Disaster! What to do When it Strikes. Get Popcorn! #sciencefiction #fantasy

Disasters were always on the TV when I was young: Towering Inferno, Godzilla, The Poseidon Adventure, Jaws, the many TV airline crash movies. Maybe that's why I enjoy this type of story so much. Whether it's a budget-buster of high quality like Titanic, or a low budget hokey thing like Atomic Twister, I'm a fan.

It's not just the popcorn. It's man against nature, man against machine, man against bad guys, man against beasts/aliens/space. Oh my gosh! How can anyone survive against a mechanical shark? What if I was stranded in space? These movies bring up larger-than-life scenarios, and somehow our heroes survive. It's fantastic. Some of the stories are completely fantastic and out there. I love it!

I watch to have fun and be entertained. Maybe it's the grand-scale problem that appeals to me; a problem way bigger than myself. I mean, a tornado of sharks... yikes!

I've always wanted to write one and recently I was given the opportunity. Some folks stopped by my inbox in the fall and asked if I wanted to be part of Pew! Pew! – Sex, Guns, Spaceships… Oh My! The idea for "Spaceberg" popped into my head and I replied with an emphatic yes. Here was my chance to write something funny and disastrous, my favorite kind of story.It involves an iceberg in space, moss balls with teeth, organic plastic, and dancing plastic flowers. There are also a lot of references to TV shows and movies (some very obscure). It was a hoot to write.

Over 30,000 words, "Spaceberg" is close to a full-length novel. Pew! Pew! – Sex, Guns, Spaceships… Oh My! releases June 1, 2017 and is up for preorder on Amazon.


Here are a few other goodies for you:

A mega science fiction giveaway ENTER

Every entry gets a copy of At the Helm, which includes my story "Patchworker 2.0" Signed copies of the first 3 Backworlds are part of the Grand Prize. My boxed set is in the prizes for other winners.

Via my newsletter every month, I giveaway either a Backworlds tumbler or a Rifters journal. Just ENTER my dimension to be part of these drawings.

Do you have a favorite disaster story/movie? I enjoy sharks and dinos most, but am a succor for any of them really. I can't resist.


Thinking Ahead to Summer - writing & bookish plans?

I teach college lit and creative writing part time in the fall and spring so I always look forward to summer in order to get lots of writing done. Also, I attend a weeklong writing retreat in Cape Cod then. We write all day (after an hour gabbing over coffee). Often I start a novel at the retreat.
One of my Cape retreat "writing stations"
I'm already mulling over what I should concentrate on. This spring I finally completed a draft of a romantic suspense novel and Maizy of Bellagio, a story for the forthcoming UR Spirits in the Air anthology. So it's not as if I slack off between the days of teaching. LOL.

I am trying to decide between starting a new witch book, which would be a companion novel to Witch of the Cards, or another one in the new suspense series. Which should I pick? How do you decide when you have more than one book in mind?  Do you choose the one you think will sell the best? Or the one you have plotted out most? Or the one that is closest to your heart? Help!

For my summer reading, I'll be delving into the Blue Fairy Book, Alice in Wonderland and Alice through the Looking Glass to name a few, because in the spring of 2018 I will be teaching a brand new college lit course simply called Fantasy. Woo hoo!

On another note, I finally redesigned my website, which has an entire shiny new page devoted to the UR Elements anthologies. Check out my main page, and then click into Anthologies Page to see what you think about the front page and the Elements page!

What are your summer writing and reading plans?


UR Group Post - Loving games!

Board games, video games, card games, role-playing games.
From the well-known classics to the modern and underrated.
We all love games.

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Christine Rains

This awesome board game is about strategy and luck. Build up your roads, settlements, and cities to win. The board changes every time you play and the mechanics of it are simple. I play this every day on the computer instead of solitaire, and if I'm lucky, I can find people willing to play the board game with me. I tend to roll well! It's not unusual to hear someone call out: "I have wood for sheep!"

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River Fairchild

Little Green Men

Let me just say, I'm very glad I don't live in Las Vegas. I'd be panhandling on the street in order to collect enough money to play this silly video game. It's not the gambling aspect that draws me, it's the game itself. Okay, this is a secret, right? I hear somebody out there laughing. Don't. The cows laughed... right before the aliens took them. Beware!

Simon Kewin

Zelda: Breath of the Wild

This is a tough question. I played Dungeons and Dragons a lot - probably too much - when I was younger, and I also love a good fantasy-based computer game. I have lots of fond memories of losing myself in games like Tir Na Nog and Lords of Midnight. Ah, happy days. But I'm going to cop out slightly and go for the game I'm currently playing because, well, it's my favourite right now. Zelda: Breath of the Wild is awesome and huge and beautiful.

