Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What I Knocked Off My TBR List in May

Well, if you're stuck not writing, you might as well read, right?  Been doing a lot of that. (And now I'm UNstuck, yippee!)

Here's what I've read, most recently:

The Last Will of Moira Leahy - Therese Walsh
Because I've come to know Therese through her incredible generosity to other writers on her Writer Unboxed site and FaceBook group, I wanted to love her book, but was afraid I wouldn't.

Fear was unnecessary. This was a beautiful, emotionally moving novel, and I would have loved it even if the writer wasn't Therese. Still, I'm stumped as to where to mentally shelve it. There's twins Moira and Maeve, growing up together in Maine - is it a YA? Not really. There's a romance, even sex, so is it a romance? Not really (though my cover notes it was a RITA® finalist in 2010). There's a Javanese dagger called a keris, which seems to have magical powers, is it perchance a paranormal? Noooo... There's mystery, there's a journey to Rome, there's danger, there's complicated family dynamics, and above all, there's lovely, lovely writing. And a surprise twist at the end which I am not giving away.

Unravel Me - Christie Ridgway (Contemporary Romance)

I had a hard time getting "into" this heroine at first - Juliet Weston began as a teeny-bopper with a crush on a foxy older man, to his wife as a very innocent young woman, to his widow, still a young woman, in the blink of a few pages. So it's hard figuring out who she is, when not in relation to others, a problem that lingers till the book is almost done. Turns out Juliet does have a personality, after all.

However, Ridgway's strong writing, and her sexy and complicated hero, Noah, kept me turning pages. I liked the newfound family thread, and speaking of threads, of course I was a sucker for the knitting shop theme. My biggest problem with this book was that almost everyone, from the newfound sisters, to the hero(es) and the quasi-villain, stepdaughter from hell Marlys (who I actually liked better than anyone else) seemed more interesting than the heroine.

Dirty Sexy Knitting - Christie Ridgeway (Contemporary Romance)

The conclusion to the trilogy (which I still think should be a quad), this book focuses on yarn shop owner Cassandra Riley, who is reaching a benchmark birthday (30!); her mom has other plans, her newfound sperm donor half-sisters are both off doing their own "things," more than focused on her.

This book left me emotionally divided. Ridgway is a an excellent writer, and the way she weaves all the different personalities and their stories into a book without losing focus on the lead heroine and hero is brilliant, IMO. She also writes seriously hot sex scenes.

But, I had problems because Gabe, the hero, is a drink-till-you-pass-out drunk. He has a plausible reason, and he is not an actual addicted-to-alcohol alcoholic. I could believe that Cassandra, who was a firstborn/only child until recently, was a super-responsible Rescuer type.  I liked the book, I liked the romance, I liked the surprise twist re: Cassie's previous level of experience, still...  I am concerned with The Message it sends, that a young woman can get involved with an alcoholic/addicted/super-damaged person, and Rescue him, and in the end, find a Happily Ever After. In real life, it almost never works out that way. AND - I still liked Marlys, the spoiled/selfish Army brat, better than the other characters. I am also not sure about Ridgway's use of prologue/flashback to tell this story, finding it somewhat gimmicky, though I read the whole thing anyway.

Now that I've read these two, of course I am kicking myself for not picking up the first book in this trilogy (quad?) How to Knit A Wild Bikini, and have added it to my TBR list. Thought I really hope there is a fourth book, where Marlys takes the lead.

You Can Heal Your Life - Louise Hay (Self-Help/Inspirational)

I held back on reading this for a while, and, while reading, have (so far) held back on doing some of the exercises it suggests. Still trying to figure out WHY, but I have some inklings.

I think, if you read this book and do the suggested affirmations and exercises when YOU are in the right emotional place to do them, this book could potentially be life-changing. There's so much good here, so much about rejecting negativity and embracing one's one loveability and worthiness, I think everyone should read this book.

That said, my mother died of breast cancer. I know that she loved me, and wanted to stay with me; I know others who have loved, deeply and completely, and wanted to stay in this life. To suggest that if you love/accept yourself enough, you can cure anything, even cancer, feels to me more than a little bit like blaming the victim for not wanting/committing to healing enough. Possibly I am dumping my own baggage where it doesn't belong. Perhaps I don't want to accept the possibility that my mother did choose to die, rather than to stay in this life.

I will say that, IMO, 95%+ of this book is great. But I also believe, rightly or wrongly, that even with the heart and spirit in the right place, even with accepting and loving oneself as much as humanly possible, that even with the perfect balance of diet and exercise and supportive family and friends and energies, some people will still die of illnesses and diseases, as well as accidents. Life itself is a fatal condition; human beings are not meant to live in perfect health, forever (not that we should resign ourselves without a fight to acceptance of illness and dis-ease, as Hay puts it so eloquently, either.)

Maybe it's my pessimistic attitude that ruins the possibilities for me, I don't know. I do recommend this book, and plan to re-read it in the future.

Let's Pretend This Never Happened - Jenny Lawson (The Bloggess) (Memoir/humor)

Holy shitsnacks, folks!  Do not read this book (any of this book) on a full bladder, or risk enduring an embarrassing accident. Do not read this book if you are squeamish about laxative overdoses, abandoning a turkey baster inside a cow after having one's arm stuck in said cow's vagina, or the phrase mother-f--ker.

However, if the thought of an enraged, screaming raccoon stuck on your little sister's face strikes you as hilarious and totally badass, then you will love this book as much as I did. Even if you're not lucky enough to get your copy personally autographed by The Bloggess, herself. (braggin' on self and totally unflattering photo).

It's not all shits and giggles. There are some poignant sections there, notably about Jenny's miscarriages, struggles with bizarre health issues and mental illness. There's the story of how Jenny and Victor courted, complete with worries about couch etiquette; cushions being an issue at one set of parents, and live bobcats at another's. There's a very good reason that Hamlet von Schnitzel, a taxidermied mouse holding another mouse's skull, wearing an Elizabethan ruff and little cape, was chosen for the cover of this book. I won't be a spoiler, but highly encourage you to read this book for yourself and find out.

