Content for Now

Today has been a good day. I cuddled with a very patient German Shepherd and herded a (mostly) tolerant mutt into my lap for a few minutes. I ordered a couple of books (which will be waiting for me in NC) and finished Brimestone by Cherie Priest (which was different but good). I’ve even scheduled my regular Monday blog posts for most of May.

Notice that there hasn’t been any writing done today. Not yet, at least. I have three “active” projects that I’m working on. Notice that I said “active” because my zombie novella needs to be revised, but there isn’t enough space in my head for it on top of the other three. Especially since the muse has been waving new ideas around like sparklers for the past week. They’re pretty shiny compared to what I’m working on.

As for what I’m working on, today and for now, I have a choose-your-own-adventure interactive story set in a world of zombies, a thriller that was supposed to be a short story but decided it wanted to be a novel (damn it), and a paranormal romance novella featuring an invisible woman. See what I mean when about not having enough room in my head for everything?

So on that note, I’m going to sign off here, check on the dogs in the kennel, and then get to work.

Over & out.

Maple Seeds & Memories

Image result for maple seedI found a maple seed in the parking lot of my apartment complex. It’s an odd-looking seed, a green bulb that encases the seed itself and a paper-thin leaf protruding from one side. They come in pairs—attached at the bulb—when they grow on the tree and often when they fall on the ground. Spotting that little, green seed on the ground shook loose a memory that’d been sitting on my mental shelf for damn near fifteen years. The memory was of my mother’s father, in a Massachusetts town far away from where I am now.

My grandparents’ lawn was always green. The grass well-manicured by my grandfather, who split his retirement between watching his grandchildren and puttering about the yard. He’d even putter during family cookouts. Not so much to clean up the yard, but more to take care of little things here and there. To man the grill, to distribute the Hoodie ice creams after dinner, to take his turn watching the kids in the pool, to picking up the maple seeds he found dotting the backyard.

It sounds weird for my grandfather to have picked up the maple seeds. But he did it for his grandchildren. There was always a twinkle in his eyes when he’d walk over with the seeds in his hand. Some would be bright green, others a crispy brown.

Then he’d show us how to split the bulb around the seed in half before pinching the stiff halves on either side of our noses. The stickiness of the seed would keep them there for a few seconds if we stayed still. Less if we moved our heads. Grandpa would put one on his nose, too. That mischievous twinkle never leaving his eyes.

I’d all but forgotten the maple seeds. But the brain is a funny organ that can dig up old memories with the simplest of triggers.

I haven’t seen my grandfather in a few years. Now he lives in Florida with my grandmother. They moved there after leaving Massachusetts in a motor home and travelling the country. It was far away from family, but they decided that setting down roots near Disney World would give their children and grandchildren added incentive to visit.

The last time I visited my grandparents, Mom and I stayed with them while visiting Disney. Their house was different than the one in Massachusetts, though many of the same pictures hung on the walls. Grandpa was a bit different from those summer cookouts, too. Older, grayer. But his mischievous twinkle was still there. And I think if there’d been  maple seeds in the middle of Florida, I bet he would’ve convinced me to put one on my nose.

Three Things That’ll Make Me Put Down a Book (For Good)

I used to hate the idea of not finishing a book. HATED it. I’d slog through books that made me want to bang my head against the wall because I thought it was another notch on my bookshelf.

Now, I’m pretty discriminating in what I read. If I’m not enjoying a book, I’ll put it down. Simple as that.

But the writer in me has recently decided that it might be a good idea to figure out what it is about a book that makes me put it down. Then I’ll be able to use that knowledge towards my own stories. And hopefully prevent readers from putting my books down.

While there are a million reasons for me not to like a story, I found three consistent reasons for me to let a book gather dust on my bookshelf.

 

1.  It lacks tension
Tension makes the story go ’round and keeps me turning the page even though it’s well past my bedtime. Tension comes from the uncertainty of a character achieving their goal by the end of the story. When failure’s a very real option and the character has a stake in the story ending a certain way, it drives the reader and the story forward. Without it, the story falls flat.

2. There’re more info dumps than story lines
Sometimes it’s okay to tell readers snippets of the story rather than show them if showing will slow things down. But too much information–whether its background on a particular character or information on a historical event–can bog the story down. It can take the reader out of the story and even bore them.

