We All Just Want to Have Fun

If you’d asked me how much drinking liquor was tied into to my idea of having fun, I’d have said “not much.” And I’d have been wrong.

It took going all the way the United Arab Emirates to realize it.

The funny thing is, I’m mostly a wine-with-dinner kind of lady. I don’t really like bars or crowds, and I don’t like the feeling of being drunk. Yet, that little glass of something in my hand is apparently my signal to relax, because dinners in beautiful settings just didn’t feel the same without a cocktail. How funny.

I’m guessing I’m far from alone, and the UAE struggles with this fact. The country belongs to the more open-minded part of the Arab world, and it aspires to be an international playground. Tourism is an important part of its economy. The UAE wants you to visit, and wants you to have a good time while you are there.

So, although observant Muslims are expected to remain liquor-free, concessions are made. Non-Muslim locals can purchase a small amount of alcohol for personal use. Visitors can buy drinks in some hotels.

As a wine drinker, I discovered a glass of my favorite beverage was not only pricey there, it was generally mediocre at best, and stingily poured. I never bought more than one. But, I could buy it.

I did look hard at the substitutes that were provided. How do the non-drinkers remind themselves it is time for play?

Well, in the big cities of the UAE,  physical beauty abounds. From dancing fountains and light shows to magnificent architecture, Dubai practically screams at you to appreciate the visual treats in front of your eyes.

Indulgence of the taste buds is everywhere. Food is lavish and generally quite good. Options for extreme indulgence tempt even the budget traveler.

It’s only a few dollars more to get 23 Karat gold flakes added to ones cappuccino. Who can resist the idea? My travel companion and I couldn’t.

Shopping malls are more common than anywhere I’ve ever been, and many of them stay open past midnight. There are water parks and themed museums and plenty more such places to go to relax.

The thriving tourism industry offers thrills instead of drinks. Dune bashing in 4-wheel drive vehicles is popular, and if you pick the right tour, you can also get a henna tattoo. And ride a camel for a minute or too. And watch some pretty impressive fire dancing, up close and personal.

Fun. We all want to have it. Travel to a predominately Muslim country gets one to thinking about whether a drink or two always needs to be part of the recipe.

Feeling at home

I was welcomed home a year ago, when I attended Burning Man for the first time. Over the course of my days there, this began to seem less strange. In some ways, I had stumbled upon a community of like minded souls, and I was home. That feeling, more than anything, is why I want to go back.

Last week, I attended my first World Science Fiction Convention (better known as Worldcon) at the amazing convention center in Dublin shown above. No one welcomed me home when I arrived, but after a day or two I realized they may as well have. This wildly varying collection of geeks are my people, too, and I feel every bit as at home with them.

What is surprising is the many things I found in common between these two different events, both of which spoke to me with such force.

Be you.

I’ve never meet two groups of people so dedicated to encouraging humans to be who they are in their hearts. From the wild array of costumes (and lack of clothing) at Burning Man to the colorful masquerade ball at Worldcon (shown left), everyone can let their inner light shine.

Participate, don’t observe.

Worldcon does not sell tickets to attend. It sells memberships in the organization, and being a member allows one to come participate. Do not expect to be entertained. At either place. They are both very clear about that.

Don’t be an asshole.

I found the culture of tolerance and acceptance as strong at once place as at the other, although I recognize individual experiences do vary. Not everyone may succeed every moment, but the aspiration of being both human and kind is a huge thing.

Do be capable.

Burning Man has its ten principals which include radical self-reliance. Worldcon just expects you to step in and handle the registration desk, or provide tech support, or whatever else you’ve grabbed a volunteer ticket for, and to do it as well as you can. Everything is done by a volunteer, and usually it’s a somewhat befuddled and inexperienced one. Everyone else is expected to be kind while the volunteer figures things out. It works better than you might think.

Among other things, I got to run the spotlight for the opening ceremony and for the Hugo awards, It was a position for which I was only marginally qualified. No one cared. Everyone thanked me very much. I had a lot of fun (and a terrific seat for both events.)

Be a community.

Along with the radical self-expression and individual competence, there is a sense of being a family. At worldcon, name badges let an attendee specify preferred pronouns and unisex bathrooms provided a space for everyone to be comfortable.

Worldcon went out of its way to accommodate those with access issues. Such efforts aren’t possible out on the playa, but the custom of gifting and the encouragement of assisting those in need of help has much the same effect.

Worldcon has been going on for 77 years now, attracting 5000 or so attendees to multiple countries. Next year it will be in New Zealand and I doubt I’ll be able to go. There are people who’ve attended for twenty or more years in a row.