Messalina: Devourer of Men - Zetta Brown (Erotic Romance)

Messalina, in history, was a Roman Empress with a very bad reputation. Most people, myself included, don't know much about the details of her life, but enough juju lingers to be spooked by the name itself. Add to this a cartoon of a woman who looks powerful enough to snap off your head and s--t down your neck if you pissed her off, plus the subtitle "Devourer of Men," and you may understand why this book lingered on my Kindle for a year. She scared me.

Then I read it. Loved it.  Messalina - a cartoon character - is, just like our current impressions of Empress Messalina, "inspired by" real life. The protagonist is Eva (Evadne) Cavell, an as-yet untenured assistant professor at a Denver University. African American, single, in her early thirties, with an abundantly ripe figure. She hooks up with strangers in her local movie theater for a little mutual masturbation, then connects with Jared Delaney, a Caucasian local artist. They are quickly both in over their heads, in lust/love and total emotional connection.

"Messalina" becomes a character in his erotic graphic novels, inspired by Eva, though not looking (exactly) like her or behaving just like her.

The sex scenes - extremely hot. The Denver-Dallas connection, and Jared setting Eva up to hang out with his H.S. sweetheart, Talley, interesting and unexpected. There are constant little realistic surprises, like Eva being embarrassed to spit (while brushing her teeth) in front of Jared after spending the night doing any number of wild acrobatic sexual acts with him. The negative/surprised reactions in the book to Eva "playing in the snow" (interracial romance) come from her own friends and family, rather than antagonistic whites.

I'm not sure the subplot involving Eva's TA Neil "works," and I would have liked to see a little more connection between Eva and Jared than powerful sexual attraction, but I loved this book.

Bet Me - Jennifer Crusie (Contemporary Romance)

Never has almost 500 pages sped by so quickly; I think I read this RomCom in one sitting. Very cute, very funny, very satisfying in the end. I love that Minerva Dobbs is a "big girl." (That is, guessing by the descriptions in the book of her not fitting into a size 8, she's probably a size 12, perhaps even a 14. The horror!) While Calvin Morrissey only seeks her out initially, because of a bet placed by her asshat exboyfriend, David, he quickly becomes enthralled.

A few of the food themes were a little overdone - I'm sure chicken marsala is delicious and all that, but it seems like that and Krispy Creme donuts were ALL these two were eating. Generally people who love food and eating like more than 1-2 things. And enough with the Elvises already!

This is another book with excellent use of the subplot romances and background characters - there are many, but they are all very quickly distinct, from Liza to Tony to Diana to nephew Harry. The 'rents are NOT evil people but who have managed to screw up our hero and heroine quite nicely, thank you. The ex-girlfriend who wants Cal back is not a villain; Crusie's use of Cynthee was interesting, she was both an antagonist, and something of a Greek chorus, filling the audience in on what stage of love that Cal and Min were experiencing.

Another thing I loved that was different, was that while they liked kids, neither heroine nor hero WANTED them. This was consistent throughout the book, and in the epilogue, they did not in fact HAVE kids. I love kids; had one of my own, but not every HEA needs kids, and I love that Crusie matched a couple and gave them a HEA without the obligatory offspring.

The Birthday of the World and Other StoriesThe Birthday of the World - Ursula K. LeGuin (Science Fiction/Fantasy)

LeGuin is SUCH a brilliant writer that on the one hand she inspires me to write, to reach for the stars, on the other hand I despair of ever getting close to her AMAZING, lyrical prose. Her work is filed in Science Fiction, but truly, she is all about who WE are, now.

This is a collection of eight short stories/novellas, what she calls a "story suite," that is, worlds/stories set in the same mythical universe. Her stories simultaneously pose the question: What would life/society be like if:
  • All beings were hermaphroditic, neuter, and became male or female periodically for short periods of time, either siring or bearing children?
  • Females born live and healthy outnumbered males 16:1?
  • Marriages are a complicated mix of foursomes: two males, two females, and two moieties?
  • The rulers of the world are considered Gods, much like the early Egyptians?
  • People travel on a multi-generation starship to discover and colonize another planet - what would the 5th generation be like?
She explores these questions, and more, in incredible tales that draw us fully into these make-believe worlds, while at the same time, holding up a mirror to the society in which we live, without ever getting preachy, lecturing, or wordy.

I am a long-time fan of LeGuin's work, but even the stories that introduced me to worlds new to me, such as Paradises Lost, felt fully realized within a few pages. For those who proclaim that "I never  read science fiction;" if you skip Ursula LeGuin you are cheating yourself of some of the most original, imaginative, skillful, downright beautiful writing there is, in any genre

Bond Girl - Erin Duffy (Chick Lit)

Read this for my Chick Lit readers group. Liked it better than the two previous choices. The author has a very engaging voice, and the trip through the workplace from hell to the financial meltdown was interesting.
Bond Girl
What I found missing was the personal. Alex chooses to work on Wall Street because her father does, and she has wanted to do with since she was a little girl. But when she does, actually, get a job on Wall Street, we don't see her communicating with or even thinking about her father very much.

When she strikes up a workplace romance, I wasn't even sure that she had. She's out for drinks and flirting with a co-worker (something that could cost her her job). Next she's waking up in his bed - did she pass out, or did they have sex?  As you continue reading, yes, apparently she and said co-worker are "hooking up" and she is becoming emotionally involved, but there is no there there. We don't see them kissing, having sex, or her daydreaming about him much, just some innocuous emails.

Since we already know about the financial meltdown, that wasn't a surprise, and since I wasn't emotionally  invested in Alex's romance, the ending to that doesn't really pay off, either.
I would certainly read another book by this author, but hope she'll include some closer looks inside her character's heart.

The Sleeping Beauty (A Tale of the Five Hundred Kingdoms)The Sleeping Beauty (A Tale of the Five Hundred Kingdoms)  - Mercedes Lackey
(?? Fantasy RomCom??)

Another favorite author, I love the way Lackey retells classic fairy tales in her own way, and she is an excellent example of how to write trilogies that work as stand-alones, in her Valdemar series, and this series, a story suite as LeGuin describes. While some of the Five Hundred Kingdoms books are a continuation of characters seen in a previous work, each book stands alone.

In the Kingdoms, The Tradition, a powerful, unseen, magical force, works to compel Princes, goose girls, and orphaned girls, whose lives somewhat resemble those of classic fairy tales, into exact copies of them. Whether all the details fit or not. (Like, what if your "destined Prince" is 70 years old, a baby, already married, or gay?)

