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.

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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!

Of Cookies and Books

Ever bake something amazing from scratch? Something so good, so rich, so satisfying that you can’t wait to try it again, but the next time you tweak the recipe to try to make it just a little bit better. Sometimes it works, and you produce the most deliciously gooey double chocolate chip cookies, but other times, you’re left with a pile of dried out, brittle briquettes are more suitable for acts of vandalism than human consumption. Books are like baking.

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When I come across a story I love, it’s natural to want more, but sequels are a risk. Sequels change the story, for better or for worse. At its best, a sequel strengthens our relationship with a character and gives the author an opportunity to explore and develop larger plotlines. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is a great example. But a poorly written sequel has the power to turn readers away from a burgeoning series, and even characters they love forever. Jan Karon’s Father Tim series falls into this category for me, and Jim Butcher is headed down that path with his Dresden Files. Sometimes it’s better to stop while you’re ahead.

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When I was offered an ARC of the sequel to Justin Robinson’s Mr. Blank to review, I didn’t hesitate. I loved the first book so much. It was fast-paced and hilarious, and Robinson’s writing style is so engaging I had to quit trying to find quotes from his work to fit the title because every time I try to find one, I get carried off in the story again. I was eager to read it, but I did have to wonder if he could do it again. Just in case you’re wondering, he can, and he did. And you wanna hear something really crazy? Get Blank is even better than the original.

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It will come as no surprise to some of you that I am not always the sharpest crayon in the box, and it’s not hard for me to get lost among the twists and turns of a gumshoe novel. I’ll be the first to admit that I got tangled up a few times in Mr. Blank, but Robinson deftly set me back on the path every, single time. I never stayed lost for very long. This time around, I had no trouble at all in keeping up, and I could see where I was being led without anyone spelling it out for me. That is not to say the ending is predictable. It is not. But I could connect the dots on the significance of each event this time all by my own self.

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Robinson knows how to develop his characters. Even when they aren’t human, even when they’re pretty much identical to every other one of their species, Robinson manages to make them stand out, to make me care about them. And maybe even cry over them.

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The book isn’t perfect. The resolution was a bit abrupt, and the pursuit of the identity of “Mr. Blank,” the thread that ties this book to its predecessor and is the premise of the series is weak. But the writing is so solid, the story at hand so well developed that I look forward to other opportunities to revisit this world. And while it is a sequel, Get Blank really does stand on its own two feet.

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I devoured this book in a weekend, in one fabulous, children-raise-yourselves-because-Mommy’s-not-putting-this-book-down kind of weekend. It’s urban fantasy, it’s noir, it’s bizarre, it’s a delight. I give it 4.5 stars. I haven’t given an ARC a rating that high in a long time. It was my pleasure to do so this time.

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Want to win it? You know you do!  There are two ways to enter. I recommend both! Go here to learn about and participate in tomorrow night’s drinkalong. Go here to the contest’s main page.

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And what goes better with books than cookies? Nothing. Here’s the recipe for the double choco-chip cookies I made to eat while I read Get Blank. I futzed with the recipe so you don’t have to. You’re welcome!

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2 C bread flour
½ C cocoa powder, unsweetened
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 sticks salted butter, softened (not melted)
1 ½ granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs

6 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips

 

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Preheat oven to 375F. Combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl and set aside. In large bowl beat butter and sugar on high for 1 minute. Add vanilla. Beat to blend. Add eggs one at a time, beating for one minute between each. Slowly add dry ingredients to butter mixture and beat. Batter will be thick. Add the chocolate chips and mix until evenly distributed.

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Place batter on ungreased baking sheet in heaping teaspoonsful. Bake for 9 minutes. Remove from oven, allow to cool for 1 minute, then remove cookies to a wire baking rack.

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Makes: not nearly enough

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Now, make some cookies and read this book. It’s my top pick for summer reads. And don’t forget to click here to vote for my zoo to win $5K. Comment on yesterday’s post to let me know you voted.

Trying This Again

I posted this giveaway a few days ago, but there were some errors and it did not publicize. Let’s see if it works today! I would love to have lots of entries!

