Author Archives: jessicazellman

Weirdness on a Tuesday

On the list of weird things in my life, this appeared on my arm yesterday.

IMAG0083_1_1

I didn’t notice anything at first except that my left arm itched just above my wrist. It started to swell a little, so I assumed it was a bug bite. It is summertime, after all and the mosquitoes love me. (revenge for my close relationship with Dragonflies, I’m sure.) It burned a bit after I scratched it, and for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why the inside stayed white while the rest was red. Nevertheless, I put some Benadryl gel on it and went about my day.

The white center was just bizarre. I checked pictures of “bulls eye” rashes from tick bites online. Nope, it wasn’t that. The center appeared almost cross shaped.
Perhaps a priest snuck into my bedroom and tried to exorcise me! (I say “me” because clearly I am the demon in charge.) Well, that didn’t work.

click here to see exorcism

Finally, it occurred to me that the mark looked like a burn more than a bite, and rather like a phillips head screw.

Sure enough, I found the source, right on the curling iron I use every day in a vain attempt to add some body to my poker straight hair. (This is especially futile during humid summer days.)

iron
I have no idea how my left arm came in contact with this part of my curling iron, or why I didn’t notice it at the time. Nevertheless, I am labeling this mystery “solved,” though if anyone asks, I’m still blaming a failed exorcism.

JZ

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Movie Review: Sinister

It’s October, the month for moonlit nights highlighting bare, skeletal branches creaking in the cool autumn winds, and of course, it’s the month for Halloween and horror movies.

I’ll talk about my favorite scary movies in a later post. For right now, I’d like to focus on the one we saw Friday night.

In Sinister, a true crime writer (Ethan Hawke) is doing research for his latest novel. This involves moving his family into the town where the crime took place. The crime in question was the ritualistic murder of a family, and we find out pretty quickly that the murder didn’t just take place in the town, it happened in our protagonist family’s new back yard.

Hawke’s character finds a box in the attic of what appears to be home movies on super 8 film. He’s pleased about this, thinking it will give him an insight to the dead family. He’s horrified (and yet somewhat excited) to discover these films include not only the murder of his subject family, but additional murders. Oh, and there’s a creepy Michael Jackson-esque face appearing in each of the films. Booga booga.

That’s what we see in the previews. There’s talk from a presumed expert about the dangers of seeing such evil and how children are especially susceptible. Given that, I was eager to see the movie.

I should have watched the previews more closely. The fictional expert was right about what happens when one watches these acts. They get in your head and they don’t leave.

The movie begins with one of the Super 8 films. It shows, in brutal, graphic detail, the family being murdered. They were hung, together, in the back yard. We in the audience, watch every painful second of kicking and struggling. It’s silent, but one could imagine the choked screams. My first thought was, That’s something you can’t un-see.

I could have tolerated that awful scene had it been the only one. I’m okay with violence and gore in horror films, generally because there is a supernatural element as a buffer. We all know that zombies aren’t going to break down our front doors and that scary ass ghost women aren’t going to appear in the upper corner of our bedrooms. I don’t like “realistic” horror movies. Call them torture porn, since that’s pretty much what they are. The Saw movies are an example of this. Then there was the movie Hostel. Ugh.

I like to be scared. I like to hesitate when entering a darkened room and straining my eyes to see any movement in that darkness. (my cats have startled me a few times under those circumstances) I like that feeling that perhaps something evil is there, just over my shoulder, but I don’t want to watch torture.

That being said, Sinister didn’t scare me. It disturbed me. In the torture porn tradition, it showed graphic murders in full detail. The super 8 “home movies” were all snuff films. I have never, in my life, wanted to watch a snuff film. That’s the kind of thing, like the opening scene, that once you have in your head, you can’t get it out. It’s not scary, it’s unsettling and disgusting. There was no buffer, supernatural or otherwise. It was designed to be upsetting.

