Milestones

I find myself at an interesting point in my life where all sorts of things are happening, doors have closed, windows are opening, I'm well down paths I never imagined I would take.

Not quite two years ago, I had a discussion with my son about life choices I had to make secondary to my husband's medical retirement. Basically, he wanted me to throw in the towel, metaphorically speaking. It would have been an easier road, but I refused. I'm not finished yet, I insisted. I still have a lot I want to do with my life. I'm not ready to say that's all there is of me. (I was a wizened 48, so you can understand his concern).

Fast-forward nearly two years—two very intense, very trying, and sometimes seemingly hopeless two years—and here I am a published journalist, author, and content and developmental editor. Here I am, the co-owner and editor-in-chief of a micro publishing house that is fast developing a reputation for quality fare. Who would have thought it?


A review of Mechanized Masterpieces: a Steampunk Anthology came out today, published by Ricky L. Brown of Doctor Fantastique's Show of Wonders. He was kind—so kind that I can't help but share a bit of it here.


Write Mr. Brown:
          The smartly titled A Steampunk Anthology: Mechanized Masterpieces (sic) is not just a description of the stories collected in this anthology edited by Penny Freeman. The book’s forward reinforces the theme of the stories with, “Steampunk is revisionism, and what better material to expand upon than literature that bespeaks the universal human condition and has withstood the test of time?” In the spirit of brilliant classics, Xchyler Publishing has taken this definition to heart by using characters, ideas, little snippets and whole stories from literary “masterpieces” and opened up fresh new Steampunk perspectives.
          There are only eight contributions with varying lengths in this collection, with only nine authors to their credit. But be assured, each selection exemplifies the revisionist theme by introducing new angles on old ideas. Here are brief rundowns of what you can expect.
          Anthologies are tricky in that editors are encouraged to put their best foot forward if they want to grab the reader’s attention for the entire volume. Tropic of Cancer by Neve Talbot is the first installment of the collection, and a strong candidate in letting the reader know just what to expect in the rest of the book. Fashioned around the moral awareness of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, the familiar character Edward Fairfax Rochester is the determined protagonist this time around. With the industrial challenges of a Steampunk era mixed in with a little mystical romance, the hero battles atonement to an estranged father, an ambitious brother and the empowerment of love. Charlotte Brontë would approve. (read more)
As an editor, I find this intensely gratifying. As one drags through the tail end of an arduous rewriting/coaching/cheering process, after the fourth or fifth read-through, one becomes convinced that the whole thing is drivel and will be universally panned, simply from one's overexposure. One becomes shell-shocked, as it were: a supreme case of editorial battle fatigue.

To have a well-read Steampunk aficionado not only "get it" but to stamp it with his seal of approval provides all the validation a person requires. (The seven five- and one four-star ratings on Amazon only three days after the launch don't hurt either).

As for Tropic of Cancer, "Charlotte Brontë would approve." What better praise could Author Neve Talbot require?

No, Son. I'm not done yet. You're only old when you stop saying, "Some day . . ."

Tidbits: Tropic of Cancer

Tomorrow marks the release of my short story under the pseudonym of Neve Talbot (to honor my father, Glen Tarbet, and step-father, Leslie Neves). It will appear in Mechanized Masterpieces: a Steampunk Anthology, published by Xchyler Publishing. We will be having an online launch party on Facebook. Anyone can join in the fun here.

Be sure not to miss a thing by liking Xchyler Publishing on Facebook, and following on Pinterest and Twitter.

As part of the festivities, we will give away prizes to the first person to answer various questions. To that end, I offer a tiny sampling of my short story, which is an expansion of the classic Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.

I sat at the breakfast table across from the very picture of feminine modesty and conjugal devotion. I could not stand to look at her. Ire coursed through my veins, hot and quick, and I dared not speak. I stared at the fish on my plate.

“You are not eating, my love,” my tender bride cooed. “I had thought you swam this morning.”

“Indeed.”

“Then you must be famished, especially after . . . last night.” She eyed me through her long, dark lashes. “You must keep up your strength.”

