Monday, December 30, 2013

A Goals and Dreams Focus Board for the New year

Some people do New Year’s resolutions every year—a list of promises to themselves, usually involving dramatic changes in behavior that seldom last past the first few days of January. There’s nothing wrong with making resolutions, if doing so actually works for you, but if it doesn’t, here’s another suggestion.

One of the core tenets of witchcraft and magical work is the importance of Focus and Intent. In order to create change (magically or otherwise), you have to know what you want (Intent) and concentrate on putting that desire out into the universe (Focus). And then, of course, you have to follow up with actions, but that comes later. Whether you call yourself a witch or not, here is one way to harness these things to bring about positive changes in the year ahead.


This is a variation on an activity that Blue Moon Circle and I did for years, with an added twist or two. It is fun and easy to do, and you can either do it by yourself of with a group of friends (or even your kids).

The idea here is to create a concrete manifestation of your goals and dreams for the coming year (intent) and also a reminder for yourself of what it is you’re striving for (focus). You can use whatever tools you want, and be as creative or as simple as you choose.

Basic supplies might include a piece of poster board (whatever size you want—we used to use large pieces, but I think this year we’ll stick to something closer to regular paper size, so it will be easier to find a place to put it once it is done) or you could use cardboard, or even a piece of wood. You’ll want to have pictures cut out from magazines, or printed out from online, plus pens and possibly crayons or markers, if you want to draw or write on your focus board. Don’t forget the glue. Plain old white glue usually works fine, and is safe to use with kids. You can also add anything else that appeals to you. For instance, if your goal is to go visit the ocean, you can glue on some shells. You see what I mean.

If you want, you can start by making a list of your goals for the year. These may be professional, personal, spiritual, or a combination of all of these. I tend to have one section of the board for each section of my life. For instance, you could have a quarter of the board dedicated to relationship goals (family, romance, etc.), one dedicated to financial goals, one to healthy goals (exercise, diet, etc.), and one for impossible dreams. There’s no need to limit yourself to only those things which seem “doable”. You never know what the year might hold, or what the universe might have in store for you! This is your focus board, and you can put anything on it that you want.

If you’re not a list maker, you can simply just sit down and start working, and see what shows up. If you have a list, then you can organize how you want the board to look by preparing things ahead of time, and then just laying them out as you go.

You can clip out words or pictures from magazines that embody your goals and dreams. I like to use words like joy, or success, or love, or health (usually clipped out, but if I can’t find the ones I need, I can use a marker or crayon, or print them out in a cool font on my computer) and then add pictures that seem to embody those words and goals. You can also use photographs of yourself, family, etc.

There is no right or wrong way to do your board—it is yours, after all. Just remember to focus all your energy and intent as you create it. If you want, you can say a spell for success when you’re done, or one for “Focus & Achievement,” like the one in my book, Circle, Coven & Grove. When you’re done, put the focus board someplace where you’ll see it, so you will be reminded of the path you’ve chosen for the year. (Although if things change, that’s okay too.) If you need to keep it private, you can tuck it under your mattress or into a drawer, but try to remember to take it out periodically, and check in on how you’re doing.

I  hope the coming year brings all your hopes and dreams to fruition!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Guest Review: Diva talks about The Star Prophecy

I am a big fan of writers supporting other writers (I can't even begin to list the folks who have been supportive of my work over the years). I also love to spread the word about a good book. Today I've got a chance to do both, with this guest book review by my pal Diva, about my other pal Ainsley Brook's debut novel.

This one looks like it would appeal to many of the folks who read this blog, so I appreciate both of them allowing me to share this here!  (Don't you love this cover?!) What do you think...are you intrigued?

The Star Prophecy: A Diva Review

THE STAR PROPHECY: Book One of The Daughters of Prophecy
By Ainsley Brooks

The first full-length novel by promising romance author Ainsley Brooks is a strong entry into the epic fantasy sub genre. Brooks' heroine, a reclusive prophetess with magical powers, is an earthier Joan of Arc, herself worthy to be a mother goddess like the one worshipped by the denizens of Talehndor (the kingdom she seeks to save). Aerdrin has a vision of vast trees, a fiery destruction made more hellish by the panicked voices beseeching her for help. Though fearful of the rampant persecution magic wielders like herself face, she ventures from the sanctuary to rescue (!) Throne Prince Alkaidin Thane and his country from disaster.

