Tag Archives: books

The Panic Before the Holidays

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Caramels waiting to be wrapped.

Caramels waiting to be wrapped.


So after being sick for two weeks, I have a huge list of things I need to get done before the holidays:

shopping for presents, stocking stuffers, and food

wrapping all the things

packaging and mailing boxes

sending cards with a letter and photos of the kids

And I have to make four batches of caramels!

So I did what any reasonable person would do. I wrote down all the little steps so I can see my accomplishments, and I bought four books and read them back to back. Then I decided I’d read them too quickly, so now I’m re-reading them.

How do you deal with holiday stress? Is everything on your list done?

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Is Man Whore the New Prince Charming?

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Alica Mckenna Johnson

Art by Nemo from Pixabay


I have noticed a new trend that I’m not sure I like, the ‘hero’ of the story being a man whore. Now before we go further I’ll explain that to me the difference between someone sexually active, aggressive, and casual and a ‘man whore or slut’ is respect. Respect for themselves and respect for their partners.

So a while back I was reading the beginnings of several books, which I didn’t bother to finish, and each of them the hero was slutty. I don’t care about abs, tats, and broad shoulders when I’m worried about STIs, seriously yuck! And the heroine is either a virgin or has only had sex with one other person and that was a long-term relationship. This isn’t horrid, but I also noticed these similarities:

1. The hero does whatever he does with a girl draped all over him and groping him. Usually as this is described, the focus is on the girl, and the hero almost disappears from the text. “She sucked on his ear and ground herself into him.” Notice that he doesn’t move or respond at all? Weird.

2. The heroine refers to the busty blond (jealous much fellow authors) wrapped around the hero as a slut, whore, cheap, easy, skank. Ummm, now I don’t like your heroine. I feel bad for people with such low self-esteem that they treat themselves with such little respect, but calling them a dirty skank, just no.

3. There is a TON of drinking, like eight shots in a night. This might be personal to me, but I can’t relate or connect to this kind of behavior.

Alica Mckenna-Johnson, shots

Photo by Darinka Maji on Flicker


4. The goody-goody heroine is ‘forced’ by her wild best friend into drinking, wearing a tight sexy outfit she feels uncomfortable in but that the ‘skank’ from earlier would have worn, and going into the bar in the first place.

5. The hero is willing to give up his bacchanalian life for her, to be with her, because no other woman has made him feel like this. Really? You’ve shagged hundreds of ‘bar bunnies,’ and this one woman will change all of that with the touch of her hand?

6. CONDOMS!!! Hello, not only should you be mentioning and having your characters use condoms BUT I’m not touching someone like that until he’s had a Silkwood shower and been tested by a doctor!

Alica Mckenna-Johnson, condoms

Photo by lookcatalog

Now so we are clear, I’m not a prude, I’ve had my fun and wild days. But slamming other woman because you’re jealous and want to be draped all over the guy they’re wrapped around, total lack of respect for self and partners, not talking about safe sex, and the heroine being ‘forced’ into things by her best friend, just makes me want to hurl. I can’t connect with the characters, I don’t like them, I don’t find them interesting, and I wouldn’t want to be them.

So what do you think? Have you run into the man whore as the prince charming yet? Is it just me? I mean, I can’t like all tropes, but do you love the man whore in place of prince charming?

Curbing My Voyeuristic Tendencies

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Book cover PC1 005
My name is Alica and I am a back story whore, there I said it! Wow it feels good to finally confess that. I love back story, all of my characters have rich full back stories and my critique partners carry dull, rusty, blood soaked knives with them when we get together in order to get rid of it.

I have gotten better as we have grown into a strong trusted group, but sometimes I still dig my heels into and refuse to give up my little darlings. Which according to Kristen Lamb I need to recognize and kill.

So why am I confessing this to all you fine upstanding people? Because I have taken Phoenix Child down to do some major editing and revising. When I got the proof copy for the paper version of Phoenix Child I found some mistakes I wanted to fix, I swear I find new mistakes ever time I look at my work in a different format.

Anyway, it suddenly dawned on me that in my first book was Star Wars Episode One, not the same plot or anything but so much back story and bringing in characters that don’t move the whole story forward, that I really needed to do something.