 “I told you, Mrs. Rochester, I do not care for the whole of the fish. In England, we gut it before we cook it.”

“But we are not in England, my darling. Cook knows nothing of such food. We must go there soon, that she may learn—”

“No.”

“Fairfax, darling, you promised to take me to England to meet your family. Do I so shame you that you hide me away? I am good enough for your bed but not your friends? It’s because my father is in trade, isn’t it?” Her voice grew shriller as she spoke, until it spiked through my brain. “You are so much higher than me. You treat me like the dirt beneath your boot.”

I simply eyed her. Her face screwed up into a petulant pout. Tears rushed her eyes. Her hands slapped down on the table. The crystal and china jumped. “I want to go to England!”

“When I trust you within five thousand miles of my family, we will go to England, but not a day sooner.” My voice sounded cold and flat.

“Trust me? Trust me?! You are a monster—a horrid, beastly monster!”

“Better to say an ape.”

She started at the words and glanced up at me. I stared at her blandly. She rose and went to the sideboard. She feigned concealing a fit of tears, but I knew it a ploy to add rum to her orange juice. My mind filled with images of my brother sharing his morning with the polar opposite of my angel wife. I jabbed my fork into the fish on my plate.

The tines hit something hard and screeched across the china. The exposed and torn gut glinted in a stray shaft of sunlight. Dumbfounded, I stared at the mess.

Bertha returned to her seat, glass in hand, once again the very image of a model wife. I carefully slit open the fish’s gut and spooned out the innards.

“That really is the best part, you know,” Bertha instructed, her cheeks pouched with gobbets of her own mackerel. “After the eyeballs, of course.”

I scraped away the offal, and there it was: Yvette’s pendant, chain and all. It felt as if the sun burst free of heavy clouds the moment I laid eyes on it. A freshening breeze cleared the cobwebs from my mind. I could breathe again. I still tumbled in unforgiving surf, but I thought, perhaps, I could at last get my feet beneath me.

I hope you enjoy the book, and the party. It is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo. 

Tidbits: Crossroads

As discussed in my previous post, this short story sprung from a few exercises in flash fiction and grew from there. For more on the history of this composition, read this blog post.

Crossroads by Penny Freeman


Rob understood his brother’s love for the road, especially, as then, in the dead of night. Like himself, Nate had never been one for large crowds. On the road, one was utterly alone. The growling four-fifty-four V8 of Nate’s cherry 1977 El Camino Classic and the steel-belted radials humming on the blacktop lulled to silence all the demands that sucked the life out of Rob. They slipped away like the endless blur of the dotted, white line that streamed beyond the windshield. The highway soothed. Mesmerized. It held life at a safe distance where Rob could nibble off bits at a time, or ignore it altogether as the mood suited.
Except, there he was, returning with his brother’s ashes, hurtling at 75 mph toward the madness: the boss, the job, the mounting bills and overdrawn bank account. The labyrinth of life with no easy way out. Toward Annabelle—his own Nan—and that look of dread in her eyes: anguish that assaulted him and reticence that held him at arm’s length.

Rob jerked awake, jolted from a deep, dreamless slumber by something—the baby? He couldn’t remember. Nan had argued with him, and he put off going to bed until she slept to avoid a demand to hash it out. He turned in very late, and the fog of somnolence melded to his brain like his kids’ sticky hands to his skin. Scarcely lucid, he ignored his transient bob to the surface of consciousness, and surrendered again to the depths of sleep.
Her voice prevented it, however . . . a low murmur . . . hesitant . . . wary—scraps of sound distorted by the cobwebs of his sleep-deprived brain. He rolled over, pried open his eyes, and forced the numerals of the digital clock into focus. 04:00. Good grief. He had to be up in two hours. Couldn’t she cut him some slack?
He turned toward the wall and fended her off with the silence of feigned sleep. He was tired of bending over backward to make her happy, and for what? No matter how he tried, he couldn’t figure out what the devil she wanted.

