Interview: Elizabeth Hunter

We’ve all had the experience of reading a good book and not being able to put it down. And maybe we’ve also experienced reading a series of books that keeps getting better and better, stronger and stronger with each book. But it’s been a long while since I’ve become so strongly attached to a series of books as I have to the Elemental Mysteries. Due to that, I hope you’ll pardon my giddy excitement that I had the privilege and pleasure to interview the author, Elizabeth Hunter. She talks writing and traveling in the following interview:

AH: Which character did you have the most fun writing in The Elemental Mysteries?

EH: That’s really hard to answer because I love them all in different ways. (They’re kind of like kids.)  For the pure fun of it, probably Carwyn. I love his sense of humor and his heart. For a challenge? Tenzin. She’s very difficult to write because of her age, but that makes her really fun, too. And then Gio and Beatrice are always a joy. They’re like my oldest friends in the series because their characters came first

AH: The world you’ve created in this series is amazing. Can you explain your world building process?

EH: For me, it always goes back to character. The first character in the series was Giovanni. He came first when I imagined an immortal character whose life revolved around books. And then it grew from there. I started asking questions about him: When was he born? How had he lived as a human? Why was he immortal and how did it happen? What is his greatest strength? His weakness? What is he proud of? What does he regret?

And then I research. I do a lot of research to find the answers to all the questions. Books, the internet, music, documentaries. I’ve researched everything from Renaissance printing history to Caucasian geography to Taoist mythology. But that part is fun for me! I love research.

AH:  One of the aspects I really enjoyed about the world was the character names–they rang true and authentic. Do you have a naming process or do they just come to you?

EH: It’s a combination. Every now and then a name will come to me; but often, I have a history or a background, and then I search for a name that seems to fit the character and have meaning beyond the obvious. Beatrice’s name (while not the most popular for a young woman these days!) was obvious. Her father was a Dante scholar, and Beatrice was Dante’s muse. But Carwyn’s name, which means “blessed love,” I had to search for.

AH: Where is your favorite place to write?

EH: I write in my office now that my son is in school, which is quiet and lovely and has my lazy dogs keeping me company. And that’s wonderful. But my first four books were written at my kitchen table when I was still juggling the world. I mostly wrote at night when my son was asleep. Or at a coffee shop sometimes. I think it’s important to be flexible. I understand “getting in the writing zone,” but you don’t want to get to a place in your process where you have to have to be creative. Make a habit of being creative in lots of places, and you might find inspiration in unexpected ways.

AH: On your website, you mention that you and your son plan to visit thirteen countries and as a fellow travel lover I have to ask: What country would you visit for the sole purpose of taking a writing vacation?

EH: This is a great question! (And thirteen is really just the beginning.) I’m actually considering a research/writing trip to the Eastern Mediterranean this summer. It will depend on the timing, but I love that area. I’m fairly sure that Istanbul is the setting for a book that’s swirling around my brain, so I really need to go there. Sometimes a city or country will just keep popping up—in books, news, music, reader letters—so I’m following my gut. If I was going somewhere to just write though, I’d probably go to Ireland. I love the West coast of Ireland; it’s very relaxing, and I do like a good pub.

AH: What have been the easiest and hardest parts about being a published author?

EH: The easiest? Being able to make a living doing what I love. This is my dream job, and I’m supporting myself and my family doing it. I’m incredibly blessed. The hardest? When you’re self-published, there are many responsibilities that go with running what is basically a small business. I hire good people, but finding them and juggling everything can be a challenge. Still, it’s a challenge I gladly accept, because I retain creative control over my work. I write what I want, when I want, and I market my work the way I think is best. Nothing is dictated to me by a publisher or an agent. For me, that’s worth the trade-off in time.

Elizabeth Hunter is the author of The Elemental Mysteries Series, THE GENIUS AND THE MUSE, and The Cambio Springs series. SHIFTING DREAMS is the first book in Cambio Springs and recently came out March 5. For more information, please visit her website 

Interview: Alex Bledsoe

I recently spoke with author Alex Bledsoe about balancing life as a writer and parent, hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, his upcoming novel, and the Shetland Islands. The following are excerpts from the full audio interview:

AH: What character have you had the most fun writing in your career and why?

AB: The most fun character would be Eddie LaCrosse because I’ve written five books about him and some short stories and at this point I can drop right into his voice and go.

AH: Can you explain some of the ways your background has influenced your writing?