There were plenty of cheesy, “make the audience jump” moments. The best of which was when the evil face on the computer moved while our oblivious hero looked in the opposite direction. The worst: when one of the kids, in the grips of a night terror, contorted himself, unrealistically sliding backwards out of a box. (No spoiler here, this scene was in the preview) There were creepy little ghost kids – so many that they became overdone and not scary anymore at all. The characters were all fairly unlikeable and the idea of them dying a horrible death didn’t bother me much.

One thing the producers got right was the music. That is, if you can even call it music. It was a series of jarring, disjointed sounds that were nearly as unsettling as the scenes played out on the screen.

To sum up, Sinister wasn’t scary. It was disturbing. It dragged in several places. The supernatural element was more of an afterthought, and the plot was as lazy as the protagonists’ research habits appeared to be. I’d like to have my two hours and twenty plus dollars back. Most of all, I’d like those snuff film scenes out of my head. I could have happily lived without seeing this movie, and I recommend that you do exactly that.

JZ

Banned Books Week

Years ago, (more years than I care to admit) my eldest sister and I visited the Ousterhout Free Library in Wilkes-Barre, PA. I have very fond memories of that library, but that’s another post for another day. The importance of this particular visit is that it occurred during Banned Book Week. There was a display near the front desk all about the freedom of the press and why it’s so important. It included bookmarks which listed the most commonly banned books. My sister handed me one and said, “I want you to read every book on this list.”

I was eleven at the time and had already discovered the joys of forbidden reading. I’d spent that summer devouring paperbacks left behind by my sisters. Novels of which our conservative, religious mother would not approve. I’d spent many warm days, locked in my bedroom, reading until my head throbbed, but never minding the pain. Forbidden fruit really is the sweetest.

The library’s list of forbidden treasures included The Handmaid’s Tale, Ulysses, The Great Gatsby, Gone With the Wind, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Lady Chatterly’s Lover, 1984, The Call of the Wild, The Handmaid’s Tale, Of Mice and Men, The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, Slaughterhouse Five and other titles full of intrigue and infinite potential. They excited me. I wanted to read them all.

Why did I react this way? Certainly my sister, twelve years my senior and infinitely cool in my eyes, had plenty of influence. But here were other adults, no, not just adults, Librarians encouraging people to break the rules.  My world view broadened a bit in those moments because I realized that not every adult was like the faculty at my religious school, seeing the devil in every corner.  Perhaps I was rebellious (okay, there’s really no perhaps about that) but in the battle between books and those who opposed their content, I sided with the books and found I was in excellent company.

I’d already read Mark Twain, and surprisingly enough, thanks to one of those religious teachers, Jack London.  Margaret Atwood and Kurt Vonnegut became fast favorites. I was, and still am, awed by the beauty of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale opened my eyes to disturbing trends in society and the government. Cuckoo’s Nest fed my distrust of authority. I was probably a bit young for some of these titles, but they never did any harm. I firmly believe I am a better, wiser adult for having read these books.

To this day, I make a point of reading banned books. I never outgrew that rebellious streak. If someone says, “You shouldn’t read that,” I’m going to start reading immediately. Ignoring narrow minded people who call themselves authority figures is still plenty of fun.

So in celebration of the freedom of press and reading, I’d like to send out a big THANK YOU to my big sister Jenny, Ousterhout Free Library and most of all, Banned Books Week for helping to cultivate my mind, my rebellious nature and making me the person I am today.

October Giveaways

Hi everyone!

In honor of my favorite month, October, and favorite holiday, Halloween, I’ll be giving away five Odonata gift packs this month.

What’s an Odonata gift pack? It’s a signed paperback copy of Odonata: City of Night, a piece of LUSH Karma soap, candy “Odonata blood,”  candy “Vampire ashes,” and two vampire bite temporary tattoos. I’ll ship everywhere, including overseas.

How does one enter to win a gift pack? Go to the Facebook page, Jessica Zellman — Novelist and comment on that week’s discussion post. Comment as many times as you like for a better chance of winning. I’ll do a random drawing at the end of each week in October for a winner.

Not on Facebook? Contact me at jlz@jessicazellman.com to be entered in the drawings.

Happy October and good luck!

