Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What Is It About Cemeteries?

Cemeteries are the final resting place for dead and cremated bodies. That definition alone should mark them as places we visit once and then forget about, right? And yet there's a fascination with them that defies explanation.

I've always found them to be peaceful places, not frightening. The lore of ghosts or zombies combing them at night, looking for unsuspecting victims, wasn't part of my childhood fears because ghosts and zombies are just cool. :)

Burying the dead is a practice that archaeology tells us dates back to prehistoric times. Giving mortal remains a resting place and a marker is a way to honor that person's life and preserve their memory. It gives the living a spot where they can still feel connected to that person. Whether the deceased can hear and see us sitting by their graveside is a matter of belief, and beyond the scope of this blog post. :)

When I was very young we used to visit the grave of my maternal grandfather every Memorial Day. He died in World War II. This holiday used to be called Decoration Day, and even though that name is well over one hundred years old, our family still observed it. My mom would go to the same florist each year and buy the same styrofoam wreath, always white, with an American flag and some red and blue plastic flowers stuck on it. Good heavens that thing was ugly, and not nearly as adorned as the image above.

The trip took almost an hour because there was no freeway connecting both sides of the city like there is now. There were railroad tracks along one edge of the cemetery, and all the cousins who'd been dragged along that day would play by them while the grownups did whatever it is they did at the graveside. When we got bored by the train tracks we'd try to jump over the flat headstones. It was considered bad luck to step on one, and doing so would assure you a ghostly visit that night... or so my cousins said. Since it never happened to me I think they might have been fibbing.

True story: There's a cemetery in Brecksville Ohio called Barr Road Cemetery, and like all cemeteries worth their acreage it's said to be haunted. One night in high school a group of us were driving past and decided to test the folklore that if you walked among the graves at night you'd die. Yeah, okay. We were in high school, all right? There was no chain across the entrance like there is now, but the same split rail fence you'll find today was the only barrier, so we drove inside. It borders the park system and back then there weren't homes across the street like there are now, and there were no street lights.

We didn't do anything except get out of the car and walk around, but it truly was pitch dark, and next to the thick woods you couldn't see a thing, so we didn't wander far. Besides, the entire cemetery is only about four acres. It's actually a private cemetery for the Barr family that used to own most of Brecksville. When we got back in the car it wouldn't start. The driver honestly wasn't kidding around. One of the guys finally walked up the road to the nearest home and called his parents. It was pretty cool, actually, even if his dad was pissed off at us when he got there.

When I was doing research for HUNTED, Book 2 of my Seduced By A Demon series from Evernight Publishing, I wanted Jahi and Vassago's final showdown to be in a cemetery. I chose Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood CA for two reasons. The story, like Book 1, THE LAST SOUL, is set in Los Angeles, and Inglewood boasts a huge cemetery with lots of buildings and trees where fallen angels can hide.

What are some of your favorite cemeteries? Do you have any stories to share?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

13 Interesting Facts About U.S. Gardens and Gardeners

The Badger State is toasting in a 90-plus degree heat wave and what feels suspiciously like 100% humidity. Even in T-shirt and shorts I’m hot, but, undaunted, I’m at work in my garden, sweating, watering, yanking weeds and imagining the salsa ingredients I hope I’m nurturing.
My mind wanders. Are others out weeding today, too? What are they growing?
What do people plant?
If you’re like me, you’re curious. So, as an excuse to cool off, I go to the Internet and conduct some research.

1.In 2008, 36 million people tended a garden.
2.The next year, in 2009, 43 million decided to try their hand at growing things.
3.About 79% of home gardeners have attended or graduated from college.
4.A total of 68% of those plant tenders are over 44 years old.
5.How many of those involved in food growing are female? Some 54%.
6.How much time does a typical gardener spend tending her plants? Five hours a week.
7.The average amount of money spent on one garden: $70 per summer.
8.And what is a typical yield of a vegetable or flower garden? About $530. (So all that weeding and watering does pay off -- and, chance are, I'll get that salsa I’m hoping for.)
9.Which brings me to another topic. I’m raising tomatoes, which, I expect, is typical of the average grower. Yes, I'm right: The most popular vegetable grown is the tomato.

