Friday, November 11, 2011

Book Review!

Ready Player OneReady Player One by Ernest Cline

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If I could rate this higher than five stars, I would.

I've looked at other reviews of Ready Player One, by Ernie Cline. Much ado has been made over the intense nerd aspect of the book; there are so many references to technology, RPG gaming, and 80s culture in the book, it's impossible to deny the book's appeal to the nerd-goddess that resides in my heart. Further, the dystopian world Cline has conjured is not only possible, but is probable, as is the alternate-reality "holodeck" created by the mad genius of the book.

Yes, it's a nerd wonderland. But that could NEVER be enough to satisfy me. After all, when it comes to the debate of character vs. environment, I land every time on the side of strong characters. Plots do not move by themselves, after all. And this plot -- it's the stuff of magic and dreams.

In my opinion, it doesn't much matter how you frame the art. As long as the protagonist of the story starts off in adverse circumstances, overcomes adversity through the use of his wits, and in the end becomes the essence of a hero, I will become a rabid fan of the work.

Wade Watts, the protagonist of this book, is that kind of hero. I'd put him up there with Harry Potter and Taran, the Assistant Pig Keeper.

My sole complaint? I never got to find out if Lady Hawke, one of my favorite 80s movies, was, indeed, "canon." If you want to know what the hell that means, then I have three words for you:


You can thank me later.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Book Review!

Double Dexter (Dexter, #6)Double Dexter by Jeff Lindsay

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh, dear heaven. Dexter, you really *aren't* human, are you?

Our favorite vigilante serial killer is back, and this time, he's got a shadow. I'm not talking about a Peter Pan philosophical device; I'm talking about a stalker. The book opens with Dexter at play; he abducts and lets his knives and inner darkness work over a really foul human being. As usual, Jeff Lindsay is at his lyrical-prose best in this passage. He seems so comfortable in the nocturnal menace, in the Savage Garden of Dexter's homicidal dream that I sometimes wonder what the man does when he isn't writing these delicious and poisonous things. At any rate, we get to enjoy these delightfully awful things through Dexter's mind, because Jeff uses a brilliant literary device: we're plunged into a sort of second-person present tense scenario, a trick that immediately immerses you in the action.

And then, we're caught.

Dexter's playdate had been observed, and the person who saw everything immediately develops an unhealthy fascination with both Dexter and his world.

I have to start out by explaining why I've only given this four stars. I'm not going to spoil anything, but those of you who know and love Dexter know that he knows his way around the internet. So then, why would Lindsay rely so much on the plot device that someone can threaten and intimidate Dexter through a secret e-mail address? This is Forensics 101: it is almost impossible to have a completely secret e-mail address. Everything can be traced forensically. Even if there was a way to do it, Lindsay should have at least *briefly* explained it. Instead, he plowed ahead with this flimsy premise. It seemed a bit disappointing.

But there was far more to enjoy in this outing than not. Instead of the weird cannibalistic fetish of the last one, we are treated to a Doubting Dexter, a monster who has ALMOST been domesticated. His missteps are due to his connubial distractions. He has allowed himself to become a bit clumsy and slow, fattened up on his wife's good food and the charms of his little family. He's still -- *ahem* -- "sharp" when it comes to his prey, but his reflexes are gunked up when it comes to someone else being the predator. That made for a great foundation for the plot, and had him questioning himself and his commitment to his dark nature. I like it when that happens. A lot.

I'm also going to say that Jeff Lindsay is a fantastic audiobook narrator. I think that authors should self-narrate their audiobooks as often as possible, anyway. :)

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Book Review!

Nice Girls Don't Have Fangs (Jane Jameson, #1)Nice Girls Don't Have Fangs by Molly Harper

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jane Jameson is not cool enough to be turned into a vampire, and that, above everything else, is what drew me into this book. I mean, think about it: Most literary female vampires seemed to be born to be vampires. They're tall, ravishing, regal, menacing, and too cool for school. They seem torn from the S&M column of Cosmopolitan, they're so unreal. What chance would any real mortal woman--with her neuroses, innate insecurity, and native smells--have?

Enter Jane Jameson. She is not a Cosmo model. Sure, she's tall, but she's also romantically cursed, plain, saddled with a typically troubled and overbearing Southern family, and--gasp!--a librarian. This is not a typical vampire genesis.

Furthermore, the day she died sounds like the script for a movie that might star that Zooey Deschanel or a slightly younger Sandra Bullock: She's fired from her librarian gig. Her severance package is a gift certificate to the local bar-and-eatery. She proceeds to blow through her severance, getting drunk, embarrassing herself, and befriending a tall, dark, and mysterious stranger. She heads home. Her car punks out on her. She stumbles into a ditch -- and is mistaken for a deer and shot by the town drunk (and sometime hunter).

I have to again point out that this is not how vampires happen. Usually there's a lot of angst, sure, but there's always a candlelit crypt, somber dialog about life eternal, and then, the bite. When she rises, Jane doesn't even remember the bite, at first. She only knows she's in a stranger's house, and she's clinging to the ceiling, startled at being anywhere but home.

Oh, and another departure from the norm? I've never before read a new-vampire story that was so damned funny. Jane doesn't take herself seriously. How can she? She was born into a family that's so damaged it deserves a sitcom. Yes, she's undead, but she still has to put up with her too-perfect sister and her wheedling mother and being unemployed. The only noticeable departure from her regular life is that she can't eat solid foods, she has to undergo rigorous preparations to survive in sunlight, she has to eliminate silver from her jewelry collection, and she has super-strength and remarkable healing powers. Those powers, by the way, are going to help her when she realizes she's inadvertently made a very crazy enemy.

I know, there are a lot of parallels between Jane Jameson's world and that of the famous vampire-bait waitress, Sookie Stackhouse. They're both Southern. They both have attracted the attentions of tall, dark, and handsome antebellum vampires. They both have elderly female relatives who have bequeathed them houses full of tradition. They both collect around them a ragtag collection of misfits as friends, including werewolves. The state of the world as they know it includes "outed" vampires drinking faux blood. And they both have become unlikely romantic leads, the antitheses of vampire chic.