JZ

 

A Slacker’s Guide to Surviving Housework

I hate housework. I’m using the word hate here, as in loathe, detest and despise. I’ve advocated avoiding it in favor of writing. But sometimes that’s easier said than done. Sometimes, when you take time for yourself instead of cleaning the living room, the guilt monkeys attack and concentration is impossible. The result: I end up putzing around on Facebook or looking up music videos on YouTube before giving up and turning on the TV. So I get no writing done and the house remains a mess. Meanwhile, the guilt monkeys stand on my shoulders and make me feel terrible about myself.

(BTW, to me, guilt monkeys look like those creepy flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz)

So what’s the answer? With great reluctance (I’m a slacker who hates housework, remember) I must say that the solution is to do both. Get some chores done, have that sense of accomplishment, then sit down to write guilt free. Here’s how I do it:

Make a list and cross items off as you complete them. Do not underestimate the satisfaction of crossing things off. It’s a wonderful feeling and a huge motivator. Here’s what my list for this past Sunday looked like:

                            Finish writing critiques
Empty dishwasher
Take out trash
Clean Bird cage
Clean litter pans
Vacuum living room
Kitten proof basement
Clean out car

About that list:

1.)    Be reasonable. Don’t decide to clean the whole house in one morning. It’s not going to happen. Pick a number of small and large chores and decide the order as you go along. On my list, I left the bird cage and vacuuming the living room until last. There were a few reasons for this. First, these were my least favorite jobs. Second, the dust makes me sneeze like a loon. The best remedy for sneezing like that is to go take a hot shower and clear my sinuses. I could do that when I was done. If I tried these two jobs early on, I’d be sneezing a lot which would tempt me to take a Benadryl and then a nap.

2.)    Break big yucky jobs into small, manageable parts. I didn’t have “clean the bathroom” on my list (even though it needs to be done). If I did, I would write: clean the toilet, scrub the tub, scrub the sink, wipe down the walls, mop the floor etc. Maybe I would do this all at once, or maybe I would do one item on the list then go find something easy to do before tackling another. This way you have the pleasure of crossing out several items instead of one. Also, it makes the dreaded task less daunting.

3.)    Plan breaks. If you’re the type who can’t stop lest you not be able to start again, just schedule a lunch or a snack time. If you’re like me, breaks are a reward and motivator to continue. I do things like give myself 15 minutes to flip through a magazine or catalog. That has another benefit because once I’m done reading, the item can go in the recycling pile, eliminating one more piece of clutter from the coffee table.

4.)    Declare a quitting time. And keep it reasonable. Don’t spend your whole weekend doing chores instead of relaxing. It’s the weekend after all! I chose 3:00 as my quitting time on Sunday. That would leave me two hours or more to write before dinner (depending on how long I spent in the shower.)

5.)    If you do have to push something off to the next day, don’t feel guilty! That just means you put too much on your list. You’ll know better for the next time. Finish at the allotted time (or close to it) and go relax.

This worked exceptionally well for me. I loved drawing lines through each item and reveled in having more things crossed out than not. I was motivated enough to get the small chores done before lunch so only the bird cage and vacuuming remained. Then I all but did a victory lap with the vacuum, I was so pleased to be finished. The clock read 3:05 and I could relax for the rest of the day. The guilt monkeys had been vanquished.

JZ

Movie Review: The Raven

Disclaimer: I’m a total Edgar Allen Poe fangirl. He’s been and influence for much of my writing life. I even have a tattoo of a raven, sitting on a bust of Pallas on my right shoulder. See it and read my post about tattoos here: https://jessicazellman.wordpress.com/2011/10/04/ink-a-needle-in-your-skin-let-the-world-know-where-youve-been/

I was introduced to Poe the same way as many other things. As the second youngest child of six, my older siblings influenced my taste in music, television, movies and yes, books. In this case, an older sister was reading Poe and decided I should know about The Black Cat. Also, “The Bells” and of course, everyone’s favorite, “The Raven.” Later that year, she bought me a leather-bound collected works which has an honored place on my bookshelf to this day. I devoured those tales like a favorite snack. Sherlock Holmes had offered some intrigue and gore, but Poe went much further. I loved him immediately.

