Fictionista, Foodie, Feline-lover

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Revidew of Moshe Kasher's Kasher in the Rye

Not the Wonder Years

The last thing you’d expect a memoir about drug addiction to be is hilarious but comedian Moshe Kasher’s chronicle of his struggles with drugs, alcohol, culture clashes and low self-esteem is often very funny when it isn’t breaking your heart. Unlike James Frey’s A Thousand Little Pieces, which has scenes that are way over the top even for fiction, there’s no sense in this book that Kasher is exaggerating for effect. If anything, we suspect he’s holding back.
Born Mark Kasher (he refers to Mark as his “slave name”) the younger (hearing) son of two deaf parents,  Moshe was in therapy almost before he was toilet-trained. Bounced between a bitter, matriarchal household in Oakland (his mother was a third-generation divorcee whose own mother had nothing good to say about men) and his father’s strict Orthodox community in Brooklyn where he and his older brother David were mocked for not knowing the “rules,” Moshe ended up one of “those kids.”
Hanging out with a gang of teenage losers, he masterminded a money-making drug-selling ring despite being so marginalized at school that he’d been shunted over to the special ed track. (Yes, he rode the “short bus” to school.)
He turned to drugs at 12 and they helped, but after awhile, Moshe wanted more.
Kasher in the Rye is a coming-of-age story that will give hope to every kid who ever felt hopeless. In and out of rehab and mental hospitals and schools both public and private, coming close to falling through the cracks altogether, Moshe’s message is, in the end, “It gets better.”

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Feminist (Non) Fiction Friday: The Travel Edition

These days women writers who travel to foreign lands are not considered adventurers. They're either tourists or journalists or wanderers or seekers.  And that's too bad because there was a wonderful tradition of women travelers coming back from far-flung places with terrific stories of discovery and observation.
Over at A Celebration of Women Writers, they're currently showcasing Lady Alicia Blackwood's A Narrative of Personal Experiences &  Impressions During a Residence on the Bosphorus Throughout the Crimean War (1881).  The full text of Lady Blackwood's book is here.  Lady Blackwood was an interesting woman, a painter and a nurse who was commissioned by Florence Nightingale herself to create and run a hospital for wives and widows and children of soldiers. You can learn more about her here.
Then there was Englishwoman Gertrude Bell, archaeologist, aristocrat, friend to T. E. Lawrence and very possibly a spy. A woman who refused to accept limitations, she was very well respected by the Arabs she encountered, who were mostly wary of Brits.  Her Arabian Diaries and personal papers make fascinating reading. Georgina Howell has written an excellent biography of Bell called Gertrude Bell, queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations.(She was there when Iraq was born as a nation out of what had been Mesopotamia.)

My personal favorite woman adventurer is Freya Stark.  She was born at the tail end of the 19th century but came of age in the 30s. She worked a nurse in Italy during WWI and then started traveling around.

 I first read her Valley of the Assassins when I was in high school. The book chronicles her trip (with just a single guide) in wild areas between Iraq and what's now Iran. She went places NO MAN HAD GONE BEFORE.  I loved that. She was often sickly but she was fearless and she became one of the most famous travel writers of her generation. She lived to be 100 and when she was 77, she published an account of her last expedition, a trip to Afghanistan. (The book was The Minaret of Djam: an Excursion into Afghanistan, which is still in print.)

These women kindled my love of travel--I'm never without a valid passport--and I just wish I had their courage. (The adjective most often applied to Gertrude Bell was "intrepid."  I'd like to be intrepid.)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Curried Lentil Soup Recipe

It has been raining and gray for two days here and since my limit of tolerance for rain is about two hours, I am looking for something to make that is tasty but not fattening. (Given my preference, I'd make hot chocolate and cinnamon toast but that's not going to happen.)
Soup is the obvious choice.
This soup is perfect because when you first put it together, the colors are so bright and lovely. (I have a clear glass stockpot, so it's nice to use it for this.)

