The main reason I got so excited about Christmas was as a kid was because it was a time I used to get loads of fantastic new toys. The presents I get nowadays are just not as exciting as they were back then. And I suppose I’m a lot more cynical in my old age.
However, of late I’ve had conversations with people my age about favourite Christmas presents of childhood, and that’s got me thinking back to my favourite toys.
I have to say that my favourite toy of all time was Action Girl. I don’t remember what year I got her, or even if she was actually a Christmas present. But she was manufactured between 1971 and 1977, and my guess was I got mine around 1976, when I was about six or so. This picture on the right is actually of my doll – same red hair, same outfit. And she was presented in this box. Check out that psychedelic 1970s outfit – all brown and orange!
There were many accessories available for Action Girl, including clothes and furniture. One of my big beefs was that apart from the rubber boots that she came with (see picture) none of the shoes you could buy her ever actually fit. Unlike other fashion dolls, Action Girl’s feet were realistic looking, with soles and heels and five toes. The plastic high-heeled shoes that generically came with every Action Girl outfit never actually fit on her feet properly.
In the UK, we didn’t really have Barbie in the 1970s. We had Sindy instead, who was a fashion doll known for her distinctive round head and big eyes. I had a Sindy too, but I preferred Action Girl. Action Girl was fully flexible and every joint could bend. Each section of the doll was connected to the next joint by a length of wire. It wasn’t pretty, but it made her far more interesting than Sindy, who wasn’t nearly as flexible.
Unlike Action Girl Sindy is still available, but she’s been through a few face lifts since she looked like she does in this picture. In the 1980s she looked rather a lot like Barbie. So much so, in fact, the manufacturers of Sindy got sued at one point by the manufacturers of Barbie, so Sindy’s face had to change once more. Nowadays, it seems she looks a lot more like she did originally, and she’s once more got the round head and large eyes.
Although I preferred Action Girl to Sindy, Sindy had far more accessories than Action Girl did, and with Sindy being a more enduring design they were more easily available. So over several Christmases I got Sindy’s bed, and dressing table, and wardrobe, and even Sindy’s horse, but I used them with Action Girl, not Sindy. I never got the saddle for the horse, so Action Girl used to ride bareback. She was cool that way.
I named my Action Girl Jennifer, and she went everywhere with me. I even took her into the bath with me, which in retrospect was a bad idea. First of all, those metal pins holding her joints together rusted. And her hair, which was made of nylon, frizzed up and got completely ruined after the first dip. But none of this bothered me. I loved her, and the two of us had many wonderful adventures.
When we moved from England to Canada in 1980, we had to get rid of a lot of our toys because we couldn’t take them all. Action Girl was one I made a point of taking with me. When I moved back to England, aged 18, limited on space again and having to get rid of stuff once more, I still brought Action Girl with me. For much of the last decade, I had her sitting on my PC, inspiring me to write. She got put in a box when we moved house two years ago, and sadly didn’t fare too well in the move. In fact she broke in half. Her waist was fastened with that rusted pin and two elastic bands, connecting her top torso to the bottom and allowing her to swivel, but after 35 years those elastic bands were perished. Somewhere over the last few decades one of her plastic hands, which also swivelled (I thought it was neat that her wrists could move in a complete circle), broke and fell off and got lost. But I can’t bear to throw her out, so she’s still up in the attic in a box. I’m still trying to decide if I want to get her restored to her former glory, or whether it’s best to keep her in her original state, battered and broken though she may be. At least this proves how much she was loved.
So, with a week to go until Christmas, it seems appropriate to open this topic up to conversation. Can you remember those Christmases past, and what your favourite childhood toy was?
I somehow managed to double-book this week’s Monday’s Friend – doh! So even though it’s Tuesday, we have another guest on the blog – fellow mystery writer Conda V Douglas. I’d like to extend a big welcome to my extra special Monday’s Friend, Conda!
WRITE WHAT YOU LOVE
By Conda V Douglas
When I first began writing, the main advice I received was: Write what you know. My reaction those days vacillated between “duh” and “Huh?” Of course I couldn’t write about what I didn’t know, I could only write what I knew about. Why did successful authors always say that? Now, quite a few years and published writings later, I understand the advice. But I believe it needs to be: Write what you love. Huh?
