Wednesday, December 27, 2017

My 2017 Reading Retrospective

Happy Holidays, everybody! It's hard to believe that this is already my fifth annual reading retrospective, but here we are. If you're new to this blog, every year, I look back at the books I read over the past year, and share the ones I enjoyed the most/found the most thought-provoking. The books weren't necessarily published in that year, that's just when I happened to read them.

I tend to get into reading grooves-- this year, it seems, it was all short stories, fairy tales and memoirs. Presumably because my TBR list is informed by a lot of other people's lists, "15 Best Horror Novels" and whatnot.

This year, I read 61 books. Of them, the following were stand-outs:

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter - Oh, the joy of discovering a new author you adore. The pain of learning she passed away in 1992. This book made me want to run out and get my hands on every single thing Carter has ever written. The Bloody Chamber is a collection of short stories that are re-tellings of classic fairy tales with a feminist twist. Carter's prose is sublime; stunningly, achingly beautiful, and did I mention feminist re-tellings of old fairy tales?

Deerskin by Robin McKinley - Another fairy tale retelling, this one of a Perrault story, "Donkeyskin." Be warned, this book is a little on the slow side. Like, really, really slow. I'm the sort of reader who doesn't mind when the author lingers on the details, on the day-to-day activities of the characters. I don't even mind stories that are virtually plotless, as long as the characters are compelling. Deerskin doesn't suffer from lack of plot, but sometimes, I was impatient for something to happen. However, I love the main characters, Lissar and her faithful hound, Ash, so much I was willing to stick it out with them. Also, I feel like the mark of a great book is one that lingers in your mind long after you've finished it, and I find myself thinking of this one often.

Best Horror of the Year, Volumes 1-9 edited by Ellen Datlow - Collections of the best horror fiction culled from literary magazines and anthologies. If you enjoy genre fiction, then you know Datlow's name. The lady has an eye for great fiction. I devoured all nine volumes back-to-back, so they've all kind of blurred together for me. Vampires, zombies, Lovecraftian goodness, psychos, ghosts, and everything in between. Certainly, some years are better than others, but these are a must-read for any horror aficionado. I'm already looking forward to next year's volume.

Hunger by Roxane Gay - This book has received so much praise and hype, I can't add much to it, other than to say it was the first book I read by Gay, and I plan on reading everything else by her. I've even been reading her Outlander recaps on Glamour and I don't even watch Outlander. (Though now I've started, because I trust Roxane's taste.)

White Tiger on Snow Mountain: Stories by David Gordon - A wonderful collection of stories that are warm, hilarious, devastating, and delightfully strange. The first story in the collection, I thought, was actually the weakest, but I kept reading, drawn in by his superb prose. I'm so glad I did. If I find myself following around friends and family, reading passages aloud to them, I know I've found something special.

War Dances by Sherman Alexie - A collection of short stories, poems, and prose-poems that, like most of his works, blur the line between fiction and biography, and generally defy categorization. Alexie inhabits one of my favorite minds in the literary cosmos.

The Incest Diary by Anonymous - A memoir of one woman's lifelong abuse at the hands of her father. I don't know how to even begin to describe this book, much less rate it. It's eye-opening. It's soul-shattering. You will be sickened, you will be enraged. I think it's something every adult should read. In the year of #MeToo and women speaking out (and being believed) about sexual assault, this book couldn't have hit the shelves at a better time. If you're tired of talking about abuse, imagine how tired the victims are of living with it.

Mothers, Tell Your Daughters by Bonnie Jo Campbell - A fantastic collections that are so painfully realistic, I had to remind myself that they are, in fact, categorized as fiction. These are stories about mostly poor and working-class women, rural and urban, in stasis and in transit, told with unflinching honesty. They are stories about relationships: familial, romantic, professional, and everything in between. Also, having been born and raised in the Midwest and now living in the South, I appreciate stories told in the voices of the denizens of flyover country.

The White Hotel by D.M. Thomas - A Holocaust novel that defies description-- one part prose-poem, one part epistolary tale, one part erotica, one part mystical journey, the ending will leave you gutted. (But do I really need to tell you that, since it's a Holocaust novel?) Unforgettable.

You Don't Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie - A second entry by Alexie, this is mostly a memoir, chronicling Alexie's early life in tandem with the year following his mother's death. His life has been one of hardship, privation, poverty, and illness, yes, but it has also been rich with colorful characters, with love and As with anything else he's written, he can't not tell his story without lapsing into poetry, so be prepared to flit from prose to verse and back again. He's the writer I wish I could be. I am his eternal fangirl.

Thanks for reading! I'm always happy to hear from you, and especially happy to talk books, so please feel free to leave a comment below.

If you like this poem, check out my previous Reading Retrospectives: 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Push Mountain Road: poems of nature, faith and domesticity

Pat Durmon’s third book, Push Mountain Road, is a tribute to the Ozark Mountains, the relationship between ourselves and all that surrounds us, and a life lived fully.

