Category Archives: Marcella Burnard

The Books I Have Loved

Through all of the books high school english classes required us to read, only one, WUTHERING HEIGHTS, had been written by a female author. To read outside of The Dead White Guy’s Club, I had to go to college where I was required to read THE COLOR PURPLE. I loved that story. The main character, Celia, blossoms from a victim into a strong, capable, tender woman. The story sounds simple, but it was horrifying and bruising to read. And if felt real. Far more immediate to me than most of the books my high school english teacher had thought were so delightful. (To this day, I defy anyone to explain the point of CATCHER IN THE RYE. No, really. Whining about getting laid aside, is there a point to that book? I read the whole thing waiting for something – anything to happen…) Alice Walker writes about things actually happening and about people changing as a result, sometimes, in not so pleasant ways. She gets one of my favorites spots.

41gjejE8GUL__SY300_All of that said, one of the Dead White Guy’s books blew me away when I read it senior year of high school. Don’t tell the english teacher I said so, will you? THE PLAGUE by Albert Camus. The book description from Amazon says: “A haunting tale of human resilience in the face of unrelieved horror, Camus’ novel about a bubonic plague ravaging the people of a North African coastal town is a classic of twentieth-century literature.” Uhm. That’s not what the novel’s about. Bubonic plague is the literary device, sure, but really, there’s no plague unless you count the occupying soldiers as the plague. That’s what the book is about. It was fascinating and striking to read the story and watch how subtly Camus directed your attention. It’s still a book that can give me shivers of both delight at his skill and dread at the story action.

Of the books I’ve chosen to read of my own accord, there are too many favorites to mention. I’ll limit myself to one. SUNSHINE by Robin McKinley.  Rae Seddon, Sunshine to her friends and family, ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Kidnapped by a gang of young vampires, she’s chained to a wall as a sacrifice to an older, infinitely more terrifying vampire. As much a prisoner as she, he declines to make a meal of her. In return, Sunshine feels it’s only fair to take him with her when she mobilizes barely remembered skills to conjure up a key for their shackles.51hsOw2aGNL__BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_

I adore this book. Dunno why, so much, but it is one I read and reread in times of stress or when I feel overwhelmed. I don’t particularly want to analyze the why of the balm this story provides. I just want the magic to keep on working whenever I crack the cover. For a decade now, it has worked. If you read it, I hope it works the same way for you, too.

Twisted Fairytales

I love fairytales. Always have. Read everything I could get my hands on – including some of the unsanitized versions that included blood and lopping off body parts. So I can’t give you a favorite. I love ’em all. HOWEVER. We can talk about execution.

Unless you are of a certain age, you won’t know Fractured Fairytales from the Rocky and Bullwinkle show. Without fail, these are some of my fav reworks of classic fairytales. I linked in “Leaping Beauty”, but if you search Youtube for Fractured Fairytales, you’ll find a bunch of five to six minute episodes.

Twenty plus years past the era of Fractured Fairytales, Shelly Duvall produced Fairytale Theatre. Cheesy, fun sets. Silly costumes. STELLAR casts. It’s like she blackmailed a bunch of her friends into doing this project with her. Some of the shows are funnier than others, but my two favorites of hers are Cinderella (Jennifer Beale and Matthew Broderick) and The Princess and the Pea.  Here’s the opener for Princess and the Pea.

In books, Robin McKinley made Beauty and the Beast my very favorite retold fairytale of all time. Her book, BEAUTY, is one of my desert island books.

Beauty by Robin McKinley

Beauty by Robin McKinley

How about you? Are you a strict traditionalist when it comes to fairytales? Or do you get into the retellings – the more twisted the better?

What Starts Yer Engines?

The question is: What gets your smexy on in novels – no matter how badly it’s written.

Easy answer. Nothing. And everything. Yes, another two part answer. My issue is that I love and admire skillfully written sex scenes. If you’re good at what you do, I don’t care what a hero and heroine do to one another. I have a very low minimum bar. Everyone must be consenting. Nonconsensual sex is not sexy, I don’t care how brilliant an author may be. Everyone should survive the encounter. Note that I’m not demanding that anyone be emotionally whole at the end of the sex scene. In fact, props if the sex scene exposes all of the juicy, soft, underbelly emotions.