It’s simple. At first I resisted writing about my beloved home town of Sun Valley, Idaho. To me, it seemed like a cheat to “use” my ski resort mountain town and its collection of odd skiing ducks in my stories. Yet, the place and characters kept popping, sneakily, into my stories. I couldn’t avoid writing about what I loved. When I realized that, accepted it, and embraced it, my writing became much easier and improved automatically. My short stories started selling.
Yes, short stories. I’ve always adored reading short stories, tons of them. Because of my love of the short stories, it was natural to write them first. I knew and understood the form. Most of my ideas were short story ideas.
It wasn’t until I started adding my other loves to my writing that I began to write novels. My father, an artist, opened the first art gallery in Sun Valley. I literally grew up in the art world. My father also became a jeweler with his own designs and taught me early how to lost wax cast jewelry. Fast forward and the award winning first in my cozy mystery series, featuring jeweler Dora Starke, Starke Naked Dead, is released, to be followed by Starke Raving Dead sometime soon. The more I indulge my passions, the more success. Love fairies? The Mall Fairies: Exile and The Mall Fairies: War are out now, with The Mall Fairies: Destiny itching to be written.
I discovered that what I loved was also what I truly “knew” in every sense of the word. I love to bake. I’ve baked since childhood and everyone insists I’m a fabulous baker. I often use a standard recipe as a jumping off point, tweaking and changing it until it’s truly my own. I delight in discovering variations for every recipe.
Then I baked up an inspiration: combine my loves in one book. Thus, The Mall Fairies Sweet Tooth Cookbook came into being—and my, was it fun to create! My own favorite dessert recipes with short stories of my beloved Mall Fairies in one cookbook! And today and tomorrow, The Mall Fairies Sweet Tooth Cookbook is FREE! Check it out and find my version of writing what you love.
I’d adore seeing your comments about your passions and how they impact your writing. What works for you?
Once you’ve checked out Conda’s cook book, do go look for her Dora Starke series – I’ve just finished ‘Starke Naked Dead’ and it’s a thoroughly enjoyable read!
You can find Conda at the following links:
Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/author/condadouglas
Fellow Muser Suzanne de Montigny are doing a blog swap today – she’s visiting me here on my blog, and I’m over on hers.
Welcome back to Imaginary Friends, Suzanne!
SDM: I didn’t. It was just something that kind of happened. I taught elementary music for 20 years, and I used to tell kids stories the last five minutes of class. Then, one day I started writing them down.
SJT: When it comes to your writing projects, would you describe yourself as a meticulous planner, or a ‘seat-of-the-pantser’?
SDM: Definitely a pantser. All I have in mind when I write is that I want the story to lead here or there. What happens in between is usually a surprise to me. I often times say that writing a novel is like reading a really good book, except that you’re writing it.
SJT: Are you a cat person or a dog person?
SDM: Definitely a dog person. We have a wonderful bichon frisé named Buddy. Here’s a picture.
SJT: That is a very cute pup. Tell us about your forthcoming book A TOWN BEWITCHED.
SDM: It’s a story about a child prodigy in classical violin growing up in a small town. Her best friend is a girl adopted from China into a white family. The two girls are bullied endlessly. Here’s the blurb:
It’s tough for Kira, growing up in the small town of Hope as a child prodigy in classical violin, and especially when her dad just died. But when Kate McDonough, the red-haired fiddler, appears out of nowhere and bewitches the town with her mysterious Celtic music, only Kira seems to know who’s been vandalizing the town, leaving dead and gutted birds as a calling card.
SDM: We had just been to fiddling camp and were absolutely on fire for fiddling. We’d walk around the house playing our fiddles for hours on end. Then I thought, suppose what happened to us, happened to an entire town, only there was something really wrong with the fiddler. I began writing, and a strange thing happened. Real people from the camp began walking into my novel. Kira was one of them. The real Kira is a real honest to goodness child prodigy in violin.
SJT: When is this book going to be available?
