Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Dead Girls Are Easy In Its Third Printing!

I got some great news yesterday - my first novel, published originally in September 2007, is now in its THIRD printing.

What does that mean? It means that two and a half years after DEAD GIRLS ARE EASY hit the bookstore shelves, people are still buying it, so much so that the publisher has gone back and printed extra copies to meet the demand (twice).

Yes, that makes me very happy, because despite the fact that I'm working on a new series these days, I'm not quite ready to let go of Nicki Styx and her quirky cast of secondary characters: Evan, Joe, Kelly, Grandma Bijou, Odessa, Spider, Butch... they're all near and dear to my heart, even after writing four books (and a novella) about them. DEAD GIRLS ARE EASY is the first book in that series of four, so I'd hate to see it go out of print. How else will people discover how Nicki came to be able to see and hear the dead? How will they learn how she met Joe, the love of her life, or Kelly, the not-so-twin sister she never knew she had?

The way for an author to hit the New York Times bestseller list is to sell a ton of books, and sell them very fast. The way for an author to maintain a career is to sell a ton of books, and keep selling them. It's the "slow and steady wins the race" method vs. the "immediate cultural phenomenon" method. Of course I'd like to make NYT (every author does), but I'm very happy to keep plugging away quietly and have my readers keep finding me book by book, then wanting more.

So here's a huge THANK YOU to my readers for continuing to buy my books! Nicki, Joe, Evan and pals thank you, too. :-)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Dweller: A Novel by Jeff Strand

Remember that imaginary friend you had as a kid? What if he wasn’t imaginary, and what if he was actually a monster? A big, hairy monster with sharp claws, and even sharper teeth?

In DWELLER, the author touches on some of the same themes that have made the DIARY OF A WIMPY KID books so popular, but gives them an extra twist, with a side order of blood splatter. Toby Floren was once just an average little boy who one day got lost while playing in the woods, and came face-to-face with a real, live monster. He lived to tell the tale, which no one, of course, believed. Faced with his parents’ calm rationalizations, he begins to doubt his own story, and eventually consigns the experience to the realm of nightmares. Unfortunately, Toby’s life is now inevitably entwined with that of the monster, who is not the figment of his overly-active imagination, but is instead horrifyingly real. Using a very well-done flash forward technique, the author moves the reader forward a few years at a time, throughout the the rest of Toby’s long—and thoroughly messed up—life.


As a teenager, Toby is lonely, skinny and (understandably perhaps) a bit odd. He spends a great deal of time alone in the same woods he once played in as a child, and stumbles upon a cave, which is all-too-obviously occupied. Toby discovers there really IS a monster, and that the monster is just as lonely as he is. The two misfit outcasts forge an odd friendship, finely balanced on the razor sharp edge of claws, teeth, human frailties and teetering sanity. An object of ridicule among his peers and the favorite target of a pair of merciless bullies, Toby is one day pushed to the emotional breaking point by those same bullies, and does a Very Bad Thing. Not knowing where else to turn, Toby turns to his hairy, sharp-tooth pal (who he has by now named “Owen”) to help cover his crime.

Haunted by what he’s done, friendless save for Owen, Toby struggles through young adulthood and into his thirties, when he finally meets a nice, normal girl. Unfortunately, Toby now does a Very Stupid Thing, and has to learn to live with that, too. Eventually, as the years continue to roll by, we’re able to hope that perhaps things might work out for Toby—he marries, has children, has a somewhat decent life, and manages to keep his friendship with Owen a secret until well into his fifties. Things are going so well, in fact, that he finally reveals his secret to his nearest and dearest, and revealing it—in the end—costs him everything, including Owen.

I’ll leave the lurid (and sometimes surprisingly amusing) details to future readers to discover, but I will say that reading DWELLER was like watching a good horror movie: not only were there at least three—no, four—moments when I wanted to shade my eyes with my hands and scream, “No, don’t do it!”, and I knew the ending wasn’t going to be pretty, I couldn’t look away or stop reading. There were deeper themes at work here than just your average horror novel; themes like friendship and loyalty and man’s own inhumanity to man. And just like in some good old-fashioned horror movies, I ended up wondering, in the end, just who the REAL monster was: man, or the beast.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Domestic Violence: A Subject Very Close to My (formerly bruised) Heart

