Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Brownie for the Brownie

Hello. Come on in and sit down. Would you like a brownie?

No! Not me, one that you can eat. My name is Leaf. I'm a House Brownie, a mythical creature. A cousin to the Leprechauns. My race originated in Scotland, where all cool mythical creatures came from. Some think Brownies are descents of Lar, a deity who protects households and hearths. I'm a nocturnal creature, which is why I'm up and about right now. All of the Otherworld staff is asleep. I only come out, from the cubby in the kitchen where I sleep in during the day, when no one is around. I have adopted the Diner as my home to look after. I do small chores, which are left unfinished. And if I find one particular staff member who is lazy, and I have but won't name names, I plague them. It's so much fun. I'm not mean. I live harmoniously with Humans. The worst thing I've done is to leave a bit of honey in the person's shoes. He … he … he!

I bet you want to know what I look like. Well, I don't look like these girls. Whoever named them Brownies wasn't thinking of us. Our name came from the brown, ragged clothes we wear. We're about 25-30 inches tall. Smaller than those wee barins who take our name, then toss it aside so casually when they become Girl Scouts. We actually love children. Our skin is wrinkled, our ears pointy, our faces flat with pinhole nostrils, and we're quite hairy. Our long, nimble fingers aid us in doing the chores for the Humans we reside with. Overall we're very attractive little creatures. Much more so than those little children bearing our name.

Getting back to me and being a House Brownie. I bring a bit of magic, prosperity and protection to the household in which I reside, so treating a House Brownie with care is very important. There are some rules which we live by. A Brownie doesn't expect anything but a small reward for our good deeds. Never reward us in advance. We're insulted by this. After we have done a nights work for you, leave us a bowl of milk or cream and a piece of honey cake. A special treat for us is chocolate. So, ironically, a brownie would be a good treat. Don't leave us too much food, though. You humans overindulge. We don't like that! Never, never offer us clothes. This is the greatest of insults. We will leave your house forever and take our good fortune with us, or worse, turn into a Boggart.

A Boggart is an ill-tempered and greedy creature. They will eat the wood in your house, like a termite, and torment little children. Since I'm a kindly Brownie, I'll let you know how to rid yourself of a Boggart. You trick them by asking them to leave and stay out of the house until the hollies are green. Since the hollies are always green, when they realize they have been tricked, usually after a couple of seasons, it's too late for them to come back into the house. But if you treat a House Brownie right, you never have to worry about tricking a Boggart. We really love taking care of Humans, our small bowl of cream and the occasional brownie.

Leaf/Jm Sabel


My favorite thing about Halloween is the unending supply of televised horror movies. I can rewatch the classics and maybe catch a new one (or two). I don't do haunted houses though. I prefer my scares to not creep up behind me. Like the one behind you...

More Painful Halloween Punniness

I don't know if I can manage to top Jody, but here goes nothing...

What do you get when you cross a vampire with a snowman?


Oh yeah, I can feel the winces happening...thankya verruh much, you've been a lovely audience:-)


Another Halloween Joke

Q. How do you mend a broken Jack-O-Lantern?

A. With a pumpkin patch!

OK, you guys -- top that one for painful punniness!

Jody W.
So much cyberspace, so little time! * *

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Halloween Nunsense

We're sharing a favorite joke or riddle for Fright Nite, here's my contribution to start off the tricks and treats.

Two nuns are traveling through Transylvania. Suddenly, a tiny dracula jumps onto the car and scratches at the windshield! "What'll I do?" shouts the 1st nun. "Turn the wipers on!" responds the 2nd. They knock the Dracula about, but he just hisses louder! "What now?" shouts the 1st nun. " Try the windshield washer. I filled it with Holy Water!" Dracula screams as the water burns, but holds on. "Now! Show him your cross!" The first nun cracks her window and shouts. "GET OFF MY HOOD, YOU LITTLE CREEP!!"



I can't wait for Wednesday nights. And it's not because it means there's only two more days until the weekend. It's because Ghost Hunters is on. I love this show. Grant, Jason and their crew go bravely into notoriously haunted places and seek proof of the paranormal. They rarely find it, but when they do, BOY does that start me scratching my head.

We've all heard a ghost story, whether it be a legend, a friend's tale or a personal experience. They've been around for centuries and seem more popular than ever.

I've never had a ghostly experience. In fact, I confess myself a bit of a skeptic, but I've always been fascinated with them.

There are many terms used when referring to ghosts. I'll discuss some of the more common phrases.

An EVP (electronic voice phenomena) is a common phrase used around ghost hunters. It refers to voices caught on a voice recorder that you didn't/can't hear on your own.

A disembodied voice we can hear without aide of an electronic device, but if you happen to have a recorder going chances are you won't hear it on tape.

The residual haunting, is a ghost that is trapped in time. You can't communicate with it. It's like a memory that replays itself. So basically you can insult it and make funny faces at it all day long and it will never respond. They're fun to use in romances. If the hero wants the heroine to be scared enough to fall into his arms, he can always take her someplace he knows has a residual haunting. They're reliable that way.

An intelligent haunting, is a ghost who can communicate in some way. Whether it be by slapping you upside the head, making lamps move, or speaking to you through an EVP. These are more fun to use in a romance because they're a lot scarier and they can interact with you. However, they're not as reliable and you never know when a mischievous intelligent ghost will ruin a perfectly good hair day.

Orbs are spherical images that are typically translucent white or bluish in color. They are usually caught on film or videotape. Orbs are too dull for romances. They're not really good at getting the tension going since the heroine will probably dismiss them as dust, assume the hero isn't a good housekeeper and leave.

Cold spots can be felt when an entity is near. It's believed when a ghost tries to manifest itself, it needs to draw from the energy around it. They can cost you a lot of money in batteries since they drain energy so easily and they don't give it back. Kind of rude, I feel.

As for demons, now we're talking heavy-duty stuff. A demon is a cranky little entity who just wants to cause trouble. And not the fun kind either. They're useful in the darker romances, although they tend to scare the pants off the heroine (see how they're useful?:)

Since we're in the dark arts at the moment, let's discuss the incubus and succubus. Basically they're the same thing, only the incubus is "male" and the succubus is "female".

The incubus is a demonic entity capable of arousing and sometimes even assaulting women. There are numerous possibilities for using a incubus in romance, but since there might be children reading, I won't get into that right now :)

The succubus is said to inspire lust in men. Now, some of you guys out there might be thinking "and that's bad why?" I'll explain. The succubus inspires lust in men but never at a good time. Think back to high school and just as you feel the effects of the succubus, the teacher calls you up to the board for some reason. Also the succubus is capable of attacking, leaving injuries and bruising. Now that might fly in an erotic novel, but for straight romance, it might need to be toned down a bit.

And of course, the poltergeist. This entity is different because while ghosts seem to attach themselves to a home or area, a poltergeist attaches itself to an individual. In a nutshell, they're like spoiled children looking for attention. Maybe that's why it's believed their most common victim is a child. They toss things around and make a lot of noise. Very hard to find a romantic element here. You just want to scold them and give them a time out.

So there you have it. A few terms you can throw around to impress your friends. If you've had a ghostly experience, I'd love to hear about it. Who knows? Maybe one day I'll see you on an episode of Ghost Hunters.


Monday, October 29, 2007

Bestiary Creatures

So far on this blog, you've learned about witches, werewolves, and nastly little gnomes, to name a few. Today, I'm here to tell you about otherworldly creatures that appeared in books long before the first paranormal romance ever hit the shelves. Except for the Bible, bestiaries were pretty much considered the best sellers of the Middle Ages (for the few who could afford them and the fewer still who could actually read them). They were illuminated manuscripts (not illustrated, mind you, but i-lu-min-at-ed, meaning "to decorate with gold or silver or brilliant colors or often elaborate designs or miniature pictures in an effort to enlighten spiritually or intellectually"). Written and illuminated (there’s that word again) by monks, they describe every creature thought to exist in the medieval world. Some were real and some were not so real. Or were they? After all, satyrs, dragons and unicorns are specifically mentioned in the Bible, so they must exist--or at least have existed at one time--right? Most bestiaries start with the lion, which makes sense considering he is the king of beasts and the medieval symbol of Christ. However, since everyone over the age of one knows what a lion is, I’m going to skip over the well-known creatures still roaming the Earth and enlighten you on a few of the more fascinating beasties not often shown on the Animal Planet . . .