SDM: Sometime after I begin submitting it to publishers. But in the meantime, the second of my ‘Shadow of the Unicorn’ series is scheduled to be released in Feb., 2015. Here’s the blurb.
How did the Legacy of Azaria transform to a world of fear it has with the unicorns barely existing hidden in the depths of the forest? Why is Icharus, the Great Stallion, so cruel and ruthless? And who is Jaresh, the powerful being no one’s ever seen who takes away their powers? Angry, the young colt, Ulysees and his friend Téo rebel, following an abandoned trail where they’re discovered by humans. Now the entire herd must make an exodus. But Ulysees discovers there’s more danger then just humans when he meets a giant creature who warns them of impending doom…
SJT: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
SDM: Spend time with my family, play the fiddle, snowboard, that sort of thing.
Thank you, Suzanne, for stopping by once more!
DEATH SCENE is one of four e-books in a special limited-edition holiday bundle from MuseItUp Publishing. Entitled ‘Sirens on Death Starke Avenue’, a name amalgamating four titles, these four mystery novels can be bought in one bundle for the bargain price of $1.99. And my fellow ‘bundlees’ (if that’s a word) have all been blogging about our bundle this week, so today’s post is a blatant plug for the four books in this bundle and links to the author blogs.
STARK NAKED DEAD by Conda V Douglas
The gossiping women of the Widows Brigade in the new ski resort of Starke, Idaho love a good scandal—this time it’s a murder mystery, and a stark naked corpse.
SUNSHINE BOULEVARD by J.Q. Rose
Mysterious deaths upset the Florida retirement community interfering with their seasonal activities and turning up more than dead bodies.
THE SOUND OF SIRENS by Heather Fraser-Brainerd and David Fraser
Thanksgiving dinner with the family can be murder. Especially when someone is actually trying to kill you.
DEATH SCENE by Sara Jayne Townsend
Poking around in family closets produces skeletons, and actress Shara Summers takes on more than she can handle when she starts investigating family mysteries.
So that’s four books by five authors, bundled up in 747 pages of suspense, for the bargain price of only $1.99 until 2 December.
This bundle is available direct from MuseItUp Publishing.
(Cross posted on the WriteClub blog)
It’s the end of November already. Lots of stuff going on at the moment, and I don’t just mean writing-wise. Sometimes Real Life gets in the way as well.
COMING SOON/OUT NOW
Quite a lot to report in this category!
DEATH SCENE is part of a promotional bundle pack organised by MuseItUp, which includes four mysteries by five authors for the bargain price of $1.99. This is a limited-time deal, so get it now. And, of course, DEATH SCENE is available on its own, too.
DEAD COOL, the second Shara Summers book, is out now! Yay!!
I am also pleased to be able to announce that a story of mine is included in the forthcoming anthology THE DARK HEART OF PEEPING TOM, by Exaggerated Press. The anthology features stories that appeared in the 1990s horror fanzine PEEPING TOM, which included early work from a lot of now well-known British horror writers. And me…
The story of mine that features is “Jim Hendrix Eyes” which is now my most-published story – this is its fourth appearance. The anthology will be launched at the British Fantasy Society open night on 5 December. Everyone is welcome at open nights, whether you are a member of the BFS or not. If you happen to be in London that night, do come along.
If you can’t, well you can still buy the book – just click on the link above.
WORK IN PROGRESS
Let’s not go there. Really. My WIP is not co-operating. When I get it behaving itself again, I will report.
My next update will be at the end of 2014 – where has this year gone??
It’s here at last! The long-awaited release day for the second Shara Summers novel, DEAD COOL. And I’m celebrating with an online launch party on Facebook later today. It will be starting around 6:30pm Greenwich Mean Time – when I get home from the day job, basically. If you go to the FB event, it is clever enough to tell you what time it will start in your time zone.
There will be prizes on offer, and chat. I will get the ball rolling here by offering one free copy of DEAD COOL, in whichever e-book format you prefer. Comment on this post to be in with a chance of winning. If you put a comment on the Facebook event page today as well, you’ll get to go in the draw twice! The draw will be made at noon tomorrow.
