Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Summer Wrap-Up

Freshly-picked berries from my garden.

I had plans for this summer. Big plans.

My daughter was going away for six weeks (art camp), and I was going to finish my novel.

Suuuuuuuuuuure.

So, that didn't happen.

Things did not go exactly as planned.

After dealing with concerns about my mother's health this past year, my family decided to move her into an assisted living home in Providence. She had spent her entire life in Pittsburgh, PA, so this was a monumental project. 

Moving my mom was at times exciting, stressful, overwhelming, emotional, frustrating, and finally a relief. She is safely ensconced in a lovely (and lively) spot, near to us, and we've been able to see her much more frequently, which is one of the bright spots of this move.

My mom and my son, Cristian

Adding to my stress pile was a troubling doctor appointment that forced me to deal--aggressively--with a worrying diabetes problem. My numbers were getting worse, not better. So, I started a very strict diet/exercise plan, and it worked. I have lost eighteen pounds since July 1, and my blood sugar is way down. I feel much better and will continue to work on healthy eating habits.

Homemade hummus and veggies

Needless to say, I did not finish my novel.

I did not start my novel.

I didn't write one single word this summer, and that's okay.

My mom is safe and sound. My health is on the upswing.

I spent a lot of time in the garden, which was good for body, mind, and soul...

Goodies from my garden

My son completed an on-line class at home, my daughter had a wonderful experience at RISD, and my husband finally got to Canada for his yearly fishing trip.


Did he have fun? Yes.

We are now about to launch both kids into their junior years--Cristian is going to Budapest for a college semester, and Hazel is gearing up for volleyball season in high school.

I am finally able to start thinking about writing projects and workshops. Coming up this fall...


1. I will be attending the NJRWA conference in October and co-presenting a workshop with the uber-talented Rosie Genova. We are giving a talk called HOT MAMAS, SILVER VIXENS, AND GROOVY GRANNIES: WRITING THE OLDER HEROINE. I will also be participating in the book fair on Saturday, Oct. 19, from 4:30-6 pm. I hope to see some of you there!

2. I have re-worked the concept for my YA Christmas series that is a spin-off of the KLAUS BROTHERS SERIES. I decided to turn it into a YA paranormal mystery series called THE KLAUS COUSINS CAPERS.


More information and a sneak peek coming this fall!

I hope all of you had a restful, inspiring, and adventure-filled summer. And, even if things didn't go as planned, it's time to forge ahead in September.

HALLOWEEN IS COMING SOON! Woo hoo!

Love and good wishes to all,

Nina/Penny


Monday, July 15, 2019

"SCARE ME IN THE SUMMER" Reviews from Watsonville


Who likes to be scared over the summer?

Also, fall? And winter...

ALL THE TIME!

*raises hand*

I have three reviews coming up today. One is for a fabulous Gothic story by Laura K. Curtis (coming in October, just in time for Halloween). One is for the third season of Stranger Things. And one is for the Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House.

A DARKER SHADE

STRANGER THINGS SEASON 3

THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE

Two of these things were super scary. 

One was not. 

Let me know if you agree!



1. A DARKER SHADE by Laura K. Curtis

As you all know, I love scary stuff, especially atmospheric Gothic tales.

Throw in a haunted house with secrets aplenty, and I'm totally in love.

I was lucky enough to read an advanced copy of A DARKER SHADEThis wonderful story by Curtis hits all of my high points...excellent writing, suspenseful mystery, super creepy paranormal elements, a bit of romance, an intriguing family, and a heroine filled with grit and determination.

I love the isolated Maine setting, including a brutal winter that any New Englander knows all too well. A DARKER SHADE is a haunted house story in the best possible way for horror fans...filled with many secrets and an unfolding family history that is both tragic and horrifying. Eerie dreams, unexplained accidents, chilling visions, and unseen forces are driving the events at Rook's Rest.

Molly Allworth--with a Romani heritage and plenty of common sense--is the perfect protagonist. She is determined to protect the Prescott family she cares for, regardless of real or imagined threats.

Curtis has created a remarkable Gothic with this book, and I hope she will follow it up with many more.

Highly recommended. Available for sale Oct. 1. Available now for pre-order.

Grade: A

Is it scary? HELL YEAH!


2. THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE on Netflix.


WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!

This came highly recommended by multiple people. It took me a while to carve out time for a binge-watch, but I'm happy I saved it for a summer project.

The single season on Netflix includes ten episodes that jump back and forth from the past to current times, and follow the Crain family--parents and five children--as they navigate life in the presence of...

...what? Mental illness? Evil spirits? Ghosts who can't let go?

