Entries in It has turned her brain (70)

Sunday
Feb022014

Give a Little Bit

I've blogged before about my awesome friend Rob Wells. He's a very talented and hard-working writer who has done a tremendous amount of service in the writing community. He's a devoted husband and father. He's an all-around great guy--and at the moment, he's going through trials that make the Perkins Family Janupocalypse look like a day in the park.

He's struggling with a whole host of mental illnesses. He's got little kids to feed. And he's looking down the black maw of a cancer diagnosis. 

EDITED on 4 February to add: Rob found out this morning that he is cancer free! He's got this other weird thing, but it's NOT cancer. (But he still needs your help.)

You, the readers of this blog, have amazed me before with the depth of your compassion, and I'm asking for your help again on behalf of my friend. Here are ways you can help:

1) Read this post and click on the Donate button.

2) Buy one of Rob's books. (If you participated in my Variant book bomb, check out its sequel, or his awesome new book, Blackout.)

3) Spread the word via Twitter or Facebook or a blog post of your own.

I want to reward you for your generosity. If you either donate directly OR buy a book AND Tweet or post to Facebook or your own blog about it, come back to this post and leave me a comment. On Wednesday, February 5th, I'll put all the comments in the hopper at RANDOM.org and draw a couple of numbers. 

  • The first commenter I draw will win a $50 Amazon gift certificate.
  • The second name I draw will win a goodie box from me that will include signed copies of my books Dispirited, Premonition, and Comfortably Yum; chocolate; and other fabulousness. (This prize is actually worth more than the first prize.)
  • EDITED TO ADD: The wonderful Sarah M. Eden has donated a prize! The third person whose name I draw will win a signed two-book set of her excellent Longing for Home series--the second of which isn't even out yet. SO awesome.
  • C. Michelle Jeffries will donate either a hand-covered journal or a query critique to our fourth winner!
  • Annette Lyon has donated signed copies of her amazing cookbook, Chocolate Never Faileth, and her compelling historical romance, Spires of Stone! Thanks, Annette!
  • YOU GUYS: Holy cow. Literary agent Pam van Hylckama Vlieg of Foreword Literary has generously donated a query and first chapter critique as a prize. 
  • Fantasy writer C. J. Hill has donated signed copies of her hugely popular books Slayers and Erasing Time to one lucky winner!
  • Accomplished writer Shallee McArthur has donated one critique of a book submission package--query + first five pages + synopsis--to another lucky winner! Better than gold!
  • The highly decorated Dan Wells has donated a signed copy of one of his award-winning books! Awesome! 
  • Heather Moore has donated a signed copy of her new and suspenseful Whitney Finalist, Finding Sheba!
  • Christy Dorrity has added a signed copy of Awakening to the prize pile!
  • Multiple Whitney Award winner Stephanie Black has donated signed copies of her thrillers The Believer and The Witnesses!
  • The lovely LuAnn Staheli has donated a copy of When Hearts Conjoin and a 10-page critique/edit! 
  • Angel cellist Michelle Beauchesne has donated two of her fantastic CDs!
  • Renaissance man Braden Bell has donated a copy of his awesome middle grade fantasy trilogy The Kindling/Penumbras/Luminescence
  • The über-popular J. Scott Savage has donated a unique and VERY cool prize: he will name a character after one lucky winner (or a loved one of their choosing) and then (most likely) kill that character off! LOVE IT.
  • Professional editor Chris Todd Miller has offered TWO prizes: a ten-page critique and a copy of his most excellent Gold Quill-winning fantasy novel By Blood Bequeathed!
  • Danyelle Ferguson has donated a $10 Redbox gift card and a copy of her upcoming novel, Sweet Confections!
  • Julie Daines has donated a copy of her latest YA fantasy novel, Unraveled!
  • WOW! The world famous Brandon Sanderson has donated a signed copy of the #1 New York Times bestseller Steelheart

(If anyone else wants to jump on board and donate something else for the drawing, please let me know!)

Such a deal, right? Let's summarize:

1) Either donate (give whatever you can, even if it's just $1) or purchase; then

2) Spread the word linking back either to this post or to Rob's blog via Facebook, Twitter, or blog; and

3) Leave me a comment reporting your actions. Don't mention the dollar amount you donated. In fact, if you'd like to be relatively anonymous, feel free to email me privately. Then check back here Wednesday evening for the results.