In this book, Rosa, a Princess approaching her 16th birthday, has seen her mother killed, her father embroiled by war, and a Huntsman trying to kill her. But she has a secret ally, her fairy godmother Lily, who poses as her Evil Stepmother in public, while doing her magical best to avert a tragic ending for Rosa and the Kingdom. There are heroic Princes, a disembodied green face in a mirror, Wise Beasts, a challenge to win the hand of the Princess, dragons, and a beautiful (if stupid) unicorn with a lisp.

It's light, it's funny, the characters are interesting and different, and it twists and turns in unexpected directions, while still providing a HEA (Happily Ever After).  Loved this book, love all in this series I've read so far.

And for those who note I am only reading female authors, I did make a little progress with Les Miserables.  Plus, I have this:

Uncover me - Peter Matuchniak

Peter is the lead guitarist for a group I reviewed last month, Gekko Projekt, and this is his debut solo album. So I was expecting some intricate electric guitar solos - and they're organically present, but they belong. They don't overpower the music, they don't jump up and down and scream I'M A GUITAR SOLO, STOP EVERYTHING AND LISTEN TO MEEEEE.

These are all full-bodied songs, with styles from classic to progressive rock to jazz to folk, with a variety of well-played instruments, gorgeous vocals, a very clean production sound (and some interesting sound effects - rain, sirens, and more).

Female vocalist Natalie Azerad has a sweet voice, similar to Jewel's, but mix in a little Sheryl Crow and a generous chunk of soul. The first song, Falling Ash, sounds Pink Floyd-ish, very progressive, as is the second part of that composition, Rising Sun, which appears as the next-to-last song. (Okay, maybe there's a few blistering guitar solos in Rising Sun that demand attention, plus a progressive keyboard jam, but they fit the song.)

My favorite tracks are Uncover Me and Running Back To You. Uncover Me features acoustic guitar, vocals and flute, with a lilting, playful, Renaissance Faire feel. The guitar on Running Back To You has a smoky, dirty feel to it; the whole song conveys a hypnotically sexy melody and dangerous interweaving of vocals and instruments. Down in New Orleans and Across the Pond are jazzy, featuring some great sax, great guitar solos.  Definitely party songs.

The last track, Hippy In The Rain is cute, nice acoustic guitar & vocals, but feels like it hitchiked onto here from another era. My only complaint is that some of the songs have rather long intros, and others very abrupt endings (London Vibe, Sandcastles). All in all though, there isn't a clunker on here; the whole album is a great listen, and it's become one of my new personal favorites.

Left on my TBR list from December:

The Birthday of the World - Ursula LeGuin
Messalina: Devourer of Men - Zetta Brown
Uncut Diamonds - Karen Jones Gowan
Les Miserables - Victor Hugo
Daisy Miller - Henry James
Bet Me - Jennifer Crusie
Falling Leaves - Adeline Yen Mah
Picture Perfect - Jodi Picoult
Giving Up the Dream - J.L. Campbell
Automagically - Sommer Marsden
You Can Heal Your Life
- Louise Hay
Little Black Dress - Susan McBride
Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
Confessions of an Improper Bride - Jennifer Haymore

Added to my TBR list, already on my Kindle or bookshelf:

Pleasure - Eric Jerome Dickey
The Darkest Surrender - Gena Showalter
A Heart to Mend - Myne Whitman
The Doctor's Lady - Jody Hedlund
Dev Dreams - Ruth Madison
My Cheeky Angel - Mimi Barbour
Katie's Hellion - Lizzy Ford
The Inner Game of Stress - W. Timothy Gallwey
First Grave on the Right - Darynda Jones
Romance Novel - PJ Jones
Living in Gratitude - Angeles Arrien
Bossypants - Tina Fey
Train Your Mind, Change Your Life - Sharon Begley
Water - Terra Harmony
The Cowboy's Pride - Charlene Sands
The Bird Sisters - Rebecca Rasmussen
Mercury Rising - Daisy Harris
The Brenda Diaries - Margo Candela
Hollywood Ending - Lucie Simone
Are You There, Vodka?  It's Me, Chelsea - Chelsea Handler
Devil's Kiss - Zoe Archer
Melt - Natalie Anderson
Inside Heat - Roz Lee
Beauty and the Werewolf (A Tale of the Five Hundred Kingdoms)  - Mercedes Lackey
Marriage Made on Paper - Maisey Yates
Beloved - Toni Morrison
The Awakening - Kate Chopin
His Strength - Kiru Taye
Just The Way You Are - Barbara Freethy
Bloodchild and Other Stories - Octavia E. Butler
Hunchback of Notre Dame - Victor Hugo
Just Like That - Margo Candela
Twelve Times Blessed - Jacqueline Mitchard
The Lantern - Deborah Lawrenson
Danger Zone - Dee J. Adams
The Possibility of You - Pamela Redmond
Daughter of Fortune - Isabel Allende
Alpha Wolf - Linda O. Johnston
Asphodel (The Underworld Trilogy) - Lauren Hammond
Unbroken - Laura Hillenbrand
Witches of East End - Melissa de la Cruz
The Comic Toolbox - John Vorhaus
A Week to  Be Wicked - Tessa Dare
The Belly Dancer - DeAnna Cameron
Caught in the Act - Jill Sorenson
Fifty Shades of Grey - E.L. James (Because stars know, everyone else is reading this!)
Elizabeth I - Margaret George
How to Knit A Wild Bikini - Christie Ridgway

I know, I know. The first step is admitting you have a problem. (My name is Beverly, and I'm a book-aholic.)

The details and sign-up are at Vicky's blog, Books Biscuits and Tea.

Are there any books you're moved off your TBR pile so far this year?  
Have you read any of the books I read?  
What did you think?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Fry That Up In A Pan

Little Suzy Homemaker
Little Suzy Homemaker (Photo credit: HA! Designs - Artbyheather)
I know I am not the only woman out there raised by wolves, so to speak.

Seriously, I watch other women do all kinds of domestic chores or exhibit crafting or cooking talents, and I am in awe, like they began reciting epic Portuguese poetry in front of me. I know, intuitively, that it is beautiful and incredible.  I have no effing clue what any of it means.

