Thankfulness, Recognition…and a Holiday Giveaway!

Hope you’re all having a wonderful Thanksgiving! It’s quiet here–Collin had to work (I’ve decided to sue his employer for joint custody!), so we’re going to be having a late dinner. In the meantime, I have some news to share….

The cover Collin designed for The Unicorn’s Daughter has made the semi-finals for the AUTHORSdB cover art contest! I’m so proud of him! I’ve always loved this cover, so to have him be recognized for it is a thrill! Help him win–go over now and give The Unicorn’s Daughter your vote! You don’t have to be a member to vote….

2013 Book Cover Contest – The 2013 Book Cover Contest is well underway, and with over 1,300 entries has been extremely popular with authors on the site.  Vote tallying for the first round has been completed and the lucky semi-finalists have been announced.  Covers that made it through to round two are featured both on the website, where you can vote for your favourites in each category, and the site’s Facebook page, where the top 50 covers over all genre categories will be promoted.

Semi-final voting is live now and voting is open until December 15th, 2013, with the public vote accounting for 50 percent of the overall scores.  The other 50 percent of the scores will come from live judges (yes, real people!) who are all involved in this fast growing community. NOTE: One vote per cover, per day is permitted per voter.

Love a cover and want to help it score more votes?  Share. Share. Share.  Voters can click on the ‘share’ icon beside the title of the book they like and share with their friends and social media sites.

*****

Also, another of Collin’s designs has made it to the semi-finals: my friend and fellow blogger/author Eve Gaal’s wonderful Penniless Hearts is up for best Romance cover. Give her your support, too!

And…I’ve donated a free ebook edition of The Unicorn’s Daughter to my friend/fellow author/fellow blogger Hilary Grosman’s Holiday Book Giveaway. Check out her blog Feeling Beachie and enter to win The Unicorn’s Daughter, Hilary’s memoir Dangled Carat, or any of the other books that have been donated! There are ebooks and paperbacks available!

And since it’s Thanksgiving, I’d like everyone who comments to tell me what you’re thankful for today. I’m grateful for many things: Collin, my friends, my church, my writing group, my pulse….

Advertisements

Sam’s Story: The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship….

Hi! My name is Sam Beishir. I’m a grey-cheeked parakeet…though most people, seeing me for the first time, call me a parrot.
Technically, I’m pretty sure parakeets are in the parrot family…aren’t they?
This is my story, though you’ll see my mom’s name on the cover. I suppose I could have written it all myself—think I couldn’t learn to use a keyboard? Hah! Guess again! Still, why should I do that when I have someone to do it for me? So she gets author credit. I don’t mind. It’s still my story.