I sometimes find time jumps irritating and unnecessary, but I must say this was extremely well-done. The poor children who are traumatized by this haunted house carry their memories (and the consequences) into adulthood in a believable and terrifying way.

And when I say terrifying, I mean TERRIFYING! I had to turn off the TV a couple of times because I was scared out of my mind. That's an embarrassing admission for a horror genre-lover, but this show crushed it.

The acting was superb, including Timothy Hutton, Carla Gugino, Henry Thomas, Annabeth Gish, and a cast of amazing child actors who impressed the hell out of me.

The build-up of suspense and horror was as well-done as I've ever seen on film. Walking slowly down a dark hall--which is now the most obvious horror element--was fresh and new and jump-worthy. (Yeah, I jumped out of my seat.)

The ghosts were horrifying, the monsters were horrifying. 

This series was horrifying. *huddles in corner*

I also loved the complex and believable family dynamics going on, and the resolution which included love and family loyalty.

There were a couple of spots that needed a bit of editing--some dialogue that went on too long, some scenes that could have been somewhat abbreviated. But overall, I found this totally engaging and effective.

Highly recommend. 

Grade: A

Was it scary? Gulp. *whispers yes, don't talk too loud or you'll disturb the ghosts!*




3. Stranger Things Season 3 on Netflix

**WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD, DON'T READ THIS IF YOU HAVEN'T WATCHED THE SHOW YET!**

I have very mixed feelings about this. Troubling feelings. I hate to even bring this up, because I love quirky stuff. 

Love love love the quirk.

Wes Anderson. Buffy's unexpected musical. Shaun of the Dead. Mixing horror and humor together is usually my thing.

However, it needs to blend and not be choppy. And yeah, I get it. That's a challenge. 

Also a challenge is weaving together multiple storylines and making it all work.

So, true confession time.

I actually did not like the first six episodes of Stranger Things Season 3. Episode seven was getting better, and the final episode was fantastic.

Was it enough to make it worth watching the whole season?

Probably...yeah. I'm a Super Fan and that made it worthwhile.

Nevertheless, there were some major fails at the beginning. So, here it goes...

1. THE MONSTER WASN'T SCARY

I know. It's hard to make a scary monster. Even with excellent special effects. But Seasons 1 and 2 did an extremely good job by building up the fear, anticipation, growing apprehension of the unknown.

The monster in season three looked like a big steaming pile of uncooked hamburger meat.

Just...no. Totally didn't do it for me at all.

Was it gross? Yeah, sort of. Was it scary? No, not really. Ugh.


2. THE MALL WASN'T SCARY

In Seasons 1 and 2, the setting (The Upside Down) was freakin' terrifying. But Season 3 did not capture that terror. The mall...no. The underground facility...no. The hospital scene was scary, but nothing compares to the The Upside Down.

Could you make a mall scene scary? Yes, you could. There are ways to juxtapose quirky, creepy mall images with a monster. But this show did not do that.

Mall Setting: FAIL.

3. WHO THE HELL WAS HOPPER?

Hopper used to be serious, somber, tortured. So very tortured.

He was a big goof-ball in this season. WHAT THE HECK IS UP WITH THAT? Goofy with Elle--I get it, adding humor into the teen-parent relationship. But the fear about her safety which was a huge part of the past seasons was totally gone.

Also, the ridiculous scene in the restaurant waiting for Winona Ryder to show up?

WHO IS THIS GOOFBALL? Ugh. 

Redeeming Hopper scene: The final episode. Damn. 



4. PACING TOO SLOW

First six episodes dragged.


5. THE QUIRKY STUFF WAS FUNNY, BUT IT MADE THE SHOW FUNNY NOT SCARY

I love quirky. You know I do. But Stranger Things is supposed to be a horror/sci-fi show.

Too many tongue-in-cheek jokes, musical moments, and quirky banter turned this season into Quirky-ville and not Scare-the-bejimminies-out-of-me-ville.

Not a good balance of horror and humor. Too much kooky stuff. (I can't believe I just said that).

6. DIDN'T FEEL PARANORMAL OR CREEPY. NOT ENOUGH SCIFI.

Related to #5. This hardly felt like a sci-fi show at all. Totally disappointing for me.

7. ELLE WAS A NO-SHOW

Elle spent most of her time making out with her boyfriend and having a completely freakin' ridiculous "Cinderella-Makeover Scene" in the mall.

OH MY GOD!

I wasn't sure if this was Stranger Things or a dumb teen movie. Sob.

I WANT BAD-ASS ELLE BACK, PLEASE!


Now for the good stuff! 

