What Pixel Wanted For Christmas

Dear Santa,

I have been very good this year. I am very sorry that I pooped in Mommy’s lap when she trimmed my nails. Nobody’s perfect. I was just as surprised as she was. And I’m sorry for climbing the Christmas tree. It didn’t fall over, so it’s all good, right? And I’m sorry I ate your MoonPie on Christmas eve.  I didn’t know it was for you. It was good, though, so this family must really like you. I did leave you the milk. I might have sneezed in it. I don’t remember.

I made a wish for Christmas, Santa. I believe in magic.

Love, Pixel

Pixel

Not up to no good. Not at all. Nothing naughty to see here.

Dearest Pixel,

You’ve been a good kitten this year. As you said, nobody’s perfect. Your wish is a big one. Let me make some phone calls and see what I can do.

Love, Santa

 

Dear Santa,

Thank you. Thank you.

Love, Pixel

Welcome home, Bellatrix

Welcome home, Bellatrix

 

Dreaming, The Second One

When we last met our heroine, she was all giggles and happy sighs because two fantastic things had happened – one, she had a piece published in Writer’s Digest, and two, she found a galley that not only did not make her want to gouge her eyes out with a blunt instrument, she loved so much she wanted to promote it. And give it away. All caught up now?

So here, you get part 2 of my interview with Olivia R. Burton, author of the decidedly awesome Mixed Feelings.

Me: If you could have a super-power, what would it be? What power would you NOT want to have?

Olivia: I’m always torn on this question when it’s not multiple choice! I would love something that lets me be more efficient at life, like stopping time or the ability to teleport, but I’d also adore a fun power like being able to talk to and understand animals. My cat Martin and I already have long conversations, but they’d definitely be more interesting if he could meow words other than, “NO!”

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Having Rogue’s life-draining superpower would be pretty unfortunate, as it would make sex all but impossible. Having a superpower like Gwen’s wouldn’t be that great, either, if you didn’t know how to control it. In one of my other series set in the same world, we meet an empath who knows how to utilize the power and it’s quite a boon. Gwen is pretty passive in her empathy at the start of the series, however, and it uses her more than she uses it.

Me: What advice would you give to readers who hope to publish their own books one day?

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Olivia: Take criticism, but know your audience. I’ve had a lot of writer friends who want lots of people to read and give input on their books, but I think they overextend. I don’t like high fantasy, so having me read your epic Tolkein-esque adventure tome isn’t going to do either of us any good. If you write technical sci-fi, find your friends who like that sort of thing and get their thoughts. Listen to their input, and evaluate your work honestly, but don’t lose confidence in what you’ve written if they have a lot of criticism. A few mistakes don’t mean your work is crap, it just means it could be better.

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Always be willing to give back, too. Don’t just expect others to read your stuff if you’re not willing to help them better their craft as well.

Me: Gwen likes sweets of all kinds, and yet I am not sure she has ever had a MoonPie. Do you have something against them, or have you not gotten around to writing them yet?

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Olivia: I’ve heard of MoonPies, but I wonder if they’re regional, as I don’t think I’ve ever seen one here on the West Coast. I have nothing against them, I just haven’t gotten the chance to feed them to Gwen. From my light and recent research into what they are, I can promise you Gwen would be all too eager to stuff them into her face.

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Rest assured, were she real, she would fight you for the last one in a bin. Whether she wins or not would depend on if you have fighting experience and if you are smart enough to distract her with another sugary treat. You could probably just chuck a Tootstie Roll and go, “Fetch!” and the MoonPie would be yours.

***

Now, who wants to win their own copy of Mixed Feelings? Just click here to visit Candlemark&Gleam where the lovely Rafflecopter is set up just for you! The only reason you log in with your email is so that we know how to contact you if you win! So easy! No salesmen come calling.  Would you rather buy it? No problem! It’s only $5 right there on Candlemark&Gleam’s site!

Batman says enter to win! Look into his startling blue eyes and feel the fear dissipate. Enter to win. Enter to wiiiiinnnnn!

Batman says enter to win! Look into his startling blue eyes and feel the fear dissipate. Enter to win. Enter to wiiiiinnnnn!

