Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A-Z Blogging Challenge: Z is for Zonkey

Zonkey!  Half Zebra, Half Donkey!

Did you know these things existed?!  I didn't!  And they are much cuter than I anticipated they would be.  There is also such a thing as a Zebroid, which is a cross between a donkey and a horse, but the name isn't as much fun to say and they aren't as adorable..

That's it.  Just thought I'd share.

Beth - 0
Zonkey - 1


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A-Z Blogging Challenge: Y is for Young Adult Stereotypes in Fiction

As a high school teacher, I see all kinds of kids, and (even though we shouldn't), I sometimes fall into the trap of lumping them into categories as an easy way to "identify" them. 

For example, when someone tells me a child is an "AP Kid", I immediately form a general idea about their behavior and how hard they work.  A kid who is "Chronically Absent" probably has low grades and is failing at least one subject.  A student with a "Authority Issues" will, more than likely, give me a lot of trouble behaviorally.

But as much as people stereotype teenagers, I've learned over the years that these initial "identifiers" are not always reliable.  The "AP Kid" might only be in the class because their parent wanted them to take it, and so is barely pulling a D.  My "Chronically Absent" child might have a job which keeps them from the classroom, and though they miss a lot of class time, they always make up the work and are getting by.  And the "Authority Issue" child might become one of my favorites.  It has happened more than once.

So, I try to keep that in mind when I write YA Literature, because children don't like to be pegged or pigeon-holed any more than adults do.  There is always more to them than what is one the surface. 

If you write YA, I dare you to move away from the stereotype with at least one character.  Try making them the hero sometime.  You might be surprised by what happens.

Unique YA Characters - 1
Beth - 1 and counting

Monday, April 28, 2014

A-Z Blogging Challenge: X is for Xanthippe

Xanthippe:  An ill-tempered woman.

In this case, I'll briefly share what makes me an ill-tempered mom.  I'm pretty sure every mom (and probably dad) out there will be able to relate.

No joke - the table was clean this morning.  Urge to
go ballistic rising. . . .
  1. Picking something up and putting it away, only to turn around and find something else is in its place. 
  2. Cleaning off a table before I go to bed, leaving for work with it still clean, and coming home to find it completely covered during the 30 minute period when I wasn't home but my husband and kids were.
  3. Being asked to find something that isn't hidden in the first place.  As in, I sit down for the first time that day, only to be called on to find an item.  I walk into the room and it is the first thing I see.  I'm getting heated just thinking about this one.
  4. When items are on the bottom of the stairs, waiting to go up, but everyone walks past them and just leaves them there. 
  5. When something I really like breaks.  I have to put on a happy face because I know it was an accident, but deep down I want to scream and cry and throw an adult temper tantrum.
  6. Making dinner and then listening to the kids complain about eating it.
  7. A terrible smell in the kitchen that I can't locate.

Okay, this is giving me some serious anxiety.  Time to stop before I become the X word above that I can't pronounce.

Beth's ill temper - 0
Learning a new word (sort of) - 1 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

A-Z Blogging Challenge: W is for Writing

Woah!  Shocker!  Beth is writing about writing.  But this time, it is at the request of my lovely Aunt, Tina Haydel, who recently moved to Louisiana (I miss her!).  After my last post about the process of writing, she sent me an email asking HOW I actually write, and she said I should share it with all of you.  So, here we go.

This is me writing.  Yay!
To start, most of my ideas come from dreams.  I'll wake up, usually with a line or an image in my head that doesn't want to go away.  It begs to be written, and I write it the next day.  Sometimes, all I get is a line out before I leave it alone.  Other times, a chapter or two will emerge.  Three times, I've used these lines or chapters to write a novel.

After capturing the idea, I start dev
eloping the characters and plot in my mind.  The main conflict usually comes first, followed by the climax, but that is as far as I go regarding plot development at the beginning. 

I then decide on my main characters and name them immediately.  For some reason, the name is very important to me, and helps develop my characters' personalities.  Once they have names, I very rarely change them.  It would be like changing my own name.

Finally, I'm ready to begin, and I do start by writing the first chapter.  After that, the novel usually moves chronologically until I'm about two-thirds done.  At that point, with the three novels I've written, my ideas leave me.  I stall out.  This period of time has lasted as little as a week or as long as a year, and it is because I don't know how the story should end.  But at some point, I have to decide on an ending in order to finish the book.  When I do, I write the last chapter, and then go back to where I left off and bring my characters to that end.

I've been known to let my characters do what they want.  They develop their own personalities, and at times veer from what I intended them to do.  I like it when this happens, however, because it makes me realize that this story is bigger than just my ideas.

