Thursday, 23 December 2010

Novel Spaces: Christmas books: A list

Novel Spaces: Christmas books: A list: "The end of the year is list season, especially in the world of books. What better reason is there to come up with my very own list of 10 books with Christmas themes..."

You're invited to join me on the NOVEL SPACES author blog as I show off my very own list of Christmas-themed books! Inspiration, romance, humour, fantasy, mystery, satire, poetry or classic fare with a Christmas theme - whatever you're after, Liane's got the book for you!

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Novel Spaces: Writers I Owe

"Novel Spaces: Writers I Owe: "KeVin's post Writers of Influence got me thinking. It's difficult to pinpoint writers who have directly influenced my writing; over a lifetime..."

You're invited to join me on Novel Spaces as I pay tribute to the writers who influenced me the most!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Novel Spaces: More Darned Publishing Myths

Novel Spaces: More Darned Publishing Myths:
One month ago I wrote about Those Darned Publishing Myths. Today we'll examine four more of the publishing version of midwives' tales that can mislead writers in their quest for publishing success. You're welcome to join me there!

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Reading right now: health & beauty, boudoir insights, writers' spaces and Beelzebub's handbook

There isn't a single novel in the stacks of books on and beside my bed at the moment. The thing about reading non-fiction is that I can read several books at the same time - unlike novels where I get so engrossed in a story I can focus on nothing else until I get to the end of it. I'm enjoying this desultory approach to reading for a change; it leaves me space to ponder and assimilate, especially at a time when RL is demanding much of me attention-wise.

Aveda Rituals: A Daily Guide to Natural Health and Beauty by Horst Rechelbacher

Mr. Rechelbacher is the founder of Aveda, a line of cosmetics that maximizes the use of natural ingredients as well as the Ayurvedic principles of health and well being. Over the years I've increasingly incorporated a holistic, natural approach to all areas of my life. My way, however, has been undisciplined, unstructured, uncommitted and downright capricious.

Aveda Rituals
presents a harmonious approach to personal care, with practical applications, explanations of the Ayurvedic philosophy behind the recommended practices, and lots of information on the various systems on which it draws: aromatherapy, the chakras, natural balance, cleansing and restorative rituals, herbal healing, yoga practice, organic diet, and much, much more.

What this book does not do is push the writer's products at you, although he does explore the philosophy behind his work and shares his personal voyage. It does not tell you what you must do, or eat, or buy, but encourages you to find what works for you so you make nurturing, healthy choices not only with regard to enhancing your natural beauty, but in every facet of your life, choices that are good for you, for those around you, and for the planet.

Victoria Magazine's Bedrooms: Private Worlds and Places to Dream

My bedroom isn't just the place where I go to sleep: this tiny space functions as my writing room, reading room, music room, private movie theatre, gym, zendo, meeting/chatting place for my RL and cyber- friends, dream space, boudoir and sanctuary. I'm constantly seeking ways to make it as easy on the eyes and as comforting to the body and spirit as it can possibly be.

There's nothing earth-shattering by way of bedroom design elements in Bedrooms: Private Worlds and Places to Dream, and that's not what I'm looking for. What I seek, and what I find in this lovely coffee table quality volume are lots of photos of beautiful dream-spaces with short, poetically written descriptive notes that put me in a calm zone and feed my thirst for aesthetic harmony. It stimulates me to be mindful of the value of enhancing the beauty of my own space via sensual elements that appeal to me: scents, textures, forms, colours, sounds, and yes, taste as well. This is not indulgence: it's spiritual necessity.

A Writer's Space by Eric Maisel

This book was recommended by fellow Novel Spaces author Shauna Roberts. My own space is always evolving as I journey from not having a dedicated writing station and using my bed, the floor and the dining room table, utilizing tools that encompassed a biro and stacks of legal notebooks, a Brother electronic word processor, and various second-hand, quirky PCs, to my current writing nook next to my bed complete with desk, new laptop, cork board and some sweet little speakers to replace the squeaky laptop-issue variety.

I'm not very far into A Writer's Space but what I'm liking already is that Maisel does not address just the physical space but also the psychic as he guides you into enhancing your own creative process by devising writing rituals to get you started and keep you going, optimizing the time you spend writing, and designing a schedule that you can follow no matter what.

The Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce

This is not a book you can sit and read from cover to cover despite its lack of girth; you take it in delightfully piquant little bites, maybe the 'E' entries today, the 'W' lot two weeks down the line. The Devil's Dictionary began in 1881 as a weekly article in a San Francisco paper. Bierce's searing wit and bruisingly satirical commentary on people, life and society ('life, the universe and everything' for you Douglas Adams fans out there), is uncannily relevant to today and not at all dated as one might expect.

I'd never heard of Ambrose Bierce (1842 - circa 1913?) before my friend D gave me this book for my birthday, but researching his biography turned up some fascinating information. According to Wiki, he was an American editorialist, journalist, short story writer, fabulist and satirist, best known for his short story An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge and his satirical lexicon, The Devil's Dictionary. His motto 'nothing matters' earned him the nickname 'Bitter Bierce'. Despite his satirical, critical approach to everything, he had a reputation for encouraging young writers and became something of a cult figure.

