Reviewing Books for Madness Heart Press (And Other Changes)…

I’ve written a couple of reviews over at Madness Heart Press’s blog–check it out, here: https://madnessheart.press/blog/.

I’ll be working on rewrites and edits on my horror manuscript for the next couple of months, as well.

And, I’m considering a move to another realm in the internet world, and I’ve comparing Wix and Weebly and other such website homes. I’ve not been happy with WordPress for a while–I could use a ton of words to describe it–but I’ve put it off and put it off, because packing up something as simple as an internet presence is overwhelming. 

Speaking of packing up and moving on, my internet issues and phone issues (i.e. I can’t get internet at my house, and won’t be able to get cell phone service early in the next year), and a myriad of other issues with New Mexico have forced my hand in terms of relocation. Not to mention that it’s been difficult to break into the job market here, in terms of finding a job with a liveable wage.

So I’ve been looking at different cities around the country (and the world!) to begin a multiple-step move.

If where you live is absolutely fantastic, feel free to share your locale and what you love about it, in the comments, and I’ll add it to my research list! Also, if you use Wix or Weebly or have another suggestion for a blog/website host, please share those as well.

Meet My New (Imaginary) Friends—The Little Fears (created by author/artist Peter Edwards)

(Caution: Sleepy-writer thoughts lie ahead.)

Writing.

More isolating than I expected.

And I love being alone.

It feels safe.

But writing brings on a whole different kind of aloneness.

It’s not a very still and quiet alone.

Too many pesky thoughts and ideas. Too many noisy inner voices.

Things start to get muddled up.

In a surreal Dali-esque mad artist kind of way.

You begin to want a real presence. (As I allude to in my poem Tidal Pool).

But people are also distracting.

And you have a book to write.

Unlike your characters, you can’t customize your interactions with people.

Which makes you feel lost. Full on, fairy-tale-waif-in-the-woods lost.

And, so, when I sat down to compose this review of Peter Edwards’ books, I was trying to figure out where to start.

Then a thought spoke.

Just one.

It said “The Little Fears are good company.”

Granted, probably not the kind you would bring to the office party.

Or to your neighbourhood potluck.

But they are, strangely enough.

The quirky nature of the Little Fears helps banish the feeling of alienation you get from the day job and the real world.

“I’m not so odd, after all,” you tell yourself. (Even though you have developed the bad habit of talking to yourself ever since you first decided to become a writer.)

Oh, the art, too. It tickles something in my (Jungian, I hope, not Freudian) subconscious. Like when Peter invited his blog followers to create something based on his art and characters.

Durthi, the plant shaman, was very evocative for me—I love the idea of plants and animals having powerful agency against humans.

Overall, in decrypting the pun-based humour of the little stories, your mind focuses; becomes grounded. And then the laughs come. Or groan, as the back of some of his Little Fears books proclaim.

But I find myself chuckling more often, when I read his books and his blog posts.

They not only take the edge of my ever-circling mind, they take the edge off my horror-in-real-time, confusing, mucky mess of a life.

And I don’t feel so lost.

Or alone.

For I have Edwards’ Little Fears to keep me company. (Visit his blog here: https://littlefears.co.uk/)

(My favourite pun was the Stephen King cameo, by the way. In case you were wondering…)

Adopt some of your own Little Fears on Peter’s Etsy page: https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/LittleFears.

Little Fears books by Peter Edwards:

Capricorn

Grey Moon

January

Seeking Hydra

Spiders

Are there ANY bad restaurants in France?

 

Why, yes! Well, according to Alexander McCall Smith in his latest Paul Stuart novel, The Second-Worst Restaurant in France. (I still find it hard to suspend disbelief that France could have a terrible restaurant. Hence the appeal of Smith’s great title!)

But this book was delicious enough to make up for the book’s restaurant that’s being run into the ground by a restauranter-hopeful named Claude.

It reminded me of how much I love to read. More than that, though, it also appealed to my former self that used to work in the restaurant biz, and loved shows like Restaurant Impossible and Kitchen Nightmares back when I had access to cable in a non-rural, non-frontier locale. This book is a great literary version of that.