When I'm finished, I revise it about five times.  Then my mom, sister, and husband read it, and I revise it more.  Only with Voices of the Sea did I gain enough confidence to let people outside my immediate family read the book for further critique.  That, of course, resulted in more revising. 

I've spoken to many authors, and I don't believe there is a right or a wrong way of writing a book.  This just happens to be my way.

Writing - 1
Beth's Writing Style - Weird

Friday, April 25, 2014

A-Z Blogging Challenge - V is for Vitae

Vitae: a brief biographical resume of one's career and training, as prepared by a person applying for a job.

Coincidentally, I had my students create a Vitae poem fashioned after Lisel Mueller's poem titled Curriculum Vitae just a few weeks ago.  Today, I'll share my own Curriculum Vitae poem with you.  I make no promises - my poetry skills are lacking.  But so were my options for the letter 'V'.

Beth's Curriculum Vitae
I was born to a family of metaphorical gypsies, dragged from bitter winters to dry, hot summers to sticky fall days.

Friendship was fleeting, a promise, there and gone again, with only stickers for memories.

Schools were as numerous as tiny summer gnats.  Each day was filled with errors and achievements I can’t remember and am too busy to recall.

College passed by too quickly.  I dream of going back.

A whirlwind romance led to marriage, as a brain tumor led to children.  Both unexpected.  Both life-changing.  Both amazing.

Though I expected to slow down now, life has decided to plow forward into unknown territory filled with thorny roses, brilliant hydrangeas and hearty ivy. 

I wake from my first dream to find it a reality, bound and full of pages.

Small, elegant huts on stilts in the water, the purple hue of the Northern Lights and orange leis fill my mind.

I speak many languages, but have not finished learning.

One day, I will return to Monterey, where my imagination was born, where my happiest memories remain, where my family will join me.  I will put aside ingrained gypsy ways and be still.

Poems - 1
Beth's Poem - eh

Thursday, April 24, 2014

A-Z Blogging Challenge - U is for Unfair Judgement

I've been known to tell my students that the world is not a kind place to the uneducated. 

I see it everday.  Educated people judge those who are not educated, or at least those whom they perceive as uneducated.  People are judged by their writing, by their speech, by their knowledge, or lack thereof.  With one slip, they can be lumped into the "uneducated" category and the world's expectations for them drop drastically, almost always to their detriment.

This sounds mean, and fundamentally, it is very, very wrong.  But I see it all the time, which is why I encourage my kiddos to apply themselves in school, to master the art of writing, reading and speaking publically.  One day they will be called upon to do these things, no matter what they pursue after high school, and they will be judged, whether it is wrong or not.

We want to make teenager's learning experiences real.  Why not tell them the truth?  They'll be judged mercilessly as adults, and they should know that early on.  We don't teach them to bore them to tears.  We teach them to survive in a brutal world where they will be in constant competition with their peers, and it's best that the know and understand that fact early on.

If you want to help a teenager, tell them the truth.  Tell them how important reading, writing and speaking will be in their adult life.  Because those elements are important, whether they want them to be or not.

Beth - ?
Reading, Writing, Speaking - 1 and beyond 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A-Z Blogging Challenge - T is for Taking Risks

As an extrovert on the outside and an introvert on the inside, taking risks is very difficult for me.  But let's face it, taking risks is the only way to achieve anything truly meaningful.

The risks don't have to be monumental.  There is no way I'm ever going to jump out of a plane to show how brave I am, or go crawling into a pitch-black cave to prove I'm over my crippling claustrophobia.  That would only end with me folded into the fetal position, shaking uncontrolably, murmuring nonsensical words over and over again while drool drips down my chin. 

I'm talking about writing, even thought you know it isn't perfect, and later showing that writing to someone else.  Or taking the plunge and putting a personal experience into your writing, knowing some may attribute it to you, but accepting it nonetheless.

That happened to me recently, in fact.  I started a new book (which I'm REALLY excited about, by the way), but the first chapter is a hugely personal experience, one that I never shared with anyone other than my husband, in fact.  So knowing that I intend to see this book through to the end and one day share it with others, is a huge risk for me.  I worry that I'll be judged and that others won't understand and will mock me for it. 

But I also know that some people will completely get what I'm saying, and will thank me for sharing this experience one day, so it is worth the risk.  At least, that's what I keep telling myself. 

It's a scary experience, risk-taking, but one that I think every writer needs to do.

Beth - 1
Risk-taking - 1

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A-Z Blogging Challenge - S is for Sirens

I thought I'd share a bit about the Sirens in my upcoming novel, Voices of the Sea, releasing July 22, 2014. 

