Sunday, October 30, 2011

Halloween Special

A hearty Book Blather welcome to Tiffany Pitra who works for Inklings Bookshop. She holds an English literature degree from the University of Northern Iowa. Here's her review of  a new spooky read, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson. Welcome, Tiffany.

'Tis the season for spooks and gore, blood and suspense -- oh, and did I mention Jack the Ripper and ghosts?
If there are any young adults looking for a good scare, I recommend picking up a copy of Maureen Johnson's new novel, "The Name of the Star." It's book one of a brand new trilogy, "Shades of London," and it's got all the necessary ingredients for a perfect Halloween treat.
Rory is from a small town in Louisiana and decides to spend a year of high school at Wexford in London. But her timing couldn't be worse. Upon her arrival, there's news of a horrendous murder, and all signs point to a Jack the Ripper copycat. As Rory tries to adjust to British life, the streets of London are filled with "Rippermania." And while there are boys and grades and the "perfects" to worry about, she's got an even bigger problem: Rory saw something that nobody else did. On the night of one of the murders, she saw the killer.
Now Rory must decide what to do with the image of his sinister face, before more innocent lives are taken, and she must decide who she can trust: her new boyfriend who seems obsessed with all things Ripper, her suspicious roommate who knows more than she's letting on, or the odd policeman who cornered her after the incident and yet doesn't quite fit the role of a cop? All the while she wonders how none of the cameras at the crime scenes captured his face, and how there are no other eyewitnesses. Rory is on the hunt now, searching for a serial killer -- a copycat, chasing after someone she's not even sure exists.
If you're looking for a holiday thrill, walk the streets of Whitechapel with Rory. I dare you to try and turn the pages fast enough.
* "The Name of the Star" by Maureen Johnson was published Sept. 29 by Putnam Juvenile. It retails for $16.99.

Monday, October 24, 2011

My Schizoid Life

My schizoid life as a writer in more than one genre would likely make a normal person crazy. Sixteen-year-old Allie Emerson is the main character in the young adult series (Moonstone, Moon Rise, Moon Spun, Shadow Moon) I write for Bell Bridge Books. Allegra Thome is the teacher protagonist in The Rock and Roll Queen of Bedlam, an adult mystery.

 True, I’ve been on both sides of the desk, most recently as a teacher. But, it seems like only yesterday I was on the other side, gazing at the teacher with what I hoped was a look of rapt attention, while busily checking out the cute guy two rows over. Consequently, I find it easy, even beneficial, to head hop back and forth between the two.

To further complicate matters, you may have noticed both my ladies have names that start with “A.” What was I thinking? Is my brain not already suffering from information overload, not to mention swirling madly with half-baked ideas for new books and plot twists yet to be written? Did I set out to complicate my life even more? Um, no. Apparently I just love the letter “A” because it was completely unplanned, like many things in my life including three sons. Yikes, that sounded bad. Rest assured, I’m not sorry I had them! My theory, though slightly flawed, was - if you wait until the right time to have babies, you never will.

Oh yes, there's a third leg on my stool. I started out as a writer of medieval romance. You gotta love hunky guys with big swords, castles, knights and feisty maidens with magic crystals. However, there is a limit as to how much my brain can handle. And, no, my heroine's name did not start with an "A."
    I have developed a method that makes writing two different genres a tad simpler. Both Allie and Allegra live in the same imaginary region of Central Washington State which happens to be my stompin' grounds. Yakima Valley became Vista Valley. Parker and Parker Heights became Peacock Flats and Peacock Flats, an area I drove by each day when I commuted to my job as a counselor for behavior disordered teens. Therefore, I'm able to use the same fake names in both books along with some real ones like: Cascade Mountains, Columbia River, Space Needle, Snoqualmie Pass and Lake Keechelus. Will Allie ever meet Allegra? Who knows, it could happen.

What about you? Have you figured out ways to deal with the complexities in your life? Does it involve a bottle of wine? A chick flick? A long soak in the tub? If you care to comment, there could be a book in your future, one starring a hunky knight with a big sword and a feisty maiden with a magic crystal whose name does not start with “A.”

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Dystopian . . . say what?