Having said that, though, I have to say this: Molly Harper does it better than Charlaine Harris. Period. Why? Because Jane Jameson is us as we want to be: just as strange and awkward, but funny, and still able to get the total hottie by just being ourselves. Oh, and yes, she agreed to become a vampire. Because, honestly, which among you would turn down the offer? Sookie is dumb for holding out. Points to Jane for not being so damn dumb.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I'm a hypocrite. Buy me a fruity drink.

Not so long ago I made the mistake of waxing rhapsodic about change, and why it's important, and what it supposedly accomplishes.  I mean, I seriously seemed to be saying that changing was a good thing, that it shook you out of your complacency and challenged you to live in the moment and take nothing for granted.  I even derided people for not supporting those who initiated the change in their lives, coddling instead those who had change thrust on them -- and not in a good, alms-type way.

Well, here I go initiating change, and I really, really hate myself right now.

My life is not something anyone would aspire to.  It's not super-exciting; I'm not a part-time skydive instructor or belly dancer or celebrity impersonator.  I don't channel spirits.  I don't even have the thrill of watching pro wrestling on any consistent basis.  (Hell, I'm not even cool enough to say that I've wanted to watch it consistently.)  I'm just a writer who decided to get an administrative job in order to pay the bills and occasionally indulge in my gadget habit.

Oh my word, it's a pizza cutter that looks like a circular saw.  Do you take Visa?

Well, yesterday I found out that my administrative job doesn't want me anymore.  By the end of the month I'm going to be out on my tuckus, another member of the unemployed.

Seriously, it's not me.  They've been laying people off in droves around here.  I'd say about a full fifth of the place is empty.  I've kinda seen this coming, and I've been, unfortunately, almost smug about the fact that I have a Plan B.

The thing is this: I was going to leave this job anyway.  Tim and I have been planning for years that we would relocate to somewhere with a far friendlier climate.  We had even decided on the time of year that we would go.

But, hypocrite that I am, instead of aggressively planning for the date by cancelling the cable and calling a moving company and just getting the freak up there already, I fell into an endless string of days dominated by the notion that "I'll get around to it."


Because I love my life.  It's comfortable.  My home is not a showplace, but it's beautiful to me.  I have had a good paying job doing work that I enjoyed.  I had a routine, and I could hang my hat on that routine and grow old into that routine.

Did you hear that?

Grow. Old.

I was ready to trade in all my dreams and fancies for the comforts around me, a soft little nest into which a geriatric mouse curls itself up to die.

When I moved to Austin, I was 18 years old.  I didn't give two shits about the fact that my life was changing irrevocably.  I was a kid, and kids don't stop their lives over the thought that they'll miss their childhood bedroom, and they'd never again wake up in the middle of the night to realize they could hear their parents snoring softly in the room across the hall, or that all of the music they loved would be replaced in a matter of five years by music that makes them want to either cry or punch a keyboardist in the face.  Kids live their lives; they move into their future with heads held high and barely a backwards glance.

I'm not a kid anymore.  I've grown up and gotten married.  I've learned the tenuous nature (by misadventure) of a credit rating, and how it can affect your life in ways you could have never expected.  I've learned how close we all really stand to the edge of the world as we know it, and how easy it would be to fall off into a different world, full of sadness and regrets and poverty and despair.  I'm a scared adult, and leaving the soft, cushiony nest of my home and my life is . . .


That's it, folks.  I'm terrified.  I know I'll find another job.  As my husband says, it's my superpower.  I know I'll love living in that part of the country.  But I will go home every day for the next two weeks and gaze around at the home Tim and I bought together, filled with symbols of our toil and shared taste, think of the memories we made there -- and yeah, I'll probably cry.

So when you see me, could you do me a favor?  Buy me a fruity drink.  Then tell me the following, with no paraphrasing or omissions:


Much obliged.  Really.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Book Review!

The Art of Seducing a Naked Werewolf (Naked Werewolf, #2)The Art of Seducing a Naked Werewolf by Molly Harper

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Y'know, after the debacle that was Twilight, and after burning through all the Sookie Stackhouse books on a rabid month-long bender, I swore to myself that I would never again fall prey to the supernatural romance/mystery genre. (Okay, there was that one lapse where I went back to Charlaine Harris for some of her Harper Connelly stuff, true . . .but that was it. And it was, for the most part, disappointing.) So you may be asking yourselves: MJ, what happened?

Molly Harper happened.

Never before have I read someone who treats the supernatural with such silly affection. I mean, I was baptized by Anne Rice and Stephen King, for godsakes. You don't get much more somber treatment than that. Then we went romping back into the scene with the angst-ridden Cullen clan, then we have Charlaine Harris and her sexy redneck vampire-bait waitress. That was close . . .so close. But Molly Harper is the promised land.

Okay, about this specific book: We're back in Grundy, Alaska, but instead of hearing everything through the thoughts and mind of the very human Mo Graham, we're living through the eyes of her new sister-in-law, Maggie Graham. Maggie is the Alpha female of her pack, but for the most part, her pack is unsettled -- because by nature, there should be an Alpha male. Maggie's brother has turned down the job he was born to, so she assumed the responsibility -- but until she marries another wolf, there won't be peace, or, for that matter, any conceivable end to the questions about her (lack of a) love life.

Enter the very human, very cute, and -- did I mention, not-wolf? -- single academic nerd, Nick Thatcher. He's put two and two together in a way no other human in the area seems willing or able to do, and he's sniffing around for werewolves. Can Maggie resist his nerdy charms? And if she can't, how does she protect him, her pack, and herself from a new threat that smells like dryer sheets?

I loved it. Did I mention that Molly Harper is funny? I mean, laugh out loud funny. She loves supernatural creatures, but she doesn't necessarily put them on pedestals. She makes their problems sound believable, and that's what makes it so easy to believe that they exist. After all, I'd be willing to blame all the buffet spots in the country on werewolves. It doesn't help my willingness to believe this that enormous human patrons waddle in and out regularly, but surely some of the skinny customers --

Oh well. Never mind.

Why only four stars? I guess it's because this book was a little less compelling, because the voice was that of a werewolf, not a human. She'd never been fully human, so I lost that scrap of connection that I'd built with Mo (and that I'm now building with Jane Jameson, newly-undead).

Even so, funny. Wonderfully, side-splittingly, beverage-spewingly funny. Thank you, Molly.

