Feminist, Fictionista, Foodie, Francophile

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Saturday Self-Promotion

It's the last Saturday of the year, and the last day of 2011 and there's a lot going on.
First, the new story for NoHo Noir is up, a day early. Check it out here. Mark Satchwill and I have big plans for the series, so we hope you'll check it out if you haven't already.
And for those of you who are following our saga, we're still waiting to hear from AOL's lawyers about the disposition of NoHo Noir volume I. It'll be a year in April since we first started inquiring about reprint rights.
Thanks to Joy Sillesen, a properly formatted Twelve Nights of Christmas is now up at Amazon. The cover is by Joanne Renaud, so getting this collection on line was a real Dark Valentine effort.
Copyright: FoldOut Creative


And speaking of covers...a new company called FoldOut Creative offered a Craig's List contest to design a free book cover as part of their opening marketing splash. I won. (You know my love for the Craig's List.) Here's what they came up for as a cover for The Poisoned Teat (a collection of short fiction coming this spring).
The company officially launches next month, but I couldn't wait to show off the cover. I'l let you know when they're up and running because if you're looking for a great cover, they can deliver.
The Poisoned Teat is one of two fiction collections I hope to publish next year; the other is Twelve More Nights of Christmas. (Once I started coming up with twisted variants on the "twelve days" of the Christmas song, I couldn't stop at just one!
I might squeeze in another compilation of "Tales of the Misbegotten," (aka L.A. Nocturne II), but honestly, I have people in my life who will start to mock me if I do not buckle down and actually finish Misbegotten this year. ("Think of a chapter as a short story," they tell me. I'm going to try that approach.)
I have stories in three 2012 anthologies so far, and stories under consideration at several more places. And I'll continue to submit to the contests and the online fiction sites. I have a list of places I'd like to crack. And in the meantime, I will continue to read and learn from all the short-story practioners out there. I'm participating in the 365 story challenge and while I'll be revisiting some of my very favorite stories and favorite authors, mostly I hope to discover new (to me) writers over the course of a year. (Otherwise it would be too easy to simply reread Harlan Ellison and Tanith Lee and Shirley Jackson and Stephen King and Katherine Anne Porter and Saki.)
I've got big plans for 2012 and I know you do too.  I look forward to reading your work. I hope you enjoy mine.
Happy New Year.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Feminist Fiction Friday: Tanith Lee

Tanith Lee. Isn't that the best writer's name ever? When Joanne Renaud, Joy Sillesen and I created Dark Valentine Magazine, Tanith Lee was our muse. We were all big fans of the writer, whose "dark fiction" we all admired. The cover of our first issue was a painting of the sky goddess Tanit, and one of our fondest hopes was that we might entice Tanith to send us a story. Sigh. Some dreams die hard.
The very first thing I ever read by Tanith Lee was Kill the Dead, a novella that was packaged with another story (Sabella, or the Blood Stone) in an omnibus edition titled Sometimes After Sunset. I liked Sabella but I loved Kill the Dead.
I loved the way Tanith wrote, her love of language was extravagant and she piled up words like a painter piles up pigments and the result was always gorgeous.
By the time I read Kill the Dead, Tanith had already written dozens and dozens of short stories and novels, so as I began making my way through her oeuvre, it seemed like I was always a couple of books behind.
Lee's slowed down a bit of late--I've heard she hasn't been well--but her output still dwarfs most writers.  She published her first book, The Dragon Hoard in 1971, when she was 24. Four years later, she published Birthgrave, which is considered her first "adult" book and is the first in a trilogy that concludes with Quest for the White Witch.
She writes series (I'm fond of the books in the Flat-Earth Series) and she writes stand-alones. She writes historical fiction and gothic romance and reimagined fairy tales. (She also reimagines Shakespeare.) Her Silver Metal Lover is a tale of forbidden love that makes Twilight seem like a Jane and Dick reader. She was writing vampires and werewolves long before it was trendy and she plundered Babylonian myth when everyone else was still regurgitating Tolkien.
Her characters are fierce and full-blooded, the women as well as the men. Her fantasy creations have a reality about them that is both otherworldly and ordinary.  (Ordinary in the sense that we feel the "rightness" of the characters, even if they aren't the characters next door.)
She has a number of collections of short stories, including one called Women as Demons, which I haven't read. Nor have I read her novel The Blood of Roses (1990), which is one of the hardest to obtain stories out there next to Shiny Metal Grin.  Amazon.com has seven used copies of the book available for $47. One of these days I might splash out and buy one.  (It's marketed as an epic erotic fantasy of blood and love and vanpires.  And how could anyone resist that gorgeous cover?)
If you aren't familiar with Tanith's work or you want to make sure you've read everything there is, check out "Daughter of the Night," an annotated bibliography put together by Jim Pattinson and  Paul A. Soanes and continued by Allison Rich. (The most recent update was December 18.)
Here's a link to an old (1994) interview with Tanith.
I'm participating in Brian Lindenmuth's 365 Story Challenge in 2012, so I'll be revisiting some of my favorite Tanith Lee short stories. If you haven't read her, you have a treat in store.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Schedule for Six Questions