I was born—hatched—in South America in 1989. I don’t know exactly when—it’s not as if there was a calendar in the nest—or where. I’m pretty sure it was somewhere in Ecuador. That’s where most of us are from. Then one day, they came—humans, and not good ones. Yes, I know there’s a difference. Of all the creatures God put on this planet, humans are the species that has the most difficulty getting along.
Those humans took many of us that day. I was just a baby and I was scared. I wanted Mommy and Daddy. Did the humans take them, too? I don’t know. I never saw them again.
Because I was just a baby, my memory of that time is kinda sketchy. I remember being taken, I remember a long trip—by plane, I think—and ending up in a place where there were lots of other birds. I heard things…the older birds talked a lot, while we babies huddled together and cried for our parents. One of the big birds said we were in something called Quarantine.
“We’ll be here for a while, then they’ll ship us out to different places,” he declared.
“What other places?” another adult bird asked.
“Places where humans can buy us.”
“Buy us?” Another bird screeched loudly. “For food? They’re going to eat us?”
“No, stupid!” the older bird said, impatient. “They want us for pets.”
“What’s a pet?” a conure asked.
“They take us into their homes, put us in cages, and pretend they can talk to us, that we’re part of their families.”
“Being a pet sounds horrible. I don’t want to be a pet.”
I didn’t want to be a pet, either. I wanted Mommy and Daddy. I started to cry.
“Some of us will get lucky,” the older bird went on. “We’ll find humans who really do love us and will give us good lives—as good as one can have, living in a cage.”
I was already in a cage. I didn’t want another. I wanted to go home…but young as I was, I knew the reality. Home no longer existed.
There was talk of what might happen to those of us who didn’t find the good humans. “We’d end up moving from home to home, never really loved, sometimes neglected, sometimes worse.”
“What’s worse?”
“Humans who mistreat us.”
That discussion gave the youngest birds nightmares. Some birds couldn’t take the stress, and would die before they could leave quarantine. Every day, birds would be taken away, and those of us who remained would pray those birds would find good humans. We all said our goodbyes with a promise to meet up again one day, but we all knew we wouldn’t see each other again until we crossed the Rainbow Bridge that took us back to our Creator when our lives here came to an end.
I wished I could cross the bridge now. I was homesick and scared and I knew the other side to be far better than this side….
*****
One day, I was sent away with several other birds. I never saw any of them again, except for another grey-cheek like myself. We were sent to a pet shop in St. Louis, where we were housed together.
“I’m scared,” the other bird said, huddling at the back of our cage.
“So am I,” I admitted. “But maybe we’ll get lucky and find good humans.”
“Big maybe,” she said, tucking her head under her wing.
“Have faith,” I told her.
“I can’t,” she cried. “I was taken from my nest! Mama died on the plane coming here—she was fighting to free us. I begged her not to leave me. None of the humans did anything to help her. I hate them—all of them!”
I did what I could to console her, but her fear consumed her. I was afraid, too, but trying hard not to let her see it. Then the spirit bird came….
It was late one night—the pet shop was closed. All of the creatures were asleep in their cages, including my roomie and me. The light woke me—the brightest light I’ve ever seen, even brighter than the sun over Ecuador. “Hey—we’re trying to sleep here,” I grumbled, raising a wing to cover my eyes. “Turn it off!”
“Wake up!”
“Go away!”
“Wake up—I have something to tell you!”
“Can’t it wait—until morning, maybe?”
“No, it can’t.” A bird emerged from the light—not a grey-cheek, but a cousin subspecies, a canary-wing. He settled down next to me. That’s when I realized everyone else was still asleep. The canary-wing saw my confusion. “Only you can see me, Sam.”
“Sam? Why do you call me that?” I asked.
“Because that’s going to be your name,” he told me. “My name is Sam, you see—and your new home will be with my humans. They’re going to name you after me.”
“Why?”
“Because my human mother still misses me. I was taken from her. She still misses me, after all this time,” he explained. “When she sees you, she’s going to think I’ve come back to her, and she’ll name you Sam.”
“What is she like? Is she a good human?” I wanted to know.
“Yes,” he said. “She’s not perfect by any means. She became my adopted mom when she was still young herself, and had a lot to learn about caring for a bird. She still does, really. But she’ll love you so much, you really won’t mind.”
“How will I know her?” I asked, worried I might suck up to the wrong human.
“I’ll be here when the time comes,” he promised. “I’ll point her out to you.”
“Sam?”
“Yes?”
“You said you were taken from her. How? What happened?” I asked.
He looked up at the light. “When we return to Paradise,” he began, “there’s no pain, no suffering of any kind. We don’t have any memory of unpleasantness. A good thing, actually.”
I wondered if something really bad had happened to Sam, but I didn’t ask. I was relieved to know I was going to a good home. Then I looked over at my cagemate. “What about her?” I asked. “Is she getting a good home, too?”
