Tuesday, January 31, 2012

"Bryony" Prequel Research List

The maxim "write what you know" delivers some truth, but since my experiential knowledgeconcerning many of the topics assigned to me or elements I'd like to include in my fictional pieces is sadly limited, I spend a happy chunk of my job in research.

As I sloooooowly work on Before the Blood, Bryony's prequel (Oh, for a nice-sized grant to sit in a wooded cabin for a couple of months), here are some of the items I'm investigating and/or refining in regards to any firsthand knowledge I might have (obviously, I have no firsthand knowledge of Victorian living):

   *  music schools, consevatories, and halls

   *  19th century Massachusetts

   *  19th century inns

   *  19th century Roman Catholic churches, New York area

   *  30 Years War

   *  herbal lore

   * Victorian love letters

   *  19th century home environments, all societal classes

   *  oil painting

   *  horticulture

   *  horses and not just Arabians

   *  19th century medicine and diseases

   *  Scandanavian culture

   *  baby names of the various time periods

This is not to mention the wonderful fun of deepening the personalities of existing characters and expounding on their back stories, as well as introducing an entire new cast of secondary places.

Truly, this is a most delightful way to pass the time. :)



Monday, January 30, 2012

New Writer's Group Begins Feb. 2, 2012

The Three Rivers Arts Council (TRAC), 413 Mondamin, Minooka, is hosting a new writer's group, from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. every first and third Thursday of the month. Stop in with your latest (or not-so-latest) project, enjoy some coffee, and share and learn with fellow writers. We're laid back and friendly, so please, don't be shy!

Friday night's writer's assessment was tons of fun (Yes, assessments is how we writers define fun). I had the opportunity to read a variety of fiction, and also, in some cases, had the privilege of being the first set of eyes (other than the author) to read those printed words. In addition, we raised a little money for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Will and Grundy Counties, so it was a great night.

From January's two assessments came a core group of people eager to meet more often to give and receive feedback on their works. Since writing is a solitary occupation, it was refreshing for me to meet others whose idea of a perfect evening is transferring their creative ideas from brain to paper.

On another "note," two of my sons accompanied me to TRAC's first open mic night. Timothy, who sings well, but only for family, friends, and empty warehouses, took the stage with three songs and "wowed" those present.

Way to go, Timothy!

Friday, January 27, 2012

"The Adventures of the Red-Headed League," by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventures of the Red-Headed League, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is one of twelve stories featured in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, first published in 1892.

Rebekah and I read this story last night, the first time for her and the umpteenth time for me. We both love stories that keep us guessing until the end.

A red-haired pawn shop owner visits Holmes because he is upset at losing a part-time position copying The Encyclopedia Brittanica, a position he received because he of his flaming red hair.

Of course Holmes is suspicious from the start, collects his clue from the conversation, from which he pieces together the complicated plot and foils the wrong-doers. An interstingly-woven set-up, and one guaranteed to keep you turning the pages (or, rather, scrolling down).


Thursday, January 26, 2012

1975 Food Commercials

Since I began this blog, I've posted a number of nineteenth century recipes. Turn-about is fair play, so today I'm featuring food commercials Melissa had probably watched, familiar to Baby Boomers, but retro and enough to leave twenty-first centuryers snickering and shaking their heads.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

"Bryony," Two Reviews

"I enjoyed 'Bryony' immensely. The mixture of the past and present was fascinating. Another of my favorite things about this novel was its sheer originality. Many vampire stories have the same tired feel to them, but John was a completely unique character with an entirely individual method of 'enchanting' both Melissa and Bryony. John was wonderful, and I immediately fell in love with him. The only thing that would have been better was if I could hear him play!"

Casey Rae Garcia, former Paperchase Supervisor, Borders Books Music & Cafe, Oak Brook, Illinois

"I really enjoyed Bryony because it wasn't like any other vampire book I've ever read before. I can't wait to introduce this novel to my TEFL students. This book is awesome because it provides a true, stark look into the world of vampires while providing lush imagery of the romantic, Victorian era then coming back around to real life in nineteen seventies America. There is so much teaching material I could use in this book, from the radical glimpses into history to the inspiring lines of poetry. I know my students will enjoy this novel as much as I did!”

Andrea Hinz, English as a foreign language teacher.

Monday, January 23, 2012

"An Afternoon with Bryony" Recap

What a delightful afternoon!

