Deck the Halls with Three Good Books (Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la)

santa 9Ho ho ho! Santa’s got a brand-new bag. (If you’re a James Brown aficianado, you’ll have “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” in your head now. Mwahahaha!) Today on the blog, I’m thrilled to welcome three great authors and fellow VCFA alums: Melanie Crowder, Caroline Carlson, and Skila Brown. They agreed to a quick interview without any coercion from moi or that cupcake-wielding supervillain, Hello Kitty. If you’re totally confused by that last statement, go here.

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Melanie, who also wrote Parched, is here to talk about her upcoming young adult historical novel-in-verse, Audacity, which will be coming to a bookstore near you on January 8, 2015 (published by Philomel Books/Penguin). Melanie is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

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Caroline is here to discuss The Terror of the Southlands, book 2 of her middle grade series, The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates, published by HarperCollins. If you were around last year, you’ll remember that Caroline stopped by just before the first book of her series debuted. (See here and here.) Good times. Caroline is represented by Sarah Davies.

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And last, but certainly not least, Skila is here to talk about her middle grade historical novel-in-verse, Caminar, published by Candlewick Press. Skila is represented by Tina Wexler.

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After our discussion, I’ll talk about a holiday giveaway that I hope will be an annual thing.

El Space: Greetings and welcome to the blog. Could each of you provide an elevator pitch for your book to bring readers up to speed about it?
Melanie: Audacity is the inspiring story of Clara Lemlich, whose fight for equal rights led to the largest strike by women in American history.

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Caroline: Hilary Westfield is a full-fledged pirate now, but if she doesn’t prove her boldness and daring by rescuing a kidnapped Enchantress, she’ll be kicked out of the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates for good.
Skila: Set in 1981 Guatemala, this novel-in-verse tells the powerful tale of a boy who must decide what it means to be a man during a time of war.

El Space: Awesome. So, tell us what inspired you to write your book.
Melanie: Clara’s story just wouldn’t let go of me. I first discovered her in 2010, while looking for topics to try my hand at picture book biographies during the second semester of my MFA at Vermont College. But the more I read about Clara, the more I was captivated. I began to suspect that this would turn into a novel-length book. And then her voice showed up—in free verse, no less! I had to follow. . . .
Caroline: The Terror of the Southlands is a sequel to my first book, Magic Marks the Spot. I wanted to continue the story of Hilary’s adventures on the High Seas, explore more of her world, and learn more about the characters I’d created for the first book. Also, I love detective stories, and this book, while not a traditional mystery, is absolutely swarming with detectives. Pirates too, of course!

pirate_clipart_ship_2Skila: I spent a long time reading and learning about Guatemala’s Armed Conflict and the role that the U.S. played in that violence. It made me angry—angry about what happened and angry that not many people know about it. There are so many things I can’t do about so many issues in the world. But one thing I can do is tell a story. So that’s what I did. I told a story about a boy who survived. I think survival stories are the best kind of stories to read.

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El Space: You’ve all intrigued me! If you had a choice of educating, astounding, amusing, or challenging a child or a teen with your writing, which would you choose? Why? You can pick a combination of two if you wish.
Melanie: Challenging. Definitely. This is a book for teens, and Clara was a teen when she became an activist. I absolutely want readers to find her story and to know that they, too, can change the world.
Caroline: I love reading and writing humor, so one of my main goals every time I sit down at the keyboard is to amuse both myself and my eventual readers. That said, I hope that while kids are laughing, they’re also being challenged, astounded, and only very occasionally educated.
Skila: Challenging. I was the kid who loved to be challenged and also who loved to challenge. There’s always that one kid in every class, right? Raising her hand in class to say, “I think you’re wrong,” to the teacher. I would love the idea of my book challenging what you might believe about war, or the way you think about the world, or the capabilities of a child. I love books that make me think. I hope Caminar is a book like that.

El Space: If your main character had a Christmas stocking or made a Hanukkah wish, what would this character wish for? Why?