The real triumph of this book (apart from the romance itself which is both soulful and steamy) lies in the strength of the main character. She is no tough-talking warrior, nor is she a shrinking violet. Though she is delicate and feminine, at every turn Aerdrin proves herself flinty and more than capable of taking care of herself…this is not a romance heroine who needs a rescue. She is, in fact, the savior of the story. Her hero is perhaps even more compelling than she. After spending his youth in exile, Kaid has reclaimed his rightful throne and is willing to marry a laughably horrible woman to secure a valuable alliance. His single-minded focus on restoring order and prosperity to his kingdom nearly gets him killed and he is reluctant to listen to Aerdrin's baneful prophecy regarding his kingdom. She gains his trust and learns the dark secret that he has kept hidden from even his nearest advisors. As he comes to rely on Aerdrin's wisdom and skill, Kaid comes to the painful realization that, while his nasty betrothed may be the perfect match for his throne, his true heart belongs to Aerdrin. 

The fate of the kingdom and indeed of the prince himself rely solely on Aerdrin. Without her, it is easy to believe that Kaid could never have faced the truth about himself and he, as well as his people, would have been lost entirely. Aerdrin is no larger-than-life heroine, though. She is all too human, feeling at times inadequate or fearful and reproaching herself for her growing feelings toward Kaid. As a reader, I felt so strongly that they belonged together that it was painful to see them torn asunder again and again by circumstance. At one point, I truly lost all hope of a happily-ever-after and complained aloud to an empty house that it was UNFAIR for Kaid and Aerdrin to be apart. This is that sort of novel, the kind that draws you in and makes the characters real to the reader. It has all the desire, yearning and sweeping romance in wartime that any Gone with the Wind fan would desire with the escapism and magic of the very best epic fantasies. 

This is that rare book that will appeal to fantasy fans as well as romance lovers looking to be swept away.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Yule Dinner Party and a Very Merry Christmas

I'm getting ready to head into the fray...working the last day of shopping before Christmas. The shop is always hopping, and I go in a little late and then stay until the doors are closed (at about 4:10, when the last bewildered man comes in, looks around, gets a mug, and wanders back out again, muttering about needing to start earlier next year). As with other years, our lovely glass blower Erik works this last shift with me. Since he's a Buddhist and I'm a Pagan, this allows all the Christmas celebrating artists to be home with their families.

Our Yule dinner party was a great success, with much merriment and fabulous food.
 The gang around the table--Blue Moon Circle, family, and friends.
 My favorite kids in the whole world, being adorable as always (Love the bow tie!)
 My other favorite "kids" (three of them, anyway), enjoying the homemade catnip toy one of the guests brought for them.
Last but not least, the also-adorable ornament my lovely agent Elaine sent me. You can't make it out in this picture, but the sign it is holding says: Eat. Sleep. Write another book. Deborah Blake. (Subtle, Elaine, subtle!)

I wish all of you who celebrate a very merry Christmas, and I hope that Santa (or someone equally jolly) brings you your heart's desire.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Happy Winter Solstice!

A very blessed solstice to you all. The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year, with the longest night. We celebrate the return of the sun, which brings with it hope and renewal. May the returning light bring you all you want and need, and fill your days with joy.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Feline Friday: The Snuggle Up Version

It has been pretty cold here, for all that the calendar says winter doesn't start until tomorrow. (Ha!) So there has been a lot of snuggling going on here.
 Here's Samhain sitting on me as I took a bit of down time this weekend between frantic calls for rescheduling at the shop (the winter storm made it impossible for a lot of the artists who live further out to make it in for their shifts, so I had to  people in town who could cover...yes, I DO have a very glamorous job). Those are my legs underneath her :-)
 The three cats who are from the same family, Magic, Mystic, and their mom Minerva, in a rare moment all together. (That's Minerva in the middle--she snuggles with both her kids, but they don't snuggle with each other.)
 Minerva and Mystic late last night, making it look like you're seeing double.
 Two minutes later, when Mystic had clearly gotten tired of posing. (It looks like he is saying, "Stop annoying me and go to bed!")
NOT a cat, but I thought you'd like to see my Solstice altar. The evergreen swag has juniper berries on it (it's a few years old, made by a former artist at the shop, but still smells wonderful!). The fabulous Solstice goddess doll was also made by one of the artists, as were the clear star candle holders. The cute little sheep just wandered in from the cold...