Make me proud, people. I know you will.   

Friday
Jan172014

Top o' the Pops: The Best of 2013

Best Acquisition of 2013: Our darling Moneypenny--This was back in May; now she's a grown-up girl.

Long-time readers of this blog know that in years past, I've always posted a retrospective on or around January 1st. Well, my report on 2013 is late in coming, due to a series of unfortunate events we have dubbed "Janupocalypse" at our house, but it's finally here. 

2013 was our first full year as a family in the Golden State, and we've had quite a grand time exploring our new home town and its environs. Here's what I liked best:

Favorite Books Read: 

10. Joyland, by Stephen King

9. Callender Square, by Anne Perry

8. Mastering the Art of French Eating, by Ann Mah

7. The God Who Weeps, by Terryl and Fiona Givens

6. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne Valente

5. I Shall Wear Midnight, by Terry Pratchett

4. Dancing on Broken Glass, by Ka Hancock

3. Forever Chic, by Tish Jett

2. Night Film, by Marisha Pessl

1. The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

(Once again, I did not rank books by close friends, many of which were superb.)

Most Disappointing (not the worst) Book:

Harrowgate, by Kate Haruyama

Favorite Movies Seen:

10. 42

9. Up on Poppy Hill

8. Man of Steel

7. Monsters University

6. World War Z

5. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

4. Austenland

3. The Way, Way Back

2. Gravity

1. Blue Jasmine

I'm super way behind on filmgoing. One of my goals in 2014 is to see a lot more movies. I live in Movie Central, after all. Sheesh.

Favorite TV Watched:

5. Game of Thrones

4. Modern Family

3. Downton Abbey

2. Breaking Bad

1. Call the Midwife

And I have to mention Almost Human, which we are recording on DVR, and which I'm thoroughly enjoying. It features interesting science fiction-based plots and about the most attractive cop duo of all time. Give it a try.

Music: It's been a year of treasuring the old stuff: The Beatles, Great Big Sea, Niamh Parsons, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Bach, Brahms. I just haven't had a need or a desire for anything new, really. We'll see if and when that changes this year. 

Food, on the other hand: It's all about the new and fabulous. LA County is a motherlode of inexpensive, world-class Asian food, so we've hit that hard: Din Tai Fung, Vietnam House, Luscious Dumplings, Gin Sushi, Sweethome Grill, and many more.

We also found Da Pasquale, an absolute gem of an authentic Neopolitan restaurant in Beverly Hills, a stone's throw from the temple in Santa Monica, and it has been our go-to spot for pizza and the like. I keep heading back to Eagle Rock's The Oinkster for top-notch pastrami sandwiches and luscious fries with homeade aioli. For artisanal ice cream of the freshest and most delicious sort, we alternate between Carmela's in Pasadena and Mother Moo's right here in Sierra Madre. Awesome tacos abound; we love Taco Fiesta, conveniently an easy walk from our house. And burgers? The Counter, Hook Burger, and Pie n' Burger have all been on hand to satisfy the craving. 

Top Local Tourist Sites Visited:

10. Descanso Gardens

9. Chinatown/Olvera Street

8. Santa Barbara Zoo

7. Lake Hollywood

6. Bolsa Chica Beach

5. La Brea Tar Pits

4. The Norton-Simon Museum

3. Huntington Dog Beach

2. Huntington Library & Gardens

1. The Getty Center

We plan to do a lot more exploring in 2014. I don't know if we'll ever discover all there is to experience around here, but we'll give it our best shot.

Best to you in the coming year! Let's make it the greatest year ever, shall we?

Thursday
Oct102013

31 Octoberish Books

Living in Southern California, fall didn't really register with me until yesterday. The seasons here are...subtle. But yesterday, the temperature dropped 30 degrees, and it rained and blustered all day. HEAVEN. I pulled out my favorite hand-knit sweater, made Mexican hot chocolate, and cooked up a big batch of boeuf bourguignonne. Gray days have always been my favorite, and tend to lead me to happy contemplation of all things pleasurably melancholy--and even a little (or a lot) spooky--Octoberish. 