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Melanie: Books! Clara loved poetry, and she loved learning—languages, social theory, literature—all of it!
Caroline: Hilary’s Christmas stocking would probably include a sword-polishing kit, a packet of homemade cookies from her governess, and a good book she could read aloud to her gargoyle.
Skila: Carlos would probably wish for food, for obvious reasons. But on a lighter note: candy! And maybe a radio.

Thanks, Melanie, Caroline, and Skila for stopping by! I’d love to have you guys come back again!

And if you’ve popped over to check out these authors, thanks for stopping by. There are other places where they can be found. Looking for Melanie? Look here. Looking for Caroline? Look here. Looking for Skila? Look here. You can find each wonderful book by clicking on its title:

Audacity (preorders only)
The Terror of the Southlands
Caminar

You can also find each book at Barnes & Noble and Amazon. If you’ve been wishing for more books this holiday season, your wish is about to be granted. I’m giving away a preorder of Audacity and a copy of The Terror of the Southlands and Caminar. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winners will be announced on Monday, December 22.

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Jordie and his archnemesis have agreed on a truce during the holidays. Each is hoping Santa will bring him/her books by Melanie, Caroline, and Skila. Um . . . yes, Jordie and Hello Kitty still believe in Santa. Don’t you?

Christmas ornament from realestateyak.com. Hanukkah menorah from tucker-tribune.blogspot.com. Christmas stocking image from dryicons.com. Santa bag from its-so-cute.blogspot.com. Pirate ship from free-clipart-pictures.net. Strike photo from historymatters.gmu.edu.

Trash or Treasure?

I’ve got some book winners to announce in just a bit. But first, let me tell you about my Saturday. You’re stuck hearing about it, so you might as well nod your head as if you really wanted to hear about it—or at least part of it. Anyway, I attended an ugly Christmas sweater party at my pastor’s house. It was an eye-opening experience. I wore this little number.

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My phone remained in my purse, however, so I can’t supply photos of the other sweaters. Perhaps that’s for the best. Some industrious individuals threaded Christmas lights through their sweaters in the hope of gaining one of three prizes. The guy who won the “most authentically ugly” prize had pinned Christmas potholders (one with teddy bears in Santa hats) to a sweater. Pretty much everyone voted for him. No one else stood a chance. The winner of the “most crafty” sweater was a person wearing a tree skirt and a sweater with tiny Christmas lights sewn into it. Again, a landslide victory. The third prize was a “Scrooge” prize for the person who refused to wear a Christmas sweater! (Wish I’d thought of that!)

I hadn’t thought to “soup up” my sweater with Christmas lights, believing that it could stand on its own merit. After all, it had gained me several “You’ve come to the right place in that” nods at the party. Yet someone had given me the sweater, which once belonged to her mother-in-law. It’s not the kind of sweater I usually wear, except to events like this. Consequently, it resides at the back of my closet until the next party rolls around.

When I arrived home, intending to take a photo of the sweater to show my sister-in-law, I took a closer look at it. It’s very neatly stitched—not a thread out of place. Granted, it has snowmen and birdhouses. But the snowmen are smiling at least. Perhaps it isn’t quite so bad. Still, I can’t help thinking of this old adage:

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And of course, this one:

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The flipside—ugliness—is likewise subjective.

Someone put love and attention into designing that sweater. Someone else liked it enough to buy it. One woman’s treasure . . .

As I thought about the sweater and my response to it, I thought about the characters in my novel. Will someone else besides me treasure them? Or will they be roundly dismissed and labeled as “ugly” or “ludicrous” by others as cavalierly as I judged that sweater?

It gives you something to think about, doesn’t it? If you’ve spent time on Goodreads, you know how subjective and cruel some reviewers can be. Some take pleasure in being vicious, under the mistaken belief that they’ll be perceived as smarter than the author. But a person who really is smarter doesn’t have to put someone else down to prove that.

Someone wise once told me that worrying about what someone may or may not think is a waste of time. A better use of my time is to spend it in a more enjoyable way: continuing to create stories I love about characters I love. That’s the only outcome I can control.

You’ve been patient long enough, so let’s move on to the winners of A Gift of Shadows by Stephanie Stamm and Curse of the Dark Wind by Charles Yallowitz. (See interviews here and here.)

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Thanks to the random number generator, which has earned my love . . .

