Thursday, December 24, 2015

Star Wars The Force Awakens

Loved it!

A brilliant homage to the old movies.

I won't say any more right now.  Just go see it if you haven't!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Inversion in Slovakia

Inversion from a nameless little peak close to Roháč (Near Puchov, Slovakia). And yes, we're above the clouds. Unexpected and spectacular.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Nanowrimo 2015--58,000 words written

Just validated the rough draft of my 2015 Nanowrimo novel!  
Didn't quite finish the plot, but got 58,000 good words written, and will soon finish the story too.
Got inspired.
Had fun.
Feel proud.  

Thursday, November 19, 2015

E-books vs paper books

Great quote from Eric Carle, author of kids' books:

"I like to hold books and touch them.  But in the future, who knows? When they invented papyrus, someone probably said, 'Storytelling was so good. Why did we have to go and put it on papyrus?' But one thing doesn't change: It's the story that counts. The medium doesn't matter."

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Nanowrimo 2015

Haven't been posting the last couple of weeks because I've been...WRITING!  A lot.  I'm doing Nanowrimo again this year, and I've written 28,000 words since the beginning of November.  I hope to make it 30,000 by tonight.  It's exciting.

The book is fantasy (surprise surprise), and the magic is more powerful than in any of my other books--or at least the power one man holds.  But therein comes the issue:  if such magic can fall into the wrong hands, is it better to destroy it?  Or risk using it for good?  Because, of course, the best of intentions can collapse in the face of great power.  

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Halloween Funnies

In honor of Halloween, I wrote some Halloween Mad Libs and asked my students for random verbs, nouns, adjectives, numbers, foods, etc. to complete the story.  Here are some of the best bits.

On Halloween, some people dress as monsters, superheroes, languages, shop assistants, or baby fish.  To decorate their houses, they carve faces on big pineapples and hang elephants from the ceiling.

Children walk from house to house and say "trick-or-woman."  Then people give them bananas.  Sometimes children collect up to 8 pieces of candy.  If they eat it too quickly, they feel extraordinary.

On Halloween, be careful. You might see a monster. 

Vampires are especially friendly.  They often wear pink clothes and like to drink milk.  To protect yourself from vampires, you should wear a necklace of carrots

Zombies are not dead and not unexpected.  They swim very loudly.  They like to eat octopus.  Stay away from them.

Werewolves are people who dance with penguins when the moon is pretty.  They have 666 legs and resurrect very fast.

Ghosts are also common on Halloween.  It is very hard to smile at a ghost.  Usually they can't magnify you, but if they scare you, you may have a leg attack.

Halloween is a very fun holiday.  Just be safe and don't talk to books you meet in the dark.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The tiny things you discover when you travel

Here's a beautiful tiny flower I found today on my hike--an October flower as big as my thumbnail that seems to sprout from a delicately veined balloon.  Almost alien.

I have no idea what it is.
But that only makes it more beautiful and mysterious.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Beautiful Olomouc, Czech Republic

If you're planning on visiting the Czech Republic, don't limit your stay to Prague (and maybe Cesky Krumlov).  Check out Olomouc, one of my favorite Czech cities.  The old town is really pretty and fun to explore, it's a university town with lots of cultural stuff going on, you can use it as a base for day trips, and there aren't so many tourists.  Here are just a couple of shots of the main square from my last visit there.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Autumn in the Czech Republic

Trees are blushing pink.  The ground is a carpet of gold.  Wood smoke scents the air.  I run around catching leaves as they fall.  Ah...seasons!  


Sunday, October 18, 2015

Mushrooms in the Czech Republic

Mushrooms I saw today on my hike from Bystřička Reservoir to Brňov, via Malá Lhota, in the Czech Republic.  I don't think any of them are edible, with the exception of the last, which I KNOW is not edible.  But they're all gorgeous.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Zidova Strouha, near Bechyne, Czech Republic

Near Bechyne, this great trail follows a stream through forests and rock formations.  The trail crosses the water multiple times, making it even more fun.  The northern end empties into the river, where a cool little bridge takes you to a nice flat rock with great views--a perfect picnic spot.

Be careful of stinging nettles, and near the southern end be on the lookout for a place where the trail crosses a field.  If you're southbound, it's easy to miss.  The trail could do with some better marking...but that makes it more of an adventure.