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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Book Review!

The Night CircusThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh my goodness. Erin Morgenstern, where have you been all my life?

The Night Circus, folks, is a flight of fantasy on the back of a steampunk raven. I feel like everything I could say about it would be a spoiler, but I will say this: everything that happens within the circus had my heart shrieking "YES! I want to go! I want a ticket! I'm a reveur!" Every tent was brilliantly imagined, and it is every child's fantasy of what a circus SHOULD be: magical, with no harsh edges or artifice. It naturally was magic, because two magicians maintained the illusory quality of it.

Great. I think I just spoiled a bit of it.

At any rate, read this book. I can't say it often enough: READ. THIS. BOOK.

Why only 4 stars, you ask? Well . . .the ending. And I won't go into details about that, but it seemed rushed. Maybe it was just that I didn't want to climb down off the back of that steampunk raven yet. I'm even dressed in black and white today in tribute.

So, let's review: Steampunk, magic, a circus, romance . . .what else could you POSSIBLY ask for?

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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Book Review!

How to Flirt with a Naked Werewolf (Naked Werewolf, #1)How to Flirt with a Naked Werewolf by Molly Harper

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You know what the world needs more of? Supernatural romance/mystery novels.

*ducking rotten eggs*

Wait! No! Wait! Really! When a book is as entertaining, witty, clever, and funny as this one, it's like kryptonite to me. Seriously, the love interest could have been a superhero, not a werewolf, and I still would have been ALL OVER this, because Molly Harper's writing style is fantastic.

I'll be reading more from her. I like the way she describes anatomy: for instance, I triple-dog dare you to not smile when you read "Mighty Morphing Power Penis." Yeah, I thought so.

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Monday, September 26, 2011

Book Review!

A Dog's PurposeA Dog's Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sometimes, you just need to read a book about a dog -- a good dog, a faithful dog.

We all want to believe in Ultimate Goodness. I suppose that's why religion as a belief system persists; it purports to represent Ultimate Goodness and nobility. Unfortunately, the actions undertaken either to promote or punish the religious are anything but good. Even our heroes, from firemen to philanthropists, fall well short of Ultimate Goodness. Yes, I know that makes their nobility even more noble, when they're able to shrug off the mantle of material baseness that binds us all, but a story about an uncomplicated, Good creature? It is, quite frankly, impossible to pull off for a human protagonist.

That's what makes this story so exceptional. Bailey is a dog. He pretends to be nothing else. He doesn't pretend to understand what motivates people. He is unabashed in his doggy-ness, because it's what he knows. He also knows that there is nothing, absolutely NOTHING, better than the feeling of being loved and belonging.

I won't say anything more about this book except this: When you feel your faith flagging that there is anything pure in this world, READ THIS BOOK -- then hug a dog.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Austin: Love letter to a town.

I moved to Austin in the summer of 1990.  I was 18 years old at the time.  I wanted freedom and independence; my mother was very worried for both my soul and my virtue, and to preserve both, she tried very hard to exert near-complete control over my life.  I couldn't take any more.  I had to leave.  I left San Antonio to try my hand at living my own life, and I've been in Austin ever since.

I'm not the same doe-eyed girl I was then.  I've grown up, learned a lot, and gotten married.  I developed an epic love-hate relationship with this town, and the story of it -- well, it would be pretty boring, to be honest.  However, I've found myself on the verge of moving away from the town in which I came of age, and I feel the need to commemorate what we've meant to each other.

So, in no uncertain terms, I'm leaving you with this pictoral essay of what it meant to me to be an Austinite.

YEAR: 1991
BILLBOARD SONG OF THE YEAR:  "Everything I Do (I Do It For You)" ~Bryan Adams
IN THE NEWS: The Yogurt Shop Murders
BOX OFFICE SMASH: Terminator 2: Judgment Day
ME: Working at the mall, hanging out at the Backroom, riding the bus, reading a lot of Anne Rice, lusting after long-haired glam metal guys.  Thought I could get serious about being a writer . . .eventually.

YEAR: 1996

BILLBOARD SONG OF THE YEAR: "Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix)" ~Los del Rio
IN THE NEWS: Clinton elected; TWA flight 800 crash
BOX OFFICE SMASH: Independence Day
ME: Working as a travelling sales rep, living in my own apartment, driving my own car, social hermit.  Writing really awful pulp romance trash.

YEAR: 2001

BILLBOARD SONG OF THE YEAR: "Hanging by a Moment" ~Lifehouse
IN THE NEWS: The Terrorist attacks of 9/11
BOX OFFICE SMASH: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
ME: Just married, thinner, living in the country with a couple of dogs.  Writing the occasional short story; dabbling in horror.

YEAR: 2006
BILLBOARD SONG OF THE YEAR: "Bad Day" ~Daniel Powter
IN THE NEWS: Pluto ain't a planet, we're (still) at war in Iraq
BOX OFFICE SMASH: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
ME: Starting a new job, becoming a pain in the ass about wanting to move back into the city, starting to draft concepts for full novel-length stories, rediscovering my love affair with Stephen King.

YEAR: 2011
BILLBOARD SONG OF THE YEAR (2010): "Tik Tok" ~Ke$ha
IN THE NEWS: The recession drags on; record-breaking Texas drought
BOX OFFICE SMASH (2010):  Toy Story 3

Monday, August 22, 2011

Book Review!

The Queen of the Damned (The Vampire Chronicles, #3)The Queen of the Damned by Anne Rice

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If Ayn Rand had written her capitalist manifesto, "Atlas Shrugged," half this well, we'd have several second-world countries STILL trying to prove that she was a visionary, and that her system could work -- because never doubt that "The Queen of the Damned" is a philosophical screed, and the best of its kind.

For me, this is still the ultimate vampire novel. Anne Rice doesn't just have creepy-crawlies in her stories. She doesn't just animate corpses. She doesn't just give them heartbroken souls and immortal, wealthy flair. She doesn't just have a huge cast of characters, and flip between points of view with seeming ease and grace. No, Anne Rice has a MESSAGE, and she means to tell it here.

