Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Martha Sleeps With Snakes (literally)

I mean it.

I've slept with snakes.


Not a, "Omg that was so funny I literally died laughing" literally which is not literally at all. But a, "Me, a bed, and some snakes!" literally.

In high school my friend Joy owned a couple of snakes. And by "owned" I meant she went into her desert backyard in Arizona, saw two snakes, and thought "I'd like to own these."

Weirdly enough, the snakes didn't seem to mind. They became quite petlike. They let her hold them. They let her feed them mice. They didn't run (slither?) away.

The snakes even did this cute thing (yes...cute...bear with me) where they would slither themselves into our belt loops and extend their heads all the way to the ground between our legs as we walked. (Talk about having a third leg, hardy har har.)Joy could even pull it off inline skating (ah, remember inline skates?) so she would zip through town with a little snake hanging out between her legs.

And one time, when I slept over, the snakes crawled (dammit, still slithered, isn't it?) into bed with us.

It was, ya know weird. You'd feel the sheets moving and then something scaley would slide over your calf or up your arm. Who knows what the snakes did once we actually fell asleep or if they did anything at all.

(Followup: One of the snakes eventually made its way back to the desert while the other died of...whatever snakes die of. Being owned by humans, most likely...)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Snake in Eden

...or the Fictional Villain
by Lisa Hughey

Michaelangelo's Adam and Eve

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got as a writer was about the snake in your story. The hero or heroine is only as strong as their strongest opponent. So if you craft a weak villain, your story is going to suffer for it.

All fiction is derivative. There are only so many stories that exist and genre fiction really only has so many plots. Our task as writers is to find the details, to define the characters so that the story becomes original within our voice. Part of that originality comes from developing the villain's character. Particularly fascinating to me is the idea that in the villain's reality their world view is right and just. Serial killers, mass murderers, politically motivated assassins, whatever their poison may be, the villain truly believes that they are working for the greater good. Their conviction in their actions is what makes the story believable and gripping.

But it can't just be that the villain is properly motivated and righteously just. The hero/ine must be smarter, stronger and faster than the villain. What makes a seriously satisfying read is the book that delivers a strong villain and the even stronger protagonist who triumphs over that villain. As readers we need that payoff. Our hero needs to vanquish that fictional snake and be the victor. Otherwise, as a reader we have the sense of being let down, disappointed in our main character.

So the next time your hero or heroine is tempted by the apple, let go of that compulsion to stop them, and allow them to embrace the snake in their Eden.

With that, I'll leave you with the scene where Clarice meets Hannibal for the first time. (couldn't find a video to embed but follow the link)


Monday, February 27, 2012

A Snake in a Cast

L.G.C. Smith

Before I started dreaming about rattlesnakes biting me, I was friends with a garter snake who lived under my grandparent’s front porch. One Easter morning, my grandpa called me outside to see something. I was three, I think. My grandparents lived in a brand new house they had built in Spearfish, South Dakota where my grandfather was a school superintendent. The house was on a green hillside with a small creek at the bottom of the property. When my grandpa pointed to something long and narrow in the grass, I was too little to do anything but walk right up to it. It looked a little like a snake, but . . . not. More like the ghost of a snake.

“It’s a snake skin,” my grandpa explained. And he told me how snakes shed their skins, and that this one had belonged to a garter snake that lived under the porch.

I loved the idea of shedding your whole skin, and I wanted to meet the snake that had done it. So I waited and I watched. I remember sitting very still, and wishing for the snake to show itself. I have a clear memory of the snake skin, but I don’t remember seeing the snake. My mother says I did indeed see him, and I named him Ray.

Now Ray up on the porch or his shed skin in the grass was one thing. Later that year, I broke my leg and had a full cast on. I wasn’t four yet, and not so quick with the crutches, although my other grandpa, the self-sufficient rancher, taught me how to use them as soon as he got hold of me. But the day before that happened, I was carried down to sit beside the creek in Spearfish with my other grandparents. There I sat, stuck in one place because of that big old cast on my leg, and what came slithering through the grass but a garter snake, slender, green and wriggling quick.

It was too small for Ray, and its size was a problem. A big problem. That little snake was skinny enough that all it would take was one fast wiggle and it could slip into the narrow gap between my leg and the plaster cast. Then what would I do?!

Being three, I immediately threw a fit and got myself hauled back to the house. No one understood why I couldn’t see the garter snake by the creek as one of Ray’s tribe and be friends. When I explained about it getting into my cast, they insisted it would never happen. I didn’t buy it. If I could imagine it that clearly, it was possible. End of discussion.

From that point on, I was afraid of snakes. Cultural messages certainly reinforced that fear, and subsequent experiences with rattlers kept me on my toes (one even struck at me while I was walking in the alfalfa field surrounding my house in Mission, SD; hooboy, you’ve never seen a fat woman run so fast), but it was my own infant imagination that planted that seed of fear.

I wasn’t afraid of being bitten. I was afraid of a live thing getting trapped between me and something I couldn’t remove. I was afraid of it wriggling and maybe dying in there, and when they took the cast off, there would be a stinky moldering snake corpse, and I would be sad and disgusted. And scared. So scared. Of something I had liked a lot. Of life and death and moving and getting stuck.

