Still Here


I’m sorry I haven’t posted in a while. I’ve heard people say that during the holidays, publishing slows down. Maybe that’s true on the manuscript reading end, though I can’t really verify that. But with the pandemic, some editorial jobs were cut, leaving existing personnel scrambling to find help with acquired manuscripts. That’s where freelancers like me come in. So my deadlines have been like a certain movie franchise—fast and furious.

Four projects are due in January. But I will try to keep posting more even as more holidays approach.

TTFN.

Here image from parkslopeciviccouncil.org.

I Didn’t Know I Needed Dune (2021)

I don’t know about you, but my soul is weary these days. I’ve struggled to write anything—especially a blog post (though freelance deadlines also played a part in that).

When a friend suggested a trip to the movie theater—first time in about nineteen months—to see Dune (2021), I jumped at the chance, having watched a reviewer give a glowing review of it. I’m not normally swayed by reviews. If I want to see a film, I’ll see it without watching any reviews beforehand. I watched a review this time, because I was afraid that Hollywood would mess this up. Gotta be honest. You see, I’ve read three of Frank Herbert’s Dune series and loved the 2000 miniseries adaptation of some of the books. So I was wary to say the least, as was the friend who invited me to go.

Have you seen the movie? This is not a review, but rather, a post about how a beautifully made film can assist in the restoration of a weary soul. Dune (2021) is the only film I’ve seen by the director—Denis Villeneuve (who also cowrote the screenplay). And though I majored in radio/TV/film 800 years ago, I didn’t learn much. (That major was short-lived anyway, lasting only a year.) So I can’t speak with any sort of authority on cinematography or any other aspects of filmmaking. You know how you can look at something and know it’s good, but you don’t understand all the ins and outs of what makes it so good? That’s how I felt while watching Dune.

I knew what I expected to see—an epic saga taking place on a desert planet. A reviewer called Dune (2021) a sandy Game of Thrones. Apt, but a little unfair, since the first Dune book debuted in 1965 and George RR Martin’s first book didn’t roll out until 1996. So maybe Game of Thrones is a stony Dune. But I understood why the reviewer said that, since most people might know Game of Thrones while knowing next to nothing about Dune except for a movie that some disliked.

Anyway, what captured my attention in the film the most were the seeming simplicity of the camera shots and the moments of silence. Characters often stood gazing at the scenery or walked together in silence. On screen, we might see one image highlighted—like a woman whose diaphanous train blows in the wind or a close up of the face of the main character (played by Timothée Chalamet, below).

Many films seem cluttered in comparison, with characters and objects crowded on the screen. You don’t know where to look first. But in this film, certain images arrest you as the camera pans.

Watching Dune reminded me of Seven Samurai and other foreign films with less dialogue. Moments would go by without the characters saying anything. That felt like ma space—a rest between intervals of action. .

In a day of constant chatter through text messaging and a never-ending stream of images on social media, I cherished the choice moments of silence and stillness. This is not to say that the film lacked action. I used the word epic for a reason. Lots of fight scenes ala Lawrence of Arabia. If you’ve seen that movie, you can picture what I mean.

Anyway, I needed it.

Photo of Chang Chen playing Dr. Wellington Yueh found at filmfed.com. Timothée Chalamet found at jacketscreator.com. And yes, you can purchase a coat like that. Dune movie poster found somewhere else that I forgot to notate.

So, This Happened

I’m not a mechanic. So if you are, you might shake your head at what I’m about to tell you. So, not long ago, I went out to start my car. When I did, it sounded like a garbage truck—a new development since the day before that. I called the mechanic I usually take the car to and asked if I could bring it, telling him I thought the muffler had gone bad.

He said, “Yeah, drop it off tomorrow.”

Now I don’t know about you, but I believe in prayer. Not saying you have to, just that I do. So after praying, I was certain I needed to drop that car off not the next day, but that day. So I texted a friend and arranged for a pick up at the auto shop. Not half an hour later, the mechanic called and said, “It’s not the muffler. Your catalytic converter was stolen.” (If you’re wondering what that is, click here to be taken to a Wikipedia article.)