Through the prism of vampire magic, we're given a view of the vastness of time and the evolving role of Man in the world. We see through the veil all the way to ancient times, and we meet the representative of all ancient rulers in the person of Akasha, the so-called "Queen of the Damned." Akasha is cruel and self-serving; she strives always to find meaning in the world and despairs that there is none, so she takes it upon herself to become that meaning. She did it in old Egypt (called Kemet in this tale) by constantly rationalizing herself as blessed among mortals, all the while doubting that anything supernatural existed that could bestow such a blessing. When, through a misadventure in manipulation of Earth spirits, she becomes the world's first vampire (and subsequently makes her husband one as well), she spins the tale of Osiris and Iris to justify her existence as a goddess.

Fast forward to nearly-modern day, and the awakening of Akasha from her centuries-long slumber. After draining her ancient mate, she slays nearly all of the vampires on the planet, then abducts Lestat, the charming vampire rake who woke her, and unleashes her plan for vampires to rescue mankind by death to 90% of all males. After all, she blames the male sex for all the wars and rapes and subjugation in the world, and she takes it upon herself and her overwhelming strength to fix it. Lestat is employed as her death angel, but eventually she is forced to confront the vampires she spared from the fury that began the book. They try to reason with her, but as they observed, every vampire bears the mark of the time that produced them; she is ancient, and she is bound to ancient instincts and her ancient megalomania. She won't be turned. Fortunately, an old curse rises and she is killed, but the book left its mark.

Does mankind deserve a chance to get it all right on its own, or would it indeed be better if a supernatural force of some kind (any kind) intervened to show us the way? Would the world be a paradise if governed solely by women? Does violence justify the results?

It is for the sake of this book's ability to make me think, and to give me the room to decide for myself, that I love it so much. Yes, Rice offers her own opinion, sprinkled through the tale and especially weighty in the outcome, but that doesn't lessen the underlying message that in the end, we are ALL masters of our own fate and sovereigns over our own reality. Even if you decide to forfeit your right to decide for yourself, you're the one who turned over the control to another.

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Book Review!

The Vampire Lestat (The Vampire Chronicles, #2)The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh, Lestat. You gorgeous fiend, you Brat Prince. You're the damnedest creature. Every time I think I'm over you, all I have to do is read this book and I'm proven wrong all over again.

Anne Rice was at her writing zenith when she wrote this book. She allows her competent and poetic prose free rein, and her tale spans centuries while sacrificing nothing of meticulous research and the resulting feel of authenticity and intimacy. Do you want a dreadfully generic teen idol for a vampire? Read another, more contemporary series. Do you want the perfect fiend, the immortal who has regrets but never tires of trying to make himself more real and relevant? Then Lestat is the one for you.

When it comes to guilty pleasures, I'm glad to share with you that this one is up there, and it represents all of the dark magic that I secretly wish was real.

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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Book Review!

Grave Surprise (Harper Connelly, #2)Grave Surprise by Charlaine Harris

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Harper Connelly finds dead people, but she eschews the term "psychic." It doesn't matter how she refers to herself; people don't like her because they think she's a con artist, regardless of her nearly perfect record of results for her clients.

How do I know how she feels about this?

Because she whines about it so often.

Everything that is resilient and charming about Sookie Stackhouse seems to be lacking in Harper Connelly. I'm not saying that Harper doesn't deserve some measure of pathos. Her background as the child of a broken marriage between drug-addled partners, their fall from grace, and the lightning strike that formed the basis of her "powers" surely wouldn't sit well with most people. Even so, every chapter refers at least once to her bleak past and misfortune. It was more like reading something written by Lemony Snicket, but without the humor. And why? She's recovered better than most people, and she's even found a way to turn a profit from that lightning strike; it's given her an ability that earns her a living. It kept her from having to work in an office building under appalling fluorescent lighting, watching the clock and waiting -- ahem. Pardon me for slewing a bit off track.

I know it's exhausting to encounter jerk after jerk, every one of them impeaching her morals for daring to take money from people in exchange for a service. Even so, the sheer amount of her ennui got a bit tiring.

I'll finish out the series because of the


budding romance between her and Tolliver


but I'll continue to hope that Harper will somehow see the good in her life, and stop focusing so determinedly on the bad.

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Friday, July 29, 2011

Book Review!

Interview With the Vampire (The Vampire Chronicles, #1)Interview With the Vampire by Anne Rice

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For me, Anne Rice is in the upper stratosphere of sensual writing. I've never known a writer who can so immediately and profoundly immerse you in a scene, and she seems to do it with very little effort. For example, writers have endeavored for a century to explain to their readers the difference between living as a human and living as a vampire. Sometimes the experience is an allusion, made between the lines. Sometimes it is more heavy-handed, and the vampire is left to vulgar displays of power to get the point across. But in Anne Rice's world, it's done through an interview.

This is the book that started it all for me. Before this book, I admired writers and I flirted with the idea of writing. After this book I decided I could do nothing else but write, and I had to start right away to capture the world around me in my mind and translate it into words. I had to make people feel, I had to force them to weep, even if their lives were roses and champagne.

Perhaps, then, you're wondering why I've not given this book a full five stars. You have to understand, the first time I took the trip with Louis and Lestat and Claudia, I was an adolescent, and my life was full of angst and the certainty that I could never be understood. The book does a magnificent job of exploiting that feeling of being lost and alone, the only one of your kind in a world filled with Others. To be fair, I decided recently to return to the humid New Orleans of this vampire tale.

Anne Rice's writing is just as I remembered it: Florid, full, rich, and sensual without being overly sexual (if you're looking for sexual, however, I insist you read her "Sleeping Beauty" books). What's more, she knows how to take full advantage of the contract signed by both writer and reader when a book is opened, the agreement to suspend disbelief, the willingness to escape reality and unplug from cynicism and trust yourself to the writer and their manipulation of your perspective. She plunges you into Louis' grief from the outset, and that grief only briefly lifts in moments of contentment, but for the most part, it transforms to true despair.

That's why I couldn't give it a full five stars. The world has a broader horizon for me now, and being trapped underwater with that sadness for so long felt a bit like I was being taken advantage of by a demonic writer with an agenda. I wanted to shake the vampire and tell him to get over himself already, to stop being so paranoid and self-centered, and to shit or get off the pot.

Even so -- there's nothing to do but give deep respect to the book that made writing an imperative for me. I honor Anne Rice and, even after all these years, I find myself a member of Team Lestat.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Book Review!

