Sunday, September 8, 2013

To Live Beside a Cemetery

Tonight I have a special treat. The adorable and brilliant author Jordan Mierek has written a guest post for me. Here's a picture of her in a cemetery because cemeteries are cool and so is Jordan.

Now, take it away Jordan!

When people find out I live two houses away (I’m the third house) from a cemetery, I get asked, “What’s that like?” Well, ghosts come walking at night. I hear strange howls. People lean against the fence and stare at the road, begging a poor victim to join them in death.

Okay, in actuality, it’s meditative. They aren’t noisy neighbors. If anything, they could talk a little more. I would love to hear their life stories.

Another of those questions I’m asked: “Are there ghosts?” I’m going to say no, but I have caught some orbs in pictures I’ve taken there are night. Orbs…or dust…or some other type of light reflection. My dog would refuse to walk through the older part of the cemetery. Ghosts? Or because people were buried differently back then?

Something I enjoy is spending an afternoon walking through the graves and reading the inscriptions. Someday, I’ll plant flowers for those who have been forgotten. I enjoy saying their names aloud, in case they are listening. I want them to know they aren’t forgotten.

A few years ago, the graveyard inspired me to write a short ghost story, AMITY. I never did anything with it until I came across a ghost story anthology on I decided to submit, and ended up writing two other short stories for it as well. The anthology will be coming out in October and will be available on the Wagonbridge Publishing website.

If you’d like to read more of my stories, you can find them on WattPad, or you can check out my Facebook page. Happy reading!
It's me Amanda again. Thank you, Jordan for a super fun post. It makes me want to live beside a cemetery too!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

PowerPoint Mirroring onto Your TV

For our homeschooling book club, I like to prepare a PowerPoint presentation to post pictures and discussion questions. It's nice to bring in visuals, but it also keeps me on track. (I tend to let kids stray into tangents.)

I'd been attaching my PC laptop to the TV via a cable, but thought that our Apple TV should be able to handle the hookup wirelessly. I tried AirParrot, but without success. I suspect my Apple TV is a first generation, which won't work for that. I tried an iPad app (can't recall the name) which was supposed to be able to open a PowerPoint presentation on the iPad to then mirror onto the TV via Apple TV. Another failure. (Not sure if it was me the or app.)

Finally I decided to go basic.

With the PowerPoint presentation open, I did "Save As" --> other formats---> TIFF and then emailed them to myself. I opened and saved them onto the iPad and stuck them in their own folder. Voilà! I now have a slide show I can mirror from the iPad to the TV.  No more squatting on the floor with my laptop attached to the TV.

Friday, May 17, 2013

5 Random Facts to Enhance Your Social Life

Happy Friday! I offer you 5 random facts, so that this weekend you'll be able to make smart small talk with friends, family, and random strangers.
1-  According to Douglas Adams and John Lloyd, authors of The Deeper Meaning of Liff, "ahenny" is an adjective describing the way people stand when examining other people's bookshelves.

2- The Doldrums are a calm area near the equator where warm air steadily rises, creating an area of low pressure. The cool air warms so rapidly, it rises before it can move far. As a result, there's little horizontal motion. That means very little wind! Next time you're feeling as if you're in the doldrums, remembering this fun fact will get you giggling. Or not. :p
sailing ship
3- A book called Medications and Mother's Milk by Thomas W. Hale, Ph.D.  is a great reference for evaluating pharmaceutical use by breastfeeding and pregnant moms. I still own the eleventh edition from when I volunteered as a breastfeeding counselor. A copy of this book would make a great gift for your doctor or midwife.

4- People following the increasingly popular Paleo-diet are told not to consume grains and milk products because our ancestors didn't. Apparently they were healthier--eating how people are meant to eat. I'm not touching that controversy. There's much about the Paleo-diet that appeals to me.

I only want to mention that agriculture isn't a modern construction. The Neolithic Era (beginning as early as 10,000 years ago) is when the first farmers began growing crops and keeping animals for food (including milk). This is considered part of the Paleolithic (stone-age) era.
I suppose if you consider that homo sapiens appeared 200,000 years ago, we were hunting and gathering for a whopping 190,000 years before taking up farming. But still, we've been farming for 10 thousand years! That's no small sneeze of time. If eating grain and milk was going to kill us off, you'd think we'd be dead of cheese and bread saturation by now.