This blog is going to be different from what I normally talk about, so I hope you'll bear with me - there will be no jokes, no attempts at witticisms, and nothing whatsoever amusing to read. Instead, I'm going to cite some cold, hard facts that nobody (including me) really ever wants to talk about:

  • 1 in 4 women are directly affected by domestic violence during their lifetime, and guess what? They're not nameless, faceless nobodies who deserve it for taking up with low life men. They're your neighbor, or your sister, the girl behind the counter at the coffee shop or the woman with the great clothes and nice hair that you see at the PTA meeting. They may even be the author who writes the funny/snarky/sexy books you like to read.
  • Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44 in the United States, more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined.
  • An estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year.
I could go on, but do I really need to? I decided to speak up today because one of my local TV stations, an ABC affiliate, has devoted the last six weeks to the topic, culminating in a one-hour primetime special on Friday, April 23, 2010 at 8pm. Watching some of the videos and listening to some of the stories has really hit home, because yes, I, too - in the past - have been a victim of domestic violence. It's all behind me now - I've been very blessed and lucky to have been married for quite some time to a wonderful man who would never lay a finger on me, but that wasn't always the case. For too long, I was with someone else, someone who had no such scruples.

I've been punched. I've been kicked. I've been called every foul name you could think of, and then some. I've been threatened and stalked and spit on, had my bedding and curtains sliced to ribbons with a knife, hidden my bruises with long sleeves, long pants and makeup. I've lied to my doctor, family, friends and co-workers about a broken wrist and why I couldn't spend time with them. I have lived in fear, and in some ways I still do. When I finally got the courage to leave, I lost my house. I lived in hiding for almost a year. At a time when my safety and self-respect and personal resources were at their lowest, I had to fight tooth and nail for my children, and find the courage to get up and go to work every day in order to put bread on the table, looking over my shoulder the whole time.

And no, I never thought it would happen to me. I was too smart, too independent, too capable to ever find myself in that position - and yet I did.

Why did I lie to my family and friends, you wonder? Why did I put up with it, even for a day? Because weirdly enough, the psychological side of the abuse can be even worse than the physical. Victims of domestic abuse are made to feel ashamed, and helpless, and dependent upon the very person who hurts them the most. It's not an easy cycle to break, particularly when there are children involved, because the children themselves are often used as a weapon in the psychological war against you.

But break the cycle I did, and I'm no longer ashamed. I've finally realized that by not talking about it, by not sharing that I came through it as a much stronger person, I was still acting as though I were ashamed, when I was never the one who needed to be.

So this Friday night, at 8pm EST on ABC, I hope you'll watch "Taking Action Against Domestic Violence", and not turn a blind eye to the problem. Not only do I hope you'll watch it, I hope you'll do something about it, like:
  1. Donate to your local women's shelter. Clothes, money, computers, toys, diapers - if you're a woman (and most of my readers are), put yourself in the position of homelessness and powerless and think about what you'd need. Then donate it.
  2. Drop off your used cellphone in specially marked boxes at any Verizon location, no matter how old it is or what shape it's in. It will be recycled by the Verizon Hopeline Program, providing a much needed safety net to abused women. It costs you nothing, and it's probably just sitting in a drawer somewhere anyway, isn't it?
  3. Speak up. 74% of Americans personally know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence. If you see someone with unexplained bruises or witness actual abuse, even if they deny it (and they most likely will) give that person your support, whether it's a shoulder to cry on or the number to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which is 1−800−799−SAFE (7233). They'll be given instant, anonymous referrals to shelters and other valuable resources, no questions asked.
Yes, I have been a victim of domestic violence. There is hope - and there is life - on the other side of it. Do what you can to give that hope to others by donating, listening, and perhaps most importantly - learning not to judge. Believe me, victims of domestic violence are ashamed enough without being judged by those who've never been there.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Scorpions Sting

My extremely artistic, homeopathic non-Scorpio sister is going to kill me for this, but we've had conversations very close to this one (minus the nose job):

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Devil Without a Cause

The first book in the Devil's Bargain series is now in the hands of my editor, and it has a new title: DEVIL WITHOUT A CAUSE. (No, this IS NOT the actual cover - it was done by a friend - but it's SO funny, isn't it?)

This particular title fits the book on so many levels - a misunderstood loner, rebelling against what's expected of him, taking on the world with his own version of right vs. wrong.