Brave New WorldBrave New World by Aldous Huxley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ahh, Dystopia. You're a place everyone writes about, but nobody really wants to visit. You're the land in which we all face our darkest fears and learn about ourselves -- our hopes, our skepticism, our optimism, and our certainty of both failure and success despite the steepest odds.

Aldous Huxley's Dystopia is one of the most mildly horrifying places I've ever imagined. The simple question of "is happiness more important than free will?" is answered by removing ambition from 80% of society through selective breeding and programming. What's left is a spoiled upper crust and a genetically inferior series of lower castes who are raised to aspire no further than their own stations. Anxieties and stress are buried under a drug called soma. Motherhood is not only terrifying, but vulgar to these bottle-born people. The extent of their human connection is sexual, but constant, which prevents individuals from thinking too much and coming to the conclusion that this reality is totally bug-nuts.

Add to the mix a traditionally-born "savage" named John, through whose horrified eyes we get to truly appreciate the level of this society's depravity. His honest emotions are met with confusion. His attempts to woo a woman -- not just to be his bed partner for a night, to which she would readily agree, but to be his exclusively, for life -- scare her away. He becomes estranged from the automaton-like constant happiness of "civilization," but even after he finds a solitary place for himself, he's hounded by those who offer him happiness with no content and no meaning.

The last scene is one that will haunt me.

Do I think that society could ever come to such a pass? Thanks to Huxley's exposé, I do not, but it's a close thing, and I owe him a debt of gratitude -- because, just between me, you, and the computer screen, I find myself wishing for a little soma right now.

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Friday, July 22, 2011

How I really feel about Google+ (30 days in)

Google+ is not facebook. That is the most important thing anyone needs to know about it. In many ways, Google+ has features that resemble (some would say "mimic") facebook, and why not? Facebook has become famous for its intuitive and easy-to-follow interface. Nobody is going to launch a social media platform that is more difficult to follow.

However, the two platforms are quite different. I'm going to try to break it down, and I'm going to do it with liberal metaphors (because that's how I roll).

Facebook is famous for making relationships mutual. Twitter is famous for removing the mutual element of relationships by making the decision to "follow" someone exclusive to the follower. The relationship is the difference between asking someone for their phone number (facebook) and subscribing to the newspaper (twitter). What Google+ has done is like straddling the middle ground: You can now "follow" someone and see their facebook-style updates, video posts, blogs, etc. Google+ gives that same someone the opportunity to block you from their facebook-style content, but more on that some other time.

In that way, Google+ is ideal for professional groups, like LinkedIn. In a matter of hours, I'd amassed a Google+ Circle of nearly 100 writers, and I'm adding more daily. That doesn't really happen on facebook, at least, not as fast or as intuitively. It's simple to build a huge network on Google+ because all you really have to do is hover your mouse over someone's name and presto, you're given the opportunity to add them to one of your circles so you can see their updates going forward.

Also, you can control your update feed using those same Circles. Sometimes I just want to see what my friends are up to; just like in facebook, I can choose to see those updates only. If I want to see what the publishing/writing world is up to, I go to that stream.

So where does Google+ fit in with my life?

I never really grasped the point of twitter. I don't like condensing my thoughts down to a character count, because, as a writer, I'm verbose by nature. I know that concise discourse is a good thing, but for the most part, when I'm trying to tell a story about an event, or set up a joke, I run out of room on twitter. Besides, I don't get the immediate graphic payload from it that I get from facebook; when I want to see someone's photo on twitter, I have to click a link. Not so with facebook. I'm just lazy, I suppose.

Google+ is my new twitter. It's an easy-access, higher-graphic-satisfaction version of that platform, and I'm going to use it to network like mad. For personal things, until my friends and family find their way to Google+, I'll be on facebook . . .but I would definitely like to eventually abandon facebook altogether. Maintaining multiple social identities is exhausting.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Book Review!

Vows, Vendettas and a Little Black Dress (Sophie Katz, Book 5)Vows, Vendettas and a Little Black Dress by Kyra Davis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm at a bit of a loss. After all, I *like* Kyra Davis. I *like* Sophie Katz. I *like* everyone in this book, pretty much; I mean, there are the good guys and the bad guys, and I'm not foolish enough to say that the bad guys were overly likable, but all of Sophie's friends held true to their (rather caricatured) personalities. The thing is, I think that I might be growing out of this series.

It's nothing really that Kyra is doing wrong, it's just turning a bit away from the mystery aspect and turning more into an exploration of relationships and maturity, and that can be pretty hard to maintain from inside the confines of this genre. Further, you know how I mentioned that the characters are caricatures? You can't get too complex feelings- and emotion-wise when you're dealing with Ditzy Blonde, Gorgeous Gay Guy, and Hunky Russian Guy.

I guess what I'm saying is that it's hard to play with Barbies after a certain age. I don't know that I will pick up the next one, and that's tragic, because for the most part, I really do like Kyra's style.

(Lastly: how many times can you use the word "hedge" as a verb? *sigh*)

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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Book Review!

Slumdog Millionaire: The Shooting ScriptSlumdog Millionaire: The Shooting Script by Simon Beaufoy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh my gosh, so good.

I haven't watched the movie yet. I can only hope it holds its own against this masterful epic. The story isn't so much about the quiz show as it is about Thomas's life, his loves, and his efforts to overcome the deprivations of his youth and achieve lasting happiness for himself -- but especially for all those people he loves. Through it all, he remains as honest, upright, and good-hearted as any street kid can be.

If you loved Oliver Twist, you'll love this book.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Fog

I have a long-term memory disorder.  I was hit by a car when I was 12 years old, and at the time, I was diagnosed with nothing more than a concussion.  Frankly, it was a stone-cold miracle that I could have done so much damage to a white Mercedes with my head and not died.  It is, indeed, one fiercely heavy, thick-boned skull, I grant that.

Unfortunately, that concussion affected that part of my brain that deals directly with long-term memories.  As a result, I can retain information about people so long as those people stay in my life or I'm reminded of them in context.  You can't show me a photo of someone I haven't spoken to in years and expect me to know that person.

It's pretty sad, actually.  I get the sense that I've lost a lot of my own history, that important memories of people, places, and events keep slipping away.  It's going to make for one hell of an old-age ennui.

