Archive for January, 2013


TWN WWW 300

 

Every Wednesday, I feature a writer and his/her workspace.  My aim is to get to know fellow writers better through their workspace and writing habits, and have them share some of their writing wisdom here.

Today, I am most eager to welcome MG/YA and Thriller author Catherine Stine.

Welcome, Catherine !

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Tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you do for a living? What genre do you love to write? What are some of your hobbies or interests? Do you have a hidden talent?

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MG/YA/Thriller Author Catherine Stine

Hi everyone!

My name’s Catherine Stine and I write YA and kid’s novels. In YA I’ve written a futuristic thriller with a generous dash of romance called Fireseed One. It is set on a changed earth in 2089 and asks the question, What if only your worst enemy could help you save the world? Varik, the son of a murdered marine biologist, must travel to a lethal desert with his enemy, Marisa who’s destroyed the world’s crops, for a mythical hybrid that may not even exist.

fireseed oneJPG

Now, I’m writing its sequel, Scarlet’s Fire**, set eight years later. I ask the question, If Everything About You Changes, What Remains? Fifteen year-old Scarlet, long-pledged to the much older Stiles from the Fireseed desert cult, escapes with only a change of clothes, a pouch of Oblivion Powder and her mute little brother, Thorn. I’ve also recently completed a YA horror-laced fantasy. I love writing speculative fiction!

For middle graders I’ve written fun adventure stuff like A Girl’s Best Friend for American Girl about kids who volunteer at a pet-sitting place, where a feisty Husky dog named Pepper keeps escaping! It’s a choose-your-own adventure with over 20 endings.

a girls best friend stine

These two distinct genres appeal to the two sides of my personality: adventurous and fun, yet futuristic and ever-curious. I’m also an illustrator, and for Fireseed One I did nine original drawings.

Here’s one of Flyfish, a hybrid of fish and sea-grapes, allowing the fish to grow up on vines in floating warehouses!


FlyfishRGB (1)

I teach creative writing and literature part-time as well. I love teaching almost as much as I love writing and drawing.

 

On Workspace

I write in three different places—at home, at a communal writing space and in the country—again, a testament to the various parts of my personality.

My small home office in New York I call the Rabbit Hole. Here are pictures of it.

K's desk wall view

The Rabbit Hole has a welter of illustrations, photos and Xeroxes of checks from various jobs, which I find motivational. Perhaps it’s the Capricorn in me. I pin up photos of my characters, which I gaze at, imagining what each might do and say.

studio wall w- hedgehog painting

I also belong to a writers’ space in downtown Manhattan, where I work in a cubicle to the sound of other writers typing. It helps me stay serious and focused to hear other people work too!

On some weekends, I work in the Catskills, in an old cow barn. My writing beverage is black coffee in the morning, and black tea all day. No milk, no sugar in either, but I do like a sugary treat in the afternoon.

 Kitsy's 1st grade pig lovers pix

Catherine’s first grade art (pig lovers)

 

On Writing

1. Who is your favorite author?  Who inspired you to write?

It’s impossible to say who my favorite author is! In adult fiction I like Don DeLillo and Justin Cronin. In YA, I’m enjoying Franny Billingsley. I’m reading some great indie YA, and I love to find new authors of this type. My latest indie fave is Alison DeLuca.

2. Do you write everyday?  How many hours a day do you spend writing?  What are some of your worst writing distractions?

On a good day, I spend up to 3 or 4 hours writing. Most days it’s more like 2. If I write consistently, it adds up. I did 45K words in November, which I was happy with. My worst distraction hands down is Facebook! I love to check in on my writing friends and also read what’s up in the news.

3. Why do you write?

Why do I write? To entertain! To thrill, to discover, to creep myself out and explode verbal and visual pyrotechnics all over the place. I write for the love of my characters, and to describe this crazy, lyrical dance called life.

4. Any writing tips or techniques or words of wisdom you want to share with us?  How about a favorite writing quote?

Favorite writing quotes? Oh, many. DeLillo is good: “What we are reluctant to touch often seems the very fabric of our salvation” and “I don’t want your candor. I want your soul in a silver thimble.” How’s that for sliding-off-the-tongue spectacular?

If you like funny, Oscar Wilde is the man: “Either that wallpaper goes, or I do.”

Writerly advice: Chop the first ten pages off your manuscript, and then revise, revise revise! After that, get a trusted beta reader to edit, and shampoo, rinse, repeat!

Thanks, Nutschell, for inviting me over for this visit!

 **Catherine is still debating on whether to use Scarlet’s Fire or Ruby’s Fire for her sequel title. Maybe you can help her out by casting your votes below. 

 

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Thanks, Catherine, for giving us a glimpse into your writing life.

You can learn more about Catherine on her website – catherinestine.com and on her idea city blog

You can also purchase Catherine’s books on Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Wednesday Writer’s Workspace is an ongoing series, and if you’re interested in being featured here, simply leave me a message in the comment box, and I’ll be sure to email you.

 

 

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Todaiji Temple – Nara, Japan

December 7, 2012

The city of Nara Japan is known for two things: Deer and the Big Buddha at Todaiji Temple.

Which is why their mascot looks like this:

nara mascot

Nara’s mascot – Buddha with deer antlers

My last big sightseeing trip in Japan was to the Todaiji Temple in Nara. Maiko and I took a train from Osaka to Kintetsu.  We missed the train going to Nara, so we had to wait twenty minutes for the next one to arrive.

It was cold outside, so to keep myself warm, I bought a hot bottle of milk tea from the vending machine (That’s right, there are hot drinks in Japanese vending machines).

vending machine

Vending machine

Well, that’s my excuse anyway. The truth is, I’d have gotten something from the vending machine regardless of the weather. Japan has vending machines on almost every block—and I love that they offer hot drinks during winter.

