Archive | September, 2012

The First Look Challenge: Lizzy Speare and the Hall of Hecate

26 Sep

In addition to letting me read her debut The Burning of Isobel Key (review here)  Jen McConnel also tagged me in the First Look Challenge and well, once you’re tagged, you’re IT. That’s the rules, right?

The way it works: You search your WIP for the word “look” and then post the scene it surrounds. I’ve got two novels I’m working on currently so I went with the second Lizzy Speare book, tentatively called Lizzy Speare and the Hall of Hecate. In the scene, Jonathan and Lizzy are on their way to see a witch named Medea Elderwood who lives in an abandoned amusement park down at Coney Island. Enjoy!

“I’ve always preferred the ocean when no one else was around,” Jonathan said.

“You would,” Lizzy muttered.

She followed him down the boardwalk past the rows of stalls, their shutters clamped tight. In the distance, a large Ferris wheel rose into the sky like a giant metal snail shell. Ahead of them towered a parachute jump, now devoid of the parachutes, looking like an alien antennae, stark and metallic, against the cloudy sky. To her left were the piers and the ocean. The water licked the sand cautiously, dipping and foaming around the straight lines of algae-crusted rocks near the shoreline. Jutting out into the water was the pier, cut from the same ill-fitting wood as the boardwalk, like a finger reaching out to test the water. From it, Lizzy heard the sound of drumming as men playing the bongos shouted in Spanish to the crabs they hoped to ensnare in the cages that dangled off the pier. Behind them, the sky rippled with a crackle of lighting and a low rumble.

“Looks like a storm,” Lizzy said as she strained to keep up with Jonathan’s long strides.

He led them down the boardwalk, to where an old abandoned amusement park stood. The rusted front gates were locked and threaded with police tape. An advertisement for condominiums hung from the entrance offering future residents spacious views of the ocean. Demolition was scheduled in a few weeks and then the Midnight Carnival, as the amusement park was called, would be no more. At the end of the boardwalk, where the land dipped down, they slipped under the railing and landed softly in the tall reeds growing out of the cool sand. About halfway down the side fence, they ducked under a section that had been clipped and peeled back.

“Be careful you aren’t seen. It’s still light out,” Jonathan said as they crept into the vacant amusement park. They passed between the Flying Carpet, a pendulum ride and the old-fashioned swings which hung sadly, their chains rusted in the saltwater air. They stepped over thick black cables that snaked across the walkways, many of which had been split open by rats, exposing their plaits of copper wire and twisted cords. They looked like the severed limbs of some giant sea creature. A small white roller coaster lay silent on the tracks. As they passed, Lizzy glanced at the warped wooden cars and rusted bolts.

“This place is creepy,” Lizzy said out loud, causing a nearby flock of seagulls to flurry into the air, cawing anxiously.

“Shhhhh. I told you to be quiet.” Jonathan shook his head and continued forward, ignoring Lizzy’s muttered apology.

I’m stopping here cause otherwise it’ll be spoilers galore. Like what you read? Wanna be a beta reader? Leave me a comment below. We’ll talk.

Also, finally, a Happy Belated Birthday to Jim Henson. The world ain’t the same without you, old friend. Thanks for everything.

Remember kids, keep believing. Keep pretending.

Review: The Burning of Isobel Key by Jen McConnel

25 Sep

Hi folks.

I was fortunate to get my hands on an ARC of Jen McConnel’s debut novel,  The Burning of Isobel Key and I’m so glad I had the chance to read Lou’s story. Here’s the description:

Lou is in the middle of a quarter-life crisis. Ever since college, she’s lacked direction, working as a clerk in a local bookstore. But when she quits her job just before the winter holidays, Lou must do some serious soul searching to overcome her fears of straying from the mainstream. On a whim, she accompanies her best friend, Tammy, to Scotland for the winter holidays, but the vacation soon turns into an emotional roller coaster.

