Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween and Sayonara NaBloWriMo

Whew!Image via WikipediaI did it! I blogged every day for a whole month for NaBloWriMo. And now I can do the happy dance to celebrate :) I'm powering down the blogging now, going to a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule, because blogging is time consuming and November threatens to leave me crying "uncle".


Next month's task is daunting. I can't even join in the NaNoWriMo fun, because I still have to revise. Fortunately, Lydia Kang came up with NaNoRevMo so I won't feel left out. (And boy am I working on the revising!) For all the non-writers who are reading this ramble...NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writers Month, the rest are spin-offs of some writerly sort. we go!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Being There Blog Awards

There was some feel-good energy flowing in the blogosphere this week. I picked up some interesting awards. The "I Wuz There" award from Holly Ruggiero, who celebrated her first blogiversary (I also won a lovely book of recipes!) and a "Happy 101" from Clarissa Draper (She landed a book deal this week!). It's nice not to have to pass them along or stand on my head holding my breath for 15 minutes. (You know what I mean). In the spirit of friendship though, I am offering the Happy 101 award to anyone who comments today. (I *heart* comments!)

Also, I'm almost to 100 posts and 100 followers. I'm tempted to make a guess which will come first, but I'm really not good at that kind of game. However, when I do hit 100 followers, I'm planning to have Tracy Marchini (freelance editor extraordinaire) stop by for a little Q&A session on writing.  If anybody has interesting questions, now is the time to send them over to me. I've also been hatching up a blogfest idea, but I need some collaborators. Anyone?

NB...I also picked up the Journey Support award for being a new(ish) follower from Jules at Trying to Get Over The Rainbow.  I'm passing this along (á la Jules) to anyone in the top three rows of my followers.

Friday, October 29, 2010


via Wikipeda

Bougainvillia smothered in a riot of brilliant blooms is a staple in Mediterranean gardens. The invasive thorny, woody vines are actually native to South America though and nothing really bothers them, except the cold.

In the middle east, they call it Majnoon (crazy) because it grows like wild.  If you look away, it will sneak up on you (kind of like the wisteria in my backyard -  not as bad as kudzu) and yet, when you see it, you smile and exclaim "How lovely!" (That was me, BEFORE I began the wisteria wars!)

Interesting segue: Majnoon, literally translated, means "with a djinn" As in, crazy people are possessed by genies. (Wonder if I can I call an exorcist for that wisteria...)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Heybeliada Sanitarium

DHA photos via

I love finding off-the-beaten path, interesting buildings, but sanitarium might just say it all for me today. Wish I could tell you what it looked like before... After all, I stayed on neighboring Büyükada for weeks and could have easily visited. But of course, I never made it there and so now all we have is this photo of a burned-out shell.

The Heybeliada Sanitarium was created from an historic building in 1924 as a tuberculosis hospital. Waiting lists were long and health resort-style treatments were largely to comfort patients with the uncureable disease of the era. Who could complain, though? With the lovely sea views and pine forests surrounding on all sides, the hospital was idyllic.

Eventually, the hospital's location on an island became a burden for modern medicine. The property was boarded up and an inadequate fire rescue team couldn't handle the blaze. The entire structure was destroyed.

I filed the story location away in my head for someone to meet an unhappy fate in that abandoned building.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010


FaravaharImage via Wikipedia
I just love the word...

Zoroastrianism has nothing to do with Zorro, the masked avenger. It's actually the world's oldest monotheistic religion. I'm sure some of you have heard of it. Sometimes the religion is referred to as Mazdaism. (Parsi for my friends in India.) Still not ringing a bell?

Here's the skinny:

In ancient Persia, a man named Zoroaster went into the river and came out enlightened. He then focused his worship on the Ahura Mazda, or the creator. All good comes from the creator, who will reward followers on the last day with immortality and lots of other desirable things. Meanwhile, the evil Angra Mainyu is ever upsetting the tranquility of man.

Zoroastrians worship in a fire temple, as fire is the medium for spiritual wisdom and insight. Worshippers offer sandalwood and frankincense to the flames there. In fact, the temple fire (eternal flame) in Yazd has been burning continuously for 1,500 years.

If some of this sounds familiar, it may be because the ideas of heaven, demonology and fire show up in later monotheistic religions.  Parallels extend even to the holy spirit and the flame of enlightenment it bestowed on the disciples.

For me, the whole idea of getting to the root of things is what matters because, for my djinn, fire is the source of life.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Monster Mash Blogfest

Linen ClosetImage via WikipediaRoh Morgon is hosting Monster Mash all this week, so I came up with a little something....

