Thursday, December 13, 2012

Santa Lucia

Here's another short snippet from "Distant Shore" that got deleted during the editing process. It's about today, St. Lucy Day, and it takes place in Halmar, at Naomi's apartment in her Seaside Hotel. Happy St. Lucy Day, y'all!

On St. Lucia’s day, she woke him early in the morning.
Solveigh and Andrea were with her, in long, white gowns, and Solveigh was wearing a crown of burning candles on her open hair, the flames gently flickering, casting golden highlights onto her locks.
They were singing, their voices blending beautifully, and serving him coffee and fresh saffron rolls on a tray decorated with more burning candles and green branches that smelled of forest and raisin.
Jon sat up in bed, confused and displaced, and stared at the fairy spectacle before him.
“It is really a Swedish custom,” Solveigh explained, “But we love it. We bring light and breakfast to the hotel guests, and we do it for you, as well. Welcome to our home, Wonder Boy.”
 Wax was dripping into her hair, but she did not seem to mind.
There was a solemn quietness about the early hour and the three female figures walking through the room, lighting candles and transforming the apartment into an enchanted environment.  
Time seemed to move slower during these weeks before Christmas, almost as if the people around him willed it so, savoring every minute of the dark time instead of wishing it over as fast as possible, making a feast of every day, celebrating every morning that brought them closer to the longest night. It fitted so well with the impression he had gained on Midsummer Night when they had feasted on the meadow until sunrise, then, too, marking the change of the seasons and making space in their lives to step out of the routine for hours of celebrating nothing else but the light and the summer and the balmy air.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Ruined For Life

There's something really cool about being stupid.
If you're stupid about things, you can enjoy them as they are, see them through the eyes of an innocent, take them at face value.
Let's look at an example: the Lord of the Rings movies. Aren't they just like WOW when you see them for the first time? Aren't you amazed at how real everything looks, and how in the world did they make actors we all know be as small as Hobbits? The Moria mines, Lothlorien – it looks so REAL!
Didn't you watch with child-like amazement? I know I did. Until I watched the "Making Of".
Now I know how they made Gandalf seem so much larger than Bilbo, and how they create these fairy worlds against a blue backdrop. Those characters didn't really wander through a magical forest or sculpted caves. They were safe and dry in a studio, and computers did the rest.
So when I watch Lord of the Rings now, the wonder is gone, and I hate that. I hate that I watched those stupid documentaries and destroyed the illusion for myself. Those tricks and manipulations, I didn't need to know about them. But now that I do, I can't unthink them.

It's the same with books.
After having written three myself, after having gone through the editing and publishing process with two of them, the innocence of reading – and writing – is gone forever.
What I'm trying to say is, I can't pick up a book anymore and just enjoy it. The editing and critique devil never sleeps now, and it's a very ferocious master.

You introduce NINE characters in the first chapter of you novel? NUH HUH!!!
You TELL the entire back story on the first three pages of your book? PLEASE DON'T!
Your metaphors and comparisons are well-used phrases? BORING!
You use big words just to show your readers you know them? PLEASE!

It's a strange world. Reading has been ruined for me.
Of course, not all of it. But it's so much easier to separate bad writing from good, strained writing from the seemingly effortless ease of elegantly flowing words.
There's this one thing that I've been wondering about for a while now. Are writers incapable of seeing if their writing is good or not? Shouldn't they be able to see it?
Generally, if you've become a writer, you've also always been a reader. Can't a writer tell good stuff from the bad? And if you can see it in the books you read, why can't you see it in your own writing?

I'd really like to hear what you think.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Storm, The Writer and The Chicken

So while Hurricane Sandy is making its slow but potentially lethal way toward New York City - which makes me wonder; WHY is it always NYC? Godzilla, Independence Day, Day After Tomorrow, Planet of the Apes, and so many more - why is it always NYC that gets battered?
Anyway - while Sandy is making its way toward New York, my  dear friend Johanna Harness is lamenting the fact that I made chicken soup yesterday without documenting and posting the procedure.

To be honest, it never occurred to me. I make chicken soup so often in winter, it's much like making coffee: I don't think about it anymore.
But for Johanna, and anyone else who wants to know, this is how I make chicken soup, how I learned to make it from my grandmother. It is NOT a low-fat recipe. But it's the Number One of all comfort foods on a stormy, cold October day.

The things you need:

a chicken. And I don't mean one of your lean, I'll-be-done-in-ten-minutes chicken. I mean a hefty farm hen that has led a long life and acquired some meat and yes, fat.

some veggies:
- a couple of nice, big organic carrots
- celeriac. Yes, one of these ugly buggers, peeled and cut into chunks, and it won't harm at all if you wash and toss in the green, as well.

- one or two stems of leek, cut into... oh, let's say, thumb-length pieces (WASHED, of course!)
- two or three bay leaves
- salt and pepper
- a cube or two of Knorr chicken stock.
Did you know Knorr is a German company? Just like Maggi.

Now the secret to making a chicken soup that will stay clear and be really aromatic is that you need to put it on COLD.
So put all these ingredients in a large pot, add COLD water until the chicken is well covered, and bring to a boil without a lid. Once the soup begins to boil, cover tightly, and turn down the heat to medium (or less) until the soup simmers. NO more boiling, just gentle simmering. Can you SMELL it? And do you know what makes that heavenly smell so heavenly? It's that ugly bugger, the celeriac!

And then you forget about it for the next two or three hours.
See, this is one reason why I love to make chicken soup. It takes about ten minutes to put in the pot, and then you have all the time in the world to write!

Two hours later, the soup is done - but not ready.
You need something to go inside, right? It's a matter of taste whether you prefer noodles or rice - I've never been able to make up my mind. Basmati rice is really, really delicious in chicken soup, but so are noodles. Don't buy the cheapest you can get. Buy really nice egg noodles of your preferred shape.
But whatever you use, ride or noodles, cook them separately, not in the soup!