Editor's Notes: The Editor's Editor

I need to write. I need to keep up with this blog. I need to chisel away at the stacks of books piled up on my nightstand awaiting my review. Fortunately, I’m able to steal a minute now and again to return to this project. I appreciate the kind patience of all the authors who have been put on hold for so long. Hopefully, within the next few months I’ll be able to provide the content they were promised, although not quite as quickly as I had hoped.

~*~

Today, I offer one of those “everybody needs a good editor” posts, a subject I love to harp on, as any reader of this blog knows. However, this one comes with a twist: every writer needs a good editor, even editors who also write.

A few months back, I whipped up a short story. It sprung from some flash fiction and grew from there. Then, since it seemed to fit into the theme of a short story competition, I polished it to the best of my ability and entered it. It didn’t get picked for their anthology. Despite my repeated references to readers whose opinions I trusted, countless adjustments, and a precision word count that met the maximum limit with exactness, the two judges didn’t think as well of my work as I did.

Their evaluations sat on my desk unopened for a few months because I dread (just as much as any author) the red pencil of death which I knew awaited me within. Not so; I received just a 1-5 grade scale in seven different areas. The judges gave me numbers, little else. One kindly left a positive comment. The other felt I tried too hard to be artsy and had inadequate tension or conflict (I still don’t get that). I got a 4/5 from the kind one, a 3/5 from the more critical.

Sr. Editor McKenna Gardner
But, since I wrote this months and months ago, I’m giving myself a bye for not following my own advice. I have since corrected that egregious error, with happy results. The trick here, my friends, is to use an editor whom you both respect and trust. It’s not about who will be the most kind or who will give you the most strokes, but who will help you produce the best work within you. Who will properly guide you to your goal? I turned to the senior editor at Xchyler Publishing, McKenna Gardner.

A good editor is like a good coach. They identify strengths and help the author stretch their muscles, build their stamina, and fine-tune their literary muscle memory. They identify weaknesses and drum them out of the author. Like the coach, the editor doesn’t replace the author. They do not rewrite their stories; they draw them out of the author. They assist the author in fulfilling their own highest potential. They’re the author’s personal cheering section. 

All that said, I required no fewer than thirteen separate versions to make my short story worthy of public consumption. After all that trouble, what did I change? I added a grand total of 131 words to the manuscriptone hundred and thirty one excruciating words wrenched out of me with painstaking care. 

Months after the short story competition had come and gone, why bother? Simple: I wanted to explore the possibilities with such a coach in my corner as those that we have at XchylerPublishing.

If you would care to review the product of our exertions, you can review my separate post, Crossroads, here. Leave a comment and tell me what you think.


Book Review: One Boy No Water by Lehua Parker

Book:  One Boy, No Water
Author:  Lehua Parker
Pages:   185
Format:  Hardcover, paperback
Publisher:  Jolly Fish Press
Book Source:  Provided by Publisher
Category:  Youth Fantasy
Style:  Easy, conversational style with lots of Hawaiian pidgin usage

Synopsis from GoodReads:

On the surface, despite his unusual allergies, Zader is an average eleven year old boy with typical challenges of fitting in with his peers, getting into a good prep school, and maintaining his relationship with his surfing crazed brother. In reality, Zader is Niuhi, a shark with the ability to turn into a person. As he matures and begins to adapt to his “allergies” in ways that make it easier to live a normal life, Zader’s world begins to turn upside down—he will not only have to come to terms with who he is, but what he is. . . . more

My Take:

What is the recipe for a really big hit in children's literature?  Below, I list what has been proven to work in the past.

  • Make the protagonist a defacto orphan.  Kahana, an aging, skinny Hawaian steeped in the ancient ways, finds a baby boy out on a reef just hours after birth and convinces his great-niece (who has just given birth to a boy herself) to adopt him.  They name him Alexander Westin and call him “Zader” for short.  Surrounded by a loving, supportive family cannot make Zader anything but a fish out of water.