I remember frowning at the pendulum at the Franklin Institute because it had no mechanism for starting out high and lowering with each swing. In high school, we saw The Fall of the House of Usher performed at what was I presume, a local theater. Also, An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge and another short piece which I don’t remember, possibly because I so loved the other two and was less familiar with that one. That rare field trip (Thank you, Mrs. Birch.) awoke my passion for theater and just increased my love of Mr. Edgar Allen Poe.

So I was delighted to learn that a movie about my favorite early master of the macabre had been made. I hoped Johnny Depp would play Mr. Poe, but it was John Cusack. Sigh.

The story is worthy of a Poe tale. A murderer is on the loose in Baltimore. The deaths are gruesome (as befits Poe) and inspired by various tales by the author himself. The Pit and the Pendulum was an early favorite of mine and the movie’s depiction did not disappoint. The ticking clock arrived when Poe’s girlfriend was kidnapped and the murder demanded an account in the local paper depicting a fictional solution to Poe’s real problem.

There were twists and turns in the path. Poe’s desperation pushed him close to madness and Cusack played this well. There was one moment where the writer had a chance at being an action movie hero. The police detective shouted “Find him, Poe! GO!” A high speed (on horseback) chase through a fog filled forest ensued. Had it ended there, with Poe shooting the bad guy and finding his beloved easily, I would have walked out in disgust. But it didn’t. There would be a few more turns of the screw.

As is appropriate to any Poe tale, this one did not have a happy ending. Justice may have been done, but the hero did not go riding off into the sunset with the heroine by his side. Nor should he have done. This isn’t fairy tale land after all, this is Poe’s world, where life is grim and hard, and often ends senselessly without reason other than evil does exist. In fact, it is often found in each of us.

“And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.”

One post script, as the credits rolled, Ian Astbury’s voice soared and echoed eerily through the theater. Since he’s one of my favorite singers, I was thrilled. Here’s the song, if you care to give it a listen.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5eRyzZJML78

Guest Post by Samantha Anderson: The Panic-Stricken Non-Conformist (Sort Of)

Today, I have the pleasure of introducing my first guest blogger! Samantha Anderson is the author of The Devil’s Angel available now. The sequel is scheduled for release this spring.

So without further ado, here’s Samantha! 

 

The Panic-Stricken Non-Conformist (Sort Of)

You see why I go with the title of Oxymoron most days? 😉 Even in a moment which requires only minimal conviction I somehow still come off like an indecisive fool. Root causes of this? I have no idea, I’m not a psychologist. Most would say Daddy issues… most would likely be right. Oh well, I’ve accepted who I am, you should too.

As I was saying before I rudely got sidetracked (sorry folks, it happens often), I consider myself a non-conformist… in most instances. Meaning that I march to the beat of my own drum, don’t like following a crowd (or being a part of one in any way), and in general, if you ask my opinion be prepared to deal with what I say.

That being said, I’m a total nutjob over things as well. Conviction comes across easy, perhaps even a bit arrogant at times, but what most don’t see is the inner turmoil I have when I voice a decision. I over-analyze every little detail… to DEATH.

The most recent came when writing the sequel to my debut release. I have struggled since the writing of the first novel over which point of view to use. First person literally came so easy to me when writing the main character, it was a very easy natural choice. However, now that I’ve at least gotten a first draft done of the second book, I’m stuck in the terrible world of making a decision about a POV again.

I wrote it in first person, same as the first novel, but there are other key players that the reader needs to know. Dialogues between two characters that are not the main character, scenes in which things occur where the main character isn’t involved but are crucial to the story (in my honest opinion anyway).

Those scenes I’ve written are done in a more third person feel, as they should be. However, many things have led me to be panicked over this very jumpy method of writing. Here are just two of the biggest…

  1. – It’s comfortable to me, not just in writing but reading back.
    The kicker to this is that the story SHOULD be comfortable for me to read and write, I’m the writer!
  2. – I have done my research and all the high-profile critics say you should never do this, or that 1st person POV writing is for lazy authors.

The flip side is, I don’t want to be a cookie-cutter author and the beta readers so far have LOVED it.