Remove the chicken from the pot and cut off the meat. If you bought the nice farm hen I was talking about, you'll have plenty of juicy, tender meat! Distribute it into the serving bowl, add your rice or noodles, and ladle the soup over it. Some people like the boiled vegetables (like my husband), some hate them (like me).
And.. SERVE!

Oh - you might want to know this. A bottle of Maggi condiment is never missing on a German table when there's chicken soup.

It's a total staple in German households! I've seen it in American grocery stores, so if yours has it, buy it. I promise. It will change your life forever. Add a dash to your soup before eating... hmmmm....
If you want to know, it's made from a herb that's called "Liebstöckel" in Germany. My dictionary tells me the English word is "lovage".

So here you go, Johanna: German, homemade chicken soup! Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Almost a Hobbit

It's funny how these blog hops change things.
Suddenly, I'm friends with so many more people, people I knew from Twitter but who seemed so far away in space and time that we never really got to talking.
One of these people is the wonderful Carrie Bailey, who lives in New Zealand. It's the other end of the world, for me.
When I asked her if she would participate in my blog hop for Under The Same Sun she agreed immediately, which is why New Zealand is reading about me and my books right now. Well – not all of New Zealand, of course. But some folks.
Here is one interesting snippet about Carrie: she was almost a hobbit.
When Peter Jackson went to New Zealand to film "Lord of the Rings" she almost applied to be an extra in the movies, as a hobbit. But she didn't. Which is why I can't point at the screen every time we watch those movies and say, "Do you see that hobbit girl with the tankards? That's my friend!"

So here is Carrie's guest blog. Welcome to Germany, Carrie!

A month ago I was watching television in my moldy little Wellington apartment with my kiwi (New Zealander) boyfriend when what might have been the single greatest opportunity of my life flashed across the screen. “Watch all your favorite shows at the same time as the Americans!” 
That struck a cord. I’ve always lived in strange and isolated areas and grew up out of range of cable broadcasting. I remember thinking as a kid living on the westernmost point of the Oregon coast, “Hey wait a minute! Those people in Eastern Standard Time get to see National Geographic before we do.” Such things leave one feeling somehow left out, don’t they?
Since moving to New Zealand, I’ve come to believe that time zone related resentment is an understudied phenomenon. I don't often watch television, but knowing I could have access to it at the same time as my family and friends do back home does make me feel very 21rst century. It’s a good feeling, like being part of a global community rather than dangling off the very edge of it. Did I mention we line dry our clothes here? Even when it’s raining, because clothes dryers are considered optional?
And then, there’s the Internet access. A few years ago I would have thought that my New Zealand standard 40 GB per month Internet service might be the basis for a horror movie: The Country that Charged by the Gigabyte! But, hey, that’s the real New Zealand. 
There are no hobbits and all of that beautiful scenery from the Lord of the Rings is largely tucked away out of view on the South island. Geographical isolation has its benefits though. Take the kiwi bird for example. The steep New Zealand hills were full of oddly shaped flightless birds of all shapes and sizes. Isolation allows unique things to develop like a quasi-religious national obsession with their beefy rugby team, the All-Blacks who always perform the indigenous Maori war chant called a haka before games, or Peter Jackson’s movie industry, which sprung up from nowhere almost overnight to make The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. 
With such a small population, it seems nearly everyone participated to make things happen. I admit I almost went to the casting calls to be an extra for The Hobbit, but stopped short, because I feared I might end up remembered forever as female hobbit, scene five, holding the green mug. “Yes, I was bar wench hobbit standing behind Bilbo for two seconds about ten minutes in,” I would have to say over and over again to German tourists in my half-Oregonian half-kiwi accent. 
By the way, that kiwi boyfriend I mentioned earlier was one of the enormous mucous-covered, heavily muscled creatures from the invasion force in the second Lord of the Rings movie. Or, at least, he and half of Wellington helped provide the sound effects for the opening fight scene by loading into the stadium and stamping their feet in unison. So, in a way, he was. In a small-framed-high-fore-headed-accountant-looking sort of way. 
Unfortunately, I’ve never had any real interest in acting. I paint. I do graphic design and I write. I’m writing a dystopian novel set in New Zealand’s future. Though nearly indistinguishable from a fantasy novel set in ancient Babylon, there are considerably more flightless birds in my story. And while no New Zealand authors are household names, I’m not without hope. It is a major global oversight. This country has a unique region of immense biodiversity, isolated and peculiar in the most compelling ways. The largest insect in the world lives here. It’s like a grasshopper on steroids. If you want to see something different, something inspirational, here is good for that. If you want to watch streaming video? Maybe not so much. Fortunately, we’ve got this lovely little shop down the road with a thriving DVD rental business. 
It was The Country that Time Forgot, but for me, it’s the best writing environment I could imagine. And the time zone envy? I got over that once I discovered the DVD shop have a sizeable videocassette collection, too. No, really! I was even asked if I had a machine that played them once. When was the last time you saw one of those? 
Don’t be jealous. You come for the Hobbit premier and you can get the cassette as a souvenir. 
Carrie Bailey 


Monday, October 22, 2012

"Land of Hope" - a mosaic of voices

Today I have the honor of introducing Junying Kirk to you.
She's been an author friend for a long time, and I've watched her write this book with joy and anticipation. Here's my review of her latest novel.

Land of Hope Book Blurb

Every year, millions of illegal immigrants cross borders in search of wealth, happiness and a life of ease in the Land of Hope. Some succeed. Others suffer unimaginable hardships. 

When Jack Gordon, Inspector in the SCS (Serious Crime Squad) hires Pearl Zhang, a professional Chinese interpreter, they join forces to fight injustice in the corrupt underworld of international crime, human trafficking and sexual exploitation. 

