Giftmas 2017: Lighting Up the Lives of Others…

2017 was very difficult for a lot of people in my world, myself included. Over the past months I’ve occasionally felt like I was floundering in all the bad news, tragedies and crises. The thing that has helped me out of those dark spots was to make a concerted effort to seek out and focus on positive things going in the world — things are are far too often overshadowed by the bad.

WIth that thought at the very forefront of my mind I decided to make the theme for this year’s Giftmas Blog Tour ‘Shining a Light’.

By sharing our stories and raising money to help feed hungry families, my hope is that this blog tour will be a light as well.

Our fundraising goal is $522 (that’s one dollar more than we raised last year!). Because the Edmonton Food Bank can stretch every donated dollar into three meals if we reach our goal we will have contributed 1,566 meals to families this season, but we can’t do it without you.

If you are able, please donate to our fundraiser for the Edmonton Food Bank. Every dollar counts and, in addition to the warm feeling that comes with helping others, we are also offering a whack of goodies to every person who contributes. You can check out the details and claim your rewards by clicking here but those rewards include ebooks, holiday cards, stickers, Tuckerizations, handicrafts and more!

And here is the most important link in this whole blog tour:

Please donate to our fundraiser for the Edmonton Food Bank

 

Today I’m hosting E.C. Bell on my blog and making an appearance on hers. Please enjoy this post from her about lighting up the lives of others:

When I see Christmas lights I think charity, and I thank my parents (and grandparents) for that.

On the farm, back in the eighties, my grandmother would start knitting mittens “for the kids” a month before she started making Christmas gifts for us. (Yeah. She made our gifts. And they were amazing.) The kids she was knitting for were teenagers who were going to spend Christmas at YESS, a local emergency shelter for teens.

While she was busy at that, my dad would get the outside evergreens prepped to light. He ascribed to “The Christmas Story” theory of Christmas lighting. (He used a tractor with a bucket, not a ladder, to get high enough to decorate them, but the theory still holds.) He’d add strings until breakers blew, and then he’d back off one string. All of it would have blown the mind of every safety officer in the known world if they’d seen, but hey, it was a different time, and that was the way he rolled.

In mid December, he’d light the trees. Then, he’d buy a bunch of frozen turkeys and take them and the mittens in to the shelter, so those kids would have warmth and food, at Christmas.

I imagine those trees were a beacon to him, calling him home to the warmth and laughter that was the farm, after his Santa run.

My father and grandmother are now gone, but their tradition isn’t. It just looks a little different at our house.

One December a few years ago a kid knocked on our door. He was half frozen because it was (surprise surprise) bitterly cold and he was NOT dressed for the weather.

“Nice tree,” the kid said. He was talking about the huge evergreen in our front yard that my husband had decorated with Christmas lights. He’d done it for me soon after we’d moved into the place, because I’d so loved the trees out on the farm.

I will never forget him sitting at our kitchen table calculating exactly how many strings of lights the outdoor electrical outlet could take, (he’s an electrician, so that’s the way he rolls) and then developing a tool (with duct tape, of course) so he could get the lights to start exactly at the top. Nothing like the way my dad lit his trees, but the effect was the same. It looked wonderful.

“Thanks,” we said. And then we waited, because we knew the kid was going to try to sell us on donating to his cause.

“I know you won’t want to make a donation,” the kid said, waving a sheaf of papers at us. “Nobody on your block does. But at least you opened the door. Would you mind if I came in for a second? Just to warm up?”

The wind was howling and he looked miserable, so we said yes. And we let him give us his pitch, even though we donated to local charities and had hit our financial limit for the year.

He warmed up, thanked us for listening, and went on his way. My husband and I watched him trudge off into the darkness, and for a second I wished I knit mittens, because that kid could have used ta pair. Then, my husband said, “Hell, he’s only asking for $35. We can afford that much.”

So we called him back, signed up to be foster parents, and gave him the money. We actually did it for him, more than for a kid from Haiti, but now we are helping a little girl who was caught in a bit of hell not of her own devising. My husband was right. The money isn’t much, to us.

Last year we fostered a couple more orphans. Two young elephants from Kenya, caught in hell. It’s not much money, but—I hope—we are making a difference in their lives, too.

And we turn on the Christmas lights before we donate, so our house looks as warm and welcoming as my parent’s farm did, so many years before.

About E.C. Bell:

My debut paranormal mystery, Seeing the Light  (2014)  won the BPAA award for Best Speculative Fiction Book of the Year, and was shortlisted for the Bony Blithe Award for Light Mystery. The 2nd and 3rd books in the series are out now (both shortlisted for awards, look at me go!) and the 4th will be available in October, 2017. Which means I’m hard at work on number 5. My short fiction includes the Aurora Award winning fantasy anthologies Women of the Apocalypse and The Puzzle Box.  When I’m not writing, I’m living a fine life in my round house with my husband and our two dogs.

