Southern belle with a story to tell. Refreshing iced tea served after literary punches thrown.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Who Wrote Best Book of 2011? WE Decide!

It's the end of another year, time to look ahead to (hopefully) better times, more opportunities for writers (the digital revolution is well-underway), and the excitement which comes at the stroke of midnight on December 31st!  Before we raise our glasses to toast a new year,  let us reflect on the literary high notes of the passing year.

Who do you think wrote the best book of 2011?  Let me know who you believe wrote the best book of 2011 and why. 

What drew you in as a reader to the novel?  Did you feel affection or disgust for key characters? 
Was there a unique plot line?  Tell me your thoughts. 

As for me, I will be donning a red scarf, or adding a red flower to my hair, as my choice for best book is, The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern. 

Having toted this book around with me the last two days (yes I read the entire novel in a mere two days because it was too scrumptious to put down!), I've had a few people ask me what the book is  like or about, so I tell them this, "It's like Phantom of the Opera meets a grown up Harry Potter, except this time he falls in love with Hermoine, as it should have been." 

I was never a fan honestly of the whole Harry/Ginny faux-mance, so this is one book which finally makes sense to me, in the sense of proper matching of romantic characters. 

Fanciful, beautifully-written, she created a story world like no other, as you are beckoned to enter the black and white striped tents of the Cirque du Reve.  Rarely does a book make me shed a tear, but this one did, (for a few pages I was careful not to let any moisture hit the pages) with its' tender romance between the two main characters. 

I will not remove any magical charms nor reveal any other plot temptations, but please..relish the first few lines of the book, if you will:

(Excerpt below from The Night Circus)
"The Circus arrives without warning.

No announcements proceed it, no paper on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not."

You will be enchanted as you work your way through this story and through the circus with the turn of each page.  The sights and smells are almost tangible, palpable, and it is worth every penny! 

I say, march right into your favorite bookseller, proclaim yourself a "reveur" to any people working there, (the name the book gives for super-fans of  the Circus of Dreams, who follow the circus from city to city), and wear something with a flash of red, while you wait for them to hand you the best read of the year.  You shall feel no pain at all as you part with your hard-earned money.

Now this is totally superficial of me, but alas, it's also very much like me to say that this is a gorgeous book to acquire and place upon your shelf.  The cover art is beautiful, and the inside of the book is also well-done.  Applause and an ovation to Ms. Morgenstern on her creation, and I look forward to reading more from her in the future.  Maybe it's just me..but I see a fabulous film in the works?  Maybe?  This reveur crosses her fingers and waits.

May 2012 be wonderful to both you and your family, and may all writers be blessed with great ideas, grammar, and inspiration.  I know my wish for 2012 is to become a writer with agent (emphasis on agent!).  Let's make this our best year yet, and hope and pray the Mayans got it completely wrong regarding the whole doomsday- prophecy- thing.
Happy New Year, y'all!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Ultimate Re-Gift: Fruitcake from 1941!

^This fruitcake has been soaking in rum for 70 years! 1,000 proof fruitcake!

Re-gifting, the ultimate way to ding-dong-ditch your least favorite Christmas gift to unsuspecting friends, (well not those you consider close friends) has reached an all-time low!

This above, is a genuine fruitcake from 1941.  Made by supermarket giant, Kroger, it remained on one  store shelf for thirty years.  Yep, I said THIRTY years, vacuum-packed all cozy-like in a container filled with rum.

If I had to sit on a store shelf for that long, somebody better give me some rum too! 

Anyhow, it was found in 1971, a year before my sister was even born, RE-GIFTED to a friend of the grocer, and then sat on some dude's shelf at his house for another thirty years until the ULTIMATE RE-GIFTING occurred this year, when this was sold at an auction for $525 smackeroos.

I have never thought of re-gifting for profit, but hey, who knew?  Maybe I should peruse my closets and see what ghosts (a.k.a. gifts) of Christmas past might be ready for the same fate?

I can only imagine the auctioneer and his faster-than-the-old-Fed-Ex-commercial-talking-guy doing his spiel for the seventy year old, alcoholic fruitcake:

"DoIhearfivhundredten..fivehundredtenforthefruitcakeforthefruitcakewithinallofus..ten..doIhearfive-twenty?  DoIhearfive-twentyforafruitcakeHunterS.Thompsonwould'veloved....DoIhearfive-thirty..forty?Forty-fivefrontandcenter..doIhearfivefifty?Five-fiftytothescarymanintheback..doIhearfiftyfive?Five-fifty-fourtoscarymanintheback..DoIhearsixty...goingoncegoingtwice..SOLDtothescarymaninthebackwithavendettaagainst hisnextdoorneighbor."  (just read it really fast)

I'll bet this fruitcake might actually be worth the five hundred and twenty-five bucks, because it's probably the world's most alcoholic fruitcake, as it's been soaking up rum for seventy years.  It's probably got more alcohol in it than Otis Campbell did, the time he rode the cow down the street in Mayberry.
In the end, I wish everyone here a Happy Christmas Eve, and feel there's a little fruitcake in each of us, God bless us everyone!  

