Friday, February 15, 2019

Book Review: A Different Kind of Fire by Suanne Schaefer

by Shari Randall

My preferred genre to read is mystery but occasionally I branch out, usually into historical fiction. I especially enjoy novels about women breaking barriers and finding their voice. Gilded Age stories and stories of artists are also my go to’s, so debut novelist Suanne Schaefer’s A Different Kind of Fire was right up my alley.

Schaefer’s passionate tale of love, art, and first wave feminism centers on Ruby Schmidt, a talented artist who leaves her family and fiancé, Bismarck in Truly, Texas, to attend art school in Philadelphia in 1891. Despite her obvious talent, Ruby struggles against the restrictions placed on women, not just by society but also by her art school. She finds solace in the bohemian world of her fellow artists, and begins a lifelong love affair with Willow, daughter of a wealthy Philadelphia family. 

When Willow’s family discovers the affair, Ruby is left destitute on the streets of Philadelphia. She becomes pregnant by a volatile Italian artist and marries him, but when he leaves her, she is forced to return to West Texas, to face those she left behind.

Ruby is a gutsy heroine - headstrong, determined, driven to pursue her art but longing to reconcile her love for art, love for her family, passion for Bismarck, and her longing for Willow – the “different kinds of fire” of the title.

The love scenes are erotic and explicit. Schaefer’s thorough research into and knowledge the art world of Gilded Age Philadelphia provides fascinating context, and her love of her West Texas roots is evident. 

Ruby’s struggle to reconcile her passions – for art, for those she loves – made for an enthralling read. 

I’m already looking forward to Schaefer’s next book, Hunting the Devil, about a biracial American physician who gets caught up in the Rwandan genocide in 1994. 

You can learn more about Suanne at her website, The Art of Words.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Dillon Beach, California and my first experience conducting a Writing Workshop by Juliana Aragón Fatula

My Chicana Garden of Eden 2018

Dear Reader.

I have an update on the post I wrote in 2016. My favorite cousin, my sister, my friend, Aimee Medina Carr, was my first attempt at helping another writer break into the world of publishing. It was at Dillon Beach, California that we worked on her first novel and dreamed of someday getting it published. I'm proud to announce that on September 24, 2019 her first book, River of Love will be released by Homebound Publications.

Aimee's blog page can be found at the following link:

Juliana and Aimee at Dillon Beach, CA

The week we spent writing at the beach has come full circle and now she can add her name to the long list of Chicana writers. Her novel is a coming of age about two young Chicana's growing up in Southern Colorado. It's not memoir but the characters are eerily similar to me and Aimee

So please check out her website and her publisher and watch for updates to her release. I will keep you posted to her journey as a first time writer. 

Dillon Beach is a hideaway that sits along the Pacific Ocean near San Francisco. It is one of my favorite places in the world. It was at Dillon Beach that I held my first writing workshop. My sister, Aimée, listened to an interview by Sandra Cisneros on NPR and called me from her home in California very excited. She wasn’t making sense. She threw out words like writing on the beach, workshop, Sandra, me, her, the Pacific Highway, Airstream, seals, fishermen, Bodega Bay, and the River of Love.

She invited me to visit her in California for a couple of weeks. Relatives and fish stink after three days, but we were more than family, we were best friends for 45 years. She kept the notes from high school that I wrote to her and we had a grand time laughing about how silly we were in the 1970’s. Apparently, I was a writer even back then, I had no idea I would become a member of the Sandra Cisneros Macondo Writers Workshop or that Sandra would become my mentor and friend. I told my husband, “I’m going to a writing retreat in California and if you know what’s good for you – help me pack.” He was happy to send me away. Two weeks of eating out and watching sports and hunting shows on TV for him and a wife coming home rested, grateful, and happy.

I enjoyed my train ride across the west and wrote about what I viewed out the window. The Rocky Mountains past Denver, the Utah Canyons, the wild Mustangs, the rural train stops in small towns. 

