation was when my uncle, who is a psychiatrist, told a story about a patient whom he’d hypnotized, and who under hypnosis started speaking in a language he couldn’t recognize. He recorded her and later discovered she was speaking ancient Greek even though she never studied any foreign language and had never visited Greece. My interest in the topic continued through my reading of books on Buddhism, but it culminated with my discovery of Dr. Brian Weiss’ books on past life regression therapy. His work was the main inspiration for Poisonous Whispers.

Jana, you are from Europe and this novel takes place in several European countries. Have you visited all the places in your novel?

The only place mentioned in my novel that I have not visited is Ireland. I have always felt drawn to that country, to its music, dance and lore, and it is an attraction I simply cannot explain.  It is a seductive thought to think I may have lived there in one of my past lives.

Your settings are quite real. Readers want to know: is it difficult to translate the culture and ambiance of a place onto the page?

It is difficult to translate the culture and ambiance into fiction if you have not lived in that place. I believe the portrayal may stay somewhat superficial as there is so much invisible culture, which is difficult to convey unless it is a part of who we are.

When we first talked about your novel, you said it didn’t fit neatly into the romance genre. What would you say to compel readers of traditional romances to try out your novel?

 I would say that most readers would agree that the universal themes of love, romance, loss, heartbreak, suffering etc. cannot and should not be confined within the rigidly defined boundaries of any genre. Readers want quality books, novels that will give them reading pleasure and perhaps, teach them something new, or make them reflect on their own life and experiences.

By breaking out of the traditional romance parameters my novel aims to offer a multi-layered story, with characters that are flawed, like we all are, characters that make bad and morally dubious choices, suffer profound heartbreak as consequence, and become better versions of themselves along the way.

I also believe very few readers are strictly devoted to one genre exclusively, and are willing to venture out and try something different. In short, I’d tell them, please give it a try, and I promise you will not be disappointed. Like ice cream, romance comes in many flavours, from commercial to literary, traditional to less traditional.

I decided to feature you here because I see this novel as a fantasy/paranormal romance (and I’m more about fantasy than romance around here). What elements of fantasy are present in this story? How would you interest fantasy readers in your novel?

 Fantasy elements in Poisonous Whispers are the supernatural forces, or malevolent gods who play with the heroine’s fate across several incarnations. She hears their voices in her dreams and in a state of wakefulness and wonders if we humans are the objects gods use for their own amusement. In one of her past incarnations, the heroine also has special powers she uses to protect herself. Readers who are mostly interested in fantasy may not find enough of it in Poisonous Whispers, unless they consider reincarnation as part of fantasy.

You have an academic background. What inspired you to write a fiction novel?

I’ve always been intoxicated with the written word, and I’ve always been an avid reader. My decision to pursue literary studies was an easy and natural one. My writing attempts began in elementary school. I wrote a Western story, then a collection of poems and fables. I always wanted to write a novel, but never trusted my ability to write one.

My inspiration for writing novels comes mostly from the stories friends and acquaintances tell me. I am fascinated both by storytelling and human stories. For that reason, my novel is full of sub-plots.

There are many historical elements in your novel. Did you do research on those time periods? Why did you choose the times you did?

 I researched the historical periods trying to reflect them as credibly as I could. For example, I researched witch trials in Ireland and opera in Italy. Because the novel describes past life incarnations, I selected the times in which the heroine could have lived before her current incarnation. I selected Ireland and England because I find both countries highly alluring, and I chose Italy because I’ve visited it many times and could never get enough of it. I’d like to mention that most of my research was spent on the psychology of adultery, which is one of the main themes of the book.

Now that you’ve published a novel, what’s next for your writing career? Any hints about what you’re working on now?

I have written two short stories and am writing a third one. I have started a sequel to Poisonous Whispers, in which I plan to show what happened from the perspective of other characters. Most of us have heard about the Rashomon effect, that is, everyone’ perception is subjective. In Poisonous Whispers the reader sees the events through the eyes of Leandra, the heroine. In the sequel, the male protagonists will give their account of the same events. I also plan to write another scholarly article based on a project I have been leading as part of my regular job.

Thanks so much, Jana.

Readers, do you have questions for Jana?

Be sure to check out the giveaway for a $10 gift card. All the purchase links for Poisonous Whispers can be found here.

Wonder Woman flies over Vegas

Wonder Woman and I have become inseparable these past few months. I mean, she really likes appearing in her own weekly column. I like the benefits of handing with a tough gal no one messes with.

Then my husband headed to Las Vegas for a convention. Something about virtual machines. If you know what that is, you’re way ahead of me. He even explained it to me…and it sounded like Chinese.

When I mentioned the trip to my bud WW, she arched her eyebrow at me.

No, I’m not making that up.

Only a short time on the Strip and I totally understood her agreement to “fly over” but not land in Sin City, Nevada.

What’s Not to Love?

I’ve only been to Vegas one other time. It never held much appeal for me.

It’s not just the lovely nickname that lacked attractiveness either.

“But the shows are cool.” This is the argument my husband used to get me here for a convention with him in March of 2014.

And while I did enjoy the show we attended, I couldn’t afford to see any of the headliner acts. Well, maybe “afford” is the incorrect word. I’d rather have a nice outfit or two over a couple hours of entertainment.

Could you lend me $89 so I can see these guys?
Go figure.

WW says the place gives her claustrophobia. Okay, she has no phobias. Let’s say it makes her feel boxed-in.