His story ends on a dramatic note befitting of such an interesting writer. In 1913 Bierce traveled to Mexico to investigate firsthand the revolution in which that country was embroiled. While traveling with rebel troops he disappeared without a trace. He was 71 at the time.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Novel Spaces: Blogging: Dead or alive?

Novel Spaces: Blogging: Dead or alive?: "When I got hooked on the blogging phenomenon back in 2005, this new (to me) toy was the smartest, hippest, most exciting thing around. Over ..."

Today on Novel Spaces I'm wondering whether the blogging phenomenon is on its way out. You're welcome to join me - and don't forget to share your opinion on this issue by taking the poll!

Monday, 25 October 2010

Chimamanda Adicie: The danger of a single story

Chimamanda Adicie is the author of Purple Hibiscus (2003) which was shortlisted for the Orange Fiction Prize (2004) and was awarded the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book (2005). Her second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun (2006) is set before and during the Biafran War. Her collection of short stories, The Thing around Your Neck, was published in 2009.

In the clip below she discusses the danger of viewing a culture through the lens of a single story.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Novel Spaces: Those darned publishing myths

Novel Spaces: Those darned publishing myths: "We've all read them, and we start out with loads of misconceptions on account of them. How do we separate the industry wisdom from the urban..."

You've invited to join me on Novel Spaces today as we go about shooting down those urban myths of publishing!

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Paper good, Kindle bad?


Yes, I've absconded to the dark side: I've begun buying e-books on Kindle on the sly. You're invited to join me as I discuss my defection on Novel Spaces today.

The Dark Side

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Bachac attack

Photo courtesy Santiwah blog

Anyone who's been reading this blog for a while knows that I live in a forested valley teeming with wildlife that often gets much too close for comfort. Vipers, hairy spiders the size of dessert plates, centipedes, bats, foul-mouthed frogs, quarrelsome manicou families - we live intimately will them all. I've never mentioned bachacs, though, because they've never posed a problem.

I like walking outside at night, and sometimes I open the front gate and stroll in the street for awhile, enjoying my favorite time of the day. It's a quiet street but I don't go very far, just to the end of our wall and back. About a month ago, as I strolled along the grass verge, I saw something strange: a dark, foot-wide swath stretching across the paving. Closer inspection revealed it to be thousands upon thousands of bachacs going about their business.

The bachac is Trinidad's leaf cutter ant. It's about half inch long, medium brown, with a hard body and mandibles that can give you a painful pinch but not take the piece of flesh off like its cousin the tac-tac. Bachacs are a common sight, bustling along in single file, each carrying a shorn piece of leaf back to the underground colony where they grow their fungus gardens. Never, ever, have I seen anything approaching the numbers of them that I saw crossing the street that night, those going away from our wall carrying their cut leaf sections on high, those going toward the wall carrying no load. My eyes swept the wall. There they were, a wide band of them, moving up the wall like a dark insect wave and disappearing down the other side into in our yard.

Photo courtesy Maniac Muslim forum

There's something very unsettling about the sight of millions of insects, apparently moving with one mind, coming at you. When we lived higher up the valley, a four-inch wide column of large jungle ants marched down the mountain, crossed the neighbour's lawn, entered our yard through the chain link fence and began to swarm the laundry room which was separated from the house by a narrow passageway. It took a lot of wild scrunching of ants and dispersal of cans of insecticide before they got the idea that they weren't welcome. Watching this bachac invasion didn't come close to that hysterical experience, but it was still somewhat unnerving.

I couldn't imagine which plant they were decimating but I wasn't left in suspense for long. Over the next week or so we noticed that a line of variegated crotons planted on the inside of the wall was beginning to look a bit sparse. Days later, they were naked twiggy sticks shorn of every leaf. That was when my mother took herself off to the garden store and brought home a small plastic bag of bachac bait. She scattered it around the base of the wall. The next night the bachacs were still there, crossing the road in a thick swath. When I checked on the second night there wasn't a single bachac to be seen. The poison had done its work.

As always, when we tamper with nature I feel a twinge of conscience. I even feel it when I kill poisonous snakes in the yard. But it had to be done. My mother's vegetable garden has been devastated by the heavy rains; now that we're entering the petit carême, the short dry season in the middle of the rainy half of the year, she's putting her yard back into gear: ochroes, dasheen, sweet potatoes, patchoi, peppers, lettuce and tomatoes are all going into the dirt. With food prices going through the roof right now there's no way she'll allow the bachacs to reap what she's busy sowing every day, pottering around in her big ridiculous straw hat, holey jeans and the bright green Crocs I got her in the hope that she'd stop ruining all her good shoes in the yard.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The DON'Ts

Two weeks ago I discussed the things readers can do to help their favourite starving authors. Today I'm across on Novel Spaces again looking at the stuff readers should not do:

How To Help A Starving Author Part 2: The DON'Ts

Monday, 23 August 2010

Novel Spaces: How to help a starving author

Novel Spaces: How to help a starving author: "Writers don't make a lot of money. Debbie MacComber, Sue Grafton and John Grisham are the exceptions; the truth is that it's difficult for midlist authors to make a living from writing - and it's getting harder all the time...."