I wonder if Jimmy Buffett saw this article in the news today?  He sums everything up perfectly in this song:

So in closing , one last question on this Christmas Eve..  

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A BookSeller Gives Back! What a Novel Idea for the Holidays!

This is a bookstore now dear to my heart.  Better World Books!  Read on and learn how you can be Santa every day by just buying something you already buy.  A book!

On my way home from work today, I stopped to get some gas, and as I was walking inside to get a Coke Zero (next to iced tea, I like a cold Coke Zero now and then), when I saw this and it stopped me in my tracks, so I snapped a few pics with my cellphone camera.

What was this green bin?  It was a book donation bin, yet on the other side, it said you could buy books at their web address?

After coming home, I researched this company, and am convinced this is one awesome book seller!  Better World Books accepts donations of your used books, resells them, and uses a portion of the profits to fund literacy programs around the world (and maybe some in your own neighborhood).  Here's a few of the wonderful organizations they support:

  • National Center for Family Literacy
  • Books for Africa
  • Invisible Children
  • Room to Read
  • Worldfund
  • Open Books
  • The Robinson Bend Community Center
  • The Prison Book Program

This wonderful company has started a campaign called Book for Book, which is truly amazing!  If you buy a book from Better World Books, they in turn, donate a book to someone in need.  What a beautiful message for the holiday season.  Give the gift of reading, and check this company out.  

By the way, they sell both new and used books!

Give those you love the gift of reading and literacy.  It can change the world!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Cryptic Cookie: Warm Christmas Wishes Edition!

And now dear friends, let us embark on another adventure with the cryptic cookie.  A cyber-romp into speculation and absurdity, where you unlock your creativity as a writer based upon the message I pry from the jaws of a fortune cookie.

This week's message is courtesy of Bob, the amazing sushi Itamae at Rice, the fabulous restaurant in Cumming, Georgia.

I gave Bob my card after we had a fun discussion about writing, and he asked if I would use his fortune cookie in my next cryptic cookie post.

 Drum roll please?  In my hand, I hold a fortune cookie.

Now I will make a small tear at the corner of the plastic packaging, and  remove the cookie, to reveal it naked in its' golden glory for all the world to see (I bet this is how Hugh Hefner opens a fortune cookie).

And the message reads..

Awesome!  "A vacation to sunny shores is soon in store for you."  Thanks Bob for giving me a cookie with a message I truly adore.

For those of you who know me best, I like to go snow skiing, but can only tolerate it for a day or two, then I want to head for warmer climates.  Like Miami or further south.  I'm an island girl, at heart.  Maybe it's because I was born in Puerto Rico, but don't let my blonde hair fool you, I wanna go where it's warm!

Enough of that, let's do some analysis of my cookie message and how it could relate to my manuscript and the characters.  But before we delve further into the message, we're going to take a short break so I can go pour myself the first cup of coffee for the day.

Enjoy Elton John's "Island Girl" while I go make my steamy cup and ponder this message for a while.  I think his fedora is fabulous.  One of the best concerts I've ever attended, incidentally.  Now these are lyrics, and they are beyond sultry and sexy.  Enjoy this amazing entertainer, and part-time Atlanta resident, as he gets fierce on the keyboard.  I just love him!  Let the lyrics get you ready to write your response to this cookie message and jolt yourself from the misery of writing malaise.

Are we ready now and in the mood to discuss the cookie message?  Are you feeling the warm breeze?  Can you smell the salty air?  Are you wishing as I am, that you could trade in your North Face jacket for a bikini?  If so, then join me in a little smidgen of fantastical fiction.

So "a vacation to sunny shores is soon in store for you" is the cookie message.  Immediately, the character of Lee Stanton comes to mind immediately because she's in for not one, but two trips to distinctly different yet equally sunny shores.  My main character, a divorcee, mom, and nuclear medicine technologist, will find herself suddenly at a medical convention on two small islands next to each other, off the coast of Georgia.  The two islands I'm talking about are St. Simon's Island and Jekyll Island.

These two little gems are off the coast, less than 90 minutes from Savannah, in what we call the Golden Isles.  The Golden Isles are magical, and are places rich in both history and romance.  Many industrial and political magnates of the early twentieth century called this area home (can we say Rockefeller?), and escaped harsh, Yankee winters.  Let me give you a taste of the Georgia's Golden Isles right now:

^St. Simon's Island with it's luxurious homes.

