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Friday, December 30, 2011

Paperback of my current novel is discounted on Amazon!

The mysterious gods of Amazon have decreed that, for some unknown period, my science fiction novel Twin-Bred is on sale on Amazon -- marked down from $12.99 to $9.35. Time to take the plunge, y'all!...

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Some Favorite Reads from 2011

Now that Twin-Bred has made two lists of favorite 2011 reads :-), it seems only right that I "pay it forward" and post a list of my own. Mine will include both 2011 releases and books I read for the first time in 2011.

In no particular order, here are a few books I read this year and greatly enjoyed. The first two were released in 2011.

--Doc by Mary Doria Russell. I have loved every book except one by this author (the one being Dreamers of the Day). Her science fiction novel The Sparrow may be my favorite novel of any genre or type, from any era. I'm delighted that I loved Doc as well.

Doc is historical fiction, dealing with the early days of John ("Doc") Holliday. I learned a great deal about characters with whom most of us (in the U.S. at least) are somewhat familiar, and about others in the Earp circle. As usual for Russell, the writing is beautiful and the portrayal of the characters often deeply moving. There is one long and stylistically unusual passage, about how things might have gone if one event had been different, that I particularly cherish in memory.

--These is My Words by Nancy Turner. Also historical fiction -- and yes, this and science fiction are probably my favorite genres. . . . This novel purports to be the diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, Arizona pioneer, written from 1881 to 1901. While the events described are not unrelieved tragedy, this account in other hands could have been leaden and depressing. It is, instead, inspirational, uplifting, and often very funny.

--Remnant Population by Elizabeth Moon. This science fiction novel was published in 2003, but I had never encountered it before this month. Like my debut novel Twin-Bred, it concerns issues in communicating with the indigenous sentient species on another planet. I recommend it for its handling of those issues and of the alien species itself, but even more for the evolution of the main character, Ofelia. It's a delight to see her come into her own.

--Solitaire by Kelley Eskridge. More science fiction published in 2003 -- a good year, it seems. . . . I'm going to be lazy and suggest that you look it up on Amazon for plot info. The plot, for me, was secondary. I loved the relationships between characters, and Eskridge's enviable gift for just the right amount of vivid and original description.

--Wild Seed by Octavia Butler. Butler apparently died in 2006, but somehow I missed the news until recently. Readers of science fiction will greatly miss her. This is my favorite of several related books, eventually published together under the title From Seed to Harvest. It involves two very unusual and formidable people who meet and develop a relationship as unique as they are. One of them, in particular, is in many ways very unsympathetic -- and yet, we sympathize.

That's all for now. I may add a few more in a subsequent post. (Maybe if Twin-Bred shows up on any more end-of-year lists. :-) )

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Old purchase link for Twin-Bred on Kindle defunct -- new link...

For some reason or other, Amazon has switched the URL for purchasing the Kindle edition of Twin-Bred. The one I've distributed far and wide no longer works. :-(  Here's the new one.... http://www.amazon.com/Twin-Bred-ebook/dp/B005VDVHQ2/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1324759955&sr=8-2

Merry Whatever (or, our crazy holiday season)

My parents were Jewish refugees from Hitler's Europe. Neither had had a strongly religious upbringing. Both were intent on assimilating into American life as thoroughly as possible. The result: my brother and I had Christmas trees. Note the plural: on at least one occasion, when each of us fell in love with a different tree, we came home with both.

Over time, my mother grew increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of celebrating Christmas. I recall her suggesting, "Couldn't we just decorate a branch?" My father, on the other hand -- an avowed atheist -- has a sentimental fondness for Christmas. He believes people are nicer to each other at this time of year. He also enjoys Christmas lights: when I lived in Los Angeles, where my parents live, we used to drive around and look at them one evening every year. I remember him working in his home office (he was a workaholic, and retired reluctantly at age 80 due to health problems) with Christmas carols playing on his portable tape deck.

My husband (the Hoosier Gadfly ) was raised a Christian, and became an agnostic (or by some definitions an atheist) in his teens. He is also something of a Grinch where Christmas is concerned, viewing it as an inconvenient commercial creation. He converted to Judaism prior to marrying his first wife (with the assistance of an unusually lenient rabbi).

So here we are, married and raising two daughters. What to do about the holidays?

I wanted my children to have the fun of decorating a tree and seeing presents piled around it on a festive holiday morning. But like my mother, I found myself increasingly uncomfortable with celebrating Christmas as such. Nor was my husband thrilled with the idea. But then, the holiday tree wasn't originally a Christian notion -- the Christians borrowed it, and the timing of their festival, from pagan celebrations of the Winter Solstice. Problem solved! We have a Solstice tree, and open presents on Solstice morning.

But we are Jewish, ethnically (in my case) and tribally, if not as a matter of religious belief. Moreover, my husband and I appreciate the roots of Chanukah as a celebration of the freedom to believe as one chooses. (My husband, a self-taught expert in military history, also enjoys the David vs. Goliath aspects of the Maccabees' victory over Syrian forces.) So we also celebrate Chanukah. We try to limit ourselves to small presents on each of the eight nights, as closer to Jewish tradition. (Chanukah is a relatively minor holiday, and if not for the influence of Christmas, it would involve no gifts greater than candy or small coins.)

So is Christmas out of the picture entirely? Well, no. Many years ago, my husband's mother sent the girls personalized Christmas stockings. It seems a shame not to use them. So: stocking stuffers on Christmas morning as well.