Here’s a short list of things she finds less than lovable:

  1. Heat radiates from the pavement
  2. Pavement squishes beneath your feet like a sponge, reduced to its former state by the above-100-degree temperatures
  3. People slap flyers into your unsuspecting hands (“What’s a Mustang Ranch?” She asks)
  4. Smoke chokes you at the entrance into every building
  5. Casinos aim to trap you like a rat in a maze
  6. No one smiles or looks you in the eye
  7. Everyone is either dragging their feet or shoving through like it’s Black Friday
  8. Lights, bells, vigor: no matter the hour of the day
  9. Pushy salespeople
  10. Over-priced everything

Okay, WW told me to stop with the gripe session already. Some people travel to Vegas with the same regularity as others migrate to Hawaii.


What’s the appeal anyway?

The Good Stuff

Maybe you can help me complete this segment of the blog post.

This is what I can come up with:

  • A beautiful array of world-class architecture to represent multiple cultures
  • Lights to rival a full moon
  • Splendor in the form of water features (a real oasis in the desert)

And WW happily viewed all these positives as she circled overhead in her jet. Nothing there obscured her enjoyment of the simulated New York skyline or sparkling (if much shorter) Eiffel Tower.

She told me she could read the advertisement for the Blue Man Group on the side of the Luxor (where we were staying) with ease.

Full-size ad for Blue Man Group
Have you visited Las Vegas? What is remarkable and memorable from your trip?

Cover Reveal: The Paladins by Julie Reece

I’m thrilled to host this reveal on my blog. I’ve read the first book in this series and found it ensnaring, to say the least. Check out my review. Then read on to learn about the second book and how to win a free copy.

Today Julie Reece and Month9Books are revealing the cover and first chapter for THE PALADINS, book 2 in THE ARTISANS Series which releases May 3, 2016! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to be one of the first readers to receive an eGalley and a eBook of THE ARTISANS!!

Here’s a message from the author:

Book covers are tricky things. My respect for cover artists has grown exponentially after entering the world of publishing. I learned the challenge of a good cover artist is to hint at the story beneath using a single image. They must create a picture that suggests to perspective readers what lies within those hundreds of pages—using nothing more than specific font and a few square inches of graphic design. It seems impossible, yet most of us agree that art evokes emotion. And when I saw my cover, I was overwhelmed.

 The Paladins is dark. And this cover is dark. The story is a Gothic tale, mysterious and eerie. And while parts of this world are beautiful, beauty is often deceptive. You’re never quite sure if something lurks in the shadows, where the path you tread is leading, or even if what you see is real … until it’s too late. For me, the cover encompasses all those story elements. I hope you like it as much as I do.

On to the reveal! 

 

Title: THE PALADINS (The Artisans #2) 

Author: Julie Reece

Pub. Date: May 3, 2016

Publisher: Month9Books

Format: Paperback & eBook

Find it: Amazon | B&N| TBD | BAM| Kobo | Google Play Books | iBooksGoodreads

The Artisan curse is broken. Souls trapped in a mysterious otherworld called The Void are finally released. Now, Raven Weathersby, Gideon Maddox, and Cole Wynter can finally move on with their lives…or so they thought. If the ancient magic is truly dead, then why are mystical fires plaguing Gideon at every turn? What accounts for Raven’s frightening visions of her dead mother? And who is the beautiful, tortured girl haunting Cole’s dreams?

Last year, a group of lonely teens sacrificed secrets, battled the supernatural, and faced their own demons to set one another free. Yet six months later, the heart of evil still beats within The Void. And the trio is forced to face the horrific truth: that their only way out is to go back in.
The Paladins completes this eerie YA Southern Gothic where loyalties are tested, love is challenged, and evil seeks them on the ultimate battlegrounds—in their minds, their souls, and their hearts.

In case you missed it here’s the redesigned cover for THE ARTISANS!

 

Title: THE ARTISANS

Author: Julie Reece

Pub. Date: May 12, 2015

Publisher: Month9Books

Pages: 300

Find it: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Goodreads

They say death can be beautiful. But after the death of her mother, seventeen-year-old Raven Weathersby gives up her dream of becoming a fashion designer, barely surviving life in the South Carolina lowlands.

To make ends meet, Raven works after school as a seamstress creating stunning works of fashion that often rival the great names of the day.

Instead of making things easier on the high school senior, her stepdad’s drinking leads to a run in with the highly reclusive heir to the Maddox family fortune, Gideon Maddox.

But Raven’s stepdad’s drying out and in no condition to attend the meeting with Maddox. So Raven volunteers to take his place and offers to repay the debt in order to keep the only father she’s ever known out of jail, or worse.

Gideon Maddox agrees, outlining an outrageous demand: Raven must live in his home for a year while she designs for Maddox Industries’ clothing line, signing over her creative rights.

Her handsome young captor is arrogant and infuriating to the nth degree, and Raven can’t imagine working for him, let alone sharing the same space for more than five minutes.

But nothing is ever as it seems. Is Gideon Maddox the monster the world believes him to be? And can he stand to let the young seamstress see him as he really is?
(You can read Sharon’s review of this book here)

Excerpt

 

 

Prologue

The Before

Cole

It’s been four years since I planted the fireworks in Gideon Maddox’s locker that burned a third of his face.

Four years since his father took revenge, trapping me with a spell that kept me prisoner in The Void.

Three months since the magic found me again.

Two months since my parents put me in therapy.

One day since my parents left for Paris on a month long business tour.

This morning, a mysterious girl no one else can see beckoned again from The Void.

Tonight, I’m standing on the balcony of my parent’s palatial home, buying an airline ticket back to the states—back to Maddox mansion—the heart of my nightmares.