Burning Man has it’s root in 80’s San Francisco. It now attracts nearly 80,000 people a year, many of whom have attended for twenty or more years in a row.

I’ll never be able to do that either, but I will be back at both events, hopefully many times. I think when you find a place in this world where you feel at home, you need to grab on to that. If you’re lucky enough to find such a thing in more places than one, well …. lucky you.

(Read more about my Worldcon adventures at And the winner, she is …., at  An Irish Worldcon: I’m here!  at A New Irish Experience and at Forward into the Past.)

 

 

Road to Reality

Today it is my pleasure to welcome author Dianne Burnett and her autobiography Road to Reality.

Author’s description of the book:

Get ready to laugh. Get ready to cry. Get ready for a whirlwind of an adventure. Settle in for a powerful, poignant story of inner strength and courage-and get a fascinating, behind-the-scenes look at the making of Survivor, the world’s most popular reality show.

Spinning their mutual love of exotic adventure into gold, Dianne Burnett and her former husband, TV producer Mark Burnett, co-created Eco-Challenge, an expedition-length racing event televised on Discovery Channel that catapulted them into the arena of reality TV and set the stage for Survivor-a modern-day Robinson Crusoe with a million-dollar prize. But Dianne and Mark’s fairy-tale marriage did not survive their Hollywood success . . . she found herself left behind, her contributions unrecognized. She lost her partner in life and began to lose her identity. In that experience, she found an opportunity to grow.

A fascinating, fast-paced, heart-warming “page-turner,” The Road to Reality takes readers on a roller-coaster ride-complete with a zesty romance, as well as the ups and downs of going for your dreams-while it imparts the lessons learned as Dianne discovers what really matters in life is something beyond fortune and fame.

Excerpt:

“Di, imagine us rafting down those,” Mark said, pointing at the foaming, churning waters as the helicopter suddenly dipped lower. I looked down at the rushing Colorado river tipped with whitecaps. No, thanks. Just flying around in a helicopter was plenty daring for me. I pulled baby James tighter, and resumed my silent chanting of The Lords Prayer, my typical pastime when in whirlybirds.

“And over there,” Mark said, pointing to looming cliffs, “they’ll repel 1,000 feet down feet down the sheer faces.” I imagined sliding down a rope that stretched the length of the Empire State Building and shuddered. It was the spring of 1994, and James and I had flown to Utah to be with Mark on the latest phase of planning for our first Eco-Challenge already being billed as “the toughest adventure race in the world.”

My Review:

One can’t help but admire both Dianne Burnett’s courage and her heart as she pours the story of her life into this unusual autobiography. She appears to do her best to be honest and fair as she details her role in the creation of the first big reality TV show, Survivor, and how her marriage to the driven man credited with the final product fell apart.

This book is not an angry tirade, or a plea for sympathy, and it could so easily have been either. Rather it is story of a woman struggling to maintain relationships with her own divorced parents, with the two sons she loves deeply, and with a man whose idea of marriage seems to have been to largely roll her into his tumultuous world, until he didn’t want her there any more.

In the telling of the tale, there is love, adventure, stories of strange experiences, and a lot of the day to day coping that makes up most of our lives. I found the author surprisingly easy to relate to. I suppose the “mom thing” helped.

I especially appreciated her gift for beautiful description of the many exotic places she visited. Here is how she describes her lodging in Morocco. I’ve been there, and what she says is both poetic and accurate.

My mouth kept falling open at the intoxicating detail: arched windows
peering onto inner sanctuaries, hallways wrapped in gorgeous patterned
tiles, magnificently crafted wood furniture with mother-of-pearl
inlays, lacy lattices, marble columns, cut-out metal lanterns that reflected
star patterns on the floor, and glass lights that splashed even more color
around the bright rooms.

I also appreciated the many gems of wisdom scattered throughout. She and I have led very different lives, yet this resonated.

I took a vacation—by myself—wanting to reflect on where I was at in my life and where I wanted to go. Travel, especially traveling alone, has always helped me clarify who I am—separate from my everyday life and the things that define me at home.

My biggest frustration with the book was that I felt the approach didn’t quite do her amazing story justice. Too many parts of the book read almost like a laundry list of events, particularly the couple of chapters devoted to her life before she met Mark. Not that her childhood wasn’t interesting; I just think the material should have been saved for another book.