1. STEVE

Steve is the best. His character was one of the bright shining spots of this season. He has grown so much, still filled with teen vulnerability and confusion, but also courageous and loyal.

LOVE HIM SO MUCH!

And he and Robin and Erica were absolutely the strongest part of this show. Sheer perfection. The perfect balance of bad-assery and humor. Well done.

2. ROBIN, THE ICE CREAM GIRL

Robin, Steve's new sidekick at the ice cream shop--who just happens to be actress Maya Hawke, daughter of Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke--was flat-out phenomenal. Amazing acting, perfect complement to Steve and Erica. Complex character filled with surprises.

Also, BAD-ASS and SMART. She took over the part that Elle used to have.

LOVE ROBIN!

3. ERICA--"YOU CAN'T SPELL AMERICA WITHOUT ERICA"

Where the heck did she come from? Why haven't they used her character in previous seasons?

She was the bomb! Wicked snarky, smart, funny. So much sass. Hot diggity damn.

LOVE ERICA!


4. MURRAY AND ALEXEI

Best chemistry on the show, hands-down, was this bromance between Murray and Alexei. They stole every scene they had together.

I was not happy about the sad ending for Alexei.

Also, Murray had my favorite quote for the season...

"I hate children." Hee hee!


5. THE FINAL EPISODE

I got chills and bawled my eyes out. The scene where Elle is reading the letter from Hopper was one of the best TV scenes ever. So heart-felt and emotional and tragic. Insanely good. This single scene made the whole season worth watching.


A few final thoughts...

The Nancy and Jonathan scenes were pretty much throw-aways.

Billy was the scariest part of the show. Scarier than the monster. And I loved his redemption scene at the end. That was well-done.

The eye-rolling scene where Dustin and his girlfriend sing the "Neverending Story" was quirky and weird and sort of cute, but also way too long and a huge disruption. I'm not on board with ST turning into a quirky hot mess instead of scary-as-hell scifi horror.

Overall feelings about ST3...it had a split personality, and it showed. Couldn't decide what it was trying to do. I hope ST4 gets back to basics...science fiction/paranormal horror.

Leave the musical numbers to Buffy.

Also, please for the love of God--no more Cinderella teenage makeover scenes.

STRANGER THINGS 3: Was it scary?

No, not really. Bits and pieces were scary, but overall it did not capture the terror of the previous two seasons. 


That's it!

Hope all of you are having a scary summer.

Let me know your thoughts about Stranger Things, The Haunting of Hill House, and A Darker Shade. Let's chat!

Love,

Nina/Penny


Tuesday, April 30, 2019

A Different Way of Looking at Creativity


I've noticed that as the trend in publishing leans more and more towards speed, productivity, marketing, sales, bestseller lists, and social media followers, authors seem to be more anxious.

Less satisfied with their writing careers.

Constantly comparing themselves to others and finding a perceived failure.

Unhappy.

Is there an alternative? Sure. Here's another way to approach writing, or really any creative project. A more mindful way that may offer less stress for those folks who are struggling with the publishing industry right now.

One of the benefits of this type of mindful approach is that it "fills the well" not only for mental well-being and happiness, but also the well of creative inspiration.

I've noticed the term "muse" is mocked these days.

I don't mock it.

I like it.

There is nothing wrong with looking for inspiration.

There is nothing wrong with finding the spark that ignites your creativity.

I hear this a lot..."How do you get your story ideas? I am running out of ideas."

I honestly have so many ideas that I couldn't possibly write all the books I want to in this lifetime.

How do I get so many ideas?

Fill the well.

What does this mean?

If you isolate yourself and focus only on word counts and publication dates, you are shutting yourself off to myriad experiences that shape who you are and the quality of your life.

The "richer" your experiences, the more you have to say, write about, create. This is true of all art: photography, painting, film, sculpture, novels, poetry, etc.

Let's break this down into four components...

1. Explore

2. Engage

3. Absorb

4. Create


#1 is EXPLORE. This can include "active" experiences like travel, taking classes, trying new sports and activities. You can do these things alone or with friends. 

Examples: Big trips like Iceland and Europe, small trips like Audubon parks or a local zoo. Classes could include a cooking class for Italian food, glass-blowing, or even a writing class for a new genre. How about trying karate or yoga? Maybe wine-tasting, wine-making, wines of the world. (You can't go wrong with wine!)

Exploring can also be "non-active" like reading/research/education. Go to the library, do research at a museum, teach yourself a new language or a bit of history. 

You never know what new experience will make your brain hum with story ideas.


#2 is ENGAGE. This is all about interacting with other people and your environment. Instead of isolating yourself, reach out. Join communities. Learn from others. Make friends with people outside your normal friend group.

