Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Scary Animals

Fun sign in the Arizona desert.

But keep this in mind:
Number of snake bites I've sustained, after living more than 20 years in Arizona: 0
Number of scorpion that have stung me:  0
Number of ticks that have burrowed under my skin in the approximate 3 years I've lived in tick country:  6

I've only even SEEN 8 or 10 rattlesnakes in the wild, and I hike and camp.  My Dad worked for the Forest Service in the Arizona desert for years, often out in the field.  The only one of his colleagues ever to get bitten by a rattlesnake was holding it in his hands, trying to explain how NOT to hold a snake.  We've had scorpions in our house, of course, and my brother had a painful and somewhat scary encounter with one at his place.

But those ticks in other places...some of them can kill you with encephalitis or Rocky Mountain spotted fever.  They can give you life-long lyme disease and transmit a bunch of other nasty things I can't pronounce.  Yet we're not as scared of them.

We have scary critters in Arizona, but they're plane-crash scary:  horrific and dramatic, but not likely to actually happen to you.  It's those ants and dogs and hamburgers that we should really be worrying about.  

***Knocking on wood as we speak***.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Kafka's House by Gabriela Popa

Ten-year-old Silvia Marcu lives in the magical world of fairy tales, sheltered from the traumatic events Romania goes through during the sixties. As the events of 1968 unfold, she is assailed by questions no one, not even her parents, can answer. With imagination and candor, Silvia embarks on a miraculous journey that reveals that the ordinary people around us hold the key to our most puzzling questions...

My Review: 
I love stories that take place in Europe.  Having lived in Poland and the Czech Republic, both countries with communist pasts, I always find it interesting to hear different takes on the subject.  InKafka's House, we see life in Romania in the 60s through the eyes of an imaginative young girl.  It's a charming read, but also enlightening.

There are a few little errors in grammar, mostly tense problems.  There's also some odd word choice here and there, like "colleague" instead of "classmate," which probably comes from the Romanian coleg.  None of this, however, interferes with the enjoyment of the book.  In fact, it adds a bit of foreign flavor. A few phrases sound too modern, or too adult for the generally well-written kid's point of view, but overall it's a very good writing.

Parts of Kafka's House remind me of Little House on the Prairie or Anne of Green Gables, with a young main character full of wonder and intelligence, seeking to understand her world—which is different than ours.

I love the interesting fairy tales and folk tales worked beautifully into the story.  The tragedies are touchingly told, and the part about the hole in the street is about more than just a hole in the street.  There's a bit of repetition throughout, but not bad.  Though I'd liked to have seen a little more about the political events toward the end, I learned a lot about the culture, and it made me want to research the history.  This is one of the best things a book about that past can do.

Kafka's House is not an action-packed shoot-em-up, but it doesn't have to be.  The individual characters and the interesting glimpse into a different culture are well worth the read.


Also available at other online retailers.

Now, for an interview with the author:

Q:  How much of Kafka's House comes directly from your own childhood, growing up in Romania during the Communist era?

All of Kafka’s House is inspired by events that took place during my childhood.  The book is an amalgam of experiences shared with those close to me: parents, friends, classmates, neighbors, teachers. As I grew up, my childhood stayed with me in a natural way.  I have forgotten lots of things along the way while growing up, but I have always recalled with clarity things that happened when I was 5 years old.  As I grew up, those memories became actually stronger.  As an adult I often go back to that mysterious childhood (most of it perhaps by now fully fictionalized), to the little girl I once was and to the stories only she can tell. 

Q:  The ending of Kafka's House leaves us hanging a little, especially about Ana.  Did you do that to reflect the uncertainty and distrust of the times?

Ana is the main reason I had to write the book.  To me, she represents the conflicted obsessions of those times: the need to love and be loved vs. the reality that no one can be trusted.  It’s what scarcity, abuse and paranoia do to a society.   When they do it, people sell their souls for petty, trivial reasons.  So I wanted Ana to be a wild card, the prototypical Romanian of the time whose actions and intentions could only be guessed or speculated about, but never truly known. 