Push Mountain Road by Pat Durmon is actually three books in one, Push Mountain Road, Lights and Shadows in a Nursing Home, and Blind Curves, released from 2007-2015, so you’re getting quite a bang for your buck in terms of quantity. I’m pleased to report, you’re getting top-notch quality as well.

Push Mountain Road is, quite simply, a joy to read. Durmon focuses on nature, domesticity and faith. She handles all three deftly, but she is at her best when she is observing the beauty of the world around her. (She lives in Arkansas, which, if you’ve ever been there, you know is home to stunning mountains, hills and forestland.) I adore good nature poems, capable of taking something small and commonplace and transforming it into something miraculous, revelatory, and universal. We have all been enchanted by wildflowers, birds, a clear sky, and these poems assign them the specificity of place. There are poems about the home, about country-living. There is a lot of truth to be found here in ruminations on the day-to-day: marriage, arguments, divorce, aging, a mother in a care facility, funerals, illness, hairdressers. But virtually all of the poems are couched in nature imagery-- an argument pushes up mountains. The falling rain is an epiphany. Newly beautified salon clients walk out, tall as walnut trees.

Durmon’s work is imminently straightforward, accessible, yet artful. Her pieces are wise, powerful and meditative, but there’s a playfulness at work here, too, that I really enjoyed. She peppers in words and phrases like flimflam and tra-la-la. She plays with rhymes and alliteration, which, in the hands of a less capable poet can just come off as silly. Here, I think they reflect the poet’s genuine and profound love for life.

These poems are also Christian, but if you are not, don’t let that put you off. I am not a Christian myself, but I respect the faith of others. Yet I wouldn’t categorize these as Christian poems, per se-- there are allusions to scripture, but again, it mostly expresses itself in Durmon’s love of the world. These are poems for everyone, they just happen to come from a place of awe, gratitude and humility that is uniquely Christian, like this passage from “What a Good Life”:

When the sun travels its higher path,
I read a psalm. King David’s words
and the smell of beans humble me.
Suddenly, I am fed.

In all of her themes, Durmon achieves the not inconsiderable feat of being positive without being sentimental, or cheesy. These poems are solid, nourishing works, juicy and savory as venison steak. They are deeply honest, quietly funny, yet there is a sharpness here-- an eye for truths thrumming away beneath the surface of things, an inner ferocity. A husband’s scowl can rock his wife, but she gives as good as she gets, asking in a later poem, “Which ditch do you want to die in?”

The poems are mature, distinctly female. There has been a lot of discussion lately by feminist writers about how writing that deals with “women’s subjects” has been traditionally dismissed as less important. I would point to Durmon’s poetry as a reason why they matter so much. In “Upholstery Shop,” she quotes the upholsterer, who says, “Welcome to my tiny place where/important work happens.” If this doesn’t sum up literature that deals with domesticity, I don’t know what does. And just because they deal with subjects like cooking and laundry doesn’t mean they don’t have teeth. She finds beauty even in a dead skunk, in the potential of manure. She captures the fury of storms and arguments, floods and funerals. “Hanging” is a gut punch. She is a Christian with the soul of a hedgewitch, capturing the beauty of gardens, kitchens, and the earth at large.

One of my favorites was, “How to Build a Mean Mincemeat Pie,” in which the narrator consults a very famous red-and-white cookbook that my mother and I both use, and consults with her mother-in-law on ingredients. I am thrilled to share this experience with other women. “Deep Delight” is another favorite-- a quiet little poem about a single magnolia blossom.

I can’t recommend this book enough. Durmon tells me she has a new collection in the works and I can’t wait to read it.

Purchase Push Mountain Road on Amazon.

About the Author

Pat Durmon is the author of Blind Curves (2007), Lights and Shadows in a Nursing Home (2013), and Push Mountain Road (2015). Poems have been published by Rattle, Main Street Rag, Poetry East, Cyclamens and Blades, Between the Lines, Lucidity and other journals. She is the recipient of the Sybil Nash Abrams Award (2007) and the Merit Award (2013), given by Poets Roundtable of Arkansas. Pat Durmon is retired from mental health counseling and currently facilitates two groups.  She writes a weekly blog and invites people to follow her uplifting blog by signing up at Durmon is a native Arkansan and lives in the Ozarks with her husband. She sees herself as lighter and more joyful after writing a poem.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Importance of Retreat

Dear readers, I am thrilled to share with you this guest post by poet Jen Payne. She has just released a new collection of poetry, Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind. In the guest article below, she discusses the vital role occasional stints of solitude play in our lives-- she speaks of how important it is for writers and creative types, but I think it's something everyone can benefit from. And for a bonus, she even threw in a poem from her new work! Read on:

The Importance of Retreat
by Jen Payne

Photo by Jen Payne, 2017

BUG OUT! That’s what they called it on the TV show M*A*S*H. The enemy is getting closer, someone yells “Bug Out!” and everyone, everywhere packs up everything and bolts!

I use the same word, often, when it’s time to get away for a while. BUG OUT! You know that feeling, right? You’ve been working really hard, your To Do list hasn’t gotten any shorter, you can’t seem to get enough sleep, and coffee just isn’t working its usual magic.