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***I do apologize for the formatting this morning. Word and WordPress don’t play nicely together.

The One In Which I Live My Dream

Sometimes dreams come true. Last week, I was lucky enough to see one of my wishes come to fruition. No, I can’t fly, I am sorry to say. Still working on that one. I think I went overboard on the eye of newt. Anyway, last week, I got the opportunity to interview The Next Big Thing. Ever wish you had the chance the meet Paul McCartney or Ernest Hemingway before they were who they were? Me. I did that. Not Paul McCartney, of course. How old do you think I am? Last week, I got to interview Olivia R. Burton. Remember her from this post?

So we sat down over a soy latte (or email, because modern times), and I got to know her a little better.

 

Me: At what point did you know you wanted to be a writer?

ORB: I don’t know the exact point, but I know I used to hole up in a little TV cabinet as a teenager and write (awful) fanfiction for Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. For the record, I hope every handmade notebook I wrote in has since been burned and scattered to the four corners of the earth. My first foray into original writing was in middle school when I read Christopher Pike’s The Last Vampire. I say “original” loosely, since the story I wrote was very derivative and basically just self-insert fanfic of the book.

Me: The idea of a self-centered empath is so outside the proverbial box. How did you come up with it?

ORB: The short answer is that I wanted her to be awful. I’ve read so much Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy where the main character is a dippy, selfish brat, but the side characters refuse to acknowledge it. That made me so frustrated! I think a story is much more interesting when the main character has a lot stopping him or her from sailing through the plot with ease.

I took my customer service experience into account as I looked at how her empathy would affect the person she is. Sure, there are sad people in the world and a good person who felt that sadness as their own would want to help, but sadness and happiness aren’t the only emotions in the world. Think about how irate you get sitting in traffic. Now think how Gwen feels sitting crammed on a stopped freeway within empathic range of a dozen or so grumpy drivers who don’t want to go to work or who can’t wait to get home. Think how she feels standing in a long bathroom line. Consider how her empathy would function at the mall around the holidays.

Is it any wonder she’s chosen to be a recluses who wants nothing more than to sit at home self-soothing with cupcakes and soda that turns her tongue purple?

I wanted Gwen to be her own worst enemy and for everyone around her to see her for what she is. She does go through a fair amount of character development and, while she remains a greedy coward at heart, she learns through the main arc of her series how to overcome her own shortcomings enough to help when problems arise. She never becomes as useful as Chloe or Mel, but Book Six is the absolute last time she hides under her desk because she doesn’t want to take a client meeting, I promise.

Stay tuned for part II of this fun interview in an upcoming post. And stay tuned to win. Wait a minute! Hold the phones! Did I say stay tuned to win?

I have right here a little Rafflecopter, put together and managed by the illustrious Kate Sullivan at Candlemark&Gleam. She’s offering cool prizes ( and she’s even in charge of sending them out. No waiting for the weather to change for me to get them out by owl post. We’re talking, QUICK RETURN! There are so many ways to enter – 17 in all. What are you waiting for?

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This link takes you to Candlemark&Gleam’s wonderful website where the actual Rafflecopter entry is waiting for you. Click it, log in with your email, and go! Enter! The giveaway will run until November 18. Let’s get the word out about this up-and-comer fast!

Print copies are only available to those in the continental US, but the ebooks are for everyone, anywhere in the world! You know you want it!

And want to know something totally rocking? Another dream of mine came true last week. I had a guest post over at Writer’s Digest!

Sometimes You Win

I read a lot of galleys. A lot of them. My dream is to discover the next big thing before they’re actually, you know, the next big thing. Everybody loves to have a good “I knew them when” story. Sometimes it doesn’t work out.  I’ve been in a reading slump for longer than I care to think about. For weeks, book after book has failed to live up to the promise of its blurb, prompting a policy to never read another book that compares itself to Indiana Jones and this email to a friend:

My literary pet peeves:

Overuse of passive voice

First-person present POV

Telling, telling, telling. More telling.

Totally unnecessary details

Endless exposition before finally starting the story.

