March 20, 2015

Book Review: New Yorked by Rob Hart

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I was a little girl, growing up in New Jersey, right across the river from Staten Island. If you went to the small, oily waterfront in my hometown, you could see it. It was right there.

Author Rob Hart grew up on that little (big) island, around the same time as me. The worlds of our youth were, therefore, quite similar. We share memories of New York City in its pre-Rudy Giuliani years, when subways were dark and graffitied. When used hypodermic needles made the Long Island beaches minefields of disease and depravity. When 42nd Street was a mess of hookers, drug dealers, and peep shows.

And you know what?

Rob Hart and I share the same nostalgia for those years.

Yes, yes, I know. New York City is arguably better now. It's safer. It's cleaner. It's a place people move TO, rather than a place they run FROM.

But still. Those years. Those dark, gritty, dirty, filthy, rotten years.

I miss them.

I do.

There was something special about the city back then. You could make it as an artist, living off a couple bucks a day, hunkering down in a shitty apartment, eating Ramen and drinking coffee. The city felt more alive then, at least in my memories. It felt like even the streets lived and breathed.

I mean, they certainly smelled, didn't they? 

Anyway, I digress. Because the thing is? It was fun (and even a little thrilling) to find this nostalgia for a lost city woven artfully through the pages of Hart's upcoming novel, New Yorked (out June 9, 2015). To find a book that accepts New York City's contemporary status as a haven for hipsters and Starbucks and chain stores, but which does so with righteous indignation.



For Hart's narrator, part-time PI Ash McKenna, inhabits this contemporary Manhattan, frequenting places like Alphabet City (off-limits to child-me, for its dangerous residents and pervasive drug use) and a bar called Apocalypse, while navigating a treacherous road of fedoras and skinny jeans. 

And McKenna hates it. He misses those darker, grittier days. He misses the same things I miss.

This was an incredible treat to find in a book. Hart gives my nostalgia words. Images. Sights and smells. 

He gives it clout. 

He also manages to be one of the few writers I've seen successfully talk about 9/11, about the loss and suffering surrounding that terrible day, without...well, without pissing me off. Because Hart was there, just like I was. He's able to talk about these things because he knows. Hart's experiences lend the entire book an authenticity that a non-native writer would struggle to achieve. Hart's narrator feels authentic because Hart is authentic.

And the New York of Hart's novel is alive. 

It breathes.

It smells. 

And that's what it's all about.

New Yorked is a great example of the noir writing. It's part murder-mystery, part scathing look into a community ravaged by addiction and desperation. When Ash McKenna is implicated in the murder of his wishful-thinking-girlfriend, Chell, it becomes his mission to clear his name...and to kill Chell's killer. 

Along the way, he runs with a crowd of the most colorful characters I've had the pleasure of reading. With names like Bombay and Tibo, Lunette and The Hipster King (yes, you're supposed to read that with more than a hint of irony), they're diverse in skin color, style, and yes, sexuality. Each character is as well fleshed out, with background and motives and opinions, as Ash McKenna himself. And I love Hart's bravery, taking all these awesomely wild people and mashing them together into one roller-coaster story. 

In this day and age in which we hear all about diversity in literature, Hart's not just preaching it: he's writing it.

And that's a hugely important distinction to make.

I loved this book. I read it in about three sittings, which is damn near miraculous for me. Hart's prose is tight and dark. His roads are long and winding. And the final destination keeps you guessing.

It's going to be a few months until Hart's book hits bookshelves everywhere (and I do mean everywhere...though is publisher, Polis Books, is considered a small press, they're doing a lot of things right, including getting their books into bookstores), but I want you to remember this: if you're looking for something exciting in scope, plot, and diversity, you need to read New Yorked by Rob Hart.

So go ahead!What are you waiting for? It's available for pre-order NOW!

March 13, 2015

My Visit to the John L. Dart Library

I did something cool last night, and it was all because a friend of mine was sick.

What a bummer, to have something so special come out of someone being sick.

But how cool, too, right? Silver linings abound everywhere, don't you think?

Here's the story. On Monday, my sweet friend S.K. Falls texted me. She was supposed to give a talk at the John L. Dart Library in downtown Charleston Thursday night as part of their Celebrating Her Stories series for Women's History Month. Unfortunately, S.K.'s house has been hit by several of the Elementary School Plagues currently making their rounds, and she and her family were down for the count.