And sometimes, as I'm driving around in December, I sing a carol or two.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Breaking free of the hunter-gatherer mentality

Pervasive in the Occupy movement is the assumption that relative inequality of wealth -- as opposed to the absolute amount of wealth (on the low end of the spectrum) that some possess -- is per se a problem. This is atavistic thinking, a leftover from the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. If one member of the tribe goes out and gathers all the nuts and berries within walking distance and refuses to share, the whole tribe suffers. If the idea that inequality of wealth can be acceptable seems counterintuitive, it is because we evolved to our present state before most of the activities that generate wealth were invented.

This insight comes courtesy of my husband, aka The Hoosier Gadfly.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

More war stories - Charley Wyle, American soldier in WWII

It's Veteran's Day tomorrow. Time for more war stories about my father, Charley Wyle, in WWII. In some of these, I will be quoting or paraphrasing interviews my husband (the Hoosier Gadfly) did with my father some years back.

First, a couple of corrections to my last post. It was not Doc but Charley's other close buddy, a G.I. named Frank, who was killed in the explosion that wounded Charley -- only two weeks before the war ended in Europe. Doc, a medic, was killed while trying to save a wounded American soldier. Also, the large rifle Charley carried was not a grenade launcher, but a BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle), a sort of light machine gun.

A related point: my father was very, very nearsighted. He was supposed to be on "limited duty" because of his eyesight. Yeah, right. (His unit, very much including Charley, fought their way through Europe and took part in the Battle of the Bulge.)

At some point before deployment to Europe, Charley's unit was stationed in the desert, possibly in Death Valley. It was very hot in the daytime, but cool at night. One morning, hours before reveille, Charley awoke and realized that a rattlesnake had joined him in his sleeping bag for warmth. He knew that if he moved at all, he might startle the snake into biting him. Accordingly, he lay absolutely still for perhaps two hours. (You may infer that my dad has considerable willpower.) Finally, people started to wonder why he hadn't gotten up, and someone saw the snake and killed it.

Charley's unit was the "Rainbow" Division of the 42nd Infantry, a National Guard unit from the rural south. They did not immediately take to this undersized Jewish foreigner. That changed once they got into combat and saw how tough and determined Charley was. Charley was, as he later put it, imbued with an all-consuming fury. He saw himself as an "Angel of Death" sent by God to destroy the Nazis. (Charley was and is an atheist. He has repeatedly assured me that yes, there can be atheists in foxholes, as he was one. How he reconciled atheism with the idea of a divine mission, I couldn't say.)

After Germany surrendered, Charley volunteered for the (eventually unnecessary) invasion of Japan. Japan surrendered while he was back in the U.S. awaiting that deployment. At that point, while Charley was awaiting discharge, he was assigned to guard German POW's. The prisoners were from the Afrika Korps, and had been captured early in the war. They had not experienced defeat. They were cocky. Their other guards -- who, unlike Charley's comrades in arms, had not experienced Dachau -- had nothing much against the prisoners. The prisoners were supposed to pick cotton, but the guards did not insist. Some guards would hand a rifle to one of the Germans and let him watch the others while the real guard took a nap. When Charley showed up, he took rather a different view of his role. The prisoners were defiant. Charley explained that they might be able to overwhelm him eventually, but he would kill quite a few of them first, and who wanted to be the first to die? They picked cotton.

Charley was naturalized while in the Army. He had first entered New York Harbor as an immigrant at the age of 16, literate in English but unable to understand the spoken English of the customs agents, and mortified by that failure. The second time he sailed into that harbor, he was a returning soldier and an American citizen, greeted by a banner welcoming him and his comrades home.

Charley summed up his wartime experience as follows: "We were defending all that was good in the world against evil. It was the most climactic experience of my life. I feel better about participating in ending the horror than anything else I've ever been involved in, tiny as my contribution was."

Thanks, Dad. Happy Veteran's Day.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Rambling about my father

My father, Charley Wyle, is in the hospital again, with a recurrent gastrointestinal problem, and I feel like recounting some of his war stories, what with Veterans' Day coming up. I'll probably post others when the mood takes me. There are plenty to tell.

My father and his immediate family escaped Nazi Germany when he was about 15. They spent a year or so in Palestine waiting for their U.S. visa to be in effect, and then came to New York. Once this country entered the war, my father and his next-youngest brother Bert wanted to enlist, but they were viewed as German nationals, absurdly enough, and had trouble doing so. Eventually they finagled their way into the army. Bert became a medic with a glider company. (I use the term "company" without being at all sure it's the right one. I have only the vaguest notion of what constitutes a platoon, company, or any other military unit.) My dad ended up in the infantry.

Since he was 5'6" and scrawny, they gave him the largest available rifle. I believe it was a grenade launcher. As he had no sense of direction, they made him a scout.

A stubborn democratic idealist, he took great exception to the custom of having enlisted men used as servants in the officer's mess. He was almost court-martialed. After a painful personal struggle, he conceded, but he was never reconciled to the idea.

It was in the army that my father first met someone who convinced him that he had a fine mind and should do something with it after the war. His friend "Doc" was older, and well educated. Doc was killed by a mine or bomb that exploded just next to my father. My father had only minor injuries, enough to earn him a Purple Heart.

My father's unit helped to liberate Dachau. They were there early enough that German concentration camp staff seen dead in the well-known photos were still alive. Some of Dad's comrades in arms gave pistols to the prisoners and told them to do whatever came naturally.

Late in the war, when a few German soldiers here and there were just starting to surrender, my father and two other soldiers got separated from their unit and stumbled on a German company(?), about 200 strong. As they hid behind trees, one of the others suggested they start shooting. My father strongly disagreed, pointing out that they would be immediately slaughtered. Instead, he stood up and shouted in German that the Germans were surrounded, and that their only possible chance of surviving the day was to surrender and lay down their arms. They did. Three American soldiers herded 200 prisoners back and presented them to their second lieutenant. The lieutenant asked my father if he thought he could do it again. Dad said he could try. He was sent on several missions to talk Germans into surrendering, and succeeded. The lieutenant got a Silver Star. My dad got bupkes. But he knows what he accomplished.

