Bright Copper Kettles

The turn of the year seemed like a great time to do a Favorite Things list. I've made this list 2010-specific, mostly... it's hard to hold back the eternally wonderful.

Catch up on back issues:

Raindrops on Roses
Whiskers on Kittens

my prince among men
parents, regular and in-law
sisters and brothers (ditto)
nieces, nephews, and godchildren
my ink-and-paper children: A.D., L.E., and their beloved ones
baby herbs in tiny pots, $2
Lent and Easter
Benedict XVI
people who comment on my blog
writers' group
alpha, beta, and gamma readers
book club and the blessed ladies who belong
old friends and new friends
best friends
friends that know I'm a big dork and love me anyway
oh, all right... Twitter
piecing words together
rhythm and melody and harmony
peace and order
ordinary time, with or without the capitalization
capris and sandals
brownies and chocolate chip cookies
road trips
Yellowstone Park
P.G. Wodehouse and Jon Acuff
Alan Lastufka, Luke Conard, Kristina Horner and John van Deusen
Pikes Peak and the Garden of the Gods
discovering that my husband has (more) awesome friends
time with a forever kindred spirit: Briana
The Office
Dorothy Sayers, Shannon Hale, Orson Scott Card, George MacDonald, and C.S. Lewis
a kitten named Maia
Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, et cetera
the Hallelujah chorus
the Ave Maria: Schubert, Bach/Gounod, pseudo-Arcadelt, all wondrous
choir practice
singing with Lou
singing in the kitchen, which has better acoustics than the shower
re-learning how to sing in front of other people
plants that coexist with the cat
clumping clay litter
Maia killing bugs
Eclipse, Secretariat, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
fresh pumpkin
huckleberries, especially in pancakes
ivy turning colors in autumn
falling leaves
visits from family and friends
trick-or-treaters and the Phantom of the Opera
Advent and Christmas
The Hog's Head
Harry Potter fans
hot chocolate
hot tea with lemon and honey
blankets and wool socks
walking in the falling snow
telescopes and star charts and clear skies and Jupiter's moons
sunrises and sunsets

...did I forget anything?


Things My Friends are Up To

In lieu of three French hens, on this third day of Christmas, here are a few things to keep you busy during the Blogosphere's slow days:

First, my old internet buddy Chris Knight was interviewed by Bob Buckley over at the Fox network about his battle with bipolar syndrome. I learned a lot from it. It's well worth watching, especially for anyone close to someone who deals with forms of clinical depression.

Second, over at the Hogwarts Professor site, Elizabeth Baird Hardy wrote up a beautiful piece on Jane Eyre as a fairy tale. I can't recommend it enough for book- and fairytale-lovers.

Third, Mr. Pond just won a contest with an Ugly Duckling-themed story about the duck that carried Hansel and Gretel across the river. It's lovely, brief and captivating. Enjoy.

Fourth, Music of the Week: Eric Pazdziora (who has commented here a few times) composed a beautiful song, taking as its lyric a poem by George MacDonald. Eric and his wife, Carrie, are in the choir.

Text can be found at Eric's website. MacDonald and I have different ideas on Mariology, but the piece is hauntingly beautiful.

Last, Blogengamot head Travis Prinzi put up a fascinating post about magical thinking, creativity, and Santa Claus. I honestly think I'm too dreadful at acting to pull off that story with my own children, should I ever have them. The jolly old elf also seems to be a mixed and unpredictable experience that some former children remember gladly, some feel they missed out on, and others classify with growing pains. But I favor magical thinking, even if only in the context of a fairy tale that is never thought of as anything more. I don't doubt that it stretches the mind to think and believe greater things.

I hope you're all having a happy, magical Christmas season.


Merry Christmas

My husband has tomorrow off, and between music to practice and gifts to wrap and other such things, I don't expect much time for blogging. Besides, it's Christmas. I want to spend it with Lou and our families, not my computer. :)

Next week, posting may be a bit unpredictable. I may choose to throw out memes and post randomly, or simply to not blog at all. Fair warning. It's the holidays.

