The Tattooed Page

After something like eight hours in the tattoo chair, three different sessions, my tattoo is finally finished! This last time around, I read the first ninety pages or so of The Golden Compass. It seems like the kind of thing I should have read long ago–the last of the books was published in 2000. But as luck would have it, I found a nice set of the His Dark Materials trilogy at a flea market on Saturday morning.

I haven’t really checked out the books yet, but I know that one of the books, The Amber Spyglass, was censored for its US printing. Something about the main character’s sexuality. I remember hearing quite a bit about the first book’s alleged anti-Christian leanings when the movie came out several years ago. The very strange Bill Donohue of The Catholic League made the claim that it was an atheist’s attempt at indoctrinating children. Into what, I don’t know. Atheism, I guess, although being one myself it’s not the kind of thing one lures people–or kids–into. But that’s an argument for another day. So far, I haven’t read anything to turn young minds against religion, Christianity or otherwise. Who knows, maybe the movie is far more nefarious.

I do love a good conspiracy theory.


Tattoo Distractions

A few Saturdays ago, I spent two or three hours in a chair while a very nice woman scratched a tattoo into my back. Lots of people just hang out while getting new ink. I like to read. It’s a distraction from the needles, plus that’s a long time to just sit there, you know? Might as well be productive.

The problem: I didn’t love the book I’d brought along. It’s entirely possible that the book wasn’t terrible, but because I was in a bit of pain, it made me dislike the book even more. Tattoo-related book dismissal . . . how’s that for a weird theory?

Tomorrow afternoon, I’ll be back in the tattoo chair for another two hours or so. So of course, I’m thinking about what to take for reading material. I’ve been on a bit of a seasonal kick lately, having finished seven books this month so far, five of which have been supernatural-y in one way or another. My favorite so far is the one I finished today, Texas Gothic by Rosemary Clement-Moore. I like it well enough to pick up the second book in the series, Spirit and Dust. Now, for tomorrow, I can either run to the Barnes & Noble down the street and hope they have Spirit and Dust, or I can grab one of the books at my local library awaiting me: The Poisoned House/Michael Ford, Paper Valentine/Brenna Yovanoff, and Touched/Cyn Balog.

I’m hoping to discover that I’m capable of loving a book while getting tattooed. Fingers crossed! I’m in the mood for something great and spooky . . . it’s hard to go wrong!


Laurel Hill Cemetery: Run for the Hills

You can’t be a horror writer or writer of supernatural things without digging graveyards. We write about dead people or dead things, so the places where those people and things are buried have an attraction in one way or another. I like them for a lot of different reasons, but until yesterday I’d never run through one.

Nicole and her husband, post race.

Nicole and her husband, post race.

A bunch of friends, my husband, and I ran the RIP 5K in Laurel Hill Cemetery. Laurel Hill is sort of a big deal in Philadelphia. It’s a National Historic Landmark–78 acres of Philly history. Founded in 1836, it was a non-sectarian burial ground, and early in its history most people visiting the cemetery did so via steamboat along the adjacent Schuylkill River. A great number of famous Philadelphians are buried here, including Thomas McKean (a signer of the Declaration of Independence), Richard Vaux (former Philadelphia mayor and U.S. Congressman), and Henry Deringer (of gun fame). The monuments, gravestones, and mausoleums in the graveyard are amazing. Interestingly, you can still be buried there.

It’s also incredibly hilly–hence, the name, I suppose. There are only inclines and declines, no flat, level paths . . . it made the race kind of hard, but the scenery was gorgeous. Especially past the line of mausoleums overlooking the river. I’ve looked at the mausoleums often enough from the river–in six or seven years of competitive dragonboating, I’ve paddled past them a million times. But from the cemetery the river looks more peaceful. Pretty.

I think I was one of the last racers to finish the race yesterday. Granted, there were a few hundred racers, and I started in the back of the pack. The race wasn’t chipped, so whether you started first or last, your start time is marked the same. Now me, I wear a GPS watch, so I know my actual time. For all the hills, I did pretty well. I had my fastest 1K and 1 mile times ever, which made me pretty happy! And after the race, I hung out with my friend’s daughter–a writer in the ninth grade. We wandered around Laurel Hill to look for good character names (see a few photos below).