That's all for now.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Caroline Cooney, Unflinching Moralist of YA Fiction

I enjoy reading YA fiction. One of my favorite YA authors is Caroline Cooney. I don't know how I first discovered her, but she's remarkable.

What most interests and impresses me about her is her moral focus. I've found no other author besides George Eliot who so clearly forces us to confront the irrevocable nature of bad choices. In one of her novels, where youthful thoughtless irresponsibility leads to the death of an innocent bystander, she periodically repeats the line, "She is still dead." It's like the tolling of a bell, the obsessive chant of a guilty conscience.

In Cooney's books, if you take a big risk, it may kill you. If you screw up, it may kill someone else. You may start the day as a regular kid and end up ruined, or ruinous -- or heroic. The other side of her moralist's coin is everyday people -- naturally, young people -- rising to the occasion, astonishing themselves and those who supposedly knew them well.

Many of Cooney's young characters also ponder explicitly religious questions, often experiencing estrangement from and reconciliation with God. My lifelong interest in religions -- the interest of an agnostic outsider -- means that I enjoy these journeys. But it is Cooney's nonreligious explorations of moral choices that move me more, and linger with me longer.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Excerpt from Farsighted

Still doing the blog tour thing, and today I'm posting the first chapter of Farsighted....

(BTW, I'll be doing my own blog tour in early December for Twin-Bred.

Here's an excerpt from Emlyn Chand's hot new paranormal novel, Farsighted (it just released on 10/24). Before diving in, check out this teaser for the book:

Alex Kosmitoras may be blind, but he can still “see” things others can’t. When his unwanted visions of the future begin to suggest that the girl he likes could be in danger, he has no choice but to take on destiny and demand it reconsider.

Okay, now that you're caught up, on to the excerpt! I hope you'll enjoy it.

 


Farsighted: Chapter 1




Our hero is about to embark on a journey. Life as he knows it is quiet, boring, and predictable, but it’s also comforting and familiar. That will soon change.


 

Today is the last day of summer, but I’m not doing anything even remotely close to fun. I’m just lying here in Mom’s garden, running my hands over the spiky blades of grass—back and forth, back and forth until my fingertips go numb. Until everything goes numb. I sigh, but no one’s around to hear.

“Alex,” Dad yells from the kitchen window. “Dinner.”

Already? How long have I been out here? I spring up from the ground and the grass springs up with me, one blade at a time – boing, boink, boint. The sounds would be imperceptible to any normal person, but they roar inside my ears. I picture an army of earthworms raising the blades as spears in their turf wars and smile to myself.

Dad opens the back door and calls out to me again. “C’mon, Alex. What’s taking you so long?”

Grabbing my cane, I shuffle over to the house, brushing past him as I squeeze inside. The kitchen reeks of fast food restaurants and movie theaters—butter and grease. That means it’s breakfast for dinner. We do this every Sunday night, because Mom goes out to garden club and Dad doesn’t know how to cook anything else. Plus it’s cheap.

Breathing heavily, Dad plunks some food onto both our plates and collapses into his chair. He groans and asks me to pass the butter, or rather the “bud-dah.” He grew up in Boston and every once in a while the accent works itself into his speech.

I slide the tub to dad; he reaches out and stops it before it can glide clear off the table.

“What’s this?” Dad asks.

“Uh, the butter. Obviously.”

Dad’s voice raises an octave. “I know it’s the butter, so don’t get smart. Why’d you give it to me?”

“Uh, because you asked me to.”

“No, I didn’t.” He exhales as if the wind has been knocked out of him by an ill-timed punch to the stomach. “Guess you must’ve read my mind.” He chuckles to himself and slides the cool metal knife into the butter and scrapes it across his toast.

Dad and I don’t usually talk to each other unless Mom is around, asking about our days, chatting on, working hard to create those warm and fuzzy family moments we don’t seem to create naturally. And even though Mom has reassured me a million times, I know that Dad resents me for being born blind.

I can tell he would have much rather had a son like Brady—the same guy who insists on making my high school experience as difficult as possible. Nothing’s worse than knowing that your own father thinks you’re a loser.

Dad and I finish our meal in silence and my mind wanders.

He rises suddenly from his chair, breaking apart my thoughts. “Let’s get this table cleared before your mother comes home,” he says, without pronouncing the r in cleared.

I stand too and pick up my plate and glass. Guess I’ll pass on that fifth biscuit.

“Your mother has a surprise for you.”

I smile for my dad’s benefit. My parents are horrible at keeping secrets. Last night, I overheard them talking in their room. Mom was bragging about how she found some “cute” new shades on Wal-Mart’s clearance rack.

About ten minutes later, the tires of Mom’s van crunch on the gravel in our driveway with lots of little pings and a big cuh-clunk. As usual, she steers directly into the pothole we don’t have the money to repair. Sometimes I wonder if she does it on purpose.

The door creaks open, inviting a comforting floral fragrance into the house. Mom always smells like flowers—today it’s tulips and jasmine. She steps lightly across the floor and places a wet kiss on my cheek. When she turns to greet Dad, I wipe at the left-over moistness with my shirt sleeve. I’m getting too old for this kind of thing—been too old for a while now actually, but this doesn’t seem to matter to her.

“How was your day, my little sapling?” she asks. I really wish she would stop calling me her “little sapling.”

“Hi, Mom.” I hug her, because it makes her happy.

“Are you excited for tomorrow?”