The Amphisbaena
This serpent has the interesting characteristic of having two heads, one at each end of its body. Sometimes the amphisbaena is described as having a worm-like body, while at other times it is more dragon-like, with clawed legs and wings. To pursue its victims, it will place one head into the mouth of the other and roll across the ground like a hoop. Cool, huh?

The Basilisk
Often called the crested snake, this creature is the offspring of an unfertilized egg from an old rooster hatched by a toad or frog. It has the head, forelegs and wings of a rooster, with the tail of a snake. Its fiery breath is so deadly, it will lay waste to the land for miles around, and one glance of the beast is fatal. But if you happen to have a mirror handy, you’re in luck. One look at its own reflection will cause the basilisk to drop dead, too.

The Bonnacon
This creature has the head and body of a bull and the mane of a horse, with horns that curl in on themselves making them pretty much useless if the animal needs to defend itself. But never fear, the bonnacon has a secret weapon--and it’s a real doozy. When pursued, it will discharge the entire contents of its lower bowels in an enormous and revolting fart of wet dung. If the sickening stench doesn’t keep its attackers at bay, the heat of the mess is extremely combustible and will set fire to everything around it. Projectile flaming poo . . . sounds lovely, doesn’t it?

The Dragon
Sometimes called firedrakes, these well-known winged creatures often live in mountain caves, love to hoard treasure, and breathe fire on anyone who tries to steal it. They also tend to think virgins tied to stakes make a tasty snack.

The Griffin or Gryphon
This creature has the head, wings and forelegs of an eagle, with the rear legs and tail of a lion. It’s enormous and strong, said to be able to carry off a horse and rider in its claws. It finds humans particularly tasty, but has a distinct dislike of horses for some reason. Like the dragon, the griffin has a compulsion to hoard treasure and precious stones. Combining the elements of the king of beasts and the king of the skies, the griffin is often considered a symbol of valor.

The Hippocampus
With a horse’s head and a fish tail, these stallions and mares of the sea inhabit the waters from Norway to Brittany. Always secretive creatures, they avoid humans and graze peacefully on the grasses growing on the ocean floor.

The Kraken
This squid-like beast can spend 1,000 years sleeping in the depths of the sea, but when it wakes up, watch out! It’s so large, when it comes to the surface, the kraken can be mistaken for an island. The most feared of all sea-dwelling creatures, it can crush a ship with its powerful tentacles, dragging every man aboard down to a watery grave.

The Manticore
Blood red in color, this creature has the face of a man and the body of a lion. It has a triple row of teeth and a long, scorpion-like tail with spines that can shoot out in all directions. Its voice is described as that of a reed pipe or trumpet. It is extremely powerful and can leap over any obstacle. Unfortunately, it has taste for human flesh. Seeing as the word manticore comes from an old Persian word for “man-eater,” that kinda makes sense.

Mermaids and Sirens
Believe it or not, mermaids started out with a bad rap, viewed as symbols of vanity and prostitution. They also weren’t very attractive having been described as being part woman, part bird, complete with bird’s feet and talons. Definitely not the cute version of Ariel we all know and love. The image we’ve come to associate with the mermaid of today didn’t come about until the 12th century, when writer Philip de Thaun first mentioned their fish’s tail. Some mermaids can play the harp, but all are believed to have mesmerizing voices, capable of luring a man willingly to his death on some jagged, rocky shore.

The Peryton
Often depicted as a winged stag, the peryton is thought to originally be from the lost continent of Atlantis. The unique thing about this creature is that when the sun strikes it, it does not cast its own shadow, but instead casts the shadow of a man, believed to be the spirit of a traveler who had perished far from the shores of home. Unfortunately, the only way the peryton can free itself and get its own shadow back is by killing another man and wallowing in his blood. After completing this gruesome ritual, a peryton's shadow will become its own once again, and it is free to fly away and live the rest of its life in peace.

The Phoenix
A solitary bird-like creature, there is only one in the world at any given time. It can live anywhere from 500 to 1,000 years. When it senses its time of death is near, it will build itself a funeral pyre and use the sun’s rays to set itself on fire. Once the old bird is completely consumed by the flames, a new phoenix will rise from its ashes, a symbol of resurrection, regeneration and renewal.

Half-beast, half-man, these creatures stand upright and usually have bearded faces and horns. The lower part of their bodies resembles that of a goat and they are usually cloven-footed and sport a horse’s tail. They live in the woods and mountains, like to drink wine and play the reed pipe. They are lewd and lusty and love women, but beware . . . considered the rogues of the mythological world, they tend to be the love ‘em and leave ‘em type.

Sometimes thought of as the male version of a mermaid, these sons of Triton are men with fish-like tails, sharp teeth and webbed fingers. They spend much of their time carousing, riding the waves, and blowing on their conch shell trumpets. They have the ability to change their tails into legs so they can go on land and live among humans if they want to--probably so they can party it up on land, too.

The Unicorn
Most people are familiar with the unicorn, probably the favorite of all bestiary creatures. But did you know the unicorn doesn’t just come in white? It’s been said the unicorn can be blue in color, and sometimes even have a purple head. The famous horn sprouting out of the middle of its head can be white, green, striped, or graduating from white to black, with a red tip--and is believed to be the source of its magical powers. The only way to capture a unicorn is by laying a trap with a young virgin. Evidently, the unicorn likes to lie down and take naps using a maiden’s untainted lap as a cushiony pillow.

The Wyvern
A cousin of the dragon, this creature only has two legs while the dragon has four. It has a barbed tail and a snake-like head with fangs.

The Yale and Catoblepas
Also called the eale, is a large, bull-like creature with tusks of a wild boar, the jaw and beard of a goat, and the tail of an elephant. They can be black, brown, gray or beige to green with red spots. The most interesting thing about the yale is its horns, which are long and flexible and can move independently. These horns can be straight or curved curved, and sometimes point sideways or downwards. When attacked, its horns will point in different directions in order to protect and defend itself. The yale is sometimes confused with the catoblepas, a similar looking creature that can kill with a single glance and has venomous breath so poisonous when other animals encounter it they are overcome by convulsions and die.

So, there you have some of the fascinating creatures found within the pages of a bestiary -- the things that went bump in the night in the Middle Ages. So what’s your favorite one? While I’m kinda partial to dragons right now since my current hero is part one, I find myself oddly intrigued by the flaming poo farting bonnacon. *G*


Baynes, Pauline. Questionable Creatures: A Bestiary. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2006.
Hunt, Jonathan. Bestiary: An Illuminated Alphabet of Medieval Beasts. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 1998.

Images from various online sites and bestiaries, including:
Aberdeen Bestiary, 12th century
Harley Bestiary, 1230-1240
Bestiarius or The Bestiary of Anne Walsh, 15th century

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Drawing down the moon...

Down through history magic users have been revered or reviled. Worshiped or feared. And sometimes both at the same time. There are as many different magic users as there are cultures. Although modern western culture doesn't really believe in witches anymore, at one time admitting to witchcraft could get you burnt at the stake. So when creating your characters keep the history of persecution in mind. It will play a part in creating a believable witch.

Magic wielders are interesting characters no matter what you choose to do with them. Whether they are bumbling like Aunt Clara or wise counselors like Gandalf the White, they can be fun, commanding, and always interesting. Another cool thing is magical characters don't have to serve only as sidekicks or mentors. They can be the hero or heroine too.

Samantha anyone? Was she the coolest witch ever? I grew up loving Bewitched, though I could never understand how suck a neat lady ever ended up married to Darrin the dork. He was a fun foil for the magic of the week, but not appealing to me as a romance reader or writer.

