Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Happy Anniversary, Creativity Cauldron!

As most of you know, I teach a couple of popular online writing classes, "Witchcraft for the Paranormal Author" and "Beyond Fangs: Creating New and Interesting Paranormal Characters." I've been giving these workshops for a while now, and they are both fun and rewarding.

And not just for me, apparently.

After I gave the first "Witchcraft" class, a bunch of the students said that they'd had such a great time with the class, they didn't want it to stop. They wanted to keep in touch with each other and with me, and asked if I would consider starting some kind of loop for former students.

I said no.

I was thrilled, of course, that they'd gotten so much out of the workshop, and agreed that the group of people the class had brought together was extraordinary. But I was too busy. Just couldn't add one more thing to the pile. They understood, and apparently tried to start up something without me, but it didn't last.

Then I gave the next workshop, and got the same request. To be honest, I was kind of amazed. And even more thrilled than the first time--less that people wanted to keep in touch with me (which they can easily do through my blog, or Twitter, or Facebook), but that I had somehow been able to create this environment that made people so comfortable that they didn't want to leave.

I said no again anyway.

It was a tougher decision this time around, but I still didn't have the time and energy to run a loop on top of my day job, making jewelry, writing, blogging, etc.

Then I gave the next class...and got the SAME request again. But this time, something was different. A couple of the folks involved actually volunteered to create and run the loop, so I didn't have to. All I had to do was show up. The lovely Holly Atkinson, in fact, did just that. And so The Creativity Cauldron was born.

A year and two days ago, we sent out invites to the folks who had taken that just-finished workshop, and got our first set of Cauldronites. People have been joining us ever since; mostly those who have taken my classes, with a sprinkling of folks who heard about the loop from one of their friends. The Creativity Cauldron is a gathering place for anyone who writes paranormal fiction in any form--newbies and bestselling authors, people who write middle grade fantasy and people who write erotic paranormal romance. Together, we gather around the cauldron to support and encourage each other, helping out in whichever way suits us best. We post daily writing challenges to motivate everyone. I sometimes give free mini-workshops, and other loop members have been known to do the same. It is a warm and friendly place, which is all I really wanted.

So happy anniversary, Creativity Cauldron! And happy anniversary Holly--thanks for everything you do for all of us.

In case you are interested, here is the place you can go and sign up:

And just so you know, here is the contest we're running to celebrate our anniversary:

Writers Write - 3 Day Challenge: Post your daily word count for at least three of the five days.
Add your favorite line or paragraph to share with the group.

Writers Character Builder - 3 Day Challenge: Post at least three characters in the five days.
Add detailed description of them as well as a clip of your favorite dialog with this character.

The winner of the writing challenge will get a $10 Amazon Gift Card.
The winner of the character challenge will get the signed Deborah Blake book of their choice!
(Yes, even if you live out of the US.)
Feedback from the Creativity Cauldron gang is welcome, so vote for the ones you enjoy.
The final decision will be made on April 5, 2011 by Deborah and Holly.

And yes, I am still thrilled.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Angus the Cat, because he's adorable

Yes, I know...I owe y'all a real blog post. Tomorrow, I promise. In the meanwhile, here is my cat Angus, who is, bless him, Not Very Bright, but extremely adorable. Case in point? His favorite toy is a string belt off a pair of my pants. Keeps him entertained for hours.

Now that my latest online class is over (and it was fabulous--but with over 60 participants, it really kept me busy), I should be able to get back to something that resembles real blogging. Because I know you've all been pining... By the way, the class really was terrific. The FFnP loop (Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal RWA Chapter) is one of the best around, and I was excited to have two authors I really like--Katie MacAlister and Linda Wisdom--taking my little ol' class.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Black Ink, White Page

Come check out the new multi-author blog I'm a part of. My intro is up today!

Monday, March 21, 2011

New Group Blog! Lift off!

As of today, a brand new writing blog went live! Black Ink, White Paper is the home of nine writers who'll be chatting about their work and their lives, and sharing a bit of their journey with the world and each other.

Come on by, check it out, and follow us if you dare! :)

I am one of the nine writers, of course, as is my critique partner, the fabulous Lisa DiDio, and amazing author Kate Austin. Come visit us and see who else is there as we start this fun new adventure. Over the next two weeks, we will take turns introducing ourselves. I'm up on Thursday (gasp!).

