Book Title Revealed

If any of you have had the misfortune of asking me what my book was about sometime in the early stages, you probably were subjected to at least a twenty minute discussion that began with, “Well, it’s complicated. . .” An elevator pitch it was not.

As it evolved from original idea to first draft to second draft and the many drafts in between, it changed. Since it was my first novel (I don’t really count the couple I wrote in high school), I was learning how to craft a story, develop characters, and get my theme ideas into a plot. We’ll not even discuss all the titles I tried and rejected. Plus, it became obvious pretty quickly that what I had was not one book, but a series. I didn’t just have to figure out how things would unfold in the right order for one book, but six. Oh, and I had to figure out it would take six books.

Just to make things that much harder on myself, I didn’t start with an idea at all, but a picture. I read a lot of fantasy, and I came across this painting by Viktor Vasnetnov. I don’t even remember how. I was just so struck by it, I had to know what the creature was, and what was the story behind it.

Gamaun

This lead me to the Russian folktale of the Gamayun—a half bird, half woman prophet. There were other characters involved, and as I continued to get ideas, I just kept going back to Russian religious myths to find a wealth of ideas for villains, conflicts, etc. My brain was whirring. I didn’t just want to retell the old stories, though. I wanted to put them in a modern setting and tell them in a different way.

Which leads us to today, where I am happy to say I can tell you exactly what my book is about and even the title. It looks like the release date will be in late November. I’ll let you know the exact date soon. But be looking for. . .

CALL OF AFFLICTION

Book One of The Gamayun Prophecies

Galine Karsavina’s life has always been difficult, but it’s about to get much worse. She already had enough responsibility as both a nursing assistant and her sister Katja’s guardian. But when an embittered and mysterious patient dies in her arms, Galine’s eyes are opened to a mythical world few ever see. With the stranger’s last breath, Galine is transformed into a half woman, half bird creature covered in flame-colored feathers. She has been chosen as the next Gamayun and is forced to be a prophet for a God she doesn’t believe exists.

The world of the Gamayun holds only danger for Galine. Forced to shift into her half bird form, she is sent with prophetic warnings to her darker counterpart the Sirin. Oozing seduction and violence and aided by her legions of demon hawks, Sirin is determined to silence Galine by any means. Galine struggles to stay alive and keep her sister and best friend Harper safe, even if it means lying to them about who she really is. Her only ally is Sasha, the guardian of the previous Gamayun. Galine is drawn to him, but he might be safer without her.

I’m not dead, just cooking.

I wanted to put up a short note over here since I have been a bit neglectful.  I have several posts in the works as I tackle a few home decor projects.  However, I have hit a few road bumps that have delayed their completion. 

Also, I’ve been cooking a lot.  For those of you that don’t know, I also have a recipe blog over at durhamfoodandart.blogspot.com.  I’ve had a flurry of posts over there.  Often I neglect that blog in favor of this one, but right now the roles are reversed.  Until I get back in the swing of things here, perhaps you can explore some of the yummy things I’m cooking over there, like this life changing Dr. Pepper Pork Sandwich:

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Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions Without Paying for the Gym

It’s the time of year when your scale and your bank account are telling you filthy lies. At least you hope they’re lying. Surely you didn’t eat that many gingerbread cookies? But you found such good Black Friday sales! It’s enough to make a person depressed.

Fear not, for I have some low or no cost ways to sweat off those holiday pounds. I am a notorious cheapskate, so I’ve spent a lot of time trying to find interesting ways to exercise that don’t involve a yearly contract or plopping down $40 a month.

I applaud those people who walk, run, and bike, but all of those activities are so boring to me that I won’t ever exercise if they’re my only options. I prefer exercise classes, yoga, pilates, zumba, etc. For a long time I thought the only way to participate in those activities was to join a gym, but I’ve found out in the past year that isn’t the case. Here are some places you might not have thought to look.

The Library

I'm not sure what any of these programs have to do with literacy, but I'm glad for the exercise offerings.

I’m not sure what any of these programs have to do with literacy, but I’m glad my library is offering exercise classes for free.

No, I’m not talking about checking out books on exercise, although there are certainly some good how-to books and magazines at the library that could help you build an exercise routine at home. Realistically, most people aren’t motivated enough to do that. However, your public library just might be offering free exercise classes. I was shocked to find out that my local library offered both free zumba and yoga once a week in its multipurpose room.