The next run might be the Brandywine Battlefield 5K. While no battles took place in the Brandywine Battlefield Park, the nearby cemetery is thought to be haunted. Hmmm. Might make for a fun morning!


Magic Gardens

See that girl with the notebook in one hand and her phone in the other? Yeah, that might be me. It’s not that I’m trying to be annoying–it’s that I’m researching settings for my new book.

A few weeks ago I did a monster round of research, running around Chinatown in Philadelphia. Part of that was to figure out how what it sounds like and it was it smells like. The answer to that, by the way, is this: it sounds like jackhammers and cars and a tittering of English and various Asian languages. It smells like fried things and car exhaust. And there are these awesome old women in old-lady flowered smocks selling flip flops, bundles of chives, and whole fish. And there’s some phenomenal Korean barbecue.

I also made a pit stop into Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens. If you’ve never been, it’s an art gallery to show off the mosaics of Isaiah Zagar, an artist whose mirror and broken tile mosaics sprawl over the South Street area. My husband and I had a great time traipsing around the joint, and the notes and photos I took were instrumental in writing a scene in the novel I’m working on.

Like most Philadelphians (and I count myself as one now–I’ve lived here longer than I haven’t lived here), I’ve never been to most of the museums or other assorted touristy things happening in the city. It’s always interesting to cross another site off the list! In case you’re interested, below is a gallery of some of the Magic Gardens photos.


All About the Scary

One of the very awesome things about going to BEA is the advanced copies of books. I picked up Alan Weisman’s newest, Countdown, there. Countdown won’t be out until next month, so I scrambled to finish it this month. Let me just say: wow. I have all sorts of feelings about this book, some of which I already voiced on Goodreads. Forthcoming here, though, will be a long post about population control, family planning, and environmentalism. Yeah, stop jumping up and down with excitement.

On a completely unrelated note, I recently did two interviews! Many thanks to author C.K. Webb and screenwriter Danek Kaus for having me on their respective podcasts. C.K. and I talked about The Trajectory of Dreams on WEBBWEAVER Books Radio (you can catch the re-broadcast here). Danek and I also talked books, but we mostly discussed horror–you can get the podcast on his website.


Scared to Death

There’s psychology and physiology behind the love of horror movies and novels, a lot of it having to do with adrenaline rush. Chances are that if you dig roller coasters or sky diving (guilty!), you’re really going to like the feeling you get when you’re scared. Or maybe you just like experiencing the scare within a safe space–after all, the probability of getting murdered while you’re watching a horror movie on your couch is slim (the Scream movie franchise notwithstanding). And, of course, you might start to associate the fun of going to the movies or hanging out with friends with the physiological response you get from horror movies.

I guess those responses are less fraught than the idea that you might really love seeing people getting stalked or killed or whatever. Because then you’d just be Ted Bundy, right?

I’m not about to try to psychoanalyze myself and my love of horror films and movies. I’d be more apt to guess that I associate the genre as a whole with being a kid–one of my first vivid memories is seeing The Exorcist at a drive-in theatre when I was fairly young. But that is neither here nor there. What is on my mind is my favorite horror novels:

  1. The Cipher-Kathe Koja. There is a howling emptiness in this novel that made it incredibly uncomfortable to read. The characters are classic art-slackers, all of whom I’ve known at one time or another. What I’ve never run into, though, is a creepy black hole in my apartment building.
  2. The White Devil-Justin Evans. This is not a true horror novel, but there’s a vengeful ghost…so maybe it fits. It has great atmosphere and suspense. I love the characters and the idea and the setting.
  3. Those Across The River-Christopher Buehlman. A wonderful Southern Gothic novel with unbelievably beautiful writing.
  4. Draw the Dark-Ilsa J. Bick. The main character, Christian, is just so…unsure of what he sees is real. Great atmosphere and suspense and tension.
  5. House of Leaves-Mark Z. Danielewski. Parts of this were so creepy. I just wanted to crawl under my comforter and keep reading. With the lights on, of course.
  6. We Have Always Lived in the Castle-Shirley Jackson. This is classic suspense and horror, fabulously plotted. The mystery of the Blackwood family and the murders and, well, yeah. It’s just amazing.