The train finally arrived. An hour later, we made our way from the Nara station and out into the city proper.

The first thing I said as I stepped out from the station was, “Oh my God! It’s freezing!”

It was so cold I couldn’t feel my face. I couldn’t take a proper breath. I felt like I was breathing in ice instead air. In fact, it was so cold Maiko and I couldn’t even speak as we made our way down the street.

A few minutes of walking warmed me up a bit, and I was able to utter my second sentence for the day: “Look! ADeer!”

deer

Oh deer!

Deer clopped casually down the street, sometimes sniffing out people who passed them by, but otherwise going about their business.

deer1

More deer

I found a few signs along the street warning tourists about the deer. I thought the signs were funny—and also very effective in making me paranoid about being headbutted by a deer.

warning signs

warning signs

We passed some vendors on the way to the temple. Most of them sold crackers for 150 Yen—but these weren’t for human consumption. The shika senbai or crackers were for the deer. Tourists could buy a bundle and feed the many deer who were milling about.

cracker vendors

Deer crackers vendor

One vendor we came across sold steamed sweet potato, and Maiko bought one for us to share. Eating the hot root was one way for us to warm ourselves, since we were still pretty much freezing despite the lack of snow.

sweet potato vendor

Buying some steamed sweet potato

Half an hour later, we reached the temple. We paid the 500 Yen entrance fee and made our way toward the temple gates.

The Nandaimon Gate has two fierce looking statues on either side, representing the Nio Guardian Kings. Along with the wooden gate, the statues are designated as a national treasure.

nandaimon gate

Nandaimon Gate

A Little Bit of History:

Todaiji Temple or the Great Eastern Temple was built at the height of Buddhism in 743. Todaiji was constructed as the head temple for the religion. It’s influence on government affairs became so strong that the capital was actually moved from Nara to Nagaoka in 784 so the government could establish its independence from Todaiji.

Todaiji is a composed of many different buildings, but it is most known for its main hall. At a height of 157 feet (or 48 meters), the Daibutsu-den (Big Buddha Hall) is the world’s largest wooden building. What’s more impressive is that the current structure of the Daibutsu-den is only two-thirds of the original main hall’s size.

todaiji temple

Todaiji’s Daibutsu-den

The Daibutsu-den houses Todaiji’s most important relic—the 15 meter tall bronze statue of Vairocana Buddha (Daibutsu). Two Bodhisattvas (wisdom beings) flank the big Buddha on either side.

big buddha

The Big Buddha

The main hall houses other Buddhist statues, as well as a model replica of different versions of the temple as it was built and rebuilt throughout the centuries.

temple replica

Model buildings -replicas of the various stages of Todaiji’s construction

On one side of the hall was a steep & narrow stairway which the monks used in ancient times to climb up to the rafters. The stairs are no longer in use, of course, and instead serve as a reminder of how the monks used to live in the old days.

steep stairs

Steep and narrow steps to nowhere

One attraction which seemed to draw a lot of locals was a pillar with a hole at its base. The hole is the same size as the Buddha’s nostril, and it is said that all who can squeeze through the opening would be granted enlightenment in their next life.

pillar

Tourist squeezing through the hole 

A big stall selling souvenirs like magnets, charms, and other little trinkets was located at the back of the main hall. We made our way toward it to buy some souvenirs before heading back toward the main hall’s entrance.

souvenir shops

Souvenir shop inside the main hall

On the way out, we saw another stall where monks sold actual charms, blessed and prayed over by the monks of Todaiji temple. There were charms for wealth, happiness, success, fertility, and even one specifically for students taking exams. (I bought a charm for success, because hey, you can never get enough good luck.)

charms monks

Monks selling a variety of good luck charms

Eager to get back to the warmth of the house, and away from the bitter cold of Nara city, Maiko and I quickly made our way down the temple steps. We stopped only long enough to take a picture of this beautiful red arch before walking back toward the train station.

pagoda arch

 

And that’s the end of my Japan adventures. Osaka, Kyoto and Nara were all beautiful cities in their own right, and despite the freezing weather, I enjoyed my stay in Japan.

I’m already missing the vending machines and the automatic toilets with a seat warmer, bidet, and all sorts of buttons for one’s convenience.

One day I hope to return, maybe in the spring, so I can enjoy the cherry blossoms and a milder climate.

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Tea Ceremony – Osaka, Japan

One of the highlights of my trip to Japan was being able to experience a formal tea ceremony. This—thanks to Maiko’s mom, and her friend Morinaga-san.

Morinaga –san invited us to her beautiful home, which happens to have a traditional tea room. Not all Japanese houses are blessed with a tea room and Morinaga-san said she felt lucky to have found this house years ago.

The first thing we saw was a wonderful Japanese garden in the front yard. Morinaga-san had decorated and designed the space herself.

japanese garden

 Japanese garden

After admiring the garden, we entered the front doors and walked into a foyer unlike any I had ever seen before. As is the Japanese way, we removed our shoes by the entrance and wore the slippers Morinaga-san had prepared for us.

entrance to the house

 Traditional Japanese Foyer

After giving us a tour of the house, Morinaga-san led us to the tea room.

tea room

Japanese tea room

Maiko translated as Morinaga-san introduced the various equipment used in traditional tea ceremonies.

tea stand

Sitting above the custom tea stand is the natsume, which contains the macha or green tea to be used in the ceremony. Morinaga-san said that in the days of the samurai, no swords were allowed in the tea room, but the threat of shoguns or daimyos being assassinated via poisoning was still there. To make sure the tea wasn’t poisoned, the natsume was made with a lacquer that would change color if the tea was poisoned.