 

I’ve been visiting my zoo for a very long time, like for more than 35 years. It was an annual field trip in several school grades, and I visited sometimes with my family. I’ve met some interesting folks there in my time. Some of them, I have never forgotten.  I once met a volunteer named Pete who made me feel like a superstar because he let me hold a Madagascar Hissing Cockroach. He made me feel like would only trust mewith his bug, which is heady stuff when you’re a teenager who scarcely trusts herself. Fifteen years later, I became a zoo volunteer, as well. Imagine my delight to learn that Pete was still there. I got a chance to tell him how much his encounter meant to me. How lucky was I?

Some of my relationships go back even further. I met a guy there when I was a small child. He was old and wrinkled and had the kindest eyes. It’s pretty tough to make a lasting impression on a kindergartener. I barely remember both of my teachers’ names, but I remember him.  I saw him again a few years later, greeting guests with the same enthusiasm. Never be surprised at where life takes you. Fast forward a few more years, and that guy is still there. I see him every, single day. He’s a little older, a little slower, but there he is. Would you like to meet him?

This is my pal, Al.

Big Al. And he is big!

Big Al. And he is big!

Al is an Aldabran tortoise, an animal found on the Aldabran atoll in the Indian ocean. He came to our zoo in 1974, when I was a mere toddler. No, seriously. I was three. Our best guess is that he came to us directly from the wild. In the last forty years, he hasn’t grown at all. He tips the scales at close to 600lbs, and around four feet long. His age is unknown, but given his massive size and the fact that he hasn’t grown appreciably in the last forty years, he is estimated to be somewhere between 135-150. Years old. Yeah, I know. I hope we have him for 100 more.

Who would ever have guessed when I first met Al the  tortoise as a six-year-old that one day it would be my privilege to be his keeper? Not me. Life throws us little surprises sometimes, little gifts. And this is one.

There’s another little gift. This one is from me to one lucky winner. First Tennessee Foundation is giving away $5000 a day for 150 days. I would love for my zoo to win it. We raise about 85% of our operating budget, and $5K would be a nice little boost. Those of you who vote get a chance to win a fabulous gift package.

Here’s how to enter. Click the link here. It should open in a new window to the First Tennessee  150 days of giving page. Search for Knoxville

Zoological Park and vote for our zoo. The votes are cumulative, and you can vote on every device that you own, every single day until we win! You get an entry for every time you vote. You can vote for up to ten different organizations. And fair’s fair. If there are 10 things you want to vote for, and my zoo’s not one of them, I’ll still count your votes as an entry. I’m not out to buy votes, just to encourage you to help a worthwhile organization win some dough.

Remember I said that voting is cumulative? It means exactly that. The votes aren’t cleared each day. Your three (or ten!) votes today are added to your votes for yesterday. And the day before. And the day before.

Leave a note in the comments each day that you vote, and tell me how you voted (and how many times). You will also get one entry for sharing this post on Facebook, Twitter, and any other social media, one entry for each network on which you share. That’s a lot of entries! And what are the prizes? I’m so glad you asked!

Winner will receive:

1) One piece of original 8×10 art created by one of the critters in my care – either a snake or a tortoise. You choose the classification and the colors from the list of what I have, and I’ll choose the species. Nothing venomous.

What is animal art? So glad you asked!

What is animal art? So glad you asked!

2) One Mold-a-rama wax skull.

Remember Yorick? Now you can have one of your very own!

Remember Yorick? Now you can have one of your very own!

And if my zoo wins the $5K by Tuesday, May 27, I will add one additional prize. A box of salted caramel MOONPIES!

So get out there and get to voting! Tell your family, tell your friends, tell your enemies. Vote daily and help my zoo win this cash!

Giveaway ends May 27, 11:59pm EST or when the zoo wins the dough, whichever comes first. Comments will be closed when the giveaway ends, so get those entries listed in the comments before then!

If you voted on the original post, those will still count. I’ll add them up from both locations. Sorry about any confusion!