The one thing Bewitched did very poorly was naming male witches. No I don't mean Maurice or Uncle Arthur. Those were fine. But they used the term warlocks to mean male witches. Let me give you a friendly word of warning. Be careful about calling a male witch a warlock. The term warlock is associated with oath breaking. Some pagans have suggested a reevaluation of the word but most find the term highly insulting and offensive. Keep this in mind when creating your characters and your world.

Magic should have rules and consequences. If your magic user, witch, sorcerer, wizard, or shaman can do anything, you may have a heck of a time making your reader care about them. This is one reason I love the Harry Potter series. JD Rowling created a learning process where a beginner can cast the most basic of spells and must learn how to behave responsibly. I have a number of other series I've loved including wonderful fantasy novels where the magical aspects are as carefully crafted and as much a character as the hero. David Eddings' Belgariad series and Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar series handled this task well. I loved Misty's Vows and Honor series with Tarma and Kethry. Romance authors have taken on this task well too. Robin D. Owens did her homework when it came to creating her world and rules for magic. I love her Celta series and her wonderful alpha heroes.

As the other ladies all mentioned, start with research. Most libraries have a nice section on the paranormal in the 133s or the 299s (Dewey Decimal Classification). 133 is paranormal and 299 is other religions. This is a good jumping off spot. You can also haunt (sorry, couldn't resist) the new age/paranormal section of your local bookstore. Llewellyn publishing has tons of books on the topic. One cool thing you read might spark your imagination into creating an entire world!

I have to admit, I love the idea of a magic wielding hero. No, I don't mean an old grey beard like Gandalf or Dumbledore. But a really hot male witch. There's just something exciting about starting with a powerful alpha hero and ratcheting him up a notch by adding the ability to wreck havoc with the wave of his hand. And let's not forget all the potential of sex magic. Oh my... Sounds like a plot. I think I'll start writing. Right now!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Howling at the Moon, Anyone?

Let's just say, for the sake of argument, that you'd kind of like to be a werewolf. Yeah, okay, I know. Sprouting fur at every full moon, sometimes uncontrollable blood lust...possibly not the ideal situation. But come on, now. There's also the superhuman strength and agility, the beauty of being able to run, truly wild, in the moonlight. And hey, speaking as one who writes about them, becoming one of the vampires' hairier counterparts sends your sex appeal quotient right through the roof. Um, not that I'm biased about that, or anything. So trust me, for today, you wanna wolf out. It's Halloween. It's...festive:-)

So now that we've got that out of the way, the most obvious and pressing question is simply this: how? If you believe the old stories (and wow, after a quick perusal of the fabulous internets, there are a LOT of old stories), a person looking to be a werewolf, or lycanthrope, has quite a few options. Some are...let's just say they're less than appealing. Still, when a girl wants fangs and claws of her very own, she's gotta do what she's gotta do. So here's the breakdown:

1.Curse/witchcraft/pact with the devil - Hundreds of years ago, people were fairly convinced that witches were able to use certain salves and ointments (now thought to have been hallucinogenic, surprise surprise) to transform into wolves and go off on people-eating, mayhem-making trips across the unsuspecting countryside. These witches would also sometimes curse people they didn't have much use for (often nobility, and again, SO shocking) with lycanthropy. Poor, tortured, noble souls, doomed to be's the stuff of romance, I tell you. This would be a more difficult route to use for your own personal transformation, though, unless you're a witch or an astoundingly obnoxious heir to some title or other. Then again, you could just do as the real baddies reportedly did and seek out the devil himself to make a little deal. Yeah, I'm with option!

2.Get bitten - The "infection" of lycanthropy was once believed so strong that even eating food brought to you by a werewolf would turn you. It's now generally agreed upon, however, that it's gotta involve the sharp, pointy teeth. Biting is a straightforward method, I'll give it that. The problem is, of course, finding a werewolf to bite you when he's not in a mood to just tear you limb from limb. Being a total romantic, I like the notion of getting the big, furry hunk to fall in love with you first. But no matter what, and no matter how gentle Mr. Tall Dark and Furry is, it's going to be ouchie. And since wolves mate for life, you'd better be sure:-)

3.Go to the Balcanic Peninsula, find the lycanthopous flower, and eat it. Warning: the flower is tough to find, smells faintly of death, and is offensively white and sticky. Er, yum.

4.Wear a wolf belt. Just go out and find the skin of either a wolf or a hanged man (hanged man's skin is better, naturally), and make a belt. If you get this far without arousing the alarmed suspicions of your loved ones and/or getting tossed in jail, adorn it with the signs of the zodiac, decorate the buckle with seven tongues, and cinch that baby to the ninth hole. Shazam, you're a wolf! Just unbuckle to transform back. If you can figure out how with those claws, that is.

5.Be a seventh son. This would be something you can't really control. Trying to force your parents to adopt older siblings doesn't count, sorry.

These are the biggies, but with werewolf lore so widespread and varied, some other ideas cropped up occasionally. Some people believed that drinking water from the footprint of a wolf would turn you. Some believed that sleeping outside beneath the full moon on a Friday would suffice (I came close in my wilder days, though, and while I may have ocasionally howled at the moon, I don't think I ever actually grew fur and a tail). Oh, or you could eat the brains of a wolf. Say it with me: EW.

So there you are, a veritable buffet of options for the lycanthropically-inclined. Since the heroes I write happen to be of the "big, hot, and Scottish" variety, I'll take a bite from them any day over snacking on some oh-so-yummy wolf brains! I'll admit, I've bent the rules for them...they're hereditary werewolves, and they can shift whenever they want. But even in my skewed version of werewolfism, the transition from human to wolf can only be achieved by getting that one, delicious, dangerous bite. Some pieces of the lore are just too perfectly suited to romance to change.

If anyone knows of any other ways to become a werewolf, let's hear them...they're sure to be interesting! Otherwise, if you've got a favorite werewolf-centric story (or romance!), please share. Happy howling!


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Thirteen Things to Avoid in a Horror Flick: A Survival Guide of Sorts

Thirteen Things to Avoid in a Horror Flick: A Survival Guide

It’s Halloween again. Time for horror flicks, fright nights and scary-creature features. At the diner we’re discussing monsters, aliens and strange beings of all sorts. Flashing through my mind are scenes from movies that caused me to scream, close my eyes or laugh aloud. I’m a fan of all those hair-raising, pulse-pumping films. In many of them there seems to be a dearth of common sense. The featured characters make an error in judgment that virtually guarantees them a gory death. I watch and sometime shout advice. Of course, the characters on screen can’t hear me, but if they could, I’d pass along these cautionary comments as a sort of survival guide:

1. Don’t open the door. Any door. If you rush into a room, make sure the monsters not already in the room before you lock the door.

2. Even if you can make a teleporter, mix up a longevity potion or figure out how to make flesh invisible. Don’t experiment on yourself. Remind yourself how “The Fly” and “Hollow Man” turned out.

3. When you hear a sound, don’t investigate. Let it go.

4. Don’t split up the group. It seems to be effective only in “Scooby Doo” cartoons.

5. Don’t stand by a large window where you’re quite sure the killer/manic is stalking you and is possibly hiding in the bushes under said window.

6. Don’t enter a medical/science laboratory or walk blissfully up the garden walk to the old house where you know the monsters lurk. Remember what happened to the poor folks of Raccoon City from “Resident Evil.”

7. Don’t engage in any kind of romantic body contact when you’re in a sequel to a movie where lovers were slain: i.e: “Friday the Thirteenth.”

8. Don’t fall asleep in any of the “Nightmare on Elm Street” films.

9. Don’t invite a vampire in and/or accept his invitation. Van Helsing is poster boy for how badly things can go.

10. Don’t accept any invitation from someone you know you “done” wrong. Learn from the fate of the 10 individuals that visited in “And Then There Were None.”

11. Don’t ignore your instincts. If you’re driving and you think the monster is in your back seat. Be assured: He is! Or if you think your mate is going insane, like in “The Shining,” guess what? He/she is.