Would it be possible for me to give a talk there instead? So as to not leave them hanging?

Well, I doubt I could ever say no to S.K. - EVER - as she really is the sweetest, so I went ahead and said yes.

When I learned the talk was to be 45 minutes, followed by a Q&A, I started to get worried.

When I spoke with the lovely Kim and Ty at the library, and they told me the next speaker in the series (the following week) was going to be a Civil Rights activist who helped integrate the Charleston County school system....well, then I panicked.

Because...compared to THAT, what could I possibly have to contribute??

But I was already committed, and what's more...I wanted to do it. I wanted to see if I could say something meaningful, something helpful, or even just something fun.

And I was committed.

And panicking.

Oh my God, there was so much panic.

I had to call my brother.

I'm so glad I did. He suggested I read in addition to talking (I'm a writer, after all), and he suggested I have some kind of visual aids. He gave me some timeline considerations, and many other helpful tips.

I made a plan. I was supposed to be talking to young adults and adults, so I thought about talking about some heady stuff. Heavy stuff. I planned around that, for the most part...

And then I arrived at the library last night, and all my plans pretty much went out the window.

But still. It all worked out in the end.

For as it turned out, it was more of a (very small, very intimate) audience of KIDS and a few young adults.

All that heady, deep stuff that I had planned for the second half of my talk? Gone. Because it was just too much for the little ones.

But that was FINE! Because I love kids! I love hanging out with them, hearing what they think, and for the most part they were an awesome audience.

So now let me add: the John L. Dart is in an almost exclusively black part of town. I was the only white girl in the room. I felt my difference as much as I'm sure the children often feel theirs.

And it was GOOD that I felt a little different. Too often I'm too complacent, too comfortable in my mostly-white world. It was nice to be the odd girl out. Because as much as I believe skin color doesn't matter, and everyone's the same, looking different, for once, was a good reminder that on some level...it still does matter. Because if we can't ACKNOWLEDGE our differences, how can we later CELEBRATE them? How can we say, yes, we're different, and that's okay. Everyone is beautiful in their own way. And yes, maybe there's a tiny barrier between us at first, based on our appearances, but yes, we need to SMASH that barrier down, every single time we feel it.

Me? I tried to make us all laugh, to get over any lingering nerves I felt. I opened with an embarrassing story about myself, and then I talked to them about my early influences. I told them about watching all the horror and sci-fi movies with my dad wen I was a kid. I told them about how, when I sat down to write a book on a dare, I couldn't write more than a few pages without...zombies.

I read to them from the opening pages of Zombie Days, Campfire Nights (editing out the curses and the actual sex-scene).

It was the first time I'd ever read ANY of my Undead America series to an audience, and I was pleasantly surprised. I actually LIKED my own words!

And so did they!

In fact, when I stopped, someone in the audience actually said, "That was so cool."

No, my friend. What YOU said was ACTUALLY so cool.

Anyway, then we headed into deeper stuff. I told them about being the only Jewish kid in my class growing up. I told them how I still hate Matzoh, after being the only one who had to eat it during Passover.

And I told them about the scariest day in my life, when our synagogue was smashed up and spray painted with Swastikas (one of the librarians was kind enough to pull out an encyclopedia to show them a picture of a Swastika when I failed MISERABLY at drawing one), and I was only ten years old and I thought the Holocaust was coming for me.

I think they got it.

And then? Then I ran out of time, because 45 minutes FLEW by, and I answered some questions, and was completely thrilled when some of the kids were EXCITED to receive copies of Zombie Days as door prizes, and they asked me to sign their copies...and then?

Then one of the kids, a ten-year-old boy who had begged to be allowed to stay for the program....then he gave me this:


Yep. It's fan art.

I'm so in love with this piece of paper I could scream.

It was an incredible night. I loved meeting the kids, I loved hearing a bit about their stories, their style, their inspirations. And I hope they enjoyed meeting me. 

And now I'm hoping to take Zoe back, next week. I think she'd love to hear from the Civil Rights activist. I know I would.

March 5, 2015

Cover Reveal: Age of Blood by Shauna Granger

Hey guys! 

I'm always happy to host my super-sweet, amazing friend Shauna Granger here on the blog. Today she's celebrating the cover reveal for Age of Blood, the third and final installment of her Ash and Ruin apocalyptic series. I've read all the books and I will say: they are SUPER exciting and will keep you on the edge of your seat/couch/bed, throughout the whole series!

