Surreal Weekend Roundup

Surreal things happened this weekend; some made me laugh, and some made me cringe.

First up was the Stephen King Special ice cream truck that came through our neighborhood. The fact that an ice cream truck found our street was pretty amazing (he was already doing better than 90% of our visitors, who get lost trying to find us), but the music on this thing was ultra creepy. The new music system is not an improvement over the ol' Pop Goes the Weasel.

This ice cream truck had a recording that featured a calliope (the deceptively cheerful carnie instrument) and the voices of children singing something about "come out before I melt away." I kid you not, it was like a chorus of trapped souls. I don't know if Stephen King has featured a sinister ice cream truck in any of his stories, but this had shades of "It" that made me afraid to make eye contact with the driver.

The second thing was seeing a vanity plate that said AC230--you guessed it, on a Mercedes C230. It cracked me up to imagine this guy's thinking process, "Hmmm, I want to pay an extra $50 for a vanity plate, but I don't want it to be too obnoxiously ostenatious." I guess ASEDAN was already taken.

And lastly, apparently there is a (flabby) arms race going on with chain restaurants, wherein the novelty fried foods are escalating. Cheese seems to figure prominently in all of them, which makes me ever so grateful that I can't have dairy, thereby removing the temptation to consume my entire day's worth of calories (and week's worth of sodium and fat) in one sitting.

Violence in the Hunger Games Trilogy

Don't worry, no spoilers if you haven't read the books--I won't actually be discussing the story in this post!

The Absolute Write forums and the blogosphere are all abuzz with reactions to Mockingjay, the final installment of the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. One common thread to all the reviews is the discussion of the amount of violence, especially in Mockingjay, and whether they are appropriate for a YA audience. Today, I'm going to dish out my opinions on appropriateness, for what it's worth.

Firstly, I read a lot of YA and know firsthand that the YA genre has a pretty wide age spread. Some publishers say YA is meant for ages 13-18 or 19, but I personally know 11- and 12-year-olds that read YA--and some readers in their 30s and 40s too. And the target age does not just encompass reading level, it's also about the emotional level, which varies for each individual (yes, even the ones in their 30s and 40s).

For example, I am a fan of John Marsden's Tomorrow When the War Began series. Like the Hunger Games (HG from here on), it features teen protagonists forced into what amounts to geurilla warfare. And as much as I admire how well written John Marsden's books are, I don't recommend them to everyone because of some of the dark events.

The same has turned out to be true for me with HG. Do I think these books are appropriate for my 12-year-old niece, whose mother barely lets her watch G-rated movies? Absolutely not--even though she wants to write books and the HG trilogy are wonderful examples of how to create a well-rounded world and characters, without resorting to the purple prose so often found in fantasy and speculative fiction. But when she's older, yes, I will recommend them to her.

What about my 14-year-old niece, whose mom is a lot more permissive about things like books and movies, or the 13-year-old nephew? Yes, with the caveat that these books give an opportunity to have some discussions about the cycle of war and the repercussions of it.

The HG books, with the completion of the trilogy, for me become about finding YOUR line in the sand and where to draw it. That is definitely a worthwhile discussion to have with your kids, in my opinion.

One post that raised the question of violence, she said the line that was crossed for her was the lasting psychological damage some of the characters were left with. I thought that was one of the most realistic parts (that's a big part of rehabilitating child soldiers in places like Africa) It's a case of not being true to the characters and the story, if everything became fluffy kittens and puppies after all the hardships and trauma.

The trials and tribulations of fictional characters can't even begin to match the unbelievable stuff that happens in real life.

I finished my rough outline for my next novel, and I began to feel a little sorry for my main character and all the new hardships she has ahead of her. She didn't exactly have a blithe holiday in the first book, but this one looks to have some pretty traumatic experiences in store. How much can one poor woman live through? History shows us, quite a lot.

As part of my research into the California Gold Rush, I'm re-reading They Saw the Elephant: Women in the California Gold Rush by Jo Ann Levy, and I had a vague recollection of a story about a woman's experience sailing to California on a ship carrying coal--and the coal caught fire. I found the reference, and Mrs. D. B. Bates's experience was even more arduous (and melodramatic) than I remembered.