5- The Uldra are dwarves who live in the Arctic Circle. They care for moose and reindeer. I wonder if those are the "elves" whom Santa employs.
the little man who stands on my thermostat

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Evil Characters and Politicians in Fiction

My guest poster today, Declan Finn, will tell us about his novel Codename: Winterborn, available in paperback and for Kindle.

Here's the blurb:

After a small nuclear war in 2090, a third of the world is in ruins, along with the Western half of the United States. Three years later, spy Kevin Anderson and his team are sent to find the nuclear arsenal of the Islamic Republic of France. When his team is betrayed by the politicians who sent them, Kevin is out for blood. Hunted by an army, Kevin must kill the Senators before the next team is sent to their deaths. Without resources, or support, it's almost certainly a suicide mission. But Kevin will gladly make this sacrifice, for his codename is Winterborn.

And now I give you over to Declan Finn!

Shooting politicians can be fun.
How many people have wondered what would happen if there were a hunting season on politicians? As a Catholic New Yorker, I think about it more often than most probably do. Then again, we have so many politicians who inspire such contemplation, it’s not funny.

However, killing politicians in fiction has been quite popular for the last few  years. Take, for example, any John Ringo science fiction war epic, where politicians are almost as big a threat as his enemies – which include cannibalistic Mongol hordes from space, alien Taliban, and even the actual Taliban. Vince Flynn has been killing off one politician a novel for the past fourteen novels.

In America, you’d think that politicians would be more popular, considering they’re all elected by popular vote.  With certain notable exceptions, voting seems to be more about voting for the least of all possible evils. Perhaps there is still an innate distrust of authority that’s an American cultural holdover from the dawn of the republic –  looking at the combination of both money and political power in Washington DC, one can easily confuse them for royalty, and we still have a few Kennedy family members kicking around.

It also helps that politicians have a fairly lousy track record for honesty. Or obeying the law. Or applying any laws to themselves. And tend to have interesting criminal records that would keep average citizens from employment.

It’s from this proud lineage of creative term limits that I wrote my own novel, Codename: Winterborn.  Originally an origin story for a character from a different novel, the book had grown out of one line of background – that the character had been screwed over by a group of politicians on a classified mission, and had his team blown out from under him, and that he responded in kind.

The funniest thing about the novel is that I had complaints that the senators I created were “too evil.”  Especially when I had one who had his sister lobotomized so she wouldn’t act out at public functions. Or when another one had driven a car over a bridge and let the passenger drown. If this sounds familiar, it might be because it came out of the history of the Kennedy family.

And these were the “too evil” characters.  And how many have venerated the Kennedys over the decades?

So, next July 4th, celebrate the age old tradition of killing politicians, and grab a copy of Codename: Winterborn.


The fine print:
All shootings in this post are fictitious, or as we at Fortnight of Mustard like to say, "Only in our minds." ;)

Friday, April 19, 2013

Religion in Fiction: Guest Post by Declan Finn

Today's guest blogger is Declan Finn, author of the thriller A Pius Man. He'll be discussing how religion is portrayed in fiction. He has some fascinating observations and I think you'll enjoy his post.

Religion in fiction.

Can religious people in fiction have a worse reputation? Seriously, even ignoring the novels of Dan Brown, being religious in a novel is more than likely to have an arbitrary “villain” label slapped on your forehead like the mark of Cain – and no, I don’t mean the Marvel villain. In murder mysteries, short of a Father Dowling or a Father Brown, the religious tend to get it even worse, as they are almost universally the villain. And if you go into general media, forget it.  The Pianist had actually been criticized for having Catholic priests coming to the aide of the protagonist, sheltering him from Nazis—which happened a lot in World War II, where anywhere between 700,000 and 1.2 million Jews had been hidden exclusively by Catholics (depending on who you ask).

I live in a family of readers. We tend to write TV episodes as we watch them on television. Sometimes, the writers out-think us; sometimes we like our endings better than the ones on the screen. And then, sometimes, we catch only an image, and we sigh, and we know exactly when everything starts to go downhill...