I love that horror is a growing genre in the modern young adult area. I’ve read some really fun YA novels recently. Can’t wait to see what’s next!


Alternative Medicine in Fiction

Behold, I am your human pincushion!

No, I haven’t joined the freak show at the circus . . . tempting as that may be sometimes. I embarked on a course of acupuncture the other day to treat my hip bursitis. No one enjoys hobbling around, least of all me. My general practitioner gave me cortisone-esque shots in both hips, and I was feeling marginally better. But then my friend Laura was all, “Hey, let me stick needles in you!”

Maybe it didn’t go exactly like that (the bit with Laura, anyway), but the end result is the same: I had my first acupuncture appointment on Tuesday. I have three more to go for this particular treatment. I had acupuncture once before, years ago–Laura worked on my shoulder after a dragon boat-related strain.20100928 AlphaCityAcupunks-3

As a rule, I’m not that into alternative medicine. It’s not that I don’t believe it can work . . . it’s just that I tend not to be sick or hurt that often, and traditional medicine usually works just fine for me. In this case, I’m taking a super aggressive approach–I want to get back to training for a sprint triathlon.

I got to thinking while I was on Laura’s table (as you do when someone is jabbing you with needles) that you don’t see a lot of alternative medicine in fiction. I can’t think of a novel with either a protagonist who is an acupuncturist or contains a character who takes herbal medicine. The closest I can get (keeping in mind I haven’t read every book in the world) are the quack cures from the 1800s in Beth Kephart’s Dr. Radway’s Sarsparilla Resolvent, or chiropractors or midwives, which I’ve seen in various novels. Am I just reading the wrong things? Where are all the biofield therapists, reiki therapists, and guided imagery-ists?

Know of a novel rife with alternative medicine? Let me know!




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Doing my thing in #Doylestown tomorrow!

The end of my busy book event period is ending tomorrow. Want to be part of the last signing? Swing by The Doylestown Bookshop in Doylestown, PA on Saturday, June 8 at 2pm. I’ll be doing a reading from The Trajectory of Dreams, using something writer Beth Hull suggested to me–reading roulette. You pick a page number at random, and I read it. I always obsess about what excerpt to read, so this puts you in charge!

Following the reading, I’ll lead a discussion about the novel. As usually happens, I get yakking about research and publishing and all sorts of other things. The event will end with a book signing. Bring your own copy of Trajectory, or pick one up at the bookshop!

I keep glancing out the window today–here in Philly we’re getting smacked with rain from Tropical Storm Andrea. I hear it’ll clear up a bit tomorrow, but there’s so much rain out there I’m worried I’ll have to kayak to Doylestown! But hey, I’ll have rubber duckies. They’re buoyant, right?



On Naming Characters

Writers pick up habits, some good and some bad. We learn to cope with the solitude of writing, how to manage our manuscripts, etc. One of the things I have always found difficult that I’m still struggling with is naming characters.

I’ve often wondered if parents have the same trouble. Obviously, you pick a name, and that’s that, but the kid is going to have to live with that name forever. I once came across a woman named Aquanetta. That’s pretty bad, but there’s been a lot in the news recently about the couple from New Jersey who hung Nazi names on their kids. Can you imagine his daughter, trying to be normal as a teenager, doing normal teenage things like dating? She’s doing the typical “get to know you” thing with a new boy, and he asks her what her middle name is. How horrifying would be to have to say, “Aryan Nation. Yeah, and I have a brother, Adolf Hitler”?

I guess the father wanted to give them interesting names, but those names come with heavy history and connotation. At least with the name Aquanetta, the direct implication is that her mother was addicted to hairspray in the 70s and 80s.