SO without further ado, here's Shauna with her COVER REVEAL!!!!

****



Hope is a dangerous thing, but powerful. Hope keeps you going. Hope can keep you alive. But hope can shatter your world. Kat and Dylan have found a home, but the monsters are still out there. The pox and plague still ravage the world. They have hope of finding a vaccine, but their encampment isn't equipped to develop it. Dylan is still too weak from the pox to leave the encampment, so Kat must decide between staying by his side and protecting her last remaining family member as he leaves to find supplies. Separated for the first time since they came together, Kat and Dylan will have to fight their own battles to save what is left of their bloody world. Kat will have to hold on to hope that she has anything left to save and someone to come home to. If she can survive. 





Available 5/5/2015




About the series:



There are two inherent truths in the world: life as we know it is over, and monsters are real.

The Pestas came in the night, spreading their pox, a deadly plague that decimated the population. Kat, one of the unlucky few who survived, is determined to get to her last living relative and find shelter from the pox that continues to devastate the world. When it mutates and becomes airborne, Kat is desperate to avoid people because staying alone might be her only chance to stay alive. That is, until she meets Dylan. Dylan, with his easy smile and dark, curly hair, has nowhere to go and no one to live for. He convinces Kat there can be safety in numbers, that they can watch out for each other. So the unlikely couple set off together through the barren wasteland to find a new life – if they can survive the roaming Pestas, bands of wild, gun-toting children, and piles of burning, pox-ridden bodies. 




The world has ended, and hope is the most dangerous thing left.

Battered and bruised after barely escaping San Francisco with their lives, Kat, Dylan, and Blue press north – desperate to reach the possibility of a new home. But strange, monstrous ravens are tracking the remaining survivors, food is becoming scarce, gasoline is running short, and people are becoming suicidal, making survival almost impossible. And the Pestas are growing bolder. Somehow, their numbers are growing. The further north they go, the harder it becomes to ignore the signs that they’ve made a fatal mistake. Kat must face the impossible truth that there is no escape, there is no safe haven, and their worst nightmares don’t come close to their new reality.

Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Kobo | Smashwords

About the author:


Like so many other writers, Shauna grew up as an avid reader, but it was in high school that she realized she wanted to be a writer. She released the first installment of her Paranormal YA Series, The Elemental Series, Earth, on May 1, 2011 and has since released four sequels, with the series coming to an end with Spirit. In December of 2013 she released the first in her Paranormal Post-Apocalyptic trilogy (Ash And Ruin Trilogy), World of Ash. Be sure to also check out her newest series: The Matilda Kavanagh Novels about a spunky witch just trying to pay her rent in West Hollywood. Shauna is currently hard at work on one too many projects, trying to organize the many voices in her head. It's a writer thing.

Stalkables:

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads

About the Cover Artist Stephanie Mooney:



I am a 25-year-old graphic designer, artist, and aspiring author currently living in Cincinnati, Ohio. I’m a renaissance girl — a lover of all things creative and artistic. From the moment I learned to use my hands, I was writing stories about princesses and sketching ballerinas. I guess I never really stopped. Most of my training has been informal, and many of my skills are self taught. In 2006-07, I spent a year interning at a church in Louisiana where I worked in their art and design department. In July 2007, they hired me as one of their designers. I worked there for three years, gaining experience in graphic design, advertising, set building, event planning, and product design. From there, I began my career in freelance design. Many of my clients are indie authors looking for affordable cover designs. I love working with authors and getting excited about their stories with them. I’m still building my web portfolio, but I really enjoy designing and developing websites as well.

Stalkables:

Website | Flickr| Twitter | Instagram

February 23, 2015

Thoughts on finishing my seventh book, and the processes that helped me get there

I finished a book today.

It's still a little thrilling to say those words, be them out loud or typed (and sometimes I swear my voice is louder when it's typed anyway). 

So I'll say them again.


I finished a book today.


I found the end of my story, the end that's been hanging, tantalizingly out of reach, for the past week or so. I found it and I wrote it and at the end of something close to 6,000 words written today alone, I typed those beautiful, magical words: THE END.

(I typed them all in caps for emphasis. It gives them more weight, don't you think?)