Mrs. Bates set out on a ship captained by her husband, and during a storm the coal in the hold ignited. Although the sailors tried to contain it, the peril came to her attention when gas and smoke filled her cabin. Mrs. Bates spent days tied to a chair on the deck, exposed to the ongoing storm, while the ship tried to make it the 800 miles to the Falkland Islands.

Once in the Falklands, the ship was scuttled and the Bateses took passage on another ship bearing a cargo of tar, liquors, and coal--whereupon, twelve days later, the ship promptly caught fire. This one burned while the passengers and crew watched safely from the longboats, and luckily a passing ship picked the Bateses up. Only to put them aboard another ship bound for California--and bearing a load of coal.

Out at sea, Mrs. Bates swore she could smell burning coal, but it took three days for the captain of the Fanchon to find the source of the gases in his hold, where the coal lay smoldering. It took them another 3 weeks to make it safely to Peru, where the ship burst into flames as it was scuttled.

Mrs. Bates did eventually make it to California on a steamship, but the fact that she was even willing to set foot on any ship at that point fills me with admiration. Sure, it's not a tragedy on the scale of the Donner Party or anything, but I would have taken all that misfortune as some sort of sign and stayed put in Peru.

But in fine American tradition, she had the good sense to put her sensational story in a book, entitled Incidents on Land and Water, or Four Years on the Pacific Coast, and published in 1858. Versions of it are available to read for free on the web, if you want to read her account for yourself.

New Preston Castle Pix

I posted my newest Preston Castle Pix--enjoy!

Tiny Teaser

So it's a little bit of a teaser about the sequel to Those Lost at Sea and Drowned. Isabelle meets a spiritualist that can help her master her powers--but at what cost? Will she forever lose herself, and Duncan, in the process?

Working title for the sequel: Those Voiceless and Bound

I wasn't consciously trying to follow a formula of Those ______ and _______, but when I sat down to do an outline, that's the title that leapt out at me.

Clearing the Decks

I won't be posting Teaser Tuesdays very regularly, since I'm clearing the decks to start on my next novel. I will probably be squeezing some new short fiction and poetry in there, too, but I don't want to tease with those since I submit those to publications. I'll still be posting contests, prompts, and participating in things like Road Trip Wednesday (hopefully).

I'll be finishing up some new Preston Castle photos in the next few days, also, and I'll post a link when I've uploaded them. To follow up on my earlier ghostly post about the castle, in the pix I took in the alcove, there is an amorphous shadow that moves around in the 3 shots I took.

I also took one shot up the stairs from the kitchen to the dining room that has all kinds of light streamers in it. The same area, I took some more shots a few minutes later and they're all fine.

Upcoming Book Reading and Writing Workshop

When I went to the Roseville Litfest a few weeks back, I met Kim Culbertson, author of Songs for a Teenage Nomad. A critique partner just lent me her copy of the book, and I'm excited to read it before my rapidly-narrowing fiction window closes (I start a new novel next week, and I can't read fiction while I'm plotting). The synopsis reads eerily like my own childhood (see my bio on the WOW! contest page).

But if you're in the greater Sacramento area, you might want to join Kim at the Grass Valley Center for the Arts for a reading and workshop focused on songs and memory.

Suggested donation is $10, which supports the Center's writing programs.

Road Trip Wednesday--Unmentionables

YA Highway and friends are at it again for Road Trip Wednesday.

Road Trip Wednesday is a "Blog Carnival," where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on our own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This week's topic comes from a prompt at SCBWI:
What does your character hide in their underwear drawer - or other secret location?

Isabelle from my YA historical/paranormal novel, Those Lost at Sea and Drowned, moves around a lot (the U.S. to Spain, to Jamaica, to Antigua, to Rhode Island, to the spirit world) so she doesn't have anything as permanent as a drawer for her linens.

She always manages to keep a book with her, though, and among its pages you will find a hair from the tail of a white stallion and a scrap of black lace from a fine Spanish mantilla

Teaser Tuesday!

