Deviating slightly from my all-fantasy book reviews to talk about this light Science Fiction Romance. The Taylorsville Library (where I work) partners with the Taylorsville Senior Center for Senior Book Club. We would meet at the senior center once a month, and I assisted librarian Elizabeth Weaver in running the book club. Our last meeting was in March, right before everything shut down for Covid. April's book was to be Crosstalk by Connie Willis. It was my book pick for the year, and my turn to lead discussion, and we had hoped that we would still be able to discuss the book, if just postponed. At this point in time, however, I do not foresee us getting back to meetings this year. Or at least not to discuss April's book. So, as I still love this book, and took the time to create discussion questions (as none existed), I am sharing my thoughts here instead.
I highly enjoyed Crosstalk. We got it as a summer reading reward from the library. My first time through the story, Jeff (my husband) read it aloud. I was thoroughly engaged by the story and characters. The story takes place in a near alternate future, where there is a medical procedure that opens up the brains pathways to allow two people to feel each other's emotions. Our protagonist, Briddey Flannigan, gets the procedure with her new boyfriend, Trenth Worth. But instead of connecting with Trent, Briddey connects with someone else.
I read through the book a second time in preparation for book club, and enjoyed it as much, if not more, than the first time. I was able to really see all the clues that led up to the twists. Connie Willis does a great job creating characters that feel real, and you really get into Briddey's head. The romance isn't the central plot, but does play a major role. The ending is satisfying. I definitely recommend this for anyone who wants a light science fiction read.
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
This is a blog interview I did for Margaret Fieland, a fellow member of poetry group Poetic Muselings, after the launch of my debut poetry book back in 2014. I have updated the "Where can you buy the book" and "Where can readers find you", but left the rest the same. Insight compiling the poetry collection, my writing processes, and that time of my life.
You are the author of a new book of poetry, Chiaroscuro. Can you tell us a little about the book?
Chiaroscuro is a poetry book about the contrast and balance between light and dark. Poems range from internal conflict to worldwide war to creatures of myth, but all follow the themes of finding havens of light in dark days, persisting despite the odds.
What was your experience of putting the collection together? How difficult/not did you find the organizing?
The collection slowly came together over eight years. Back in 2008, I took a course at the Muse Online Writers Conference called “How to Turn Your Poetry Into a Saleable Chapbook.” I had a lot of poems in my portfolio and wanted to create a cohesive collection.
I looked over my poems, and sorted them into themes. I found a lot of them were on the darker side: death, pain, abuse. It hadn't really dawned on me until then how much I use poetry to deal with the darkness.
With encouragement, I went ahead with the dark theme. Chose my title, Chiaroscuro. My initial tag line was: Exploring the darkness, bringing the monsters of death and abuse into the light.
That first time, I printed off all the poems that matched that theme. I sat on the floor and shifted poems around until it felt right. Wasn't much reasoning for any of it other than gut.
The process became much easier once I got Scrivener. In that program, you can drag individual items in the sidebar to reorder them, and view them as individual items or as the whole collection. I also tagged everything with more specific themes – fantasy, war, relationships, doubt, death. With that visual I was able to first group by theme, then shift them around to best tell a story.
The collection starts out darker, with a world falling apart. Then slowly becomes more focused – nature, people, self. As we approach the end, it shifts more into the light. One poem that never changed location in all my revisions was the end poem: "Ash and Water." That last line, "And I turn from death to embrace life" really summarizes the entire book.
Are any of the poems written specifically for the book?
What was initially planned as a 25 poem chapbook, later expanded to a book length collection to enter into a local writing competition. Most of the additional poems were older ones which I revisited and revised, but I did write new ones with the theme in mind. Most notably: "Dark Days," "Danse Macabre," and "Ghost of Childhood".
How did you decide which poems to include and which ones to leave out?
These are themes I find myself revisiting often in my poetry, so I didn't have to search hard to find enough to fill a book. There were a few poems that I wrote later and added to fill it out more.
I chose most of my poems for their ability to tell a story. Those felt like they had more impact than ones that simply asked questions or explored a topic.
Another big help was my poetry group, The Poetic Muselings. They helped me identify my stronger poems.
What's your favorite poem from the book? Would you mind sharing it with us?
Ooh, this is a tough question. Three really come to mind for different reasons.
"The Sun Sets" is really the center of the collection. It's one I wrote back in high school, the oldest of my poems to make it in the book.
"Concrete Forest" is more a mixture of the dark theme and the other topic I write a lot about: fantasy. It's about a fairy in today's modern world.
The third poem is much shorter than both of those, and is the one I will share with you. I love the sound of this one, and never tire of reading it aloud.
You did a lot of research before you decided where to submit your collection. Can you tell us a bit about that?