Catherine Stine

Little Bird with Candyland Cards, oil on canvas by Catherine Stine
I'd have to say Candyland, though I do love Clue because I love sleuthing and I usually win. LOL. And I like Candyland not to play, but because I adore the images. In my days as a painter, I painted the Candyland board and the cards many, many times! I can't tell you exactly why I love these images so much. Perhaps it has to do with the peculiar magic of childhood. Anyway, here is an oil painting of mine called Little Bird with Candyland Cards, along with a photo below of the old style Candyland board.
The old style Candyland board

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Meradeth Houston

So maybe I shouldn't admit this, but if I had to pick my favorite game lately, Cards Against Humanity would win. Mainly because it's my favorite one to play when I have friends over. Though it does get a little old after a while, the expansion packs are fun, and it's pretty much guaranteed to bring a laugh or two :) Albeit, a bit of off-color laughter at things that aren't terribly appropriate, but that's okay from time to time!

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M. Pax

We always had game night when I was a kid, and my family loved game. Everybody was so competitive. There was no 'letting the kids win' ever. I have fond memories of sitting around tables, talking, and laughing, teasing each other. My grandmother was the best hearts player. No one ever beat her, but we kept trying. I had my first taste of beer while playing cards with the grandparents. I see all the faces of people I miss: Grampa, Gramma, my brother-in-law, and my brother. The games I played with them will always be my favorites.

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Cherie Reich

I couldn't begin to tell you how many hours I've played Age of Mythology. You can play either as Egyptians, the Norse, or the Greeks. If you have the Titan Expansion pack, then you can also play as the Atlanteans. They now have one for Chinese gods too! They have two amazing campaigns, and the storylines are fantastic. The graphics are beautiful. The music is awesome, and there is something strangely satisfying about wiping out the other civilization. My favorite cheat of the game is Wuv Woo, which summons a flying purple hippo that kills enemies with hearts.


Book Review/ Horizon Alpha: Predators of Eden. #SpeculativeFiction worth #amreading

Horizon Alpha: Predators of Eden
by D. W. Vogel

I was recently in a group promotion where this was one of the books. I had to buy it because of the dinosaur on the cover.

Here's the blurb:
Two hundred years ago, the great Ark Horizon Alpha escaped a doomed Earth and went searching for a new home. The passengers landed on Teu Ceti e expecting paradise, but instead they discovered a planet stuck in its own version of the cretaceous period. The humans’ one defense against the dinosaurs ravaging the planet is an electric fence, built from the remains of the shuttles that brought them there. 
But Eden base has only days of power left. 
With most of the adult men dead, rookie soldier Caleb Wilde and his unit of teenage boys leave the electric fences of Eden in search of a reactor core lost deep in the jungle. 
The last remnant of the human race waits behind the electric fence for their return. The dinosaurs wait, too--for the electricity to die and the feast to begin.

Honestly, the prologue had me worried. It wasn't bad, just basically feeding me information about what happened before the story starts.

The story itself is fantastic. It's like Jurassic Park in space. It was suspenseful and fast-paced. It combined my love of dinosaurs, exploration, and discovery. The creatures go beyond dinosaurs as we know them, because, after all, they are aliens.

The author added in mystery along with the dino feast. I felt as if I experienced the planet alongside the main character: the fear, the wonder, the horror, the relief. It was a terrific ride.

Great job, D. W. Vogel. I want more!


You Can't Go Home Again

I'm so excited about our upcoming Spirits in the Water anthology! It will be released in October, but I wanted to share a snippet of my story with you today. It's called, You Can't Go Home Again.

How many of us have wished to go back and change something from our past? I imagine all of us. It's human nature to want a do-over. Be careful what you wish for, though...

You Can't Go Home Again

an excerpt by River Fairchild

“Don’t look so glum, dear.” Clara leaned in closer, invading Alex’s space, and gave her a wink. “You have your whole future to look forward to. Wait till you’re my age for that sort of nonsense.”
She settled back into her own seat, soft gray curls bouncing with the gentle sway of the train as it negotiated a bend in the tracks. “Always look ahead, child. As my mother used to say, you can’t go back home again.”
“What?” The phrase struck Alex as odd, even sinister. “What does that mean?”
Clara put her knitting needles down in her lap and stared out at nothing with a dreamy smile on her face. “Mum had a saying for everything. It means you can’t go back and change the past. She used to say that nothing good ever came of worrying about what was already done and gone so you should only look forward and not repeat your mistakes.”
Changing the past…
Alex closed her eyes, ignoring the beauty of the countryside as her throat constricted. She’d give anything to undo the mistake she’d made five years ago—the mistake that allowed her younger sister to die. To stay with her that day at the lake—like she was supposed to—instead of getting into an argument and stalking off. If Alex had stayed, maybe she could have talked Liz out of sledding across the frozen lake on an overloaded sled.


Happy Spring!