Jeanne Kramer-Smyth Reading ‘J’

We’re going to be launching D is for Dinosaur here in Edmonton this March:

D is for Dinosaur

(Details here)

But because the D is for Dinosaur contributors are spread so far out across the globe (and there are twenty-six of them!) we couldn’t possibly include everyone. So I asked the other contributors if they’d like to record themselves doing a reading from their story and I’d share it on my blog. In response, Jeanne Kramer-Smyth sent along this recording of part of her story, “J”. Give it a listen — it has one of the best opening lines in the entire anthology 🙂

“J” by Jeanne Kramer-Smyth

 


Pre-order your copy of D IS FOR DINOSAUR now and get it for only $0.99!

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Dinosaurs: Do I Include Them

A Reasoned, Five Step Plan to Answer the Difficult Query of

“Dinosaurs: Do I Include Them”;

A Bulleted Plan to Cover All Writing Decisions

By Michael B. Tager

 

Step 1) Ask yourself: Does this piece require dinosaurs?

  • That’s a damned good question, thanks for asking. I think it depends on what you’re writing.
    • Are you writing a book about dinosaurs?
      • If so, yes. You probably need dinosaurs.
      • Are you writing any other kind of story? If so, see Step 2

Step 2) You’ve determined that the pieces may not require dinosaurs. Should you include them in your poem/story/play about love/aliens/Vatican conspiracies?

  • Should is a tricky question. A better question is: do you want to include them?
    • If you want to include dinosaurs, continue.
    • If you don’t, don’t. Not rocket science.

Step 3) Including dinosaurs is something you want to do in your Victorian Romance (insert any other work in the underline). How in the world do you rewrite to make it work? Maybe you should give up!

  • Well, plots are not very important.
  • Neither is rhyme/meter or play structure.
    • The venue (form) is irrelevant.
    • You can change shit based on needs. Not much of a barrier.
      • Plot changes make ripples, but it’s part of the writing process.
      • Form changes also make ripples. Also part of the process.
    • If rewriting doesn’t scare you, proceed.

Step 4) Ok, you’ve determined that you can make changes. Now what?

  • Have you added dinosaurs? No?
    • Add some fucking dinosaurs.

Step 5) Well, you think, aren’t dinosaurs kind of stupid and juvenile? Maybe you should stick with what you have and not worry about dinosaurs

  • I don’t know. They existed, didn’t they? I’m not sure how anything that has existed can be stupid or juvenile.
    • It’s mildly lame that the surviving dinosaurs evolved into birds, but
      • Birds are kind of awesome:
        • Shrikes
        • Cuckoos
        • Eagles
        • Fucking condors
          • Yes, turkeys are kind of dumb
        • In other words, no, dinosaurs are awesome.

 

Conclusion: If you want to add dinosaurs, add some dinosaurs. Dinosaurs are great. And so are you. QED.

 

Michael B. Tager is a writer of many short stories, essays and poems. He is the Managing editor of Writers and Words, a monthly Baltimore reading series, the Book Reviews Editor of Atticus Review, and the founder of the literary journal, The Avenue. He writes a monthly video game biography “Retrogamer” for Cartridge Lit.

He likes Buffy and the Baltimore Orioles. He lives with his wife and cats.

 


Pre-order your copy of D IS FOR DINOSAUR now and get it for only $0.99!

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Six Reasons NOT to read Char

When Kristina Wojtaszek’s new novel, Char, came out I invited her to share a guest post on my blog, because writing is a team sport (I mean, among other reasons). I sent her a list of suggested blog topics, one of which was “Top Three Reasons To Read My Story/Book”. Kristina took that and turned it on its head, instead writing the top six reasons to not read her book. Because of course she did. That’s how she rolls 🙂

Six Reasons Not to Read My Novel Char, of the Fae of Fire and Stone Series.

by Kristina Wojtaszek

 

  1. You prefer characters to be fair skinned, blonde haired and blue eyed, who practice good manners and never question authority or the rules of their world. For the rest of you, I’d like to introduce Luna, an ebony skinned woman with deadly powers who questions the patriarchal leadership that threatens to dominate, and even obliterate, her ancient race.

 

  1. You can’t stand confident, intelligent female protagonists. While there’s a smidgeon of strong, heroic males coming to a lady’s rescue, most of my series focus on the relationships between women—strong women. Queens who defy; princesses that refuse their own humanity, let alone humility; wars waged by women; and entire mythos surrounding the Queen of the Wood, the very goddess that began the race of Fae in my series, are all at your fingertips in OPAL and CHAR, alongside interesting men who serve as fathers, lovers and betraying enemies.

