Author Archives: parishtheword

Blog Tour: Alexandrea Weis

Alexandrea Weis stopped in for a guest post.

The rhythm of the resurrecting city of New Orleans is reflected everyday in the unified heartbeat of its determined residents. And no matter the devastation, New Orleanians will continually fight to hold on to their beloved little bastion eight feet below sea level. Like the memory of a first kiss, the warmth of New Orleans pervades your soul and forever becomes a part of you. To travel among the wide oaks and antebellum homes of the Garden District makes for beautiful postcard pictures, but it does not give you a true indication of what it means to be a New Orleanian. You have to immerse yourself in the old world atmosphere and varied traditions of the people of this town in order to understand them, and, hopefully, become one of them.

You need to dine in the myriad of exceptional restaurants and take part in a heated discussion about where to find the best bowl of gumbo. Spend a Monday morning drinking coffee and chicory in an old uptown kitchen while learning how to cook the perfect pot of red beans and rice. Experience the wrong way to eat a muffaletta sandwich, the right way to shuck an oyster, and the only way to eat a beignet. And you will always have to remember that if your food isn’t boiled, blackened or fried, it just ain’t cooked.

You will want to traverse the different sections of the old city divided not by points on a compass, but by proximity to the Mississippi River or Lake Pontchartrain. Because no one in the Crescent City could ever tell you where to find the south end of town, but they could recite by heart the neighborhoods along the bend in the river. From the Bywaters to the Irish Chanel, from Lakeview to the infamous Ninth Ward, so many smaller sections alive with their own unique histories make up this city. Each part of New Orleans has a rich heritage based on the struggles of its French, Spanish, Irish, African, or Italian founders.

Then head over to  Canal Street, where the local term “neutral ground” was created in the early 1800s. In those days, the wide thoroughfare was first used as a common market area between the feuding French and Spanish occupants of the city. Take a streetcar ride down legendary St. Charles Avenue to see the world renowned Audubon Zoo. Along the way, soak up the different styles of Victorian, Greek Revival, and Colonial architecture represented by some of the city’s finest homes. Let the soothing rocking motion of the streetcar ease your cares, as the sweet scent of magnolias streams in from the open window beside you. At the end of your streetcar ride, walk the broken cobblestones of the French Quarter, and take in the alluring sights of the tightly packed Creole cottages. Listen for the seductive sounds of Jazz music resonating around you, the smell of great food hovering in the air about you, and let your imagination linger on the romantic wrought iron balconies above you. Make your way to Jackson Square and take in the tall spires of St. Louis Cathedral, the oldest Catholic cathedral in the continental Untied States. Walk through the adjoining Cabildo Museum, where the Louisiana Purchase was signed in 1803. Stroll on over to the Moonwalk, by the edge of the Mississippi River, and enjoy the calliope music coming from the Delta Queen Riverboat. After you have learned to bargain like a pro with the vendors at the French Market, then saunter down the shady sidewalks of Esplanade Avenue. The street made famous by Tennessee Williams and his tale of hidden desire. Finally, let yourself wander the narrow alleys of St. Louis Cemetery Number One, where you can visit the above ground tombs of famous former residents Marie Laveau, the voodoo queen, and Paul Morphy, the chess phenomenon.

But there is another, more important, criteria for being an ingrained member of this eclectic southern city. You have to learn to appreciate life. Not the day-to-day hurried existence that shortens the lives of stockbrokers and businessmen, but the easy lust for the fulfillment of the senses. For everything about New Orleans is tailored to the forgotten art of self-gratification. In these days of such soulless existence, it is a heartwarming relief to find a place unashamed of its abundant way of life. No one in New Orleans regrets the way they live, they only regret when they have to leave it.

So the next time you think about my hometown, don’t linger on the unforgettable disasters of our past. Instead, revel in what makes our city unique, shamelessly flamboyant, and stoically unapologetic for its transgressions. New Orleanians have moved on from Katrina. Despite the numerous media attempts to bury the residents under clouds of negative press and dim outlooks, the people remain resilient. Because they know that when Mardi Gras is over, crawfish season is right around the corner. We may have paid a heavy price for our time in paradise, but we know that somewhere up in the heavens, someone is answering our prayers. After all, the Saints did finally win the Super Bowl.