Other equipment include:

fukusa -orange cloth used to clean the tea devices

chasen – tea whisk, carved from a single piece of bamboo

chasaku – tea scoop, also carved from a single piece of bamboo

The red pot in the bottom of the stand contained water for refilling the kettle, should the guests wish for more tea.

There is a ceremony to each aspect of tea-serving and Morinaga-san said she studied the art on and off for about 8 years, before finally getting to the level she is at now.

Morinaga-san explained that there is a certain way of sitting  during a tea ceremony. The host has to sit at a specific angle from the corner of the hot kettle area.

morinaga san

 Morinaga-san preparing the tools for the tea ceremony

Morinaga-san placed plates of sweets before us and encouraged us to eat them before she served the tea. The sweets will coat our mouths with sugar, so as to dampen the bitterness of the ceremonial green tea.

The sweets served are often designed based on the season, so Morinaga-san served us sweets shaped in traditional fall/winter items–such as the orange maple-leaf and the white daikon.

 

sweets

sweets to go with the tea

Morinaga-san began by first cleaning the natsume (tea container), chasaku (tea spoon) and tea bowls with the fukusa or orange cloth. She  warmed up the tea bowl with water from the kettle and placed a few scoops of green tea before adding hot water.

tea pot

She then used the chasen (tea whisk) to mix the green tea and hot water.  She explains that the front of the tea bowl should always be facing the guest.

cups

 decorative tea bowls

The guests are expected to make comments about the bowls, or compliment their designs as way to start conversations.

The best bowls are often reserved for the guest of honor. I was very touched and deeply honored that Morinaga-san used the best bowl for me.

In the olden days, Morinaga-san said that people often spewed haikus or tanka (short poems) while being served the tea.

The Tokonoma is also another source of conversation. The Tokonoma is an alcove where a scroll containing calligraphy or a piece of art is displayed, along with some flower arrangements and decor on the bottom.

Usually, guests will ask the host about the theme she chose for the alcove’s decoration.

with morinaga san

Maiko and I posing with Morinaga-san in front of the Tokonoma

As the hostess, Morinaga-san wasn’t allowed to partake of the tea and the sweets, as her main job was to entertain her guests.

Morinaga-san asked all us if they wanted another cup –naturally I said yes. The tea wasn’t as bitter as I expected, and was in fact very flavorful.

After my second cup of tea, we finally stretched our legs (tired from sitting Japanese style) and took pictures.

Morinaga-san even let me wear her special tea ceremony vest so I could pose with it. She explained that in place of the kimono, she had to wear the tea vest, which was built with different pockets to place the cloth and sweets paper in.

wearing tea ceremony vest

 Wearing the ceremonial tea vest

I’ll always be grateful to Maiko, her mom and Morinaga-san for giving me such a wonderful cultural experience.

It was a very beautiful ceremony and I feel very blessed to have been a part of it.

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Every Wednesday, I feature a writer and his/her workspace. My aim is to get to know fellow writers better through their workspace and writing habits, and have them share some of their writing wisdom here.

Today, I am most eager to welcome Shelly Arkon, author of Secondhand Shoes.

Shelly’s Bio

 When Shelly isn’t doing the laundry, cleaning, cooking, chasing grandkids, listening to daughter drama (five of them), or lopping heads of hair at the salon, she’s writing beside her two fur-peeps, Sir Poops and Hair Ball, while her hubby is flipping through TV channels. Her debut novel, Secondhand Shoes, will be out soon. She’s also the keeper of  Secondhand Shoes, A Novel, http://secondhandshoesnovel.blogspot.com/ and The Life of a Novice Writer http://www.shellysnovicewritings.blogspot.com/

 

Welcome, Shelly!

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Tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you do for a living? What genre do you love to write? What are some of your hobbies or interests? Do you have a hidden talent?

 Shelly and her cute grandkid

I’m a hair lopper for one of those chain salons. I’m like a hair cut robot. It’s a lot like factory work. The chair is my conveyor belt for heads of hair.

My hobbies are trying to keep up with Jillian Michael’s workout videos. I used to go to the gym 6 days a week at two hour pops. I spinned, boot camped, and weight trained until one day I drained my adrenals. So now I work out at home, 3 days a week, and stop when my body says its time. Nausea speaks pretty loud. Don’t you think?

I can write and spell anything backwards. Now that’s a special talent.  I’m dyslexic. I hope this doesn’t disqualify me as a writer. An attorney, I once worked for told me I’d never get any where since I could never spell anything correctly. Ha! Lesson learned. I’ve got spell check, and I always ask people how to spell their names now when I sign them in for their appointments. Also, I have a nice collection of dictionaries to help me out.

 

On Workspace

1.  Where do you do most of your writing?

My writing areas are all over the place lately. When my 23-year-old daughter moved back in I lost my office. Sometimes I write at the kitchen table but my legs and feet swell.  So when that happens I opt out for either the sofa or my big bed.

 

Shelly’s workspace

2.  Where did you get your desk?  How did you go about arranging your work area?

I got my kitchen table from a store called Sticks and Things in 2005. They went bankrupt not long after.

Our bed came from Haverty’s.

 

The sofa came from The Leather Store.

 

I use Sir Poops and Hair Balls crates to organize my ‘how to’ books, thesaurus’s, dictionaries, and note cards. I also keep a poster board full of Post-It Notes with ideas. I’m a pantser so plotting ruins everything for me.

3.  What are some important things on your desk?  Are there specific things you need to have around you as you work?

My tablet. Just in case something pops into my head about the story I’m writing or another one I’m working on. Strange how that happens. Maybe it has something to do with the cinnamon and vanilla smelling candles I keep burning near-by. Gotta have candles.