Two of nearly a hundred workout videos available at my library.

Two of nearly a hundred workout videos available at my library.

Besides live classes, the library is a great source for exercise videos. A quick search of the Durham library catalog revealed they had nearly a hundred different workout DVDS. Pilates, yoga, tai chi—you name it—they’ve got it.

Community Centers and Parks and Rec Departments

You know how Leslie Knope is always trying to get the people of Pawnee to stop eating Sweetems candy and drinking gallon sized sodas and get healthy? Amy Poehler and the cast of Parks and Rec make those situations into hilarious comedy, but the plot is based on real life. Chances are your city’s parks and recreation department is trying to launch programs to make the population healthier. Like all government programs, though, they’re probably terrible about advertising them.

Part of a perfectly lovely flyer advertising the City of Durham's gyms & pools I have never, ever seen displayed anywhere.

Part of a perfectly lovely flyer advertising the City of Durham’s gyms & pools I have never, ever seen displayed anywhere.  For the whole flyer, click the link below.

Durham Parks & Rec Fitness Flyer

Visit your city or county government’s webpage and root around a little bit. You might find more free exercise classes being held in community centers, parks, churches, or other local gathering places. If you live in a city of a good size, you might even have gyms owned by the city. Durham has a network of gyms, pools, and parks all owned by the city. They offer dozens of exercise classes, team sports, after school programs for kids, etc. They put out a catalog a few times a year listing the various options. While there are fees for some of the classes, it’s cheaper for Durham residents, and there are no contracts like with gyms. You can drop in on a class whenever you like, and they cost a fraction of what you would pay at a studio. Usually they’re just a couple of dollars a class. A monthly pass to use all of the gym equipment and take all of the classes you want costs just $20.

The Internet

While the energy of a class full of people can be fun, there’s also something to be said for exercising in the privacy of your own home. Especially when you are just starting to get in shape, you can feel awkward and don’t always want an audience. I also like that it takes less time because you don’t have to drive there and back.

I like exercise videos, but after a while I get bored doing the same one over and over. Buying video after video can get expensive, too. I recently discovered a treasure trove of online exercise videos that you can stream. I especially like both of these options below because they focus more on health and less on appearance. Some so called “fitness” websites have a tendency to make me just feel worse about myself.

gaiam hulu

Gaiam, the exercise equipment maker, also has produced hundreds of workout programs. They have their own exercise channel. I own a balance ball set from them, and enjoyed the video that came with it, so I looked to see if they had any more stuff. I found you can subscribe to their exercise channel online for $10 a month. That’s pretty good, but I’m cheaper than even that, so with a little digging, I discovered that the Gaiam library is available on Hulu. Regular Hulu users can access their Wake-up Workouts and a number of good clips. Hulu Plus subscribers can access the whole Gaiam library. A subscription to Hulu Plus is cheaper than Gaiam at $7.99 a month, so that seems like a no brainer to me. I just use the free videos.

fitness blender screen shot

When looking for a good upper body workout, I also came upon Fitnessblender.com. It’s a marvelous website put together by a husband and wife team that offers full length workout videos for free. They believe that good quality health and exercise instruction should be available to anyone, regardless of income. The videos are great. It’s like having a personal trainer talking to you the whole time, and there’s no obnoxious music. You can search for workouts based on type (yoga, cardio, balance, etc.), area (upper body, lower body, etc.), difficulty level, length in minutes, or calories burned. They also have a video section about food and nutrition.

If You Like Zumba or Yoga Specifically

A lot of zumba instructors offer classes places other than gyms for reasonable rates. I often see zumba  advertised for $5 a class. They can be held in anything from roller rinks to high school gyms. Keep your eyes out for flyers on community bulletin boards, but also look for ads on meetup.com and Craigslist.

Keep your eyes peeled for deals like this community class from Durham Yoga Company.  Lots of studios have something similar.

Keep your eyes peeled for deals like this community class from Durham Yoga Company. Lots of studios have something similar.