I snap my fingers, which is how I say “yes” without actually saying it, kind of how most people nod their heads. I’m excited to learn, to have something to do other than lie in the grass, to possibly make a friend. More than likely though, things won’t change. I’ll still be an outcast. I’ll still be all by myself, but at least I’ll know where I stand. No more wondering.

“A sophomore already! I hope I can keep up enough to help you with your homework,” Dad says, acting like a completely different person than he was just a few minutes ago. He has this way of being nicer to me whenever Mom is around. I know it’s for show, and it pisses me off.

Ignoring him, I turn toward Mom. “So, Dad told me you’ve got a surprise for me?” I’d rather get this over with quickly before they try too hard to build up the suspense.

“Oh, yes,” she chirps, fluttering over to the other side of the living room, pulling out the drawer of the small table in the corner, and rustling the unpaid bills inside. She comes back over to me and places a small bag in my lap.

“Wait,” Dad says as my hand is about to reach inside the bag. “Before you open that, I just want to say that I know we haven’t been able to give you as many back-to-school supplies as you need this year. Your backpack is starting to tear and your boots are scuffed…”

I had no idea my boots were scuffed, but now that he’s pointed it out, it’s all I can think about.

“And all of this is my fault,” Dad continues as I wonder how badly my boots are scuffed. Where? On the heel? On the toe?

Mom clicks her tongue and rubs Dad’s shoulder sympathetically, dragging her fingernails across his thick shirt. The scratching sound draws my attention back to his melodramatic speech.

“I want to make you a promise, as soon as I get a job we’re going to buy all of those things for you. Okay?”

“It’s okay, Dad. I don’t need anything.” Except for you to be nice to me even when Mom isn’t around, and, oh yeah, a friend or two.

“That’s my brave little oak tree,” Mom says, giving me another hug. I swear, sometimes I think she’s from another planet, or at least another time period. But still, she loves me, even if she’s constantly saying stupid things like that.

When they seem to have nothing more to say, my left hand reaches into the bag and brings a pair of sunglasses up into the palm. I run my right hand over them, trying to make out their shape. They’ve got hard plastic frames and cushiony rubber ends for where they sit on top of the ears. They’re broad in front; the rim goes in a straight line all the way across about a half an inch above the nosepiece. These aren’t the normal bookworm glasses. They’re cool guy glasses.

“We thought you deserved a new pair of cool guy glasses since you’re practically sixteen,” Mom says.

Ugh, I hate when she uses the same words as me. I make a mental note never to say, or think, the words “cool guy glasses” again.

“And they’re even your favorite color!” Mom shouts, unable to contain herself.

Then they’re green. I “see” color through my nose and like green best because so many of the best-smelling things are that hue, like grass and leaves and vegetables and limes. But with green glasses, I’m afraid I’m going to stick out like a sore thumb—a sore green thumb. I smile and reach out my arms. Both my parents come in for a hug. I whisper a quick prayer for tomorrow and head to bed.

 

 

The next morning, my alarm starts yelling at six o’clock. Is it excited or trying to give me a warning? Well, time to get this over with, time to see if this year will be any different from all the crappy ones before. I reach over and flip the off-switch and stumble about in a sleepy haze, getting ready for the first day of the new school year.

On the way to the bathroom, I stub my toe on some bulky object that’s just sitting in the middle of the hallway, not even pushed up against the wall. I kick it to the side—clunk, straight into the wall—and continue to the bathroom. I shouldn’t need my cane to get around my own house. That had to be something of Dad’s. What, is he actually trying to kill me now?

I turn the shower knob and wait for the water to get warm. It’s taking forever since I’m the first one up today. Aggravated by the wait, I go back into the hall to find that object again. Stooping down, I attempt to work out the shape. Rectangular, with a handle, made of leather or something leather-like, with little metal clasps. A briefcase, I guess. But Dad’s a contractor, why would he need a briefcase? Why now? I flip the clasp, eager to find out what’s inside. But the case doesn’t open. Brushing my fingers across the top again, I find a twisty-turny thing on either side. A combination lock. If it’s so important, why’s it laying here in the middle of the hall like a discarded sock?

A wall of steam pushes into my back, returning my attention to the running shower. I return the case to its original position in the middle of the hall and go to wash up for school. Afterward, I towel off and put on my favorite shirt, which is soft and made of flannel. I wear my favorite pants too—they’re baggy with big pockets on the sides. As I’m pulling them on, I feel a tickle at my ankles where the hem now rests two full inches above where it should be. I groan, realizing I must’ve grown over the summer. How much taller can I get? I’m really tall now, at least a couple of inches over six feet, but we just don’t have the money to keep buying me new clothes every time I grow another inch.

To add the finishing touch to my first-day-of-school look, I slip my new cool guy glasses—er, sunglasses—on over my nose. The lenses are extra thick. Probably, if I wanted, I could sleep in class and no teacher would ever notice. But I’m not like that; I like to learn.

“Honey?” Mom calls from the end of the hallway. “Are you ready?”

“Yeah, I’m coming,” I yell back. “Just a sec.” I fiddle with my boots, trying to stuff my pants into them, so no one at school sees they’re too short. I’m sure this makes me look even more like a teenage Paul Bunyan than usual, but I don’t care. The boots are comfortable and help to support my ankles. Anyway I could probably wear nothing but expensive designer clothes and still be considered a freak.

Before standing, I run my hands over my feet. The right boot has a long narrow indentation across the toe. They are scuffed. Great. With a drawn-out sigh, I pick up my backpack and walk over to the kitchen where Mom is waiting. She has way too much energy for this early in the day.

“Yogurt with berries fresh from the garden,” she says, placing a glass in my hand. “You can eat in the car.”