Jim Harrington's Six Questions for...is always a great source for info on markets. Check out who's on tap for January:

Below is the schedule of posts for January at http://sixquestionsfor.blogspot.com/.

1/02—Six Questions for Mandy Ward, Editor, Welcome to Wherever
1/05—Six Questions for Nicolette Wong, Editor, A-Minor Magazine
1/09—Six Questions for Chris Rhatigan, Editor, All Due Respect
1/12—Six Questions for John Kenyon, Editor, Grift Magazine
1/16—Six Questions for Alec Cizak, Pulp Modern
1/19—Six Questions for Editor, H.O.D. (A Handful of Dust)
1/23—Six Questions for Josh and Jane, Editors, TheNewerYork!
1/26—Six Questions for Krishan Coupland, Editor, Neon Literary Magazine
1/30—Six Questions for Bradley Wonder, Editor-in-Chief, 5X5

If you stop by, leave a comment for the editor/publisher. If you’re an editor or publisher and would like to participate, or know of a publisher who might be interested, please contact me at sixquestionsfor@gmail.com. Finally, please share this information with your subscribers, authors, Facebook and Twitter followers, and writing friends.

More Reading Challenges for 2012

So  you've signed up for Brian Lindenmuth's 365 Story Challenge and you're still looking for a challenge of the reading sort? They're everywhere. For example, over at YA Bliss, there's the YA Historical Fiction Challenge with three levels--the first requires you read five books; the second requires you read 10 books, and the third is for readers ready to tackle 15 books. Books don't have to be 2012 releases, but they do have to be YA or MG.
Just to get you started, there are several lists of YA Historical Fiction available.

 Over at Historical Tapestry, they're hosting a 2012 challenge in all categories of historical fiction, including fantasy and YA. This challenge offers five levels of participation, for readers who only have time for two books up to readers who plow through 20.
The International Reading Challenge began earlier this year but runs through June 2012, so there's still time to participate. Check out the video for the event here. One of the sponsors is The Breathless Quills, which reviews books from different countries. Check it out here.

The coming year, 2012, is apparently the "National Year of Reading," so do your part!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Consider it a Christmas Present for Writers

Joy Sillesen sent me the link to SuperEReads, a new site that promotes ebooks of all sorts. Authors who sign up get a page per book, and authors can add reviews, videos (book trailers) and what not to the page. The pages look great.  Here's the link to my Toxic Reality page and to my L.A. Nocturne page.  Right now the service is free in return for spreading the word.  Check it out and follow them @SuperEReads.  I've seen Allan Guthrie, Kaye George, Christine Pope and half a dozen other colleagues there, so all the cool kids are participating.