My mother would have trained me, I know, but there was the little matter of breast cancer getting in her way... Then there was the stint I did in a religious cult...

Anyway, unlike most women, I did not get schooled in Basic Housekeeping. I have a general idea of the principles, and mostly, I can operate a vacuum cleaner without sucking the power cord into the motor. (I say, if you've only done it once, it really doesn't count.)

Once, as an ice-breaker game, one of my friends pinned "Suzy Homemaker" on my back. People looked at my back and just about pissed themselves laughing.* 
*Here's how this ice-breaker game goes. Everybody has a name pinned on his/her back - Hillary Clinton, Mickey Mouse, Suzy Homemaker - and each party attendee has to guess whose name is on her/his/own back by asking only yes-no questions. "Is my person a fictional character? Is my person still alive? Did my person's husband embarrass her in a public sex scandal (which is really a stupid question, as that could apply to so many people).
 Anyway, I love words, I am comfortable with words and writing.  Writing is not about the battle over whether you should dust first - and shove the dust onto the floor, to vacuum up afterwards, or whether you should dust after vacuuming, to gather up the final bits of dust the vacuum flings into the air. Writing is about epic journeys, about fish out of water stories, about love...

When it comes to housework and domestic chores, for me, there is no love. I have no love for vacuuming, seeing it as a necessary evil, only slightly less evil that of choking to death on discarded skin cells and cat hair.

So when I am blocked, writing-wise, I attempt domesticity, usually aided by rockin' my iTunes playlists and a steady stream of watermelon-tinis.

Like last weekend - I actually cleaned my microwave. Something about the "white" interior which had become beige tan scary inspired me to zap a bowl of water and vinegar and clean that puppy out, courtesy of Wikihow tips. It looks like brand new - well, except for the broken display, that shows the current time in Mayan symbols or something. I could have it repaired - or replace the unit, but really, what's the point? Once it refuses to nuke my food altogether, won't it already be TEOTWAWKI (The End Of The World As We Know It)?

I also worked on repairing a patchwork skirt. Dammit, I paid $1.25 nothing for that skirt at my sister's yard sale, made in China (of probably toxic materials), the least that sucker can do it hang in there for me until such time as I am too fat thin to wear it anymore,but nooooo, it's coming apart at all the seams. I am very proud to say that I completed (some of) the repairs without sewing the garments I was wearing into said skirt. (Yes, I have done that more than once - shut up!)

And I was planning to eat week-old leftovers for dinner, but decided even though it was whole grain whatever-it-was, the noodles were not supposed to appear dark green. I also changed out my baking soda fridge refreshers that are supposed to be changed at least every 30 days 2 years. Yeah, me!

The whole comparison thing is invidious and insidious, especially among female writers, IMO. We are supposed to be brilliant on the page. Raise smart, non-sexist, healthily individuated children. Knock out our bosses at our day jobs with our productivity. Be dynamos in bed to our spouses/boyfriends/girlfriends. Oh, and crank out a best-selling book every 3-4 months.

Well, I raise the white effing flag. To my Enjoli-type sisters, YOU WIN. *I* can't do all that shit, at least, not at the same time. Fry that up in a pan, bitch.
Sometimes I will be blocked and work more on my home or some silly craft project than on my pages. Other times, the writing will be going gangbusters and my housework will be Dust Bunny Condos Homeowners Meeting, subject: "Do We Need to Petition The City for A Stoplight at the Corner?" Sometimes I will be having much better sex onscreen and in my imagination that I ever had with He-Who-Shall-Not Be-Named (but who will Be-Freely-Caricatured).

IMO (or, maybe it's just me) it's okay to let things go, and focus on the writing - or, periodically, to let the writing go, and focus on the Domestic Goddess tasks. Whatever your heart tells you is the right thing for you to do at the moment, do that.

Yes, there will be some obnoxious bitch who does everything you do and (seemingly) does it better. So what? Maybe she's got this really gnarly tumor in her future. Don't be jealous or envious, just be YOU. (I know, I know, easier said than done.)

Take a break from writing and be domestic. Take a break from domesticity and be a writer. Take a break from whatever YOU need a break from, and work on something else - and don't beat yourself up that other writers/lovers/Domestic Goddesses are getting ahead of you.  Folks, it ain't a race.

After all, we all have till December 21, 2012, right?

Do you compare yourself to others, writing or domestic-wise?
Have you ever gotten stressed trying to do it all?
Your thoughts?

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Monday, May 21, 2012

Beth Matthews, Fantasmic By Any Other Name

Welcome author Beth Matthews, who's gone through a roller coaster of a ride on her writer's journey so far. I'll let her explain...

1) Who are you anyway? You were E.D. Walker; now you’re Beth Matthews? Tell us about the switch in author pseudonyms - and the lesson to be learned, if any, when selecting pen names.
Well, when I chose E.D. Walker it sounded very writerly to me and also appropriate for writing SF/F stuff. Initials are big in SF/F, after all: JRR Tolkein, CS Lewis, etc. But, as I got further and further into my writing career, people just kept missing the periods. As a result, I got called “Ed” a whole lot more than any female person who is, in fact, not named Ed would probably enjoy.

Another factor was that I decided to switch genres and start writing romances with sex in them. (My first two books writing as E.D. Walker are strictly sweet with nothing warmer than kisses, my Beth Matthews romance has 3, well, 2 and a half sex scenes). I’m also stepping away from SF/F and writing just straight contemporary romance right now so the new pen name signals a lack of demons, gods, and other paranormal-ish elements to my faithful readers. Basically, the pen name switch was to signal that these books are very different from what I’ve written before.

Mostly, though, I’m really sick of being called Ed. That’s the lesson to take away when crafting a pen name: if you choose initials, choose them with care.

2) The Beauty’s Beast, loosely based upon a medieval poem about a cursed werewolf knight. You actually have paperdolls for The Beauty’s Beast (and a very sexy cover). But it seems in terms of selling, the characters were too old for YA, too romantic for fantasy, too innocent for adult romance... yet, it did find a publisher, eventually. Share a little of the journey, and what we’ll love about this book.

(I love my Beauty’s Beast paperdolls. They were a gift from my sister who’s an artist. She’s working on a set for my other book Heir to the Underworld, but her computer has been having technical difficulties so they’ve been delayed.)

