Category Archives: books

Cancer sucks, and fiction’s fun!

Happy Halloween! I hope you’re staying warm (and dry, those of you who met with Hurricane Sandy), and I wish you all a great night with friends and family… and good fiction.

While you’re looking for the perfect Halloween read, check out Inveterate Media Junkies’ series of posts today about the awesome anthology, Hazard Yet Forward! This collection of short stories sends all proceeds after Amazon’s cut to cancer-fighting superhero, Donna Munro. You can celebrate this evening by reading great fiction, spitting in cancer’s face, AND eating all that candy you couldn’t bring yourself to give away to the neighborhood kiddies. Yeah, I know about that secret Snickers bites bag.

Come on down to IMJ to learn about the amazing writers who have contributed to this anthology. There really is something for everyone!

You can read my column, The Princess and Her PS3, here.

You can read Heidi Ruby Miller’s column, Geek Girl Underground, here.

You can read Jason Jack Miller’s column, Sound Check, here.

Which is your favorite story from this anthology? I honestly can’t decide — there are so many amazing ones. Let me know if you have a recommendation!

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Fifty Shades of Grey Ash — Burning Books

I haven’t read Fifty Shades of Grey, so please understand that I’m not promoting it or hating on it in this post. The series by E.L. James is simply a trilogy that lots of people like and lots of people dislike. I belong to a third group of people who just aren’t interested.

Well, okay. I’m a little interested. Any time something gathers that much attention, my pop-culture sensors buzz, and my curiosity creeps up. I’ll admit that I’ve read reviews of the books (some of which are pretty creative and hilarious themselves), and I’ve even picked up one of the paperbacks in a bookstore just to leaf through to see what all the fuss was about. To be honest, what I saw kind of gave me the creeps, but I was reading the middle of the book out of context. And, anyway, to each his own.

Yesterday the Huffington Post posted an article about an anti-domestic violence group in the UK that is planning to hold a good, old-fashioned book burning for the super-sexual saga of Christian and Anastasia. If you want to participate, bring your copies to the Wearside Women in Need office on November 5. There will be a bonfire.

I hope you don’t go.

Let me be clear. I do not support the following things:

  • Violence
  • The concept that women are less than human
  • Bad writing
  • Book burning

While E. L. James’ books may have propelled the author into stardom thanks in part to her use of violence as a turn-on, she has contributed, for better or for worse, to English literature and our current popular culture. She has a right to create these stories, you have a right to read them or not read them, and, yes, you have a right to burn them if you want to.

But, just as Fifty Shades of Grey threatens boundaries that many men and women find uncomfortable, burning books definitely crosses a disturbing line. The Wearside Women in Need staff members aren’t writing fiction about burning books; they’re actually going to do it. What comes next? I rather like the Sookie Stackhouse novels, and there’s absolutely some questionable material with regard to bedroom activities in there. When do we get to the point where, say, Othello has to be taken off the shelves and set ablaze because of what he does to Desdemona?  After all, he loved her “not wisely, but too well.” So well, in fact, that he had to kill her.

What do you think? Does burning books set the right example?

Breast Cancer Sucks, but Great Fiction Helps

Here is an anthology that everyone will want. It offers just about every type of fiction you could need from top authors in their genres — and it supports one of the coolest writer chicks I know who is currently battling breast cancer like a champ. Read on for the press release, and get your copy today!

Seventy-six writers connected to the Seton Hill University Writing Popular Fiction program have created a multi-genre charity anthology entitled Hazard Yet Forward.  All proceeds from this project will benefit Donna Munro, a 2004 graduate of the program.  Munro, a teacher living in St. Louis, Missouri, was recently diagnosed with breast cancer.  An active member of the SHU WPF alumni committee, Munro helps organize the school’s annual writing conference, the In Your Write Mind Workshop.

To aid Munro and her family, faculty members, alumni, students and friends of the Writing Popular Fiction program quickly responded to compile this massive anthology.  The book features flash fiction, short stories and even a full-length novella.  In total, there are 75 works from various genres, which makes this anthology one that features something for everyone.