Snakes carry heavy loads for us. We dump our most primal fears on their long backs, and off they slither, reviled and feared. But my fear of snakes is more about my fear of my own life and death, of all the things I can’t control, and all the things I’m afraid to do.

But I remember Ray. He was a good friend to a three-year-old girl, and he calls me back to a piece of my spirit from before I was afraid. I’m working hard to get all the way back.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Trouser Snakes

I blame growing up on Monty Python for my adoration of the absurd euphemism. I remember being way too young and listening to Eric Idle sing the "Isn't it awfully nice to have a penis" song. Struck by the comic possibilities of being able to refer to something I wasn't strictly allowed to refer to, yet, as an eight-year-old, by giving it ridiculous names, I vowed never to use a "real" word again.

"Meat and two veg?" thought my conniving, already far too mature brain. "I'll have that."

A year later, reading Auel's The Valley of Horses, I was introduced to a whole 'nother sphere of a) penis usage (they're not just for convenient peeing??) and b) the fact that all those insane euphemisms I used for humorous purposes? Sometimes people use them for real. Both a and b were revelations, and similarly startling. Thanks to Ayla and Jondalar, I now knew just why one might refer to a penis as a "womanmaker," and also why it was still ridiculous to do so.

Indeed, once I got over the woman making, itself, I immediately started giggling at the term "womanmaker."

So that's my short, sordid history with the euphemism. But nothing's changed. I still love double entendre, puns, anything that lets me make something naughty out of something banal. This capacity has served me well because life's too short not to be naughty, and I live in Pennsylvania. Drastic measures are often necessary.

Which brings me back to the trouser snake, the words that popped up immediately into my brain the second I saw we had to write about snakes this week. And then I considered blogging just those two words, "Trouser snake," but thought I might be the only person who thought that was funny.

So instead, I'm going to give you a shit ton of trouser snakes, or some of my the most ridiculous euphemisms I could find, divided by category:

The Ouch Factor: Or, the Far Too Anatomically Specific
These euphemisms would better belong in a biology textbook than the bedroom, with their use of cringeworthy anatomical terms. Examples include:

  • Internal spinal massager
  • Fallopian fiddler
  • Hieny hobbit
  • Hymen hammer
  • Impregnator
  • Ovarian pool stick
  • Pelvic punisher
  • Purple-headed womb ferret
  • Tonsil toothbrush
  • Kidney scraper
  • Ear tickler (er...)
  • Placenta poker
  • Menstrual miner

  • Culinary Delights: Or, Food Belongs in the Kitchen
    While I enjoy my food, I'm not sure I enjoy the connotations these euphemisms, er, stir up.

  • Bacon Torpedo
  • Bald-headed yogurt slinger
  • Baloney pony
  • Beef bayonet
  • Breakfast burrito
  • Custard cannon
  • Kaptain Kielbasa
  • Kosher pickle
  • Heat-seeking meat missile
  • Muffin butterer
  • Mutton javelin
  • Pulsating Chorizo (a new personal favorite)

  • The Animal Kingdom
    Because we all obey the law of the jungle.

  • Beastus maximus
  • Beaver buster
  • Blind cave salamander
  • Cock-a-saurus Rex
  • Monty's python
  • Pajama python
  • Slippery love dolphin
  • Moose Knuckle

  • Occupational  Hazards
    Don't take these euphemisms into account when filling out a job application...

  • Bearded burglar 
  • Jive sausage (for all you musicians out there!)
  • Lady dagger (for you budding ass-assins!)
  • Love truncheon (for the riot police in all of us)
  • Pearl diver
  • Poka-her-hontas (look, Mom, I'm an adventurer!)
  • Poon farmer (Sorry, government subsidies unavailable for this type of farming)
  • Quantum jizzix (for those that like math)
  • Split-headed bishop
  • Presidential podium
  • The chubby conquistador 

  • The Optimistic: Or, the Keep Telling Yourself That, Sweetheart
    "Yes, dear, it IS the Hammer of Thor..."
  • Hammer of Thor
  • Iron horse
  • Lance of love
  • Longrod Von Hugedong
  • Moby Dick
  • Peacemaker
  • Rocket to Uranus
  • Vlad the Impaler
  • The war hammer
  • The zipper ripper
  • His Eminence
  • Godzilla

  • The Pessimistic: Or, Seriously, You Might Want to Rethink Your Marketing Strategy...
    If you build a tiny, decrepit old shack, no one will come...

  • The three inch punisher
  • Trouser mouse
  • Wee Willy Winky
  • Scooby snack
  •  Percy
  • Pee-Wee
  • My small little hunter
  • Muff mole
  • Mr. Wiggles
  • Little shepherd boy
  • Hoo hoo
  • Hairy acorn
  • Gizmo
  • Butter knife
  • Admiral Winky
  • The Tassel
  • Piggy Wig

  • The Inexplicable
    Why on earth...????

  • Bearded turtle necked one-eyed jack
  • Nebuchadnezzar
  • Buster McThunderstick
  • Harry & the Hendersons
  • Major Manchowder
  • Old drizzly
  • Porridge bazooka
  • Sock raper (poor socks!) 
  • Bob Dole
  • Uterus unicorn

  • ***Thanks to my friends on FB, Twitter, and this website, for making this blog post possible.