AB: I started out in newspapers, which teaches you to write fast and clearly and to a deadline. And once you’ve been a newspaper reporter with those deadlines, book deadlines don’t scare you at all…I deliberately took a lot of jobs so they wouldn’t interfere with my writing. That was why I left newspaper work…I moved into photography and into editing so that I would have the energy and inspiration to write my own stuff around that.

AH: Has moving from Tennessee to Wisconsin influenced your writing style in any way?

AB: Actually, it’s interesting. I’ve lived in the south for all of my life since I moved to Wisconsin. It’s actually made me more conscious of the “southerness” of my writing. I don’t necessarily have a problem with that because a lot of my stories are set in the south but it’s become a lot more prevalent in my thinking now that I’m not surrounded by it every day.

AH: What more can we expect to see from the Tufa in your upcoming sequel in Wisp of a Thing?

AB: Wisp of a Things takes place a little bit after The Hum and the Shiver and introduces a new main character named Rob, who was a performer on an American Idol type show and he is coming to Cloud County which is the place that the Tufa live in search of a magical song that heals broken hearts. In his quest for that, he connects with a young lady who is under a curse and if the curse isn’t lifted by a certain point, it will become permanent. I don’t want to give too much away because that is there the story starts.

AH: If you could visit any country in the world for a writing vacation, which country would you go to?

AB: Scotland. I’d go to the Shetland Islands. I became fascinated with the Shetland Islands about five or six years ago.

AH: What are the easiest and hardest parts about being a published author?

AB: The easiest is that I get to do this for a living. After a long time of wanting to be in this position, being in it is great. I try to treat it like I would any other job. I get up early, I work for a certain amount of hours, I have deadlines…the hardest thing is that I’m also a stay-at-home parent to two little boys and that as you can imagine can kind of get in the way of the other…but parenting and writing are things that need both of your attention.

AH: Can you tell us a little bit about how you got involved with The Triumph Over Tragedy anthology?

AB: The editor of the anthology contacted me, described the anthology that he was putting together and asked me if I had anything I’d like to contribute. He was willing to take reprints, or older stories and that was good because I was right in the middle of a deadline…The reason I didn’t even hesitate is because I used to live down in Mobile, Alabama and when you live on the gulf coast for any amount of time you get extremely sensitive to hurricanes. I was living there when a hurricane hit Pensacola, which is only about a 45 minute drive to the east. With hurricanes, that distance is almost insignificant. It could have just as easily hit Mobile. It did tremendous damage to Pensacola, which was a place that I went to all the time. Then of course, when you live on the gulf coast, you go to New Orleans all the time. Everyone goes to New Orleans, once a month is not unreasonable. And when Hurricane Katrina hit there and destroyed all of these beautiful places that I knew, that I had been to…I can’t even describe how that felt…so when this happened in New Jersey, I felt for them in a way that I might not have…this one spoke really directly…

My story is very short. It’s only five to six hundred words so I can’t really tell you much about it or I’ll tell you the whole story. It’s sort of a gothic, love crafty, and horror story set in Arkansas and it’s called ‘Wrap’.

Alex Bledsoe is the author of the Eddie LaCrosse Novels, The Hum and the Shiver and more. His upcoming sequel Wisp of a Thing comes out June 2013. Find more information at 

Book vs. Movie Debate

Photo Credit: Ariel da Silva Parreira

It’s the clash of the titans, the age-old dilemma with fervent advocates on either side.

To read, or not to read—and by this I mean a book before its movie adaption.

I recently went to see Beautiful Creatures and walked away thinking it was an all right movie (Emmy Rossum and Emma Thompson were fabulous). I’d learned that the movie was based off of a book, but I didn’t have time to read it before seeing the movie. Usually, my policy is to read the book before seeing the movie, but according to some of my friends, that may be a backward way of doing it.

I’ll use Beautiful Creatures as a case study because it was the first time I’ve done the opposite. Honestly, I’m intrigued by what actually happens in the book, but I don’t have a burning desire to read it.

For me, that’s the Achilles heel. What if, based on a mediocre or awful movie, I completely dismiss amazing literature? Someone said to me that reading a book before seeing the movie is like having an extended version of a book or being a celebrity insider. You already know what’s going to happen and you’re familiar with all the characters/have an idea in your head of how you want them to be, so watching a movie can be like a reunion with old friends.

Except all reunions don’t end well, which is often the case for movie adaptions.

However, seeing the movie before reading the book could ruin a chance to read the book based on the actors, director, or the overall movie structure. Plus you already know the ending to the book, which could make actually reading it tedious.