So many events, from an encounter with her new husband’s angry ex-wife and her two identical triplet sisters, to making it to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in spite of her fear of heights, deserved far more space than they were given, in my opinion. Other events, conveyed equally briefly, could have been deleted to serve the cause of better dramatic effect.

That being said, there was still so much I liked about this book. It held my interest, and stuck with me whenever I put the book down. I cheered for the author throughout, and all the more so as she fought for the strength and compassion to survive a difficult divorce and emerge on a healthy and happy path of her own.

(Rating: I gave this a 2.9/5 and rounded up to three stars on other sites.)

About the Author:

Dianne Burnett is an author, producer, and actor of stage and screen. She is also a philanthropist and entrepreneur. Dianne and her ex-husband, Mark Burnett, joined their creative forces to invent Eco-Challenge, the impetus for Survivor, which kick-started America’s reality-television show craze and went on to become the longest-running and most lucrative reality TV series of all time.

Following the success of Survivor, Dianne produced and acted in the stage play Beyond Therapy at the Santa Monica Playhouse, served as Executive Producer of the indie film Jam (which won Best Narrative Feature at the Santa Fe Film Festival), and acted in Everybody Loves Raymond. In memory of her mother, Joan, who lost her battle with esophageal cancer in 2010, Dianne formed Joan Valentine—A Foundation for Natural Cures, a nonprofit organization that serves as a resource for those seeking alternatives to traditional medicine.

She also recently launched a multimedia platform and social network: called theotherside.com, it explores alternative views on everything from relationships to health. Formerly of New York, Dianne now lives in Malibu, California, with her family.

Find her on Facebook, visit her on her blog, and buy Road to Reality on Amazon.

Dianne Burnett is giving away a $50 Amazon or Barnes and Nobel Gift card!

Enter here to win.

This post is part of a tour sponsored by Goddess Fish. Check out all the other tour stops and find many more ways to enter and to win!

 

If you are interested in a review from me:

My protagonist in Shape of Secrets is a human chameleon who solves a murder, so I am predisposed to reviewing stories on this blog featuring interesting shape shifters, or any soft-boiled crime novel with an unusual premise. Because much of the story takes place in the South Pacific, I also have a soft spot for any book involving islands.

I am not interested in reviewing stories which promote any particular religion, children’s books, or horror of any type. Please do not ask me to review BDSM erotica or books about vampires or zombies.

If you would like to be considered for a review, contact me at Zane (dot) Zeitman (at) gmail (dot) com.

Dragon’s Revenge

I’m back to doing reviews on this blog and happy to be doing so. Today I welcome author and artist C.J. Shane and her novel Dragon’s Revenge.

About Dragon’s Revenge:

When Tucson private detective and Iraq War vet Letty Valdez is hired to investigate a murder, she immediately finds herself targeted by a violent criminal. To find the killer, Letty turns to an old memoir of life in late 19th century Tucson. Clues in in the memoir, with its tale of love between two immigrants – one, an Italian widow, and the other, an exiled Chinese revolutionary – launch Letty on a suspense-filled struggle to find answers, to stop the murderer – and to stay alive!

My Review:

By the time I finished this book, I loved it.

The author attempts something difficult, and that always intrigues me. She mixes an almost abrupt telling of a modern day detective story with a lyrical, sometimes even meandering, historical document from a century earlier. At first the combination is jarring, but before long it sort of becomes hot and sour soup, or fried ice cream if you prefer. However you think of it, it works well and the rich tale she has woven from the two very different pieces captivated me.

Nearly half the book is a love story between two immigrants, one Italian and one Chinese. It’s told beautifully through the eyes of her young son, and it is both touching and believable. The prejudice shown to so many ethnicities will make you want to scream, and will possibly force you to take a hard look at some of today’s behavior, too. (At least I hope it will.)

The other piece of the story involves PI Letty Valdez helping a friend solve a murder that occurs in a university library. Of course the investigation quickly becomes far more complicated, with Letty in danger, a few tantalizing red herrings emerging, and a tie-in to the century-old love story. Ultimately, there is a satisfying ending with more than one unsavory sort getting what unsavory sorts deserve.

Letty Valdez is a wonderful character, as are most of the people who populate her life. In fact, one of my few criticisms is that perhaps too many of them are a little too wonderful. A tad more nuance and the occasional trace of a fault here and there, would probably have made the story stronger. Yet, I much prefer the direction Shane errs in to the other alternative: a story filled with alleged heroes no one can like or root for. I plan to download  more Letty Valdez mysteries to my Kindle.