When she becomes embroiled in a hunt for information about Isobel Key, a woman falsely accused of witchcraft in the seventeenth century, Lou opens up to her intuition and makes a startling discovery about her own heritage

McConnel interweaves Lou’s modern day narrative of frustration as she deals with her own stalled life into Isobel’s story as she battles fear, ignorance and bigotry in the 1600’s. The alternating chapters echo one another brilliantly as the story unfolds in all it’s complexity. These are real characters, with real faults and real needs. The sections pertaining to Isobel were undoubtedly my favorite, rich in context and detail. Truly engrossing historical novels are not always easy to pull off and McConnel gracefully takes you from the modern day Scottish Highlands with engaging descriptions  to the all too real horrors of the 17th century with ease.

But for all its history and romance and mystery, the best thing about this book is that the plot itself is a genuine surprise. In this day and age of paranormal everything I guessed different possible endings, made assumptions about how Isobel and Lou were connected and what “startling discovery” she would make about her “own heritage” and I was wrong each time. I won’t ruin it for anyone and it is indeed startling but also, touching, beautiful and completely unexpected. I left the book feeling moved and while satisfied, wishing that I could join Lou on the next leg of her journey of discovery.

Thanks to Jen for letting me get a sneak peek at Lou and Isobel’s story! If you want to read it – go here! 

Next up…Jen tagged me in the First Look Challenge and well, when you’re tagged, you’re IT.

Visiting Novel Reverie

21 Sep

The very awesome Denee invited me over to her place at Novel Reveries to talk about Lizzy Speare and the Cursed Tomb. Prior to, she reviewed my book.

She asked me to write a synopsis in sonnet form.

For those of you who don’t know sonnets contain the following:

1. 10 syllables per line

2. A rhyme scheme that goes a/b a/b c/d c/d e/f e/f g/g – that basically means the last word of each line rhymes according to that structure. So that means that the last word of the first line rhymes with the third and the second rhymes with the fourth. Then the fifth rhymes with the seventh and so on and so forth.

3. Internal rhyme is expected. That means that somewhere in the line a word will rhyme with another word somewhere else in the next line.

4. Iambic Pentameter – this means that you have a tick-TOCK rhythm in each line. There should be five (hence “pentameter”) tick-TOCKS per line. Think of a heartbeat. da-DUM, da-DUM. It creates a rhythm in the line that drives you forward.

Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets that we know of. There could have been more stuffed under his mattress, who knows? He did this 154 times, beautifully, artistically, ’cause he was a freaking genius.

I did it once and it’s a hot mess. Guess how many of the 4 rules I broke? Go on, take a guess. It’s more than one, less than 4, I’ll tell ya.

I’ll give you a couple lines and you have to read the rest of the interview to see the whole thing. Go on, you know you wanna laugh.

When Lizzy unearthed the hard truth about

her own strange and dangerous beginning

T’was true she was a Shakespeare kin no doubt
Upon the Fates wheel, her future spinning.

Yup. It only gets worse from there. Go read it here. And then you can read her review. If you like it, you can buy the book here and decide for yourself. Sound good? I think so, too.

As always, much thanks to Denee for letting me blather on at her blog. Here are my Starbursts of Thanks.

And you know, I never joke about Starbursts. So thanks again Denee. Sorry about my terrible sonnet.

Word Cloud

20 Sep

Word clouds are cool.

I got this from my good friend Jes via  Word It Out. They make word clouds out of text and Jess did it for her first book – Tab Bennett and the Inbetween – which you can (and should) buy here. Take my word for it, she’s very talented.

So I borrowed her idea and here’s the word cloud for Lizzy Speare the Cursed Tomb.

The words that are used the most often are the biggest. There’s a lot of Lizzy and Jonathan and Sammy. There’s some Cleo but the next book will have even more Cleo. There’s some Shakespeare, some Rupert and some Leonard.

But some of the best parts are the little phrases that pop up:

  • Help Rupert (there’s a major plot point!)
  • Please Muse thing
  • Lizzy’s thought

And my favorite: Shakespeare Everything Something

It’s just a very cool way to look at a story, all puffed up like that.