So what if he just happens to be the Devil himself, hm? :-)

(I must admit, there's even a resemblance between Sammy (Satan) Divine and James Dean!)

Sammy's not the only bad boy is this book. He goes head-to-head with his old friend, the Archangel Gabriel, and a more recent acquaintance named Finn Payne, who sold his soul for rock-n-roll.

Finn's had a long and very successful career, and Sammy's tired of waiting to collect on his end of the bargain. In DEVIL WITHOUT A CAUSE, he uses an unsuspecting young woman named Faith to tempt Finn to his doom, much as he feels he was tempted by Eve in those long ago days of the Garden of Eden. It's a twisted tale of love, forgiveness and redemption, and if I told you more than that... well, let's just say I want you to READ it to find out what happens!

I promise to post an excerpt as soon as my editor gives me the go-ahead, which should be soon. In the meantime, patience is a virtue, or so I'm told!

(Sammy would definitely disagree, but who you gonna listen to -- an angel, or a devil?)

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Refilling the Creative Well With Family, Flowers and Pottery

One of the hazards of being a writer is that it can be a very solitary job, one that requires a lot of living in one's own head. The people we end up talking to the most can sometimes be the imaginary ones we create for our stories instead of the living ones who actually surround us. When one of my sisters recently told me that I "needed to get out more", I took her advice and booked a quick trip up to visit her in the Atlanta area for a change of scenery, a change of routine and a couple of days worth of relaxation.

Valerie is an extremely creative person, and has always been able to think outside the box. Her gifts are many and varied; she's a talented floral designer who recently opened her own shop, AND she's an amazingly gifted potter, with her own pottery studio.

I hadn't seen the store yet (though I'd heard all about it), and wasn't sure what to expect, though I knew it would be awesome. What I didn't expect was to walk through the door and go "WOW!" But I did, and here's why:

She's put her heart and soul into the place, and it shows. Unlike many florist shops, walking into hers is like walking into a secret garden, full of nature and gorgeous blooms. Check out the wallpaper - it's a silkscreened photo of an actual forest - and look what she has hanging there... those are her originally designed, handmade "tree masks". No two are even remotely alike (this picture doesn't begin to do them justice). They're outdoor garden art, designed to be strapped to live trees with rawhide. The expression, the detail, and the glazing makes them all fantastically unique and oddly alive.

So, yesterday, we spent most of the day in her pottery studio, where she showed me how to make my own. Since I have "devils" on the brain these days, guess what I came up with? :-) I was going for Puck, the horny satyr from Midsummer Night's Dream, and wanted him to look both naughty and mischievious.

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream.

This is just the raw clay version - Valerie will paint it with the glaze I chose, a speckled concoction of browns and creams, and then fire it in her kiln. Since firing up a kiln is quite a production, I probably won't see the finished product for several weeks. It was a pretty fascination process, though - shaping, smoothing, slicing - I used sea shells for the texturing. Who knew?

Anyway, I came back today, relaxed and refreshed, and ready to start the next book. Plus, my sister can't nag me about "getting out more". :-)

Saturday, April 03, 2010

And They All Lived Hoppily Ever After...

I have no idea what possessed me (must've been a wild hare! Get it? Hair, hare? Oh, never mind...), but I agreed to play the Easter Bunny at my local YMCA this weekend as part of an Easter celebration sponsored by my church. Never having worn a big giant bunny head before, I didn't realize what I was getting myself into until I actually got fitted for the costume, and found out that big giant bunny heads can be extremely difficult to see through, and extremely hot.

However, they can also be extremely fun. :-) Here I am suiting up before the event:

And here's the finished product:

My obligatory "bunny pose" (take that, Playboy magazine!):

And the reason(s) I did it (look at those little faces!!!):

There were an estimated 300 people at the event, by far most of them kids. all who got to hunt for Easter eggs, jump in the bouncy house, make Easter crafts and eat snowcones and popcorn while listening to live music. And oh, yeah, get their picture taken with the Easter Bunny. :-) Luckily, only a few were frightened by me, and only one burst into tears. (Weirdly enough, they seemed more scared of my big white mitts than anything else.)

So yes, I'm a published author, and no, I'm not at all ashamed to say I dressed up as the Easter Bunny and made some kids happy. I end this Easter Blog with two of my favorite quotes: "Blessed are those who can laugh at themselves, for they shall never cease to be amused", and "Th-th-that's all, folks!"