Previous month:
November 2015
Next month:
January 2016

December 2015

The indieBRAG Christmas Blog Hop: My Miami Christmas Tree, and More!

ALL-ABOARD-with-medallion

The fine folks at indieBRAG asked me to write about my favorite Christmas carol for this blog hop, but the first carol that came to mind is one I can't stand: "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer."

Maybe it's the crassness of it that has always bothered me, even at an early age, or the cliché image of a grandmother as a doddering, wig-wearing, egg nog-guzzling dodo who gets herself killed by Santa. I mean, Grandma receives short shrift in this tale, while Grandpa, on the other hand, "we're all so proud of" for "taking this so well." The vague misognyny, the lyrics, the music, everything about the song makes me cringe.

So I used my intense dislike for it in fiction.

In Framed and Burning, 78-year-old renegade grandmother Amazing Grace shudders when her granddaughter cues up the song to play at a party. Grace uses the opportunity to check in with her erstwhile beau, Ernesto:

Grace despised the song, deep down in her bones. She hung back as the rest of the crowd laughed and began to carry on. Grace hooked her arm through Ernesto’s and squired him to the balcony.

“Horrid excuse for music,” Grace said, shaking her head.

“Yes, well, it is Americana at its worst.”

There was a pause as they gazed at the moon casting a beam of light on the waves far in the distance. Then Ernesto turned to Grace, swept his arms around her and said, “I’ve missed you.”

“I’ve missed you, too,” she said instinctively, though she realized she was only being polite. She’d been so wrapped up in the case that she hadn’t had time to miss him.

I'll stop there, since what happens next yields crucial, plot-spoiling information about the case Grace is working on. The point is that it was satisfying to juxtapose the schlocky grandma from the song next to my sharp, savvy Amazing Grace.

That whole Christmas scene was great fun to write for another reason as well. I lived in Miami for two years and celebrated two Christmases there. Holidays in the tropics can be strange for anyone from a Northern climate, as the typical trappings of merriment--snow, snowmen, sleighs, evergreen trees--can seem out of place amidst palm trees and sunshine. It's a quirkiness I've always enjoyed, probably because my earliest Christmas memories are of growing up in Arizona as a military brat. In the Chandler town square back in the Seventies, they used to erect a Christmas tree out of tumbleweeds spray-painted white. 

That experience informed my thinking on the matter of how to celebrate Christmas when one's locale is far from snow and evergreen trees. One of my favorite Christmas carols is Big Crosby's tribute to Christmas in Hawaii, "Mele Kalikimaka." I've also tried to be environmentally sensitive in my domestic practices, so I've rarely ever purchased a Christmas tree that would only be discarded at the end of the season. So my Miami tree for two years running was a potted hibiscus:

  Miami_tree

Christmas in Miami, 2000 or 2001.

The bright blooms of the hibiscus lent themselves to quirky pairings such as this:

Snowball_flower

In Framed and Burning, the Christmas tree becomes a way to memorialize the friend they've lost:

...Cat and Mick came home bearing a small, potted hibiscus tree. Its tangerine flowers resembled umbrellas that would unfurl in full bloom, a decadent pistil of pollen beckoning from its center.

“Let’s set it here, in the window,” Grace said, beaming at her two lovely family members.

Mick and Cat carried the hibiscus together and set it down delicately. They stared at the tree for a moment.

“I’ll go get the other swag out of the car,” Cat said.

“I’ve got some bling upstairs to add to this thing.” Mick winked at Grace and slipped out the door.

“It’s perfect, isn’t it?” Grace said this to Rose, who was stroking one of the soft blooms.

“It smells like tropical Christmas.” Rose stuck her nose closer to the flower and inhaled.

Cat came in, her hands full of shopping bags, which she dropped onto her chaise lounge, now clear of paperwork related to the case. She reached into a bag and withdrew a box of retro bubble lights. Together, the three of them strung the lights onto the miniature tree. Once the lights had warmed, Cat, who said she had experience with these kinds of lights, tapped or inverted them to get them to bubble. Their effervescence made the room sparkle.

In came Mick with a canvas drop cloth he placed around the bottom of the tree as a skirt. He also brought down a box, which he offered to Grace. “Will homemade ornaments work for your solstice party, Miss Pris?”