12. When a body is found near a TV, don’t turn on the set and listen to the static as they did in “White Noise.” And if there happens to be a tape in the VCR, don’t follow the example of the teenage girls from “The Ring” and play it.

13. Don’t drive your family RV through ghost towns that were once nuclear testing sites. Remember “The Hills Have Eyes.” It could happen to you.

There are lots of other “no-no’s in Scream Fests. Can you give me a hand? Please add to the Horror Flick Survival Guide. Leave your advice. Happy Viewing!

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Devil Made Them Do It

It began when Satan and the Lord disagreed. Satan and those who followed him rose up against God. They were defeated and cast down from heaven. Satan became the King of Hell; the other Fallen angels are his Princes. Satan was the serpent who tempts Eve in the Garden of Eden. Now humans are forever vulnerable to evil in the world. This is the basic account from which Christian tradition derives. The Judaic and Islam religions both have versions of Satan as an angel, but his role differs. In the literature we are taught, he is generally presented in the Christian tradition, the most familiar account probably in Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Let’s discuss some areas of confusion. Lucifer is not the same as Satan, but the names have become interchangeable. The term Demons is used to
describe the Fallen, but many believe demons are created servants of hell, and Satan’s army. Fallen angels don't have red skin, horns and a long pointy tail. They began as angels; thus, they can still maintain the beauty of an angelic form. Many are pictured as hideous monsters, but are able to alter their forms. This aptitude for physical beauty, along with a reputation for intense physical appetites, has made them the new staples of paranormal romance.

I’ll give a few examples of Fallen angels whose names I have seen in recent stories. Asmodeus represents the third deadly sin of lust. In the Judaic tradition, he is the King of the demons. He lusted after Sarah, a mortal woman, and killed 7 potential husbands on their wedding nights. Definitely a Fallen who took desire to the extreme.

Belial is literally the Prince of lies, commands 80 legions of hell, and is known to be lecherous. He is said to have a beastly form similar to that of the Loch Ness monster. Mammon is the Prince of greed, and represents the desire for material gain. He is the one who literally encourages humans to worship money. Sammael is a seducer, accuser, and destroyer. He has been regarded as both good and evil, and is considered by some the Angel of death. Belphegor was sent from Hell to find out if there really was marital bliss. The Princes had heard rumors, but they knew humans weren’t designed to live in harmony. Belphegor's experiences in the world soon convinced him it was only rumor.
(Please remember others may define each Fallen angel differently, these are examples I found that were interesting).

Fallen angels are associated with sin, pain, promiscuity, and death. They have dominion over humans in that they are free to tempt, torture, and otherwise make then suffer. They have caused many an innocent soul to turn to evil, and end up roasting in the fiery pits of Hell. Alternately, some are reputed to have done acts of kindness that benefited humanity.
It is easy to see why romance writers have decided that Fallen angels are great fodder for the romance mill. They are mysterious, inhumanly sexy, and wildly wicked royalty from Hell, the ultimate Alpha bad boys. Since they fell from grace, what good woman, or romance writer, wouldn’t like to find a way to redeem them with love? If you decide to try, please research carefully since they are beings who have religious significance.

I wish you Happy Halloween, and may you find ways to keep all your angels heavenly.
Hauntingly Yours,

Friday, October 19, 2007

Where Do Writers Get Their Ideas?

Where do writers get their ideas? Ah, the question of the ages. Readers long to understand how some sweet little old lady author could come up with a horrible vicious killer, or that hunka sexy love hero who defeats said killer.

Today, in an unprecedented move, I’m going to reveal the secret of where writers get their ideas. Ready? Here it comes...magic.

“What!” I hear you all saying. No way. She’s nuts. She just doesn’t have a clue and she’s making it all up. Okay, okay, just hear me out. Please?

The very first novel I wrote (please may it never be discovered lurking under my bed and be brought out into the light), was the result of watching Superman II and playing wwwwaaaaayyyyy too much Pac Man on my trusty Atari (seriously dating myself here). Anyway, the result of this odd mixture fermenting in the crazy recesses of my brain was the story of a video game champ who falls in love with a movie star (yikes, it sounds worse that it is, which is scary!) How did this happen. How did this tiny spark bring about an entire world with characters and storyline and plot? My answer: magic.

Hey, no rotten vegetables please. The point is, writers don’t see the world like other people do. A regular person sees a movie and a woman who needs to get out more. My writer brain saw a story. And I’d bet there were other writers out there inspired by either Superman II, or by Pac Man, or even both. Somehow a writer’s brain is wired in a way where mundane events twist and turn and become stories.

How does this happen? I don’t think anybody will ever figure it out. My belief is that it’s magic. I’ll bet there’s not a writer out there who hasn’t picked up something they wrote and thought, “I wrote that? Wow, where did that come from?”

So there you are, the secret. Something magical happens and spark becomes story. We don’t understand it anymore than you do.

It’s magic!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

In an Overflowing Used Bookstore...I Found My Voice

I am a voracious reader. Ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you I might have a tiny little obsession…ok, maybe not so tiny. ;-)

I Love To Read!

There was this used book store next to where I used to work. Talk about a dream place for someone like me. All those books!

I went at least every other day--mostly every day--and buy a book, read it overnight and be back to trade it in for a discount on another one…or two…or three…

Hey! I Love To Read!

Anyway, the owner used to watch me peruse the shelves and we’d chit chat about books and such. Until one day, he asked me how many books I’d read. To this, I actually had an number. At the time it was about 500. He chuckled and asked why I didn’t write one myself…

Write my own novel?!

I laughed and told him I didn’t know the first thing about writing a…a book!

To which he replied, “Sandy, you’re practically and expert.”

I rolled my eyes and he ignored me in favor of continuing. “Would you say you have a good imagination?” he asked.

“Um…yeah?” (When you finish reading this go here to see just how I got such a vivid imagination.)

He smiled. “And do you know what you like about each book you read? What you don’t like?”


“So why don’t you write one with all the things you like and none of the things you don’t?”


That night, I wrote a scene…It grew into five pages and drew me in. That night, a writer found her voice.

I had a lot to learn and still do. And one day, I might even finish that story. But, it was the beginning of a new obsession.


~ Sandra Barkevich

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

This One's for You, Grandma

I'm late in posting, but I've had one of those weeks.

I picked up my first romance when I was fourteen. I did it begrudgingly, but my mom was so sick of me reading those Judy Blume books over and over again, she insisted I read a Harlequin Presents. Six White Horses by Janet Daily.

I read the book. I fell in love. I immediately re-read it. From then on, I devoured every romance novel I could get my hands on.

My mom quickly ran out. She suggested I call my grandmother and see if she had any, since both Grandma and Grandpa loved them. She had tons! It was like my Nirvana.

Eventually, I expanded my reading to include single title books. My grandmother and I became reading buddies. Jude Deveraux, V.C Andrews, Jackie Collins, Janet Daily just to list a few. She would tell me to hurry up and finish a book so we could discuss it. We had a connection that bonded us through our love of romance.

I don't have many regrets in my life, but the one that hurts my heart the most is that Grandma didn't live to see me become a writer. I know she would have loved each and every story I wrote, even the early ones that I wouldn't let my worst enemy read.

One day I will be published and from the first time I ever wrote "The End" I have always known what my first dedication would read:

"This one's for you, Grandma..."

Love Maggie

Monday, October 15, 2007

Disney Princesses and the Hero(ine)’s Journey

I just survived 7 days in Disney World with one husband and two very energetic children, so please bear with me as I stray from this week’s topic and go off on my own tangent today. Can’t be helped--I’m running on Disney Princess overload right now--but I will try to tie it all into writing paranormal romance.