This was the seventh book I've written. The seventh. Is it lucky number seven? I don't know yet. I do know it's so far from perfect that I'm dreading editing it, but that'll be a story for another day, far down the road from here. 

That it's the seventh feels significant, though, at least to me. I mean, seven books. Seven. That feels like a lot. I mean, lots of people write one book, and lots write two. 

But seven

I have to admit: when my friend Jen challenged me back in 2010 to write "a book," I never in my wildest dreams imagined that one day I'd wake up having written seven.

So that's kind of cool, at least to me.

This book was a significant departure from my past writing process, though, and it had some weird results. I promised another friend I'd tell you about them. He's curious about process, and actually, so am I. So here are some things I did differently for this book, and how I think they helped. I think they helped. I think they helped a lot, in fact. 

Read on if you're interested in process...if not, no worries, and I'm just glad you stopped by!

****

This time, I outlined. Or at least I tried to.

This book was weird. It came about one day when I was listening to someone giving a speech on television, and they mentioned "we all have a set number of days in our lives," and I thought, "Well, what if you know exactly how many you have, from the day you're born?"

Thus, a book was born.

Much of it appeared, fully formed in my mind, on that very first day. I didn't want to lose facts and plot points and characters, so at my first opportunity, I outlined.

I know, I know. I'm a pantser when I write...I usually have no idea what's going to happen, or to whom, or anything like that when I set out. So this was...weird.

I wrote my outline on a whole bunch of index cards, figuring that would make it easier to move things around or re-outline as needed. I had dozens of cards laid out on my floor one afternoon, arranging and rearranging, and then I picked them up in the order in which I'd write.

At first, it helped SO MUCH. Each card was a chapter. When I finished a chapter, I'd cross out the card, but keep it in the stack so I'd know what I'd done. It kept me on task and motivated (a list-maker in real life, I LOVE crossing things out!!), and for the first couple weeks, I kept to it.

And then one day I changed a plot point in my head, and I lost my cards, and I never again looked back from there.

So yeah. I suck at outlining, but I really think that my attempt at it made a huge difference in speed and quality of writing in those early chapters. Usually the beginning of a book plods along for me as I find my way, but this time? I reached 10,000 words in the first week, which was absolutely, 100% a new record for me.

Will I outline again? 

I don't know....maybe if another idea comes to me as fully formed. If not, though, I'll manage. I did enjoy the process, but I also enjoyed leaving those cards behind.

This time, I stopped freelancing.

A couple years ago, when I quit my full-time job to be a full-time writer, I...kind of freaked the hell out. Because the money! I had none! I was living fully on the basis of my husband's paycheck, and it was the first time since I was about twelve years old that I wasn't making my own income.

So I started picking up freelancing gigs. The City Paper. LitReactor. Other random magazines and publications.

And it was fun and I loved parts of it, but one day last year I realized: ALL I was doing was freelancing. I wasn't making progress on my books, and instead was meeting all these other deadlines.

This year I had a chat with my husband, and he gave me the greenlight to not worry about money, at least for a little while, and focus full-time on my books. So I took some time off from most of my freelancing gigs and...

Holy shit, I wrote a book in just under two months.

It's amazing what you can do when you're really focused. 

This time, I found a schedule that really worked for me.

Here's my schedule as it stands right now:

Monday - Friday, I take Zoe to school and am home by 8 a.m. I write from 8 until 10 or 10:30. That's a hard cutoff. I will not let my writing bleed into the rest of my day. That's my own rule and I try not to break it. That way, when I'm writing, I'm writing. I'm not getting up to start laundry or pick up stuff in the kitchen. I'm just writing.

After 10:30 I exercise (run or yoga or whatever random thing I do), and then I turn into a stay-at-home-mom. From around 11:30 till I go get Zoe at 2:45, I'm cleaning up or working on projects or running errands.

My days feel VERY full, every day, and I do take breaks and goof off and visit with my "office friends" on Twitter, but that is my schedule, and this time I made my writing time sacred, and it was amazing to see the pages pile up faster than they've ever piled up before.

This time, I used a particular playlist and borrowed Charles's headphones.


Dude. This one surprised me. 


I've heard other writers often talk about playlists and using music as a writing cue. I just never knew how effective it would be for me.

On a whim, I created a playlist the day I started writing this particular book. I chose songs I loved, songs that had good memories associated with them, and songs that I knew well enough that they could fade into the background while I listened. Van Morrison. Dire Straits. Simon and Garfunkel. These were the voices in my ears.