Merry Christmas

The run-up to Christmas this year was fairly exhausting with the three-week catering gig and the deadlines, and so now that it's actually here, I'm enjoying it even more.
Yesterday I sacked out in front of the television, mainlining the Food Network and eating quesadillas.That's festive for me.
Today will be even more relaxing. I wrote the new installment of NoHo Noir (read it here) and then went online to spend the amazon gift card I got late last night. (Thank you Cormac!!)
Later I will make Christmas dinner, and sit down to watch a double feature of Cowboys and Aliens and Fright Night. I'm a traditionalist, as you can tell.
Thank you for being a part of what was a fantastic 2011. I look forward to whatever 2012 brings.
Joys of the season, whichever season you celebrate, and a very Happy New Year.
And let me know if you're participating in the 365 Story Challenge!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Feminist Fiction Friday--Beverly Cleary

Beverly Cleary is a living legend. (She actually has that title, having been named a "Living Legend" by the Library of Congress in 2000). She's a multi-award-winning writer whose fame is international. She is a promoter of the D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything and Rea) program. And she is also the first author that I remember being a fan of.  She has written more than 30 books, and I have read every one (yes, even the latest ones). 
One of the reasons I write these Friday posts is to celebrate women writers who write about women. Today the post is about Beverly Cleary, who has been writing YA since before it was cool (and before vampires and aranormal romances hijacked the genre). Her books are funny and warm and smart and while she created indelible male characters like Henry Huggins, she also created Beatrice (Beezus) Quimby and her sister Ramona. (The first book about the sisters, Beezus and Ramona, was published in 1955 and it's still in print, along with many sequels. A movie adaptation of the first book, inexplicably called Ramona and Beezus, came out in 2010.
What I loved about the characters in Cleary's books is that they seemed real in a way that was comforting. Ramona and Beezus and Henry and his dog Ribsy, Otis Spofford and Ellen Tebbits weren't perfect characters but the mischief was harmless and not mean.  that's not to say she ignores serious subjects (as in Dear Mr. Henshaw and Strider), but there's always hope.
Reading the books was kind of like watching The Andy Griffith Show.  People had problems but they were problems that felt "safe."  (At a certain point, that changed in YA, which got grittier and more realistic and a whole lot less FUN.)  Cleary's covers changed wtih the times, but the writing endured.
I graduated from Cleary's books to the Nancy Drew boks and from then, never looked back. It never occurred to me that fictional girls weren't as feisty and entertaining as fictional boys. and I owe it to the former librarian. She published her first book in 1950...just in time for baby-boomers. Her most recent book, Ramona's World, was published in 1999, in time to be discovered by the millennial generation.
She's kept up with the times, too,  unlike so many writers who end up being mired in the past. Check out her friendly website, which has excerpts from the books, character lists, and a fun and games section in addition to the usual book lists and "about" sections. There's a great video interview with her on the author page.
Cleary was born in 1912, which means she will turn 100 on April 12.  I'd love to throw her a party!!
.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Adventures in Catering.