After I saw The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I really wanted to read the book. It helped that the author had a hand in the screenwriting process because he was able to translate his vision into the movie. I felt that I would be getting the same vision, the same essence if I read the book as well. Many times, this does not translate well between movies and film.

The issue is becoming more apparent as more books take on the big screen. For this year alone, 26 books will be adapted into movies. In the next couple of years, as many as 60 books could either wow us or make us groan inwardly when they make their adapted debut on the big screen. The hunger for favorite literary stories to see a larger than life stage is almost palpable in public opinion. As early as 1899 with the Brothers’ Grimm adaption of Cinderella, literary works adapted for movies have proven to be an enduring market.

This still doesn’t solve my dilemma. A good movie should be able to stand on its own, despite any preconceived notions or bias a reader may have. Books and movies are two separate creative entities with different means of expression and should be allowed a judgment based on self merit and not the merit of the opposing entity. I recognize this, and yet it is very hard to do when reading a book and then seeing a movie that had the potential to be good.

Personally, I know that by watching a movie, I’ll either have a strong reaction to reading the book or I’m blasé about it. I’m always interested in new literature, but it would take an exceptional movie to actually propel me to read the book. In this way, the movie is the book’s sales pitch without even intending to be. This either leads to a return on investment for the author, in the sense that audiences will buy more books or an adverse reaction to the author’s work based on a movie.

It shouldn’t be that way, but so often watching the movie before reading the book makes it that way.

I’ll stick with reading the book before the movie, when I can manage it. What do you think?

The Food of Love

Photo Credit: Raphael Pinto

According to Jane Austen speaking through Mr. Darcy, it’s poetry. I believe many others, myself included, would disagree and think of a saucy retort that includes chocolate—that deep, satisfying, melt-in-your-mouth taste. Whichever side you claim, this week provides an opportunity to partake of either one, or both if you are supremely special.

Since I’m a sucker for well-crafted words, I decided to help myself to a smorgasboard of love before the main attraction later this week. And boy, were my eyes bigger than my stomach. My mother always told me not to go to people’s houses and invite myself into their refrigerator like I own the place, but your refrigerator really outdid itself and I say you, meaning people who have poetry up over at the main site. I gorged myself and the following is my first foray into that chaotic world.

But first, here’s what prompted it:

I was doing some research for my novel and realized that I was in over my head. My god and faerie were a little closer than I wanted them to be. The complicated relationship had to seem authentic, had to move people and make them stay on the edge of their seat. I didn’t want to write a romance
1. Because I am a realist and don’t claim to be a romance writer.
2. I feel like it’s been done over and over and so much that we get desensitized in literature to what love actually is. So many books have a kiss, or a guy stalking a girl for a couple of months and suddenly, she is in DEEP life-altering, sky-diving, death-defying love.  Very simplistic and dare I say, a bit much?

I needed an expert opinion. I unwittingly stumbled upon one after reading an excerpt of the book What’s Love Got To Do With It: The Emotional World of Popular Songs. Mainly I clicked on the article because I thought Tina Turner was going to make an appearance, but the excerpt was so compelling, it made me buy the book. And pounce on my laptop like a knowledge-starved cheetah in search of sustenance to immediately email the professor.
In the excerpt, Professor Thomas Scheff discusses attraction, attachment, and attunement, the magical three ingredients that make up love, with attunement being the special sauce. He also goes over the six different kinds of love (or crazy) many people think are the “happily ever after” type.

Needless to say, I was fascinated. My question to him had to do with types 2 and 5 in the grid he provides. I wanted a dark combination of them both. He kindly responded to my over-excited email and told me to vary the level of attunement. It makes sense–without attunement love isn’t really there. It’s just an echo.

And if you have no idea what attunement is, read the article. Hopefully you’ll be as fascinated as I was, or I’ll settle for intrigued.

Now guarded with this ancient truth, I sallied forth into that tumultuous and reckless oblivion. And later, I renewed my  faith in man (and woman) to adequately portray it. To feel strains of the phantom echoes reverberating in my mind, soft words running through my veins.

Thank you, for renewing that. Yes, you and your refrigerator of food. But without further ado, here are the poems that brought me back to life:

Poem: A Love Not Allowed by Uniquely Dysfunctional. Burning, the mind, and the imagery was fantastic.

Poem: You Are by Ten X’s (the x’s are spelled out ten times). This poem really combines the good and bad, the sticking through it through the tough times in a really simply but elegant way. It was fabulous.

Poem: Cocaine Sun by Vangoman. This blew me away. It’s that Candy movie kind of love, the insanely good but horribly wrong kind.