 

4.  What do you love most about your workspace? Do you have any favorite objects on your desk, or things you use often?

I like the kitchen table because I have a great view of a palm tree and a blue Florida sky. And like I mentioned above, I need my tablet and my candles.

5. What’s your writing beverage?  What do you love to drink while you’re writing?

Water and hot tea are my writing beverages. I love British, mint, and jasmine teas. Stevia is my choice of sweetner, too.

 

On Writing

1. Who is your favorite author?  Who inspired you to write?

I don’t really have any favorites. Although, there are a lot of new authors I love like Lorelei Bell, Lisa Olsen, and Mike Saxton. When I was a kid, I devoured Anne of Greene Gables and the Laura Ingalls series. My inspiration came from these series along with watching the old vampire and werewolf movies. I’ve wanted to write ever  since I was nine. 

 

2. What’s your typical day as a writer like?  Do you have any writing related rituals or quirks?

The mornings I use to write my blog, read other blogs and comment. I also go through e-mails and do a little social networking on my days off. Most times I’m an evening writer but will stop by 10 PM. I need sleep. I also write to Egnigma, Soundscapes, and Sarah Brightman. This music puts me in the zone.

 

3.  Do you write everyday?  How many hours a day do you spend writing?  What are some of your worst writing distractions?

 I spend anywhere from 2 to 4 hours a day writing. It depends on how I feel. If I can’t push a full four hours I don’t because then I just can’t produce. As for distractions, once I’m in the zone no one can take me out. Sir Poops and Hair Ball are my best motivators. They listen to me read my stuff a loud. And they always approve.

Sir Poops-a-Lot and Hair Ball

 4. Why do you write?

I write because I have to. The voices don’t stop. Ideas are always coming even when I’m sleeping. Good stories come out of dreams, you know.

 

5. Any writing tips or techniques or words of wisdom you want to share with us?  How about a favorite writing quote?

Just write. Don’t worry if its perfect. Doing something everyday makes you better. We’ll never be perfect. Even after our book is sitting on a shelf or on Amazon. We’ll still find something we could have changed. Go to a critique group to get feedback. Reach out for beta-readers, too. Never beat yourself up. My favorite quote is a Nike one: Just do it!

 

And thank you so much for inviting me to do this. This is one of my favorite posts that you do. This was an honor.

 

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Thanks, Shelly, for giving us a glimpse into your writing life.

Wednesday Writer’s Workspace is an ongoing series, and if you’re interested in being featured here, simply leave me a message in the comment box, and I’ll be sure to email you.

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Kyoto, Japan: Silver and Golden Temples

One of the reasons I love to travel is that new sights and experiences always spark the imagination and widen the mind. So this month I’m going to catch you all up on my trip to Japan last December. I hope my adventures there inspire you to write new stories or give you ideas for your own vacation.

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December 5, 2012 – Ginkaku-ji (Silver Temple), Kyoto

Giovano’s Italian restaurant, which we had dinner in the previous night was transformed into a bright breakfast bar. The long queue was worth braving, as we were rewarded with a buffet, consisting of both traditional Japanese and Western breakfast foods.

After stuffing ourselves silly, we finished packing and bade goodbye to the timeshare hotel.

Our first stop for the day was Ginkaku-ji, also known as the Silver Pavilion.

entrance map

 

A Little History:

Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa built Ginkaku-ji in 1482 as a retirement villa. He modeled it after the famous Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion).  In 1485, Yoshimasa became a Zen Buddhist monk, adopting the name Jisho-ji. Thus, after Yoshimasa’s death in 1490, the villa was converted into a Zen temple.

The Silver pavilion, also known as the Kannonden (Kannon Hall), was the first thing I saw as I entered the grounds. Although the interior of the building wasn’t open to the public, I discovered that within the temple was a statue of the Buddhist goddess of mercy, Kannon. (hence the name)

silver temple up close

The Kannonden (Kannon Hall) or Silver Pavilion

Maiko’s dad, being the wonderful host that he was, purchased an audio guide so I could learn all about the pavilion and its various buildings.

by the waterfall

 

The red audio guide slung around my neck

We walked along the path leading from the pavilion, passing several beautiful landmarks. The first was in front of the pavilion– a beautifully maintained dry sand garden, which locals call the “Sea of Silver Sand.”

 

silver pavilion

 The dry sand garden in front of the pavilion

The next two landmarks were the main hall (Hondo) and the Togudo hall. Both, like the pavilion are closed to the public. But thanks to my audio guide, I learned that the Togudo study room, containing 4.5 tatami mats, is considered to be the oldest example  of the Shoin architecture. Most contemporary tatami rooms  built today are based on the Shoin architectural style.

togudo

 

The Togudo, with a beautiful pond beside it.

The (extremely) cold weather didn’t stop us from enjoying Ginkakuji’s beautiful moss garden. Ponds surrounded by beautiful trees and plants, and little streams with small islands and bridges were scattered throughout the garden.

pond

 

Moss garden pond

Despite it being winter,  we were still able to enjoy the beautiful fall colors of the trees around the area.

fall colors

Fall colors on the leaves of the Japanese Maple tree

pathways with leaves

Stone path strewn with orange leaves

The path around the garden led us up beautiful stone steps to a hill where we saw breathtaking views of the temple and the surrounding city.

view from the top

view from the hill

After taking in the beautiful aerial view, we made our way down the path to the other side. We bumped into two girls dressed in traditional kimono (which they rented).  They were nice enough to take a picture with us.

with kimono girls

 

Japanese girls wearing traditional kimono

Thanks to my trusty audio guide, I learned the reason for the Silver Pavilion’s name.  The temple was never covered in silver, instead, it used to be covered in black lacquer which looked silver in the moonlight.