 

  1. You expect perfection from the book’s heroine. Because a hero is destined to greatness from the glorious, rainbowed day of their birth, and every action performed by their great coming-up is made with ultimate wisdom, compassion, honor and skill (I might have gagged just a little). While my heroine is Fae, and thus not quite human, I think you’ll find her more human than most.  She screws up, and I mean big time.  In fact, she starts out in the beginning of the book labeled a “witch,” cast out by the very people who raised her, and cursed to live out her days in isolation so she can’t harm anyone else—not unlike the solitary confinement of a mass murderer, in fact.  Heck, even her mentor was a murdering, defunct queen whose bitterness caused her to shun her own child.  So how can I expect you to root for either of these characters?  Oh, but you will!  That is the promise of a tale worth telling.

 

  1. You like your fairy tale retellings to follow the well known, Disneyfied versions of classic tales. If so, please don’t even bother to pick up CHAR or OPAL, whose first inspirations came from the roots of the oldest versions of Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, and The Seven Ravens, among others, and whose twists and turns call into question the motives of witch and queen alike. Because in this series, the Seven Dwarfs have been replaced by the Seven, a circle of ancient and powerful Fae, and symbolism of animals often used in fairy tales has taken on a whole new meaning in the story of these shape-shifters.

 

  1. You like your fantasies set in a generic medieval time in which religion, and religious persecution, don’t exist. While I did use somewhat of a generic medieval era for this series, I did a lot of research on medieval times, reading such titles as Medieval English Nunneries by Eileen Power, and Raised to Rule: Educating Royalty at the Court of the Spanish Habsburgs by Martha K. Hoffman, among too many others to list. And though I’d still consider myself a novice, I know this much: religion was of utmost importance to just about everyone living in the middle ages.  Crusades were fought in the name of God, kings were said to be anointed by heaven, and those who fell from favor were often sentenced to death or torture based on accusations of heresy.  Religion, and religious persecution, plays a heavy role in my series, and while you won’t be able to wholly identify one race with Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam or another of our major religions, you can certainly pick up aspects of various faiths, and even parallels to historical religious persecutions in my books.  The Fae are believers in a Great Mother, which, while entirely imagined, has some ties to pagan beliefs of old.  And my editor once commented on how some of their sufferings reminded her of what the Jews went through, and I was proud to have had someone recognize that, though this is hardly their story, nor the story of any specific religious struggle.  It is a fantasy, after all.  But even fantasies need some element of reality to rein them in and align them with our own, searching souls.

 

  1. When you read the word Fae, you expect to find another race akin to Tolkien’s elves or some such tree-dwelling fairy-like creature with pointed ears, pure hearts, and unnatural beauty. If that’s the case, please read Tolkien, because he did it first, and he did it best, and I don’t believe in redoing the awesomeness that created its own trope. My Fae creatures are quite like humans, except their eyes are just a little too dark, and their various powers allow them to wear the skin of a snake, draw down a blizzard, or decipher the quiet mind of a plant.  I believe the only inherent truth about Fae is that, unlike humans, they are bound by nature.  So rather than taking all my influence from ancient Irish lore, I dove much more heavily into Native American mythology in the making of my Fae.  Because what human society dwelled more in the heart of nature than Native Americans?  So if you like the idea of surly old men who shape-shift into the disgruntled bears they take after, or sly, shadow-seeking women who prefer life in the shape of owl, amphibian or wolf to the domestic entrapment of men, you might just want to take a peek at my series.

 

Char Wraparound Cover

Fire is never tame—least of all the flames of our own kindling. Raised in isolation by the secretive Circle of Seven, Luna is one of the few powerful beings left in a world dominated by man. Versed in ancient fairy tales and the language of plants, Luna struggles to control her powers over fire. When Luna’s mentor dies in her arms, she is forced into a centuries-long struggle against the gravest enemy of all Fae-kind—the very enemy that left her orphaned. In order to save her people, Luna must rewrite their history by entering a door in the mountain and passing back through time. But when the lives of those she loves come under threat, her rage destroys a forest, and everything in it. Now called the Char Witch, she is cursed to live alone, her name and the name of her people forgotten. Until she hears a knock upon her long-sealed door. Interwoven with elements of Hansel and Gretel and The Seven Ravens, Char is the stand alone sequel to Opal, and second in the Fae of Fire and Stone trilogy.

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Writing is a Team Sport

Possible Blog Post Topics

Writing is a Team SportAs part of my ‘Writing is a Team Sport’ uh… initiative (is that the word I’m looking for? It sounds awfully grown-up…) I’ve offered to host more guest blogs here than I had previously. And more than a few people have been in touch to take me up on that offer but frequently our conversation gets to the ‘But what am I going to write about?’ stage and then my potential guest gets stuck. Sometimes they get stuck to the point that the blog post doesn’t happen. >_<

In an attempt to help answer the ‘What do I write about?’ question, I’ve come up with this list of suggestions 🙂

