1. Unexpected Houseguests

    A giant spider invaded my house! It almost beat the time that weasel did…

    Brown Huntsman Spider

    In Kyoto, where the base of Mt. Hiei and Mt. Uryuyu converge, there is a small cluster of temples and shrines. Stone monuments and legendary pine trees mark the path. Somewhere in that mix of nature and carved stone and wood is my house, built several decades ago and still prone to the weaknesses of its rapidly ageing structure. In the summers, the humidity goes right through the walls, and in…

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  3. Well, it’s finally out! Darkly Never After is now available in paperback and ebook formats, and I couldn’t be happier with it. My paperback copy showed up a couple of days ago, and the print quality is really nice. It’s a thick book, nearly 400 pages, and it’s chock-full of all kinds of dark fairy tales, fables, and modern dark fiction. I’m also excited because it is the first time that N J and I have been published together. Patti L. Geesey, one of the contributors, really did a great job with the editing. The anthology’s website is forthcoming, so for now, feel free to visit Amazon or CreateSpace to order a copy (CreateSpace is recommended if you can, since we’ll get double the royalties to send to St. Jude’s for children across the globe).


    As you can read from the back cover, Darkly Never After is an anthology that holds the elements of the stories we loved as children, matured to be enjoyed by our minds as they are now. As well, the anthology is a charity work, donating all royalties to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. I have been very honored to work on the project, and was delighted that the anthology’s coordinator decided to use my book design service, Country Mouse Design, to format the book. This is an excerpt of my story, “The Lady Koi”. I hope you enjoy it!

    The Lady Koi – An Excerpt Well, it’s finally out! Darkly Never After is now available in paperback and ebook formats, and I couldn’t be happier with it.

  4. Prince of Chaos: A Review

    Prince of Chaos by Roger Zelazny: A Review


    71415-coverPrince of Chaos by Roger Zelazny

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Prince of Chaos is the tenth and final book in The Great Book of Amber, and man, what a closer.

    I’ve had a lot of gripes with this series, ranging from stunted character growth to mediocre motivations and waffling plots, butI knew by Chapter Two of this book that they would all be forgiven. In fact, events in that chapter would have…

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  5. Sign of Chaos: A Review

    Sign of Chaos: A Review

    Thank you, Kevin L. Nault. (Click for even more info.)

    n6980Knight of Shadows by Roger Zelazny

    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    The identity of Mask has been discovered, Merlin’s brother is in league with entities desperate to kill him, and Coral, a dignitary’s stepdaughter (and illegitimate child of Oberon) is lost after instructing the Pattern to conduct her to where she “should” go.

    Oh, right. The Pattern is sentient.

    And practically every other magic tool in…

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  6. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner: A Review

    As I Lay Dying by William #Faulkner: A Review #books #classics

    As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

    I am always looking for a good excuse to read at the classics, and Faulkner has been one of those writers that I have often seen quoted, but I’ve never read personally. My knowledge of him stopped at “his typewriter is famous.”

    So, when a book club I recently joined decided to read him in celebration of the club’s initiation, I got pretty excited. Much like when

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  7. This month, Illustrious says hello to the wildly talented Staci Hart, an author and graphic designer who is also a member of Fiction Writers Group, where I met her and fell in love with her quirky designs. Staci graciously agreed to be interviewed for Illustrious, and while the focus of this interview is her book cover design, authors should be aware she also can help with website creation, logos, and extra illustrations for those in need (self-published authors also get a discounted service!) Read on to find out more.

    All images © Staci Hart – Please respect the artist and credit her work if you share these images.


    AH: Graphic artist, web designer, author! You have a very busy and creative life. What got you started in these fields?

    SH: I’ve been in graphic design for 11 years now, and it’s been amazing. I started out organically … I was sewing baby goods (clothes, diaper bags, bedding) and needed a website, so I built my own. I then had friends who were also starting their own businesses and needed help. Then they told two friends, and so on, and so on! As for writing, I’ve always been a reader, and I wrote a lot of bad poetry in my early 20’s. Coupled with my design experience and communication skills, it was almost too easy to write. I think in imagery, metaphors, and dialogue, which comes in handy. A friend prompted me by asking what I would write about, if I ever chose to, something I’d strangely never thought about before. Within a few days, I had the idea for my series, and within a week I was writing.

    AH:  Since you’re also an author, I’d love to hear more about your work. What have you written and what are you working on now?

    SH: My Good Gods series is based in Greek mythology, following Aphrodite in modern times as she competes with other gods to make a human couple fall in love while her opponent tries to keep them apart. It’s fun, fluffy contemporary romance with lots of laughs. I just published my third book in the series (what will be twelve books total), but I’m switching gears to start a steampunk series, which should hopefully release early 2015.

    AH: Regarding your website design services at Quirky Bird: what can you tell authors about the importance of their website’s appearance?