And it helped, a little. At least I was enjoying my soundtrack.

But then, a few days later, I borrowed Charles's headphones to tune out some background noise, everything...clicked.

From then on, when I sat down to write, I put on the headphones and turned on the playlist, and suddenly that was it. It was time to write. The very act of doing those things told me: get to work, you goofball, and quit pretending your email is so very important that you need to keep checking it.

I can't believe how much of a difference that little psychological game made. I watched my word count almost double, every day, once I started doing it.

So that was pretty cool.

****

In all, this book moved along quickly. Normally I struggle to reach 2,000 words each day. This time? Most days I wrote around 3,000 words, easily. It made those afternoon chores easier to bear. It made my chaotic weekends more fun. I didn't worry as much that I wasn't getting anything done, book-wise, on Saturdays and Sundays, because suddenly I knew I could get it all done during the week. I made my writing time sacred, and routine, and ohmigosh, it was tremendous.

Man. I should have written this post for LitReactor, shouldn't I? Maybe one day I'll try to cross-post it somewhere else. Because as a writer, I LOVE reading about what works for other writers. Your process may be quirky, but maybe I can steal something from it that makes my days that much better. 

I hope you can steal something from mine.

And no matter what...man. Seven books. I'm feeling pretty damn good tonight.

I hope you are, too!

February 19, 2015

That time when we saw Harry Connick, Jr., and it was AMAZING

Y'all.

You know me well enough by now (even when I don't blog for months at a time!) to know that my house is a musical one. And by that I mean: we LOVE music. Love it. We listen to it all the time. We've raised Zoe on the greats: there's Louis and Ella and Billie and Duke, but also the Beatles and Nirvana and Pearl Jam. There's almost always music playing in the background. When Charles is home, it leans more jazz or rock. When it's just Zoe and me, there's likely Mumford & Sons or Fun or 80s pop or even sometimes Taylor Swift (c'mon - you know you love "Shake it Off" just as much as Zoe and I do).

Though she's only six-and-a-half (that half being VERY important to her), she's already been to a handful of shows and concerts, and had some incredible experiences. Once Will Hogge sang her the ABCs when she was not-quite-two. She had to be carried out of an American Idol concert a couple years later because the lights and sounds were just too much. Later that year, she made it through most of a Lumineers show (she LOVES them still), until she fell asleep on the bleacher and I made us take her home, and then there was the time she and I got to meet Phil Phillips when he did a private acoustic show here in Charleston. Earlier this year it was James Taylor, the first time she ever lasted through to the end of a single concert.

So yeah. Music's been a big part of Zoe's life, and though none of the three of us have ANY obvious talent for actually PERFORMING any sort of music, we've shared a lot of memories already, and it's important to us to keep making more.

Which is why last night happens to be the most AMAZING NIGHT OF MUSIC EVER IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD.

Or at least in the history of the Rhynes.

So what happened, you might ask?

Well, it all started a few months ago when we found out Harry Connick, Jr., was coming to town. I've been a Harry fan ever since the first time I saw him croon "Danny Boy" in Memphis Belle, so I was dying to go. When I mentioned it to Zoe, she begged, "Me too? Please please please?"

(She's an American Idol fan. So'm I. We sometimes giggle and bicker over which judge is our favorite: Harry or Keith. I mean, Jen's fab and all, but man, those boys are cute!)

(Yes. I'm a terrible influence on my daughter. I like to giggle over cute boys with her. Get over it.)

When I asked Charles if we could go, he promised to get tickets. When the next day he told me he somehow managed to get FRONT-front row seats, I squealed like a little girl who's just been handed a puppy.

(When he told me the price a few days later, I almost passed out...but that's okay...as you'll see in the end...WORTH IT!)

We've been waiting for last night, Zoe and I, since that day. And the day came...and it delivered. Because, as it turns out, not only is Harry Connick, Jr., an awesome performer, backed by an incredibly talented jazz band...but he's also a sweetheart, with a soft spot for a pretty little girl in the front row.

So. Man. There we sat, in the FRONT-front row (you know, not the actual auditorium seats, but the front row of the chairs they put on the floor, right in front of the stage). The curtain came up, and Harry was there.

I squealed. Again. I'm SUCH a dork.