My critique partners had told me before I published that I had two books and should separate the group home story from the magical phoenix story. I pouted, cried, and choose not to. Well now I am doing it. I will write the group home story eventually, but for now I’m going to focus on the magical phoenix story as I have book 2 Legacy of the Feathered Serpent already written and book 3 outlined.

I am choosing to separate the two stories because while writing book 3 I realized that the strong group home relationships really didn’t have a place in what was currently happening. Not everyone is voyeuristic enough to want to read about characters checking their facebook pages for updates on previous characters.

I am speaking at a writing convention in March so I am hoping to have the book revised and all the blood mopped up by then. I will make sure Kindle readers get notified of the update, which you can download for free. If you bought it on Smashwords keep an eye on my blog I’ll announce the re-release and offer a coupon code for a free copy 🙂

I hope for those of you who enjoyed Phoenix Child in all it’s back story glory will also enjoy the newer faster paced version. And for those who found my book’s pace too slow or there was too much going on perhaps you’ll give it another try.

Either way thanks to all of you for your support. I have learned so much and while of course I wish I could write and instantly publish a perfect book, I am not ashamed to say I am learning more all the time and doing my best to constantly improve myself and my work.

My new motto for my critique group: I may pout but I may not doubt.

Just me Begging

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Photo by Enokson


I have gotten such generous support for this on Facebook I thought I would post my begging here 🙂

As some of you know from following my blog I am houseparent at a group home for abused and neglected kids who have been removed from their homes by CPS. And the teens who live here have read ALL my YA books! One of them reads like I do and can read a book in a day, I can’t keep up on my own. Please help me refill my book shelves! I am hoping for books for middle grade and young adult and for both boys and girls.

So if you’re cleaning out your bookshelves, or if you want to pass on your own books I would love to have a shelf of indie books for my kids to read, please let me know. I’ll give you an address you can send them too. And don’t worry about giving me duplicates, if I have more than one they won’t fight over who gets to read it first!

Feel free to pass this on and thanks for your support!

Armed and Dangerous

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Photo by halseike

First I owe everyone apologies- I have been in a funk, and hiding under my covers reading – well we won’t discuss what exactly 🙂 Because of that I wasn’t answering comments the way I should and I don’t have an edited post for you today. But I have things to say- so welcome to the crazy world of my thoughts without Kilian to save me from myself!

When life gets overwhelming I pull out my Cozi to-do list and try and breathe and work through things one manageable task at a time. When this doesn’t work, I hide. I grab my computer and crawl under the covers and read. I do get work stuff done- things that other people will hold me accountable for, but things on my list- yeah not happening.

In-case you were wondering items on my to-do list don’t disappear while I hide. I am hopeful every time I do this, but nope they don’t move. However they do seem to organize, multiple and arm themselves. As of writing this I have yet to open my Cozi to-do list, as I will need to put on protective eyes gear and grab a shield first.

Photographed by RachelH_

I have learned not to fight these down times, even though the getting back up might involve blood shed. When I fight, my self talk because really horrible and I hide from the world a lot longer than normal.

This time I had a work activity to bounce me back. I drove my five work kids (including a 2 year old) 6 hours North to ride the “Polar Express”- yep just like the book/movie. It was super fun! The kids were great, and I survived drive in rain and hail- I HATE driving in rain. It scares the crap out of me. When I’m home if it looks like it’s going to rain hard I don’t go out- not even for chocolate!

Once we got home- which was much later than I was planning due to the van doors being frozen shut, and having to stop because the kids wanted to use the bathroom and eat- so rude! I had a pout attack. I wanted to go to this Science Fiction/ Fantasy/ Horror writers conference, which I had won tickets too, but two of the panels I wanted to see were already over, and I wouldn’t get there until noon.

So I sat and pouted and checked my email trying to decide what to do. I was tired and bitchy, and hiding and reading was looking good. But then shocking came a piph (not a full epiphany just a piph) of anti-zen- I was waiting to WANT to go, I was waiting to FEEL like going, and that wasn’t wasn’t going to happen. I could stay home and read or I could go, but I would start either of them in a bad mood. So I sprayed on some perfume – you’re welcome- and I went.