10.One Website says the second most planted vegetable is the pepper while another states that the cucumber ranks second.
11.The third spot goes to either cucumbers or pepper -- depending on the site you choose.
12.The next favorite that people plant is either beans or onions, depending on the Website you trust.
13.And what are other popular vegetables to plant? Carrots, radishes, lettuce, peas, sweet corn, and summer squash.
Do you have a garden? How are your plants doing? What are you hoping to harvest?
I’m an enthusiastic learner as far as horticulture goes. My preferred Website for this kind of information is http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/ag-06.html

Monday, July 18, 2011

The ‘IT’ Factor – Debut Author Katherine Irons

Kensington Brava
April 2011

Book Blurb:

Shrouded in mist, the hidden shoreline near her family's Maine estate is a place of refuge for Claire Bishop. There, she can forget the physical limitations imposed by a tragic accident and escape judgmental eyes. Yet someone is watching from the depths of the sea, a being who senses her inner despair and is drawn to help her. Prince Morgan, risen from the waves and as perfect a man Claire has ever laid eyes on. She is sure she has dreamed him into existence - Morgan's masculine beauty and sensual tenderness cannot be real. Then the dream overtakes reality...

With Morgan at her side, Claire is suddenly freed, swimming with him to a lost paradise, a fantastic underwater world with a sunken stone city at its heart. Soon the lovers find that their union has aroused the wrath of his warring clan - but Claire would rather die than return to her crippling life on earth, and Morgan will not live without the woman he adores...

I was a bit bipolar on this book. There were parts that I liked, but there were also problems that interfered with my enjoyment of the story. I love to be pulled into a story to the point where the real world falls away. Instead, I was constantly wearing my editor’s hat, rewriting sections in my head thinking I would have done this differently or I would have described a scene this way (for instance, there was a lot of unnecessary info dumping and backstory that should have been cut IMO.)

Romantic Relationship:

I understood Claire’s side of the relationship. She’s depressed because of her disability and frustrated because everyone around her treats her like she’s an invalid. When she’s with Morgan, she can swim and breathe underwater. He challenges her and admires her intelligence. Half the time she believes she’s either dreaming or hallucinating on pain meds, so she just goes with the flow, falling in love with her dream man. Morgan, on the other hand, falls for Claire quicker than seemed believable. We come into the story after he’s already been watching her for a while from the sea. They have one brief conversation on the beach and then the next night he takes her into the sea intending to make love to her to get her out of his system (relations between Atlantians and humans is forbidden). In the middle of the act, he suddenly has these strong feelings for her that I never saw develop. They’re just there with no connection or chemistry to back them up.

Also, Atlantians are blue. I kept picturing the Pandorans from Avatar, only not as tall and with gills, webbed feet and hands. Morgan uses an illusion spell so that Claire sees him as human. However, twice he’s unconscious or near death around her and yet the spell still holds. I would have liked to see Claire’s reaction when her dream man changes from Brad Pitt to a member of the Blue Man group.

The Villain:

Irons does a good job of giving us a creepy villain. Claire’s psychologist ex-husband is outwardly perfect, if a bit overbearing in public. In private, he has more issues (sexual perversions) than many of his clients. I kept wondering how he planned to get Claire’s money and in the end, Irons ties up the loose ends nicely.

Court Intrigue:

All is not paradise in Atlantis. Morgan has to answer for his transgressions with a human woman and there’s backstabbing and scheming afoot among members of the royal family. This part of the book interested me the most.