Poem: The Lack of Understanding by ErinHea. This is definitely relatable. I couldn’t get enough of the pacing in this.

Poem: The Autumn Victorian by Luciddreamer1973. Love growing older, the concept of love growing older, love in the twilight of people’s lives—I see it all there.

Poem: Self Persuasion
That last line packed a major punch and I really enjoyed this poem.

If you’re not from the main site and you want to read these fabulous poems, head on over and put the titles in the search box. And poke around a bit! These were my favorites so far, but I’m excited to explore more of them.

Treat yourself with some words or chocolate this week, but most importantly, make sure your choice is love.

Interview: Melissa F. Olson


Images used with author permission.

I had the amazing pleasure to see Melissa F. Olson read from her book DEAD SPOTS and let me tell you, it is a page turner! Olson combines vampires, werewolves, witches, and the main character Scarlett is a null (and you’ll have to read the book to find out the implications of that), to give a fresh and fast paced read. I had a chance to catch up with her afterwards to ask a few questions and below is the resulting interview.

AH: Which supernatural creature did you have the most fun writing in Dead Spots and why?

MO: In this book I had a good time with the vampires. Villains are always fun to write, and I certainly had fun writing Ariadne, who’s like the slutty Goth version of Miss Havershim from Great Expectations. But more evil. I also really enjoy writing Scarlett’s vampire roommate Molly, because she’s so charming and fun, like the witty best friend in a romantic comedy, and then she’ll say or do something that reminds you she’s a bloodsucking fiend.

AH: Your book titles are very straightforward, especially with Trail of Dead as you explain on your website. Is there a specific reason you’ve chosen to title your works in this way and do you think it will change in the future?

MO: Usually I think titles are incredibly difficult to come up with, but both Dead Spots and Trail of Dead just kind of came naturally with the story circumstances: Dead Spots is that novel’s title because Scarlett is a dead space in the supernatural world, and because she stumbles into this clearing of corpses, and, to get a little bit artsy, because she’s pretty much dead inside after the things that happened in her past. I felt really lucky to come up with Dead Spots, and then realized I could piggyback onto a lot of those ideas with Trail of Dead, although I won’t go into detail because it might spoil the end of the first book.

In the future, I’d like to get away from the “dead” motif in my titles, though, because Charlaine Harris is already the queen of that particular list of puns. Maybe I’ll do a new set of puns with the color scarlet. There could be a book where she gets an anonymous death threat through the mail called Scarlett’s Letter, and one where she gets hit by a car called Smear of Scarlett. In yet another sequel she could team up with Justin Bieber to fight crime, and it could be called Scarlett (Bieber) Fever. And so on.

AH: What have been the easiest and hardest parts about being a published author?

MO: The hardest part is probably balancing my family life and my writing, especially before I really had an agent or publisher. At that time, every minute I took to write kind of felt like a minute I was taking away from my family, and there was no guarantee I would ever find any success with it. It felt like ditching the people who needed me so I could go gambling.

In that sense, I’m not sure there’s been an “easiest” part of being a published author; it’s more like a sense of relief, a loosening of pressure. Now that I’ve been published my writing has a new validation to it: I’m not taking time away from my family to play a giant slot machine, I’m taking time away to work at a job that I happen to love.

AH:  If you could visit any country in the world to take a writing vacation, where would you go?

MO: Great question. I’d want to go with somewhere with gorgeous weather (for me, that’s about 70 degrees and no humidity) and lots of beautiful scenery but no specific landmarks or tourist attractions, because then I’d want to go sightseeing instead of working. Maybe somewhere near the mountains in Nepal, or the cliffs in Ireland.

AH: Your adorable dog Max makes a cameo in Dead Spots. What is your opinion on talking animals and can we expect to hear some form of dog speak from Max?

MO: Ah, talking animals. I happen to love when dogs get a voice on paper, if it’s done right. I own the book version of Texts From Dog, and I’ve probably read through it fifty times. There’s a novel called Turning in Circles Before Lying Down about a woman who can suddenly hear her dog’s thoughts, and he’s hysterical (though he makes me glad Max is neutered; that dog can’t stop talking about sex). Harry Dresden’s spookily perceptive dog Mouse is one of the great characters in Jim Butcher’s series, and we get to actually hear what he has to say in one novel. I also like Kevin Hearne’s series about an immortal Druid who has a mind-link with his Irish Wolfhound, Oberon, but I do get awfully skeptical about Oberon’s college-level vocabulary and diverse interests in history and culture. That’s pushing the suspension of disbelief a bit too far for me.