Any poorly written sex scene destroys the scene for me. Painfully, unintentionally funny just kills the whole turn on, you know? Sure, humor can be killer sexy. But as Danica noted earlier in the week, it’s all about subtly and finesse. A light touch. Very few people like a ham-handed lover. I definitely can’t get into sex scenes that are handled poorly. my fascination is with the dance a set of lovers engages in prior to actually getting down doing whatever they’re going to do. It’s the power play, the give and take – verbally, mentally, emotionally. It’s a stand in, sort of a foreshadowing of what the actual sex will be. That can be some tough stuff to capture. But when it’s done well, the lovers (no matter how many) can do anything and I’ll go along for the ride. So to speak.

Platinum_final-cover-for-Jeffe-Kennedy-300A friend of mine, Jeffe Kennedy, writes BDSM erotica as well as fantasy. I’m not into BDSM. Pain isn’t remotely sexy to me in real life. Yet, Jeffe handles the scenes and the characters so deftly that I really enjoy her stories. Act ’em out? Hell, no. Enjoy reading? Oh, yes.

My “No” answer is simple – if something is written poorly, then by definition, it can’t pull me into the story or into the sex scene. ‘Written poorly’ is like that scene in COOL HAND LUKE: “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” That failure to communicate 9which is deadly to relationships for reals) means that a story and it’s sex scenes keep me at such a distance that I cannot possibly appreciate them.

On the other hand, write it well and I’ll follow your characters into sexual hell. So long as they get to heaven at some point.

Oscar Favorites

I have no room to talk about the films that have been nominated for Oscars this year – or in the past several year. I’m a migraineur. Movies are a major trigger for me, so I very rarely go. This from someone who spent a huge portion of her childhood in a movie theater consuming story after story. Not to mention the fact that I blame a movie for making the twelve year old me mad enough at how a film ended that I borrowed Mom’s typewriter and rewrote it the way *I* wanted it to end.

Please tell me I’m not the only one who’s done that.

Looking at a list of Oscar winning films past, I see that I actually have seen a few of them. Gladiator – powerful story, amazing production and worthy of the awards it won, but it doesn’t haunt me. In 2009, it was the movie that didn’t win that stuck with me: Up – the animated movie based on something that actually happened in my neighborhood. Though it didn’t win, that movie was 100% worthy of the Oscar if only because it spawned a meme. “SQUIRREL!”

MEnglish Patienty favorite is The English Patient and not just because I had a terrific crush on Ralph Fiennes character. Incredible cinematography. For the gorgeous desert shots alone, it was worth seeing in the movie theater (and yes, I had to leave at one point to take migraine meds so I could see how the movie ended – it was worth it).  The plot summary from IMDB: “Beginning in the 1930’s, “The English Patient” tells the story of Count Almásy who is a Hungarian map maker employed by the Royal Geographical Society to chart the vast expanses of the Sahara Desert along with several other prominent explorers. As World War II unfolds, Almásy enters into a world of love, betrayal, and politics that is later revealed in a series of flashbacks while Almásy is on his death bed after being horribly burned in a plane crash.”

Frankly, it’s a crappy summary, because the film is rich with layers, and parallel stories, and cause and effect. Beautiful story telling – all the more because the story touches on the kinds of betrayals that would make you hate a character – and I couldn’t hate anyone in this movie. Except, of course, the Nazis. So why has this movie stayed with me after so many years?

Because while I disliked some of the choices the characters made, I understood them. And secretly, I’m not sure whether I wouldn’t have made the same deal-with-the-devil choices were I faced with similar threats to my loved ones.

Keep the Oscar love coming. I’m really enjoying seeing which movies resonated for other people. Is there a movie that years later, you can still see in your mind’s eye (and feel in your gut)?

Zombie Apocalypse: A Case Study

wow_1Early in the lifecycle of World of Warcraft, a disease, designed to work only within the confines of a particular raid instance escaped containment. Players carried the disease into the major cities within the game. Whether they did this intentionally or unintentionally is still subject to debate. For the result, check the photo.

Yes. Those are bones littering the streets. In game, players heard rumors of the escaped, deadly plague. They then did one of three things:

  1. Ran AWAY from the carnage
  2. Ran TOWARD the death and destruction just to see it for themselves
  3. Meandered into the death zone to report back to fellow players and/or to attempt to heal the infected

Blizzard patched the code to fix the ‘bug’, but the several days of mayhem garnered the interest of a number of researchers. Here’s the Reuter’s article about the game plague and the subsequent research if fueled. At one point, rumors circulated in game that the CDC had even taken an interest in the psychology behind people’s responses. The accidental release of an imaginary disease in an imaginary world that some of us still pay good money to play in turned out to be the pandemic model researchers had always wanted, but could never develop. After all, how do you program in irrational human behaviour? Several million gamer geeks gave it to them. In spades.