And finally here’s the word cloud for my favorite chapter in the book. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about what happens to our “cursed girl.”

Visiting with Renata

16 Sep

Hi folks.

I’m over at Renata Barcelos’ blog talking about writing and Lizzy and all my strange little eccentricities and the best reader experience I’ve ever had.

I had a woman come up to me once after a poetry reading and tell me that a specific poem about my mother’s battle with breast cancer is exactly the way she thought/felt. I was so flattered to know that my words had that effect on her. The universe got a little smaller that day, in a good way.

Come over and say Hello.

As for Renata – here are my Starbursts of Thanks.

And you know I don’t kid about Starbursts.

Bandaids at Red Fez

13 Sep

I wrote a poem about not having bandaids when I cut my finger once and the good people at Red Fez decided to publish it here.

I wrote it about a year ago. To this day I still don’t have bandaids in the house. Or Maalox.

But at least some of the canvasses have since been painted, and the books read and the music heard.

Eventually I’ll find the balance between the practical and the creative. And then, I’ll have it all figured out, right?

In the meantime, thanks to Red Fez for the pub.

And the book is here! To buy! Squee!

12 Sep

Today’s the day, folks.

My first novel Lizzy Speare and the Cursed Tomb is available!

You can buy it on amazon here.

It’s been a crazy windy strange journey to get here and as many of you know, this is something I have been working towards for a long time. And I’m so glad I can finally share Elizabeth Speare (Lizzy as she prefers) with you. I hope you like her and her Muse, Jonathan and her best friend Sammy as much as I do.

So I want to thank all you in advance for your support and love and cheers and honest criticism and for listening to my fears and whining and well, just thanks for everything.

On twitter the other day I posted this:

My #MsgToYoungerSelf is that not knowing how it’s going to work out is part of the ride. Now, relax.

And I mean it. In the end, it’s all going to be worth it. And I’m just so excited – excited for this, excited for the second part of her story, which I’m already working on. Excited that tonight we’re getting a pizza and watching Never Ending Story.

Life’s good. Like my friend says, Every Step is a Step Forward.

Here’s to moving forward! Make art! Play your ukulele!


(Oh and if you want, here’s the synopsis, and prologue and chapter 1)

Interview with Jen McConnel

11 Sep

I’m so excited to introduce you folks to Jen McConnel and her work. Her debut novel The Burning of Isobel Key is out in October. I was sucked in from the first paragraph. I’ll have a review soon but in the meantime, here’s Jen talking about her work.

1.     When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

Honestly, I don’t know!  I know it’s an old dream of mine: I remember writing “books” with my best friend in first grade.  Mom helped us use contact paper and cardboard to make hard-bound books.  It was so much fun!  That’s my first memory of wanting to write a book, so I can say for sure that I’ve wanted this since I was six years old.  (I honestly think I was born wanting to tell stories).

2. How long does it take you to write a book?
I have a really fast rough draft time, but that’s because I subscribe whole-heartedly to Anne Lamott’s “shitty first draft” style: just get it down and worry about revisions later.  I can write a full-length novel (60k-70k is where I usually fall on the first draft) in a little over a month.  But then the revision process kicks in.  I always have multiple projects at multiple phases, so it’s hard to tell for sure, but I’d say I work on most books over the span of two years before I am satisfied. My books are never done, though: I have learned that I can ALWAYS keep tweaking.  For me, I try to reach a point where the book is the best incarnation of the story that I am capable of producing at that time.  When I’m satisfied, it’s time to set the book free into the world.

3. What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

I write every day, even if it’s just for fifteen minutes.  Usually, if I’m drafting, my goal is at least a thousand words a day.  Depending on my teaching schedule (I teach part-time at the community college), I put in two to three hours each day on my books.  That can be divided up a number of ways, but I try to keep myself balanced between drafting one project and revising another.  It’s busy, but I love it, and I thrive with deadlines.

