New Year's Eve Thoughts

New Year's resolutions have, I think, fallen somewhat out of favor. If not for the world in general, they have for me--I don't remember the last year I made one.

To mess with matters further, Lou and I planned for the coming year back at the beginning of Advent, which kicks off the liturgical year. Our "year", in other words, runs from November 29, 2009 through November 27, 2010. Which, being a geek, I think is cool.

This year, I've actually returned to the making of resolutions, at least in the form of goals. Here they are:
  • Study Latin.
  • Revise my novel, get it read by a few people, revise again, and query.
  • Get more music recorded and get it--and some of what I did this year--up on the Internet.
Short list, yes, but big goals. Of course, Advent has gone by and I still haven't picked up that Latin book ... though you could say I get some of it by osmosis through learning Gregorian chants and reading the translations thereof. I have, however, worked hard on revision, and am trying to get my poor beat-up voice rested and warmed into decent recording shape.

Here's to 2010, and the new liturgical year too! Happy New Year to all.


Music to Write By

As a general rule, when writing I prefer silence. The wrong music can get into a writer's head and mess with mood, characterization, word flow, and all manner of things that shouldn't be messed with.

I do make exceptions, though. For my non-NaNoWriMo novel, I have playlists for all of my major characters, and sometimes playlists to describe their relationships. Not that I ever actually listen to those playlists while I write. Lou, however, put on the Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherazade one night while I worked on that novel, and now I can't hear Scheherazade without thinking of that story and seeing its images in my mind.

During November, I went silent except for the NaNoWriMo song. But here's my current writing music for this story:

Hayley Westenra's Celtic Treasure album
Owl City's Fireflies
ALL CAPS' rewrite of Fireflies as a Ron/Hermione duet

... with the last two sometimes alternating over and over, thanks to YouTube (and the linked videos are just wonderful, at least for geeks). At this point I'm probably obligated to buy both versions.

This means that Fireflies has run through my head for days, usually mixed up with the ALL CAPS version, so the lyrics will go something like "I'd get a thousand hugs/From ten thousand Viktor Krums" which is addled to the point of mildly disturbing. But I'm not complaining. I thoroughly love the song in both incarnations, and haven't tired of it yet. Besides, having it run through my head keeps all the annoying Christmas music out.

The original is also a good song for listening to when you can't sleep. I played it quite a few times between four and eight AM on Sunday.

As for Hayley Westenra, she could probably sing just about anything and it would suit my writing mood. But Celtic Treasure has Abide with Me on it, which I linked some time back. I love that piece. It still chokes me up sometimes.


Zombie Post

I tried to write a real post tonight--honest. Couldn't do it. Sleep deprivation has caught up with me, and my creativity is gone.

Even sleepy, though, I find humor in John Mark Reynolds' explanation of the denominational affiliations of the various Bible authors. Enjoy.

As for me, I'll try to come back tomorrow ... with brains.



After three difficult Christmases in a row, we had a comparatively easygoing one this year, thanks be to God.

Lou and I chanted the entirety of first Vespers. We were very proud of ourselves for this, and despite a lot of mistakes, I have to say it was beautiful. For church we went to midnight Mass, and the music was splendid ... just splendid. Worth getting so keyed up that I couldn't sleep till 2:30, even though I had to get up at six on Christmas.

My family hosted Christmas morning for us, as is now traditional--big breakfast, lots of dogs underfoot, Luke 2 and prayer before presents. Everybody loved the little things we brought back from Italy, to my delight. Almost everybody, at least; Grandma's response, when I helped her unwrap the snow globe and placed it in her hands, was "Open it for me"--but at least she was there. Dementia and all, it made me happy to have one more Christmas with her.

At midafternoon we drove back to town and spent the evening with Lou's parents and a couple of family friends. We had exchanged presents with them and Andy and Lindsey earlier, so we relaxed and enjoyed a nice dinner and quiet evening.

As for presents--well, the family on both sides shopped at places like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, so you know Jenna came home happy. Lindsey even made me a reading pillow with ribbons to hold a book open and mark a place. It works well as a neck pillow, too, when I don't have a book in it. And I've listened to Hayley Westenra (lovely) and read part way into Andrew Peterson's On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness (hilarious) and pored over the pictures in the giant book on the Vatican (wondrous; I desperately need to write a post about St. Peter's) and ... well, now I'm going to go work on my own book, because I get separation anxiety when I stay away from it for very long.

Merry Christmas to all. (Hey, it's still officially Christmas till January 6. But if you're really sick of Christmas music and you've put your tree and nativity away, then Happy New Year.)


The End of Advent

Christmas shopping: Officially complete.
Christmas wrapping: Not so complete.
Fruitcake: Also not complete.
Current state of mind: Lost in space, but happy

Lou and I lit all four candles on our Advent wreath tonight, prayed Vespers and chanted the last of the O Antiphons with the Magnificat. Our chanting has improved over the last year--being part of a chant schola helps me a lot--and we made it through the Magnificat, at least, without serious mistakes. The call to Christ, asking him to come, is my favorite part of every O antiphon; just the word veni, simple and full of longing.

Earlier in the day I went shopping at Fred Meyer and hopefully I got everything we need for the next few days, because my story-saturated brain couldn't begin to figure out where I was or what I ought to buy or where to find anything. My IQ must have temporarily dropped 40 points.

I hope that's temporary, anyway.

In case I miss blogging for tomorrow and the holiday itself--which might happen, as I still have to bake fruitcake--Merry Christmas!


On Writing Professionally

Anyone wishing to write professionally [or do anything professionally, really] should read this article by John August. He reminds us all that our work on the internet can count for or against us, and explains the necessary components of professionalism in posting.

Not that anything committed to record has ever been really safe. The world reads Anne Frank's diary (remind me to burn my own before I die) and Jane Austen's letters to her sister.

On the worldwide web, however, we offer samples of our work for uncharted public scrutiny, items that say something about us and count toward whatever image the outside world has of us. Those samples might say things like "I couldn't pass a first-grade spelling test" or "No one ever taught me how and when to shut my mouth" or "Logic and I have never been properly introduced." They might also say "I have a keen creative streak" and "Kindness and reason are my best friends" and "My mother taught me how to present myself with common decency."

The thought scares me a little, but in a good way.


Christmas Decorations

We decorated our Christmas tree last night.

Us, the tree, the nativity, and my purple fuzzy socks, all with mood lighting:

Also, my Christmas cactus decided to put its heart and soul into blooming this year. That makes me happy.

In case you wonder: yes, that is an incredibly small crèche there. Joseph looks like Gimli. I get a kick out of it.


The New Moon Movie

Lou took me to see this a few weeks ago, and as a movie review post tends to take a lot of time to write, I've procrastinated. I did get a short piece up at The Hog's Head celebrating the faithfulness of the movie to the book, but here I'll talk details. Spoilers ahead!

New Moon being my favorite novel of the four, the movie could have seriously bombed for me. It did not. I liked it, and so did Lou. (Lou, good man, likes the Twilight movies better than the Potter movies. So do I, though in a battle of the books, I think Potter will always win for me.)

The four blank chapters in the novel, titled according to the four months they represent, could have been very difficult to communicate in movie format. Weitz and crew did a fantastic job.