Q:  I loved the fairy tales and folk tales in your novel.  Are those based on stories you heard or read when you were younger?

Yes, those were stories I heard or read as a child or teenager.  “The drunk and the tailor” was one tale that my maternal grandmother used to tell me when I was  about four or five years old.  She was a deeply religious person and believed it to be true to the letter.  “Rat’s daughter” I read from a torn apart book, no cover, no author, that I salvaged from a pile of old books.  The story seemed bizarre and unreal, and fascinated me. I brought that crumpled  book home and a few weeks later I wanted to read it again but I could never find it, in my own house!  It was gone.  One of my parents must’ve thrown it out but they never acknowledged.  I ceased worrying about it and comforted myself with the thought that the book’s mission had been to simply puzzle me with one peculiar story.  Books do such things to people sometime.   

Q:  Could you recommend any other novels set in Romania?

Sure.  Here are two of my favorites writers.  Norman Manea, with “The Black Envelope” and also with his brilliant memoir, “The Hooligan’s return”.  And Herta Müller with “The Land of Green plums.”

Q:  What are you writing now?

I have resumed work on a novel I started many years ago.  Right now it is a very rough draft, so I am afraid there is not a lot I can share about it at this time.  But stay tuned…

Q:  How can people contact you?

The easiest way is via my facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/gabriela.popa.1481

Gabriela Popa was born and raised in Romania where she worked as a scientist in cancer research. In 1992 she won a research fellowship that allowed her to come to US to continue her work in cancer.
She enjoys creativity in all its forms, be it in science, literature or other fields. Reading is one of the great passions of her life, as it allows her to discover exciting new writers, their lives and their books.
A bilingual writer, Gabriela loves writing in Romanian but welcomes the challenge and thrill of writing in English. She is fascinated by the healing role that love, humor and imagination have always played in people's lives, irrespective of time, nationality or geography.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


Goodreads Book Giveaway

Far-Knowing by Melinda Brasher


by Melinda Brasher

Giveaway ends July 22, 2014.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Catacombs of Znojmo, Czech Republic

I wrote my YA novel, Far-Knowing, while living in the Czech Republic.  I first put pen to paper one fall morning while visiting the beautiful city of Znojmo, a place that I loved so much I just had to weave it into my novel.

Znojmo, Czech Republic
Znojmo is one of those towns that simply calls to me.  It’s not famous.  Even in many guidebooks it’s just a blip.  But it’s a lovely place, especially peaceful at night, when the buildings glow with soft lighting and the streets are quiet.  On a breezy evening, the lamps hung above the streets sway gently, giving the darkened alleys a delightfully eerie feel.  With curvy streets, numerous squares, fountains, and a lot of architectural beauty, it’s a wanderer’s delight.

Znojmo, from down near the river
When Kalli and Ista—my two main characters in Far-Knowing—enter the fictional town of Znemya, it’s really Znojmo’s buildings they see.  For them, however, it’s not a charming place to explore.  They’re on a mission, and danger lurks in all the pretty corners.

When they need a place to hide, to evade the baron’s men, they escape to the catacombs beneath the city.  These catacombs are my homage to Znojmo, whose catacombs you can visit for yourself.  They’re a huge network of interconnected cellars and tunnels, ventilated and at one time stocked with supplies. There’s a legend that a conquering army once swept into town and discovered smoking chimneys but no people.  The whole population was hiding underground. Supposedly they even rigged ropes to make doors slam and chairs rock.  The conquering army, spooked, declared it a town of ghosts and rode right out of the city.  The people were saved.  I incorporated this legend, among others, into the tales of my fictional Znemya.

Znojmo Catacombs
Photo courtesy of http://visitznojmo.wordpress.com/
To me, Znojmo will always be a peaceful, happy memory…and the place where Far-Knowing was born.

Check out the other blog tour stops below, or enter the giveaway for some great prices.  

If you're interested in Znojmo, see more travel information at the bottom of the post.  