ABOUT:

Alexandrea Weis is a registered nurse from New Orleans who has been published in several nursing journals and textbooks. She has been writing novels and screenplays for over twenty years. Her first novel, To My Senses, was a finalist for commercial fiction in Eric Hofer Book Awards, a finalist for romance in the Foreword Magazine Book of the Year awards, and a finalist for romance in the USA Book Awards. Her second novel, Recovery, won the Gold Medal for best romantic suspense from The Reader’s Favorite Book Awards and was named best Romantic Suspense by the NABE Pinnacle Book Awards in 2011. Her third book, Sacrifice, closes out the Nicci Beauvoir Series. Her fourth book, highlighting her love of rehabbing wildlife, called Broken Wings, is now out in paperback and ebook.

Ms. Weis is also a permitted wildlife rehabber with the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries and when she is not writing, Ms. Weis is rescuing orphaned and injured wildlife. She lives outside of New Orleans with her husband and a menagerie of pets.

Website: http://alexandreaweis.com

Blog: http://alexandreaweiscom.blogspot.com/

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It helps to know where you’re going

I’ve discovered that one the hard way.

Some time back, I embarked on a little project called Once Upon an Ever After. I started it with absolutely no idea where it was going. I actually thought that was a good idea. But after a couple of chapters in, I got lost and frustrated because…well, because I didn’t know where I was going. I don’t write with a super detailed outline. But I usually have at least some indication of how the story will progress between beginning, middle and end. Jennings Grove had a chapter list and some basic notes. The Final Quarter had nothing but a chapter list. But I had something.

With Once Upon an Ever After, I knew where the next chapter or two was going, and that was about it. And it almost made me give up on one of my best ideas to date. So I’ve spent the last week or so making notes about the story. There’s going to have to be some rewriting of the parts I’ve already done, but now I have a cohesive plot. It’s a lot more detailed than what I’ve worked with before, but there’s no chapter list, and there’s still plenty of room for the story to evolve as  I write, as I prefer it to.

It’s been a good lesson to learn, and I’m sure it will do me good in the future. Just wish it didn’t have to be such a hard one.


Just read it

While scrolling through Facebook this morning, I saw a link to a column by Dwight Allen called “My Stephen King Problem: A Snob’s Notes.” I’ll admit it: I was intrigued. It’s not too often you see people in the literati crowd take on the King anymore. It’s kind of like arguing about hurricanes. Some people see the impending storm as a reason to party while others just want to get out of Dodge or at least batten down the hatches and ride it out. But the storm itself is really just too big a phenomenon to worry about saying whether it’s good or bad. It’s there. If you live in Phoenix, it doesn’t bother you much. If you’re along the Gulf coast, you may have a hurricane party or have to rebuild. Stephen King has become such a force in writing world that you don’t think much about it until one of his books affects you personally (either because you liked the story or because someone dropped  The Stand in hardback version on your head).

So this guy says he’s a literary snob and didn’t read any King for 25 years. He’d even go out of his way to avoid publications like The New Yorker if it happened to have something by King soiling its pages. But, finally, because a friend had recommended it, he decided to hold his nose and read a few: Christine, Pet Sematary, 11/22/63 and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. He said King’s work was ultimately “workmanlike” but not particularly exciting or original — and it was way too long. Allen complained frequently about King’s unnecessary wordiness — long-winded passages that didn’t say much of anything.

Which struck me as funny, given that the column weighed in at 4,600 words. That’s long by any stretch. For a newspaper column, it would be about 10 times too long. Even for a magazine, this piece is pushing it. And for an online column — its actual home — it should be maybe a quarter of the length. And that’s just for readability. Few people are willing to put that kind of time into reading something like this on a computer screen. There’s no reason for this particular piece to be this long. It’s full of little parenthetical asides that have little if any relevance to the topic at hand. It rambles. The piece is basically a wandering rant. He makes some interesting points, but they’re buried under a slag heap of vitriol.

The ending pretty much says it all:

King may be an adequate enough escape from life, if that’s all you require from a book of fiction, but his work (or what I’ve read of it) is a far cry from literature, which, at its best, is, sentence by sentence, a revelation about life.