Ethnic differences?
Religious tension?
Nothing will test your tolerance of alternative lifestyles like catering for a film crew of 30 that includes one militant vegan, one lactose-intolerant eater who thinks that "it" is absorbed through the skin, two self-described vegetarians who also eat turkey but only if it's organic, five coffee drinkers who refuse to use artificial sweeteners like Equal but have no problem pouring three containers of creamy chemicals into every cup they drink.
And then there are the ominivores who just want people to fuss over them.
"Are these egg noodles?"
"No."
"Are there milk solids in this soup?"
"It's homemade tomato rice soup."
"So there's no milk in it?"
"No milk in it."
"Can we have bleu cheese dressing?"
"No."
"I don't like vanilla soy milk, can we have chocolate?"
"Not on this budget."
"How about rice milk?"
"Ditto."
A week into the shoot, the crew was beginning to turn on the vegan because in addition to the entrees for the carnivores and the vegetarians, we had to provide an entree just for her. She was fired Sunday night and I'm convinced it was because the crew couldn't take one more day of steamed veggies with tofu and fried rice without the little pieces of egg. And now there's a slot on the menu for another entree for the majority.
Of course we want to accommodate people's food preferences, but it was getting silly.
"Can we get some Blue Mountain coffee?"
"No."
"Could we have sushi one day?"
"No."
Both my partner and I understand picky eating. He is allergic to mushrooms, allergic to fish, hates eggplant and lima beans and loathes coconut. I'm with him on the eggplant, although I make a decent baba ghanouj, and while he slathers his sandwiches with mayonnaise, I gag at the smell of it. But when you're working a low-budget film, there's not a lot of financial wiggle room to please everyone. If you're allergic to everything under the sun then, with respect, consider packing a lunch.
To be fair, most of the crew members are really appreciative and complimentary. (The bread pudding we served for dessert today was a huge hit and everybody liked the chicken pot pies.) We offer doggie bags for people who want to take leftovers home. And the only time we ever ran out of scrambled eggs at breakfast was the morning one of the crew members took (I'm not kidding) a quadruple portion and then came back for seconds.
The fact is, I'm having a good time, because I love cooking for people, but it gives me real insight into what it must be like dealing with A-list actors and their diets.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Feminist Fiction Friday: The Romance Novelist Edition

One summer, when I was visiting my Great-Aunt Jinsey (is that not the greatest name ever?) I discovered her stash of Harlequin romance novels. She belonged to a the publisher's book club and they sent her, I think, 12 books a month. She devoured them like chocolates. Aunt Jinsey had had a very hard life. My Uncle Bill had been a hard-rock miner in Appalachia and things haven't really changed much in mining since the 19th century. It's still men hacking coal out of the living earth, back-breaking labor that leaves you old before your time. My Uncle died of black lung (or "the black lung," which is how everyone always refers to it).  Black lung is the common name for a nasty disease known medically as "Coal workers pneumoconiosis."   It's not a pretty way to die.
Aunt Jinsey was not one to complain--her generation didn't--but that summer she sat in her rocking chair and rubbed her arthritic hands together and told me, "Honey, I'm just plumb wore out." She was living in sunny Pleasanton, California by then, where she never had to face another harsh winter ever again. And she had time to read.  And what she wanted to read were ... romance novels.
I was already reading crime fiction by then--devouring Ellery Queen and Nero Wolfe and Agatha Christie's Miss Marple mysteries (although, I have to be honest, I didn't really love her). I wasn't really interested in romance novels.
Then one afternoon as my great-aunt napped, I picked up one of the books with their distinctive white covers and read it. It was all right--an easy, undemanding read. I picked up another and read it too.  It was okay.
And then I picked up a book by a writer named Sara Craven. I read the book in something like two hours. And I LOVED it.  I went through the shelves picking out all the other books by Sara Craven (there were quite a few). I read them too and loved them. 
What was different about Sara Craven's books was that she had interesting and exotic backdrops for her stories and the characters seemed more real and less ... wimpy...than the usual romance heroines.  I probably read 40 or 50 romance novels during my visit (seriously, they're short with big margins) and the only writer's name I remember is Sara Craven.
Romance novels have changed a lot since Sara Craven (real name Anne Ashurst) began writing them back in 1975. I spent a year reviewing books for Rachel Smith's wonderful bittenbybooks site, and I was shocked (SHOCKED!!) at how clinical a lot of romance novels had gotten.
And I am not easily shocked. And the thing that's weird is that I have a number of romance writers and romance readers among my friends and not a one will cop to enjoying the more ... anatomical books. And I wonder, who's reading them?
But I digress.
Sara Craven began publishing her novels when she was 37. She has written dozens of different series, both her own and those with multi-authors.  She has written more than 61 stand-alones (the latest, Wife in the Shadows, was published this year). She has two new books coming out in January and February.
Her books always have Happy Endings and here's an interview where she explains why.
If you read only one romance novel, read one by Sara Craven.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Holiday Gift Guide Guide