In the Spring, I have counted 136 different kinds of weather inside of 24 hoursMark Twain

I am going to try to pay attention to the spring. I am going to look around at all the flowers, and look up at the hectic trees. I am going to close my eyes and listen. Anne Lamott


Premonitions: Supernatural or Science? #paranormal

A premonition is a strong feeling something is about to happen. They're mostly associated with bad events. Perhaps because impressions of tragedy are stronger than impressions of wonderful.

The premonitions I most clearly recall are those associated with bad events. Way back when I lived in Northern Virginia, I stopped at a corner market after work to pick up a few things. There was this man standing there. When he looked at me, I had the most unshakable feeling of awful. I mean, I felt horror in my bones. Later that evening, my car was stolen.

When I moved into a new apartment in NYC, I had a nasty dream about a dark shadow trying to get inside. I couldn't run down the hall to shut the door fast enough. Needless to say, they were the worst landlords ever.

Are they premonitions, or am I picking up on information my brain doesn't know how to fully process? So it comes across as a terrible vibe, a really terrible vibe?

I've also had good ones. Usually if I dream I did well on a test, I did very well on a test.

Premonitions are actually quite common. There may be a scientific explanation for them. They may be bred into our genes. Being able to react quickly to information that isn't easily quantifiable would have helped our ancestors survive. It can help us survive, if we listen.

I believe in my case, I was picking up on signals and information I wasn't fully conscious of at the time. What do you believe? Is it scientific or is it something more?

Premonition came into my life recently when misreading a road sign. Oddly, it was while visiting the real Oregon town that inspires Settler, the town featured in my series, The Rifters. I thought the sign said, Premonition Center. It did not. I can't remember what it really said, but I took the sign literally as a sign for the next book.

It was such a funny occurrence in a place associated with my series, I knew I had to use it. It's 'a sign' after all.

The main street in Fossil, Oregon. I use it almost exactly as the main street in Settler. Just past the stop sign on the left-hand side is the library. At the end of the street is the high school and the fossil beds. Sight of the infamous volcanic killer bee attack.

Have you ever had a premonition? What about?


Ceylon, Elle & April - 3 generations of women & the water sprite who helped them

For our last Elements anthology, Sprits in the Water I spin a three-generational tale of strong women and the sprite who helps them. Ceylon was a dancer who followed the Grateful Dead. Her daughter, Elle performed in water ballets, and her daughter April, not a dancer herself, now follows Britney Spears from concert to concert because she's obsessed with Britney's dancers. There's a problem... Back in the mid nineties, Elle made a wish at the Hotel Bellagio fountain in Vegas, and was never seen again. Hope you enjoy the little excerpt!
The new anthology cover!

The fountain at Bellagio in Vegas

Maizy of Bellagio (Or Little Helper) 
excerpt by Catherine Stine 

Maizy was born in Vegas from a wishing penny someone tossed in the musical fountain at Bellagio. Most of the color sprites were born of pennies, though some were attracted there from afar by the fantastic reports. Rumor had it the fountain sprites at Bellagio enjoyed gourmet eats, lively company and splendid karma if they were lucky enough to connect with the human who flung the coin and grant the wish. The magic strings that connected the sprites to the owners of the coins were gauzy and ethereal, and the sprites needed to navigate skillfully up the center of the strings in order to make contact. This part was tricky because the newborn sprites needed to test their veined wings. Often the sharp nubs of their wing-joints broke the strings, which melted away, leaving the sprite lost in flight.

Before the sprites born of the pennies were able to work in the fountains, they had to prove they could beat their wings at 180 beats per second, and produce colors as they did. Many couldn’t whip their wings that fast, or only emit a flickering gray shade. Others fainted from the effort.

In the dead of night, when the humans finally straggled to the elevators after a long night of debauchery, the sprites would minnow up from the water and flit into the lounges, bars and cavernous dining halls. There, they would fill their bellies on exotic flowers from Bellagio’s stunning gardens, and slurp spilled wines from the long mahogany bar tables—velvety reds from the south of France, virgin blush from Sonoma’s most rarified vineyards.

The humans assumed the fountains’ colorful patterns coordinated to the music were the result of high-tech digital processors. That’s what the Bellagio brochures boasted.
But the color sprites knew better. The water show depended on their ability to gather seamlessly in arcs and circles, pulsate their wings at high velocity while dancing just under the water’s surface.
Maizy’s special color was pink. Her spot in the fountain alternated between the pink and yellow wielding sprites. The colors appeared to rotate, but it was only because the sprites themselves fluttered back and forth between two bands.
But she learned this all later. After she met her wish-maker, April.
April Tulle, a pretty twenty-one year-old human, sat in front of her bedroom’s faux Rococo vanity in the Bellagio and glued the last paper flower onto her floral halo. She’d made it herself, paper dahlia by paper daisy, leaves as pert as the first bursts of spring, tiny berries on winding vines, and a sprinkling of paper butterflies—a teal one here, a polka-dot one there. She applied a creamy lipstick to match the crown’s baby’s breath, and a lavender eye shadow to play off the forget-me-nots.