The winner of a paperback of A Gift of Shadows is . . .

Sue Archer!

The winner of an e-book of A Gift of Shadows is . . .

Celine!

The winner of another e-book of A Gift of Shadows is . . .

Laura Sibson!

The winner of an e-book of Curse of the Dark Wind is . . .

Andra Watkins!

Winners please comment to confirm below. Celine, please provide an email address. E-book winners, please specify which format you need. Thanks again for commenting!

Check This Out: Curse of the Dark Wind

Dive into the newest adventure of Luke Callindor, Nyx, Fizzle, & all their friends.
LEGENDS OF WINDEMERE: CURSE OF THE DARK WIND
IS LIVE!

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

What’s the Story?

After their battles in Gaia and surviving the Island of Pallice, the champions of Windemere are off on their next adventure.

In his quest to be a hero and help others, Luke Callindor has jumped into danger countless times and would do so again without hesitation. So when he is infected by the toxic Dark Wind, it is up to his friends to find a cure and keep his courage alive. With time running out and their enemies in the shadows, one ally will make the decision to share in Luke’s suffering and forge a bond that runs thicker than blood. Such a sacrifice might not be enough when the truth behind this living curse comes to light.

Will Luke find the strength to defeat the Dark Wind? What ghosts from his past will appear during his weakest hour?

You can find this epic fantasy adventure on:

Amazon!
&
Goodreads!

As an added bonus, I’m giving away an eBook of The Curse of the Dark Wind. Just comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced on Tuesday, December 16.

New to Windemere? Then check it Volumes 1-5 of this exciting series by CLICKING ON THEIR COVERS!

COVER ART BY JASON PEDERSEN (CLICK COVER FOR AMAZON SITE)

COVER ART BY JASON PEDERSEN (CLICK COVER FOR AMAZON SITE)

COVER ART BY JASON PEDERSEN (CLICK COVER FOR AMAZON SITE)

COVER ART BY JASON PEDERSEN (CLICK COVER FOR AMAZON SITE)

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COVER ART BY JASON PEDERSEN (CLICK COVER FOR AMAZON SITE)

COVER ART BY JASON PEDERSEN (CLICK COVER FOR AMAZON SITE)

COVER ART BY JASON PEDERSEN (CLICK COVER FOR AMAZON SITE)

COVER ART BY JASON PEDERSEN (CLICK COVER FOR AMAZON SITE)

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Art by Jason Pedersen (CLICK COVER FOR AMAZON SITE)

Art by Jason Pedersen (CLICK COVER FOR AMAZON SITE)

AN EXTRA TREAT!
Check out an interview with Charles E. Yallowitz on N.N. Light’s Blog: Princess of the Light!

AUTHOR BIO:

Charles author photo B&WCharles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn’t working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. ‘Legends of Windemere’ is his first series, but it certainly won’t be his last.

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ENJOY THE ADVENTURE & BEWARE THE DARK WIND CURSE!

Check This Out: A Gift of Shadows

Welcome back to the blog where my guest today is the très fabuleuse Stephanie Stamm. She’s here to talk about A Gift of Shadows, book 2 of her Light-Bringer trilogy, which launches today!

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Woot! Here’s a synopsis:

shadows_promoSome Gifts come in Dark packages.

The Making gave her wings, but two months later, Lucky’s Gift has yet to appear. When it finally does, she’s in Lilith’s Dark world, and the Gift comes as a deadly power that causes Lucky to question everything she thinks she knows about herself. Her only support is her boyfriend’s brother. While Lucky struggles with her Gift and her feelings for Kev, tensions escalate between Dark and Light, and the barriers between worlds start to fail. Can Lucky and the Fallen find their way through the deepening shadows?

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Jordie received a dark package and wonders if his Gift is in it. Or is this just a gift?

Um, moving on, isn’t that cover très cool? But wait. There’s more. You can have this very book, thanks to a giveaway I’ll mention after I talk with Stephanie.