Ten Possible Topics for Guest Posts On My Blog

  1. Write a scene from your story from a different point of view.
    • If the scene is a conversation between Bob and Betty and in your story it’s told from Bob’s point of view, tell it instead from Betty’s. Or show us how the cat sitting unobtrusively in the corner see things. Or–?
  2. Make a YouTube playlist that is meant to be used as the soundtrack to your story. Share a little bit about the overall feeling of the music or how it relates to your tale–no spoilers!
  3. Interview one of your secondary characters about their role in the story, or how they feel about the main characters. Or let the secondary character interview a main character. Or vice versa.
  4. Gather and share a collection of images which somehow relate to your story, or that exemplify your story’s aesthetic and talk about why you chose what you did. Again, no spoilers.
  5. Make a list. “Top Ten Things I Learned While Writing This Story/Book”. “Five Interesting Things About My Main Character”. “Top Three Reasons To Read My Story/Book”. Whatever. Be creative. Be interesting. Write something that you would want to read.
  6. Write about the ‘Why’ of something. “Why I Wrote Story/Book” “Why stories like mine matter”
  7. Write about one of your hobbies or interests outside of writing. Bonus points if you can relate it to your most recent story/book.
  8. Write about why you love books/reading.
  9. Share a drabble or bit of flash fiction (short, short, short) that is somehow related to your story/book.
  10. If you’re promoting a story (rather than a book) pretend you get to give it a cover just like a book. What would it look like? If it’s a book share some of the cover ideas/options that were considered but dismissed.

This list is not exclusive, it’s mostly meant to help get ideas flowing. I think the most important thing is to enjoy what you’re writing about (people can tell when you’re forcing it).

Oh. And bonus points if you include an image or two that I can run with your post. 🙂

 

If you’d like me to host a guest post by you drop me a line at rhonda.l.parrish@gmail.com and we’ll chat!

10 Things I’ve Learned Along the Way

Writing is a Team SportIn the spirit of writing being a team sport (get your buttons now! :-p) I wanted to open up my blog to more guest posts about things which might interest my readers. It’s a win/win situation, really. The guest blogger gets to increase their signal, my readers get to read something cool and I get content I didn’t have to write. So… I guess that’s a win/win/win situation really 🙂

I’ll be posting some guideline-type things and information about to snag a guest blogging spot here in the near future, but for now if you’re interested hit me up on social media or via email. Like Tabitha did 🙂 She contacted me on Twitter and boom, bang, just like that I’ve got a great blog post, written by her, ready to share with you. Check this out:

10 Things I’ve Learned Along the Way

by Tabitha Lord

There’s a lot of advice out there for writers. I spend a considerable amount of time during my workweek reading articles and blog posts on everything from marketing strategies to writing craft. Much of it is helpful. Some doesn’t resonate at all. But I do believe it’s dispensed with a generosity of spirit and a desire to be helpful that is characteristic of the writing community. So with that in mind, I’ve created my own list of (hopefully) helpful tips for writers new to the job. Here goes…

1. A completed manuscript is a draft. It isn’t even close to the finished product!

Typing the last word on the last page of my first novel was one of most satisfying things I’d ever done. Writing a book had been on my bucket list of personal and professional accomplishments for years, and when it was finally finished, I was giddy. But, wow, I look at that manuscript now and cringe! Clunky writing, character issues, and loads of info dumping littered my pages.

The thing is, that’s okay. That’s a first draft! But thinking the first draft is ready for the world to embrace, well, that’s a rookie mistake. Don’t get me wrong; completing a first draft is an accomplishment of epic proportions! Celebrate! Rejoice! And then proceed to edit!

2. Beta readers are critical.

Beta readers see things in our manuscript that we don’t because we know our story so intimately. With my first book, for example, some of my beta readers had a problem with the male protagonist. They didn’t like him at all! I had to figure out what they were seeing in him that I wasn’t. In my mind, he was in his early twenties. But once the plot got moving, he needed to make decisions and have a certain authority in his own world that required him to be older and have more experience. The character I had written was still too arrogant and immature to be the hero I needed him to be, and I think this is what my readers recognized. So I did a major edit of his scenes, attempting to keep the essence of his character, but giving him more depth and maturity.

3. Rejections, and lots of them, are part of the deal.

The first time someone said “no thank you” to my manuscript was the worst! But the thing about rejections, once you recover from the sting, is that they can sometimes be helpful. If your manuscript isn’t polished enough, you may need to work with an editor. If the story isn’t pulling people in quickly, you may need to spice up your opening chapters. Usually there is a common thread, and if you are open to hearing it, you can make adjustments and move forward. My first round of rejections, which included one R&R (rewrite and resubmit), suggested that I had a good story, but the manuscript needed more work. I hired an editor, and after months of rewriting, I had a much-improved draft.

4. Everything takes longer than you think in the publishing world.

If you take the traditional publishing route, some of the timeline is out of your control. Acquiring an agent, sending a project out on submission, negotiating a contract, and proceeding to production all take time (think years). If you are independently publishing, it is on you, the writer, to manage the timeline. But either way, a quality product takes time! It took me three and a half years to bring my first book to print, and that’s considered quick. But I’ve learned you can’t rush the process. I wanted a finished product I could be proud of, and it required a lot of time and effort to make that happen.