^St. Simon's Island lighthouse.  I took a haunted history tour of the island and let me tell you, this place
has it's own story to tell.  Somewhere on an ancient SanDisk card of mine, there's a photo that defies scientific explanation made of the lighthouse and keeper's home.  "Ghost Adventures" would kill for it.

^The King and Prince Hotel, St. Simon's Island.  Stayed here many times.  Fell in love here too.
Same guy.  He's in the other room, and I still feel as much passion for him now as I did the day during our stay in the historical wing here.  

^the natural beauty of Jekyll Island.  Yep, I did this also
when I fell in love on one faithful four day trip.

^Jekyll Island Hotel, magical place.  I have walked barefoot in front of this hotel on the 
lush, soft, green grass.  Again, part of the whole falling in love thing.  We walked around the corner, by the river, near the Crane cottage, and held hands.  

So there you have it, mental imagery and brief descriptions of the two of the more famous Golden Isles, which  are like a classic pearl necklace adorning the neck of the beautiful state of Georgia.  It's still somewhat of a secret destination, with Savannah hogging all of the attention courtesy of John Berendt, so remember to keep it just between us.
My cryptic cookie translation:

In my novel, Lee Stanton has had to go back to work, for financial reasons, and is sent to her state medical convention to catch up on some well-needed c.e.u.'s (continuing educational units), in order to remain in good standing for her medical license.  

Money is tight, and at this point in her life, she hasn't had a vacation in years, so she is thrilled to go visit a place she's never been to before.  

New to the state of Georgia, she enlists the help of her best friend, Tracy, to be her map-reader as they begin the long drive from Forsyth county (a little north of Atlanta) down to the golden sands.  Lee is also emotionally spent, having recently finalized her divorce from Mark, her cheating ex, and is so numb after all the heartbreak, she is convinced love will never find her again, and that she should simply get used to this new life as a single mother.

Her sister, Riley, offers to take her son for a week, as a favor to let her attend to the convention and be able to attend the classes without any disruption.  Riley will take Lee's three year old son,  Mason, to Rosemary Beach, on the Florida panhandle, on their family spring break vacation, so he can have loads of fun playing with his nephew (Riley's son), Sam.  

I would imagine Lee to be thrilled at the chance to even have a little getaway, and that, after getting the news from her boss at work, drive home and begin tossing about clothes left and right in her closet, looking for the perfect skirts, heels and swimsuit for the convention.  She daydreams about palm trees, shrimp and grits, and moonlight shining through trees, dripping with Spanish moss.

She hasn't had a girl's vacation, since spring break in college back in 1992, so she's excited. 

But this isn't the only trip to sunny shores Lee will take.  Oh no, she will be off to more exotic sands very soon, but this time, it won't be for fun or education.

I think the little cookie did its' job today.  It got me excited thinking again about my characters, their adventures, and what lies in store for them in the pages ahead.  That's the point of this exercise, to unlock the creativity, and make you end a writing stalemate.  Suddenly my characters have become more real, it's almost as if they are alive once more, and the drive to write the story is burning within.

With your work-in-progress, are there any characters you are writing about who might be the recipients of a vacation to a sunny shore?  A vacation perhaps?  Maybe they aren't going to venture to a sunny shore, maybe it's to a secluded mountain chalet or to an ultra-modern city like Berlin, or maybe to a centuries-old city in South America?  

Dabble here, write here, and let the creativity flow.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Moment of Silence to Remember..

An innocent smile.

Laughter and joy.

Eyes full of wonder.

Forever a boy.
~by Joey Francisco, 12/14/11

~Rest in peace, and sleep with the angels, Jonathan.  My son will always call you friend.  Our prayers are with your sweet mother and family.  Until we meet again.  Hope does have wings, and faith brings us eternal life.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Does Holiday Stress Affect Your Writing?

Do you detest what December does to your checking account balance?  Do you find yourself after work scurrying around malls or perusing the Internets for the perfect gift for that perfect someone?  Are you knee-deep in holiday ham and green bean casserole?  Too pooped to enjoy more pumpkin pie?  Do you have to attend an office party or school play?

Well my friend, you're not alone, and like many who write, you may hold down a day job and also after work during December, you might have to do all or any one of the following activities listed above.  And those things take away from the little time you might have during the day to write.

Write you say?  What is writing?  Oh I know what that is!  It's what you do, during the month of November when the personal challenge of NaNoWriMo sends you into writing overdrive.  And maybe, just maybe, NaNoWriMo and all the 50,000 written words are to make up for the lack of productivity during the month of December.  

As for me, I am at a precarious point in my novel-writing, at the doldrums, or the deathly middle, as some call it.  I know I can't stop, because if I stop too long, I'll lose all this great "stuff" in my head, and my writing mojo too.  So I can't stop.  As my beloved grandmother once told me, "Joey, you either USE IT or LOSE IT."  Dammit, she was right.  She was always right.