GSRG July Blog Tour Giveaway a Rafflecopter giveaway

Genre Specific Review Group Blog Tour Stops: July 6 - The Consulting Writer Author Susan Day Michelle Abbott's Blog Author George Thomas Clark July 7 - Marilyn Peake's Blog Author Jo Grafford July 8 - Plain Talk BM Author Domino Finn Author Stephanie Ward July 9 - Author Melinda Brasher July 10 - Author K. Chrisbacher Author Tim Stead July 11 - Author Jayne Blue July 12 - The Consulting Writer Author Alexis Donkin

If you go to Znojmo...

More Sights

The town hall tower is a striking landmark, reminiscent of Prague’s famous spiked towers.  You can climb it for some very nice views of the town and the surrounding countryside.  Walk along the old town wall for more dizzying views down into the river valley.

Numerous churches of different styles stand watch over the streets and squares of old town.  The Rotunda of Our Lady and St Catherine dates from the 11th century, and in order to preserve the historic wall painting, they only admit visitors during short windows of time.

Znojmo sits on the edge of Podyjí National Park, where hiking trails abound.  The green trail starts at the Jihomoravské Muzeum.  It winds through the quiet outskirts of town into the park and through the woods for about 5 km (3 miles) to Králův Stolec, a nice place for a picnic, with views high over the river.  For something shorter, you can take the red trail across the river and up the opposite hill.  In about 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) you’ll get great views of Znojmo’s Old-Europe skyline.

Znojmo from the red trail
Around Znojmo:
Vranov Chateau perches on a wooded hill above the green-colored Dyjí river.  The interior is a Versailles-like confection you won’t want to miss.

Vranov Chateau, Vranov nad Dyjí, Czech Republic
Photo courtesy of atlasceska.cz

Bítov Castle is originally from the 11th century, and built for defense, a great contrast to Vranov.  From the village of Bítov, it’s a beautiful 3-km walk through the woods above the river. 
Bitov Castle, Czech Republic
If you go to Bítov or Vranov by public transportation, study the bus schedule carefully or you may end up hitchhiking back.  Of course, that might just be part of your great adventure.  

Views from my pension’s rooftop balcony 
(Cyklopenzion u Mikuláše)
I just sat in the sun and took it all in.
What a great day.
Getting there:
Znojmo is in southeast Czech Republic, close to the border of Austria.  By bus, it's 3-4 hours from Prague, just over 1 from Brno.  You can take a train from Vienna in less than 2 hours.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Last Innocent, by K. Chrisbacher


Indie Author Spotlight:  

The Last Innocent, by K. Chrisbacher

From Amazon:

Twenty-two-year-old Sarah Croshen’s life changes when the police kill an intruder in her house and she meets the handsome detective David Galpren. From there, the truth quickly unravels. She is a veiled Innocent and the world is not at it seems. Winged angels? Demons from Hell? Supreme mortals with supernatural abilities? Preposterous! But when a demon prince kidnaps her best friend, Sarah must fulfill a destiny she never asked for, or risk her friend’s life.

My Take:

The Last Innocent is exciting, and its take on angel and demon lore is interesting, especially the demi-demons and their daily influence on man.  Very creepy.

The characters are well-drawn.  The good guys are brave and self-sacrificing without being too perfect.  The villain is terrifyingly charming.  Other characters lie in fascinating shades of gray.  Sarah, our heroine, is strong and a little sassy, and her wit acts as a perfect balance for the weight of the problems she faces. 

The Last Innocent teems with inner struggles, searches for identity, and forbidden love.  K. Chrisbacher's skillful writing lets us experience all this tension and uncertainty right along with the characters, and the edge-of-your-seat final conflict left me wanting more.

If you like angels, demons, and cosmic struggles, you'll love this book.

Exclusive Interview with the Author, K Chrisbacher:

1)  What was your favorite scene to write in The Last Innocent?

That’s a hard one. Hmmm… Can I have two favorites? I really enjoyed the library scene where Sarah first sees David in spirit form, when Shagah uses her abilities to boost Sarah’s empathic energies. My imagination soared at what a Warrior angel would look like. It took a few rewrites to finally capture on paper what my mind’s eye saw, but reading other people’s reaction to the scene, I think I did it justice.