The Sirens in my book are very peaceful, living among humans for centuries, but keeping themselves hidden to protect their real identity.  They look completely human, but have the amazing ability to seduce the opposite sex with either their singing, or with an instrument. (Yes, in my book, both males and females can be Sirens)  However, they do not take this gift lightly, and only use it when absolutely necessary.

The ocean sings to the Sirens in my novel, and the song varies depending on the Siren's mood.  It even speaks to my main character, Loralei, who will one day be the Guardian of the Pacific Grove, California, clan.  For the Sirens, singing along with the ocean's song is very difficult to resist, and is both a treasure and a torment to them as they try to keep up their "human" life.

My Sirens cherish and protect their heritage, aware that their legacy needs to be preserved, but also hidden, because if the world knew what they were, they would not be allowed to live freely.  They are gentle, but brave, and are about to face the greatest threat to their existence.

I can't wait to share my Sirens with you, and I hope you love them as much as I do.

Beth's Sirens - 1

Saturday, April 19, 2014

A-Z Blogging Challange: R is for Reveal (Cover)

I'm beyond excited to share the cover for my young adult novel, Voices of the Sea,
debuting in July, 2014!

In every way, this cover is exactly what I dreamed of.  It is beautifully appealing and captures my main character's connection with the ocean perfectly.  I couldn't be happier.  My greatest dream has come true and I can't erase the smile from my face.  When I saw this, I almost cried.  I have no doubt that when I hold my book in my hands for the first time, I won't be able to hold in my tears.

Beth - 1
Beth's Cover - 1

A-Z Blogging Challenge: Q is for Queen for a Day

I get giddy just contemplating the prospect.  Queen for a day.  If I were queen for a day. . . . .

The day would be longer.  36 hours instead of 24.  That way I could sleep for 14 hours and still have enough time to do the things I wanted to do.

Every word would flow from me easily, and I would be able to write 100 pages in three hours.

There would be three brand new The Walking Dead episodes on that day, at a time when there was no one around to bother me.  Snacks and beer would appear when I snapped my fingers. 

The beer calories would dissolve instantly.

Miraculously, my mind would be free from stress and worry for the entire day.

My children would get along, and offer to clean their rooms.  I mean REALLY clean them.  Not just shove things in corners or make ridiculous piles in their closets that I have to clean up later. 

I would have complete access to any funds I wanted, and they would be huge. 

This means I could hire a maid to clean my entire house, top to bottom, without judging me for the mess involved.  NO JUDGING.

I would not only fit in every outfit I tried on, but look damn good in it.  And skinny. 

Speaking of skinny, I would lose ten pounds instantly.

My husband and I could eat at the restaurant 2914 for free and go to bed late because the day is longer and the teenage babysitter is working to earn volunteer hours rather than money.

Okay.  I should stop now, because we all know that teenagers would never do that.

Beth as Queen - 1
Fantasies - 1

Friday, April 18, 2014

A-Z Blogging Challenge: P is for Process of Writing

The writing process.  After talking to many, many different authors, I've discovered that it is different for ever single author.  Here is a bit about mine:

Sporadic would be the best word.  I'm a mom and a full-time teacher, which means I'm busy as all get-up and completely poor.  So, I don't have the luxury of closing the door to my personal office with my cup of expensive coffee in order to write, uninterrupted, for six hours.  Actually, looking back at that last sentence, I just want to laugh with hysterical sadness.

No.  Instead, I feel like I'm representative of the most devoted type of writer.  I write in the evenings, after lunches are made, dinner is eaten and cleaned up, and the kids are put to bed.  I write during my lunch breaks, when I can spare the sanity created by not stopping once during the day.  I write while my kids are doing their homework, stopping often to help them, or while they are streaking across the house like crazy monkeys, screaming and jumping around my chair.  I write during the fifteen minutes I had between my son's baseball game and my daughter's Girl Scout troop event.  I write when I wake up at 6:00 a.m. on a weekend, and am unable to turn off my mind long enough to fall back asleep.  I write when SpongeBob Squarepants, or Chopped, or ESPN's Sportscenter, or (if you ever tell my husband this I'll deny it) Redskins' games are on.

Basically, I write when I can.  Because I'm compelled.  Because I love it.  Because it's worth it.

Beth - 1
Authors Like Me - 1

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A-Z Blogging Challenge: O is for On Self Promotion

As an author, I have found the most difficult part about the publishing process is the promotion.  I am generally not a person who enjoys "praising" myself.  When it comes time, my face gets red, I shift uncomfortably, and I fidget with something, like a rubber-band.  Sometimes I click the pen of a cap on and off until those around me probably want to yank it from my hand and hurdle it across the room in frustration and desperation.

