Monday, December 24, 2012

My Next Big Thing: Blog Tour

I’d like to thank Susan Oleksiw, author of the Mellingham Mystery series and the Anita Ray series, for inviting me to participate in this writers’ blog tour: The Next Big Thing. Check out her post for the tour at “One Writer’s World.” Susan and I have known each other for many years, and cofounded the publishing company Level Best Books, along with Kate Flora. They’re both terrific writers, and Susan is also a talented photographer.

On this tour, lots of writers share their experiences and ideas about the writing process, and talk about either an already published book or a work in progress. It's a great opportunity to get together online with our friends, colleagues, and readers. We all respond to the same set of questions, but of course our answers are all different. Although I’ve got two novels ready for a publisher (anybody interested?) and am halfway through the first draft of another, I decided to blog about my latest published work, which I hope will become my Next Big Thing sales-wise.

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m the author of more than thirty fiction and nonfiction books, including Hidden Agenda, which won The Kiss of Death Award for best novel of romantic suspense. Most of my fiction falls into the mystery category. Much of my nonfiction work centers on health/healing, metaphysical subjects, home/interior design, and mystical, magical beings such as angels and mermaids. My short stories have been published in numerous anthologies internationally, and my work has been translated into more than a dozen languages.

Q: What is the title of your book?

My most recently published book, Mermaids: The Myths, Legends, and Lore, came out earlier this year and includes all sorts of tales, trivia, sightings, and fascinating info about mermaids throughout history and from around the world.

Q: Where did the idea for the book come from?

My editor, Andrea Hakanson, at Adams Media and my now-agent, Paula Munier, came up with the idea––thanks again, ladies––and we developed the book together.

Q: What genre does your book fall under?

Basically, it’s a nonfiction work and classified under the rather boring “reference” category, but Adams produced it so beautifully (hardcover with lots of lovely turquoise illustrations throughout) that it really should be considered a gift book as well. You could also shelve it under mythology because, as the subtitle says, it traces the myths, legends, and lore about merfolk back thousands of years to ancient Assyria.

Q: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Well, lots of movies have already been made about mermaids. Disney popularized Hans Christian Andersen’s story in the animated movie The Little Mermaid, which has grossed billions of dollars since its release in 1989. However, the actual tragic tale is a far cry from the fluffy Hollywood interpretation. And mermaids have appearanced in other movies, including Splash in 1984 starring Daryl Hannah. The Secret of Roan Inish is about Irish Selkies, a type of merfolk who shapeshift from seals to humans. Many of the individual legends in my book could be brought to the movie screen––I’d nominate Scarlett Johansson, Amanda Seyfried, Evan Rachel Wood, and Sierra McCormick for mermaid roles.

Q: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

I’d say: Everything you ever wanted to know about these mysterious and magical beings, and more. Actually, the back cover copy says: “In this beautiful collection, you’ll explore the watery origins of these mysterious nymphs, from the streams and rivers of ancient Babylonia to the shining seas of the New World and beyond.”

Q: Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Adams Media, in Avon, MA published the book this year; they’ve also published seven of my other books. Paula Munier––one of my inspirations at Adams at that time––is now my literary agent and is seeking publishers for two of my novels.

Q: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I spent about three months on the first draft, then another few weeks making revisions my editor recommended. I can’t remember the exact timeline, but from conception to birth the project probably took about the same amount of time as a human baby would, but with a lot less discomfort!

Q: What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

Mermaids have mesmerized us for millennia, and the mermaid mystique shows no signs of diminishing anytime in the near future. I had a great time researching this book, talking to anthropologists and historians, and learning about all the different types of merfolk that splash about in the waters of the world. Did you know, for instance, that mermaids don’t just swim in the sea, some of them live in lakes, rivers, and even fountains? Not all mermaids sport a single tail (the ultimate chastity belt)––some, like the original mermaid on the Starbucks logo, feature split tails that allow them to mate with humans. And many can transform their fishy tails into human legs when they want to come ashore. Most mermaids combine good and bad qualities, but all are bewitchingly beautiful. And yes, mermen exist too. I hope if you choose to read Mermaids: The Myths, Legends, and Lore you’ll have as much fun as I did writing it.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

What Can We Expect on 12/21/2012?

I posted this info last year, as we approached the year 2012. Now that the long-awaited winter solstice is approaching, I thought you might like to read it again. The beautiful graphic was created by my friend and fellow author/artist Kathleen Valentine.

You’ve heard the dire predictions––supposedly based on the Mayan calendar––that the world will end on the winter solstice. But what can we really expect?

First of all, astrologers don’t believe the Maya meant that the world would end on December 21, 2012. Instead, their ancient calendar pointed to the end of an astrological age. Each age, according to their calculations, lasted about 25,500 years. This corresponds to what astrologers call the precession of the equinoxes, meaning the amount of time it takes the spring equinoctial sun to move backward through the zodiac and arrive again at the same point from which it started. (Of course, the sun doesn’t really move, but that’s how it appears to us from our vantage point here on Earth.) Thus, 12/21/2012 signals the true beginning of a new age: the Age of Aquarius.