From time to time, Book Blather will feature reviews from the staff of Inklings Bookshop, a fabulous independent bookstore in Yakima, Washington. No matter where I go in the Pacific Northwest, when I mention Inklings, the response is always, the same. "Oh, I love that store!" So, if you're ever in the vicinity, drop by and say hello to owner, Susan Richmond, and her knowledgable staff of book sellers. 
Here are Susan's thoughts on dystopian fiction as well as a review of When She Woke by Hillary Jordan. Welcome to Book Blather, Susan.
Dystopian novels are everywhere. They aren't new. Most of us were required to read at least one in high school, but we probably didn't hear the word "dystopian." Webster defines dystopian as "having to do with an imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives."
Ah, yes, now some of those English class novels come to mind, right? Titles such as "Lord of the Flies" by William Golding, "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley, "1984" by George Orwell and "Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury all used fiction to tell the tale of another world and had the common theme of being somewhat disturbing.
In the past few years, there has been a significant rise in the number of new dystopian novels, especially in young-adult fiction. These books, such as "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins, "Across the Universe" by Beth Revis and "Divergent" by Veronica Roth, have certainly struck a chord with teens. They are devouring these books that tell of another world -- one of hardship, but one that also calls for strength of character, quick wits and teamwork. Books like these are crossing over into adult interest and many parents are waiting anxiously for their teen to finish and pass the book along to them.
Now there is a new dystopian novel for adults. "When She Woke" by Hillary Jordan caught my eye because I loved her first book, "Mudbound." That book was decidedly not dystopian and it won the Bellwether Prize for Fiction.
"When She Woke" is a futuristic "Scarlet Letter" with numerous parallels to Nathaniel Hawthorne's book. The world that Hannah Payne, the protagonist, inhabits is one in which people are "chromed" in a specific color that depicts their crime or sin. Hannah has been chromed red: "When she woke, she was red. Not flushed, not sunburned, but the solid, declarative red of a stop sign."
How Hannah becomes a "chrome" is, of course, the story I don't want to spoil for you. What I will say, however, is that this book will provide interesting discussions for book groups. Though it is set in a strange future, the topics covered include very current issues such as abortion, women's rights, religion, politics and cruel and unusual punishment.
* "When She Woke" by Hillary Jordan is from Algonquin Books. It retails for $24.95.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Magnetic personality: Kathy Carmichael!

I live in the upper left-hand corner of the U.S. in Washington State. My cyber friend, award-winning author, Kathy Carmichael, could hardly be further from me, geography-wise. She resides in the lower right-hand corner of the U. S., namely the west coast of Florida along with her Scottish husband, two not-so-wee sons, two cats and, in her words, a huge collection of dust bunnies. Somehow, though, I feel we are kindred souls. My watch sometimes stops for no apparent reason, so maybe we have that electromagnetic thing in common. Kathy writes mysteries, women's fiction and romance.

Her romantic comedy, Hot Flash, was named by Booklist as one of the Top 10 Romance Fiction titles for 2009. Kathy loves hearing from readers. Visit her website at Welcome to Book Blather, Kathy.
They say to write what you know, and so I created a character in my book, Stuck on You, who has the same syndrome I have. I'm electromagnetic as my grandmother was before me. There is a new term for this called Street Light Interference Disorder and people who suffer from it are called SLIders.

My family first recognized the problem when I was in grade school. I received a wristwatch for Christmas and it didn’t work properly. Sometimes it sped up, other times it slowed down, but it rarely displayed the correct time. My mom, knowing her mother had the same issue with timepieces, bought me another watch, this one a pendant to hang from my neck. It couldn’t keep time, either. To this day my friends tease me because they never know whether I’ll be early or late.

My overly-magnetic personality also shows up in other ways. Like when I'm highly creative. The clock on my computer goes nuts, the streetlight in front of my house shuts off, headlights of oncoming vehicles go out and even stadium lights go dark. Most especially, lights in my house burn out. My husband buys light bulbs by the case. 
Of course life for the characters we create can’t be too easy. I thought it would be fun to make my heroine’s disorder even worse than mine. Poor Diedra has a time of it in Stuck on You.