We drove to Dillon Beach along the Pacific Coast highway. It was July and the eucalyptus trees gave off a magical scent. The sand between my toes, walking on the beach in sunrise and sunset hours, visiting small towns on the coast for shopping and dining out, sharing stories, listening to our favorite Neil Young songs, dancing in the moonlight. It was a transcendent awakening.

I worked on my manuscript, Gathering Momentum: A Spiritual Memoir. I read poetry and meditated. I walked alone on the beach and watched baby seals swimming out to sea.

At night, the solar panels would shut down the electricity and we switched to lanterns and candles. It was sublime. Our time was spent enjoying the fresh sea air, and the sky full of birds. I learned how to coach someone writing their first novel, she learned how hard it is to write well. I shared Sandra’s writing wisdom: “If you’re going to write, don’t be good, be great.” We set our expectations high.

At the end of the two weeks I rode the train home to Colorado and relived the experience as I wrote in my journal. It was the happiest two weeks I’d had in a long time. To be with someone you love, with the freedom to write or read all day long uninterrupted, to walk the beach, collect sea stones and starfish, to read poetry and meditate, to be free to be a writer; it was the perfect atmosphere and we worked our asses off.  

Aimée finished her manuscript, River of Love and began submitting short stories on my recommendation. You’ll never get published if you don’t submit. She has helped more than she knows. She gave me confidence when I had none. She encouraged me with her words and wisdom and gave me a room of my own in Dillon Beach and I will forever be grateful.  
I have other news about my work. The poet laureate of Colorado, Joseph Hutchinson, invited me to submit work for a project he created for educators K-12. It is a colorado encyclopedia with search words for teachers and students to find poetry by local poets in Colorado. I am proud to be part of this great program. I have added a link to the site. I hope you will take a peek at what I've been up to with my writing.ón-fatula

Juliana Aragón Fatula is a member of the Macondo Writers’ Workshop, founded by Sandra Cisneros, which is a group of dedicated and compassionate writers who view their work and talents as part of a larger task of community-building and non-violent social change. Crazy Chicana in Catholic City  and  Red Canyon Falling on Churches, was published by Conundrum Press, Casa de Cinco Hermanas Press published her chapbook, The Road I Ride Bleeds. Her poetry has appeared in Open Windows III, El Tecolote and Pilgrimage; she is currently writing a mystery. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Galactic Dreaming

by Bethany Maines

The sci-fi fairy tale anthology Galactic Dreams Volume 2, featuring my novel The Seventh Swan will be released next week. Today, I'm interviewing one of the the other authors featured in the anthology: Karen Harris Tully.  Karen generally writes sci-fi YA novels, including The Faarian Chronicles trilogy, and creates elaborate worlds for her novels aided by her bachelor’s in political science and economics. We met through a mutual friend and I have had the pleasure of beta reading some of her manuscripts.

For the Galactic Dreams series, myself, Karen, and fellow Stiletto Gang author J.M. Phillippe, were given the task of creating a literary universe that could be shared across the anthology series. We have to agree on the history of the universe as well as technology and vocabulary.  Each of us is venturing into unexplored territory, whether it's by sharing a world, trying out the sci-fi genre (that's me!), or attempting to write on a shorter deadline than normal, the Galactic Dream series has been challenging for all of us. I'm asking Karen about some of the challenges that came with writing as part of the Galactic Dream Team.

What is the best/worst part about sharing a universe with two other writers?
KHT: Like Cerberus, three heads are simply better than one. I may come up with some good ideas, but when I'm lucky enough to put those together with the imagination brainpower of JM Phillippe and Bethany Maines, well, the stuff we come up with as a trio is mind-blowing. And when our brains flow and mesh together to create something bigger, that I never could have imagined on my own, that's the fun part. Of course, the worst is when they don't like my amazing ideas! As if that could ever happen, right? ;)
BMM: You have great ideas—we're probably missing out on sheer awesomeness whenever one gets voted down.