Happy-Release-DayEl Space: Happy Release Day! Though you’ve been on the blog before, I still have to ask you to supply four quick facts about yourself.
Stephanie: I can pretty much live on different kinds of soup during the winter.
I’ve never been able to write a fast first draft without editing as I go.
I’m fascinated with psychology, spirituality, and the inner journey.
I get cranky when I’m too busy to have time to read fiction.

El Space: Tell us about this next part of Lucky’s journey. Nonspoilery of course. :-) How has Lucky grown?
Stephanie: Lucky has gotten stronger, tougher. She’s impatient to learn more. She has more agency. In the first book, she was more reactive, doing what she had to in response to what happened around her and to her. In A Gift of Shadows, she acts as well as reacts and makes more independent choices, some of which cause problems for her.

El Space: How has your world expanded in this book?
Stephanie: Lucky spends some time in Lilith’s world in this book. There, she learns more about Lilith and Luil and makes some friends and some enemies. Kev gets to explore more of the Dark and Light Realms. Some events still take place in Chicago, but the larger world Lucky now knows she’s a part of starts impacting the city as well.

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El Space: This is the middle book of your trilogy. What did you find challenging about writing a bridge book?
Stephanie: Recapping enough of the first book to refresh the reader’s memory without restating too much, and at the same time setting up for problems to come in the third book, while still wrapping up enough to give a sense of an ending. It really was a challenge. Whenever I found myself struggling, I took comfort in the comments I’ve read or heard from other trilogy authors about the difficulty of writing that middle book.

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El Space: In an interview with urban fantasy authors Kelley Armstrong and Carrie Vaughn here, the interviewer asked them to respond to the accusation that women are destroying science fiction and fantasy. How would you respond to that allegation? Remarks like that make my blood boil, by the way.
Stephanie: I’m picturing a “No Girls Allowed” sign tacked on a tree house.

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I’m not sure what it even means to “destroy” a genre. I would assume the people who make those accusations are referring to the growth of paranormal romance novels. I would call that an expansion of the urban fantasy genre, not a destruction of it. And the popular novelists in both urban fantasy and paranormal romance have both male and female fans.

men-vs-womenSome male writers have long complained that women can’t write science fiction—leading to the distinction between “hard” and “soft” SF, a not-so-subtle gendering through adjectives. The claim that women are destroying science fiction and fantasy is just a continuation of that argument, and it rests on an unquestioned evaluation of the “male” or “hard” version of SF as somehow better than so-called “soft” SF. The supporters of that claim seem to me to be fearfully clinging to their particular idea of what the genres can or should be, instead of allowing those genres to encompass whatever authors can bring to them. Frankly, I don’t even understand how one genre—or sub-genre—can be threatened by another. Each sub-genre will have its own readers and fans, some of which may cross over to the other. Seems like a win-win to me.

Incidentally, I loved Kelley Armstrong’s YA Darkness Rising series.

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Dont Stereotype MeEl Space: I agree with you! What stereotypes, if any, bother you in sci-fi/fantasy? How does your series challenge those stereotypes?
Stephanie: I’m bothered by the helpless or over-sexualized female. That’s changed in a lot of contemporary writing, with the kickass heroine becoming more of a norm. While the strength of that kickass heroine is a move forward, she can become a female version of the male idea of toughness, where any show of vulnerability is “feminine” or “weak.” The willingness to be vulnerable actually exhibits a different kind of strength. I tried to write female characters who are both tough and vulnerable. And I tried to write male characters who are both as well.

I’m also troubled by female characters who see other females as rivals instead of friends. I wanted to show strong female friendships in this book too. Romance is more central in Shadows than it was in Wings, but those female friendships are also very important.

El Space: What’s next after this series for you?
Stephanie: I’m incubating the seeds of a standalone fantasy novel based on figures from two different ancient religious traditions. I’ve got some research to do to figure out exactly where that book could go and how it will be shaped.

I also want to spend some time working on poetry, polishing some existing poems for submission and writing new ones.

Thanks, Stephanie, for visiting! You’re always welcome.