“I don’t know,” Sam answered. “I was only sent to guide you.”
“Will you still be with me after I go home?” I asked.
“I’ll always be with you.”
*****
I watched everyone who came into the pet shop the next morning, waiting, hoping. From what Sam had told me, I was going to a pretty good home. Patience, I kept telling myself. He’ll come when she gets here. He’ll point her out to me.
“What’s with you?” my cagemate asked.
“Huh?”
“You perk up every time somebody comes through that door,” she said. “You act like you want somebody to take you.”
“I do,” I said.
“Why?”
I told her about Sam’s visit. “Did he know what’s going to happen to me?” she asked, hopeful.
“I’m sorry, no,” I said.
She hung her head.
“I know you’re going to get a good home, too,” I said, trying to make her feel better.
“You can’t know that for sure,” she said.
“Hey, maybe my adopted mom will take you, too,” I suggested
That was the first time she seemed at all hopeful. “Do you think so?” she asked.
“It’s possible. She has a soft spot for birds, and it’s just the two of us, so….”
“I hope you’re right. I’d really be scared here without you,” she confessed.
*****
“There she is,” Sam whispered.
I looked toward the door. There were two women coming into the store.
“Which one?” I asked.
“The smaller one.” He paused. “She’s not as small as she used to be. Must be all that eating out.”
“What should I do?” I asked.
“Nothing, yet,” he said. “She’ll come to you.”
I looked at him, hoping he knew what he was talking about. “You haven’t seen her in eleven years. How can you be so sure?”
He was mildly indignant. “First of all, I’ve seen her every day. She hasn’t seen me. Big difference,” he said. “And second, she’s here to buy a bird for her dad—a big red conure.”
“But he—”
“Was sold two days ago. I know,” Sam said. “But she won’t leave right away. She loves animals. So does her mom there. They’ll look around. When they come back here, make nice.”
“Make nice?”
“Act friendly. Go to her. Treat her like an old friend,” he advised. “She’ll think you’re me.”
I was surprised by that. “Whaaaaaatt?”
“She knows there’s a life after the one you have now. She’ll see you and think you’re me, back from this side.”
“She won’t love me for me?” That worried me.
“Of course she will. But you have to get her to take you home with her. Don’t let pride get in the way of that, dummy.”
He was right. I watched and waited. As she came closer, I stepped up boldly while my roomie cowered at the rear. “Hi, there,” the human said, smiling. She bent down to get a closer look at me. “Aren’t you cute?”
“Of course I am. Take me home with you!”
She turned to the woman with her. “Mom, look—he looks like Sam!”
The other woman came closer, too. “He does,” she agreed.
“Since I can’t get Dad’s bird, maybe I’ll buy him,” she said.
“Maybe?” I asked.
“Patience,” Sam whispered.
“You’ll need a cage,” her mother was saying.
“I can get that here—or across the street at Woolworths,” she said. She stopped for a minute. “Remember?”
Her mom nodded. She looked a little worried. When they both walked away, it was my turn to be worried. “It’s okay,” Sam assured me. “She just has to buy a cage. She’ll be back.”
*****
They did come back a short time later (though at the time, it felt like an eternity to me).
“You’re leaving now, aren’t you?” my roomie asked.
“Looks like it.” I kept watching the door at the front of the store.
“I’m not going with you?”
In spite of my excitement, I suddenly felt bad for her. She was already scared. Now she was going to be alone here. “I don’t know,” I said. I didn’t think so.
I looked up at the birds in the cage above us. “I’m leaving soon,” I told them. “My friend here is a bit shy and afraid. Could you maybe take her under your wing?”
“Oh, sure!” they answered in unison. “Stick with us, honey!”
“Thank you,” she responded timidly.
The door opened. They had come back for me. The girl working in the store came back and opened the cage. My roomie immediately moved to the back. I stepped forward, anxious to go.
“Which one?” the girl asked.
“That one.” My new mom pointed to me.
I didn’t wait to be taken out. I flew…out of the cage and through the store to the checkout counter. Mom laughed. “He’s anxious to go home,” she told her mom.
She was so right!
*****
“I’m going to call him Sam,” my new mom told her mom.
Her mom didn’t say anything. I wondered why.
“He’s back,” Mom went on. “I knew it when I saw him. The way he looked at me, flying up to the cash register—he’s anxious to go home.”
“Told you.”
I realized I wasn’t in that box alone. “Sam?” I asked.
“Who else would be in here with you?”
“Right. So now we’re both Sam?”
“Looks like it.”
“That’s going to be confusing.”
“For who?” he asked. “She can’t see me, and since we’re only going to be talking to each other….”
“Nobody else can see you?”
“Only other non-humans,” he said.
“Why is that?” I asked.
“They used to be able to see what we can see—a long, long time ago,” he said. “Unfortunately for them, they got ‘sophistication.’ They think they’re enlightened. They’ve actually just closed their hearts and minds to all but what they can prove.”
“That makes sense,” I said, with more than a little sarcasm.
“I’ve missed her as much as she’s missed me,” Sam said then. “Take good care of her, Number Two.”
“Number Two?” I laughed at that. “Does that make you Number One?”
“Well, I washere first.”