Honestly, that’s not a bad view if you happen to not like genre work. I think Allen’s a bit misguided, but that’s his prerogative. It’s his snobbish attitude, not just to King’s writing, but to the people who love his work:

I did feel, however, that I demanded something different (something more?) from a novel than I guessed most of the readers of Stephen King did. (Not that this made me morally superior, just more demanding, a high-maintenance reader.)

I’m not Stephen King’s biggest fan. At least, not his later works. His earlier stuff, such as The Shining and The Stand, and his short stories are wonderful. Some of his later work isn’t as good.  But with something like 50 books under his belt, he’s going to have some sinkers. I prefer the likes of C.S. Friedman, Clive Barker, Matt Hults, Tad Williams, Robert Jordan, Eric S. Brown and Michael West.  But, unlike Allen, I’m not going to knock anyone who likes to read everything King puts out. I’m glad they’re reading at all.

Now don’t get me wrong. As an English teacher, I deplore the general lack of appreciation for literature we see today. I’m enthralled by BeowulfThe Canterbury Tales, Shakespeare, the Romantic poets, Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe and Martin Cruz Smith. But you know what? I’d never have an appreciation this kind of literature if not for Stephen King.

I started reading at a young age because I saw my mother reading. It varied greatly: Romance novels, The Deathgate Cycle, Stephen King, etc. I decided to pick up Pet Sematary while in middle school. Scared the pants off me. I also wound up reading things like 1984 and Animal Farm that same year. And I kept on reading, King. Tolkien. C.S. Lewis. Jordan. And on and on.

As a reporter, one year I got to cover Rock and Read in Rockwall County.  This was a fundraiser for a literacy program where someone would sit in a rocking chair at various places in the county and read. I went from place to place, talking to different participants. One question I always asked: What are you reading? Nearly every one of them got a little embarrassed and replied beginning with “Oh, it’s just…” They seemed to think they should be reading Plato or Vonnegut at all times.

What I told them, I say to you: Be glad you’re reading something. I don’t care if it’s the Rambler essays or a series of pamphlets on shaving weasels. Just read it.


Jennings Grove is available in physical and ethereal forms…

My debut horror novel, Jennings Grove, is now available in whatever format you might want. So go grab it today!

Are you a financially contentious reader who appreciates the value of a good e-book? Get it for your Kindle!

Are you the type who prefers a dead-tree, hold-it-in-your-hands book? We got that, too!

We’re still looking for reviewers, as well. If you run a review site and would like to take a look at Jennings Grove, email me for a copy.


Interview with Corey Mariani

Note: This is a part of a blog tour sponsored by Totes & Notes.
Corey Mariani was born in Bridgeville, California, the first town to be sold on eBay. In 2010, he graduated from Humboldt State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Geography. He has worked as a lumber stacker, restaurant host, pizza delivery man, U.S. Census enumerator, and FedEx package handler. He currently installs satellite dishes throughout northern California and southern Oregon. His short fiction has appeared in Lightspeed Magazine.
Q: Please tell us about you novel, Passenger Through Time.
A: It’s about a man trapped in an absurd, often surreal and disturbing future, where nothing is sacred or genuine, trying to find his way back to his home in the past.
Q: What inspired you to write it?
A: The present.
Q: Who is your favorite character and why?
A: Melissa, the main character’s sister. She’s only in the book for a few pages, but she likes bowling and getting drunk, two things I can relate to.
Q: What made you decide to write a book?
A: Writing stories is something I’ve done since I was eight or nine. I’ve been doing it so long it has become a habit. I thought if I wrote a book I might be able to make a living doing it, however implausible that sounds.
Q: Who are the writers that inspire you the most?
A: John Steinbeck, W. Somerset Maugham, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, Charles Bukowski, Isaac Asimov, Alfred Bester.
Q: Where do you get your inspiration?
A: Caffeine inspires me, so does the shower, or sitting on thevtoilet.
Time for some fun!
Q: What’s your fave color?
A: Blue or yellow
Q: If you were an animal what would you be and why?
A: I would be a Border Collie that is allowed to breed, is responsible for its own herd of sheep or cows, and has a kind owner who maybe feeds it dried pig ears. Why? Because I’d be doing the job I was born to do. I’d have purpose, love, sex, respect, appreciation; and I’d have it all without
existential angst or the knowledge of my own mortality.
Q: What is your fave food?
A: Mexican food
Q: What is the one writing tip you want to pass on to others?
A: Don’t try to figure out how much writing pays per hour.
Q: You have the floor, what is the one thing you want to pass on?
A: My genes.
Q: Links where you can be found?
A:

My first novel is in the wild (or: Get aboard the e-ARC)

Well, Jennings Grove has been released, anyway. It takes a bit for the book to filter on out to the locations such things are most commonly spotted — namely, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I actually spotted it on Barnes & Noble’s site today, but there wasn’t an option to purchase yet.

But it’s coming. And in honor of that momentous (for me, anyway) occasion, I have an offer for you, dear reader. A free e-ARC (advance review copy) of your very own!

Well, nearly free.

Now, don’t worry. I’m not asking for money (unless you really want to buy a copy, too). all I’m looking for is a bit of time and a miniscule amount of effort. After reading, please review on your blog, Facebook, Amazon, B&N, etc. Obviously, I’d prefer positive reviews, but all I’m going to ask is that you be honest.

If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, email me at ParishTheWord@gmail.com. Please include link if you have a blog where you review books.


Jennings Grove will soon be out in the world!


After a great deal of work from several people, Jennings Grove finally has a publish date: May 28. I owe so much to so many people, it’s not even funny. Short list would be the guys making this thing a reality: Dale Murphy at Graveside Tales for publishing. Stephen Blundell for my awesome cover. Matt Hults for the superb layout work. You’ll have to see my Acknowledgements page for the rest.

And until you can do that, be sure to sleep with a light on!


Book Review: The Universal Mirror

Title: The Universal Mirror
Author: Gwen Perkins
Grade: B+

Sometimes you really like a concept and an author’s concept and you want to give the work a really glowing review. But there are just a few stumbling blocks that file a bit of its edge off. The Universal Mirror is like that.

On the island of Cercia, the gods are dead, killed by their followers and replaced with the study of magic. Magicians are forbidden to leave their homeland. Laws bind these men that prevent them from casting spells on the living—whether to harm or to heal. Quentin, a young nobleman, challenges these laws out of love for his wife. His best friend, Asahel, defies authority at his side, unaware that the search for this lost magic will bring them both to the edge of reason, threatening their very souls. The Universal Mirror shows how far two men are willing to go for the sake of knowledge and what they will destroy to obtain it.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This is very well-written book. I recommend it for any fantasy fans out there, especially if you can get it free on Kindle. Perkins creates some really good characters. She’s got a nice world and a unique magic system that includes something lacking in more amateurish fantasy: Limitations. It’s easy to end up with godlike characters in fantasy when there aren’t any natural or societal limitations on the magic. Perkins’ world has a set of rules, called Heresies, that limit how magic is used. It’s just that it’s all a bit shallow. And I really want to see deeper into Cercia.

I was nearly halfway through Mirror before I had the two main characters straightened out. The limitations are there and explored to a degree, but never really explained. The city has periodic bouts of a plague, but for most of the book, it reads like it was a one-time deal. From the descriptions of their friendship, I kept expecting Asahel and Quentin to develop some sort of bromance, if not outright romance.

Perkins does a few things really well, however. Interpersonal interactions (aside from some of the awkwardness between the two protagonists) are handled very nicely. Especially between Quentin and his wife. The rigid structure of society is explored and shown to us in great detail via the vehicle of Asahel’s and Quentin’s friendship.

I enjoyed The Universal Mirror. I’ll probably read it again. It just needed a little more depth to be a great book instead of a good one.


Book Review: Chemical Gardens

Title: Chemical Gardens
Author: Gina Ranalli
Grade: C

Having read House of Fallen Trees, I was curious about some of Gina Ranalli’s other works. She’s usually classified as a “bizarro” author — an odd little subset of horror. After reading Chemical Gardens, however, I’ve come to the conclusion that bizarro probably isn’t for me.