    Wednesday, February 22, 2012

    When a snake is just a snake

    -- By Juliet

    I remember the first time I read that Freud believed snakes to be phallic symbols.

    I was an impressionable high school student, and I was learning a little about a lot of things-- art and psychology and history. And as I flipped through my art books, well...there was something to be said for Freud's phallic theory. I mean, check out Lilith with the snake (to the right). She sure looks like she's about to have sex with that serpent. (Like so many students before me, I was largely intrigued by art history because I couldn't believe I was allowed to look at smut like this, right there in the school library! Ah, those innocent pre-internet days...)

    And the truth was, at fifteen I hadn't had much experience with snakes, whether of the phallic or the serpentine variety. But frankly, looking at this painting of Lilith -- who was pretty kick-ass and much more interesting than Eve-- made snakes seem just a little

    And then there was this sculpture, entitled 'Femme piquee par un serpent - Woman bitten by a snake' by Jean-Baptiste Clesinger, known as Auguste.
    You can certainly see how "bitten by a snake" might be a euphemism for something nasty, and yet wildly intriguing. Finally, I stumbled across this painting of a snake charmer, by Jean Léone Gérôme, in which it certainly does look like there might be something else going on right after the show:

    But it didn't take long for my nascent feminism to assert itself: all these paintings had been created by men, and a lot of the boys I knew seemed to be a little preoccupied with all things phallic. And then it occurred to me: Freud was also a man, and therefore also likely preoccupied with anything he might consider to be phallic.

    Without the sensual portrayals of serpents in art, I really didn't find snakes to be sexy at all. In fact, there was a picture that rather summed up my feelings for reptiles in general, by one of my favorite artist of all time: Medusa, by Caravaggio. Her hair was made of snakes, but there wasn't anything sexy about it, not in the least.

    Tuesday, February 21, 2012

    Rachael's Fear Factor

    I think we've established that I was a nervous kid. If I wasn't worried about things that could happen (my dad getting electrocuted while fiddling in the innards of an ancient TV set, my mother being killed by the piano falling on top of her in an earthquake), I was worried about the less probable things. A recurring nightmare was of being on the beach during a tsunami, knowing that I'd be able to only pick one family member to cling to while still holding onto the cliff's face. I also enjoyed worrying about quicksand. I lost sleep thinking about the black widows we sometimes saw crawling around inside our old farm house. I just knew one would bite me someday, and I'd die. (Bam! Just like that.) And I constantly saw danger in the green garden snakes that zipped through the garden. You see that? That looked like a garden snake, but it was probably a copperhead. Or maybe a rattlesnake in really good disguise. It probably wasn't a python, but I'd steer clear. You can never be too careful, really.

    So it was with a great sense of relief that I traveled to New Zealand with my Kiwi mother. You see, there isn't anything dangerous there. There are no snakes, deadly or otherwise (they've worked hard to keep it that way). There are no venomous insects. See a spider? No worries! It's your friend! Even their politicians are cuddly! The only thing they have that is remotely obnoxious is a stinging nettle plant. So, of course, this lodged itself in my mind as The Terror to Avoid, and I remember when I did ramble through some, climbing up from a beach, I looked at my wrist in horror. I would probably die soon. But no, the skin just swelled and itched a bit.

    When we moved to Saipan when I was a teenager, it was exactly the opposite. There were good reasons to be terrified. Stone fish: they looked like rocks lying on the lagoon floor, but if you stepped on them, they'd poke a poisonous spine right up through your foot. Scorpions, all around. There were poisonous sea urchins and vicious centipedes that (this I swear is true) ran faster than I did. When you went boonie stomping, you had to be careful not to pull things up or turn over random pieces of metal -- there was still plenty of unexploded ordnance lying around. We swam with sharks and had to be careful not to cut ourselves on the coral for this reason (that and because it would get in your bloodstream, my dad said, which struck fear into my heart). Typhoons regularly smashed the island with great force. Feral dogs ran in packs and we practiced how to throw rocks so they wouldn't attack. Even the jungle was possessed by demons, they said, and you could offend them without even knowing it.

    And the snakes, though not poisonous, were things of nightmares. They were such a serious problem that they had a department within the division of fish and wildlife, with a designated herpetologist and two dogs, specially trained. Their website says, IF YOU SEE A SNAKE IMMEDIATELY KILL IT AND CALL 28-SNAKE. (Their emphasis, not mine, but given a choice I'd emphasize it that way, too.)

    Saipanese Brown Snakes crawled up things, which to me was the worst part. Up all things. After being introduced on accident in the 40s, the brown snakes proceeded to decimate the bird populations of both Guam and Saipan. Growing up to nine feet in length, they ate lizards, rats, shrews, birds and eggs. And in my mind, they would have eaten me, too, given half a chance. For God's sakes, people had to put sheets of metal around every power pole on the island, because the snakes were causing so many outages. What was to stop them from climbing me and chewing my face off?

    But in truth, I never actually saw a single snake on Saipan, not once. I've never been in a tsunami. I was, however, bitten by a black widow in my twenties. You know what? It hurt. And it wasn't a big deal. And my mother was never, even once, killed by a falling piano.