5. Independent publishing means starting and running your own small business. It’s a viable option – for the right reasons.

I think there are compelling reasons to self-publish. But if you choose this path, it’s an investment. You are essentially starting a small business and you have to treat it as such to be successful. First and foremost your product has to be good, and you have to be willing to put in the time, energy, and funds to make it so. You also have to build an audience, and then promote and market yourself, or be willing to hire others to help you do it. You have to take ownership of it all. For some writer’s, this is exciting. For others, it’s terrifying.

6. Good editing and good cover art are a must.

The first thing a reader sees is the book cover. An eye-catching cover can mean the difference between a potential reader flipping to the back cover blurb, or waking away without a second glance. Likewise, a really good editor offers just the right cues to improve the story. My editor found those places where my characters or plot weren’t working and prompted me to fix them without imposing a solution. I can’t stress enough how important these things are when bringing a book to life.

7. Don’t read the negative reviews!

People like different things. Not everyone is going to like my story. Logically, I understand this, but it still hurts to have my book baby slammed in writing! Early on I received very solid advice: Don’t read the negative reviews. Once the book is out in the world, the time for helpful critiquing is over.

8. Creating balance in my work life is more challenging than I thought.

Two years ago I left a job I loved to do something I loved more – write. Turns out, even though writing is now my full-time work, there still aren’t enough hours in the day! I struggle to balance writing creatively (making up the new stuff), with promoting my existing book, networking, blogging, editing, etc. And there is still a household to maintain!
When I was working full-time outside my home, I made time to write and I protected that time fiercely. Now, other things weave their way into my day and cut into that valuable time. It requires real discipline to stay productive.

9. Writers are wonderfully supportive of other writers.

I love the network of writers that surrounds me. I’ve met lifelong friends at conferences and received valuable advice and guidance from the writing group I belong to. Writers want other writers to be successful, and this sentiment is pervasive and authentic.

10. Go with your gut. There will be decisions to make, and once you’ve done your research, it may come down to trusting your instincts.

There are a lot of resources and good advice for writers out there. Not all of it applies to every person or every project. Whether the advice is about your daily word count or the best path to publishing, there is no one right way. I do my research, ask people I trust who are industry professionals – or who at least have more experience than I do, and then I weigh their information against my own instincts and go with my gut!

~*~

tlj_110714_0134Tabitha currently lives in Rhode Island, a few towns away from where she grew up. She is married, has four great kids, a spoiled Ragdoll cat, and lovable black lab. The house is noisy and the dinner table full! She holds a degree in Classics from College of the Holy Cross and taught Latin for years at a small, independent Waldorf school. She also worked in the admissions office there before turning her attention to full-time writing.

You can visit her author blog at www.tabithalordauthor.com where she hosts guest bloggers and discusses favorite topics including parenting, and follow her on www.bookclubbabble.com where, as a contributing writer, she posts author interviews, reviews, and more. She released her first novel, Horizon, on December 1, 2015.

The Drive to Read

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All month long I’m going to be hosting the posts of other people as part of my 2015 Giftmas Blog Tour. All the guest bloggers are welcome to write about anything they’d like so long as their post touched on a December holiday in some way, no matter how tangentially. The blog tour extends beyond my blog as well, and I will do my best to link to each external post from the here and share them on social media using the hashtag #GiftmasTour.

But wait! There’s more!

We’re also giving away a whole whack of prizes (check out the list here) which you can enter to win using the Rafflecoper code below. Whatever December holiday you celebrate (or don’t) winning a stack of books will make it better!

The Drive to Read

by Nathanael Green

I was one of those teenagers who made the plan to get my driving permit the very day I turned sixteen, which, by the way, happened one December.

I knew even at fifteen and younger exactly how much freedom a drivers’ license would confer to a kid growing up in the country with nothing within walking distance but a river, woods, a cornfield, and some more woods but this time, woods on a hill.

And I was right about the freedom. But I didn’t realize how much less reading I’d get done.

You know—I’d have to keep my eyes on the road instead of on the climax of the latest Forgotten Realms book. I’d have to keep my hands on the wheel instead of curled around the worn cover of The Two Towers. And I’m reminded of this particularly around Christmas and New Year’s.

Even before I was married and moved away from my childhood home, I still had family a few hours’ drive away. And when I was little (well, younger, if not exactly little), my parents would load me and my sister into their Chevy Astro for a three-hour drive to visit my uncle.

My sister would take one backseat in the van and I’d take the other. And we’d both spend the entirety of the drive with faces submerged in books. Many of these trips took place after Christmas, and that meant I had a haul of books still perfectly shut like no human hands had even separated the first pages.