Have you ever wandered into a TV show, and without knowing anything of the story thus far, a mere thirty seconds can tell you more than you wanted to know? In fact, you know so much from that brief glance, you can, without any hesitation, write the entire episode?

This is pretty much how it goes in our house whenever we see almost any Christian clergyman on television. If it's some sort of religious figure, he's the murderer / pederast / psycho / bad guy. In fact, if there's a guest star who shows up as a priest, the only way my family is surprised is if the priest is not guilty of something. Also, if there's a choice between an old-fashioned, grouchy priest, and a hip, young good-looking priest filled with charisma, we know whodunit—the old guy, because killers are never charismatic, are they?

Now, unless someone can correct me, this rule only applies to some variety of Christian group, but, more often than not, it's a Catholic priest. Even on the television show 24, where Muslims terrorists were involved (literally) every other season for the first six years, no Imams were involved. I have never seen a Rabbi involved in a crime anywhere on television.

Under the heading of “these and other stupid things,” there are some interesting facts.



Despite what the average conspiracy theorist likes to spin, priests have a fairly good record, behavior-wise. Within the last ten years, The New York Times came up with an interesting number: 100. One hundred is the number of priests who have been guilty of abusing children. Not over the course of a decade or two, but over the previous SIXTY YEARS. So, one-hundred priests over the course of sixty years have been sick, twisted freaks, out of a NATIONAL population of over a hundred and nine thousand.

In 2004, John Jay did a study, and their number was4%. That's the number who were accused of sexual abuse. Of those allegations, 3% ended in a guilty verdict. 3%

So, many were exonerated. But, let's assume that some were never reported, because some aren't. So, let's assume these two numbers cancel each other out, and stick with 10,667.

Statistics professor Charol Shakeshaft, of the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation, estimates the between 1991 and 2000, 290,000 students were sexually abused by public school teachers and personnel. One in every ten American children has been sexually abused at school.  And only 1% of allegations were investigated by the school board.

Hmm.... wait, in nine years, public school teachers have abused twenty-nine times the number of children than an entire profession of priests over the course of sixty years?

On average, abusive priests have been accused of going after 810 kids per year, but the public schools have assaulted 32,000 per annum …

Wow, Catholic Conspiracies? Really? Rome has nothing on the teachers union.

So, if we use the number of the NYTimes, there have probably been more abusive priests on television than in real life. I say “probably” because I've only seen a few dozen on television, and because I will use a power drill on my temple before I watch another episode of Law & Order: SVU. Certainly, though, the per capita count on tv is higher than in real life.

I must have missed all of those episodes where they went after teachers. Oh well.



Fun fact: since the Supreme Court decision Roe vs. Wade, there have been a grand total of six abortionists assassinated in the United States.

Which means there have been more abortionists killed on the twenty year run of the original Law & Order than there ever were in real life.

And the amusing part is that all of the TV abortionists are so good, so pure, and so virtuous, that there was no other conceivable reason that anyone would want to kill them. In real police investigations, the first step is that you look at the significant other for your murderer. Why? Because, more often than not, that is the murderer. Cop shows will, occasionally, follow inquiries along this line.

But, nope, you can't have it happen like that when it's an abortionist. Really? Just once, I want an abortionist on television to be murdered by his ex-wife or something. Current wife? Girlfriend? Wife and girlfriend? No one is so perfect that the only people on the planet Earth who would want to kill him/her is a right-wing violent psychotic.


British TV

I don't know what it is with British television (not just the BBC), but, recently, I watched through a whole slew of British mysteries and stories, etc. After a while, I started to get the odd notion that the British have the strangest obsession with being gay. From the murder mysteries of Inspector Morse to the science fiction of Dr. Who, the list seems interminable.

Original statistics showed that 10% of the population had some sort of homosexual sex.

When they stopped polling the prison system exclusively, the number averaged out to about 1% of the population.

By my count, there have been more gay characters in all of British cinema than have ever been born.

And that's another problem I've had, as far as murder mysteries and cop shows are concerned: Notice that my formula about real life murders was generally gender-vague. Gay, straight, bi, whatever, most people are murdered by murdered by their nearest and dearest.