Get uncomfortable. Yes, UNcomfortable. Why? Because hanging out with the same group of people is safe, but sometimes stifling. Push yourself to engage with new folks.

Engage with your environment, too. Touch, smell, taste, explore. Look at the world around you. Really look, investigate. All of these sights and sounds are stimulating. They will stimulate new ideas for your writing, your art, and most importantly, for your happiness.


#3 is ABSORB. What does this mean? Take the time to think about your new experiences, conversations with people, travel adventures. Keep a journal. What things did you like, what things did you dislike?

Spend time contemplating what is going on in the world around you. Take photos, jot down impressions.

Pretty soon dialogue will start popping into your head. Characters. Stories. 

Let your mind drift and absorb all the new things going on in your life. 


#4 is CREATE. After you explore, engage, and absorb, you are ready to create.

Anything.

Everything.

Knit. Garden. Make jewelry. Take photos. Paint. Write. Cook. 

Once you fill the well, your muse will kick in. You'll see things in a new way, maybe have that necessary break-through with your current work-in-progress. 

Maybe come up with a totally new idea that never occurred to you.


I know people who think "doing non-writing things" is wasting time. They are either "writing" or "wasting time."

How can you write effectively, to the very best of your ability, if you shut yourself off to life?

Your writing will shine when you take the time to live a little bit. Or a lot a bit.

Will you make a million dollars or be number one on a bestseller list?

I don't know. Maybe. Maybe not.

But I do know that your anxiety will decrease, your happiness will expand, and your writing will improve.

It's not a bad goal.

Signing off,

Nina

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Making Botanical Dyes



I finally got to a project I've been wanting to try for about fifteen years!

I created home-made botanical dyes for my Easter eggs.

I used a cold dye process (hard boil eggs first, make dyes and cool them, then add eggs to dye jars with a bit of vinegar, soak for an hour).


Hard boil 3 dozen eggs

Assemble materials, including white vinegar, frozen blueberries, paprika, turmeric, grape juice, cabbage, beets, parsley, onions...and I added spinach and coffee at the last minute.


Start cooking! Throw chopped materials into a pot with 4 cups water. I used 3 tablespoons of the spices. Simmer for 30 minutes.

Yellow onion, paprika, grape juice, blueberries.

Cabbage, beets, turmeric, parsley.

After simmering for 30 minutes, allow the dyes to cool, and then strain them into mason jars. When you're ready to dye the eggs, add a couple teaspoons of white vinegar to the dye cups/jars.

Mad Scientists!

I let the eggs soak for 30-60 minutes, and then spread them out on a paper towel to dry. They dried overnight, and some of the colors faded a bit. The cold dye process gets some cool speckled textures and variations in color.

The only failure was green. I added spinach to the parsley pot, but I still did not get a lot of pigment in the solution. Not sure why. Maybe I needed more than two bunches of parsley! I added a drop of food coloring to the green to perk it up (yeah, I know, that's cheating! Hee hee.)

The yellow onion skins made a fabulous super rich orange color, and the cabbage made a gorgeous blue that got deeper if you extended the dye time. Those were my favorites.



Finished products look amazing!







This was a super fun project, and I will definitely try it again next year, maybe with different materials.

HAPPY SPRING!

Love, Nina/Penny

Sunday, April 14, 2019

POEM: It's good till it's not



It's good till it's not


Take your coat off

Stay a while

The sofa's new, orange twill with flecks of green

Settle on the cushion,

Still plump and firm and willing to

Prop you up

Stay a while

Coffee's brewing

Bubblin' in the percolator

TV's black and white

You get so comfy

Up and down

For a snack

A drink

A potty break

A phone call

A neighbor looking for sugar

A neighbor looking for Sugar, Sugar

A tiny dent appears in the sofa

Just the size of your derriere

Sitting there

Still plump and firm and willing to

Prop you up

Until it's not

Sinking in

A coil escapes

The fabric rips and now that

Pretty orange cushion is tufts of shredded foam

Doesn't smell so good

Maybe like a coffee spill?

Deeper, deeper,

No sugar's gonna fix this hole

Snack is moldy

Drink burns going down

Potty is cracked

Phone's obsolete

Neighbor died last year

And the sofa

The sofa

Hurts to sit

Put your coat back on

Open the door

Funny, the view looks different

I don't remember the flames.



© 2019 Nina Roth Borromeo

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Jumping From Hearts to Horror


After many years of writing romance, I am now in the midst of creating a horror novella.

Is this a weird switch?

It might seem that way. Jumping from hearts and happy-ever-afters to horrifying creatures, death, and destruction, might make some folks scratch their heads and say, "What the hell?"