It’s time to Retreat! Regroup! Withdraw! Escape!

I don’t think the battlefront vocabulary is all that off-base. We live in a world of battles—time, technology, schedules, workloads, deadlines. If you’re a creative type, somewhere in all of that you must also make room for the Muse who feeds your soul. And if your Muse is anything like mine, she lets you know when she’s hungry for more attention!

In the Scientific American article “Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime,” writer Ferris Jabr details study after study that confirm the importance of taking time off. He concludes that “Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life.”

But we can’t all be like author Elizabeth Gilbert—a little overwhelmed, take a year off and travel the world to Eat Pray Love our way back to our creative selves. Not everyone has that luxury.

But here’s what I’ve learned about downtime…

IF…I give myself just a half hour to meditate or take a nap or walk in the woods? My Muse breathes.

IF…I give myself a day off, like a Sunday-Sabbath-resting day off? Then my Muse dances.

And IF…I am so lucky as to be able to take a true retreat—a suitcase, off-the-grid, away-from-things retreat—my Muse will pack up her stuff and come along with me. We’ll see things with fresh eyes, we’ll come up with new ideas, and we’ll start speaking to each other again.

Resistance is Futile 
from Evidence of Flossing

How easily I
write of changing seasons,
life grown from death.
Circle of Life,
I pontificate

with heels dug firm.

But at Sunday service
in wooded cathedral
as summer genuflects,
and jewel weed with wild grapes
stand at the crossing…

Everything is flowing,
god whispers.

How foolish am I to resist?

About the Book

Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind is a collection of poetry and photographs that ask the reader to consider: What will we leave behind? What is our legacy in this vast and wondrous Universe?

Part social commentary, part lament, the poems in Evidence of Flossing are, at their heart, love poems to the something greater within all of us. Their investigation of the human condition and its folly — what makes us need that downtime— is juxtaposed to a series of poems about our natural world and the possibility of divine connection. Its pages are illustrated by a random, absurd, and heartbreaking assortment of original and vintage photographs, including a series of discarded dental flossers that inspired the title of the book.

Available from Three Chairs Publishing:
$21.99 (plus tax + shipping)

Or click here to purchase your copy today.

About Jen Payne
Jen Payne is inspired by those life moments that move us most — love and loss, joy and disappointment, milestones and turning points. Her writing serves as witness to these in the form of poetry, creative non-fiction, flash fiction and essay. When she is not exploring our connections with one another, she enjoys writing about our relationships with nature, creativity, and mindfulness, and how these offer the clearest path to finding balance in our frenetic, spinning world.

Very often, her writing is accompanied by her own photography and artwork. As both a graphic designer and writer, Jen believes that partnering visuals and words layers the intentions of her work, and makes the communication more palpable.

In 2014, she published LOOK UP! Musings on the Nature of Mindfulness, a collection of essays, poems and original photography. Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind is her second book.

Jen is the owner of Three Chairs Publishing and Words by Jen, a graphic design and creative services company founded in 1993, based in Branford, Connecticut. She is a member of the Arts Council of Greater New Haven, the Branford Arts and Cultural Alliance, the Connecticut Poetry Society, Guilford Arts Center, the Guilford Poets Guild, and the Independent Book Publishers Association.

Installations of her poetry were featured in Inauguration Nation an exhibition at Kehler Liddell Gallery in New Haven (2017), and Shuffle & Shake at the Arts Council of Greater New Haven (2016). Her writing has been published by The Aurorean, Six Sentences, the Story Circle Network, WOW! Women on Writing, and The Perch, a publication by the Yale Program for Recovery and Community Health.

You can read more of her writing on her blog Random Acts of Writing: 

Connect with Jennifer:

Thank you for reading! Be sure to check out other guest authors featured on this blog.

Monday, November 20, 2017

November News

Hi, all! Two of my poems, "Cemetery with Whale Bones" and "The Submersed" appeared in Aji Magazine. Read it free here.

"Cemetery with Whale Bones" was inspired by a photo I saw of a cemetery in Point Hope, Alaska:

I've never seen it in person, but now it's on my travel bucket list.

"The Submersed" was about a prison inmate I talked to who used to be an underwater welder. It sounds like a fascinating and terrifying occupation.

Later this month, my poem, "Mama" will appear on Poetry Breakfast. I'll also be featuring guest poet Jennifer A. Payne, who has just released a new poetry collection, Evidence of Flossing. 

Don't forget, all of my titles are now available on Kindle Unlimited. In December, in honor of the season, I'm making The Ice Dragon and The Winter Prince available as free downloads. The Ice Dragon will be free on Dec. 6, and The Winter Prince will be free on Dec. 13.