The worst part of the movie experience for me: Sitting in front of the sort of girl who gives Twilight fans a bad name. She kept up a steady run of insinuating commentary throughout the film--out loud. 'Really,' I wanted to tell her, 'I know both the leading boys took their shirts off--but I managed to sit through it without swooning. Can't you?'

Though I consider myself firmly Team Edward, I have to say that the movie (and Taylor Lautner's good work in his role) made Jacob seem a lot more relatable than Edward. Not so in the book. That scene in Eclipse where Bella breaks her hand punching Jacob in the jaw? Yeah, I'm right there with her on that.

Favorite scene: The little flash-forward where a transformed Bella runs with Edward through the trees. Kristen Stewart makes a lovely sparkly vampire.

I found all the cinematography quite beautiful, but especially the vampire and werewolf action scenes, which usually happened in the forests. Being from the Pacific Northwest, I love getting to see this area displayed so splendidly on the big screen.

Leaving out Catherine Hardwicke's old-movie-style clips made for a little discontinuity between the films, but New Moon was still too well shot for that to greatly bother me.

Charlie and Carlisle (Billy Burke and Peter Facinelli, respectively) gave flawless performances, as always.

Bella jumping on the back of the stranger's motorcycle made my one big quibble with the movie itself. She rides off with a catcalling guy she doesn't know ... and he brings her back? Hardly believable.

I did miss Carlisle actually stating his belief that he and his family are not necessarily damned. At least Bella said it.

The Volturi scene had too much action in it for me, but Dakota Fanning makes a perfect Jane. My goodness, that girl can act.

Overall rating: Definitely worth the $9 it cost to see it. At least, for those of us who like Twilight. Feel free to add your own impressions in the comments.


Busy Day and Vonnegut Quote

Attempted day revision results:

I made it all the way till after lunch without checking email and all the way to late afternoon without checking Facebook. The world did not fall apart. I still floundered in the revision process, but at least I did so for several hours.

Amusing quote:

"Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae."--Kurt Vonnegut


Revising Days

Maybe I need to revise my days, as well as my novel.

For instance, if every morning I skipped right over checking my four email accounts and Facebook and Google Reader, and went right away into working on my story, then I might get more done and with less distractions. By evening my brain has worn thin and I have a lot of other things to do. If I saved email checking till then, I wouldn't give my best energy to responding to threads and writing up little items and chasing links to anything that might make me a better writer--or a more well-informed citizen--or less curious.

Actually, I do myself a little injustice there, at least since November ended. I've been very good about not getting lost in the internet maze during the day. Many times I don't even get around to reading most of my Google Reader, I just clear it out. That may be a shameful thing for a blogger to say.

But I'm floundering a bit in the revision process, and part of that is just distraction; failure to focus long enough to actually set a plan and follow it properly.

For tonight, my brain needs a little break. Wednesdays are busy, and I've kept on the move since 6:45 AM. I plan to to take a little time to rest and read; then I'll try to give my attention to storytelling for awhile. Maybe tomorrow I can try revising my day.


Currently Reading: Interworld

Authors: Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves

I must say, Gaiman and Reaves can write. Gaiman is the author of many well-known stories, including Coraline, The Graveyard Book, and Stardust; Reaves is a television writer who has also done two of the Star Wars books. Their first couple of pages convinced me to bring Interworld home from the library, and I had it read in two days.

The book follows the tale of Joey Harker, a teenage boy with a malformed sense of direction (I can sympathize, being of the "whichever way I think something is, you should actually take the other way to find it" persuasion.) Joey gets lost in town and accidentally walks into another dimension. It's a fascinating story. But the ending perplexed me. Spoiler alert!

Interworld doesn't have a bad ending, just a mildly unsatisfactory one. It left me uncertain of how to rate the book in my own imagination. I enjoyed the writing, the conflict, the juxtaposition of science and magic--really well done--and the character choices. The great escape scene had me totally hooked in ... and then the last couple of pages just fell flat for me. I wanted the main character to receive healing and recompense for his efforts. Instead, as C.S. Lewis said, "if you do one good deed your reward is usually to be set to do another and harder and better one" ... and that worked great in Lewis' The Horse and His Boy, where Shasta/Cor has to save Narnia and Archenland after running at a lion, because he finds his father in the process and eventually becomes a king and gets the girl.

In Interworld, it's the lonely triumph of the hero working with a team of versions of himself and an uncertain future. While the characters are lovable in the book, the idea that leaves me with feels a little nightmarish.

The "Hero/ine learns to be self-reliant" ending may have as much or more intrinsic worth as "Boy gets girl and they ride off into the sunset", but it cannot be quite as fulfilling. Oh well. Interworld makes a good read, anyway.


The Genre Question

This is not the first time I've said that I do not normally think much about genre while writing. Not to say that I don't keep in mind that a story must abide by certain rules, or that for marketing's sake it needs to fit at least loosely into some accepted category. I just have never gotten into genre loyalty, and many of my favorite books don't like to be stacked neatly into labeled boxes.

Since I have yet to query, let alone get published, my ideas may belong in the category of "Kids, don't try this at home." Still, as a picky first-time reader and an insatiable re-reader, someone who likes books from science fiction and (clean) romance and fantasy and literary fiction, etc., but hasn't found any genre regularly satisfactory, I write what I would like to read. Classification and focus come in the second draft.

After several days going over the scenes and characters in my NaNoWriMo novel, and after reading a lot about the fantasy genre by those who read and write it, I've realized a couple of things about my book. First, I know the age group to which it should be marketed. Second, it doesn't fall exactly into the category I thought it did--and it's better this way, at least as I have written it. It would take a much deeper rewrite and a thorough shift in tone to get it to the genre I had thought of, but I like the tone and nature of the story as I have it now.

As someone working in the nebulous land between fantasy and fairy tale, I found myself intrigued by the answers.com article on the subject. I don't know that I agree with all the theories in there, but I do have a better idea of where this project stands.


Currently Falling Asleep

... and must rise at the unholy hour of o'dark-thirty in the morning, so apologies for the short post.

I need to spend the next several days helping out my family while my mom visits my grandma in Florida, which will likely decrease my computer time by at least ninety-five percent. The middle of next week may pass before I can blog again. We'll see.

In the mean time, if you haven't seen the following video by a guy who has made a YouTube name for himself out of things along the lines of transparent angling ferrets, you should. It makes me laugh.


Austenian Morality

Lou told me the other night that I would definitely want to read this article about Jane Austen and modern sensibility. I read it, and he was right. As someone who enjoys Austen's books in part because morals get mixed in with the romance and humor, I loved the piece.
"Austen lived on the cusp of the 18th-century Augustan and 19th-century Romantic ages. In our own time, nearly every song, advertisement and movie is based on Romantic principles. No matter how much we may enjoy the "felicities of domestic life," as Austen put it in "Persuasion," we still feel the enormous Romantic pull to do something more heroic and intense. Rather than digesting a good dinner while conversing with friends, we should be out forging the consciousness of our race in the smithy of our soul, or some damn thing. I don't really want to forge the consciousness of my race, but at the same time I don't want to miss out on all that Romanticism offers. This is where Austen comes in, for she is an Augustan familiar with Romanticism, which makes her more useful than a modern writer in helping us face the Romantic challenge. Only she can so credibly show us that it is possible to have moderation and deep feeling, good dinners and good poetry."


