Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday Art & History Feature - Boris Vallejo

Those who know me, know that I'm a big fan of fantasy art and artists. One of my favorites is Luis Royo, about whom I wrote previously - find it here.

Boris Vallejo
 My introduction to the world of fantasy art happened through another artist, however. Years ago, when I was still in high school, my grandfather found an old used art book that he bought for me at some library, knowing my love of art. The book was by the artist Boris Vallejo - it was a collection of his work and stories by Doris Vallejo, his wife at the time. I was absolutely fascinated and I have Boris to thank for introducing me to the spectacular, vivid and sensuous world of fantasy (and erotica) art.

The book that start it all for me
 Boris Vallejo was born in 1941 in Peru and immigrated to US in 1964. He began painting at 13, and by the time he was 16, he had his first illustration job. Since then, he has worked with many big publishing houses on illustrations, as well as painted posters for major movies. His first wife, Doris Vallejo, is an artist and a writer. He has two children with her. His second wife, Julie Bell, to whom he got married in 1994, is an artist, illustrator and sculptor in her own right, and Boris has collaborated with Julie on many works. They now live in Pennsylvania and continue to produce incredible works of art.

Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell
 Boris paints mostly with oils. His heroes and heroines are strong and beautiful. Both him and Julie prefer to paint fit, muscular and toned models - though this is especially true for Julie. Because of her fascination with the human body, Julie started weight training, and eventually became a nationally ranked competitive bodybuilder.

Enjoy these paintings* - some are pure Boris, while others are collaboration with Julie, with a few of Julie's thrown in. Visit the Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell website. (As always, I'm not going to post the more explicit paintings, as there might be younger audience here. If you're interested in the art of Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell, their website has all of their work from all the years.)

*Please note that all the artwork is property of Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Lessons From Martial Arts for Writers

Wednesday Flash Fiction will return next week. Today, I had a strong inspiration to write on this topic, so I hope you enjoy it.

Two things have been constant in my life for the last few years - karate training and writing. I often think about how the two are similar in their philosophies and teachings, and in how a karate-ka and a writer develop themselves and their art. Here's a few of my thoughts on the topic.

Out of the 20 principles of Gichin Funakoshi (founder of modern karate), I believe the following apply beautifully to writing.

#5. Spirit first, technique second.
Writing application: As in martial arts, the spirit is of utmost importance to a writer. It is because we have the passion for writing and the spirit and discipline to actually sit down and write and to work at it that we begin to call ourselves "writers" in the first place. We may not know all the writer "techniques" or fine points of our craft when we start, but we're willing to try anyway - and we're willing to learn. We can teach ourselves certain aspects and techniques - but without the passion and the spirit for doing it, we will not produce good work. Clean technique will come with time and experience. Cultivate your spirit and passion for writing first.

#6. Always be ready to release your mind.
Writing application: If we don't open our mind and are not willing to experiencing and try new things, we become stuck, which makes us weaker and more vulnerable. We have to be able to let go of preconceptions and see new possibilities to become really good at what we do. We have to remain fluid and able to see everything in our environment, even as we focus on our opponent (or our writing, as the case may be).
There are many rules out there for writers - many of them are good, many are there to be broken. I would say they are more guidelines in most cases. We can't have develop a narrow vision of never straying away from them and trying new ways to improve our writing.

#8. Do not think that karate training is only in the dojo.
Writing application: Similarly, do think of writing as only something to be done at the desk. A writer's mind is always active. Even when we're not actually typing up the words, we are thinking about what we want to write. We should be keen observers of our environment, no matter where we are. There's a potentially limitless supply of inspiration out there in the world. Observe people in conversation or sitting in silence, observe animal behaviors, observe the rush of traffic and the beauty of a garden in the spring. Then go back to your desk and write.

#9. It will take your entire life to learn karate; there is no limit.
Writing application: This is one of my favorites. There really is no limit to studying martial arts - or to studying the writing craft. There's always something new to learn and there's always something new to try in our writing. Never forget that. You can never become complacent about what you know - always have the mindset that there's still much more to know. It makes life more interesting and it hones us into dedicated, disciplined and interesting writers.

#10. Put your everyday living into karate and you will find "Myo" (subtle secrets).
Writing application: Writing is very personal, no matter what we write about. We all bring a little bit (or a lot) of ourselves and our experiences into out writing. That is what makes each of our stories unique and different.