He texted a photo.

That took a moment to register. He asked pertinent questions like, “When did you notice the change?” I explained that whatever happened had to have happened during the night, because the car was fine the previous day.

He advised me to make a police report. So I called them. An officer came out right away with the news that the previous night, catalytic converters were stolen out of several cars in the area. A group of thieves had been busy in this area. Why, you might ask? (Or you might not wonder. My dad and a friend said this is happening all over the country.) In Illinois we have the emissions test requirement. The deadline for the test is October 31.

My sister-in-law then texted an alert she received on more thefts in a nearby town. Here is part of that:

Sigh. So I had to file an insurance claim and am now in a rental car as I wait for my car to be fixed so that I can pass the emissions test.

Hope you have better news. If so, please share it.

Photos were given to L. Marie.

Does Fantasy Seem Less Fantastic These Days?

I recently overheard a conversation between these doughnuts that got me to thinking about the question posed in the title of this post.


“What’s that?” you say. “Doughnuts can’t talk. That’s unrealistic.” Herein lies the issue that some people seem to have with fantasy.

Let me back up. I had a conversation with an actual person about a fantasy novel we both read, the title of which I am withholding. We came to the conclusion that the fantasy elements seemed downplayed in favor of a social injustice message. This is not to say that social injustice is a bad theme. But when a book blurb touts that a book is “full of magic,” I expect something along the lines of the Harry Potter series, the Nevermoor series by Jessica Townsend, Charles Yallowitz’s books, or the Oz books. You know—dragons, flying cars, lunch pails growing on trees, huge cats, inventing gnomes, and fantastic hotels. But that’s not what I found. Instead, I found rich people indifferent to the plight of the poor and magical healings that weren’t called magical healings—just healings.

   Cover art by Jason Pedersen 

This is not the first book I’ve read where the fantasy elements seemed a little scarce. As I pondered that, I couldn’t help recalling what the son of a friend once told me: “If a story isn’t realistic (The Hurt Locker as opposed to The Lord of the Rings), it isn’t real to me.” I’ve heard similar sentiments from others, most of whom would never crack open a fantasy book. As if stories of imagined worlds are inferior somehow. But imagination has been the key to so many breakthroughs in our world. Ask any trailblazing inventor who dreamed of a new way of doing something.

“That’s for kids,” someone else said to me about fantasy stories. Yet the Harry Potter series, a fantasy series “for kids” in that person’s estimation, has sold the most copies of a fiction series worldwide than any other series. When each book in the series was released, I remember seeing more eager adults standing in line waiting to pick up their books than kids. But I digress.

This is not a knock against anyone who dislikes fantasy stories. It’s all a matter of preference, isn’t it? And for the record, I love many realistic stories too. This is just an observation from someone who never really grew up; who never really stopped loving fairy tales with dragons and knights and princesses.

You see, I read or watch movies to escape. I love diving into fantasy worlds and learning about the people and creatures who inhabit these worlds. I want to escape from the horrors of the current news stories. So I wouldn’t purposely search for a book because I need to know more about social injustice. You can call that burying my head in the sand all you want. I call it saving my sanity.

Just my two cents. Feel free to add yours in the comments below.

The Merchant of Nevra Coil photo courtesy of Charles Yallowitz. Deathly Hallows from Goodreads. Dragon from en.gtwallpaper.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

Do You Care What People Think?

See this penguin? (Yes, it is a penguin despite the coloring.)

I thought about using this penguin in a post with another topic. But the fact that I thought about using it prompted this post, because it shows I care what people think of me—whether you think I’m clever or creative. Though I don’t like that aspect of myself, I can’t deny the truth of it. Oh I know you’re way more mature than me and don’t care what other people think, so just bear with me even if you can’t relate to this post.

Penguin amigurumi pattern by LittleMagicHouse: https://www.etsy.com/shop/LittleMagicHouse?ref=simple-shop-header-name&listing_id=859475851

We live in a culture of likes/dislikes. I don’t have to tell you that. Social media is all about likes. YouTube algorithms and ad revenues are based on how many likes a video, and the channel overall, gets. You can’t even call your cable company about a service aberration (and I have done this multiple times) without being asked to fill out a survey about their service. Memo to cable providers: If I call about a service outage, that is not a good time to ask me to fill out a survey.