How do you develop the technology in your books?
KHT: The ideas, you mean? They come from extrapolating real, amazing s**t that is happening right now! I am so fascinated with CRISPR gene editing for example. I love science news and listen to a lot of NPR and science podcasts. I read online articles about new tech that scientists and companies are developing that isn't even out yet, from gadgets and tech to clean up our oceans, to weapons of the future, to tiny interstellar disk probes on shiny, laser powered sails, and pretty much everything else. I think to myself, what happens with this technology next, what does this look like in a hundred or a thousand years? And then I write it in. 
BMM: I'm interested in the tech, but I think the social ramifications of a technology become more interesting for me. I think you're more science-minded than me. Which is beneficial.  Definitely don't leave me in charge of the tech.

Do you think fairy tales adapt better to sci-fi than other genres (and if so, why)?
KHT: Of course! Because what used to be magic, strictly relegated to the realm of fantasy, is becoming real, through technology. Waving a magic wand is too easy. Making miracles happen in real life, that's science. I love it most when science and fiction, fantasy and imagination, all crash together to create something new, weird, and wonderful.
BMM: I completely agree with this, but also, I think some of the disjointed plotting of fairy tales can more easily be explained in sci-fi because... aliens.  :D

The core of your plot is a mystery of who is behind an impending war—do you approach that plot line differently than the sci-fi portions? 
KHT: I think all good sci-fi starts off with a mystery. Strange stuff is happening in a weird location and the science and imagination of that fascinates me. But, without the mystery of why the drama is happening, and who's behind it all, fighting the alien horde would just be visceral stimulation without a purpose, you know?
BMM: That's right. You heard it here, folks. Even the sci-fi people admit... Everything is Mystery!

Many thanks to Karen Harris Tully for being interviewed today!

3 novels, 1 low price
Release: 2/19/19
Bethany Maines is the author of the Carrie Mae Mystery Series, San Juan Islands Mysteries, Shark Santoyo Crime Series, and numerous short stories. When she's not traveling to exotic lands, or kicking some serious butt with her fourth degree black belt in karate, she can be found chasing her daughter or glued to the computer working on her next novel. You can also catch up with her on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Snow, Rain, Rainbows, and Writing Fiction

By AB Plum

Taxes. Traffic. Too many people. Californians departing the state routinely cite these facts of life as reasons for leaving. Few—in the San Francisco Bay area at least--ever mention the weather. Our sunny days and mild temperatures rival the Mediterranean. In other words, expect the same o’ same o’ temps and sunshine day after day. (OBTW, we do have four seasons in the Bay area).

This year, though, we’ve seen rain every day for the past month. Not the kind of gully washers Florida and other parts of the country experience, but slow, steady downfall that has turned our world vibrant shades of green. And given us some amazing rainbows. Every color is distinct—and dangerous because too many drivers stop and gape.

Mosey up into the foothills a few hundred feet and find enough snow for at least one good snowball or a teeny, tiny, itsy, bitsy snowperson—without the sub-zero temps.

What do any of these observations and comments have to do with writing?

They remind me of how often I read novels with little or no mention of the weather (considered borrrring, right?). Personally, I like to use the weather as a metaphor for a relationship or a specific place or a cosmic reminder of how insignificant we humans are. I like trying to capture moments of being wet or sweaty or freezing or burning up while the main character tries to overcome an obstacle unrelated to the weather. 

One of the joys of writing fiction for me lies in amplifying a snowstorm, making it the “storm of the century.” I love writing about rains that have characters checking on how to build an arc—or ready to lose their minds because of the constant hammering on the roof. One of my favorite scenes is a heat wave that drives the overheated couple into her swimming pool. The water fairly sizzles.

More rain predicted here this afternoon, and I plan to go search for a rainbow. I need to write more about rainbows.

What about you? Do you find weather scenes boring? Do you prefer minimal weather descriptions? Do you have a favorite scene featuring the weather?

****AB Plum lives in the Mediterranean climate of the San Francisco Bay—within the shadow of Google, which returned a surprising number of hits for the search “writing weather scenes in fiction.”

Barbara Plum, AB’s alter ego, used the tornado in The Wizard of Oz as inspiration for a “new twist on love and the red slippers” in her Weird Magic Trilogy.