A lot of yoga studios also offer a community class. This is generally a lower cost class held at least once a week as a service to the community. Often community classes are taught by new yoga instructors who have to accumulate a certain amount of classroom hours before they are fully certified. I go to a community yoga class at Durham Yoga Company’s beautiful downtown studio. The instruction is always top rate, and it only costs me $5 each time instead of the normal rate of $15. I feel so spoiled every time I go. A couple other studios in town also do a class or two by donation. Check websites for details. I like these pay as you go options because then I don’t have to pay for the weeks I’m sick or out of town.

Christmas Mayhem from the Cat

I love Christmas, and now that he no longer has to take finals, the husband has warmed to this time of year as well.  However, our household still has one Scrooge-y hold-out.  Our cat Carolina continues to cause so much destruction to our holiday decor I must conclude that she is a Grinch.

We have tried to include her in the festivities, even going so far as to make the cat her own little stocking to hang next to ours:

stockings

That seems to be the one decoration she has left alone in her Christmas rampage.  Her violent tendencies started early.  Her very first Christmas when she was still just a kitten, she decided the tree was a seven foot cat toy.

kitten carolina in tree compressed

Admittedly, when she was four pounds, this was kind of cute.  It is somewhat less charming now that she’s more like twelve pounds.  She frequently dislodges branches from our fake tree both with her attacking from the front. . .

carolina in tree front

and just from the weight of sitting for periods of time from behind . . .

carolina in tree back

Branches are easy enough to fix.  I just have to figure out where they popped out from and attach them again.  However, over the years we have had to switch from normal glass ornaments to shatterproof.  In her daily safaris into the tree, she has broken dozens of ornaments.  When we come down in the morning, this a pretty typical fallen ornament count for a day.

normal morning ornament count

The tree is annoying, but certainly not the most disturbing bit of holiday crime she has committed.  That would be the murder of the holy family.

We used to have a ceramic nativity scene that sat on our mantle that looked like this:

mikasa nativity

It was a starter set that I planned to build on, eventually purchasing the shepherds, wise men, etc.  Well, that dream died quickly.  The very first night after we had put the set out, we woke up the next morning to find baby Jesus shattered into even tinier pieces.

I gave Carolina a very stern talking to, and did a little looking into whether or not I could get a replacement baby Jesus.  Two nights later, Mary bit the dust.  Again, she was smashed to smithereens.  There was no gluing her back together.  Only Joseph remained, standing alone and undoubtedly afraid.  Our roommate at the time had a little fun and attached this post-it note prayer to him:

Joseph prayer

Miraculously, this seemed to actually work.  Joseph remained unmolested until just a few days before Christmas.  Just when we though he might be spared, Carolina decapitated him with surgical like precision.

joseph decapitated

Which is why our nativity now looks like this:

veggietales nativity

Yes, it’s Veggietales.  No, we don’t have any children, but there’s not a lot of options in plastic, non-breakable nativity scenes.  If I can draw your attention to the bottom left hand corner. . .

shepherds roughed up

She has still managed to rough up shepherd Junior Asparagus and tip over the French peas dressed as sheep.  Not even adorable plastic figurines are safe.

There is but one Christmas decoration that Carolina fears.

twirly thing

So what’s so terrifying about this one?  It set fire to another cat before her very eyes!  The way it works is you light the candles at the bottom, and the heat makes the propeller spin.  One time while the candles were lit, our older cat Tucker wasn’t paying attention to where he was sitting, and he momentarily lit his tail on fire.  There was screaming and smoking, and Tucker did some major scurrying on the coffeetable.  It was all over in about ten seconds, but it must have left an impression with Carolina.  We haven’t lit the candles on this since, but she won’t come near it.

Sadly, Tucker is no longer with us, but the scratches he left on the coffeetable are:

coffeetable scratches

So that’s the saga of our cats and the holiday property damage they have given us as their gift.  I hope that it made you laugh, as my gift to you.

My Grandma

Grandma's 90th birthdayI was in Indiana this week to celebrate my grandmother’s 90th birthday.  She is a remarkable woman, and the occasion had me reflecting on just what I had always admired about her.

Grandma has always been so alive, so possessed of a zeal for living.  I believe this comes from a wonderful fearlessness, or at least to someone like me who is given to hand-wringing, what appears to be fearlessness.  Perhaps trying new things scares the dickens out of her, but it has never appeared so to me.