    Monday, February 20, 2012

    Ouroboros, The Serpent's More Interesting (and Hungrier) Cousin

    by Sophie


    Snakes are my least favorite of all of the Big Guy's creations. But rather than wax on about that, which I will leave to someone else (surely i have a fellow ophidiophobe on the blog?) I'd like to bring up a far more fascinating reptile, the ouroboros. This mythological fellow *can* be a snake or serpent, but he can also be a dragon - as long as he eats himself.

    If the idea of self-cannibalism repulses you, you will probably be startled to know that most of us practice autophagy when we're in a state of extreme hunger. Our cells, it appears, have no qualms about consuming themselves.

    All in all, this is heavy stuff. Ouroboros exists in some form in many cultures' mysthology. In addition to being said to represent the natural cycle of life and death, spiritualists add resurrection into the mix, and philosophers and Freudians also have give the subject attention. It wouldn't be going too far to say that it's a persistent symbol everywhere, which to me makes it excellent fodder for fiction.

    I'm trying to cook up a short horror story idea that uses this in a subtle fashion. (While my more recent books have been called "gory" by some, I like to think that I have a light touch with visceral detail, and use suggestion as a more interesting tool.)

    Friday, February 17, 2012

    Chocolate Kisses

    Our guest today is Chrystle Fiedler, the author of DEATH DROPS: A NATURAL REMEDIES MYSTERY (Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster), the non-fiction title THE COMPLETE IDIOT'S GUIDE TO NATURAL REMEDIES and THE COUNTRY ALMANAC OF HOME REMEDIES. Chrystle has also written about natural remedies for many national publications including Better Homes and Gardens, Natural Health, Vegetarian Times and Remedy.

    I love kisses, especially dark chocolate ones! Not only does dark chocolate taste good, it’s good for your health. In my writing I focus on natural remedies (and in my new mystery DEATH DROPS: A NATURAL REMEDIES MYSTERY) so this is something that I find interesting. Dark chocolate is one of the best natural cures around. That’s because dark chocolate is loaded with flavonoids, a kind of antioxidant, that protect the body from free radicals which can cause many chronic conditions such as heart disease. Dark chocolate is an effective natural remedy because it: 

    1. Reduces blood pressure by dilating blood vessels.
    2. Lowers cholesterol
    3. Slashes the risk of diabetes (by cutting sugar use and stopping insulin spikes)
    4. Inhibits the clumping of blood platelets reducing the risk of blood clots and strokes.
    5. Stimulates endorphin production, which makes you feel good
    6. Contains  serotonin which acts as a mild anti-depressant
    7. Has theobromine and caffeine which is stimulating and helps you focus
    8. Activates certain enzymes which help prevent cancer
    9. Tastes yummy!
    The key with chocolate that is good for you is not to overdo. Just eating an ounce or two several times a week is enough to reap dark chocolate’s benefits.  You’ll find more natural cures like chocolate to improve health in my book DEATH DROPS: A NATURAL REMEDIES MYSTERY (Gallery Books/Simon and Schuster) which will be published on February 21st 2012. Please visit and where I blog on Saturdays!

    To have a chance at winning an autographed copy of DEATH DROPS: A NATURAL REMEDIES MYSTERY and a bag of Hershey’s Dark Chocolate Kisses, leave a comment below!

    Thursday, February 16, 2012

    Romantic Destinations (Good for Some Kissing)

    Since I've been stuck at home this past year due to circumstances beyond my control, I've only been able to visit romantic foreign destinations in my mind. Here are a few photos I took of some of my favorite romantic spots in the past. I plan on returning on my round-the-world trip, as well as making new discoveries.


    With its medieval architecture, romantic cafes, and overall atmosphere, Prague is one romantic city. Unfortunately, the only time I've been there, I was on my own. So yes, now it's on my list of places to drag the unsuspecting husband.


    Venice is a bit too crowded for my taste, but with views like this, it's possible to find moments where you can forget about the crowds. 

    The ruins of Dunnottar Castle

    If a crowded city isn't to your liking, remote castle ruins might do the trick. Maybe it's just me, but I find ruined castles much more romantic than standing ones. Art and tapestries are interesting, but crumbling stone ruins are even better for the imagination -- and also for finding a secluded spot away from the crowds.

    An alley behind the Magic Box. 
     Oh wait -- maybe that's just for Buffy and Spike. 


    Wednesday, February 15, 2012

    Martha's Guide To Ass Kissing

    Ass kissing: the quest for gain via flattery.

    Everyone says they don't kiss ass, but then why do so many people complain about useless ass kissers? Either we're all liars or we're delusional egoists. Either way, it doesn't bode well.

    Look, I'm not going to judge. Sometimes you need something. Sometimes the key to that something is guarded by another person who doesn't know you and isn't inclined to give a shit about you. Sometimes a million other people also want this same thing. Sometimes you need an edge.

    Ass kissing doesn't have to be unpleasant for the giver or the receiver. Just follow these simple rules:

    1.Be Genuine

    Very few people are all bad. Even the douchiest of douches has a redeeming quality. Find it. Focus on it. Why resort to false and fake flattery when there could be something real to connect over?

    2.Be Strategic

    If you hear too much of the same thing, it becomes white noise. I'm sure that super hot guy gets to hear about how hot he is all the damn time. Find a new angle to hit. Or be more specific than everyone else - say something unexpected.