People say the more things change the more they stay the same. I hate them for being right. I lived with the monsters in my prison until I thought I might go mad. Repentant of my past, I made peace with my fate, my eternity. Until the day I was freed, because a stranger had the courage to help.

This time someone needs me.

How can I doom a girl to a fate I barely escaped?

There’s only one answer.

I can’t.

Chapter One

Cole

A bottle-green fly hums, rubbing his tiny legs together as though he’s plotting something. The insect seems a dirty ornament on the shiny desk nameplate he sits upon. Gold on gold, the engraved letters read Navin Cahvan M.D. This is the third psychiatrist I’ve met in as many weeks. Part of my mother’s plan to fix me. Jumpy nerves, insomnia, nightmares about demons when I finally do fall sleep—these are her justifications. Everyone tries to shrink me like a cheap T-shirt in the dryer.

The tawny-skinned man across the desk folds his knotted fingers over his belly and stares. Dark eyes track my movements beneath two bushy white eyebrows. “Mr. Wynter?”

Right. He asked a question. The fly hums again, wings fluttering against his hairy back. My head pounds, my clothes scratch, eyes burn, and my ears are raw with the smallest sounds echoing deep inside.

When Dr. Cahvan shifts, the leather seat groans in protest. “I can help you. But you must tell me the truth.”

All I hear is Jack Nicholson screaming the line from A Few Good Men: “You can’t handle the truth!”

“Trust me, Cole. Tell me your secret thoughts.”

Trust you? Sure. I tell you what happened and you lock me away forever on meds that keep me drooling, while I play dominoes with people who see giant, pink rabbits. No thanks.

He leans forward. His fingers thread together as his hands rest on the desktop. He taps his thumbs together. “I assure you this is a safe place. I call it … the circle of trust.”

Give me a break. You want me to tell you how I was a mean, dangerous kid. Confess that because I tormented a crippled boy, his father used a magic camera to trap me in an alternate universe as punishment. Explain how I lived a half-life in the Maddox mansion for four years until Raven Weathersby rescued me. About how much I miss her and think about going back someday … Maybe I am insane.

“Let’s discuss something else.”

I find his suggestion amusing since I’ve barely said ten words in the past hour, and our time is almost up.

The good doctor shifts again. “Instead of talking about the past, why not speak of the present. How are you adjusting to life at home? I understand your parents had a welcome home party when you first arrived. How did that go?”

How do you think? “Swell.” I would have preferred stuffing my hand in a high-speed blender. A hundred people that I hadn’t seen since I was fifteen—and couldn’t care less to see again—showed up to shake my hand and recite all they’d ever read about amnesia, the lie Gideon made up to cover my absence. “I really just need some space.”

“And you got your wish, did you not? I understand your parents left town yesterday. How does being alone again so soon make you feel?”

Incredibly pissed. “They’ve always been busy people. I’m used to them traveling.” But I wasn’t. I thought with all the time apart, my parents might want to stick around a while. Be a family. Nope. Since appearances mean everything, they threw a party right away to show their friends and colleagues how fine I was. The powerful and highly regarded Mr. and Mrs. Wynter pulled out all the stops to prove their love for their long lost son: fine wine, catered dinner, china, crystal, even a string quartet. Yet, my father couldn’t keep the disappointment from his face any more than my mother could drown her misery in vodka.

Perhaps to appease their consciences, my folks hooked me up with doctors and provided for my physical needs before bailing. But a new car and an obscenely padded bank account wasn’t what I needed. So easily brushed aside again, I couldn’t help but wonder if parts of them were relieved when I’d disappeared four years ago.

Dr. Cahvan’s eyes narrow. “So, you remember your life up until your trip to the States?”

“Yes.” I’m lying about my amnesia. I know it. He knows it. So do my parents, but it’s too late to come up with a better story … like being the victim of a cult brainwashing or joining a psychedelic commune. I drank a different brand of Kool-Aid in Sales Hollow, South Carolina, and I can never tell a soul.

The fly zings to the window. I flinch as the buzzing is magnified ten times in my head. It takes all my will not to jump up and smash the bug against the glass. The doctor watches me with sharp eyes trained to interpret body language. I hold his gaze, though my skin breaks out in a sweat. A sudden wind rattles the panes, and I startle.

Cahvan’s mouth crimps at the corners. “Rather breezy today,” he says, glancing out the window at the quiet, blue sky.

Who cares about the weather? I have to give the old guy something before I start whining about magic spells, heightened senses, or worse: how my daddy never loved me.

I blow out a breath. “Look, some things seem familiar, others are confusing. I don’t need a doctor. I need time.” I only meant to throw him a bone so he’d have something to report when my parents call, but my body heats as I talk. Anger, resentment, and fear all claw their way up my throat and charge out of my mouth before I can stop them. “Time I can’t get back where I finish school, date hot girls, and grow up like normal kids do. I’m trying. Doing the best I can, but what I don’t need is to sit in rooms with smug strangers who are paid to dissect my brain over things I can’t explain, and neither of us will ever understand!” I drag my fingers through my shaggy hair. “That time is gone. I’m pissed off, and I guess I’ll be pissed off until I’m not anymore.”

Dr. Cahvan rubs his jaw. “That’s very interesting, Cole.”

My laugh is harsh. Not that any of this is funny. “Is it?”

“Yes. Thank you for your honesty today.” His bushy eyebrows push together. “Thank you for entering the circle of trust and allowing me to help you. Please see my secretary on your way out and make another appointment for next week.”