It’s interesting to note that 12/21/2012, from the perspective of numerology, is an “11” day––the number of Aquarius. Aquarius, as you may know, is the eleventh sign of the zodiac, but there’s more to it than that. When you add the digits of the date (1+2+2+1+2+0+1+2) you get a sum of 11. Numerologists consider 11 to be a “master number.” Master numbers resonate with intensity. They offer increased opportunities for growth, awakening, and accomplishment. They demand more from you and require you to function at a higher level of awareness.

Eleven is the number of the visionary, the avatar, the inventor, the person who leads by offering a positive example. It’s also linked with humanitarianism, equality, balance, truth, and integrity. In the Tarot’s major arcana, the Justice card is number 11.
When we’re under the influence of the number 11, we may experience lightning-like bursts of insight or situations that propel us to act quickly, drawing on intuition as well as intellect. The repetition of 11s, as in 11:11, can be seen as a portal into other worlds or realms of consciousness.

What all this suggests is that 12/21/2012 brings conditions that will require us to think outside the box and to address problems with a more elevated and expanded vision. We’ll have to be more honest with ourselves and others, and behave with greater integrity. We’ll be called to make changes that benefit humanity and take into account the good of all, not just a few. We’ll see continued efforts to right wrongs and establish more balance between the haves and the have-nots. In short, this winter solstice sounds a wake-up call for all of us and offers us an opportunity to usher in the long-awaited Age of Aquarius.

A blessed solstice to all! 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Best Thing You Can Do for Yourself––and It's Free

One of the best things you can do for yourself every day is meditate. In The Best Meditations on the Planet, my coauthor Dr. Martin Hart and I present 100 meditations anyone can do to improve mental and physical well-being. The following excerpt explains just some of the scientifically researched benefits you can get from meditation. Our beautiful, full-color book features lots of photographs and step-by-step techniques. It's available from Amazon and bookstores, or you can order it from my website's book section.

What Can Meditation Do for You?

Meditation only takes a short period of time each day, costs absolutely nothing, requires no special equipment or accoutrements, and can be done successfully by anyone, anywhere, anytime. Meditation could be the single most valuable tool we have available to heal ourselves and our planet.

During the last two decades, hundreds of scientific studies have been conducted at more than 250 universities and research facilities internationally to examine meditation’s efficacy. Although devotees of the practice may assert that meditation can do everything from create world peace to make you a better lover, clinical research clearly shows that meditation’s benefits are substantial and far-reaching. Here are just some of the amazing results top scientific and medical researchers have linked to meditation:

  • Meditation lowers blood pressure and decreases the risk of heart attack and stroke.
  • Meditation boosts intelligence and academic performance.
  • Meditation stimulates stem cell growth.
  • Meditation saves companies money by reducing employee absenteeism.
  • Meditation enhances athletic performance.
  • Meditation decreases substance abuse.
  • Mediation relieves depression and anxiety.
  • Meditation aids weight loss.
  • Mediation eases chronic pain.
  • Meditation reduces hyperactivity in children.
  • Mediation improves memory in the elderly.
  • Meditation increases longevity.
  • Meditation deters crime. 
How Meditation Works

When you meditate, you stop thinking about work, relationships, finances, and daily chores, and become present in the moment. Mental chatter ceases temporarily and you experience a state of relaxation in both mind and body.

The changes you experience can actually be measured physically. During meditation, your heart rate and respiration slow. Brainwave frequencies decrease from the usual 13–30 cycles per second (the beta level of consciousness) to 8–13 cps (the alpha level). Brainwave activity also shifts from the right frontal cortex to the left. Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D., a researcher and neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin, has been studying meditation’s effects for more than two decades. When he examined the brains of Buddhist monks to see how meditation affected their neural physiology, he discovered the left frontal cortex (the part of the brain linked to happiness) was more active in the monks than in people who didn’t meditate.

During meditation, the brain also steps up production of endorphins, the proteins that enhance positive feelings. According to a recent clinical trial of 97,000 subjects conducted by the Women's Health Initiative, positive, optimistic people enjoy longer, healthier lives than their negative, pessimistic peers.

Using modern brain-scanning technology, researchers have discovered that meditation produces long-term physiological changes as well. A UCLA study, led by neuroscientist Eileen Luders, Ph.D., demonstrated that meditation actually increases the size of the brain. The study’s results, released in 2009, showed the areas of the brain associated with attention, focus, and positive emotions were larger in people who meditate regularly than in non-meditators. Meditation causes changes in cell metabolism, too, according to another study performed at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and reported in Medical News Today in 2008. The changes, explained Dr. Jeffery Dusek, co-lead author of the study, were the opposite of those induced by post-traumatic stress disorder.