Come join me on Novel Spaces today to find out what you can do to help your favourite authors - apart from buying their books, that is!

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Getting the sex right

When does romance become erotica, and erotica become pornography? How graphic should the sex in romance novels get? And is it even necessary?

You're invited to join me as I ponder these questions in The Sex Thing on Novel Spaces today.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Where do writers get their ideas?

From the compost heap, of course. Come join me as I blog over at Novel Spaces today on the source of writers' inspiration.

The Raw Material

Saturday, 10 July 2010

...and the Versatile Blogger award goes to...

Me! The lovely K.S. Augustin who blogs at Fusion Despatches around the corner in Malaysia has given me this fetching thing:
Thank you, Kaz! I'm supposed to pass this award (I do love green!) along to fifteen deserving bloggers (eek!) and tell you seven things about myself that you never knew. I'm beginning to feel like Oprah: everything about me is out there already! I exaggerate, I exaggerate. There's a lot you don't know, such as:

1. In my youth I was often asked why I didn't model. Flattering, but the mere thought of strutting my stuff on a catwalk would turn me catatonic.

2. People who don't know me well get the impression that I'm 'quiet'. Every time my son hears this he all but rolls on the floor. I keep my wild side carefully camouflaged from all but my near and dear.

3. I'm a brand new grandma, and my grandson Ryen is gorgeous!

4. I used to play the piano, like my friend Kaz. She also played the flute, though, so she's far more versatile than I am.

5. I'm a crack shot, but not as good as the cousin (a former soldier who won the prize for best shot in his batch) who took me to the range and put a sweet little Glock in my hands. My bullets go through the bullseye 9 out of 10 times and the tenth hits really close. It runs in the family: my father won the silver spoon for best shot when he graduated from the police academy.

6. I'm that weird contradiction: a cynic about marriage and a die-hard romantic who loves it when couples, married or not, get it right.

7. I enjoy all kinds of music and my collection is fairly eclectic, but I find myself playing classic rock songs most often.

There you have it! Now to pass along this award... Fifteen? Hm, no. I'll spare everyone but Chris Stovell over at Home Thoughts Weekly whose debut novel, Turning the Tide, is a brand new release from Choc Lit. Congratulations, Chris! Wishing you and TTT an illustrious journey!

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Inspiration from nature

I'm across at the Novel Spaces author blog today. Does being surrounded by nature take you into 'the zone'? It certainly does it for me!

Natural Inspiration

Friday, 25 June 2010

Burglars & snakes. There's paradise for ya...

Maybe it was just a matter of time, the state of crime being what it is in these parts, but we've been robbed. Almost everything of value is gone: laptop, jewellery, DVD player - even my LL Bean backpack, apparently appropriated by the thieves to carry their haul away. I'm trying to be upbeat but seriously? It was horrible. It still is. I alternate between wanting to throw away whatever the thieves left behind, scrub the house again and again with every detergent and antimicrobial agent known to man, and planning elaborate and extremely painful retribution for the perps.

Can there be a silver lining to this cloud? The answer may surprise you. Come join me as I post today on the Novel Spaces author blog: Adversity: Friend or Foe?

Oh, the snakes. I promised snakes. Yup, we've been busy around here. As the repairman finished fitting a new back door to replace the one the thieves broke down to gain entry to the house, he trod wearily out the front gate - it was nighttime, after all, and he'd had a long day - only to start dancing around and shrieking because he had almost stepped on - you got it - a mapepire right outside our gate. Mapepire is the local name for fer de lance, a deadly pit viper. We have lots of them around here, and believe me, they're not what one wants to face after a hard day's - and night's - work.

Never a dull moment, I tell ya.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Review of Any Woman's Blues, a Novel of Obsession by Erica Jong

Read in June, 2010
3 stars

Let me confess right up front that I'm an Erica Jong fan. I was titillated and shocked by Fear of Flying in the 80s, then read How to Save Your Own Life at the start of the 90s and it became, and still is, one of my favourite novels. Yes, Erica/Isidora/Leila seems obsessed by sex - but then who isn't? Because, you see, our libidinous heroine is not just after mindless coupling. She's not simply promiscuous. She doesn't use sex as a tool to manipulate men or situations. What she's after is what we all crave, although some of us don't have the wherewithal - or the guts - to take the quest as far as she does. What she craves is connection, the 'zipless fuck', the skinless encounter that takes us out of ourselves and that we approach only when the coupling is at its most vital, most intense, most passionate and probably most obsessive.

Jong has inspired me for years with her heroines and their lack of sexual inhibition, and with her honest and fearless writing. She goes where most of us writers - and readers - fear to tread, into the physical and psychological messiness, the self-sabotage, the contradictions, strengths and weaknesses of a woman trying to live as authentically as she can, in a society and time where female roles have changed dramatically on a superficial level, but much less so at the heart of things. Becoming a rich, famous author doesn't make the real deal any easier; if anything, it facilitates delusion, avoidance and self-destructive behaviour, but even at her worst there's an endearing self-awareness and deprecation that redeems Jong/Isidora/Leila.

