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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Our Costa Rican Adventure: Food, Food, and more Food!

Getting ready to zipline through the forest canopy!

Yes, Costa Rica is an eco-tourism destination. It's renowned for spectacular scenery, abundant wildlife, and adventure travel. What I hadn't heard about was the food. Guidebooks mention the casados and gallo pinto, but they don't warn you that ALL the food is delicious, usually made with fresh, local ingredients, and there's no such thing as a small portion in Costa Rica!
Belgian Waffle with fresh fruit at Marie's
in Playa Flamingo, Guanacaste, CR

Of course, there's always an exception that proves the rule. That would be the resort hotel restaurants. Don't fall for the "all inclusive" deals, or even the breakfast buffet. Good food is easy to come by, inexpensive, and far tastier at small restaurants and "sodas" (snack stands along the road).

Going to Costa Rica, I couldn't wait to zip line, explore caves, snorkel, and hike. We did all those things, but if you take a look at the photos on Matt's and my facebook page, you'll notice for every 2-3 action/scenery/adventure photos, there's 1-2 food photos. Food turned out to play a huge role in our trip, and made a big contribution to all of us wanting to return. Now, my memories of our trip are inexorably tied to food and I can't wait to try out all the recipes in my new Costa Rican cookbook.

Working our way through plates of food at
Don Brasilito in Brasilito, Guanacaste, CR

Friday, May 18, 2012

On the reading front...

Getting ready for our vacation in Costa Rica so I'm trying to finish reading all the books I'm in the middle of so I can start fresh on vacation. This time, I'll have books loaded on my tablet, so won't have to worry about picking, choosing, and making sure I have enough to last 10 days.

First, the books I'm finishing up:

The Sly Company of People Who Care by Rahul Bhattacharya. Two thumbs up (out of two - I'm going with the Siskel and Ebert approach). The author beautifully captures the enchantment and befuddlement of someone exploring a strange land. Although claiming to be a novel, I suspect the events he writes about are true, with perhaps some embellishment for the sake of plot. I most loved how perfectly he captures the dialect. While his lack of explanations for some of the slang terms might leave some readers confused, most can be deciphered from the context. For the more obscure phrases that can't be figured out phonetically, not defining them reflected a travelers reality--you might not understand everything, but you don't stop the moment to have it explained, you just take it in. Bhattachayra's prose is elegant and filled with the nostalgia of someone who's fallen in love with a place and knows the glow of early romance will wear off if he examines it too closely or remains for too long. His year in Guyana was the right amount of time for the country's stark, often grim truth beneath the infatuating surface to start to seep in, but not enough to kill it entirely. Highly recommend it.

Love Dreams by January Valentine. Before I tell you my rating, let me give you some background. My very first short fiction was published in The Skyline Review in 2008. After my novel Marina Melee was published, Victoria Valentine, the publisher of Skyline, interviewed me on her blog, Away with Words. In that interview, I told Victoria--a romance novelist as well as publisher--all about why I don't read romances. In a nutshell, I burned out on them at a far-too-tender-age, when I'd sneak them from my mother. Aside from those serving as my sex education (mom's version of "the talk" was "good girls don't"). As I got older, it became apparent that I don't have a romantic bone in my body. I find any and all romances to be melodramatic. Those Nicholas Sparks books everyone raves about? Ick. Bridges of Madison County? Puh-lease. I don't like those books and I don't like those movies (I am a sucker for romantic comedies, though.) But this book steps over the Harlequin romance bounds and dances on the edge of soft-core erotica--like many of the Favio-on-the-cover books I borrowed from mom.  So, when Victoria announced she had some early, pre-editing copies to give away, my first reaction was "ick." Then I thought about what a fun, vivacious person Victoria is, and how much I enjoyed our online exchanges. Maybe, if her personality came through in the writing, it would be okay. And who knows? Maybe I'm mellowing in my old age, maybe I'll appreciate a good romance.