These and other clinical studies reveal that meditation strengthens the part of the brain linked with positive emotions while counteracting the destructive impact of stress and anxiety. Indeed, stress reduction may be the key to meditation’s beneficial effects on health. At least 60 percent of all doctor visits are due to stress-related problems. “It’s hard to think of an illness in which stress and mood don’t figure,” points out Charles L. Raison, M.D., clinical director of the Mind-Body Program at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.

The brainwave changes induced by meditation also boost stem cell production, enhancing the body’s ability to regenerate and repair itself. Leading stem cell researcher Doris Taylor, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Cardiovascular Repair at the University of Minnesota, measured the blood of Matthieu Ricard, French philosopher and author of the book Happiness, before and after meditation. The result after only fifteen minutes of meditation “was a huge increase in the number of positive stem cells in [his] blood.”

But you needn’t be a Buddhist monk or a “meditation marathoner” to reap the rewards of meditation. Both Richard Davidson and Sara Lazar, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, have studied meditation’s effects on ordinary, middle-class Americans. "What we found out,” says Davidson, “is that after a short time meditating, meditation had profound effects not just on how they felt but on their brains and bodies."

For twenty-first-century Westerners struggling to cope with ever-increasing stress in their professional and personal lives, turning to this ancient Eastern practice may be the answer to enjoying happier, healthier, longer lives.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Excerpt from My Erotic Novel Tarotica

The popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey has reawakened readers to the delights of erotic fiction. My erotic romance TAROTICA––a mystery about a young woman exploring her sensuality and the world, and a young winemaker who's running for his life––takes you on an exciting journey across the US and, simultaneously, through the twenty-two cards of the Tarot's major arcana. Coffee Time Romance called it "one of the hottest books I have ever read. This is one road trip I would love to be on." Amazon's reader reviews rank it 5-stars. It's available as an e-book, audiobook, or in print version through as well as and other places. (BTW: I wrote this X-rated novel under the pseudonym Amber Austin.) I hope this excerpt whets your appetite for more.

Miranda Malone watched a menagerie dressed in sequins, feathers, and black leather parade down San Francisco’s Market Street. The Castro’s carnival atmosphere was more outrageous and exciting than she could have imagined. When a young African man dressed like a gumball machine invited her to drop a dime into his codpiece, she laughed and caught the handful of rainbow-colored treats that spilled out. Miranda knew plenty of unusual characters back home in Salem, Massachusetts, but none compared to these. Even with the new purple streaks in her long dark hair she felt a bit ordinary.
            She’d flown into California three days ago to begin a cross-country journey she’d been planning for seven years. Originally she’d intended to take the trip right after graduating from art school. But then her father was diagnosed with cancer and she’d stayed home to care for him. Now, with the money from his life insurance policy, she could finally follow her dream.
            A tall man wearing only body paint and a boa constrictor passed Miranda and wagged both his snakes at her. She shrieked, then dissolved into giggles. Three trumpeters with gold lamé G-strings strolled by. A masked man in a jester suit abandoned the parade and approached Miranda. Throwing his arms around her as if they were long lost friends, he hissed in her ear, “Don’t scream.” Something hard jabbed into her ribs.
            Before she had time to react the man was hustling her through the crowd. “Do you have a car?” he asked and poked her in the ribs again. This time she saw the gun.
            She nodded.
            “Take me to it. And no funny stuff.”
            Fear and anger surged in her stomach as the reality of her situation sank in. Struggling to keep her emotions from clouding her thinking, Miranda tried to recall what you were supposed to do in a case like this. She couldn’t run––the streets were jammed with people––and if she yelled this crowd would probably mistake her plight for some kinky foreplay ritual. If they could even hear her over the hullabaloo. She reached for her cell phone, but the man noticed and snatched her purse away. In San Francisco, a man carrying a purse didn’t even attract a glance. 
            When they came to the spot where Miranda had parked her rented Kia, she considered kicking the car hard to set off the alarm. But nobody paid attention to car alarms anyway, and she didn’t want to provoke the man in the jester suit while his gun barrel was nuzzling her bra.
            He rummaged through her oversized purse and found the keys. Maybe he just wants the car, she hoped. But her hopes dissolved when he unlocked the passenger side door and shoved her in.
            “Climb over,” he ordered. “You’re driving.”
            She crawled over the console, banging her knee on the gearshift. Keeping the pistol trained on her, the man got in beside her and fit the key into the ignition.
            “Where are we going?”
            “Just head for the Golden Gate Bridge.” He waved the gun at her. “Move it.”
            Slowly she slid the car into the stream of traffic. As she navigated San Francisco’s famous hills, her mind scrambled for an escape plan. Suddenly she recalled one of those “Read this, it could save your life!” e-mails she’d received. Biding her time she began scouting about for something big and solid she could ram the Kia into, launching the air bags and bringing police to the scene of the accident. Soon she spotted a concrete bridge abutment, aimed for it, and sped up.