#11. Karate is like boiling water. If you do not heat it constantly, it will cool.
Writing application:This is another favorite of mine. This applies to writing so beautifully, and it's so simple! If we don't write all the time, it'll be harder and harder for us to get back to it. I'm sure many of you  have experienced this phenomena at some point or other. Keep writing. Even if you're really busy, even if something is taking you away from your writing for a period of time, write at least a little bit. Don't let your writing passion and spirit cool.

#13. Victory depends on your ability to distinguish vulnerable points from invulnerable ones.
Writing application: As with everything else we do, it is important to know what our weak and strong points are. If we know that, we can utilize our strong points to the best advantage, and we can work on making our weak points stronger. In martial arts, it is also about knowing your opponents vulnerable and invulnerable points to beat him. In writing, you and your writing are your opponent.

There's also a famous saying by Gichin Funakoshi:

"The ultimate aim of karate lies not in victory nor defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants"

Writing application: For writers, this applies as much! Yes, many of us want to be published and recognized for our work. However, for most of us, it's also not the end-all. We love writing - that's why we do it. Through writing, we find out more about ourselves, we figure out our strengths and weaknesses, and hopefully we become better people and writers.

Here's a couple more:

"A one sided martial artist is a blind martial artist." -unknown 
Writing application: A one sided writer is a blind writer. Learn from others. Read novels in your own genre, as well as others - you can find a wealth of techniques and inspiration in reading.

"Victory is reserved for those who are willing to pay it's price." - Sun Tzu
Writing application: Again, as in martial arts, writers have to be willing to pay the price to achieve success. We have to be disciplined, work hard and make certain adjustments in our life to do what we love.

What have you learned from being a writer? What advice would you give others about writing? Did you ever apply an advice from another area of your life to writing?

Teaser Tuesday

Here are the rules:

1. Post 2 sentences from the current book you're reading. You can either

a) open the book and share 2 sentences from anywhere on that page or
b) share your favorite 2 senetnces from the book (they have to be in a row)

2. List the page #


3. List the name of the book and the author

"'We all turn out like him.' My laugh dripped with bitterness. 'Stubborn and violent. Picture a brood of people just like me, loaded with unimaginable power and a willingness to use it.'
Andrea's face turned a shade paler."

p. 88

Magic Bleeds (Kate Daniels, book 4) by Ilona Andrews  

Share your teasers in the comments or give a link to your blog if you're running a Teaser Tuesday.

Monday, March 26, 2012

All Kinds of Awesome Awards - Want to Know More?...

I've been so lucky to receive a couple of awards in the past few weeks! As I have been very busy recently, I haven't had a chance to post about them so I think today is the day I do it and also to tell you a bit more about myself through the questions that I have to answer.

Sunshine Award
 First, a big thank you to the wonderful Lady Gwen and A.J. Locke for giving me the Sunshine Award - it brought a little more sunshine into my day! Here are the rules of this awards:
  • Thank the person who gave you the award and link back to them.
  • Write a post about it.
  • Answer the questions below.
  • Pass it on to 10 bloggers who you think really deserve it and let them know.
Here are the questions:

Favorite color: Purple and Burgundy

Favorite animal: I'm a huge animal lover so it's a hard question for me, so I'll give you 3 of my favorites - cats (small and big), dogs and wolves.

Favorite number: 7 and anything that includes it.

Favorite non-alcoholic drink: Hmmm...I would have to say tea.

Facebook or Twitter: Both, but with the writing community, more Twitter.

My passion: Reading, writing and martial arts.

Getting or giving presents: I love giving presents and seeing the joy on people's faces. Though I always worry the gift might not be good enough.

Favorite pattern: Can't say I have one.

Favorite day of the week: Friday because I have the whole weekend ahead. And Saturday, because I still have a weekend day ahead :D

Favorite flower: Lilac - I love the color and the aroma of it. But I also like tulips and daffodils in the spring because they remind me of sunshine and make me happy.

Awhile back, I also received the Kreativ Blogger Award from Kevin Hiatt. Thank you, Kevin! A couple of week ago, I also received this award from A.J. Locke, so a big thanks to her as well!

For this award, I have to give you 7 facts about myself. I've done this once before and you can find those facts here. So here's 7 more:

1. I just got my 2nd degree black belt (Nidan) in Shotokan Karate.

2. I can't sleep with TV on - a point of constant contention with the hubby, who needs TV on to sleep!

3. My Masters degree is in Publishing but I've never worked within the publishing industry.

4. I'm a chicken when it comes to horror movies and I hate torture flicks. But if a horror movie has a premise that's interesting to me, I might watch it and then freak myself out for many nights afterwards.