If you’ve written a book, you know all about the need for a certain number of good reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and other outlets (like Kirkus). A bad review can be devastating, especially if the reviewer takes the time to tell you how terrible your book is and shames you for writing it.

Have you purchased a meal or anything else lately? More than likely you were asked to fill out a survey or to like and review the company on social media.

Caring what others might think is the main reason why we Botox, dye our hair, dress like people many years younger than us or cooler than us, say cutting things about the manuscripts of others in writing workshops, go through several photos before posting on social media, and sometimes outright lie. It’s what caused a woman ahead of me in line today at the grocery store to turn and say that she was sorry she couldn’t let me go ahead of her (her grocery order being much larger than mine) but she was in a hurry and couldn’t do so. It causes us to avoid saying no, even when we know we need to do so, out of fear of displeasing someone. This is not to say that we should avoid pleasing others. That’s part of loving others. It becomes problematic when we compromise who we are out of fear of what someone might think.

I’ve heard people say, “I don’t care what other people think.” And I want to believe them, since they state the fact so forcefully. But since they aren’t hermits living in a cave by themselves, and since they shower, my logical mind tells me they might have at least some concern for the opinions of others. This is not to say we shouldn’t put our best foot forward or that we should be uncivilized. But sometimes, at the back of my mind at least, I worry, What is so and so going to think?

So, I guess a better question for me to ask is, how much do you focus on what others might think? You don’t have to tell me. This post isn’t to shame anyone. I wrote it to ask the question of myself, because I’m tired of doing things out of fear of what someone else might think or say—an outcome that may or may not come to pass.

People pleaser image from AvenuesCounseling website. Other photo by L. Marie.

When I Relax, I . . . Work?

Sadly, I did not get a post out last week to announce the winner of Charles Yallowitz’s War of Nytefall: Anarchy. The week got away from me with its awful stress. I’m sure you can relate to stress. One of these days, I’ll have the emotional wherewithal to tell you alllllllllllll about it. For now, let’s discuss a stress management tactic—rest/relaxation. I don’t mean taking a nap, though my mom says that’s her favorite form of stress relief. I’m not much of a napper, because napping subtracts from my nighttime sleep hours. The only time it doesn’t is when I’m really ill.

  

One of my favorite forms of rest/relaxation, besides watching this show (based on the book by Guillermo del Toro and Daniel Kraus)

or playing this

is to crochet. I’m currently making an underwater habitat for this little whale as part of a gift.

   

Whale crochet pattern by LittleMagicHouse

Coral, seaweed, and shell patterns by TheYarnConspiracy.

It might seem like a lot of work. And it is. But with every stitch crocheted or felt sewn, that’s minutes of stress off my back. I’m not sure why it works that way for me. Some people do crossword or jigsaw puzzles (looking at you, Jill Weatherholt and Charles Yallowitz); I crochet. I like to keep my hands busy while watching a movie or show on Netflix.

What do you do for relaxation? While you consider that, Marian Beaman, consider yourself a winner of Charles’s latest book!

Thank you to all who commented and faithfully read this weird blog.

Book cover and author photos courtesy of Charles Yallowitz. Other photos by L. Marie.

Check This Out–War of Nytefall: Anarchy Is 99 cents!

As the vampires battle in the shadows, a new enemy appears to drag them into the light!

Cover Art by Alison Hunt

The paladins of Windemere have had enough!

As the Vampire Civil War heats up, mysterious murders are being committed against members of every holy order. All signs point to the culprits being vampires, which has resulted in the creation of a unified paladin army. To protect his people, Clyde must find the killers before the holy warriors unleash their purifying crusade. It is a battle against frustrating obstacles as the war inches closer to mortal civilization and ambitious new allies join Nytefall.

One slip is all that is needed for the secret of the Dawn Fangs to be revealed.

Curiosity piqued? Check out this teaser!