The episode also inspired a zombie invasion/apocalypse later in the game, but that’s another story.

What about me? In this world, in my life, with my current skills, would *I* survive the zombie apocalypse? HAHAHAHAHAHA! No.

Yeah. Sorry. Lame in one leg. Asthmatic. I’m a gimped zombie snack pack, even if I live on a boat (which is a pretty sweet platform for survival).

But in World of Warcraft? I’m a 3 1/2 foot tall bundle of gnomish ingenuity and fireballs – all of which survived the in game apocalypse. By sheer, dumb luck which, I suspect, will how any of us survives anything.

Design Challenge: Pleasure Planet

The single greatestENEMY MINE challenge to designing a pleasure planet is deciding which of one of two things you want yours to be: all things to all species, or specialized to a narrow range of life form types. The whole pleasure planet concept assumes a far-flung future and a star-going population. Possibly any number of populations. Humanoids. Insectoids. Reptilians. And maybe jellyfishians? I suspect we can adopt the design truism that one person’s paradise is another person’s hell. In my scifi ‘Enemy’ series (Enemy Within, Enemy Games, and the enovella Enemy Mine) I did create a pleasure planet. Or at least, I mentioned it in passing in the first novel. NEVER intending to actually have to tell anyone about it.

Then the erotica, Enemy Mine, ended up being set ON the danged planet I’d mentioned in passing. Oops. It was time to get specific. The premise of the planet went down like this:

1. The pleasure planet is 100% neutral territory – security is top notch and best of all, unobtrusive. Clearly, in order to my novella to have a plot, the security couldn’t be foolproof – but this is a war-torn civilization. Having a place to leave the conflict in orbit? Priceless.

2. Oxygen breathers only – this was necessary to keep the planet from falling into the ‘all things to all species’ trap. The ‘Enemy’ universe encompasses far too many species to allow for one planet to serve them all. Besides. It’s reasonable to assume that the humanoid notion of paradise differs strongly from that of a Carozziel slime-bat.

With those two points established, the world then had to establish a few ground rules.

  • No uniforms – part of the luxury of the pleasure planet is leaving your regular life behind, including rank.
  • Everyone is equal on the pleasure planet – you’ll still be treated like a king or queen – but no one is treated any better than anyone else. Now. If your pleasure is being treated a particular way – it will be arranged precisely to your liking.
  • No weapons, no technology, no devices – if your pleasure is total immersion computer gaming, the pleasure planet will set you up with a state of the art, full meal, mind blowing experience. But making sure nothing has been tampered with requires excluding all external tech.
  • Anything goes – adventure? Can do. Silence and solitude in the heart of nature? Absolutely. Flashing, action-packed casino? Step right up. If you can imagine it, we can provide. However, this brings us to the last bullet point.
  • Nothing illegal.

That last one presented me with a pretty big problem. We all know that some people’s pleasure includes illicit drugs, or sexual acts that our society deems immoral. It seems fair to assume that someone’s always going to want to victimize someone else. My pleasure planet takes a very dim view of that sort of thing. BUT. It means that elsewhere, (Silver City – a massive, cobbled together space station) there’s a raging black market in victim trafficking. I can’t say human trafficking, because in these stories, victims come in all shapes and sizes.

For Enemy Mine, I had to imagine what luxury would be for someone native to the pleasure planet. If you lived there and had every possible adventure or luxury available, what would represent true privilege? I decided it had to be privacy – the ability to retreat to a subset of self-defined paradise. Translation: You get to design and build your own house. Access is by invitation only (excepting emergency crews, of course). Private and secluded enough for a hero to lure his heroine to him for a round of sexy interrogation without any interference. Except for that pesky assassin the heroine insists is en route to murder him.

Hey. No pleasure planet is perfect, right?

I Can’t Have Just One

Pick *a* sex symbol? Singular? That’s nuts. I can’t do it. Part of my problem is that I very rarely like a whole package. Yes. I know that sounds filthy. Take as you will. Some days, it IS filthy.

I seemrickman to be attracted to aspects of different guys. I’m a sucker for a wicked twinkle in a man’s eye and a sense of humor to match.This can be hard to find in someone who isn’t a certifiable psychopath, but look at John Cleese and Bill Murray and, even when he’s playing deliciously despicable bad guys, Alan Rickman.