April sighed at the thought of not forgetting. As excited as she was to see Britney’s newest show live, she was committed to remembering her mother, Elle. Staying here at Bellagio unearthed upsetting emotions. It wasn’t that April herself had stayed here before. She hadn’t.

It was because Elle had been found in the mid-nineties when Bellagio first opened, floating in the fountain. Or more accurately, her floral headpiece. Her body was missing and the mystery never solved. So, if April was being completely honest, she didn’t actually remember her mother. April had only been a year and a half when her mother disappeared and April was shuttled back to Arizona to live with her granny, Ceylon.

Sure, April recalled sensations—Elle’s gentle hands stroking her head, the glide of a baby spoon around her mouth to clean away food puree. And she remembered her mother’s perfume, because every time April smelled Muguet des Bois her chest filled with a welter of sad-happy emotions.
April honored her mother by making her own flowered halos, and wearing them at every concert. She was obsessed with expert choreography like the ones in Britney Spears’ troupe. OMG, the oiled men in loincloths, the women slinking around like lionesses. April wasn’t a dancer herself, she was into writing dark song lyrics, but she so admired them. She came from a dancing dynasty.

Her granny, Ceylon had been secretly hired by the Grateful Dead in the seventies to pirouette and freeform in the front of the stage. A Rolling Stone cover was tacked to Ceylon’s tree bark wall: of her dancing braless, her diaphanous paisley gown billowing in the wind. She boasted that her lithe movements and white-blonde hair captivated as many people as Garcia’s guitar extravaganzas.
“Sure, there were drugs,” Ceylon explained, “distributed with fanfare. Little helpers,” she called them, and showed April the beaded purse she’d kept them in, hung from her unbleached hemp belt.

In the mid-nineties, April’s mom, Elle had met the members of Starfish, a synchronized swimming ensemble at one of Ceylon’s garden parties. Elle swore she’d found her true calling, and soon after she toured the country with them. The swimmers formed swirling pinwheels, water cartwheels and stood on their heads as they held their breaths, scissoring their legs to the roar of the crowds.

Gazing into the vanity mirror, April blinked away tears as she shaped the color on her lips. Where had her mother’s body gone all those years ago? Against her will, she asked this question every single day. Had it gotten stuck in a large drainpipe? Decomposed in the bowels of the Vegas sewers? Or had a gambling necrophiliac stolen it? Too much lurid speculation was bad for April’s mental health. She snapped her lipstick case shut and shrugged off the horror.

To be continued in the forthcoming anthology!


Book Review: Bloodwalker by L. X. Cain #amreading

Lightning flashes. Another child disappears…

When Zorka Circus performs, its big top roars with laughter and cheers, but when it moves on, there are fewer children in the European towns it leaves behind.

Circus Security Chief Rurik suspects a killer hides among the international performers, but they close ranks—they’ve always viewed lightning-scarred Rurik as the monster. Nevertheless, he's determined to find the culprit and stop them before anyone else dies and the only place he can call home is ripped apart by the murders.

Into Zorka Circus comes the Skomori clan, despised as gravediggers and ghoulish bloodwalkers. A one-day truce allows bloodwalker Sylvie to marry. Instead, she finds a body. Alerting others will defy her clan’s strict rules, break the truce, and leave her an outcast.

When more bodies turn up, the killer's trail becomes impossible to ignore. Rurik and Sylvie must follow the clues—even if they lead to something unimaginable.

My Review:
Bloodwalker is an amazing read. The story takes us inside a circus, where a mix of fierce loyalty, suspicion, and petty jealousy simmers among the performers. Another thread takes us inside the bloodwalker clan, whose practices and beliefs seem as antiquated as they are bizarre. Cain prefaces each chapter with an excerpt from The Bloodwalker's Book, a manual on handling the dead, a ghoulish touch.

Rurik and Sylvie are exceptionally likable characters and both are committed to integrity. They are also flawed. Rurik suffers from hideous physical scars incurred from lightening strikes and brings to mind a very noble version of Frankenstein's monster. Sylvie is cursed with bad luck. Whatever she strives to accomplish seems to go awry. Working separately, the pair arrive at the truth behind the murdered children and a string of bloodwalker deaths. A large cast of characters—each with their own selfish motives—stand in the way of Rurik and Sylvie.

I had an inkling of what was going on long before the conclusion, but Cain hides the overwhelming extent of the horror until the climax, which is both thrilling and dreadfully intense. This is a novel that pays off in spades (grave-digging reference intended). If you want characters you will gladly cheer for and suffer with and you don't mind a bit of ghoulish horror, read Bloodwalker.