 

Coming Full Circle: The One With the Giveaway

I’ve been visiting my zoo for a very long time, like for more than 35 years. It was an annual field trip in several school grades, and I visited sometimes with my family. I’ve met some interesting folks there in my time. Some of them, I have never forgotten.  I once met a volunteer named Pete who made me feel like a superstar because he let me hold a Madagascar Hissing Cockroach. He made me feel like would only trust mewith his bug, which is heady stuff when you’re a teenager who scarcely trusts herself. Fifteen years later, I became a zoo volunteer, as well. Imagine my delight to learn that Pete was still there. I got a chance to tell him how much his encounter meant to me. How lucky was I?

Some of my relationships go back even further. I met a guy there when I was a small child. He was old and wrinkled and had the kindest eyes. It’s pretty tough to make a lasting impression on a kindergartener. I barely remember both of my teachers’ names, but I remember him.  I saw him again a few years later, greeting guests with the same enthusiasm. Never be surprised at where life takes you. Fast forward a few more years, and that guy is still there. I see him every, single day. He’s a little older, a little slower, but there he is. Would you like to meet him?

This is my pal, Al.

Big Al. And he is big!

Big Al. And he is big!

Al is an Aldabran tortoise, an animal found on the Aldabran atoll in the Indian ocean. He came to our zoo in 1974, when I was a mere toddler. No, seriously. I was three. Our best guess is that he came to us directly from the wild. In the last forty years, he hasn’t grown at all. He tips the scales at close to 600lbs, and around four feet long. His age is unknown, but given his massive size and the fact that he hasn’t grown appreciably in the last forty years, he is estimated to be somewhere between 135-150. Years old. Yeah, I know. I hope we have him for 100 more.

Who would ever have guessed when I first met Al the  tortoise as a six-year-old that one day it would be my privilege to be his keeper? Not me. Life throws us little surprises sometimes, little gifts. And this is one.

There’s another little gift. This one is from me to one lucky winner. First Tennessee Foundation is giving away $5000 a day for 150 days. I would love for my zoo to win it. We raise about 85% of our operating budget, and $5K would be a nice little boost. Those of you who vote get a chance to win a fabulous gift package.

Here’s how to enter. Click the link here. It should open in a new window to the First Tennessee  150 days of giving page. Search for Knoxville

Zoological Park and vote for our zoo. The votes are cumulative, and you can vote on every device that you own, every single day until we win! You get an entry for every time you vote. You can vote for up to ten different organizations. And fair’s fair. If there are 10 things you want to vote for, and my zoo’s not one of them, I’ll still count your votes as an entry. I’m not out to buy votes, just to encourage you to help a worthwhile organization win some dough.

Remember I said that voting is cumulative? It means exactly that. The votes aren’t cleared each day. Your three (or ten!) votes today are added to your votes for yesterday. And the day before. And the day before.

Leave a note in the comments each day that you vote, and tell me how you voted (and how many times). You will also get one entry for sharing this post on Facebook, Twitter, and any other social media, one entry for each network on which you share. That’s a lot of entries! And what are the prizes? I’m so glad you asked!

Winner will receive:

1) One piece of original 8×10 art created by one of the critters in my care – either a snake or a tortoise. You choose the classification and the colors from the list of what I have, and I’ll choose the species. Nothing venomous.

What is animal art? So glad you asked!

What is animal art? So glad you asked!

2) One Mold-a-rama wax skull.

Remember Yorick? Now you can have one of your very own!

Remember Yorick? Now you can have one of your very own!

And if my zoo wins the $5K by Tuesday, May 27, I will add one additional prize. A box of salted caramel MOONPIES!

So get out there and get to voting! Tell your family, tell your friends, tell your enemies. Vote daily and help my zoo win this cash!

Giveaway ends May 27, 11:59pm EST or when the zoo wins the dough, whichever comes first. Comments will be closed when the giveaway ends, so get those entries listed in the comments before then!

 

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: Best Friend, And a Giveaway is Coming!

I made a new friend at the zoo the other day. Meet Yorrick:

His name is Yorrick. I knew him well.

His name is Yorrick. I knew him well. Okay, not that well, but he’s kind of hard to get to know. Mostly because he’s dead.