Thank you, as always, for reading, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

All titles now on Kindle Unlimited

Hey, folks. I just wanted to share with everyone that all of my titles are now available on Kindle Unlimited:

The Order of the Four Sons
Where Flap the Tatters of the King 
The Sacred Heart

Our Miss Engel
The Ice Dragon
The Winter Prince
West Side Girl & Other Poems 

What better way to celebrate than to offer some free download days? This month, The Order of the Four Sons, Book I will be free on Nov. 13 and Nov. 20.

The world of O4S is very near and dear to my heart. I hope you grab a copy and start exploring!

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Larry Kilham: Thoughts on First-Person Narration

On First-Person Narration
Writing coaches love to hold forth on what narrative should be used in fiction. The current consensus is for the new writer to use the third person. The story is told from the point of view of a character in the story other than the author and usually the character’s thoughts are shared with the reader. The narration character may be changed from time to time as necessary to best advance the story. The third person narrative is simple, intuitive, and most current fiction books can be used as models.

I prefer the first person (that’s me, the author) narration of the story because for me, at least, it results in a more engaging, “happening,” narrative. I don’t have to digest and interpret what someone else thought and did; the narrative comes straight from my emotional self. Also, several writers I particularly like use the first person effectively, including H.G. Wells, Ernest Hemingway, and Joseph Conrad. The narration can switch to the third person occasionally as required to tell the story, but this shouldn’t be done too frequently because it can be confusing for the reader.

In my current book, Free Will Odyssey, the story is tightly focused on a young man who invents a free will enhancing machine. His adventures include finding himself in a jail, a courtroom, and the White House. Since I was an inventor and experienced many aspects of the story, the first person was the natural narration to use.

Peter Tesla, a prodigious young inventor, develops an electronic device to enhance the user’s free will. A major application is drug detoxification. Peter’s star client is the U.S. president. Along the way, Peter is tried for the mysterious death of a girlfriend and struggles with the machinations of a secretive industrialist.

Purchase on Amazon

About the Author

Larry Kilham has traveled extensively overseas for over twenty years. He worked in several large international companies and started and sold two high-tech ventures. He received a B.S. in engineering from the University of Colorado and an M.S. in management from MIT. Larry has written books about creativity and invention, artificial intelligence and digital media, travel overseas, and three novels with an AI theme.

Connect with Larry
Twitter: @larrykilham 

Like this post? Check out previous guest authors here

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

October News

This month, my poem, "Nuestra SeƱora de Ogilvie," appeared in Dublin-based Into the Void magazine. Both print and digital copies are available. 

This poem is actually one of five I wrote for an anthology whose theme is "Latina hair battles"-- Latina women, their hair, and their relationships with their mothers. I had a lot to say on that subject, hence I wrote five poems. The anthology accepted two-- I don't have a release date on that work yet, but I'm very excited to be included in it, and can't wait to see what experiences mis hermanas have to share. 

Meanwhile, Into the Void was good enough to take this one off my hands. I'm thrilled to say this is my third international publication. Now if only I could conquer the rest of the English-speaking world! And maybe the non-English-speaking world, too. Where my translators at?

In case you missed it, Our Miss Engel is now available on Kindle Unlimited exclusively. If you're a Kindle user, I hope you grab a copy. I've also put The Ice DragonThe Winter Prince, and West Side Girl & Other Poems on Kindle Unlimited. 

I have some guest bloggers lined up for November and December. I look forward to sharing their work with you.

Happy Halloween, everybody!  

Friday, October 20, 2017

Halloween Freebie

Happy Halloween months, friends! I have great news for Kindle Unlimited subscribers-- as of this month, I've made Our Miss Engel available on KU, so you can download a copy of your very own in Kindle format.

And since it's October, I'm making it free for two days this month: October 24, and October 30.

Consider it a trick-or-treat goodie from me to you! Enjoy!

Friday, September 29, 2017

September News

Well, I survived the hurricane. I live in one of three counties in Florida that was basically unaffected by Irma. Having lived in Florida for just over a year, it was a new and sobering experience for us. Back home, we had tornadoes and winter storms. With winter storms, people stock their pantries and hunker in-- no one wants to run to the store for milk when the roads get bad. But if the electricity goes out, all you have to do is pack your perishables up so critters can't get at them and pack them outside in the snow. With tornadoes, there is even less preparation. The sirens go off, you get in the basement, and wait it out. That's it.

Here, the hurricanes advance with strange, sinister slowness. Even the natives freak out. There was a run on the gas stations. Long lines formed at the Tom Thumbs and Cefcos, filling up their tanks and containers so they'd have enough to evacuate, or to run their generators. In a blink, all that was left was premium and diesel fuel. The grocery stores were worse-- all the bottled water and canned food disappeared, along with any kind of survival gear, matches, flashlights, canteens, that sort of thing. It was surreal. My heart goes out to the places that were devastated by Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria. I'm donating to all the fundraisers that I can. I hope you are too.

On the writing front, I did an interview at Snowflakes in a Blizzard on West Side Girl & Other Poems. You can read it here. I'm honored to say this is my second feature on Snowflakes, a rarity because the editor, Darrell Laurent, prefers not to interview the same author more than once. Big thanks to him for taking an interest in my work.