I know where he is. He's in the linen closet next to the guest bedroom, with all the crafty things I never have time to finish. Whenever I walk past, his icy fingers reach out after me and a chill races up my spine.

The cat scratches at the door sometimes, as if she too knows he's hidden in there. I hope my kids don't find out. If I ignore him, maybe he'll decide to go haunt someone else's closet, but deep down I know he's waiting for me...only me.

Some nights he rattles around so loud that I can't sleep. Then I lie awake and pity him, his hard skin imprisoned under layers that bind, bleeding puddles of black, tangled up in promises unkept. He torments me and we are both frozen in time, until someone frees me in the morning.

It goes on like this for weeks, months...and then I've had enough of his demented moaning. Like the dumb blonde in a horror film, running toward destruction instead of away, I open the closet door.

He's there, quiet, anticipating my next move.  Loose ends catch hold of my arm while his vile, ink-soaked strips seek to bind me, dragging me into his immoral embrace. I struggle, grasping the widest piece covered with rambling prose and pull desperately 'til I feel his weakness. Then I think I'm stronger, but when I finally unsheath his depraved grin, I can't look away. My knees collapse under me and I fall for the villain I love to hate. Every time.

So fellow writers, how do you draft your villains?

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Monday, October 25, 2010

Traditional Melodies

Turkish sazImage via Wikipedia
The Turkish saz, sometimes called the bağlama, is a long-necked cousin of the Middle Eastern Oud and the Western renaissance lute. It's the signature sound of arabesque Turkish classical music.

Like a piece of art, the back of a saz often features bands of gorgeous wood in varieties of mulberry, juniper, beech, walnut or spruce and the neck can be embellished with intarsia. The electro-saz, on the other hand, can look like something out of a rock band.  Kind of like a guitar, the saz comes in different colors and sizes and there are people who can make those few simple strings do magical things.

The clip from TRT is pretty traditional, until the musician switches to the "Pink Panther" theme and then on to some other riffs. Enjoy!

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

WiFi and Other Liberating Apps

Personal Handy-phone System mobiles and modems...Image via WikipediaSo I'm typing along and I really want my MC to be able to research some stuff on the that the reader knows she's at least trying to make sense of all the crap that's happening to her.  But I've put her in East Podunkville or, in my case, on the not-so-connected Mediterranean coast of Turkey. What's an MC to do?

Ask the 12 year old.

(I remember my tech guy at work saying something about tethering to a cell phone. That was the day Time Warner left us high and dry for hours. But I'm about as tech savvy as Grandma Moses, so I wasn't really paying attention.)

Back to the said 12 year old boy, soon to be 13, who covets all species of cell phones for the upcoming birthday. (ie... NONE of the antiques in the photo at right.)

"Droid can give you WiFi anywhere, mommy," he says.

I let that rattle around in my head for a few days...and what do you know? MC is benefitting from amazing technological breakthroughs (which have been around for years but I didn't know about)!

Now they tell us not to use names when it comes to technology, but WiFi is pretty generic, so I think I'm safe. Don't you? Does anyone have any other liberating apps I should know about?

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Saturday, October 23, 2010


I'm joining in with the blogosphere support for a fellow blogger, Alex J. Cavanaugh, on the release of his debut: CassaStar!

It's science fiction/adventure. (Maybe you got that from the spaceships on the cover :))

Here's the jacket copy:

To pilot the fleet’s finest ship…

Few options remain for Byron. A talented but stubborn young man with a troubled past and rebellious attitude, his cockpit skills are his only hope. Slated to train as a Cosbolt fighter pilot, Byron is determined to prove his worth and begin a new life as he sets off for the moon base of Guaard.

Much to Byron’s chagrin, the toughest instructor in the fleet takes notice of the young pilot. Haunted by a past tragedy, Bassa eventually sees through Byron's tough exterior and insolence. When a secret talent is revealed during training, Bassa feels compelled to help Byron achieve his full potential.

As war brews on the edge of space, time is running short. Byron requires a navigator of exceptional quality to survive, and Bassa must make a decision that could well decide the fate of both men. Will their skills be enough as they embark on a mission that may stretch their abilities to the limit?

“…calls to mind the youthful focus of Robert Heinlein’s early military sf, as well as the excitement of space opera epitomized by the many Star Wars novels. Fast-paced military action and a youthful protagonist make this a good choice for both young adult and adult fans of space wars.” - Library Journal

You can purchase the book at:

Barnes & Noble

Friday, October 22, 2010


Pomegranate fruit, opened.Image via WikipediaEverybody who knows me knows that I've always loved pomegranates. They're trendy right now with the pomegranate martini, Pom and all the anti-oxidant drinks you can think of, and of course there's Grenadine, but I love them for their shape and saturated color.

