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Happy Zombie Halloween!

My aunt throws an awesome Halloween party every year, and this year the Rish clan decided to coordinate our costumes. My mom found the t-shirts, and my brother got one of those makeup kits that creates rotting skin and oozing wounds. We all met up at my sister’s house and had a blast zombie-fying ourselves.  

May I present . . . the Reanimated Rishes!
Reanimated Rishes
 
At first, my dog Freya was so disturbed by what she saw she didn’t even want to look at me.
Scared Freya
 
But then she decided that even if I became an undead, brain-gobbling creature, she would remain my loyal companion.
Loyal Freya
 
 
While I’m on the subject of zombies, today is the book birthday for my friend Leah Rhyne’s novel Undead America: Zombie Days, Campfire Nights. Leah and I used to work together testing software at Blackbaud, and it’s funny because I didn’t even find out she was a fellow writer until after I quit to write full time.  
 
Here’s the description of her book:
 
Undead AmericaMillions died when the zombie plague swept the country. For the survivors, the journey has just begun.
 
Jenna, Sam, and Lola are still alive. Jenna avoids human contact, traveling East Coast backroads with her boyfriend, a dog named Chicken, and a Louisville Slugger. Sam escapes to the mountains, where he’s conscripted into a zombie-slaying militia sent on nightly raids to kill the undead…and innocent civilians. Lola’s imprisoned in the “safety” of a zombie-free New Orleans hotel, but life grows more dangerous when her brother gets bitten by a zombie.
 
Jenna arrives in the French Quarter, lured by the false promises of New Orleans’ drunken leader. There, she’s ripped away from her boyfriend, drugged, and dumped in a death camp after refusing Franklin’s sexual advances. Jenna and Lola’s lives collide there, where the dead live and the dying are victims of gruesome medical experiments. 
 
Escape isn’t easy: release the genetically-enhanced zombies from the lab to create a diversion, slip away, and don’t get eaten. When Sam arrives, will he join the right side of the battle? 
 
 
Whew, sounds intense! You can watch the trailer here and order your copy here. Leah is also having a giveaway on her blog, so check it out.
 
Congratulations, Leah, I’m so excited for you and can’t wait to read it!
 
I hope everyone has a very Happy Halloween!!
 
What did you dress up as for Halloween this year? Are you a fan of zombies? Do you have a plan in place for when the zombie apocalypse arrives?

Engaging Events

Normally I’m pretty much the homebody type, but during the month of November, the Charleston area is hoppin’ with happenings that are forcing me to break my hermit-like habits. Since these events might be of interest to fellow local storytellers (both writers and filmmakers), I wanted to share them here.

YALLFest
The one I’m most excited about is the second annual YALLFest. Last year was a fantastic event, so I can’t wait to see what they have in store for us this year. It will be Saturday, November 10th from 10am to 6pm in venues around King Street, and the lineup of YA authors is enough to make my head explode with excitement. I can’t believe I’ll be able to see writers like Kathy Reichs, Holly Black, Carrie Ryan, and so many others with just a short thirty-minute trip to downtown Charleston.  
YALLFest
 
But the absolutely coolest thing about the event is that Kami Kinard will be one of the presenting authors. I met Kami at a conference a few years ago, and we've stayed friends. We actually sat together at YALLFest last year, and now this year she will be on stage with all the other YA authors!! She’s such an inspiration, and I’m so thrilled for her! 
 
If you like writing and/or reading YA novels, make sure to come out and see some of your favorite authors in action. Most of the events are FREE and you can find the schedule here.
 
Charleston Jewish Book Fest
Charleston Jewish Book FestThroughout the month of November, the Charleston Jewish Community Center is hosting a number of authors, and you can find the schedule and ticket information here. I was especially looking forward to Delia Ephron (who worked with her sister Nora to create charming romantic comedies like You’ve Got Mail) and Stephen Tobolowsky. Although Stephen is also a writer, he’s probably best known for playing a number of memorable characters, including Sandy Ryerson on Glee. I also had the chance to see a hilarious short film he was in called Say It Ain’t Solo when I was at the DC Shorts Film Fest last month. Unfortunately, with so many exciting things happening in November, some of them were bound to overlap, and I won’t be able to see either Delia or Stephen. But hopefully you’ll be able to make it to one of the many events.
 
Literary Dogs
Hub City Press is a non-profit independent press in Spartanburg, SC, and they are publishing a book called Literary Dogs & Their South Carolina Writers (edited by John Lane and Betsy Wakefield Teter) in which 25 Palmetto State writers talk about their dogs. As someone who is absolutely ga-ga about her canine cuties, this sounds fan-freakin’-tastic to me. There are events happening all over SC to promote the book, but the one I’ll definitely be at is on Tuesday, November 27th from 5pm to 7pm at the Charleston Library Society (164 King Street).
Literary Dogs

 

Lowcountry authors like Mary Alice Monroe, Josephine Humphreys, Dorothea Benton Frank, Marjory Wentworth, Nicole Seitz, and Beth Webb Hart will be there with their dogs. I can only imagine how chaotic that is likely to be, but so much fun at the same time. Ticket information can be found here.
 