 I suspect that many creative people may also be SLIders.
You might be a SLIder if:

1) You’re always very early or very late for appointments because you can’t count on your watch or clocks keeping the correct time. For me, time is at best an estimate. If my friends want me to be on time, they have learned to give me a reminder call.
 2) Street Lights go out when you approach.
 One time I was in front of my house chatting with one of my neighbors. She mentioned she was mad at the city. She’d called them to look at the street light in front of our houses since it was always going out. They told her they’d changed the bulb but there was nothing wrong with it. I glanced behind me at my office window, then followed the direct line of sight to the street light. Needless to say, I didn’t tell her what was really going on.
  3) Oncoming car lights dim.
One night when I was in serious writing mode I had to run out to get dinner for my kids, who rode along with me. As we drove down the street, whenever an oncoming car got within twenty feet of my car, their left headlight, and only the left headlight, went out. My kids counted and it went on for over a dozen cars. Hopefully when the cars got away from whatever electromagnetic field I was emitting, their lights came back on. I hope.

4) Your car’s electrical system malfunctions.
Sometimes right in the middle of furiously writing, I’d have to quickly run an errand or pick up my kids. Too often, my car’s electrical system malfunctioned.  None of the interior and exterior lights, the radio and other electronics would work until my creative magnetic storm passed. I’d have to wait a little while and then try again. At first I thought the problem was with the car itself, but it happened with many different vehicles. I haven’t experienced this with my newest vehicle at all. I don’t know if it’s wired differently or electronics are now handled in a different way, but I’m really glad not to “go dark” anymore.

5) You sometimes set off burglar alarms.I used to frequent a nearby retail dress shop and each time I entered the store, their alarm sounded. At first the sales clerks were suspicious and would check my purse to make sure nothing in it set off the alarm, but later they got used to me and just waved me on, knowing I’d set the darn thing off again when I left.
6) Household appliances sometimes go crazy.
 My toaster seems to be especially sensitive to electromagnetic fields. Toast really can fly.
 If you discover you may be a SLIder, too, I do have a few tips. My cell phone’s clock has never been affected by my electromagnetic fields so you can use it when you want to know the real time. Your computer’s internal battery may not last, so it doesn’t hurt to order an extra one to have on hand. When my disorder gets really bad, I use my ionic hair blow drier to sort of even out the fields, and it does help calm things down. And, as I mentioned earlier, buying light bulbs by the case can save time and money.
Here’s a little about my book, Stuck on You: 
Talk about magnetic attraction!

 Accident prone is one thing. But electromagnetic impairment, too? Whenever Diedra Palmer's emotions run high, light bulbs burn out, watches stop and appliances go berserk. Between the accidents and the way everything around her breaks or goes wild, she's a total jinx.

Can two polar opposites...

Alec Sparks works hard to maintain control. After his parents' divorce, he took on the responsibility for his clingy mother. Now he's an attorney and looks after his clients just as thoroughly. No wonder he doesn't want even more responsibility--and that's what Diedra would be. She's an accident waiting to happen, a disaster in every sense of the word. But when Alec must join forces with Diedre to help a couple in trouble, the nearly combustible magnetic attraction sends their senses soaring. 

... ever become soul mates?

Diedre likes her men in neckties and starched collars, all the better for mussing. And Alec Sparks is the starchiest man she's ever met. Trouble is, he's made it clear she can't have him. While Alec and Diedra work together, can they fight the heated desire flaring between them?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

My longtime friend, Chef Jean Denham has a new book with the intriguing title, I Have Leftovers . . . What Do I Do Now? Chef Jean is a frequent contributor to this blog and I’m pleased to offer the following interview and one of her special recipes. Be sure to visit her website: Her other books are: Share a Recipe, a Chef’s Journey…Home, Pizza Pizza Pizza! and Black Beans and Corn.

So, Jean, this is cookbook #5. I know you came to your culinary career later in life, as I did with my fiction-writing career. Way back when, did you ever imagine you’d be the author of numerous cookbooks?

Never in a million years did I see myself writing cookbooks for the public. I have done several over the years for different age groups (youngsters just starting to cook, college age students, and a couple of cookbooks for newlyweds), but those were all gifts to family and friends. The only big dream for my life was to go to culinary school before I died. My bucket list still has some goodies in it, but I have accomplished my one huge dream.