Right now, however, I'm feeling the worst of it.  I've returned to work at a company that I'd left about 12 years ago.  There are people here that remember me from that time.  They greet me in the halls and ask me if I remember them.  I don't.  It's not their fault, and it's not really mine, it's just frustrating, embarrassing, and totally awful.

So -- if you are one of those people, please don't take my blank-eyed stare as an opinion of your worth in my life.  It's just a broken group of brain cells.  Them's the breaks.  No hard feelings, huh?


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Book Review!

Forts: Liars and ThievesForts: Liars and Thieves by Steven Novak

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So you thought the good guys won, did you? Really good fantasy franchises, from Star Wars to Tolkien's Middle Earth, never let you rest on your laurels that way, smug in the triumph of good over evil. The good guys have to bleed for it, and some of the heroes have to become sacrifices to the cause.

Am I comparing Novak's saga to those well-respected monsters of fantasy? You bet.

The Jarvis boys are back, along with former-bully-turned-ally Donald Rondage and sweetheart of the saving-the-world set, Staci Alexander. The most reluctant of reluctant heroes, Owen Little, finds he has to drag himself into the story, but not until he finds a way to bring the Jarvis sire along with him. Some of these kids have been waiting a long time to return to Fillagrou. Some (Owen especially) hoped to never return. They're all older. And they're about to find that getting rid of the prince means that they now have to deal directly with the king.

This is not a friendly, warm-and-fuzzy fantasy story. This outing in Fillagrou tests resolves, pushes patience past its limits, and sees the poignant end of a dear friend. You'll be deeply unsettled by the way this ends, I promise you that, and you'll be salivating, grunting, and groaning, and cursing Novak for not having released book 3 already.

Soon, my friends, soon. For right now, read Liars & Thieves. Do yourself that favor. And get ready for awesome.

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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Book Review!

Fathers & Sons (Forts, #1)Fathers & Sons by Steven Novak

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Meet the Jarvis brothers. As if losing their mother to cancer at an early age wasn't a horrifying-enough thing to endure, they now have to put up with bullies, confusing friendships and alliances, and one of the worst family betrayals anyone can think of.

Then things get bad.

The Jarvis brothers, along with one of the afore-mentioned bullies and another school pseudo-friend, are pulled out of the world that's familiar and are taken to a new place, a completely alien and strange world called Fillagrou. There they learn they're the objects of an ancient prophecy, that they're supposed to save the world. That's a lot of responsibility to put on a kid. It's really no wonder that these kids balk at first, especially when confronted with the very obvious truth that there's nothing special about any of them.

Or is there?

If you like magic, fantasy, coming-of-age stories, adventures, or underdog stories, you'll love this book. And really, who doesn't like at least one of those things?

But wait, there's more!

I bet you thought this review would sit back on its laurels, content with delivering just another rote reason to buy this book. Everything I've said so far is true -- but it's not the total story of what makes this book special. Yes, there are really kick-@$$ characters and situations. There are surprising tests of courage and resolve. There's even quite a bit of torture, blood and guts, and graphic warfare.

What you don't expect are those singing moments of poetry, of beauty, and the life lessons woven behind every chapter. Novak isn't just trying to tell you a fantastic adventure story. Novak is trying to teach you something about himself, and, by extension, something about you. There's a hero in each of us. Will you stand up and answer the call?

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Book Review!

FreedomFreedom by Jonathan Franzen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Human beings are broken, strange creatures, and it seems to me nobody knows that quite like Jonathan Franzen does. At the beginning of the book, we're introduced to the Berglunds, a typical middle-class family living in a revitalized part of urban St. Paul, Minnesota. The Berglunds come off as a striving, rather annoying bunch of liberal ninnies at first, and even their nosy neighbors can tell there's something not-quite-right in the way they operate. The neighbors watch with glee as things turn against these yuppies and their processes start to fall apart. We then are given a view into the strained, strange mind of Patty Berglund, the wife and stay-home mom of the family. She tells her history, including a high school rape, a college friendship, and how she met her husband Walter and his dearest friend Richard, a musician for whom she develops a monstrously unhealthy fascination. Patty is obsessive, and the outcomes of her obsessions are the themes of the book: loss, regret, sacrifice, humiliation -- and yet, after all that, the enduring sweetness of long love.

Franzen pulls no punches. He does not apologize for the flaws of his characters; rather, he leans on those flaws, exploits them, and all to force you to stand slack-jawed in wonder over how magnificent it is to be human, to feel, and to come home again.

As a writer, I strive to make my human beings as thoroughly human as this.

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Thursday, June 2, 2011

My Writing Life

This post will also appear in Cathleen Holst's blog, "Celebrating Sister Writers."

Chasing the Muse
By MJ Heiser

Yes, I know.  Cathleen asked me to write about my writing life.  The whole story about my writing life, however, can be easily dramatized to resemble a chase scene.  Did you ever see the movie Catch Me If You Can, starring Leonardo DiCaprio?  That’s what it’s like.  Writing is the life-long pursuit of pleasure, of mastery, and of that silver-winged mischief-maker known as The Muse.

It started easily enough.  I was a precocious reader.  I started reading at the age of three, because I’d spent my infancy watching my dad sit in his recliner and flip pages of Western novels.  He was content in those times, at peace, and the methodology of that entranced a girl who had not yet been potty-trained.  I wanted to find that peace and contentment, so I started really paying attention to the Muppets on Sesame Street as they tried to show me what each letter sounded like, and how the letters ganged up to make words, and how the words ganged up to make sentences, and how the sentences lined up neatly to form great big horking books.  I started practicing this new ability to translate weird squiggly characters into internalized movies, and found it intoxicating, thrilling that I could pull it off.  Compared to the mastery of reading and the desire to someday write, the subsequent discovery of the ability to control my bowels was a bit of a let-down.

You mean this was an option?

Since then, however . . .well, since then I’ve discovered that writing is not an endeavor to take lightly.  I get a bit riled whenever I hear someone say off-the-cuff that they plan on writing a book someday.  You don’t do that.  You write books all your life, and hope that someday, one of them sprouts wings and flies.  You struggle with apathy and insecurity every day.  You read constantly, and every book you read either inspires you with new things to try or depresses you because the author pulled off something you’d never even considered possible.  –And let’s not even discuss the uncertainty of walking to the writing space and wondering if your damned Muse – that brilliant, beautiful, inspiring, maddening, and mesmerizing creature – will even show up.  When she’s there, it’s a loud and wild brain party.  When she’s not, it’s a wrestling match with creative frustration.