    3. Be Sparing

    A natural extension of the former suggestion. Don't overdo it. Say what you want to say, allow for one comeback, then walk away. When you hear something nice about yourself, there's this natural inclination to want to hear more of it so deny your target the continued flattery and they'll be putty in your hand.

    4. Be Focused

    By focused, I mean on the other person. Some people ass kiss by talking about themselves and how awesome they are and what they can do. Guess what. Ass kissing isn't about you. Studies have shown (read: I think I may have read in Cosmo years ago) that people think more positively about people who make them feel smart and funny than they do about people who are themselves smart and funny.

    5. Be Natural

    Ass kissing should roll off your tongue like declarations of love for Timothy Olyphant. So don't bother with stuff that doesn't come naturally to you. For example, I could never compliment a person's car. Because I don't give a shit about cars. Does your car have wheels? Good for you. You're not getting a medal for anything more.

    Now go forth and practice. Everything takes practice. Even ass-kissing. And don't give me some line about how you're not an ass-kisser, because you're only saying that so I can go, "Oh, wow, that's so great, you're so amazing" which means you're asking for ass-kissing and if anything is worse than an ass-kisser is the person who needs their ass kissed.

    And yes, I kiss my mother with this mouth.

    Tuesday, February 14, 2012

    Le Baiser and Happy Valentine's Day!

    Happy Valentine's Day to all our Pens Pals!!

    In my college years I was very lucky to be able to spend a summer in France and studying at the University of Dijon. It was a memorable trip for many reasons, but one of the most thrilling aspects of going to France (besides the food and wine) was the art.

    As I've mentioned before, I'm a frustrated artist. I love the nuances of color, and shadow, and light that play in paintings. I was especially drawn to the Impressionist paintings and was happy to spend an afternoon at the Louvre in the presence of famous canvases. I was in awe. And then I went to Rodin's museum. I knew about The Thinker, his oh-so-famous statue, but beyond that I wasn't well-versed in Rodin's work.
    The sculptures are displayed throughout the house and gardens of the Musee Rodin and it is beautiful. If you are ever in Paris, I highly recommend taking the time to visit.  

    At the museum I was introduced to Le Baiser (aka The Kiss).

    Le Baiser
    by Auguste Rodin

    Romance writers tend to be a little starry-eyed, a little romantic, and a little susceptible to passion in its various forms. This intimate glimpse of a couple kissing tripped all my romance buttons. Hope you enjoy!

    As a Valentine's treat, my latest release, BETRAYALS, is available at Amazon for FREE today and tomorrow.

    Happy Valentine's Day!! 

    Monday, February 13, 2012

    First Words, First Kiss?

    In a sense, the opening of a novel is a come-hither kiss of greeting to a reader. We expect different greetings from different types of books. My latest, Eve of All Hallows, is a historical fantasy novella, and the opening, as one might expect, evokes a time long past and a world more magical than our own. It’s about a secret druid queen who must teach and test a brash young Anglo-Saxon king who seeks a boon only she can grant. I hope you like it.


    L.G.C. Smith

    Samhain, 594 AD, in an Eastern Vale of Gwynedd
    At midnight following the last sunset of the old year and before the first sunrise of the new, the walls betwixt this world and the next shuddered, slipped, and fell. Gwyn was there to catch them, seeking tasks and truths, as her mother had once done, and all her grandmothers before them. Samhain it was, so alone Gwyn sat upon a hawthorn stump, gazing into the flames beneath her cauldron, awaiting any who might come to share her fire and a cup of warming broth.

    Many came and told their tales. Gwyn listened carefully to each one so she might commit their words to memory. There were other nights the Visitors came to her, but none so important as on this night of summer’s turn to winter. She welcomed all who appeared, be they kindly fat old women, children lost in the woods, hunting wolves, madmen, goblins, half-formed wights, or shadowy spirits. She heard their tales, or simply kept them company if they did not speak. Samhain was hers, and none were turned away no matter how gruesome their appearance or the tales they brought.

    When the eastern darkness shrank before the faintest graying breath of dawn, Gwyn blinked and, finding herself alone, rose to stir her soup and ladle a dipperful into her cup. It was almost to her lips, the steam warming her nose with woodsy herbs and the good meaty scent of her oldest hen, when a gentle cough stopped her.

    Beside her stood a small, wizened being. An old man, perhaps, but she thought not. He put her in mind of a barrow wight who’d borrowed a woolen cloak and cap from some unsuspecting traveler. His pale, bland features peeked in and out beneath the shadows of his cap, the shape roughly a man’s, but lacking human details. No eyebrows. The nose but barely there. A smooth, unsmiling mouth.

    “Sit, my lord, if you would share my fire and cup. You are most welcome.” She offered him her soup, noting how the cup glided from her hands without a touch. She gestured to one of the stumps beside her, and seated herself when he did.

    “Thank you, Lady.” He sipped the broth. “Ah. A kind and fertile land you have here. This was a happy hen.” He sipped again. “The parsley greened upon fat roots. The onion swelled thick and sweet in the sheltering earth. The water carried joy out of the mountains. The salt sings with the hale heart of ancient seas.”

    When he was finished, he set the earthenware cup upon the ground. The sky was moving on toward dawn, and he would soon leave, Gwyn knew, but she did not hurry him. Daylight would not harm him.