And thank you to all who dropped by. Since you’re here, check out this book trailer for A Gift of Shadows:

Looking for Stephanie? Look for her at her website and on Facebook. A Gift of Shadows is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords. Also, the eBook for A Gift of Wings is on sale for $0.99 to celebrate the holidays and the release of Shadows. You can get A Gift of Wings at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

You can be entered in the drawing to win one of two prizes Stephanie is offering—a paperback or an eBook of A Gift of Shadows—just by commenting below. And just because Christmas is around the corner, I’m offering a second eBook of A Gift of Shadows to a commenter. If you like, share with us your favorite female science fiction or fantasy author. I’ll start with some of my favorites: Lois McMaster Bujold, Juliet Marillier, Octavia Butler, Ursula Le Guin, and Robin McKinley. Winners will be announced on Tuesday, December 16.

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A Gift of Shadows has the Supervillain Seal of Approval.

A Gift of Shadows cover courtesy of Stephanie Stamm. The Rising cover from Goodreads. Book release image from mywrittenromance.com. Books from bellschool.org. No girls sign from whispermumstheword.com. Men vs. women sign from diniprathivi.wordpress.com. Christmas ornaments from ezdecorating.blogspot.com.

It Takes Two

Ever have one of those days when a supervillain with a bulbous head seems to win, and all you can do is lie there and take it?

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Jordie isn’t sure how he wound up tied up with his own cape. But suddenly he finds himself on the ground with a blade of death headed for him, and a supervillain softly cackling in the background.

But suddenly a friend comes along and works with you to turn the tide. The supervillain is subdued, thanks to teamwork.

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If it hadn’t been for Sidney Duck, Jordie would have been toast. Now, the supervillain has been vanquished. Jordie and Sidney will share the cupcake, since the supervillain is headed to the nearest maximum security prison where cupcakes are not allowed.

Most of us will never have to face a supervillain along the lines of Hello Kitty, Dr. Evil, or Lex Luthor. But sometimes we’re the supervillain or at least we act like the henchperson of one. Who else but us plays the “You really messed that up” tape over and over in our head? Who else but us whispers, “You’ll never finish that” or “Everyone else will always be better at that than you”? You know where those statements come from: the real supervillains—Doubt and Defeat.

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Dr. “One Meellion Dollars” Evil and Lex Luthor

But suddenly along comes a friend who sees things differently. Where we see, “Ugh! I can’t believe I wrote such crap,” he or she sees, “Wonderful,” “Could be awesome with just a little polish.”

Aside from being grateful to find a Cutie orange in my Happy Meal today, I’m grateful for my Secret Gardener and blogger friends who continually rally around with a few carefully chosen “You can do its” to help me vanquish Doubt and Defeat.

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Writing is a solitary venture. Yet there are times when we writers need something that only someone else can provide: another perspective. Two heads are sometimes better than one.

So, when a supervillain like Doubt or Defeat comes around and whispers,

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I’ll be back . . .

Do yourself a favor and call a friend. Don’t let Doubt have the last word.

And speaking of the last word . . .

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Lex Luthor from youngjustice.wikia.com. Dr. Evil from cupofjoepowell.blogspot.com. Cat from LOL Cats.

Writing with Abandon

I’ll reveal the winner of Like Water on Stone by the amazing Dana Walrath in just a minute. But first . . .

greg_berlanti_headhotToday, I finished reading an article by Tim Stack in Entertainment Weekly (Dec. 5 issue). The subject: Greg Berlanti, the co-creator of The Flash and Arrow, hit shows for the CW. I could mention how an article like that is the perfect bathroom reading, but I wrote a post on that subject before. So I won’t go there now. (You get it? Go there? Okay, I hear you. Some puns shouldn’t exist.) Anyway, Greg is not only involved with the above mentioned shows, he has another hit show on NBC (The Mysteries of Laura) and is developing a show about Supergirl for CBS. If that’s not enough, he’ll be the head writer for the next Oscars broadcast. And that’s not all. The guy has a long list of projects for which he’s either a writer, co-creator, or executive producer. Just reading the article exhausted me. But after reading it, I realized that Berlanti exemplified what I’d discussed in my previous post—writing with abandon. Thanks, Greg!