I had a great time. Not sure I learned a lot, but I got to have fun, I have a few new plot/ character ideas germinating in my brain, and I got to talk to adults and writers.

Photo by elfidomx


One thing I would like to say to my fellow geeks, you CAN have social skills. Really it’s okay, you can keep your ultimate geek of the universe card and not ‘talk’ to the panel as if you are sitting down having a one on one conversation with them. Really, social skills are our friends- even Sherlock can fake them 🙂

Anyway- wild rambles, not sure if there was a point, but I had a good time, learned stuff about myself (like I’m an idiot trying to plan a tight schedule with a 2 yr-old) and got myself out of my funk 🙂

How was your weekend? Did you do anything exciting?

I love Workbooks

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Photographed by psd


Not spelling or math or boring workbooks, but the ones that go with self-help/self-growth books. I LOVE THEM. I have this thing for delving into my own emotional world/ psyche / mental state.

Unfortunately for my husband, I can’t always answer the questions. I mean how can I possibly judge how many times per week I am irrational? Or, if the Zombie Apocalypse comes, who will be the first person I will kill? I can’t answer important questions like these on my own; I need help.

Hubby has spent many, many hours helping me answer questions in workbooks, personality tests, and internet quizzes. He somehow manages to be honest without reducing me to tears. He is truly a gifted man.


I can’t remember any of the results of any of these. I’ve done Myers-Brigg’s, Enneagram, and which Star Trek character I am. I can’t remember any of them.

Of course what’s scary is that, depending on my mood at the moment, the answers can be very, very different.
There are the me-I-wish-I-were answers.

Then the bottom-of-the-well-depressed answers.

And of course the feeling-good-productive-type-A answers.

Which can lead me to be three completely different Star Trek characters. If I’m PMS-ing, I always get
Klingon.

Do you remember the “Purity Test” from high school? I took a psychology class as a senior, and my big end-of-year project was about sexual deviance. Yes, I have always been this way. My teacher was impressed that I could talk about such a subject and answer questions without giggling or blushing 🙂

I passed out 100 purity tests to the students. The other teachers weren’t so happy about that. I think the purity test was the first test I took, and it got me hooked.

I also love those books of questions, anything from “What’s your dream vacation?” to “Would you strangle a child if you could end all disease and suffering on the planet?” I love delving into who I am. Well, truthfully, I love doing just about anything that revolves around ME!

Do you have a favorite quiz, personality test, workbook, or book of questions?

And if you go and take the Purity Test make sure to let me know how pure you are 🙂

Also here is a link to get your fandom card. Find out: What house you would be sorted into in Harry Potter. What District you would live in for the Hunger Games. What alien you would be in Star Trek. And much more! So much fun

Emotionally abusive books*

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*I have stolen this phrase from my good friend Kim. She’s writing a book which I’m hoping won’t smack me around too much.

I have several books that I am afraid to open. I’m not afraid of bad writing. I’m not worried that I will get sucked into a new world and not get anything done- my family is used to that. I am afraid of getting into an emotionally abusive relationship with the book.

I’m worried about getting sucked into an amazing world and not being able to leave, even though I am pissed, scared, or crying my eyes out.

Photographer Ale Paiva


Good writing is like a tight pair of jeans and a black leather jacket on a fine body.

Unless I dislike the book, I can’t/won’t put it down. I will continue to read and even read the sequels. I don’t know why I pick up the next one; maybe it’s the vain and pathetic hope that this time the author won’t rip my heart out and stomp all over it.

I will rant and rave, driving my husband nuts, until he bans me from reading more just so I will regain some semblance of “emotionally sane.”

“No,” I cry out at the very thought of not reading more, even knowing it’s going to hurt and leave me feeling shaky.
So instead, I try to not begin reading them. I try to not even buy them, but eventually someone will give me one. Game of Thrones, which is currently taunting me, I got free at Comic Con. I know I’ll love it, let it take me over, and it will beat me up, leaving me black and blue and turning the page with trembling fingers.

So far I have resisted, but I know I won’t last much longer.

Do you read emotionally abusive books? Do you hide from them or jump right into them with tissues and bruise cream in hand?

Armchair Adventures: Shogun Japan- Samurai, Geisha, and Sake.