My second favorite scene would have to be the one between Graeme and Balthazar in the “Roll the Dice” chapter. I found that as time progressed, I really got a kick out of Graeme McCleod’s character. As for Balthazar, I stressed over him for quite a while. Of course, this scene is Balthazar’s first appearance in the story and so I wanted it to be a pretty big moment while staying realistic. Once I started, though, the scene, and honestly the whole chapter, just wrote itself. But really, I just loved the whole smarmy, evilness to Balthazar and how Graeme McCloud’s façade of confidence was shaken to the core at this encounter. I think that’s when I really fell for Graeme. He’s not as tough as he wants us to believe.

2)  Sarah, the main character, has a lot of clever and sometimes sarcastic lines.  Did you spend a lot of time writing these retorts, or did they come out naturally?

Funny you should ask this. These lines came quite naturally. This is definitely one of my own character traits that I mirrored for my female protagonist.

3)  Did you do a lot of research for the book?  It really sounds like you know your stuff.

Thank you. I think there might just be as many hours of research into the whole story line as there are hours spent writing it. I have SO many references, pages and pages that I am constantly looking over. I definitely need to find a better way to keep my notes and references more organized.

4)  What's been the most challenging thing about writing/publishing?

Oh, boy. Do we have enough time? I made just about every novice mistake there is when I first started. Hindsight is 20-20. I actually wrote a blog on my website dedicated to my novice errors. But mostly I would boil it down to my lack of education in grammar that’s proven to be my biggest hindrance. English was never my strength in school. And I never took a creative writing class until after I wrote my first manuscript—which is boxed and hidden under my bed. I found out the hard way, creative writing is not easy. Couple that with very poor grammar skills and that’s a recipe for challenge for sure. I’m better now, but in the scheme of things, I still struggle with grammar (as my critique partners can attest).

5)  What's the thing you like best about writing?

Being able to live out the movie that plays in my head. Like a motion picture that I can stop and start at will. A wonderful place that I wish I never had to leave. My desire to share these (stories) with the world is what drove me to writing to begin with. It wasn’t enough for me to enjoy it all by myself anymore. I felt compelled to put it down on paper and share it with everyone. The feeling of watching it take on a life of its own is addicting. Being a part of something bigger than yourself is truly wonderful. The editing part is the not-so-fun part, but I think it’s worth it in the end.

6)  What are some other Urban Fantasy books that you enjoy?

Urban Fantasy is a sub-genre that can encapsulate versions of: speculative fiction, dystopian, suspense, thriller, romance, etc. It is a form of fantasy that stays close to a “real world” feel with elements of the supernatural, and typically written in an urban setting. My favorite authors would be Dave Stern’s, Tomb Raider series, and Neil Gaiman’s, Neverwhere.

7)  Some people aren't familiar with the "New Adult" genre.  Could you explain it a little?

To me, New Adult is that amazingly magical age where a person is now legal, more than likely done with school, and is looking for that one last big adventure before career and life starts to get in the way.

I think it’s a perfect fit for mature teens who are looking for the next level, but not ready for the heavier “grown-up” themes. The college age group who loves the YA feel, but yearns for a bit more than what the typical YA novels offers. And finally, for the older young-at-heart group who are looking to fondly recapture that wonderful age of innocence (no pun intended).

8)  What are you writing now?

Book two of Dimensions: PROPHECY

9)  How can people contact you?

Through my website at: www.kchrisbacherauthor.weebly.com

Buy The Last Innocent at Amazon.
Also available at other online e-book retailers.

More About K. Chrisbacher:

Although raised in Arizona's "Wild West" K. Chrisbacher longed for the mountains. So in 2013, after her children had flown the coop, she fulfilled her lifelong dream and moved to the mountains of Arkansas. She now lives with her husband and two dogs on their sprawling 19 acres they lovingly refer to as "Acorn Acres."

K. Chrisbacher didn't realize her passion for writing until she turned 44, when quite by accident she put pen to paper (more like fingertips to keyboard) and began to write out the stories that danced around in her imagination. Since then she's written two manuscripts-- the second of which is her debut novel The Last Innocent -- with two more in the works. Becoming a successful published author has become her goal in life.