But, because my first book will be released on July 22nd, I am aware that self-promotion is huge in its success.  Therefore, I decided to jump on the "yay me" bandwagon and do my best to get my name out there, which is a lot more work than it sounds like. 

I've found that social media is a Godsend.  Oddly enough, while I imagined that Facebook would be my greatest ally, it has turned out to be a bit of a "fizzle".  I have some followers, but have since learned that Facebook limits who my posts reach, and find that very few people respond to me. 

Twitter, however, has been very different.  Author followers are easy to come by, and while 90 out of 100 of them are only in it for themselves, ten of them will retweet you and help you out.  I've made it a goal to be one of those ten, and have finally started to see positive results.  Finding readers can be harder, but I still have faith it will happen.

Google Plus is a great place to find dedicated readers who are ready and willing to promote the work of authors.  If you haven't been there, I suggest you check it out.

Lastly, I'm nervous and excited about book signings and having a release party to celebrate my accomplishment.  So many of my friends and family have already asked for an autographed copy of my book, which seems so silly to me, because I see them every day.  I'm no more important than they are, but signing a book has a bit of an "important" air to it, I suppose.  Plus, it seems odd to celebrate myself with a big party.  So, I've started to look at it, instead, like a birthday party for my book.  That way, it's about the book, not about me.  And everyone loves a good birthday party, right?

Long story short, promotion is a learning experience, but one I'm beginning to accept.  If you have any ideas on how to make it easier, I'd love to hear them!

Not sure how to tally this.  We'll keep it general.

Beth - 1 (Because I'm learning)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A-Z Blogging Challenge: N is for No Stress? I'd Be Lying

I'm pretty much as stressed out as they come lately.  I don't want to make this post completely about me, but sometimes a girl just has to get it out!

However, in order to avoid boring you to tears, I'll only give one word clues to each major stress in my life.  You can try to guess what they are, if you want.  Or, you can just gloss over them and share your own one-word stress clues in the comments below.  Either way.  Don't want to stress anyone out.

Just so you know, I knocked over my beer while handing my
husband the phone to ask him to take this picture.  Stress.
In hindsight, my clues are a bit transparent.  I'll go stress over that for a while.
Beth - 0
Beth's Stress - 1

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A-Z Blogging Challenge: M is for Mothers

There is something incredibly special about mothers.  Sometimes, I’ll watch new mothers with their babies and marvel at how perfectly the child fits in their arms.  I watch how their older children trail them around, and how they seem to instinctively know exactly what the little boy or girl needs before the child does.  Mothers are truly amazing.

My own mother is no exception.  In fact, she is somehow able to do everything, which I’ve never completely learned how to do as a mother.  When I was a kid, she managed to make sure we had everything we needed, but still keep up with all of the household chores, help us with our homework and work a full-time job.  I am forever lacking in one of those three areas, and view my mother as something like a superhero.  As an adult, my mother is one of my best friends.  I talk to her almost every day, and count on her for advice and love.  She is a fantastic grandmother (Mimi) to my children and provides them with so many amazing opportunities to learn, just as she did for me when I was younger.  I love her very much.

When Jillian learned that I was going to write about mothers today, she asked to say a few words.  Ladies and Gentlemen, my fantastic daughter Jillian!

“Moms are the best. They work really hard and do pretty much all the work. Sometimes husbands do not understand the way moms work. But sometime moms do not understand why they are working so hard and that there is too much work. All of the moms out there are doing their kids a favor, and the kids appreciate it very much. Moms fold our laundry, and changed our diapers when we were little. It is an amazing thing. So even if a mom is stressed, or having a hard time, think about how your kids appreciate you very much, and need your help. If you need advice too moms, if you are stressed and just need to calm down, go to a quiet room and just relax or read a book. Put a sign outside of your door saying, “Relaxing, come back later”. I want to give a big shout out to my mom especially because she has taught me everything in life and has accomplished many things, like, becoming an author, a blogger, and a teacher! Thank you for all your hard work mommy!”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.  Thanks Baby!!