Spirits in the Water flows onto the scene!

This year, the final Elements of Untethered Realms anthology will be released in October. These collections of fantastic speculative fiction center on elemental themes. The UR authors can interpret that any way they choose, and we get an amazing variety of stories from it.

Behold! The cover for Spirits in the Water!

And the stories in the collection are just as incredible.

If you haven't read any of the Elements of UR books yet, check them out. Each marvelous bunch of tales is only 99 cents!


Huzzizzle of the Realms - February 2017 UR News

Jeff Chapman

Supernatural mayhem in the Weird West

An enchanted blade. An evil old man. An ancient spirit behind a mask. The Weird West just gets weirder.

Orville and Jimmy are a pair of hucksters, struggling to scrape together enough coin for a square meal. While Orville angles for the big score, Jimmy hopes to make an honest buck for a day's work. When an old man calling himself Marzby asks for help with a supernatural pest, Orville smells opportunity. Jimmy smells danger.

In two shakes of a lamb's tail, Marzby imprisons Orville and only Jimmy can save him from a gruesome death. The price for Orville's life? Jimmy must retrieve an enchanted knife from inside Skull Hill and put it in Marzby's hands in three days time. With the blade in reach, Jimmy runs head on into more trouble: a shapeshifting opossum, a larger than average coyote and an ancient spirit determined to keep the blade where it is. Maybe the evil Marzby shouldn't have the blade, but without it, how is Jimmy going to rescue Orville?

The Black Blade is a weird western novel in Jeff Chapman's Huckster Tales series, mixing horror, fantasy, and comedy in an Old West setting. Climb up in the wagon and follow Orville and Jimmy as they once again plunge over their heads into supernatural trouble.

Store Links: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon AU | Amazon CA

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Christine Rains

Weaving Inuit myths with the modern day world.

Always read the fine print when making a bargain with a sea hag.

Lost to the clutches of her grief of losing her mentor, Saskia Dorn welcomes the opportunity to take down a warehouse of drug dealers. When their leader makes a break for it, Saskia and her ex-boyfriend, Sedge, chase the criminal shifter into the sea off the coast of northwestern Alaska. Not only do they lose their quarry, but a vicious sea hag snatches Sedge.

Saskia can’t take another loss and attempts to bargain for Sedge’s life and the salmon totem the witch has trapped in her cave. The sea hag wants only one thing: her long lost love. Who is dead. And living under the freaking ocean with the Salmon People. Find the Salmon People and return with the witch’s love before Sedge’s life is forfeit. Simple, right? Yet she can’t leave the Salmon People’s land without finding herself first.

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Catherine Stine 
(writing this suspense novel as Kitsy Clare)

For these last weeks of February my publisher, Inkspell is offering the first ever sale of my romantic suspense, Private Internship. It's not strictly spec fiction, BUT… Sienna and Caz do a spooky Tarot reading on Halloween in an abandoned factory during New York’s Hurricane Sandy blackout… so it counts as psychological horror! Also, Sienna discovers a dreadful secret in her boss’s locked storeroom.

“What could be the worst secret you’d never want exposed? Find out what Caz is hiding that Sienna's trying to find. I was like WOW!!!” 
-Undercover Reviews
On a dark, stormy Halloween night sculptor, Caz and his intern, artist Sienna are trapped in the old sugar factory where he resides and works. Candles are lit. To keep occupied Sienna pulls out the Tarot cards and what do they reveal? Who is Casper Mason? What secrets is he concealing? Has he found the person who will emotionally break him?” -Reader review
Marked down to $0.99 from $2.99 it’s on sale only thru March 2:

M. Pax

Two great giveaways for you!

Over 10 fantasy books, your for the taking. DOWNLOAD FREE BOOKS

Over 45 Urban Fantasy books in this giveaway plus a Kindle Fire! ENTER

Gwen Gardner

A new blog header depicting my fictional town of Sabrina Shores, England, is motivating me to move forward on the next Indigo Eady Cozy Mystery, A Scandal in Boohemia.

Here's a sneak peek:

It's all about adulting when Indigo Eady purchases a new flat then has to figure out how to pay for it. Luckily she lands a temporary job at the local theatre as assistant stage manager. There's only one catch: she has to stop the gangster ghost from haunting her boss. No problem—except for the murderer running loose.


Weather Inspiration

Speculative fiction takes a lot of inspiration from what-ifs. What if aliens landed in the middle of the Super Bowl? What if a giant serpent really lived in the ocean? What if robots rose up against the human race?

Those what-ifs stretch the imagination, but there are every day things that spark ideas and generate new worlds. One of those things is the weather. That ever-changing, difficult to predict, mighty force. What makes it more ominous is that there is little we can do about it.