“Thanks, Mom.” I jab a heaping spoonful into my mouth and finish it in five huge bites, then grab my cane from the hook near the front door, loop the cord around my wrist, and follow Mom out to the driveway where the rattly old family van is parked. As she shifts the car into drive, sadness washes over me. I’m almost sixteen, but I’ll never be able to drive. I’ll always be forced to rely on my parents for everything, my entire life.

We drive the twelve minutes to school, while Mom talks non-stop about new beginnings and the “carefree happiness of youth.” When the van stops, I take a deep breath, and wrap my fingers around the door handle, ready to find out what’s in store for me this year at Grandon High.

“Hey, Alex?” Mom stops me just as I’m about to step out onto the curb. I pause and wait. “Have a good day at school.”

“I will.”

“Dad’ll pick you up and bring you to the shop in the afternoon, okay?”

“Okay. Bye, Mom.” The longer we draw this scene out, the higher the chances of her kissing me on the head or calling me her “little sapling.” I just can’t risk starting out the year on such an embarrassing note.

I get out of the car and head straight inside the building. A bunch of kids are hanging around outside, chatting away about their summers, getting back into the swing of things. They don’t notice me as I slink by and make my way to my first hour, English—I memorized the location of all of my classes during the summer, so I wouldn’t embarrass myself by getting lost or arriving after the bell rings.

Entering the classroom, I drop my backpack on the floor, and prop my cane between the seat and the desk; that way it’s near at hand and easy to get later. Nobody else is here yet, not even the teacher. Bored already, I decide to go get a drink of water from the fountain. As I’m rounding the corner of the familiar hall, the air gets heavy like it does after a rainstorm. The aroma of wet grass and asphalt overpowers my senses. This definitely seems out of place for a high school hallway.

“Hey, Alex, how was it today?” Dad asks in a much better mood than usual.

I turn around in shock. What is my Dad doing here? Mom just dropped me off. Dad should be in bed still, not here at school embarrassing me.

“Dad?” I ask tentatively. “Dad, what are you doing here?”

“I’m not your daddy, you no-eyed freak!” comes the voice of Brady Evans, the running-back of the school’s Junior Varsity football team—my biggest enemy.

The air becomes lighter all of a sudden, as if a vacuum cleaner has sucked up all the humidity. The fragrance of sweat and Axe deodorant spray fills my nostrils. I’m totally confused now.

“Brady?”

“No, it’s your daddy. Loser…” Laughter comes from at least six different people, most of them girls.

“Sorry,” I mumble and head back to English class, forgetting to get my drink of water. Brady and his entourage follow me in, making jokes at my expense.

I put my head down on my desk, wishing I was a chameleon, so I could become one with the desk and fade out of view—being a reptile couldn’t be that much worse than having to endure high school.

“Mr. Kosmitoras, could you please come here?” the teacher calls, butchering the pronunciation of my name.

“Um, it’s Caas-me-toe-rh-aas actually,” I respond, getting up and walking over to the teacher’s desk at the front of the room. Brady and his friends are still laughing. I hope they’ve moved onto a new topic.

“Here are your textbooks for the year. We’re starting out with this basic reader,” she says, plopping a thick book into my hands. “Then we’ll be moving on to The Odyssey and finally Romeo and Juliet.” She places these into my outstretched palms as well.

“Thanks,” I mutter and head back to my seat. I begin skimming the basic reader, flipping through several pages at once, randomly trailing my finger over little snippets of text. Since no school around here caters specifically to visually impaired kids, my teachers special-order textbooks in braille for me. That’s all I need to get by, really. With very few exceptions, I can do anything other kids my age do. I’ve been this way my whole life; I know how to make it work.

Bit by bit, the other students trickle into the class. Someone who smells like cherry candy sits down across the room. Then, a series of loud thuds comes from that direction—she must’ve dropped her books.

“Simmi! Simmi, Jeez! Don’t make so much noise!” says some boy, who sounds a bit like Brady, but I don’t think is Brady. I don’t know anybody named Simmi, so this girl must be a new student. Why’s this boy being so mean to her already? Hope rises within me. Maybe she’ll be an outcast too; the two of us could team up.

The bell rings, taking away the cherries. I don’t pay any attention to the teacher as she introduces herself to the class. Instead, I think about the strange things that have been happening today. What was in that briefcase in the hall this morning, and why couldn’t I open it? Why did I think Brady Evans was my dad? Why do we have to read Romeo and Juliet this year in English class? We’re less than five minutes into first period, and my hopes for the new year are pretty much dashed.

 

Blog Tour Notes



THE BOOK:  Alex Kosmitoras may be blind, but he can still “see” things others can’t.  When his unwanted visions of the future begin to suggest that the girl he likes could be in danger, he has no choice but to take on destiny and demand it reconsider. Get your copy today by visiting Amazon.com’s Kindle store or the eBook retailer of your choice. The paperback edition will be available on November 24 (for the author’s birthday).

THE CASH PRIZES:  Guess what? You could win a $100 Amazon gift card as part of this special blog tour. That’s right! Just leave a comment below saying something about the post you just read, and you’ll be entered into the raffle. I could win $100 too! Please help by voting for my blog in the traffic-breaker poll. To cast your vote, visit the official Farsighted blog tour page and scroll all the way to the bottom. Thank you for your help with that.

THE GIVEAWAYS:  Win 1 of 10 autographed copies of Farsighted before its paperback release by entering the giveaway on GoodReads. Perhaps you’d like an autographed postcard from the author; you can request one on her site.

THE AUTHOR:  Emlyn Chand has always loved to hear and tell stories, having emerged from the womb with a fountain pen grasped firmly in her left hand (true story). When she’s not writing, she runs a large book club in Ann Arbor and is the president of author PR firm, Novel Publicity. Emlyn loves to connect with readers and is available throughout the social media interweb. Visit www.emlynchand.com for more info. Don’t forget to say “hi” to her sun conure Ducky!