Winter Plans

The golden leaves have almost all drifted from the three weeping willow trees I watch, and I miss warm air. Did I ever sit on this couch in a skort and T-shirt? That taxes my imagination now. I have currently armed myself against the cold with plenty of heavy clothing and a fleece blanket.

Thankfully, the Douglas fir out back pledges to keep a little green amid all the gray of winter. Lighting a lot of candles helps with the early darkness, and in just two weeks, the days start getting lighter instead of darker. In the mean time, I have things to do.

With NaNoWriMo over, I dutifully put my novel away and told myself not to look at it until January. Everybody says wait to revise, anywhere from a few weeks to a year. I lasted until last Friday. NaNo gave me momentum; I couldn't bear to lose that now, or to shift my energy to another project and wind up putting this one on indefinite hold. Out came the file, and I used up the rest of our copy paper printing the manuscript and started re-reading and marking off the scenes.

As some of the authors' sites I've visited recommend setting a date for the completion of revision, I've chosen March 20, the first day of spring. Arbitrary? Maybe, but March sounded about right anyway. That gives me a focus and purpose for these winter months, when even with the furnace running almost constantly, my hands and feet stay cold. I'll write scenes and slash poor lines and fix plot problems--of which I have noted sixty--as fast as my chilly fingers can manage.

For the single most helpful article I've found on revising a novel, click over to this page by Holly Lisle. Second place goes to Steve Thompson.


Great Things

Taking a break from my string of I-haven't-thought-about-anything-but-novel-in-weeks posts, we return to tales of the trip to Rome. A picture may be worth a thousand words (a writer's least favorite aphorism), but no picture can well describe how utterly humongous the old buildings are. These pictures, however, give it a try. Think, for instance, of the front of St. Peter's:

... and then look at me, standing at the base of one of the columns.

From the inside, we see Bernini's baldacchino (the dark canopy structure in the middle):

They say that the baldacchino would actually fit inside the little hole at the top of the dome, seen at the bottom of this picture:

Lou shot that picture from the base of the dome, after climbing three hundred some stairs to get that far (it takes another two hundred to get to the top of the dome.) Here you have the view down from the same level:

Not that the Vatican has the corner on massiveness. The "giant wedding cake", otherwise known as a monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, does what it can:

... and there's nothing particularly shrimpy about the Colosseum, either.


Naming Characters, Part II: Fantasy

Despite my adoration of the world of faerie, as seen in numberless re-reads of things like Harry Potter and Narnia and The Little White Horse, I honestly do not read a lot of fantasy fiction. I have several reasons for my lack of loyalty to the genre, with "impossible character names" at the top of the list.

Fantasy and sci-fi character naming is a whole art in itself, encompassing linguistic study and all sorts of rules about consistency between worlds and things. Unfortunately, to me it tends to read like walking into one of those neighborhoods where the parents attempt to outdo each other on weird names for their children. The writers of fantasy often draw names from foreign sources or make them up altogether, which makes the characters immediately more difficult to identify with and almost always less memorable.

Admittedly, Tolkien's Middle-Earth work is a linguistic achievement like no other. But even for Tolkien I had to read The Lord of the Rings twice and watch all the movies before I could remember the minor characters' names. As for Potter, I read the first four books before finally asking someone how to pronounce Hermione, and it then took me ages to get "Hermie-own" out of my head. Even Hermione's own attempt to explain the pronunciation of her name to Viktor Krum did not help much; it needed emphasis. Her-MY-oh-nee.

I don't really think about genre when writing, but having several worlds puts me in the category of fantasy--high fantasy, of all things, since there is no earth-as-we-know-it. Which leaves me with a conundrum: Should I attempt linguistic genius? Or make the names memorable and relatable?

Right now I have chosen the latter, with some respect for the former. In an attempt at both memorability and consistency, I'll give the natives of any world Anglicized names derived from the same root language. I actually have comparatively few named characters; unfortunately, most of the minor ones need renaming. But Mr. Ian Woon gets to keep his name.

"But Jenna, one would think you'd have gone through all this before you wrote the book!"

Right. Well, one would think.


Naming Characters

Current occupation: finding ways to work on my story without actually looking at it. Except for the parts I type from memory to try out different character names.

In picking names for my primary triptych, at three different times and from three different sources, I somehow managed to come up with three names beginning with the letter A. Nothing wrong with A, but all conventional wisdom says "Don't start multiple main characters' names with the same first letter." It makes fast reading harder and more annoying.

I did not discover my mistake until having thrown myself head-first into actually writing the book, and now I am faced with renaming at least one very important character. The siblings can perhaps survive with sharing initials, but the best friend has to go through a change, and after writing the entire first draft with her name very fixed in my mind, I might as well try to rename one of my own friends.

Every different name makes a slight difference in the person you imagine, and having officially made up my mind to change that girl's name, it remains now to be seen whether her personality is going to be seriously affected.

Ever stared at yourself in the mirror and wondered what other names you could have successfully pulled off? Maybe I am just weird.

For an enjoyable article on naming characters,  click here. Maybe giving the main character's brother a nickname like "Flash" or "Blaster" would help. Not either of those, though. Yipes.


Funny Line of the Week

I miss my story. (No, that's not supposed to be funny.)

This was somebody's signature line on the NaNo boards:

"If life gives you lemons, make orange juice. Let the rest of the world wonder how the $%?#! you managed it."

All right, I know I'm overwrought and even more easily amused than usual ... but that just makes me howl.


NaNoWriMo Odds and Ends

Thirty days ago I began NaNoWriMo at the base of one of the columns outside St. Peter's Basilica. The program ends tonight.

Right now I'm just aglow. I am in love ... throw-back-your-head, fling-out-your-arms, tell-the-whole-world in love with this book. I finished the rough draft last night and am thoroughly happy with the way it turned out.

Yes, it has plot holes; yes, it contains appalling sentences that I hope no one ever knows I wrote; yes, everything happens too fast; but far more came together than I expected and it wound up making itself the sort of story I don't want to put down because it gives me such happiness. It needs a little work, I think, before anyone else will get that feeling from it, but at least I've a start.

For your reading pleasure (or at least, my listing pleasure), here are notes on the experience and the story itself.