It doesn't hurt that Jong can write; she puts you there, right into the story, even when you want to stand aside and judge: you're a woman, and you recognise, nay, you own the neuroses. Plus, I love the way she sends me off to research all those classical/literary/cultural references that have become hazy over the years. Another reviewer (on Goodreads) hated this. I don't. It adds to the richness of the experience for me.

So why the three star review? Why not four or five stars? Because I enjoyed How To Save Your Own Life more. Because so many of the themes are repetitive, which should not work against her because that's the way life is, but this is literature, and it does. Because I'm somewhat impatient with the heroine's substance abuse. I'm beginning to understand why people do it, why they are driven to seek escape from themselves by any means necessary. All the same, I can't help but be judgmental about this aspect of Jong's character(s). Life is hard, and it f***ing hurts, but medicating/drinking/drugging one's way through it gets no respect from me. Also, although I'm partial to New-Agey gobbledegook, sometimes it can seem like so much, well, gobbledegook. It's not Jong's fault; if I'd read the book when it was written I might have been more patient with this aspect of it. But two decades have passed since, and I've grown up a bit, and grown more discriminating. The 'California way' has palled somewhat.

For better or worse, Jong's stories have inspired me - as a woman, a feminist, and a writer, as someone who tries to live (and write) authentically, and who finds the whole realm of erotic attachment and exploration nothing short of riveting. That's quite an achievement for Jong. Now I'm off to read her Fear of Fifty.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Word!

Join me on NOVEL SPACES as I turn the spotlight on those pesky words that go undercover and evade the editing scissors despite our best efforts.

My Word!

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Guest author KS Augustin: Sharing the lurve

I'm truly delighted to host KS Augustin, fellow author, fellow Novel Spaces member, IT specialist, martial artist, and much more besides! Science-fiction romance is her first love, but she has also dabbled in fantasy and contemporary action romances, picking up a CAPA award nomination along the way. She was a Spectrum award finalist and has appeared on the Fictionwise Best-Seller List. Kaz has visited, lived and/or worked in the UK, North America and Australia, and has now settled back in south-east Asia. Without further ado, I give you... KS Augustin!

You can't believe how happy I was to discover Liane! The one thing that I love about being a writer is the ability to form friendships with extremely talented people from around the world. And, considering that Liane is in Trinidad and I'm in Malaysia, that's some distance to cover.

But one thing that also brings Liane and I together is language. With all those North Americans filling up the ether, it's nice to touch base with someone else who uses British English. You wouldn't think it's such a big deal, would you? It is. Finally, someone who can spell “centre” correctly. ;) Who's not going to confuse me with usage of the word “fanny”. (What, you mean...there [pointing to one part of the anatomy]? But I thought it meant...here [pointing to another part]?) Who knows that you cut up your meat as you eat it, not all at once at the beginning.

There's also a certain reserve to those of us who don't use US English. We're the more shy, retiring type. It takes a major effort, plus crowbar work, to get us to actually (shhhh!) promote ourselves. Mix in a Roman Catholic education and it's a wonder we don't faint the moment we're introduced to someone new. Oh yes, take all the neuroses of the average English person you've always read about, inject it under the skin of a colonialist education mixed with Catholic guilt for just breathing and you have us. ::waving:: Hi.

So, in true self-deprecating fashion, that's my roundabout way of introducing you to my latest novel. It's a science-fiction romance about an astrophysicist, the man she falls in love with and a weapon of immense destruction. But, it's written in UK English and I'd like to give each and every member of the Carina Press editorial board a big, smoochy kiss for that alone. Thank you Carina. And thank you Liane.

IN ENEMY HANDS

The Republic had taken everything from Moon―her research partner, her privacy, her illusions. They thought they had her under control. They were wrong.

Srin Flerovs, Moon's new research partner, is a chemically enhanced maths genius whose memory is erased every two days.

While he and Moon work on a method of bringing dead stars back to life, attraction between them flares, but that poses its own problem. How can their love survive when Srin forgets Moon every two days?

When she discovers the lethal applications her research can be put to, Moon knows she and Srin are nothing more than pawns in a much larger game. Together, they must escape the clutches of the Republic before they become its scapegoats. But there are too many walls around them, too many eyes watching. They want to run, but they're trapped on a military vessel in the depths of space, and time is running out....

COMPETITION: I'm giving away two copies of IN ENEMY HANDS at my blog, Fusion Despatches. To be in the draw, stop by and comment at the Competition post, telling me at which blog you read about my book. You have till 30 June!

Kaz Augustin is a Malaysian-born writer of science-fiction, romance, and permutations of the two. Her website is at http://www.ksaugustin.com and she blogs at http://blog.ksaugustin.com You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter; just look for “ksaugustin".