Beth – 1
Jillian – 1
My Mom – 1
Mom’s Everywhere - 1

Monday, April 14, 2014

A-Z Blogging Challenge: L is for Love in YA Lit

If you’re like me, and read a lot as a teenager, you probably remember a YA romance that stayed with you.  Teenagers are such passionate creatures in everything they do, so why should romance be any different?  (There is evidence of this in the hallway make-out sessions at my school.  And I’ve learned never to frequent the back stairwell.  Icky) 
But as a writer, I find teenage romances difficult to write, and I think it’s because I’m torn between wanting them to be perfect and wanting to make them realistic.
I bet you were hoping for an
awkward teenage photo of me,
but it's not gonna happen.
Let’s put it this way.  When I was a teenager, I wanted to have an idyllic romance, where I ran into a dark, super-hot, mysterious guy at a party who was captivated by me and wanted to sweep me off my feet.  We would have been perfect together, completely inseparable, and our first kiss would be so magical that nothing in my life would ever be able to top it.  I’d get butterflies in my stomach whenever we were together, and no matter how many other hot girls were around, he would only see me.  That is how it was in books, and that was how I wanted my young romances to be.
However, my first teenage romance went more like this:  I formed a crush on a guy who had already dated two of my friends.  He was a typical, gangly, fifteen year-old, but he had a good sense of humor and liked me back, so I took the bait.  After approximately one week of flirting, he bestowed upon me my very first kiss at a party.  We then “dated” (I use the term loosely, because neither of us could drive) for two weeks, writing each other mushy love notes and planning the rest of our lives together, before he promptly dumped me and started dating another of my friends, an event that left me crying to my best friend in the girls’ bathroom.  When I think back, the first kiss was quick and awkward, and though there was a small amount of hand-holding and a few other kisses over our epic two weeks together, it was a far cry from my teenage fantasy romance.
So I find myself at an impasse.  Do I create my ultimate teenage romance for my books, giving girls like me what they want, or do I make them realistic so that girls realize that getting dumped after two weeks is the more likely scenario?
I’d love to know everyone’s thoughts.  Keep it real, or give them what they want?

Beth’s Fantasy – 1
Beth’s Reality - 0

Saturday, April 12, 2014

A-Z Blogging Challenge - K is for Kaliente Dance Fitness

I owe a lot to the ladies of Kaliente Dance Fitness (aka Latin Fusion) and figured it was high time I thanked them in a blog post. 
Monica and Jen being awesome.
I'm in this picture.  Somewhere.

Let’s be honest.  I really hate “traditional” work-outs.  Running and using the elliptical is just so BORING. When I do either, I'm counting down the minutes, staring at the clock, praying it will be over.  And lifting weights?  Repetitive and Monotonous.  Don’t even get me started on workout videos.

But Kaliente isn't a workout.  It’s fun.  Basically, I get to go dancing for an hour (or two on Tuesdays), and enjoy every hard, sweaty minute of it.  The instructors are amazing dancers, and so energetic that I arrive and leave with a smile. 

And the music is awesome!  I might as well be in a club.  I won’t lie – I play Latin Fusion in my car to pump myself up before a workout, and afterwards to keep up the workout-high.  I even listen to it on the way to work at 6am to wake myself up.  
There might be some car dancing involved.  Maybe.

Most importantly, I couldn't keep the weight off without them.  They made me love going to the gym, something I never thought I would do, and I owe them for helping my mental AND physical health.  There are times I don't think I could ever leave Centreville just because I couldn't handle life without Latin Fusion.

Beth – 1

Kaliente – 1

Friday, April 11, 2014

A-Z Blogging Challenge - J is for Joy

Sometimes, it is hard to think about the joys in my life with all the stress.  So today, I’m going to ignore the stress for an entire five minutes and think about things that bring me joy.
  • Joy is coming home from work and putting on red, polka-dot pajama bottoms.
  • Joy is hearing my children play with one another, minus the fighting.
  • Joy is a cold beer on a beautiful day while hanging out with friends on my back deck.
  • Joy is going on a mystery date with my husband, and we never run out of things to laugh about.
  • Joy is knowing I’ll be a published author on July 22nd.
  • Joy is being in the classroom.  Yes – even when my students are being jerks.  Because they aren’t always that way.
  • Joy is finishing an amazing book and contemplating it for days afterwards.
  • Joy is having a second home only five minutes away, where parent hugs and free food are always available.
  • Joy is five minutes of complete silence.
  • Joy is knowing that despite everything, I haven’t completely lost my mind yet.  It’s a pretty good sign, I think.  Right? 

Beth – 1

Joy - 1

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A-Z Blogging Challenge - I is for Infestation

That's right.  I've been infested by a . . . . . .GUEST BLOGGER!

Please help me in welcoming my husband, Mike, a writer for the Redskins-based blog Hogs Haven!  Also, please try to ignore his plug at the end.  Shameless.  Just shameless.


Best Movie Villain of All Time: Ivan Drago

When my wife asked me to come on as a guest blogger, at first I was honored that she had chosen me. A few moments later, however, I became slightly terrified as I realized that I am sports blogger by trade, and have never posted on anything non-sports related.  She then told me that I was assigned the letter “I”, which of course gave me no help whatsoever in terms of figuring out what to write about.  She also told me I could write about sports if that was what I felt the most comfortable doing, but while saying it trailed off at the end of the sentence, meaning she would prefer that I go in a different direction.