Although the event was billed as readings from Bryony with writer's assessments, the afternoon quickly grew into something straight out of the novel, reminiscent of the Munsonville Society for the Humanities.

Of course, we met at the Threee Rivers Art Council's building (Minooka's former firehouse), not the parsonage parolor, and satisifed our appetites with coffee and cookies, rather than brandy and cigars, not to mention Reverend Galien Marseilles was not present.

Still, we not only chatted about Bryony and vampire stories in general, the seven guests present shared their latest artistic and entrepreneurial ventures.

One woman is continuing her daughter's legacy of inspiring others through her motivational business (Her daugher had died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also called Lou Gehrig's disease or Motor Neurone Disease. Her blog is still widely read. Visit kissmyals.com).

Another enthusiastically discussed branching out from pen and ink to watercolors. A pastor and his wife brought samples of their newest textbook and enthralled us with stories of their recent travels to the Holy Land.

Still another writer--the first to purchase a copy of Bryony that day--had forgotten a sample piece of writing for assessment, but was quite open in allowing the rest of us to peek at his journal fo writing prompts, letters, poems, artwork, and random jottings.

Kallan Elias of Kallan Studios, the lovely and oh-so-easy-to-work-with photographer who created the Bryony press photos, dropped in, bought two books, and took some very nice pictures. Hoping to post some soon!

See below for our next event:

Resolution to Reality: A Writer's Assessment

“Bryony” author and 14 year Chicago area freelance features writer Denise M. Baran-Unland will offer 15 minute assessment on your writing up to 1000 words of stories, poetry, screenplays or that book you've dreamnt of publishing. Bring a sample or create one on site with our "idea creator".

When: From 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. Jan. 27

Where: Harwood Post, 706 S. Larkin Avenue, Joliet

Will include raffles, door prizes, and complimentary soft drinks. Assessments are $5 each. Children through adult are welcome to participate. Proceeds benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters of Will and Grundy Counties.

For more information call 815-260-6974.

Friday, January 20, 2012

"Turn of the Screw" by Henry James

Henry James' Turn of the Screw (1898 ) was my all-time favorite story in seventh grade, which I read after seeing Dan Curtis' version on PBS. It's the story of an unnamed governness who thinks she is seeing the ghosts of two previous, less-than-morally upright, deceased staff members, come to claim the souls of the two children, Miles and Flora, under her care.

Yes, I know some critics called Curtis' rendition cheesey and ameteurish, but I really enjoyed it, especially the children's performances, which were outstanding. And yes, Miles was "aged," but considering Curtis emphasized the governess' latent sexual attraction to Miles, the "aging" was appropriate, at least for a nineteen seventy-four (or so) production.

Digresssion ended. For for all you Midwesterners out there getting blasted by the snow and who are experiencing early dismals from school and work, I'm posting a longer story today. Enjoy!


Thursday, January 19, 2012

"The Dog House," LaSalle, Illinois

 Back in November, when my oldest son Christopher and I headed out for Ottawa on an already impossibly tight day, at our appointment’s conclusion, Christopher detoured in the opposite direction for lunch and to say “Hi” to a couple of friends.

"It’s worth it,” Christopher said. “Robert has the best hot dogs.”

Hot dogs? When I have a stack of work at home and a box of editing on my lap? Why can’t Christopher make hot dogs at home?

It turned out that Robert and Jessica Donovan, owners of The Dog House in LaSalle, not only serve terrific food, they’re friendly and entertaining as well. They dish up their unique brand of banter  along with the fare.

"That’s because I make hot dogs faster than she does,” Robert said.

"Not true,” Jessica called back from the kitchen. “It takes me just twelve seconds.”

"I can top a dog in eleven seconds.” Robert paused. “Well, eleven point five seconds.”

In The Dog House’s forty-plus entree menu, nearly half are various hot dog combinations and all of them just $2.75, including tax (according to the website posting at this date), all bearing the names of major United States cities. The employee catering program includes a promise: if you want it, and it’s not on the menu, the owners will get it.

"All our fries are cooked fresh,” Robert said. “Everything is made-to-order.”

Of course, The Dog House’s most popular item is its Chicago-style dog, topped with mustard, onion, relish, tomato, pickle spear, peppers, and celery salt.