    SH: Having a website in 2014 is like having a business card. You have to have it, and the better it looks, the higher the likelihood that someone will remember you. Websites work in a similar fashion. The most important things for your website:

    a) Your brand should clearly represent your business in a way that when a user glances at it, they get the right feeling, the right mood that represents your business. It’s really a gut reaction.

    b) Your brand should be COHESIVE. It should represent a clear style and image. For instance, you wouldn’t mix punk rock and shabby chic. Oil and water.

    c) Your website should be USER FRIENDLY. Don’t be cute with your page names, and don’t be vague. It doesn’t matter how beautiful your website is or how much traffic you get if people can’t find what they’re looking for when they get there.

    AH: Can your themes be used on any host provider (like WordPress or Blogger), or does the website need to be self-hosted?

    SH: We generally custom code websites at QB, but I do offer a discounted service for writers and book bloggers. I piggyback the design/branding off of a template, which saves a ridiculous amount in terms of cost. That service is listed here: www.redpenkisses.com.

    AH: On to covers! I’ve heard that most of your client base have been YA or romance authors, but you’re looking to expand. What other genres are you interested in doing cover work for?

    SH: I can do covers for almost anything. I’m fairly new to the cover design world, but have so much graphic design experience that I can do just about any genre.

    AH: Your style has a fun, ultra-modern and chic look to it. I love how it makes covers pop. Is your style inspired by a certain designer or design period?

    SH: Not particularly. I love design, and like to think I have a keen eye for art and a unique perspective without being too far left. I particularly consider the feeling or emotion of the imagery on a symbolic and minute level. Also, every piece I design is inspired by the client, their story, their brand. It’s very much like being a design psychic therapist.

    AH: Let’s talk about your process. What can authors expect once you’ve both agreed on a commission?

    SH: The first thing we’ll do is sit down and look at other covers together (over phone/chat). We’ll talk about some of the scenes in the book, things that are meaningful, the characters and who they are, the tone of the book. From there, if it’s a photo cover, we’ll start looking through stocks until we’ve found one to play with. I’ll usually make mock ups of multiple stocks before they’re purchased so we can get a good, solid idea of what it will look like.

    AH: What is the base pricing range to get a half cover, or full wrap cover, from you?

    SH: Photo covers start at $150 and include a wrap and half cover.

    AH: Do you do the typography on your covers as well?

    SH: I do all of the design, but don’t do custom font creation. I’m a typography nut though! Fonts and display methods can make a huge difference in the feeling of a cover.

    AH: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself?

    SH: I love making friends, talking shop, and social media! Be sure to follow me:


    Thank you for taking the time to have an interview with me, Staci! Best of luck on your Good Gods series. I’ve already picked up the first book, and it looks really interesting!

    Illustrious is part of an ongoing interview series designed to connect indie and self-published authors with exceptional artists for their cover and illustration needs. If you are an illustrator (science fiction, fantasy, children’s book, comic) and would like to be considered for an interview, please feel free to contact Alex Hurst at info@alex-hurst.com. Alex Hurst also interviews graphic artists (for book covers), editors, agents, and small or indie presses.
    Illustrious: Staci Hart #graphicdesign #bookcovers #wordpress #design This month, Illustrious says hello to the wildly talented Staci Hart, an author and graphic designer who is also a member of…

  8. Popovers are a delicious and fast addition to any meal. They can be filled with jam, whipped cream, gravy or anything else that goes with bread!

    I love popovers. My first memory of them was at the Cliff House Restaurant in San Francisco, which serves them instead of your everyday-bread-basket. Though there are pans made specifically to create the perfect popover, I have found that they can be made in regular muffin tins, or even miniature muffin tins. They taste delicious all the same. The recipe I love using is Lynn Bonnett’s Perfect Popover Recipe which can be found here. (Lynn has requested no one post her recipe anywhere else.) One change I usually make to the recipe is to brush the pan with butter before putting it in the oven to preheat, as the butter gives the popovers a delicious crispiness. Keep in mind that if you do decide to bake these popovers in a mini-pan, you need to cut the bake time in half! Timing and heat are extremely important when making popovers. Check out Lynn Bonnett’s Tips & Tricks on her website if your popovers aren’t getting the ‘pop’ they need!

    Popovers made by me using this recipe:

    Cooking: Popovers (Yorkshire Pudding) Super simple #recipe! Popovers are a delicious and fast addition to any meal. They can be filled with jam, whipped cream, gravy or anything else that goes with bread!

  9. Heavenly Bodies: A Review

    Heavenly Bodies: A Review


    Heavenly Bodies by Paul KoudounarisHeavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures & Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs
    Paul Koudounaris

    My Review: 5 of 5 stars

    From the publisher, Thames & Hudson:

    “In 1578 a labyrinth of underground burials was discovered in Rome that contained the remains of thousands of individuals assumed to be early Christian martyrs. The bones were disinterred and sent to many Catholic churches and religious houses in…

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  10. Sign of Chaos: A Review

    Sign of Chaos by Roger #Zelazny: A #BookReview


    51ZWFJSNFZL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Sign of Chaos by Roger Zelazny
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    The Sign of Chaos, the third book in the Cycle of Merlin, and the eighth of ten on the Book of Amber, begins with Merle trapped in a Wonderland Bar with Luke (Rinaldo), the Cheshire Cat, Humpty Dumpty, and a very pissed off Fire Angel from Chaos. Discovering his predicament to be the result of a drugs Luke has been exposed to, Merle conjures…

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