Wednesday, June 20, 2012

On My Writing Playlist: The Flys

Yet another one from the 90's on my playlist, "Got you where I want you" was a hit in 1998 from The Flys. I don't know any of their other songs but like a lot of music from my teen years this transports me back to high school and puts me in the proper mindset to write my young adult characters.

The lyrics are sweet but there is, in my opinion, something kind of creepy about his determination considering he doesn't even know her name.

Love at first sight is cute and romantic, but when it's one-sided it can come off like obsessive stalking. The lyrics are set to a slower, haunting rhythm which adds to the feeling that this is an unrequited crush. It leaves me questioning if the girl being admired even knows he exists.

Monday, June 18, 2012

To Query or Not to Query

Since my Beta Readers have (for the most part) read my story the feedback is slowly coming in on my most recent draft. Every time someone mentions reading or finishing or even enjoying my book, I get this queasy feeling and struggle to make eye contact. I keep wondering if it's possible to have an illustrious writing career where no one has to read your work. I wish I was joking. Still I'm easing up to the idea that folks are reading my book. And they claim to want more! They're so sweet. While they beg me for spoilers about a potential sequel, not all the questions are on the novel's content. One thing being asked, is if I will try to get it published. And that, as my writer friends know, is a loaded question.

And wrapped up in that one little voiced curiosity are many other questions:

Do I think it's good enough to be published?

Do I think I could find an agent? 

Is this a book I want to be known for?
If I edit it again, it might be. 

Will anyone want to read it?

Do I have the nerves of steel necessary to handle rejections and professional critiques from agents, editors and publishing houses?

Will I break down in Barnes & Noble because nobody is jumping to publish my book when I see the huge Fifty Shades of Grey display?

 Oh, and I'm terrified at the thought of contacting agents.

The thing is, while writing and editing it, I had confidence. I believed it was a story worth telling and I felt-if I got it right-it would be worthy of publication. I don't think I could have spent so long on it if I didn't.

Now I'm working on a new project and I feel more confident. This could be the one. But isn't that how I felt before? Maybe I'm growing as a writer and this is all normal, though the little doubtful voice in my head wonders if I'm like Charlie Brown and every time I convince myself this is it, I'm going to get it right and kick that ball, I'm wrong.


Only there is no one playing Lucy in my analogy. I'm my own Lucy. Someday when I do send out query letters, and submission to editors there will be many faces to Lucy. There will be a lot of disappointment and maybe it's fear of the inevitable rejections that's keeping me from answering with a definitive and hopeful, "Yes, I will try to publish."

Still, you don't want to query before your book and you are both ready. Hesitation isn't necessarily a bad thing but I wonder, am I being realistic or just lacking confidence? Maybe it's like falling in love, once you finally experience it, you have no doubts. The doubt is proof that it's not right.

It's tough. I've heard writers claim to never feel done, never feel completely confident in their work. It could always be better in their minds. Is that what I'm feeling? How do you know the difference anyway?

I see you shrugging.

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Literary Pilgrimage

Hey, where'd those mountains go?
The best day of my trip to Switzerland began with a grey dawn and a cool dampness in the thin mountain air. Unfettered, I dressed in layers and marched to the station. The only train that stops there is called the Mountain Train. I took it down the mountain to a larger station with more options, including service to Geneva.

The total journey took about 2 hours and for much of it, I had pretty views of the lake.

I spent the ride reading and thinking about Mary Shelley. Switzerland, and more precisely Lake Geneva, interested me ever since I first read Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus a decade ago. 

Going to the place where the book was written and where the title character, Victor Frankenstein, grew up just felt like something I should do. 

Jet d'eau

When I arrived I made my way down to the water to get my bearings. I'd looked at a map online (millions of times) beforehand, so I knew that the Jet d'eau (a giant spout of water in the corner of the lake) would have to be on my left while I walked about 40 minutes (thanks Google) around the lake to Cologny.

No sooner had I stepped onto the paved path that hugs the lake than the clouds dispersed. A bright yellow sun sparkled down. The steel colored lake turned to diamonds. 

Perfect weather for exploring Switzerland on foot. 

Joggers, walkers, and moms with strollers went by with many bonjours. I got to pet dogs.

In June of 1816 Mary Shelley and Percy Bysshe Shelley visited Lord Byron at Villa Belle Rive in Cologny, a suburb of Geneva. It's the Beverly Hills of Geneva, full of expensive mansions with tall privacy gates.

They make it so easy.