Robert won’t give away any secrets, but he did offer a few tips for perfect Chicago-style hot dogs: Vienna beef hot dogs and steamed poppy seed buns. If that doesn’t whet the taste buds, consider one of Donovan’s hot dog variations:

Boston: ketchup-mustard-onions-relish

Houston: chili

Green Bay: Cheddar sauce

Cincinnati: chili-Cheddar sauce

Detroit: chili-mustard-onions

Dallas: chili-shredded Cheddar-onion

New York: sauerkraut-brown mustard

Kansas City: melted mozzarella-sauerkraut-mustard

New Orleans: BBQ sauce-grilled onions-tomatoes

Santa Fe: salsa-onions-jalapenos

Westport: mustard-sauerkraut-relish-crumbled bacon

Tucson: Cheddar sauce-jalapenos-tortilla chips

Buffalo: buffalo sauce-ranch-celery salt

San Francisco: chili-ketchup-mustard-onions-relish-tomatoes-pickle spear-shredded cheddar-celery salt

Los Angeles: deep fried dog-grilled onions-ketchup-mustard-mayo-peppers-crumbled bacon

Baltimore: deep fried-Cheddar sauce-grilled onions

Philadelphia: Build your own

Since opening The Dog House in May of 2006, The Donovans have attracted hot dog fans from as far away as Princeton and Green Bay, Wisconsin. Still, despite promotions, commercials, and a consistent presence at festivals and other community events, many first-time customers will still walk through the door, amazed at their “find” and ask Robert when he opened for business. Many of them quickly become regulars.

“Our customers are not just customers,” Robert said. “They’re our friends.

The Dog House is located at 848 First Street in LaSalle, Illinois. Hours (to date) are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays. For more information, call 815-780-1333 or visit www.lasalledoghouse.com/Home.html.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Decisions, Decisions

As part of Saturday's Three Rivers Arts Council presents "An Afternoon with Bryony" reading and writer's assessment, TRAC's program director asked me to include a few passages from books/stories that have resonated with me and molded my writing.

The problem is whittling those pieces down to a manageable number, as well as finding my copy of Alexis Tolstoy's Vampires; Stories of the Supernatural, which contains some of my favorite passages.

There's the party game in the Upyr (The Vampire) where the guests are fortunetelling by reading literature passages, such as, And the grandmother shall drink the granddaughter's blood. I certainly can't read The Family of the Vurkodlak without recalling Boris Karloff's performance in Black Sabbath (and that final creepy scene with the family looking in through the windows).

As a Christian, I especially love Amena's accusation of, Did you not choose? to the hapless ehro once he realizes his soul is lost. On another note, who can forget (certainly not me) E.F. Benson's, Jack will show you your room. I have given you the room in the tower or the sorcerer's grim warning in Johann Ludwig Tieck's Wake Not the Dead.

Mary Elizabeth Braddon's Good Lady Ducayne can wait until later books in the Bryony series, but there's no doubt the dream sequences in F. Marion Crawford's For the Blood is the Life left a literary impression on me. And need I mention Bram Stoker's held a permanent place on my lap during eighth grade?

Casting a wider storytelling net makes choosing more complicated. In high school, I read many translations of Alexandre Dumas' The Three Muskateers because the wording changed in the various retellings, so different versions appealed to me, depending upon my favorite passages. Mrs. Mike is just a wonderful read. Not only do the characters and storyline leap off the page, the cadence of the writing is just so cool.

Back to the supernatural, I love the layers and slow-tension, psychological build in Ira Levin's Rosemary's Baby (which director Roman Pulanski so excellently captured) and the subtle horror (not to mention the psychological impression the characters' names obviously imprinted on me) of Ruth M. Arthur's A Candle in her Room.

In the meantime, I'm wondering if I can get a copy of Jane-Emily by Patricia Clapp from interlibrary loan in time for Saturday. The dialogue and characterization is so rich, that when Rebekah borrowed it a few years ago as a surprise for me, I fell in love with Adam all over again. Plus, his retelling of Emily's death in the dark rainstorm (And when she looked away she was crying, very softly) still creeps me out if I read it at night.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Two Opportunities to Get Your Writing Assessed

Unless you're merely keeping a diary or journal, most writers write because they wish to entertain, motiviate, instruct, inspire or otherwise create a reaction in the reader.