Also, this month, my poem "Arrowheads" will appear in the latest issue of The I-70 Review, published annually in my hometown of KC. Unfortunately, they don't post any of the contents online, so only subscribers can read it.

"Arrowheads" was the first poem I wrote about Florida. We live right next to Eglin AFB, which is home not only to air force, but to army special forces. I've never lived in a military town before, so I'm experiencing a sort of dual culture shock here-- the military and the Deep South. Virtually all of the neighbors in our apartment complex are military or ex-military. "Arrowheads" was inspired by a neighbor we had, a disabled vet with brain damage from an IED. Collecting arrowheads had been a lifelong hobby of his. The first time I read the poem at a poetry open mic, of course, there was a vet in the audience, and I made the poor guy cry. There's always this peculiar mixture of guilt, anguish and triumph of creating something that can affect others so profoundly. So, men and women of the armed forces, consider this your trigger warning.

For the second month in a row, I've hosted Off the Page, an open mic/literary salon, held on the third Thursday of the month. If you ever happen to be in Northwest Florida and are interested in attending, hit me up. I'd love to see you there. It's not just for poetry, either-- all writers and appreciators of the written word are welcome.

And finally, tomorrow is Poetry Under the Stars, the 100K Poets for Change event in Pensacola. I plan to attend. Come out and have a listen!

Monday, August 28, 2017

August News

Hello! This continues to be an exciting year for poetry and life in general. This month, I had six poems published.

The first, "Male Nude," was inspired by the photography of Kansas City-based artist Sara Dell. She's on Instagram as thoughts_are_thingsandstfu, or you can see her Flickr stream here. "Male Nude" appears in the latest edition of The MacGuffin, published out of Schoolcraft College in Livonia, MI. You can purchase a copy through the New Pages store.

The other five poems all appear in Cargo, a Canadian lit mag. This is my second international publication, which feels great. I find it especially pleasing because I consider one of the poems they selected, "Memorial Day," to be one of my most quintessentially American pieces. They also published, "Koan," "The Dog Star," "Prison Mofongo," and "Life Support."

Having any magazine publish so many pieces at a time is also thrilling, but especially these five. I had begun to consider these poems my problem children. I'd been submitting them for nearly two years and they kept getting rejected. Obviously, I believed in them, but no one else seemed to. I decided to bundle them all together and send them to this one last magazine. If they'd been rejected, I would have retired them. But they all got selected. Every single one.

The moral of the story? You never know when/where your work will find a home, so don't give up.

One more bit of news to share: keep an eye on Snowflakes in a Blizzard this week. My poetry collection, West Side Girl & Other Poems, is going to be featured. Last February, Under Julia was featured, of which Snowflakes editor Darrell Laurent, said, "All I can say is 'wow'! I am in awe of how beautifully you inserted yourself into the psyches of your characters and spoke for them and through them."

While you're there, be sure to check out all the other indie gems Laurent shares with the world.

Thanks, as always, for reading! Always feel free to comment or drop me a line.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

July News

Hi, all! Two of my poems, "Meteor" and "Dashed on the Rocks" appeared in the latest issue of Door is a Jar, a magazine dedicated to writing that is accessible to all readers. Their magazine is available for Kindle and in paperback.

This has been a great month for reviews. I got some positive feedback on "Our Miss Engel," a short story that has consistently been my most popular blog post since I first posted it in 2012. In that time, it has received over 26,500 hits. A reader on Goodreads said, "The characterization is strong and the ambiance is appropriately dark. I would definitely read more from Scharhag."

I also heard from readers on Amazon about my children's books. The Ice Dragon and The Winter Prince both received five-star reviews. 

On The Ice Dragon, the review said, "Scharhag packs a lot of action and adventure within the pages of this short book. Primarily written for youngsters, it is an endearing story that parents and grandparents alike will enjoy as well. The descriptive passages bring to life the dragon's lair and the ice swan and this reviewer wanted the story to go on. So will you!"

On The Winter Prince, "A splendid contemporary fairy tale set in a faraway land, The Winter Prince will charm you as did the classic fairy tales of our youth. I loved the fact that it takes place in rural America and that young Margaret speaks in the colloquial dialogue of the backwoods folk. While she is suitably impressed with everything and everyone she encounters, she is able to keep her wits about her. And when she meets and saves the magician Anubis, we know it won't take long before romance is in the air. The story is well written, the pacing is nice and steady, the characters are varied and interesting, and the conclusion is most satisfying. A lovely novella to read to your young ones (8 years and older). There is enough to make them shudder (the evil Summer Queen and Lord Vernum), lots of fun adventures, a hint of romance, and a happy ending. A hefty punch from a novella of under one hundred pages. Loved reading this one!"