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Are you like me? Do you dream of meeting interesting people, trying exotic foods, and seeing places so beautiful they take your breath away? As we wait for unlimited wealth or Dr. Who to make us his new companion (make sure to dress everyday as if today is the day the Dr. comes for you) I invite you to join me on my Armchair Adventures.
This week Armchair Adventures invites you to travel through time to Shogun Japan.

Get something to drink, a snack, and settle in while I give you several book options you can use to travel back to a time full of beauty, ritual, backstabbing, and sexual perversion.


Ronin by Frank Miller
This is a guy’s book. Not that I didn’t enjoy it, but it’s hard to become attached to a Zen Fable that stops, it doesn’t really end because life doesn’t end and honestly I think the ultimate goal of Zen is to drive people crazy. However this is one of my husband’s favorite books so I read it. Like everything else I have read that takes place in feudal Japan there is rape- it is more descriptive then in the other books and was upsetting to me.

I’m not sure what to say, this is the story of a Ronin a masterless samurai, and his journey. He’s an ass, he doesn’t really change. You get a good idea of what life was like for a samurai and village people and was well written. I enjoyed it, but I’m not sure I liked it- does that make sense?? No it didn’t for me either.
I say unless rape is a trigger for you, check it out then you too can be frustrated by Zen.

NOTE- My hubby says his favorite part of the book is the story of the boys training. It comes about half way through, and was good, once I dropped my over protective mom-ness.


Autumn Bridge by Takashi Matsuoka

This is a beautifully written book. I felt transported to Shogun Japan as I turned the pages. The customs, dress, and more importantly the Japanese perceptions of white people and what was happening were very vivid.
Because a culture builds upon its past I find understanding Japan and her people during the Shogun helps me to understand the cultural differences now.

Autumn Bridge is not an afternoon read; at least it wasn’t for me. If you are familiar with Japanese history and names then you might get through it faster, but I had to take my time in order to make sure I kept up with who was doing what and where and when we were.

This book jumps between several different time periods, and while it was confusing at first once I became familiar with the names and differences in the time periods I was able to keep up without too much trouble. And the author brings everything together beautifully. I really enjoyed this book and loved getting lost in Takashi Matsuoka’s Shogun Japan.

I do have one nitpick, I wish the romantic relationships had been as detailed as the fight scenes. I don’t necessarily mean graphic in description, but when they do come together I wish the emotion had been shown to us more. That being said, his other book Cloud of Sparrows is on my TBR (to be read) list. This is a wonderful book, and will definitely transport you to the time of Samurai, Geisha, peasants, and western invasion.


Bundori by Laura Joh Rowland

This is the second book of the detective Sano Ichiro series. While reading the first book wasn’t necessary I wish I had because the story is so good that I’m sad I didn’t start from the beginning. This book sends you into the world of 1689 Edo, Japan. The sights, smells, sounds, and tastes are clear and strongly described. Bundori is a murder mystery that kept me as fully entertained and engaged as learning about the world of a Samurai and Ninja. One thing I have learned is people either pretended to follow Bushido, but didn’t and were slimy backstabbing assholes, or you are Bushido’s bitch. No one follows Bushido, you are lying or Bushido rules you. * Hubby laughed but agreed.

I was drawn into this story, hooked into this world, and Sano’s troubles, including a love affair. I was left guessing until the very end as to who had done what and who’s side people were on. While I want to read the first book, the third is currently sitting next to me just waiting to be read and despite ALL the books I have yet to read, I’m thinking I might just go ahead and read this one right away.


The Way of the Traitor by Laura Joh Rowland

The third of detective Sano Ichiro is sent to Nagasaki, the only port in Japan that allowed foreign ships to land during the time of isolation.

It is so much fun to read about Sano as he finally gets a chance to see the ‘white barbarians’. If you have ever wondered how the Japanese viewed foreigners this si the book for you. Another murder mystery drives Sano to find the truth even if it might led to his death. His assistant Hirata, who we met in Bundori, plays a much bigger role and I really enjoyed the chapters in his POV. Like last time I wanted to scream when the ‘officials’ were backstabbing fake Bushido followers, and also scream when Sano’s hands were tied because he did follow Bushido to the letter.
However I want more, and after checking on Goodreads I have found there are 10 books in the Sano Ichiro series, so we can all escape to feudal Japan for a long time 🙂

WARNING all of these books have rape in them in many different forms. Ronin was the most descriptive, while the others books described it in a more detached way. The next time I read a book for traveling back into Shogun Japan I will try and find something that doesn’t include the rape of woman, men, and children. If you want to read these books but are triggered by descriptions of rape email me or leave a comment and I can go into more detail, so you can decide if its something you can handle. I normally can’t, but did fine this these.