Carolina Film Alliance
Charleston Film AllianceThe Carolina Film Alliance (CFA) is an advocacy voice for film and television in SC, which has worked toward job creation for state residents and economic development though SC film rebates. If you are involved with filmmaking in SC or have a business that would benefit from potential revenue brought to our state via filmmaking, then you should attend the statewide rally on Sunday, November 4th from 3pm to 5:30pm at Pure Theatre (477 King Street).
 
Richard Futch is the CFA President, and he was also the amazing casting director for both of my films, so I’ve seen firsthand the passion he has for filmmaking. This will be a great chance to hear more about how we can help lure Hollywood dollars to SC to bolster our economy.
 
 
As you can see, the month of November has a lot of exciting things happening around the Lowcountry – I hope to see you at some of the events!
 
Are you planning to attend any of these?  Do you know of any other storytelling-related happenings in November that I missed?   

Flying Books? Yes Please!

Freya with FIt’s finally Friday!  And according to my agenda that means it’s Film Friday where I share a short animated film that tells its story without a single word of dialog.  With today’s letter being F, I’m pleased to present The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (TFFBOMML), which won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film this year.  At fifteen minutes, it’s on the long side for a short, but if you love books – reading them and/or writing them – then you really should watch this delightful film at some point.  

 
I hesitate to say too much about it lest I ruin the magic that makes it so special. Plus, I imagine it means different things to viewers depending on their relationship with reading and writing.
 
The first time I watched it, I got teary-eyed at several points, and by the end I was full on snotty-nosed-need-a-tissue-to-mop-up-my-face crying.  I doubt most people have that reaction, but I’m at a point in my struggles with being a writer that it was exactly the catharsis I needed.  Although I do think most readers and writers will feel the charm of TFFBOMML in some way.
 
I’ve always loved books – their stories transported me to different worlds that often felt more real than the one I was living in, and I think TFFBOMML really captures that feeling.  And even though I was a computer science minor during college, I have completely resisted the move to e-readers.  As I writer I understand the magic is in the story no matter how it’s delivered, but as an old-school reader, I love books.  I love wandering along the shelves pulling out one on this shelf or test driving another on that shelf.  I love the smell of the pages.  I love the feel of the paper.  So for me, that scene where he brings a book back to life by reading it perfectly conveys the magical connection between books and their readers.
 
But where TFFBOMML turned me into a weepy mess was at the end as the man completes his journey as a writer.  Being a writer is a long, hard road, but we travel it hoping for the day our words touch others. This film beautifully expresses how all the stories that came before help our imaginations soar until the day we’re ready to release our own story that will in turn help someone else fly to new heights.  It truly is a magical process.
 
What did you think about The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore?  Did it touch you as a reader/writer?  And how Fantastic is Freya with her letter F?
 
Also, if you haven't entered yet, I'm having a contest here.

Tweet Tales Tuesday Week 8 + PARTY!

Today’s regularly scheduled Tweet Tales Tuesday is interrupted by an important announcement:

OppressionToday is the official launch day for Jessica Therrien’s debut novel Oppression (Children of the Gods #1). Whoo hoo!  And I’m honored to be one of the blogs helping to host the party to celebrate this exciting day!
 
I met Jessica during the Writers’ Platform-Building Campaign last fall.  Not only does she have a well-written, entertaining blog, but she is very generous in her support of her fellow bloggers.  It’s been fun getting to know Jessica while reading her posts about her publishing journey, and I’m so thrilled for her that her book’s big day is finally here.
 
Since it IS Tweet Tales Tuesday, I thought I’d honor Jessica’s novel with three bonus tweet tales.  
 
For the first bonus tweet tale, I’m going to describe Oppression in a tweet.  I haven’t had a chance to read it yet (I’ve ordered my copy and am just waiting for the burly UPS man to deliver it to me), so the tweet description is based on the Amazon description:
 
Elyse discovers even among those descended from gods, she is special: destined to free her people. But she’s never been one to follow rules.
 
For the second bonus tweet tale, I’m incorporating the word Oppression like any of my usual word-a-day words.
 
They tried to bind her to the earth, but she broke through their oppression and flew toward the stars with wings crafted from dreams.  
 
And because in Oppression the protagonist Elyse discovers that her destiny is deeply intertwined with the fate of the future, I am writing the third bonus tweet tale with the theme of fate/destiny.
 