Thursday, 27 May 2010

To 'net or not to 'net

Should new writers immerse themselves in online reading and writing communities or is this detrimental to their creativity? I'm posting on this topic today over at Novel Spaces. Come join me!
New Writers and the Online Conundrum

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Reading right now: The End of the Affair

I've had the movie on my wish list for years, but the lure was Ralph Fiennes, I'm sad to say. Recently I was reading a book blog discussion of the best novels on infidelity and discovered that The End of the Affair is based on a novel of the same name by Graham Greene. I hadn't read Greene since childhood, so off I went to the Amazon store and got myself a used copy.

Glad I did. What I liked most about this book was the author's honesty in dealing with the emotions involved in a love affair, in this case an illicit but profoundly affecting one. This 'affair' was no casual dalliance but the kind of 'once in a lifetime' connection that the parties could not get past. Greene explores all of it - the joy, despair, jealousy, pain, hopelessness, desperation and destructiveness inherent in such a relationship. I'll be accused of being sexist here, but I haven't come across a novel written by a man that explores such a theme in such a truthful manner, one that faces full on the vulnerability of the male in matters of the heart. I'm well acquainted with the woman's emotional perspective; it was fascinating to get a good look at the man's. Nor have I read any similar story that deals as sensitively with the cuckolded husband in a love triangle.

This is a superbly written, brave, honest book, and I'm glad I read it. It explores profound themes, including the nuances of forbidden love between men and women as well as the complexity of love of God, and the tangle that ensues when these intertwine and intersect. Now to get my hands on the film and see the delectable Mr. Fiennes at his sensual, intense best...

Sorry. Got a bit carried away there.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Sweet & sour

I'm posting over on Novel Spaces today about two women with Caribbean roots, one of whom is Trinidadian, whose novels made it to the list for this year's Orange Prize for Fiction.

There are some out there who think a writing prize for women is no longer relevant, this being the age of feminism and equality and other such wonderful ideas. They think men should be allowed to compete for the Orange, or that there should be a men-only literary award. I talk about that too.

Oranges and Lemons

My other columns for Novel Spaces are here.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Random yard shots: purple petrea goes berserk

Toward the end of the recent drought the purple petrea by the front gate struggled to flower for weeks, managing only a few scattered sprays. Two weeks ago the rain came and it got a good drenching. This is what followed:



Looks a bit like photos I've seen of wisteria, but not as drapey, and ours is a shrub, not a vine. The pink poui has also been displaying itself for weeks, almost too beautiful to be real, and now its gold cousin is popping all over the hillsides and verges. Makes me glad to be alive!


[I took these photos with my ratty cell phone camera. My son needs to drop by with his trusty Canon to do this thing justice.]

Sunday, 25 April 2010

The Joy of Rejection

Today on Novel Spaces I take a look at some famous writers whose work was repeatedly, scathingly, cruelly rejected. Compared to some of their stories, our rejections are gravy.

WHO Was Rejected?

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

CLS interviews Vaughn Stanford

My writing buddy Vaughn has an interview up on Caribbean Literary Salon this week. Some of you might remember him: he once caused a bit of a stir among a couple lady-bloggers who hang out here. He said if I didn't announce his interview on my blog I'd be in dire trouble and he'd de-friend me. I'd be so lucky...

Vaughn is an author and mathematics teacher in Trinidad. He has written, produced and directed theater plays, and also writes screenplays, short stories and novels. Remember ladies, we don't want his head swelling up now, so don't be too nice!

Interview with Vaughn T. Stanford at Caribbean Literary Salon

Saturday, 10 April 2010

El Tucuche, sacred mountain

Let me tell you about my favorite mountain. It's in the northern range of the island, to the east of Maracas Bay, that very bay featured in the masthead above (Ed. note: the masthead changes so the one you see might not be the one that features Maracas Bay). See the cloudy area at the top right of the photo? Go inland a bit, and east some more, and there's my mountain: El Tucuche. In school we were taught it was the second highest mountain on the island, and according to local lore, it was considered a sacred place by the Amerindians. The only known Amerindian glyphs in Trinidad occur on a rock outcrop here. I've hiked El Tucuche twice in my fitter days when I belonged to a naturalist group.

That first time was the hardest hike I've ever tackled, and I've been on quite a few. It makes No Mercy Hill on the trail to Paria Bay look like something in a child's sandbox. The first time I ventured up there I didn't think I'd make it home alive. On the way back down the mountain I was sick and trembling and wanted nothing more than to lie at the side of the trail and die. But, with the help of a fellow hiker (wonder what became of Vibert?) I made it down more or less intact (although my toenails slowly turned black and fell out and took forever to grow back).

El Tucuche, Trinidad
Image courtesy Carole Anne Ferris/CafeMoka Gallery

But the climb was so worth it. It's another world up there on the peak, where mists swirl through the trees and imbue everything with an eerie other-worldliness that defies description. The vegetation is different, and so is the fauna. Strange bird calls abound, and the frogs are painted in such brilliant colours they must surely be poisonous. This is the home of the El Tucuche golden tree frog, found only here and on that other bump on the local landscape, El Cerro Aripo. The ground is cushioned with super-thick, bright green moss that's a balm to feet that have been abused for hours.

