The Holiday of Imagination

I love Halloween.

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What you’d see if you walked in my house right now

Halloween is without a doubt my favorite holiday and has been my entire life, a fact that has often been at odds with the subculture I was raised in. I had friends who weren’t allowed to celebrate Halloween. I grew up in a community that looked at Harry Potter askance for its evil, witchcrafty ways. But to me, my love of Halloween (and Harry Potter) has never been at odds with my faith.

While it’s true that Halloween has its roots in non-Christian celebrations, so do all of the big holidays. Saturnalia turned to Christmas, Lupercalia turned to Valentine’s Day, etc. Like every holiday that started in ancient times and has survived until today, Halloween has changed from its Samhain roots. And to me, even as a child, Halloween was always the greatest of holidays because Halloween celebrated the one thing I prized above all.

Imagination.

The year I was a "pumpkin fairy" (aka, the year we had no money for costumes)

The year I was a “pumpkin fairy” (aka, the year we had no money for costumes)

Halloween is the time when we’re encouraged to tell stories and watch movies about things that most of society views as not real: ghosts, goblins, vampires, and other creatures that go bump in the night.

Halloween is the one day a year when you can literally be whatever or whoever you want to be, from a supernatural creature to a historical person to a fictional character. There are no limits. On Halloween I could be Belle, Marie Curie, Tenel Ka, or a fairy.

Halloween is the one day as a culture that we say “Today the rules of reality are suspended. Today homes are haunted, magic is real, and you are whoever you wish to be.”

So others may tut about the holiday–whether because of religious reasons or because it’s merely a “children’s holiday”–but personally I’m going to live in Night Vale, be Nova, queue up The Nightmare Before Christmas, and reward every caped crusader, princess, witch, and goblin who comes to my door with a piece of candy.

Because I believe in imagination.

How about you guys? Do  you love Halloween? What does the holiday mean to you?

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Celebration!! And giveaway

So somehow I managed to miss the fact that I’ve been a part of the Scribes for ONE YEAR!! It’s actually a year and a couple of months, but I think that still warrants a celebration. And we’re in my favorite month…with one of my favorite holidays. So, what do you say we give away a book (or two)?

I will give away a book of your choice from my list. I have a new release too…Plaisir. While it’s not paranormal, it’s a favorite of mine.

This giveaway is easy to enter…tell me one of your favorites. Favorite holiday. Favorite book. Favorite Spellbound post. What’s your favorite? Don’t forget to leave your email!!

This was originally published in The Dreams and Nightmares Anthology.

Griffyn Sandibar brought his best friend, Tate Walker, to Vegas to show him he wants more than just a friendship. Griffyn doesn’t only want Tate in his bed, though. Vegas is home to Club Plaisir, and Griffyn happens to hold a very hard to come by membership to the exclusive club. Griffyn’s not only ready to tell Tate about his deepening feelings, but he’s ready to see what happens when the walls are down and they add a third to the mix.

Kelsey Jackson’s high dollar membership to Club Plaisir is her only escape. A career in the spotlight is one thing, but her looks have her portraying a much younger, perfect ‘tween on TV. Kelsey is only able to walk into the Vegas hotel once or twice a year. The secret club at the top is exactly what she’s needed for months; however the very last thing she expected was to meet the men of her dreams–literally.

Will one night be enough to fulfill their fantasies? Enter the exclusive BDSM Club Plaisir and find out.

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Early Review: Prosperity

Prosperity_Alexis Hall

Amazon link          Goodreads link

Blurb

A breathtaking tale of passion and adventure in the untamed skies!

Prosperity, 1863: a lawless skytown where varlets, chancers, and ne’er-do-wells risk everything to chase a fortune in the clouds, and where a Gaslight guttersnipe named Piccadilly is about to cheat the wrong man. This mistake will endanger his life . . . and his heart.

Thrill! As our hero battles dreadful kraken above Prosperity. Gasp! As the miracles of clockwork engineering allow a dead man to wreak his vengeance upon the living. Marvel! At the aerial escapades of the aethership, Shadowless.

Beware! The licentious and unchristian example set by the opium-addled navigatress, Miss Grey. Disapprove Strongly! Of the utter moral iniquity of the dastardly crime prince, Milord. Swoon! At the dashing skycaptain, Byron Kae. Swoon Again! At the tormented clergyman, Ruben Crowe.

This volume (available in print, and for the first time on mechanical book-reading devices) contains the complete original text of Piccadilly’s memoirs as first serialised in All the Year Round. Some passages may prove unsettling to unmarried gentlemen of a sensitive disposition.

Review

First things first: right now, before you read any farther, go to Amazon and wish-list this book. Even better, pre-order it. Then go to Goodreads and add it to your “want to read” shelf.  Because seriously, it’s that good. Here are the links again:

Amazon link          Goodreads link

It doesn’t come out until October 27th, but I got a sneak peek at a copy from Netgalley, and it flat-out blew me away.