If you don’t want to wait that long for your copy, you can buy it in all e-book formats direct from MuseItUp. For Kindle owners, the UK link is here and the US link here. And if you’ve got a Kobo or a Nook, I’m even giving you the links to buy it there, too.
As a teaser, here is the back cover blurb:
Actress Shara Summers has settled in London and is “between jobs” when her Canadian ex-boyfriend David sails back into her life, begging to her to fill the backing singer vacancy in the up and coming band he’s about to go on a European tour with. Short on funds and auditions Shara reluctantly agrees, but tragedy strikes at the opening night party when the band’s charismatic front man Dallas Cleary Anderson falls to his death from a hotel window. It soon becomes clear that Dallas did not fall, but was pushed. His arrogant and confrontational manner means there are no shortage of people who wanted him out of the band permanently – but who would resort to murder?
Until I get home from work, the celebrations will be limited to a little virtual champagne. But do stop by the online party later, for some more serious celebrations.
My guest today is fellow mystery writer Joan C Curtis, whose book THE CLOCK STRIKES MIDNIGHT, is released by MuseItUp Publishing tomorrow. Welcome, Joan!
JCC: My guess is I knew I was destined to be a writer when I wrote the short story for Reader’s Digest about the summer after my father’s death. I had been thinking about that story for a long time. When I put it to paper, it felt right. That story won second place in a national competition and was later published. My journey as a writer began in that moment.
SJT: Who would you cite as your influences?
JCC: One of my greatest influences is my mom. She doesn’t consider herself a writer, but she certainly taught me about reading. She never is without a book and she reads everything. Furthermore she has written some wonderful poetry. Influences come in different ways. My mom’s support and her love of books influenced me to pursue a literary career. I’m sure that was not her intention!
SJT: What advice would you pass on to beginner writers that you wish someone had told you when you were first starting out?
JCC: Writing is a craft. It is not something that you can do just because you know how to pick up a pencil or type on a keyboard. My first (practice novel) novel taught me how little I know about the craft of writing fiction. Had I known that ahead of time, I would not have written an entire manuscript to find out. Pursuing a career as a writer means learning the craft, going to classes, listening to feedback, writing and re-writing, exploring new genre, practicing, reading with a writer’s eye, and finally understanding that learning never stops.
SJT: You have said in earlier interviews that you are more a ‘pantser’ than a ‘plotter’. How did the plot for ‘The Clock Strkes Midnight’ develop?
JCC: I wish I could tell you that the plot came to me and poof there it was. Instead it was more of developing characters that acted in certain ways, given their circumstances, and allowing the story to evolve. I put the reins in the hands of the characters. I knew I wanted the story to move forward and there was an end result. If a character got stuck, I’d ask myself what can she do to move the story along? That often brought out a new plot point.
SJT: The story revolves around two sisters, Marlene and Janie, each of which is dealing with her own demons. The rivalry between these two siblings is very effectively written. Do you have siblings of your own from which to take inspiration of sibling rivalry?
JCC: That’s a great question, Sara Jayne. Yes, I have two sisters. I’m the middle child. My older sister basically removed herself from the sib ship. She is my half-sister and I think she always felt separate, even as a very young child. She pushed me away and created her own friends. My younger sister was born when I was 18 months old. As my mom describes it, as soon as she was born, I latched onto her and took care of her. We became inseparable, similar to Marlene and Janie as young children. As teens, we clashed as all young teenagers do. There were big arguments over clothes, boyfriends, and chores. But, the foundation of trust and love was created in our early years, and eventually when the teenage craziness abated, we became close again.
SJT: The sisters both harbour resentment over their mother Eloise, who they both seem to regard as a weak-willed alcoholic. But the second section of the book gives us some insight into Eloise’s early life, and paints a very different picture of her. How did you see Eloise when you started writing about her? Did you see her as a villain, and a bad mother, or someone you felt deserved sympathy?
JCC: I’m afraid I always saw Eloise as a narcissist. Yes, she engenders sympathy, but her core character is not so much a villain as a person who cannot love anyone but herself. You will note that there are two sisters in the Eloise generation as well. Eloise’s older sister, Sarah, plays an important role in the development of Marlene and Janie. She is also a stark contrast to Eloise. I can’t say too much more about Eloise without giving too much away. I would be interested in learning how readers saw her. They may have gotten a very different picture than I did and that would be great.