Trying to emulate another author

Boring, pointless plot
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Then I got an email from Candlemark & Gleam. I love this publisher. C&G is responsible for bringing Justin Robinson into my life. I trust these folks with my reading time. It wasn’t just any email, either. It was the announcement of an upcoming book. From a new author.  With a link to the galley. A debut novel backed by Candlemark & Gleam? Yes, please.

How delicious is this cover? And the book is just as good!

How delicious is this cover? And the book is just as good!

I work two jobs, six days a week. It’s safe to say that when I began reading Olivia R. Burton’s Mixed Feelings, I didn’t have a lot of  free time. I made the time. I read in the car line at Squish’s school, in bed at night far later than I should have. On one occasion, I nearly maimed a co-worker because he wouldn’t stop talking while I was trying to read the last fifteen pages on my lunch hour.

From the moment I began reading, I was charmed. Gwen, the protagonist, is so far from perfect that she could be me. She’s an empath like no other – she’s self-centered, and more than a little lazy. She’s a therapist by trade, but more because it’s the easy route  than because she cares  about people. She’s so real I think I may have gone to high school with her.

She learns from two terrifying faeries about the abduction of several children, and isn’t overly concerned. That these faeries also mistake her for the emissary of some powerful and mysterious mistress doesn’t bug her much, either. When someone steals her birthday cupcakes, however,  Gwen is finally stirred to action.

Burton is a wonderful storyteller. The pacing is pitch-perfect. The book is neither so fast-paced that it’s confusing nor so cliched that it’s predictable. It’s a fun ride. The characters are believable, and there’s no end of surprises in store. No spoilers or anything, but Go, Chloe!  Like, seriously. And the author avoids the info-dumps so common in the genre. Her world and back story unfold very organically.

The book is not perfect. Gwen’s appetite for sweets and Mel’s appetite for the ladies (I do so want to learn in future books that he’s a virgin!) are a little over-the-top. But the writing is so solid that the flaws are forgivable. In a world of authors who take themselves and their stories way too seriously, Mixed Feelings is a fun read. I give it a solid four stars. I visited the author’s website and learned she has many books planned and even written that take place in this same world. That is a whole lot of happy in one place.

The release date for Mixed Feelings is fast approaching. November 11, friends. That’s next week! Yippee! I love this book so much, I’m going to buy it. Friends, there is no higher praise.

Sound like a book you’d like to read? I encourage you to give it a whirl. In a couple of days, I just might make that really easy for someone. Stay tuned! Get in on the ground floor, here. You’ll be able to say you knew Olivia R. Burton when. This girl is going places!

 

The Art of Negotiation

It’s almost November, and you know what that means? It’s almost time for National Novel Writing Month, affectionately known as NaNoWriMo! For those not familiar with the program, it means writing a novel of at least 50 thousand words between November 1-30.  I could not be more excited. I’ve got my plot lined out, my characters in development, and I’m looking for some writing pals. Anyone? Anyone?

Writing can be an all-consuming process under even normal circumstances. Add to that  the high word-count, combined with a tight deadline and family life can really suffer without some forethought. As a three year veteran of the event, my family and I have spent the last few weeks in deep discussion to assure that my needs will be in balance with theirs. In hopes that our work can be of benefit to others, I will share our negotiations here.

Writing time. This is the trickiest balancing act. While I may want to write every waking moment, my family still needs me. Or they say they do. Whatever. We have talked the most extensively on this subject and have implemented an important policy:

Unless your pants are on fire, leave Mom alone. If your pants ARE on fire, go see Dad. In the event your pants are on fire and you ARE Dad, go drag your bum down the hallway like the dog does. It works a treat.”

Personal hygiene. While my once-a-week shower schedule worked just fine for me the last three years, my family tended to disagree. In addition, I have a full-time job this year, and I work with some large tortoises who are in the habit of covering me with their feces. Our agreement is that this year, if I will clean myself daily, my husband stand by while I’m in the shower and scribble all my great ideas in the steam on the bathroom mirror. And leg-shaving is out the window for a month, even if it means that come December I chirp like a cricket when my calves rub together.

I can play Christmas carols. And then Santa can put razors in my stocking. Photo credit:fcps.edu

I can play Christmas carols. And then Santa can put razors in my stocking. Photo credit:fcps.edu

Laundry. This task is truly a time-suck. Between gathering, sorting, washing, drying, folding, hanging, hours a day can be lost. To facilitate reaching my word-goal, this year I will wear my clothes in the shower. So much time and water saved!