3. It’s just not for me
One reader is inherently different from another. And while readers will enjoy a number of the same books (that’s how authors sell books to more than just their friends and family), they’re going to have differing opinions on books. Not every book is going to click with every reader. It’s normal. It’s okay.

The One with the Teleporting Mutt

“I can’t wait to live you you again, S.E.”

Why is that, Grace?

“Because you let me sleep on the couch. Dad doesn’t. He tells me NO whenever I try to jump on it.”

Mom and Dad did just put in a new window and windowsill, and you do always end up in the windowsill. Your nails are going to scratch it up, so I have to side with them.  

“Sorry I’m not tall like Sampson and can’t see out the window from the floor.”

At that point in the conversation, she took a quick look around the living room to make sure Dad was still downstairs. There was a smirk on her face when she turned back to me.

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The couch before Dad goes downstairs….

“Dad isn’t as smart as he thinks he his. Listen to this. He doesn’t trust me not to get on the couch when he goes downstairs-”

Rightly so.

“-so he puts the black gates in front of the couch. Well, remember how you taught me to get onto the couch by jumping over the side?”

Shit, seriously?

“I get off when I hear him coming up the stairs, and I’m back on my bed right away. But somehow he still knows that I was up there. Of course, I don’t admit it.”

He knows because you mess up the pillows and blanket on the couch.

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The couch when Dad comes back upstairs….

“That might be it. Maybe. But anyway, he hasn’t figured out how I do it. He thinks I’m jumping over the black gates–which I could totally do if I wanted to–and keeps piling stuff in front of them. Now I just have to make sure that Sampson doesn’t turn into a tattletale.”

Gracie, I don’t think Sam cares. 

“That’s true. He usually follows Dad downstairs anyway, even though he doesn’t get any attention. Who does that?”

Not everyone is an attention hound like you.

“Well they should be. Actually, no. I want all the attention for myself.”

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What I’ve Been Reading… March 2017

I’ve got so many eBooks on my Nook that I planned on ignoring my bookshelves for a month. And…. that didn’t happen. I think my Nook is probably dead by this point and in desperate need of a charge. That’s one thing that paperbacks have over their digital counterparts: I never have to wait for them to charge.

440316When the Smoke Cleared at Gettysburg by George Sheldon
~A look at the experience of civilians before, during, and after the battle at Gettysburg during the American Civil War.
Funny story: I bought a copy of this book in 2013 but it experienced the wrong end of a glass of water. Not only was this book informative about how Gettysburg residents experienced the battle, it told their stories in a way that wasn’t boring as can happen with history books.

11783484Shadow Ops: Control Point by Myke Cole
~Oscar Britton spends his days helping the U.S. Army bring in men and women who manifest magical powers, until he manifests prohibited powers himself.
I’ve been aware of Myke Cole thanks to Twitter for quite a while, but I was leery about his books because they came off as too high-fantasy for my tastes. I’m so glad that I picked it up, though. It had great tension and a beautifully conflicted main character.

30142139Nemesis by Brendan Reichs
~Every two years, a man in a black suit murders Min and Noah on their birthdays, but neither stays dead.
Conspiracy theories? People who don’t stay dead? Sign me up. I also loved how I couldn’t figure out what Project Nemesis was before the characters.

Soulless by Gail Carriger18295869
~Alexia Tarabotti lacks a soul, which tries her gravely but gives her an edge when sparring with vampires and werewolves.
My copy of Soulless is a paperback that’s 370 pages long, and I read it in a day. The humor lightens the story enough that it wasn’t a challenge to binge it. Plus there’s steampunk and a handsome werewolf, so that also helped.

The One with the Snow Dog

A blizzard hit Massachusetts last week, and I figured that I’d hear all about it from the dogs. Grace was more than a little excited when she called me after the storm.

“S.E., S.E.,” she said. “It snowed!”

I heard, GracieDad told me that there was a blizzard.

“There was snow everywhere, and Dad took me outside to play in it!”

Did you have fun?