JCC: This is the question all my friends are asking me! You can buy the book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and MuseItUp Publishing. Right now it’s still on pre-order for $2.99. I’d also like to invite your readers to our Facebook Launch Party on 25 November from 3:00 pm-5:00 pm Eastern Standard Time. There they can join in the fun and maybe win a free copy of the book along with many other prizes.
SJT: Any works in progress you’d like to tell us about?
JCC: My second mystery will be published by MuseItUp in the Spring, 2015. The title, e-Murderer, is about a serial killer who sends anonymous emails to a young woman working for a psychiatrist. The descriptions of the murders sound ominously similar to the deaths of co-eds in the college town where the story takes place. The e-Murderer is the first in a series starring Jenna Scali.
SJT: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
JCC: My favourite pastime is reading. But that sounds a bit boring. I also love tennis. I played for years and now prefer to watch. Going to the US Open is a special treat. I tend to spend a lot of time exercising. I swim, spin, do Pilates and walk many miles a week. I also love to entertain and travel. Italy is my country of preference.
Joan C Curtis is an award-winning writer who has published 5 books and numerous stories. In her newest mystery/suspense novel, The Clock Strikes Midnight, scheduled for release by MuseItUp Publishing on 25 November 2014.
Joan has been an avid reader for as long as she can remember. She reads all kinds of books, including women’s fiction, mysteries, biography, and memoir. Her passion as a reader lies closer to literary writing with a commercial bent. She writes books she would love to read.
“I write about characters who remind me of myself at times and my sister at times, but never fully so. My stories are told from a woman’s point of view. Characters drive my writing and my reading.”
Having grown up in the South with a mother from Westchester County New York, Joan has a unique take on blending the southern traditions with the eye of a northerner. She spent most of her childhood in North Carolina and now resides in Georgia.
Today I am pleased to have Cheryl Carpinello as my blog guest. Welcome, Cheryl!
First Person—Why It Works
by Cheryl Carpinello
Choosing the point of view for a story is not an easy choice. All writers wrestle with the decision of which point of view will make their story connect with readers. If you choose the wrong POV, then your story is doomed to failure before it is ever finished. If you choose the correct POV, then your story is flying out of the starting gate before it ever hits the publication stage.
For Sons of the Sphinx, I struggled with POV for nearly a year. I knew the story I wanted to tell, but couldn’t decide how to best bring my story to life. I tried Third Person, but that just didn’t bring across the emotions of the characters the way I wanted. The Omniscient POV kept me the writer in the story too much. So, I went back and looked at my characters again, focusing on their motivations. That’s when I decided on First Person POV.
My story was to be Rosa’s story first and foremost. The stories of the other characters would also be told, but through Rosa’s innocent eyes. In addition, I wanted Rosa’s sarcastic humor to help define her and her struggle with Nana’s gift. The only way to do that was to have Rosa tell the story. Here’s a couple of snippets. Hopefully you’ll agree.
Rosa upon learning that Tut’s father was given an elephant for a gift:
“Your father got elephants for gifts?” I can’t believe what I heard. An elephant, an elephant? All I got for my last birthday was a blue sweater, a couple of books, and some gift cards.
Rosa on her arrival in Egypt:
I pause with each step to breathe in this exotic atmosphere. Here and there small stands of trees—oases really—off to the side provide some relief from the sun. Might be nice to stop. How people live in this oven is beyond me. Even the sweat pouring down my back is hot. So much for the premise that a person’s body perspiring cools them off. I keep wiping the stinging saltwater from my eyes. My feet slide in my soggy shoes making it hard to walk. Be lucky if I don’t have blisters. Never knew a person had this much water in them.
And who better to describe the feeling of a 15-year-old girl being scolded than a 15-year-old girl:
I walk around behind the shrine. “You were one of the richest pharaohs in Egypt.”