It was with much inner turmoil, late night crash-writing sessions, and editing the first 5 chapters into 3rd person that I came to a realization.

Agents and Publishers keep looking for fresh, new writers, something out of the norm. They want a non-conformist, so screw the experts who say that I shouldn’t, screw the people that are stuck in their little niches and don’t like change… It’s my book and I’m going to do what I want. My goal isn’t to make friends, or enemies even. It’s just to write. Whether anyone really buys my books outside of the people I know and love, I honestly don’t care. I don’t write to make a living, I write because if I don’t, I think I might go insane.

So my advice to you is this… be yourself, write for you and forget all the rest. Most of the greats did exactly that and look where they are now!

 

Samantha Anderson is a single mom that works in the IT field for a large company in the Midwest. She is a published author, slated to release the sequel to her debut novel, The Devil’s Angel, in Spring 2012. A self-proclaimed oxymoron(loves thunderstorms but hates rain), she admittedly obsessives over random things, her favorites being the Bobby Bones show (radio show out of Austin TX, can be found on iheartradio), The Vampire Diaries, and can quote almost every episode of the series Friends. She is an avid music fan and enjoys spending time with her two daughters, Kaylee and Trysha.

Book Review Stephen King 11/22/63

Disclaimer: I am a total Stephen King fan girl. Not to the point where I believe he can do no wrong, but I have read (and enjoyed) most of his work. If a new Stephen King book comes out, I’m going to buy it. I’ll read it and enjoy it and be inspired to get to work on my own writing. Mr. King has inspired me since the first time I read one of his author’s notes.

Spoiler alert!!! I don’t say anything here that wasn’t spelled out in any review or interview, but if you really want to take this ride with no idea of what’s ahead, don’t read this post.

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11/22/63 is King’s latest work, about a man, Jake, who finds a time portal which takes him back to 1958. He goes, with a list of things to change, most importantly, the Kennedy assassination. On the way, he visits a town in Maine familiar to any Stephen King fan.  There are bumps in the road, lots of them, bullies who (as usual in the Kingiverse) get what they justly deserve, and good people who find pain and trouble, because that’s the way life is. A lot can, and does happen between 1958 and 1963. It would be hard not to make a life in that time, to develop relationships. Just supporting oneself can be a challenge, especially with no work history before say, 1980. 

In order for this story to work, you have to agree with the lone gunman theory. I don’t. But in the interest of reading pleasure, I suspended my disbelief for a while.

Mr. King paints Oswald as a sneaky, disillusioned loser who killed President Kennedy so that he would finally be recognized as… what? Someone important? Then the plan was to immigrate to Cuba. We sympathize with Marina Oswald, brought to America to live in squalid conditions. King shows us the people from that time, the good, the bad and definitely the ugly. It’s quite a ride. He knows we’ll follow because he knows what we expect. It’s a common belief that if John Kennedy had lived, the Viet Nam war would’ve never happened. Bobby Kennedy would’ve lived, and probably Martin Luther King Jr. as well. What a different world it would be! We imagine the best.

Stephen King, being who he is, imagines the worst. Our hero Jake returns to the present, but it’s a nightmare. Everything that could possibly go wrong, did. And this is where my literary hero loses me. I can buy the world not achieving the utopia we imagine. I can believe the space time continuum if you will, would start to crumble under all those drastic changes. It is a supernatural story after all. There will be supernatural consequences. However, I can’t believe that humanity would rip itself apart the way King says it did in the alternate time line. He goes too far.

That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed the story. I was emotionally invested in all of the players and stayed up late several nights just to read what happened next. King waxes poetic on occasion, sounding a bit like one of my other literary heroes, Kurt Vonnegut.  Here’s my favorite bit:

“For a moment everything was clear, and when that happens you see that the world is barely there at all. Don’t we all secretly know this? It’s a perfectly balanced mechanism of shouts and echoes pretending to be wheels and cogs, a dreamclock chiming beneath a mystery-glass we call life. Behind it? Below it and around it? Chaos, storms. Men with hammers, men with knives, men with guns. Women who twist what they cannot dominate and belittle what they cannot understand. A universe of horror and loss surrounding a single lighted stage where mortals dance in defiance of the dark.”  — Stephen King

 

4 stars out of 5

JLZ

“Ink a needle in your skin. Let the world know where you’ve been.”