Three hours isn’t really that long of a drive. But to a kid of eight, twelve, fourteen, it was heavenly. The hum of traffic and my parents’ conversation rolled while I just dissolved into fiction for hours without interruption.

Then we’d get to my aunt and uncle’s house.

As an aside, this is the same uncle who bought me a copy of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style when I was about ten years old. He told me that if I knew everything in that book, I’d write better than my teachers.

I read every word that weekend.

Today, I don’t agree with everything old Strunk and White had to say (it’s a style guide, remember), but my uncle was absolutely right in his assessment of its value.

Anyway. Back to Christmas.

We’d get to my uncle’s house and eat amazing food and exchange gifts for a late Christmas. This, invariably and to this day, involves more books. Then we’d eat some leftovers and relax with the family.

And my uncle? He’s absolutely omnivorous when it comes to storytelling (I guess food, too). So not only did I read the new books Santa had brought on the ride to his house, but once there, he’d introduce me to even more books and writers like Heinlein and Walter Miller and then put on movie after movie. We’d have that kind of relaxing weekend where all of us could sit around reading books while enjoying the presence of our family also sitting quietly reading their own books or watching another movie.

Of course, weekends end. And these ended with more books and another read-a-thon on the drive home.

I sometimes wonder how much of that opportunity and the encouragement of my parents and my aunt and uncle turned me into a reader and writer. Not that it matters—if nothing else, they’re some pleasant memories that make me happy and thankful, and that’s valuable enough by itself.

Today, I drive. And here’s the thing about driving: it’s perfect reading time. Because as an adult, even when I’m not driving, I seldom have the opportunity to read for three hours straight. There’s always work to do (hello, freelance writing!) or a lawn to mow or a piece of your house to fix or a friend’s house to fix.

But every time I drive more than an hour, I remember the calm joy of sitting in my parents’ van and just reading without interruption or even the option to do something else.

This past Thanksgiving, when visiting my parents, my dad offered me an audiobook for the ride home.

Smart guy, that dad of mine.
36e1beb30de50f95b8e894bff1d8d4a8Nathanael Green is a writer of fantasy and historical fiction. Along with Evan Ronan, he is the coauthor of the Tomahawk and Saber series of historical adventure books set along the wild frontier of colonial America.

Nathanael is also a freelance marketing writer, feature writer, and lecturer of college students. You can find him, his books, and his blog at nathanaelgreen.com.

Enter the giveaway for some really cool Giftmas giveaways, including a grand prize of TWENTY books!
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Not So Silent Night

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All month long I’m going to be hosting the posts of other people as part of my 2015 Giftmas Blog Tour. All the guest bloggers are welcome to write about anything they’d like so long as their post touched on a December holiday in some way, no matter how tangentially. The blog tour extends beyond my blog as well, and I will do my best to link to each external post from the here and share them on social media using the hashtag #GiftmasTour.

But wait! There’s more!

We’re also giving away a whole whack of prizes (check out the list here) which you can enter to win using the Rafflecoper code below. Whatever December holiday you celebrate (or don’t) winning a stack of books will make it better!

Not so silent night

by Mary Neighbour

The lovely story of “Silent Night” is that the world changed—was saved—by the birth of Christ during a silent and holy night. Millions have been soothed and reassured by the carol’s peaceful, hopeful message and harmonies.

But isn’t it interesting that in order for the song to have effect, voices must be raised—silence must be disturbed?

I’m an advocate of disturbing the peace, especially when so many endure misery and suffer hatred. In my blog I try to stir up conversations that speak to controversy and aim for informed, respectful dialog. Right now in America, millions live under the threat of violence, carry the burden of prejudice, and grapple with ways to make life better for all of us, but especially for the children.

If we look at the Black Friday protests in Seattle, San Diego, Chicago, Cincinnati, and other places, can we listen and learn? Can we constructively contribute? Many who speak for Black Lives Matter and those who are aligned with them are angry, but who can be surprised by that? This civil rights movement is addressing a legacy of slavery in America that has never been fully dealt with.

From our Constitution through all of our societal institutions of justice, law enforcement, education, housing, finance, health, and government, America as a nation has not been honest about its history of promulgating notions of European-descended people’s superiority. America as a nation has not been honest about its history of promulgating notions of African-descended people’s inferiority.

And America as a nation will never right its wrongs unless individuals come together to speak up, speak out, and speak right on about these deep fissures in our society and culture.

Instead of “sleep in heavenly peace,” let’s speak in heavenly peace. What will you say to to help others find that peace?

51GxcTjE5tL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Mary Neighbour is the author of Speak Right On: Conjuring the Slave Narrative of Dred Scott, a work of historical fiction that explores the story of Dred Scott and the history of slavery that has changed our cultural landscape. ABA Booklist described it as “nuances of slavery that provoke human emotions from nobility and loyalty to greed and selfishness,” and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said about it: “It’s a fine piece of fiction . . . reminiscent of Toni Morrison.”