Even as a child, I recognized a boldness in her that I envied.  With great patience she steered me through not one, but three 4-H sewing projects.  I hesitated over every scissor snip and pin placement.  Grandma fed material through the sewing machine at dizzying speeds, and I felt the way she floored the serger was criminal.  Granted, she had decades of sewing experience on me, but I knew there was more to it than that.  She sashayed through her kitchen with the same confidence, showing that rhubarb pie who was in charge.

Years later, I discovered Grandma had painted the delicate china plates that decorated the tip tops of her kitchen cabinets, themselves a daring robin’s egg blue.  I also connected all those hours she spent bent over incomprehensible diagrams on her lap with the many intricate needlepoint wall hangings adorning the house.  Those masterpieces, framed without glass, presented a horrible temptation.  My grubby little hands hovered over the tiny beads and knots, yearning to explore the inviting textures.  A similar treasure taunted me from a hushed corner of the living room.  The china doll with glamorous black hair and a velvet red dress posed in the protection of a curio case.  I left many a nose print on that case trying to study her up close.  What’s that?  Grandma made that, too?  Good heavens, what can’t she do?

My childhood impressions would only be reinforced as an adult.  I heard more stories, which I appreciated more fully with age.  She went away to college and then to the workplace as a physical therapist when it was rare for women to do either.  Would I have been so brave?  I also noticed she hadn’t stopped pursuing her passions as she grew older.  She took up golf, and learned how to use a computer.  Then she downright conquered the technological beast.  She started making greeting cards, printing photos, and using the internet with ease.

I know many older people that are content to rarely try anything new, and I suppose they have earned that.  There is comfort in routine. Even in my thirties I am drawn to familiar rhythms.  Grandma is still trying new recipes, and then emailing them to me already formatted for 3×5 card printing.  She doesn’t sit at home, contemplating years past; she is still out living.  She meets with friends and family, driving and flying when necessary to make that possible.  On an average week, her social calendar is often fuller than mine.

When I am ninety, I pray I am so brave.  No that is wrong.  I am challenged by her way of life already.  I pray I am so brave tomorrow.

Fall TV Preview: 5 Comedies I Can’t Wait to See

Fox launches its pilots this week, getting the jump on the other networks. If you can’t even wait that long, some of the new shows are available on Hulu. This weekend I gave in to my impatience and watched a few of the new comedies on Hulu including season openers of The Mindy Project, Welcome to the Family, Trophy Wife, and Back in the Game. Mindy was hilarious as usual. If you didn’t watch that show last season, make it a priority this year. I’ll talk more about Trophy Wife in a second, but check out Welcome to the Family. I was pleasantly surprised. It was funny and interesting, and I’ll definitely watch it again. I was a little disappointed in Back in the Game. It has Maggie Lawson, who I have always enjoyed in Psych, and James Caan. Both of them deserve a better vehicle. It wasn’t particularly funny, and some of the child actors were pretty terrible.

But I digress. Looking at this year’s comedy pilots only confirms to me that we are still in the golden age of television. As I read over cast lists, I couldn’t believe some of the people the networks had managed to land for sitcoms this fall. I usually am most excited about the new dramas, but I have a much longer list of comedies I’m anticipating. Here are the top five:

5. Mom: Chuck Lorre has done a number of comedies for CBS—some I have liked better than others. I’m still a dedicated Big Bang Theory fan. Mom is Lorre’s latest, starring Anna Ferris and Allison Janney, both of whom I pretty consistently find amusing. The cast also includes French Stewart (3rd Rock from the Sun) and Nate Cordrry (former Daily Show correspondent).   Ferris plays a single mom and recovering alcoholic. CBS is advertising it as a dark comedy, and I’m a sucker for a well done dark comedy. Premieres Mon. Sept. 23 @ 9:30 EDT on CBS.

4. The Crazy Ones: I was super excited two years ago when Sarah Michelle Geller returned to TV. What Buffy fan wasn’t? Ringer had an interesting premise and an excellent cast. Something about it just never worked, though, and the CW canceled it after one season. I was pleased to see she had found a new show so quickly. The Crazy Ones is a workplace comedy about an advertising agency with a mostly unknown cast. The exception is Robin Williams, who plays SMG’s dad. I don’t think Williams has been on TV since his Mork and Mindy days. Let’s hope this one is really good, because I bet it’s costing CBS a fortune. If it’s just okay at first, it will probably get cut for budget reasons before it can find its footing. Premieres Thur. Sept. 26 @ 9:00 EDT on CBS.