The Beauty’s Beast is a bit like some of Robin McKinley’s old stuff to me, books like Spindle’s End and Beauty. Books that I think if they were trying to be published today might also have a hard time finding a home. I’ve pretty much always been a writer, I’ve been writing a novel a year ever since sixth grade but The Beauty’s Beast was the first book I wrote as an actual adult and it was the first one that actually seemed good enough that someone outside my immediate family would want to read it.

Having made the decision to publish, I went about trying to get an agent whilst also teaching myself about the publishing biz. I think a lot of this book’s problem was I didn’t know where it should fit so I didn’t know who to target to sell it to.

Eventually, I gave up and moved on to other projects and this book went to live in a drawer. But then I sold my second book written as an adult, Heir to the Underworld, to an epublisher, a route I hadn’t tried with The Beauty’s Beast. When Heir sold I decided to give The Beauty’s Beast another shot, and it finally found a good home in the line of sweet romances published by Noble Romance.

I think The Beauty’s Beast will appeal to fans of wry humor, honorable werewolves, honorable knights, honorable werewolf-knights, and especially to people who like their heroines to talk back and give as good as they get. (One review said my protagonist was like a “16th Century Jennifer Cruisie heroine,” which is the best compliment I have ever received about my writing.)

3) Heir to the Underworld. Still a fantasy, but this time, Greek gods and Celtic ones. How did that idea occur to you?
I think it was sort of a “what if” game: What if every god ever imagined by ancient man actually existed? What if the different pantheons regularly interacted with each other? What if the different pantheons were still limping along in the modern day? The idea filled me with all kinds of glee. I’m a bit of a folklore/mythology buff so the opportunity to put all that useless knowledge to good use was too delightful to pass up.

4) Tell us a little about why we’ll love Heir to the Underworld.
Well, again, if you’re fond of wry humor this book has my patented brand of it on every page. Also, a sassy heroine who really doesn’t take anybody’s crap (not even the gods’), a lovely brooding hero who’s sort of a reformed rake (if you’re into that thing). Ancient gods, hellhounds, drunken fairies, old loves, older grudges, and a girl named Freddy.

5) You got the call - yay, a publisher wants to publish your work! How long after that did you find out that one of your publishers was going out of business and your book, Heir to the Underworld, would be pulled off the virtual shelves?
It was a little sad because I had one of those good news/bad news moments with Heir to the Underworld. It had been out for about a year  and I found out it was a finalist in the 2012 EPIC ebook Awards! Yay! And then, within a few weeks of getting that good news I found out my publisher was going out of business so even if Heir to the Underworld won the award people wouldn’t be able to buy it…boo…

6) You decided to go ahead and re-release Heir to the Underworld as a self-published title rather than shop it around again. Why did you decide to go in that direction?
Unfortunately, manuscripts that have already been published elsewhere are kind of the discarded orange rinds of the publishing world; publishers feel like all the juice has been squeezed out of them already. Anyone who wanted to buy the book already has so why should they re-release it, is the mindset? Publishers want new!exciting! projects that no one’s read yet. I also already knew by then that I was going to be switching over to my new secret identity Beth Matthews, so, as much as I love Heir to the Underworld I was at the point in my career where I didn’t have much attention left to give it. I had a new baby and so the older child had to fend for itself a bit. I really liked having two books for sale, though. Having just one book on my website felt…lonely.

7) Once you had your rights back, and you’ve made the decision to self-pub, what next? I understand you re-edited them, and had them copy edited. You also had to do new cover art...?
When I decided I was going to reissue it I re-read Heir to the Underworld to trim some of the flabby bits and also to do another pass myself for errors and problems. Then I sent it off to a copy-editor who I’d worked with at my other publisher who freelances. Fiona Jayde did the cover art. She did the beautiful cover for my book The Beauty’s Beast for Noble Romance, which I loved, so when I found out she freelanced I contacted her and we worked together. I like that both the E.D. Walker books have the same general look and tone now. Makes me feel like a genuine Author Brand.

8) E-publishing yourself - you did your own formatting? How easy or hard was it, how long did it take? (Bev’s note here - I read Heir to the Underworld on my Kindle, and while there were a couple typo/error thingies, I think there were fewer than I’ve found in big six published ebooks. So, brava to Beth on that!  Plus, I really liked the story.)
Formatting wasn’t easy! LOL. I’m not a total luddite but I’m hardly a tech savant either. Basically, I asked other friends who’d self-pubbed for resources and someone pointed me to Nadia Lee’s wonderful and so useful book How to Format Your Manuscript for Kindle and Nook. It was exactly what I needed: a step-by-step guide. “Do this, then this. Watch out for this.” And it was all VERY easy to understand and very user friendly. I highly recommend it to anyone looking to self-pub. As to how long, basically one weekend I was like “I’m gonna get this damn book formatted and back into the world” and that was what I did for the whole weekend, almost for the full 48 hours. Not a lot of sleep or eating! I kept borking the formatting somehow and having to tweak and re-tweak the files until they were just right. It was very important to me to present a professional product that was indistinguishable from other books. When I embark on a big project I tend to just put my head down and barrel through until I’m done. That was what I did to finish the formatting.

9) Like a lot of us, your writing is slowed down a bit by a day job and other commitments. You’re currently shopping a contemporary romcom called Beauty and the Bouncer. What else are we going to see coming from Beth Matthews soon?
Well, I’m having a lot of ideas for contemporary plots, and right now I’m 10K words into my second one which is tentatively titled Can’t Help Falling or, sometimes, The New Year’s Kiss (depends on my mood. Which title do you like better?) As you might guess the story takes place over a hectic holiday season and it’s set in Washington DC. Our prickly, career-focused heroine really has no time for a man right now so, of course, she meets an irritating but so-charming and very handsome guy who just won’t leave her alone. Trips to the Smithsonian, scenic walks along the Potomac, and one mind-blowing New Year’s smooch ensue.

10) Is there anything else you’d like to share with readers and fans?
Well, I’m doing this new thing on my blog called “The Inept Cook” where each week I try a new recipe and report on the results. I’m hoping to broaden my food horizons and, just maybe, learn to do more in the kitchen than boil water. I can always use new recipes so if people want to stop by and check it out, suggest a dish, that would be awesome.