“Y’know, not everything has to be about everything. Sometimes it’s just about now.” (Piccadilly to Ruben, on the difference between love and sex.)

The story is told from the point of view of Piccadilly, an “urchin with a heart of gold”. He’s a petty thief from the Stews of Gaslight who’s traveled to the sky town of Prosperity with simple goals: acquire enough cash to eat and sleep, and if there’s someone to warm his bed, all the better, regardless of the bits under their clothing.

Piccadilly runs a successful caper, which gets him in the cross-hairs of Milord, an evil and amoral and absolutely honest crimelord. Instead of ending up dead at Milord’s hands, however, Piccadilly gets adopted by the crew of the Shadowless. Over the course of his adventures, he loses some things and gains others, though in the end, his biggest achievement may be finding a place he belongs.

Here’s what I loved about it…

The perfect language and cadence.  For this post, I was half tempted to just compile my favorites out of all of Mr. Hall’s fantastic sentences, and while I did include a few, I figured it would be more informative if I included my thoughts as well.

So here’s my most prominent thought: Piccadilly’s voice rocks. It’s a consistently creative mash-up of periods, like a British Steampunk version of Huckleberry Finn. There were a few bits of modern slang, but the whole thing was such a patchwork I found them entertaining rather than annoying. Beyond the voice, I found the descriptions were colorful and surprising, and the rhythm kept me humming along with pleasure. (And I’m not even exaggerating. This is the kind of book where I’d read a sentence, then re-read it just because it was fun.)

Piccadilly’s surprising wisdom. 

‘Tis often the way, I find, when the job is done. Cos I keep thinking sommat’s waiting on the other side. I dunno what, but I’m sure it’s there, just out of reach… But there’s nowt. There’s only silence. And the things you filch ain’t ever the things you want, and I reckon living itself is a filched business. (Piccadilly, on the consequences of living life as a thief.)

Because of his creative grammar and self-professed inability to make letters behave, Picadilly’s observations always came as a bit of a surprise. He’s a deep and wise and charming soul, and his thoughts on life will stay with me.

The absolute boldness of the story. Prosperity is a Steampunk fantasy with romantic elements, and those romantic elements are almost exclusively same-sex. I’m putting that out there because, while I’ve been reading a lot of queer romance, not everybody’s been hanging out in my head. The romance was part of the story, not the point of the exercise.

More interesting to me was the character of Byron Kae, captain of the Shadowless, and the best gender-ambiguous character I’ve read in a long time, possibly since Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand Of Darkness. I didn’t mind the use of the plural pronouns when referring to Byron Kae, possibly because my kids are growing up in a world where asking a new friend which pronouns they prefer is considered good manners. Byron Kae was beautiful and mysterious and I hope they star in one of Mr. Hall’s upcoming novels.

There. I’ve compared Prosperity to Huckleberry Finn & The Left Hand of Darkness. That’s bold. That’s ambitious. That’s a whole ‘nother playing field from most of what I’ve been reading lately.

Any concerns? The denseness of the language. While it’s gorgeous and amazing and entertaining as all hell, it took me a while to learn it. On my first read, I moved slowly through the opening chapters, intrigued, fascinated, but a little confused. The more I read, the easier it got, though in all honesty I felt a greater emotional impact on my second read-through, even though I already knew what would happen next.  I was more fluent in the language, and the critical scenes near the end tore me up.

I give this book five stars, simply because it reaches higher than anything I’ve read in a long time. I’m in awe of the author’s ability to create vibrant characters and to weave thoughtful commentary about real life throughout a wonderful fantasy. And you know the best part? There are four more books in this world scheduled for release in January! I hope you look for Prosperity on it’s release in a couple weeks. It’s a truly amazing ride.

Peace,
Liv

She was black, with fittings of silver, except ’twas a kinda black beyond the everyday, as though it’d swallowed down all the other colours in the world and they was swimming about inside it like rainbow fish. (Piccadilly, describing the airship Shadowless.)

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Lost at Dusk

The whispering forest is cool and golden, and I am lost.

Afternoon sunlight angles toward the horizon, and the wind sends pine-scented hands to ruffle the painted carpet of fallen leaves. The trail map clutched in my chilly fingers has devolved into gibberish—the collection of interlocking lines and squiggles could be hieroglyphs, for all I can read them. My phone pings, reminding me yet again that I have moved outside my data roaming zone, and have no service.

I am very, very lost.

“Damn it,” I say, for the fifty-second time. Somewhere in between agonizing over which fallen leaf was prettiest and admiring the magic of the Midas sun, I managed to lose myself in the smallest forest ever.