I did searches on Duotrope and Writers Digest, making a list of all the poetry book publishers I could find. I made a chart in Excel and went through each website to get stats on book length, theme preferences, payment, format. I made a list of what I most wanted in a publisher:
SynergEbooks was one of my top choices, but their submissions were closed when I began submitting. When their submission window opened again, I still hadn't gotten a publisher so I sent them my query and sample poems, and they loved it. Lesson learned: don't be afraid to aim for your top picks. You can't hit a target you don't shoot for.
You write fantasy as well as poetry. Do you have a preference?
They satisfy me in different ways. A great thing about poetry is that I can write one in a single day. The feeling of finishing a project is very gratifying. Poetry also focuses more on the moment, and allows me to play with language. Fantasy delights me in other ways: I can create new worlds, explore magic systems, and really delve into a story in a way that poetry cannot.
How do you balance your writing time between fiction and poetry?
Sometimes I try to keep them in two separate boxes, a poet in one moment and a fiction writer in another. But they are both a part of me, and they definitely bleed into each other. I've written poems and songs for my novels, and I tell a lot of stories with my poetry.
That being said, most of the year I'm more a fiction writer than a poet. Poetry tends to come in waves. I can go a year without writing a poem, and then write forty in one month. It's much more reliant on inspiration than my fiction.
You have a young son. How do you find the time to write?
Since I don't have a day job, I try to get my writing done while my son is in school. Summer has always been a challenge. This year, I've scheduled an hour every day that is "alone time". He also earns two hours of solo video game time each day. That gives me three hours that I can use for myself – either recharging or writing.
What are you working on now?
I have a hard time focusing on just one project. I actually have five novels in progress. The two I'm (mostly) focusing on are:
The Minotaur Staff: A (mostly) modern supernatural adventure, with time travel. A treasure hunter finds an artifact that summons a gladiator from ancient Atlantis.
Race to 100 Deaths: Traditional fantasy. Three elven diplomats are captured by a human baron that wants war. He forces them into a contest - a race to 100 deaths.
Where can readers find your book?
Chiaroscuro is available on Kindle, for purchase or to borrow for free through Kindle Unlimited.
Where can readers find you on the web?
Blog: http://marywjensen.blogspot.com (old blog)
Group blog: http://poetic-muselings.net
Any last words?
We are all unique. We each have a story to tell: through our blogs, poetry, fiction, film, art, or other mediums. We can all contribute to the world. When we stop contributing, we do the world a disservice.
Mirror, Mirror was an interesting take on Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Gregory Maguire placed the story in a historical setting, Montefiore (in Tuscany, Italy) in the 16th century. It's historical fiction with a dash of magic. Elizabeth will be delving deeper into that historical foundation on our Enchanted Garden blog.
Like the original tale, we still have the elements of a step-mother type figure, a mirror, dwarves, and the attacks of hunter, comb, corset, and apple, and ending with a glass coffin and a kiss. This is definitely a Snow White tale. Where it differs is how it portrays those different elements.
There are a lot of politics in the early part of the book. The step-mother figure is Lucrezia Borgia, a historical figure known for her beauty and vengeance. She and her brother are responsible for sending off Bianca's (Snow White) father on a quest to find a rumored branch of the Tree of Knowledge with its three remaining fruits.
I felt the main themes were innocence versus sin. Even the magic had a religious undertone. You have the innocent Bianca, who goes away just as she is approaching maturity, retaining her innocence, and then sleeping through many of her years of change. She is away from the world and the carnal influences of the Borgias and the commoners of the village. Whereas Lucrezia is enjoying her time lording over the villa while the master is away. She does what she wants, and banishes or punishes anyone who gets in her way.
I had a hard time getting into the book with all the politics and the uncomfortable vulgar talk (and actions) of the commoners and Borgias. I thought the second half was better, once Bianca was with the dwarves, and I could see how other Snow White story elements came into play. But even then, I was analyzing it as the fairy tale, and not able to escape into the story and enjoy it on its own merit.
This was my first introduction to his work. He definitely has a way with description, as I have never seen the same metaphors or similes used. Here is one passage that stuck with me:
"One day the moon had swaggered up to the sun and punched it in the eye, and the world had gone midnight at midday. Birds had lost their bearing and smashed against the walls of the kitchen garden, and Primavera had made a stew of them."
You would probably enjoy this book if you are already a fan of Gregory Maguire's writing. Or if you enjoy books rich with history and politics. It did bring the tale more into this world.
Come back later this week, and join us at the Enchanted Garden to follow our discussion of Mirror, Mirror.
I discovered the Unicorn and Yeti books while shelving at my library. The cute art and fun title immediately caught my eye. I love the unique friendship of a unicorn and a yeti. The first book, Sparkly New Friends, goes over how they meet and how, despite their differences, they can be great friends.
