Thursday, June 14, 2018

Cinema Guano and the Queen of Clocks

Happy June, everyone! I am still hard at work with writing and deadlines, but I am here to announce the launching of two special projects. 

First up is Cinema Guano, a podcast spearheaded by my husband - writer, playwright, and performer, Greg - and co-hosted by myself and a range of rotating guest hosts. In each episode we take on a non-mainstream movie that is "bat poop crazy" and discuss and analyze the film's history, plot, and whatever else comes up. Stream or download new episodes from the Cinema Guano blog, and look for it on your favorite podcast source.

Next, though it isn't available for purchase yet, I want to put in a plug for the upcoming steampunk anthology The Queen of Clocks and Other Steampunk Tales edited by yours truly. It will be available in paperback and ebook formats on Amazon, for special order at your favorite local bookstore (this includes outside the US), and I think Kobo. I'll let you know for sure when I've got it all ready to go. I am not publishing through Amazon, so there are more purchasing options than Amazon and Kindle. Which means you will also be able to request that your local library carry it! Here are some teasers to pique your interest (click the pics to enlarge them):

Monday, May 14, 2018

Break Time

Wanted to post that since I am hoping to launch a book on June 1st, I am going to put my blogs on vacation until the first week of June. It's crunch time! Recipes are piling up, so I should have plenty of blog fodder when I return! 

Stay tuned for more information on the book launch...

Monday, April 30, 2018

From the Coffee Shop: Electric Eye Cafe

April has been a great, if busy, month for writing (and when I say “writing,” I include writing related things like editing and being invited to judge a fashion show after one of the organizers read an article I wrote). Whenever I grow quiet on this blog, it's usually because I have a lot of projects going on that I need to focus my attention toward. Sometimes it is because something bad happened and I need to focus my attention on that (death or illness in the family), but this has not fully been the case here.

At the start of April, I did pull a muscle in my lower back and I am still recovering. The lower back is one of the worst places to be in pain because it pretty well incapacitates your legs and any kind of movement you want to make on the upper part of the body, as well. Since I am not supposed to take NSAIDS, the kind of drugs one normally takes for sore muscles, this made the first few weeks of April extremely uncomfortable to say the least, and I didn't take any time off of the day job (because who can afford to take an unexpected week off without pay?). 

You'd think being stuck sitting and lying around for weeks on end would translate to a ton of computer work getting done, but not as much as I would have liked. Being in pain is exhausting, so I slept a lot. It's also distracting, so my pace has been snail-like. (If you click over to my food blog, you'll note that has been updating on its bimonthly schedule while this has been skipped.) 

So why was April so good? Well, I'll tell you. For starters, my husband Greg and I have had every Monday off together. In our entire seven year relationship, this has never happened. I've never been able to spend even one dedicated day a week off with my husband, and here we've had one day a week for an entire month. And we've been productive! 

The library (a room in our house that doubles as my office) is almost all put together. The yard is all cleaned up for spring. Books were dropped off at local book resalers and exchanged for cash and store credit (Dawn Treader in Ann Arbor and Think Outside the Books in Ypsilanti). We went to the public library and picked up the last issues of Locke & Key that we need to read. A podcast idea was brainstormed and researched. We've slept in and gone out to breakfast, played board games together, visited to cafes and coffee shops, gone shopping, and basically done the things that I imagine other couples with more conventional schedules do. It's amazing! I wish it could be like this all the time.

Greg and I were able to visit Grand Rapids, something we often talk about doing, and spent a day at the Grand Rapids Public Museum and checking out their special exhibit on Dragons, Unicorns & Mermaids (open through May 20th!) with some awesome friends of mine, Dale (a writer and full-time musician whom I went to college with; he once made a song out of one of my poems) and his fiancee Yvonne (who is a writer and great inspiration to aspiring full-time writers like me). 

Also this month, I was invited to participate as judge in a local school's Trashion Show, a fashion show put on by the kids with outfits made of recycled and repurposed materials. Not having children, I have no tie to this school. I was contacted by one of the show's organizers via my Facebook author page after she read my article on sustainable fashion for the Crazy Wisdom Community Journal. It was a hoot! Some of the kids really got creative with their outfits. There was a pikachu, Black Panther, a fairy, high fashion gowns, a tutu made out of used plastic grocery bags, and so much more. I had fun, and agreed tocome back next year if they choose again to invite me. 