I'm having a harder time selecting teasers that aren't also spoilers! This section picks up shortly after the disastrous dinner with the captain.

After that disastrous meal, Captain Lee invited us to dine in his cabin quite frequently. Repulsed by him and his friends, I rarely accepted again, but Doña Catherine often went by herself or with the other women.

I was given permission to go above as long as I stayed out of the crew's way, so I spent most of my evenings on deck. I found a spot in the bow where I could nestle down among the coils of anchor rope. From there, I could watch the sea roll to either side of the prow, or look up as the clouds streamed amongst the stars. Anyone climbing in the rigging could probably see me if they looked, but I could not be seen from the deck.

If conditions were just right, the crew's words fell on me like cinders on the wind. Too bad it was mostly ugliness I heard from the men. The longer we were at sea, the meaner and baser the crew became. Coarse jokes, petty quarrels, and drunken fights were the norm.

A typical example was a man called Taylor, a braggart who thought himself an artful wit. His group of hangers-on treated every one of his words as if it were on a par with Mr. Beau Brummel’s. If Taylor made a jest and someone didn’t laugh, he was bound to take his annoyance out on the humorless man’s flesh—his knife being much quicker than his intellect.

I felt safer walking the decks in the morning, when the watch changed and most of the crew were too groggy to bother me. I always stopped at the stall that held Doña Catherine's horse: a white Moorish stallion, gentle and patient. Doña Catherine loved Alud because he had faithfully carried her husband, not just for his value as a stud. Devoted to her in turn, the horse would nuzzle me all over, searching out every last essence of her scent on my clothes.

Breaking News--Contest Winner!

I just got the news that my story, Ebb Tide, placed third in the WOW! Women on Writing Spring 2010 Flash Fiction Contest!!!

I wrote that story as a YA piece based on a prompt from Nathan Bransford's blog, so it paid off for me.


My mom cracks me up sometimes, but usually not intentionally. She could give Yogi Berra a run for his money on mixed-up aphorisms, but she's funniest when she is being absolutely serious.

My favorite example is from some years ago; somehow Mama Cass came up in the conversation, and my mom said:

"You know, Mama Cass posed for Playboy."
"This was before she was dead."

Last night, we were talking about an upcoming camping trip, and she said she'd bought a port-a-potty for their tent so she wouldn't have to stumble to the camp bathrooms in the dark.

Me: You bought a potty? That's really roughing it!

Mom: The only problem is that it has a maximum capacity of 200 pounds.

Me (after pressing the mute button so she couldn't hear my laughing fit): And you think that's not enough?

Mom: Well, my husband weighs more than 200 pounds so I guess he can't sit on it.

I guess he'll have to hover-poo. And I'll just leave you with that potty humor.

Need an excuse to come to Lake Tahoe?

If you've been writing for a while, you've probably heard of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers workshops and events (this is their 41st year!) at some point.

But what you may not know is that they post a schedule of events on their website (you can also sign up by email) and many of the events are FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC. That's right, you don't have to be accepted and enrolled as a participant. So if you can find a way out there, you have a feast of valuable writing input just waiting for you.

Lest you think free might translate into poor quality presentations, I have to mention the Roseville LitFest that I went to last Saturday. It was funded by some grants and corporate sponsorships, and the speakers were not paid, so the library was able to offer this as a free event.

There were maybe 50 booths for authors and other writing-related organizations, and it was so fun to walk around and talk to everybody. Some of that fun was the fantasy of, "Someday I'll be on the other side of that table," but some was just the opportunity to make a connection with the author. They all were so enthusiastic about their projects.

There were even panels and writing workshops; for the most part, I thought it was a similar experience to the SCBWI Spring Spirit Conference that was held in Rocklin. Except I had to pay money for that one (I didn't mind, it's to support the organization and the authors that spoke, and I made some great connections).

For the LitFest, I figured that I may not learn anything very new, but at least I wouldn't go away thinking I didn't get my money's worth! We've all been to at least one of those conferences or workshops where we say, "Man, I should have used that money for postage and printer ink."

Addendum: Article in the Sacramento Press on the Roseville Lit Fest