We've had no snow this winter where I live. It's been so warm, previous records have been broken on a weekly basis. What if this continues? Or accelerates? We now have rattlesnakes in the area and brown recluse spiders. People have died from bites. If the warming trend continues, we'll have even more poisonous critters moving up.

With the bouncing temperatures not being too cold or summer hot, it's the perfect environment for viruses. So many folks have been sick and hospitalized recently. What if a virus gains strength in these temperatures? What if it mutates?

I have friends in the southern hemisphere experiencing a brutally hot summer. Crops have dried up, and there's been several power outages. What if the temperature continues to rise? How hot will it have to be before people won't go outside anymore? How will we adapt then?

Some days I dream about winters like I had when I was a child. So much wonderful snow. I've never experienced a storm that kept us inside longer than a day, but the cold can be just as vicious as the heat. What if we were thrown into another ice age? What would our lives be like then?

What are some of your favorites stories that played off the what-ifs from the weather?


Happy Valentine's Day

On February 14th we celebrate a day of Love. Cupids Arrow~Chocolate~Candy~Flowers~Cards.

I was wondering how this celebration came into existence. It used to be called St. Valentine's Day, and somewhere along the way, St. was removed. 

This is taken from Wiki:

The history of Valentine’s Day–and the story of its patron saint–is shrouded in mystery. We do know that February has long been celebrated as a month of romance, and that St. Valentine’s Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. But who was Saint Valentine, and how did he become associated with this ancient rite?

The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.

Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, where they were often beaten and tortured. According to one legend, an imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first “valentine” greeting himself after he fell in love with a young girl–possibly his jailor’s daughter–who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still in use today. Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories all emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic and–most importantly–romantic figure. By the Middle Ages, perhaps thanks to this reputation, Valentine would become one of the most popular saints in England and France.

But, there's more. It's also thought Christians marked the day of St. Valentine's death on Feb. 14th to Christianize a pagan ritual called Lupercalia, a fertility festival celebrated on Feb. 15th. 

How do you celebrate Valentine's Day?


Book Review: The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

While seated in the theater to watch Moana with my daughter, who grudgingly accepts Chipmunk as my nickname for her, we got to see the previews. Popcorn, candy, and drinks in hand, we pointed out which movies we'd like to make sure to come back and watch. There was one that didn't make my daughter's cut, but it snagged my attention. It was A Monster Calls. I'd heard a great deal of good about the book on which this movie is based. So, I had to read it.

And loved it.

Then it got me to looking through my kindle library because the author's name, Patrick Ness, seemed familiar to me for another reason. That's when I found The Knife of Never Letting Go.

About The Knife of Never Letting Go

Todd Hewitt is the only boy in a town of men. Ever since the settlers were infected with the Noise germ, Todd can hear everything the men think, and they hear everything he thinks. Todd is just a month away from becoming a man, but in the midst of the cacophony, he knows that the town is hiding something from him -- something so awful Todd is forced to flee with only his dog, whose simple, loyal voice he hears too. With hostile men from the town in pursuit, the two stumble upon a strange and eerily silent creature: a girl. Who is she? Why wasn't she killed by the germ like all the females on New World? Propelled by Todd's gritty narration, readers are in for a white-knuckle journey in which a boy on the cusp of manhood must unlearn everything he knows in order to figure out who he truly is.

My Review
I can't recall exactly why I purchased this story, maybe word of mouth. But I got this several years ago. I remember trying to read it and being unable to get beyond the first page. I'm not one for DNF'ing (for those not familiar, that is rating the book a Did Not Finish) a book unless I give it another chance, so I moved on to something else until I could come back to this.

I'm a little late in getting back it (yes, please feel free to laugh), but I did. I tried again, struggling with it due to the stream-of-consciousness style of writing. Unlike last time, I held beyond the first page and made it all the way to the end. The writing style didn't grow on me, but I quickly adapted my brain to the style so it wasn't such an issue. It was also interactive, which I kind of liked.

To keep from sharing any spoilers, because I hope you give this book a try as well, the best way I can describe this book is to say it reminds me of zooming out. You've seen photographs where the lens is zoomed in tight on something. You think you might know what it is or what is happening, but you're unsure. As the lens zooms out, you start to see more and more of what is there, but still, it isn't 100% clear, so you can't help holding on for the lens to zoom out some more.

That's what reading this book was like. There's no back story easily laid out. Rather, you experience each new discovery with Todd Hewitt as the story zooms out to eventually paint a picture that, well, some may see coming, but I didn't.

The story is heartbreaking, then hopeful, then heartbreaking, and then hopeful again. Todd is a likable character and I really loved his loyal dog Manchee (Poo!) - when you read the book for yourself, you'll get the reference :-)

I'm a dystopian fan, so this book was right up my alley. As the first in the Chaos Walking series, it did a great job of making me want to find out what happened and seek out the next book.