MORE FUN: There's more fun below. Watch the live action Farsighted book trailer and take the quiz to find out which character is most like you!

 

 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Welcome to the Farsighted virtual book tour!


I'm one of many hosts on author Emlyn Chand's virtual book tour for her new novel Farsighted. Today, a guest post; Tuesday, an excerpt!

This is a guest post by Emlyn Chand, author of Farsighted



Let's face it - the publishing industry is changing. We can all pretty much agree on that, right?

What we've got on our hands is an oncoming era of enlightenment (I prefer that to the often-touted “revolution”). ‘T wasn’t long ago that being a self-published author was practically as shocking and horrific as being a witch in Salem, Massachusetts circa 1700.

“What damnation have you wrought upon yourself? Upon us all?” The traditional pub villagers would cry as they rushed for their pitch forks and torches. “Be gone with you, unnatural creatures!”

And those unkind words were enough to send us packing. They didn’t have to chase us out of the village, for we never had any real magic, we were never any real threat.

Until…

We opened our eyes. We saw the true powers we possessed, and we saw the villagers for what they lacked.

We are able to manipulate our circumstances. We have more control than any who’ve gone before us. Self-publishing truly is magic.

But we can’t just walk around all blasé, showing off our green skin and harry warts while levitating our way through the park. That would be a mistake. We need to put on a little bit of concealer and keep our feet on the ground. We wouldn’t want to scare them away.

Similarly, a self-published or indie author needs to put on a bit of a show. We need to know when to conform to the “village” way of life and when to do our own damn thang. If we can get them to come in for a closer look, they might understand our allure. Then they’ll stop being so afraid.

Our make-up isn’t Maybelline to cover that green skin (I ♥ you, Elphaba). No. We apply our foundation by writing a truly fetching and well-edited manuscript. We dab on the blush when we take the time and expense needed to don an attractive book cover. Our lipstick is a professional, personal, and functional web presence.

Don’t we look pretty? We do, I tell you. And we’re all the more beautiful for knowing that we possess something so much deeper within: creativity, stick-to-it-ness, bravery, and of course – magic.

If you really examine the state of the publishing industry, it’s not the traditional house execs that populate the villages. Oh, they’re definitely the mayors, the cryers, and a few other choice townspeople. But if you want to see who lives in the village, go and knock on a few doors.

It’s the readers, bibliophiles, book addicts. They’re the ones who built this town. The mayor would have no village to govern if ‘tweren’t for them.

And thank God for it!

We arrived on their doorsteps – beaten, bloody, in need of a hot meal and a bit of rest. They may have been put off by our bedraggled appearance, but they ultimately let us in and showed us the true nature of their hospitality.

I kind of like this town; I think I’ll move in ;-)

 

Blog Tour Notes



THE BOOK:  Alex Kosmitoras may be blind, but he can still “see” things others can’t.  When his unwanted visions of the future begin to suggest that the girl he likes could be in danger, he has no choice but to take on destiny and demand it reconsider. Get your copy today by visiting Amazon.com’s Kindle store or the eBook retailer of your choice. The paperback edition will be available on November 24 (for the author’s birthday).

THE CASH PRIZES:  Guess what? You could win a $100 Amazon gift card as part of this special blog tour. That’s right! Just leave a comment below saying something about the post you just read, and you’ll be entered into the raffle. I could win $100 too! Please help by voting for my blog in the traffic-breaker poll. To cast your vote, visit the official Farsighted blog tour page and scroll all the way to the bottom. Thank you for your help with that.

THE GIVEAWAYS:  Win 1 of 10 autographed copies of Farsighted before its paperback release by entering the giveaway on GoodReads. Perhaps you’d like an autographed postcard from the author; you can request one on her site.

THE AUTHOR:  Emlyn Chand has always loved to hear and tell stories, having emerged from the womb with a fountain pen grasped firmly in her left hand (true story). When she’s not writing, she runs a large book club in Ann Arbor and is the president of author PR firm, Novel Publicity. Emlyn loves to connect with readers and is available throughout the social media interweb. Visit www.emlynchand.com for more info. Don’t forget to say “hi” to her sun conure Ducky!

MORE FUN: There's more fun below. Watch the live action Farsighted book trailer and take the quiz to find out which character is most like you!

 

 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Book review -- Chicken Feed by Ellen Ghyll

As promised, here's my first book review!

Chicken Feed recounts a tumultuous few days in the lives of a number of people involved with what we in the U.S. would call a flea market.

Simply put, Chicken Feed is a fun read. The authors tangle and untangle the characters' lives in a lighthearted and somehow affectionate manner. The book introduces several memorable characters. The husband-and-wife "Ellen Ghyll" team have a gift for descriptive, revealing and amusing detail. Some hilarious scenes cry out for cinematic treatment. The book would make a terrific one- or two-part mini-series.

Chicken Feed could have used another run by a good copy editor to deal with occasional punctuation errors and awkward transitions. (In the Smashwords epub, there are apparently random shifts between black text and blue -- I don't know how noticeable this would be on a Kindle.) These are minor flaws that didn't keep me from thoroughly enjoying the book.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Book Stuff (reviews and interviews)

I've been busy trying to promote my just-published science fiction novel Twin-Bred. I've gotten several nice reviews and a few interviews. It'll be interesting to see if this leads to one or more people I've never met and never communicated with in cyberspace actually buying the book.