Happy Friday! I hope you're staying warm, wherever you are.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Make the Yuletide Merry

I'm still spending most of my time and energy running The Artisans' Guild during the busy (and this year, snowy) holiday season, but this Saturday I will take a short break to celebrate the Winter Solstice, otherwise known as Yule. Even if you're not a Pagan, you've probably heard of Yule, even if you don't realize it. Just listen to a bunch of Christmas carols, and you'll hear the word Yule, or Yuletide, quite often. That's because  many of the aspects of modern-day Christmas were actually adopted or adapted from the existing holiday of Yule.

Even caroling itself comes from the tradition of "wassailing" (remember the song, "We will go a'wassailing"?). Mind you, wassailing was a bit rowdier--people would go from house to house singing, and being given a neighborly drink of wassail (which means "to your health"), which was usually heavy on the alcohol. In fact, the holiday was so raucous, the Puritans banned it. Party poopers.

For me, one of the great things about Yule is that because so many of the traditions are mirrored by Christmas, even non-Pagans usually feel comfortable celebrating the Winter Solstice. Blue Moon Circle uses this as an excuse to have a party--our annual Yule dinner party, to be exact. This will be our 9th year, I think! Blue Mooners bring family, and we invite some friends along as well. I think this year there will be (gulp) 15 of us around my not-that-big dining room table. Thankfully, everyone brings part of the feast, which makes life easier. We dress up, actually eat around a table together and eat off handmade pottery instead of sitting around the living room with paper plates on our laps, and play a gift-swapping game.

I literally look forward to this one night all year; it truly makes my Yuletide merry!

What are your plans for the holiday? Do you celebrate Christmas, or Yule, or something else? And if you could have Santa or the Holly King bring you ANYTHING, what would it be? (Actual presents, not stuff like world peace, which presumably we'd all wish for.)

I'll try to post some pictures on Sunday or Monday. Now, off to work!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow

Okay, it can stop now.

We got hit by a winter storm this weekend, like much of the rest of the eastern half of the country. not too bad, really, by Oneonta standards: about 11 inches of snow, but most of it fell overnight.

Believe it or not, there was a patio and a driveway under all that. Sometimes I shovel it myself, but it is a long driveway (this is just the back bit, not the part that runs from here down to the road, next to the house), but thankfully I have a Knight in Shining Truck for the big dumps. (I have to pay him, of course, but it's worth it!)
The storm didn't really bother me, other than the fact that I had to spend a lot of time on the phone from Friday night through Sunday morning, rearranging the schedule at The Artisans' Guild to get local folks to cover from those who come from further away, or live on unplowed back roads.

I spend part of the weekend finishing the last of the wrapping, packing of packages, and other gift-giving chores, and on Saturday before the storm hit my friend Ellen came over to watch (or rewatch in my case) the Doctor Who special, and help me put up my few decorations for the Yule season.

I also did some really helpful brainstorming with writing partner Lisa for the Baba Yaga prequel novella I have to start writing yesterday. And of course, there was a certain amount of this. (Those are my legs, underneath book, cat, and fuzzy blankie.)

I usually am so burned out in December, I indulge in rereading a favorite author, instead of trying to digest something new. This season, it is Trisha Ashley, a British romantic comedy author. I have been hoarding her new one, but I think it's up next, since I'm finishing off the last of the older books I own. Samhain doesn't seem to care one way or the other. As far as she's concerned, "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow."

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

How a Book is Made: The Idea

One of the questions authors are asked on a regular basis is this: where do you get your ideas?

After all, that's where a book starts, in that germ of a notion, a fleeting thought, the aha moment that sparks the birth of what will eventually become a finished novel or work of nonfiction. But as any author will tell you, that can be a hard question to answer. The process is usually different for every writer, and sometimes for every book; my ideas have come from dreams, or other books I've read, or something I saw in my daily life, or just one of those lightning flashes out of nowhere.

In the case of the Baba Yaga books, however, I know exactly how the idea came about, and since a number of people have asked me "How did you come to use the Baba Yaga as a character?" I thought I'd explain how--in this particular instance--the book process began.

For the professional author, it isn't always enough to wait for inspiration to strike. Those who write book after book often have to sit down and purposely work at coming up with an idea. In this case, my agent Elaine Spencer and I had sent out a couple of my previous novels to make the rounds of the publishing houses, and gotten back great, very positive responses, but no offers. [This isn't unusual, by the way. For every author you hear about who sells their first book within a week of submission, there are dozens more who submit manuscript after manuscript for years before finally breaking in.]

One of the advantages of having an agent is that she/he has a much better idea of what is happening in the market: which trends are hot, which have peaked, and which are so overdone that no one in publishing wants to look at anything in that genre. A good agent will also be able to pinpoint your strengths as an author, and make helpful suggestions for what to write and what not to write.