What important facts about myself do you think I should mention?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Happy Spring Equinox!

Today is the first day of spring--and after a long, tough winter, I couldn't be happier to see it arrive! Here in upstate New York, it is still cold (and they are calling for an inch or so of snow tomorrow), but the sun is shining and most of the gigantic piles of snow have melted. The red-winged black birds are out in force, the geese have returned to the creek across the street, and buds can be seen on a few of the bushes. Spring is here! Huzzah!

Most cultures have traditionally observed both equinoxes and solstices throughout recorded history. For modern Pagans, the Spring Equinox (also known as Ostara) is one of the eight Sabbats, and a time to celebrate with ritual and feasts.

The spring equinox is one of two days during the year when the day and night are in perfect balance, which makes it an especially good day for working on balance in your own life. It is also a time to plant the seeds (metaphysically speaking, if not actual seeds) for the plans and goals you intend to work on in the year ahead.

Here is an Ostara ritual from my first book, CIRCLE, COVEN AND GROVE. It is written for a group, but can easily be adapted for use by one person.

Spring Equinox Ritual

For many of us, it is still too cold to celebrate the Spring Equinox outside. This ritual is designed to be performed indoors. If you are lucky enough to be able to do it outside, just skip the part about walking through the curtains.
Supplies needed:
2 curtains or large pieces of cloth—one white (sheets works fine), one flowered.
A bell or gong.
Seed packets (enough for everyone in your circle to get two or three, unless it is a large circle—then one each is good)—20 to 30 total
Slips of paper to attach to seed packets (write on each a different way to grow: see list at end of ritual)—one for each packet
Oil for anointing
Note: You can decorate your altar with fresh flowers, and decorated eggs. We used chocolate malted eggs that looked like robin eggs…fun, and you can eat them when you’re done!
ALL gather in an outer room
Circle member sits in an inner room with a bell. (At my house we went from the dining room into the living room, but you can enter from any space large enough for you all to gather into any space large enough for the ritual)
One by one, participants walk toward two curtains hung in doorway (first white, then flowered). HPS or HP pulls back white curtain and says: “Pass from winter into spring, and blessed be,” then pulls back flowered cloth so that participant can enter the next room.
As people enter the room, a circle member anoints them with oil, saying: “Enter into this sacred space, and blessed be”
he circle member already in the room rings altar bell as each enters. (This is to signal that they have moved into a sacred space.)
Once in circle, participants drum quietly until everyone has entered the circle. (If you have a large group attending, it is not a bad idea to have a circle member go in first and start drumming to set an example)
HPS or HP enters last, is anointed, and then anoints the circle member who anointed her/him. Drumming stops, and all stand.
HPS: “Welcome to our celebration of the Spring Equinox, also known as Ostara. This is a time of hope and renewal, growth and rebirth. As the wheel of the year turns again to bring us out of the darkness of winter, and into the light of spring, we are given the chance to start fresh, and welcome new energy into our lives.”
Pass sage to consecrate and cleanse the circle
Pass salt and water around the circle
HPS/HP casts circle: (walks around circle with /athame) “I cast the circle round and round, from Earth to Sky, from Sky to Ground. I conjure now this sacred place, outside time, and outside space. The circle is cast, we are between the worlds.”
Call the Quarters
HPS/HP invokes God and Goddess:
Great Goddess, Bright Maiden, Lady of the Growing Things, bless our circle with your presence as we celebrate the coming of Spring. Lend us your wisdom and your grace as you help us to grow to our full potential. Welcome, and blessed be.
Great God, Green Man, Lord of the Wild Things, bless our circle with your presence as we celebrate the coming of Spring. Lend us your strength and your determination and help us to become all that we wish ourselves to be. Welcome, and blessed be.

HPS: “Spring is a time of growth. Not just for the grass and trees, but for us as well. Tonight we turn our energy and the energy of this circle to the goal of growing in all the positive and beneficial ways available to us. In this circle, our intent is focused, our power immeasurable. And together, we can invoke positive change, not only in our own lives, but in the world surrounding us.”

Pass a bowl filled with slips of paper that are attached to seed packets. Each person should take a seed packet, read the slip aloud, and pass the bowl to the next person. The HPS starts. (Ex.: “May we grow in spirit” “May we grow in health” – May we grow in…prosperity, wisdom, courage, faith, love, community, forgiveness, power, joy, openness) When the bowl has gone around once or twice (depending on the size of the circle) the HPS finishes, saying: “May we grow in peace” So Mote It Be.