What seems to help preserve my commitment to write, is to take a few short breaks during the day and attempt to squeeze in either a revision or an addition.  My goal this weekend is to wake up an hour earlier each day on the weekend, and enjoy a cup of peppermint mocha coffee and listen to some holiday music and wake up and then write.  The rest of the week, I have more modest goals, to do twenty minutes of writing after taking a bit of time out for myself first.  
^Santa knows how to relax!  Umbrella drinks at the beach!

There are a few rituals I find which help me write, and de-stress.  One such ritual is a nightly bubble bath. I soak away my daily cares and try to let the plot of the novel, float about like bubbles in my head.  And guess what?  It works wonderfully!  Some of my best work has come after a warm, bubble bath.

^She needs a bubble bath!

Another ritual, which especially helps after a super stressful day at work or after running loads of holiday errands, is to sing a silly Christmas carol.  Sometimes it's the Chipmunk Song, other times it's the "Jack Frost" song I made up to the tune of Nat King Cole's "The Christmas Song".  No matter what kind of holiday stress I endure, if I sing either one of these songs, it melts away.  I did this very thing yesterday, and the end result was a successful revision of 1/2 of a chapter.  The prose was flowing smoothly, like water over rocks in an icy, mountain stream, and it felt goooood!

If you feel like you can't pick up the pen or peck away at the keyboard because you simply are worn out from all the extra-added festivities, then maybe try to carve out some time to write and enjoy something indulgent.  Bring with you a cup of your favorite coffee or hot herb tea, or take ten minutes before writing to unwind and have a bubble bath.  Or you could just walk down your street, and look at all the holiday lights, while inging a totally absurd holiday song.  
^He needs to sing a silly holiday song.

You see, dear readers, it's my firm belief that you get your best writing done when you're not stressed.  It is a proven fact your creativity is stifled when under stress, so you owe it to yourself to do something a teeny bit indulgent as I said above, before you begin writing.  Start this month with thirty minutes a day, with the first ten being spent doing something to lower your stress levels.  You'd be amazed with what twenty focused minutes each day can do for your w.i.p. (work in progress)!

So tonight, before I  begin to write,  and set aside a few more moments to whittle away at my w.i.p., I'll wander outside and put the clear mini-lights on the boxwood trees outside my front door, while singing the "Jack Frost" song I made up several years ago.  Let me share it with you now:

"The Jack Frost Song" 
(Created by me, while driving home after a wild day shopping at Phipps Plaza.  It is recommended to sing this song loudly, off-key, whilst channeling the swagger of a Vegas lounge singer, to the tune of "The Christmas Song".)

Jack Frost roasting on an open fire.
Santa's elves are nipping at my toes.
Everybody knows..
Some turkey will have some mistletoe..
To help make the office party a fright.
But if you've been good and not like that guy, then Santa's on his way,
He's loaded lots of coupons and freebies on his sleigh,
and every once in a while, you will stop and you will sigh,
after noticing the money in your bank account has gone buh-bye.
And so, I'm singing to you about holiday malaise,
I'll probably feel until I'm ninety-three,
Although it's been said, to me in a holi-daze,
The best gifts at Christmas, are free.

I'll bet you feel better now, don't you?

Do you have a favorite way to reduce stress during the holidays?  Do you feel the extra activities of the season takes away from your time spent writing?  Or do you have a stupid holiday song you sing, similar to the one I made up?  Drop me a line and let me know.  Oh, bonus points for the best silly holiday song!  

You know..there could be a giveaway in the near future, before Christmas, for the best goofy made-up holiday song lyrics (winky winky!) 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Georgia Writers Association Holiday Party to Benefit Calvary Children's Home!

Join me on Saturday, December 10th, from 12 to 2 p.m. at Kennesaw State University and meet up with the Georgia Writers' Association for a holiday party to benefit the children at Calvary Children's Home.  I'll share with you a few family Christmas memories and also read  from a "certain" holiday favorite and here's a hint.."You'll shoot your eye out!"

Make the holiday season shine brighter for the children at Calvary, and visit for information on how to reserve your spot and attend!  Each guest is to bring one (or more!) of the following:

  • Gift cards to bookstores to allow children to select their own books
  • Gift cards to McDonald’s, WalMart, & Target (often used as incentives and awards
  • Gift cards to gas stations (both the Home and the college-age kids travel a lot)
  • Books for 6th, 7th, and 8th grade summer reading lists in the public schools
  • Christian books—devotional and inspirational
  • Other books as appropriate

 If you can't attend, then please consider donning your Santa Claus hat, and sending one of the items mentioned above to Calvary Children's Home.  Tis' much more fun to give than to receive.

Pssst ya'll, I am one of the featured readers at the event!