The text is perfect for the advertised reading level. Each book is broken down into three chapters, or mini stories, for easier absorption. Unicorn and Yeti are adorable friends, and I enjoy reading about how they overcome their differences and frustrations, learning to compromise and make their unique friendship work. Even though I don't currently have an early reader in my house, I can say these are enjoyable for all age levels. Both my husband and my 16-year-old son read each book as I bring them home.
These books are part of Scholastics new Acorn line, aimed at readers ages 4-7. There are three books in the series out so far, and two more with publication dates.
Book 1: Sparkly New Friends
Book 2: A Good Team
Book 3: Friends Rock
Book 4: Cheer Up (October 6, 2020)
Book 5: Fair and Square (March 2, 2021)
I first learned about a bliss book from Sylvia van Bruggen during a workshop at the Muse Online Writers Conference. (Follow her now on Leap to Joy.)
What is bliss? Complete happiness, undisturbed by gain or loss.
What is a Bliss Book? In simplicity: a book that makes you happy.
Whenever I feel my writing sucks, or am generally depressed, I can open my bliss book and bring on a smile. I have words of encouragement about my writing, quotes, lists of favorite things, and I’m always on the lookout for pictures to clip from magazines.
The most important rule is no negativity allowed.
CREATING YOUR OWN BLISS BOOK
Make or buy a pretty journal or notebook. I use a lovely illustrated fairy journal.
Write up a purpose page. What do you want from this book? Here’s what I wrote in mine: Fears have no power here. My bliss book is my quiet place. A way to center myself and find my muse. Smile. Play. Be Free. Free my muse; free my writing; free me from doubt and fear; free me from burdens that I may fly.
Add something regularly. Anything that makes you happy. Ideas: lists, pictures, doodles, quotes, stickers, poems, mantras
I also have a gratitude page (well, multiple sections at this point). Anytime I lose sight of the good things in life, sucked down in negativity, I can search for something to add to this page. There is ALWAYS something to be grateful for, even in our darkest hours.
Open your book! When you’re in a slump, or forget your motivations for doing what you love (whether that be writing, or parenting, or running). Read it front to back, or open to a random page. Let it inspire you once more.
You can expand this idea of bliss into other forms. A bliss box, a bliss room. Anything or anywhere filled with things that inspire and lift you up.
Heaven's Vault is an amazing video game (Available on Switch, PS4, and Steam). It's an "archaeological science fiction adventure game". You play as an archaeologist in a Nebula system, exploring, finding artifacts, learning about the history and ancient language.
They had a demo weekend on Steam a few weeks back. I tried the demo and didn't want it to end! I bought the full game same day. I love the unique puzzle aspect of the language deciphering. It is so satisfying when you can start matching up the different words. As you go along, you get more complex words and phrases. But they make sense based off previous similar words you discover.
Artifacts aren't just for reading inscriptions to learn the language and history, they are also used for bartering, or given to the scholars perhaps in exchange for similar items they have. Finding multiple items from a similar region will narrow down a search area on your map for discovering a new site.
Space travel is also unique. Traveling between the moons of the Nebula, you sail your ship on the rivers connecting them. It is very soothing, and the views are gorgeous. Once you have been to a location you can fast travel by having your robot companion take the wheel, but often those travel times have dialogue where you can delve deeper into the lore, talking about recent finds and revelations.
This is an open world game. You are given a main task, but how you go about solving it is up to you. There are multiple paths to the end game. My first play through took me 15 hours. I then started up a new game plus, which the developers consider to be the true game. As you start with some existing knowledge of the language (saving what you've learned your first game), the inscriptions generated tend to be even more complex. I am still discovering words and phrases I can't even begin to translate. And that excites me. And I've already found things (both artifacts and lore) that I missed the first time.
I highly recommend this game for its depth in history, language, translation. If the demo becomes available again, give it a try. I hope you love it as much as I do.
For this first Writing Life post, I thought it might be nice to talk about my projects. With the whole pandemic thing going on I haven't been writing much. It's hard to focus on creative creation. The projects below are all in various stages of completion. Some just need to find a home. Most I still need to finish.
The Minotaur Staff A (mostly) modern supernatural adventure, with time travel. A treasure hunter finds an artifact that summons a gladiator from ancient Atlantis. This is currently my main Work in Progress (WIP).
Fly With Me (contemporary fantasy) - mostly still in planning stages. some scenes written.
Trinity Coven (paranormal romance) - good chunk written. on back burner.
Warden of Worlds (portal fantasy) - mostly planning stages.
Race to 100 Deaths (fantasy) - good chunk written.
Untitled paranormal romance - early planning.
Fey Moon (fantasy) - many drafts written. has made submission rounds. currently set aside while I decide if I want to revise more.
Name Thy Price - twist on Rumpelstiltskin. finished. unpublished.
The Blazing Princess - twist on Sleeping Beauty. finished. unpublished.