HPS/HP or circle member leads meditation (feeling growth come up from the earth):
Close your eyes. Take a slow deep breath. Feel the peace of the circle surround you. Take another slow breath and let go of the tensions of the everyday world. These things have no place here. Here there is only calm, and silence and love.
Listen to the slow breathing of those around you. If you listen carefully, you can hear the breathing of the earth as she awakens. The birds call. The trees rustle. The earth stirs.
Send your awareness down. Down through the floor, down beneath the house. Move into the earth. Feel the roots of the trees shifting deep within the earth. Feel the small, subtle stirrings of the bulbs and seeds. They have lain dormant all winter, storing their energy, waiting for their time to grow and blossom.
Now that time has come. All around us, the earth is coming back to life, rising, stretching, growing. Reach out for that energy. Feel it with all your senses—full of potential, unlimited, positive and powerful.
Open your whole self to this beneficial energy. Let yourself be filled to overflowing with the potential for change and growth, health, prosperity, abundance and joy.
Send gratitude out to our mother the earth for this gift, and feel yourself filled with the bountiful energy of spring. Feel yourself begin to blossom and grow, and know that all things are possible.

Take a moment of silence, then starts drumming to wake up the earth, and get that energy flowing -- if you want, you can do a chant [“She changes everything she touches” is a particularly good one for this ritual. See Chapter 17 for more chants.]

When drumming has reached its peak, take the energy deep within, and send what is left out into the universe. Ground any excess energy by putting your hands on the floor and sending it down into the earth.

Pass Cakes and Ale (pomegranate juice is perfect for this ritual, because of its associations with the myth of Persephone, devilled eggs or seed cakes are good too)

Pass the Speaking Stick—each person can talk about how they want to grow or mention some practical plans for self-improvement
Dismiss the Quarters
Thank the God and Goddess
Open the circle

Have a feast!!! (Don’t forget to include spring food and your decorated eggs, if you have them.)

Happy spring, everyone! What are you doing to celebrate?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Books, books, and more books. Also, books.

I have always been a big reader. Make that huge. I love the way a good book can take you to an entirely different reality (and away from your own). I'm guessing that this love for books had something to do with my becoming an author...

The thing about being a writer is--you HAVE to read. It is now part of your job. Bummer. (Hehehehehe.) This is not to say that all writers read. I've actually known a few who said, once they became published, that they were too busy writing to read. I couldn't disagree more.

There are a lot of reasons why a writer should continue reading. For one thing, I learn a lot by reading books by good writers. I study what they do right and try to figure out ways to integrate what I've learned into my own writing. I am inspired by good writing, too. And as an author, I need to know what is being written in the genres I plan to write in--both so I know what is already out there (and don't spend months writing a book only to find out that someone had that bright idea already), and what isn't.

Besides, I love to read.

On top of all these reasons, I buy books because I believe in supporting the publishing industry (which is struggling mightily these days) and the authors I like. Here are a few of the books I bought LAST WEEK.

Susan Wiggs -- Marrying Daisy Bellamy
You could call this Women's Fiction, or maybe romance. This is the latest in a series set in the mythical New York State setting of Willow Lake. I have read and loved every single book in this series, all of which can be read independently of each other.

Carol Berg -- The Soul Mirror
This is traditional fantasy at its best, with in-depth and detailed world-building and complicated tortured characters. This book is the second in this particular series. The first one, The Spirit Lens, so captivated my imagination, it has been torture waiting for the second one to come out!

Tamora Pierce -- Tortall and Other Lands
This is a book of short stories set in Pierce's YA fantasy world of Tortall, plus a couple of tales from other places. Pierce is one of my favorite YA fantasy authors; she writes the best strong female teen characters I have ever seen, and her world-building is second to none. And you don't have to be a teen (or a girl) to love her books, I promise.

Kim Harrison -- Pale Demon
This is the 9th in Harrison's best selling Rachel Morgan urban fantasy series. Witches, vampires, fae...and not one cliche in the bunch. These books are among the best urban fantasies out there today. She was one of my inspirations for my own urban fantasy series.