Here are the reviews, interviews, guest blog posts and promotional spotlights that have appeared so far:

Reviews:

Ellen Ghyll's blog

Pearls Before a McPig

Womb Twin Survivors

Interviews (well, one so far -- others coming):

JeanzBookReadNReview

Guest Blog Posts (again, one up, more coming):

Indies Unlimited

Promotion Spotlights:

JeanzBookReadNReview (again)

A.F. Stewart Promotion

My first review of someone else's book should be up in a week or less. The book: Chicken Feed by Ellen Ghyll.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Daughter's and Book's Birthday

If all goes moderately well, I will be publishing my debut novel, Twin-Bred via various online outlets on October 15th, my older daughter's birthday. It seemed like a good day, for several reasons:
--she is the one who led me to National Novel Writing Month, which helped me get past decades-old obstacles and start writing fiction again;
--she did Twin-Bred's cover art;
--she liked the book! :-)

As I try to publicize the book without becoming obnoxious about it, I'll probably do some book review exchanges. So watch this space for book reviews!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

About that Palestinian state including East Jerusalem...

As we contemplate the current Palestinian establishment, controlled by Hamas, demanding a Palestinian state including East Jerusalem in its territory, I suggest remembering the Palestinians in East Jerusalem celebrating the September 11 attacks.

(BTW, it was no hoax, nor video from some other occasion -- see this rebuttal of such claims.)

Sorry, folks. You've had your fun. No statehood celebration in East Jerusalem for you. F*ck you very much.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

More cover tweaks...




























Well, I've darkened the planet, enlarged the artwork, and tried two different ways to add stars. Plus made the text purple just in case that's better. I've been looking for the right clip art of a comet or of the Milky Way to add as well, but no luck so far.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Need comments on possible book cover!










I hope I've succeeded in sending some people here from Goodreads. I would greatly appreciate some comments on whether either of the book covers shown above for my SF novel is a suitable cover for actual publication, or whether it's one or more of the following:


--artwork not sufficiently professional

--layout not sufficiently professional

--the wrong font for the text

--the wrong color for the text

--other text problems

--too much unused space

--too "creepy"


The version with the smaller planet is what I'd thought of using for the e-book, as the other is hard to read in thumbnail size.

Thanks for your input!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Thoughts of my brother, on hearing Romeo and Juliet

This morning, as I drove home from errands, music from the soundtrack to Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet came up on my iPod. I suspect that many people get teary when they hear this music: because of the sad story with which it is associated, because of their own lost loves, or because the music is intrinsically poignant. I have another reason: I hear the music and think of my brother.

David was a brilliant pianist. When he was young, when people still expected achievement from him, many thought he would have a career in music. He did some composing, mostly freeform and improvisational, but it was the way he played that hit people hardest. He was always unabashedly emotional, a thorough romantic, and his music was that in spades. I especially loved to hear him play Romeo and Juliet. It was the perfect marriage of music and musician. One of many tragedies concerning my brother is that there are no good recordings of his playing. The only one ever made was destroyed in a fire, about two months before he died.

I expected to outlive my brother. He was older. He was mentally ill for most of his life. He sometimes cut off all contact with me or our parents or both, for months or years at a time. He was often unable to work; he lived largely on disability and assistance from our parents. His judgment of other people was unreliable and led him into strange and potentially perilous associations. In his youth, he used many recreational drugs in various combinations; later, he took psychotropic prescription drugs whose side effects needed close monitoring. I would not have been surprised if he died of those side effects, or were found dead on the street, or simply disappeared without word or return.

What I didn't expect was that he would die of lung cancer. It shouldn't have surprised me: he was a heavy smoker for decades, almost a chain smoker. I would have had more warning if he had told me, when his beloved cat died, that she died of lung cancer.

We were close as children. Our relationship changed forever when, in his days as an evangelist for drug use, he gave me an "Alice B. Toklas" brownie and lied to me about its contents. I ate little of the brownie, and it had no effect on me, but the lie destroyed something between us. As he grew older and stranger, I learned to distance myself from him and from his troubles. When he jumped off a building in case he could fly, and broke his neck, I visited the hospital and wrote a poem about the leaves in his hair, but I was neither desolate nor terrified. I was relieved at his full recovery, but not deeply thankful. I followed subsequent hospitalizations, relocations and adventures with little emotion or engagement.

David was a paradoxical combination of generosity and need, egoism and selflessness. He was a wonderful friend to some; he was a heartbreaking disappointment to others, including the woman to whom he was briefly engaged. He escaped his own problems by helping others with theirs. I, by contrast, became cautious in exposing myself to the needs of others. When David had money, he lent it to near-strangers or gave away the things he had bought with it; then he would need rescuing to pay the rent or buy his medicines. My parents did the rescuing, often with strings attached that twisted and almost strangled their relationship. To avoid such unintended consequences, and to protect myself and later my own family, I made a vow never to lend him money. He only asked once.

After I moved from California to Indiana, he came for one visit. He met my older daughter when she was two or three. It was the only time he saw her.

We spoke on the phone rarely. In his latter years, he suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome. I never knew when he would be resting. It was a good excuse not to call. If I called, I never knew whether he would be irrational, or hard to understand, or querulous, or demanding -- or my loving big brother, my only sibling, sharer of my childhood. Often, I didn't take the chance of finding out.

After his diagnosis, we spoke more often. I thought of addressing the unfinished business between us, the old hurts, and decided against it. There was no ongoing problem to solve, little to gain. We chatted about little things; we talked about my children. I am no singer, but sometimes I sang to him over the phone -- lullabies, folk songs, anything soothing. He was lavishly appreciative.