Thank you so much, lovely readers! I’m always thrilled to hear from you. I’ll be sure to keep you posted on publications (I have several more lined up in the coming months, and I’m always working on more material.) In August, I’m planning to host a literary event—I’ve been to many, but this will be the first one I’ve ever emceed. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

In the meantime, reviewers and fellow authors, I’m always happy to connect with you. Please feel free to contact me anytime about reviews, interviews, and other opportunities.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Aria Knight Chronicles: a new paranormal series

I'm always pleased to help fellow authors promote their work. I'm very excited about a new paranormal series written by not one, but TWO bestselling authors, Samantha LaFantasie and Alesha Escobar. SIN EATER, Book 1 of the Aria Knight Chronicles, releases today! Links to purchase below.


Aria Knight has an unusual set of skills: she will hold back the hounds of Hell so you can fly toward the Pearly Gates, and she will wipe your slate clean so that you don't become karma's bitch...for a price.

A Sin Eater has to make a living in today's world somehow.

But when she's called in the dead of night to perform her rite for a recluse billionaire, she stumbles upon a murder scene, and the evidence points to her.

In an attempt to clear her name and uncover the true culprit, Aria is forced to team up with a private investigator who's possessed by three spirits, and a handsome wizard who would rather see all Sin Eaters like Aria go extinct.

Aria knows her job is never easy, but now it’s become downright deadly.

SIN EATER is the first book of the Aria Knight Chronicles by USA Today bestselling author Samantha LaFantasie and Alesha Escobar, author of the bestselling Gray Tower Trilogy.

About the Authors

I’m a caffeine addict and chocoholic who enjoys reading and writing engaging stories, lovable (and not-so lovable) characters, and expressing my creativity daily. I write fantasy with intriguing characters, action-packed scenes, and always throw in a good dash of humor and romance.

Science Fiction and Fantasy are my favorite genres, but I also adore the classics (Shakespeare, Dante Alighieri, etc.) and I have a soft spot in my heart for Victorian poetry. You can geek out with me all-day every day over these.

Some of my favorite contemporary fantasy authors are George R.R. Martin, Robert Jordan (rest in peace), J.K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman, Jim Butcher (Dresden Files made me love Urban Fantasy), and Ilona Andrews among others. I enjoy movies and shows like Sleepy Hollow, Supernatural, Arrow, The Flash, The Avengers…there are too many to name!

I want to read more comics and graphic novels, please shoot a recommendation or two my way (I LOVE the Hellblazer comics, by the way).

Please don’t be a stranger–I want you to kick up your feet, sip your coffee (or tea) and join in on my weekly rants, discussions, and updates.

A Kansas native, Samantha LaFantasie spends her free time with her three kids and arguing with her characters. Writing has always been a passion of hers, forgoing all other desires to devote to this one obsession. She’s primarily a fantasy writer but often feels pulled to genres such as sci-fi, romance, and others.

Samantha became a bestselling author with the Pandora Boxed Set (which includes Made to Forget: Nepherium Novella series--Part One) on both Amazon and USA Today.

Samantha loves to take time to enjoy other activities such as photography and playing her favorite game of all time, Guild Wars 2.

Purchase SIN EATER

Like this post? Check out other guest authors here

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Christmas in July

Hey, ya'll. I wanted to share with you that Smashwords is hosting a site-wide sale for the month of July. You can snag copies of my books for little or nothing using the coupon code SSW50. Here's the price list with links:

My solo works:
The Ice Dragon - $1.50
The Winter Prince - $1.50
Under Julia - $3.74
West Side Girl & Other Poems - FREE

The Order of the Four Sons:
The Order of the Four Sons - FREE
Carcosa - $2.00
Where Flap the Tatters of the King - $2.00
The Sacred Heart - $2.00

Also, as I mentioned in a previous entry, I did an author signing/book sale at the local library recently and had a few copies left over. As always, my best seller is The Ice Dragon, so I thought I'd do a giveaway. It will start tomorrow, July 6, and run through July 13. Some lucky winner will get an autographed copy.

The Ice Dragon is the tale of a little boy named Kenneth who hates Christmas. Then, one Christmas Eve, he meets a dragon, and everything changes. This book is for ages 8+.

Read an excerpt here.

Enter below.

Good luck, and Merry Christmas in July!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, June 29, 2017

June News

Two of my poems, "The Heart Goes Last" and "The Art of the Backyard Haircut" have been published in the July 2017 issue of The American Journal of Poetry. It's an incredible honor, as the journal, affectionately known as Margie, has published some very heavy hitters, including Sherman Alexie, a favorite of mine. Is there anything better than being in a magazine that has published one of your personal and literary idols? I don't think so.

This issue also has luminaries like Lola Haskins and William Trowbridge. Hope you get a chance to check out their work.

I'm planning to do a book giveaway next month (Christmas in July!) so please check back. 

Thanks, as always, for your support and your readership! 

If you need me, you know what I'll be doing-- just keep scribblin', scribblin', scribblin'... 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

May News

It's been a busy month! I had two poems appear in magazines. The first, "Little Birds," appeared in Panoply's Spring 2017 edition. Its theme was "Daylight." The editor, Jeff Santosuosso, said it possessed "such beautiful sadness."