Don't get me wrong--the author has to write something she is passionate about, and writing to the trends never works (in part because publishing moves so slowly, the trend that is big today may be over by the time your book is written, and then comes out a couple of years later). But a smart writer will often confer with her agent about what will and won't work.

So Elaine and I had a great phone chat to discuss "what next." She said that she loved my witch characters, and would like to see me do another one that was completely different from any of the ones I'd done before. And we came up with a list of basic concepts that we both liked, including modern renditions of old fairy tales.

After the call, I mulled over the idea of fairy tales. The problem with the common ones was that they've all been written about numerous times. (Often by writers I love, like Robin McKinley and Jim C. Hines.) Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White, Beauty and the Beast...they'd all been done. I needed something different.

Since Elaine and I had talked about witch characters, Baba Yaga popped into my head right away--she's a Russian/Slavic witch who hasn't been used at all, really. (I went online and checked, something I always suggest if you come up with a brilliant idea. You'd be amazed how many times you'll find that dozens of people have come up with the same thing!) And since I come from a Russian Jewish background, I've always had something of a soft spot for her. But she is usually pictured as the "wicked old crone" type of witch, so I wasn't sure if there was a way to modernize her into a kick-ass protagonist.

Then I looked through some of my favorite reference books (which I use both for research and ideas), including a great book by John and Caitlin Matthews called The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures. The Matthews had some interesting things to say about Baba Yaga, including these tidbits: she started out as a elemental goddess, she can sometimes appear as a kindly woman who will help those who can prove they deserve it, she guards the gateway between the everyday world and the mythic Otherworld, and is associated with a dragon named Koshei who takes human shape, and a dragon named Chudo-Yudo who guards the Water of Life and Death.

BOOM! Suddenly the story was exploding in my head. I did lots of research, and took many elements of the original mythology and used them. For instance, Baba Yaga was known for living in a hut that moved around the forest on three huge chicken legs, and she flew through the air in a giant mortar which she steered with a pestle. She was sometimes said to have sisters, also called Babas. So I wrote about three women--all Baba Yagas, and all tasked with keeping the balance of nature, guarding the doorways into the Otherworld, and each traveling in her own fashion with her own Chudo-Yudo as a companion. Throw in some romance, and a few wicked enemies, and suddenly, I had a book series!

Barbara Yager, the Baba Yaga in WICKEDLY DANGEROUS (the first book, coming in September 2014), rides around in an enchanted silver Airstream trailer and rides a classic BMW motorcycle. Her Chudo-Yudo is disguised as a gigantic white pit bull. And she is definitely wickedly dangerous.

You can see that from that one conversation with my agent (who LOVED the idea when I ran it past her, by the way), and some brainstorming and research, I took an old, almost forgotten character and turned her into my Baba Yaga. I look forward to having you all meet her when the book comes out!

Any questions?

Friday, December 6, 2013

Feline Friday!

I apologize for not being around much--this is my busy time, what with the shop, the jewelry making, and everything else. I know you're pining...PINING, I I'll try to get up a real blog post soon. I'm also going to *try* to put up a few of the Spirit & Potential magical necklaces on Etsy this weekend, as some of you requested.

In the meanwhile, here are some cute cat pics to hold you over. For those of you caught in the grips of this winter storm, say safe and warm, please!

 Magic the Cat likes to stay warm by snuggling up with her mother Minerva.
 Samhain stays warm by perching on top of the pellet stove. She spends so much time up there, I bought her a special snuggly seat to go on top. No, my cats are not spoiled--why do you ask?
 I've been wanting to get one of those cool cat trees for ages, and finally was able to order one from my friend Ellen's groomer's catalog (at wholesale cost, which is how I justified it). I tried putting it in a bunch of different places around the living room, and everyone just ignored it. Then I left it right smack in the middle of the room when I went to go answer the phone. Naturally, THAT is the only place Samhain approved of. Not happening, dudette. Also, yes, maybe they are a *little* spoiled.
Angus, checking it out. There might be food hidden inside--you never know.

I hope you have something fun to play with this weekend!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Holy Crap It's December! did it get to be December? Wasn't it just Halloween last week? I am now officially Behind on All The Things.

Well, I'm a little ahead on the Llewellyn book, which is done except for the guest author contributions, and off to my editor for what they call a Vision meeting [which is where they decide A) if it sucks or not and B) then envision how it will end up looking and being marketed--gulp]. But there are all sorts of other writing tasks I should be working on, including follow-up nudges to all the lovely guest authors, and starting to brainstorm the Baba Yaga novella, which is due Jan 15.