And within about a minute, before the first song was even complete, he'd eyed two kids in the very front row. There was a twelve-year-old boy a couple seats down from us, plus Zoe, and Harry grinned and waved at them both.

That...would have been enough. It made my day, and it made Zoe's as well.

But things continued to happen!

Like...Harry chats during his concerts, telling stories, making his audience laugh (because really, we were already eating out of the palm of his hand anyway...). He mentioned that there were two "youngsters" in the front row, saying it was unusual to see two little ones up so close. Then he turned to the boy. "How old are you?"

"Twelve," said the boy.

Harry turned to Zoe. "How about you? You're younger than that."

"I'm six-and-a-half," she said, and for the rest of the night, he referred multiple times to the "six-and-a-half year old" in the front row. He never called her six. He got how important the half was.

And...when his soooooooo-incredible-it-hurts trombonist, Lucien Barbarin, came out for an improvised solo, and he played an amazing little muted version of "Mary Had A Little Lamb" while smiling straight at Zoe.

Or...when Harry had a conversation with both kids about Minecraft and how watching his daughter take him on a tour through her world makes him sick. Both kids nodded, and Zoe looked over at me. I happen to do the same thing. "Eh, stop spinning, you're gonna make me hurl!"

And...when he later asked them both what kind of music they listened to. Zoe froze, and all I could come up with as a suggestion for her was Phil Philips, but man, his eyes lit up when he heard her say that name. "Phil Phillips? Really? You know, he's just the sweetest guy!" Trust us: we know!

And....when during his encore, Harry shot Zoe a look and said, "Man, I thought you'd be asleep by now," and then shook the hands of both the kids while he sang.

And....when, during the same encore, he threw out into the crowd two strings of Mardi Gras beads that had been given to him by an audience member....and tossed the third string - the golden string - very gently into Zoe's lap.

Listen. We were Harry Connick, Jr., fans already, long before last night ever happened. But believe me when I tell you that he made, in Zoe last night, a lifelong super-fan. She left the concert hall vibrating with excitement (and exhaustion). Her favorite moments were shaking Harry's hand, and when he threw her the beads.

I always hope performers know how much those little things they do can make a difference in a kid's life. Zoe's life has been musical so far, and we're working to make sure it stays that way. But with those few small actions on a very special night, Harry Connick, Jr., made more of an impact in two hours than any of us can possibly imagine. I love that he did all that. I love that Zoe got to have such a special night.

****

Look. Here's the thing. Pics or it didn't happen, right?

I'd love to fill this page with pics of Zoe and Harry, but the fact is the announcer asked, prior to the show, that the audience please refrain from taking any pictures or videos of any kind. Since I got super-pissy when the guy beside Charles was taking illicit videos during the performance, I figured I couldn't do anything but leave my phone in my pocket, where it belonged, no matter what happened.

But I promise you. This all happened.

And it was all kinds of amazing.

And the beads? Those golden Mardi Gras beads? I found them this morning, stuffed into Zoe's most treasured treasure box. They don't fit. I think I need to get her a bigger treasure box. Because really, there's so much to treasure in life. I want her to be able to fit it all in!

January 6, 2015

Book Review: Mort(e) by Robert Repino

Ever pick up a book, knowing even before you start that you're destined to love it?

Ever have it exceed even those lofty expectations?

Mort(e) was sent to me several (many) months back. I'd been chatting with a PR person at SoHo Press about a different book I'd reviewed, and she mentioned Mort(e). "It's about a war...with ants...and sentient house pets..."

Or something like that.

Of course I was all, "Yes! Yes please! Send it! Send it! Send it!"

Because ants? Waging war against humanity? I mean, Them is only my absolute FAVORITE of the 1950s atomic-fear sci-fi flicks. And that's about ants! Giant ants! Giant ants that take over the desert!

So yeah. You had me at ants, SoHo. You had me at ants.

Mort(e) by Robert Repino
SoHo Press
January, 2015
Here's a confession: I read Mort(e) six months ago. I enjoyed it thoroughly, but as it wasn't set to release until January of 2015, I figured: wait until then to write the review.

Writing the review while the material was still fresh in mind was the other, smarter option, but it wasn't the one I chose. Because I also wanted to see if the book would stick with me. If it could make me remember, to wonder, to think about it for months to come. Because that, to me, is the mark of a really good book - a book I'm destined to love and re-read again and again.