Her tire blew, so she missed her flight. No, it didn’t crash. She married the guy she sat beside on new flight. Their son’s named Firestone.
 
Congrats again to Jessica on the launch of her debut novel!  Visit her website to find out more details about Oppression and all the places you can purchase your very own copy (plus she’s promised to post a video of her happy dance!).  Jessica’s site also has a list of the other blogs participating in Oppression’s virtual launch party, so give them a visit if you have a chance.
 
15 Minute Tweet TalesAnd now back to our regularly scheduled Tweet Tales Tuesday . . . Here are the 15 Minute Tweet Tales for the last week of February:
 
2/22 – She mostly exhibited a probity befitting a 1st grade teacher, but every Tues night she donned a red wig & danced at The Landing Strip.
 
2/23 – When he told his wife he wanted a divorce, she recited his faults chapter and verse; so he stayed since no one else would have him.
 
2/24 – When he met her at the bar he thought the metathesis in her speech was adorable. The next morning it made him want to punch her mouth.
 
2/25 – He glances up from the paper and sees her face as she stares at the house next door; he groks he’ll be hearing from her lawyer soon.
 
2/26 – As the captives defile past the king, he marks those likely to put on a good show. The lions haven’t had a decent challenge in ages.
 
2/27 – The trainer mocked sedentary people until he discovered World of Warcraft - then his muscles withered while his avatar flourished.
 
2/28 – She built a hypaethral room to honor nature with naked ceremonies. 23,000 YouTube subscribers honored her neighbor’s rooftop camera.
 
The word-a-day calendar offered up some doozies this week.  Chapter and verse?  It ate up so many precious characters.  Metathesis and hypaethral?  I mean, seriously . . . what the heck?!?  But I muddled through and even had some creative oomph left for the bonus tweet tales to celebrate Oppression.
 
Cut a rug at the virtual party for Oppression in the comments below or play along with Tweet Tales Tuesday and write some for the above words.  If you’re willing to share, post them on twitter with the hashtag #15tt or add them to the comments because I’d love to read them.
 

YALL Come Back Now, Ya Hear?

Y’all, when I first heard about YALLFest coming to Charleston, I was downright giddy about the chance to hear so many illustrious YA authors speak in one place.  Even better, I wouldn’t have to spend a single cent – not only were the events free, but since it was happening in my backyard, I didn’t have to pony up for travel expenses.  And now that it’s over, I’m still amazed that I got such a whopping dose of inspiration for FREE - always a bonus element of awesomeness for a penny pincher like me.  

On Saturday morning, with butterflies doing excited swoops in my stomach, I puttered down the Writers during YA Smackdown at YALLFestroad to Charleston.  Now even though I technically knew this was a young adult book festival, during the months of anticipation, the event had morphed into a writers’ conference in my head, so I was a little confused when I walked into the room and half the audience was middle school students.  Since the first panel featured the middle grade authors Pseudonymous Bosch, Kaleb Nation, Lisa Brown and Adele Griffin, the room was filled with fans so excited to see them, they were practically dancing in their chairs.  After doing the ‘duh’ forehead smack, I readjusted my expectations, and the day became less about learning about the craft of writing and more about being inspired by these amazing authors.  Just watching the kids lean forward in their seats, delightedly drinking in every word from their author idols, made me even more determined to be on a similar panel one day.

Writers during YA Smackdown at YALLFestThe day was packed with interesting panels with fun titles like: Fangs Among Friends; Demons, Witches, and Casters, Oh My!; and Reality Bites.  And the authors were so entertaining – not only were they funny, but they offered great tidbits of advice.  My only regret is that I didn’t have time to read more of their books before the festival.  I’ve been so bad about reading in the last few years, and my resolve to read-n-feed has sadly sputtered (I smell a New Year’s resolution!).  But looking on the bright side, I finally figured out what to put on my Christmas list, since it is now overflowing with titles from the YALLFest authors like Carrie Ryan, David Levithan, Sarah Rees Brennan, Heather Brewer, and Beth Revis, and too many others to name (click here for the full list of YALLFest authors and be sure to add them to your reading list).  I’m practically drooling in anticipation of reading all of them, especially Katie Crouch's The Magnolia League, since it features hoodoo magic like my current short film High Heels and Hoodoo

As inspiring as listening to the authors was, my favorite part was sharing the day with old and new writing friends.  It was so cool having my writer friends from different parts of my life coming together in one place to talk about writing and YA books.  Kathleen Fox, Lisa Downey, and Jillian Gregory Utley were there from my local writing group.  I was able to get reacquainted with Kami Kinard and Rebecca Petruck, two talented and fun writers I met at a SCBWI writing conference.  I also had the chance to catch up with Rebecca Enzor, Mina Mahal, and Sarah Turpin Leyland, local writer friends from NaNoWriMo.  I also ran into Leah Rhyne, a friend from my old job at Blackbuad, who I only found out was a fellow writer after I quit to write.  I also got to meet new writer friends like Debra Rook.  It was great to have a chance to connect with other writers when it’s usually such a solitary activity.  I have faith that these talented ladies will end up on similar panels some day, and I just hope I’m lucky enough to be sitting up there with them!