My younger daughter wanted to meet her uncle while she could. She and I went to visit him in Palo Alto, California in April 2005, just after she turned nine. They bonded immediately. She doesn't play the piano, but they played duets together. They made silly noises together. She is a dancer, and she danced for him, and he delighted in her. On this same visit, I read him some of my picture book manuscripts; he praised them. We dredged up memories from the years we had lived together. Just before we left, we celebrated Passover, in the lovely little yard outside his small cluttered apartment. And we heard him play Romeo and Juliet -- the first time for my daughter, the last time for me.

We planned to come again in June. But before we could, a fire in his apartment -- possibly from a cigarette, possibly from bad wiring -- destroyed the apartment and most of his possessions. He was found wandering in the street, incoherent. His health declined rapidly from that day on, and he died in June, hours after my daughter graduated from 3rd grade. My parents, both my daughters, and I came to Palo Alto in June for a memorial service with his friends.

We got our first dog that September. We named her Davida, which not everyone in the family thought appropriate. It turned out to make sense, in a way. David and I had both liked walking at night; we were less awkward, most relaxed and loving with each other, on such walks. Now, I had a reason to walk at night, every night.

Sometimes I talk to Davida about my brother as we walk and pause and walk again through our quiet neighborhood.

And every time I hear the music from Romeo and Juliet, I tear up, and I cherish every note.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The author as problem-solver

The women in my family tend to be good problem-solvers. Give us a problem -- at least, one that doesn't have to be solved within seconds to avoid mayhem -- and much of the time, we'll come up with a creative yet practical solution.

After a decades-long detour, I am back to writing fiction, and I've discovered how much of it is my old friend, problem-solving. The problem may be how to reveal key facts without a boring info-dump, or how to keep the reader's sympathies for a character despite her dismaying behavior. Whatever it is, if I park it on the mental stovetop for a bit, it doesn't take long before the pot starts bubbling. Well, it may take a day or three. Problem: how to find a better metaphor for problem-solving?...

Republican stump speech for the taking

In the extremely unlikely event that anyone working on Rick Perry's, or some other Republican candidate's, campaign should stumble across this blog:

One of y'all needs a stump speech, and/or some campaign commercials, on the theme of "What Would the Founders Say." Collect egregious instances of regulatory interference and overreach, and recite them with proper indignation, following each with "What would the Founders say about that?"

You're welcome.

Monday, July 25, 2011

If they let themselves be bulldozed, it's their fault

The latest proposal for the debt ceiling impasse is a committee of members of the House and Senate -- presumably senior and powerful members -- that would come up with a plan to be voted on, but not debated, in both chambers. Some bloggers are screaming that this would be unconstitutional. Nope -- just undemocratic. If the members of Congress follow their internal rules, they can inflict this on themselves. But why would any of the freshfolk supported by the Tea Party, or any members devoted to budgetary restraint, vote for such a proposal?

Cute Couple of the Year

I'm sure I'm one of many, many people smiling at the photos of the first couple to wed in New York, Phyllis Sifel and Connie Kopelov, aged 77 and 85 respectively. The cynical might also note that these ladies are a good symbolic choice for first couple, as they're less likely than most others to get divorced.

And the Mean-Spirited Gesture of the Year award goes to the diehards who are seeking to get these first marriages annulled because the clerks waived the 24-hour waiting period. Ahem. Excuse me, I believe it's a good bet that these ladies have been waiting a while already....

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Adults not armed, tragedy not averted

I am horrified, shocked, sickened, shaken, by the deaths of so many young people at the Swedish camp. I am also waiting for someone to mention that during the 90 minutes or so after the shooting began, armed adult staff members could have stopped the carnage. But of course, they weren't armed. Perhaps this kind of attack was unimaginable -- before. Now?

The devil and the deep blue sea of publishing

As I ponder whether to self-publish my SF novel or seek an agent and/or a traditional publisher, I hear discouraging news about both options.

According to one industry blogger, Barnes & Noble is responding to the death of Borders not by increasing its space for books, but by allocating less space for books and more for games. Another blogger reports that books will be given only 45 days, rather than the current 90 days, to sell before they're returned to publishers.

On the other hand, there is allegedly so much mediocre (or worse) self-published SF on Amazon nowadays that shoppers are supposedly avoiding the SF category.

Oy vey!

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

I'm baaack...

I've been planning to start up a separate "author" blog. Now comes this post suggesting why I might be better off staying right here.

When I next take a breather from revising a SF novel, I'll catch up on politics, etc....

Saturday, March 05, 2011

If I Wrote a Singles Ad

Just walked the dog in the rain. Neither of us enjoyed it. Trudging along, I imagined the singles ad I would post if I needed one: "I do NOT love walking in the rain. I loathe it. I do like walking in the snow, if it isn't windy and Jack Frost isn't gnawing on my extremities."

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

link to a blog on website for writers and readers

Here's a link to my first blog entry on the Red Room, a website for writers and readers (as I am now both).

Expect to hear more about my first novel -- well, my second, if you count the one I wrote when I was 10. Which I try to forget about.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

This Jewish lawyer's take on the Mount Soledad cross

For what it's worth, this Jewish lawyer and civil libertarian thinks it's kind of a shame to make, so to speak, a federal case over the Mount Soledad Memorial. Aka the Mount Soledad cross.

If someone sees the cross and knows nothing about it, then they won't know it's on federal land, and thus won't have a reason to read it as a government endorsement of religion. If they see it and know it's a war memorial, then what follows? American military cemeteries are full of crosses. This is because they are full of dead American soldiers, most of whom were Christians. Seeing a plain giant cross used as a war memorial is more likely to call up memories of military cemeteries than of churches.

In the article I just read, the attorney who fought against the cross for 15 years (!) says it's "a great day for religious tolerance." I would hardly call it a great day, or a great devotion of 15 years, for any kind of tolerance.