World Building:

With a couple of 5 star reviews on Amazon and a 4 star review in RT, I figured this would be the area where this book stood out. Irons does a decent job most of the time (loved the scene where they’re swimming with the manta rays). However, just when I would be floating along in her mystical undersea world, there would be a reference to something that should not be under water -- people shed tears, sweat, smell, walk when they should be swimming. There’s also underwater freshwater lakes, waterfalls, trees, flowers, herds of land dwelling animals, and American Indians (don’t know where that one came from). Sometimes I thought they were on land and then a dolphin or octopus would swim by, reminding me that they were under water. Every time it happened, it jerked me out of the story. I was constantly confused. I couldn’t tell if some of the places were like in the “Land that Time Forgot” with air pockets in vast undersea caverns. In one brief instance, Claire observes that the air was like a different kind of water – it was there and she could feel it around her, but she couldn’t see it. I needed this explained more. I think Irons missed an opportunity here of taking this book to the next level by making the undersea world too much like being on land. I admit I had very high expectations in this area for this book. I wanted to be immersed in a totally different sensory atmosphere, along with all the limitations and advantages of being under the sea, and too often I couldn’t tell if I was under water or not.


I saw this one coming from the very beginning. As soon as Claire mentions that she was adopted and there were secrets about who her birth mother was, I knew how this book would end. Of course, I had to wonder how a person with Atlantian DNA in them could live near the ocean and resist the water as much as she did. She grows up spending summers at her grandma’s beach house and yet has never swam in the ocean because her father supposedly feared the water and forbade her to go in. I don’t know many people who could keep a child out of the surf for 30 years. Plus, the accident that paralyzed her occurred on a jet ski. Who rides a jet ski and yet doesn’t go in the water?

The ‘IT’ Factor:

I think the thing that sold this book was the concept. I loved the idea of a paralyzed woman discovering freedom in the sea and finding love with an Atlantian warrior prince. It’s a great elevator pitch, however problems with the world building prevented this from being a keeper for me. But that’s just me. Obviously given the ratings by other reviewers, they thought differently and you might too.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Pie Etiquette

Here at the Otherworld Diner, we pride ourselves on professionalism. Recently I found a video showing the proper use of a pie. I thought I would put it on our blog today as a way to educate both our staff and our customers. Please take notes.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Starry, Starry Night

Right across from my desk in my writing room hangs a poster of Vincent Van Gogh's The Starry Night. Yeah, I thought it was called Starry Starry Night too, because of that Don McLean song in the 70's, although I prefer American Pie. :)

Van Gogh was a Dutch post-impressionist painter, and like most painters he didn't receive true recognition until after his death. He was only 37 when he took his own life. I'm head-over-heels in love with this work. I even have a pillow with the image on it that lights up the "stars" when you squeeze a button hidden inside the fabric.

When I need to get in the mood to write those dark, sexy stories this painting does it for me. There's something almost sinister about the tree in the foreground, twisting and dark, rising above the town behind it. It's a sleepy-looking town, with lights in the windows, as if people inside are curled up with a book or having quiet conversation, unaware of the chaos above them.

The largest circle of yellow in the upper right corner I always imagine represents the Sun, our own star, and Van Gogh chose to give it light in this painting even though it's clearly nighttime. Or, he might have meant for it to represent the moon. That dead orb about which countless poems and songs have been written, and to which ancient lore attributes great power and magic.

The swirls of color remind me of the Milky Way. It's hard to see this in our nighttime sky unless you live somewhere without interference from other lights, but once you see it you never forget it. I imagine Van Gogh did a fair amount of star gazing to come up with the inspiration for this beauty.

Lastly, I love the rolling hills behind the village, again depicting a peaceful countryside and quiet homes.

Talk to me. Tell me what you see when you gaze at this work.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Vampires and Witches and Panthers, oh my

I'm watching the new season of True Blood, and I'm wondering how much weirder it can get. We've seen the vampires from day 1, of course, and the werebeasts have been around for a while, too. Now, there are glamouring fae and covens who want to raise dead birds and it's all a little ... strange.