Every fall I buy some for my holiday decor. The neighbor at our mountain house in Turkey has one in her yard and I've always wanted to have one.  Even the mini fruits add to my floral displays.

The pomegranate has tons of meanings too. (Right up my alley, hey!)
  • Memory of good
  • Fertility -  because of all the seeds. Greek orthodox followers use them at celebrations for good luck.
  • Actual apple from Eden - yes the one Eve gave Adam. (Take that, Edward Cullen.)
  • Associated with the Greek goddess Hera and the Hindu earth goddess Bhoomidevi 
  • Jewish symbol of righteousness
The pomegranate also appears in heraldic art in many countries, perhaps most famously in Granada, Spain. In Turkey, it is especially associated with the city of Side. Ancient coins from the town embossed with pomegranates have linked the city to the story of Orion and that myth goes even further back to Isis and Osiris. The list goes on and on... We could be here all day, but I got distracted by the Pom commercial :D

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Phaeton, Fayton, Caleche, Carriage...Whatever!

Horses on the island of BuyukadaImage via WikipediaSorry for the short post today, but I have a deadline for something else looming....

The faytons of Büyükada are cool way to get around. They're a much better option than a bike and definitely better than hoofing it (pun intended).

Since Büyükada is an island, everything has to be brought in on the ferry, so you've probably got bags to carry, maybe some kids to worry about, etc. Hop in and the driver will drop your stuff off at the hotel and then you can take a tour around the island. Don't miss the Museum of the Prince's Islands on your way.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Amber Orbs

It's October, so I'll head into the creepy unknown with the rest of the best ... with orbs.  You've seen them.  They're hovering over fields, in haunted places like graveyards or ruins (paydirt here), or in your basement. (Gasp!) Orbs are sentient beings that react to your presence.

The orbs are admired by some as aliens, others think they're ghosts.  I'm claiming them for my djinn. Why not?  If they can be explained away as vapor, dust, or light refractions, they're the perfect fit for my line of work. I dwell in the grey areas where something might be possible, but there's no proof. It's a fun place for fiction, don't you think?

My djinn have an aura that not everyone can see. Sometimes they can be captured by a camera and you can feel them nearby if they want you to. The orb is usually an amber color.

Here's an English guy having fun with some mini orbs in his bedroom.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Rustic Copper

Rustic, hammered copper, embossed copper, etched copper... I love it all. My MC even has copper hair, now that I think about it.  Copper is not specifically Turkish, of course, but the metalsmiths there do a very nice job of handcrafting things absolutely must own.

Take the cauldron on the right, for example. I love the rustic shape, but the extra detail of a repoussé band makes it irresistable. They're marketing it as an extra large planter, but I might use it for firewood too.

Many Turkish homes have a piece or two of something copper. A tray or a decorative wall panel, or the most common find, the coffee cezve. I dreamed of importing a copper hood embossed with artichokes for my kitchen.  I finally found a plain one from an artisan in the Ozarks.

If you don't like to use copper in your decor, there are always cake molds or kettles to polish. I never polish my copper though.  It's a pain and luckily I prefer patina. A quick wipe once in a while to keep the dust off and I'm happy.

Copper once used in kitchens, now as decor, Hurriyet Daily News

Monday, October 18, 2010

Expat Harem

One of the main entrance gates of the Dolmabah...Image via WikipediaThe harem of Istanbul's Dolmabahçe Palace was a gilded cage. We all know and we'd never wish it on our worst enemies. But the Expat Harem...I'm happy to be a part of that!

It all started with a book of stories. Stories about women from different places who ended up married to a Turk or living in Turkey and the adjustments we make in a multi-cultural marriage. 

Serendipitously...In my research here for you, I discovered the authors also have an awesome blog now. (I am soooo submitting something next week!) Lots more interesting tales and links and I'm salivating just thinking of the neat connections I can make there!

Here's the description on their Facebook Page:

expat+HAREM: a neoculture hub for global citizens. Turkophiles. intentional travelers. identity + culture adventurers.
 cross+ROADS...places of hybrid identity + psychic limbo...coming, going, never arriving. this is where we live. call it neo+CULTURE 
Is that me, or what?
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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Metric Conversions

Thermometer with Fahrenheit units on the outer...Image via WikipediaSo what's with Fahrenheit and Celsius

When I was in high school I remember memorizing the stupid equation, C=(F-32) x 5/9 (expletive?!), but I never expected having to worry about it again. WRONG! Everytime I call, or chat, or facebook our family on the other side of the pond, I have to cry because I don't know how to tell them. They always ask! You know..."How's the weather?" comes right after "How is everyone?"