Cooking. The kids have been told they will love Annie’s mac and cheese and peanut butter sandwiches or learn to cook for themselves.

Participation in family life. It’s important to stay involved in the kids’ lives. So they don’t forget what I look like, I have glued a picture of my face to my life-size cut out of Severus Snape. This solution works well for us, as the cut out is lightweight and very portable. It can be set up anywhere from the dinner table to a 6th grade band concert, and no one is likely to look close enough to know the difference.

Work. During the month of November, I’m calling in dead.

 

How do you balance family life and NaNo?

And for something totally different, be sure to visit my guest post over at Below the Salt News. Weird things happen at the fair. Things we don’t talk about in polite company.

The Box Turtle Diaries

I love my job. There is always something new to see, to do, to learn.  Every single day holds its moment of inherent wonder, and I hope I never lose that.

We hatch a lot of things at the zoo. Just click the “Tortoises and Turtles” tab at the top of the page if you want to see what I’ve been working with for the last three-and-a-half years. In my time, I’ve helped with the rearing of dozens of Malagasy tortoises. Today, I’ve added something new.

Back in the summer, I was in the process of closing up at the end of the day when I passed our outdoor turtle marsh and saw this:

What. You don't see it?

What. You don’t see it?

 

It’s a nest. Turtles and tortoises cover their nests really well to protect them from predators. Here’s my confession. The only way I knew it was there was because I saw Mom digging it earlier and noted the spot. The culprit was one of these:

Florida box turtle. Terrepene carolina bauri

Florida box turtle. Terrepene carolina bauri.

 

The next morning, I talked to the lead keeper. Not only was he supportive of me retrieving the eggs, he thought it would be a good experience for me to raise any offspring as well. Score! I was really pleased. The last thing I hatched on my own was a clutch of five-line skinks. That’s a cool story I’ll tell you one day. I have almost no experience with juvenile turtles, and I wanted to change that.

It didn’t take long to excavate the nest. In it, I found three eggs. Box turtle clutches average 5-8 eggs and females will lay multiple clutches in a season. I set them up in a bed of vermiculite mixed with an equal weight of water and hid them away in a secret location. And I waited. And waited. It takes anywhere from 2-4 months to hatch out a box turtle, depending on incubation temperature.

Within a few days, one egg had collapsed completely. I kept it for a while because once before, I had seen an oddly-shaped egg hatch successfully. When this one grew hair, though, I threw it out. A few weeks later, I candled the remaining eggs and saw blood vessels, a sign that the eggs were fertile. A few more weeks passed, and another egg began to indent. It, too, was bad. I candled the last egg and no longer saw blood vessels. Or anything at all. Rather than showing an embryo waving about in there, the egg was completely opaque. I haven’t given up on it yet, but it doesn’t look good. Win some, lose some.

All is not lost, however. A few weeks ago, I was out by the turtle marsh again and noted an Eastern box turtle behaving strangely. She was staring at the ground, neck craned, as if she saw something very interesting. Or tasty. I moved her aside, dug in the dirt, and look who I found! Click to enlarge.

Then, there was another. And another. The final total is four baby Eastern box turtles – Terrepene carolina carolina. They’re about the size of a quarter, but you’ll have to take my word for it. I never have change to prove it. My boss gave me permission not only to raise them, but to set up a whole exhibit for them. He didn’t have to say it twice!

Look closely to see the baby box turtle in the front.

Look closely to see the baby box turtle to the left of the fern in the front. See his yellow dotted keels?

 

The turtles are doing very well, and I get to channel my inner six-year-old and go out weekly to dig up worms and isopods for their dining pleasure.

The building these animals are housed in is part of our hibernaculum. Temperatures are gradually adjusted downward, and the turtles will soon do what they were designed to do – dig a hole in which to spend their winter. Before they are tucked in bed for the cold season, though, I will share more images with you. Because they are too cute not to! Soon. Very soon.