“I had so much fun. Dad doesn’t let me dig in the backyard because he says I can’t fill it in afterwards, but he let me dig in the snow. It was so soft compared to the rocks in my kennel–”

You mean the kennel.

“It’s mine. Not Sampson’s, mine,” she said. “Dad brought out my Wubba and threw it. He made me bring it back to him even though I just wanted to do a victory lap around the yard. But I got him good. Whenever I brought it back, I would pretend not to hear him and ate snow instead.”

Gray-girl, you shouldn’t be eating snow. It just makes you cold.

“Nu-uh.”

Gracie.

“You sound just like Dad. He made me go inside and put on my sweater before he’d let me play anymore.”

It’s for your own good.

“It’s ugly.”

I know. That’s kind of the point. 

“You’re mean.”

Flying into snowbanks 

And you’re warm. You’re welcome.

My eBook Haul

When it rains, it pours. Or in the case of my Nook, when I buy one eBook, I buy ten. I went on an eBook-buying-spree at midnight a few Saturdays ago, and now my eReader is chocked full of things to read. Not that I didn’t have plenty to read on there already.

The Marriage of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King ($0.99)
I cannot get enough of Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes. So it made sense to get a short story about them getting married.

Squirrel Terror by Lilith SaintCrow ($4.99)
I’ve had an eye on this book for a while and finally decided to take the plunge. I’ve already read it and really liked it.

The Vampire’s Mail Order Bride by Kristen Painter (Free)
The cover got me interested while the summary made me hit “buy”. A mail order bride for a vampire? Count me in.

The Crown & the Arrow and The Mirror & the Maze by Renee Ahdieh (Free)
I enjoyed both The Wrath & the Dawn and The Rose & the Dagger, so I decided to head back into the universe with these short stories.

Extracted by Tyler H. Jolley & Sherry D. Ficklin (Free)
I’ve liked Sherry D. Ficklin’s books, so I figured that I’d give this book a try. The fact that I’ve been on a steampunk kick also helped.

Frey by Melissa Wright (Free)
This book is farther into the fantasy genre than I typically stray. However the cover is pretty freaking cool, and I just get a good feeling about it.

Cappuccinos, Cupcakes, and Corpse by Harper Lin (Free)
Again, the cover got me interested enough to read into the summary. It’s a cozy mystery, which I’ve been craving recently. Plus it’s set in my home state of Massachusetts.

What I’ve Been Reading… February 2017

How the heck is it that February has already come and gone? I know that it’s the shortest month of the year, but it still went by faster than I could blink. I’m okay with it, though, because I’m ready for spring.

I also managed to read more books than I expected this month. Here’s a look at what I’ve been reading:

22318363Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King
~Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes thought they finished their investigation they for the future Emperor of Japan in 1924, but the appearance of a decorative stone and a dark-haired woman a year later speaks to the contrary.
I haven’t come across a Mary Russell book that I didn’t like, and Dreaming Spies was no different. It was refreshing to see Holmes and Russell on equal footing when it came to learning about Japan and its culture.

11330806Somebody Tell Aunt Tillie She’s Dead by Christiana Miller
~Mara is a witch whose luck just keeps getting worse, even after she inherits a mysterious cottage after her Aunt Tillie dies.
I had a blast reading this urban fantasy romp, even though the GoodReads summary gives away a bit too much. Mara is such a likable character who obviously is doing the best she can with what she has to work with.

23460958Zeroes by Chuck Wendig
~Five hackers are recruited by Uncle Sam to work as cyber spies for the next year, but they soon find themselves hacking the U.S. government.
Zeroes had the right blend of tension, enough to keep me turning the page but not enough to make the pacing frantic. Plus all the characters  had enough personality that I didn’t get confused with who’s who in the huge cast.

18627360Squirrel Terror  by Lilith Saintcrow
~A series of blog posts from Lilith Saintcrow’s website that chronicle the goings-on in her backyard.
I’ve kept up with Saintcrow’s blog during the past six months and absolutely love the stories about the squirrels that frequent her backyard and her dogs. Squirrel Terror is just as much fun, with different squirrels and birds getting into loads of trouble.

The One with Canine Houdini

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Find Houdini…

When I chatted with my dogs on FaceTime the other day, Grace kept nudging Sampson. He sighed and said that she wanted him to talk about the new game Dad plays with him.