It’s a night like any other for punk rock band Green is the Enemy. Having just completed a gig in their hometown of Seattle, they pile into their van, headed for San Francisco to open for their idols Peroxide and with any luck, get signed to Withering Skin Records. Unfortunately, things don’t go exactly as planned. They travel no more than a few blocks when an 8.5 earthquake strikes the city, tumbling buildings and opening streets, and sending the van crashing down into a huge crevasse. Beneath the city of Seattle is another long buried city, known to locals as The Underground and it is here that the band find themselves, trapped and somehow vastly. changed. Join Ro, Pawn, Dose and Whey as they fight to make it back in time for their gig, encounter strange creatures called Kreepkins, a surfer-dude warlock, a vengeful demon and a Metal Priestess who holds the key to their escape from the bizarre subterranean nightmare that is now their lives.

Based on The Wizard of Oz, this book has a predictable plot. Sort of. There are parallels aplenty, although some of them require a great deal of thought (and I still haven’t figured out the whole traveling-through-a-brain thing). The ending is similar to Oz, but also twisted on its head — just like the rest of Chemical Gardens.

It’s not the predictability that bothers me. Given the nature of the story, that’s unavoidable. The language level’s a bit of a turnoff for me, but I should have expected that knowing the author as I do. Story-wise, the biggest issue for me is the ending. I have to admit there’s closure of a sort, and the denial of expectation is nicely handled. But it felt too abrupt to me. I kept asking, “Really? That’s it? But what about…?”

To be fair, I have to admit I think Rinalli is a seriously messed up woman. And I mean that in the best possible way. She is creative and can obviously come up with stuff that sticks with you. In my case, it’s more of a disturbed factor, but it’s still sticking. It’s highly probable I won’t be reading any more bizarro horror. But if she ever does another, more straightforward horror like House of Fallen Trees, I’ll be all over that.


Everyone is a story

In journalism, one of the first ropes you have to learn is don’t focus on your assignment so much that you miss opportunities for other stories. It’s something each of us learns the hard way at least once. You go to a city council meeting to write about a controversial new development and miss the city manager’s comments that imply a major tax increase is needed in next year’s budget. Or you scribble furiously about building projects in the school district’s bond election and ignore the brief report about a how a teacher’s innovative methods are having incredible results.

My moment came in college at Sam Houston State University. Lech Walesa, a major figure in Poland’s independence from the USSR, received a humanitarian award from the school. All of us in the class were supposed to cover the event, which we dutifully did. And all but one or two completely spaced out on a history professor’s beautiful and heart wrenching story of his family’s flight from Poland.

A closely related principle is that everyone has a story. While I may have missed the first one on a few occasions, this is an area I have always done fairly well with. One of the best compliments I’ve ever gotten  from an editor was that I could get a story out of anything. While whatever level of writing talent I have may play a role in that, I think a bigger part of it is simply that I’m willing to let people tell their stories and I realize they’re all important in their own ways.

I was reminded of this the other day at a laundromat. Our washing machine suffered a sort of chain-reaction breakdown, and we hadn’t replaced it yet. So I took a couple of loads and my Kindle and figured I’d get a little reading in while the clothes got cleaned.

What I got instead was a conversation with a man passing through Paris, Texas, on a sort of never-ending tour of the country. A retired police officer, he’d been living in New Mexico when he lost just about everything in the housing market crash a few years ago. He bought a Ford cargo van (which looks a lot like the behemoth we purchased for our own extended family), put a few hooks, a mattress and other odds and ends inside, and he’s been traveling ever since. “I like traveling anyway,” he said. “I can live cheap.”

On the road, he’s met people who run laundromats and will talk on and on about high-efficiency vs traditional washing machines. He’s become an expert on the places to eat and avoid on his regular routes (and here I thought all Sonics were pretty much the same). And he swapped a few stories with a part-time journalist/full-time teacher. I don’t know the man’s name, and I doubt he remembered me the next morning. But he’s a face, a real person affected by these widespread economic woes we keep hearing about. He’s a chance intersection of lives that left a lasting impression. And he is a reminder of the truth Samwise Gamgee once observed: We’re all part of a bigger story that our own lives continue to ravel and weave.

As I said, journalism teaches us not to overlook the potential stories out there and to keep in mind that everyone has a story. But observing life through the eyes of a writer tells us that everyone is a story in his own right. We just have to pay attention, even at the laundromat.


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