Although feedback is helpful to all writers, those new to the writing craft can especially benefit (and sometimes long) for it, since it provides ideas if they are stuck, an analysis of what's working (and what's not), and suggestions on ways to optimally convey the message.

However, unless one belongs to a writing group, it's often difficult to find someone so interested in your work (Auntie May doesn't count) that he/she will carefully read it and offer a focused evaluation.

If you live in the Will/Grundy area, I'm offering two opportunities. Perhaps one will work for you. See below, and maybe I'll see you there!

Three Rivers Arts Council presents "An Afternoon with Bryony" reading and writer's assessment.

When: Jan 21. 3:30 p.m. Selected passages from "Bryony," as well as author's favorite writers. Question and answer session. 4 p.m.: Fifteen minute writing assessments of 1000-word pieces.

Where: 413 Mondamin, Minooka, IL 60447

Refreshments, light entertainments, copies of "Bryony" for sale. Event is free, but assessments are $5. Proceeds donated to Three Rivers Arts Council, the afternoon's host

For more information: Contact Kevin Gawthorp at 630-217-3873

Resolution to Reality: A Writer's Assessment

“Bryony” author and 14 year Chicago area freelance features writer Denise M. Baran-Unland will offer 15 minute assessment on your writing up to 1000 words of stories, poetry, screenplays or that book you've dreamnt of publishing. Bring a sample or create one on site with our "idea creator".

When: From 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. Jan. 27

Where: Harwood Post, 706 S. Larkin Avenue, Joliet

Will include raffles, door prizes, and complimentary soft drinks. Assessments are $5 each. Children through adult are welcome to participate. Proceeds benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters of Will and Grundy Counties.

For more information call 815-260-6974.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Abridged "Bryony" Comments from Ed Calkins

It's not everyday one is featured in a novel series, but for Ed Calkins, the Steward of Tara, who hopes the Bryony legacy will further his own, the story is an intersting read, since his identity, thoughts, and sometimes actual words, are very present in my vampire story.

When I had last spoken to Ed, he was recovering from a bad cold that had settled into his throat and larynx, but he did offer a few comments, along with a promise to submit a full review at a later date, when he had completed the entire book.

Ed said:

   *  His wife really liked it, read it in two days, and can't see where a sequel will come in.

   *  He felt quite a number of men could relate to John Simons, the main vampire.

   *  He thought the writing style and vocabulary was beautifully tailored to young adults.

   * Mostly, though, he was eagerly awaiting his appearance.

Stay tuned to the Bryony fan page for more reader comments next week. Not yet a fan? Find the page at www.facebook.com/BryonySeries.

Friday, January 13, 2012

"Ligeai" by Edgar Allan Poe

Ligeia by Edgar Allan Poe was firt pubished in the September 18, 1838, edition of the American Museum magazine.

The story is one of an unidentified narrator and his obsessive marriage to Ligeia, a raven-haired, intelligent, mystical woman. After she becomes ill and dies, Poemeets and marries a blonde woman, but he does not love her.

As the second wife is dying, the narrator notes a drop of red liquid dropping into the glass from which he is drinking, although he is uncertain if that is reality or an opium-induced hallucination. After his wife dies, she resurrects as Ligeia.

Read it at http://poestories.com/read/ligeia.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Borders Without Walls

Nearly two years ago, my niece, then twelve, asked to read a copy of Bryony. She was the first person to do so.

My three youngest children--all teens (at the time)--were my first laboratory rats, at my request, not theirs, but their enjoyment of the story spurred me to seek publication instead of leaving the story in my computer for in-home entertainment only.

With my sister's permission, I three-holed punched a hard copy, bound it into a binder, and shipped it away. My niece, in return, sent me some really glowing emails as she passed certain landmarks in the story. Her enthusiasm prompted my sister--then an employee at Borders--to read the story, and the initial efforts at handselling Bryony, still going through editing, began.

My sister began talking up the book at the store and circulating my niece's binder amongst the employees and updating me on their reactions. She created paper Bryony bookmarks for in-house promo pieces. My first official review came from a former Borders paperchase supervisor.

Last night, my sister presented me with an order for eleven copies of Bryony, all from former Borders employees, one of whom reviews books on her blog. These people, like my sister, like me, like our family, love books. We like the tales they tell, the smell of print, and the feel of two covers between our hands. We have bookshelves filled with books all over our houses. Our love for a good story spills out from us, and we can't wait to share it with someone else.