Here's a list of my 31 favorite Octoberish books (in no particular order), some scary, some just a little...other. I've rated them for scariness and/or explicitness. How many have you read?

1. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke

This is one of my favorite books of all time. Two 19th century English magicians compete to see who is the more powerful--and unwittingly stumble upon the secrets of the shadowy John Uskglass, The Raven King. A companion collection of short stories, The Ladies of Grace Adieu, came out a couple of years after Jonathan Strange, but I can't get enough. Please write faster, Susanna Clarke! I need another fix of your strange and wonderful world. PG

2. Shadowland, by Peter Straub

This is the story of a magical apprenticeship gone very wrong. Straub is most famous for the terrifying novel Ghost Story and his collaboration with Stephen King, The Talisman. Both those books are fantastic, but Shadowland adds an extra level of horror for any parent. R

3. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë

When I was about 11, I started this book but put it down after reading the first chapter--because that alone was just. Too. Frightening. I did this twice more before I had the courage to keep reading. Spoiler alert: this is not a romance, despite the torrid movie trailers you might have seen. The Yorkshire moors, plaintive apparitions, and tragic love--the Brontë sisters never disappoint. PG-13

4. Carrion Comfort, by Dan Simmons

Dan Simmons writes both excellent science fiction and excellent horror. This book is his best. Psychic vampires and Nazi conspirators? BRING IT. R

5. Night Film, by Marisha Pessl

I loved the author's first novel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, and when I heard she had a new book out, I was afraid that I wouldn't like it as much. WRONG. Night Film is the story of a reclusive film director, his talented but troubled daughter, and the investigative journalist who pursues their story at the expense of all else. Pessl's interstitial documentation of the journalist's story adds to the dark not-quite-realism. R

6. Lord of the Flies, by William Golding

Kids: you can't leave them alone for even an hour. If you didn't like this book in high school, give it another try. Patrick and I recently read it with two of our teenagers and had a wonderful discussion about morals, agency, and peer pressure--and just how freaky this book is. PG-13

7. The Children of Men, by P.D. James

Famous mystery writer P.D. James published this novel in the early nineties, long before dystopians became the thing. It's gorgeously crafted and written and dark, dark, dark. R

8. Psalms of Herod, by Esther Freisner

Freisner usually writes humorous fantasy along the lines of Terry Pratchett (I once heard them speak on a panel together), but she took a break from the funny in the mid-nineties and put out this book. It and its sequel, The Sword of Mary, make The Children of Men (above) or Margaret Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale look like a romp in the park. Pitch-black dystopian. LOVE. It needs to be on Kindle, but you can get it used on Amazon. R

9. House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski

Freaky. Deaky. And way meta. With even more cool interstitial stuff along the lines of Pessl's book, above. (Of course, they both copied the stuff that Jared Adair and I created for The Book of Jer3miah: Premonition. YES, THEY DID.) And someone should really write a paper comparing and contrasting this book with Night Film, because the similarities are fascinating. A filmmaker and his family move into a house that's bigger on the inside than on the outside. What's so scary about that? Read it and find out. R

10. The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James

One of the very scariest of ghost stories. A governess tries to protect her charges from the malevolence of her predecessor and her lover, Peter Quint. No blood, no violence--just taut suspense and chilling allusion. This novella was the seed for the most frightening part of Straub's Ghost Story. (Again: a paper waiting to happen.) See Britten's opera based on the story, if you can. Chilling and wonderful. PG-13

11. Salem's Lot, by Stephen King

I've read all of King's books. Every one. Though his books vary widely in quality, I adore the man, as I've written before. Jerusalem's Lot, a small town in Maine, is a haven for vampires of the most un-sparkly sort. The quiet dread is unnerving. Other favorites by King include The ShiningMisery, and Bag of Bones. If you want PG-13 King, try The Green Mile or Joyland—but Salem’s lot is a definite R.

12. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving

We used to live a half hour from Sleepy Hollow, and when we listened to thunderstorms from our house in the Hudson Highlands, it was easy to see why Irving likened summer storms to the ninepin bowling of giants. All of Irving’s writing is excellently melancholic, but Ichabod Crane’s taut, tragic story stands out. PG

13. We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson

You probably know “The Lottery,” Jackson’s iconic short story, from high school, and you may have heard of The Haunting of Hill House, which is fabulously frightening. This book is not as well known, but every bit as awful (in the best of ways). Magic, murder, and betrayal in New England—Octoberish, indeed. PG-13

14. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë

Now, THIS is Gothic romance of the highest degree—a forbidding mansion, a mysterious stranger in the attic—and the star-crossed heroine and her employer, Mr. Rochester. Brilliant and haunting. PG

15. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury may as well have invented October. His dreamlike stories always have a hint of the strange about them—and this one is downright eerie. Bradbury realizes the inherent otherness of a traveling carnival—and then exploits it to the nth degree. PG 

16. The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters

This book reads like something written at least 70 years ago—and I mean that as the highest of compliments. A country doctor is called to attend what’s left of an aristocratic Warwickshire family brought low by two world wars. Their decaying house—and what’s in it—haunts the family, the doctor, and ultimately, the reader. PG-13

17. The Complete Edgar Allen Poe

When I was in fourth grade, I checked a book of Poe’s short stories out of the school library. For years afterward, I lay awake at night, terrified that a pendulum or a tell-tale heart or a black cat would spell my doom. Poe is the American master of melancholy and dread. PG

18. The Dead Secret, by Wilkie Collins

Wilkie Collins, a close friend of Charles Dickens’s, is most famous for his novels The Moonstone and The Woman in White. This lesser-known gem, his first full-length novel, is no less creepworthy. Every chapter is a cliff-hanger, probably because the book first appeared serially in the magazine Household WordsPG

19. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, by Anne Brontë

The title alone speaks of October. The third and final novel by a Brontë to appear on my list tells the compelling story of a beautiful woman with a tragic secret. Will she ever be free of the past that haunts her? You never know whether you’ll get a happy ending or a tragic one when it comes those wacky sisters from Yorkshire. PG-13

20. Perdido Street Station, by China Miéville

Urban dystopic fantasy can be filled with pensive dread—especially when written by China Miéville. Art, its exploitation, and shadowy conspiracies all thrive in this magnificent book of a parallel London. R

21. Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman

Again, the title itself is brilliant, and the book is no less fabulous. It tells the tale of two travelers—a businessman named Richard and a damaged street girl called Door—to the dangerous world of London Below. This is my favorite of many great books by Neil Gaiman. PG-13

22. In the Forest of Forgetting, by Theodora Goss

Yet another title that I envy—so evocative, and the book lives up to its promise. This collection of short stories is firmly in the gothic/slipstream tradition and reads like a bunch of the darkest, oldest fairy tales. We need much more Theodora Goss. PG-13

23. Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, by M.R. James

I first became acquainted with the work of M.R. James when I attended a dramatic reading of some of his ghost stories. James was a highly educated scholar of medieval studies; he perfected his disturbing narratives purely as a hobby. His dark tales would be best read aloud by firelight—but be prepared for some sleepless hours afterward.PG-13

24. Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…” Thus begins one of the most powerful Gothic novels ever. Here’s another scholarly paper begging to be written: examine both the prevalence and the role of sinister servants in English Gothic novels. Manderley’s housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers? Yeah: she’ll give you nightmares. PG-13

25. Bellefleur, by Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates is marvelously prolific, and that’s a very good thing. She tends to write claustrophobic psychological thrillers, and I’ve never been sorry to spend time with any of her books. Bellefleur, the magic realist novel about an inbred family living (and dying) in upstate New York, is one of her best. R

26. Lost Boys, by Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card is best known for his fantasy and science fiction, but he’s written some good horror novels, too. This is one of the saddest ghost stories I’ve ever read. It has staying power; I think our son Christian has read it at least five times. PG-13

27. Everything That Rises Must Converge, by Flannery O'Connor

Oh, how I adore Flannery O’Connor. She’s the very best of the Southern Gothic writers, and these short stories are deeply strange. Great stories get better with every re-reading, and that is certainly true of this collection. Hollywood should be mining O’Connor’s work they way they do Philip K. Dick’s. Pure (if tarnished) gold. PG