 Beth Matthews is a SoCal native with a BA in English Lit from Berkeley (GO BEARS!), who came of age with her nose stuck in a book and an obese cat kneading his claws in her lap.

These days her nose is glued to her laptop as she pounds out her latest manuscript, and the obese cat, well, he just has to lie in wait until she goes to bed so he can knead his claws in her shoulder at 3am. And drool.

Beth's Linkies:
Twitter: @BethMatthews12

This was fun. Thanks for having me, Beverly!

Questions? Comments? Just want to share a little love?
Beth's giving away a FREE ebook to one lucky commenter - winner's choice!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Nothin' to see here

I know, right?

It was one of those weekends where I was going to do lots of writing and blogging and visiting blogs, and instead, I...

Skyped with friends & family.

Read out by the pool. (I did swim a few laps, too.)


Washed all my sheets, blankets, and comforter, because while napping, it seemed to me that my comforter smelled like cat's ass.

I did pick some character names for a new novel. Watched a number of videos on what my lead character is going to do with her free time. Tried to write a synopsis, failed miserably. Decided to just plunge into the writing, got a few pages done.

Dreamed of a totally hot new sexual position, feeling like a genius, but it was the kind where it totally works in the dream, and when you fully wake up, and start to think about the choreography, NO, it really wouldn't work out in real life. Because male anatomy doesn't bend like that.

Not willingly, anyway.

And then the weekend was GONE. With very little to show for it, except a huge sense of relaxation and a distressing number of empty Hershey's kisses wrappers.

And now, here we are. Monday.

If you are home, writing, have a GREAT day. If you are at work, have a GREAT day. If you are at neither of those places, but are say, waiting for a doctor's appointment, have a GREAT day. (And make sure you let the doctor know, if s/he tries anything funny, it doesn't bend like that.)

Just sayin'.

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Monday, May 7, 2012

Better Off Rebekah for Steamy Vampire & Lesbian Romance

So excited to have on the blog today one of my new favorite authors, Rebekah Weatherspoon.  Although neither vampires nor lesbian romance is really my "thing," I read her debut book - and loved it. Loved, loved loved. My review is included here.

(Full disclosure: Rebekah is one of my LARA-RWA sisters. And a really nice person; otherwise she wouldn't have patiently put up with all my nosy questions.)

Rebekah.  Any nicknames - Bekah, Reebie, Becky?
Yes, I have nicknames. I'll leave it at that. :)

Vampire Sorority Sisters.  I may be wrong, but I’m guessing you have this subgenre all to yourself...? Tell us how it came about.
Ha, at the moment yes. Although I have heard about a webseries that has a sorority girls that are also vampires. The sorority girls in my series feed vampires. The idea came to me when I was driving home one day. At first I thought it was really silly, but then I didn't want to look back in five years and think "Man I should have written that story." So I wrote it. :)

You like to play with names - Ginger the ginger, Cleopatra Jones the African American girl, Barb with the oversized breasts (even if she is Asian)... Is this one of the things that gives you a giggle as you write, or...?
I only have one rule for names: nothing I would name my kids. I have a list of boy and girl names reserved for unborn children. As long as the names aren't on that list, they're fair game. Ginger was just Ginger from the beginning. She popped into my head with that name, there was no changing it. Cleo as a character is based on the comic book badass Misty Knight. I couldn't not name her Cleo Jones. And Barb is named after a friend. A few of my characters are named after people I know.  And I do know a few Asian women with large breasts. :)

(Bev here: I do know that Asian women come in all shapes and sizes - all lovely. It's just that when I hear Barb +  abundant breasts, my head jumps straight to blonde, unnaturally shaped Barbie as made by Mattel.)

Your lead character is redheaded, 18, a reluctant sorority sister, something of a brainaic, and a lesbian. Are you now, or have you ever been, any of the above?
I was very eager to join a sorority, which I did, with mixed results, but I wouldn't trade in the experience for anything. I'm not a lesbian, but I am pansexual. I don't think of myself as a brainiac, but I did have a sorority sister tell me I was a know-it-all. We were arguing at the time. In college I was very serious about my grades. I had a small group of friends and we studied together during our free time. Saturday afternoons, we'd turn on Lifetime movies and study for hours. We all did rather well.

The ‘rents.  Granted, every parent should be bursting with pride over having their son or daughter be A Published Author, but... was it difficult telling your parents you were writing lesbian paranormal erotica?  Do they tell all their friends and their cashier at the grocery store to buy your book, or is it a little awkward among some of their circle, or yours?
My parents are the coolest people in the world. I came out to my dad before I published my first short story. I just didn't want him to be blindsided. He didn't care at all, he just wanted to know if I was planning on dumping my boyfriend. I wasn't. My mom is just proud of me in general. She tells everyone about my books. EVERYONE!

You’ve got 6-7 books planned for this series.  Are these girls unusually slow at getting through school, or by the end will we be focused on mostly new characters?
Ginger will NEVER graduate. I kid. Each book will feature a different couple. Characters will pop up again. Ginger is all up in Blacker Than Blue, but the book is set three years in the future. The girls in general will graduate and move on and then new fresh blood will move into the Alpha Beta Omega House.  

Better Off Red
Blacker Than Blue
Please tell me the next book is not Mellow Yellow.  Can you share what some of the next titles might be, or is it Sooper Sekrit?
I just figured out the title for the next book a few days ago. For right now it's Soul To Keep. Or Soul To Take. We'll see what happens when I actually sit down to write it. One of those will be it though.

Confession time. I’ve always been straighter than straight, and yet... reading Better Off Red, I was totally feeling the girl-girl love. *fans self* Are you hearing this comment a lot?
I'd posted same sex fanfiction a few years ago and most of my feedback was from straight women who suddenly found themselves not feeling so straight. I got a lot of emails. Most of the feedback I'd gotten on Better Off Red has been from women who enjoy the company of other women, but all of my straight friends have said they appreciate the steamy factor. A lot. I think people hear "gay" or "lesbian" and the automatically think its something they aren't supposed to be into, but sex turns people on in surprising ways and everyone can relate to love. You can find things to be arousing and not want to act them out in your real life. If that wasn't the case, I'd be a very active porn star.