The same–the weird name phenomenon–is true of character names. For a lot of writers, they want their character names to stand out. The default, I’ve found, is to go with something unusual or something kind of oddball. It works in sci-fi and fantasy novels; it’s expected. Romance novelists seem to like to use some whoppers: Cerynise, Anastasia, Beauregard, Rosalind, etc, and it’s cheesy but also expected. And I’ve seen some crazy names in other types of fiction, too. Like I said, I get it. Writers want their characters to stand out, be unique. A character named Grayson gives you a picture of someone far different from a character named Bob.

Most of the time, though, character names that are really out there don’t do anything except make me roll my eyes a lot.

So yeah, I pay attention to character names in books and agonize over how I name my own characters. The main character in The Trajectory of Dreams is Lela White, which is fairly normal, right? I think she was named at least a dozen different things before I settled. In the end, Lela White stuck because I liked the jokey meaning behind it. Lela is a variant of Layla, which is Arabic for “night”–appropriate, yes? And White has connotations of innocence and justice (“white hatting” and “white hats”), plus the full name speaks to the dichotomy of Lela’s public vs private life.

Not all my names are so carefully chosen for meaning, but I do think about naming hard for all characters. And I collect names for a rainy day. One my writerly habits learned to properly cope with the stress of naming is to visit cemeteries now and then to look at headstones. Does that seem unrelated to naming? It’s not. I’ve found some great names that way, just waiting for the right character to pop up.

Any weird, writerly habits you’d like to confess?


#BEA13: The Aftermath

d_7335_xlargeBookExpo America was not what I expected. From years of reading tweets and blog posts about the event, I expected to see book bloggers fighting to the death over ARCs. I anticipated roving gangs of stalker-fans, ready to riot if a book signing ended too early for their liking. I just knew I’d see librarians posing as on-site food vendors, slipping deadly nightshade into $5 bottled water for book bloggers. Or wild-eyed aspiring writers lying in wait for agents, armed with a stack of business cards and copies of their manuscripts. Yes, sort of a literary cabal of strangeness, a real Lord of the Flies for the publishing set.

Yeah, it was none of that.

I attended BEA for the first time this year, sent to New York by the publisher of THE TRAJECTORY OF DREAMS, Bitingduck Press, for a book signing event. Considering my expectations, nothing could have prepared me to walk into the Javits Center on Friday morning. True, I was a little slap happy for lack of sleep–I’d rolled out of bed at 4:20am in order to catch a 6am train to New York, but everything seemed so . . . sedate. The crowds were orderly. Everyone was friendly. No one tried to stab me for my rolling suitcase full of books (and rubber duckies) for my signing.

In all seriousness, I had the best time at BEA. I tried not go in with much of a plan. Yeah, I read up about which authors would be there for signings, and which ARCs would be available. I looked over the exhibitor list. But for the most part I just went into BEA with the expectation that I would leisurely futz around the show randomly. Because of that, I had an incredibly stress-free experience, and I still got a lot of out the show.

There was one book I desperately wanted to pick up: Maile Meloy’s sequel to The Apothecary. She was signing copies of The Apprentices at 11am, and I was first in line. Maile is incredibly nice, and I’m super grateful to have an opportunity to pick up an early copy of her novel.

I also had the opportunity to meet the Bloom folks! I’ve been working with Sonya Chung and Lisa Peet since January, so it was lovely to get together with them in-person. If you’re not reading Bloom, what are you waiting for?

My own signing event was a 4pm at the Independent Book Publisher’s Association booth. So much fun! I met some truly amazing people (including the IBPA booth staff, who are wonderful). The fabulous Lisa Amowitz stopped by for a book, among many others. One of the really neat things about BEA was meandering around the IBPA booth and seeing my novel sitting on the display shelf . . . and watching several people take photographs of it, presumably to order later. When you have a novel out with a small press, with limited distribution and marketing efforts, the kind of exposure you get at BEA is just . . . well, insert your own superlative here.

My one regret: I did not get to see Grumpy Cat. I hear he was a bit of a diva.