Pearl is the voice of broken dreams, translating raw, deranged, and colorful tales of those who cannot speak for themselves. As Pearl gets more and more tangled in the lives of strangers, Jack becomes a welcome diversion, complicated by the fact that both are married. Their trans-continental roller-coaster ride derails when Pearl tumbles into the sinister world of her clients, a world full of secrets, lies, and unspeakable violence - only this time, it's directed at her. 

Can she depend on Jack? Find out in this third and final book of Junying Kirk's "Journey to the West" trilogy.   

Land Of Hope - a review

Land Of Hope by author Junying Kirk was not at all what I expected. 
What begins like a comfortable English TV crime show—much in the vein of Inspector Lewis or Midsomer Murders—soon spills over into a multi-layered tapestry of interwoven stories. 
Kirk, like her female protagonist, Pearl, is of Chinese origin,and an interpreter of Mandarin. She  too, is married, lives  in England, and works with the police and the courts, which makes her insights into their workings authentic, and at times bleak. As if to counterbalance this, she weaves a love story into her novel, one that seems as surprising to the characters, as it is to the reader. Pearl and Gordon just aren’t meant for each other, and we feel it right away. While around them the many layers of the mystery—that begins with the fire at the fruit packaging plant— unfolds, Pearl and DI Gordon take time out for a break from the reality of their problematic marriages and dreary work days.
Kirk’s language in the chapters dealing with Pearl and Gordon and the investigation is brisk, sometimes even male in its directness, but her real strength shows in the chapters told from the Chinese immigrants’ point of view.
I’m not sure Kirk realizes her true potential lies here: even hardships in a Maoistic China sound lyrical, reminiscent of Pearl Buck, and are alluringly exotic to a European reader. The reason may be that she uses first-person narrative in these parts of the book, but there is also a fluent, comfortable flow to the language that is missing from the crime chapters.
Kirk is not afraid of using violence, and decribes these scenes in realistic detail.
Let me just say, her heroine Pearl is made of sterner stuff than most women.
Land Of Hope is a satisfying read, but since it’s the third in a trilogy, you may want to start with books one and two.

Junying Kirk is an author to watch, and I look forward to her giving us more insights into the culture of China in her future books.


Author Bio: Junying Kirk grew up in the turbulent times of the Cultural Revolution. A British Council scholarship led her to study English Language Teaching at a top English University in 1988, followed by further postgraduate degrees at Glasgow and Leeds. She has worked as an academic, administrator, researcher, teacher, cultural consultant and professional interpreter. She loves reading and is the author of 'Journey to the West' trilogy, The Same MoonThe Same Moon Trials of Life and Land of Hope, and she blogs at

The blog hop goes on here: Don't forget to check it out tomorrow!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Buddhapuss Ink: Yes Virginia, It Is a Blog Hop and Other Fun Stuff...

The Blog Hop for Under the Same Sun is on! You can follow all stops from my publisher's page.
Do leave a comment for your chance to win a free copy of the book!

Here's the link:

Buddhapuss Ink: Yes Virginia, It Is a Blog Hop and Other Fun Stuff...: MONDAY, OCTOBER 15th - follow @Mariam_Kobras on twitter as she celebrates the launch of her new book, UNDER THE SAME SUN . Mariam will be tw...

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Launch Day, Softly

I always thought it would be different.
In my dreams, "launch day" always meant PARTY TIME, and not more work.
But that's the way it is: it's more work, especially if Amazon takes everyone by surprise again and launches early, and consequently makes a mess of all the carefully laid plans for the real launch day.
Now I could be cool about it and say, "Happens to me all the time!" and it would be the truth.

Happens to me all the time. Both times.
My readers are happy! They get their pre-ordered books earlier than they thought, and I'm glad for them.
For me, though, it's like... you know when you have a shiny, new balloon, a really well-filled balloon, and someone gives you a needle and says, "You can pop this balloon, and there will be a loud and fantastic BANG and all that confetti and glitter hidden inside will POP out and YAY it will be party time! But you have to wait until Monday, or everything will be spoiled!" – that.
And so you sit and wait and stare at the balloon and make all kinds of plans about how everything will be glittery with the stuff inside it, and you'll go out and buy champagne and cake to celebrate the pop – and then you find out that the balloon has a leak! There won't be any pop and sparkle after all, just a gentle leaking, and on Monday, there'll be nothing but a flaccid rubber skin and sadly drifting confetti.

So this is how it went yesterday.
People were telling me their pre-ordered copies of "Under The Same Sun" had shipped, and yay, they would be spending the weekend reading my new book! I went over to the Amazon page, and no kidding, it was in stock.
Which means it had launched. Yay.
I told my husband. He was watching football, Germany vs. Ireland, and the Germans had just been cheated out of a penalty, which did not amuse my husband.
"Great," he said, and I don't know if he meant me or the referee.
My kid, engrossed in Minecraft or something of the sort, grunted an "Aha" at me.
So much for launching a second book!
I went over to Twitter, and tweeted it. Two or three people reacted. Everyone else was watching football or having dinner. Twitter was fast asleep.

So here I was, with my second book released, and all alone with that fact. Even my publisher was out shopping or something.

See, the secret here is the word "second". It's another book. In my opinion, it's the most important book in a writing career. Getting lucky with the first one, getting it published, isn't that hard. But then, after that, you have to follow up. You have to prove to yourself, your publisher and the world that you can do more than spit out one book, and that's where the tough part begins.
I was so much more afraid when I submitted this second book. When I sent it in, I kept asking myself, "Will they like it as much as the first? What if they don't like it? What will happen if they reject it, will I ever have the guts to write another one?"
Well, as you can see, they did like it, even said it was better than the first, and congratulations, you are growing as a writer, you're doing great.