I Told You So

As my husband will attest, I am warm-natured. After nearly 20 years of marriage, we have yet to call a truce in the Fan Wars. If it’s 50 degrees outside, my bedroom window is open. A night at a sweltering 75 degrees is just miserable for everyone. Mostly because I whine a lot when I’m overheated. But women are perplexing creatures. *** I am a mystery inside an enigma, wrapped in 1000 percale sheets. Because regardless of the temperature, I cannot sleep without covers of some kind.

This habit is ingrained from my earliest years, as are most of my quirks. At some point, I came to believe that whatever is left uncovered is fair game for hungry monsters. Sometimes superstitions are simply relics of childhood. Sometimes they’re based on fact. Turns out, my conviction is true.

Two nights ago, I was awakened suddenly. Having broken my cardinal bedtime rule, I lay sheetless and exposed in the darkness. And I felt teeth in my bare feet. My heart lurched. Something is eating my feet! EATING MY FEET! All those years of carefully covering myself was not superstition at all! The monsters WILL get you if you aren’t careful! Goodbye, cruel world! I whispered my last will and testament to the universe. Then I recognized the identity of my assailant. It was this girl.

Yeah, she's cute when she's sleeping. Too bad she only does that about 15 minutes a night.

Yeah, she’s cute when she’s sleeping. Too bad she only does that about 15 minutes a night.

 

She started on my toes, then moved up to my ankle, then my calf. Finally I dumped her sad, sorry behind out of the bedroom and went back to bed feeling somewhat vindicated. “See, I told my sleeping husband (oh, he wasn’t really sleeping. It’s hard to sleep when your wife is flailing about like a goldfish on a dusty carpet. He was totally faking.) This is why I cover up. Things will eat me.”

The wily little minx slithered back into game-time central when I got up to go to the bathroom, and I was awakened a couple of hours later by a psychotic animal bicycling my head. Uncovered = eaten by monsters. The monster = Pixel = Pixel is a monster. It’s a good thing she’s cute.

Today’s my day off, and I’m going shopping. I wonder where I can find chain-mail sheets and a helmet.

 

***So are men, actually. Frankly, people are just weird.

Work Excuse Number 637: Why I Was Late For Lunch

So, there was this 600lb tortoise sitting on the hose.

Thanks, buddy. I don't need to spread that hay or anything.

Thanks, buddy. I don’t need to spread that hay or anything.

Parked like a VW Beetle on the bale of hay I’m trying to spread.

Attaboy, pal.

Attaboy, pal.

I asked him to move. I asked nice. He said no.

"What you lookin' at?"

“What you lookin’ at?”

What could I do?

Incidentally, this is reason 1,234 why I love my job.

Let’s Go Over This Again

With my new job, school starting, and all the many and varied changes that feel like have hit all at once, we’ve gotten all loosey-goosey on the home front. I thought this would be a good time to go over the house rules again.

 

  1. Night time is for sleeping. If you wake up and get lonely, it’s not the time to haul out all your toys.
  2. In keeping with #1, night time is not the time to come hang with your parents. They are tired. Try lying in your bed and thinking about how much nicer Mommy and Daddy are when they’ve had a good night’s sleep.
  3. Should you find yourself unable to sleep and need to find Mom and Dad, choose a parent and take the most direct route to them. Do not drag yourself over the face of one in order to get to the other. To do so is disruptive and unnecessary.
  4. Laundry baskets are for laundry. They are not toy boxes, cages, or (and I cannot stress this point enough) emergency toilets.
  5. Mommy’s bras are Mommy’s alone. They are not for playing with.
  6. Although we may play games on the laptop sometimes, the computer itself is not a toy. It is not to be used as a step-stool or springboard.
  7. Sometimes sneezes catch us by surprise. I understand. That being said, try not to aim at Mommy’s face. The same can be said for gas and other gastrointestinal disturbances.
  8. If you do not like the food that is served, just don’t eat it. It’s not necessary to spit it back into your bowl and make loud hacking sounds.
  9. My food is just that – my food. Sneezing on it or touching it in any way does not give you dibs.

I sure hope you’re listening. I’m talking to you!

Are you listening, Pixel? I do not feel like you are listening.

Are you listening, Pixel? I do not feel like you are listening.