I readily admit that a reading experience is a combination of the skill of the writer, and the interests of the reader. Author Shane tells an interesting tale, and she tells it well. Her story also happens to intersect well with me. I’ve done a fair amount of research on immigration laws for my own writing and practically jumped out of my seat when I read about the Chinese exclusion act. I share the author’s apparent passion for social justice and her love of desert sunsets. And I practice qi gong (a relative of gong fu referred to often in the book.) So, while this is a novel I think anyone could enjoy; it is fair to disclose this is one book I could hardly have kept from appreciating.

I find the five start rating system much too confining, so I’ve gone to my own decimal point system. I give this a 4.6 (one of my highest ratings ever). It will round to 5 on all review sites.

(Know that I received a free mobi file of this book from Goddess Fish Promotions, the value of which would never be enough to entice me to write a better review for anyone.)

Read an Excerpt:

from the memoir: Mama agreed to sing at the rededication of the cathedral. She considered this a great honor and a spiritual responsibility. She wanted to do well to show her respect and devotion. Because of this, she began practicing every week as she had time, even though the rededication was six months away. She liked to climb a ladder up onto the flat roof of our adobe house and sing there. I asked her once why she went up on the roof.

“It’s the right place to talk to God and that’s what I’m doing when I sing. Singing here helps me to be strong.” Mama said. Mama was very religious. She talked to God a lot. She also talked to Jesus, the Virgin, and all the saints. Me, I never had much use for all that.

She was up on the roof one day when Drago came up the street with his cart. When Mama didn’t appear at our front door, he entered the gate to the side yard hoping to find her at the outdoor ovens. It was then that she began singing. Drago moved into the yard and stepped away from the adobe wall so that he could see her on the roof.

Mama stood straight upright, her long skirts moving slightly in the breeze. Her hands were clasped in front of her. She took another deep breath and out came that glorious mezzo-soprano, full and textured, subtle, rich with emotions I was too young to identify but would later know, emotions like passion and longing. Tendrils of curly dark hair escaped from the knot on her neck. Her northern Italian skin, pale like a pearl, glowed in the sunlight, and her dark eyes sparkled. My mama was a beautiful woman and she sang like an angel.

Drago stood transfixed in our garden, his hands at his side, his head bent upward to watch her. He was utterly still, utterly silent. I know this because I was hiding high in the branches of a tall mesquite tree behind him where he couldn’t see me. I was supposed to be doing my chores but I, too, liked to watch Mama when she was singing.

Drago stood for the longest time listening to Mama. I was watching Mama but when I looked at Drago, I saw that tears were running down his face.

I think that was the day that Drago fell in love with Mama, the day he first heard her sing.

This review is part of a book review tour sponsored by Goddess Fish Promotions.  Visit Goddess Fish on Facebook  and on Twitter. Click on the image to see the other stops on the tour.

Win a Prize:

C.J. Shane will be awarding her original artwork – an ink drawing of ocotillo on handmade paper in a wooden frame ready to hang with hooks and wire. Size of frame: 6 1/2″ by 8 1/2″ (U.S. ONLY),

The winner will be determined via rafflecopter. There are various ways to enter the contest multiple times during the tour. Enter here.

About the Author:

C.J. Shane is a writer and visual artist in Arizona. In addition to her mystery fiction, she is the author of eight nonfiction books. Her first fiction book, Desert Jade: A Letty Valdez Mystery, (11-2017) is a finalist for Best Suspense-Thriller novel, New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards.

Learn more about the author at https://www.cjshane.com/
https://www.cjshane.com/dragons-revenge.html

Also learn more about her at Goodreads, BookBub, and Facebook.

Learn more about Rope’s End Publishing.

Where to buy this book:

Amazon
Smashwords
Barnes and Noble
Kobo
iTunes

If you are interested in a review from me:

My protagonist in Shape of Secrets is a human chameleon who solves a murder, so I am predisposed to reviewing stories on this blog featuring interesting shape shifters, or any soft-boiled crime novel with an unusual premise.

I am not interested in reviewing non-fiction, romance novels, stories which promote any particular religion, children’s books, or horror of any type. Please do not ask me to review BDSM erotica or books about vampires or zombies.

If you would like to be considered for a review, contact me at Zane (dot) Zeitman (at) gmail (dot) com.

How about this ad?

It started out so well.

Shape Lock 1

After I finally gained a little traction with Amazon’s lock screen ads for my first book, I hit the jackpot with my first Shape of Secrets ad shown to the right. I got 83,467 impressions, 475 clicks, and sold four books. Wow. Yes, I spent $63.78 doing it, but hey. I spent sixty some dollars selling one book for my first novel. I was making progress.

