Category Archives: Writing

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.

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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.

Poor Little Neglected Blog

Okay, I’ve been away for a while. Not really away. Not away from home, though there was a week and a half vacation in there sometime in May. Just away from this blog. Away from all the many things I should be doing to keep myself current and relevant in the cyberverse. I don’t Twitter or tweet or whatever that often either. Shrug.

There have been a few appearances, mostly during a blog tour in the end of April and beginning of May. They’re listed on my website on the Appearances page. http://www.jessicazellman.com/id22.html

Appearing on other blogs was a good way to see what I was doing wrong (or just not doing at all) on my own. So a special thanks to everyone listed above, not just for the reviews or for letting me post a guest rant (I mean blog) on their page, but for the excellent examples they set. I aspire to be more like them.

So, with that stated, here’s a sneak peek of what’s to come:

Book reviews. I’ve zipped through three books in the past week, mostly big name authors who don’t need any help from me, but I’ll start there. And soon, very soon, I promise, I’ll write some for fellow authors who are in the same boat as me. I’m talking about the newly published, those of us who don’t get our own table in the isles of Barnes & Noble so people wandering by will pick up our book and maybe buy it. Writers in that category have to try desperately to get the word out there, and every little bit of publicity helps. I know. I’m right there. So, my fellow unknown authors, I don’t know how much help I’ll be, but I’ll do what I can, and together we’ll muddle through.  Finally getting published isn’t what we thought it would be. I’ll talk about that in another blog.

Baking adventures: In Odonata: City of Night we meet Abbey Marquez, a human and compulsive baker. Since Odonata love to eat, she and my protagonist, Katrina, get along very well. Abbey has a secret element in her baking, but you have to read the book to find out what that is. I don’t have Abbey’s abilities. I really can’t cook worth a damn, but I do bake. My coworkers enjoy the benefits, mostly so I don’t have an entire batch of cookies or cupcakes at home. With just the two of us here, that’s a lot of sweets to go around. So there will be some blogs about the treats I make, and pictures too. Here’s the first one:

 

This is a book I’ve just ordered and canNOT wait to read. I mean honestly, who can resist those beautiful photos? I can’t. Here’s the website in case you want to check it out for yourself: www.sugarbabycookbook.com  Note: I won’t be posting any recipes, just my results. We’ll see if I can make something like Abbey would.

Other Stuff: And of course, there will still be the usual rants about music and the writing life. Maybe I can get some other writers to stop by and say “hello” as well. Because after all, who wants to listen to me all the time? 😉

So come along for the ride. This should be fun.

Astrology and Characters

The recent reports about all the astrological signs being wrong and a thirteenth (how unlucky would that be?) sign are total nonsense. This article explains it better than I ever could.  http://planetwaves.net/pagetwo/2011/01/13/your-zodiac-sign-is-not-wrong/  (Thanks, Jezanna) Okay, so some people would say that astrology is total nonsense to begin with, but I find it interesting and amusing, also, a fun tool for dissecting my characters.

Katrina, while she calls herself a creature of fire and air, is a Scorpio. Guarded does not begin to describe her. I’m not sure what her rising sign is. Her past experiences make her withdrawn and people have to look past the hard surface to find the fiercely loyal and protective person underneath. She probably has a Cancer or Leo moon.

Greyson is definitely a Taurus. The guy is a rock, which is exactly what Katrina needs when the tidal wave of her life threatens to drown her. He has tremendous self-control which comes in handy on several occasions, but once he is pushed past his limit, watch out. A demon on a rampage would be less dangerous, but even then, is it a controlled fury. He’s still revealing himself to me, to Katrina and the readers. Why is that? Because I see my fictional world through Katrina’s eyes. She’s the narrator as well as the protagonist. I see what she sees. Only problem: she’s often too wrapped up in her own head to look closely at those around her. That’s changing, though. In book two, her old support system disintegrates and she has to rely on a new one. That means trusting people other than her two makers for the first time in four decades. Can she handle it? That is yet to be seen.

Abbey was born under Cancer. She cares passionately for her chosen family and shows that by giving them the best home and safe haven possible. She’s the comforter, and just as essential to the group as Katrina the Protector and Greyson the Rock. I think Abbey might be a Libra rising, she’s social enough. She definitely has a Pisces moon. Many psychic/empathic people do. Abbey’s abilities are going to become more important to herself and everyone else. The problem with that is other “people” will notice her talents as well.

As for the silliness about the extra zodiac sign and everyone not being the sign they think they are… I’m a firm believer in following your feelings. I, for one, feel like a Virgo, and no silly article by a lone astronomer who doesn’t understand the system is going to turn me into a Leo. I am so not a fire sign.

Celebration

(originally posted around 4/11/10)

How to celebrate a major advancement towards a lifetime goal:

 I woke on Saturday morning, fed the bird, prepared my hot chocolate soy drink and picked up my blackberry to check for e-mails. Amongst them was an e-mail from the small but well connected press I submitted to a week and a half ago. Yeah, that’s right, a week and a half.

 At first, I thought they were rejecting me. That’s what a quick response like this usually means. But no, there was a contract attached. Wow. I printed out the contract and my husband and I both read it. It was straightforward and concise. So… how to celebrate?

  • 1.  Send text to Writer Nephew who doesn’t get up before noon and won’t see it for 3 hours anyway.
  • 2.  Post new status on Facebook. Smile at a friend’s immediate positive response.
  • 3. Send e-mail to sister who is not on Facebook.
  • 4. Listen to what has been my theme song since I was a kid, the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer” and post the video on Facebook.
  • 5.  Go outside and do some yard work.  

Yeah, I know. #5 makes no sense. I think I was in shock. A lot was going through my head at that point. Ripping out some dandelions seemed like a good way to expend nervous energy.  

 Around 1:00, I decided I needed to eat something. Just as I came inside, I heard “Misty Mountain Hop” which is Writer Nephew’s ring tone. Lots of enthusiasm greeted me. It occurred to me that Writer Nephew and his college buddies were more excited than I was. Yeah, it had to be shock. But while I was speaking with him, a smile took up residence on my face and did not leave. Hung up, and seconds later took a call from my sister – the one who is not on Facebook. Okay, now I was getting excited. So, back to celebrating…

  • 6. Shower off garden dirt using favorite LUSH soap. i.e. Rockstar.
  • 7. Pull out my “Writer” ringer shirt and put it on. Grin because I finally feel like I deserve the title.
  • 8. E-mail other sister who obviously had not been on Facebook yet, also a friend who is not on social networks and will be thrilled to hear the news
  • 9. Go out for celebratory dinner. Eat yummy Italian food.
  • 10. Go to the movies. 

Yeah, #10 is a little odd too, but my protagonist, Katrina is (like me) a huge Doors fan, and When You’re Strange, A movie about The Doors came out in limited release on Friday. I’ve wanted to see this film since it was first mentioned on a friend’s site. (www.idafan.com) The timing, working in with my celebration, could not be better. I loved the film. Katrina would have too.

So that’s how I celebrated getting a book contract. How will I celebrate the actual publishing of my novel? With another tattoo, of course. 🙂