For your enjoyment, here is a song—highly appropriate to these days leading up to the birth of Christ—that Lou and I have loved learning. It took some doing to find a non-buzzy recording on YouTube, but here you go.

Merry Christmas to you and yours!



Currently Reading: Alec Forbes of Howglen

Oh! if only she knew that Alec and Curly were of the elect! But they only could find that out. There was no way for her to peer into that mystery. All she could do was watch their wants, to have the tool they needed next ready to their hand, to clear away the spales from before the busy plane, and to lie in wait for any chance to put her little strength to help. Perhaps they were not of the elect! She would minister to them thereforeoh, how much the more tenderly!

"What's come ower Annie?" said the one to the other when she had gone.

Author: George MacDonald

Synopsis: When little Annie Anderson's father dies, leaving her an orphan, her aunt sends her to live with her tightfisted cousin. Schoolmate Alec Forbes becomes her champion when she is mistreated in the classroom, and before long Alec is both her hero and best friend. But as Annie searches for salvation and the love of God, Alec goes off to college, where a romance and an enemy lead him in other directions. Alec's life and soul hang on the mercy of God and the love and prayers of his friends.

Notes: My parents read this book out to my sisters and I when I was little. I had only vague memories of it, but at several recent reminders, decided to search for it on Kindle for PC. It was free. Win.

As someone for whom the primary interest of a novel is always in the characters, this is my kind of book. That's not to say that there is no plot. There is, and this used-to-be-certified whitewater rescue technician held her breath more than once. But the characters are what will keep you going through the point-of-view jumps and the broad Scotch.

More, Alec Forbes and Annie Anderson are my kind of characters. Annie, especially, is just about everything I could ever want to be. Her search for salvation particularly hit home for me. I loved Alec, too—and then I wanted to hit him—and then I feared for him—and for the sake of avoiding spoilers, I'll leave it there. Alec and Annie are far from being the only greats, too; I'm not sure I've ever seen MacDonald's equal for creating complex people. Thomas Crann, Mr. Cupples, and Murdoch Malison (how would you like to be named that?) walked off the page as living redeemable souls whose hearts were bigger than their terrible failures.

The tale makes for a challenging read, owing to the dialogue's being almost entirely in the auld Scotch dialect. Words like bairn (child) and muckle (much, many) can take a little getting used to, but to add to the fun, sometimes recognizable English words mean something totally different: gin for if, war for were, crap for crept, etc.

The ending was perfect, brilliant, beautiful—and far too short. It strongly tempts me to write fan fiction, but I haena ower muckle time f'r sich.

Recommendation: Gin ye ken y'r auld Scotch, ye haena onything t' stop ye. If not, you'll learn by context, or by the glossary in the back—or you can probably find versions where everything is translated into English. In all events, I highly recommend the book.


Tasty Tuesday: Fruitcake

Tasty Tuesday
Fruitcake has such a lousy reputation that even I laugh when Uncle Vernon tries to knock in a nail with a piece of Aunt Petunia's. And I'll admit, I've had fruitcakes I didn't like. Nearly every one, in fact.

But if nobody you know likes fruitcake, it's because they've never had this one. The only bad thing about this recipe is how difficult it is to crack the Brazil nuts. You can find every other nut shelled, but not the rock-hard Brazils. Honestly, has nobody invented a machine to do this?


1/2 lb Brazil nuts
1/2 lb pecans
1 lb candied cherries
1 lb dates
1 lb walnuts

1 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
4 eggs, separated
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup cooking sherry

Mix dry ingredients and add fruits and nuts.

Beat egg yolks with vanilla and sherry and add to main mixture.

Beat egg whites until stiff and fold into the mix just before putting in oven.

Bake 1 hour at 300 degrees, in greased and floured loaf pans.