I tried selecting Celsius on, but then I'm just left wondering what the temp is in Fahrenheit every morning.  For a while, I had a lovely outdoor thermometer which told me both.  It broke.

That part is really just a nuissance and I'm ranting...but have you ever wondered what gas setting 3 or 4 is?  That's the British way of deciding what oven temp to bake your cookies on... Or how about 200 Celsius for 30 minutes? So now not only am I translating recipes into English and converting from kilos to pounds, I need to figure out if they mean 350 or 375 Fahrenheit? You can just forget about me making a double batch!
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Friday, October 15, 2010

Rice Pilav

Pilav from Turkish cuisineImage via Wikipedia I ran out of mojo this week for captivating posts...too much stuff going on around here! So if you're looking for something more interesting, check out yesterday's with the Audrey Tautou Chanel commercial. Otherwise let's talk about rice.

Everybody like a good rice pilav. Pilav just means cooked rice, but the Turkish way of making it is particularly tasty, so that's probably why the name stuck. The simplest pilav is made with butter, rice and vermicelli.  It's Rice-a-roni on steriods.
I use jasmine rice, because that's my favorite, but any long grain rice will do. 

What you'll need:

1 cup of rice
2 cups of boiling water
salt to taste
1/4 cup of vermicelli
2 Tablespoons of unsalted butter

I always rinse the rice three times under cold water. Then I set some water to boil in my electric kettle. In the meantime, I melt the butter in a heavy bottom saucepan and toss in the vermicelli.  I stir that around until it's golden.  Then I add the rice and make sure all of it is covered with butter and the vermicelli is mixed in.  Salt to taste now...I don't have a scientific method for this. I just know what I like.

Add two cups of water.  Then next step is the MOST IMPORTANT STEP. Cover, reduce to the lowest possible setting, and walk away. For about 15 minutes. Do not lift the lid every five seconds to see if it's ready. At about 12 minutes, I'll look at the pot and see if it's sending me a steam, meaning it's still cooking, or black smoke, in which case my flame was way to high. Usually almost all of the water is evaporated and I give it a quick stir. Turn off the heat and set the table.  Serve with anything you like.

Variations I like:
  • Toasted pine nuts are a splurge that I like to add, if I have them.  I toss them with some more melted butter in a pan and then either mix them in at the last minute, or use them as a topping.  You can also use almonds for this.
  • Add saffron to the boiling water and let that sit for a minute before adding it to the rice for cooking.
  • Currants, pine nuts and saffon together are a showstopper.

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Istanbul Terminals

via Flickr and sheltonjcksn
Once adored by glamorous rail travellers of Europe, the circa 1890 Sirkeci train terminal in Istanbul remains a sentinal of the golden age of rail service. The architecture is one of the the best examples of European Orientalism anywhere. Victorian rooflines and Ottoman arches blend seamlessly into the unique patterns of the city.

The terminal still connects Istanbul with the rest of Europe with lines running through either Thessaloniki or Bucharest. Though the famed Orient Express does not travel from Paris to Istanbul anymore, once a year romantics can ride the Venice Simplon luxury train service on some of the original cars, for a pricey $4,600 and change. (Agatha Christie can keep her secrets for that fare!) Tourists not riding the train are still welcome to visit the Sirkeci station to watch the whirling dervishes  perform, or to visit the popular Orient Express restaurant.
Istanbul's other terminal, the Haydarpaşa Terminal is the on the Asian side of the city and it connects to points east. Built in 1909, the neo-renaissance style structure is a testament to strong German-Turkish relations. 

The impressive, gorgeous building is surounded on three sides by water so the best view of it is from the Kadikoy ferry. I''ll probably never forget the first time I saw it.
I could describe it to you some more, but Spritz on your Chanel No. 5 and pretend you're Audrey Tautou.  It's a much nicer experience:

Istanbul's Ottoman train stations may be lovely. However, most travel guides do not recommend using the Turkish rail system. I have to agree.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Animal Writes Blogfest

CURRUIRA (Troglodytes aedon)Image via WikipediaI need a break from all the serious around here lately and luckily, Dayana Stockdale is hosting the Animal Writes blogfest today. So without further ado, here's nothing to do with my WIP - a short piece about my dear friend, the house wren. Troglodytes Aedon.