Mirror - twist on Snow White. finished. unpublished.
Wolf-Dragon - picture book. finished. on submission.
Refractions - Collection of poems about color. Will be paired with photography by my brother-in-law James Schwarz. Will be self-published.
Break Free From Stillness - Finished collection of poetry about movement and dance. Unpublished. Quarter-finalist for the 2016 Mary Ballard Poetry Chapbook Prize.
I'm not going to list all of my individually published poems here, but these are the bigger projects I was a part of.
Chiaroscuro - My debut poetry book about the contrast and balance between light and dark. It’s a journey through a crumbling world that leaves a gritty taste. It shines light on the edge of awareness where dark magic wars with childish innocence.
Free on Kindle Unlimited. May be self-publishing a print version in the future.
Lifelines - A collection of poetry by my poetry group, The Poetic Muselings. Available in both print and ebook form on Amazon.
I've come up with a schedule for my posts. There may be weeks I mix it up if there is a holiday or something else to share, or a collaborative theme with Liz like we did with the poetry month posts, but this is what you can generally expect.
And I have a blank template you can copy and fill out yourself! Feel free to add or remove categories. I'm sure most of you wouldn't have so many gaming categories, but you might have a sports category or something else instead. I'd love to see your answers.
These are my five favorite things for each category, not ranked in a specific order.
TV shows (ended), TV shows (current), Animated/Anime, and Reality Shows
Book Series, Authors, Graphic Novels/Manga, and Picture Books
Video game franchise, tablet/mobile games, MMOs, Board games (quick)
Drinks, Meals (at home), Eat Out
Uprooted had me hooked from the first page. I loved the voice, all the characters and the plot. The story has fairy tale influences, but is not a retelling. The main character is stuck in a tower like Rapunzel, there is a definite Beauty and the Beast vibe, and I loved the twist on the virgin sacrifice to a dragon. There is even reference to Baba Yaga.
Every ten years, a teenage girl from the village is chosen as tribute to serve the wizard (known as The Dragon) to help protect them from the corrupted woods. Agnieszka, clumsy and unable to keep her clothes clean, is not the expected choice. Usually girls are just servants, doing domestic chores around the tower. But Agnieszka is special, she has a spark of magic, and The Dragon is determined to teach her how to use it.
The two approach use of magic differently. I love how Naomi describes the different types of magic, and how they eventually come together. The Dragon uses very rigid spells, whereas Agnieszka is more nature based and going by instinct.
As much as I loved this novel, it is not for everyone. It has a complex magic system, and there is darkness in the corruption. We read this as my book club pick, and most of the other members don't typically read fantasy. There were times they were confused and I had to explain elements to them. As a regular fantasy reader, however, this immediately went to my favorites list. Though Goodreads reviews seem to be love it or hate it.
This is a must read if you enjoy intricate world-building and magic systems. Recommended if you enjoyed The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert or anything by Juliet Marillier. It was a very enchanting book that captivated me right to the end.
Ten Books to read if you liked Uprooted
Coloring as Therapy
I first got into coloring as an adult about five years ago, when I was working at CaptionCall. The job consisted of transcribing live phone calls, using a voice recognition service. So I would hear one side of a conversation, echoing it back in a monotone voice so the software could show it back to the hard of hearing person on the other side of the line. As far as phone jobs go, it was a good one - I didn't talk directly to people, didn't have to answer questions, and felt good about the service helping those in need. But it really wasn't a job I enjoyed. It was stressful trying to keep up with the conversation, could get very mindless, and I wasn't used to talking so much.
What got me through my shift ended up being coloring. Sometimes reading between calls was hard because you didn't have enough time to get into a book, but I could easily grab a pencil and fill in a section. I found it helped me with the stress, and helped the day go faster. And I really enjoyed my new hobby. I even bought a new bag for work that had room for a colored pencil organizer.
When I got my job at a library, my coloring did slow down. But my passion didn't. I still collect books from my favorite artists. And situations like these are great reminders to step back and find time for myself. I even pulled out my new clipfolio and colored during a webinar video I watched for work.
When to Color
I like to multitask while I color. Listen to an audio book or podcast, watch tv, or even during work when appropriate (webinars, conference calls). It's not using the language part of your brain so you can be creative and still pay attention to something else.
Here are links to my favorite artists. They all have sample pages you can print out for free. You can see some of my own completed pages of theirs below. Many coloring book artists also have groups on Facebook where you can share your finished work and connect to other coloring peeps. One place I don't recommend finding coloring pages is Pinterest. Often, those are not authorized freebies. Support the artists!
Selina Fenech - link to free sampler
Johanna Basford - link to free pages
Hannah Lynn - link to sample book
Some of my Finished Pages
Below: First three are from ColorIt. Second group is Hannah Lynn. Third group is Johanna Basford. Final group is Selina Fenech.