Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Little Perspective...From a Toy

I don't watch a lot of TV. I watch my DVR. That way, when I spend the day working I don't interrupt myself to go watch a favorite show. Then, when I'm done watching the show, I delete it. Entertainment on demand and I can skip through the commercials. It's a win-win situation.

Tonight I watched a show I will not be deleting.

There was a rerun of an Extreme Makeover: Home Edition tonight about the Frisch family in Toledo, Ohio. The Frisches are an extraordinary couple who, on a fireman's salary, have adopted five kids from Haiti and three from the US . They're raising them in addition to their own three boys--ages range from 4 to 18. I'm not going to go into detail about them or the show. I'd advise you to watch the show if you can. What I am going to talk about is something one of the kids said.

EHM arranged for trucks full of donated clothes, books and toys (donated by Hasbro!) to go to Haiti to a school there. While the family was vacationing in Florida, they got to help load those trucks onto planes--a donation made in the Frisch family name. And one of the boys said, "When I was in Haiti, I was lucky to even have one toy. When my mom and dad came to Haiti, they gave me a toy. I was like so happy; I know what it feels like. I was just imagining what the other kids in Haiti will feel like today."

And I paused the recording.

It took a minute to sink in: one toy? Can you imagine that? I can't. I'm a writer and I literally cannot imagine what it would be like to only have one toy--to get that toy at the hands of a stranger and experience that joy for the first time. In a life filled with misery and fear, what must that child have thought?

So, I began to picture it in my mind.

A child in a third world country: emaciated, miserable, hot, dirty. He's crammed into a rusty tin-roofed shack with other children just like him. Sewage runs down the gutters on either side of the fly-infested track that serves as a street. He has no mother, no father. He must always worry about where his next meal will come from or whether the men with guns will come to hurt him that night. This isn't a far-fetched description. This description applies to countless children in countless towns in countless impoverished nations all over the world. Let's give this child a name.

Let's call

All of a sudden, you're holding this brightly colored toy--say it's something as simple as a plastic truck--and it has wheels. It's smooth. It's clean. It makes noises. When you roll it across the dirt that is the floor of the shack you're crowded into, it leaves little tracks in the dust. Then all of sudden, that toy opens up an imagination that has been suppressed under the horrors of everyday life. Now if that truck doesn't make the noise, you make the noise for it. You create little obstacles for the truck to drive around. You spill some water onto the dirt floor so you can have the fun of running that truck through the mud, then carefully wash the truck free of all the dirt and mud so it will be as clean and colorful and shiny as it was the first time you saw it. You run the truck up your leg, feeling the treads along your skin.

That truck, that toy, becomes the springboard for all the wonderful places your imagination can take you. Now when you play with the truck in the dirt, it's the dirt of someplace else: an imaginary place, perhaps, where you eat good food and go to school and take baths every day. A place where you sleep in an actual bed, where you have clothes that fit and a roof that keeps out the weather. That place has people--friends, maybe, or siblings to play with; a father who teaches you about life and a mother who hugs you when you're hurt. From there, you can drive the truck into the future--a bright place where you can be whatever you want and be respected for who you are.

The truck, therefore, becomes a goad to ambition. You feel free to make plans for your future--what you want to be when you grow up, where you want to be.

The dirt, the poverty, the terror and the sick loneliness of your existence disappear, even if only for a little while. And it's all because one day, a total stranger gave you your first and only toy.

It made me think. From something as small as a toy, dreams can grow. From those dreams, a life can be brought up out of hopelessness and the world as a whole can gain an individual so valuable, so wonderful, that everyone benefits by it.

From a toy.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sometimes Research Is Tricky

...especially when people you don't expect to be anywhere near you read the tabs open on your laptop. Latest moment of horror?

Imagine if you will--a completely innocent person walking by my beat-up laptop and finding about ten windows open on demonology and exorcisms?