The sun slips behind a cloud, and a sudden frosty wind sprints between the trees. Boughs creak and a shower of dead foliage spirals down around me. Threads of fear stitch down my back and arms, raising goosebumps in their path. I have maybe an hour before the sun sets. An hour of light, and then I’ll be lost in the woods…in the dark.

Resolve quickens my step, and I march up a small rise where the trees grow more sparsely. If I can only catch a glimpse of the river, I’ll know where I am. I squint between the pale trunks of birch trees, desperate for a glimpse of blue between the dancing curtains of yellow and gold.

The toe of my hiking boot catches on something, and I go down, hard, throwing a hand out just in time to catch myself. I curse, and whip my head around to glare at the offending hunk of rock jutting from the ground. With its sloping edges and smooth surface, the stone almost looks like—

A headstone.

My heart hammers against the inside of my ribs as the realization tumbles through me. A headstone. I scramble to my feet, sending my gaze skittering across the clearing. A dozen or so flat dark stones rise up from the earth, listing crooked and strange within the circle of birches.

A graveyard. I’ve literally stumbled onto a forgotten cemetery in the middle of the woods.

I thread my way between the grave markers, curiosity overcoming my nerves. The pitted slate stones are unmistakably ancient; time has eroded the etchings until they are nearly impossible to read. No flowers nor trinkets adorn these graves—only lichen and dirt and crumbling dead leaves. Who rests here, beneath the fading sky? What did they do, and how did they live? My questions have no answers. History has consigned this graveyard—and its occupants—to oblivion.

I pause in front of the final headstone, larger than the rest and tucked away at the edge of the forest. A crudely carved cherub’s face stares at me with blank eyes, sending a shiver to clutch at my spine. I take a step away, ready to head back into the forest, when a lancet of light slices through the trees and paints the headstone in shades of blood and ochre. The inscription leaps out at me, the graven letters stark and archaic:

Here lieth Eliza Tilley
1765—1787

I am not dead
I merely sleep

The words send a thrill of fear spiking through my veins, and I shudder against the chill creeping through my down jacket. My feet propel me back, back, my steps loud in the crackling leaves, but my eyes feel glued to the inscription. The words thrum through me, hushed and eerie, and my pulse seems to leap in time to that rhythm of dread.

I am not dead, I merely sleep.

A rush of wind. A loud crash—a falling bough. A flock of birds rises in a wave, the sudden clamor and rush dragging my eyes up. They scatter across the darkening sky, their strident calls echoing between the trees like some dire warning.

I hear the slow rasp of indrawn breath a spare second before I feel the tickle of ice-cold fingers on the back of my neck. And I suddenly know:

Someone’s not sleeping any more.

 

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All Hallow’s Read

Happy October one and all! This is one of my favorite month’s of the year. I just love the start of the holiday season. I know people get miffed when they see decorations popping up at stores “too early”, but not me. Me, I like the idea of stretching Halloween and Samhain and Christmas and Winter Solstice as far as possible. I mean, we’re always told we should keep the holiday spirit in our hearts all year long, right?

all-hallows-read12Anyway. A few years ago the awesome Neil Gaiman started a new campaign called All Hallow’s Read. It is the concept of passing out books on Halloween to encourage reading and literacy. Now, don’t go getting your knickers in a twist, it isn’t the idea of giving out books instead of candy, because no one wants their house to be egged, just the idea of doing it as well. The idea is to give out Halloween-ish books, but really, giving any book is good, you know?

I decided to join in on the fun two Halloweens ago in 2012. I bought so many books in a variety of age ranges. I had picture books and board books for tiny tots, I had short chapter books for small children and even had a dearth of Fear Street and Forest of Hands and Teeth for the occasional teenager I knew would show up. And of course I had copies of Coraline to pay homage to Mr. Gaiman.

I also had goody bags to pass out along with the books. I was ready. I was gonna participate! But I totally sucked at it. Offering books to kids expecting candy seemed so strange to me that first year. I think I gave out five books in all. I don’t know why I got so tongue tied over it. I was so disappointed in myself.

So the year went by and I still had all these books, so many books. I think I had somewhere around fifty books total. Maybe just forty five. Whatever. I had a lot of books. I had kept them all year on a shelf, waiting for the next Halloween. So, I set them out, made new goody bags and told myself I was going to do better.

photo-31And boy did I. Once I got into the habit of saying, “I’m also giving out books, would you like one?!” it got easier and easier to do. So, by the end of the night I had seven books left over – five picture books and two Goosebumps. Not too shabby. I really thought the teens would be the hardest, but they were pretty keen too. One guy, who I’m pretty sure was close to sixteen, actually got super excited when I said, “I’ve only got Goosebumps for you.”