The Cardinal in the wax myrtle across the yard sounds the alarm with two shrill notes.  Squirrels scamper into the hedgerow for cover and I crouch low in the leaves.  I stay perfectly still, camouflaged in the mottled brown litter around me with only a few small branches of a bush turned bright autumn red above. Too exposed. My heart hammers in my chest, high and fast like a hummingbird.

His shadow circles on the ground a few feet away from me, then the hawk dives into the high grass at the edge of the lawn, where I'd been a minute before. He spreads his wings out over the catch. 

The hawk is alone, so after a few minutes of quiet, the Jay gets bold and starts to pester him. None of us like his kind in our neighborhood. Only the Jay is stupid enough to let him know it. Hawk looks up from his kill and lets out a piercing cry. He's annoyed but he takes the hint. The field mouse hangs limp in his claws as he flies away. He won't go far, just up into the trees on the ridge. 

I shake out my feathers and fly up to the firethorn besider the shed, where I can preen the leafmould out of me. Methodically, I select one long feather after another. Then I run down the length of each one with my beak until every filament is properly placed. I jab at a passing wood louse who disappears between the cedar shakes. His friend isn't as lucky.

The sun is already listing to the west, skimming the treeline and turning the sky shades of honey and raspberry. My mate trills out his lovely song, calling me from the poplar near the house. He's hopping around from branch to branch, with his tail feathers stuck straight up in the air. I know he's hoping for a gecko to reveal itself in the flower boxes. The larger birds are flitting over to the birdbath for a quick drink before they settle in.  It's a good idea, but I opt for a smaller puddle in the granite stone under the birch, where I'm safer.

Then I fly up to the gauze curtain on the gazebo. For the past three years we've summered there each evening. Except when the people have parties, then we find an unoccupied branch in the bush and take our chances with Owl. Tonight there's no one about so we each tuck into our fold of fabric and I turn my head under my wing, waiting for the tree frogs to lull me to sleep.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Handmade Lace

Armenian needlelaceImage via WikipediaWhen I was a young newlywed, the lace ladies used to chase me around the ruins, thinking I needed to beef up my trouseau - even though I already had a husband in tow. Making lace is a cottage industry for many Turkish peasant women.  They probably spend the entire winter creating intricate tablecloths, doilies, and such.  Mostly they stick to crochet type pieces, because those are easier and faster to make than the older styles. One woman on the road up to Alanya Castle tried to tempt me with some lovely and very reasonably priced needle lace (like the pic).

Alas, they were barking up the wrong tree.  While I appreciate the beauty of lace, I've only ever been able to use a couple of accent pieces at a time.  My grandmother kept trying to pass the stuff on to me too. Honestly ladies, lace is so 1930.  Or so I thought. 

If I can wear lace, I might do that now, especially if it's black.  Fall 2010 catalogs are sprinkled with the machine made stuff. I'd love a shirt or jacket with some fanciful lace cuffs - might help me get my inner Shakespeare on. Maybe some lace look tights....or a little something around the neckline. Not too frilly.

Lace trimmed curtains? I had them on my Victorian house and I hated washing them.  I think I'll stick with the Thanksgiving tablecloths.

Still, I admire the women who carry on and actually make the lace, passing their techniques from generation to generation. So I'm happy to support them once in a while.

Watch the video.  It takes her a couple minutes to make one simple flower. No wonder they use machines now. Lace making is time consuming and it ruins your does typing all day on a computer but that's another story.

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Monday, October 11, 2010

Turkish Monsters & A Blogfest

There are real monsters in joke!  See the sign on the right? That's to warn us of places where they've been spotted regularly.  But the infamous "Trafik Canavarı" (trafeek janavareh) can show up on any street, at random times of day.

Turkish men don't usually pay attention to stop signs. The only thing slowing them down is a puddle or a pot hole...wouldn't want to ruin the suspension, you know.  Sometimes a pretty girl can muck up the lanes too.

Drivers in Europe usually use a stick shift...which I can do, with limited results. The UAE, where I learned to drive standard, is a nice flat desert, except for the one hill next to Spinney's which I always carefully avoided.

Col de Braus - France via wikipedia 

I'd probably roll back down over someone on the steep hills of Istanbul and likely cause several sightings a day of the Trafik Canavarı. Accidents are easy on the narrow, old streets, so the ones that make it to the news are really bad. And hairpin turns look good in the movies, but I find it better if I keep my eyes closed.

I guess the Turks want to keep up with the Italians...and the Spanish.... (Click here for a Creepy Query Girl's amusing true story about driving in France.)

And since we're talking about monsters, here's a furry blue one I thought you'd appreciate...

Now for Justin Parente's Hook Line and Sinker Blogfest, here are the first pages of BURNT AMBER.