“Oh, Mick.” Grace took the box and reached inside. He’d fashioned the most delightful ornaments out of bits and pieces from his studio: a few spines of an old Chinese fan tied together with red velvet ribbon; a garland of driftwood and shells; a vintage toy car hung with glittery string. The four of them decorated the tree together, marveling over Mick’s creations.

When they were done, they stood back to admire it, and Rose said, “We need a star.” She looked at Grace and smiled. “I know you’re not hot on the Jesus story, but that star of Bethlehem, it always makes me weepy to think about it, a beacon in the night.”

“I’m not against those aspects, per se,” said Grace. She thought about the church sermons of her childhood, the fire and brimstone and talk of sinning. “There’s a reason they’re always claiming it’s the greatest story ever told. I think it resonates with us to think of God as not just a man, but a small baby in a manger. He’s nothing but potential.”

“I think I have an idea for our star,” Rose announced. “Mick, come and help me.” The two of them left....

In the book, there's more here, but I'll cut right to the next Christmas tree scene. Readers of the novel know by this point in the story that Donnie, who died in a fire in Mick's studio, has been cremated, his ashes stored in an urn:

...Rose and Mick resurfaced, Rose holding something delicately between her hands. “I got to thinking about the star of Bethlehem, and the wise men, bringing gifts of frankincense and myrrh. Well, we don’t have any of that, whatever it is, but we have something better.”

She moved her top hand to reveal a star crafted out of thick white paper stock backed by tracing paper. There were cutouts in the thick top layer of paper so that the lights from the tree would shine through the tracing paper, dotting the star with glints of light. It was a six-pointed star with beams emanating downward. She shook the star softly, and fine glistening grains of sand filled the beams of light like stardust.

“Did you use beach sand?” Grace asked. “It looks sugary, like it came from Bahia Honda.”

“No,” Rose said with a glowing smile and a wink at Mick. “That’s Donnie.”

Miami_tree_night

Miami tree at night.

Tomorrow's stop on the indieBRAG Christmas Blog Hop is Carrie Beckort, Literary Engineer. Check it out!


'Framed and Burning' Virtual Book Tour: Rave Reviews and a Guest Post!

 

Framed banner

The book tour is in full swing, and I'm happy to report not one, not two, but three rave reviews so far. Here's what the reviewers had to say:

"I've become a Lisa Brunette fan"

A number of reviewers praise this series for its page-turning quality although it has elements of a "cozy," such as the emphasis on family relationships. While character development for me is key, I pride myself on keeping a brisk plot, and that seems to be a recipe that is working for my readers. I've even picked up a new fan in Sherrey Meyer at Puddletown Reviews, who raved:

Lovers of mystery and suspense will find themselves devoting a cold, wintry day to reading Framed and Burning in one sitting. Toss in a cup of fantasy with the dreamslippers at work and you won’t be able to tear yourself away.

I am committed to going back to read Cat in the Flock, the first in the Dreamslippers Series, and I can say I’ve become a Lisa Brunette fan with this read. Read the Full Review

"Deeply intriguing"

The Book-o-Craze blogger gave Framed and Burning 4.5 stars and said she had an easy time diving into the second book in the Dreamslippers Series even though she hadn't read the first, which is nice to hear since I took great pains to make sure that was the case. She also said:

I loved the way the author narrated the story, right from the prologue. The description of the facts taking place in that fateful night at the studio were so delicate, even if a little graphic. Deeply intriguing right from the start! I definitely have to get my hands on the first novel of the series! Read the Full Review

"In my top 5 granny characters"

 LuAnn Braley over at Back Porchervations copped to a strong interest in the dreamslipping aspect of the book and sees herself in our hero Granny Grace, which is a great compliment. It's gratifying when a reader identifies with a character like this:

I love a good eccentric granny character and Grace is in my top 5 granny characters I've encountered this year.  Maybe even have things in common.  Grace looks younger than she is.  (Well, that one used to be true of me.)  I'm not sure about it anymore.  And I am old enough to be a grandmother.  And I'm definitely eccentric.... So I will be returning to the Dreamslippers world as long as Granny gets up to her hijinks.  We eccentrics need to stick together! Read the Full Review

Incidentally, Braley isn't the first to come to the conclusion that Grace looks younger than her 77 (in book one) and 78 (in book two) years. I actually never once say that's the case, so I think that because Grace is a magnet for men and both physically and romantically active, that people assume she must look younger than her years. But that's just our cultural bias talking. 