But for me, it's not that odd. I have always enjoyed a weird--dare I say quirky--bunch of interests. 

Botany, horror movies, puppies, science, art, comedy, nature, sci-fi, and the list goes on. Some of the things are cute and cuddly, and some of the things involve exploding zombie heads.

You get my drift.

My love affair with horror has been going on since childhood. Started with JAWS and Stephen King, and it just kept growing. I especially love sci-fi-horror (ALIENS is a favorite) and horror/comedy (think SHAUN OF THE DEAD).

Anyhow, I am finding the switch from Hearts to Horror wonderfully challenging as a writer.

Stuff you need to think about with romance...

1. Main purpose is creating a satisfying romance/love story. May include sex or not.

2. Character-driven stories are best. Readers will forgive a story that really has no plot if the characters are fabulous, but they will not forgive a plot-driven novel with flat/underdeveloped characters. Characters make the romance.

3. The relationship between hero/heroine drives the book. Pulling them apart, pushing them back together. This guides the story.

4. Book must end with satisfying resolution to relationship conflict, and a HEA (happy ever after). Happy ending, for those of you not up on the romance lingo.

5. Characters need to be likable or at least redeemable by the end. 

Different things to accomplish with a horror story...

1. Book can be character-driven or plot-driven, or some combination of both. I personally believe creating very strong, well-developed characters strengthens your story no matter what genre you are writing.

2. Need some mystery, unknown, question mark. In other words, WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE?

3. Suspense is critical. Author has to build suspense over the course of the book. Can be a slow build-up, or come in fits-and-starts. Whatever. Must be there.

4. Horror is critical. Can be subtle, or bash-you-over-the-head shocking.

5. Ending does not necessarily need a well-defined resolution. Could be vague, open-ended. Could be all wrapped up. Might be shocking. No matter what, the novel still needs to be engaging and satisfying as a horror story. 

My favorite part of switching from romance to horror, as I discussed in this blog post, is the freedom to create warty characters. They don't need to be perfect. They can be cruel and vindictive and really awful people. And let's face it, after years of creating "nice guys" it's pretty fun to make a warty character pop off the page.

I have always loved creating an alternate, paranormal universe (see my Klaus Brothers Series). It's so much fun to stretch your imagination and creativity with other worlds. With horror, I can continue to do this, just with more gruesome outcomes. *insert evil laugh*

Will I ever write love stories again? Sure. I have a lot of up-coming options on my current "writing menu" including YA fantasy, paranormal fiction, love stories, etc.

But for now I am digging into a bit of the macabre. Maybe it's a better fit for my current emotional state? Or the state of the world? Or maybe I just love Halloween? Whatever the reason, LITTLE SHADOW MAN is floating my horror boat right now.

For a sneak peek of LITTLE SHADOW MAN, check out this post.

Happy and Horrible Writing to all!

Nina

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: Women Who Shine


Introducing a new event...

WOMEN WHO SHINE: 
A CELEBRATION OF MATURE WOMEN

How do you feel about aging?

Are you celebrating your maturity, growth, wisdom?

Are you struggling? With menopause, aging parents, empty nest syndrome, reinvention?

How do you feel about yourself? Beautiful, strong? Vulnerable? Anxious?

Who are role models for women aging gracefully? Who are fierce and inspiring?

How do others treat you as you age? Are you invisible?

Are your goals, talents changing? How do you feel about this?

Do you welcome the next phase of your life, or are you pining for lost years?

There are so many wonderful facets to explore about women and aging. The good, the bad, the difficult, and perhaps some unexpected and marvelous things as well.

Ideas for submissions:

Essays
✵ Poetry
✵ Art
✵ Photos
✵ Short Fiction
✵ Articles about films, books, art, etc.
Reviews for books, movies, apps, etc.
Interview friends
Articles about health
✵ Anything goes! 

Think outside of the box and be creative.

I've been percolating about ideas for this event (on-line, via websites/social media, etc).

Some options:

One-day celebration with multiple posts. The posts could be collected on one website, or we could cross-post on multiple websites all day long. I would have a master list here with links.

We could also do a week-long celebration, depending on number of submissions.

Each post will be followed by a short bio and professional links, so contributors can promote themselves as well as celebrate women who shine.


SEND ALL SUBMISSIONS/QUERIES TO...

Penny Watson

Please use the heading SUBMISSION SHINE

Deadline for submissions: April 17

Please leave any questions/suggestions in the comments section, or feel free to email me at the above address with the heading SUBMISSION SHINE.

See more information and links here.

Let's do this!

Nina/Penny