Chapter One

The price of life I gladly, freely pay,
So I may know my soul's inheritance.
- Edwin Liebfreed

The apartment was suffocating. Modern maybe, but euro-sized, which was especially harsh for a dorm. I rooted through the crammed hall closet for a sweatshirt and winced when one touched the sore spot on my hand. The hoodie fell to the floor.

I didn’t know why, but residual pain from my nightmares was lingering longer than usual, ever since I started the semester in Istanbul. My dad wasn’t able to figure out the dreams either and he was a psychiatrist. He said deciphering the reason behind them might help me understand who I was. I only hoped. At least my first class mental case gave him some interesting research material. I shoved my sneakers on and slammed the door on the way out.

The halls were quiet still, but Seyhan was waiting for the elevator. I would have taken the stairs if he hadn’t noticed me. Well-built with clear olive skin and beautiful brown eyes, he was attractive and he knew it. Even his designer track suit coordinated with the Casanova attitude. It looked like he was going out for a run too.

“Gunaydin , Sybil. Would you care to join me?” He grinned.

“Good morning to you too, Seyhan.” I couldn’t say no, although I was kind of happy for the escort. By myself I’d have to stay on campus because I promised my parents not to go off into the city alone. Plus I didn’t really appreciate the extra attention I got when I did. If I went with him I might manage a longer run.

“Do you think we can make it down to Starbucks and back by eight?”

“Starbucks? I was just going to run around the track a couple of times,” he said.

“Sorry, I can’t stand the Nescafé anymore.” I frowned.

The track was on the north campus too. Nothing there would divert him from his special mission, Project Find Time Alone with Sybil. All the female exchange students had at least one Turkish guy latch on at the beginning of the semester. Unfortunately, Seyhan had chosen me and never let go. Thank God I didn’t have much time left in Turkey.

“The cafeteria will be open by the time we get back. My treat.” He stepped aside as the elevator opened.

I sighed.

“What? It’s not every morning you get to spend such quality time with me.” He winked.

I escaped into the dense fog which had settled between the hills overnight, obscuring even a glimmer of the Bosphorus Strait below. Dawn prompted the call to prayer and the sound resonated off the buildings, intensifying as other minarets began their broadcast in an eerie chorus. A faint acrid odor of coal-fired heaters still tainted the late April air. I wrinkled my nose in response. Seyhan sensed my dark mood so we took off for the Boğaziçi University athletic complex around the corner without saying a word.

I put my water down on the bleachers and hesitated for a small second before picking up my earbuds. I preferred the alone time, especially if my other option was talking to Seyhan.

“Do you mind? You’re probably much faster than me anyway. I’ll slow you down.” Flattery usually worked with him. Running was one of the few things where I could honestly say I outclassed most people.

He looked a bit let down but immediately recovered. “We’re still having breakfast, right?”

“Right,” I forced a smile as I finished my stretch. Seyhan shrugged his shoulders and ran off.

I loaded up my favorite playlist then started out at a leisurely rate. My mind wandered through the plans for the day, but came back around to the dream. There weren’t any new details since the last time. Still, I picked apart every facet as I replayed it in my head.

Hot tears streamed down my face and I gasped for air between the sobs threatening to choke me. A massive black enamel ring with a white cross dug into my finger as a priest squeezed my tiny hand tight, wrenching my arm and pulling me away from a bed covered with lavishly embroidered linens.

The old man asleep in the bed couldn’t hear me calling out to him. His skin was extremely pale and I realized he must be dead, or dying. An intense flash of light blinded me and the priest finally succeeded in prying me off. Raw red skin where the linens slipped through my hand burned.

The dream was vivid and the concentrated sense of loss accompanying it left a throbbing ache inside. I sped up to focus my heart on another function.

The ring was connected to the Knights of Malta. CNN had randomly featured the Queen of England accepting a scroll from them and when the camera zoomed in on the handshake, I noticed the man was wearing the same ring. A brotherhood left over from the crusades was weird thing to dream about. Wikipedia didn’t lead to any specific conclusion, though I discovered Maltese Crosses were used by lots of organizations, which left part of me wanting to understand the dreams and part of me that didn’t. I wasn’t enthusiastic about a possible outlaw biker gang in my family tree.

My shirt was riding up. I yanked it down over my midriff, especially the left side, making sure it covered the faint blue tattoo on my hip.

The Latin verse hovered just beneath my skin, like it was applied from the inside, backwards. In vinculis e tiam audax...In chains yet free. Surrounded by a Celtic knot, the chain I guess, and coiled up in a counter-clockwise spiral so tight, the whole thing could fit on a pencil eraser. You had to use a mirror and a magnifying glass to figure out what it said.