Seriously? I stand and head for the door. Oh, I’ll see your secretary, all right. I’ll nod as I walk right past her. He didn’t help me. No one can. There are a lot of things I need. But touchy-feely therapy with Doctor Eyebrows isn’t one of them.

***

After the awkward “circle of trust” episode, I can’t decide what to do with myself. I don’t want to be around people, but I don’t want to go home to an empty house either, so I wind up in the rambling cemetery a couple miles from our house.

I like it here and come pretty often just to think. Crumbling grave markers bear witness to France’s rich history, even with the chiseled dates worn and fading with time. Moss, ivy, and ancient trees lend beauty and peace to a place that soothes my soul. I’m not trying to be morbid. I never kept company with the dead. We were the undead, in a non-sparkly kind of way.

I’m not stupid enough to think I’ll discover the meaning of life. I’m just trying to find meaning in mine.

After surviving a half-death, I’ve been given a second chance. Trouble is, I don’t know what to do with it.

The sun is too hot on my back. No sooner does the thought cross my mind, when a friendly breeze tousles my hair like an old friend. I pull my cell from my pocket and stare at Raven’s number. She said to call her anytime, and I do. Gideon said to call her if I wanted my arse kicked. Typical. He’s still that insecure kid deep down. Still trying to prove himself, as he tries to control everyone and everything within his reach, just like his old man taught him.

Should have known something was wrong when I first got the invitation to visit Gideon in America all those years ago. My parents were so happy Maddox Senior wasn’t pressing charges; they actually thought the gesture was an attempt at friendship. Of course, Mum and Dad sent me packing complete with an olive branch in my mouth. That gesture of goodwill got my picture taken and a trip to The Void with a bunch of vengeful old guys from the early nineteen hundreds and a hot blond with twisted taste in men. We spent our days trying to escape that hell. The labyrinth’s ghouls, the surreal existence of consciousness without a physical body, and the constant pain of regret all earmarked a life that wasn’t.

Until her.

My fingers comb the grass at my sides. I close my eyes and feel the day’s warmth on my face, the wind threading through my thin tee. I may look like a freak, but I can’t stop touching everything around me. While I was gone, I missed the sensation of air in my lungs, the taste of coffee, the sweet sensation of a kiss …

My thumb starts dialing Rae’s number.

Cole …

Shite. Here we go again.

Come to me, Cole …

I wonder if I sounded this creepy to Raven when I begged for her help.

Veins at my temples pulse. Leaves shake and laugh in the breeze, the echo reverberating in my head. “Who are you? What do you want with me?” I want to stand, but my limbs weigh a hundred pounds each. My lungs deflate under the crushing pressure, and I struggle to breathe.

The scenery of oaks and elms surrounding the cemetery blur into a muddy gray-green wall, and I know what’s happening. Gravestones push up from the ground like gnashing teeth and recede again until the ground transforms into a smooth, stone floor. The world of pedestrians, car horns, and singing birds around the graveyard fade to a quiet worse than death. My body rejects the idea of gravity. The weightlessness of being sucked back into The Void again invades my person like a virus, spreading into my muscles and bones, my very essence.

I will the door of my mind closed to shut out the transformation. I place a mental shield before the magic so it won’t consume me, but magic has a will of its own. It snakes under the imaginary door I’ve erected in my head, enveloping me. I thrash, but it’s useless. My soundless screaming and mind-withering despair only seems to feed The Void’s strength.

When I open my eyes, the cemetery is gone. I shift on a cold, damp floor, taking in my new surroundings. I’ve seen this place before, several times. The space is a circular stone room with two tall, skinny windows allowing diffused light inside. A bed sits across from me. Downy quilts worn and faded with use cover the straw mattress. On the wall, a huge, gilt-framed mirror reflects the room where a pretty blond sits in a hardback chair. Watching me.

I’m familiar with strange, but not with sad, soul-eating eyes like hers.

When she rises, I feel like I should thank her, because light from the window shows her curves through an ultra-thin nightdress. The sight chokes my airflow for a whole different reason.

ThinkofRaventhinkofRaventhinkofRaven.

I’m so not thinking of Raven. For all my faults, I’m not the cheating type, but I am a guy, and this girl is seriously fit! I want to touch her in the worst way, but I swallow instead. Attempting to be a gentleman, I lift my gaze and focus on the far wall, yet somehow—because I’m still a guy—I end up watching the way her hair hangs in white blond waves to her thighs. Her rosebud mouth opens slightly. Pleading eyes, more silver than blue, threaten to pull me under and drown me. None of this helps curb my impulse to reach for her.

Then I think about how she brought me here against my will, and that helps tamp down the hormones.

Cole.

What do you want?

Can’t you guess?

I can. I pleaded with Raven for the same help not too long ago. Inside The Void, I thought I’d met everyone. The ones that Maddox had imprisoned, and the indigenous inhabitants of the labyrinth. I hadn’t known there were any others.

The drip-drop of a leaky faucet is the only sound as I gather my thoughts. “Who are you? Where are you? I don’t understand what’s happening. Where is this place? Did Gideon put you here?” I rattle off my questions not pausing for a response.

She doesn’t answer. Maybe she can’t.

Wind picks up, whooshing through the hollow room, though the windows are shut. The sound grows, as though someone dropped a microphone in a washing machine. I grit my teeth against the noise. My mind squeezes in the pressurized vacuum.

Cole … She extends a thin, white hand.

I remember Raven. How she fell to her knees on the floor of the mill house when we first met. Pain rips into my psyche, claws at my sanity. The same way I’m sure it did hers.