Do you have a favorite book which takes place in shogun Japan?

No adventure is complete without food, which I shall explore on Wednesday day. And for the full sights and sounds of Shogun Japan I will have several movies which will make your journey complete.

Because I always offer music to start off your Monday here is a video of Japanese Folk Music Sakura with some beautiful pictures of Japan.

SMILE AND BE A VILLAIN by Colin Falconer

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Today my fellow blogger and wana minion Colin Falconer has agreed to share with us his thoughts on villains, because every good story needs a great villain.


That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain;
(Hamlet, William Shakespeare, 1.5.105)

When I wrote VENOM friends who read the book asked me how I could dream up such a thoroughly evil man. Because they knew me, they wondered aloud at my devious mind.

In life I don’t consider myself devious at all; there are two reasons I managed it. One, it was based on a real character: Michel Christian is not Charles Sobrajh, but his life was the inspiration and I borrowed his MO.

I also wanted to write the story because I knew how close I came to being one of his victims when I was backpacking through Asia in my twenties. Our paths crossed several times and in several places.

But I believe it’s Michel Christian’s character that makes the book; it not serial killing that fascinates me, it’s charisma. Because true evil is irresistible – until it’s far too late.

I wrote VENOM as an edge of the seat thriller; when it was released in the UK I treasured the letters blaming me for a bad day at work. I was up to 4am finishing your damned book!

But my ambition was to do more than this. I wanted to describe the kind of man, or woman, that we should all learn to treat more warily; the charmer, the beauty, the charismatic life of the party. They are either the most loveable – or the most lethal – people in the world.

The loner who preys on society is dangerous but unsurprising. If you don’t hitchhike or jog in dark places they can be avoided. But we are all prey to the Michel Christians of this world.

One of the most laughable things you hear after a serial killer has been caught are his neighbours telling journalists that he/she seemed so nice. So normal. BUT OF COURSE THEY DID!!! Most of us cannot imagine outwardly warm and charming people committing crimes; this is why they get away with committing them. It is the first chapter in the defence lawyer’s manual.

Charm is the monster’s most basic weapon. It can be entirely manufactured, in the way that conscience and integrity cannot.

As any introvert will tell you, becoming sociable or even charming is something you can easily learn. You will never be a true extrovert. But it’s still an acquired skill and as such should be used responsibly.

Serial killers and predators of every kind – including wife beaters and paedophiles – rely on the fact that people will take them at face value. But face value is just that; something people do with their face.

In Groningen, in Holland, some ground-breaking work is under way at the moment to explore this phenomenon. Scientists are learning to measure individual levels of empathy in the human brain; because empathy is what makes us human.

Show someone a picture of a crying or injured child and most often certain circuits in the brain will light up; it is the empathic response. Most people want to help or to comfort.

Yet in certain individuals that response is completely absent.

Most often such people become aware of their difference to others at an early age and learn to mask it. And it is in the successful disguise – the joker – that you have the making of the true monster. You have Michel Christian.

(Read more on the Groningen experiments here: THE EMPATHY EXPERIMENTS)

As well as being sexy and attractive, Michel is courageous, resourceful, determined – there is so much to admire and be seduced by. Yet he feels nothing but his own pain.

The real danger in such people is that they are irresistibly drawn to those who have the most empathy, because they cannot comprehend its absence in someone else. They completely misread the sociopath. They ignore the things that don’t quite fit, the things they do that should serve as warning. It happens every day, from email scams where people lose their money to romances gone bad where people lose their lives.

How many of us reading this have been duped by the man or woman who smiles and yet remains a villain; and further, have then discovered how pointless it is to warn others, for they only see the smile and yearn for its warmth to shine on them?

Find Colin Falconer at LOOKING FOR MR GOODSTORY
Find VENOM here: VENOM