I doubt I’ll ever write Max’s actual voice, unless I found a clever, magically-believable way to insert it, the way Butcher does. But I love putting him in the books, because I think Max is one-of-a-kind. He deserves to be immortalized, and until they perfect pet-cloning, this is the best I can do.

AH: You mentioned that there might be another book after Trail of Dead. What’s next for you after this series?

I hope to keep writing Scarlett books for as long as I find her interesting, and not a moment longer. I have a few different projects to work on during or after that series, though, and they’re all non-supernatural: I’ve been kicking around an idea about the relationship between two sisters for about a year, and my master’s thesis could be expanded to be book-length as soon as I get a chance. At some point I’d like to rewrite the first book I wrote, which is still unpublished, and I’ve also had a screenplay that’s missing an ending sitting on my desk for about four years; it’d be nice to finish that up. I hate having unfinished projects, so ideally I’d like to get all four of those things done before I start thinking about a new idea. Knowing me, though, I wouldn’t be surprised if I get sidetracked. It does tend to happen.

Melissa F. Olson is the author of DEAD SPOTS and the upcoming sequel TRAIL OF DEAD. For more information, please visit her website

And The Oscar Goes To…

Photo Credit: Graham Kingsley

Writing is apparently a useful skill to have. News stories in the past couple of days have highlighted a teacher using it for therapy, Real Housewife of New York Bethenny Frankel releasing a book about being a single mom after her divorce, and just recently, the Inquisitr reported on a story about a wife writing to the staff of Elle Magazine to ask advice about her husband poisoning her.

Talk about a cry for help! Writing a letter to the local police department would probably have been more effective if she was afraid the phones were tapped.

I have to give major brownie points to Brazil. Though the following is about reading and they have recently been in the news for the mass death at a nightclub, (Gawker recently did an article about the girl who used her last breath to post a Facebook status asking for help in the burning club), they have committed to expanding the horizons of prisoners.

Called “Redemption Through Reading” Brazilian inmates will be able to read up to 12 works of literature, philosophy, science or classics to trim a maximum 48 days off their sentence each year. Prisoners have no more than four weeks to read a book and write an essay, which must “make correct use of paragraphs, be free of corrections, use margins and legible joined-up writing”.

It sounds like an amazing idea, and while it will be reserved for the prisons’ more notorious inmates, for some reason I don’t think the night club owner will be able to apply for the program.

Awards season is upon us, and I’m not talking about the SAG Awards. I’m talking about the Young Adult Literature Awards which are basically the superbowl for young adult literature.

For entertainment value, and in honor of the great literature showcased at the Young Adult Literature Awards today, the following is a list of ten books that I found particularly interesting.

Writing can also bring prestige, a loyal tribe numbering in the thousands of (sometimes fanatic) followers, and mega financial stability—but only if your name is or resembles John Grisham, J.K. Rowling, or is listed below.

1. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
“Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common.” I really wanted to read a book about two young Latino boys and how they change each other’s lives. I think there needs to be more positive books with teenage male protagonists

2.  The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

A first person account of a gorilla, Ivan, a baby elephant Ruby, and how he grows to see his surroundings differently

3. Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schultz
Set in Victorian London 1860, the story follows a puppeteer and a young girl Clara who is spellbound by his craft.
4. Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage
“Full of wisdom, humor, and grit, this timeless yarn will melt the heart of even the sternest Yankee” according to Goodreads, and I was sold at that.
5. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Historical fiction about two girls from completely different circles becoming best friends while fighting in World War II? Don’t mind if I do.
6. Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons by James Dean
This just sounds like it could be by new favorite picture book—a cool cat who is completely nonchalant about his style.
7. Dodger by Terry Pratchett
The book contains lots of historical cameos and apparently Charles Dickens living vicariously through Pratchett.
8. The White Bicycle by Beverley Brenna
A few words made me take a second look at this book: Asperger’s Syndrome, Taylor Jane’s travels to the south of France and babysitting for the Phoenix family.
9. The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
A story about a cancer patient, who was diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 13 and preparing to die—sounds absolutely haunting.
10. In Darkness by Nick Lake
The aftermath of a Haitian earthquake involves a boy named Shorty, whispers of Toussaint L’Ouverture, and gangsters. I’m intrigued.

If I’m in luck, my bookshelf will forgive me in a couple of years for adding sweet goodness to its bloated system.

I Have A Dream That I Keep Dreaming

Photo Credit: Benjamin Stangland

2013 started out with a bang—the start of awards season and an inauguration. Everyone always pays attention to the pomp and circumstance that surrounds these events. Flashing cameras, gorgeous gowns, overzealous reporters are all staples of a nationally televised event. But then I turn to the speeches.