“I’m sorry. Forgive me, Raven. I didn’t know.”

… My name is Rosamond …

Stone walls smear and fade, the beautiful girl along with them. I can’t breathe. Then, the faint outline of tree tops bleed back into view.

… Rosamond Bryer …

My panting rivals an overheated Saint Bernard. Grass pokes my palms. Rough bark scrapes my spine through my T-shirt. Any trace of the castle turret is erased as the same decrepit cemetery I know solidifies, and the garden is as it was before.

Almost …

I’m leaning against an old tree, yet my cell and sunglasses still lie next to the rose bushes where I was sitting, almost twenty feet away. I have no memory of moving. How did I get way over here?

Both hands plow through my hair with my exhale. What the bloody hell just happened? Am I imagining this? A nightmare left over from the reality of my imprisonment. Or is the girl real? Trapped like I was and waiting for someone with the courage to free her.

Is that someone me? I’ve been a lot of things, but brave isn’t one of them. To help her means going back to the mansion.

No. I definitely do not need this shite. I’m starting over, leaving that life behind. Yet, the haunted expression on the girl’s face tugs at me. Something about her seems familiar. I’m gutted over how she reached for me. Raven doubted, too, but not for long. If the blond is real, then she’s really in trouble. And if she’s really in trouble, what, if anything, are you prepared to do about it, Cole Wynter?

 

 As a child, Julie’s summers were about horseback riding and fishing, while winter brought sledding and ice-skating on frozen ponds. Most of life was magical, but not all. She struggled with multiple learning disabilities, and spent much of her time gazing out windows and daydreaming. In the fourth grade (with the help of one very nice teacher) she fought dyslexia for her right to read and won.

Afterward, she invented stories where powerful heroines kicked bad-guy butt to win the hearts charismatic heroes. And then she wrote one down…

Writing ever since, Julie weaves southern gothic, contemporary, fantasy, and young adult romances. She enjoys sweeping tales of mystery and epic adventure… which must include a really hot guy. Her writing is proof a dream and some hard work can overcome any obstacle.
Where you can find Julie: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

 

Giveaway Details:

1 winner will receive an eBook of THE ARTISANS and an eGalley of THE PALADINS. International.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Zipping around St. Thomas

You want to go ziplining in a forest? Wish granted. I wish I could say it was the only zipping I did around St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands.

You read about the island of disappointment and my missed para-sailing outing. And who wants to leave people with a downer? Not me.

I had three wishes for expeditions on the trip, and I got one out of three. I’m not complaining because I also came home with some awesome jewelry that wasn’t on my wish list. (More on that later.)

Sometimes my genie gets his own ideas for wish fulfillment.

My personal genie...without his bottle.
My personal genie…without his bottle.

Booking

We booked our shore excursions online, through the cruise line. On St. Thomas, we had a taxi driver inform us we could have paid one-third less on the Tree Liming experience if we had purchased it directly from the company.

Since it was my first cruise, I wasn’t sure if it would be safe to wait until we got somewhere to book our trips. What if they were full? What if we couldn’t get back to the ship on time?

The jury is still out whether the convenience is worth the cash.

Busing

We rode in an air-conditioned 15-passenger van. I squished in the middle of the back seat for the ride up the mountain.

And when I say mountain, I mean a sharply peaked hill. It might have been 1500 feet above sea level.

But when you’re careening around ninety-degree curves on a narrow road and there is nothing below you but a hillside of trees, that’s high enough.

Everyone’s car’s had dents. Jeff noticed this right away. I was too busy digging my fingernails into the seat cushion. Where’s a seat belt when you need one?

I chatted with a lady from Kentucky who had left a snowstorm behind for the cruise. Her husband was lucky enough to get appointed shotgun by the driver.

Of course, when we had to back into the narrow curvy road to navigate the steep turn into the ziplining place, there wasn’t a good seat to be had. And the bus driver asked people to get out and push.

He might not have been joking. The motor really strained to get us up that last hill.

Look at the view from up here!
Look at the view from up here!

Beaming

This isn’t my first experience flying along the cables. It probably won’t be my last.

I enjoyed the trip in Mexico. It was my first time so the recollection is slightly starry-eyed.

Look at me! Sailing through the trees. Woo-hoo!
Look at me! Sailing through the trees. Woo-hoo!

Here’s a quick comparison:

  • Mexico’s lines were longer. These lines had a much better view.
  • Mexico’s guides were entertainers. These guides were all about keeping us safe (and I’m good with that!)
  • Mexico’s drive to the lines was longer, bus plusher. This drive was shorter.
  • Weather was perfect in both places.

I learned more on this trip. For example, do you know how ziplining originated? Where it was first done?

I do.

See there? Vacation doesn’t have to be all about excess and weight gain. It can be enlightening, too.

Can this thing go any faster? Please?
Can this thing go any faster? Please?

I hope you enjoy the pictures. I plan to have a short video, clips that my husband took of me with his GoPro.

As you’ll notice, I’m beaming in every shot.

Ziplining is a blast. You should try it.

What to Do on a Rainy Day

When it rains…He snores

I live in Oregon. I’m used to rain. I’m used to pouring rain that shivers a body to the bones.

And I know all about the old man snoring (which has nothing to do with being an Oregonian, does it?)

What does this have to do with a Caribbean cruise you wonder?

Maybe nothing. Maybe I just thought the title looked catchy.

Or, it could have something to do with nap time on the ship.

One way to alleviate disappointment is to sleep it off. Seriously. Like a migraine or a hangover (not that I would know about those). Sleep is the best medicine.