Worst things about the story:
  • The plot setups are awful--usually gave out way too much information so I wouldn't forget it myself.
  • Adjectives--not much better, they all got overused. Adverbs, likewise. I needed words.
  • Some of the action and romance scenes are a little cheesy owing to the hurry in which they were written, and perhaps to my own innate cheesiness.
  • A lot of them also happen too quickly.
  • The rule "Don't tell, show"? Yeah, I broke that one a lot.
Best things about the story:
  • The fourth character. I had a primary triptych with a clear protagonist, but the fourth--whom I had loosely planned going in--turned up much earlier in the story and played a far greater role than I expected.
  • The worlds. I had some pre-November input from my mom and sister on how I might structure the worlds, and they turned out lovely. In my head, at least.
  • The overall plot and theme. It stayed basically true to my main formula, even though a lot of times I just threw something down and told myself I'd figure out what that meant later. A lot of the things I threw down jumped up and made a decent structure out of themselves, without destroying the original direction.
  • The surprises. Maybe it's fun to try to surprise a reader; I'll probably never know. It's way too much fun when the story surprises me.
Most difficult things about the experience:
  • The temptation to procrastinate.
  • Having to rediscover my thought process every time I took a break.
  • Writing out of zero ideas, not knowing even how to end the sentence, let alone the scene.
  • Spending a solid week singing Kristina Horner's line "I just realized I have plot holes and my writing really sucks" and meaning it.
  • Not editing myself. I cheated on that many times.
Most fun things about the experience:
  • Starting in Italy.
  • Feeling serious progress come from my efforts.
  • Not stressing over plot holes and major difficulties/unplanned parts--or stressing less about them, at least. I could just say "Right, that's dreadful" and keep writing.
  • Falling in love with my characters, one after the other.
  • Getting surprised by really sweet moments. I'm sure most of them are desperately silly right now, but ... well, I can't talk about any of them without giving away spoilers, but one in particular just about startled me into tears of joy.
Final word count: 57,500

Number of cheats used: None, unless you count flinging around the adjectives and the passive verb and other comparatively useless parts of speech without discretion.

Great WriMo moment: Including Mr. Ian Woon. He lives on the Moon. I am inordinately proud of that fact.

What's next: My goal today is to make a quick scan through the story, highlight things I love and things I want to change, and then put it away for a few weeks before starting to overhaul. I am very anxious to do my best by my beloved little tale, and bad revision can kill off all the best parts of a story without fixing the problems, according to Holly Lisle. This absolutely terrifies me. But I hereby commit myself to making a full revision. That's a promise.


NaNoWriMo Win

Thanksgiving Day 11/26/09 8:53 PM
50,272 words

I had just validated and was staring at the winner's screen, grinning about as widely as is humanly possible, when my husband walked in with turkey, the good things that go with it, and pumpkin pie with whipped cream, courtesy of Mom and Dad St. Hilaire.

Lou heated Thanksgiving dinner for me and put on Beethoven's ninth symphony. I am basking in the glow.

Happy Thanksgiving

My husband, bless him, has spent the day taking care of me and sitting on the couch beside me; now he is off giving a little time to his parents. It's just me and my laptop for a little while.

I had thought about posting the customary list of things to be thankful for, which after searching my blog I find that I have never actually done. Like yesterday, however, I went to my story first, got caught up in it, and--by virtue of creating plot holes faster than I can fill them--just validated my novel at 49,021 words.

Giving thanks being more important than winning NaNoWriMo tonight, I finally took a break and came here. But I can't get into a listing mood. Every time I think about listing the things for which I owe gratitude to God and others, it really comes down to this: I am surrounded by love. So much so that here on my couch, coughing and feverish and alone for awhile on a holiday, I don't feel sorry for myself or even particularly alone.

I wish I could have helped my mom hack the turkey in half and cook it on the woodstove when their power went out this morning. I wish I could have talked with my dad and helped care for my grandma. I wish I could have sat at the table with Lou's parents, who have welcomed me as their own daughter. That I could have talked and laughed with our brothers and sisters and played with their children. That I could have made my pumpkin pie and the two green bean casseroles and been some use instead of burying myself under blankets while Lou made me hot tea.

It would have been fun, but I'm really just missing an event. Love itself has enclosed me behind and before, and laid its hand upon me.

Happy Thanksgiving, and may yours be as blessed as mine--only healthier!


Flu for the Win

For anyone powering into the last days of NaNoWriMo with the slightest fears of losing, I highly recommend the flu. Nothing will do more for your word count, even if sometimes you scrunch miserably down into the corner of the couch and type one-handed. Nine hours tête-à-tête with a laptop, despite fuzzy brain and one-handed typing, is opportunity itself. It might feel like cheating, but since it means running a fever and all sorts of nasty things like that, I figure it's fair. Of course, you could theoretically choose a more appropriate time to get sick than over the holidays, but oh well.

I got so caught up in story this evening that I almost forgot to blog. This is fun. Not being sick or missing Thanksgiving ... but driving myself to do something I love, even if the resulting product will need unbelievable amounts of overhaul in December.

If I miss you tomorrow: Happy Thanksgiving!


Bad Timing

I have the flu--with the works. Honestly, at this point I do not care whether it is swine flu or otherwise. I hear they are both bad.

Thanksgiving is looking a lot quieter than it did from the perspective of yesterday.

Even typing makes me feel lousy right now, but I will finish this novel. Or else.


Goals for the Week

Current NaNoWriMo goal: Get as far ahead as possible before Thanksgiving.

I also have a Silhouette article deadline for Thanksgiving day, which translates to Wednesday because with two families to visit (yes, that means two Thanksgiving dinners) there is not a chance I will be handling Silhouette anything on Thursday. The blog might be kind of thin for a few days. Never fear, however: I haven't finished posting about either Rome or NaNoWriMo yet.
If you need something to read, one of the NaNoWriMo forums is collecting math jokes. Apologies for the occasional crudeness therein, but I thought many of the offerings hilarious and might have added (heh) the joke about binary if kei8 hadn't beaten me to it.


NaNoWriMo Stream of Consciousness

"How many words have I got? Thirty thousand and some? How long have I been in the thirty thousands? Days? Weeks? Months? I've lost count ... Why does the count rise so slowly? This storyline has scope, dang it! Three primary characters and four worlds ... how can it seem like not enough to fill the word count? I have to get at least ten thousand words out of this world, and they simply cannot all be adjectives.... By the time I get done editing in December, will I have only half the words I do now? Ack! Kill that thought right now, or I will never finish.

"Here I am starting paragraphs that I can't see the end of ... I have no idea where this scene is going. Now when I get to that scene, I will have something to write about. Must get to that scene. Must ... get ... to ... that ... scene! I'll do like the Little Engine that Could. I think I can. I think I can. I think I can. The Little Engine that Could always makes me think of the movie Major Payne. Distraction! Write, Jenna, write! I think I can. I think I can. I think I can...."


NaNoWriMo Song

My new form of procrastination: Listening to techno.

I love techno. It makes me throw-back-your-head-and-dance-in-the-summer-sunshine happy, which I needed today. I got in a virtual bar fight. I hate those.

The above song describes the NaNoWriMo experience quite well. Right now I'm in the "I need inspiration" phase. Ack.

Anyway, I liked the song so much I decided to check out some of Kristina Horner's other videos, and Mrs. Nerimon is especially fun. I'd be all right with losing a bet if it meant making a music video that likeable.

Right. I'm procrastinating. I need to go write a freaking book.


Something Old, Something New

Chesterton, if I remember correctly, referred to Rome as a "living city." It isn't just ancient ruins. But it has ancient ruins, and ancient things that are not so ruined, and the incongruity of the ancient things existing right up against the modern fascinated me throughout the trip.

Of course, the incongruities were not limited to Rome, nor to the juxtaposition of old and new. Everywhere I looked, I found something to boggle the brain.