The urge to move faster nearly overtakes Lost’s common sense, but she reminds herself that adults are supposed to be patient. As if her mind is trying to undermine her actions, she is on the verge of whistling the first tune that slips into her thoughts. Sucking in her lips, the Dawn Fang pierces them with her fangs to stop them from causing trouble. The pain makes her eyes water and she squishes mud in her hands to hold back a scream. Reaching out with her telepathy, she tries to locate her targets while she lets her unfocused thoughts run their course. A distant prayer to Ram the War God causes her to change her direction and she takes a deep breath to regain her composure. With the paladins so far away, Lost moves a little faster, but stops short of giving in to her silly, impatient urges. Seeing the edge of the tall grass, she drops again and uses her elbows to pull herself along like she remembers seeing Titus do on several missions. As she comes out of her cover, the bright sun blinds her, so she is unable to stop herself from banging into something metal, which falls onto her back.

“Get off of me!” Lost shouts before telekinetically hurling the object into the river. She scrambles to her feet and freezes at the sight of six paladins standing in her path. “Such shiny and pretty armors, you have here. I really like the guy with the big helmet. Is that an ostrich feather? I keep meaning to ride one of those again. So, nice day for a walk. This is bunny who is totally unable to fly. That’s why he’s on my head. Your friend seems okay, so there’s absolutely no reason for us to spend any more time together. Bye!”

“You must be Lost,” Lord Adam says through his great helm. He takes a step forward and holds out a diamond fused to a bronze chain. “We are well aware of you and your abilities, monster. That is why I travel with this. None of your mind tricks will work on those who stand in my presence. Even your keen senses are tricked by the spells designed specifically to thwart your actions. Be honored that we went to so much trouble to design items with you in mind. No other Dawn Fang has earned so much individual attention.”

“That’s kind of creepy,” she replies as she steps back. Seeing weapons getting drawn, she stops retreating and playfully slaps at the mud with her bare feet. “Needed to wash some gunk out from between my toesies. Well, this is awkward. You brought me such a pretty present and I don’t have anything for you. Bunny says that I need to work on my manners. There’s really no need for violence. Dawn Fangs are mostly good. Just like mortals, we have some bad ones, but we’re all individuals like all of you. I mean, we all eat soup the same way, right? I really hope you all use spoons for that comparison to work.”

“Abominations such as you-” the paladin begins to announce.

“Look at the naked heretic!” she shouts while pointing into the distance.

All of the holy warriors, except for Lord Adam, turn to see what Lost is gesturing at, so she flings mud at their leader’s helmet grating. The man coughs and hacks as the Dawn Fang sprints back to the river and launches herself to the other side. A quake meets her as she lands and she nearly topples onto her side, but manages to stumble along. Glancing over her shoulder, she does not see any of the paladins in pursuit and considers slowing down to get her bearings. Lost’s eyes go wide when she sees the powerful steeds rise into the air, arch over the river, and land in a perfect line that immediately charges ahead. The open plains allow the warriors to move at full speed, which is only slightly slower than the sprinting Dawn Fang. They hurl spells and glowing weapons, which return to their hands, but the attacks never hit their mark. Those that come close are deflected by a telekinetic shield, which repeatedly shatters upon impact thanks to Lord Adam’s diamond weakening her even from a distance. With the relic defending the paladins’ minds and muffling their hoofbeats, she has to repeatedly look over her shoulder to make sure none of them have disappeared. To her relief, they never break formation and she gets a sense of their attack pattern, which never falters.

Get a copy of this vampire action adventure for
99 cents on Amazon!
Help spread the word by adding it on Goodreads!

*****

Want to catch up on War of Nytefall? Grab the volumes 1-6 for 99 cents each ($6 total)!

Cover Art by Alison Hunt

Interested in more Windemere? Then don’t forget to check out Charles E. Yallowitz’s first series: Legends of Windemere

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

About the Author:

Charles Yallowitz was born and raised on Long Island, NY, but he has spent most of his life wandering his own imagination in a blissful haze. Occasionally, he would return from this world for the necessities such as food, showers, and Saturday morning cartoons. One day he returned from his imagination and decided he would share his stories with the world. After spending many years fiddling with his thoughts and notebooks, he decided that it was time to follow his dream of being a fantasy author. So, locked within the house with only pizza and seltzer to sustain him, Charles brings you tales from the world of Windemere. He looks forward to sharing all of his stories with you and drawing you into a world of magic.