And it helps a person stay awake for evening activities like karaoke, Love and Marriage and The Quest.

When it rains, he snores. In fact, she snores too.

Actually, neither of us snored, but we did sleep. In the twin beds magically joined to make a not-quite King-sized bed that took up the whole width of the stateroom.

First formal dinner. Yes, the bed takes up the whole room.
First formal dinner. Yes, the bed takes up the whole room.

And naps are good.

At first, I was irritated with myself. After all, I’m on a living ship chock full of interesting activities. Shouldn’t I be off enjoying them?

My reasonable self argued, “Isn’t this vacation?”

On vacation, a body should do what feels right at the moment. You know I’m a proponent of reading rather than running around. So why not go horizontal and let the brain do all the work?

And if it’s spitting rain? What else is there to do that’s half as relaxing?

So, yes, I’m guilty. While the Freedom of the Seas cut its way south and east across the Atlantic Ocean, my husband and I snoozed in our cabin. Even when the sun was shining.

After all, Oregon winter white skin can only take so many hours of exposure to tropical sunlight. After that, it’s begging for a nap.

Rain or shine, naps do a body good.

A Non-Traditional Holiday

Holidays bring families together. Traditions often add meaning to these gatherings. So what did I think of my non-traditional Thanksgiving?

What’s Traditional?

For the past twenty-seven years of married life, Thanksgiving holidays have fallen into two categories:

  1. Dinner with my husband’s parents
  2. Dinner with my sister and my extended family

Even the occurrence of these dinner options has been regulated. In odd years, we’re with my family. (”Easy to remember because they’re odd,” says my husband.) The other years are spent with my husband’s family.

Thanksgiving with hubby’s relatives means bread stuffing. We generally eat it at either his mother’s house (in the next town – seven miles) or his uncle’s house (about an hour away). His cousins and their families are usually present, as well as his mom’s mother and stepfather.

The only non-odd year when this was different happened when my mother-in-law had open heart surgery right before the holiday. We visited her in the hospital after his dad and brother had dinner at our home.

I hosted Thanksgiving dinner one other time when my uncle was visiting from Idaho. Otherwise, when it’s time for the odd-family gathering, my sister is the hostess with the mostest.

Sure, we all pitch in bringing sides and desserts, but she does the turkey and makes the BEST cornbread dressing.

And the day after, while some people rush around in a retail nightmare, I decorate my house for Christmas.

What’s Different this Year?

If you’ve been following my life, I probably don’t need to mention the list of things that are different in my world this year.

In case you’re just meeting me for the first time:

  1. My oldest son is married
  2. My youngest son is engaged
  3. My sister is remarried and moved a two-hour drive away

But sis wanted to host. And I wanted her to (because it keeps my kitchen clean).

So about a year ago, we made reservations at our time share condo located a mile from her house in Gleneden Beach, Oregon.

And what's not to like when this is the view outside your window?
And what’s not to like when this is the view outside your window?

The plan: my kids and their significant others, her three kids, my stepdad and my husband and I would stay in the condos. I’d cook my sides there and bring them to her house for the big dinner.

We’d have a week-long vacation. The weekend would be dedicated to family time, meaning a marathon of games. It would culminate with my sister’s birthday dinner out on Saturday night.

And the house would have to be decorated once we returned home.

So What really Happened?

This could have been the Pacific in Hawaii - except for the temperatures.
This could have been the Pacific in Hawaii – except for the temperatures.

My husband and I enjoyed a fantastic week at the beach. The weather was clear, crisp and sunny, but without the famous coastal wind chill.

My step-dad used his truck as an excuse. Yes, it was in need of repair. However, we could have easily transported him in our vehicle.

My new daughter-in-law was on call at the hospital on Thanksgiving and had to work on Friday. (In actuality, she ended up in the hospital with pancreatitis, so no bueno all around.) My oldest son planned to come down on Friday for the games, but the hospital changed those plans.

My youngest son and his fiance celebrated the holiday on Wednesday with her parents. They arrived in time for dinner on Thursday and spent Friday playing games (after a brief shopping excursion).

My niece spent the holiday with her father. She planned to come down on Friday, but her grandmother had a stroke, so those plans were nixed.

My two nephews spent Wednesday through Saturday there. Only one night did one of them stay in the two-bedroom condominium reserved for that purpose. The couch at his mom’s house is obscenely comfortable (I know this because I spent my Thanksgiving turkey coma moments on it).

Our cozy gathering on Thanksgiving Day
Our cozy gathering on Thanksgiving Day

What’s the Bottom Line?

Go ahead and make plans but expect them to change.

When your children become adults, they might choose to spend a holiday with someone besides you. And that’s okay. Even if it’s rough the first two dozen times time it happens.

Holiday traditions need to evolve with your family. What worked when everyone lived within an hour of each other, won’t work when people move further away. Adding daughters to my family means respecting that their are other parents who want to spend the holiday with my kids.

Hopping out of the holiday rut and doing something different, like going away for a whole week, allows for these growing pains.

Holiday traditions should be like the Pirate Code: a guideline. Doing something non-traditional made me especially thankful this Thanksgiving.

What do you think? Are your traditions too important to let them slide for a year or two?

Castor Oil: Magical Potion

castor oilSome Old Wives’ Tales originated from fact. That may be the case with Castor Oil, an incredible (although hardly edible) magic potion – available at your local pharmacy.

The irony of my admiration for this natural curative might surprise you. My mother was one of those pregnant women who took Castor oil to induce labor. And it worked. I was born the next day.