It is in speeches that events are made and (should be) measured. No one remembers them afterward, but they move mountains and mobilize masses with the right delivery, timing, and empathy.

For the Golden Globes, everyone was talking about Jodie Foster’s speech. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler were absolute hits. And let’s face it, who didn’t laugh about Taylor Swift and Michael J. Fox’s son if you were in the know? I always enjoy speeches that recognize family and spouses with heartfelt thanks. Yes, it is the stars we see every day, but when the cameras stop rolling, who steps in to soothe them after a hard day or patiently listens to paparazzi woes? It’s the spouses and the family that have to deal with the aftershocks, so I am always pleased when they get their due.

I skimmed most of the inauguration coverage, but I did enjoy seeing Myrlie Evers-Williams, Medger Evers’ widow. Medger Evers was the first lynching victim I learned about when my parents took me to a black history museum and the horrific crime committed against him stuck with me more than many others.

The president had his speech on unity and coming together. Of course, people will probably remember how Beyonce ripped out her earpiece and raised her hands at the end of the National Anthem (she did well but I really enjoyed Kelly Clarkson and her happy demeanor), the president’s slip up on the word “state,” how Beyonce kissed the President and First Lady but not the Vice President, how the inaugural dinner was 3,000 calories, how the First Lady strutted in her stilettos, how Sasha yawned and took a picture of her parents kissing but Malia photo bombed it, how classy Dr. Jill Biden always looks, how the camera panned to congressmen shamelessly making Jay Z and Beyonce give them autographs, and lots of other things that don’t really matter at all.

It was poignant for so many reasons, but especially because of Martin Luther King Day, which featured a lovely Google graphic as always. My mother had her own rendition of the “I Have a Dream Speech,” but as I watched the inauguration coverage, I couldn’t help but being slightly awed and like Dr. King would have smiled.

History was made twice, the White House staff and everyone who put the ceremony together need to be thanked profusely, and the First Family and the Biden family just looked amazingly classy. And for a split second, I also had a dream that the momentum for this moment carries on and that America truly can be the place in the President’s speech and come together for the good of all created equal.

When Words Are Born on Book Birthdays

Used with the permission of Harris Synergy Press

December means birthday month in my family. My brother’s is three days before Christmas, my father’s is three days after Christmas, and my late grandmother’s was December 13 (and nothing horrible ever happened to her when it happened to land on a Friday).  This also requires members of our family to do a precarious etiquette dance every year. To cosset my brother via capitalism love, we had to make sure he didn’t feel cheated just because he was born in the “Christmas Week Window.”

We experimented—double presents, huge parties with close friends when he was younger, buying him the same amount of presents but splitting them, making one present more expensive than the other…the list went on. We still haven’t quite figured out how to do it right but finally settled on the tradition of family birthday dinners and a present.

Thankfully, my brother has grown up unscathed and we breathe a collective sigh of relief each year when he graciously accepts his gifts sans the entitled attitude so often found in the Children of Capitalism.

Seeing as December has already received the birthday month crown, I must have been out of my mind when I decided that I wanted to include squeeze in one more birthday—my first book birthday.

I was a proud parent when my literary baby finally went out into the world last Monday. He weighed a lovely 5.5 x 8.5 inches and his firm spine was shiny and smooth when I held him. He was dressed sharply in a bright colored cover, and contained the ink blood, sweat, and yes, tears, of a frantic mother who wanted to do the best she could for him. The save the dates and press releases had been sent, the book trailer announcement prepared, and everyone was waiting for this little guy to make an appearance.

The aftershock is still hitting me—I’ve published a book through my own imprint. People have asked after my emotions and autographs and I’m still unsure about the first part. Tired, relieved, sleep deprived, hopeful, and proud could all describe the first question. The second question made me scramble to perfect an appropriate John Hancock and wonder if there were any taboos of book signings.

Fortunately and unfortunately, the work doesn’t end there. My Gerber-like book marketing plan for the next couple of years should help him to grow into a healthy, adolescent. At least until his other siblings get here, then I have to worry about (and welcome) sibling rivalry.

As I’ve reflected on this, it is amazing to look at how far I’ve come since I was fifteen jotting down scribbles in my room and how far I still need to go. I am now a brand and the book is a part of that brand. Book marketing is a tricky business because you have to completely separate yourself from your writing persona. For the past three months, I’ve been in full marketing mode. I’ve made sure my branding images are corresponding with my message, networked, and scoured the Internet for tips and tricks of book marketing. For the most part, I’m ready with a multi-year plan to make sure I’m not a one-hit-wonder.