So how am I going to do that, you ask? It’s pretty simple, actually. For the paranormal part, most Disney stories involve magic and otherworldly creatures--be they witches, elves, or fairy godmothers. For romance, the stories almost always follow the theme of love conquers all and have a They-Lived-Happily-Ever-After ending. And when we come to the writing part, you can see each and every story follows the Hero’s Journey, which comes from Christopher Vogler’s THE WRITER’S JOURNEY. In his book, Vogler explains how every story, movie, or--for today’s topic, animated Disney fairy tale--typically follows a 12-step hero’s journey. For those of you unfamiliar with the hero’s journey, here’s a down and dirty version of it and--since I’ll be talking about Disney Princesses later on--I’ve converted it to the heroine’s journey:

1) The Ordinary World
The heroine is minding her business in her normal, ordinary world. It’s what she knows, what she’s comfortable with--in other words *yawn* boring.

2) The Call to Adventure
Uh, oh. A major problem or an unexpected adventure comes along to shake up the heroine’s ordinary world. This is often complicated by meeting Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome. Sometimes he IS the problem, sometimes he just complicates the other problem more.

3) The Refusal of the Call
The heroine says, “Huh uh. No way. Not gonna do it.” And promptly runs the other way.

4) Meet the Mentor
The heroine meets someone wiser than herself to help guide her on her journey. Sorta like Map Quest in human form.

5) Crossing the First Threshold
The heroine says, “Okay, if I really have no choice and have to go face the unknown, I guess I’ll do it.” And her adventure begins.

6) Tests, Allies, and Enemies
Along the way, the heroine makes some nice friends, a nasty enemy or two, and faces many challenging tests to make her a stronger person than she was when she started out.

7) The Approach to the Innermost Cave
Up until now, the tests our heroine has faced and overcome have been somewhat small and not overly challenging. Now she’s got a real doozie in front of her. Think of it as if she’s passed a bunch of pop quizzes and now she’s faced with the final exam--an exam that probably involves facing her worst fear but she has to pass in order to graduate (reach her ultimate goal).

8) The Supreme Ordeal
This is the Black Moment. This is when the worse that can happen does and it looks like our plucky heroine is going to fail.

9) Seizing the Sword
The heroine overcomes the ordeal and achieves her goal--or so it seems.

10) The Road Back
Just when she thinks she has it all, something bad happens and the heroine discovers she may end up losing all she’s worked so hard for. It’s a second, and often more climatic, Black Moment. It’s a moment of symbolic death.

11) Resurrection
The moment of symbolic rebirth. The heroine survives the worst and comes out the other side discovering she has grown and changed through her experiences, good and bad, and it’s made her a better person for it.

12) Return with the Elixir
The heroine returns home with the treasure--be it newfound knowledge, a goal achieved, or the love of a handsome prince.

If you’re like me, I learn better by example. So after meeting several Disney Princesses this week (much to my 8 year old daughter’s delight and my 5 year old son’s dismay--you’ll learn why later), I thought I’d examine each princess’ story and tie it to the heroine’s journey.

1) The Ordinary World
Cinderella is busy cleaning up after her wicked stepmother and spoiled stepsisters. It’s what she does day after day and she’s learned not to hope for much more in life.

2) The Call to Adventure
A decree comes from the palace that all eligible maidens are to come to a ball for the prince so he can find a wife. Woo hoo!

3) The Refusal of the Call
Cindy is eligible but she hasn’t got a thing to wear and stepmom and the sisters aren’t about to help her out. Bummer. She resigns herself to sorting peas. I mean, it’s not like she had a chance with the prince anyway, right?

4) Meet the Mentor
Enter the fairy godmother.

5) Crossing the First Threshold
The fairy godmother urges Cindy to go to the ball. But there are a few details holding her back. She says, “I don’t have an invitation.” *poof* She’s got one. Then she says, “How will I get there?” *poof* Mice and rats become horse and livery and a pumpkin becomes a carriage. Finally, she says, “But I haven’t got a thing to wear.” *poof* She’s wearing a gorgeous designer gown straight off the Paris runway.

6) Tests, Allies, and Enemies
Cindy’s enemies are her evil stepmother and stepsisters. Her only friends are the barnyard rodents and house pets. Her tests are how to get to the ball and avoid discovery by her stepfamily once she’s there.

7) The Approach to the Innermost Cave
The prince notices our little Cindy. She’s unsure of what to do. All she wanted was to go to the ball, see the castle, maybe drink some punch. Now she has to dance in public with a handsome prince without tripping over herself and causing a major scene.

8) The Supreme Ordeal
The clock strikes midnight. Cindy has to get the heck out of Dodge before the spell washes off and she turns back into a ragamuffin. Unfortunately, this means leaving the hunky prince and a certain glass slipper behind.

9) Seizing the Sword
The prince comes looking for the girl who fits the slipper, intent on marrying her. Oh, happy, joy!

10) The Road Back
Realizing Cindy was the mysterious girl at the ball, the stepmother locks her away so the prince can’t find her to see if the shoe fits.

11) Resurrection
With the help of her animal friends, Cindy escapes in time and stands up to her stepmother. Enraged, the stepmother purposely breaks the glass slipper so Cindy can’t prove she’s the girl the prince loves. Cindy says, “Not so fast,” and pulls the other glass slipper from her pocket, proving she is the one the prince has been searching for.

12) Return With the Elixir
The prince marries Cinderella and they go off to live in the castle while her stepmother and sisters get demoted to lowly castle servants.

1) The Ordinary World
Belle lives with her father in a quaint little village and spends her time reading books. She’s fine with the status quo--sort of.

2) The Call to Adventure
Belle’s father is taken captive by the Beast and she must go rescue him.

3) The Refusal of the Call
Since Belle's father is old and sickly, the Beast demands she must take his place to spare him. She does, but she’s not happy about it.

4) Meet the Mentor
The other inhabitants of the castle who are also under the spell. They help Beast and Belle come together, overcome their awkward natures, and get to know each other.

5) Crossing the First Threshold
Even though she’s terrified at first, Belle is determined to make the best of the situation, whether the Beast likes it or not. She begins by exploring his castle and quite literally crosses the threshold into the Beast's lair, where she's forbidden to go, and discovers the source of the Beast's spell--the wilting rose.

6) Tests, Allies, and Enemies
The people turned household items are her friends. Gaston, her persistent suitor, is the enemy. And Belle’s tests push her to look past all the fur and fangs to see the man inside the Beast.

7) The Approach to the Innermost Cave
Belle’s greatest fear is realized when she learns her father is ill and may be dying. It’s what she tried to prevent by taking his place with the Beast.

8) The Supreme Ordeal
Even though it breaks the Beast's heart, Belle leaves the him to return to her father.

9) Seizing the Sword
Belle finds her father alive and well but discovers she cares more for the Beast than she realized and rushes back to him.

10) The Road Back
Belle returns to the castle, but she is too late. Gaston stabs the Beast.

11) Resurrection
Just when Belle admits she loves the Beast and he loves her, he ‘dies’ only to be reborn as the handsome prince when the spell is broken because they’ve learned to love each other.

12) Return With the Elixir
Belle gets the prince, the castle folk return to their human forms, and all in the land is right once again.

Sleeping Beauty
(the blond-haired floozy who tried to kiss my 5 year old son, much to his horror and embarrassment)
1) The Ordinary World
Sleeping Beauty is content living in the forest with the good fairies, completely oblivious that she’s a princess.

2) The Call to Adventure
Beauty meets a handsome young man in the woods--a prince, no less (though she doesn’t realize it at the time)--and figures out there’s more in the world than kind little old ladies and cute woodland creatures.

3) The Refusal of The Call
Beauty remembers the good fairies warnings about talking to strangers, so she reluctantly runs away from the prince but promises to meet him later. *wink wink*

4) Meet the Mentor
Beauty has known her mentors all her life. They’re the good fairies who’ve raised her and kept her hidden from the bad fairy.

5) Crossing the First Threshold
Beauty learns she’s really a princess and her parents are still alive and that she must return to the castle to take her rightful place as their daughter.

6) Tests, Allies, and Enemies
Beauty’s friends are the animals of the forest. Her enemy is the wicked fairy. Her tests are going against what her heart desires (meeting the hunk in the woods again) and doing what she’s supposed to do (assume the responsibilities of a royal princess).

