The Value of the Writing Retreat

Writing outside? Citronella is needed!

Every year I go to a summer writing retreat in the Cape, and these days, we also organize a winter one at my place in the Catskills. I have come to depend on these, to both unwind, and get cracking on my WIP.

Because writing is a rather solitary type of work, being connected to various writing communities is a must, or at least a lifeline. I belong to this amazing group, Untethered Realms, where we bat around story synopses, business stuff and other issues. I also belong to SCBWI, WNBA and RWA. But the extended writing retreat can deliver a more comprehensive array of writerly needs.

Ahoy, the writing gang's here

awkward jimmy-rigging of the AC. Hey, writers aren't electricians!

Catherine with Margarita

Catherine with Maggie

Margarita & Shawn on the sailboat

Matey, are we on a pirate ship, or what?!
coffee with Helen on the porch in PJs

We gab over morning coffee, write all morning, have lunch together and then return to our various writing stations until late afternoon when the ocean calls for swimming. In the evening we take turns cooking dinner, and play writing games after the meal. And we save one night for reading excerpts from our WIPs. Occasionally, we even watch some TV but we watch it as writers, analyzing plot issues, characters, and the like. This time the shows in question were The Night Of and The Night Manager. Oh, and China vs Brazil in women's volleyball.

Of course, we have fun, too! This year we took time to go on a sunset sailboat cruise.

Have you done a writing retreat? What was your experience?


Who You Gonna Call? Not Ghostbusters!

Ghosts of Fire
An elements of Untethered Realms anthology
Coming in October

A writer’s mind is an interesting thing. It starts with the question, What If? And goes from there.

For the upcoming Untethered Realms short story anthology, Ghosts of Fire, my story was born in much this way…

Who’s in charge of monitoring threats to your country? In the United States we have homeland security and in the United Kingdom MI5 is in charge of domestic security. Both countries are well versed in threats to their respective countries, who’s behind them, and how to protect against them.

But what if there were threats most people didn’t know about or even believe in?

As in the supernatural kind?

Who you gonna call?

Not Ghostbusters, that’s for sure! Not for serious threats to your country.

The general public doesn’t know about these threats and it’s best to keep it that way. No reason to cause mass panic. Chaos would reign. Just take care of the problem.

That’s where Secret Branch comes in. Its existence is known only to the Prime Minister and a few of his cabinet members. And what of the special agents who work for Special Branch? They have special gifts, of course; the ability to see supernatural beings and the skills to rid England of any threats coming from them.

In Mind the Gap, one such special agent wants to gain favor with a particularly attractive detective he knows, so he sets out to find the art thief she’s after using good old fashioned investigative skills.

But when you’re a “special” agent, the supernatural are always going to have other ideas.

And this is how my story was born...

Who would you call?


Hekate's torchbearer and a muddy prophet

We've heard all about the drama between the Greek gods. Who the cheaters were, who got turned into what an animal, and who tricked his fellows into doing something idiotic. I've always been fascinated by the myths, but I wondered about all the poor souls we never heard about. Ones with stories just as enthralling and suspenseful.

"The Torchbearer" was inspired by a loyal lampade named Desma. A what, you ask? Lampades are the nymphs of the Underworld gifted to Hekate by Zeus for her help in the Titanomachy. They accompany Hekate on her journeys and carry torches with flames which can drive mortals mad.

Desma's story takes place in the shadow of Persephone's kidnapping by Hades. You know the one, how Persephone became the Queen of the Underworld? Well, what if there was a chance that it could have been avoided? It's that possibility which drove me to write this mournful tale.

Hekate commands Desma to visit a handsome prophet at a crossroads and listen to his words. The Fates have a sense of humor in that his foretelling is spaced out over six nights. Desma must keep returning to the crossroads, and each time, she finds the prophet closer to death.

With Demeter's neglect of the land and the chaos of the Underworld, it is a simple torchbearer and a muddy prophet who can stop it all. I wanted to know what happened. And I hope you do too.

Did he think me hollow, an empty illusion, like my torch's fire seemed to me?