Genres represented in the book range from horror to romance to mystery – and everything in between.  Some of the notable writers in the anthology are World Fantasy Award winner Nalo Hopkinson, Bram Stoker winners Michael A. Arnzen and Michael Knost, Bram Stoker nominee Lawrence C. Connolly, ALA/YALSA Best Book for Young Adults winner Jessica Warman, Rita finalist Dana Marton, Spur winner Meg Mims, Asimov’s Readers’ Award winner Timons Esaias  and WV Arts and Humanities literary fellowships winner Geoffrey Cameron Fuller.

About Hazard Yet Forward, co-compiler Matt Duvall says, “It’s an unprecedented collection of stories from every genre imaginable.”  This large volume is an electronic book for the popular Kindle platform and is available for purchase through Amazon starting August 7.  It’s also reasonably priced.  The book will be on sale for $9.99.

I am honored to be a part of this anthology.  My story “God Corp.” is one that I penned around the time I first met Donna, so it is a special treat to be able to include it in this amazing collection.

More information about the anthology can be found at http://hazardyetforward.wordpress.com.

Author interview tonight!

I’m excited to be a guest on tonight’s A Book and a Chat interview at 630 p.m! (That’s my Florida time — so please adjust if you don’t live on the east coast).

Please drop by to give a listen or share your thoughts and questions. I’m looking forward to chatting about From Light to Dark!

From Light to Dark

Murder Ballads and Old Magic: Jason Jack Miller guest blog

~TODAY’S BLOG COMES FROM JASON JACK MILLER!~

In my novel Hellbender, things aren’t always what they appear to be. It’s set in an Appalachia where serpents can be called forth from rocky crevasses and rattlesnake beads can be used to keep the devil away. Springs can be poisoned from afar, and milk can be ‘blinked’–or tainted by a rival witch. The Appalachians of Hellbender may not be the tallest, but they are the oldest, and as such, contain many nooks where beliefs remained untouched for generations. In some instances, the valleys and ridges blocked modernization so well that the culture of the mountain people could be totally forgotten by the ‘outside’ world. In other words, the mountains have let time stand still.

Where streams carved hollows into the lush Appalachian Plateau, families found shelter from the same kind of persecution that forced their ancestors out of Europe a generation earlier. Many of the first Europeans to settle Appalachia were Germans who picked up stakes when Pennsylvania got just a little too crowded for them. They filtered down through the Shenandoah Valley, trickling westward as rivers like the Potomac and James poked holes in the imposing Allegheny Front, and later, through the Cumberland Gap. They brought fiddle tunes, some of which remain virtually unchanged in Appalachia compared to their counterparts in Europe, melodies that either succumbed to contemporary styles or had been forgotten altogether. The new wave of settlers brought their food culture–no place on earth expresses the German love of deep-frying like Pennsylvania, with its potato chips and funnel cakes, and Southern culture’s chicken fried chicken and hush puppies. Even the log cabin, the butt of many an Appalachia joke, came from Germany and Scandinavia by way of those first Europeans.

Living so far from civilization had its quirks. Laws were less likely to be enforced, or just as easily ignored depending on which side of the law you fell. The Whiskey Rebellion is a prime example of folks thumbing their noses at distant lawmakers. The influence of the Catholic Church diminished in much the same way. It wasn’t until Protestant churches ordained ‘lay pastors’ to venture into the wilderness to tame the savages that religion gained a strong foothold in Appalachia. Not that it mattered to some folks, who were content to rely on the traditional culture of their ancestors, the magic that kept the devil away. The Swiss and German-speaking people of Helvetia, West Virginia, still burn an effigy of Old Man Winter on Fasnacht, a pre-Lenten holiday that falls on the cross-quarter day of Imbolc. It’s a tradition that can be traced back to pre-Roman Europe.