Exempli gratia:

Cherub with the usual innocent baby face, clinging to the head of a gargoyle:

I have to admit that weirded me out a little.

In Siena, you could theoretically tie your horse at one of the iron rings in the walls and walk across the street to a svelte little boutique embedded in the old stone. You could buy your designer boots, while your horse dodged a lot of well-dressed Italians and the occasional Smart car.

A similarly interesting experience is standing next to the ancient Roman wall--right next to it, because the cars and buses go hurtling past about thirty inches from your nose. Lou and I didn't take any pictures of that. When you're afraid for your life, you're not necessarily thinking about pulling out your camera.

Slick colorful modern machines next to stones that have been in one heap for millenia are a natural progression of living in an ancient city. Less natural or comprehensible was the idea some overeducated artistic director had of placing hideous, formless white statuary amidst the ruins of the Roman Forum.

Very strange.

More positively, Rome contains another incongruity at its very heart; one repeated over and over, but never more obviously than in the great and glorious temple designed to reverence a carpenter in the name of a fisherman.


NaNoWriMo Day 17

I intended to write a real blog today. Unfortunately for my blog, I also wanted to get at least a day ahead on NaNoWriMo. And to get the laundry done.

I have succeeded at the latter two, thanks to a burst of inspiration and a (finally) working dryer. The former will have to wait. But I'll leave you for the night with my favorite pep talk so far, written by Maureen Johnson. It describes the life of a writer beautifully and precisely.


The NaNoWriMo Halfway Mark

At the end of yesterday, my novel contained just over 26,100 words. Yesterday being the 15th, and therefore exactly halfway through November, I felt very pleased with myself for being 1100 words ahead. (Today ... not so much.)

Lessons drawn from sixteen days' experience as a high-speed novelist:
  • Try, if at all possible, to save the creepy parts of your novel to be written in the daylight and with other people around.
  • Treats are a great motivator. One night at least, I have made my word count goal only by bribing myself with a bag of GORP with M&Ms.
  • Not sure which NaNo staffperson first said it, but they were right: It's very important to tell everyone you know that you're taking part in NaNoWriMo. Knowing that your entire acquaintance will hear about it if you succeed or fail is a powerful motivator.
  • Whenever possible, it helps to end a day's writing time in a place that makes going on sound fun.
  • Procrastination opportunities abound and must be battled with every available force. Most of the time.
  • Got a 12-hour plane ride? Use it. Who really wants to watch in-flight movies anyway?
  • Make yourself a banner or cover art, even if you don't share it on your profile. I made myself a banner using some stock photos I found online, and I look at it when I want a kick of motivation.
  • Stocking up on coffee is apparently traditional WriMo technique, but overdoing it is counterproductive: coffee jitters make typing and thinking unnecessarily difficult.
  • The forums are a lot of extremely distracting fun, when read wisely.


How to Cheat at NaNoWriMo

Lou and I spent some time looking through pictures of our Italy trip tonight. The pictures are still not on my computer. Maybe tomorrow ...

In the mean time, here's something to amuse you tonight (it amused me, anyway): Legitimate cheats for NaNoWriMo success. I don't know if those are officially endorsed by the program or not, but the rules are quite loose, so those "cheats" may well be legitimate, at least to a point.

While I haven't done a find and replace to change every instance of "it's" to "it is", I'll admit to thinking rather complacently of the boost in word count as my main character repeated her full name several times in a row some chapters back. But after all, she had just heard her name for the first time. Those are extenuating circumstances. :)


NaNoWriMo Daily Word Count Increments

Late night + up early + NaNoWriMo + writers' group + catch up on grocery shopping + reading for a friend on deadlines + make dinner + church = Jenna too tired for rational or even fanciful blogging.

Here, then, is a neat little helpful thing for NaNoWriMo. My husband made it for me. I presume that something very like it is available on the NaNoWriMo site, but old Jet Lag Brain here couldn't find it. I was worried about taking time out from my novel to use the Windows calculator and figure all this out, but my husband ... bless his computer-programming heart ... just said "Oh, it's only four or five lines of code" and had it to me in a very short time.

Today being November 11, I am just over my goal at 18,460 words as of this writing. Good thing I was nine hundred words ahead yesterday. I'm hoping to get a couple of days ahead, since Thanksgiving is coming up and even normal days tend toward unpredictability.

The NaNoWriMo Daily Word Count Increments (for pacing purposes only):

November 1: 1667
November 2: 3334
November 3: 5001
November 4: 6668
November 5: 8335
November 6: 10002
November 7: 11669
November 8: 13336
November 9: 15003
November 10: 16670
November 11: 18337
November 12: 20004
November 13: 21671
November 14: 23338
November 15: 25005
November 16: 26672
November 17: 28339
November 18: 30006
November 19: 31673
November 20: 33340
November 21: 35007
November 22: 36674
November 23: 38341
November 24: 40008
November 25: 41675
November 26: 43342
November 27: 45009
November 28: 46676
November 29: 48343
November 30: 50000


Wanted: Cappucino con zucchero

One of my favorite things about Italy: Cappucini. That's right. The plural of cappucino is not cappucinoes, or even cappucinos. (Surprised? I was, but I shouldn't have been. I still say it wrong sometimes.)

I tried to go cool and European and have cappucini only before lunch. By the end of the trip, though, my philosophy went something like "Oh well, I'm only in Europe for another couple of days. I'll probably never see most of these people again. Anyway, I am an American after all. Besides, it's healthier if I have a cappucino--I can drink straight espresso, but only if it's con zucchero, and it takes lots and lots of zucchero to make it drinkable. Milk is better for me than sugar." I believe I once had three in one day.

Yesterday was the first time in two weeks that I had no coffee. Hence, no blog-post. I had intended to write in the evening, but the only thing I remember after dinner and vespers is being so very tired and snuggling down in the couch. Lou woke me up at ten to go to bed, which I did, and I slept happily until just before six this morning.

No pictures yet--they're coming. I've been too lazy (if raking the yard and filling seven black garbage bags and a big composter with wet leaves can be considered lazy) to upload the pictures to my computer yet. It takes a long time when there are over five hundred of them.

NaNoWriMo word count (the widgets seem to be down at the moment, so the little one in my sidebar is just an x in a box): Currently just breaking the quota, which for Nov. 10 should be 16,670, but I hope to push that a little further tonight. I might need some coffee for that.

Writing in a hurry is getting harder. I'm having to make big decisions immediately after discovering they're needed, which is not something I like to do. It's good for me. :)


Home and Groggy


I am not feeling particularly coherent today. You wouldn't either if you woke up yesterday at 3 AM Central European Time (6 PM PST), spent 12 hours in airplanes and another three in cars, went to bed over 26 hours after rising, slept eight hours (till 5 AM PST) and spent most of the non-travel time in typing and doing laundry.

This is not one of my normal posting days and this post is therefore gratuitous, so maybe the need to be coherent is only moderate anyway.

Italy: Three cities, 26 churches, one school, several ruins, two gelaterias, about one pizzeria for every day of the tour, innumerable miles walked and two blisters to prove it, zero pickpocketing experiences, flabbergasting amounts of beauty and history, over five hundred photographs ... Reports coming. I journaled through the experience, even after starting NaNoWriMo (which made for a grueling combination).