But as I prepare to start on the sequel to The Golden Ashfruit today, I brush all that to the back of my mind and sit down to a place of quiet peace.

I remember the way a pen feels in my hand, the way black ink makes waves on white open spaces, and the sharp and clean smell of paper. I remember where words come from and how they pour onto paper like rain just when I need relief.

I remember myself. And know deep down why I am a writer.

When Your Christmas Song Playlist Needs a Kick

Photo Credit: Cécile Graat

The answer is when you’re sick of listening to Christmas music. By now, you probably are. Radio stations have started playing it (some nonstop) since the day after Thanksgiving. Don’t get me wrong; Christmas music is great.

Most people like variety. Any song you could possibly ever want to hear has multiple versions by a plethora of artists. Traditional Christmas carols are awe-inspiring and spine chilling, but sometimes girls just want to have fun and rock out to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Michael Buble, or Mariah Carey. And by girls I mean anyone, unless you are a stickler for tradition.

But sometimes when you’re listening to the radio, the weird comes. The awkwardness sets in when the radio stations try to mix it up. It’s like if you are browsing YouTube and you ever end up in “the weird side of YouTube,” as it is most famously referred to. Radio-wise, you know what I’m talking about—the Christmas songs that probably should have never been considered Christmas songs.

For example, my family has a standing debate on Eartha Kitt’s “Santa Baby.” I can’t seem to listen to it without cringing. Mainly because Eartha’s voice, which sounds like a rendition of Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday Mr. President.” It just seems like it should be in a 20’s nightclub somewhere instead of blasting from my speakers as I awkwardly sip hot chocolate.

Another one is “I saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” I get it—it’s supposed to be funny that the father is Santa Claus. But personally, if my mommy kissed Santa Claus, I would have bashed Santa Claus with the empty cookie plate.

So as I was browsing YouTube the other day, I decided to collect the weirdest and most interesting Christmas songs I’ve ever heard. The radio plays some of the songs, and they will never play others or the FCC might be after them. The winners are as follows:

1. “The Night Santa Went Crazy”-Weird Al Yankovic. REASON: Santa commits elf genocide and is a certified reindeer killer. This is definitely not one for the kids unless they realize Santa is already dead (not even then), or people who are still kids at heart.

2. “I want a Hippopotamus for Christmas”- Gayla Peeve. REASON: Hippopotamuses are not in season. The child should have wanted a snow dog, a reindeer, or a small bear cub.

3. “The 8 Polish Foods of Christmas”- Veggie Tales Christmas Party. REASON: The Veggie Tales are basically eating vegetables (cannibalism) and meat.

4. “Oh Santa”- Veggie Tales (Silly Songs with Larry). REASON: The song description. A bank robber, a Viking, and an IRS agent visit Larry as he waits for Santa. It’s comic because two of the people want money and one might possibly murder him. Oh, and he’s a cucumber.

5. “Christmas Swag”-YTF. REASON: Enough said.

6. “A Very Steam Punk Christmas”- The Men That Will Be Blamed For Nothing. REASON: This is a retelling of ‘A Christmas Carol’ centering on Ebenezer Scrooge. If you turned this up really loud, you would wake someone up or potentially do damage to his or her eardrums.

7. “Christmas Sucks in San Francisco”-The Downer Party. REASON: This song was pretty relaxing. It was also catchy in a sweet way. It was about the lack of December holidays in general.

8. “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”-Elmo & Patsy. REASON: No one seems to lament the fact that the grandma was run over by a reindeer.

9. “Christmas Shoes”-New Song. REASON: Every time this comes on the radio, my family and I agree that this is the most depressing Christmas song we have ever heard. Touching message, but just really depressing.

10. “Christmas is the Time to Say I Love You”-Billy Squier. REASON: Questionable title, weird vocals, but interesting message and super catchy tune.

11. “Jingle Bells”-Brave Combo. REASON: This instrumental of “Jingle Bells” will make you dizzy even if you’re sitting down.

12. “Christmas Night in Harlem”-Louis Armstrong. REASON:  There is no spoon. Seriously, this is a great song. I love it and it’s not one you usually hear.

13. “Silver Bells”-Twisted Sister. REASON: This song actually hurt my ears and I couldn’t actually hear anything they were saying in the song, except for the chorus.