The second, "In Event of Moon Disaster," appeared in The Santa Clara Review's Winter 2017 edition. I'm really proud of this one, guys. The Santa Clara Review is the oldest lit mag west of the Mississippi, founded in 1867, and it's a Jesuit university to boot! That just warms the cockles of my Rockhurst heart.

The editor, Shelly Valdez, said, "Among [this] poem's many merits, I was especially drawn to its charming voice, its unique subject matter, and its wonderful imagery. So many of your lines left me breathless." I hope it leaves you breathless too. 

Additionally, my new town hosted an author event at the Robert L. F. Sikes Public Library. It's always great to get some love from the local community. As always, The Ice Dragon was my bestseller. My books will be on the shelf at the library soon, so if you're an Okaloosa County resident, you can check them out!

I had some leftover copies, so I feel a giveaway coming on. Stay tuned on that.

More importantly, I got to hang out with pretty cool writers like Angela Yuriko Smith, Jocelyn Foster Donahoo, and Nolan L. DoleI look forward to reading their work. 

Thanks, as always for your support. After a brief hiatus, I'm throwing myself back into the O4S-verse. I don't have an ETA on Book V yet, but I'm hoping to have a draft before the year is out.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Hero Lost: Mysteries of Death and Life review

What if Death himself wanted to die? Can deliverance be found on a bloody battlefield? Could the gift of silvering become a prison for those who possessed it? Will an ancient warrior be forever the caretaker of a house of mystery? 

Delving into the depths of the tortured hero, twelve authors explore the realms of fantasy in this enthralling and thought-provoking collection. Featuring the talents of Jen Chandler, L. Nahay, Renee Cheung, Roland Yeomans, Elizabeth Seckman, Olga Godim, Yvonne Ventresca, Ellen Jacobson, Sean McLachlan, Erika Beebe, Tyrean Martinson, and Sarah Foster.  

Hand-picked by a panel of agents and authors, these twelve tales will take you into the heart of heroes who have fallen from grace. Join the journey and discover a hero's redemption!

Anytime I read a short story collection, if I find even one good, entertaining or thought-provoking story, I consider that collection a success. I’m happy to say Hero Lost: Mysteries of Life and Death is well ahead of the curve. The Insecure Writer’s Support Group has no reason whatsoever to feel insecure about their story-telling chops. In Hero Lost, they serve up an even dozen of stories that remind us we can’t escape our myths, our internalized ideas of what saviors and heroes ought to be—knights who slay dragons, gods who carry out their lofty tasks uncomplainingly, kings who always make good decisions.

These ideals aren’t wrong. Sometimes, we do need a guy in shining armor to rush in and protect the villagers. But more often, heroes are something entirely else. It’s the other heroes these stories celebrate, such as a homeless girl trying to help a fellow street person or siblings protecting one another against a cadre of cruel overlords. In two stories, characters refuse to cave to societal pressures—in “The Silvering,” the culture demands that people wear gloves to prevent their hands from turning to a magical alloy. In “The Art of Remaining Bitter,” a little girl living in a Giver-type dystopia clings to her negative (but authentic) emotions before they are siphoned out of her by some arcane medical procedure.

Sometimes, a heroic act can have dramatic and far-reaching implications, like the queen risking everything to rescue her royal husband in “Mind Body Soul.” Other times, it’s those small actions that make a crucial difference, like the boy who learns to believe in himself in “The Last Dragon.”
Certainly, heroes are capable of mistakes. In the title story, Death grants immortality to his beloved, who does not requite him. In “The Wheat Witch,” a man, believing he has committed a heinous crime, returns to his hometown in Kansas, where a witch holds sway over his family farm. (Being from the Midwest, I was pleased to see an Old World legend brought to the Heartland.) His tie to the land evoked the Fisher King; his penance to the witch brought to mind Hercules’ tasks and Psyche’s trials. I’m a sucker for re-tellings, for writers who find fresh ways to connect us to our past beliefs, thereby capturing something universal.

There were only a few stories in this collection that left me cold, but if there is a sin that several of them committed, it’s that they left me wanting more. “The Silvering” definitely felt like it was laying the groundwork for a fantasy epic, which I would really love to see fleshed out.

I particularly enjoyed “Memoirs of a Forgotten Knight,” an interesting intersection of old school fantasy and technology, also superbly written. “The Witch Bottle” was a unique take on witchcraft in colonial America, and the most morally ambiguous of the bunch—it was a classic horror story in the sense that no one is good and the bad guy gets away. I’m not sure how that ties into the hero theme, unless one considers everyone is a hero in his/her own mind?

But, hands-down, the standout for me was “Sometimes They Come Back,” (not to be confused with the Stephen King story/film, and not a reference to it either—at least, not as far as I can tell). It’s the tale of an Einherjar (soldiers out of Norse mythology) who now goes by the Caretaker, servant to a mysterious Grande Dame in a shadowy underworld that exists uncomfortably close to our own plane of existence. Other gods and mythological creatures make appearances, but his closest companion is a humble mouse that rides around in his pocket. This story was brilliantly written, and by turns fascinating, funny, and disturbing. I was a bit disappointed that it turned into a run-of-the-mill love story—I could spend a whole book just hanging out with the Caretaker while he tends to his dark duties.  