5.One of my favorite bands from the time I was 12 and to this day is Depeche Mode.

6. I love to dance but wonder if I have any rhythm. Watching professional dancers, especially salsa and ballroom is very enjoyable to me.

7. TV shows that I currently watch and love include The Vampire Diaries, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, True Blood and Supernatural. My favorite shows of all times include La Femme Nikita (the original USA show, not that crap they have on CW11 now!) and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

And now I'd like to pass both awards to the following people (if you have already being tagged with these awards, sorry and please feel free to just accept them and ignore the questions and pass-alongs).

Hildred of the Musings of a Procrastinating Author
Lori M. Lee
Susan Kaye Quinn
Carrie Butler at So, You're A Writer
SA Larsen
Cassie S. at The Anfractuous Bookaholic
Ashley Nixon at Writerly Stuff...and pirates

Congratulations and Have Fun! :)

(I still have to do the Lucky 7 meme, for which I was tagged by the fabulous Elise Fallson. Will get to that by next week!)

Friday, March 23, 2012

Friday Art & History Feature - Shotokan Karate

Dan Exam on March 23rd 2012 at JSKA-USA (Shodan, Nidan and Sandan)
 In honor of taking the Nidan (2nd degree black belt) exam last night and passing it, and as a tribute to my classmates who also earned their Shodan (1st degree black belt), Nidan or Sandan (3rd degree black belt) degrees with me, I'd like to tell you about Shotokan Karate - the style that I practice

Shotokan Karate

Shotokan Tiger
The founder of Shotokan Karate is Gichin Funakoshi (1868–1957). It is interesting to note that Funakoshi himself did not want different styles of karate to exist - he wanted karate to be united. The term Shotokan was coined by Funakoshi's students. This is what they called the first official dojo built by the their teacher in 1939. Funakoshi's pen name was "Shoto", which translates as "pine-waves". "Kan" means "hall". And so put together and loosely translated, Shotokan means "the hall of pine-waves". Funakoshi himself called the martial arts simply "karate" and never gave the style an official name. He also never created an organization. However, after his death in 1957, his students split into various organizations due to political and ideological conflicts.
Gichin Funakoshi - founder of Shotokan Karate

Shotokan Karate came out of a various martial arts that Funakoshi practiced as a child and as a young man in his native Okinawa. The practice of martial arts was forbidden in Okinawa starting in the 1400s. They were taught in secret through generations. The villagers developed various self-defense techniques and perfected the use of simple farming implements as weapons in order to protect themselves from the militarized and heavily trained samurai of Japan. The three main martial arts styles to develop in Okinawa were Naha-te, Shuri-te, and Tomari-te. However, collectively, they were mostly known as "te", which means "hand" in Japanese.

Gichin Funakoshi was a sickly child and his parents decided that martial arts will make him stronger. Among great masters of the time, he trained with Anko Azato. He trained mainly in two of the most popular styles of the time Shōrei-ryū and Shōrin-ryū. Shotokan combines both of these styles. Funakoshi became a teacher and his main mission in life eventually became the spread of karate onto the mainland of Japan and into the Japanese education system. He also changed the name to karate-te, meaning "empty hand".

Today, Shotokan Karate includes kihon (basics), kata (forms), kumite (fighting/sparring) and bunkai (applications - although not taught by everyone). While karate has become widely sports-oriented in our times, many people are still attracted to it for its original ideas and philosophies of budo (the martial way).

Dojo Kun
This dojo kun is recited in all Shotokan dojos:
  •  Seek perfection of character
  • Be Faithful
  • Endeavor
  • Respect others
  • Refrain from violent behavior
Also, these  20 Precepts of Funakoshi should be familiar to all Karate practitioners:

1. Karate-do begins with courtesy and ends with rei (bow/respect)

2. There is no first strike in karate.
3. Karate is an aid to justice.
4. First know yourself before attempting to know others.
5. Spirit first, technique second.
6. Always be ready to release your mind.
7. Accidents arise from negligence.
8. Do not think that karate training is only in the dojo.
9. It will take your entire life to learn karate, there is no limit.
10. Put your everyday living into karate and you will find "Myo" (subtle secrets).
11. Karate is like boiling water, if you do not heat it constantly, it will cool.
12. Do not think that you have to win, think rather that you do not have to lose.
13. Victory depends on your ability to distinguish vulnerable points from invulnerable ones.
14. The out come of the battle depends on how you handle weakness and strength.
15. Think of your opponents hands and feet as swords.16. When you leave home, think that you have numerous opponents waiting for you.
17. Beginners must master low stance and posture, natural body positions are for the advanced.
18. Practicing a kata exactly is one thing, engaging in a real fight is another. 
19. Do not forget to correctly apply: strength and weakness of power, stretching and contraction ofthe body, and slowness and speed of techniques.
20. Always think and devise ways to live the precepts of karate-do every day.