Making the pilgrimage was the main reason I went on this trip yet at no point was I concerned it would be a disappointment. The Serendipitous Swiss Vibes wouldn't allow for negativity. And you'll be pleased to know they didn't steer me wrong. Not once.

Plaque on the main house.

I simply followed the lake until I saw signs for Cologny. Then I climbed up steep hills until I reached the thoroughfare of Cologny. There I found the above map. It very clearly showed where I was and where Villa Diodati was. I noted the two turns I'd  need to make and continued on.

I walked the streets Mary Shelley walked, though they are much smoother and easier on the feet now. If you can ignore the security cameras and the water jet added to the lake in 1886, you can imagine what she saw. I cannot explain why I wanted to do that so badly, but I wasn't disappointed.

Front Entrance

Today, the house they occupied is called Villa Diodati and it's owned by a private resident who 
does not-at this time-allow visitors or tours of the home. Not even for very polite American writers traveling alone and who have a purely scholastic interest in seeing where one of her favorite written works was born.

Sign explaining the history of the house.

Though I couldn't get into the house itself, they have a large public park right next to the gated and tree surrounded estate. The park allowed the traveling American writer girl to mildly stalk the place where Frankenstein came to life. 

View of the Villa from my park bench.
It may be hard to believe a dark tale of horror, unchecked obsession and revenge was conceived there. Seriously, butterflies flitted around the flower bushes while a girl sat in her boyfriend's lap laughing on a bench not far from mine. 

But it was a dismal rainy period which plagued Mary Shelley and her companions. The bad weather forced them indoors and they decided to make up ghost stories to entertain each other.


View of Lake Geneva from the same bench.

Of course, I had my favorite copy of Frankenstein in my bag and I did read some of it but I spent most of my time writing. 

I wrote 1,500 words on that bench. It was only hunger and wanting to make the train leaving at seven which finally got me to stop.

Back entrance

I took a different route when I left, which was lucky. I found a great spot for not-so-obstructed pictures. 

View from the lake.

I still have my fingers crossed that someday the current owner of Villa Diodati will allow tours. Maybe for the 200 anniversary of the events of 1816 or of Frankenstein's publication in 1818. 

Until then I'll settle for this. 

The lake was beyond anything my camera in all of its purple glory could hope to capture. I took my time walking back. Stopped for a scoop of Swiss Ice Cream. And I felt I understood why Mary Shelley chose it as Victor Frankenstein's home. His was an ideal childhood. His parents were affectionate, happy and wealthy. He was so spoiled they even adopted a pretty blonde girl for him to marry.

As you can see from these pictures growing up in proximity to Lake Geneva was definitely a factor.

Lake Geneva

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Pictures From My Story (Somewhat Obligatory Post)

Switching up the Wednesday post this week. Rather than give you yet another song, I decided to find some pictures that represent parts of my story. Don't worry I haven't run out of songs. My writing playlist just keeps growing.

Pictures can be so very inspirational. I'd even go so far as to say that they are generally worth much more than a thousand words.

However, finding images for things already formed in my imagination took way longer than I thought it would and I am still not satisfied with most of them.

But this skylight situation is pretty close.

Hot chocolate can fuel writing

...and science.

Warning: Searching for clothes your characters wear will (most likely) send you into a shopping frenzy.

Can't you imagine the smell of this journal? Or is it just me?

Happy Wednesday!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Book Report Monday: The Enchantress of Florence

Title: The Enchantress of Florence

Author: Salman Rushdie

Genre: Literary Adult Fiction/Magical Realism

Synopsis: A tall, yellow-haired young European traveller calling himself 'Mogor dell'Amore', the Mughal of Love, arrives at the court of the real Grand Mughal, the Emperor Akbar, with a tale to tell that begins to obsess the whole imperial capital.

The stranger claims to be the child of a lost Mughal princess, the youngest sister of Akbar's grandfather Babar: Qara Koz, 'Lady Black Eyes', a great beauty believed to possess powers of enchantment and sorcery, who is taken captive first by an Uzbek warlord, then by the Shah of Persia, and finally becomes the lover of a certain Argalia, a Florentine soldier of fortune, commander of the armies of the Ottoman Sultan.

When Argalia returns home with his Mughal mistress the city is mesmerized by her presence, and much trouble ensues.

"The Enchantress of Florence" is the story of a woman attempting to command her own destiny in a man's world. It brings together two cities that barely know each other - the hedonistic Mughal capital, in which the brilliant emperor wrestles daily with questions of belief, desire and the treachery of sons, and the equally sensual Florentine world of powerful courtesans, humanist philosophy and inhuman torture, where Argalia's boyhood friend "il Machia" - Niccolo' Machiavelli - is learning, the hard way, about the true brutality of power.