Iron Man 3

Robert Downey Jr. gets that same gleam in his eye.

Nathan Fillion

It was the first thing I fell head over heels for Nathan Fillion for in Firefly. Then he turned out to be an incurable geek and I fell all the harder, but that’s another, deeply uncool issue.

A sculpted expanse of masculine physique is all well and good and enjoyable. The – er – artistic value alone, you know.  The problem is that I could go on adding photos all day – which means I wouldn’t meet my word count goals for the new novel in progress.

It would have been an easier assignment to post about guys I just don’t find at all attractive or sexy. MUCH shorter list. If only because I think that everyone has *something* about them. Thank the Gods, right? That means there’s hope for a fashion victim, girl geek like me. <G>

Chocolate Covered Cherry Cookies

Favorite holiday recipes? There are so many. Crab dip – a rich, creamy diet bomb of cream cheese, crab and other things that aren’t good for you, but are heaven on crackers. Then there’s the Cherry Ring that’s traditional for our Solstice celebration. Lemon bread – a sweet, tart, heavy pound cake that comes from a cookbook older than I am. However. For all of those recipes the single recipe I’m asked for most often, is this one: Chocolate Covered Cherry Cookies.

chocolatecherry They are a hit whenever I make them. I think I pulled the recipe from a magazine years ago. I made them, tried them, and swore to never make them again because they were vile. And I was the only one who thought so. Clearly. I end up making a quadruple batch every single year and these are the first cookies to vanish. My objection? Too sweet. They hurt my teeth. I’m assured by just about everyone else in the world that I’m just weird.  I’m into spice cookies. Big flavor, less sweet. Clove cookies are a favorite. I’d love to get the recipe for you, but it’s at Mom’s house…where I’m headed to do my annual holiday baking tomorrow. My oven aboard the boat is the size of a bread box. So to get any holiday baking done, I have to steal — er — borrow someone else’s kitchen. This year, Mom volunteered hers. I did promise to leave behind a few goodies in return. If we have another one of these holiday recipe posts, I swear I’ll post the clove cookies – they are so perfect for dunking in tea. And they taste like Christmas – orange peel, cloves and just a tiny kick of black pepper. Mmmm. Until then, chocoholics rejoice and enjoy your Chocolate Covered Cherry Cookies.

The Dark Hero You Grew Up Knowing

That’s right. James Bond, through all the actors who’ve portrayed him over time – some of whom played up the dark aspects of the character more than others.

I love this movie poster for Skyfall, the latest Bond film. It’s such a stark illustration of who James Bond really is. A killer. A cold, ruthless killer. Good at protecting queen and country? Sure. But I think part of the charm of a dark hero is that when he’s done well, he makes you think ‘but for the grace of God, there go I’. He makes you believe *his* reasons for what he does are just and honorable – even when, in the normal course of a normal, civilized conversation, you and I would agree this guy is just an amoral assassin and that the ends don’t always (or even usually) justify the means.

On the surface, James Bond has it all going on – money, power, brains, and charm. He’s convinced he’s fighting for the greater good. Better, he has us convinced he’s fighting for the greater good. Too bad he’s a bit of a psychopath. That part is rarely played up in the 007 canon – or at least it isn’t admitted overly, not the way it is in Dexter (HBO’s serial killer hero). Over the course of the movies, however, you see the pattern emerge from the character. He’s licensed by his government to kill, as if he’s a rabid dog that can be kept on a leash until he can be turned loose against some idiot who decides to endanger the world, take over the world, blow up the world, or what have you. You notice 007’s hyper sexuality without intent or ability to commit. Sex? No problem. Real human intimacy? Not a chance. Any time a Bond girl gets too close, she ends up dead. Or, movie to movie, she simply vanishes into thin air and is never mentioned again. Granted, that may say more about the misogyny of Bond’s creator/writer than it does about the character. Hard to tell.

Regardless, the Bond girls are necessary in every single 007 story because they humanize the dark hero. He’s only barely capable of human emotion. The women are there to show up what Bond *might* feel but can’t express or show. They represent the warm, humane heart at Bond’s core – his shot at redemption, if you will. (And likely the reason why his handlers haven’t yet taken him out back and put a bullet through his brain.) If he could safely nurture his heart and dismantle his considerable defense system, he might be normal. He could feel. He could love. Every single time one of those women dies at the hands of the villian(s), it’s that warm part of him dying. Any chinks that had been opened in his armor by the heroine slam closed. He’s once again the chilly, remote, efficient killing machine saving the world for everyone but himself.