To round off our tour of Ginkakuji, we bought souvenirs. Then, we headed to our next stop.

Kinkaku-ji (Golden Temple), Kyoto

entrance

By the entrance to the temple

A Little History

The golden temple, formally known as Rokuon-ji, was the retirement villa of shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, Yoshimasa’s  (who built the silver temple) grandfather.  After Yohismitsu’s death, the villa was turned into a Zen temple for the Rinzai sect.

Unlike the silver temple, the golden temple is exactly what it says it is. The first two floors are completely covered in gold leaf

golden temple

The usual crowd of tourists and school kids on field trips was present at Kinkaku-ji. We had to wait for a few minutes before we could even take a proper picture in front of the temple.

golden temple between

We followed the route around the pond so we could view the temple up close. We even got to see this rare, and rather amusing sight of a raven resting on the temple’s golden bird.

bird on bird

We passed by the hojo, the head priest’s former living quarters. The building is known for its fusuma, or painted sliding doors.

hojo

the hojo

Aside from gardens surrounding the temple, there really wasn’t much else to see.

garden

So we headed toward the exit, where we passed by a small tea garden and some souvenir shops. We also passed by another small temple which housed a statue of Fudo, protector of Buddhism and one of the Five Wisdom Kings.

fudo hall

Fudo Hall

Tired of bumping into people and wanting to get away from the bitter cold, we piled into the car and began our hour long trip back to Osaka.

Dinner was at Maiko’s Dad’s favorite Udon restaurant. We ended the day’s adventure the way we began it–by sharing a wonderful meal.

udonUdon dinner

 ** This Friday: Japanese Tea Ceremony

 

References:

Ginkaku-ji (Silver Temple)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ginkaku-ji

http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3907.html

http://www.yamasa.org/japan/english/destinations/kyoto/ginkakuji.html

 

Kinkaku-ji (Golden Temple)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinkaku-ji

http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3908.html

http://www.sacred-destinations.com/japan/kyoto-kinkakuji

http://www.dottedroute.com/2010/02/kyoto-japan-and-the-golden-temple/

 

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Spotlight Week: STRUCK Giveaway

This week, the Spotlight was on Jennifer Bosworth and her awesome YA  novel STRUCK.

If you’re not convinced the book is awesome, just watch the trailer below.

 

 

Curious to know more? Check out my Review of STRUCK.

And if you missed it, here’s the link to my Interview with author Jennifer Bosworth.

It’s the end of another Spotlight Week, which means it’s time for another awesome giveaway.

Today, I’m giving away a SIGNED COPY of STRUCK!

(Plus a signed bookmark)

To win, just Leave a comment below and tell me why you’d like a copy of the book.

I’ll put all your names in my magical drawing box and pick the winner.

I love encouraging people to unleash their imaginative and creative sides, so the more creative your answers are, the more chances you have of winning. If your comment/answer tickles my fancy, I’ll add another slip of paper (or two) with your name on it to my drawing box.

Also, if you tweet about this giveaway, or share it on Facebook, I’ll add more slips of papers with your name on it.

The contest will end on January 30th, 2013, Wednesday.

Good luck!

 

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The first time I saw Jennifer Bosworth, I thought she was an actress. With her charming smile and her classic good looks, it’s easy to assume she’s a Hollywood star. So I was a bit confused when I saw her sitting comfortably beside other writers at the SCBWI Westside Schmooze. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that she was a soon to be published YA author.

Jennifer Bosworth, Struck

With YA Author Jennifer Bosworth,

at her STRUCK book launch on May 12, 2012

That was two years ago. A year ago, I got to see her shine at her book launch on May 12th. Jennifer talked about how she’d started writing 9 years ago. Her first book was a combination of every story idea she ever had, and ran about 800 pages. She’s learned a lot about writing since then , and is very generous with sharing tips and techniques with everyone.

She’s so generous in fact, that she and fellow author Leigh Bardugo came up with a spectacular workshop for our group, CBWLA, where they shared writing/publishing information, tips and techniques every aspiring author should know.

If you haven’t heard of Jennifer and her awesome book STRUCK, check out my review.

Without further delay, I present the beautiful Jennifer Bosworth.

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Author’s Bio from her website jenniferbosworth.com

Jennifer Bosworth was born in Price, Utah, a small, coal-mining town in the desert. As a kid, her favorite thing to do was roam alone through the barren hills and tell herself stories. As an adult, she continues to do the same thing, only now she’s roaming the streets of Los Angeles, her favorite city in the world.

Jennifer attended college at the University of Utah, where she later taught continuing education classes on writing horror, fantasy, and science fiction.

Struck (FSG/Macmillan) is Jennifer’s first published novel. She is represented by Jamie Weis Chilton of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

Jennifer is the writer half of a writer/director team with her husband, Ryan Bosworth.

Jennifer Bosworth

The Beautiful Jennifer Bosworth

 1. Tell us three random, unique, or weird facts about yourself.

1. I’ve been in a fist fight; 2. I’ve wake boarded in a canal, behind a jeep; 3. I recently went to a Hollywood holiday party and got the stink eye from Gary Shandling, who apparently didn’t like my dance moves. Whatever, Shandling. Whatever!

2. What’s the one New Year’s resolution you’d like to be able to fulfill this year?

Write two books. Wait, that’s two resolutions! Also, I’d like to go part-time vegetarian.

3. You could easily be mistaken for a famous Hollywood actress. J  If you could be the lead in any movie, which movie would you pick?

Anything starring Cate Blanchett. She’s my favorite! I want to be Galadriel!

4. What’s the most unusual job you had before you became a full time writer?

I did a short stint as a phlebotomist, the people who take your blood at the hospital.