Mort(e)....did it. I loved it. And it stuck.

I honestly feel like I read Mort(e) last week. It's stayed very fresh in my mind, coloring the ways I think about animals. The ways I interact with animals. And, most importantly, the ways I behave with my very own dogs and cats.

Because in Mort(e), a giant, mutated, sentient queen ant has decided to wage war on humanity. There are all sorts of complicated reasons for why she does it, and you can learn more by reading the actual book. But the long and the short of it is: she wants revenge.

Somehow, in her all-knowing, all-seeing state, she manages to create a serum that gives self-awareness to animals. It makes them grow, morph, become human-like in all but their original furry faces.

And the animals are pissed off at people.

I mean, think about it. Think about how you really treat your pets. Example: I walk my dog several times a week. He's not so great at "heeling," so I often have to tug on his leash to keep him on track. This pulls on his neck, sometimes jerking him off-balance. All in the name of getting him to behave.

When I leave the house, I put him in a crate - a box - to keep him out of trouble. I control when and what he eats. When he goes outside. I control everything.

And I'm a nice dog owner! Those are things a nice dog owner does!

Imagine what the mean ones do!

So it makes perfect sense to me that the animals, once sentient, rise up against the humans, killing the literal hands that fed them.

At least until Mort(e) comes along.

Mort(e) is a cat. He had decent owners that never really did anything too terrible to him. He managed to not kill them in his initial state of heightened awareness...mainly because Mort(e) loves Sheba.

Sheba is a dog, a neighbor's dog, and she disappears almost as soon as Mort(e) becomes self-aware. His life becomes a mission to find her.

Along the way, he becomes a soldier, a killer, a rescuer, and he uncovers a plot....

Never mind. You don't want to know. You're going to want to find out for yourself.

Repino is a fun writer. His prose is tight and focused, and his humor is black as night. He makes an obese, undulating queen ant seem almost sympathetic, until you care what happens to her almost as much as you care about what happens to the cat who wants to save the world.

Two weeks ago, I was asked to submit my favorite books of 2014 to the LitReactor staff picks...I wanted to put Mort(e) on that list. I loved it that much. Too bad it wasn't actually released yet.

I think I need to re-read it in the new year, mainly so I can put it on my 2015 lists. Because this book is that fun. That entertaining. That much of a ride.

So you, you sci-fi fans, you animal-fans, you book fans - you should read it too!

December 29, 2014

2014: My Year in Review

I spent some time last month putting together a photo book for Zoe, compiling some of my favorite pictures from the past 12 months, writing "witty" captions, and sending it to a photo company for printing. When she opened it on Christmas morning, she was THRILLED! A whole book about HER? OHMIGOSH MUST READ! She sat there with it, with unopened presents still beneath the tree, for a loooooong time, loving the look back at her year.

So I thought: t'is the season for retrospectives, right? Out with the old, in with the new?

I guess we all like to think about ourselves and our recent past, and it's definitely nice to look at a year in its entirety and ask yourself: What did I DO?

The answer, for me in 2014, is (no matter how much I felt like I frittered away too much time): a LOT. And I'm actually sort of excited about it...and about 2015 and what's to come!

So here goes. 2014: My Year in Review.

January:

January was a rough month. Or at least, it started rough. We said goodbye to our Molly, a sweet, beautiful Dalmatian who'd been a part of Charles's life for far longer than me. She had cancer. It ate up her abdomen slowly at first, but then the end came far too quickly for any of us. We had her put to sleep on January 2, 2014, one of our hardest-ever days.



Later that month, in a quirky twist of fate, we welcomed little Bennett into the fold. He and our other dog, Quentin, had a rocky start, but by now they're buds.


I mention all this because it had a big effect on our lives. We lost a friend. We gained a puppy. Suddenly my quiet little days at home were turned upside down by this crazy little spaz named Bennett. He needed to be watched. Walked. Cuddled (a LOT). Trained (a little).

At the time, I thought: Well, there goes my writing career....

Or better: The dog ate my writing career....

And yet...

February: 

By February I was editing my first-ever, straight-up science fiction novel. These days I call it The Mothers of Taremu. It's set on another planet, far-far away, and it's by far my best work to date.  I hope one day you can read it.

March:

In late February/early March, I wrote Jenna's War, the final book in the Undead America series. It was incredibly hard to know this was the last time I'd see these characters...I hate saying good-bye. More on that later, though.