Take that to a corporate level, and you have a bookseller who is eager place the right book into the customer's hands, whether she is looking for a book on the mechanics of breastfeeding or the latest sci fi adventure. When you love reading that much, and you want others to experience that same delight, the dismantling of a physical infrastructure won't stop you.

My sister, who has already struck a consignment deal for Bryony at a '70's store near her home, is confident her former co-workers will be telling others about Bryony. That's nice for Bryony, but that's not the real story here (I'm now wearing my reporter hat).

The real story is that, despite the leveraged criticisms against Borders' business practices which, perhaps, contribued to its demise, the spirit of Borders was really found in its "in the trenches" employees, the ones who dilligently worked to make sure each and every customer walked out of the store satisified with his purchase, the ones who ensured every worthy good book found a good home.

It's a spirit no liquidation can kill. Rock on, Borders!

Friday, January 6, 2012

"Sudden Light," by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Sudden Light
Dante Gabriel Rossetti  (1828–1882)

I have been here before,
But when or how I cannot tell:
I know the grass beyond the door,
The sweet keen smell,
The sighing sound, the lights around the shore.

You have been mine before,—
How long ago I may not know:
But just when at that swallow's soar
Your neck turn'd so,
Some veil did fall,—I knew it all of yore.

Has this been thus before?
And shall not thus time's eddying flight
Still with our lives our love restore
In death's despite,
And day and night yield one delight once more?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Coconut Liquid and Rehydration

Today, Sarah Stegall, Bryony's web administrator and the "voice" of Bryony (most days) on Facebook, posed an interesting question: The liquid inside young coconuts can be used as substitute for blood plasma. True or False?

After reading the ensuing comment, I scurried to the search engines where I found a variety of opinions on blogs and forums (alas, Snopes only had scant info and only on its forum). I found the best answer in the link below:


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

"Throw Away That Old Cliche," (Thank You, Todd Rundgren)

During my first self-editing round with Bryony, scarcely having gotten my feet wet with the process (wink), I was surprised to learn how easily cliches creep into writing, and how certain patterns of speech so quickly spring to mind (wink again), and, perhaps most importantly, how I did not first recognize them as cliches.

While an occasional cliche is perfectly acceptable for the first and crudest of drafts, it's important to recognize and eliminate those pesky phrases, charecterizations, and plot lines on subsequent passes. If any combination of words, characters, or story developments easily flow onto the computer screen, you're probably dealing with a group of overworked and overused words and/or scenarios. Crisp writing that smacks of originality is hard work.

Below are a few cliche-identifying sites. The first, in alphabetized format, provides a checklist of 681 (yes, 681) popular cliches. Chances are, you'll find at least one of them in your writing.

The second site, intended for gamers, but helpful for writers, too, generates samples of cliched storylines, a good self-checker before venturing too far into a story. The third provides examples of various cliches, along with a "search and destroy" tactic.

The last link is Tood Rundgren's Cliche, included for motivation and listening fun, while you check out the links.





Monday, January 2, 2012

Writing Goals for the New Year

I have not set any New Year's resolutions for a long time, perhaps, because I'm continually setting and refining goals all year long.

However, having survived twenty-four particularly challenging months, with no relief yet in sight, January 1 seemed an appropriate opportunity to refocus, refine, and construct a writing plan for the ensuing three hundred and sixty-six days.

*  Scrap the notion that "fun" composition should be reserved for when I have time. If the past two years have proved anything, it's that I will never have time, if I don't consciously schedule time. Sounds simple, but when you're facing multiple deadlines, looming household tasks, crushing financial obligations, and two teens still requiring schooling, seizing even that lone hour feels, in the moment, anyway, feels cheap and irresponsible.

*  Immerse myself in literature of past centuries to develop a writing voice reflecting different eras and cultures, which I feel is important for Bryony's prequel. Good excuse for checking out books I've deferred for when "there's time."

* Assume additional editing and assessment projects to help cultivate the composition talents of other writers, even as I seek out and learn from the critiques of more polished authors, reporters, essayists, and bloggers.

*  And, most importantly, have fun! Sometimes, I'm so lost wading through haystacks of details and ticking minutes, I forget to enjoy the process.

What resolutions have you set for 2012?