I took the bus from Tabor (via Bechyne) to Nuzice, then walked the blue trail down to the river.  From there I backtracked a bit and took the yellow Zidova Strouha trail the whole way up to where it turns into road. I caught a bus from the middle of nowhere, at the stop in the picture below:  "Zimutice, Smilovice, rozc. 2.0."  Be sure to know bus schedules beforehand.  They're infrequent.  And the bus may snake through every little village on its round-about journey back to Bechyne, so just sit back and enjoy the tour.

Trail length, the way I did it:  9.1 km
Main section of Zidova Strouha:  7 km
Prettiest part:  the northern end, near the river.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Helfstyn Castle, Czech Republic

Helfstyn Castle, Czech Republic
Near Lipnik nad Becvou
 This is a "proper" castle, as my friend Anezka described it.  
Very medieval.  Very inspiring.  Very cool.  

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Czech Hedgehog at last!

Hedgehogs are big here in Czech culture.  You see cute depictions of them everywhere, often with an apple speared on their spines.  The word for hedgehog in Czech sounds similar to the word for Baby Jesus, who is the one who brings the presents on Christmas.  So one of my students, when she was little, thought that a hedgehog carried her gifts to her, all stuck on his back like that traditional apple.  She still likes the image, and so do I.  I think hedgehogs are adorable.  Yet I NEVER see them.  I caught a glimpse of the back end of one once, the first time I lived here.  And that's all.  Until...Friday!  Here he is! It was dark, so the picture's not as darling as the reality.  But soooo cute.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Choustnik Castle, Czech Republic

Choustnik Castle, near Tabor, Czech Republic

Ruined castles are my favorite, especially when they still rather look like castle and have little nooks and crannies you can explore.  Choustnik fits the bill.  Even cooler, the castle's main tower still stands strong, and you can climb up for great views.

Then if you follow the green trail a little ways around the castle, you'll come to some cool rock formations you can climb around on.  Instead of keeping to the trail, follow the rocks for as long as you want along this natural playground.  Danger:  between the castle and these perfect forest-ambush areas, you might start feeling like you've strayed into a Robin Hood movie.  

If you go...

To get to Choustnik Castle, take one of the infrequent buses from Tabor or other nearby towns to the village of Choustnik.  Be sure to check bus schedules for the return trip.  The castle is a pleasant walk along the green trail, just over a kilometer away.

Entry fee: currently 40 Czech Crowns for adults, 20 for children

Open:  July and August--every day.  May, June, September, and October--only weekends and holidays.

Friday, September 11, 2015

High Tatras Hikes: Koprovsky Stit

This is Hincovo Pleso, the biggest glacial tarn in the Slovakian side of the High Tatras.  Just look at the clarity of that water.  Gorgeous!

I spent a lot of time watching the fish and simply staring at my surroundings in wonder.

And this is me high above the same lake, on the rocky tippy top of Koprovsky Stit (2367m / 7766ft)

It's amazing to me how low these stunning "high" alpine areas are in Europe.  Koprovsky Stit is almost exactly as high as Pinal Peak near Globe, Arizona, where I grew up.  Yet Pinal Peak is nowhere near the tree line.  The world is amazing.

Hike Details (Round Trip) from Popradske Pleso (the lake and mountain chalet, not the train stop):
Length: 8.8 km 
Climb: 812 m
Estimated time: 3 hrs 50 min  

Hike Details (Round Trip) from Strbske Pleso
Length:  18.2 km
Climb:  1209 m
Estimated time:  7 hrs

Difficulty:  For people like me, the very end is a little scary, because you're so high and you're just sort of clambering over rocks.  The trail also has some steep switchback parts.  Just take it slow.  Trail is closed in winter.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Avoiding Common Punctuation Errors

Illustration by Peter Arkle
If you're a writer (or if you ever have to write reports, e-mails, etc), you might find helpful my series of articles on avoiding common punctuation errors.  The most recent installment is now online at Writers on the Move.  Click here.


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Alaska Sampler 2014

If you didn't know, from reading my blog, I'm a bit obsessed with Alaska.  So of course I snapped up this free collection of short stories, articles, memoirs, and excerpts from larger works, all set in Alaska.  It’s good reading and shows a lot of different faces of this wild country.    

Most enjoyable to me were these:
“A Time Machine Called the Chilkoot Trail” by Dana Stabenow
An excerpt from “Still Points North” by Leigh Newman
“On Ice” by Deb Vanasse
Excerpts from “Wildwood” by Tanyo Ravicz
“From Cold River Spirits” by Jan Harper-Haines. 

If you’re half as fascinated by Alaska as I am, or if you're just in the mood for something different, pick up the Alaska Sampler 2014.  The Alaska Sampler 2015 is also out now.