But, more than that, I found that the side character of Chloe (Paul’s mysterious and unconventional cousin) upholds what Alexander McCall Smith does best–using the main character to develop secondary characters that are just as interesting, if not more so, than the main character. And, without giving away too much, I also related to the character of Hugo–a sensitive individual trying to create his own life based on his ideals and passions. During the course of his journey, he’s aided by Paul in fulfilling these dreams. And I can really relate to Hugo at his stage in life, even though he’s a lot younger.

(This review contains spoilers!)

This is where I struggled with the book. I love the works of Alexander McCall Smith that I’ve read but my own life development stage and mindset as I enter middle age sometimes made The Second-Worst Restaurant in France an emotionally fraught read. And, boy, did I have bias in spades that was hard to put aside while I read the book that I won via a Goodreads giveaway hosted by the publisher, Alfred A. Knopf.

But that’s also the great thing about reading. It’s just you and the book and the characters that feel real enough to debate with in the privacy of your own mind and feelings.

As most writers will agree. Especially when you find out that Paul Stuart can’t work in his apartment where, for some reason, his girlfriend has decided to bring her noisy two cats for a staycation at his apartment, even though she has a flat of her own.

Anyone who’s ever had cats would be like “why on earth would she do that?” Naturally, the cats complain a lot to Paul about the situation, but he’s got a book to write, and eventually has to relocate his writing space into another apartment that Chloe offers him use of.

Poor Paul.

But the apartment doesn’t suit him either, as there are a bevy of young people upstairs doing what they do best–making sure everyone knows they are there with lots of loud music. 

And poor Paul ends up in a silly man-predicament with the younger woman, where he swears the interaction they have in the store is “innocent” to his girlfriend Gloria, who witnesses the weird olive-feeding interaction that somehow gets mistaken for a kiss. Let’s hear it, everyone: a big, resounding “Innocent, my a**!” *laugh*

So, poor, poor Paul has to pack up and relocate to the French countryside to finish his book that he doesn’t even want to write, but in between lecturing his experienced, worldly secret agent cousin about how to act and think, and nurturing poor, belittled, sensitive, chef-hopeful Hugo in fulfilling his cooking-promise, he realizes he doesn’t want to write the book he was working on, about the philosophy of food, and he also realizes that nobody will want to read it, either, despite the fact that his influential editor/girlfriend Gloria has pulled strings and gotten a publisher to back it.

So, wonderfully understanding and supportive Gloria arranges a whole other wonderful project for Paul to undertake, all the pieces fall into place, and everything is happily ever after–all thanks to Paul, presumably, not Gloria and Chloe (who comes to the aid of a local mother-to-be in an unconventional and fascinating way)–in the idyllic French countryside villa that I, and a million other hardworking writers who are also working day jobs (like me) and (unlike me) also trying to raise kids and maintain romantic relationships, are probably thinking that poor Paul is anything but poor.

But it’s proof positive that a main character doesn’t have to be likeable in order for you to fully engage with a book. And that’s why I like books so much. So much diversity there that gets left out of movies.

And, despite my mixed critique of Alexander McCall Smith’s book (which, again, I liked so much I read it twice!); yes, I’m a fan! I would definitely read more of the Paul Stuart series, including his first book in the series, and others. It comes down to the writing, which is, as always with Smith, so good!

And the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is fabulous, of course! Visit Alexander McCall Smith and discover his fantastic writing and compelling characters for yourself, here: https://www.alexandermccallsmith.com/.

 

Clowns That Don’t Go Bump in the Night…

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What could be better for my forthcoming birthday (September 20) than a whole book of horror stories featuring clowns?

The fact that my story’s among them!

So, “send in the clowns,” and don’t forget to bring balloons and plenty of gifts! Or, you can make my wish (and those of the other authors) come true, and buy the book, here: Bloody Red Nose: Fifteen Fears of a Clown.