So…Irish biker gang trying to snare the devil maybe? I had no clue. But I did know something was making the mark darker and the dreams were more frequent than ever.

Seyhan stopped me.

“Sybil!” he gasped, out of breath. “I’ve been trying to catch up with you this whole last lap! What are you running away from? Me?” He asked with a bemused smile.

I switched off the music, ignoring the last remark. “Sorry. I was thinking and got into a nice pace I guess.”

“More like you were off in your own world,” he said. “We should get back to the dorm if you want to be ready for class.”

The morning was not going well. Incomprehensible nightmares, no Starbucks, no longer run. And I still had to meet him for breakfast. At least I was getting all the bad karma out early in the day.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Putting It Out There & RECKLESS

"PG-13" rating of Motion Picture Ass...Image via WikipediaWednesdays seem to be busy around here.  Lots of visitors and comments.  I was feeling kind of ""Meh!" when I wrote about Taoism this week, so the post wasn't as "authoritative" as it could have been. Serendipitously, I found that when I don't collect my thoughts, you have more room to express your own.  So from now on, I think I'll just do my research, put it out there and let you run with it.

For today's ramble - I thought I'd vent about how Content-ed I am lately. Everybody makes such a big deal about content (sex, drugs, violence, suicide) in YA books. As if kids aren't seeing it everywhere around them... What does PG-13 mean anymore anyway?  (It means teens don't want our PG butts in the seat next to them, parents.) Kids are also always reading up to the next age group which leads me to my latest book on the nightstand: RECKLESS.

The book features a 24 year old male protagonist, but not as much content as you would expect. So I passed it on to my 11 year old. While he was reading it the other night, I asked him how old he thought the MC was.  His answer was 16. And I totally agree. Without the author telling us, there weren't that many clues to how old the MC should be. Jacob is looking for his father, trying to save his brother, and having some implied intimacy with a fairy.

What's so "24" about any of those things?  Aren't 17 year olds ditching their parents and doing the same thing in other YA books? I read someone else's review this week and the fact that Jacob is 24 bothered her a lot.  Why is that? Is it because he's not 17?  If he were 17, maybe readers would be more content-ed.... Isn't a 24 year old dealing with these problems more appropriate though?

Spoiler-free review: Gorgeous cover. No huge trust fall issues, and lots of very nice passages...but slightly predictable. Funke weaves in some dark fairy tales for an interesting world behind the mirror. I'm envious of the beautiful charcoal illustrations inside too.

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Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Query Cure

vis Academia Barilla
....I'm still looking for that actually. So if you come across it in your travels, let me know! However, I am letting my new query cure (as in "cure" a ham, which ironically, I don't eat) and hopefully when I look at it next week, I'll be able to separate the chaff from the grain.  Thought I'd put it out there for any passers-by to comment/assist.

So here's my latest attempt:

Sybil is really not a fan of “Once Upon a Time” and she’s certainly not interested in a Prince Charming, or Sultan, or any entitled Istanbulite who thinks Casanova is a demi-god. She’s perfectly capable on her own, never mind the literally painful nightmares which must have something to do with her adoption.

With two weeks left in her semester abroad, Sybil bumps into a familiar face, except she’s never met him before. Maybe she’s just curious because Haydon shares her clairvoyance, but he also triggers a fiery energy she has trouble controlling. Aggressive amber orbs and Technicolor visions haunt her when she tries to forget him and she finds herself tempted…until a fanatical priest forces the clues to fall into place.

Her biological mother helped her escape the chauvinistic clutches of the djinn world. So Sybil isn’t happy to be thrown back into it with Haydon, or to discover that the throne of Cilicia is her birthright. She just wants to get back to her old, predictable life. Instead she’s sucked into a power struggle with her father’s rival and faced with a choice: bigamy with a chance at regaining her humanity…or a future cut off from both worlds forever.

BURNT AMBER is a YA fantasy of 73,000 words, inspired by historical characters and landmarks. The older YA voice will appeal to Kristin Cashore fans. I use my experience from living in Turkey and marrying into a Turkish family to add authentic details. More information about the places, djinn lore and other customs described in the book can be found at

And here's my two sentence pitch:

Sybil is really not a fan of “Once Upon a Time” and she’s certainly not interested in a Prince Charming, or Sultan, or any entitled Istanbulite who thinks Casanova is a demi-god. So she’s less than pleased when she's sucked into a power struggle in the chauvinistic djinn world and faced with a choice: bigamy with a chance at regaining her humanity…or a future cut off from both worlds forever.