I am also rereading ALL the "Vorkosigan" series by Lois McMaster Bujold, since she just came out with a new one-- Cyroburn. These are traditional science fiction, with amazing characters and a wonderful mixture of thoughtfulness and humor.

As you can see, I have very eclectic tastes; everything from romance to fantasy to science fiction to YA and beyond. It is probably no accident that I write in all those genres as well.

I hope that you will be inspired by this blog to go out and pick up a book by one of these authors. And I'd like to know what you're reading, too. Maybe I can find another favorite to inspire me!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Reminder: New online class starts Monday!

Just one last reminder that my online class, "Witchcraft for the Paranormal Author" starts this Monday on the FFnP loop. You don't have to be a member of RWA or FFnP to take the class, which runs until the end of the month. It is $15 for members, and $25 for nonmembers.

Hope to see some of you there!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

California Trip--Pantheacon report

Pantheacon 2011 Report
[Note: This is the report I did up for my pal Rebecca at The Magical Buffet blog. She is kindly letting me post it here too, so I don't have to write it up twice!]

I don’t much like crowds. Or traveling. So why do I haul my witchy butt across the entire expanse of the country to go to Pantheacon? Because it’s worth it.

Pantheacon is the largest gathering of Pagans/Witches/Wiccans and assorted Heathens in the country, with well over 2,000 people attending over the course of four days in February. (I heard a rumor that they hit 3,000 this year for the first time, but I don’t know whether or not that’s true.) It is held at the beautiful Doubletree Hotel in San Jose, California, where they give you a warm chocolate chip cookie when you check in. Yum.

This was my third Pantheacon. I first went in 2008, after my Circle, Coven & Grove came out. I had such a blast, I went back last year, and then again this year. My traveling companion from my first visit, my step-daughter Jenn, loved it so much, she actually moved to San Jose after last year’s con, so one of my perks was getting to spend some time with her. I also got to meet up with my fiction-writing partner, Lisa DiDio, who lives in Northern CA and took the train down to stay with me. We had a blast together.

On the official side of my visit to Pantheacon, I got to go to two great workshops (they literally offer HUNDREDS over the course of the 4 days, including classes given by such Pagan notables as Starhawk, and everyday folks who are willing to share their wisdom with others); a fabulous chanting workshop with the amazing Margot Adler, and a lovely, healing Pagan Death Passages ritual with the also-amazing Selena Fox (I had lost my beloved grandmother less than a week before PCon, so the timing was perfect).

Both these ladies are wise and warm and gracious, and I was beyond pleased to be able to spend a little time in their company.

I also took part in two Llewellyn events; a “Meet the Authors” and 110 Year Anniversary celebration (with cake) on Saturday night, and a Publishing Panel on Sunday morning. [I met a great new Llewellyn author, Melanie Maquis, at the Meet the authors event…you are going to want her new book, Bag of Tricks, when it comes out in June. I’m reading an advance copy right now, so I can write a blurb for it, and it is fabulous!]

I also led a workshop of my own, called “Spiritual Spring Cleaning.” There were about 80 people attending, and we had a great time. Raised a lot of good spring cleaning energy, too!

Of course, no trip to Pantheacon would be complete without spending time with my wonderful Llewellyn editor, Elysia Gallo. This year, Lisa and I decided to look for a really fun place to go out to dinner that first night, and we ended up at a Moroccan restaurant called, fittingly enough, Moracco’s. We dragged Elysia out with us, along with my step-daughter Jenn and her friend Madeleine. And, oh, man—the food! If you are even in San Jose, you have to track this place down. It was some of the best food any of us had ever had. We got a variety of things and put them in the middle of the table to share, which made it both cheaper and a lot more fun.

The deserts alone made it worth the trip. And the company was as good as it gets. We had a blast.

That’s Jenn, Lisa, me, and Elysia at Moracco’s.

All in all, it was another great Pantheacon. I got to see old friends, make some new ones, visit with authors I admired, meet a few of my fans in person (some of whom I’d already “met” on Facebook or Twitter), eat some great food, and even learn a thing or two. It was worth pushing myself outside of my comfort zone to do it, and I recommend it highly to anyone with the slightest interest in Paganism. Bring an open mind, as much energy as you can muster, and a few dollars to spend on goodies in the Vendors room. (Pagan chocolates…that’s all I’m saying.) And if I’m there next year, be sure to come on over and say hi!