Book-readings and signings - it’s one thing to be bold on the page, it’s another thing to read it aloud in public.  What was the hardest thing about it so far - and the most surprisingly joyful?
I think I'm more comfortable with the readings now. It only took four attempts. Once I start I'm usually okay and I don't freak out when I have to "pussy" and my publisher is standing ten feet away from me. The hardest part for me was just shaking the nerves in the beginning. My stage fright goes right to my feet and my legs start to shake. That's no fun. The best part is hearing from readers. It's really great when someone tells you that they love your story and your characters. It's an amazing feeling. 

What was the most challenging thing you found about writing a second book in the same world, with many of the same characters?
The second book was a breeze. Benny takes on the second story and she's been well developed in my head for almost two years. I have more of her back story in my head than anyone else. I'm talking her mom's back story. Her grandma's back story. And now that her book is done, I can safely say I could write at least 3 more books about her. Writing outside of the series was hard. 

Tell us a little about The Fling, which I haven't yet read. Why do we want to buy this - is it a novel, or novella?
The Fling almost killed me. Paranormal and Fantasy come really easy to me. Contemporary romance with boring, normal people is hard. My characters aren't boring, though. They are awesome. The Fling is a full length, erotic romance about two women living in Los Angeles. Their relationship started off with a one night stand, but develops into something more. I have to work humor into more stories so there's a good bit for the giggles. I also like to write about families, so you get to know Oksana's family. I fell in love with them along the way.  

Let me get into race for a moment, which you beautifully addressed on Day 632 on your own Let us see, shall we... blog. Christine Leo also wrote a piece for the LARA Confidential about the characters depicted on romance book covers: again, primarily Caucasian. The default in romance at this time seems to be white: white writers, white characters, even though Americans (and others) live in an increasingly mixed race society. Then there was the whole BS about The Hunger Games movie, where some people actually voiced disappointment about the beautiful black actress playing the black character, Rue, because they assumed she was a little white girl.

Does it make you feel like an outsider, or more like a vanguard with the opportunity to introduce fresher characters and outlooks?   Do you feel a sense that you have to represent writers of color, in a way that the average (white) romance writer, who might write primarily about cowboys and ropes, say, is not expected to do?
I write what I want to read. I'm black with friends from all different backgrounds so I like to write about diverse characters with a variety of friends. It's an opportunity to do something different, but I didn't set out with any sort of agenda in that respect. I do feel like the odd one out in some situations, but that's been my life story. I'm an odd duck to begin with, I just surround myself with people who don't mind my flavor of duckiness.

As a woman of color, I've always been black and that's how I've always faced the world. By that I mean, I'm black no matter what I do. If I hide my face I'm a writer. The moment someone finds out what I look like I'm a black writer. I'm working for Rebekah and I am happy to support other authors of color, but I am most interested in supporting authors who write well and respect me as a person.  But I know if I do something crazy it will reflect poorly on people of color. That's just how it is.

Lastly though, I think people of color are omitted from a lot of mainstream outlets, but what people don't realize is that our lives are still full. We're having a great time even if you're ignoring us, but it's hard to have a full conversation on any subject if you are ignoring a piece of your audience.

What question have you not been asked, yet, that you've been dying to answer - and what's your answer?
Ooh that's a tough one.  If you could be anything, what would you be? Answer: Back up dancer for Janet Jackson circa 1990. Or a Sex Ed Teacher.

Rebekah, you would've ROCKED Janet's videos. And I would've loved to have had YOU as my Sex Ed Teacher.

After years of meddling in her friends’ love lives, Rebekah turned to writing romance as a means to surviving a stressful professional life. She has worked in various positions from library assistant, meter maid, middle school teacher, B movie production assistant, reality show crew chauffeur, D movie producer, and her most fulfilling job to date, lube and harness specialist at an erotic boutique in West Hollywood.

Her interests include Wonder Woman collectibles, cookies, James Taylor, quality hip-hop, football, American muscle cars, large breed dogs, and the ocean. When she's not working, writing, reading, or sleeping, she is watching Ken Burns documentaries and cartoons or taking dance classes. If given the chance, she will cheat at UNO. She was raised in Southern New Hampshire and now lives in Southern California with an individual who is much more tech savvy than she ever will be. Better Off Red is her first novel.

Thank you, Rebekah, for this interview. I look forward to watching your career take off - and reading your next books.

Got more questions for Rebekah? Please comment, below.
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Friday, May 4, 2012

The Insane Week of My Breathless Book Orgy

When does the love of books/writing/reading get to be too much?

Recently, I had such a C-R-A-Z-Y week. One way or another, I was making out with the written word all day and all night, baby.

First off, I was participating in the A-Z blogfest. That's right, 26 posts during the month of April, on subjects from A-Z. Some writers freestyle it; others choose a theme. I chose a theme:

My 26 Favorite Ways to Piss Away Time Do Valuable Research on the Interwebs.

This is a subject about which I am eminently qualified to write.

However, I probably should have passed. I had a hellish month at work, and a VERY full calendar on my nights "off," resulting in a feeling like this:

Tuesday night. Meetup with the Chick Lit Lovers reading group I joined, after work. We pretty much all disliked the last selection, but live in hopes the next one we picked will be better.

Wednesday night. Crit group, also after work, where I had sex read sex with the guys. I adore my crit group guys (who are all happily married) because they always give me great feedback about what my fictional guys do that a real guy would not do or say. Plus, if I can read a sex scene aloud to an (admittedly, small) group of guys, surely I'll be able to do public readings, when the time comes. (It's not a one-way street, either. They've admitted that their wives generally enjoy their, uhm, enthusiasm, on the nights they come home from crit group.)

But my crit group sisters, how come you always gotta bail on the nights it just so happens all I have to read is sex scenes?

Thursday night. Dinner with my SoCal Lady Bloggers, followed by reading and Q & A with Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess. Only my dinner did not happen, because the event was in Beverly Hills, I had 13 miles to travel, (yes, after work, even though I left early) and I stupidly allotted only an hour's travel time to get to the restaurant. FYI, an hour's worth of brake lights? Neither interesting nor tasty.