He’s a limited edition design in one of our Mold-A-Matics, and he is amazing. I never buy anything when I go places, but I bought three of him. He’s my new travel companion.

Yorrick gets up to all kinds of mischief:

Keep an eye out for Yorrick here and on Twitter under the hashtag #adventureswithyorrick. Shenanigans are in the air. Soon I’ll be running a giveaway, and some lucky winner will get a Yorrick of their very own. If you’re local, run over to the Zoo as fast as you can to pick up one (or twelve!) for yourself. I don’t know how quickly they’ll change the mold back to an otter.

Let the games begin!

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LOOK! Pictures of Prizes!

So my one year blogoversary giveaway ends on Tuesday, and entries are still kind of low, so your chances are excellent.  There will be at least three winners, and possibly five, depending on the number of entries. Here’s what you are entering to win.

This one was created by the baby Radiated tortoise.

Art by none other than Severus Snake

The bookmarks were created by Rigger Tortoise, a red-footed tortoise

The art isn’t in its completed format if I can find mattes for them. A picture of the artist of each piece will be included, as well.

Here’s the fun part. If I get 50 entries, there will be a grand prize winner. That winner will get to choose the color scheme and the animal and have a custom piece created just for them.

Tuesday is fast approaching. Get to entering! Visit here for the rules and the entries. Remember, you can enter up to three times. Good luck!

Beware of Geeks Bearing Gifts

Or something like that. Well, today is it. My big day. My one year blogoversary here on WordPress. I was expecting a parade in my honor, but only one car has been by so far. It was either a very short parade, or it was the guy who delivers the paper. Oh, well. Maybe next year.

It has been an exciting trip around the sun. We’ve had our fun, and we’ve done some good together. Several months ago, I shared about a school in Madagascar that needed furniture for the kids, and you guys came through in a big way. Not only did the kids get (locally made) desks and chairs, there was enough money left over to purchase solar panels (also made in Madagascar) because the village has only generators to produce power and must shut the electricity off in the afternoon. I’ll have pictures of the desk later in the week. In the meantime, I’ll share this photo:

Baby radiated tortoises. Ages from left to right: four months, nine months, thirteen months. Look how the shell pattern develops. The one in the middle is my favorite! Shh! Don’t tell!

Anyway, in the fine tradition of Hobbits (you knew I was a geek, so quit rolling your eyes at me, little missie/mister!), I want to give away some stuff. I don’t have all of the items I’ll be giving away in my hot little hands yet, so stay tuned, but I can show you one if you promise not to tell. Oh, who am I kidding? Tell everyone you know!

That’s right. At least one of the items I will be giving away is original art created by a tortoise. And there are some bookmarks that were created by Red Footed tortoise and the girl-child, a truly unbeatable team. And there’s some other stuff. I’ll have more details on the goodies later in the week, so stay tuned.

Here’s how you win. Find your favorite post here on my blog and share it, and then tell me in the comment section on this post that you did, along with the link to where you shared on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, or wherever you crazy kids share your toys these days. I’ll be sharing some of my favorite posts over the next week, too. There are some you may have missed! *gasp*

I’ll randomly choose some lucky winners in two weeks. You can enter up to three times, a different post for each entry. Questions? Ask away!

**UPDATE*** Look what we have here! Furniture!

Look at the picture that I just found in my email! DESKS! In the village of Antsakoamasy

What A Week Of ZooCamp Looks Like

Pretty much this:

Shhh! Actually, that’s not necessary. I could drop a silverware tray by his head and he wouldn’t notice.

 

I feel much the same way, so today’s post is a bit on the short side.

Sunday is my one year blogoversary here on WordPress. Yippee and stuff. I’ll post later this weekend about all  the fun we’ll be having over here, like a nifty giveaway. A couple of the giveaway items will be mathoms, some will be as-yet-to-be-created items that will be super cool.

If you don’t actually know what a mathom is (and spell-check clearly does not), then you are missing out on the fun read-along over at my friend sj’s blog. Come and join us for a good read, and I’ll see you tomorrow!