Still here? Yes, you. You in the corner, clowning around. Well, I can’t get you an invite to clown school on that audition, but if you want more information about the book, check out Editor Dave Higgins’ blog post: https://davidjhiggins.wordpress.com/abstruse-press/fears-of-a-clown/bloodyrednose/.

Still can’t get enough clowns? Do you take your horror with a splash of humour? Well, Dave Higgins has released not one, but two, clown-featured books. Perhaps this one will help rekindle your childhood dream of becoming a clown. (Or not? I’ll have to read it, myself, to find out.) If you read Deadman Humour: Thirteen Fears of a Clown, please no spoilers. That’s worse than a clown without a smile!

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Sadly, I never did run away to join the circus. Which was probably a wise choice, as I imagine it would have been rather difficult to liberate elephants, giraffes, and lions as a twelve-year-old. Nevertheless, I do have a little bit of circus cred by association with my hometown, where I was raised, which was the winter headquarters of the Ringling Circus. (Until they moved to Venice, Florida.) Which, these days, I suspect that the Gulf Coast of Florida is pretty much all one swath of strip malls and gated communities with some six-million-dollar condos thrown into the heart of Floridian downtowns, just to give the residents a chance to kvetch about the slightest noise after 9 p.m. Or support noise meter companies. I forget which.

But don’t worry, even though more and more of Florida’s wetlands, wild areas, and farmlands are being parceled up and sold to developers by local politicians to become an on-every-street-corner Walgreens, or a toxic-turfed six-bedroom McMansion, you can still find sparkling sequins of circus history in Sarasota.

Check out the circus museum that’s part of the Ringling Museum historio-industrial complex: https://www.ringling.org/circus-museum. (Beware the museum’s staff, though; they can be more terrifying than any nightmare we writers can dream up. And enter into the gift shop at your own risk.*)

If you’d like a more genial experience, visit Bob Horne at his restaurant, Bob’s Train. His knowledge of circus from his own experiences, and his vibrant recitation of circus history, will add life to the museum visit. In fact, his own restaurant is filled with photos and memorabilia from the circus, and is the perfect setting to read certain clown anthologies (Can I drop any more hints?).

If you need any more convincing, yes, the restaurant is in an actual Pullman railroad car. Oh, and on the very same track is JoMar. Yes, that JoMar (look it up!). Which Bob Horne is restoring.

Here’s the link to Bob’s Train: https://www.bobstrain.com/location. (But I can’t promise there will be clowns.)

 

*I was born in Bradenton, and grew up in Sarasota. For those not from the area, that pretty much means I have carte blanche to be as snarky as I want to about my hometown(s). And it’s a gold mine for snarky humorists, let me tell ya.

 

The Once and Future Greece

 

Ah, Greece.

Classical architecture, timeless culture, glistening seas, golden beaches, and…the latest in cutting-edge AI technology.

This opens Nicholas Rossis’ suspenseful romance, A Heaven for Toasters

     Sadly, I have never been to Greece, but that made it even easier to immerse myself into this futuristic romance. Although I don’t have a toaster of my own to fall in love with, the ones I dream over in the Victorian Trading Company catalog are a very alluring alternative.

     As you probably already guessed, the toasters in Rossis’ book aren’t actual toasters; they are androids. Apparently, the human race doesn’t get any more PC in the future, European charm notwithstanding, and they slap this disparaging term onto their own creations. Never mind that the main character, herself, relies on augmentations to her own body–like hololenses and an biologically implanted link to her police station’s AI system.

This dynamic comes into play when the book’s protagonist, Detective Mika Pensive, is assigned to work with a toaster. She grudgingly accepts working with her new by-the-rules partner on her latest case. It’s a perplexing case that takes them through the artistic fringe society of Hydra and deeper into Clonesville–Clonesville being the village-like refuge for the clones created after scientists were no longer permitted to clone sentient humans. The duo’s budding relationship is fostered by their determination to uncover the secret evil lurking underneath the paradisal atmosphere of these Greek islands.