Do you see where I’m going with this?

This is my life.  I don’t know if I managed to make it sound wonderful.  I know my fellow writers nodded their heads a few times in understanding, and like me, they know just how wonderful the whole thing is.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

.epub, Independence, and Being Nearly 40 (Or the challenges of being a Narnia writer in the Apple age)

I am almost 40 years old.

Now, I know a lady never tells her age.  It's a good thing I never claimed to be one of those.  After all, ladies also iron their napkins and send thank you cards in color-coordinated envelopes.  I don't iron ANYTHING, and I am frankly having a good day if I hop on facebook to tell people I survived the drive home after a wild night out.

But I'm old enough to remember the fantasy of what it would mean to be a writer.  You guys who write, you remember the dream, right?  The original dream, as it was dreamed in high school and college, the dream of writing a short story or poem for a school assignment, and moving your teacher/professor so deeply by your genius that the work was entered in some sort of contest or submitted directly to a friend in publishing, and wham-O, suddenly you're a superstar -- remember that dream?  Oh, I do.  I remember that the dream meant that I would turn in a stack of typewritten pages, and they would magically be transformed into boxes full of lovely, full-color-covered books.

Fast forward 30 years.  Not only did that stupid old dream not come true, but I am now asked to evolve my expectations of what publishing looks like.  Gone are the fantasies of hearing the knock on the door and accepting delivery of a box of hardcover books, every one of which features my name on the cover.  I am now an independent author, and I've been asked to not only understand but accomplish something called .epub.

No. Friggin'. Way.

Okay, look.  I'm not inept.  In fact, I'm a gadget freak.  Between us, the husband and I have two Kindles, three laptops, and two desktops, not to mention smartphones and iPods.  I'm fascinated by what technology has accomplished in the last ten years.  I am a nerd, in fact -- but more a nerd on the user end.  I can usually give people pointers on how to use their gadgets.  Getting raw data into the gadgets?  Not my bag, baby.

So that was my dilemma going into 2011: How do I turn that corner?  I mean, I can convert my manuscript from MS Word to PDF, but after that?  I'm at sea.  And I need help.

But I also didn't want to pay for the full-on service that was being offered by Createspace and Lulu.  It sounded expensive, and I'm sure most of you indie writers know just how little start-up money is given to you when you take on the world of big publishing.  That's right.  Goose egg.

What to do?

Well, fortunately, I stumbled upon the perfect blend of control and assistance:

Look, I know some of my younger, quicker, nerdier friends are disappointed in me right now.  You're shaking your heads and thinking to yourselves, Gosh, MJ, I thought you would at least try to figure this out on your own.  Well, I did try.  I tried a few different programs.  And I failed abysmally.  Don't ask me how I failed, or what I did wrong.  I'm sure it had something to do with megapixels or something.*  At any rate, it didn't work, and I have a full-time job I didn't want to take time off of in order to troubleshoot the malfunction. It was time to reach out.

Ebookburn's interface is simple.  You title your work, upload a cover, fill out a few other specifics, then proceed to entering the book's content.  As a writer, you'll be familiar with the general concept: each chapter is added independent of the others.  This process not only gives you a great deal of control, but it helps to create the table of contents (one of those features people really love on their Kindles and Nooks).  Ooops!  Did you add those chapters out of order?  Not to worry.  You can reorder the chapters using the simple list interface.

Yes, this is a fantastic process, but it is by far not the most appealing part of working with the folks there.  They follow up to make sure your file came out okay.  If you have questions, they become personally invested in the solutions.  If you are a repeat customer, the proprietors will go out of their way to make sure that the files you created with them are perfect.  I don't feel alone in this, and I am more than getting my money's worth out of their service.  Their follow-up sure makes me feel like I'm not alone.

Okay, so commercial over, but does it make sense now?  Being 40 means I don't want to be alone.


*Yeah, this footnote explains that I know megapixels are related to graphics.  Joke confirmed.  (I am not that pathetic.)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Ugly Secrets of the E-Book Revolution

Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”  ~Mao Tse-Tung.

Every revolution is ugly.  Political and martial revolutions employ death camps, hostages, and methods of torture, and in almost every case, it's hard to find the evidence of these crimes, because ad victor spoilarum (to the victor go the spoils), and, apparently, ad victor veritas (to the victor goes the truth).  The successful revolutionaries get to write whatever they want in the history books.

It isn't just political revolution that covers up ugly secrets.  Ideological debate often employs the deep pockets of lobbyists to sway popular opinion through manipulation of the media.  Even revolution in the way entertainment and media is distributed and consumed has closet-bound skeletons.

But surely the e-book revolution is a victimless crime, right?

Well, no.  Every crime has a victim.

During the digital music revolution, it's not a secret that the big music labels messed it all up for themselves.  There was certainly a right way and a wrong way to handle Napster and the way kids were sharing music files, and the way it was handled -- sending the cops out after 12 year olds who were probably not very aware that what their friends were doing was a crime -- was not at all the right way.  It caused a lot of bad press.  In the end, it was resolved with the smooth advent of iTunes and the iPod and the introduction of Digital Rights Management (DRM), but in the meantime, the kids suffered, the artists suffered, and the labels lost their mojo.

What's the difference between that situation and this one?  Well, on the surface, the e-book revolution appears to be about empowering the masses, in much the same way that Napster tried to brand itself; however, the people who have the power now are the artists themselves.  The writers can now write their books, and instead of being trapped in an endless cycle of submission to agent and, if they're lucky, to editors at big publishing houses, they can take their work directly to the reader and let them decide.  Readers can get books on the cheap, and writers can get royalties at higher margins.

But wait! you may be saying.  That sounds like a victimless crime!