28. Magic for Beginners, by Kelly Link

Kelly Link’s work—all slipstream short stories—fills me with envy and awe. She’s won a ton of awards, and she’s deserved them all. Read “Stone Animals” or the eponymous short story, and the rest of this collection. Then read her other books, Stranger Things Happen and Pretty Monsters. Link’s tales are addictive and unlike anything else I’ve ever read. More, Kelly; more! R

29. The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster

This is a children's adventure that has often been compared to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. It's witty and wry, but there's a definite undercurrent of the autumnal throughout. A wonderful, non-scary read-aloud. G

30. The Magic Toyshop, by Angela Carter

Grim and gritty and PUPPETS. Need I say more? Angela Carter's stuff is all creepalicious, but this novel? Sheesh. For more shudders, read her fairy tale retellings in The Bloody ChamberR 

31. Orlando: A Biography, by Virginia Woolf

This tale of the gender-shifting, seemingly ageless and immortal Orlando is a fascinating, dreamlike trip. What could be more Octoberish than living for centuries and watching those around you age and die? Woolf's prose is gorgeous, and her moody spirit can't help but leak through. PG-13

As I look over my list, I see interesting patterns--lots of English novels, lots of books by women. I go more for the atmospheric than the graphic. Almost without exception, the books are set in England or on the East Coast of the United States; there doesn't seem to be much of what I like set in here in the West. Clearly, I need to invent California Gothic....

I also find that in trying to encapsulate the essence of these books, I want to re-read almost all of them. Ah, Happy October to me! And to you. Let me know what you would add to the list. I'm always up for a new Octoberish read. 

Tuesday
Sep242013

Book Review: Global Mom

The folks at A Motley Vision recently invited me to become a contributor. My first post, a review of Melissa Dalton-Bradford's recently published memoir, Global Mom, is up today. Go check it out!

Thursday
Jul112013

How to Write a Cookbook

Comfortably Yum fans will be happy to learn that I'm working on a new cookbook! I've got 125 drafted recipes that I'm testing and writing up. Here's my process:

1) Write down ideas. Maybe you tasted something great in a restaurant or bakery that you want to reverse engineer. Maybe you've had a brainflash on how to improve a traditional dish. Maybe you got desperate one night when the fridge was pretty bare, and you created something brand new and fabulous. Maybe a friend shared a recipe with you, and you've customized it to your family's tastes. I've done all of the above and more in choosing my recipes. Most cookbooks have at least 75 recipes in them, and many have far more than that. 

2) Come up with a theme. Look at your list carefully and analyze it. Group the recipes into categories. Is it unbalanced? Is it all one kind of food? What do your recipes have in common? What are the outliers? Once you've seen patterns and recurrences in your list, you can figure out whether you're going to have an eclectic collection or a single-food book--and whether you need to trim or expand your list. Comfortably Yum is eclectic; my dear friend Annette Lyon's peerless Chocolate Never Faileth focuses on just one wonderful thing. 

3) Test, test, test. Cook up your recipe as drafted and take notes on what needs improving. Try it again, and again--as many times as needed until it's perfect. 

4) Write the full text of the recipes. I'll tell you a secret: recipes themselves can't be copyrighted. But the way they're written can be copyrighted. I like to have a chatty, quirky, (hopefully) funny voice when I write recipes. Other cookbook authors are more formal or are able to write mouthwatering descriptions to tempt the reader to try their recipes. Let your personality shine.

5) Ask others to test your recipes. This is the equivalent of asking for beta readers for a novel. Are your directions clear? Are your measurements accurate? Feedback from other cooks is essential.

6) Find a way to publish. I used CreateSpace and have been very happy with it. My genius friends Jana and Deb came up with the title for my first cookbook, and my very talented brother-in-law Gary designed its cover. Having pros help you with design is key to your cookbook's appeal. 

7) Spread the word. I'll confess: I have done very little marketing for Comfortably Yum, yet it continues to sell month after month. I put that down to word of mouth. But at the beginning, print up some postcards and give them away. That'll cost you $20. Ask friends to write reviews. Get the excellent book Make a Killing on Kindle and follow its advice (most of which applies to self-published paper books, too). Trade bloggers a copy for a review. If your recipes are good, your book will sell. 

What about you? Have you ever dreamed of writing a cookbook?