Thank you so much to Jonathan Sanchez of Blue Bicycle Books and Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl for organizing such a fantastic event!  I hope it’s just the first of many!

Were you able to attend the YALLFest?  If so, what was the best part for you?  If not, have you been to a writing event lately that inspired you?  And could I possible fit any more links in a single blog post?

Read-n-Feed: Extraordinary

** mild spoilers ahead **

The first book in my Read-n-Feed endeavor is the YA Fantasy Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin.  Here’s the jacket copy:

Phoebe finds herself drawn to Mallory, the strange and secretive new girl at school.  Soon the two become as close as sisters . . . until Mallory's magnetic older brother, Ryland, appears.  Ryland has an immediate, exciting hold on Phoebe – but a dangerous hold, for she begins to question her feelings about her best friend and, worse, about herself.

Soon she'll discover the shocking, fantastical truth about Ryland and Mallory, and about an age-old debt they expect Phoebe to pay.  Will she be strong enough to Extraordinaryresist? Will she be special enough to save herself?

Writing for young adults is tricky: we are supposed to have our characters grow and change so they can reach their goals, but at the same time we have avoid any whiff of teaching the reader a lesson, since teens have super sensitive BS meters.  In Extraordinary, Nancy sidesteps this issue by actually focusing on the lesson, but in a way that integrates so well into the plot it doesn’t feel preachy. 

The ‘moral of the story’ is that Phoebe must discover she is extraordinary just by being who she is.  That’s important for all teens to realize (adults too!), but it can seem like something cheesy your grandma tells you while pinching your cheeks.  Instead of trying to disguise this wisdom under layers of story, Nancy makes it the actual plot – I mean, even the title itself basically lays it out there for you.  But because Nancy creates a flawed character we can sympathize with, even while yelling at her in frustration, Phoebe’s journey feels natural rather than forced to teach us a lesson.

There is a scene were Phoebe explains to Ryland that because parents lavish their babies with love just because they are cute and little, even though all babies are cute and little, this convinces them of their own specialness, so even when life tries to teach them that they aren’t extraordinary, they can never completely believe it.  She says, “It’s probably why the human race survives.”  This really hit home with me: even many years removed from my teen insecurities, I can feel plain and ordinary.  And attempting to get published really intensifies those feelings – there are so many talented writers out there that I constantly question whether my writing is special enough to stand out.  But reading that scene made me realize that even if the world never thinks I’m special for my writing, my family and friends love reading my stories, and that’s something to be proud of and cherish.

So in my first session of learning something about writing from the books I read, the writing itself ends up not be the biggest lesson for me.  In admiring how daringly Nancy weaves the moral into her plot, I actually take the lesson to heart and believe that my writing can be extraordinary.  

If you’ve read Extraordinary, what did you think?  Have you read any books recently that gave you a boost you didn’t even know you needed?

Read-n-Feed

Books are yummy!I’ve always loved to read.  My nose was constantly stuck in a book, even when I was supposed to be doing other things (usually sleeping).  But when I started getting serious about writing, I pretty much stopped reading.  It’s not something I consciously decided, it just gradually happened.  I think part of it was that my mind was always in edit mode, which sucked the fun out of reading; so I gradually turned to other ways to enjoy stories (my beloved boob tube), where I could give that part of my brain a break.

The irony is I should now be reading more than ever.  That’s the one standard piece of advice most authors give to newbies: read a lot both within and outside of your genre.

So I’m resolving here and now to do better – I’m going to Read-n-Feed.  I’ll read more books to feed the monster in me always hungry for stories.  And I’ll think about what I’ve read to nourish the writing beast in me always hungry for more knowledge.  And to keep myself accountable, I’m going to report back here on the blog.  I’ll share what I’ve learned from reading a particular book that I can apply to my own writing.  It might be a new technique or a superb example that serves as a reminder of a tried-and-true rule or maybe even a ‘what not to do’ lesson.  Hopefully these “key takeaways” (forgive me, I spent ten years in corporate software development!) will strengthen my writing and be helpful to any other writers who stop by.

So how do other writers out there Read-n-Feed?  Do you analyze as you go?  Or are you able to turn off the writer side of your brain and just enjoy the ride?  If so, do you later think about what did and didn’t work?