 

This year I’ve been going to my local comic book store a lot and I think I’m gonna give out Halloween comic books with a few others. So join the fun. Let’s help promote reading as something fun, not just something teachers make you do. Spread literacy and get kids excited. And the worst that can happen is they say “no, thank you” to the book and a tiny piece of your soul dies. But hey, the next kid is gonna say “Yes! THANK YOU!” and snatch the book out of your hand and renew your faith in humanity.

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Why Alphas Aren’t First in My Book

alpha maleFor generations, women have been taught that the ideal hero of a novel – regardless of genre, but especially in romance – is the alpha male. You know the type: tan, perfectly muscled, ruggedly handsome, can go all night, likely to appear oiled up/sweaty on the cover.*

I’d like to challenge that stereotype. Actually, I am in most of my books (King Arthur, and Lancelot to an extent, being exceptions because of their existing characteristics).

Why? Well for one, I am so not attracted to the alpha male – it’s part of the reason I don’t like romance novels. Physically, I’ve always gone for what I call the “heroin chic” look: skinny, may or may not have muscles, usually tall. (I think it comes from too many years of hanging out with musicians.) I like someone who won’t crush me under his weight or break me in a passionate embrace. And yes, I like metrosexuals. (Style is important to me, okay?)

But more than that, I’m way more interested in what’s going on in a guy’s mind than how hard his abs are. Don’t get me wrong, I love a nice washboard as much as the next girl, but the idea of the testosterone-laden alpha male makes my skin crawl. Maybe it’s because I tend to be a dominating person, not the dominated. Maybe it’s because I want an equal, not a savior. Maybe I’m just odd.

I know part of it is because I don’t go all gooey for traditional male roles like solider, cop, firefighter, cowboy, etc. I’d rather see a poet, a college professor, an actor or an artist as a hero – someone with soul. Even a scientist with a conscience or a lawyer fighting for the poor or the environment would do it for me. Forget the stoic Spartan; I need to a guy who at least acknowledges his feelings, if he’s not in touch with them. I guess what I’m saying is that I need more than a hard body to get me going, and that thing doesn’t involve overt physicality or domination.

I believe there’s a whole audience of women out there who yearn for a man who stimulates their minds as much as their bodies. There probably are heroes out there who do both, but let’s face it: the typical alpha male usually isn’t too bright. He might be great at what he does – he might even save the world – but I don’t think he’s going to be providing sparkling dinner conversation.

My heroines are all highly educated (in life, if not in school) and they need someone who is able to engage in witty repartee and once in a while best them in an argument. This is a delicate balance because if their male counterpart isn’t well rounded, he can come off as an arrogant prick. I think this where emotional depth comes in, to tame down some of the intellect. The world may not need any more ripped Fabios, but we don’t need more Ivy League douchecanoes either.

This is not to say that intelligent heroes can’t be hot – yes, please, make them hot! But the typical alpha isn’t both.  And it’s time for that to change. So while some authors are penning the next Hercules, I’ll be busy crafting Benedick’s [Much Ado About Nothing] heir.

*I’m sure there are plenty of exceptions to this rule. I just haven’t seen them.

What are your feelings on the alpha male? Do you like or dislike this stereotype? Am I totally off my rocker? Have you read books were the alpha has some depth? If so, let me know which ones. I’d love for an author to prove me wrong on this point!

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Top Ten Reasons I’m a #Feminist

I was recently invited to participate in a new group blog project. FeminaAequalitas.com  is the pet project of SpellboundScribes blogger Nicole Evalina. The purpose of the blog is to examine issues affecting both men and women. Here’s a snippet from the blog’s About page…

We’re a group of men and women who are searching for equality among the sexes in our lives and in our world. We have opinions on things going on in the world around us – in pop culture (movies, music, books, TV, etc.), world news, politics and in our own lives. We’re here to share those thoughts in order to foster healthy discussion and grow a community of like-minded individuals. We are desirous of change, but aren’t necessarily traditional activists.

If that piques your curiosity, here’s a link to my introductory post.

There’s a definite overlap between the bloggers here at the SpellboundScribes and the people who will be creating posts for FeminaAequalitas.com, though I think the tone on the new blog will be somewhat more serious. For today, though, this is all new and fresh and fun, and I thought I’d come up with a list of reasons that I’m a feminist…

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10. Because my life is good, but not every woman can say that.

9.  Because everyone needs to call the NFL on its bullshit.

8.  Because I’d earn more money if I had a Y-chromosome.

7.  Because someone needs to step up and prove there’s more going on than the #feminazi stereotype.

6.  Because by age 16, girls learn how to avoid sexual assault, but boys don’t.

5. Because ideas of hyperdefined masculinity hurt boys as much as traditional female stereotypes hurt women.

4. Because #RapeCulture  exists.

3. Because my son needs a role model.

2. Because my daughter needs a role model.

1. Because I’m old enough to remember when being a feminist was cool.

Well now, I hope you run right over to the new blog. Thanks for playing along!
Liv

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