3. Trophy Wife: I was already looking forward to this pilot, but now that I’ve seen it, I know for sure that I like it. It was amusing and well done. Even the child actors were good, who are often overly cute or just plain dreadful. I have no idea how ABC landed Academy Award winning actress Marcia Gay Harden, but she’s phenomenal as always. I’ve grown to like Malin Ackermen from her guest role on Suburgatory, but honestly I’d watch anything with Bradley Whitford in it. I’ve loved him since West Wing, watched all of Studio 60, and laughed so hard I cried at his terrible shirts and even worse mustache in The Good Guys. I didn’t know he could do comedy until Good Guys, and he’s incredible. I’m glad to see he’s returning to that genre. Premieres Tues. Sept. 24 @ 9:30 EDT on ABC. Available now on Hulu.

2. Super Fun Night: Two words—Rebel Wilson. My husband and I lived in Australia for a while, where we got to see Wilson in a number of things right before she became popular in America for Bridesmaids. For those out there who might have thought she was just funny the one time, Wilson quickly proved them wrong in What to Expect When You’re Expecting and Pitch Perfect. I am thrilled at the prospect of getting to see her on a weekly basis in Super Fun Night. I’m even willing to forgive that it is stealing Suburgatory’s time slot for a little bit. As someone that is way too nerdy and socially awkward to ever attempt to go clubbing, I empathize hugely with the main storyline, too. For an added bonus, Conan O’Brien is producing. I don’t know what he’s bringing to the party, but I’m sure I’ll love it. Premieres Wed. Oct. 2 @ 9:30 EDT on ABC.

1. The Michael J. Fox Show: I do love MJF, and I’m glad to see him back on a regular show, but this is in no way a sentimental vote. If you don’t watch any of the other trailers I linked to on this post, please at least click this one. I’m dying to see this show because it looks freakin’ hysterical. I watched the trailer three times, and pestered multiple people to watch this as well. For a few days, whoever came over to our house had to sit down on the couch and let me bring up You Tube. The jokes stayed with me in that wonderful way so that even a few months later, I can quote them to you. The only other shows I can do that with are Modern Family and How I Met Your Mother. I feel like this show has the potential to be just as fun as those two classics. Premieres Thur. Sept. 26 @ 9:30 EDT on NBC.

Other comedies I intend to try and report back on:

CBS: We Are Men (another packed cast with Tony Shalhoub, Jerry O’Connell, and Kal Penn) and The Millers (starring Will Arnett and done by Greg Garcia of My Name is Earl fame)

Fox: Dads (on the pro side this stars Seth Green and Giovanni Ribisi, but on the con side it is done by Seth McFarlane, who I usually find obnoxious) and Brooklyn Nine-Nine (cop show with Andy Samberg).

ABC: Back in the Game (pilot was so-so, but I’ll give it a couple more before I decide)

NBC: Welcome to the Family (mentioned already this was good), Sean Saves the World (Sean Hayes heads a good cast, but the concept doesn’t look super interesting)

In lieu of a real post, I bring you kitties.

So you might have noticed I did not get up my normal Thursday post. I have been a bit under the weather. Even so, I’ve been trying to plug away at a post.

This morning, my husband found this awesome site called Meowbify. It cat-a-fies your website.  I decided this was way better than anything I could come up with in my current state, but maybe that’s the migraine talking.

So, for your enjoyment, click the link below if you’d like to see my blog with the improvement of a lot of kitties:

http://cat.laraschase.com.meowbify.com/

On Monday, I will be back with real posts.

New blog section: Resources for Writers

I finally got around to putting up the resource section I’ve been promising.  You’ll see I have three categories in my header now:  Blog, Bio, and Resources for Writers.

The Resources section will cover books, articles, websites, and blogs that I have found helpful as a writer.  The books and blogs pages are up and running with a few items listed.  The articles and websites pages I hope to have up by the end of the week.  I’ll be continually adding to these lists.

If you have a resource that’s been invaluable to you that you think should be included, let me know.