That it does, until you realize that independent/self-published authors take a lot of shortcuts in bringing their work to market.  They do not benefit from a big publisher's resources.  They do not have a talented, experienced editorial staff to go over their manuscripts with a fine-toothed comb, or an art department to design a winning cover, or a promotional team to make sure the title gets noticed by media outlets.  They do not have an agent present to hold their hand, encourage them, and take care of the business aspect of things while the author gets to live his/her life and, most importantly, write.  The better self-published authors find themselves compromising everything in order to get all of these things considered, let alone addressed, and often burn themselves out trying to primp and pimp their manuscripts.  Even so, manuscripts often hit the e-reader with obvious spelling or grammar errors.

So who are the victims?

First: Agents and publishers, but I think some of that they brought upon themselves.  We all know the stories of the millionaire self-pub Kindle superstars by now, and those of us who are taking this seriously use those stories as messages of hope.  How did those authors escape the industry that is supposed to be the authority on what is fit for consumption?  The agents and publishers have a new model to pursue, and they have to find the sweet spot in this new paradigm -- or there will be deeper repercussions.  Frankly, I do not really want to see this industry crumble.  I just want to see it adapt, experiment, and try to reach out to this new digital publishing age.

Second:  Readers.  I was raised at a time that print books were king, and every one of those print books was produced by a large publisher and meticulously edited.  I grew up surrounded by properly dressed sentences and exhaustively groomed words, all of them lovely and cared for.  My patterns of speech and writing are driven by these words.  I shudder to think that there's a generation of kids being raised around words that have not been so fussed over, ugly, abandoned things who can tell a story, but don't do it with any respect for convention or tradition.

These are our victims, folks.  These are the prisoners of war, who wait for us to decide their fates and don't want to be abandoned.  Their mistakes were made with blindfolds on.  Do we give them a second chance?

Maybe.  At least I wanted to let you know they were out there.  I've answered the question for myself with full understanding of the consequences.  Have you?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Back in the Saddle -- And Riding.

A few things you should know about me:

1.  Last year, I published my first book through a small publisher.
2.  At the end of last year, talks broke down between me and that publisher over lack of communication.
3.  At the beginning of this year, I terminated my relationship with that publisher.

I do not enjoy talking about these things, so after today, I won't.  I know that my story is not unique.  I know that other people have gone through far worse.  I only wanted to let you guys know that the result of this protracted drama is good; I'm no longer beholden to anyone else, be they individual or corporation, for my work.  It is a lot of responsibility to carry the burden alone, I'll admit . . .but it's also immensely rewarding when the work is a success.

So the buzzword today is empowerment, or giving yourself permission to try, to plan, and to not wait for permission from someone else.

What's new, you ask?

I've created my own imprint name: Phoenix House Press.  I'm working with a talented group of writers.  And I'm committed to getting you the best of my work.

So stay tuned.  Things are about to get really, really interesting.  :)

Now available: CORONA: Special Edition!  Featuring a new prologue and expanded chapters.  Find it on the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook.  Print version coming soon!

Corona: Special Edition (The Chronicles of Jaenrye)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Talking to Strangers

Talking to Strangers

Last night I accompanied my husband, who is a brilliant bass player, to a nightclub at which he and his band were performing for the night.  After the predictable delay to allow sports fans to finish watching the game on television, the night got started off properly.  I took photos.  I'm not a photographer.  My spouse is not only the musician in our little family, but he's also our photographer.  Unfortunately, he can't play bass and take photos at the same time, so the duty fell to me for the evening.  Out of dozens of shots taken, I got maybe half a dozen usable photos.

The gig went well after the delay.  The band had great energy and the crowd liked them.  During the first break, my dear husband found his way back to me, and some ladies from the next table came over to me to talk to us.

Cue the anxiety.

I think it's one of the strangest truths about writers.  We love the art of writing for many reasons, but not  least of all because it, of all arts, is as close to anonymous as art can be.  Many writers even choose to hide behind an assumed identity when they publish their work so they don't have to go through what seems inevitable and maybe even pleasurable to many other forms of artist: meeting the public.

Take my husband, for instance: His art form is the most public form of art there is.  Some of his fellow musicians perform before crowds that number in the tens of thousands, and the live performance may be broadcast for millions of people to see.  Even actors don't have that sort of unrehearsed, unedited instant saturation.  Most musicians not only enjoy the saturation of attention, they thrive on it, and a musician in his or her element, on stage on a good night with a receptive audience, is a fulfilled creature.  I feel awful for those musicians who are like me and hate crowds.

At any rate, as we sat there together with these two very friendly women engaging us in conversation, I started to feel nauseous.  As long as we talked about my husband's band, though, I could cope.  I'm proud of him and have no problem demonstrating that pride.  At one point, however, my darling spouse deflected the conversation to me and the fact that I'm a writer.  Two guileless, delighted faces brought the force of their combined attention to bear on me.  I stammered and tried to guide the conversation back to the real star of the moment, the man sitting next to me.  He wasn't having it.

So here I was, staring down the barrel of one of the scariest things a writer can deal with: talking about themselves.

"What's the book about?"
"How do you come up with your ideas?"
"How long did it take to write the book?"
"Would you sign my copy?"

The last question is the easiest, but not for the reasons you'd think.  It's because it's like signing the check at the end of the meal; once my signature is affixed to the book, the process is over, right?

I know I'm expected to be witty and engaging.  I know I should be able to gush and glow about my work and demonstrate to readers that they can trust me with their precious and finite reading time.  I shouldn't be broken like this and incapable of reaching out to even the other friends of my husband's band.  I sit in my solitary confinement and watch, beaming with pride, but I don't approach people.

Maybe this isn't true of all writers.  Maybe I'm hoping that other people understand my violent aversion to all of the gracious politics of publicity.

In the end, I did manage to stammer out the premise of CORONA, and I promised to sign copies when and if these worthy and wonderful ladies chose to buy my book.  I gave them business cards (a prop I'd invented to spread the word of my work without having to be personally present) and gave them my thanks for their attention.  Then I left the gig before the second part began because I felt exhausted and completely worn out.

The attention of the public is like spinach to Popeye for some artists, but for me, it's like Kryptonite to Superman.

I can't ask you to sympathize.  Only a few people can do that.  I only ask for you to not hate me if you meet me and find me to be insufferably rude, awkward, or impolite.  I don't mean it.  I want you to understand that if you approach me about my work, I'm incredibly grateful, but unrehearsed in the fine art of adequately expressing my gratitude.