Have you read The Knife of Never Letting Go? What other dystopian novels or series do you favor?


How to Handle the Empty Page

Sometimes, it's just necessary to start.

At the moment, I'm feeling like I've been hit by a truck. I don't know why. I think it started on Friday, when I woke up with a headache that turned into a migraine.

But ever since then, I've been feeling so exhausted. Even when I sleep enough.

So the result is that just the thought of opening a document, or even the blog creation window, feels like having to climb a mountain.

And then I haven't even started actually writing.

So the blank page that appears if I do manage to open becomes a little bit more intimidating. A little bit more... empty.

That's when I write something silly. Or something random. Or just... something. Like "Sometimes it's just necessary to start."

Because the moment there are words on the page, it gets easier to follow up with more words. And even more after that.

And eventually, I can look back at what I've written and discover that I did, in fact, climb that mountain and reach the summit.

Because now I have a blog post.

Now, I just need to go do the same thing with my work in progress.

How do you handle writing when the words don't seem to flow? 


Silly Pets Communicating Serious Emotions about Writing (or not)

During this time of political unrest my writing has slowed, and my book promo has suffered. For a while, I was preoccupied with watching news and reading articles in a way I haven't done for years. In fact, nothing seemed as important as the state of affairs in the world.

That said, for the most part I have forced myself away from Facebook and other news sites at least until the day is over, and I have recommitted to the writing craft. The feeling that writing matters is seeping back into consciousness, and I'm happy about this.

As a result, yesterday I finally finished a draft of a novel that I've been working on for more than a year!!! Yay!!!

Without getting into political specifics, how has this election cycle affected (or not) your work? How is your work coming along, and what do you hope to accomplish this spring? This year?
Memes and silly pets communicating your messages welcome but not necessary. LOL.


The Dragon or the Egg?

Which came first?

Why am I asking this question?

Well, on January 20th, the 45th President of the United States was sworn in. The 44th said adieu. Before getting to this point, and after, truthfully, there has been this frenzy of information, opinion, and activity overload. It's like that Teen Titans Go! episode where the whole world got wrapped up in a blanket and a giant stink bomb blew up creating the universe's largest dutch oven (if you are going EWWWW! at this point, can't say I blame you, nor could I blame you if you're laughing like a hyena).

But...that's actually my point. You see what I did? I totally pulled in a reference to a TV show. There have been, and continue to be, so many TV, movie, and book references used throughout this recent election process. It got me to wondering: How much of life is an imitation of art OR is art an imitation of life?

Think of the food generators on Star Trek. It was so cool to see the actors/actresses tell the computer what they wanted and then watch it appear right before them, whether hot or cold. I haven't seen this in in my neck of the woods just yet, but we're getting close:

Hot food vending machine. Picture credit to Throwback Tech.
There are even three-dimensional pens and printers that can produce three-dimensional objects from scans and designs like seen in the movie Big Hero 6.

So which came first, the dragon or the egg. Is art an imitation of life or is life an imitation of art?

When it comes to writing science fiction and fantasy, we as writers can create the foundation for a world drawing out how such spectacular beings as dragons, vampires, were-animals, leviathans, and other fantastical creatures, came to be. As readers, we get to embark on the adventure of discovery as the lay of the land is artistically woven for us a paragraph at a time.

But I am curious. What about you? What are your thoughts?

Please share in the comments then feel free to share this post with others so they, too, can comment and we can have a fantastic discussion.


What's it Like to Live on Another Planet? #SciFi #Science

Exploration and discovery is what I love best about science fiction. I want to know what's out there, even if it's just our imaginations that take us there.

Earth and Moon from Mars

We have no idea what's out there, so we're free to imagine anything. Which is the most awesome part.

We've set foot on the Moon and we've sent robots to Mars and Titan (a moon of Saturn's). Otherwise, we've not actually landed on another world. Our species has a long way to go to get off this planet.

The machines, ships, and other technologies will certainly get us to other worlds. The biggest stumbling block will be our bodies and our minds. We have no idea what prolonged stays in space will do to us, or if it's even survivable. Humans are adapted very well to survive on Earth and nowhere else. In the Backworlds, I changed our biology to make us more adaptable. Either that or a suit, or nanites, or a vaccine, or a combination will be necessary for our kind to thrive off Earth.

If we do leave, there's no guarantee we can come back. Mars is 1/3 the gravity of Earth. We might lose too much muscle, bone, and whatnot to survive a return trip.

And what would it be like to be the first human settler on a world we're not made for? How would we go about it?

Mars, on NatGeo, gives us a taste of what it might be like. It's an excellent blend of drama with documentary. WARNING: it's addictive.