Book Review: Hearts That Survive: A Novel of the Titanic by Yvonne Lehman

Book:  Hearts That Survive: A Novel of the Titanic
Author:  Yvonne Lehman
Pages:   432
Format:  Paperback, Kindle
Publisher:  Abingdon Press (March 2012)
Book Source:  Publisher
Category:  Historical Fiction
Style:  Conversational prose, engaging, original plot

Synopsis from GoodReads:

On April 15, 1912, Lydia Beaumont is on her way to a new life with a boundless hope in love and faith. Her new friendship with Caroline Chadwick is bonded even more as they plan Lydia 's wedding on board the grandest ship ever built. Then both women suffer tragic losses when the unsinkable Titanic goes down. Can each survive the scars the disaster left on their lives? . . . more

My Take: 

Although the beginning starts off like a typical Titanic novel, the story morphs into a compelling tale of regrets, hiding life-changing secrets, and love.

The story begins with Lydia Beaumont, wealthy heiress to a railroad company. She is accompanied on this trip by Craven Dowd, president of her father's company, and John Ancell, poet and maker of toy trains. The first, her unsaid intended; the second, her secret love. Craven is calm, cool, collected, and pretty much Lydia's 'keeper'.

Due to an unplanned moment of passion, Lydia finds herself pregnant. She tells John, who truly loves her and proposes marriage. They decide to get married on the Titanic—truly a wedding fit for a princess. Not knowing of the child, Craven reluctantly agrees to support the marriage, knowing that Lydia's father would never agree.

Guest Post: Laura Besley on Writing Flash Fiction

Today's guest post is from my flash fiction guru, Laura Besley.  Originally from the UK, Laura currently lives in Hong Kong where she teaches English as a second language.  She is a published author, her short story "Dear Sylvia" can be found in As We See It:  Hong Kong, by the Hong Kong Writer's Circle.

Laura maintains a blog, Living Loving and Writing, wherein she shares the flavor of Hong Kong and the product of her flash fiction adventures.

Find my review of As We See It: Hong Kong and an interview with Laura here.
  —A Chaotic Mind

And now, our feature attraction:

Little and Often — How Flash Fiction can help you improve your writing

by Laura Besley

Background

Flash Fiction is the new kid on the block, so to speak, and the definition isn’t yet 100% concrete, but basically it’s a piece of fiction that is really short. Flash Fiction is usually between 250-1000 words, but I’ve personally set my limit at max of 500 words (no minimum). Due to people’s increasing lack of time and the fact that it can easily be read on an iphone or ipad, the popularity is growing.

On 4th May 2012 I started a writing challenge: to write a piece of flash fiction every day and to put ‘the best of the week’ up onto my blog on a Friday and that’s how, for me, Friday Flash Fiction was launched.

Featured Book: The Cinderella Project by Stan Crowe

Book:  The Cinderella Project
Author:  Stan Crowe
Pages:   212 (estimated)
Format:  Kindle
Publisher:  Breezy Reads (August 27, 2012)
Book Source:  Publisher
Category:  Sweet Romance
Style:  LDS romance with substance

Synopsis from GoodReads.com:

Committed to saving his marriage before it starts, doctoral student Nick Cairn embarks on a project aimed at finding the secrets of everlasting love. But when Moire DeLanthe, a smart and sassy research assistant, enters the picture, his Happily Ever After is put to the ultimate test. . . . more

My Take:

I have a confession:  I thought this was going to be an, err, breezy read—the kind that takes me one afternoon to read.  Chocolate for the soul.  It's not.  So, I didn't finish it in time.  However, with what I've read, I really like this book.  It's not a set-aside-for-a-while book.  It's a savor until the end book (thus far).

Alas and alack, I committed to do a stop on Breezy Read's blog hop today, so here's my not-ready-for-prime-time review.  The blurb doesn't tell too much about the story line, so I'll share.

Follow me to Living Loving and Writing

Hey, y'all!  Check out my guest blog post today over at Living Loving and Writing, a blog kept by my friend and published author, Laura Besley.

You can also read an interview with Laura, as well as a review of the anthology As We See It:  Hong Kong here.