7) The Approach to the Innermost Cave
Beauty has stayed hidden in the forest all her life. Now she now must expose herself and return to the royal kingdom even though it could be dangerous, even deadly.

8) The Supreme Ordeal
Beauty returns to the castle and leaves behind all she’s ever known--including the handsome young stud from the forest she believes she’ll never see again.

9) Seizing the Sword
Beauty has reached her birthday milestone unharmed. The evil fairy is no where to be seen. All the spinning wheels in the kingdom have been destroyed. She’s reunited with her parents and learns she’s a princess and engaged to marry a prince. Could it get any better?

10) The Road Back
But there’s one spinning wheel left and--wouldn’t you know it--Beauty pricks her finger on it and falls under a sleeping spell.

11) Resurrection
After slaying the dragon/evil fairy, the prince kisses Beauty and wakes her up from the spell. Okay, so she doesn’t do much to achieve her own goal at this point. The prince does all the hard work. Consider this a joint-effort story. *G*

12) Return with the Elixir
Beauty gets her prince/hunk from the woods after all. Which is fine with me as long as she stays away from my son--at least until he’s 18.

So there you have the Hero’s Journey applied to three Disney fairy tales. Nifty how that works, don’t ya think? Now that I think about it, this post does involve this week's topic of inspiration, because I'm sure each and every one of us began our writing careers way before we could even read, whether we realized it or not. And it all began with "Once upon a time . . ." and probably involved a Disney Princess or two.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Gather Ye Pearls Where Ye May

What inspires me? At any given moment...almost anything. A snippet of a lyric. A line from a book or movie. A moment of conversation with a friend. Now you may think that's a copout, but it's the truth. Small moments can yield pearls.

For example, I was out with friends listening to my favorite band from eastern Iowa, Wylde Nept. I've been a fan for ten years and have heard their songs many times. They were trying out some new material one night and they played a new tune called So, So Cold. I fell in love. Not with the singer (even though he's cute). No, with the song and the idea that hit me in the head based on the lyrics of the song. Now, there's this thing called copyright so I can't use their lyrics but I can let them inspire me. I've not written the story yet, but it's brewing in the back of my mind just waiting for the moment I set it to paper.

Then there's the name Verite. She's the heroine of the medieval romance I'm writing called Seeking Truth. I was watching the Joan Hickson TV version of Agatha Christie's Nemesis. There's a line in the movie/book where they are describing a dead girl named Verity Hunt. Verity was a shining girl with the absolute faith in redemption of the spirit. I KNEW I had to use that name in my Medieval even though the name Verity didn't come into use in England until the 1600 or 1700s. I spoke to an SCA friend of mine who said someone might have named their daughter Verite (the French word for Truth) though it would have been very unusual. All I needed was the glimmer of hope from someone very familiar with medieval naming practices and I not only had my heroine, I had my title.

Sometimes life is just like that. Even the smallest thought can inspire the kernal of a great idea and when you look for inspiration in the most unlikely places, you'll find it. Just keep your ears open then when you feel the inspiration hit you, make sure you have a pen and paper in your purse so you can write it down somewhere...anywhere! Though inspiration can be fleeting, when it happens everything was worth the wait!

To rephrase poet Robert Herrick:

Gather ye pearls where ye may,
Inspiration needs inviting
And these jewels which shine to-day
To-morrow you may be writing.

Friday, October 12, 2007

If Music Be the Food of Love...

This week at the diner, there's been a lot of talk about inspiration. Debralee found it in the books that kept her company through childhood. Talia finds in in other writers. Brenda finds it in the challenge of joining NaNoWriMo. Me, I find it lots of places. A still Autumn afternoon on the back porch. A low red moon, hanging full in the night sky. Watching Timeline for the 2,228th time to see the part where Gerry Butler takes his shirt off. Oh, um, did I say that last part out loud? Anyway, I draw my inspiration from lots of places (some prettier than others:-). But I think what I turn to most often when the well of creativity needs replenishing, the place where I can lose myself most easily, is music.

When I'm stuck in a scene and can't find my way, when I know there's a fabulous plotline lurking just beneath the surface of my imagination, close but frustratingly out of reach, or even when I just want to take some time out and connect more deeply to my characters, I always know what to do. I plug in the ipod, or I get in the car and crank up the stereo, I clear my mind, and I let my imagination go. Inevitably, during a soaring bridge or an unforgettable lyric, something wonderful and unexpected will unfurl its petals and begin to bloom. And the writer in me (which sometimes takes annoyingly long breaks while parked on a sprung old couch in the recesses of my mind, watching reality TV and eating Doritos) starts to dance all over again.

I think most of us have at least a partial soundtrack for our stories. While I was writing my book Call of the Highland Moon, for instance, there was a lot of Evanescence's album "The Open Door" going on in my universe. A little of Keane's "Under the Iron Sea," for softer moments. Muse's beautiful song "Sing for Absolution," along with Travis's "Love Will Come Through," plus a general mix of dark and brooding music suitable for all manner of love and longing populated all of my playlists from that time period. Those albums and songs got me through the rough spots, and made me feel like I was soaring when all the elements seemed to be blending seamlessly (a book is an arduous journey, but we all have our moments of euphoria, thank God). They're as much a part of my story as the writing, because they were behind so much of it. When words fail me, I can always take refuge in a song and let the words of others fill the void. And when the hair on the back of my neck rises in sheer bliss (which it sometimes does, if I'm very lucky), I'm grateful I have those chords within me to strike. Of course, it should come as no surprise that writers are often deeply attached to music...the written word, when done well, has a music all its own. It's just nice sometimes to let someone else do the composing.

So as I listen to Imogen Heap and chill, why don't you share a song or a group that inspires you in your writing? I'm all ears...and as a music junkie, always on the lookout for something new and amazing! Happy listening, and happy writing.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

13 Reasons to Tap Into National Novel Writing Month

At the neighborhood diner, friends and I are talking about inspiration. I pipe in with my favorite inspiration. It’s not a book, a person, a Website or writing buddies. Actually it’s a movement, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

Chris Baty, author of “No Plot? No Problem!” a low-stress, high-velocity guide to writing a novel in 30 days, started NaNoWriMo in 1999 with 12 would-be-novelists and since then it has mushroomed.. Really mushroomed! From the official site, it's stated,"In 2006 we had 79,000 participants. Nearly 13,000 crossed the 50k finish line. . . " This year, NaNoWriMo anticipates 80, 000 participants.

Why? Because NaNoWri Mo is a huge adventure based on the premise that you CAN write a book. What if you actually could? Wouldn’t that be incredible? It would be a mountain-top experience. Well, there’s a whole group of people (at least most of the 80, 000 participants) at NaNoWriMo who believe you can. And they’ve laid out a plan.

1. You sign up at
2. You compose your author’s profile, then click around on the site for forums, t-shirts for sale, friends, advice and facts.
3. Next you write 1, 667 words daily for November’s 30 days. (That’s seven typed pages.)
4. When you finish, you upload your words to the official NaNoWritMo word counter.

All this and more is explained on the Website.
13 reasons to take the NaNoMoWri plunge

1.) It’s only a month. When it’s over, you have 11 months to do other things.

2.) You’ll join a network of friends doing the same thing. Think of it as an instant community.

3.) You can get help from tons of people. Online forums are a good source, and so are local writing parties you can attend.

4.) Your keyboard skills will improve.

5.) We all know practice makes perfect – or it puts you closer -- and the more you write, the better your writing should become.

6.) It’s the marathon experience for those of us who write instead of run. Whether you finish or not, you’ll be proud of your effort. Writing 50,000 words in a month was a big challenge for me. I wondered if I could do it, but when things got tough I contacted my writing buddies or looked in on one of the helpful online forums -- which brings me to the next reason.

7.) You receive encouragement as well as inspiration. Chris Baty e-mails you weekly and you can always find another buddy willing to cheer you on with Nano mail.

8.) This year could be the year to fulfill one of your “someday, I’ll do it” dreams. Being a novelist doesn’t have to be one of those. Even though the 1,767 words a day seemed a difficult daily goal, I must humbly admit, I succeeded.