    “I sought you from my home in the north, Lady, for I have news of one who will come to you before this year ends and the next follows on its wings. He is like a bright storm one moment and a dark flood the next. We have watched him since he was a babe, my kin and I, and he is now a man grown. King he has become in the Old Green Hills. Yet his path is not clear. He wavers between the dark and light. He needs a tempering hand, Lady. One such as yours. To guide him. He doesn’t know how deeply he can scar the land. He cares not. He cares for his people, but not the land that makes them and gives them life. There is . . . concern.”

    “What would you have me do?” Gwyn asked. She had seen this soul when scrying. Felt him in the cold east wind. Seen his hands drip blood in visions.

    “Teach him to respect the Mother.”

    Gwyn was silent whilst she sent her spirit searching for this young king. When she found him, she sighed. “He will not listen. He harkens only to his own will.”

    Eve of All Hallows
    is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other on-line booksellers.

    If you’d like to enter the drawing to win a free copy, please leave a comment. The winner will be announced Saturday, February 18, 2012.

    Saturday, February 11, 2012

    Friday, February 10, 2012

    Kiss This!

    Since I'm going to London next week for Valentine's Day and plan to do my fair share of the smooching, kissing has been much on my mind. But let's not take the kiss for granted! Here's some interesting links about this time-honored tradition:

    Interesting facts about kissing in different cultures

    History of kissing

    The biology of kissing

    Extreme kissing

    Ubiquitous cute animals kissing post

    Just when you thought it was safe to kiss in the water....

    Maybe ignore that last one till after Valentine's Day. ;-)

    Thursday, February 9, 2012

    Kissy Face

    --Adrienne Miller

    I don't think this is going to come as a surprise to anyone, but I'm a big fan of kisses. I'm a romantic. I write stories packed full of kisses and all the things that kissing--good kissing--leads to. These things are my bread and butter.  I loves them.

    But I also understand them.

    But what's to understand about kissing, you ask. Aren't they instinctual? Well, riddle me this Batman, if kisses are so simple why have over 35 million people watched this video.

    Thirty five million. Seriously.

    Ok, so the good people at Howcast have 10 steps for better kissing. I haven't got any steps. Just theories. A handful of theories crafted over a lifetime of watching movies and reading novels, so I there's no doubting my sources.

    Theory #1:  Truly great kisses come from emotions other than lust. Lonliness. Pain. Fear. They all need an outlet, and sometimes there's no better outlet than a kiss. 

    Theory #2: Of course, plain ol' lust is good too.

    Theory #3: Sometimes kisses should look like they hurt, cause ya know, sometimes love hurts.

    Theory #4: Unless it doesn't.

    So there they are, all of my advanced theories on kissing. Nothing to do now but sit back and wait for all those offers for honorary doctorates to start rolling in.

    Wednesday, February 8, 2012

    French Kiss

    --by Juliet

    Below is a actual conversation between me and a French friend:

    Me (while munching on French fries): Why are these called French fries?

    Him (shrugging in a Gallic fashion): They are fried potatoes, pommes frites, nothing especially French about them.

    Me: How about French vanilla?

    Him: Another shrug.

    Me: French kissing?

    Him: Ah! Now we are getting somewhere interesting. Baiser avec la langue is the only way for lovers to kiss, no? This, my country will take credit for: c'est le bise amoureux.

    Me: I don't understand. You're saying your people invented this form of kissing? In Wikipedia it says the French used to call it baiser florentin, or Florentine kissing.

    Him (snorting and saying many fast words in French while throwing up his hands in exasperation): This is ridiculous. Italians. They are always taking credit for the most wonderful inventions of the French.

    Me: So you're saying that French kissing is truly French in origin?

    Him: I don't really understand the question. What I would like to know is this: what in the world is 'American cheese'? Is it actually...cheese?

    Excellent question. Probably we should all stick to kissing. It's healthier.

    Tuesday, February 7, 2012

    Rachael's First Kiss

    I was a big reader as a child (surprise!). I couldn't get my hands on enough books, and I read way above my level, in terms of age. So by the time I was eight or so, I was scouring the library shelves for books that were about more than princesses. I read books like Coffee, Tea, or Me when I was ten, and I had no idea what they were talking about half the time. But I could tell when it was sex-related, and I read and reread every passage, scouring each for meaning, as if by concentrating I could figure out what "the rabbit didn't die" meant.

    There weren't as many young adult books then, but I remember loving every one that I read. My favorite, Madeleine L'Engle, taught me that nerds could be cool, and even nerds got kissed at fourteen by boys who were smart and almost as cute as she.

    So I waited. Eleven, twelve, thirteen. I was terrible at talking to boys. They frightened me. Coming from a family of three daughters, I knew nothing about their culture. I didn't understand their language or their actions, or even their clothes.

    Worse, I didn't understand the girls who did. Ellen Riggins could flip her feathered hair and say, "Do you like my friendship pins, Danny?" and Danny Thiess would kick her jellie shoe and laugh as he ran by. This, somehow, was what she was looking for, because by the end of the day, he'd be wearing her friendship pin on his stonewashed jean jacket, and I'd still be trying to figure out where the heck you bought those little beads.