At its most basic, the magic of Appalachia is a response to the dangers of the new landscape. Mountain lions, wolves, bears, snakes, harsh winters, floods and unruly neighbors were just a few of the perils faced by those first settlers. In times of severe famine, or when a cow had been cursed (or had simply just stopped producing milk) an axe could provide magical sustenance. The blade is stuck into a tree and a rag is tied to the end. With the utterance of a few magic words, milk will drip from the threads into a bucket providing the family with nourishment. The magical nature of the axe comes to Appalachia via Scandinavia, most likely as a result of the magical nature of Thor’s Hammer.

From Hellbender: “There’s still plenty of women in these hills who can get a full pail of milk from an ax handle or an old rag. And Mary Lewis was one of them. I seen it done with my own eyes a hundred times.” 

Hair magic is another theme seen in Appalachian folklore. The idea that you could have control over a person if you possessed something that belonged to them is a belief expressed in many different cultures, not just Appalachian. Folklore says if just one of your hairs found its way into a bird’s nest you’d end up insane. So hair clippings and fingernails are buried, and their location is kept a secret by the buriers. It may sound strange, but the same idea is a building block of Roman Catholicism, with the consuming of the body and blood of Christ.

From Hellbender: “She wrapped the hair around her middle finger and made three crosses over Alex’s lips. Inaudible words flowed from Chloe’s mouth to Alex’s ear. Chloe pulled a silver coin out of her pocket, dropped it into the cup and tipped the purple liquid toward Alex’s gasping mouth. “Put the coin in your mouth, but don’t swallow it.”

The ultimate expression of Old World magic comes from a need for the most basic of human necessities–protection, mostly from enemies, especially from the Devil. Of course, the magic needed for such an old foe is an old one and there are none older than the SATOR Square. SATOR Squares have reportedly been found at the ruins of Pompeii, destroyed in 79 A.D. Early Christians considered it a sign of their coming savior. One found in Manchester, England, in the Second Century was taken as proof Christianity had spread at least that far in less than 200 years.

Essentially a multi-directional palindrome, a SATOR Square is placed above a window. The devil becomes confused by the repeated letters. It’s a key piece of the iconography of the Hellbender cover, designed by Hatch Show Print of Nashville, Tennessee.

From Hellbender: “Jamie picked open a pair peanuts then threw the shells into the fire. “SATOR squares? I don’t know. They’re like puzzles I suppose. They’ve been found on the walls of buildings destroyed by Vesuvius at Pompeii. Early Christians say it was a message from God saying their savior was on his way.”

He gestured for Dave’s stick and began drawing rows of letters in the dirt. “Five lines of five letters arranged in a square that form multiple palindromes.”

I tried to read the letters, but it was difficult in the low light. I leaned over to see. It read:

S A T O R

A R E P O

T E N E T

O P E R A

R O T A S

“Some people say the words are nonsense, but when rearranged in a cross they spell out ‘paternoster’ flanked by an ‘A’ and an ‘O’.” Jamie handed Dave back his stick. “Our father and the Alpha and Omega.” Jamie stomped the letters away with his foot.

Silence fell over the camp. By now the crickets were in full swing. Finally, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut anymore. “In my life I’d never seen anything to prove magic was real. Magic would’ve kept my mom around. Would’ve kept Jane alive.”

I’ve witnessed some crazy/scary things in my time here in Appalachia–mountain lion footprints where mountain lions were thought to be extinct, back-to-back comets after 50 years with none, ball lightning, mountaintop removal. Things that have rational, explanations, even if the explanations are unpopular. But I’ve had even more amazing experiences with people I’ve met and friends I’ve made here–making music, drinking wine, paddling wild rivers.

Something’s going on up in the mountains, but it’s not my job to figure it out. Nobody believed me about the mountain lion footprints anyway. Maybe it has something to do with the people. After all, it’s people who end up passing those stories on. And maybe the stories are so hard to believe because of how they went down. Late at night. Middle of nowhere. Not a credible witness in the bunch.

Or maybe it’s the mountains themselves. Over the last three hundred million years they’re the only real constant in this equation. Moses received the Ten Commandments on a mountain. The gods of ancient Greece lived on a mountain, too. So maybe it’s only in the mountains, my Appalachians, that snakes can be called, and protection from the devil can be obtained with a few rows of ancient letters. Doesn’t matter what I believe, those traditions will be here long after I’ve gone.