So, I went back and starting looking through her past blogs to get some ideas and, after looking at only one, an idea hit me: what if I did a post about a fictional character who was the greatest movie villain of all time?  And that is what I have decided to do.  Without further ado, I present, for your approval, the man known as “The Siberian Express’, “The Siberian Bull”, and “Death from Above”.  His name: Ivan Drago.

One scary dude.  This is Beth talking.
For those of you who normally read this post, I apologize if I am repeating things you already know.  But since I am very aware that every time I try to put Rocky IV on in the Harar household my wife immediately complains and threatens to poke out her eyes, I know this will be news to her.  So we begin with a little background:

As many of you are aware, the Rocky series started off innocently enough about a poor man who lived in Philadelphia and who needed a way out of the slums.  He took to boxing, and after a very cool montage, boxed his way into a draw with Apollo Creed, who was the heavy weight champion at the time.  That movie won an Academy Award and launched the career of Sylvester Stallone.  In the second Rocky (Rocky II), Rocky had earned some street cred off his last match against Apollo Creed and was awarded with a second match.  After another great montage, Rocky finally took down the champ and was now the baddest boxer on the planet.

Then we moved on to the next installment, Rocky III, in which there is a new antagonist gunning for Rocky’s title named Clubber Lang (played terrifically by a brash Mr. T).  In this classic, Apollo had since hung up his gloves in retirement and agreed to help Rocky get into shape, all through the magic of another splendid montage.  In the process, they became the best of friends and the movie ended with Rocky taking down Lang.  However, the movie doesn’t really end there.  The final scene is one in which Rocky and Apollo are going to have a private match, at Apollo’s request, as he is starting to get what we now call the "Brett Favre Itch" (aka I don’t want to retire even though I’m going on 50). 

There is a lot of foreshadowing in this, as where Rocky III ends with them starting to throw the first punches in their private fight, Rocky IV starts with those punches landing.   Apollo officially wants back in the ring.  And now we get to the man this post is all about: Ivan Drago.

Drago is a scientifically advanced former Soviet Olympian and soldier who now focuses all his angst, anger and grunts at boxing.  He is a man of few words (literally, he speaks four English lines in the whole movie) but through his team, comes to America to put his greatness on display.  Apollo sees this as a fantastic opportunity to get back in the headlines and challenges Drago to an exhibition match.  Rocky sees the 6’5”, 261lb freak of nature and has reservations, but Apollo's eagerness to get back into the ring is strong and he gets Rocky to agree to train him for the fight.  Apollo's self confidence is blinding and he has no fear of Drago.  That is of course, until he DIES in the ring.  That’s right, Drago pounds Apollo in the head too many times and kills Rocky’s best friend, in an EXHIBITION match.  As Apollo lays on the mat with blood coming from everywhere, Drago says the line that has lived in infamy ever since.  “If he dies, he dies.”

Yeah, chills right?  Well never fear, Rocky goes to the Soviet Union with revenge on his mind. After (shocker) another montage, and perhaps the best one yet, Rocky gets in shape for the fight and takes Drago down after an epic 15 round struggle.  As a bonus, during the process of the match, Rocky also manages to have the fans turn on their own countryman, and start screaming “Rocky!” before the fight ends.  Rocky then, for some inexplicable reason, is a handed a microphone.  After a series of voice cracks and heavy breathing, he finally screams, “If you can change, everyone can change!” to which the Soviet crowd erupts into happy applause and tears.  This movie was the perfect 1980’s metaphor for the United States-Soviet Union relationship, and this was Stallone’s Hollywood way of saying the two countries could still make nice yet.  It was a fantastic movie, and was the last installment of the Rocky series.  (I refuse to acknowledge the existence of Rocky V, Rocky Balboa, or the upcoming Rocky VII). 

What made the Ivan Drago the best villain of all time?  He was by far the most brooding, powerful, immovable killing machine that Rocky, who was six inches shorter, had ever faced.  Drago cheats (he is shown getting injections of some kind of mysterious clear fluid-we all knew it was steroids), he punches with the force of 2200 pounds per square inch (average for a boxer is 700 psi), he has the benefit of training with the best technology available in Russia at the time (Rocky is forced to train in the woods) and he KILLS people in EXHIBITION matches with zero remorse. 

As I reflect back on every other movie I’ve ever watched, I can’t think of another villain who’s character was developed so well and so quickly(in as campy a way as possible) to the point where the audience really believed that the hero’s task seemed impossible.  Anyone who got in Drago’s way was simply roadkill (Apollo learned that the hard way).  That was until, however, our beloved hero stepped up (after a montage or two) and took him down.  So, I now throw it to you, the readers.  Who was the best movie villain of all time in your opinion?  Please let us know in comments. 