When I was little, make that very little, as in three or four years old, my oldest sister and I would sometimes visit a church other than the one my parents attended. I don’t know the circumstances behind this. Most likely, my sister’s motivation was a guy she liked and I was sent along as a mouthy little chaperone. Either way, my sister wisely found an adult couple whom I liked and who liked me. I would sit with them through the service while my sister, I presume, sat with kids her own age.

The man, whose name I can’t remember, had a tattoo on his forearm. I once asked what it was and he told me it had been done with a needle. Horrified, as only a young child terrorized by tales of medical vaccinations could be, I asked, “Why did you have to get a needle?!?” Of course, I couldn’t imagine why anyone would do such a thing voluntarily. At that young age, I decided to never EVER get a tattoo.

Never say never…

By the time I reached adulthood, (or what I considered adulthood at the time) I had a very different view of tattoos. I knew I wanted one, was certain of the location and pretty sure of the subject matter. The plan was for a rose on my front right hip, preferably with a few petals drifting away on the breeze. Later, I decided that was too girly for me. Perhaps a rose wrapped around a dagger would be better, but when I viewed the flash art on the tattoo shop walls, I didn’t like anything they offered in that vein. Finally, I spotted a dragon. I liked dragons. I especially liked this one. It was Nordic, like me. Many years later, I still like it.

The artist warned me that tattoos are addictive. I didn’t believe him. One was enough. I would never put myself through that pain again.

To borrow the title of a James Bond movie, Never say never… again.

It was eight years before I got inked again, and then I got two in quick succession. Others followed. Each of them meant, and still mean a great deal to me. For a while, I thought I was done. “Three is a nice number.” “No, five is better.” “Wait… I’m about to be published. I’ve got to get a tattoo to celebrate that.” Then I was at number six, and I stopped saying I was done.

This is number seven. I got it a little over a week ago.

 

Seven is a nice number, but I already have something in mind for number eight…and number nine. Maybe I should just stop counting.

Will e-books destroy home libraries?

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/will-the-home-library-survive-the-surge-of-the-ebook-2298751.html

The question posed by this article is: Will the home library survive the e-book?

Personally, I’ve been reading e-books for quite a while. My first e-book device was a palm pilot. Need I say more? Sprawled over the databases of my PC and laptop, and the virtual bookshelves that Amazon and  www.ereader.com are nice enough to keep for me, I have close to 200 e-books. This past year, my DH (darling husband) bought me a Kindle to celebrate my new job. I love my Kindle. I love that I can read e-books on a Kindle app on my phone and that the Kindle device and my phone will “whisper” (synch) to each other to keep me on the right page. Also, I can download audio books from Audible.com and play those on my Kindle too. Great little device. It’s in this picture somewhere. Can you see it?  No? Neither can I.

That’s my fiction section.

Here’s non-fiction, not quite so full:

 

And there’s my answer about the home library vs the e-book. My home library is doing just fine, thank you. My enjoyment of e-books has had little effect on my enjoyment of paper books. Actually, I’ve read many e-books and then bought the paper version. Why not? The convenience of an e-reader is undeniable, just like my beloved MP3 player. It’s not like I can carry my whole paper library with me, any more than I can carry my whole CD library with me. On vacation, a Kindle is easier to carry than even a paperback, let alone a hard cover. And if I finish reading one book, another is there waiting.

Best of all, there’s an instant gratification aspect to e-readers. I can shop from pretty much anywhere and have a new book within seconds. If a new Charlaine Harris book comes out, I can download it and start reading at 12:01 am on release day.

But then again, there’s the joy of arranging my paper books on the shelves. I spent three excellent days filling my new bookshelves, (after my DH finished building them) and much more time tweaking my arrangement. I don’t see myself stopping that any time soon.

My answer for paper books vs e-books is always the same. Why not have both?