These two worlds, so far apart, turn out to be uncannily alike, and the enchantments of women hold sway over them both. But is Mogor's story true? And if so, then what happened to the lost princess? And if he's a liar, must he die?

(from Goodreads)

Why did I pick it up?: A staff suggested read while I was at Tattered Cover, where I visited last June. And yes, sometimes I take a year to read a book on my shelves.

Favorite Line: "Seems that even the plague was no match for Mamma's sweet polenta."

My Review: It's difficult to write a non-spoiler filled review for this one. It's more than a story within a story. The Enchantress of Florence has stories within stories within stories being told to characters and the reader simultaneously. Rushdie keeps the pages turning by having unanswered questions in the present tale of the yellow-haired traveler who narrates the inner story to the Emperor of India. The past story of Qara Koz, the lost princess, and three childhood friends in Florence provides the meat of the middle of the book.

Vlad III

Of course, I loved the bits set in Italy the most but I also loved the historical figures mentioned. The Medici family, Vlad the Impaler also known as Dracula, and Ghengis Khan.

Historic fact blends with fantastical myth and a dash of magical realism to create a patchwork tale or rather a collection of tales. I think, if you know a little of Europe's history-particularly 15th century-you will be pulled in to the story easier than if you do not.

There's a lot of magic used, even if much of it is the sleight of hand variety. Some of it can be explained as skill and the right application of perfumes but other events cannot and that magical ambiguity pleased this fantasy-loving-writer-girl immensely.

In the beginning, I thought the yellow-haired visitor, Mogor, was a charlatan but it turns out there is some enchantment about him. Whether it is enough to save his life once his story is finished is the question that kept me reading.

Next Week: American Gods by Neil Gaiman. It's my first e-book from the library!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Switzerland is Amazing. Here's Proof.

At the end of April, I journeyed to Lake Geneva in Switzerland for a week of quiet travels, writing, reading, staring wistfully at mountain peaks and wine tasting.

Here are a few photo highlights.

My windows had stellar views of the Swiss Alps. Note the photo above which was taken from my balcony. My first morning there, I found myself leaning out the open window, laughing uncontrollably at the impossible majesty of it all. How could it be real? Was I really standing in my pajamas seeing this right now? I felt so much happiness. So much of the world's splendor was being shown to me. I was unworthy but grateful. I was at a loss for words and laughing in disbelief. Then I banged my head on the weird tilted window and went to find some breakfast.


The food was fabulous and healthy-much of it is organic-and I couldn't get enough. I didn't taste anything that wasn't delicious. Even though I was in the French speaking region, there were obvious German and Italian menu items available everywhere. 

My friend asked if I liked the wine or beer better, and I said I was most impressed with the milk. Though an admittedly silly response. It was kind of true. While I'd have to say the wine and beer were equally good. I hadn't thought about the milk and was therefore surprised by its yumminess.

Honestly the whole week there was like living on that line that divides reality and fiction.
It turns out that is a very serendipitous place. I never needed a map or stressed about train schedules-for the record the trains are always on time in Switzerland. It was an intuitive place, at least for me. I've traveled to Europe before so maybe that's why.

The mountain town of Leysin, where I stayed, is a mecca for skiers in the winter. I arrived at the start of their off-season and found it to be a sleepy village that I enjoyed tiptoeing through so as not to disturb the inhabitants. It was an ideal escape for someone, like myself, who appreciates her solitude.

Every day I was laid back and happy and I knew things would be good. It was like I drank a week's worth of Felix Felicis.

While hiking up steep stairs built into mountainsides and finding myself in the middle of Maria von Trapp hills I had to stop for spins, pictures, and reading under a big shade-providing tree.

On the shores of Lake Geneva.

I looked for Victor Frankenstein but couldn't find least not in Montreux where this was taken.

Chillon Castle across Lake Geneva.

Mountain, Lake, Purple Tulips...what's missing here? 

Oh, wait nothing*.

Aigle Castle and surrounding vineyards.

One day I was walking down a hill and saw these little guys munching on some grass. 

Fondue in the land of fondue. It's a peasant staple in Switzerland, and that is the vibe with which it's served.
Nothing fancy.
Some bread, some cheese, bon appetit.

The highlight of my trip was a day I spent in the city of Geneva.

That deserves its own post next week.

Happy Friday!

*I also had ice cream.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

On My Writing Playlist: Alela Diane

I discovered American singer-songwriter, Alela Diane, while reading in a bar in the Swiss Alps.