NaNoWriMo: Began just after nine in the morning CET (12 AM PST) Sunday, November 1, at the front of St. Peter's. Amassed 32 pages in my little notebook over the next five days and wrote another 19 on the flight home. Typed it all up yesterday and this morning and discovered I'd written 10,386 words: 384 more than I'd needed to stay on pace.

I might be ahead on NaNo, but am rather behind on the Google Reader items and emails and catching up with people (and laundry and music practice and reading for book club and sleep). Do pardon me. I'll get there when I can.


Last Post before Rome

This will probably be my last post for a couple of weeks, as our plane to Rome takes off before my next standard posting time.

As a human, as a Christian, as a writer, as the daughter of an artist, as an American, as a woman who thinks cheese is second only to chocolate in the list of greatest foods--Italy holds all sorts of interest for me. When I come back, I plan to have pictures and stories to share.

NaNoWriMo begins just days into our trip. The thought of 1667 words per day makes me nervous--but less so since yesterday. Not convinced of my capability, I pulled out my non-NaNo story, picked out a plot point, and in less than an hour wrote 1683 words. I can do this! Provided, of course, that I do not give in to the frequent temptation to stop.

I admit, shamefacedly, that one of the things I'm looking forward to in Rome is a short break from the internet. At the bottom of Jennifer F.'s scorpion story (linked yesterday), I found the link to her post about 20 things learned in a week without her computer. I empathized with much of it. Full-time connectivity makes procrastination simple. I can find almost any information I want immediately. I get caught up in link-hopping. I agonize over how to respond to a perfectly normal email or whether I should comment on a blog or post a status update on Facebook ... and then I think I don't have enough time to do everything that needs doing. My internet time needs some rules. I hope to come back with some.

In case you don't want to take a break from the internet while I do, here are some things to keep you busy:

Baptist pastor Michael Spencer talks over the new possibility of reunification between some Anglican churches and Catholics. That news brought tears to my eyes. "One of the most bold steps in reuniting the church any of us will ever see", Mr. Spencer calls it. I agree.

I love wordplay. I've also discussed a lot of theology in my time. If you don't mind a little light-hearted theological word-gaming, enjoy.

Are you in the mood for spooky things over Halloween? Best go check out The Hog's Head. They're watching scary movies this week. I say "they're" instead of "we're" because I don't watch scary movies, but I might pop up in the comments if I have time and ideas.

Tyler Stanton doesn't really have a million peeves yet, but he's working on it. Hilarious.

In plain English, my response to this idea reads as follows: Yes, please! (Hat tip to CMR.)

If you need a laugh and don't mind not-so-plain English, there's always Engrish.com.

Likewise, icanhazcheezburger. I like this one.

In Rome I hope to see excellent Catholic art, some of the best there is. Here is some of the worst there is.

Still bored? There's always David Bowie. I'm going to try not to picture that next time Lou puts on The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust.


The Glad Game: Cold and Rain

Borrowing a little life-philosophy from Pollyanna today, I am glad. I am glad that I live in the land of cold and rain.

I am glad because we have no tarantulas. In discussion with friends the other night, I learned that tarantulas jump--high and far--and that they migrate across the highways in such large groups that signs have to be placed warning drivers to watch for them. If you don't watch for the tarantula migration, and actually drive into it, you can spin out on spider guts. That's bad enough, but then you're stuck in a spun-out car and the tarantulas are still walking. When do tarantulas migrate? I am never going to Flagstaff at that time of year.

I am also glad because we have no scorpions.

Hat tip to CMR for the above link, which is one of the funniest stories I've seen in a long time. It's sympathetic laughter--the same basic experience could happen to me any day. It wouldn't take a poisonous stinging insect. A wolf spider would do just fine.

At first I planned to give this post a picture of a tarantula or scorpion, but after several minutes of gagging and shuddering over the images I found, I decided not to subject all of you to them.


Pre-Trip Stress

Eleven days till the starting gun is fired for NaNoWriMo. Much less than eleven days until our major plane ride to a foreign country. Last week was busy, this week is busy, and everything is going well ... I just wish I could tell my adrenaline levels to cut back for awhile.

Waking up at six-thirty from troubling dreams the past three mornings, and having sleep paralysis episodes when I try to go back to sleep: Not helping.

Email people who might be affected by my being gone ten days--go to the store for anything we need to take--fret over whether to make copies or take the whole chant book for the schola I just joined--flutter unproductively in and out of plans for NaNoWriMo--somehow manage to schedule my busiest weeks of the fall for right before departure--wonder if I'm actually accomplishing anything or just imagining myself busy ...


If I weren't overthinking every last thing I do, it wouldn't be so stressful. Nor would everything take so long. I wonder what the remedy is for overthinking?

Ah well. In just days, all I'll have to think about is how beautiful St. Peter's is, and whether I can work any of the glories of the city into my interstellar novel.


Today's NaNoWriMo Goal: Character Outlines

With innumerable writing resources available on the Internet, I could put off actually working on my novel preparation forever.

Down with distraction! Having only a week and a half to plan, much of which is going to be busy, I broke down and actually used one of those character sheets that various writers recommend. This one appealed to me because it asks me to write in the character's voice, but there are others:

Tricia Goyer's
A shorter one found on Associated Content

Or, if you prefer, there are exercises (I wouldn't be much on the New Age undertones, but the exercises themselves look interesting.)

I have copied the character sheet into a document. My protagonist had already written all of her answers, but I have other characters to get to know. Her brother is a little more apathetic, and I haven't gotten around to speaking with her best friend yet.


NaNoWriMo Last-Minute Preparations

After coming up with several potential story concepts and thinking far too hard about which one I should choose for my first year's NaNo novel, I picked one plot--the one I thought I could get fifty thousand words out of. I wrote a synopsis, came up with the structure of the first scene and several others, and thought myself set.

Last week my interest in the story snapped. The problem with that plot was that it dealt with issues, and I remembered that I really hate it when novels try to deal with issues. Beyond that, I'm just sick of talking about issues. Living in a college-town like Bellingham means living surrounded by very strong and often very immature opinions about issues of all sorts, and those opinions accost you everywhere--picketers' signs, boulevard campaigns, shop-window posters, bumper stickers on every third car. That's without reading the newspaper or having any particular relations with the school. I hate that. I'm tired of having everyone's opinions forced on me all the time. I want to be left alone.

Pardon the rant.

At any rate, it's possible that I'll switch back to that story when November 1 hits and I'm faced with writing fifty thousand words from a half-envisioned fantasy universe and a very loosely outlined plot. My goal, however, is to fill in the blanks as much as I can, hopefully accruing a little more confidence by then. This idea is more cheerful. I like cheerful. I do not like stories about How Life Sucks. If I wanted those, I'd read the news.

NaNo has me so excited that I'm doing little things like double-checking my notebook to make sure it has enough pages to last me a week, arranging and rearranging my Author Information on the site, and flicking into my notes regularly to keep them turning in the back of my head. I should go work on those right now.