Ye-eah. Here's the scene:

When I'm in a working frenzy, it may look like a disaster to other people but I always know where everything is. I'm one of those really annoying people with a little bit of knowledge about a lot of stuff, and that's reflected in my library. I have books spanning a full four millennia, but sometimes they don't provide me with everything I need. Because I like to be thorough in my research, I have to look things up online--if for no other reason than to find out where to go for real (as in book form) source material. So, I was working on my modern day retelling of the Bell Witch legend. I have the two major primary sources for that legend in book form, but I needed more background material so I could set up my plot's climax.

Cue the demonlogy sites.

If you know the Bell Witch legend, you'll know why. (If you don't, here's a brief and not altogether unaccurate summary of it.) The reported activity of the Bell Witch kind of mirrors more recent reports of demonic activity. So, I needed to know not only how to determine what demonic activity would be like but also how to combat it. On tab one--a purported Satanist site. On tab two--a site with the Catholic rite of exorcism.

Cue clueless wandering and nosy human looking at my laptop while I'm occupied elsewhere:

"Celina! Are you a Satanist?"

"Um, no. I'm an agnostic."

"Then why are you trying to learn how to do a black mass?"

At this point, I looked at my computer in confusion. A black mass? You can figure out how to do that online? My first thought (as a writer) was "Cool!" My second thought was "Why would anyone look that up online?"

Of course, my third thought was "You idiot! If you hadn't of stuck your big fat warty nose into my business, you wouldn't be asking such a stupid question!"

After said clueless wandering human wandered off, however, I started to think about the whole situation. It was then that it occurred to me that if for some reason I was arrested for a crime I didn't commit and someone pulled all of the history out of my computer's hard drive, all of this could be used against me. For example--I edit erotica books and my publisher has a very successful erotica division. I pop onto a lot of sites dealing with erotica. If someone like -- oh, I don't know, my holier-than-thou sister-in-law found out about that, she would assume I was either a prostitute or addicted to pornography. Add the demonic activity research sites and suddenly, she would be able to construct a case in her mind that I was a porn-addicted prostitute who practiced Satanism.

(While watching football; most of my bookmarked sites have to do with the University of Tennessee athletic department.)

But just think about that for a moment. We've all heard cases about people accused of child pornography and the things investigators found on their hard drives. What if some bigoted attorney made a mountain out of a molehill--using things like this against a falsely accused person?

Not saying, of course, that the clueless, nosy, wandering asshat who strolled by my computer would ever be intelligent enough to even get into law school, but you never can tell. Am I worried about it? No, not really. It's just one of those things that made me think for a few minutes. And now, naturally enough, I've set up a whole section of my bookmarked pages in a folder that reads "These sites will help you convict me."

I'm such a smartass. Good thing I'm not a Satanist to boot.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To...

Way back in the day, I was a member of the Junior Classical League in Clarksville, Tennessee. My two best friends throughout school, a pair of evil twins named Ed and Jim Long, and I competed for four years for our high school and our state. Every August around this time, we were off at the National Junior Classical League convention, from which we would emerge with lots of awards.

They won more than I did.

I was a two-trick pony. I was the school expert on classical mythology and I was the mean member of our certamen team. Certamen (the latin word for battle) is the JCL version of Quiz Bowl. I was mean and I was quick, so much so that our Latin teacher Grady Warren called me Fauces.


At any rate, we always had a blast. I was the one who had to be constantly watched. I was such a high-strung kid that disaster invariably followed me at conventions. My freshman year, I actually made it onto the lower level certamen team (almost unheard of) and wanted to win so badly. I sprained my ankle on the second day of the convention, and when we lost to Virgina (darn them anyway) I was so upset that I limped offstage in front of the thousands of kids attending the assembly bawling my eyes out.

Yeah, I really was that kind of kid.

At any rate, I think the JCL conventions pretty much helped me to establish my self-identity in high school. I was never as quietly brilliant as the twins, but I was so flamboyantly competitive and so viciously visible that for some reason people equated me with them. I'll never forget how, after two years of coming in second in the mythology test at nationals, in my junior year I finally won it.