As a thank you, I was given an ornamental plant that, unfortunately, is toxic to kitties, so right now it lives in the library with the door closed and we put it out on the front porch when the weather is nice. (My mother-in-law has agreed to take it in since she does not have animals.) My favorite part, though, was when a young writer approached me and asked if I would edit the book he wrote (I had in my bio that I am an editor). I explained that I am not that kind of editor, but instead edit articles for a local journal, but that the Ann Arbor library provides all kinds of resources and support for aspiring writers, and I wrote down some web addresses for him.  

Another fun writing-related activity I took part in was hosting an hour of the online launch party for the new steampunk book Army of Brass that a number of my friends contributed to and edited. A few of its contributors are also contributing to the upcoming steampunk anthology that I am editing The Queen of Clocks and Other Steampunk Tales, so it was the perfect opportunity to chat with these other authors, as well as make new friends and contacts in the steampunk creative community. 

So, you see, there is a lot more to being a writer than just writing. 

Right now I am working on this plus some editing at a new coffee shop that Greg and I have been meaning to try out, the Electric Eye Cafe on North Main Street in Ann Arbor. It is very chill and takes up the entirety of an old house. Rather than taking down walls, the individual rooms have been preserved and filled with tables and chairs, and there is a front porch and back porch with a fire pit (which is currently unlit because it's sunny and warm for a change). I could see myself hanging out here often, if only it were a little closer to home (we actually took three highways to get here, albeit not lengthy ones). 

Sitting on the second floor with the window open and the traffic going by outside reminds me quite a bit of my early days at the Fourth Coast Cafe in Kalamazoo before the upstairs was converted into the popular Crow's Nest Restaurant. The downstairs, where the coffee shop was (and Fourth Coast still is) was smoking while the open and largely vacant, besides some old wooden tables and chairs, upstairs (now Crow's Nest) was nonsmoking, so we got our drinks downstairs and took them upstairs to write or study. Of course, smoke rises, so I still left with my clothes smelling like cigarettes. Now Michigan restaurants are nonsmoking, so I no longer have that problem, though Crow's Nest is so popular that there is often a line to be seated, making relaxing and hanging out difficult. The food is good, so I am not knocking Crow's Nest by any means – if you ever stop in Kalamazoo, I highly recommend them for breakfast or lunch – but I do miss those pre-restaurant days just a little bit. 

If you are familiar with Portland, Oregon's Rimsky-Korsakoffee House, I am reminded a bit of that, as well, but Elecric Eye doesn't have the gimmicks. 

Ok, ok, I need to get back to editing. I set June 1st as the release date for Queen, so I need to finish editing this story, continue formatting, and look into how I want to acquire an ISBN.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Ann Arbor District Library, Neighborhood Theatre Group, and Ann Arbor Book Society - Oh My!

I meant to update this blog yesterday, but life has been pretty full lately - of other writing! (That's a good thing.) 

Not only have I been working diligently on writing and editing articles for the upcoming spring/summer issue of the Crazy Wisdom Community Journal (CWJ) (read current and past issues online today), but my first article for the Ann Arbor District Library's online literary and arts publication Pulp went up on February 12th. Check it out at Fantastic Beasts: Neighborhood Theatre Group's "Cryptic". Hopefully, I will be able to get some more articles for them written soon.

Speaking of Neighborhood Theatre Group (NTG)'s latest production, an original two-act play by local Ypsilanti playwright, and all-around Renaissance man, A. M. Dean, I helped them move their set over to and into Bona Sera yesterday and got to watch the set be built! Then I was too pooped to do more than nap and watch episodes of Ancient Aliens and Face Off on Hulu.

Probably not many remember that one of my first Crysta Goes Visiting columns for the CWJ included an interview with Kristin Danko, artistic director and co-founder of NTG. My ties to NTG do not end there. My husband has starred in two of their Halloween shows, the Black Cat Cabaret, and also twice participated in the yearly monologue competitions (though we have attended all three), all local Ypsilanti productions. 