Soleil Moon Frye from Punky Brewster (crop fro...Soleil Moon Frye from Punky Brewster
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I did get to the WritersBloc event, at the Writers Guild Theatre, on time to see The Bloggess and Soleil Moon Frye (the actress formerly known as Punky Brewster. She's all grown up, but she's still a little bitty thing).  And to connect with my SoCal Lady Blogger sisters, and to see a couple of other peeps I'd "met" through blogging, like Annie Boreson, a fellow SheWriter who is also a very funny writer, like The Bloggess, only her work is fictional (so she claims).

Back to Jenny Lawson, The Bloggess. Hilarious. How can anyone top OD'ing on laxatives, while a potential rapist is passing you notes under the bathroom door? She read this selection from her "mostly true" memoir, Let's Pretend This Never Happened, answered questions from the audience, and then trooped out to sign books and pose for pictures.

Me squinting on the left; Jenny gorgeous on the right.
In the foreground, Juanita Weasel is screaming,
"Motherfucker, not only has my soufflé fallen, but I'm overexposed again!"

*sighs* Yep, this is how pictures of me come out. Everybody else looks great, and I look drunk. This is why I mostly pose with sunglasses. Either the flash makes me close my eyes, or, because I am trying to fight Closed Eye Syndrome, I wear a stunned, wide-eyed expression like somebody just hit me in the back of my head with a two-by four. I can't even pick a cute photo mannerism, like Leila from Don't Speak Whinese, who always sticks her tongue out.

Still, I was delighted to meet Jenny, to get my book signed, to get a picture with her and Juanita Weasel, and to hang with my SoCal Blogger sisters like Leila and Carolyn West from This Talk Ain't Cheap, who totally rock, both in person, and in pictures.  I think my own stupid question just might have inspired this purchase and post.

Friday night after work I stuck to blog writing and commenting. Plus just a smidge of reading.

Saturday I spent writing up book reviews on all the great books I'd been reading over the past month. And sleeping. And, of course, reading.

When you gaze upon a statue like this, it really makes sense where Trojan prophylactics got their inspiration.
"Yeah, baby, I got a long, hard sword for you."

Sunday LA Times Festival of Books at USC. Where I met a friend from another writing group, and we cruised the booths (saw Julie Andrews riding in a golf cart!), and sat in on the Love, Actually panel of romance writers moderated by my awesome LARA-RWA sister Dee J. Adams. (And bought books from all of them, because from Jill Sorenson to Tessa Dare to DeAnna Cameron, they all have such great stories to tell.)

And then Monday, World Book Night. Where I went down to the subway station and blithely accosted strangers, attempting to give away something very precious to me.... wait for it.... can you guess?

That's right, books! Gonna write a separate blog post about that experience soon. It was was quite interesting and I avoided getting arrested, always a good thing, though I was firmly escorted off the premises by two (very nice) security guards. I was allowed to remain on the fringes of the property, and from there I found takers for the remainder of the books.

And I made such cute signs, too. Which were allowed to stay up for almost three minutes.
 You do see why I am calling it a book orgy, don't you? I adore books and reading, but that week was overdoing it, even for me. I think the only think I didn't do was grind a book up and snort it.

(I did sniff some of my new dead tree books though. Even though I love my Kindle, there's something intoxicating about that ink and paper smell...)

But speaking of wonderful books, coming on Monday, May 7 - interview with awesome erotic romance writer Rebekah Weatherspoon.Who wrote Better Off Red, which won me over despite my initial cowardice hesitance.

Have you ever gone on a week-long book jag of some sort?
Did you attend the Festival of Books - or a Bloggess book signing?
Ever read a sex scene to a room full of guys?
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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Got Vagina? Speak Up and Speak Out #UAWOW

I got nothin' against men who are fascinated by ladyparts. Straight men (and gay allies) are some of my favorite kind of people.

I do have a problem with men who feel an irresistible urge to draft laws and regulations controlling and restricting what we women do with our own bodies.

Maybe it's because religion has infected their brains in a bad way. Maybe they're suffering from ovary envy. Maybe they're still secretly pissed that slavery is no longer legal, and they gotta have somebody to dominate and control - and who better than women, their traditional underlings?

Whatever the reason, men need to resist those urges.

And women need to speak out, loudly and clearly. We need to tell them to sit down and STFU.

That why I joined the UniteWomen March on Saturday 28, in downtown LA.

It was a beautiful, sunny day. And there were wonderful speakers and a great percussion band to keep things moving.

Still, for all the hard work by the organizers, for all the amazing signs by the other attendees, for all the terrific support by male allies who support women's rights, I was disappointed there weren't a LOT more women there. Maybe they decided to go to the beach. Or they were working, or exhausted after a long week of working (I know I was). Maybe they thought, because things are (relatively) civilized in California, as far as women's rights go, it isn't so urgent for us. (Yet.)
First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.
Right now, "they" are only coming for women who want abortions in states like Mississippi, Tennessee, and Arizona (and dozens more). "They" are only seeking to let employers refuse to provide insurance inclusive of  birth control coverage, and/or monitor the birth control use of their employees if the employer has a "moral objection" to it. "They" are only saying in Georgia that after 20 weeks of pregnancy, a woman should be forced to carry a fetus until it naturally delivers, just like cows and pigs do. (Note: HB 954 was amended just prior to passage to allow exemptions for "medically futile" pregnancies or those in which a woman's life or health - not including mental health - is threatened.)
"They" are only seeking to stigmatize single parents and eliminate divorce in places like Wisconsin, because we all know that even in cases of domestic abuse, all the wife needs to do is "remember why she got married in the first place," and try a little harder. (And in places like Topeka Kansas, they've only decriminalized domestic violence - so the cases are dumped on the county prosecutor, who has less staff and resources.)  

"They" don't see any need for women to have the right to the same pay as men, even when women have the exact same qualifications, job skills and experience, and work the same hours as men. After all, money isn't as important to women.

If you are a woman, "they" are already here for us.  Speak out, SCREAM out, and don't let your husbands, boyfriends, brothers, fathers, and sons be ignorant of how you feel.

If you are not already registered, please register, educate yourself, and VOTE. 

(And a footnote to that? If you are one of the 90% of American women who has changed her name upon marriage or divorce, make sure you have a current photo ID that matches your name, or your vote may not be counted in seven states.)

Get outraged. And remember in November.
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