Turning the Big 1-0-0: Somebody Call Willard Scott!

Today is my dad’s birthday. If he were still with us, Dad would be 100 years old today.

Maybe he’d get his mug on a Smuckers jar as one of Willard Scott’s birthday boys. That would have been fun…for me, anyway. “Hey, Dad, look–you made the Geezer list!”

Oh, wait a minute. I’d better shut up. I’m now a geezer myself.

Had he not retired, I believe Dad would still be alive today. Before his retirement, he was always physically active–and as a result, healthy. After he retired, he gained a lot of weight and drank heavily for almost ten years. He was, surprisingly, not an alcoholic. When he decided to stop, he just stopped. It was that simple. Same with smoking. He was very young (nine, I think) when he started smoking. He stopped when he was in his sixties…and never lit up again. Mom didn’t make it easy for him. Unlike Dad, Mom had no willpower. They’d agreed to stop smoking at the same time. Dad stopped; Mom became a closet smoker.

I remember the day he caught her smoking in the bathroom. He went outside to the bathroom window and tapped on the glass. “Either you’re smoking, or the bathroom’s on fire,” he called out to her. “Should I call the fire department?”

He and I frequently butted heads. Mom said that was because we were too much alike. It took him longer than it should have to know when I was ignoring him. I had a friend he actively disliked (to be fair, his reasons were valid–but it was still my choice to make). One night, she and I were going out drinking (told you his reasons were valid). As I got into her car, he came to the front door and yelled, “If you go, don’t come back!”

Shirley was more concerned about that than I was. “He’s really mad. Maybe you shouldn’t go.”
I shrugged it off. “He’ll still be mad when I get back,” I told her.

He was. I think we argued for almost a week.

He was 77 when he passed away on January 29, 1991. He wasn’t perfect by any means–there are things for which I’ve forgiven him but never forgot, and I’m sure he could say the same about me. But I still love him. I still miss him and Mom. I still find myself, after all these years, wanting to tell them things, wishing they were here for the high points, needing them during the lows.

Happy Birthday, Dad….

Movie Review: THOR: THE DARK WORLD

I’ve been looking forward to the second installment in Thor’s story ever since I saw the first back in 2011–but at the same time, I’ve had some concerns. What I loved most about the first movie–Thor’s fish-out-of-water experiences during his exile on earth–would have to be absent this time around. After all, Thor’s spent considerable time on earth by now (okay, so it was spent in battle with the other five Avengers in what has come to be known in the Marvel universe as The Battle of New York).

As it turns out, however, the God of Thunder still has a lot to learn about this planet. Though Thor: The Dark World is decidedly darker than the first movie, it still manages to deliver enough in the humor department, mostly thanks to the big guy himself (Chris Hemsworth, who I suspect was created in a lab somewhere just for this role) and his wayward adopted brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston, who’s made being a bad guy a good thing).

Most of the usual suspects are back: Natalie Portman as Jane Foster, who’s been waiting not-so-patiently for two years for Thor to return; Stellan Skarsgard as Dr. Erik Selvig, damaged by Loki’s possession in The Avengers, is behaving erratically (running around naked at Stonehenge in front of TV cameras is pretty erratic, don’t you think?) and toting a huge bag full of prescription drugs…Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings), who finds a little romance in the middle of chaos…Odin (Anthony Hopkins), who, let’s face it, is never going to be named Father of the Year…Frigga (Rene Russo), the only person in the Nine Realms who Loki actually loves (who do you think taught Loki that bag of tricks?)…Heimdall (Idris Elba), Sif (Jaimie Alexander), and the Warriors Three (Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano and Zachary Levi, replacing Joshua Dallas as Fandral)–all committing treason with Thor and Loki in order to save Asgard and avenge Frigga’s death–the result of an invasion of Asgard by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) and his Dark Elves, searching for the substance that can restore the universe to total darkness.

Thor knows he can’t trust Loki, but also knows this is a war he can’t win without his brother. “Trust my rage,” Loki suggests.

The best dialogue in the movie is, without a doubt, between Thor and Loki. The visuals are stunning–Asgard is even more beautiful than I remember it from the first Thor (Asgardian funerals are resplendent, and their prisons are downright classy), and the action is intense, as the battle rages on throughout the Nine Realms via portals similar to the one in which the Chitauri invaded New York in The Avengers.

As with the first movie, my favorite moments involve humor–Thor hanging his mythical hammer, Mjolnir, on a coat rack; trying to take the subway to Greenwich; squeezing into Jane’s small vehicle (I’m still trying to picture Chris Hemsworth in a Formula One racer in Rush!); Stan Lee’s cameo in a mental hospital; and the end credits scene involving something from Jotunheim that came to Earth through an open portal and remains in London. I would love to see Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) and his Agents of SHIELD be summoned to deal with it!

I’m going to have to disagree with the reviewers who refer to Thor as “a meathead.” An intelligent person is smart enough to know he doesn’t have all the answers and seeks out those who do; a meathead is too dumb to know he’s dumb. Thor is far from stupid.

The movie’s ending leaves a few important unanswered questions, and the first of the two end-credits scenes offers a foreshadowing of things to come.Thanos, anyone?

My only disappointment: not enough romance. Thor’s a pretty hot guy with two women, Jane and Sif, clearly in love with him…yet he doesn’t seem to have done the horizontal samba with either of them. I realize this is Disney, where the only place you can find sex is in a dictionary, but come on! You don’t have to be graphic–just fade to black as movies used to do! A guy cannot possibly look like Thor and still be a virgin! He had one shirtless scene in the whole movie, and he was alone. Now that really stretches credibility to its limits.