14. “Feliz Navidad”-Jose Feliciano. REASON: Merry Christmas in Spanish! The music is really catchy and if you wanted to go somewhere warm for Christmas but ended up staying in a snowy area, this song will make you feel like you are there. And you can get a mini work out in with dancing.

15. “I Wish Everyday Could Be Like Christmas”-Bon Jovi. REASON: Christmas everyday would get ridiculous really fast. Not my favorite, but Bon Jovi does an admirable job here in terms of lyrics.

16. “Santa I’m Right Here”-Toby Keith. REASON: A song about a little boy living on the street and what he wants from Santa for Christmas. Unexpected and heartfelt song—I could barely finish it because it was really gripping.

17. “Winter Wonderland”-Ozzy Osbourne and Jessica Simpson. REASON: Ozzy sounded computer generated and this version is almost too syrupy.

18. “Catfish Christmas”-Steve Azar. REASON: I wanted to laugh the whole time. The music video was ridiculous.

I hope you’ve been able to find a break, a laugh, or a dancing queen in one of these songs. To recap, there is a song sung about a hippo, songs by vegetables about eating Polish foods, touching Christmas songs, possibly disturbing Christmas songs, a Christmas rap song, and a song about a specific place. Oh, and catfish in case you need some motivation to get down to your Friday Fish Fry.

NaNoWriMo Aftermath: Make a Killer Pot Roast

Photographed by Julia Freeman-Woolpert and Madaise, respectively. Used with permission.

Now that I can finally see my feet because my distended belly from all the turkey and general holiday goodness has gone down, I have a chance to convey my mostly positive feelings about National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo.

They are summed up in three quotes* about writing:

“It is perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly.” -C.J. Cherryh

“I firmly believe every book was meant to be written.” -Marchette Chute

“Put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.”-Colette

This is also what I’ve come to judge my own writing by. I don’t know of anyone who simply tosses words on paper and serves them up to a publishing company ready to be signed, sealed, and delivered to readers. The movement itself is a fantastic idea, but any good thing can be—and sometimes definitely is—taken advantage of.

When I first heard of NaNoWriMo, I thought it was the name of an ancient Native American burial ground. Wisconsin is full of cities and towns based off of Native American names, so I had reason to believe it might be connected with one or the other. Try saying Waukesha, Oconomowoc, Wauwatosa, or my home city, Milwaukee. Maybe you can—they have a tendency to roll right off the tongue.

Before I was inducted into the secret society that is NaNoWriMo, I thought of book writing as something organic, like making a nice pot roast. Seasoning it (writing the words, taking a break), trimming any fat, putting it in a pot, browning it (revising, editing, taking another break), and finally finishing it with garnish and serving (prepping for publication or recreational reading after more revision, then selling).

Everyone has a different way of making pot roast, meaning you use vegetables or maybe you choose a different type of seasoning. But some of those steps are vital. If you skip putting it in the pot or trimming the fat, you’re going to end up with a hot (or cold) mess.

Sometimes this is what happens after NaNoWriMo—skipping the trimming and vital preparation to go straight to garnishing and serving. Instead, participants should see NaNoWriMo as a starting point and a huge head start to a wonderful book.

That said, NaNoWriMo is a movement that I am excited to join the ranks of again soon. Whether participants actually do finish their 50,000 words is one thing, but knowing that people across the globe are toiling the same way you are, pushing out pages like gasps between labor pushes, has a certain allure.

It is a source of fragile inspiration welded together with iron determination to reach a goal. I find myself wishing that I could fully devote myself to participating this year and anticipating next year when I’ll probably have a chance to.

According to the NaNoWriMo history on its website, which reads almost like a novel laughing at itself during the process, NaNoWriMo started in 1999.  It quickly took off and grew into a hugely successful movement.

I can admire the spirit of the twenty-one creators who quickly matured from idealists into entrepreneurs. If they hadn’t risen to the occasion, the movement would probably never have the momentum it does now.

Part of the reason why NaNoWriMo is so successful is that the movement continues to operate out of the same idealistic and creative spirit it started with. The history examines the trials, pitfalls and adjustments the creators had to make, but for the most part, the vision has remained relatively unscathed. That alone is commendable because it’s difficult for many movements to achieve.

However, the freedom, raw natural talent, and inclination to cast off limitations, albeit within a limited deadline, has continued to make NaNoWriMo a success. The trade-off has spawned thousands of novels, a few of which have been published by major companies.

If you participated in NaNoWriMo last month, invest in your literary pot roast. You will probably feel just as fulfilled as if you made an actual pot roast and ate it with family.

*quotes are used with the permission of