You see me a little dazed today. It's Saturday, and I'm working on the posts for the blog hop that begins on Monday.
I'm an author with two published books.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Twice A Year, And No Mistake

It's that time of the year again, and no, I don't mean Christmas.
It's time to launch a book!
When I was no more than one of those writers wading through untold pages of words, lost somewhere in a manuscript that seemingly had no beginning and no end, while a publisher was sitting on my shoulder and waiting for me to get done with the editing, I promised myself this one thing:
If I ever get published, if this impossible tome ever can be turned into a book worth publishing and I get that elusive book deal, then I'll work my behind off to be a success.
Two books a year, that was my goal. I wanted to publish two books a year, even if it broke my back.
Even if the house never got cleaned again, lunch would only ever be cold and slapped together, I was determined: this would work.
Or rather, I would work. And work hard.
Back then, I had no idea that working hard at being an author would mean so much more than putting out two medium-sized novels a year.
In fact, the novel-writing is like the dessert in this brand-new author world.  Granted, it's a BIG dessert. It's a dessert that makes up most of the meal. But man, the main course and hors d'oeuvre are like fish and birds with many, many bones. Small bones, too, that can get stuck in the gullet easily.
Let no one fool you: being an author means more than writing books. You have to sell them, too.
You have to have the guts to walk into a bookstore, your book in hand, and tell people "Hey, look, I wrote a book and it even won an award, why don't you put it on your shelf?"

Yep, I did that, twice.

One bookstore (a big one with a BIG English department, right here in Hamburg, Germany) wouldn't even give me the time of day. If it isn't at the top of the wholesale recommendation lists we aren't interested, and have a nice day, grasshopper.
At the other one, though, here in my small hometown, they were thrilled, and ordered it right away.
They asked me to come in and sign the copies they had put up – not on some obscure shelf, but on the counter, where everyone would have to see them.
My novel "The Distant Shore", was sold out within two weeks.
In Germany, and a book written in English!

Here is is:

A moment of glory, I can tell you.

So now, in a few weeks, they will be able to put book #2 up there, right next to new copies of book #1, and I'm especially proud of that because I made them do it.
My publisher was delighted, and praised me for my initiative and sheer guts.
It wasn't really that hard.
I believe in my books. They are my product, I wrote them. I created every character, every scene.
If I'm not prepared to go out there and promote them, who will? It's my job, part of my job as author.
Remember the bones I was talking about earlier?

A couple of days ago I told my publisher I wanted to get somewhere with my writing. I wanted to be a success so I could have that Porsche while I was still young enough to get in and out of the damned thing.
They laughed, but I swear there was more than a trace of respect in it. They love my ambition, because it tells them I'm on track, working my behind off.

So now it's time to launch my second book. Here it is:

Not long now. Just a few more days.
By the way, book #3 is written and submitted. Book #4 is well on its way to being finished. I'm guessing by Christmas.
As I said: two books a year, and no mistake.
There has to be a reason why my publisher likes to call me frustrating and obsessive.
They always add, "But you're also imaginative, articulate, silly and cute, kind and gentle, and a really good egg all around."
I kind of like the "frustrating and obsessive" though. It will get me the Porsche in the end. Silly and cute  – not so much, I'd still be using the bus.


Sunday, August 26, 2012

Books, Wine and Music – Club Fantasci - Guest Blog by David Lowry

A great honor, and a great pleasure: my guest blogger today is no one other than the one and only David Lowry, President of Lowry Agency!!

Books, Wine and Music – Club Fantasci brings you your three favorite things (Guest Blog by David Lowry)

If you love to read, think you are a wine connoisseur or love music then Club Fantasci is the new book club for you. A break from the traditional book club as it is held by a Google+ hangout, Club Fantasci endeavors to bring you something new to your reading experience. With live discussion, a sense of humor and also a critical look at books and all things necessary to help a book break through the masses, Club Fantasci will break down everything from its literary merits to its marketing. 

Our first meeting will be on August 31st at 7:00pm CST on Google+ with the live feed available to watch on the Club Fantasci website. To participate and share your views or just have fun with the hosts you can interact with us on our twitters pages @lowryagency, @ciaraballintyne, @dionnelister and @shannonmillion

Here is a bit more about Club Fantasci:

Club Fantasci is a book club taking the stigma out of speculative fiction. We want to expose you to the full gamut of the speculative fiction genre, including science fiction, hard SF, militaristic SF, high/epic fantasy, dark fantasy, dystopian, cyberpunk, steampunk, space opera, paranormal, urban fantasy, SFF romance and erotica, and everything in between.

We want to educate readers on good writing in speculative fiction, entertain with witty banter, and above all have a fantastic time. Fiction need not be literary to be well-written, and good writing need not be boring or mundane! We promise you we’ll do our best to bring you a good book every month, and if not, we’ll tell you why it’s not! For a bit of light fun, we’ll also be featuring a wine of the month and picking a song that best fits the book. So bring your book, keep that wineglass topped up, and don’t forget your i-pod!

Your hosts are David Lowry, Dionne Lister (author of Shadows of the Realm), entertainment personality and model Shannon Million, and Ciara Ballintyne – your resident fantasy writer/lawyer extraordinaire combo!

Club Fantasci is also featuring a ‘Wine of the Month’ – August’s pick is a 2011 ‘Suited Muscat’ from Sort This Out Cellars Winery in Solvang, CA. Club members are entitled to a discount – check out the club website for more information.

You can learn more about us by:

Joining our group on Goodreads

Liking our Page on Facebook

Checking out our Website

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Reporter From Marridon Blog Hop

It's a great honor for me to be opening the blog hop for Michelle Franklin's "Reporter From Marridon"!
Michelle and I met on Twitter - where so many serendipitous meetings happen - and somehow, we clicked right from the start. Michelle is probably the most diligent author I know. She works all the time! And now she's reaping the reward with this publishing deal. I'm awfully proud of her.
Congrats, Michelle!

To celebrate this launch, Michelle is giving us an excerpt from her new book.
Here is a synopsis:

Synopsis: A reporter from Marridon, the advanced and allied nation to the north of Frewyn, is dispatched to Diras to meet with the famous Commander and Den Asaan, heroes and saviors of the Two Continents. It would seem to be a simple task, to ask a few questions of the strange woman and giant, but when the reporter slights the king's personal guard, he finds that getting a story to print may be harder than previously conceived.