I’ll try not to give too much away about the book, but I especially loved the Detective Pensive’s visits to the artist colony. The only fault I could find in the book is that, having never been to Greece, but equally in love with most of Europe/overseas culture, I wanted more “flavour of Greece” in the book. Having said that, setting it in Greece definitely made this speculative-fiction read all the more distinctive. 

Take a journey to futuristic Greece yourself by acquiring Nicholas Rossis’ book here: https://www.amazon.com/Heaven-Toasters-Sci-Fi-Romance-Islands/dp/1724773410/.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to find a Greek restaurant for a “make-do” Greek flavour experience–that is, if there is such a thing in this frontier state. Here’s hoping that the author returns to Mika’s and Leo’s world sometime in the near future!

 

In addition to the blog link I posted above, you can also visit Nicholas Rossis at this website: http://nicholasrossis.me/.

 

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WordPress Woes

It seems that perhaps I need to hire someone to design my website.

I have spent all morning trying to get the WordPress features to work right, during my attempt to redesign my blog.

And I discovered that my plan no longer allows me to have Happiness Engineer assistance on the weekends, though that is how it was when I first purchased my plan.

Anyone else unhappy with WordPress as of late?

Advice?

The Journey Back to Earth

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Whew, finally getting around to reviewing some books for #writingwednesday!

First up, Versions of the Self (poetry) by Christy Birmingham.

Linky links:

Amazon

Goodreads

Christy Birmingham’s When Women Inspire blog: https://whenwomeninspire.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/christybis

Review:

I’ve followed Christy Birmingham’s blog for years, and, likewise, she’s been a strong supporter of mine. I think she was one of, if not the first, who purchased my book of poetry when I self-published (Oh, Createspace, how I miss thee!). But this is the space for honest reviews, and, being an honest, ethical, straight-arrow type, with a healthy dose of blunt forthrightness, here goes my honest review. (Please, stick with me to the end of the review.)
I wasn’t sure how I felt about this book, the first time I read through it. I felt somewhat removed from the poems within, and I couldn’t understand why. As a woman, going through what seems a similar journey of self-transformation, why was I feeling unsettled? Why didn’t it grab me straight from the beginning?
It wasn’t until I sat down to write this review that I realised what was giving me this sense of disquiet. I spend a lot of time in other realms. The theme of my own poetry book is all about journeys to other worlds. Alternate dimensions, astral travel, tandem dreaming, visits to fairyland–however you want to classify it, it has very little to do with the “real” world. And my short stories reflect more of the same–fantastical, surreal, spooky, and a little escapist (or so I hope!). I spend so much time up here in my head, or a million miles from it, that I’m not very present. I constantly receive gentle instructions to become more grounded, to visualise coming down into my feet. But it’s not a place where I’m most comfortable. I want the deep vastness of space; of the ocean. Of anywhere but here on Earth.
Christy’s poems reflect exactly that sort of grounded earthiness I’m constantly trying to avoid. Being present, being in the moment. Being real, no matter how much it hurts. Or how confusing it is. From my way-out-there, interdimensional traveller perspective, I see her as a very present poet. And I’m also not used to reading that in poetry.
And it’s a necessary, and lovely, stability in the rareness of the feeling her poetry inspires. With each poem brings another block to lay on the foundation under my feet. As a woman, as a denizen of this planet no matter how much I dream myself otherwise, she connects me back to the Earth under my feet; to my own “Version of Self” that connects with lines of her poems.
“Gliding under Water” reminds me of the simplicity of being a young girl in a pool; a time where my sensory experiences were more immediate. Though her work is titled “Versions of the Self,” I see it more as a stripping away of those versions to achieve a strong core, bringing us along with her as she goes back to basics. To having strong roots. And water, ironically, also helps root the reader in a very real, relatable experience of loss and change, in her poem “Within a Few Feet”. We have no choice to be present right along with the poet, because her pain is ours. It’s a pain that, sadly, lies in most women, and maybe the human race in general.
Lastly, she reminds me that it’s okay to be down here, in the muck and mire that is Earth, to “start at the bottom” (from “Bottom of the Waterway”). Because it’s only from there that we will learn to fly.