Also in March I went to my first-ever Con - the Captain's Comic Con here in Charleston. It was...amazing. I had copies of Zombie Days, Campfire Nights to sell, and it amazed me that people bought it! They bought all the copies I had! I sold out by 1:00 in the afternoon, which was not something I ever expected to say. It was AMAZING!

April:

In April I started editing Jenna's War, and....I hated the ending. Hated it. I've never hated my own writing more. I hit a wall and got really, REALLY burnt out.

Luckily, we had family vacation time in NYC to bail me out of trouble. I put the book away, focused on my family, and by the time we got home, I knew what I had to do.

In late April, I trashed the final third of the story and completely rewrote it. It was much more in-tune with what the characters would do and say and be, and I was MUCH happier with how it all turned out.

May:

May was all about Jenna's War, and getting it ready to send to my publisher. By late May, though, I stared work on a new book. Right now I call it The Death Words, and it's a Holocaust tale. More on that later....because suddenly school let out and life got truly crazy!

June:

June was cool. I made a decision to independently publish my book, Jo, so I got to work editing that. With Zoe home for the summer, though, work was slow and not steady. We went to the beach a lot, the pool a lot...we began a summer of fun!

June was also the month I went to Louisville, Kentucky, to do my first ever live reading at Books & Booze Louisville. It was...incredible! I made new friends, caught up with an old one, and survived reading a story OUT LOUD to STRANGERS! Phew. I want to do it again!


July:

July found me at the beach, going to a friend's wedding in NYC, and still editing Jo. I found an amazing cover artist who made me the most gorgeous cover I've ever seen. And Zoe and I? Man, we had a good time together.


August: 

As I began to wrap up editorial work on Jo, we dropped everything to go see my oldest brother get married in Mexico. Ooooooh, Mexico. It was SO pretty and SO good to spend so much time with my family

September:

Jo came out in September!!! I was so excited to share this story, and early reviews have been pretty darn positive. I'm proud of my little Frankenstein-girl, and hope that, if you read her tale, you stopped by Amazon to leave a review. I love reviews on Amazon!

Once Jo was out, I went back to work on The Death Words.  It's the hardest thing I've ever written. I spent many days bashing my head against a wall of frustration.

In September I also spent a LOT of time helping my parents out. They bought property in the country, and I helped them move. I helped them (along with my brother) clear off land. I helped them set up their new house. I spent a lot of time there, all so I could eventually look like this:


Yes. They have horses. Snuggly, sweet horses. *giggles*

October:

Wow. Two books in two months. October saw me frantically working to get Jenna's War ready for release. It came out on Halloween, and again, reviews have been great! I love releasing books. I love the stress, the anxiety, the excitement. I love it all.


November:

The first week of November found me hunched over my computer. I was close to the end of The Death Words. I could see the ending. I could feel it. I knew I could do it.

That first week of the month, I wrote something like 20,000 words over the course of five days. It was unreal. But I finished it. I finished a story of death and survival, of love and destruction. I drank a lot of champagne that night (thanks, Charles!). It's impossible to describe the relief I felt at finishing something that was consuming by brain for so long.

I've also been "shopping" The Mother's of Taremu around, and in the final months of the year I've had some nice little nibbles that I hope lead to something cool for it in 2015.

Of course, by late November, the holidays begin....which leads us to...

December:

Whew. The holidays are a whirlwind in our house. Hanukkah, Christmas, New Years, events at Zoe's school every other day. I need to remember: make no plans to ever do actual, real work in December.

****

Throughout the year I've also kept busy writing dozens of articles and columns and things, both for LitReactor and The Charleston City Paper. I got to do things like go to a trampoline park with Zoe (and write about it), or go visit some friends at their book binding studio (and write about it).

I also went to every school event. I volunteered in Zoe's class every week. I attended most of her soccer practices (twice a week, starting in the summer), and all of her games. It's felt so hectic at times. So ridiculously, insanely hectic.

But the year has been rather amazing. I released two books, wrote another, started another (more on that in 2015), and I did it all while staying home and being with my daughter, my husband, our beasts, and yeah....whew. When I write it all out like this...

I'm pretty proud of myself.

So tell me: what are you proud of? What cool things have you done this year? If you think about it, I bet your list is even longer than mine! :)