Blog: www.legendsofwindemere.com
Twitter: @cyallowitz
Facebook: Charles Yallowitz
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/cyallowitz/

Enjoy the fang-filled adventure by clicking here!

L. Marie here. Comment below to be entered into a drawing to receive a free copy of War of Nytefall: Anarchy. Winner to be announced next week.

Message Received?

In a movie review, Jeremy Jahns, a YouTube reviewer I usually watch, talked about social commentary in movies based on fictional stories in a way that I found very thought provoking. While he mentioned a specific film, what he said could apply to many films and other types of stories. Of course reviews are subjective, so take that with a grain of salt. Anyway, he said,

A picture is worth a thousand words. But this . . . movie would rather use a thousand words to paint a picture.

In other words, he felt the social commentary was too obvious and heavy handed and would have been better had it been more subtle and the story and characters better developed. I have heard statements like this about a number of movies. Though I didn’t see the movie he reviewed, Jahns’s statement got me to thinking about the messages I’ve noticed in some fiction books or on the screen in the last ten years or so. Obviously this is my opinion which you can take with a grain of salt, but sometimes the messages have seemed a little too obvious, with characters practically saying things like, “And that’s why _____ (fill in the blank) is bad.” Sometimes the whole reason for the existence of a book or film (again please keep in mind that I am talking about fiction, rather than nonfiction) seems to be to deliver a message.

I totally get the need to encourage change through a well-written story. That is the power of words. But I’m drawn to stories where the message doesn’t rest on top in a blinking lights kind of way. I like to glean the message for myself. I can read the Lord of the Rings trilogy and see the awful toll war takes on people, something Tolkien experienced firsthand, without having to be told by a character, “Do you see what disagreements like this could lead to? How awful everything is? How needful it is that we come together in peace and goodwill?”

What about you? Do you like messages that are a

and as obvious as this:

Or do you prefer the subtle approach? Are there some messages that need to be wrecking ball clear? Do tell! While you ponder that, Anne Westrick, get ready to receive a signed copy of Edie in Between by Laura Sibson! Please comment below to confirm.

    

Jeremy Jahns photo from famousbirthdays. Quote from August 27, 2021 review. Stupidly obvious messages from dreamstime and ebaumsworld.

Check This Out: Edie in Between

It’s been a while since we met, but here we are to welcome the awesome Laura Sibson, who is here to talk about her YA fantasy novel, Edie in Between, which debuts today!! It was published by Viking. The illustrator of cover is Lisa Sterle. Cover designed by Jessica Jenkins.

Laura is repped by Brianne Johnson. Click here to read a synopsis and to get to an excerpt of Edie in Between.

El Space: You and I have had conversations about fantasy shows and book series we like. Please tell us how you came to write this contemporary fantasy.
Laura: I’ve loved stories with magic for as long as I can remember. I especially love stories in which magic could be just out of sight; magic that exists in our world but is kept secret from us. For a long time, I’ve wanted to write such a story. When I pitched ideas to my editor for my second book, she suggested a mash-up of two ideas. One was about a girl dealing with the death of her mother in an unusual way and the other was about a girl who found her magical lineage burdensome. By merging the ideas together, I was able to create a story in which magic exists, but it also serves as a metaphor for acceptance.

El Space: As you consider the characters, the magic system, the plot, and the romance, what was the most fun part about writing your novel?
Laura: You may already know the answer as you were a trusted early reader. I love writing blooming romance and banter between friends. Those elements come easiest to me. Crafting the malevolent aspects of the magic system was challenging, but in a problem-solving way. Plot is always the most difficult part of drafting for me.

El Space: Your book has dual narrators. How did you keep track of each storyline?
Laura: Not only did I need to keep track of the individual storylines, but I also needed to ensure that Maura’s journal entries appeared when Edie needed to read them. I draft my stories in Scrivener which allows you to view the order of scenes in a sidebar. Each scene was titled with the narrator’s name so I could see at a glance where Edie’s chapters appeared relative to Maura’s. I also used index cards on a big white board to help me visualize how the scenes interlocked with the overall scavenger hunt storyline.