And here is the excerpt:

From Chapter 2

The reporter came to the iron gate of the castle to find a rather unbecoming guard standing in his way: a man of long face, curly and tied back hair, immense stature and stern conviction. He seemed to be proud of his profession as a Royal Guard, marked so by the ornamental shield in his left hand, the immense sword in his right, and by the lion-head pauldron adorning his shoulder. He assumed that such a devoted creature to be brutish and uninformed young man, but when he demanded, “I’m here on a matter of business. You would do well to let me pass,” he was treated with unexpected alacrity of mind.
                “And you are, sir?” said the guard in a bemused and chary tone.
                “I am a scribe from Marridon, merely here to have a consultation to edify the people of the Triumvirate.” A nod and a friendly smile would persuade the guard to open the gate, but the  reporter soon found himself under a mistake to think that such behaviour would be his admittance.
                The guard widened his stance and held his enormous shield in front of his chest as though preparing to strike. “Did Her Grace the Duchess of Marridon send you?” said the guard in a firm tone.
                “In a manner of speaking.” The reporter was still smiling.
                “Then I will need to see your documentation, including your Triumvirate travel documents, Marridon identification, and Her Grace’s summons to His Majesty King Alasdair.”
                All the graciousness in the reporter’s countenance was brooked by the guard’s obdurate adherence to the law. He sighed in contempt, handed over all his certifications, and tapped his foot with impatience as each document was carefully scoured.    
                The guard observed the reporter’s profession marked on his identification and instantly returned all the credentials to its owner. “None of these documents bear Her Grace’s seal. Does Her Grace know that you’re here?”
                “She does, but I am not here to see the king.”
                “You are not here to see the king, sir,” the guard heatedly corrected him.
                The reporter fleered at such arrogance, turned aside and placed his hands on his hips. “And who might you be?” he sneered.
                “I am Sir Mureadh Farhayden, Captain of the Royal Guard and appointed protector of the Brennin line, and whether you are here to appeal to His Majesty or to one of his commanders, you need the king’s permission or proof of a personal commons from someone within the keep to enter. Otherwise, you may leave.”
                The reporter made a drawn out sigh, placing his hand over his eyes. “I’m only here to see the giant and the woman,” he groaned.
                Mureadh had done with this insolence. He did not care for the reporter’s impropriety or his discomposed complacence. His sense of honour and duty to his commanders would not allow him to relent in his instruction, and he felt it advisable to enlighten him to the position of both the persons he sought. “And why exactly do you need to see Commander MacDaede and the Den Asaan?”
                “I’m here to carry out an interview with them-“
                “Has either commander or the Den Asaan previously agreed to this interview?”
                The reporter averted his eyes. “Not in so many words, but-“
                Mureadh interposed with a strident laugh. “The Den Asaan would never agree to an interview or even agree to speak to someone he doesn’t know.”
                “And how would you know that, Sir?”
                “Because he is my superior officer,” said Mureadh with resolution. “He trained me for the armed forces, and if there is one thing I’ve learned about him it is that he does not trust anyone he hasn’t investigated first. He won’t talk to you even if you sent him a summons.”
                “And the woman?”
                “The commander,” Mureadh said in a meaningful accent, “would probably laugh at you for coming all this way for nothing.”
                The reporter swore to himself and devised a small note to be conveyed inside the keep. “Would you take this to the commander?”
                “Absolutely not.”
                The reporter made a sly grin. “I don’t believe you’ve read its contents.” He winked and opened the note to reveal that it had been filled with more than a simple message.
                Mureadh did not flinch. “Not only is bribery illegal,” he said, now forgoing the formalities of title, “but those are Marridon bills. Frewyn does not accept those as currency and neither do I.” He pointed the reporter back to the docks. “Leave before I carry you to the peristyle and throw you into the river.”
                The reporter owned himself defeated at present; he had chosen the wrong man to underestimate, and now he could only lament and be miserable. He chided himself for being precipitant in his assumptions and was forced to walk back toward the square with diminished hopes and a slighted heart. He would contrive to find another means of speaking to the woman and the giant, but for now he must find one of Frewyn’s wretched taverns and search for lodgings for the coming evening.
                Mureadh, rather pleased with his performance, smiled to himself and looked up to find the Den Asaan at his usual perch for this time in early evening. He had little doubt of the giant seeing the entire affair from the crenels of the castle battlements, and he was not surprised at the commander coming to his side a few moments later to watch the reporter scurry away from the castle entrance.
                “Shall I ask about that shabby fellow?” the commander smirked.
                “A reporter from Marridon, commander,” Mureadh said with a salute.
                The commander beamed. “A reporter, indeed. You should have allowed my mate to see him.” She looked up and regarded Rautu’s austere watch of the capital, his trappings whipping in the gentle breeze of coming evening. “I daresay he would have gloried in his brilliant company,” she laughed. “I’m certain Alasdair would have seen him and sent all the necessary notification to the Duchess.”
                “He came to see you and the Den Asaan.”
                The commander gave Mureadh an incredulous look. “Me? Why me? A farmer can be interesting only those of her kind. A commander might be interesting to those in need of her assistance, but a woman can be interesting to no one at all when clothed, I assure you.”
                Mureadh simpered and shook his head, and he wondered whether he should have allow the reporter to meet the commander and Den Asaan if only to have the former attack him with her cleverness and the latter scowl at him accordingly. 

Michelle's Bio: Michelle Franklin is a small woman of moderate consequence who writes many, many books about giants, romance, and chocolate.