Curried Lentil soup

1 tablespoon oil
1 medium onion, chooped coarsely
1 pound carrots, chopped
2 large leeks, sliced in half lengthwise, cleaned, then chopped
5 cloves garlic
¼ tsp ginger (1 tablespoon if fresh grated)
2 tablespoon curry powder, medium-spicy
1 tsp. cumin
1 cup green lentils, picked-over
6 cups water or vegetable stock
1 dash salt, optional
Sautee the onion in a large soup pot over medium heat while washing the carrots.
Chop carrots into 1/4″ to 1/2″ rounds and add to onions. Stir. Let them sautee while washing the leeks.
Cut off the root and the thick leafy green part of the leek, leaving only the tender white part. Cut in half. Remove outer layer. Wash. Chop into 1/4″ to 1/2″ half rounds. Add to pot. Sautee while preparing garlic.
Add garlic to pot.
Sautee until leeks are tender. (Carrots should still be slightly firm.)
Add curry powder, cumin and ginger and stir so vegatables are evenly covered with the spices.
Add lentils and 6 cups water or vegetable stock. Cover and bring to a boil. Then reduce heat to low and simmer until lentils are tender.
Add salt to taste. If you are using a vegetable broth that is already salted, this may not be necessary.

Note:  For this soup I use plain old chrome yellow curry powder. There's no need to use fancy (pricey) spice blends.

Judging a book by its cover--Toxic Reality

Sometimes you can just be a little too subtle. I was happy with the cover of my book Toxic Reality, but despite great reviews, it just wasn't selling. Over the weekend, Joy Sillesen at Indie Author Services whipped up a new cover for me and within minutes of it going up on Smashwords and, I'd sold more copies than I had since I first published it. 
Being able to swap out a cover in minutes is one of the reasons I love indie publishing. You can do A/B cover tests. You can goose sales with a new cover. You can play around with multiple covers the way magazines sometimes do. (I remember TV Guide testing covers with Star Trek captain covers--clearly meant to entice collectors.)
I admit it--I'll pick up a book because I'm intrigued by the cover. (But I'll also buy a book that intrigues me even if the cover is awful. And if you were an early reader of Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake novels, you know just the ugly covers I mean.)
I like this new cover. There's nothing subtle about it. But then, the stories aren't subtle either.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

St. Patrick's Day Recommended Reading

It's St. Patrick's Day and what better way to spend it than catching up with some Irish mysteries written by women?
Start with Erin Hart's Haunted Ground and its sequels, Lake of Sorrows and False Mermaid. The protagonist of all three books is American pathologist Nora Gavin, who lives in Ireland. Her books blend forensic science, Irish myth and mystery in a wonderful way.
Learn more about Erin at her website
You can follow her on Twitter @Erin_Hart
For a very different reading experience, check out If I Never See You Again, Niamh O'Connor's first novel (she was best known as a true crime writer before). Taken is the sequel. You can read about her here
Here's a link to an interview she did in support of her book Blood Ties, about the real stories behind some of Ireland's most notorious murders.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Feminist Fiction Friday: Anne Holt

You like Nordic Noir?  Looking around for something to read now that you've hoovered through Jo Nesbo's oeuvre? You might want to check out Anne Holt, a remarkable Norwegian writer whose background includes a stint as a Minister of Justice, a news editor and anchor and a lawyer. She's also a mother.
She made her fiction debut in 1993 with Blind Goddess, a novel that kicked off a series "starring" Hanne Wilhelmsen, a lesbian police officer.
I'm currently reading What is Mine, the first in a series of mysteries featuring Adam Stubo and Johanne Vik.  It's a really dark story involving child-napping and murder, with a subplot about a man wrongfully convicted of the same sort of crime decades ago.
Holt is Norwegian, although she's spent time in both the US and France, and her work reflects the Scandinavian attitude toward sexual equality. In What is Mine, a little girl casually mentions that her grandmother is an electrician, a job that is still, at least in the US, more likely to be man's work. the fthers of the children involved in the plot are all directly involved in their upbringing, and in some cases are more nurturing than the mothers.  Adam is a widower whose wife and daughter died in a horrible accident that's almost ludicrously unlikely, but he is incredibly tender with his grandson and with Johanne's mentally disabled child Kristiane.
From the first time Johanne and Adam meet, there's a frisson of sexual attraction, but it is not without complications. These people are adults and their lives are complex and they have pasts and they have responsibilities, The portrait of Kristiane is an excellent fictional portrait of a child with a mental disability, right up there with the autistic characters in Speed of Dark and Memoir of an Imaginary Friend. No one quite knows what's going on with Kristiane and her mother is driving herself crazy looking for answers.
Holt has written a number of books in the almost 20 years she's been a novelist and she's one of the best-selling writers in Norway.
She's on Facebook
She's got an author page at Simon & Schuster's site..
Here's a podcast where she talks about her new Hanne novel (a locked-room mystery).