I'm proud to be a part of the world-wide Shotokan Karate family!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Guest Blogging

I'm guest blogging today at Christine Fonseca's blog. The article talks about learning from our failures and the management of goals for writers. Check out the post here.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Contets & Giveaways in the Writing World - week of March 19th

Contests and Giveaways in the Writing World*

Yep, it's another Monday and a whole work week ahead...Fear not! There's plenty of wonderful contests and giveaway going on in the Writing World this week to keep you cheerful and looking forward to the rest of the week! Here's a list of some of them.

My agent mate Teri Harman is running a wonderful writing/submission competition - the winner will have the query letter and first 10 pages of their ms sent to Fran Black and Jenn Mishler of the Literary Counsel! The deadline to enter is March 23rd so hurry!

An awesome giveaway in honor of Hunger Games coming out next weekend by Susan Kaye Quinn!! What a fun way to celebrate the release of this movie - definitely check this giveaway out!

Asian Cocoa's Secret Garden blog is giving away a copy of The Taker by Alma Katsu and swag pack.

Young Adults Book Reviews and Reader Girls are both doing a review and giveaway of The Mayfair Moon by J.A. Redmerski

The Forever Girl Tour Giveaway by Rebecca Hamilton - enter for a chance to win an ebook of The Forever Girl: Sophia's Journey by Rebecca Hamilton and a Forever Girl Scented Candle.

And here's a fun preview of a great giveaway to come in two weeks! Heather Webb of the Between the Sheets blog is all set for this giveaway to start on April 9th. Here's what's it's all about: "Pitchapalooza Blog Hop - Create your best novel pitch (any genre) and win a FREE CRITIQUE from yours truly (editor extraordinaire), and a WRITER'S WEBSITE from professional web designer and developer, Brian Mowell. Details coming soon. YES, this is a FREE setup of your author website or blog. A-M-A-Z-I-N-G PRIZE! Already have a site? No problem. Have your existing site revamped for FREE" 

More great Giveaways and Contests to come next week!

*As always, please contact me for the inclusion of your contests/giveaways into the Monday Contests and Giveaways in the Writing World posts.

Have fun and good luck!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Friday Art & History Feature - Ireland in Paintings

 In honor of St. Patrick's Day, I present - Ireland In Paintings. What better way to celebrate the green rolling hills of Ireland and its ancient land than in the beautiful landscapes captured by various Irish artists. Enjoy!

Dingle Peninsula by Mary McSweeney 

Watering The Horse by Martin Driscoll

Ross Castle Killarney by Charolette Coulter

A Quiet Day by Martin Driscoll

I Will Give You Ireland by Barrie Maguire

Lyons Pub by Barrie Maguire

Road Dancing in Ireland by Martin Driscoll
Blarney Castle by Mary McSweeney
You can find more work by, and information on, these Irish artists by going to their websites:

Mary McSweeney
Martin Driscoll
Barry Maguire
Charolette A Coulter

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Writer Wednesday Flash Fiction - The Decision

Derek slowly raised the gun in his hand and fired at the target. Once, twice, three times. The shots were ringing out faster, sharper. Derek’s face was calm, collected but Livia knew better. His close friend was just murdered, in cold blood, and Derek wasn’t pulling any punches to find and bring the killer to justice. His way. Not that Livia wouldn’t do the same.
Living in a world changed forever by the crash of the civilized society tended to change ones views on justice as well. Derek, the leader of their survivalist group and Livia’s lover, raised his eyes once the last bullet hit the target’s bulls eye. There was not a hint of doubt in them, only will.
“Are you sure you can do this?” Livia touched his arm. “This kid is probably not out of his teen years yet.”
Derek pulled away as if electrocuted by her touch. Livia’s eyes darkened with hurt.
“It’s us against them, Livia.” Derek sounded tired. He sighed. “This kid, as you call him, killed a man not to protect himself, not to protect his family. He did it for fun, Livia. We can’t allow people like that to walk the world. Next, it might be you they hunt for fun.”
He touched her stomach gently, still soft but visibly growing. “We have to make a better world for us now. At the very least, we need to survive and give our child a chance.”
Livia looked away, and then back at her stomach. Everything Derek said was true. But she knew the consequences. He was a good man. Killing a kid will haunt him. He should not have this on his consciousness, she thought as she reached up and kissed him tenderly. She could not let him do that.
           Livia left Derek at his target practice, throwing a quick glance behind her. His consciousness would remain clear. Hers could take a few hits. She pulled a gun from her backpack and walked into the night.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Teaser Tuesday