So I shouldn’t have been surprised when Dr. Brooks told me to rub a dab of oil over the areas where she treated my spider veins.

“It moves things along.”

Well, we know it cleared out the intestines if you swallowed it. And my mother had experience with its womb-expelling properties.

In this case, it would encouraged the blood pooling in the treated area to move along. Apparently, it doesn’t taste all that great even to blood cells.

The biggest shock of all came when I checked the World Wide Web to verify this use. I discovered this nasty-tasting oil has a plethora of medical uses. Aside from its gastrointestinal uses, it can be used as an antimicrobial (kills germs), anti-inflammatory and an analgesic.

Topical uses

This is how I used the magic potion: put it on a cotton ball and swabbed it over the treated areas on my ankles and legs.

It tingled slightly on one of my ankles, but did nothing on the other areas. The next morning, all four areas looked less red and the hard bump on my calf was gone.

Other uses:

  • Soothe eyes
  • Relieve dry and itchy scalp
  • Repair split ends
  • Relieve pain and swelling of calluses and corns
  • Relieve sore muscles or arthritis pain
  • Remove warts
  • Stimulate hair and nail growth
  • Insomnia
  • Treat acne

To learn more about actually medical studies, click here.

For the complete list of HOW to use it for the list of items mentioned above, click here.

Another great article on the various uses of Castor oil: 30 Outstanding Castor Oil Uses and Benefits

Castor oil not to be confused with Castrol oil

If you have mole trouble (in your yard, not on your skin), you can drive those pests away with a mixture of 1/2 cup of Castor oil and two gallons of water. Just pour it into the molehills.

No, it won’t kill the buggers. But they don’t like the stinky stuff any more than you did when your grandmother tried to get you to swallow it. Those moles head for the hills when they get a whiff of the magic oil.

What other things is Castor oil used for? Have you ever swallowed the stuff?

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When even begging fails

 

Begging Meme

I begged. Three people felt compelled listened. And I love each one of you with all my heart. Truly.

Maybe begging was the wrong tactic. You know I’m opposed to bullying. How do I get folks to sign up for my newsletter then.

Here are some ideas I’ve seen others use:

  • Contests: The only contests I’ve run on my blog have FAILED to get entries. I either give crummy prizes, or no one sees the contests.
  • Pop-Ups: This feels like bamboozling to me. I don’t appreciate pop-ups when I visit sites, so why would I force my visitors to suffer through them?
  • E-mails: Uh, I don’t have any email addresses on my list. That’s why I’m in this situation.
  • Twitter: There’s a way to see if people ever come to my blog because of Tweets, but I’m guessing since I don’t have much of a following over there, it’s as ineffective as begging on my blog.
  • Facebook: Yeah. My posts show up on Facebook. A few of my friends click through if the topic looks interesting. That’s a place to build relationships, not try to coerce people into something.

Experts Say

Experts say if I have offer my readers something of value to sign up, that will motivate them.

Question: What do I have of value to offer other than my writing?

Experts say that I need to write compelling content. Duh.

Experts say once I write something compelling, I need to make it easy to share.

Question: I have all the share buttons on my posts. How can I make it any easier?

Experts say if I visit other blogs with a similar topic to mine and comment regularly, other readers will see my comment and hop over to check me out.

Question: How many hours do these folks have? (FYI, I did this for the first year that I blogged and it netted me nearly nothing.)

My Thoughts

  • My content isn’t compelling.
  • The topics I address aren’t interesting to my readers.
  • I write about too many different subjects on this blog. I need to find my niche.
  • I’d rather be writing my fiction or Bible studies than thinking up things to write about on this blog.
  • The posts that I feel will have the greatest reach fall flat.
  • When I visited a Facebook party, I had the most hits on my blog. So, people were checking me out based on how I commented there. Since that time, I’ve tried to repeat those results – no success.
  • I’m floundering. I’m in over my head. I need to face the fact that I’m not going to build an email list (thus, publishers are going to reject me for having no platform).

Why does this writing thing have to have more legs than an octapi family reunion?

Your Thoughts

I NEED YOU.

Your thoughts could help me with this dilemma.

If you are reading this post, please help me.

What can I do to interest people in signing up for my newsletter?

What made you sign up? (I know, you’re related to me. Thanks for that.)

Whose story is it anyway?

In a non-parody of a comedic television show, let’s take a moment to investigate the ownership of a published work. Recently, this author has been pondering this oft-debated issue, and I’ve come up with four possibilities.

One of the co-authors in the romance anthology Accidental Valentine posted on the topic July 16, 2015. Her points made me reconsider this whole notion that a story belongs to any one person.

I hope you’ll take the time to read Wendy Sparrow’s post on this topic, as well as the comments (there were only two at the time of this writing). I won’t attempt to paraphrase what she says because I don’t want to twist her original meaning.

And there is the crux of this issue for me. How can I know Shakespeare’s intended meaning a few hundred years after his death? 

If an author is still living, and of sound mind, I suppose we could interview them to find out what they meant. However, if we assume that words can take on a life of their own when formed into a story, is the original intention even the point?

Those questions are to give you a hint how my brain arrived at the four possible owners of a story. (And I’m not talking about copyright issues because we have laws that clearly govern those.) Once a story is penned, published and consumed, does the story belong to the author, the readers, the literary community at large or the characters?

Perhaps you have a fourth alternative. I hope you’ll share it in the comments.

Author

As an author, it’s no surprise that my first thought of ownership centers on the story’s creator. Surely, the one who created it should be able to say, “That’s my story.”