El Space: Edie in Between has strong themes of friendship and family. Without giving any spoilers, since this is a book about family secrets, why were both—friendship and family—important for you to include in this book?
Laura: Edie In Between was always going to be a story about intergenerational family relationships. I was especially interested in looking at how Edie and her grandmother dealt with grief in different ways and how that could create tension between them. I also love the idea of found family and how friends will show up and support you through hard things when maybe your family cannot.

El Space: If you could have magical power, and could choose what power you have, what would your power be?
Laura: In my story, the magic that travels through the Mitchell family is elemental. Edie struggles with her element of fire, her mother commanded water and her grandmother, GG, commands earth – especially plants. Of all of those, I’d most like GG’s magic because she can grow anything. Not only does that seem incredibly useful to me, but I also love lush, overgrown gardens and I’d like to have a talent for creating one like GG’s.

El Space: Excluding the great VCFA authors who are too numerous to name, who are some of the fantasy authors you find inspiring?
Laura: Akwaeke Emezi for their talent for showing over telling. Laini Taylor for full-on originality. Holly Black for making me feel all things while also creating delicious fairy worlds. Tomi Adeyemi for the infusion of West African myth. Leigh Bardugo for balancing a huge cast of interesting characters. Brigid Kemmerer for retellings.

   

  

El Space: What are you working on now?
Laura: I am working on another young adult novel with paranormal elements. In this story, a group of friends summon an urban legend connected to their historic private school in hopes that it will grant wishes. The legend is more dangerous than they’d believed, so they’ll need to work together to defeat it—before one of them dies. But when a student transfers into their school in the middle of the semester, it seems that he has his own interest in the legend—and it’s at odds with theirs.

Thank you, Laura, for being my guest!

Looking for Laura? You can find her at her website, Instagram, or Twitter.

Looking for Edie in Between ? Check out your local bookstore, Children’s Book World, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Indiebound. Be sure to check out the book launch—info here: https://www.childrensbookworld.net/sibson-edie-in-between/

One of you will receive a signed copy of Laura’s novel. Just comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be revealed next week.

And don’t forget Laura’s first novel:

Book cover and author photo courtesy of Laura Sibson. Author photo by Rachael Balascak. Other book covers from Goodreads. Magic image from dreamstime. Garden image found on Pinterest.

Mad, Sad, or Glad?

A while ago, I had a conversation with a friend about the types of stories to which she gravitated. Bittersweet was the answer. She loves stories with a rich vein of sadness but also a redemptive conclusion.

Though I mostly gravitate to stories with a happy ending, I also love a narrative where the ending is bittersweet. Stories where you can see the cost paid to ensure that others have a happy ending. You see this quality in many heroic tales where the hero or a companion of the hero loses a battle in order to ultimately win the war. Think of Frodo in Tolkien’s The Return of the King. Or, sometimes, a hero falls due to temptation, but willingly pays the ultimate price in order to redeem himself/herself. Think of Boromir in The Fellowship of the Ring by Tolkien. (If you have no idea what I mean, there’s always Google.)

 

One of my sisters-in-law loves books with happy endings. “I read to escape,” she said, which makes sense with her being a marriage and family therapist.

Other people I know love books with provocative topics that make people mad or horrified—stories of weird serial killers, people will strange habits that get them killed, or stories of injustice.

When I was a teen, I glommed onto books about serial killers or weird loners. I had a lot of angst as a teen. But now that I’m older and there’s this thing called the internet where stories of weird loners are a dime a dozen, the books I read have a lot more hope and light.

What kinds of books do you find yourself reading a lot? While you think of that, I will move on to the winner of a preorder of the upcoming novel in verse, Moonwalking by Lyn Miller-Lachmann and Zetta Elliott. And Sharon, you are that winner.

 

Thank you to all who commented.

Book cover and author photos courtesy of Lyn Miller-Lachmann. Other photos by L. Marie.