I’d also tried Amazon’s other choice for advertising, something called a sponsored ad. You don’t write copy for these; you pick either a bunch of key words, or you find other similar books, or you select a sub-genre or two. Then you bid to get your lovely cover displayed in the banner of suggestions that appears any time anyone buys anything on Amazon.

Shape Lock 2

I’d tried a mess of keywords for first book “One of One” and got one impression. That’s right, one. It was a very cheap ($0.22) and highly ineffective experiment. Forget keywords.

So for Shape of Secrets, I looked through Amazon’s suggested sub-genres. One was LGBT Fantasy Fiction. That was a category? Okay, the book is about a young gay man who can alter his appearance to look like anyone, so I guessed it fit. I tried it and got 87,684 impressions, 170 clicks, and sold three books. Hot damn. Yes, I’d spent$63.22 to do it, so I was losing money while Amazon was laughing all the way to the bank, but at least something was happening.

Shape Lock 3

At the start of this endeavor I’d set aside a few hundred dollars for climbing my learning curve as my own advertising exec. At this rate, I was going to be out of a job soon. I decided to dial back my budgets and bids.

Shape Lock 2 (my shorthand for the second Shape of Secrets lock screen ad) got 72,162 impressions, 343 clicks, spent $57.42 and only sold one book. Oops. Looked like the only thing I dialed back was sales. That wasn’t good.

I tried again. For no discernable reason, Shape Lock 3 crashed and burned with 443 impressions, 1 click and no sales. The ad never even had a Kindle Fire version, something I’m still trying to figure out. (Any ideas?)

Shape Lock 4

Curious, I tried almost the same ad again. Shape Lock 4 did almost what I wanted it to do. Except, only did it once.  It got 5,687 impressions, 12 clicks, and sold one book for $3.24. I almost made a profit! If I could get that up to two books, and then do it a hundred times …..

But I can’t.

I’m back to trying new text, targeting smaller groups more specifically, and trying new sub-genre sponsored ads. Is there anyone in this world more hopeful than a self-published author? Possibly not.
For more about my Amazon advertising adventures see “Would this ad work for you?”

Nice to be understood

I don’t usually blog about my reviews, and with good reason. When you ask someone to take hours out of their own life to read something you’ve written, it’s best to let them have their opinion and leave it be.

I know I’ve loved books others don’t like, and missed the charm many found in popular books. Reading is an interaction between the author and the writer, and the two don’t always match up well, even when an intelligent reader comes across a well done story.  We’re all different, right?

Kit 'N KabookleNone-the-less, it made me smile this morning when two reviewers of Shape of Secrets happened to get my style and like what I am trying to do. Mary DeSantis has a blog called Kit ‘N Kabookle, spotlighting books and authors of fantasy, science fiction, mystery/thriller/suspense, romance, and ya. She liked my “thought-provoking and expertly woven tale of the human condition.”

The Reading AddictThe Reading Addict, featuring “some of the books that I have read” loved “the way seemingly unconnected elements are introduced and elaborated on until things start to weave together into a fun and complex set of mysteries”

It wasn’t so much that the reviews were basically positive (though they were and I’m glad they were), it’s that these two reviewers happened to like what I’m trying to do. It’s no given in life, but it sure is nice when it happens.

 

How does he really look?

The human chameleon Zane can look like anyone, but when I first wrote Shape of Secrets (called y1 at the time) I was obsessed with how Zane really looked. My first cover included Zane as a child, and that guided my vision.

When I decided to rename my books, I needed new covers. Current fashion is to show the characters, so it looked like I had to find someone who could show the world what the adult Zane really looked like. I found a group called Deranged Doctor Design.

The first head DDD proposed for Zane was great, but he had too much facial hair. (My realistic shape shifter is unable to alter the dead hair cells on his head and on his face.)

DDD came back with a second option and it just wasn’t right. I didn’t know what Zane looked like, but it wasn’t this. I could tell.

The third attempt looked right as soon as I saw it. He became Zane without modification.

When it came time to create the last cover, we needed Zane to make a second appearance, but not with an identical face. This particular model did have many options to choose from, but unfortunately most of them weren’t so appropriate for the sort of book I was writing.

Zanes

 

PROPOSAL 2018-0814 S R Cronin b06 v4But among all the sexy options, there was another version of Zane that would work,  particularly when paired a body that fit well with my family friendly story.

It’s funny how this model now is Zane in my head.  I guess this is what he really looks like.