Click here to download the Alaska Sampler FREE on Amazon.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

Scarlet is the second book in the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer.

I didn't think this was as good as Cinder, but it was still a fun read.  

Cinder's powers were too strong for my tastes, too easy for her to control.  I've also never been a fan of the falling-in-love-in-two-days trope, so Scarlett's story didn't hold me as much as it could have.  The wolf thing reminded me too much of Twilight and Vampire Diaries, but I still found his struggle compelling.  

What I love about these books is the way Meyer held true to the target fairy tale while still making it refreshing and new.  I enjoyed the actual writing and the few really cleverly funny places.  There was great conflict and excitement in parts.

I enjoyed it and will certainly read the next book.

Click for my review of Cinder.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Shanakan by Tim Stead

Shanakan is another great fantasy novel by independent author Tim Stead.

I love the characters and world-building.  The writing is also very good, with many beautiful or thought-provoking lines.  

Things do come a bit too easily.  Though the characters face many obstacles, everything they try works, and people are easily won over.  The optimistic, want-to-change-the-world part of me loves these big successes, however, and I really enjoyed reading about them.    

The ending also goes on a little longer than I'm used to.  It's realistic.  After all, defeating the bad guy isn't really the end…rebuilding the world is.  That's very cool.  Just be ready for a longer denouement than you may be used to. 

Serhan, the main character, is capable and powerful and awe-inspiring, but also very human.  Tim Stead does a spectacular job with characters like this (I also love the character of Narak from The Seventh Friend ). 

The novel easily stands alone, but it also leaves room for a sequel, and I would certainly read it…or anything else by Tim Stead.

4.5 stars 

Friday, August 14, 2015

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Magnificent Animals

From my trip to the zoo in Tabor, Czech Republic:
Reporting for duty
Artic wolf cubs--who acted just like dogs with the zookeepers
Lynx--way bigger than I thought I like this yogurt or not?
Just like my sleepy kitties back home.  Well...almost.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Miri Castor talks about writing Opal Charm

Today I have a guest post from Miri Castor, author of Opal Charm:  The Path to Dawn.  I like to hear about other authors' creative processes, so here's a bit about hers:

I wrote Opal Charm: The Path to Dawn during many phases of my life. I started in middle school-my first draft was short, full of childhood naivety and RPG references; video games were probably the reason I got into the fantasy/scifi genre, and still heavily influence my ideas. I rewrote Opal Charm in high school, using Opal as my assertive persona when I was a passive, quiet girl who tried to be a people pleaser. When I looked back at my novel in college, I wasn’t satisfied. I wanted to add more of a realistic feel to Opal’s story. The obstacles that Opal faces, the non-fantastical ones, are common to people of all ages who have dealt with depression or have felt alone while surrounded by people.  

For me, writing is a continuous stream of creativity. It was easy for me to create this world and my characters because I allowed this idea to burgeon in my mind before I decided to type it up. I like to let ideas develop in my head for a long time before I decide to write it down. I guess that’s procrastination, as I tended to procrastinate often during my school breaks. I always tried to work through my writer’s blocks though, because after keeping my story in my thoughts for such a long time, I was eager see it through to the end.
        -Miri Castor

And here's an excerpt from her book:

Opal threw the covers off and slid out of the bed. She yawned as she went to the door and opened it ajar, peeking out cautiously. The hallway was empty, but gunfire and explosions were coming from the playroom down on the left hall. Before leaving the guestroom, she quickly texted her mother after seeing two missed calls on her cellphone; she followed the sounds of gunshots and cheesy sound effects down the hall and found Aaron lounging on the beanie couch, watching TV with a bowl of popcorn around his arm. He sat up and beamed at her. “Hey sleepyhead,” he greeted enthusiastically.

“Morning,” she croaked, plopping next to him and taking a handful of popcorn. 

“It’s almost twelve-thirty, girl. Have some more breakfast popcorn.”

“Sure. Are you okay?”

“Look at me, I’m good…but what about you?” asked Aaron uneasily. “You were passed out this morning.” Opal sighed and leaned forward, rubbing her temples.

“I didn’t sleep much last night,” admitted Opal. 

“It must have been hard to,” he said considerately as he muted the movie he was watching. How would he understand anything she felt last night? He slept without a care in the world like Hope did. Speaking of the devil, Hope opened the door with a grave countenance. It didn’t look like she got much sleep either. “I need you to tell me everything that happened when you got to Lusa,” she said immediately. She sounded as if she had rehearsed in the bathroom on how she was going to approach the two of them. “Before you begin, I’m curious to know how you found the teleporter upstairs.”