4. Tell us about your current novel:

My debut novel, The Burning of Isobel Key, is about a 26-year-old.  Lou is adrift, suffering her own version of the quarter-life crisis, but a trip to Scotland changes all that.  When she learns about the countless numbers of victims accused of witchcraft in seventeenth and eighteenth century Scotland, Lou starts to pay attention.  And when she finds the trial record for Isobel Key, she tumbles into a tale of murder and intrigue that is centuries old.  Scotland will transform Lou.

I had so much fun writing this story!  The topic of witch trials has always interested me, and Scotland has an untapped wealth of stories waiting to be told.

5. What’s the best writing advice you ever received?

Just keep doing it.  No matter what.  (I’ve heard that from various writers, and it is always, always true).

6. Where do you get your ideas?

Honestly, I’m not sure.  I love mythology and magic, and these two things tend to creep into my writing without my conscious thought.  Maybe that’s it: I steal my ideas from the shared subconscious that Jung talked about!

7. If you had to go back and do it all over again is there any aspect of your novel (or publishing) that you would change?

Not a thing.  Every step of this journey has been unexpected, but every step has led me to where I am today.  It’s all been good.

Thanks so much for having me, Ally!  This has been a blast.

Thanks Jen! Can’t wait to finish Isobel’s story. Visit Jen’s blog to learn more at

Another Day

10 Sep

Good morning.

It’s early, yet again and after a lovely vacation from my life, I’m up and back at it with Jeff Spurgeon’s dulcet tones and fantastic musical choices with me. And of course, June.

I’m been really really lucky lately and got a few poems picked up in a few different places. They’re all in the Pocketful of Posey section of this ol blog but here’s the latest at Negative Suck and Underground Voices.

Some of those poems I read while I was in Pittsburgh, which if I haven’t said enough, was a really great visit. Also had a chance to pop in on my folks while traveling (someone had to watch the beastly JuneCat) which was also great and included a facetime visit with my nearly three year old neice who told me that “Daddy said I couldda go to da zoo but I hava be-have.” It was so cute.

As this morning is rapidly slipping away, I’m going to get to work on the short story I should have been writing this whole time instead of messing around with this blog -but what is a blog for if not a massive time suck?

I’ve got some stuff to do – some Shakespeare to read, some new music to listen to. I am all ready – eagerly awaiting the fall. This morning when I opened the window across from this little closet a burst of cool air came in and with it some hope. Here’s to a new season.

Oh wait! Real quick – I’m reading Cloud Atlas and the whole thing is blowing my mind. I’ve never read a book constructed like this. I need to write a whole post just dedicated to that. The Wachowski siblings are making a movie out of it. Basically they took a more subtle theme and teased it out, spinning it into something more complex. Here’s the preview.

Okay, back to work.

Lord, what fools these Mortals be. – Midsummer Night’s Dream. Act 3, Scene 2

Some Poems, Some Travels, Some Dead Butterflies

8 Sep

Hello folks. I’ve got some poetry for ya, dirt cheap right here.

My many many thanks to the always dashing Jonathan at Unlikely Stories for accepting them.

And also thanks to the always eloquent Jack at Gutter Eloquence for accepting these little poems for publication.

I just returned from Pittsburgh where I was lucky enough to stand in a room full of far more talented writers and read some of these poems. It was a fantastic experience even if the folks in the back row could see me shaking like a leaf. My sincere thanks to the old friends who came out and to the new friends I made that night. I hope every trip in can be so inspiring and so filled with oolong tea.

On the ride home there was a flurry of butterflies all over Pennsylvania and I when I got back to New York I had to pull their little broken wings from the grill of my rented car. A good image, I suppose for my complicated tattered feelings about leaving Pittsburgh.

I’ll have to think on that. But now back to work – back to my little closet to plot the second Lizzy book (the first one will be out SOON!). In the meantime here’s a chat I had with Jen about writing over at her blog.

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