5. When did you know you were going to be a writer?  What prompted you to take your writing seriously?

I wanted to be a writer before I actually knew how to read. My dad told me epic, serialized bedtime stories when I was a kid, and that instilled a love of story in me from an early age. I wanted to be able to do what my dad did, create a world you could lose yourself in . . . and get paid for doing it.

6. What books inspired your love for writing?

All Stephen King novels, but his Dark Tower series, and the novel he co-wrote with Peter Straub, “The Talisman,” were my biggest influences. They were just so weird and surreal. They warped my mind in a good way.

jen bosworth leigh bardugo

Authors Leigh Bardugo and Jennifer Bosworth, with CBWLA officers

 7. That Mia Price is a lightning addict is such a cool concept.  Where did you get the story idea for STRUCK?

I started out writing about a human lightning rod, but when I did some research and learned about the man who held the world record for lightning strikes survived, the path of the story changed. This man had been struck by lightning seven times, but he refused to quit his job as a park ranger. Someone else might have gotten a different job, one with a roof over their head, but not this guy. So I started to wonder if maybe he liked being struck by lightning . . . or maybe he needed it, began to crave the energy in a storm, and it became like a drug for him. Keep in mind, this is all in my imagination. I doubt this man liked being struck by lightning. Still, the strange details of his real life story sparked the idea for my lightning addict.

8. If you could spend one day with any character in your novel, who would it be?

Probably Katrina. We’d get into lots of trouble together. She’s a bad, bad girl.

9. Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I’m a pantser at heart, but I’m trying to become a plotter. Saves time on revisions. But the reason I love pantsing is because you get to tell yourself a story, and it’s just more fun that way.

10. Tell us about your path to publication. What is the coolest thing about being a published author?

Honestly, the coolest thing is when someone who loved your book contacts you and lets you know. That’s an amazing feeling, to know you created something that is out there reaching people, getting into their heads, living their lives with them for a while. Your story becomes a part of them.

11. What’s your typical day as a writer like? Do you have any writing-related rituals or quirks?

When I’m doing a first draft, I get up and start writing immediately. Scratch that. I make coffee, and then start. Coffee is the ritual.

12. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?  Any hobbies, sports, or crafts you like to spend time on?

I’m a wanderer. I like to take my dog for long walks and listen to audiobooks. So much of my work life is sedentary, but I’m a nervous Nelly and need to move around a lot. So whenever I’m not writing, reading, or watching TV or movies, I like to walk, walk, walk.

13.  Are you currently working on any other projects?

I am . . . and the announcement about said project is coming soon…

14. What advice would you like to give to writers on the road to publication?

Write the book that only you can write. Most writers spend a while imitating their favorite authors, learning the craft, but at some point the training wheels have to come off and you need to truly put yourself into your book so that people can see your unique point of view. When that happens, you get an agent and you sell a book. Simple as that.

My second piece of advice is to remember to enjoy writing. This is a tough career. It doesn’t pay much for most of us, and it comes with a lot of pressure and criticism, and a lot more forums for negativity than there used to be. If you don’t enjoy the work, there’s no point in doing it.

15. What would you like to say to your young readers? Is there any advice that you would like to give them?

When I was a teenager, I was impervious to advice from adults. My advice to all young readers is to remember that the most important thing you can spend your youth doing is finding out who you are, what you believe, and what you want. The rest is just details.

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Thanks, Jennifer, for that wonderful interview!

Tune in again on Friday. I’ll be giving away a copy of Jennifer Bosworth’s STRUCK!

 

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This month’s Spotlight Week features STRUCK by YA Author Jennifer Bosworth.

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Struck by Jennifer Bosworth

384 pages, Hardcover

Genre: YA, Ages 12 and up

Published on May 8, 2012 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)

ISBN-10: 0374372837

ISBN-13: 978-0374372835

 

Synopsis:

Mia Price is a lightning addict. She’s survived countless strikes, but her craving to connect to the energy in storms endangers her life and the lives of those around her.

Los Angeles, where lightning rarely strikes, is one of the few places Mia feels safe from her addiction. But when an earthquake devastates the city, her haven is transformed into a minefield of chaos and danger. The beaches become massive tent cities. Downtown is a crumbling wasteland, where a traveling party moves to a different empty building each night, the revelers drawn to the destruction by a force they cannot deny. Two warring cults rise to power, and both see Mia as the key to their opposing doomsday prophecies. They believe she has a connection to the freak electrical storm that caused the quake, and to the far more devastating storm that is yet to come.

Mia wants to trust the enigmatic and alluring Jeremy when he promises to protect her, but she fears he isn’t who he claims to be. In the end, the passion and power that brought them together could be their downfall. When the final disaster strikes, Mia must risk unleashing the full horror of her strength to save the people she loves, or lose everything.

 

My Review

First line, Prologue: “When you’ve been struck by lightning as many times as I have, you start to expect the worst pretty much all the time.”

The book has an eye-catching (and really cool cover), but its real draw lies in its premise: Mia Price is a lightning addict. I’ve heard of lightning survivors, but a lightning addict? It was such a cool concept I just had to read the book.

And I’m glad I did.

I love that this post-apocalyptic story was set in Los Angeles. As a local, it was easy for me to imagine the all the little areas of downtown L.A. which the author so vividly described.

Mia Price isn’t the smartest main character, but her fierce love for her family and her determination to protect them, make her a lovable heroine. After a devastating earthquake hits the city, Mia has to deal with a lot of things kids shouldn’t have to face. Her mom’s worsening mental health forces her to grow up and act as the head of the family.  She has to worry about where to get their next meal, how to protect their family’s home from looters, and how to keep her family safe from the two opposing cults that want to claim them.