Here are the rules:

1. Post 2 sentences from the current book you're reading. You can either

a) open the book and share 2 sentences from anywhere on that page or
b) share your favorite 2 senetnces from the book (they have to be in a row)

2. List the page #


3. List the name of the book and the author

"We headed toward the brightly lit entrance, flanked by four Red Guards, two armed with automatic weapons and the other two carrying Chinese spears decorated with crimson silk standards. Odd choice of weapons but they looked pretty."

p. 61 (Nook version)

Magic Strikes (Kate Daniels, book 3) by Ilona Andrews  

Share your teasers in the comments or give a link to your blog if you're running a Teaser Tuesday.

Off Schedule - sick

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to do the Contests and Giveaways in the Writing World post yesterday  because I was very sick with a stomach bug and I'm barely out of it today. I will do that post next Monday instead. Please let me know if you want your contest or giveaway included on the list next Monday.

Thanks! :)

Friday, March 9, 2012

Friday Art & History Feature - Geisha

I've always been interested in Japanese culture. Much of the interest comes from my practice of karate. Many Japanese cultural aspects seems very foreign and mysterious to the westerners. Japanese history is truly spectacular in many ways. Over the course of this blog, I will write a number of articles about various aspects of Japanese culture and history, including the samurai, ikebana, tea ceremony and much, much more.
Today, we'll take a look at another aspect steeped in mystery - geishas.

Geishas playing Shamisen (traditional Japanese instrument) today
Many have seen or read "Memoirs of a Geisha" and know of certain aspects of this profession.  Many recognize the white makeup a geisha wears.

Geisha playing Shamisen
There's many misconceptions and misunderstandings about what and who a geisha is. By definition, a geisha is an entertainer. Geishas are skilled in dance, playing traditional musical instruments, tea ceremony and the art of conversation. The word "geisha" comes from two kanji characters - (gei), which means "art" and (sha), which means "person". Women have a choice of becoming a 'maiko" or apprentice geisha first or training for a year and becoming a full geisha right away. This was not the case in the past, when most girls who were to become geishas started their training very early and were apprenticed for years of training before becoming full fledged geisha.

Maiko (apprentices)
 There are different theories on the emergence of geisha culture in Japan historically. Some say that it came out of a practice by some young girls, whose families were misplaced. They would be entertainers, and many also sold their sexual services. The more traditional form of geisha entertainment began to emerge when the imperial court was moved to Kyoto in 794. However, these were still not the geisha culture we know of today. That is emerged much later on, during the 18th century. It's interesting to note that the first "geisha" were men who entertained wealthy customers while they waited for their courtesans and other forms of entertainment. One of the first famous known female geishas was actually a prostitute who also possessed many other skills, including dance and playing music. She became very popular and young girls followed in her footsteps. Soon, most of them were only doing performance art entertaining without the selling sex part. The line between courtesans and geishas was drawn, and a geisha was more valued for skills other than sex.

Geishas dancing
 Prior to WWII, it was commonplace for a maiko's virginity to be sold to the highest bidder, a process known as "mizuage". While outlawed after the war, the practice still has been known to exist well into our times. While a geisha is a single woman, she can chose to have a wealthy patron, whose courtesan she may become. This, however, is not a rule. Often, geishas have boyfriends, but once they marry, they have to leave the profession.

Maiko in Kyoto
 Kyoto still remains the most popular place to see where geishas live and to enjoy their performances.

Geisha entertaining today

Geishas entertaining in the 1950s

Geishas are a true art form. They are highly educated women who have achieved top skills in performance arts and the art of conversation. They study hard and long to become the best in their profession. That is their appeal, and their mystery.
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