In fiction, the victim is murdered by anyone, as long as they are not gay. And no one will ever consider suggesting that they did it. This strikes me as mildly offensive. What sort of homophobe will declare that a gay person is innocent because they're gay? Isn't that just a sort of passive bigotry? "Oh, you're the obligatory gay character, you can't have committed this brilliant murder." What? Wait, really?



Why do I mention any of this? Because cliches are tiresome, and boring, and for the love of God, can't anyone come up with an original idea? There are only so many times I can see the same plot recycled through the same unoriginal scripts. If real life were like television, abortionists should collect hazard pay, every priest should be arrested immediately on suspicion, and half the universe is gay, and therefore, they've never perpetrated a crime.

Now, I neither approve of abusive clergy, assassinations of abortionists, nor am I condemning gays for being so. However, if you spend more than five minutes on someone being gay in a plot, you better have a dang good reason for it; I fast-forward through “straight” romance subplots unless it's relevant, so why should I care that two guys are making out in the corner?

I don't want Barry Fitzgerald and Bing Crosby in collars, but darn it, I'm tired of writers who are so brain damaged that the only way they can think to bring in a priest on television is to make them a villain.

And, please, can someone on a television murder mysteries kill an abortionist because the wife caught him cheating on her?

In my novel A Pius Man, I take pride of the fact that I take every cliché I can think of about the Catholic Church, and turn it on its head.

I have a mysterious priest in the background, and he seems to have combat training. Hmm … he's got pale skin and silver hair, does that qualify as an albino?

I have a violently, borderline right-wing African Pope and who uses the line “by any means necessary” more than a few times. Could he be a villain?

I have a violent, borderline psychopath that the Vatican has hired. That can't be good, can it?

I have a shifty-looking Cardinal, he up to something?

Does the head of Papal Security have to come head to head with the Pope? Maybe even arrest him?

The answers shake out to a yes or two, a few no, and a maybe. You can't trust anyone in A Pius Man, but you can't automatically conclude that they're the villains.

Nothing is obvious, even if everyone is dangerous.

The Author

The Novel

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Awesome Easter Time Movie

It's been a while since I've blogged and now I'm cheating because I'm putting the same post on both of my blogs. :) 
My daughters and I watched The Miracle Maker: The Story of Jesus, a 2000 stop-motion animated film. I heard Steven Greydanus of Decent Films rave about it on the radio. Still, I expected a film that was good as a children's animated Bible story. However, It was amazing, both as a film worth watching by anyone, and as a gospel story. Within a couple of minutes I knew it was a drop-your-knitting-and-pay-full-attention type movie.

We watched a beautiful interaction between the adult Jesus and his mother, as well as a couple flashbacks of his birth and childhood. And we got to know the little girl whom Jesus brought back to life. A majority of the film is from her point of view. The filmmakers brought scripture to life by adding enough detail that the Gospel became three-dimensional.

I only wish they'd put in every Gospel story, but I guess they had to limit the movie length. But they really could have put Mary and John at the foot of the cross and had Jesus say, "Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother." That wouldn't have taken long. But Jesus does declare Simon Peter the rock on which he'll build His church.

The voice actors were brilliant. My kids were shocked when I told them Ralph Fiennes (the actor they know as Voldemort from the Harry Potter films) played Jesus. They marveled how versatile an actor he is. One of my girls did recognize David Thewlis (Remus from the Potter films) as Judas Iscariot. A couple of the other awesome actors were Ken Stott (who played Balin in The Hobbit) as Peter, and Miranda Richardson (who played Lady Van Tassel in Sleepy Hollow) as Mary Magdalene. But you could really forget that these were actors because of the claymation.

Do check out Steven Greydanus's thorough review to read why he gives The Miracle Maker an A+! It really could be the best movie about Jesus and His Passion.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Beauty and The Beast Retelling

I read Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty& The Beast by Robin McKinley in a matter of days. It was one of those books you pick up every spare moment, even in the snack bar of the roller skating place!

There are no weird twists and you know basically what's going to happen (if you're at all familiar with "Beauty and The Beast," but that in no way diminishes how compelling a romance this is.