The book has an overarching religious theme thanks to the two warring cults who are locked in a battle for the future of Los Angeles. The black-clad Seekers and the white-clad Followers both want Mia for unique ability to not only survive lightning strikes, but to harness its electrical energy. Mia doesn’t want to get involved with either of them, but she’s forced to make a choice when one of the cults decides to recruit her younger brother.

Of course, it wouldn’t be YA without some romance thrown in the mix. Mia’s love interest, Jeremy, is mysterious, and the author takes great care to keep her readers guessing about him until the end. The other characters were just as intriguing. I found it easy to imagine the characters as real, three-dimensional people, thanks in part to the awesome book trailer which I had watched several times before reading the book.

The story itself unfolds with speed, thanks to the “ticking clock” element which author Jennifer Bosworth cleverly employs. The story was fast-paced, but easy to follow, and had a lot of suspenseful moments which made my heart race.

What I loved most about the book was its ability to blur the lines between good and evil. Mia was a reluctant hero, primarily because her past mistakes continue to haunt her and make her question if she is capable of actually helping others instead of hurting them. Mia’s experiences and the way she responds to the various obstacles thrown in her path makes us question what it is that truly makes a person good.

Struck is an awesome read! I recommend it to anyone who loves dystopian novels with strange plot twists seen through the eyes of a wonderfully conflicted heroine. 

 

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Japan: Kiyomizudera Temple

December 4 – 5, 2012

Maiko and her parents were topnotch hosts during my stay in Japan. They fed me delicious Japanese food and took me to famous temples in the area.

Before heading out to Kyoto, my wonderful hosts took me to a  Japanese restaurant called Kizashi, known only to locals. I’m always amazed by the variety of dishes in Japanese cooking. We were served several courses of beautifully plated, delicious meals.

One of the lunch courses at Kizashi

Our stomachs fully satisfied, we headed for the first temple on our list: Kiyomizudera.

Cute little shops line the streets leading up to the temple proper.

 

Shops lining streets leading up to the temple

Kiyomizudera is located east of Kyoto. It was built in 780 on the site of the Otowa Waterfall, which is why its name means Pure Water Temple.

The temple belongs to the Kita Hoso Sect, and was founded by the Great priest Enchin. Within the temple, are enshrined the images of Kannon, Buddhist God of Mercy and Bosatsu (Bodhi-Sattva).

The temple itself was packed with throngs of people—most of whom were school children who were out on a field trip. Maiko said that no matter the season, Kiyomizudera is always crowded, as it is one of Japan’s most popular temples.

While Maiko’s parents headed off to explore the shops nearest the temple, Maiko and I paid the 300 Y ($3) entrance fee. We made our way past the 3 Tier Pagoda toward the main temple.

3 Tier pagoda

While the temple has become a tourist attraction, it still is a place of worship. There’s a wall near the main temple where people place small wooden plaques (ema) containing their prayers or wishes. In the olden days, people used to donate horses or other animals to the shrines for good favor. Over time, this evolved into a wooden plaque with pictures of animals.

Ema, prayers and wishes left at the shrine 

The temple’s most amazing feature is its veranda, which juts out from the main hall. The veranda is supported by 13 meter high wooden columns, and from it, visitors have a nice view of the numerous cherry and maple trees below and city of Kyoto in the distance.

Columns supporting the veranda

 A popular expression in Japan “to jump off the stage at Kiyomizu”, is the Japanese equivalent of the English expression “to take the plunge”.  In the Edo period, a tradition held that if one jumped off from the 13 meter high stage at Kiyomizu and survived, one would have his wish granted. Apparently 234 jumps were recorded during that period, and 85.4% of the jumpers survived. Of course, nowadays, the practice has been banned.

View from the veranda

After admiring the view from the veranda, we made our way to the structure housing the Otowa Waterfall below.

Otowa waterfall viewed from the top

We passed a small plaza containing shops selling various good luck charms, talismans and souvenirs, then went down a flight of steps shaded by a canopy of beautiful maple trees.

Shops selling charms, souvenirs and talismans

Steps leading down to the waterfall

At the bottom of the steps was the Otowa waterfall, whose waters are divided into three separate streams. One stream is said to grant longevity, the other stream, success at school and the final stream, a good love life. Many visitors used bamboo cups with long handles to drink the water from these streams.

Otowa waterfall’s 3 streams

After we watched a gaggle of high school kids debate on what stream they should drink from (apparently drinking from all three streams is considered greedy).

We stopped to admire a beautiful pond whose waters were filled with fallen maple leaves.

After taking pictures at a monument dedicated to Zen Master Keizan, Great Patriarch of the Soto School, Maiko and I met up with her parents at one of the sweet shops. We sampled some free green tea and various Kyoto sweets before heading out to the hotel where we would be staying for the night.

XIV is an elegant timeshare hotel, which we were lucky enough to stay in thanks to Maiko’s parents whose friends are members.  The rooms were beautifully designed and spacious, and had both western beds and a Japanese room which could be a dining room in the daytime, and a futon-filled bedroom at night.

By far the most “interesting” experience I had that day was trying out the Japanese Spa.  And by spa, I mean public baths. I had quite a shock entering the spa. I saw women of all shapes and sizes walking around nude in the facilities. But as they say, when in Rome do as the Romans do—or in my case—when in a Japanese bath, do as the Japanese women do.

Once I got over my shyness and natural embarrassment at having to expose myself to strangers, I managed to slip into my birthday suit. Everybody went about their business, enjoying the hot pools and steam rooms without giving even me a second (or first) glance. I eased up after that, and focused on enjoying the warm bath, which was especially nice in the freezing weather.

Thoroughly relaxed (and a little more comfortable in my own skin), I dressed and followed my companions out the spa and towards the final event for the day: Dinner.