Neighbour heard the voice of Dred Scott through the few quotes we have from him. She developed his character from researching the slave narratives and folklore of nineteenth-century America and of Africa. Through her book, Mary hopes to stimulate conversations about race and politics in our lives today. Please visit her blog and join the conversation.

And here’s a Giftmas offer for you, holiday reader:

This blog is part of a blog tour and raffle prizes, thanks to Rhonda Parrish’s blog site. Check out the complete list of prizes here http://bit.ly/1jkpUfa and enter to win!

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Winter is Coming

giftmas_rectangle

All month long I’m going to be hosting the posts of other people as part of my 2015 Giftmas Blog Tour. All the guest bloggers are welcome to write about anything they’d like so long as their post touched on a December holiday in some way, no matter how tangentially. The blog tour extends beyond my blog as well, and I will do my best to link to each external post from the here and share them on social media using the hashtag #GiftmasTour.

But wait! There’s more!

We’re also giving away a whole whack of prizes (check out the list here) which you can enter to win using the Rafflecoper code below. Whatever December holiday you celebrate (or don’t) winning a stack of books will make it better!

Winter is Coming

by S.L. Bynum

Strangely enough in North Carolina, where I live, it hasn’t gotten as cold as it usually does this time of year. By Thanksgiving, I’d barely taken out my winter coat. I didn’t even have to wear a coat in the daytime at the end of November, since it was still in the high sixties and seventies. Not that I’m complaining. I adore warm weather, the longer the better.

slow winter

But I know it’s still coming. It’s going to be time for wearing thick coats, gloves, and hats. Time for celebrating holidays, such as Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Hanukkah.

It’s also time for a break from working. For me, that would mean a break from my writing since I’m in the midst of completing the sequel to my book, Grim Crush. (I don’t get a break from my retail job…the only day I definitely don’t have to work is Christmas. I still have to work Thanksgiving and New Year’s.)

But winter always makes me think of traditions. Like baking Christmas cookies. Drinking eggnog. My mother recording “Rudolph: The Red-Nosed Reindeer” to our DVR for the 50th time. Wrapping presents. Putting up decorations. Drinking alcohol or sparkling apple cider on New Year’s Eve. Playing in the snow (if we get any) and freezing my butt off.

Now I want to hear from the readers out there. What does winter mean to you? What do you do to prepare for winter and the holidays?

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Christmas From Scratch

giftmas_rectangle

All month long I’m going to be hosting the posts of other people as part of my 2015 Giftmas Blog Tour. All the guest bloggers are welcome to write about anything they’d like so long as their post touched on a December holiday in some way, no matter how tangentially. The blog tour extends beyond my blog as well, and I will do my best to link to each external post from the here and share them on social media using the hashtag #GiftmasTour.

But wait! There’s more!

We’re also giving away a whole whack of prizes (check out the list here) which you can enter to win using the Rafflecoper code below. Whatever December holiday you celebrate (or don’t) winning a stack of books will make it better!

Christmas from Scratch

By Virginia Carraway Stark

My Mom loved Christmas. She loved the music, she loved the lights, she loved the tree, she loved the baking and most of all, she loved decorating. She adored making arts and crafts and she funneled all her extra creativity into making her family an entire Christmas from scratch. She didn’t do it alone though, the whole family was conscripted to pitch in.

We had a few ‘store bought’ glass globes that were ancient works of art from the fifties and forties. If one of those glass globes was to break my mother would mourn it as though it were a lost child and cradle the bits of broken glass in her hands. They were hand-painted and had carefully portrayed scenes of children mid-way through a snowball fight or a couple snuggling on a sleigh ride. Each one was unique and a little miracle master-piece. Little fake feathered birds with wires coming out of their feet perched on the branches inquisitively.

dough artMost of the ornaments were made fresh every year. My mother was a play dough wizard.

Many of the ornaments were two dimensional cookie cutter pieces of art but some of them, mostly the ones my mom made were honestly pieces of gorgeous folk art.

She would start by making a batch of dough, she would boil the water and mix in the salt so that it wasn’t grainy and lumpy and after that add more and more flour until we had an enormous batch of pale white dough for the whole family to begin creating with.

Nobody was immune from making Christmas decorations, and the dough-art was only the start. Even my smallest brother who was only a toddler at the time was shown how to carefully roll out the dough and push in the cookie cutter. A metal paper clip was pushed into the top of the decorations so that later on we could tie ribbons to them to attach them to the tree and then they were ready to be baked. After they were cooked in the oven at a low temperature they would be removed and allowed to cool while we went on making more trays of artwork.dough art 2

Once the cooked Christmas trees, sleighs, reindeer, Santa, stars and a plethora of other designs were cooled the painting would begin.