We don't meet the Beast until about a quarter of the way though, but in that first quarter we get to know Beauty and her role in her family. She's the youngest of three sisters and feels as if she's the plain, ugly one, though they don't see her that way. Beauty's feelings about her looks cause her to develop her mind and her horseback riding skills.

The real wow factor of this book for me was how deeply I was drawn into the story and characters. I'm loaning it to my sister because she loves fairytale retellings, but I'll also encourage my eleven-year-old daughters to read it, because it's suitable for pre-teens.
If you enjoy fairy tale retellings, check out Debz Bookshelf. She's doing a Fairy Tales Retold ReadingChallenge.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Modern Fairy Tale

Remember how I told you about the Fairy Tales Retold ReadingChallenge at Debz Bookshelf? Well, I've started off the challenge with Regina Doman's young adult novel, The Shadow ofthe Bear, a retelling of the story "Snow White and Rose Red." You can read the original Brothers Grimm fairytale at Regina Doman's web site.

The Shadow of the Bear is set in modern day New York City and contains no magic, but it maintains a fairytale-like feel. Here's the official blurb from Amazon.

When Bear, a mysterious young man, lands on Blanche and Rose Brier’s doorstep in New York City, the two sisters have conflicting opinions on whether or not he is dangerous. Even as Blanche learns to trust him, her fears that Bear’s friendship threatens their family prove terrifyingly true. A modern retelling of the classic Brothers Grimm fairytale.

Doman writes for teens, but this forty-two year old mom enjoyed its gripping suspense and compelling characters. I read it with my eleven-year old twin daughters and they were transfixed. We flew through it in a matter of days. My Daphne got up as 6am just to continue reading! Today we finished it and, because we were on Kindle, immediately got the second book in the series, Black as Night.

Doman is a Catholic writer and the characters in the story are Catholic. While non-Catholics will enjoy the story, I think Catholics will especially love the G.K. Chesterton references and other little Catholic touches. And because Doman is a devout Catholic, her heroes and heroines are characters you can admire for their moral fiber.

In what order should you read the books? Well, I must admit I read the second and third ones a while back, but this is my first time reading the first book. In my opinion you can read any of them as a stand alone, but it's nicer to read them all in order.

The Shadow of the Bear
Black as Night
Waking Rose


Monday, January 14, 2013

The Fairy Tales Retold Challenge

Debz Bookshelf is hosting the Fairy Tales Retold Reading Challenge. It's not too late to jump in. The challenge runs to December 31st.
Basically, you read as many Young Adult and Middle Grade fairy tale retellings as you can. Click over to Debz Bookshelf for more details and find the link to her Goodreads bookshelf. She has lots of suggested titles. Join in, and you too will have a happily ever after.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A Bowie-esque Novella Hero

Hey Rebel Rebel, have I a treat for you! The Rock Star in the Mirror (or, How David Bowie Ruined My Life) by Sharon E. Cathcart is a zippy fun novelette for Bowie fans.
The Extended Blurb from Smashwords:

Joe is a small-town Oregon guy. He's madly in love with Lynnie ... who has a huge crush on David Bowie. Joe will do almost anything to get Lynnie's attention, but there are always consequences.
"The Rock Star in the Mirror" is a double nominee in the 2013 Global eBook Awards, for Best Short Story and Best Cover.

Told in first person, the story has an intimate, conversational tone. Cathcart  gives the reader a vivid sense of Joe's "voice"  as we watch him transform from Mister Shy to Mister Popularity. We watch in nervous anticipation, wondering if he'll get the girl, completely blow it, or perhaps slip into insanity. I won't spoil the ending for you. Read it for yourself!

It's an entertaining story for anybody, but for Bowie fans, the mention of "The Man Who Fell to Earth" (the 1976 science fiction film starring David Bowie) and the references to Bowie songs are loads of fun. I swear, Bowie started singing in my head!

Get The Rock Star in the Mirror (or, How David Bowie Ruined My Life) by Sharon E. Cathcart at Smashwords. At $1.29, it's a bargain. And it's zero calories, which makes it a better bargain than that chocolate scone you were thinking of getting to go with your coffee. ;)
Hmm, that's a new diet idea, buy an indie e-book instead of a pastry whenever you have an urge to partake of the sweeter things in life.