Well, let me tell you...not so much. I was suppressing smirks and snarky comments through the entire book. It lived up to my expectations of cringe-inducing dialogue ("Are you thirsty?" "Only for you." Ack!!), predictability (happily-ever-after, of course), and overall schmaltziness. That said, I'm pretty sure it's everything fans of the genre expect: a Mary Sue heroine, a Gary Stu hero, star-crossed lovers, dark secrets in the past, incredible coincidences, frustrating misunderstandings, and a happy ending. It's also, so far as romances can be (no offense romance writers, just my preference) well-written with a coherent, pretty good for a romance storyline  (because all romance stories, at their heart, have the same plot and story arc). With all the hoopla surrounding Fifty Shades of Grey, I decided to do a quick comparison, just skimming the "Look Inside" preview offered by Amazon. Within two pages it was clear that the quality of January Valentine's Love Dreams is far superior. I can't say if the erotica is any better, and if you're looking for the BDSM, Love Dreams isn't the book for  you. But, if you're a romance reader looking for a romantic, happily-ever-after, after some ups and downs story, you'll enjoy this: two thumbs up. For fellow curmudgeons who don't like the genre, Love Dreams won't change your mind about it, no thumbs up for an average of one-thumb...and take that as a pretty high mark coming from me!

Sams Teach Yourself HTML and CSS in 24 Hours by Dick Oliver and Michael Morrison. Yes, you read that right. A technical book. I'm learning web design. I need an author's website--not just a blog--or so I've been told by "them" - all the author/book/writing marketing experts. I could pay someone to do this for me, but given all of the handy-dandy template tools and WYSIWYG software for webdesign, I could do it myself. I chose the latter, then decided I should have a better grasp of what's going on underneath all those easy-to-use tools. I signed up for the "Intro to Web Design" continuing ed class at the community college: 4 classes over 2 weeks, getting through 8 chapters of the book.

I can't tell you how excited I was when, within the first hour, I had a web page! Okay, not really, but I'd managed to get "Hello! Welcome to My Website" to pop up in Windows Explorer. The class--with a great instructor--obviously was helpful. But the book is a breeze to follow and very hands-on. I jumped ahead and did a lot of playing on my own time. Yes, I created a very rudimentary, amatuerish website. Definitely not ready for prime-time, but the progress I made, from knowing nothing to creating a multi-page website using HTML and CSS is pretty thrilling! I learned far more than I expected and enjoyed it more than I expected, so now I'm going to take the advanced class. I'm sure I'll end up using Artisteer and WordPress to create my "real site" when I'm ready, but in the meantime, it's nice to know more about how all this works. Two thumbs up for the book, and two thumbs up for the TTC continuing ed class and instructor Shawn Rosado.

Now for the books on the vacation reading list:

Outlaws, by fellow Internet Writing Workshop member Bill Weldy is being released today. That link takes you to an interview with Bill (the book isn't available just yet). Here's the blurb:
Ex-cop Josh Grant chooses to live as a recluse in the mountains of Idaho as penance for failing to protect his murdered wife and child in Detroit. His new serenity is shattered when he stumbles onto the murder of his only friend and an assault of his friend’s daughter, Jolene. By saving Jolene, Josh angers the Outlaws, a gang of vicious bikers. When they seek revenge, Josh must draw on old skills to keep he and Jolene alive.

Josh thought he'd left danger behind, but the Outlaws have other plans for his peaceful life.

The Good, the Bad, and the Crazy, by Mary Ann Duke, MD. The author went to my high school, graduating three years ahead of me. She was the valedictorian of her class, a great athlete--the girl who you knew was going to succeed. The book chronicles her rise to success as a surgeon and her death-spiral into drug and alcohol addiction.

America, You Sexy Bitch, by Michael Ian Black and Meghan McCain. Not scheduled for release until July 4 (according to the publisher) or June 12 (according to amazon), I have a pre-release copy I'm reviewing for the Internet Review of Books. From the description (click on the link), it promises to be great fun.

That's my list. How about yours? Have you read any good books lately? What's on your "to-read" list? Show More

Friday, May 11, 2012


A fellow writer shared a fun website with me: Wordle ( Input your text and it draws a mind-map or concept-map based on the frequency with which words appear (ignoring the, and, a/an, etc.) At first I thought, "Well that's useless but fun, and I have a cool 'picture' of my narratives.

I cut/pasted in the entire MS of Chupacabra and got a fabulous picture with--no surprise--Jack, my protaganist, as the largest word. The secondary characters Kiki, Eddie, and Milagros were next largest. Chupacabra, Muggle, Flaco, and Carmen weren't far behind followed by a nice smattering of other key words. Much more balanced than the giant "George" with everything else significantly smaller for Marina Melee.

Then I looked closer. I'm so glad I did. 'Just' and 'know' -- two of my favorite filler words -- were much larger than they should have been. I did a quick search throughout the MS and, wherever possible, got rid of those words, greatly reducing their size in my story's Wordle image.