I’ll bet Loki’s been in more than a few ladies’ chambers….

"You Can’t Go Home Again…."

I’ve mentioned in a previous post that I’ve been working on a memoir dealing with a dark period in my life that most of you don’t know about. Shortly after my father’s death in January 1991, I had an emotional meltdown. For reasons that will be explained in the memoir, I felt responsible for his death. Guilt can wreak havoc with creativity, so I found myself unable to write for a long time. Mom, Collin and I moved six times in three years. When the royalties for my existing novels began to diminish, we were evicted from our home and moved into a motel room.
My story now has a title—“You Can’t Go Home Again”—and will be finished very soon. I expect to publish it early next year, God willing. Here is an excerpt….

We reluctantly put [Mom’s dog] Schatzi in a boarding kennel and checked into a small, independent motel along the old Route 66, taking a chance on taking [my bird] Sam with us. We didn’t know if we’d get kicked out for having him there or not, but at that point, I didn’t know what else to do. I wasn’t going to abandon him—I’d already failed to save [my potbellied pig] Iggy. Sam had already been traumatized. Because [my cousin Sharon’s daughter] Laura had a cat—who had already made one attempt at having Sam for lunch—I couldn’t leave him with Sharon.
We’d cover his cage to keep him quiet whenever we had to be away from the room—until we found him uncovered, courtesy of the owner, who, it turned out, had several birds of her own and adored them. That, at least, was a relief. He was welcome at the motel.
We stayed there for a month, trying to figure out how we were going to ever get another place to call home. The four of us, in that one room, were each dealing with the emotional trauma in our own way. Collin and I needed noise—neither of us could stand silence—so we left the TV on all night. I still can’t sleep without some kind of noise in the room—these days, I use a radio. Oddly enough, we needed that closeness to each other, too. We were each others’ lifelines.
Mom became increasingly depressed and experienced what our family doctor later told me were TIAs—the prelude to a major stroke. A combination of stress and being without her meds during the eviction had set it in motion. It was just a matter of time at that point.
Then, the money ran out. We were faced with having to give up the room, but having nowhere else to go. Mom sent Collin out to get our dinner one evening so she and I could talk. We would be leaving the motel by eleven the next morning. We agreed that we would ask Sharon to let Collin and Sam go back to her place, and Mom and I would be living on the street. We knew if we ended up in a shelter, Collin wouldn’t be allowed to stay with us, and we wouldn’t be able to take Sam at all.
That night, I prayed. I prayed for a miracle, because I knew that’s what it was going to take. Finally, exhausted, I fell asleep.
The phone ringing early the next morning woke me. It was [my agent] Maria’s assistant. I listened to her speak, but couldn’t believe what I was hearing. She had called to tell me a FedEx envelope was on its way to me and would arrive by 10:30—an advance from one of my foreign publishers! Seven thousand dollars—more than enough to cover our room, necessities, and rent and deposit for an apartment, if we could find a landlord willing to rent to us after what we’d been through.
Thank God—He’d heard my desperate prayers and answered! I didn’t know it yet, but He wasn’t finished….

 *****
We went to the Jack in the Box down the street for breakfast. Had it not been for that unexpected windfall, we would not have even been able to do that. There, we found a copy of the Thrifty Nickel. Mom decided to check the ads while she ate—and found one for an apartment for rent. She called to make an appointment to see it that afternoon. We went to the bank to deposit my advance check. I withdrew some cash to pay for our room and food—or that was the plan, anyway. I don’t know why I withdrew such a large amount. Just a feeling really, that we would need it.
The apartment was perfect for our needs. It was in a good neighborhood, near our doctor’s office, drugstore, grocery store, library—everything we needed. I filled out the rental application at the kitchen counter. The landlord said he’d had other applicants and would let us know his decision in a few days.
I thought of the cash in my bag. Again, just a feeling prompted my next move. “I’ll give you first and last month’s rent, cash, right now,” I told him.
He thought about it for a moment. “Okay,” he said. We signed the lease on the spot.
“We’ll have to stop at the bank on the way back to the motel,” I told Mom. “We’re going to need more cash.”
Bob, our new landlord, spoke up. “I can drop you there.”
We didn’t realize it that day, but God had not only saved us from sleeping on the streets and led us to a new home, He had also given us a landlord who was one of the kindest, most decent human beings we’d ever meet. After the hell we’d been through, He’d led us to peace and a deep sense of security.
In the months to come, we were going to need it more than ever.