Links: Michelle's Blog( 

Publication Date: August 21, 2012
Publisher: Paper Crane Books

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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Barbie Doll

This story was originally published on

                                                 (Art: Eric G. Thompson)

I’m late for my lunch meeting with Freddy. 
Bloody stupid traffic jam held my cab up, so I jumped out and walked along the last couple of blocks to Harvard Square. Of course I’m sweaty and exhausted by the time I get to the restaurant where we like to hang out, but he’s there, good soul that he is, and has held the table for us.
“Damnable heat,” are his greeting words, and he raises his hand to signal to the waiter.
“Fish and chips,” Freddy says, “Today I’m definitely going to have that.” 
It feels much too hot to think of food.
“What about you?” He hands me the faux-leather-bound menu. 
“Salad. Just salad.” 
Freddy is at his dapper best again. I’ve never yet seen him in anything but those striped shirts and bowties, in winter with a tweed jacket, in summer with a straw hat. 
We’ve been meeting like this for quite a while now, maybe three years or so. It has become a kind of ritual, always the same place, and nearly always the same meals, at least for Freddy. He flirts with the menu, announces he will pick something else, and then ends up with the fish and chips and beer.
“So,” he asks when the waiter steps away, “What news?”
He always asks that question, as if I know everything only because I’m a police detective. In fact he seems kind of greedy for the morsels I’m allowed to spill.
“Nothing much this week.” A girl brings a basket of bread and butter, and Freddy spreads the linen napkin on his lap. Very daintily he picks out a slice of the bread and begins to nibble on it.
“It’s summer break, nothing much is going on. Everyone else has left Cambridge. Sorry, no gruesome tales for you today.”
His face falls at those words. “Oh. Too bad. You make me feel connected to real life with your news, my friend. You know how it is.” With  wave of his hand he indictates the general direction of the university. “Living and working behind those walls is like living in a different dimension sometimes.”
Freddy works at one of the libraries, the Archives, but I’ve never understood what exactly he does there, and to be honest, I don’t really care. That campus, Harvard, has always seemed like a strange world to me. Just walking through those gates seems like an act of profanity if you don’t belong there.
“We did have a stalking case this week,” I say, more to keep him amused than anything else, “But it was just that, a dropped lover who wouldn’t let go. The fact that he spent a night in prison was enough to make him leave town. Case solved.”
Our entrees are served. My salad looks intriguing and delicious with its mix of greens and fruit, and the two thin slices of poached salmon.
Freddy rubs his hands in glee over his huge serving of fish. I know he won’t, like every Friday, be able to even finish half of it, but will have the rest packed and take it home in a doggie bag. I’ve always wondered if he maybe has a cat that’s looking forward to his leftovers.
“That’s not really stalking.” He bites into one of his fries. It’s so fresh that I can hear the crunch.
“What is?”
Well-mannered as always, he swallows before replying. “The guy you’re talking about. That’s not really stalking. If he leaves off after you caught him and even goes away, that’s not stalking.”
Intrigued, I put down my fork. “Not? How do you define stalking, then?”
Freddy leans back into his chair. “Oh, a real stalker would never let go, I think.”
“You think? Yeah, I think they do let go if you scare the living daylights out of them.” Amused, his attitude amuses me. As if a librarian knew about stalking. As if dapper, slight and intelligently witty Freddy knew about stalking. Right.
His blue eyes regard me with cool amusement while he brakes off a piece of fish and pierces it with the fork.
“Change tactics, maybe, but never let go.”
The way he says that sends chills down my back. “You think so? You think a stalker can be obsessed enough to outsmart the police?”
“Oh, dear boy, most certainly.” He draws his brows together. “Now if I were a stalker, I’d never let go of the object I adore.” 
A group of tourists stream in, chatting loudly in French, and a bright smile flashes across Freddy’s face. “Ah, Europe,” he sighs, “So cultured.” He puts down his fork. “Well, as I was going to say, if I were a stalker, I’d lay my plans carefully, go about it slowly, and never take a direct route.”
“You’re scaring me, Fred,” I say, and it’s true. 
But he gives me a grin and pats my shoulder. “Come on, dear friend, we’re just talking hypothetically, aren’t we. I get to read many books in my line of work, some more fun than others.” 
“Okay, then, tell me!”
“First of all,” he slowly says, “You have to understand the underlying motives for stalking. Why, do you think, someone turns into a stalker?”
Now that one’s easy enough. I’m not a detective for nothing. Before I can reply though, Freddy goes on, “A stalker doesn’t decide to become a stalker. Let’s say I was one. Let’s assume I was a stalker.” He points at our waitress. “When I was a little boy I wanted nothing more than a Barbie doll. I wanted one with long, blond hair, and beautiful dresses, and I wanted to play with her, dress her up, do her hair, slip those high heels on her little plastic feet. I even had cleared out a nook in my wardrobe for her stuff, and built a house for her over the summer holidays. My mother thought it was for a rabbit or hamster, but no, I wanted my Barbie doll to live in it. I think my mother got suspicious when I started nicking scraps of fabric from her quilting chest to put on the bed and windows of my playhouse. I drove me mad that she didn’t have anything I could use for carpeting! And lace. I needed lace for the sheets on my Barbie’s bed, and so I bribed my friend Sam to steal some from his mother, who was a quilter too. My mother asked me why I thought a hamster needed a bed with a lace sheet, but of course I didn’t tell her. My birthday was drawing close, and my only wish was for a Barbie doll.”
He breaks off to take a drink of beer and a bite of his  fish.
“Nice story,” I say. My appetite has gone away. His tale sounds too real for comfort.
Freddy shrugs. “It’s just a story. I’ve always thought of writing crime, and maybe you’re just now helping me to find the courage to do it!” 
After another bite he goes on, “So my ninth birthday comes, and there’s no Barbie. Of course there isn’t. My parents would never give me, their son, a doll. I could turn into a fag, right?”
His English words always sound so elegant and sophisticated to me. A naturally born gentleman, is Freddy.
“And there I am, a disappointed young boy who wanted nothing but some feminine beauty.”
His tale is beginning to be amusing. This isn’t exactly how a man turns into a stalker, at least not in my book, but his narration is entertaining enough, so I let him ramble on.
“Of course, over the next years, I grow out of it. Dolls and dollhouses were…not so much forgotten as pushed into the back of my mind. The girls I try to date? They are all images of Barbie. Of course not one of them is really EXACTLY like her. One is too short, one too tall, the other’s waist isn’t slim enough, and the next one doesn’t have enough chest. That one needs to lighten up her hair, and this one’s has too much curls. I’m looking for the perfect girl. The one perfect girl with cornflower eyes, rosy lips, long, wavy, golden hair and the figure of a doll. The one who would wear high heels even when on her way to the shower, and who’d never talk. Can you imagine Barbie talking? I can’t.” Again, he shrugs. “Or rather, I don’t want to imagine how that voice sounds. It can’t be anywhere near good enough to match her perfect body.”
The blond girl who brought us our food saunters over with a jar of water to refill our glasses, and Freddy measures her.
“This one?” he says, “She would need SO much work to make her perfect. But it’s summer break, and there’s not much material around, so she’ll have to do.”
“Do? For what?” 
“Oh, you know. I need a Barbie in my life.” He asks her for another beer, and she smiles at him. It makes him regard her through narrowed eyes until she gets impatient and walks away.
“So why not buy all the dolls you couldn’t have as a kid and put them on a shelf now? You know you can get them on eBay easily enough. You don’t have to imagine live girls as Barbies.”
“Boring.” Again, he shrugs me away. “I’ve grown out of that by now.” His eyes gleaming, he leans forward and rests his elbows on the table. “And I have the ideal job! I work in the vaults of Harvard, in its oldest parts, and there are rooms that are unused, never visited, totally forgotten. Everyone would believe that if it were in a novel, wouldn’t they? And it would make a really great setting!”
It would indeed. I have to agree on that. Before my mind’s eye I see dark, dank corridors, creaking metal doors, muddy light from flickering bulbs…pretty much like the murkier corners of an old warehouse. And right at the end where you think you can’t go any farther, Freddy’s secret chamber…and I realize he has succeeded in planting this vision in my mind. I’m scared for him to open that door. He’s insanely good at telling his tale.
“I’ve found a space in the bowels of our building,” Freddy says.
I have to blink and take a good drink of my tea. Now I know why I never watch CSI or Criminal Minds or anything like that. It’s so far away from my daily police reality it’s almost like a parody, but strangely enough, with Freddy’s tale, it seems so much more real.
“And that room, I turn it into a replica of my doll house. It takes me a couple of years, I have to be very circumspect. But one day it’s finished. And then, during one Christmas night when really no one at all is around, I bring in a doll. Not a Barbie, mind you, but a life-sized dummy that I found on eBay.” He grins at me. “I do know eBay. And isn’t it just cool what you can get through the internet these days? There’s nearly nothing you can’t buy.”
I’m torn between scoffing and asking him if he really did that. My skin is crawling. But hey, this is Freddy, I’ve known him for years, and I’d be the last he’d tell he’s a…
“What you’re describing, Fred,” I say, “That’s not stalking. That’s budding serial killing, my friend. Watch it, you may have to change your premises.”
Surprised, he stares at me. “Really? You think so? I’ve never thought of it as serial killing.”
For a few minutes he sits silently, musing. Then he shakes it off, as if he has decided that this is something that doesn’t fit into his story.
“Anyway,” he picks up his thread, “The mannequin is all good and well, but it’s not perfect. I want a perfect, life-sized Barbie, and so I start strolling across campus with a different awareness. I attend lectures, I go to the cafeteria for lunch, and I sit on benches around the area to watch girls walk by. Then one day…one day I see her. The perfect girl, Barbie come to life. And I know she has to be mine, has to be enshrined in the house I built for her at all costs. I must bring her down into that room that is now a shrine to her, and I must keep her there, until the end of days.” He tilts his head at me. “Or at least until she fades and isn’t Barbie at all anymore but just another plain, blond girl.”
“So what happens then? What happens when she turns into a real human being in your eyes?”
“Oh.” Freddie signals to the waitress. “She’ll have to go, won’t she. She’ll need to be replaced. Every toy breaks after a while and needs to be replaced. There’s not much to it!”
I have to ask. I just have to. It’s my instinct, and my job. “So what do you do with her, when you find a replacement?”
He’s signing the bill, but that makes him pause and look up at me, his eyebrows raised in surprise. “Broken toys go into the trash, don’t they. What a stupid question.”