It used to be that the Neiman-Marcus Christmas Catalogue was the ultimate listing of fantasy presents for the holidays. Now though, every specialized blog out there has its own gift list and there's nothing more entertaining than browsing them in search of the perfect gift for all the characters in your life. Here are some gift guides we really like:
FEARnet:  Skull cupcake molds for your favorite Goth foodies; zombie bon bons stuffed with cherry filling; shark oven mitts; snake skin packing tape; a crime scene muffler; Vampire condoms. There's something here for everyone, especially Dexter and True Blood fans.
Ain't It Cool News has one of the most extensive gift guides out there, arranged by category and price.  Need recommendations for DVDs and books, AICN's writer Quint has them for you. He'll also hook you up with Portal-themed cookie cutters; a Gran Torino lunch box and light-saber shaped chopsticks.
Think Geek has their "Holiday Station" section on their site offering items like an electronic butterfly in a jar; a Han Solo in Carbonite ice cube tray (our favorite, $9.99); and unicorn chopsticks.
Coolmompicks has holiday gifts for kids ranging from some aleph be blocks to a "paint your own yoyo set."
Tree Hugger has its "Green Gift Guide 2011" divided into sections (DIY, Foodie, Kid, Fashion Buff, Geek,etc.).  Suggestions include reclaimed cheeseboards and hand-cranked espresso machines to sushi cat toys and jewelry made out of Viet Nam war scrap metal. You can even buy a wine rack made from recycled railroad track. 
Huffington Post has a guide to gifts specially tailored to people obsessed with Chicago. This one is also organized by categories both ordinary (kids, crafts, etc) and unusual (piercing and tattoos) and features items from a wide range of local stores.
Good Morning America has a gift guide for dogs, which is getting a little silly for our tastes, but since it's in a dog's nature to be nothing but good, maybe they deserve a little something for the holidays.
And finally, what holiday would be complete without taking a look at Oprah Winfrey's gift guide from O Magazine? There are chocolate polar bears (not cheap at $12 each); Cupcake Bath Bombs; Dogeared Karma Mantra silver necklaces (complete with discount code); and Jo Malone's Orange Blossom Body Creme ($75).

Preview of Twelve Nights of Christmas

My new collection of stories--Twelve Nights of Christmas--will be available next week.  I'm still tweaking the last two stories. Five stories in the collection have been posted before, but I wrote seven new ones to round out the collection.
Here's a sample:


NINE LADIES DANCING

There were four little cubicles crammed into the basement of Jake Mirzoyan’s club, each with a mirror, a tiny shelf for makeup, a couple of hooks for costumes, and two chairs. On Saturday nights, when all the girls were working, things got a little crowded in the basement. There was only one bathroom down there—the girls weren’t allowed to use the one upstairs, the one the customers used—so if someone ate a bad taco for lunch, everybody knew it.
They all knew about a lot of things—about Reva’s abortion, about Lanelle’s problem with her ex, about Kim’s relapse with the vikes. You get eight women in close quarters and they’re going to be all up in each other’s business. It was kind of like a family that way, a big dysfunctional family with an abusive daddy. The girls knew all about abusive daddies.
Jake was greedy but he wasn’t ambitious and he was bone lazy. He made a lot of money from the club—almost all of it cash, almost all of it untraceable. Girls came and went at the club but there were never more than eight dancers at one time. Eight was enough. Eight was a number he could handle.
And then Suki showed up. Suki with her pale, pale skin and her dark, dark eyes. Suki with the red hair right out of a shampoo commercial. Her real name was probably Susan or something but as far as Jake was concerned, she could call herself Angelina Jolie if she wanted to. She was tall—taller than him—and big-breasted, just the way his customers liked them. And they weren’t fake tits like Jude’s or Kitta’s either.
Even though Jake had a rule about not mixing business with pleasure, he would have chopped off his own dick to dip into Suki’s honey-pot. He wasn’t the only one. Brianna, who’d been dancing at the club since she was an underage runaway, took one look at Suki and fell in love.
Suki was too good for Jake’s little place, but didn’t seem to know it. The girls all knew it, though. They knew Suki could have been working the gentlemen’s clubs in L.A., somewhere she could maybe find a sugar daddy to take care of her. A lot of celebrities go to those clubs for kicks. A lot of money gets thrown around. The girls wondered why Suki would come to a rat-hole like Jake’s club when she had other options. None of the girls who worked for Jake had options. At least, not any more.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Kristine's Grandmother's Hungarian Cookie Recipe