Her voice is soothing and her lyrics are ideal for traveling, mountains, bodies of water, and reading about magicians and the demons they employ in an empty bar called Le Lynx in Leysin, Switzerland.

"White as Diamonds" makes the official playlist cut thanks to its bright, snowy, winter morning imagery which reminds me of a scene I haven't yet written. Also, I find it to be just the right balance of enjoyable listening without distracting me from the task of writing.

Happy Wednesday!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Book Report Monday: Gifts by Ursula LeGuin

Title: Gifts, Annals of the Western Shore #1

Author: Ursula K. Le Guin

Genre: Young Adult Literary Fantasy

Synopsis: Scattered among poor, desolate farms, the clans of the Uplands possess gifts.

Wondrous gifts: the ability--with a glance, a gesture, a word--to summon animals, bring forth fire, move the land.

Fearsome gifts: They can twist a limb, chain a mind, inflict a wasting illness.

The Uplanders live in constant fear that one family might unleash its gift against another. Two young people, friends since childhood, decide not to use their gifts.

One, a girl, refuses to bring animals to their death in the hunt.

The other, a boy, wears a blindfold lest his eyes and his anger kill.

(from Goodreads)

Why did I pick it up?: Ursula Le Guin is amazing. Though I have to say I don't like that cover. It does not represent the style of writing or the quality of the story. Also, it's just plain silly. Sillier still is that it is the special Young Adult cover, so it's the one you'll see in stores but when I downloaded it on my magical Nook, I saw a much more appropriate and entirely unsilly version.

Does this not appeal to Young Adults? I don't understand marketing.

Favorite Line: "To see that your life is a story while you're in the middle of living it may be a help to living it well.”

My Review: While technically Young Adult, Gifts doesn't follow the popular YA formula. Le Guin doesn't usually follow any formula so I wasn't surprised by this. It's found in the YA section and it is undeniably a coming of age story.

The Uplands is a poor region and most outsiders view the Uplanders as uneducated, savages, who are foolish enough to believe in magical powers. Narrating is Orrec, a boy whose clan has the gift of the unmaking. How cool does that sound? They can untie knots, wither trees and kill animals and people alike with glance, gesture and a word.

Okay, so it's cool sounding and terrifying. That's a lot of power and Orrec struggles with handling it while also trying to grow up in the shadow of his father and ancestors all who were leaders with the power to undo and unmake. No matter what you call it, it is a destructive gift and as you can imagine a challenge for a young kid to handle.

What always impresses me about Le Guin is that she can construct a perfectly developed world complete with real relationships between her characters in so few words and pages.

Recommendation: This will appeal to anyone who enjoys beautifully written stories about magic, fantasy, and overcoming familial expectations.

Next Week: The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie

Friday, June 1, 2012

Fun Friday: A Feast of Ice and Fire

Can you believe how time flies? I mean it's already June! I've had a busy few months spent editing, writing, traveling, and watching Game of Thrones.

The second season is almost over and I never even blogged about my season premiere party. I figure now is as good a time as any, because I can't not brag about my themed cooking success.

I used the Inn at the Crossroads blog for recipes and decoration ideas. I was even bold enough to try my hands at their Weirwood Cake. And by that, I mean I figured I'd try it but only one person knew the feat I was attempting. That way if it all went sour, and ended in melted white chocolate and tears with me shouting that the others could take the flipping cake, no one else would know.

It took four hours and the majority of my patience but I managed to construct a passable heart tree. The base is red velvet with cream cheese icing. The tree is made from white chocolate chips which I melted in a double boiler and then sculpted with spoons and my hands. I used skewers and made supports out of chocolate to be sure it would stay up. I've got to say, that cake is my crowning kitchen achievement.

I also modified their Honeyed Chicken recipe for the main course. After some smoke detector issues it turned out wonderfully. I suggest using grapeseed or canola oil which have higher smoke points. Or you can do what I did and wrap it in foil.

Also on the menu was a Sansa salad, veggie casserole, hummus, olives and cheese from Dorne, wine from the Arbor, an assortment of ales, black bread and salt (guest rights are important) and lemon cakes, which I adapted from a lemon cake recipe I already make.

Now I have to figure out how I am going to top this for next season's party. 

Cross stitch banners for the major houses and hang them around my living room? 

Sculpt the Wall out of Ben and Jerry's? 

Dragon eggs filled with actual dragons? 

So many options.

Maester's potions

If you follow the show, I hope you enjoy the finale on Sunday and remember Valar Morghulis

And if you don't watch the show. . . can I ask why in the seven hells not?