I've never been involved with theater, so getting to help out, however much, was a real treat (and a lot of manual labor). Everyone associated with NTG is creative and fun, and they put their all into these productions. So please come out this weekend and show your support for local artists and local theater! 

Speaking of support... Were you aware that Ann Arbor is a book destination, home to ten brick-and-mortar, new and used bookstores? Yup! Ten. And there to support and foster this growth is the Ann Arbor Book Society (A2BS), founded by Rachel Pastiva, former manager of the Crazy Wisdom Bookstore, the person who taught me most of what I know about the book industry.  

I pretty much owe my current position working with books and writing to Rachel. If she hadn't hired me at Crazy Wisdom, I never would have met the editors of the CWJ nor learned nearly so much about the publishing industry, book marketing, and the wide reading audience. My writing career would not be where it is today.

So it is with great pride and pleasure that I begin volunteering for the A2BS. Sign up for the newsletter and keep an eye out for my name! Ok, technically, I've already been in it, but I'll be in it even more in the future with longer pieces. And support your local bookstores! 

It's local things like local libraries, theater, and stores that keep every community unique. Think local, buy local, support local. Keep things interesting.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Celebrating Jane Austen in Ann Arbor

Jane Austen is one of my favorite authors. (So are Roger Zelanzy and Harlan Ellison, so I'd say she's an outlier, not the standard.) She has informed how I write and plot romance in my own books. In addition to creating unforgettable, three-dimensional characters, she had quite a bit to say about social conventions of her time, wit that often goes over the heads of modern readers (because we are far less aware of how society worked back then, not because we're dense). 

She passed away at the young age of 41 in 1817. That's 200 years ago, yet she's more popular now than ever. Pulp recently ran a great article that clued me into some terrific Austen offerings happening around Ann Arbor (Ann Arbor's Jane Austen Jones is Sated With Many Bicentennial Events). 

I've sadly missed out on many, but last Friday, I was able to check out Hatcher Graduate Library's exhibit "The Life and Times of Lizzy Bennet" (through March 30th, 2018). The room was small, two walls were filled with 200 year old books, clean and clear, many with brightly colored illustrations. I was joined by fellow author and Austen fan, former roommate, and oft' cohort, Kimmy. (Check out her blog here: Haunt Hunters International.) 

Together we ogled the books; discussed all the incarnations of Austen's characters and the fashion of the day, along with its modern interpretations and representations in film and television; and generally geeked out about all things Austen and Georgian. (All things that cause my husband's eyes to glaze over. He's more for the Reconstruction and Gilded Age periods.)

We also learned, from looking at the books themselves and wondering what that funny f-like swish was, that the English language used to have two letter S's, the long S and the short S. From Wikipedia: "The long, medial, or descending s (ſ) is an archaic form of the lower case letter s. It replaced a single s, or the first in a double s, at the beginning or in the middle of a word (e.g. "ſinfulneſs" for "sinfulness" and "ſucceſsful" for "successful")." 

Why did English need two S's? It didn't, and the long S fell out of favor with publishers in the late 1700s (though clearly whoever printed the books we saw that included it either didn't get the memo or were stubborn about change). Why we picked the s over ſ, I don't know because ſ was used for the beginning and middle of words while s was used for the end of and only sometimes the middle of words (so "words" would still look like that). ſ does bear a stronger resemblance to f than S, so I'd pick s over ſ, too, just for simplicity's sake. 

So what else is in store for Austen fans in Washtenaw county? The Jane Austen Book Club Discussion kicks off tomorrow with a discussion of Longbourn, a modern companion book to Pride and Prejudice by Jo Baker at Nicola's Books. I haven't read Longbourn (Pride and Prejudice is not my favorite Austen novel), but I admit to being interested so I may have to pick that up from the library. Austen was only able to complete six novels (seven if you include Lady Susan), which is simply not enough for fans like me. 

Live nightclub is also playing host to Jane Austen LIVE on February 8th which will feature games such as the delightfully named Who Wants to Marry a Single Man in Possession of a Good Fortune? and is open to cosplay.

While the festivities may soon end, I will keep reading and watching Austen's stories. There is so much out there! And what better inspiration can I have for writing romance novels?