That’s another hallmark, I think, of a dark hero done well: The air of sacrificial lamb – the dark hero faces the big ugly so no one else has to. Noble? Maybe. But it’s also a little self-aggrandizing and egocentric – a little bit like a junky who just has to have another hit of the old adrenaline. Another mission. Another kill. Another thrill (at least *that’s* okay for him to feel). And, to my mind, therein lies the question that makes James Bond a DARK hero. Can he stop? I say dark, because I strongly suspect the answer is no.

Where No Date Has Gone Before

First: Just a note and a link for your convenience. If you haven’t already, consider a small donation to the Red Cross or the relief organization of your choice to assist everyone displaced by Hurricane Sandy. If you prefer, Best Friends Animal Society provides animal rescue services in disasters and is taking an active roll in animal welfare in the regions impacted by the storm. A little bit goes a long way.

On to the intrepid adventure of my first date with a hot (humanoid, please!) alien. ET need not apply. I’m thinking Riddick from Pitch Black and the Chronicles of Riddick is an alien, right? So’s Spock. We can argue later about whether Han Solo and Luke Skywalker are aliens or whether they represent some far future expansion of the human race. For my purposes, they weren’t born on earth, they’ve never been to earth – they’re alien. Really, I’d far prefer any of the guys from my stories. Cullin Seaghdh – the sexy, powerful leader. Damon Sindrivik – the computer geek descended from a race of predatory great cats, Kirthin Turrell – the psychologically wounded warrior and V’kyrri – the telepath who uses humor to keep everyone at arm’s length. They’re all aliens – even to one another. They’re just used to the notion that theirs isn’t the only species in universe, much less the only sentient life form.

What is it about aliens for me? Aliens open up so many fun questions. What does evolving on another planet under another sun (or suns) do to DNA? Are we related? Are we related enough to hybridize? (Yes. That was a sex question.) Was the earth populated by alien DNA at any point? What are UFOs about, anyway? And an alien would be smart, right? Smarter than we are about the nature of physics at the very least – assuming space travel had been involved. I so want to KNOW things. I don’t mind feeling like a moron with a single digit IQ, so long as my alien suitor is willing to answer my questions so I don’t feel dumb for long.

Regardless. The first date!

 I see this going one of two ways. On my planet or off my planet. I’d love to see earth through someone’s eyes who was seeing it for the first time. So many places to go,  so many things to look at. My alien hero would have to have a sense of adventure – I’d want to go caving to show him things like this cave in Mexico, though maybe that would be a fifth date. I’d eventually want to spark a few UFO reports by flying his spaceship over the pyramids and animals of Africa. But maybe, for the first date here on earth, the best thing I could would be to take him sailing. I’d take him to Sucia Island up in the San Juans. This is my fantasy, so it’s summer. We’d have seen porpoise, maybe a few whales – several of the local orca pods hunt the San Juans. We’d have a great sail – once he got used to the motion and the fact that I had fewer planes to navigate in than he usually did. We catch a mooring bouy in one of the sheltered bays of the island. We’d throw a few steaks on the grill. After dinner,  we’d sit and watch the sun set.

In the other date option, my alien hero whisks me off planet for our ‘get to know you’ foray. (No return ticket to terra firma? No nooky. Just sayin’.) He’s show me the dark side of the moon (this scene is actually in a short coming out in January in the Mammoth Book of Futuristic Romance). He’d take me to Mars so I could look at the biggest volcano in the solar system. If he really, really wanted to impress me, he wouldn’t tell me there’s microbial life on the Red Planet. He’d take me down there, have me pick up a rock and he’d show me the smear of green inside the halcite – assuming there’s any such thing to find there. We’d buzz through the moons of Jupiter, watching Io’s volcanos erupting and discussing the nature of Europa’s under-ice oceans. Maybe we’d slide through the rings of Saturn on our way out of the solar system. He’d feed me some delicacy from his home world – one he already knew wasn’t poisonous to our kind. Then he’d take me to see this:

 He’d have to pour on the speed to get me there in person and then back home before everyone on earth I knew died of old age. I’d quizz him about the physics of supralight travel, not that I’d understand much. Or at all. Certainly, I wouldn’t be able to repeat any of it to anyone who mattered. Once we returned to earth orbit, and I knew I could go home any time I wanted, we might settle down together to watch for aurora borealis.  What happens after that? That’s what the next few books I’ll write are for.

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