Urban fantasy or vampire fiction, adding in these different creatures/monsters/occult figures is usually a good mix, and I think it's working for True Blood. Can you have too many of these in one story line? I don't know. I thought I'd ask you guys what you think about some of the books/movies/stories that mix many supernatural or fantasy features - and which ones are your favorites.

Some choices - of course, True Blood, based on Charlaine Harris's series of books.
We've got the Twilight series - tell me if it's worth seeing/reading.
What about Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake and Merry Gentry series? Any thoughts on her choice of characters?

Tell me what you think - is it too much, not enough, or are there others out there we should be watching/reading that are like those mentioned above!?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

An Anniversary ... Almost

Hi. I hope you’ll help me celebrate a blog anniversary. During the summer of 2007, a bunch of aspiring paranormal romance writers banded together. We planned, schemed and dreamed. Then, in July, we opened "The Otherworld Diner."
I published my first blog on Thursday, Aug. 2, 2007 -- just to try out the idea. I didn’t know how successful it would be or how much fun I’d have.
Since then, four years have passed and I’ve racked up some 115 offerings. And has it been fun? Well, that 115 number is the answer. ...
I’d like to share the links of 13 of my favorites.

1. http://otherworlddiner.blogspot.com/2007/08/conceived-at-langley-echo.html
2. http://otherworlddiner.blogspot.com/2007/08/story-settings-that-tug-readers-in.html
3. http://otherworlddiner.blogspot.com/2007/10/13-reasons-to-tap-into-national-novel.html
4. http://otherworlddiner.blogspot.com/2008/11/look-at-alliteration-cure-for-coming.html
5. http://otherworlddiner.blogspot.com/2008/12/body-speaks-and-you-can-learn-its.html
6. http://otherworlddiner.blogspot.com/2009/10/how-to-catch-cold-13-proven-suggestions.html
7. http://otherworlddiner.blogspot.com/2009/02/can-you-guess-president.html
8. http://otherworlddiner.blogspot.com/2009/06/13-quotes-that-celebrate-summer.html
9. http://otherworlddiner.blogspot.com/2010/06/look-inside-carina-press.html
10. http://otherworlddiner.blogspot.com/2010/08/my-writing-twin-stephen-king.html
11. http://otherworlddiner.blogspot.com/2010/07/fun-facts-for-fourth.html
12. http://otherworlddiner.blogspot.com/2010/09/ask-agent.html
13. http://otherworlddiner.blogspot.com/2010/12/time-saving-tips-for-season-want-to.html

My hope is that one or more will bring you as much pleasure reading as they gave me in their composition.
Thank you and please leave a comment. I love hearing from you.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The ‘IT’ Factor – Debut Author Tamara Hogan

Taste Me
March 2011

Book Blurb:

He wants her so badly he can taste it…

Ever since their tempestuous fling years ago, incubus Lukas Sebastiani has known that siren Scarlett Fontaine was meant to be his. But when you’re a sex demon with an insatiable desire, relationships are…complicated.

Her siren song brings men to their knees…

Rock star Scarlett Fontaine desperately needs a break after a grueling tour. But with murder and mayhem surrounding her band, and Lukas guarding her body, life is going to be anything but peaceful.

Every encounter between them creates more turmoil—and heat—until Scarlett pushes Lukas to the boiling point, and unleashes forces that go way beyond anything she can hope to control…

Rule Breaking:

For as long as I’ve been writing, there have been a few taboos preached to us to not even attempt to write because editors will not buy them: adultery by the hero or heroine, bestiality, incest, pedophilia and -- horrors upon horrors -- musicians/artists as the main characters. Hogan breaks this last rule and it’s a pleasant breath of fresh air. Her knowledge of the music business is evident on every page (or she did a heck of a lot of research) and pulls us right into the concert scene. I loved Scarlett’s ‘F’ You song list aimed at Lukas. She’s tired of his avoidance crap and gets in his face the only way a siren can – with her sex laden voice.