The hotel had several restaurants to choose from. Maiko’s folks picked Giovano’s, an Italian restaurant. The restaurant’s wide windows afforded us a view of the beautifully lit courtyard.

But the views were soon forgotten when the first of the five courses in our dinner set arrived. Each of the dishes were a delicious blend of both Italian recipes and Japanese ingredients.

We each picked a different dessert and had fun sampling bites from each other’s plates. And to wash down an amazing meal, we were given a choice of green tea or coffee.

5 Course Dinner at Giovano’s

It was an awesome day, to say the least and I was extremely grateful to my gracious hosts for allowing me such a wonderful experience.

References:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kiyomizu-dera

http://www.kyoto.travel/2009/11/kiyomizu-dera-temple.html

http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3901.html

http://www.frommers.com/destinations/kyoto/A23800.html

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Every Wednesday, I feature a writer and his/her workspace.  My aim is to get to know fellow writers better through their workspace and writing habits, and have them  share some of their writing wisdom here.

 

Today, I am most eager to welcome YA Writer Lynda Young, author of that fun blog W.I.P. It: An Author’s Journey.

Welcome, Lynda!

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Tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you do for a living? What genre do you love to write? What are some of your hobbies or interests? Do you have a hidden talent?

I used to work in graphic design and 3D animation until I chose an early retirement and decided to write full-time.  My favorite genre is anything speculative, so that includes scifi, fantasy, paranormal, anything strange and unusual. My hobbies would include photography, art, and eating chocolate. No hidden talents, but I do love puzzles despite not being so good at solving them.

 

On Workspace

1.  Where do you do most of your writing?

Even though I have an office, I do most of my writing on the couch. I open up the windows and let the sun pour in. The cat will sit on the armrest or on the back of the couch behind my head, which adds to the cozy feeling.

Lynda’s workspace

2.  Where did you get your desk?  How did you go about arranging your work area?

My office space is super small. I share it will my hubby, and we both have a lot of junk to spread out. It’s also cold in winter and hot in summer. When I went desk hunting I picked a corner desk with a matching set of file drawers. Hubby uses one corner of the room and I use the other. There’s just enough room for a heater or a fan to sit between us, depending on the season. I decorated the walls with framed images of my published artwork. And I love my fairy lights.

Lynda’s office desk

 3.  What are some important things on your desk?  Are there specific things you need to have around you as you work?

I don’t need anything specific for writing, though I do love my toys, e.g. my purple pens, my kindle, my gazillion notebooks. However, while at my desk my calendar sits on my left (for checking the deadlines), my printer/scanner on my right, and my Wacom tablet (a digital art tool) sits in front of me (under all the junk in the pic), along with my computer, of course. I also use two whiteboards. They don’t fit in the office so they hang on the wall in the back room. It’s here I do a lot of brainstorming, and map out my storylines

Lynda’s whiteboards

4.  What do you love most about your workspace? Do you have any favorite objects on your desk, or things you use often?

I love that I can move around the house and write just as comfortably on the couch, in the backroom, or in my office. I like the variety, the natural light, and my purple pens.

5. What’s your writing beverage?  What do you love to drink while you’re writing?

Mostly I drink water. Sometimes in winter, I’ll drink a herbal tea instead. If I want to be naughty, I’ll have a hot chocolate. I’m not a coffee drinker—gasp!

 

Lynda’s favorite picture (She’s the one in the middle)

On Writing

1. Who is your favorite author?  Who inspired you to write?

When my primary school teacher read out The Hobbit to his class, I fell in love with the story. It’s rare I’ll read a book more than once, but I’ve read The Hobbit twice and Lord of the Rings three times. Tolkien has been my biggest influence, even though my writing isn’t Tolkienesque. I love his fully-realized world.

2. What’s your typical day as a writer like?  Do you have any writing related rituals or quirks?

My typical day as a writer: After a morning walk and waving my hubby off to work, I have breakfast, read the bible, and check my emails. I try to stop my online social interaction there. It doesn’t always work. Sometimes I can’t help it and I have to visit some blogs first, or twitter. After 9am I settle in and start writing. Sometimes I’ll forget to have lunch so my hubby has a habit of reminding me via instant messaging. If after lunch the writing is still flowing then I’ll keep going. I usually can’t write much after 2.30pm though. The mind starts to drift. After that I’ll read for an hour or so. Then I’ll throw myself into social media. I finish when my hubby comes home. The rest of the evening is spent with him—cooking, talking, laughing, playing computer games, or watching movies. Sometimes I’ll blog after dinner if my writing took over during the day, but I’d prefer to just switch off from everything for a while.

3.  Do you write everyday?  How many hours a day do you spend writing?  What are some of your worst writing distractions?

I try to write every day. On weekdays my average writing time is only about 5 hours a day. On weekends I’ll write up my blog posts for the week or I’ll work for a couple hours on my latest manuscript. My biggest distractions are social media—blog visits, Twitter, and Facebook … and solitaire (bad, I know).

4. Why do you write?

I’ve been bitten by the curse of a creative mind. I call it a curse because if I deny creativity, or if it doesn’t happen easily, then I go a little strange and restless and sometimes even grumpy. I write to keep others around me sane.

5. Any writing tips or techniques or words of wisdom you want to share with us?  How about a favorite writing quote?

My favorite tip I like to give writers is this: Keep writing. Don’t give up. Write because you love it, not because you want to get published.

My favorite quote is from Jack London: “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”



 

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Thanks, Lynda, for giving us a glimpse into your writing life.

Wednesday Writer’s Workspace is an ongoing series, and if you’re interested in being featured here, simply leave me a message in the comment box, and I’ll be sure to email you.

 

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