Monday, January 22, 2018

Monet: Framing Life at the Detroit Institute of Art

Though a number of the Impressionist painters lived into the 20th century, the style and movement are a product of the 19th century. It has an intent that 21st century Instagram aficionados can relate to as Impressionists wished to capture the feeling of a moment, the emotion, the play of light at that instant, and so on. They painted outdoors (en plein air) and portrayed common, real life (as opposed to rich or "important" people posing). To the 19th century world, this was shocking (much as I observe baby boomers have reacted to Instagram). Their paintings were considered unfinished, some overtly so and on purpose, thus unfit for showings in respectable art galleries. So they did what anyone of my generation would do - they put on their own exhibitions.  Famously so!

Right now, you can see an exhibition of Claude Monet's paintings, and a few by his friend and fellow Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir, from Monet's time living outside of Paris with his family in Argenteuil as part of Monet: Framing Life at the Detroit Institute of Art (DIA). Most of the paintings have been gathered from around the world, but the DIA does own one Monet painting, the recently retitled Rounded Flower Bed (Corbeille de fleurs). In putting together this exhibition, the curator discovered that the painting that the DIA has owned for nearly 100 years and had been calling Gladioli underwent a name-change at some point as it changed owners. Rounded Flower Bed has been de-framed and set in a glass box so that you may walk all around it and observe the back of the canvas, a unique experience. 

Renoir (who is, admittedly, possibly my favorite Impressionist because he, like me, was drawn to portraying people) is included because he visited his friend Monet at Argenteuil and painted him there. There are two "paired" paintings, one painted by Monet of a garden scene, and the other painted by Renoir of Monet painting said garden. I loved how it humanized both now-famous men. Which of us with a camera hasn't taken a picture of someone taking a picture? Another portrait of Monet by Renoir, Claude Monet (The Reader), is also included. 

You are also treated to one of Monet's most famous paintings, Woman with a Parasol, of his first wife Camille (who died young) and son Jean on a windy day. There are no Water Lilies nor Haystacks, which were painted at his later home in Giverny, but possibly more enjoyable (at least than the haystacks) are depictions of the beautiful gardens of Argenteuil and its river scenes. 

If you're really bummed about the Haystacks, you can find some at the not-so-distant Art Institute of Chicago. Chicago also has one Water Lily, and, even closer to Detroit, the Toledo Museum of Art boasts two Water Lilies. But in the meantime, enjoy the colors and impressions of Argenteuil and Camille and Jean's windy day. You have until Sunday, March 4th, 2018.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Felice Anno Nuovo (Happy New Year)

This year's new year greeting is in Italian because that is the language I have been studying for the past year or more. 

It's hard not to feel like January 1st is a clean slate. So far this year, I have had a miserable cold that kept me inert for three days and my husband Greg and I cleaned out boxes and bags full of junk from one of the spare rooms, most of which were donated to places in need, and some of which went out to the shed once Greg was able to de-ice the lock. 

In the latter part of 2017, I made some goals to be completed in 2018 that have turned out to be harder to undertake than anticipated. There were some stumbling blocks that proved themselves to be real thorns in my side! Switching jobs was a bonus (from bookshop to library), but unexpectedly mentally taxing as I learned the requirements for the new position, and it was not a clean break from one to the other. I also spent roughly three months sick. (The changing of Michigan's seasons are brutal under climate change.)

So what is in store for this year?

For starters, I have declared that I will edit and produce a book of steampunk fairytales to be released June 1st. The contributions from various authors are in and awaiting my acceptance and editing. Much of this work was put on hold due to illness, but I am determined to meet the deadline.

Second, I had wanted to produce a book of my own poetry and have it out by the end of 2017. This was not done, mostly due to illness. I have decided to put this on hold for now and concentrate on the steampunk book.

I have also promised to help other writers out, which I have made more of a priority for now because it was easier to do while sick. I will get back to everyone, soon!

Motor City Steam Con is coming up this July, and Greg and I will again be in attendance doing panels and selling (and signing!) books. This is why I set June 1st as the launch of the steampunk fairytale anthology - I intend to have copies available at MCSC. If I really throw myself into it, perhaps the poetry book, as well.

As always, look for my columns in the Crazy Wisdom Community Journal, the newest of which just came out, and check back here for the latest goings-ons.

Happy new year!