The following quote struck me:

Berlanti has been a huge comic-book fan since he was young, and seeing him at work is like watching a kid play with his favorite superhero toys. . .except these action figures will be life-size when production starts. (44)

Love for what he’s doing seems to be the key to Berlanti’s quantity of projects. (That and opportunity.) Another plus in Berlanti’s favor is a testimonial from Chris Pratt, who was part of the cast of one of Berlanti’s past shows, Everwood: “He’s capable of showing real heart without being melodramatic.”

Passion. Real heart without melodrama. Sounds like a winning combination, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t we all like to achieve that balance? It takes a delicate touch.

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Jordie hopes that someday a television show is developed about him. He has a cape ready just in case. He’s sure that his story has real heart, and not an ounce of melodrama.

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His first order of business: mopping the floor with his arch-nemesis: Hello Kitty (code name: HK). Don’t let the cupcake and the bow fool you. She’s wanted in fourteen states for being a supervillain. Coincidentally, she has seen her favorite movie, Megamind, fourteen times. Be afraid.

Megamind

Getting back to Greg Berlanti, whatever he’s doing seems to be working, judging by the many viewers his shows have earned. I’ve been meaning to watch The Flash and Arrow. Have you seen them? I’ll get around to them at some point. But for now, my time would be better spent doing what I’m passionate about: weaving works of a high fantasy nature and crocheting whimsical hats. As I’ve mentioned before, I need to make several hats like this in the coming weeks.

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Unlike HK above, this hat has no desire to take over the world. . . .  At least not that I know of. Be afraid.

And speaking of someone who writes with abandon, let’s get to the winner of Like Water on Stone by the multitalented Dana Walrath. (See interview here and here.)

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The winner is . . . (drumroll, please) . . .

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Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Jill Weatherholt!

Jill Weatherholt, come on down! Please comment below to confirm. Thank you to all others who commented.

Stack, Tim. “The Man Behind the Masks.” Entertainment Weekly. 5 Dec. 2014: 42-46. Print.

Drumroll gif from cutenessoverflow.com. Greg Berlanti from hollywoodreporter.com.

Let’s Get Gluttonous

If you have Olivia Newton-John’s song, “Physical,” going through your mind (“let’s get physical, physical”), you’re already blaming me. But neither of us can do anything about that now, so let’s move on.

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I still hear muttering from your direction, however: “Let’s get gluttonous? Come on! We already did that at Thanksgiving.” Bear with me. Now that the turkey is behind us and/or in front of us if we’ve gained a few pounds from the awesome force of our knife and fork wielding, we can get down to business. I suppose I should speak for myself, rather than for you. This Thanksgiving I ate too much and wrote too little. Can you blame me with two turkeys and two hams on the table, plus countless side dishes? And there were desserts so delectable, my thought was, Why stop at just one? So I didn’t.

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We had good times together, didn’t we, ma petite fourchette?

But now that I’ve returned home, my thoughts turn from my waistline to my wasted writing time. Unlike me, some of you conquered NaNoWriMo in November. Well done, you! Here’s your pat on the back.

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Now that December has rolled around, you’re probably ready to take it a little easier—perhaps coast till Christmas as you revise what you just wrote. But now’s the time for me to make up for lost time. You can still join my new campaign. In December, let’s get gluttonous—writing with abandon to create a feast with words.

Consider it: descriptive passages so succulent, a reader’s mouth waters for more. Those are within your reach—as close as that cranberry sauce was to your fork last week. Just wield these ingredients: a dash of sensory details and a pinch of action verbs with knife-edge precision to sharpen the camera’s eye-effect of your story. And while you’re at it, chisel characters so amazingly life-like, they’re miniature Davids carved from the marble of your imagination. Go to it, Michelangelo!

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Don’t run away screaming! This cheerleading session is mainly a reminder to myself to go big in December and expand the territory of my writing. If I give my writing as much attention as I gave to expanding my waistline at Thanksgiving, I will soon be at least 20 pages to the good. Will you join me?

Where do you go for inspiration as you buckle down to write? A multitude of sources usually provide inspiration for me. One is this:

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Fork from spell.psychology.wustl.edu. Person with a pen from wisegeek.org. Olivia Newton-John from jamesreadtan.com. David from caravaggista.com. Pat on the back gif from community.us.playstation.com.