L.A. Nocturne II--More Tales of the Misbegotten

My collection of short stories L.A. Nocturne II (More Tales of the Misbegotten) is now up at Amazon. There are nine stories in this collection, some of them written just for the collection and not previewed anywhere else.

Joy Sillesen did the cover through her Indie Author Services, and you should check out her current promotion because she's offering $10 covers for ebooks all month long.  Joy has already created the cover for Misbegotten, which should be out in September.  (Hold me to that deadline.)

One of the stories in the book, "Bear Baiting" introduces two of the characters who are part of the cast of characters of my novel--Detectives Lee Park and C.J. Bowe who work in the paracrimes division of LAPD.  Lee's second-generation Korean-American, C.J. (named for two of my friends) is his long-time partner but they've recently realized there might be something else there. (You know what they say about proximity.)  I really liked writing their relationship.  I'm interested in knowing what you think...  (The two briefly appear in "Fairy Story," which is another "Tale of the Misbegotten.")

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Feminist Fictionistas Take Note: Women Talk Sci-Fi

Three writers in Australia (Eugenia, Gerri and Writer X) talk about science fiction. Check out their site here.  They haven't updated in awhile and their "about us" section is sadly lacking, but check them out on Twitter @GENEWS_WTSF

Review of The Sisters Brothers by Patrick De Witt

Death follows in the wake of two brothers headed to California to kill a man for their employer, a wealthy man known as “The Commodore.” 

In The Sisters Brothers, Patrick DeWitt has done a 180 from his first novel Ablutions, a dark, grim story about the denizens of a seedy Hollywood bar.  His new book is a darkly comic Western noir that serves notice with its whimsical title that DeWitt’s west is not the same place as the west you’ll find in a Louis L’Amour novel.

There is a lot to like here.  The story is episodic and reminiscent in some ways of Little Big Man, only taking place in a more focused context.  Eli and Charlie Sisters seem to run across a whole cross-section of Western types (the diligent Chinese house boy, the luckless prospectors, the soiled doves and so forth) that Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove) would recognize.  There’s also a tinge of superstition and the paranormal (the weird gypsy) that unsettles us a bit.  What the story mostly reminds us of is a graphic novel, even though this is a fully fleshed tale that doesn’t need illustrations.

First of all, the dialogue is absolutely great.  Eli’s horse-trading when he sells the Indian horse that simply walks up to him is reminiscent of Mattie’s dickering in True Grit, and there are other places where we suspect the writer might have been influenced by the Charles Portis novel, if not the movie(s) of the same name.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Is this a fiction challenge in the making or what?

Over at BuzzFeed, they've compiled a list of 60 completely unusable stock photographs from sources as diverse as Getty Images and ThinkStock. The images ae hilariously, atrociously bad. And yet. They're also strangely compelling in the stories they suggest--the gas-masked mother and child engaged in a tug of war over a sheet of cookies, for example; or the guy with the Mona Lisa superimposed over his tongue.  Then there's the girl with the Hitler mustache and the gingham dress peeling potatoes. Really, you have to see this group of photogrpahs for yourself here. And tell me if at least one of them doesn't suggest a story.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Gifts of the Sidewalk Fairy

I live in an apartment building on a small block of apartment buildings and periodically, in the time-honored tradition of apartment-dwellers everywhere, people put their discards on the sidewalk for strangers to look at and, perhaps, claim.  Someone in my building regularly dumps boxes of paperback books on the little patch of grass near our garage entrance and I always grab these boxes and take them over to our local library, which is woefully under-funded. But I always go through them first.  The books are not in shabby, you-wouldn't-pay-a-nickel-for-them-at-a-yard-sale condition either.  Most of the time they look brand new. And I have to wonder, how did the person get all these books if he/she isn't reading them?  Were they gifts?
Today the grab bag on the sidewalk was filled with movie dvds.  Everything from Kung Fu Panda to Charlie Wilson's War. Lots of movies for kids--Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Madagascar 2, Shrek 2. Beverly Hills Chihuahua.  So they're now in the pile of stuff headed for the library, but first I'm going to watch Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.
Thank you Sidewalk Fairy.