But mostly, I am making jewelry to sell at the shop (and maybe put a few pieces up on Etsy, although I'm not sure it is worth the trouble, since I rarely sell anything there). You know--the jewelry I should have FINISHED making weeks ago. Sigh.

On the bright side, we had a reasonably good Black Friday and Small Business Saturday at the shop, and for the moment, it has stopped being Horribly Cold here. And I had a lovely, albeit brief, visit from author pal Nancy Holzner on Sunday, as she passed through town on her way back home from her family's Thanksgiving.

I have a couple of blog posts planned (you know, that I'm also behind on), including one explaining how I came to use the Baba Yaga as a character. Maybe tomorrow, if you're all good.

So, what are you all up to now that it is somehow FREAKING DECEMBER?

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

A very happy Thanksgiving to all my friends, followers, and fans who celebrate. And to my family--Thanksgiving just isn't the same without you. *waves at Mom and Dad*

I am so grateful for all of you.

So big love to y'all from me and the Furball Gang.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Oh Yay, It's a Winter Wonderland

As in, I wonder why I still live in Upstate New York...

This is the view out my back door.
I'll admit, it really is beautiful. The snow is so light and fluffy, it almost looks like someone from Hollywood came by and made it.

Of course, it is also a whole fifteen degrees (f) outside, up from the eight degrees it was when I got up. Brrr....

And they're calling for a winter storm to hit pretty much the entire East Coast Tuesday and Wednesday, bringing with it mixtures of freezing rain, sleet, ice, and snow. Thankfully, I don't have to go more than about ten miles away for Thanksgiving dinner at my pal John's house (and Thursday itself is supposed to be okay), but I have lots of friends who are traveling. I worry.

So if you have travel plans for the holidays, I hope you travel safe, and no matter where you are, I hope you stay warm.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Feline Friday: The Cuteness that is Angus

It's Feline Friday time again! Since last week's FF got combined with some other things, and you only got one cute kitty picture, I'm going to make up for that this week by overwhelming you with the insanely over-the-top cuteness that is Angus Mac.

All my cats are cute, of course (at least when they're not destroying things or trying to beat the crap out of me, or stealing my food...). But Angus is just adorable. In fact, I am pretty sure he is sneaking adorable pills for breakfast when I'm not looking.

Don't believe me? This was one morning last weekend.

Samhain was not impressed, but he kept me entertained for about a half an hour. (He doesn't usually stay in one place that long...Angus has a very short attention span.)

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend! Happy Friday.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Few Cool Things and Switching Gears

Sorry I haven't been around much--I've been working overtime on the newest Llewellyn book (Lessons from the Pagan Path...which isn't going to be called that when it comes out). I'll explain why in a minute.

In the  meanwhile, two Very Cool things happened this week. I had a great back-and-forth email discussion with  my fabulous Berkley editor, Leis, and we've figured out the back cover copy and a tagline for Wickedly Dangerous, the first Baba Yaga book. (The tagline will probably be used for the second book too.)

What do you think of this?
"Who says wicked can't be good?" 

In other news, book sales (contracts) are announced on a website called Publisher's Marketplace, which is viewed by all sorts of publishing professionals. The announcements themselves often come out some time after the initial contract, due to delays in writing up contracts, etc. But it is always kind of a heart-fluttery moment to see your name up their all official like.

Someone on Twitter commented that she'd seen my announcement, and sent her congratulations. So I asked Elaine, my lovely agent, to grab a screen shot of it for me (since I don't subscribe to the paid full version, which lists all the sales, just an abbreviated "important publishing news" version). This is what she sent me:
 How cool is that??? It's almost as though I was an honest-to-goddess professional author :-)

Anyway, back here in the not quite as cool real world, the holiday season is rapidly approaching. This means two things to me--the shop is going to get busier, and I need to get my arse in gear and make some jewelry to sell!

So I've been working extra hard on the Llewellyn book, to get it done (except for some guest author contributions, which I'll tell you about another time, if you're interested). It has actually come along nicely, and I hope to be finished by the end of this week! And then, jewelry, jewelry, jewelry!

What did you think of the tagline? I was going for something you think I nailed it, or did I miss the mark?

And which kinds of gemstones are your favorites to wear as necklaces or earrings? Inquiring minds want to know...

Oh, and someone on Facebook asked me the other day how I came up with the idea for using Baba Yaga in a book series. Is that something other people would want to know the answer to?