Thanks to my wife for letting me sub in for the day.  Hopefully, you have as much fun reading this post as I had writing it.  If you are interested in reading post that are more in my wheelhouse, please check out, where I am a fairly regular contributor.

What do you think?  Eh.  We'll give him a point.
Mike - 1
Beth - 1 for picking an awesome guest blogger

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A-Z Blogging Challenge - H is for Have a Title and Release Date!

Yes!  This is not a joke! 

My book, Voices of the Sea, will be released on Tuesday, July 22, 2014 in paperback. 

I don’t even know what else to say.  This is a dream come true for me.  And having a date makes it so much more final. 


Beth - 1
Beth's Book - 1
Bucket List Item Achieved - 1

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A-Z Blogging Challenge - G is for Grandparents

How could I not talk about my grandparents when presented with the letter G?

EXACTLY what we ate.  Mmmmmm.
We’ll start with my dad’s parents.  My Grammy Sis and Papa Pete were Italians.  Family functions were boisterous events full of wine and delicious foods, like spaghetti, fried peppers with Rita’s Italian bread, and smelts.  They were loud, hollering when they needed something, never hesitating to yell across the room or talk over the other twelve or so relatives who were visiting.  They gave big, tight hugs.  My Gram told dirty jokes to the priest and my Papa dared me to punch him in the stomach to show how strong he was. 

A smoking man, in case
you've never seen one.
My mom’s parents were the exact opposite.  They lived quietly.  Family events were small, just my Grandma June, Grandpa Burke, and my family, and filled with elegant foods like lamb, or chicken and mushrooms.  They had wine too, but it came from my grandpa’s personal wine cellar in the basement.  The nights were softer, and I’d crawl on my grandpa’s lap while he watched Doctor Who, or sit at the kitchen table, watching smoke swirl from a Smoking Man, as my grandma cooked.   In the morning, I’d watch from the window while quail darted in and out of the cactus garden and fog lingered on the road.

And they were both wonderful.  I couldn't have asked for anything better.

Beth – 1

Grandparents – there is no way to measure their worth

Monday, April 7, 2014

A-Z Blogging Challenge: F is for Favorite Characters

Anyone who loves to read has encountered characters who feel real.  These characters are as much a part of our lives as our friends and family.  Some of them eventually leave our minds, but others stick around forever. 

Today, I’ll share with you ten characters who will never leave me.  Maybe someday I’ll explain why, but for today, I just encourage you to read the books and see for yourself.  There are more, but these are the first that come to mind.

1.      George – Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

2.      Gilly Hopkins – The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Patterson

3.      Jonas – The Giver by Lois Lowry

4.      Jamie Fraser – Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

5.      Paul Moreaux – Fade by Robert Cormier

6.      Professor Snape – Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

7.      Atticus Finch – To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

8.      Stuart Redman – The Stand by Stephan King

9.      Anne – Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

10.  Meg Murry – A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

I’m curious.  Who are your favorites?  Please share in the comments!

Beth – 1
Characters I Love – 1

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A-Z Blogging Challenge: E is for Editing

My first book will be published this year, and even though I’m only half-way through the publishing process, I’m finished with the “major” edits.  So, I thought I would briefly share this process with you, since it is a frequently asked question.

To begin, my editor, Summer, was awesome.  She was very organized, prompt and thorough.  I started by formatting the manuscript properly,  (Only ONE space between sentences!) , then thought, “Hey!  This is really easy!”  These words were an ominous precursor to what was to come.

I experienced very few scene re-writes, so in that sense I was lucky.  I think all of the time I spent editing the book myself, before the submission process, paid off in this respect.
But oh, the words.  The too-often repeated, specific words. 
  • Was
  • Look
  • That
  • Just
  • Knew
  • Walk

Those evil little words that I used 800 times a piece (sadly, no exaggeration here) and had to eliminate, one by one.  I won’t lie – getting rid of them was tedious and took a very long time.  But I knew this process would make my manuscript better, so I stuck with it.  Each word I erased was a small accomplishment.  Another step forward.  Wine was helpful in this stage.

As a cautionary tale to writers – avoid these words at all costs.  You’ll just have to get rid of them later, and their absence makes for a more vivid story.

After four months, the editing process was finished, and those months flew by.  For those who worry about editing, I hope to relieve your anxiety.  It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  In fact, I actually enjoyed it.