Jason Jack Miller hails from Fayette County, Pennsylvania, as in, “Circus freaks, temptation and the Fayette County Fair,” made famous by The Clarks in the song, “Cigarette.” He is a writer, photographer and musician who has been hassled by cops in Canada, Mexico and the Czech Republic. An outdoor travel guide he co-authored with his wife in 2006 jumpstarted his freelancing career; his work has since appeared in newspapers, magazines, literary journals, online, and as part of a travel guide app for mobile phones. He wrote the novels Hellbender and All Saints during his graduate studies at Seton Hill University, where is now adjunct creative writing faculty. He’s been a whitewater raft guide, played guitar in a garage band and served as a concierge at a five star resort hotel in Florida. Now he’s an Authors Guild member. When he isn’t writing he’s on his mountain bike or looking for his next favorite guitar. He is currently writing and recording the soundtrack to his novel, The Devil and Preston Black.

Reader Input Requested: Mary Findley guest blog

Oliver Unmerged, from Mary Findley's steampunk mashup concept!

~Today’s blog comes FROM MARY FINDLEY!~

Reader Input Requested! Please post your thoughts in the comments.

I am Mary Findley, Goodreads indie author, traveling in a tractor-trailer around the country with my husband as driver. We have three 20-something children in NY, OK, and AL. My published works are historical fiction, but I have always loved fantasy and sci-fi, wrote it in hr. high and high school, and am working my way back to it. I have some sci-fi and fantasy short stories, and my husband Michael has a sci-fi compilation on Goodreads called The Space Empire Saga.

Since I saw The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie I have wanted to create a YA graphic novel based on some literary characters I love. Part of my desire was to be faithful to the original authors’ depictions in a way I thought the movie failed to be. I want input from readers as I plan this.

My story is set in Victorian times, or at least the later 1800’s. I am also a Christian, and I want to write for that audience, but I am not opposed to some violence and non-explicit sexual references.

The book will be called The Alexander Legacy and involve the uncovering of the man behind a plot to organize and send round the world pickpockets, prostitutes and other “perps” taught deadly sophistication to extort, to spy, and to steal on an international level. I hope the identity of the villain will be a surprise but also ironic.

The leader of my group is Phoebe Moore Campbell from Louisa May Alcott’s Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom. I like the idea of her being now a celebrity and wealthy upper-class, but formerly a servant and housekeeper. I think it will enable her to mingle and get information for the cause on all levels of society.

Oliver Twist will lend a steampunk flavor to the story and figure strongly as one of the more important characters. He has grown up to inherit his family’s fortune and become an inventor, but still seeks to right the wrongs of the corrupt welfare system and stop the underworld of fences, housebreakers, and prostitutes he was almost swallowed up by with his amazing gadgets.

Next is Prince Florizel of Bohemia from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Suicide Club. The others would mostly be amateurs at this intrigue and pursuit, and he would be experienced, and experienced with its cost.

Mowgli and the black leopard Bagheera from Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book will bring tracking skills, a hatred of greed, and the ability to destroy the credibility of any criminal who dares testify that a “half-naked jungle man” and a black nightmare cat accosted them in a dark London alley.

Edward Ferras from Jane Austin’s Sense and Sensibility serves as the group’s chaplain and has knowledge of the church and the corruption of its members. Corruption in government, religion and business figure prominently in the plot, so I am not picking on the church.

Fun See is another character from Alcott’s books mentioned above, a Chinese merchant who keeps an appearance of traditional culture but knows everything about shipping and trade in all the British and Asian ports. I would consider substituting another Oriental character here if readers have a better idea. I am hoping to find some kind of cowboy character, as well as a black (African, African America) character. If at least one of these were female that would be a good thing, to keep Phoebe from being lonely. These are the three characters I need readers’ help with.

Interview!

I’m answering questions over at AF Stewart’s blog! Come stop by to say hello!

🙂  See you there.