St. Hedwig, Tomatoes, and Peppers

I'm at The Hog's Head again today with a post about St. Hedwig of Silesia, namesake to Harry Potter's owl:

"In the Roman Catholic Church, today is the feast day of St. Hedwig of Silesia, after whom Harry’s owl is named. Jo Rowling’s character names are well-known to be aptly chosen, and Hedwig is no exception. Here are a handful of [what I thought were] interesting and potentially relevant points about St. Hedwig:"

(read more)

* * *
After a spring and summer of tomato, eggplant and pepper plants growing in our south window, I finally moved them outside today. Recent frosts had destroyed most of the leaves close to the window, and the harvest had mostly ended. Here are a few pictures from their prime:

The eggplant never made any eggplants (argh), but it made several nice flowers.


Statues and Schemes at The Hog's Head

I'm over at The Hog's Head today with a post on Chapter 12 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (we're doing a read-through):
It’s the first day of September, and the Hogwarts Express has left the station. Ginny, Neville, and Luna boarded the train, but Harry and Ron and Hermione are still ensconced in Grimmauld Place. Death Eaters watch the square.

Dealing with Moody’s anti-Snape jinxes has become routine, the horror diminished. Harry, having made it past both spells and Death Eaters, is greeted by an unrecognizable Kreacher--clean, happy, hard at work making a home out of the grisly old place. The locket of Regulus Black hangs over the old elf’s heart, catalyst to its change.

(read more)
Good discussion has already started. Feel free to come and join in!


Countdown to Rome

In about two weeks, God willing, Lou and I will be in Italy. This means that I need to put more thought into preparations than I have in awhile. I'm hanging on little decisions like 'Should I bring along a pair of jeans, even though they're bulkier and heavier than slacks?' and 'Am I going to be too warm if I take mostly long-sleeved shirts?' Not to mention 'If I pack a little laundry detergent in a zip-lock bag, will airport security think it is drugs?'

I am making a concession to style by wearing my office boots, which are slightly less comfortable than my old walking shoes but far more attractive. Briana tells me that Italian women wear stiletto heels while pushing baby carriages on cobbled streets. Brave souls, in whose veins the blood of martyrs flows! There is not a chance that I will walk all over Italy in stilettos--not one. Sadistic, painful shoes.

Jet lag worries me a bit; it only takes two time zones to throw me off and we're going nine. The only thing I've seen that looks like it might help is Donna's Sure-Fire Jet Lag Remedy:

"Force yourself to stay up the entire flight. Then, at your destination and before you hit the sack, down two sleeping pills and two Melatonin with a double scotch chaser. You'll be out like a light in no time and pretty chipper in the morning. Do this three nights in a row eliminating the sleeping pills on the third night. Works for me!

Note: SlowTrav.com does not endorse this jetlag cure but thinks it sounds fun."

Unfortunately, I think that as Martin Short once put it, that would be like "bye-bye, George, see you next Thursday!"

All the talk on travel sites of how to avoid pickpockets makes me a little paranoid. I plan on taking a day bag, and my NaNoWriMo notebook will be in there. I'll be guarding that with my life ... and the karate chop I used to use on my sisters when they'd walk past me and poke a finger into my ribs.

Preparatory concerns aside, the thought of Rome thrills me straight through. I want to worship at the altars in St. Peter's and pray in the church St. Francis built and walk among the tombs of the martyrs and throw a penny in the Trevi fountain and write my novel with a statue reading over my shoulder.


Currently Reading: The Resurrection of Rome

"I have come to the conclusion that no tourist will be happy and successful in Rome if he is merely shown gilded wreaths and twisted trumpets. They will generally repel him unless he understands what sort of triumph of truth, truly or falsely, the Popes imagined they were adorning when they modelled it so boldly upon the triumphs of the Caesars. Nobody can understand the triumphs and the trophies when he has never heard of the battles; and the battles were nearly all intellectual and won by the Sword of the Spirit."

Author: G.K. Chesterton

Lou brought home this book of Chesterton's a week or so ago, knowing that I'd be especially excited to read it with our trip to the great city coming up so shortly. He was right. I dropped Dante, Tolkien, and Meyer and dove headfirst into the talk of fountains and statues and buildings and Popes. Admittedly, I drifted a bit during the section on Fascism and wound up in the appendices to The Lord of the Rings, but eventually I made it back and persevered.

Normally I do not take notes while reading--note-taking interrupts the flow of thought and therefore the feel of the book itself--but Chesterton is king of the oh-yipes-that-statement-is-so-good-I-have-to-write-it-down. Consider this piece (page 64 in the Dodd, Mead and Company edition from 1930):

The subtle distinctions have made the simple Christians; all the men who think drink right and drunkenness wrong; all the men who think marriage normal and polygamy abnormal; all the men who think it wrong to hit first and right to hit back; and, as in the present case, all the men who think it right to carve statues and wrong to worship them.

Chesterton's goal in writing the book was to make sense of Rome to the observer who might feel distaste at its overwhelming clutter of angels and gargoyles, architectural marvels and pageantry--a person whom I find difficult to imagine, but who probably exists somewhere. He hoped to give that tourist an understanding of the reasons behind such exuberant décor, offering appreciation even if said tourist does not think the reasons worthy.

The theme of the book, as noted in the title, is based on an image that caught at Chesterton's mind as he stood overlooking the city: that, like its innumerable fountains, Rome is a city which bubbles up from below ground, ever bringing back to life that which was thought buried.

As the child of an artist, and as a person only too likely to indulge in my own forms of art for little reason other than the joy of creation, I hardly need a reason to appreciate art. Having some idea of the meaning just makes it better. For that, I am more than glad to have read The Resurrection of Rome.


Grammar Lessons from Joey Tribbiani

Our insurance agent sent Lou a birthday card last month. It said the following, and I quote:

Happy Birthday
"Thanks for your business"

I think we threw it out already. Should've sent a photo of it to these people.


Of Nobel Shame

Book Examiner Michelle Kerns says just about everything I need to say.

Though I've read none of Ms. Muller's books, I have no reason to doubt her deserving the literature prize. But as for Mr. Engdahl ... excuse me, sir, but did you just openly admit to ruling out worthy authors based on nationality alone? I thought discrimination was the number-one no-no of our time.

Europe's anti-Americanism has got to cool off. At any rate, when I go there in a few weeks, I will not pretend to be from Canada.

Of course, they gave President Obama the Peace prize, for ... oh, whatever. That's politics.


Currently Reading: Lord of the Rings

Currently Reading is a new feature I plan on including regularly. Of course, nine times out of ten "Currently Re-reading" would be a more accurate title, but I don't think I'll bother with the distinction.

* * *

"Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue?"1

Actually, I finished my second full-length read of Lord of the Rings last Friday night, down on the couch with a bad cold. Technically, however, I can still claim to be in the middle of it since I'd like to read the appendices.

I've decided that full appreciation of Lord of the Rings absolutely depends on reading it more than once. It made far more sense on a second trip through; I found myself rooting for minor characters like Beregond this time around, people (and other sentient creatures) whom I barely noticed in the first read because there was so much to keep track of.