What I thought was merely a fun toy turned out to be a helpful writing tool. Most of us have those crutch words and fillers that don't add anything to a sentence. Especially in dialogue, where I do write very much like I speak, I tend to use "you know" at the beginning and end of sentences, and a lot of "justs." Seeing it writ large--literally--helped me become aware of my problem words and fix them. As you can all see from the image above, I still have some editing to do: 'like' and 'back' are jumping off the page at me now that I've reduced the 'just' and 'know' footprints--so back to the MS.

I'd like to hear if any of you  have used Wordle and found it to be helpful. What fun and helpful tools do you use in your writing?

Friday, May 4, 2012


You may remember that Marina Melee was reviewed and I was interviewed at Undercover Book Reviews a few months back. Well, they're holding a Summer Reading List competition among all the books they've reviewed this year. The winner will be decided by reader votes. I'd appreciate your support so head over to Underground Book Reviews and vote for Marina Melee! You can also read some of their other reviews and author interviews.

For authors looking for good review sites, take a look around and see if one of the reviewers is a good fit for your book!

Thank you for your vote!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

My Life in a Holding Pattern

No one has ever accused me of being too patient so it's probably no surprise to anyone that I'm a wee bit frustrated this week. Why? Well, a number of areas of my life seem to be in a holding pattern at the moment. Perhaps there's some progress going on somewhere behind the scenes but it's invisible to me. Physically, recovery from surgery doesn't seem to be happening. Professionally, I'm on pins and needles waiting to hear back from my dream agent, who requested the full MS of Chupacabra just over a month ago.

Perhaps I'm being unreasonable to expect that 9 days after surgery I should be back to normal, but when the doc says, "You'll be feeling better in a few days and up and around by next week," I hear, "You'll be pain free and up to your normal activity level." True, I've only had minor surgery in the past, so don't know what I'm comparing this current recovery with. Both of those were more than 10 years ago. Maybe I was a bit more resilient then. Maybe those were less invasive and in less sensitive areas than the abdomen. But I'm still pretty fit and think I should be able to walk for more than 4-5 minutes without pain. What a pansie I am! And I'm all ready panicking about vacation. What if I'm not fully recovered in 18 more days when we leave for Costa Rica? What if I can't go zip lining? How am I ever going to get into bathing suit shape if I can't do sit-ups and lift weights? I want to be over it and I want to be over it NOW.

Of course, if I think positively, I know I'm already feeling better than I did. I just have to have some patience, trust my body to heal and give it all it needs to recover. Mostly, I should try to enjoy my down time. This is what I was looking forward to for all those months anticipating the surgery and post-surgery bed rest. Wasn't I the one who said I couldn't wait to climb into my bed and not get out again for at least 2 weeks, if not more? For this holding pattern, I need to chill out and let it be.

On the professional side, I've been quite surprised at how very stressful it is to get a MS request, not just from any-old-agent but from THE agent who I'd pick if it was up to me. I'd settled into a very comfortable routine of sending out queries, maybe a follow up few chapters, then the polite "thanks, but no thanks" rejection letter. Stressful, sure. But I know that's how it goes. Stephen King amassed some 400 rejections before an agent picked up Christine. I'd grown comfortable with that routine. I set a schedule: research the agents I'd query for 2-3 months. Query for 6 months, a few at a time. If I got no hits, query indie publishers. I know Chupacabra is good. I believe it can sell, and I believe there's an agent. publisher, and market for it. I just need to be persistent. That's how far my plan extended. I'd never made a contingency for an agent asking for the full MS.

She did. And now my life is in a holding pattern. I don't want to continue querying while she's reading, and I don't know how long I should wait before I send a note asking where things stand. Maybe I'm afraid of what the answer will be? I've been far more anxious waiting to hear from her than I've ever been about waiting for that first response from an initial query. I'll be devastated if I get a "thanks, but no thanks" even though I know, realistically, those are the odds.

I also know I have to suck it up and send that follow up email. If nothing else, it'll jolt me out of this holding pattern and let me move on with my queries. Or, move her to take a closer look and offer me a contract. But, I don't want to risk jinxing the process by even considering that. Except it's too late for that. I'm already considering it. The thought makes me anxious, giddy, and nauseated all at once.

I suppose it's time to do something about it and get things moving forward, at least on this front!