2.    Your husband really hit the jackpot food-wise. He’s married to a woman who is not only a gourmet cook, but also writes books about the experience. I’m trying to imagine what your life is like when you’re testing recipes for a new book. Tell us about a typical day.

Imagine a zoo….that’s what it can become. I have a large island in my kitchen and our best recipe tastings are done gathered around this island which is covered in food. When I was working on the pizza book, we would sometimes have 6 or 8 testers and 6 to 8 different pizzas and/or crusts to test and rate.  I’m fortunate that most of my neighbors are foodies and love to come help us. When I’m not doing tastings in my kitchen, I will cook up 3 or 4 dishes and distribute around the neighborhood.  When we first moved here, I’m sure they all wondered about the crazy lady sending food to them every two or three days – but now, they love the food and they love to critique and they are all great at it.

In addition, I have the greatest support group online, we came together about 6 years ago on a cooking forum and we all bonded and they are the greatest help I could ask for. No matter what S.O.S. I send out, whether it’s a questions about what goes with ‘this’ or have you ever tried this method,  or where can I find something that my little town has never heard of – they are all right there ready with ideas, support and even sympathy when called for.

3.    The title of your new book is I Have Leftovers  . . . What Do I Do Now? How did the idea for this book come about?

We raised 4 children and in addition, my husband had 4 children from a previous marriage, so leftovers have been a large part of my life forever! In fact, I love to work with leftovers as much as starting from scratch.  For years I didn’t write the ideas down and I would have to tell the family, “Sorry, no way can I ever make this again”.  Then I got smart and started keeping notes and journals of ideas. Even now, though, without the exact same leftovers handy in the frig, a lot of the dishes can never be recreated exactly.

The above is how I feel about leftovers, but the reason for the book, is testing so  many recipes for previous books, I ended up with 2 freezers full of leftovers, and of course with the economy the way it is, my need to empty freezers and the country’s need to be thrifty came together in, I Have LEFTOVERS…What do I do Now?

4.    How do you promote your cookbooks?

We travel often in our trailer and my husband, Roy, is the ‘smoozer’  in the family. He loves to talk to strangers. We always have a supply of books with us when he stops at shops, farmers markets, any little store we run across that carry books. Very few have told him no and they were places that I just wouldn’t fit in, so we’ve been very lucky.  All the local bookstores in our hometown of Port Angeles and nearby Sequim carry my books.

As to promoting, I’m not real good at that side of the business, but I do religiously accept every friend request on Face book, hoping when I post my pictures and recipes, they will get wider exposure. We do also have a website, where the books can be purchased and may I add, Roy has joined me in selling boutique items on the site. He is a wonderful wood craftsman and is now selling a line of pepper grinders and salt mills that are just beautiful.  So, we’re covering all the bases – season food from my book with his pepper grinders and enjoy a dish while reading Marliee’s books.

5.    Would you please share a recipe from your new book with Book Blather readers?

I'd be glad to – this recipe is a wonderfully easy and fast soup to make on a busy week night.

Tomato Soup with Meatballs

Making use of leftover meatballs.

For a quick dinner, you can use commercial soup such as Campbell’s Cream of Tomato or Pacific Natural Foods Creamy Tomato, both are tasty alternatives. But, making this soup from scratch is so easy and fast that you might not mind spending the extra few minutes to have all the flavour offered in it. Combining the dry milk with 2% milk gives you a creamy texture without the fat of a heavy cream, plus it ups the calcium.

28 oz. diced tomatoes or 3 cups fresh          
1 cup chicken broth                                            
2 Tablespoons butter                                             
3 Tablespoons chopped onion            
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups 2% milk mixed with 1/2 cup dry milk powder, heated
20 leftover meatballs.
In a soup pot, combine the tomatoes, broth, butter, onion and baking soda; simmer 30 minutes. If you want a smoother soup, remove from heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes then pour into a food processor, blender or use an immersion blender, and process until it is the smoothness you prefer. Return to the soup pot and add the milk mixture along with the meatballs; simmer just until hot, don’t allow to boil. Makes 5 servings

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Sailing to the Far Horizons

I'm not exactly what you would call sea-worthy. While in Hawaii, I became seasick snorkeling in calm waters. Swings and merry-go-rounds . . . forget it! That's one of the reasons I find our next guest so interesting. Pam Bitterman was part owner and crew member of the sailing ship, Sophia, and spent several years circumnavigating the globe until disaster struck. Her book, Sailing to the Far Horizon, chronicles her life aboard the Sophia. Welcome to Book Blather, Pam.