If these writers are insecure, I can’t wait to see what they’ll be like when they gain a bit of confidence. 

Hero Lost will be available May 2 on Amazon

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Goodbye, Grand

Photo credit: The Kansas City Star. Natch.

I was saddened to hear recently that the Kansas City Star building at 1729 Grand is up for sale. That historic building is where the Star’s founder, William Rockhill Nelson, once had his office; the site where Ernest Hemingway once worked as a young reporter.

My childhood was colored by newspapers. My earliest memories of Sunday mornings involve spreading the comics on the kitchen table, helping my mother clip and sort coupons. As I grew older, my interests expanded: the crossword puzzle, Dear Abby, the op-ed section, film and book reviews, local events, political cartoons. Eventually, I got around to the front page headlines. During the summers, when I spent most of my time at my grandparents’ house, I would accompany my grandfather to the convenience store to pick up a paper every day before breakfast.

By the time I was ten, I loved being the first one up in the morning because it meant running out to the driveway to grab the paper, so I didn’t have to wait for anybody else to read it. 

When I was thirteen, the Star posted an article announcing their launch of Teen Star, a section that was to be written by and for teens. There was an all-call for young writers and photographers, with a number for the newly-appointed Teen Star editor, Bill Norton. I immediately called up Bill and after a brief interview, I was hired. We agreed that my best friend at the time and I would start out by writing a series of TV reviews. (Even then, I was a collaborator.)

A week or so later, my friend and I went to the building at 1729 Grand and met Bill in person. He gave us a tour of the facility. The printing press was still housed there in those days. We got to see the open floor where the reporters had their desks. A professional photographer snapped headshots for our bylines. At thirteen, Bill told me, I was the youngest regular contributor to the Star. I don’t know if I still hold that record or not, but it’s an honor I’ve never forgotten.

My friend and I wrote a handful of TV reviews: Grace Under Fire, The X-Files, Home Improvement, a few others. We even got paid. I don’t remember the exact amount, $25 or $30 an article. It seemed like a fortune to my thirteen-year-old self—getting to do something I loved, and getting paid for it? Was this real life? I was rich! And famous! Word quickly got around at school that my friend and I were writing for the Star. When our first article came out, classmates asked for autographs. Fellow TV fans sent us letters telling us why they agreed or disagreed with our assessment of their favorite shows.

After a few months, my friend lost interest, but I kept going. Throughout high school, I wrote a humor column, fancying myself Erma Bombeck for the letter jacket set. I clipped and saved most of those articles in a scrapbook (which I would share here, but they’re in a box in my parent’s house back in KC).

Recently, I watched the film Spotlight, which was a heady reminder of just how crucial journalism is—not just to democracy, but to our society as a whole. Good journalism, I mean, reporting with integrity, not whatever some random guy on the Internet happens to be spewing at any given moment.
I know, I know. Journalistic ideals are just that—ideals. Some people took their work very seriously, abiding by ethical guidelines and a standard of quality—some people still do. Some people never did. Ever since the beginning of the press, there have been people with agendas to push, or people who are just plain greedy, willing to do whatever it takes to sell more papers. “You supply the war, I’ll supply the headlines,” the yellow press, muckraking, tabloids. There’s no such thing as a perfect system.

Being at the end of an era is always a strange thing. Print media is dying. With the constant demand for online content, quality is sacrificed, as is veracity. And people don’t clip coupons with their moms anymore. Instead of stepping outside every morning to pick up the paper that someone delivered, I roll over in bed and turn on my phone to see the headlines.

So many writers once cut their teeth in the newspaper industry. Now we do… what? Blog, I guess? It’s not necessarily a bad thing; it’s just change. But mourning what once was isn’t necessarily a bad thing either.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Reviews and Interviews

2017 continues to be a good year, you guys. Here's the latest:

In February, the lovely Erika Beebe reviewed The Winter Prince over on her site, Cloud Nine Girl. She writes, "If you're a fan of fairy tales, you'll love The Winter Prince. Captivating, vivid, from the creatures you'll meet to the outstanding dialogue, The Winter Prince will draw you in and hold your attention all the way through the fantastic end." Thanks, Erika!

More recently, I was interviewed by Darrell Laurant over at his website, Snowflakes in a Blizzard. He seeks out books with unique topics that don't fall neatly into genre categories, so he invited me to talk about Under Julia. I hope you get a chance to check out not only my interview, but take a moment to look around. Darrell has definitely unearthed some hidden gems of the indie world-- I know I've downloaded quite a few books featured there already. Keep up the good work, Darrell! 

I have some exciting projects in the works. One magazine has accepted three of my poems. They've asked that I do audio recordings of all three, and even put them to music, so I'm working with Tripp Kirby of The Electric Lungs to make that happen. This just might be the most awesome thing I've ever done. These guys are amazingly talented, and you should definitely check out some of their tunes.