Sensory Detail:

This is where Hogan shines. Great description. I could feel the pulsing of the music in the club in the opening scene. This is followed by plenty of action and emotion for Lukas. His scenes give us lots of sensory detail -- people’s emotions have a taste and smell to him and death tastes like ashes. He can tell someone’s been murdered every time he tastes them, but doesn’t know who, where or how. This knowledge weighs heavy on his conscience. He wants to catch the killer before he strikes again.

The Villain:

The book opens with the villain’s POV. We know who he is right away. Some readers may be put off by this. I found it intriguing as Hogan showed us his conflicting emotions and internal battle. I almost came to care for him, understanding that he had little control over the beast within. I have to wonder if Hogan intends for him to have a book of his own. It’ll be hard to pull off. While he fascinated me, I’m not sure if he’s redeemable. After all, he did kill several people in his sexual rampages.


This is where the book falters. The conflict between the hero and heroine feels weak and contrived. Scarlett and Lukas had a one night stand back when they were barely out of their teens. Lukas walks out the next morning because he thought he lost control and hurt Scarlett (evidently she bruises easily), leaving Scarlett wondering if her inexperience turned him off. That’s understandable. They were both young. However, to allow this to keep them apart when they both so obviously want to jump each other’s bones again is silly. A simple conversation would have cleared everything up. But no, they go years denying their feelings for each other.

Lukas and Scarlett’s forced cohabitation also feels contrived. It’s another case of hiding the heroine away where she doesn’t do much but sit around and contemplate the hero. A big part of the problem is I didn’t understand the need to bring her to his apartment in the first place when he and his partner were already camping out at hers. He claims it’s to keep her safe but Scarlett herself points out the killer could be after anyone (their friends, family, and/or the Underworld Council). Plus, he leaves his sister behind (she’s Scarlett’s roommate) and his father (the head of the Underworld Council who lives in the apartment next door). Seems like he’d be better able to protect them all if he stayed at Scarlett’s place like he was. By separating them from the others, this is supposed to up the sexual tension. It does, but it gets tedious. As soon as they get to Lukas’ place, they acknowledge that they both want to have sex again and yet they spend another 2 weeks with him playing the avoidance/denial game. Ugh. Have sex already. Lukas playing the martyr for no reason got really old.

OK, so our hero and heroine are finally together but once the killer is caught after attacking Scarlett, Hogan tries to throw in a final conflict by having Lukas break it off with Scarlett because he feels he failed to protect her. The killer is in custody. Lukas knows he can make love to her without hurting her. They can begin their lives now. Silly reason for last minute conflict. Even Scarlett thinks so.

The Action:

The first half of the book has a lot of action -- from the attacks by the villian, to the crime scene investigation, to the rock concert and all the behind the scenes activities -- very well done. Made it a page turner. However in the last half I found myself putting the book down more often with the slower pacing, drawn-out sexual tension, and unnecessary scenes (Did we really need to experience dinner with the family? What was the purpose of that?) In the beginning, I found it fascinating to watch Lukas work with the police to help find the killers he senses. However, once he and Scarlett shack up, this all gets pushed to the background. We’re told he’s still working with the police to try to find the killer but we don’t get to see him in action. It was a lot of waiting around to see if the killer would strike again while he and Scarlett fought their feelings for each other. I would have loved to see the investigative part of the plot developed and shown more.

The ‘IT’ Factor:

If you can overlook the weak excuse for conflict between the hero and heroine, this is an enjoyable book. The use of rock musicians as the main and secondary characters was a refreshing change from all the other paranormals out there. If nothing else, I encourage beginning writers to read it to learn from Hogan’s skill of wringing a multitude of sensory details off the page. She’s a master at this. I was smelling mandarin oranges and tasting ash in my mouth by the end of the book myself.