9.) You could discover that you’re the next Hemingway, Collins, Brown, Koontz, Patterson, or King -- if you simply give it a shot.

10.) There’s a simple plan on the site, a guidebook, “No Plot, No Problem.” You can purchase or borrow it from the library, plus lots of fellow participants online you can question.

11.) It’s fun. As Chris Baty says, “I learned that writing a novel simply feels great. Slipping into ‘The Zone’ – that place where you become a passive conduit to a story -- exercises your brain in weird, pleasant ways and makes life a little more enchanted.”

12.) It’s free.

13.) Brenda thinks it’s a great idea and would like more writing buddies. When you sign up, you can join my buddy sheet and I’ll be delighted. My NaNoWritMo nickname is Persephanys. I’m still in contact with the friends I made in 2006, my first year.

If you’ve joined National Novel Writing Month in the past, you probably can think of even more reasons why it’s worth a try. Please share.
Disclaimer—I don’t work for National Novel Writing Month. I simply participated in 2006 and I’m looking forward to going through the process again this November.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Books Were My Friends

What inspired me to write was loneliness.

I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder as soon as I started school. Since they had no idea how to teach such a child I was labeled a problem. Since I was different, I had no friends. I learned to read very early. I discovered that books were a wonderful way to beat loneliness, while escaping on wondrous adventures with people who never teased or judged me.

I had written my first story by third grade, my teacher called me a prodigy and took me to see the principal. I thought I was in trouble! But that trouble turned into my salvation. Supported by a loving family, I beat the odds set by the school psychologist who said I'd probably end up in an institution.

I just turned 50 this week. I have an education, a husband. a son, and loving friends. I also have the ability to write words that have touched other people in positive ways. My life is a success story with a happy ending, and outside my family, books were the major inspiration that changed my life. Our relationship is still wonderful and unconditional. Thank you to each and every word that helped turn a lonely little girl into a writer.


Tuesday, October 9, 2007

From Inspiration to Awe

As I blogged in yesterday's post, this past weekend I was fortunate enough to attend the annual NJ Romance Writers' conference. I was even more fortunate because this year's speaker was the incomparable Sherrilyn Kenyon, author of the Dark Hunter series, among others.

Let me preface this with a confession--I have never read a Sherrilyn Kenyon book. (Please don't throw tomatoes at me. I haven't read a lot of authors, honest, but I am trying to catch up.) That being known let me say this: the woman floored me. I'm sure that Sherrilyn the author would floor me too, but Sherrilyn the woman utterly floored me.

In a time where we have more technology but less time, and have more to be grateful for but less gratitude, my experience with SK brought reality into brilliant focus. In Stars Wars terms, if I'm Luke Skywalker; she's Yoda and I am not talking about writing.

I am talking about giving.

During a workshop chat, she answered every question asked of her with generosity and humor. I know that many of these questions, she's probably been asked a thousand times over but she handled every single one as if the she'd never heard it before. Often she used humor to illustrate her point and every person there, even the most clueless newbie (which was probably me) felt validated by her presence. Some people call that acting.

I call that respect.

The next day, I had to opportunity to speak with her semi-privately and found out that she wasn't feeling very well. Scratch that. She felt lousy. But you would have never guessed it--not from the keynote speech or the hour-long workshop that she still had to give right after that. Sherri smiled graciously, downplayed her condition and pushed through it to leave me (and many others) choking up when she recounted her rocky publication journey. Some people call that acting.

I call it honor.

Afterwards, during the booksigning, fans waited on line for their moment with their idol-- teenage Goths, young mothers (some with kiddies in tow), middle-aged momas, and mature women with decades of wisdom carved on their faces. More than one walked away from the encounter with tears in their eyes. It was for some...a religious experience and I completely understand why.

Her connection with people, especially her fans is magical. Each person claimed perhaps five minutes of her time, but let me tell you it was very much the other way around. For those brief moments, Sherrilyn claimed that person. She physically reached out and touched them, letting them know on several levels that yes, she was with you. And for those five minutes, she saw you and you knew she truly listened. Her attention never strayed although a camera crew roamed the room and their were at least 50 other authors present. Sherrilyn connected on an intrinsic level with each and every person who spoke to her.

It was simply...amazing.

And more, it was humbling.

Since the conference, I have rededicated myself to my writing. To touch people through the written word is a great blessing and a greater responsibility. That is the fundamental lesson I have learned and may I never forget it.

Thank you, Sherrilyn Kenyon.


talia pente

Monday, October 8, 2007

The spark that starts it all: Inspiration

This week I am stepping in for my fellow diner staff member, Jody Wallace. Hey, everyone needs a sick day even virtually, right?

So, this go round I suggested the topic of inspiration. Why? Well, we're in October a VERY inspiring month if you write paranormal, but even more because I have just returned from the New Jersey Romance Writers' Conference and feel very...inspired!

I highly recommend attending a conference every once in while. They can be pricey (and I have yet to attend a National) but nothing kicks the muse in the patoot more than a room filled with authors discussing writing.

Usually our craft is a solitary pursuit. Nobody else can write for us (unless you are lucky enough to have a writing partner.) So we sit alone at our respective computers and play with our characters and yes, they talk to us but you can't hug them, hold their hand as they wait on a contest announcement or (as in my case) get up and sing karaoke with them.

But other writers do all this and more. We feed off each other's creativity and when you're sitting in a room with 300 other people who understand precisely the fear of the bank page and the elation of FINALLY nailing down deep POV, that's inspiration!

So I raise my glass of Irish Breakfast tea this AM and toast all of you!

Thanks for inspiration,


Friday, October 5, 2007

Magic, Sex, and Violence

Banning (and burning) books is a long tradition. If we jumped into a time machine and went back a few million years, we’d probably find one caveman destroying another’s cave paintings. We think we're more civilized now, but banning books is still a popular activity in some circles.

So what is it that sets a person off enough to want to deprive his/her neighbors of the pleasure of reading a specific book?

Being the nerd that I am, I set out to answer that question. After a long and exhausting five minutes, I had the answer. Sex, violence, and the paranormal. Most of the books on the American Library Association’s list deal in one way or another with one or more of these. Why? Beats me.

I guess the book on the list that affected me the most was The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. No magic, but sex and violence is key to this story (as is religion). I think Atwood’s ability to twist the world we live in and make it both terrifying and yet familiar, the same and yet horribly different is the strength of this book. I remember thinking as I read, "I can’t believe she actually did that!" And so learned that risk taking when writing a novel can lead to a stronger story.

Because the staff here at the Otherworld Diner write stories of magic (with varying doses of sex and violence), one or more of our books might upset a person or group enough to earn a place on a list of challenged books.

I can’t speak for the rest of the staff, but I’d be honored.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Staying Power

Wow, I'm not sure how follow such fabulous posts on this very important issue. Francesca did a wonderful job of introducing the topic. Until recently, I never gave much thought to the idea of banned books other than to laugh at the absurdity of someone pushing their beliefs down our throats.

I mean, if it offends you, don't read it. Don't let your kids read it if you don't want them to be exposed to whatever it is that's affronted your sensibilities. But, don't--do not--presume to think EVERYONE feels as you do. Now, I could get into the whole freedom of speech and expression issue here. But, I'm not going to. I think there is something deeper going on.

As Lori listed in her post, and most of us--even the ones who don't do much reading--know, many of the books listed are actually classics. Titles that have even worked to pave the way for change in our society and how we view situations and each other. But, I noticed something else. Many of the books listed are not only controversial, but also long-time best sellers. They seem to have staying power.

I wonder, does being on the banned book list make them more desirable to certain people? More intriguing? Are they still best sellers because of what they represent? Or would they have just faded into the background, as so many other equally wonderful books do after time, if they hadn't been challenged? What do you think?

~Sandra Barkevich

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Banning Reality?