He looks at me and frowns. I see something in his eyes, briefly, that mirrors the disappointment in my dad’s eyes the day the cops brought me home. I ditched school after one of those talking ghost episodes. They picked me up at the shopping mall an hour before school was out. An hour! I have all the luck. I cough as my throat tickles in an irritating way.
I hope you enjoyed this peek at the personality of Rosa which only works with First Person POV.
Blurb for SONS OF THE SPHINX
Armed with what she considers her grandmother’s curse, 15-year-old Rosa agrees to help the ghost of King Tut find his lost queen Hesena. Though Hesena’s ba inhabits part of Rosa, finding the whole spirit of Hesena so that she and Tut can be together for the first time in over 3300 years proves to be a harder task than Rosa first thinks. Thrust back into Ancient Egypt with Tut, Rosa discovers that finding Hesena is not all she must do. She must keep out of the reach of the living Horemheb—who crosses mortal boundaries using Seth’s evil magic—if she is to stay alive to make it back home.
I love the Ancient and Medieval Worlds! As a retired English teacher, I hope to inspire young readers to read more through my Quest Books. Please follow me on this adventure. On Carpinello’s Writing Pages, I interview other children/MG/Tween/YA authors. At The Quest Books, I’ve teamed up with Fiona Ingram from South Africa and Wendy Leighton-Porter of England/France/Abu Dhabi to enable readers to find all of our Ancient and Medieval quest books in one place.
Learn more about Cheryl and her writing at her Blog, and at the following links:
Other Books by Cheryl Carpinello
Guinevere: On the Eve of Legend – Amazon http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0025KUJ36
Young Knights of the Round Table: The King’s Ransom – MuseItUp Publishing book page: http://museituppublishing.com/bookstore/index.php/museityoung/action-adventure/the-king-s-ransom-detail
Tutankhamen Speaks – Amazon http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00E18KH46
One of my first jobs was in a book shop (1989-1991), and at the time each employee was allocated particular publishers, and part of their job was to see the publishers’ rep when they came to the shop and listen to the pitch for new releases. Sometimes the reps arrived armed with free copies of these new books, and this is how I ended up with a copy of Rose Tremain’s ‘Restoration’, because in 1989 I had the Hamish Hamilton list.
Surprisingly, because I wouldn’t have thought it was my sort of thing, I really enjoyed this book. It revolves around the escapades of one Robert Merivel, favoured physician in James II’s court. He’s not a terribly nice character at the start of the book – a self-centred, womanising rogue – but there’s a charm to him that makes you empathise with him anyway. The King orders Merivel to marry his favourite mistress, the idea being that he can keep her close to hand without rousing the suspicions of his other mistresses, confident in the concept that Merivel is too fond of ladies in general to get attached to just one. When Merivel commits the unpardonable sin of falling in love with his wife, he is banished from court, and the rest of the book is a story of his journey back to respectability. He learns how to put aside his philandering ways and gains respect for women, and also discovers respect for himself.
Perhaps it is Rose Tremain’s writing style that endeared me to this character, but he changes and matures throughout the story in a way that I found engaging. Merivel’s indiscretions include a dalliance with an attractive young woman in a mental hospital, and when she dies giving birth to his baby, he is left with a daughter to take care of and that is one of the key things that makes him re-assess his priorities.
I read this book once, over twenty years ago, but it stayed with me. I was pleased to learn recently that Rose Tremain has written a sequel to ‘Restoration’, set seventeen years on, with Merivel an older (though probably not much wiser) man and his daughter Margaret grown and ready to make her own way in the world. This book is now in my To Be Read pile, and I am looking forward to visiting Robert Merivel again.
It’s Hallowe’en, and it’s Friday! Seems a good time to post some more two sentence horror.
Here is a contribution from Jim King:
It’s always so hard to pick a dress for the party. The blue is so pretty but black hides the blood better.
And here is one from me:
This morning I woke up with the sound of the alarm, like I always do, and began my usual routine. It was a perfectly ordinary day until I looked in my shaving mirror and realised I had no reflection.
Anyone else want to write a scary two-sentence stories for Hallowe’en? Leave yours in the comments, and I’ll put it up on the blog next week!