Cathrina's Review of The Body Dwellers by J.A. Kazimer #specfic

In a world divided by genetics and a concrete wall, Indeara Adair, a mutant enforcer survives by kicking the occasional gnome ass. A job her half-human, half-mutant cells make her terrifyingly skilled at. Life is good with a few exceptions, namely, an elite force of cops who have Indeara in their sights, not to mention the reappearance of Quinn Daniels, a man who betrayed her three years ago to dwell among the human race. A man she must now protect in order to save the mutant population. Yet these are the least of Indeara’s concerns, for somewhere, a plague destined to destroy the mutants is scheduled for release. A plague developed by Indeara’s own grandfather. With the help of a ragtag group of mutants led by the mysterious head of the rebel cause, Jake McClain, Indeara slips beyond the wall and into the human world to aid those she loves, and to learn the truth behind her own genetic code.

Cathrina's Review:

Julie Kazimer is a prolific and gifted author who knows how to keep the reader on the edge. In The Body Dwellers, Julie takes us on a wild, fast paced rollercoaster ride. You barely have time to inhale before the protagonist, Indeara, who is half-mutant, five-foot-six, dressed in a skullcap, black cargo pants, and pink combat boots kicks some butt. A Stannum is a term Indeara hates, it's a genetic mutation of metals which protects her cells and heals like lightning, however, she feels pain like any human. But humans fear her more than any other mutations because she's harder to kill and more willing to die.

The world of mutants is being infiltrated by a deadly plague, the harsh, hard hitting community barely thrives as humans have sequestered them behind a walled barrier. Humans are scared of a mutant apocalypse, motivated by prejudice and lies. 

Indeara believes her wealthy, human grandfather has devised a drug to make mutants into humans. The scientist thinks nothing of butchering mutants for his gain. Indeara wishes to join the Resistance to fight against their human killers.

In the beginning of the novel you read that Quinn, the love of Indeara's life has plugged three bullets into her before defecting to the human side of the wall. Needless to say there is a cool, love interest twist to this novel that I enjoyed. 

The Body Dwellers is a pistol whipping, kick butt, hard assed, love 'em and kill 'em novel that will leave you gasping.


The Best of Intentions...

I'm sure my Untethered Realms buddies are all looking forward to me being awesome on another one of my fabulous vlogs. No really. I have a Youtube Channel now. Currently it has two vlog posts on it.

And today's post... isn't one of them.

The sad thing is that I volunteered to do our first ever Untethered Realms vlog post more than two months ago, thinking that I'd have more than enough time to get everything done.

What I didn't bargain on was the whole-scale destruction of my available time.

So one day, I will get into a regular vlogging groove during which I will post one fabulous vlog featuring me (because I'm hugely entertaining on film, not to mention eloquent.) But today is not that day.

It got me thinking, though. Is it me, or is 2016 just rough on us writers? My writing is about a tenth of what I had (conservatively) anticipated having. Add to that the general stress and strain and just general curve-balls that is life...

Chaos, I tell you.

Sheer bloody chaos.

And I don't know why. Did someone push a button somewhere? In which case, shall we gather together with flaming torches and pitchforks? Because I for one want to kick that person's ass.

I mean really. Life being busy is one thing, but I'm one of those people who likes having something to show for my time. But it's almost year-end -- Don't laugh. You know you'll blink at the end of this post and we'll be singing Auld Lang Syne. -- and I've managed exactly one finished project in total. And only that because I had done 90% of the work last year already.

I could be pulling out my hair because of this. Really I could. In fact, I was there, emotionally, a month or so ago, but then I realized something.

Sometimes, even our best efforts and intentions won't lead to our expected results. Boo! Yeah I know that sounds like a serious downer, but actually it's not. Really, it's a permission slip to cut ourselves some slack.

I know I'm not this unproductive because I've been slacking. I've been struggling because 2016 is hard. And if you're sitting in the same boat as me. Gosh there are a lot of you.


Those of us sitting in this boat are going to have enough trouble keeping it afloat until things get better again. Let's not add to the weight by carrying along our guilt and failure anxieties.

So. I've had to adapt my expectations for what I want to achieve in 2016 because the alternative would be working myself into an early grave. And I've realized that that's okay. Hopefully next year our little boat hits a nice island filled with muses and plot bunnies and we can get some serious work done.