After the last steep scramble there you are, on the plateau at the summit of the mountain, with the world spread at your feet. At first you're too exhausted to do anything but sit or lie there, semi-comatose, dreading the long, arduous hours of descent still ahead, but as your breathing slows and your heart stops pounding and there's a glimmer of light in the dark vortex of weariness that has become your world, the euphoria begins to set in. You did it! My first-hand experience of the devastating beauty of the physical world, especially on these hikes where I'm able to climb above the clamour of man-made existence, is one of the main reasons I'm not an out-and-out atheist. To me, it's as irrational to think that the universe is some random accident as my strange substantiation of intelligent creation must be to a nonbeliever.

But I digress. The second time around, El Tucuche was still a long, hard, exhausting climb to the top and back down, but I fared much better. The "never again!" of the first round gave place to "well, maybe I can be persuaded to make it a hat-trick".

There's an amazing footnote to the El Tucuche anecdote. Some years ago, there was an announcement that more accurate measuring technology had revealed that El Cerro Aripo, formerly believed to be Trinidad's highest mountain, was actually the second highest, and El Tucuche assumed its rightful place as the point on the island that comes closest to touching the heavens, a fitting tribute to that strangely shaped rock at the top of the world. Well, my world anyway.

...and another amazing footnote:
Raymond Banfield contacted me after reading the article above. He's a 90 year old veteran climber who has scaled El Tucuche more than 100 times over his lifetime - and still climbs it! His most recent ascent was earlier this month as part of his 90th birthday celebrations. The local media covered the event; the link to the Trinidad Express article is here.

Raymond "Don Ramos" Banfield gives the thumbs up signal on his historic
ascent to the summit of Mount El Tucuche, November 2010

Raymond is planning his next hike to the top for early next year. I can think of nothing I'd like to do at 90 that tops this. Keep on climbing, Raymond! You have become my great inspiration. Hope to see you on the summit some day soon!

- November 20, 2010

Note added 19-Nov-2011Raymond passed away on November 10, 2011, three days after his ninety-first birthday. I'll climb El Tucuche again, and I know he'll be there hiking next to me - in spirit.



Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Random yard shots, March 2010 edition

The drought has been terrible and the hills are burning, but in my mother's parched garden these plants continue to pleasure the eyes and the spirit.



Ground orchid

Another orchid in a hanging basket. Don't know the name of this one...

Or this...

Oncidium or bee orchid growing happily in rubble in a basket



Marigolds in the background. Phlox and chives in the foreground. Yeah, my mom mixes it up, vegs and flowers in the same beds and borders.


Photos copyright R.S.V.P. Studios. Please contact blog owner for permission to reprint.

Friday, 19 March 2010

T.G.I.F: In the pink

In the news today...

My writer-buddy Vaughn celebrated a birthday recently so I took him out today to induct him into the Death by Chocolate cult of which there are two members I know of, my friend D and me. (I neglected to take a photo of the DbC so I'll just say it's large, and there are lots of chocolate things in it, like chocolate ice-cream, chocolate sauce, chunks of brownies and more stuff that I can't recall. Then there's whipped cream and a cherry on top. And an umbrella; umbrellas are important.)

Vaughn seemed to have a slight problem first with the fact that, according to him, there were no men in the place. When I pointed out three of his gender he complained instead that the place was, ah, pink. He seemed to think that particular colour scheme indicated dire things about portion size. (Men are really hung up - no pun intended - on size.) He eventually looked at the menu and discovered there was actual food to be had, and not just dainty, pretty, small things, so he brightened up considerably. By the time the Death by Chocolate dessert came around he had settled down and was as close to normal as he gets, which ain't sayin' much. Here he is in the pink place, with the initial get-me-out-of-here expression on his mug:


I have another photo of him rolling his eyes and looking really freaked out, but I'll refrain from posting it as we don't want to scare the, ah, horses.

Verdict: the membership now stands at three. D, we've got a convert!

In other news... I read the Sandra Bullock-Jesse James revelations and could not help but feel sad for the woman. The timing well and truly sucks, for one thing, and for another, Ms. Bullock appears to be such a great person. I know from personal experience that many (most?) good people get effed over in matters of the heart. The hardass badasses, on the other hand, seem to thrive. But then that's probably my cynicism, always at war with my romanticism, kicking in.

And to round up the Friday bulletin: The school to which I applied requested a sample of my writing. I'm enclosing a copy of Café Au Lait but knowing how snobbish universities tend to be about the romance genre, I'm also enclosing a serious review I wrote a while ago that was published in newspapers in Trinidad, the Bahamas and Florida, as well as a short story and a personal essay. Hopefully the powers that be will forgive me for writing a romance novel - long enough to let me into their program, anyway. Wish me luck.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Update: Vaughn thinks I should refrain from enclosing a copy of the novel with my sample writing. You know what? He's right. Out it goes.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Caribbean Literary Salon

Anouska Kock, moderator of Caribbean Literary Salon, has posted her interview with me on the brand new site:

Interview with Liane Spicer

CLS is a treasure house of all things literary in the Caribbean, and I can tell I'll be spending a lot of time there. Ms. Kock is from Aruba, a Dutch island in the Caribbean, and the CLS site showcases not only English-language related information on the world of West Indian books, writers and poets, but also a Dutch-Caribbean version with the focus on Suriname, Bonaire, Curaçao, St. Maarten, and, of course, Aruba.