    But it was going to get better. I knew it was. I waited to meet him. The cute, smart boy who was going to listen (incredibly) to the shy, quiet girl and see past her thick lenses (shades of Meg Murry) and know that she was the one for him. There were a couple of smart boys in class, but only one who gave me any kind of run for my money. And I wished I could like him. But Sean was the uber-geek, the very Platonic ideal of a nerd. His voice squeaked. His braces shone. He said weird things that weren't funny, and he took it personally when I beat him on the tests.*

    My biggest fear? That I would be sweet sixteen and never been kissed. Sixteen Candles came out when I was twelve. John Hughes nailed every one of my fears and brought it out in technicolor. Many people remember that movie fondly, but for me, it played like a horror movie.

    Then I was fourteen. No kiss. Then fifteen. Virgin lips. Then sixteen, and desperate.

    I went to a church camp, because all kids lose themselves in sex, drugs, rock'n'roll, or religion, and I'd chosen religion. There, I met [oh my god, I just forgot his name. Let's call him Dirk because it was something like that]. Dirk was six foot six, weighed about a hundred and twenty, but he was surfer cute, which to me was godlike.

    And he liked me. We held hands at camp. After the week-long camp was done, he wrote to me and invited me to visit him in Bakersfield. My mother, god bless her, put me on the Greyhound bus and sent me that way because she had total trust in me that I wasn't going to get in any trouble. Which I didn't. I was so good it hurt.

    However, on one of the two nights I spent in his house (sleeping on the couch in the family room, surrounded by people the size of giants), we sat on the floor cross-legged (it was the only way we could be eye-to-eye). We made the most painful of small-talk. Then he said goodnight and leaned forward.

    His lips touched mine.

    Instead of thinking of how it felt (cold, wet), I did a victory lap in my brain. I would NOT turn seventeen, unkissed (a fate worse than death, as far as my romantic heart was concerned). It didn't last long, and there was no tongue. It was chaste and sweet.

    And even though it was the last kiss I'd get for a year or more, it was enough. I wasn't a total pariah. I'd been kissed.

    *Sean kissed me once, just after high school. It was awful. And then he had the gall to send me a letter (these were still the days of letters!) from college saying he'd had some experience, and I wasn't very good at kissing, and I should probably work on it. I think somewhere he's still probably unable to talk to women and mad about it, whereas I got very good at kissing, well, everyone.

    Sunday, February 5, 2012

    Retro Kissing Lessons

    by Sophie


    I've been researching the fifties with zeal, especially when it comes to advertising images, which I find so useful for the little details that really set a scene in time, as well as glimpses into the nation's psyche - consumer behavior, in many ways, really does mirror behavior and attitudes on a broader scale.

    Anyway when the topic of kissing came up, I spent a little time going over how it was represented in all-audiences media fifty years ago. Not surprisingly, the images are quite chaste by today's standards.

    This got me thinking about my own introduction to kissing. (Not my first time - that would be a whole other post, and a disappointing one at that, as my first kiss - I'm lookin' at YOU, Duane V.!! - was mushy and wet and not the least bit satisfying.) I watched kissers on TV with great attention to detail, because the subject fascinated me: what, exactly, was so great about it, and how could you possibly do it for any length of time without getting bored?

    It used to be that even the suggestion of tongue was forbidden. The first on-screen kisses I saw involved people mashing their lips together. Particularly passionate couples seemed to press extra-hard - or so I thought. I was perplexed by this idea, as I thought that it might hurt, especially if you kept it up for a while.

    The lip-smoosh technique:

    Later, I caught on to a subtle variation, wherein couples would sort of nibble at each other's lips. Women seemed to end up with their partner's bottom lips, and the men got the top one; I assumed this was based on height differential and this worried me no end, since I was tall at the time and all indications were that I would keep getting taller, probably freakishly so, and so I was worried that I might inadvertently engage in the taboo of glomming onto a guy's *top* lip when the time came.

    getting bolder - the lip lock:

    The longer I've been at this job (writing, not kissing!), the less detail I write into my own kissing scenes. (I seem to remember a rather clinically detailed kiss in 1994's MOUNTAIN SONG. Missed that one? Oh, yeah...that's 'cause it was never published.) I think it's because a really effective kiss ought to leave the participants completely insensible of the details.

    Friday, February 3, 2012

    The Eternal Internal Nag

    by Alicia Rasley

    Lynn asked me to guest blog this week, and told me the topic was nagging. Boy, do I know nagging! (Insert a mother-nag joke here.) I started thinking not of those sainted mothers now nagging the angels, but our own internal nags, the ones who berate us with ancient wisdom and modern sarcasm.

    You know, the little voice inside that, when you are eager to investigate something, hisses, "Curiosity killed the cat."

    Or when you accept an invitation to stay a week with a friend, "Fish and guests begin to rot after three days."

    Sometimes the little voice is less clichéed and more personalized, like, "No one will ever love you."

    Where does this voice come from? Where do the cautionary mottoes start? I think, like most dire warnings, these come from childhood, from the culture that surrounded us as we grew up. For example, my husband grew up in a small Midwestern town, and he swears the town motto was, "You can never be too careful." It was, above all, a cautious town. Other pioneers might have kept going to California, but the founders of this town found a flat spot near a river and stopped. You can never be too careful. This is as good as it's going to get.

    Here are some sample proverbs that have served as mottoes for many families and towns. These dire mottoes are influential, but not necessarily determinative. In fact, they often have a rebound effect, encouraging the listener to act in opposition (my husband left his cautious small town to climb mountains, and, LOL, marry me!).