What about you? Are you in the same boat as me? Yes? Welcome. No? Call the coast guard. Please and thank you. 


Huzzizzle of the Realms - July 2016 UR News #amreading


Catherine Stine

Aside from the super-fun fact that I'll be going to The Colbert show's LIVE show on the opening night of the Democratic Convention (!!!!!!!!!! If you watch, see if you can find me in the audience. LOL) and may witness a Jon Stewart pop up appearance, I have other great news.

Last week, 21 Shades of Night, a boxed set of 21 paranormal and urban fantasy novels, in which I have my own novel, Witch of the Cards, hit the USA Bestseller list at #70!!! This, after a grueling two months of promo work. But it paid off. I am one proud author, and I'll savor it because I know that the rollercoaster goes up and down, and hopefully back up. Way of a writer.

Anyway, it is now in KU. So, for anyone who has that, it is FREE now!
Amazon US, Amazon UK, B&N, iBooks, Kobo


Gwen Gardner

I'm excited to announce that I have a new website under construction. A long time business acquaintance is constructing it for me and I can't wait to see what she comes up with. I have to say that even the temporary landing page is an improvement over the old website!

Please watch for it at http://gwengardner.com/


M. Pax

Gwen and I are on the same page. I purchased the theme and spent some time tweaking my website. mpaxauthor.com

I also now have story bundles available. The latest is the Journeys Collection. Three short stories about young women at the starts of their adult lives. "Omens and Lifesavers" won a contest and is based on real events that happened to me when I first arrived in NYC. They didn't all happen on the same day, a majority of them did, though. 

Here's an excerpt: 

Snow at the end of April struck me as ominous enough, but the naked man… Following my friend Nikki’s advice—Don’t ever make eye contact, especially on the subway—I averted my gaze, returning it square onto my book, Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. His pages preached truths through ice-nine and Bokononism. He most likely wrote it in Turtle Bay.

The number seven train would take me to Grand Central Station. From there I would walk to Turtle Bay and my first job interview in Manhattan. My stomach flipped. If I can make it here, I can make it anywhere… Did that include dealing with naked men?

He held a newspaper, reading it, not covering himself. If Nikki sat beside me, she’d never notice. Not noticing such things distinguished real New Yorkers from tourists. I wanted to be a real New Yorker.

"Journeys Collection" on Ganxy


Cathrina Constantine

A huge congratulations to Catherine Stine! And Gwen's new site is fabulous, make sure you hop over to see it. Also, Mary's Journey's Collection sounds and looks amazing!!!
My news isn't as grandiose.
I've just signed a contract for my forthcoming book.
Incense & Peppermints
which is set in 1969. It's a YA read, but I'm positive it'll appeal to people who've experienced that time in history when the Vietnam War was a tinderbox of contention.

This isn't the cover, just a promo picture.

Here's the unedited blurb:

Mary, a naïve sixteen-year-old is wary when her brother offers her a solution to growing up in the form of a little pill. The nerdy, honor roll student decides it’s time to fly, and shortly the rumba going on in her brain should’ve been a forewarning.

Mary suddenly plunges into popularity and meets the new hot boy, Michael Covington. He’s not flawless, mysterious healing wounds cover his face. The scars hardly detract from his looks, only gives him a dangerous appeal. She never imagined herself sneaking out of the house after midnight to an underground fight club and is embroiled in an event that has Michael beaten to a pulp. And his affinity for groundless danger escalates with Mary clinging to him on his motorcycle. In her delirium, instead of heart pounding panic, her pulse spikes with incongruous bliss.

During a rock n’ roll party, a buzzed Mary is blindsided in a dark bedroom. On Monday the gym teacher notices her bruises and is on the proverbial warpath to accuse Michael of a crime. When Mary is summoned to the Principal’s Office she learns Michael has a history, and there’s much more to him than she ever imagined.

New experiences and new friends, Mary crosses the threshold of adolescence with a bang. Will her sensible side triumph and bring her down to Earth?


Fantastical Witchy Factoids!