The community site features, among other things:
Caribbean Literary Salon is just three days old and already I'm very excited about it. Membership is open to anyone who enjoys books about the Caribbean and the works of Caribbean authors. I signed up today; come join me!

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Greenhorn landlubber

If you read my novel Café Au Lait you might recall mention there of the Bocas Islands that lie off the northwestern peninsula of Trinidad between the main island and Venezuela on the South American coast. Excursions to these islands are popular with locals, and we call such trips 'going down the islands'. Gaspar Grande (or Gasparee), Monos, Huevos and Chacachacare belong to Trinidad. The fifth island, Patos, belongs to Venezuela. I've been down the islands quite a few times and last Saturday, the first day of the long Carnival weekend, was the most recent.

My brother, who must have been a fish in his last incarnation because he's far more at home in the ocean than on land, took a few of us out on his boat. The day was blistering and bright. The islands shimmered in the heat, but the wind was cool and refreshing as we made our way out. We soon arrived at the buoy that marked the end of Trinidad's territory and could see Patos clearly. The green hills of the Venezuelan coast at Guiria beckoned but since we didn't fancy a run-in with the Guardia Nacional we ventured no further.

Those Guardia Nacional boys are very strict. They don't mind venturing into Trinidad's waters to arrest our fishermen, rough them up a little, and confiscate their catch and equipment. Sometimes the fishermen end up cooling their heels in makeshift jails on the South American mainland. I've heard stories of some of their experiences in those cells from reliable sources and they do not make for great dinner conversation.


Somewhere off the coast of Chacachacare we ran into much more congenial company: a school of dolphins. I recall seeing real live dolphins years ago on a trip to these same islands, but those dolphins were much smaller, further away, and went about their business without giving us a glance. Saturday's dolphins were another matter altogether.

My brother spotted them in the wake of our engines, and I turned around just in time to see the fin and back of one of the creatures cresting. That, my friends, was one huge dolphin. Then the show really began as we ran from one side of the flybridge to the other, pointing and exclaiming: "There! Oh my gosh! Look! And there! They're coming!"

We turned the boat so we were going around in a circle and the dolphins were all around us, some swimming on a collision course with the boat, some swimming alongside, disappearing underneath and appearing on the other side. The water was very clear and I could see them just feet away as I looked down into the water - grey, smiling torpedos that were easily six to eight feet long. We knocked on the hull, and they just kept coming.

That pretty much made my day. I have a 'thing' for dolphins, and they were a hell of an improvement on the thousands of dead fish we saw floating on the water - the by-catch from a commercial fishing ship - the last time I was out there a few months ago.

I'm generally a good sailor - once the boat is going somewhere. When we drop anchor I'm usually all right once the water is extremely calm. On Saturday there was a brisk wind and the water was a bit choppy where we anchored off the coast of Chacachacare. The boat rolled in that slow, sickening way that boats do, with a looping, side to side motion. I began to feel queasy, eventually accepting my sister-in-law's invitation to retire to a cabin when my questions about closing one's eyes so the horizon didn't seem to be constantly dipping around became too pointed. Thankful to be horizontal, I curled up, my sis next to me, and proceeded to feel progressively worse. My stomach seemed to start somewhere at the top of my throat, and I could tell it wanted to come all the way out my mouth. Jumping into the sea and drowning began to seem like a reasonable improvement over that lurching, rolling, loopy movement.


My brother decided that it didn't make sense to remain out there if we weren't comfortable, so he pulled up and started heading back. My sister got up, but I stayed for awhile until my stomach began to feel like it might consider returning to its normal location, then I swayed, stumbled and clambered my way up to the flybridge to rejoin the others, my white shirt flapping in the wind 'like a ghost', according to my niece.

When we got back to the marina and tied up I climbed on to the jetty, ignoring all the teasing about abandoning ship, and sat there for the next six hours, one foot propped on a rope, while we ate, drank, and talked. I developed quite a fondness for that jetty: it did not move! It was after ten at night when my sister and I left the beach bum branch of the family and drove away home.

It was a great day, even though my reputation as an adventurous seafarer now lies in sodden tatters in the drink somewhere beyond the Third Bocas. Godspeed, me hearties!

Footnote:
1. I promise to take and post photos of my own next time around.
2. These islands have a colourful history, still evident in the ruins and lore that abound. Interested in learning more about the Bocas Islands? Read Night Calypso by Lawrence Scott. It interweaves the authentic history of 'Down the Islands' into a compelling novel.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Circle of Friends


...Awarded to all members of the Novel Racers writing group. Thank you, Graeme!