Outside, the air hits me like a hot, wet bedsheet when we leave the restaurant.
Freddy walks away without turning back, his hat at a jaunty angle on his head, his hands in his pockets.
My phone rings. It’s my partner, Jody.
“Dude,” she says, “You better get your ass moving. They just found a body in a garbage truck.”
“What?” The small word gets stuck in my arid throat.
Freddie is out of sight. I watched him walk through the arched gate into the campus just a second ago.
“A young woman. Blond, and quite pretty,” Jody is saying, “ Actually, she looks like Barbie Doll.”

Friday, August 3, 2012

I'm A Believer!

Rio Tinto Stadium, July 28th, 8.30 pm: HE takes to the stage.
His band has started off with the intro to Soolaimon, and I'm very happy about that because it's spectacular and brings the audience to their feet right away, never mind the really, really rotten sound in that open air venue. In fact the sound quality is SO rotten that it makes me cringe. These guys are normally so much better at this.

Anyway. This is not supposed to be a concert review. Everyone knows I'm a big Neil Diamond fan, have been for forty years. I like the music, I love the band, and I adore the Vocalist - and I know well I'm not the only one. But it took me all this time and a long trip to see him live in Salt Lake City to realize that there's actually a lot to learn from Neil.
It's actually quite obvious, and very easy.

Here's lesson No. 1: Be yourself.