“You waste no time, huh?” teased Aaron lightheartedly. Hope didn’t smile and Aaron chuckled nervously. “I was looking for the bathroom and Opal tried to help me out.”

“It was something that trivial?” she asked herself aloud. Aaron scrunched his face at Hope unpleasantly.

“Having to take a leak is nothing trivial.” He was joking again yet Hope didn’t crack a smile. It was the most tense Opal had seen the usually, amiable Hope. She was dressed in yoga pants and an oversized sweatshirt, the ultimate form of comfort. The heat hadn’t come on and the room was slightly chilled compared to yesterday. Aaron wore the same jeans from yesterday with a hoodie; he leaned back on the beanie sofa to get comfortable again. Hope looked to Opal with a tired expression. “Can you tell me everything that happened?” 

Opal’s stomach fluttered with large moths; she felt no comfort in explaining every detail of what happened last night. She hoped after she had woken up she would forget everything that happened, but every part was committed to memory. Opal cringed when she remembered waking up in an empty meadow. “Actually don’t,” urged Hope considerately, shaking her head. “It brings you great discomfort obviously-I apologize for that, for everything. This wasn’t what I intended.”

Opal remained taciturn, scratching the back of her hair. 

“Aaron, will you give us a minute?”

“Hell no.” Hope was taken aback by his firmness. “I’m not someone you can shove out of the room, I’m already involved in this.”

“Yes, you are,” agreed Hope sadly.

To read more, check out the excerpts and other info on her blog:
Or enjoy the story on wattpad:

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Guest Post by Lindsey Sablowski

Today I have a guest post from Lindsey Sablowski, author of the Magicians series.  I asked her to write a little about the publishing process, and here are her insights:

With the completion of the Magicians series, I've learned a lot about writing and publishing. I've learned that every aspect of this path requires work -sometimes more than other times. Lately I have been asked a lot about whether to self publish or go the traditional way. I've done both, and I can positively say it all depends on you. Self publishing requires a lot of work on your side, as the author, but traditional publishing is just as hard. I spent years querying to agents and publishers. Rejection letters flooded my emails, and some days it really had me doubting myself. At the end of the day, though, rejection letters are like a bad breakup. They will upset you, perhaps stop you temporarily, but you will get over it. You'll move on and find something better.

On the other hand, a lot of work goes into self publishing a novel. You go out and find a cover designer -I've dealt with four different ones now. You have to do the interior formatting of the book -or pay someone to do it. Then you have to also do the interior formatting for ebook -that's always a tricky one. There's nothing quick about the process until your files are complete and correct. Then you simply click a button, and the book is published.

About Bloodline Inheritance (new release!):
Dyanna Carpathia narrates the final story in the Magicians series. She is thrown into the magical war, one she never wanted to be involved in. In order to save her friends and loved ones, she may need to keep her magic longer than intended. Will she ever be able to live a normal life? 

Alongside her on the battlefield is Malin Petrescu, a fighter and survivor. He does not trust Dyanna, but they need each other to survive this final war. 
This final book follows their lives through the war and the aftermath with a shocking conclusion.

About the Author:
Lindsey R. Sablowski is a fantasy author. The Magicians series: Cursed With Power, Shadows and Embers, Thicker Than Blood, and Bloodline Inheritance are amongst her published books. Lindsey lives in Maryland with her fiancé and their two cats.

Lindsey Sablowski
Order  Bloodline Inheritance today on Amazon -released July 24th!

Friday, July 17, 2015

My Blueberry Cake--Start to Finish

Locally sourced blueberries (yes, that's me and my mom, picking blueberries in the Czech Republic):

Getting ready to wash my blueberry-stained hands in the local spring:

Part of our blueberry haul (with a delicious wild imposter):

Getting ready to put all the ingredients together for my (American style) blueberry cake, later the same day:

Fresh out of the oven:


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Vartovna View Tower, near Liptal, Czech Republic

Here's Vartovna View Tower.  I hiked to it from Prlov this time--a nice little hike, only steep at the very end.  I had the whole tower to myself for a few minutes  On a Saturday!  Then I walked to Syrakov and waited for the bus.  Word of warning:  Don't passively wait for that bus.  Stand out by the road, keep a good watch, and vigorously flag it down.  :)

View from the top of Vartovna view tower
A little scary for those who are afraid of heights

Feels a little like flying