You waited thirty years to write Sailing to the Far Horizon. Why so long?
 When we were sailing our proud old tall ship, we considered that we were simply living our life, such as it was. There were those of us long-termers on board who were fond of saying we’d be the first to sail around the world, and NOT write a book about it. When I finally decided to write the book, I was going through an emotionally difficult time in my life. After 25 years, no one had yet told her story, and I feared no one else ever would. Sophia was known and loved by thousands across the globe. I could not bear to think her legacy might be forgotten. The writing became cathartic. While revisiting the adventure and remembering the brave gal I’d been at the time, it became transformational. The fact that the story could be told in such vivid detail after so many years was due entirely to the fact that my parents kept every soggy letter, worn journal entry, faded photograph, ancient trade good and artifact, newspaper and magazine article, and official Coast Guard document that I sent home from an endless succession of foreign ports all around the world. It is from these archives (and my husbands amazing memory of actual events!) that the story came to life.
 Tell us how you became part of the crew on the tall ship, Sophia?
 I learned about the existence of the Schooner Sofia while I was living in Mendocino, California, working as the Resident Naturalist for the Jug-Handle Farm, a 180-acre Nature and Wildlife Preserve. While there, I wrote a grant proposal for an Outdoor Education Program that would target the youths of the community who were struggling in a traditional academic setting. The funds were intended to help the Nature Preserve support itself. My grant was approved and the monies were to come from CETA [Comprehensive Employment and Training Act]. Then Ronald Reagan was elected president, and CETA, and  other government funded programs like it were quickly axed. Suddenly I had no grant, no funds, and would soon have no job and no place to live. While leafing lethargically through a publication called Co-Evolution Quarterly, I found, in a small blub on the back page, the advertisement for the 60 year old Co-Operatively owned and run 123 foot gaff-topsail Schooner Sofia, that was sailing into the east coast of the U.S. to participate in the bi-centennial tall ship parade in New York Harbor, and to enlist crew for her second circumnavigation. $2,800 would make me a full owner. “No experience necessary!” I gave away all my belongings, travelled cross-country, jumped aboard the ship at Lincoln Wharf in Boston’s Italian North End, and so began my sailing saga.
 How long was the journey to last?
There was no official time anyone’s passage was to last. Once I was an “owner” I could theoretically sail aboard the ship indefinitely (There were no passengers. We were all “working crew.”)  I could leave her, come back, and always be guaranteed free passage, a bunk, and three meals a day, wherever she happened to be, anywhere in the world. I was fortunate enough to feel an immediate kinship with the ship and the remarkable life that she would afford me, as long as I were willing and able to make that initial leap of faith. And as it turned out, in spite of the inherent hardships and dangers, I was probably one of those rare few who were born to it, and would have likely been involved in her life – and her in mine - in some manner, for many years to come. The ship had been sailing as a co-operative since the early 60’s. As long as there were a handful of dedicated sailors like myself aboard her at any given time, it was hoped that she would continue on as such indefinitely. Sadly, that was not to be her fate.
 Were you the only woman on board?
 No. Women were always in the minority, as the living and working conditions aboard the vessel were admittedly rough. But there was always a solid female complement to the crew; all brave, strong, capable multi-generational and multi-national women who were out there breaking convention, challenging stereotypes, testing themselves, having an adventure, and seeing the world. If you stayed long enough and you loved it fully enough, you invariably worked your way up the hazy hierarchy of our flexible chain of command. I was a grunt swabbie know-nothing when I boarded the vessel. Within a year I had become ship’s Boatswain, the crew member responsible for maintaining the traditional Marlinspike rigging – on our old girl; 16 sails, 5,000 square feet of canvas, 156 lines of running rigging, steel stays, wooden spars, block and tackle, shackles, splices, oakum, pine and coal tar. I learned to take the helm, navigate by the stars, run our ancient diesel engine, stand and record a watch at sea, and ultimately take responsibility for organizing and helping to command a crew. By the time of the final fateful passage, I was Acting First Mate, second in command. 