What game?

“It’s not really a game,” Sam said. “Dad just tries to keep me in the kitchen, and I break out.”

Sampson Stone…

“It’s not a game. But if it was, I’d be winning. Dad’s only kept me inside the kitchen once, and I’ve escaped four times.

“The first time, Dad put one of those black gates in front of one doorway and the little wooden one in the other doorway. Then he went downstairs to do laundry. When I was trying to remind him that he can’t do laundry without my help, I bumped into the black gate and it moved.

“I looked at it for a second, trying to figure how that happened. So I tried bumping with my nose on purpose, and it moved again. There was also this gap between the gate and the edge of the doorway. The more I pushed, the bigger the gap got, and eventually it got big enough for me to fit through.

“Dad looked at us weird when Grace and I came downstairs. It was like he couldn’t figure out how we got out until he saw with his own eyes. Which is weird because he’s always calling me a smart shit.

“The next time, Dad put two of the black gates back-to-back and left the wood one where it was. That wasn’t a challenge either because I already knew how to move them. Then he tried putting chairs in front of it, so I went over to the wood gate and slid it to the side. The fourth time, I had to knock over the black gate, but I still got out.”

Jesus Christ, Sampson. If you keep this up, you’re not going to be able to stay in the kitchen when Mom and Dad go out. You’ll have to go to your crate.

“I don’t mind my crate. But Dad thinks he’s got me beat. He put the chairs in front of the gates before he went out today, and I couldn’t get them out of the way.”

I swear, if you figure out how to move chairs… Why the hell are you learning all this stuff after I move out? 

“I dunno. I figure  it won’t take me long to figure out how to move them,  so I should have worked it out by the time you come see us again. Don’t worry, I’ll show you how I do it.”

I can hardly wait

sampson-houdini
***Update: Sampson has since learned how to move chairs and has escaped again. I don’t know what I’m going to do with this dog.

What I’ve Been Reading… January 2017

6617104Persuader by Lee Child
~Jack Reacher is tasked by the DEA to rescue their agent from an undercover mission gone wrong.
This was the first Reacher book written in first person that I’ve read. It humanized Reacher, which was a different experience than his “mysterious stranger” aura and raised the stakes. I actually doubted his ultimate success more than once.

15790895The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty
~Zoe Norris thought finding a job in New York City was tough, but surviving her coworkers and the new world of the undead.
I loved how Zoe interacted with the fantastic creatures from the very beginning. Plus the mix of absurdity, humor, and tension made it tough to put this book down. It’s guaranteed that I’ll be reading the second Shambling Guide book.

31423215Taking the Titanic by James Patterson & Scott Slaven
~A pair of thieves pose as newlyweds aboard the Titanic to pull off the biggest heist of their lives.
Despite a slow start, the story eventually picked up to become interesting. There were a number of subplots, and the historical elements felt genuine to the story. My one complaint was that the end was pretty unrealistic.

23308084The Rose and the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh
~After being separated from Khalid, Shahrzad must figure out two things: how to break the curse and get back to her husband.
I knew that I wanted to read this book as soon as I finished The Wrath and the Dawn. It was just as good as the first book, with fantastic romance and plenty of action. Plus the ending was absolutely perfect.

29214703Let’s Play Make Believe by James Patterson and James O. Born
~Divorcees Christy and Martin embark on a wild, romantic game of make-believe that won’t end well.
The best part of this novella was that it didn’t feel like a novella. It was intense from the very beginning, and I didn’t see the twist coming.

23341259Violent Ends by Shaun David Hutchinson (Editor), Kendare Blake, Steve Brezenhoff, Delilah S. Dawson, Trish Doller, Margie Gelbwasser, E.M. Kokie, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Tom Leveen, Hannah Moskowitz, Elsa Nader, Beth Revis, Mindi Scott, Neal Shusterman, Brandon Shusterman, Courtney Summers, Blythe Woolston, and Christine Johnson
~It only took twenty-two minutes for Kirby Matheson to change his high school forever, but it took a whole lot longer than that for him to become a monster.
This book was nearly impossible to put down, and it painted a multi-dimensional picture of Kirby and the others impacted by a school shooting.