    This got me thinking about how such mottoes can be derived for fictional characters, especially those who end up "rebounding" against the childhood directive. For example, there's the lovely song The King of Rome (sniffle alert), where the working man Charlie is told by his friends, "Charlie, we told you so; surely by now you know:
    When you're living in the West End, there ain't many dreams come true." And Charlie responds, "I know, but I had to try." (Happy ending—listen to the song.)

    So I started thinking about the characters in my own stories, and the mottoes they've lived with and reacted against. For example, John in Poetic Justice grew up with the motto, "Don't get above yourself." For his apothecary father, that motto served well to secure his place in the tiny Dorset village. But rebellious John defies that motto to acquire education, wealth, and a very "uppity" career as an art dealer. But when he falls for Lady Jessica Seton, that eternal internal nagging voice comes whispering, "You're getting above yourself!"

    Jessica has grown up with a similarly chastening motto: "You can't always get what you want." As John says, she's a poor little rich girl, denied always for the loftiest reasons whatever she most wants (her parents' rare-books library, the childhood sweetheart killed at Waterloo). It's only when she determines the one thing she really wants (John) and decides to get that no matter what the cost, that she overcomes the dread that keeps her from wanting what she wants.

    In fact, in romances, it can be quite fulfilling to make the desire to be loved by the lover the incentive for the character to silence that nagging voice and live free of dread and full of hope.

    Me? Oh, I think my motto was always, "What you don't know won't hurt you." I realize that's the motto of all sorts of con men and felons! But as a novelist, I've learned that what characters don't want to know is the clue to their inner life—and should be used to hurt them indeed, and thus to cause them to change.

    So what about you all? What mottoes did you grow up with, and how did you respond? How do these mottoes still affect you, even if you try to ignore that nagging voice?

    Thanks for having me, Pens!

    Alicia Rasley is a Rita award-winning author of nine Regency romances and many articles about writing topics. Her novel, The Year She Fell, has been an Amazon Kindle bestseller in two different years. She blogs at Edittorrent.

    You can find some of the novels and writing books of Alicia Rasley at
    Royal Renegade, a Regency novel.
    Poetic Justice, a Regency novel.
    The Story Within Plotting Guide for Fiction Writers.
    Rasley's Kindle Page

    Thursday, February 2, 2012

    When Nagging Backfires

    This week begins my new year. No, my calendar isn't incorrect. Nor am I talking about Chinese New Year.

    Back on January 1, I was undergoing daily radiation treatments. But as of Jan 31, I'm DONE with both chemo and radiation.

    Some celebrating is definitely in order. I'm making plans with friends, moving forward with my Gargoyle Girl Productions business, cooking new recipes that are both healthy and delicious.

    But there's a psychological stumbling block that's gotten in the way of that last item. Nagging.

    I was already a pretty healthy eater, but now I'm going all out to treat my body well. There's no way I'm going to eat healthily if the food isn't tasty, so I've been experimenting with lots of cookbooks and recipes to find meals that satisfy both necessities. I've found many fantastic healthy recipes, which I'm really happy about.

    But as soon as someone *else* tells me I should be eating something healthier, that's when I want to go order one of those mega hamburgers you see on Man v. Food. Washed down with a pint of vodka.

    I don't actually want to eat that burger. Or to have more than a single martini. But if someone tells me I can't have those things? Then I want them.

    I'm finding my own style of healthy eating that works for me, and if anyone else nags me about doing something differently, it's only going to backfire.


    Wednesday, February 1, 2012

    Martha's No Nag

    I grew up in a nag-free household. There was no persistent and annoying urging or being painfully bothersome to get someone to do something.

    That's because I lived in a Tiger household, and my mom only had to ask once.
    Preferably, my mom did not have to ask at all.

    If we had been asked to do the dishes yesterday, then we took the initiative to do them today, and every day, ad nauseum. My brother and I visited my parents over Christmas and it was the first time I'd been to their house in years but yep, we did the dishes. I did not have to be asked to clean my room, to do my weekly chores, to do my homework.

    Now, as an adult, I'm shocked when I have to nag people especially to do things in their own self-interest. Allow me to give you a representative conversation:

    Me: Don't forget to clear up the guest room before your sister arrives tonight.
    Husband: Yep.
    (four hours later)
    Me: The guest room hasn't been cleaned - would you please do it?
    Husband: Yep
    (four hours later)
    Husband: Crap, I forgot to clean the guest room - why didn't you remind me again?

    The first time we had this exchange, I was shocked. You see, I knew the room hadn't been cleaned, but I figured, huh, he still hasn't cleaned it, and this is HIS guest who he knows well, maybe the room is good enough as is so I'm done here.

    I didn't realize that some people expect to be nagged, that they count on it to get things done. That they think of nagging like a snooze button and they'll decide when they are done pressing. Especially because, like Adrienne, I hate being nagged. If I want to do something, I'll do it. And very little "encouragement" will change my mind. So imagine my surprise when I find myself on the other end of very good-natured nagging.

    You know how there's that saying that there are two kinds of people in this world? Maybe nagging applies. People who need to nagged, and people who don't. People who like to nag, and people who don't. May we all find the right partner. :)