As a side note, this was the first book I've read on my iPad. I typically read on my Kindle. Figuring out the Stanza app was pain-free.

Happy Reading!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Christmas and Book Giving

Happy December! What are your Christmas (or other winter holiday) plans? What gifts are you giving? Books I hope!

U.S.A. Today (on 11/25) listed the top 150 books (based on sales). Here are the top five.

1 Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel, Jeff Kinney (Amulet Books) , $13.95
2 Notorious Nineteen, Janet Evanovich (Bantam) , $13.99
3 The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition, Carol V. Aebersold, Chanda B. Bell (CCA and B) , $29.95
4The Forgotten, David Baldacci (Grand Central Publishing) , $14.99
5The Racketeer, John Grisham (Doubleday) , $28.95

Are people buying these as gifts? For themselves? And what about the lesser known titles? Just because a book isn't on the top 150, doesn't mean it's not worthy.

Here are some sources for books you might not have heard of.

Your own local independently owned bookstore. Yes, some of them still exist.

Or click on the links of my followers. Many of them write fine books which they post about on their blogs!



Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Post About Not Doing a Post and Thanksgiving Homework

Thanksgiving Card circa 1900

Oops, I haven't updated in a while. We had some things to deal with in our family, but thank the Lord it looks like things are smoothing out. :)

Because of things to deal with and Thanksgiving (Thursday--for those not living in the U.S.) our homeschooling NaNo Jr. group is skipping two weeks. So, we're doing what homeschoolers do best. We're improvising! We'll take the group into the first part of December. It's not an official NaNoWriMo thing, but it works for us.

I gave the kids Thanksgiving homework and now I'm giving some to you. Write and memorize a quick pitch for your WIP*. Make it brief, something you can say in 30 seconds or less. Then, say it to at least one person on Thanksgiving.

Here's an example of the conversation you'll have.

You: (feeling proud) Guess what Grandma, I'm writing a novel!

Grandma: What? You're working in a brothel? Let me tell you about my days working in a brothel.

You: (cringing) No, Grandma. A novel. I'm writing a novel!

Grandma: Oh. What's it about? Not one of those vampire romance thing.

You: No. (takes a deep breath) It's about an orphan who learns she's really a famous wizard and has to kill---

Grandma: (cutting you off) Didn't they already make that movie? What's it called, "Sunny Potter"?

Grandpa: (yelling into Grandma's ear) That was "Twilight."

Grandma: No. It was "Sunny Potter." 

You: It's Harry Potter and my story's different. The main character is a girl.

Of course your novel is unique and not Harry Potterish in the least. But somebody at the table will tell you it reminds them of something they've read or seen. And somebody else will tell you how they could never write a novel. And ever after this day, they will all ask how that novel is coming along, and you'll kind of wish I never gave you this assignment. But it's good practice, so do it!

* WIP = Work in Progress (I add this footnote because years ago when I started, I could not figure out what the heck a WIP was but was too shy to ask. And that makes for awkward internet moments.)

CoolWriter42: Hey, how's your WIP going?
(starts to type...hesitates...types)
Newbie1100039: Good. :)
(Googles -"what is a wip?")


Friday, November 9, 2012

NaNoWriMo Homeschooling Workshop and Cures for Writer's Block

The NaNoWriMo homeschooling group is going well. We get together, eat snacks, I give a short talk, giving ideas they can take or leave, make plot bunnies, write, and laugh a lot!

My suggestion this week was this to write what your primary theme is, then interview your main character regarding it. How does he/she feel about it? Just free write in first person as if you were typing out his/her exact words. This gets you to connect with your character and your main theme.

Plot bunnies!  Some of us made these at a NaNo café gathering a while back. Each person writes some little detail or plot device that might help somebody with writer's block get unstuck. And you fold it into an origami rabbit. Toss them all in a basket and each person takes one. They aren't to open it unless they're really stuck. Here's a link to simple origami rabbit instructions.
If you don't have a NaNo group, you use the random writers' block plot cures post I wrote last year. I've actually used it myself a couple of times. Quite useful.
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