Everyone was so pleased that even our villainous arch-rivals from WT Woodson in Fairfax, Virginia, stood up and applauded as I accepted.

Nuts, huh?

At any rate, this evening that same Ed Long (now a Latin teacher in our hometown)posted a video from this year's National Junior Classical League convention. I was so flabbergasted watching it--it took me straight back to high school and the energy, the excitement that overwhelmed those Latin conventions. I spent a little time remembering all the great times, all the good friends I'd made there. I even spared a moment to remember how, when we went to Niagara Falls, I crossed over to the Canadian side with a couple of the chaperones (including Laura Lindsey, now married to Ed Long and a Latin teacher back home herself) for a nice dinner and how much trouble they got into because we were late for curfew.

I didn't get into trouble. I was with the chaperones. *grin* Ah, those were the days.

In case you wanted to check the video out, here it is: The Tennessee JCL won the Spirit award for big states. Once upon a time, I too sat in an auditorium and chanted "T-E-double N-E-double S-double E-TENNESSEE!" while wearing a toga and thinking about my certamen match later that day. Once upon a time, those chaperones were worried about whatever disaster I brought instead of these kids. Once upon a time, this convention was the most important thing in my young life.

The Junior Classical League--one of the great academic testing grounds in the United States. Congratulations to all of them--and especial blessings to Grady and Dr. Kaye Warren, who have taught three generations of Latin students in Clarksville, Tennessee. I dedicated The Asphodel Cycle to these amazing teachers because if it weren't for them, Asphodel would never have come to pass.

Spare a thought for your greatest teachers today. I have, and the memory has been heartwarming.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Melding New Ideas and a New Review

First, the good news.

The Asphodel Cycle 2: The Gift of Redemption has just been reviewed by ChrisChat Reviews. The book was given a four out of four rating! Here's part of what the reviewer had to say:

"...There have been times I have felt cheated when reading a fantasy quest…Ms. Summers never cheats. Each of her books is packed with intensity and gentleness. Still she leaves you craving more.While reading "Gift of Redemption" I felt there was an underlying meaning to Tamsen's journey. There is more to her adventure and battle, she is learning her own truth, her strength of being. How does a writer capture this? This is the craft of writing, which Ms. Summers dominates..."

Zoinks! My day is full of sunshine today! You can read the rest of the review at ChrisChat Reviews.

Now for the rest of the story.

Every once in a while, someone will say something that strikes a chord with me. My husband is particularly good at this. I've been futzing around with some different story ideas for a few weeks. I'm still working on the horror stories, but an urban fantasy concept has been nagging me, a couple of Greek myths, a little bit of traditional high fantasy--and I couldn't settle on one particular idea.

Naturally, this really kind of pissed me off. So I was moping last night, (waiting for Ghost Hunters' season premiere to start) and my husband started to tell me about a dream he'd had that was bothering him. I was pretty much just pretending to listen--you wives out there know what I'm talking about--when all of a sudden something he said struck that idea bell that tolls so infrequently in my overworked head. Before I knew what was happening, we were brainstorming a story plot.

And after he went to bed, it took off. It took off the same way that Deception did; that Darkshifters and Asphodel and Terella did. I'm not going to say much about it, other than this:
Plato, in his Socratic dialogue to Timaeus, spoke of a demiurge which is an ultimate creation myth deity. In some ways, Plato's demiurge was the first benevolent god--once who wanted a world that was completely good but was hampered by the matter of Chaos that he had to work with when he formed the world. Look it up; check it out--then you might have an idea of where I'm going.

Or starting.

Whichever works.

I've never been one for dystopian novels, but this one just might come close. Oh NO! Am I turning into an intellectual in my dotage? God forbid! I've always been perfectly happy being a genre hack writer in the past...maybe I'm evolving.

Maybe it's time I did.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Oh, The Horror!

Someone asked me once how I decide what stories to write. I responded that I write what I feel compelled to write.