I'm supposed to tell you five things I like to do so here goes... Um, this is the PG list. E-mail me for the adult version. :D

1. Write. Not all the time, though. That means I'm not a REAL WRITER, because REAL WRITERS don't faff around and play the ass but set their butts in the chair and write every freaking day.

2. Read. Now we're talking. This I can do all day and all night. (There are other things I don't mind doing all day and all night, but you'll have to get the adult version of my list to find out about that.) I've looked up from countless all-night marathons to see daylight staining the sky outside my bedroom windows. All night READING marathons, you!

3. Hike. Don't do much actual traipsing through forests these days, but communing with nature is one of my great joys. And boyohboy - am I in the right place for communing. I can sit and commune all day - and all night. The stars as seen from this valley? Incomparable. Full moon nights here make me very, very happy to be alive.

4. Flirt with favourite ex. Sigh. The less said about that the better. I need a cell phone with no text messaging feature. Or no cell phone at all.

5. Shop. I don't consider myself a typical anything, but this one throws me right in there with all the other shopaholic women. I don't do the malls, though, unless I absolutely have no choice. My poison is online shopping.

There you have it - TMI. I pass this award on to everyone in my online writing circle. Thanks for being there, guys.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Rating my life

It's been awhile since I did one of these. Saw it over at KeVin's and couldn't resist.

This Is My Life, Rated
Life: 6.5
Mind: 7.8
Body: 6.6
Spirit: 8.8
Friends/Family: 5.3
Love: 2.1
Finance: 6.6
Take the Rate My Life Quiz


I too would have given a higher score to family. And since writing wasn't among the talents I ticked art. As for the love aspect, what can I say? I'll coin the intriguing Facebook romantic status option: It's complicated. :D

Monday, 25 January 2010

Amazon rant

I'm next door at Novel Spaces today. Come join me as I discuss the antics of my favorite store in Amazon Shenanigans.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Of transfixing call girl diaries

I know I'm extremely late to the party and my UK acquaintances will point and hoot at this, but I've only just discovered Belle de Jour, Diary of a London Call Girl. How did I happen on it? By the circuitous route of: reading a Times Online article about Zadie Smith, her father, and British comedy, and following a side link to an article and video clip with the innocuous caption: I Miss the Game - Belle De Jour author misses pride of "doing a job well". It was one of those times when you click a random link out of idle curiosity, or because your attention span is short and getting through the Zadie Smith (or whichever) article is taking more perseverance than you thought it would.

Anyway, I clicked the link, read the article, and discovered that Belle de Jour is the pseudonym which Dr. Brooke Magnanti used to write the online journal about her adventures as a highly paid London call girl. I did a Google search for the blog, naturally, and have been reading through the archives to find out what exactly started the Belle de Jour phenomenon. Because that's what it's become, what with the blog winning a Guardian prize for best-written British blog back in the early days, followed by the book offers, a TV drama, and Dr. Magnanti's coming out from behind the veil of anonymity. There've been follow-up books, of course, and some degree of celebrity for the writer.

So, yes, I've been reading Belle's journal. I've already learned a couple things - no, not those things, you! Things like the name of a shade of nail polish that I suspect is the one I saw on a woman's exquisitely manicured digits a few years ago in Miami and have been searching for - and attempting to replicate myself - since. (Chanel Le Vernis beige, which has been discontinued, but which can still be had via eBay.) I've also discovered additional sources of one of my guilty, secret indulgences: fabulous underwear. The sources tend to be UK-centric, though, which would make shipping charges a bit beyond what I'm willing to, ah, put out.

I've read through about seven months worth of Belle's blog entries and I'm not bored yet. The writing isn't bad - no, that's not true. It's pretty good. Then there's the voyeuristic thrill of the whole thing. But would I buy the books? That's an easy no. Would I read one if it came my way by some other means? I doubt it. There are limits to my appetite for voyeurism. I also have to admit that there are some aspects of the work, and the lady's lifestyle, that make me cringe. I'm not a prude, and I try not to be judgmental, but I'm squeamish about some things. Um, fisting? Threesomes? Oral sex with strangers with no latex in between? That's stretching my comfort zone a bit too far.

When I'm tired of the blog, which should be sometime over the next couple of days, that would be it for me. No further Belle de Jour titillation necessary.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Haiti: How to help

The current disaster in Haiti feels very close to home for two reasons: I live in the Caribbean and Haiti, although not an immediate neighbour, is a neighbour nonetheless. I also met many Haitians during my frequent stays in South Florida. Some became my friends, and several characters in my second novel, which is set in Miami, are reflections of these very real people.

When this type of disaster strikes the worst feeling is the helplessness. So many people want to do something, but aren't sure how to go about it.

MSNBC has posted a list of links to charitable organizations active in Haiti. One of them, Yele Haiti, is the brainchild of Wyclef Jean. You can text Yele to 501501 to donate $5 via your cellphone. Another option for anyone interested in helping immediately is to text HAITI to 90999 and a donation of $10 will be given automatically to the Red Cross to help with relief efforts, charged to your cell phone bill.