Beth – 1
Editing – 1
Summer the Editor – 1

Friday, April 4, 2014

A-Z Blogging Challenge: D is for Daddy and Daughter

I’m devoting this blog to my Daddy and to my baby Daddy.  (I’ve always wanted to say that in context.  Score!)

We’ll start with the father of my children, who is an amazing man.  And who better to tell you about him than my guest blogger, Jillian Harar!
Me:  Jillian.  Tell me why you love your daddy.
Jillian:  I love him because he feeds me, he is very handsome and strong, and he puts me to bed. I also love him because he brings me places, and he plays sports with me. There is just too much I like about him to say.
Me:  So, would you say he’s pretty much an awesome dad?
Jillian:  Yes. 
Me:  What is something embarrassing you can share about him? 
Jillian:  He sings horribly. 
Me:  Don’t I know it.  Thanks baby!
Now a bit about my Daddy.  He is everything a girl could want in a dad.  He is brave and strong.  When I’m sad, he always knows and gives me a hug to make things better.  My dad is loud and hilarious, and never fails to make me laugh.  Even better, he is a fantastic grandfather to my children, who love and adore him as much as I do.
Most importantly, however, he is there for me no matter what horrible, stupid, brainless thing I’ve done, and I know that he will love me no matter what.

So for the two dads out there who I love more than any other men in the world, thank you for being mine. 

Daddy of My Children – 1

My daddy – 1

Me – 1 Lucky Girl

Thursday, April 3, 2014

A-Z Blogging Challenge: C is for Carmel

Carmel.  Monterey.  Pacific Grove.  No three words bring happier childhood memories for me.  Two of my three books take place there, and that is no coincidence.

I remember these places vividly.  It is never too warm; the temperature hovers in the mid to high fifties, sometimes gracing the upper sixties.  There is a thin veil of damp fog that lines the streets and creeps in and out of the dense trees in the morning.  Everything is lush and green, and my nose is always a little bit cold to the touch. 

We went hiking and found salamanders, slugs, deer and rabbits.  My feet crunched on the pathways, and before we went on a hike with my grandfather, we would help him choose a finely-crafted wooden walking cane.  At Point Lobos we would search for heron, seals and otters in the ocean below.  The wind would whip my hair and I loved it.

And the ocean was never for swimming.  It was for leaping from jagged rock to rock and for finding small fish and starfish in the tide-pools.  It was for running on little legs down long, vacant stretches of beach, leaving kid-sized footprints in the sand.

Monterey holds such beautiful memories for me.  I long to go back.  Until then, my characters will have to make it real for me.

Monterey – 1
Beth - ?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A-Z Blogging Challenge: B is for Books

I’m an English teacher and a writer, so I’m often asked what I think about eBooks vs. books in print.  This is a touchy subject, precisely because I AM a teacher and I AM a writer. 

As a writer, I embrace the eBook.  It has widely grown in popularity and is a fantastic way to make my book accessible to more readers.   They are also less expensive and, as a reader, I really appreciate that.  As people continue to make the internet their world and more and more bookstores go out of business, I’d be crazy NOT to put stock in this market.

As a teacher, however, I have the propensity to want my students to read a bound book.  To start, that is how I became a reader.  Holding the book in my hand, the sound of flipping page after page as I became engrossed in a story, and the smell of all books – new and old - makes for warm, comfortable memories.   My students are constantly looking at a screen, and I think a book is a good change for them.  Secretly, I want them to love the feel of a book as much as I do.

But as much as I love the physical book, if I’m being honest with myself, it is the written words that really capture my heart.  And whether those words are on a page or on a screen, I’ll still love them equally.

Beth – 1
Books in Print – 1
eBooks – 1

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A – Z Challenge: A is for Antagonists

When people ask me about my books, they usually inqure about my protagonists.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I love my protagonists.  They are brave, smart, snarky and vulnerable.  But I have a secret to tell you:  they are much harder to create than my antagonists.

My antagonists lurk deep within me, and when I write about them, their stories emerge without struggle.  Each evil thought, each twisted idea that they wish to carry out is readily at my fingertips, sometimes without me even knowing it was there.

And they take on a life of their own.  It is my antagonists – my truly evil “bad guys” – who make the surprise moves that I never anticipated.  They bring surprise, raise suspicion, deliver terror.   I love writing about them because they pretty much write themselves, and the stories they have to tell are horrifyingly wonderful.

I don’t know why this is.  Perhaps it is the dark animal that lies within every human being: a Heart of Darkness type beast waiting to be set free; or, it could be some pent up energy that I keep repressed and is anxious for release.  Maybe it is just my ridiculous imagination.  Or maybe, it is much easier to write about something I pray I'll never become.

 Beth – 1
Antagonists - 1