As Wendy Sparrow says in her post, ” authors pour a little bit of themselves into what they write, so taking the author’s opinion away from the work might strip it of some of its value.”

I would say authors pour heart and soul into whatever piece of fiction they’re working on. And creative non-fiction based on personal experiences takes an even bigger chunk. If the author holds back, the writing lacks authenticity.

Like Hemingway said, “It is easy to write. Just sit in front of your typewriter and bleed.” (Read more on the debate of the true origination of this quote here.)

However, I can’t take full credit for any of the stories I’ve created. Something in the real world sparked the idea in my brain. It originated from that little seed. To grow it, I just kept expanding on the idea, asking “what if” until I had a solid story line.

Readers

I agree with Sparrow in that I am a reader first. I love to write. I live to write (or is that I write for a living?), but my first love is reading.

Once an author releases a story into the world through publishing, it settles into the hearts and minds of readers. Some stories are in the mind only as long as it takes to read them. Others embed themselves deep in the heart, offering up reminders of characters whose attitudes and experiences shaped my own worldview.

Do I write for readers? Yes. My stories are as much for them as it is for me. If I didn’t want to share it with someone, I wouldn’t.

Does that mean I’ve relinquished ownership to them?

What does that mean? Ownership, according to dictionary.com is “the state or fact of being a person who has or holds” some object. Ownership implies possession. If I possess it, it is mine.

Once I publish the story, I have consented to share its ownership. By making it available for public consumption, I’m sharing my creation. It’s like baking a cake. Everyone who consumes a part of the cake becomes owner of its deliciousness. I can’t take it back. It’s in them.

The same with written words. Once they are consumed, they become part of the consumer. That story is now part of the reader. It might go out as quickly as the cake. Or it might stay around for awhile (like the fat on my waistline from all the cake I’ve consumed over the years).

Sparrow says it well: “Authors want readers to invest in their stories…to become so involved that they care what happens to the characters. In some ways, we want to pass on ownership of our vision to the reader so that they immerse themselves in reading. It’s the only way a book becomes more than just text and becomes a journey.”

Literary Community

Once a book is published, it’s fodder for the public. One major voice in this realm is the literary community. You know who I mean, the professors at universities and English teachers at every level.

We’ve all suffered through a lecture on symbolism in some classic story or another. We were told the blue walls represented the author’s depression. The sword was a euphemism for death or power or kingship. (How can it be all three at once?)

In her post, Sparrow cited some literary figure and his theory on “The Death of an Author” (read more here if you’re interested). He’s one of many who believes if an author didn’t infer or state something in the text, it shouldn’t be later implied to be there.

Can we hear professors of literature everywhere sobbing?

Let’s face it, stories – especially fiction – are subjective. Each of us interpret the text through the stained glass of our own experiences. And the author did the same while they wrote it.

Can a story mean more than one thing? Certainly. It can live a thousand lives in the heart or mind of anyone who reads it and gleans meaning from it.

As an author, I want people to find themselves in my stories. I want them to relate to characters who are like them and find compassion for those who are completely contrary. Some of my writing is purely for entertainment, but even a short romance story I wrote had a deeper message: “breaking free from expectations takes determination.”

Characters

This is where my mind went after I read Sparrow’s post.

I might have birthed the story. In fact, I know I labored hard to perfect it on the page. It’s my baby. Or, I should say, it’s about a bunch of my babies. I’ve given them life by writing their story down and sharing it with others.

“Dream Architect” is whose story? Ashlin’s and Dylan’s. I told their story and submitted it to a publisher. The publisher liked it and bought the first American publishing rights to it. (So maybe the publisher is the owner of the story-for three years anyway.) Readers consumed the story.

But the story is about Ashlin and Dylan. It belongs to them. They lived it (as much as a fictional character can). They experienced the accidental encounter and the turmoil that followed. I wrote their experiences down and readers learned about them through reading, but the story is Ashlin’s and Dylan’s.

What do you think? Does a story have a single owner (possessor)? Do all of these people share in ownership of a story?

This is Me … Begging

Logo GradientI am amazed and thrilled that nearly 300 people in a world of seven billion subscribe to my blog. And yet, I’m going to beg all of you for a small favor.

Before you delete this email, I promise to make my plead short and sweet.

I would love for you to subscribe to my infrequent update mailing list. At the moment, less than seven percent (7%) of the incredible readers of this blog do.

All you have to do is click here and fill in three short blanks and hit the “submit” button. Easy – peasy.

Why I ask

Being able to contact people interested in reading what I write is essential to building a writing career. The number one way marketing gurus everywhere agree to do this is to have a list of email addresses of people who WANT to read your stuff.

Is that you? If so, I promise not to fill your email inbox with junk. In six months, I have sent exactly THREE newsletters.

Think you might be interested? Sign up here.

What You’re Signing up For

newsletterIf you complete this form, you’re telling me it’s OK with you if I send you information about upcoming book releases. I also might send information about personal appearances (but I don’t have any of these on my immediate horizon).

This isn’t a weekly newsletter. It probably won’t even wing its way to you on a monthly basis.

I will give you a hint, though. This fall, I have two exciting new releases on the schedule. Once I have specific details, people signed up for my newsletter will get all the details.

I’m also offering access to a subscriber-only short story. When you sign up for my newsletter, you’ll get access to the story.

The newsletters will offer special promotional prices and easy links for purchasing from your favorite retailer.

I appreciate you reading to the end of this post.

I love you if you sign up for the newsletter. Click. Complete. Submit.

You make my world a better place.

End of this begging session. Now back to your regularly scheduled blog reading.