Interestingly enough, lately I've been compelled to write horror.

After delving into the paranormal with Deception Enters Stage Left, I find myself splitting my writing time these days between two horror stories. One deals with the return of an ancient and well-documented (in real life) poltergeist and the other deals withs an entirely fictional demonic possession. Last week, working on the possession story, I actually scared myself enough to dig out my First Communion medal.

Needless to say, I was rather pleased.

Maybe it's because I'm facing horrors in my real life that I am currently drawn to the darker side of things. My husband and I are contemplating a move back to Tennessee. Normally, that wouldn't seem to be so horrible until you consider the terrors of packing up my entire household--including all the cats--and transporting it across two states. That's a hell of a lot of kitty sedatives. It's almost enough to make me groan in horror and the thought of boxing up my library most definitely is.

I've always defined myself as a speculative fiction writer. I don't 'write what I know' so much as I write what I see in the convoluted avenues of my imagination. Lately, I've turned off the broad streets of fantasy and into the back alleys of horror and I've found that I like the detour.

But--back to fantasy for a minute. I got a great review earlier this week from Love Romances and More for The Asphodel Cycle 4: Apostle of Asphodel. In part, the review reads:

"...Ms. Summers creates complex characters that continue to grow as you read this series. All the characters, new and old, will keep your attention as you try to figure out along with Tamsen, what her objective is and if she can overcome the obstacles placed in her path. I highly enjoyed this entire series but am sincerely hoping Ms. Summers continues on with Asphodel and her great cast of characters..."

Apostle received five hearts (out of five possible) and an absolute rave! You have to love that! While it doesn't mitigate the ebony recesses of the manuscripts growing on my hard drive, it certainly goes a long way toward illuminating those fantasy worlds I love and hold so dear. You can read the rest of the review here. And who knows? Maybe I will go back to Asphodel someday--at least when I finish the fourth book of the second series. *wink*

But until then, let the horror commence.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

New Review for The Gift of Redemption!

Sorry I've been away for a while. I've been very busy with my family and adjusting to the whole grandmother thing. I think I'm finally caught up enough to get back into my normal routine of writing, editing, blogging and so forth and it just so happens that today I have something fabulous to talk about.

Wennonah Lyon, one of the outstanding reviewers at Novelspot, has reviewed The Asphodel Cycle 2: The Gift of Redemption. You may remember that she also reviewed The Reckoning of Asphodel; you can find a blurb and the link in the sidebar to your right.

At any rate, she gave Redemption an 8 out of 10 rating and some really kind words. For example:

The Asphodel Cycle should appeal to fans of Tolkien: high fantasy, noble characters, a world-changing quest. Like Tepper and Lackey, Ms. Summers presents a strong, likable and imperfect heroine with a good cast of supporting characters. If you like High Fantasy combined with romance, you should enjoy the series. I strongly recommend it, and am looking forward to the concluding volumes.

Once again, I am flabbergasted by the names she compares me to. In her review of Reckoning, she compared my work to Hope Mirrlees'. Now Mercedes Lackey? I may faint.

What's really fantastic about this review is that she displays a real understanding of what it is I'm trying to acheive in The Asphodel Cycle and my writing in general. That instinctive sort of insight is really gratifying for an author when it happens. A really good example of what I'm talking about is this:

How can a people atone for an act against the Gods? A capricious, unruly set of Gods; pleasing one results in offending another. In the second book in The Asphodel Cycle, redemption seems less a gift than something to be earned. The earning itself, given the nature of the Gods concerned, is an impossibility.

It's the sort of thing that makes a writer feel wonderful. It lets me know that in some aspect at least, I was successful at imparting the overall theme of the work in such a way that it impacted a reader. Novelspot has such an outstanding reputation for review work too--enough of one that it's very humbling to receive a good review from their well-read staff.

You can find the rest of the review at

Have a great day! I'll try to come up with something pithy and amusing to post about tomorrow.