 When you signed on, the last thing you expected was a disaster at sea. What happened?
 Actually, I think I fully expected disasters. The nature of the adventure had that possibility written all over it. Maybe that was part of the draw. Going into the venture without that realization would have been na├»ve, and ultimately self-defeating. And so it was for many I witnessed in my term of residency that came and in due course turned tail and left. And in fact, my maiden voyage out of Boston en rout to the island of Martinique in the Caribbean, sailed us straight into what would develop into a horrendously violent, life-threatening storm – Hurricane Kendra.  We survived that, and eons more real and potential disasters during the nearly four years during which I sailed aboard her. The event that finally claimed her was a gale off the North Cape of New Zealand that was, under normal circumstances, not the worst weather she had sailed through and endured. However, there were other prevailing circumstances that marked that particular passage that were anything but normal.
 After the sinking of the Sophia, was it difficult to continue sailing?
 The sinking of the ship, the loss of a crewmember and the near-death life raft survival episode that heralded the potential loss of the rest of us, is still a hard memory to revisit. However, I don’t think I ever seriously entertained the idea that I would never again return to sailing. The sea had been my home, sailing my element, and both overwhelmingly had been exceptionally good to me. So much so that even the tragedy of her loss, the loss of life, and the near loss of my own life was not enough to dissuade me from chomping at the bit to charge back out there. Most of my fellow survivors continued to sail and many sail to this day. My closest fellow survivor, my husband and father of our miraculous children – the happy result of a poignant life raft marriage proposal when we were certain that we were going to die – and I together returned to America and in short order bought a small tall ship of our own. We lived aboard her for many years while raising our own kids, always with the intention that we would someday sail away to introduce them to the wondrous big world that we had been lucky enough to have already discovered.
 What is your current project?
 I am presently chin-deep in marketing my three published books (Not my favorite activity. A necessary evil, nonetheless…), while concurrently creating two new projects; a new children’s book about make-believe, and an adult fiction that is evolving into far less actual “fiction” than I’d initially intended. These are still “works in progress” - as am I. I recently travelled solo to work in Africa and wrote two books about that adventure: One, my nonfiction, MUZUNGU; A-frican Lost Soul’s Reality Check, and a children’s book; WHEN THIS IS OVER, I WILL GO TO SCHOOL, AND I WILL LEARN TO READ; A Story of Hope and Friendship for One Young Kenyan Orphan. MUZUNGU is the Swahili word for white folk. Literally translated it means “confused person wandering around.” Astute. Quite a revealing and shocking adventure story! Not what I expected to find over there. Not what anyone else will expect, either. The children’s book is also true; the protagonist is a real little boy who is the voice of all the Kenyan children. The village youngsters created the illustrations for the book. 100% of the proceeds from the sale of this book are promised back to them. They trusted me, and they wait. I have also had a homily, a sort of inspirational prayer, titled, CHILD, YOU ARE MIRACLE, published by World Vision.
 Please leave us with a snippet from Sailing to the Far Horizon.
 I boarded the tall ship in Boston on August 20, 1978. We left the harbor bound for the Caribbean in the early dawn of October 25, marking the beginning of my maiden voyage aboard the Sofia. Those introductory months in port had proved interesting if not illuminating, productive without the benefit of certainty. I was there, but I did not yet belong. Had I not spent so much of my early life marching chin high, shoulders squared through unfamiliar territory in which I felt no semblance of belonging, I might have bolted for somewhere safe and something accustomed. But as before, the magnetic attraction of the unknown ignited my resolve to face that interminable feeling of aloneness…
I keep reminding myself that I have seen the pictures, heard the stories, read countless books. There is an exotic world out there comprised of brilliant wonders and fascinating cultures, promising endless horizons and illuminating adventures, enducing me with wholly unique challenges, and daring me to accomplish awesome leaps of faith. The Sofia is my ticket.”

Please visit for links to very moving photos-to-music book trailers, story summaries, reviews, my bio, and the sites where the books can be purchased.