First before I get started on my banned book rant - I want to take a moment to thank my fellow diner staff! I recently moved and have been a little less than organized (okay, maybe the move had nothing to do with that, but I can use that excuse for at least 2 months, right?) and so, if this is a shorter post than most - they've been kind enough to cut me some slack! - Thanks ladies!

Now, let's get down to the business at hand. Banned books. This wonderful country we live in affords each and every one of us the ability to make choices for ourselves and our kids. If you find something represented in a book that you don't agree with - sure, don't recommend your child read it or pass it along to a friend. But BAN it?

Does anyone truly think that banning a book, or condemning it's content, makes it less "real?" I point you here where you can read for yourself the books that topped the banned book list for 2006. News flash - banning a book about homosexuality in penguins doesn't change the fact that homosexuals exist, that they are members of our families, of our communities and are flesh and blood people with feelings. Banning these books does nothing more than create a bigger divide within our society. Is that what we need? More division? I certainly don't think so.

Do I agree with the subject matter of every book on the shelves at my local bookstore? NO. Would I hand a book I don't agree with over to my kids as recommended reading? NO. But would I ever take that right away from anyone else? Absolutely not!

I recently read an editorial in my local paper written by a WWII veteran. He wrote in about the people protesting the war in Iraq and about flag burning. Yes, a different subject that book banning, but stay with me here. His editorial boiled down to this one main point - while he might take offense at the burning of our flag or protest - your freedom to say, write, read or yes, even protest against a government policy, was won with blood on a battlefield. It's the rights to make your individual statements and to be heard - that gave every veteran their courage to fight and even to die for.

Not only as an author, but as a parent - I don't want to imagine a society where the few close-minded individuals can dictate what is read and what is taboo. The reality is that life is not always sunshine and roses. There's good, bad and everything inbetween. Reading a book isn't going to make you a homosexual, a rapist, racist or drug addict - but it might open your eyes to what's really going on around you. A ha - maybe that's the idea. If we ban books with questionable subjects, maybe we can continue to stick our heads in the sand and pretend it's not happening.

I'm off to take another look at that list and hunt at least one of those books down - I'm proud of the freedom I have to read what I want - how about you? (I'm off the soapbox now...maybe a little caffeine jolt will calm me down...)


Tuesday, October 2, 2007

To Kill a Mockingbird

When Banned Books Week was originally brought up as a topic for blogging I recoiled at the idea. What do I know about banned books? Aside from what I had to read in high school, my reading inventory mostly consisted of Judy Blume books and romances.

Then I got a look at the list and I realized I wasn't so unlearned after all. What the hell did Judy Blume do to anyone? I was shocked at how many of her books (with the exception of Forever) were challanged.

It was no shock that Harry Potter was listed. I've read and loved all the books, but I figured everyone would be talking about them.

Then I saw To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee on the list, I knew this was the book I had to discuss. It deals with prejudice, hatred and coming of age set in the deep south during the depression. This story has a special place in my heart. You'll find out why as you read on.

The story is told from Scout's point of view, who is a six-year-old girl based on Lee, herself. She has an older brother, Jem, and her father is Atticus Finch, a lawyer.

Atticus is assigned to defend a black man, Tom Robinson, who has been accused of raping a young white woman. Being a stand-up guy, Atticus intends to defend Tom to the best of his ability, much to the chagrin of the citizens of Maycomb, Alabama. Jem and Scout are subjected to the taunts from other children.

At the trial of Tom Robinson, Atticus shows that the accuser and her father, the town drunk, are lying. It's just so obvious! Despite the evidence pointing to Tom's innocence, he is convicted. I was so mad when I read this. It's just so unfair. Tom later tries to escape from prison and is shot and killed.

It's easy to see why some people would want this banned. It forces us to face the injustice, prejudices and imperfections in the justice system.

To this day the ending makes me angry, but it was based on events that happened in Lee's childhood, and real life doesn't have to give us a happy ending.

I loved this book, I loved the movie, and I've never been more proud than when my oldest son played the part of Jem in his school play.

While watching my son perform, I was transported to when I first read the book in high school. I was naive enough to think that Atticus would succeed, Tom would be set free and everyone would see the accuser and her drunken father for the liars they were.

The play brought tears to my eyes. Not because my son was amazing in his part, or that the other kids were a mass of talented young men and women, but because my twelve-year-old daughter pouted all the way to the car:

I asked her what was wrong. She turned to me in anger and said, "I didn't like that play. Tom was innocent. How could people send him to prison just because he's black?"

I put my arm around her and said, "I'm glad you're angry."

Her anger turned to surprise. "Why?"

I said, "Because it proves to me I'm raising you right."

How wonderful is that?


Monday, October 1, 2007

In Defense of The Pigman

Being an avid reader, I’d have to live on Mars not to have heard about banned books. And even if I wasn’t a book lover, there are many movies out there that include historical scenes of book burnings. But until this week, I’d never actually seen THE LIST. I was shocked, to say the least, to see classics such as Tom Sawyer, Of Mice and Men, and The Catcher in the Rye on it. Some of those top 100 banned books I recall reading as a teen, including Flowers for Algernon, The Outsiders, and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. I don’t think there was a girl in my junior high school who didn’t read Judy Bloom’s Forever. Granted, it wasn’t allowed in my school library, but one of my friend’s moms bought it for her and it was passed around from girl to girl until the poor book fell apart. Lord of the Flies was not only required reading in 9th grade, but I remember we spent weeks in my English class analyzing it chapter by chapter.

But as I perused the list, one title jumped out at me in particular -- The Pigman by Paul Zindel, published in 1968. Why that book, which I read sometime after my Nancy Drew phase and before graduating to Stephen King, John Saul, and V.C. Andrews? (Side note: If any books should be flagged, it should be the Flowers in the Attic series. Don’t get me wrong, I read and loved every one of them, but if a family saga based on incest isn’t flag-worthy, I don’t know what is.) Anyway, I think The Pigman remains very special to me because it was the first book I ever read that made me cry.

So that got me to thinking . . . just what was so bad in The Pigman to get it on THE LIST? Because it had been a good 27 years since I’d read the book as a 14 year old freshman in 1979 or 1980 (please don’t do the math to figure out how old that makes me now *cringe*), I checked it out of the library and read it again, and tried to figure out what had offended a certain segment of the public so. Was it because one of the lead characters, John, was a juvenile delinquent who skipped school, drank beer, smoked, smart-mouthed his parents, and got his kicks setting firecrackers off in the boy’s bathroom at school? Or was it because John and Lorraine, the other lead teen character, came from broken, dysfunctional homes before it became a right of passage instead of a dirty little secret in a society still clinging to the “Leave It To Beaver” mentality? Or was it because it dealt with the uncomfortable topic of death in a book aimed at adolescents in the prime of their lives? Reading the book now as an adult with children of my own, my choice for questionable content would have been the fact that the title character, The Pigman, saw nothing wrong with giving two 15 year old kids alcohol every time they came to visit his home. Imagine my surprise when I did a little internet research and found out the real reason the book made THE LIST . . .

The Pigman was first challenged in 1985, seventeen years after it was written, because it was considered "dangerous" becauseit features liars, cheaters and stealers,” in addition to using symbols in place of 4-letter curse words, which some thought offensive. Okay, so I can understand some people not wanting to glorify juvenile delinquents or put ideas into their teens' heads about lying, cheating, and stealing. But I didn’t understand the problem with the author using symbols in place of curse words. Wouldn’t that be preferred instead of the alternative of putting the actual words in the text? Then on one of the websites I visited ( while researching the ‘whys,’ the poster Erin Lee mentioned that “. . . seeing @#$% caught my attention and drew my mind more to obscenity than if Mr. Zindel would have written out the curse word; natural curiosity is to find the word that's supposed to be there, as opposed to just skimming over it and moving on.” Ah ha! Maybe that was the underlying problem with the book all along. . . parents were afraid their kids would actually think for themselves and fill in the blanks. Heaven forbid.

Regardless, to this day I can still picture the very shelf in the library of my junior high school where the book resided -- that’s how much of an impact The Pigman had on me when I read it--and cried at the end of it--for the first time.