Over at the Food Network it's "12 Days of Cookie" time again and they're already four cookies in with Paula's Loaded Oatmeal Cookies and Alton's Ginger Snaps. I'm not nearly that ambitious. Over the years I've focused my holiday baking to one or two crowd-pleasing desserts and that's it. (Pillsbury Peanut Blossoms and Oatmeal Cookies, in case you're interested.) Every once in awhile, though, I come across a cookie that just begs to be added to the repertoire.
Kristine's Grandmother's Hungarian Cookies have just made the cut.
These unbelievably rich cookies are called Kifli (Key-flea) and bear a passing resemblance to rugelach with their cream cheese pastry base. If you're looking for something different to contribute to a holiday cookie exchange, try these. Be sure to bake enough to enjoy yourself.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

3 cups flour
1/2 pound butter (unsalted)
1/2 pound cream cheese
1 jar Lekvar (Hungarian) Prune Butter
Powdered sugar

If you can't find the prune butter, substitute apricot or raspberry preserves.

Mix flour, margarine and cream cheese thoroughly.  Pinch off dough and mold into 50 little balls about the diameter of a 50-cent piece.  Refrigerate overnight. 

Roll balls out on powered sugared board.  Put a small dollop of Lekvar or preserves on each.  Fold each over to make a crescent and pinch closed.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes. 

Kristine's grandmother uses margarine instead of butter but I go for the full monty,

Enjoy.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Feminist Fiction Friday--Shirley Jackson

The story I've always heard is that Shirley Jackson wrote "The Lottery" because her refrigerator had broken down and she needed money to fix it. I loved that idea, not just because the anecdote epitomizes a professionalism I very much admire--there is no writer's block in freelancing--but also because I love the idea that she was paid more than a pittance for her work.
"The Lottery" is probably my favorite short story EVER.  I first read it for a middle school English class along with Jack London's "To Build a Fire," and W.W. Jacobs' "The Monkey's Paw" and Saki's "The Open Window." The story led me to other writers of short fiction, particularly Harlan Ellison, whose "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" is my second favorite short story.
I'm pretty sure after reading Jackson's biography on Wikkipedia that the story about the refrigerator is just that, a story. Jackson was vehement about not explaining her work or her process or herself. She famously refused to be interviewed. There are photographs of her, though, and those pictures send a chill through me.
Shirley Jackson and my mother could have been twin sisters. That picture in the upper left?  Substitute cats eye glasses and you have my mother.  Same eyes, same arched brows, same full lower lip.  The hairdo is the same one my mother wore most of her life, a faux tortoise shell comb holding her hair away from her pale brow.
Like Shirley Jackson, my mother was a heavy smoker but she managed to eke out an extra decade on the writer, who died at 48, of a heart attack in her sleep.
I wish Jackson hadn't left the party so early. I loved her novel The Haunting of Hill House so much that I can quote whole chunks of it.  The book is one of the best haunted house novels ever written (much stronger than James' Turn of the Screw), and Jackson's portrait of Eleanor, a woman slipping into madness, is profound. Julie Harris played Eleanor in the 1963 movie adaptation (called The Haunting, and not to be confused with the dreadful remake of 1999), and her delicate portrait of a woman whose life has passed her by is haunting indeed. (If you've seen the movie, all I need to say is ... that scene with Julie Harris and Claire Bloom and the door!  If you haven't seen the movie, you're in for a treat and if you haven't read the book, go get it now.) You can buy Jackson's novels and collected stories here.