As part of the book tour, I was asked to write a guest blog post for one of the tour hosts. I decided to rock the mystery world by alleging that Framed and Burning is really about art. Read the Full Post

A couple of blogs created spotlights of the book as well, such as this one on the blog Indy Book Fairy and this one over at Hogwash.

Stay tuned for more on the tour, and happy holidays!


What I'm Reading: Lost and Found: One Woman's Story of Losing Her Money and Finding Her Life

Lost and Found: Unexpected Revelations About Food and MoneyLost and Found: Unexpected Revelations About Food and Money by Geneen Roth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've never suffered from an eating disorder or been a compulsive shopper, but I can see how this book would be a godsend for those who have. And it can have wider application, if you take Geneen Roth's conscious, practical spiritual work as a model. Roth calls us all on our false narratives and coping mechanisms to get to the root of our problems around money. While it could be hard for many readers to relate to Roth's basic position of privilege, the lessons here are worth the effort. For example, Roth describes the "what-the-hell myth," which is when your budget gets derailed by one indiscretion, so you throw your hands up and decide you might as well give up the budget and go on a spending spree. Since Roth's primary work has been with one's relationship to food, the myth applies there as well.

One of Roth's most powerful moves is her debunking of New Age "affirmations." She says:

You can repeat 'I am lovable' a thousand times a day, you can put 'I am successful beyond my wildest dreams' on your mirror, your computer, your dashboard, you can sing it to your yourself when you go to sleep and think about it the minute you open your eyes, but if an earlier belief or conviction of being unlovable is installed in your psyche, you will be wasting your time because you won't believe yourself. If you don't do the actual work of deconstructing your fundamental beliefs, the affirmations have no place to land or stick; they won't work.


She also takes to task those who wish to be "saved" when it comes to money and being responsible with it, whether that's by a mythical parent or actual higher power. Rightly, she asserts:

Being saved implies staying small and willfully blind. But it also implies one more thing: Since not everyone can be saved, the saved one must be imbued with something different, something extraordinary. To be saved, you must invest in being special.


Roth might have connected her lessons in the private sphere to our collective insanity in the wider economy, and that would have given the book more heft. It can also at times feel as if the reader needs to be more familiar with Roth's previous works on food to get the lessons here about money, which seem at times overshadowed by the food discussion. Nonetheless, it's a useful hybrid between memoir and self-help that has likely already made a difference in the lives of many readers.


View all my reviews


What I'm Reading: Shanghai Redemption

Shanghai RedemptionShanghai Redemption by Qiu Xiaolong
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, and the author is a former colleague. I've read two other books in the Inspector Chen series and gave a manuscript critique/edit on Xiaolong's debut, Death of a Red Heroine. This is a wonderful continuation of Inspector Chen's career arc, providing a deeper, darker dive into China's Communist Party politics. The plot is subtle, complex, and as always, suffused with lovely, poetic moments. These come when the Inspector and his allies quote actual poetry, and they also occur in the author's gorgeous descriptive prose. I highly recommend this series as a unique and powerful intersection of contemporary Chinese politics, English and Chinese literature, and police procedural.

View all my reviews


Review a Book, Get One Free

Print-Cover-Framed-and-Burning-Small

I've got a special offer for anyone who'd like to review the just-released sequel in the Dreamslippers Series, Framed and BurningRead it, give it an honest review online, and I'll send you a free ebook copy of any of my books, your choice.

Here's what to do:

  1. First, get a copy of Framed and Burning. You'll find buy links and endorsements here. You can read the first three chapters here for free.
  2. Post an online review on Amazon, Apple's iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, or Goodreads. This can be as simple as a rating and a sentence of your opinion. Feel free to post the same review on all the sites (with the caveat that Smashwords requires a purchase in order to review). Reader reviews can really sell the book.
  3. Once the review is live, grab the permalink for the review and send it to me at this email address.
  4. In your email, tell me which of my ebooks--full list here--you'd like for free and which format (ePub, mobi, etc.), or if you don't know, just tell me which device you'll use to read it.  
  5. Enjoy your free book, and review it, too, when you're done. Reviews make a writer's world go 'round.

 And while I have your attention, I'll let you in on a little secret. For all the gamers out there, I've included an "Easter egg" in each of the Dreamslippers books in the form of a video-game reference. So now you know.