The painting was a miracle all in its own to me. A few drops of food coloring would be added to a little bit of evaporated milk and voila: paint! We were allowed to mix our own colors and had fun learning how the different colors combined to form new ones. Dozens of different colored little paper cups of evaporated milk would cover the kitchen as the whole family would sit down and create. For the larger, coarser sections we would use q-tips and for the delicate parts of faces or trim we had little paint brushes that we would pass between us.

My mother was the master at the art of dough. She rarely used the cookie cutters, she was the queen of three dimensional dough art. I swear she could make anything out of dough, In her hands little balls of dough would transform into dolls with angel’s wings. Turtle doves would spring out of her fingertips. She would use a garlic press to make materials to build nests for her birds or hair for her dolls. She made so many works of art.

dough art miceShe would use little bits of this and that to make the little incarnations as realistic as possible and draw on little smiling faces.

Whether it was one of my mother’s works of art or one of my tentative and slightly lopsided attempts to make an angel doll or even one of my baby brother’s barely recognizable Christmas trees they would be sprayed with lacquer to shine them up and keep the color vibrant and bright. A lot of my Mom’s decorations ended up being given away as gifts and we only saved the best of our efforts for the next year so that we could do the process all over again the coming year.

Dough-art wasn’t the only thing to go on our tree either. We would make huge bowls of popcorn and thread needles, put on A Christmas Story or some other movie on and make popcorn garlands with dried cranberries interspersed for color. Threading the popcorn on a needle was harder than it looked but since most of the popcorn ended up getting eaten anyway, it wasn’t the most strenuous of chores.

We would also take construction paper and cut it into short strips. Some of these would be decorated with glitter or markers and others would be plain, but whatever the case they would be looped together in long chains that would be wrapped around the tree along with the popcorn.play dough popcorn garland

It wasn’t a fancy looking tree in the end. It wasn’t in matching colors, it wasn’t a designer tree but we had a lot of fun decorating it and every year it was different. We had little lights that looked like candles and it looked like a tree that was loved. Every year the same angel sat on top of the tree, overlooking our hard work with a pleasant little smile on her face.

Under her benevolent gaze we made gingerbread cookies and houses. We played Christmas music on the piano and sang loudly and enthusiastically while we waited for our sweets to come out of the oven. Sometimes we couldn’t wait for them to cool and with evil indulgence we would dip them into the bowls of multicolored icing and make sweet, warm goopy messes.

We didn’t spend a lot of money on presents but that wasn’t the point of those Christmas’. Not then, the gifts were often handmade and when they weren’t they were rarely expensive. That wasn’t the point. My Dad would often say, ‘If you need something we’ll buy it for you and if I want to buy you a present, I’ll do it anytime of the year that I want.’

Things changed over the years and those sorts of Christmas’ broke apart with my parent’s divorce. My Mom stopped making dough-art and my stepmother decorated the Christmas tree in matching designer decorations that I wasn’t allowed to touch. Christmas presents became more expensive and less important and we didn’t make paper or popcorn garlands for the tree. Nobody sang anymore as a deep self-consciousness crept into the divided family, the piano was long since gone.

My mother is gone now and I don’t have any of her dough-art creations anymore, but I certainly have the memories. We were far from a perfect family, but in the dark of winter with the warmth of the wood stove and knowledge that in the darkness we formed a circle of light kept us together.

Enter the Giftmas Giveaway

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My Favorite Drinks for December

giftmas_rectangle

All month long I’m going to be hosting the posts of other people as part of my 2015 Giftmas Blog Tour. All the guest bloggers are welcome to write about anything they’d like so long as their post touched on a December holiday in some way, no matter how tangentially. The blog tour extends beyond my blog as well, and I will do my best to link to each external post from the here and share them on social media using the hashtag #GiftmasTour.

But wait! There’s more!

We’re also giving away a whole whack of prizes (check out the list here) which you can enter to win using the Rafflecoper code below. Whatever December holiday you celebrate (or don’t) winning a stack of books will make it better!

My Favorite Drinks for December

by Joselyn

Well it’s December now, and with it we start decorating our homes and think about the food we will get on the 24th for Christmas Eve and all.

What I love more on Christmas will be to stay home with my family and the gifts, since I’m a book lover and a gamer I enjoy staying home reading thrilling books for xmas and playing cool videogames with my fiancé.

Something else I love is going to my brother’s house and drinking eggnog so let me give you a recipe so you can drink it with all your family members.

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Eggnog Recipe (from Bliss Mom blog)

Holiday Egg nog recipe from http://blissmomblog.blogspot.ca/2009/11/best-egg-nog-recipe-in-world.html

And for our vegan friends (from Antique Recipes):

Vegan Egg Nog Recipe from http://www.antiquerecipes.net/vegan-tofu-brandied-eggnog-recipe/

With these recipes I hope everyone enjoy your parties on xmas and new years =D and remember to come visit the blog for lots of reviews @ www.bookwormiespot.com

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