I recently released my historical fantasy Witch of the Cards.
(For those who are curious, it's 99 cents, free on KU until July 20)
For fun, I've compiled some fun factoids about witches!
Before people had hospitals and surgeons to fix people, they had midwives and herbalists. When babies or moms died in childbirth, or the herbal fix was insufficient to cure what we would now know was a fatal disease, who do you think was blamed? The same women who delivered babies and gave expert herbal remedies! In a fearful world, they were labeled as witches, or agents of the devil.
A fave "baddie" in Oz
Bruno Bettelheim was a famous psychiatrist who worked with troubled children and believed fully in the power of myth and fairytales, which include witch stories! In his words: "...the imagery of fairy tales helps children better than anything else in their most difficult and yet most important and satisfying task: achieving a more mature consciousness to civilize the chaotic pressures of their unconscious." Fairytales are spiritual explorations. In the fairy tale we see life divined from the inside.
Ironically, in ancient Rome even though women were housebound with zero political power, the most revered, influential people were the high priestesses presiding over the oracles, such as the one at Delphi. These women were said to be able to predict the future, wield supernatural powers and have innate knowledge of the divine realms. Greek citizens would go on pilgrimages to seek out their womanly wisdom. Now, that’s what I call some bad@ss white witches!
Fortuna & her wheel
In Chaucer’s and Boccaccio’s European middle ages (mid 1300s) people were expected to be devout in their Christianity. Many believed literally in the devil and the power of witches. Interestingly, as devout as they were to the going religion, they also prayed to the sprites and night nymphs of their recently dropped Pagan beliefs. They also believed in Fortuna, or the wheel of Fortune—that fortunes rose and fell by the whirl of a wheel, often portrayed by a beautiful woman, Fortuna. How’s that for supernatural female power!
During the Victorian Era in 1899 Charles Godfrey Leland published a
1899, Aradia cover
book called Aradia or Gospel of the Witches. This Aradia goddess, the incarnation of Diana/Artemis was going to bring magic to the Victorians and hopefully free women from the oppression of the times. Beautiful book cover, right?
Tamsin Blight 1798-1856 was a famous English witch healer, able to remove curses or spells from a person. She was also said to have put spells on those who displeased her. She was also known as Tammy Blee and Tamson.
Houdini & Doyle in friendlier times
In the 1920s and 30s there was a craze for psychics, card readers, and mediums who claimed they could communicate with people’s dead relatives. Harry Houdini, the famous magician, ironically made it his life’s work to try and debunk these folks. Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote the Sherlock Holmes series was a huge believer in the supernatural. He went head to head in heated debates with Houdini. I found this fascinating, and I wove this into Witch of the Cards, where Fiera, a talented seer meets up with a skeptic. But in my novel, he becomes a believer. LOL.
The Tarot fascinates me. I collect cards for their variety, beauty and amazing images. They are thought to have originated all the way back in ancient Egypt, as a cosmic source of wisdom and divination of the future. The Egyptian word tar means royal and ro means royal – thus the royal road to wisdom. Later, in northern Italy, a complete deck for card playing and gambling was devised. In France in the 1700s, a “cartomancer” named Jean Baptiste-Alliette created the imagery in the decks we often see today. There are cups, swords, wands, and pentacles. And the Major Arcana cards that hold great symbolism, such as the hermit, the world and the death card (which can also mean rebirth!).
Tarot name origin
In my novel, Witch of the Cards Peter Dune has a Tarot and Séance shop on the boardwalk, where he holds readings and séances. In walks Fiera, who not only has a mysterious and electric connection to Peter, she can do more outrageous and unexpected things with the Tarot than simply reading them! I won’t give away the surprise here. She’s also a sea witch so her supernatural powers are twofold.
Do you know how to read the Tarot? What’s your favorite card?

new nonfiction on witchery
Two new nonfiction books on witches launched recently. Amber Mar’s Witches of America and Stacey Schiff’s The Witches: Salem 1692. I am reading both on my kindle.
Mar traveled across the USA to interview a diverse bunch of self-described witches. Here’s a quote from her intro: “There may be hundreds of strands of Paganism, but these super-esoteric paths share a clear core. They are polytheistic and nature worshipping, and believe that female and male forces have equal sway in the universe. They teach that the divine can be found within us and all around us, and that we can communicate regularly with the dead and the gods without a priestly go-between.”
Makes sense to me. Does it to you?