Friday, October 8, 2010

Rapture on Raptors

via National Geographic
I like raptors. There's something about the hoot of an owl or the cry of a hawk that conjurs magnificence.

I specifically love the Peregrine falcon. That may be because DDT almost killed them all by the time I was born, so conservation efforts focused on the Peregrine for years afterward. I remember touring the Kennedy Space Center as a teen and the highlight of my visit was a Peregrine falcon sighting. Go figure!

The bird really is extraordinary. It dives up to 200 miles per hour, making it the fastest creature on earth. The name "Peregrine" comes from the wandering tendency of the bird and various subspecies are found on every continent, except for the polar regions. The agility of longwinged Peregrines is amazing, better than the higher ranked (by the Book of St. Albans) broadwing eagles. Exceptional vision also make it highly favored by falconers. 

Falconry was once a noble pursuit in Europe, the Middle East and even Japan.  In the UAE, the sport is an important part of national heritage. Conservation there has taken on epic proportion, with the country spending millions of dollars on breeding centers and falconry events. (I lived there for a while so I've even had a falcon on my arm...I must have a picture around here someplace...)

Symbolically, the falcon means good things:
  • The sun. Egyptian sun god Ra is portrayed with the head of a falcon.
  • Nobility
  • Strategy 
  • Loyalty  (It mates for life.)
  • Focus
All of these things make for a good hero and serendipitously, Freya (see Goddess Culture) wears a cloak of falcon feathers. 

This is a clip of an American farmer and his tame red-tailed hawk.  Some of you may not appreciate watching a bird hunt down a rabbit, but I'm amazed by nature at work.

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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Krak des Chevaliers

Krak des Chevaliers, Syria. UNESCO World Herit...Image via WikipediaTurkey is an awesome place to live if you think castles are cool. The Knights Hospitaller (more on them later) and other crusaders sprinkled the Mediterranean coast with them in various shapes and sizes. There are so many that after a while, you think you've seen enough and they even fade to the background.  Don't make the same mistake I did - drag yourself into every one you come across! I missed some interesting things. (Granted, I was very tired and climbing around ruins is exhausting. I opted for the beach.)
For this week's field trip, we'll go farther along the pilgrimage route into Syria, near the border of Lebanon. There's no chance of missing the main base of the Knights Hospitaller, Krak des Chevaliers, there. The fortress is one of the most important preserved military castles in the world. 
Never heard of it, right? Me neither, until I started researching. (It was my wallpaper for a while because just looking at the impressive structure inspires me.) The castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and if it weren't for the location, I think it would be mobbed with tourists.

Krak des Chevaliers is the largest crusader castle in the Holy Land.  When the original inner castle was given to the Knights Hospitaller in 1142, they expanded it into a concentric castle.  The outer walls are at least 10 feet thick, even up to 100 feet thick at the base of the south side.  Numerous guard towers are as wide as 30 feet.
The Knights also built a gothic-style inner ward, along with stables for 1,000 horses and quarters for 2,000 soldiers.  Not only is the fortress strong, there is storage dug into the cliff underneath it.  That strategic planning meant the castle could withstand seige for up to 5 years. It was never taken by force, only through trickery and finally, because of the decline of the Knights' importance.

Other castles were built to emulate the style of Krak des Chevaliers, but none as large or effective.

Impenetrable castle + Crusader knights = Chapter 11!

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Watch this video clip for an idea of the scale.

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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Tao of the Phoenix & the Dragon

"While Eeyore frets ...

... and Piglet hesitates
... and Rabbit calculates
... and Owl pontificates
...Pooh just is."

That's the Tao of Pooh.

It was required reading for my roommate in college and I wonder if that's where she learned to be clueless. (Probably not.) I'm more of a cross between Eeyore and Piglet myself. In fact, good characters have more than just the one personality trait. (Usually that combination is more interesting than fretting and hesitating.) Matthew Rush argues that Finding Balance in our characters is essential to a successful novel and I agree.

Of course, when you have characters with unique, paranormal or superhuman powers, equilibrium can be harder to come by. Djinn energy can be an unstoppable force so the struggle for balance is a core element of Sybil's character arc. It's difficult for her to acknowledge kundalini/phoenix rising until she learns to manage it with a particular ballast.

In Taoism, the counterweight of the phoenix is the dragon.  Phoenix is female, representing the yin or the empress, and the dragon is male, representing the yang or the emperor.  An excess of one or the other is unwise, while equalization between the two is symbolic of harmonious yin and yang.

As any student of Taoism knows, there is no good or evil, only balance.
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