It still didn't appeal much to my girly side. I had less sympathy for Eowyn than I did at first, and her shift from Aragorn to Faramir was still too sudden for believability. Galadriel, however, intrigued me more than before, and the Lothlórien scenes--utterly destroyed in the movies--were among my favorites.

Without a lot of female characters and the requisite emotions to empathize with, I had to lean on Sam for that interest. Which leads to the thing I noticed most clearly during this read: that Tolkien flavored his story with much love of the sort shared by, say, David king of Israel and Saul's son Jonathan--as David eulogized his friend,

"I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan ...
Your love to me was more wonderful
Than the love of women."

The passion of Sam for Frodo is a beautiful thing, and I can understand why some interpret it as a sexual relationship: that's the only reference point our culture has for such an emotion. Post-Freud, we tend to think of passionate love as erotic at root. But Sam's love for Frodo, that of Legolas for Gimli, and, for that matter, that of Gimli for Galadriel, is something we could stand to admire without our Freudian blinders. It is also something we could use more of nowadays.

I think I'll make another go of reading The Silmarillion. Last time I tried, I got about two pages in; if I can survive Dante's Inferno, however, I should be able to get through Tolkien's history book.

1 Tolkien, J.R.R., Return of the King (New York: The Ballantine Publishing Group), 246


Fifty Favorite Books and What's Next

The list is complete. That is, as complete as such a thing can be. I have a lot of books on my to-read list, any of which could knock things out of order; if I were redoing it now, I would already move the Lord of the Rings books higher in the list.

Looking back over it, I find some of my choices awfully shameless. After all, I've read and enjoyed Les Miserables and think it a highly worthwhile book. Why didn't that make the list? Primarily because the massive Les Mis contained so many novella-length essays on things in which I had next to no interest, like the French sewer system. Therefore, it got beat out by a lot of innocent, non-depressing, non-boring tales for the (forever) young.

I have left out great books that I have read. Sometimes I included a book that I loved and wanted to talk about, but wondered later if it really belonged. My numbering system is flawed and vague, based on personal enjoyment without much reference to intrinsic merit; it is also downright arbitrary at times. Hopefully that helps explain most of the inclusions, exclusions, and relative placements that seem unreasonable.

Fifty is a large number, and drawing from the reservoir of books I have read, re-read, and loved, which have made some sort of impact upon my thought processes, I did what I could. I have written this list in the spirit of a pleasant exercise, a joyous fit of listing instinct. Enjoy! You can read through the whole thing here.

* * *

Anyway, this blog is no longer slave to the Fifty Favorite Books feature, and I have plans: most of which involve conversation about reading and writing and other random life commentary. Stay tuned for the introduction of other regular features, interspersed as usual with whatever happens along.


#1. Orthodoxy

[For the Rules, click here.]

"This is the thrilling romance of Orthodoxy. People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy. It was sanity: and to be sane is more dramatic than to be mad. It was the equilibrium of a man behind madly rushing horses, seeming to stoop this way and to sway that, yet in every attitude having the grace of statuary and the accuracy of arithmetic.... It is easy to be a madman: it is easy to be a heretic. It is always easy to let the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep one's own. It is always easy to be a modernist; as it is easy to be a snob. To have fallen into any of those open traps of error and exaggeration which fashion after fashion and sect after sect set along the historic path of Christendom--that would indeed have been simple. It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands. To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame. But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect."

Author: G.K. Chesterton

Synopsis: Chesterton describes his adventure searching the world over for the truth and finding it in Christianity as contained in the Apostles' Creed, something he might have learned just as well "in the nearest parish church". Witty and sly, magical and brilliant, he points out the droll nature of error, the circular logic of running mad with only one idea, and portrays what the understanding of truth looks like from the inside.

* * *

I do not think any writer has a better grasp of the English language than G.K. Chesterton did. Though his long paragraphs may come off as daunting, and the prose at first going may feel rather thick, the sentences are one after another loaded with the punch of aphorism and the whimsy of poetry.

Chesterton is my hero, as writers go, and in many ways also as Christian thinkers go. The man had an incredibly alive way of looking at the world. He saw the contradictory judgments made upon the church and pointed out the light and life and beauty behind the apparently forbidding gray walls. He had an equal gift for pointing out the deadness inside many a seemingly rational philosophy.

Reading his work helps my imagination, as well as my reason, keep me Christian. And in that blessed paradoxical vision the fairy under the hollyhock, the image in the mirror, and the rough unruly fishermen of the Gospels all alike point to Christ on the cross, the intersection of all existence.


#2. The Harry Potter Series

[For the Rules, click here.]

"And his knowledge remained woefully incomplete, Harry! That which Voldemort does not value, he takes no trouble to comprehend. Of house-elves and children's tales, of love, loyalty, and innocence, Voldemort knows and understands nothing. Nothing. That they all have a power beyond his own, a power beyond the reach of any magic, is a truth he has never grasped."

Author: J.K. Rowling

Synopsis: Harry Potter was raised by his dreadful aunt and uncle, terrorized by his cousin and sleeping in the cupboard under the stairs. Strange things have always happened around him, but he does not know what it all means until a half-giant breaks down the door on his eleventh birthday, with explanations of how his parents really died and of who he really is.

Moving from the Dursleys' spidery cupboard to a tower room at a school of magic, Harry finds himself in a world where photographs move and portraits talk, where owls carry messages and the best game in the world is played on brooms--and where he is famous for something he hardly remembers. Throughout the seven books, Harry puts together the truth about what happened that Halloween night in Godric's Hollow, of why he was chosen to die and why he survived, and of what must be done to save his friends and people everywhere from the most powerful Dark wizard the world has ever known.

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You knew Harry Potter had to be in the list somewhere, right?

It's hard to know just what to say about these books. I've written quite a bit about them before, but there's so much to them that many a forum and website is devoted almost exclusively to the stories (and many of these are still going strong, more than two years after the release of the last book.)

From the hermetic subtext to the repeated Christ-figure symbolism to the emphasis on self-sacrificial love and humility and fair treatment for all living beings, the messages of the Potter books are as powerful as the tales themselves--but if all you want is a great story, you'll find that too. Rowling's work is practically its own mythology. She has created a world that becomes lifelike in the minds of her readers, real enough that you can almost sense for yourself what it would be like to make friends with a hippogriff or face off with a boggart or look at a many-handed clock to locate the members of your family.

For me, the books came at a time of terrible confusion and doubt. I read and re-read, awed, as Harry's world made sense of mine and concepts like good and evil took on real meaning again. And as I wrote shortly after Deathly Hallows came out, "I am an adult. I am well acquainted with the feeling of despair pulsing through my heart, poisoning my mind and emotions. Because of this, I hold ever-so-tightly to the childish notion that good will always triumph in the end. It is my link to sanity."

RRR: Any of John Granger's and Travis Prinzi's books on the subject--they're all tip-top scholarship. Granger's Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader and Deathly Hallows Lectures and Prinzi's Harry Potter & Imagination: The Way Between Two Worlds are particularly helpful, and I'm about to read Harry Potter's Bookshelf (by Granger) from which I expect something of a college-level literature class. Prinzi and Granger also have the two best Potter-related sites, in my opinion, and I even get to blog at the former. :)