Aliette de Bodard--on my to be read pile

I stumbled across writer  Aliette de Bodard while looking for a short story to read for Brian Lindenmuth's 365 Short Story Challenge.  I loved the story ("Worlds Like a Hundred Thousand Pearls") so much I immediately headed over to to buy the first book in her historical fantasy/mystery series Servant of the Underworld, Obsidian & Blood, Book 1.  (I love the instant gratification of kindle sales, I really do.)
If you like gorgeous writing, you will love her work.  Check out her website here.  Check out her Wikipedia entry here.

You can follow her on twitter @aliettedb and she's on Facebook as well. But don't waste your time fiddling with social media, go to her site and read some of the free samples of her work.  You can read "Worlds Like a Hundred Thousand Pearls" here.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Feminist Fiction Friday--Interview with Jennifer Parsons of Luna Station Quarterly

This week I have a very special Feminist Fiction Friday, an interview with Jennifer Parsons, the founding editor of Luna Station Quarterly.

Here's how she describes herself:  A highly-skilled pixel slinger and code monkey by trade, Jennifer writes speculative fiction and fairy tales because she loves stories, reads books as part of the Geek Girls Book Club, devours comic books because she's loved Batman her entire life, writes essays and reviews for The Loser’s Table, and edits the literary magazine Luna Station Quarterly because she believes women write awesome stories. When not doing those things, she makes things from yarn, cuddles her kitties, and goes on sporadic bouts of television watching and gourmet cooking. She's been known to swing a Wii controller like a Jedi. Sometimes, she sleeps.

This is what she had to say:

Kattomic: I love the look of the Luna Station Quarterly site, especially the colors.  Who designed it?  (I know you did, because I read the fine print, but I’m in awe of people who can do their own sites and/or book covers or whatever.)

JP: This is where being a professional web designer comes in handy. I do all of my own design and development work (LSQ is built on Drupal), so thank you, I’ll take all credit. LOL. The color scheme came about because the last thing I wanted on a women-authored fiction site is any hint of cliched pink. I wanted something that invoked a retro feel, a reminder of the wonder Sci-Fi authors of the past had for the future. Some call it Retro-futurism, that nostalgia for the future that has yet to come about. I didn’t want it to feel too masculine either, so the little stars and planets reflect that bit of whimsy that I often find in female-written spec-fic.

Kattomic: This is the third year of publication for LSQ, right?  Any plans for expansion—more issues per year? Print publication?

JP:  Oh, the plans that are in my brain! I want to expand LSQ, though what form that will take is up in the air. I want to keep the quarterly magazine as a quarterly, but I’ve had ideas since LSQ’s inception for ways to increase our output. As submission numbers grow, I’m asking myself this question more and more often, with a print anthology foremost in that thought process. Would you like me to be more vague? LOL.

Actually, my first priority before adding other editions or offshoots, is to find a way to pay my authors. Right now, web hosting costs come out of my own pocket and my personal finances don’t allow for much more than that. I’m incredibly hesitant to put ads on the site as I feel that it would be a distraction and possibly make it appear that I’m looking to monetize the site, which I’m not. I’m considering a donation button, but I have yet to make a firm decision. LSQ has never been about money for me. In fact, it’s never been about me at all, which is why I never publish any of my own stories.

Tales of the Misbegotten: Coming Out

Coming Out
Written by Katherine Tomlinson
Illustrated by Mark Satchwill

Gerard knew that John Torville hated him with a passion that was both professional and personal but he was still surprised by the lengths the other attorney was willing to go in order to ruin his life and dismantle his practice.
“John Torville wants to out me,” Gerard told Lee as they ate a late dinner on the patio of their Brentwood home.
“Maybe that would be a relief,” Lee replied neutrally.
Gerard’s insistence on living a double life was an issue between them.
Gerard hated being in the closet. Lee didn’t really understand why he didn’t just own his reality.
They’d had an argument on the subject as recently as the week before when Gerard first mentioned John Torville and his evil machinations.