If you found out what works for you, do it. Don't be deterred by what others say: if you feel good with what you're doing, do it. Neil Diamond did it, and it worked for him. He's an icon now.
This is a valuable lesson for anyone who wants to be a writer, you see, and the basic message here is: follow your instincts. There is only one YOU, and if you figure out how to use this in your writing, you will have your own voice, which is more valuable than anything else in writing. You can learn only so much from textbooks, classes, conferences or whatever. In the end, it always boils down to this: be yourself. In music, in life, in writing.
Neil Diamond is distinctly himself. Everyone recognizes his songs. They are unique. Sometimes a bit on the cheesy side, sometimes too melodramatic, but always clearly his. This is good!

Lesson No. 2: Be confident.

Believe in what you do!
If you don't believe in your own work, who else will? If YOU don't think it's worth the effort and the time, who will? Let those others smile and scoff, but don't stop believing in yourself. Ever.

Lesson No. 3: Never give up.

Because you never know which novel will be your breakthrough, and you learn with every sentence you write.
Just, you know, never give up if you really believe you have something worth writing. But that's something you have to figure out by yourself.

Lesson No. 4: Reinvent yourself.

Who says you have to be the same old self all the time? Wear them sparkly shirts when you think you have to, and when you think you need to tone down, wear a black business suit. Go on, surprise your audience! But whatever you decide to wear, always be dressed well and perform at your very best. And if the sound system fails, make sure you keep the show going without it.

Lesson No. 4: Stay humble.

Seriously: Stay humble. If you make it, then you made it because your audience and readers have helped you there. They are your friends. They love your work, and they probably admire you for your achievements. But: stay humble. Others work very hard too and maybe never make it, and the only difference between you and them is that one spark of luck or serendipity that gave you a head start. In the music business or in publishing hard work alone will get you nowhere. You need that golden moment of sheer, outrageous luck.

And finally:

Lesson No. 5: Age doesn't matter.

It doesn't. That is all. Just look at Neil: Seventy-one, and he still puts on a two-hour, no intermission, and he's the sole performer. No warm-up band, no guests, nothing. Just Neil, and his band of nearly half a century. If he can do it, so can we.

And now let's go out into the world and rock it with our writing the way he rocks it with the music!

Oh, btw: I'm in purple sparkles today, and off to write my novel No. 4. My publisher is waiting for it!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Airport Ramblings

American public places have a preference for the color beige.
They also tend to be dingy.
I’m talking JFK airport right now, and I’m comparing it to Frankfurt or Hamburg airport.
JFK is a BIG airport, isn’t it? It’s big seen from an international standpoint, I believe. And yet it is dingy, beige and uninviting. I wonder why that is.
The music is too loud, too. There’s nothing here that makes me want to linger, and maybe that’s the intention. But the place also looks as if it had been built in the 70s and then let to sit here, no renovations, no rebuilding, nothing.
I mean, really? A huge big airport, and just ONE - ONE! - line for security checks? They really like to herd people here, make them stand in line, no matter if you get on a plane or come off it. 

Aha, Bette Midler is singing “Wind Beneath My Wings” while I hang here, waiting to board.
 I have a lot of time to kill. The cab needed thirty-five minutes to get me from Jersey City to JFK. I know, it’s the ninth world wonder, but the streets were actually totally clear on this Tuesday morning. Driving toward Holland Tunnel we saw an amazing sunrise, the Empire State Building hazy in the distance.
Yes, I was humming “Leaving New York” when we drove through Manhattan on Canal, it was that kind of feeling.
And sitting here now, I want to close my eyes and go back to sleep, be somewhere else,  be where it is  quiet and cool and dark.
Air travel in the USA is no fun.
There’s also no elegance to it, nothing of the worldliness and exuberance it still has in Germany.
I’m a bit homesick right now. Homesick for the comfort and style of my home country, for the solidity of stone buildings that were meant to outlast centuries, wars and storms, and that look weathered but never beaten down.
I’m longing for porcelain plates and metal forks even in takeout places, and I would like to not see old people swiping the floor of this eating area at JFK to make a living.
I’m tired. It’s nobody’s fault. I’m just tired from getting up very early, not having had enough coffee and standing in line for too long. In fact, the in-line-standing will make me think very hard and long before I come back to the States. They do that really well here, and with enthusiasm.

At JFK, all by myself.
A lone traveler, lost somewhere in the USA. 
Somehow it feels different, going forward on a journey, than returning home. Going home, all pretences can be dropped, and nevermind the suitcase full of dirty laundry. Going onward, you still need to keep yourself together, dress properly, be on good manners, be your best self.
I’m going to a place I’ve never yet been: Salt Lake City
I have to let go of the fetters of New York City now and give myself to the West, to dry heat and a high altitude, to different food and strange, new faces.
It’s the reason why I love these trips: I want to meet new people who have been friends on Twitter or Facebook for a long while, but who I’ve never met in real life yet.
Traveling like this makes me feel alive and real like nothing else ever has done. I’m myself, and yet someone totally different.
I can do this!
I can navigate an airport, a strange city, a strange country, all on my own. 
I’m not afraid of accosting strangers if I have to, and I can buy food and coffee for myself. I even figured out how to use an American ATM machine!
I can sit patiently at an airport for three hours until boarding time if my cab was way faster than expected.
I can sit here at JFK airport and wait to get on my flight to Salt Lake while the silver bodies of the American Airlines planes glint in the sun as they roll toward take-off. 
And now I wish this bloody airport had free wifi so I could post this blog.
But like for everything else, they make you pay for that, just like you have to pay an outrageous $25 if you have to check in luggage.
Really? How come European airlines don’t have to do that, and you even get your meals free, and the airports are prettier?
Planes are standing in line, too, waiting to take off. I can see them from where I’m sitting in the lounge. 
I’ll finish my coffee now and slowly make my way to my gate. Maybe I’ll find a manicure parlor on the way.
PS: American airport coffee is awful.