Intriguing as it is for me, I know I'd make a poor settler. I enjoy electricity, running water, internet, and convenient groceries too much to like being a settler. I learn this during every storm, and we've been getting hammered in the OR.

And, as I write this, we're getting more snow on top of the two feet we already have. They haven't plowed. And we're supposed to get freezing rain and snow all week.

Husband Unit was driving, not me

That's my car buried back there

But we have my new book to cheer us. FreeFall is now available at all ebook outlets. It's the best book I've written yet. Enjoy!

AmazonFR / IT / ES / NL / IN / JP / BR / MX

The first shot of a new war echoes through the galaxy. Craze has high hopes for what the alliance with an old enemy, the Foreworlds, will do to defeat a worse enemy, the Quassers.

The test of a highly-advanced weapon, created by the efforts of the alliance, pushes tensions over the brink and kills thousands. To make it worse, the Foreworld ambassador is keeping secrets.

Conventional warfare against the Quassers isn’t working, and if the alliance ends, Craze has become the most hated man in the galaxy for no reason.

With nothing left to lose, Craze sets in motion one last chance for survival.


Reading Challenges

It's the time of year when eager readers jump into reading challenges. I've been doing the Goodreads challenge for a few years now. Every year, my goal is to read and review 100 books. (I'm a fast reader!) Before I had my son, it was easy to achieve. Now that I have a kid, I include books I read with him. Children's authors deserve reviews too!

There are all sorts of different challenges. There are genre specific ones, ones that help you read more diversely, ones to read banned books, and ones to re-discover the classics. You can do a little from each one or just try to clear your TBR pile.

Yet there is one challenge I think everyone who loves to read should take on: getting other people to become readers. I see folks all the time just surfing the net on their phones or playing games, and they have not read a novel in their adult lives. 27% of the adult population didn't read a single book last year.

Reading books is much easier these days too. You can get apps for your phone and tablet, or you can listen to audiobooks. Many folks have a commute. What a perfect time to listen to a good story!
If talking excitedly about your favorite books to people doesn't work, tell them that reading helps increase brain function, sharpens focus, expands imagination, and reduces stress. People do sleep better if they read a little every day. Well, if they get hooked on the book and want to keep reading, they do lose sleep!

If we can all convince one non-reader to read a book this year, we all win.

You can tell them they don't even have to pay for a good read!



Book Review: CROOKED KINGDOM by Leigh Bardugo

Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn't think they'd survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they're right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and left crippled by the kidnapping of a valuable team member, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz's cunning and test the team's fragile loyalties. A war will be waged on the city's dark and twisting streets―a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of magic in the Grisha world.

Cathrina's Review:
CROOKED KINGDOM is the sequel to SIX OF CROWS which I reviewed on March 18, 2016. Here's the review if you wish to read it: http://untetheredrealms.blogspot.com/2016/03/cathrinas-review-of-six-of-crows-by.html

I had loved SIX OF CROWS and was eager to read the sequel. I must say the author Leigh Bardugo didn't disappoint me. CROOKED KINGDOM is a wonderful speculative tale. I fell in love again with Kaz Brekker and his thugs. Whereas I loved this action-packed story with its twists and turns, the author brings the reader back in time with each character throughout the book. While the writing is excellent, some of sections had begun to get drawn out. However, the background shaped each character and helped you to understand why and how they ended up with Kaz.

If you like speculative, YA novels full of suspense, action, and twists and turns you'll love CROOKED KINGDOM.


Happy New Weird 2017

Changing from one year to the next brings with it some things we can't resist as human beings. One thing, in particular, is the need to reflect on the past year, the accomplishments, the failures, the drama, the losses, and gains.

We... take stock.

We, here, at Untethered Realms would like to invite you to share your thoughts as you reflect on the past year and look to the new.

I, personally, have to admit that 2016 was filled with lots of game-changing moments. If I were an alien, I would have my "visionware" tuned in to the Earth channel with lots of popcorn on hand to see what exciting, jaw-dropping, heartbreaking, or soul-inspiring events would happen in the episodes of 2017.

Since I'm an earthling in the here and now - and this isn't a reality show but real - for real - life, I'd like to wish everyone a very Happy New Weird as our journeys continue in 2017.
 - Let your imagination expand, grow and soar. Talk about fun!!
 - Try that new recipe you held back because you weren't sure who would eat it. Maybe it can be a fun experiment just for you.
 - Take a chance on something different: yourself. You're worth it.
 - Read that book with that weird title and discover something new. You never know what you like until you give it a try.
 - Grab that new story idea by the horns and give it some life, even if it is a little weird for you. It may start you on a fantastic writing voyage.

So what about you, what are some of your thoughts as you reflect on 2016? Do you have any hopes or aspirations you're working toward for 2017? And what if it turned out Earth and all the crazy that is us is actually a reality show for aliens in a galaxy far, far away?