Photo Break

I have a cold, thanks to which I have done nothing today but read a book, talk to family, put ornaments back on the Christmas tree whenever Maia takes them off, and try to take the edge off the heat in some leftover Indian cuisine. As it turns out, lamb korma is really good when not entirely dominated by capsaicin.

But despite several efforts, I've not come up with a good post on writing for the day. One of these days, maybe I'll get ahead and start doing scheduled posts... till then, when I fail, you get Christmas pictures. Or other such things.

Lou and I, cutting our tree:

We always go with Lou's parents and Andy and Lindsey. Family photo:

Maia caught sight of the Christmas tree in the kitchen, bolted, and hid under the bed for awhile. When she finally came out, she discovered it was just a giant plant:

...at which point it became something to chew on, climb in, bat water away from, and otherwise enjoy to the fullest:

 That became even more exciting when her people hung cat toys on it.

Family photo, in which I am starting to feel sick enough that I fail to hold the smile for ten seconds. Fortunately, I do manage to hang onto the cat, who clearly has places to go and things to do:


Thoughts of Summer and other stories

The big news this week: One of the projects I worked on this year has finally gone live! Silhouette's Arbor, a four-book seasonal collection of the highlight posts from the first years of the online journal, is now available on Lulu. It should be up on Amazon in a few weeks as well. After working on it with Justin, Jessi and Jake for months, I'm thoroughly excited to get my own copies!

The Summer season was my special project; I got to be its editor, writing the foreword, collecting quotes for the afterword section (in which Mr. Pond is quoted alongside C.S. Lewis, J.K. Rowling, Emily Dickinson, and others), and editing and arranging the articles. It turned out beautifully, if the files I saw were any indication.

The pieces included were some of my favorites—among others, Jana Gering's short, enthralling essay on children's literature, Jessi Gering's lighthearted thoughts on adventure, Judd Mellinger-Blouch's poem Mermaids and Millstones, Matt Martinson's haunting Exile, James van Noord's hilarious set of dating definitions. And of all the pieces I ever wrote for Silhouette, I got to include my own favorite—the terza rima poem, Channeling Dante.

And that's just my season: the other three are every bit as brilliant.

* * *

Oh, sequel-writing, how difficult must thou be? I've vacillated all week between reverting to the second NaNoWriMo version and creating an entirely new outline. This morning I worked on both, in the space of less than one hour.

What I should be writing is a query and synopsis for the first book.

* * *

Writer's link of the week: Why have one when you can have ten? Mr. Pond aggregated his top ten favorite writing articles for the year. It'll probably take me a week to read through them all, but... awesome.

* * *

Music of the week: One of my all-time favorite bands, the techno wrockers* Ministry of Magic, totally made my last weekend by releasing three new videos. I loved them all, and I'm definitely getting this CD. This song was my favorite, but you can watch the others at The House Song (advisory: a bit of strong language, and a few Slytherins) and Lily.

Yeah, I know. I also like the Backstreet Boys. What's wrong with that?

* * *

Funny of the week: Hyperbole and a Half's brilliant The Alot is Better than You at Everything. Words fail to describe how much I love this post. Let's just say that I like it al... I like it a... oh, I can't make myself do it! I like it a lot.

* * *

Ah, the last week of Advent: one of my favorite times of year. The O antiphons, the music, the candles, and Christmas preparation! This weekend is dedicated to tree-fetching and decorating and finding x:

kitten + tree + ornaments = x

I also hope to finish George MacDonald's Alec Forbes of Howglen, partly because it's so wonderful and partly because I just picked up three more young adult books from the library, all of which need to be read within three weeks.

Happy weekend, everybody.

* wrocker (RAW-kər) n. contraction of wizard rocker, a musician or band who primarily performs songs based on the Harry Potter series.


Another Thursday Question and Free Austen Ebooks

Calling all Jane Austen fans!... at least, Jane Austen fans with Kindles or Kindle for PC (it looks like these might also be available in pdf.) George let me know this morning that Books on the Knob has a list of Austen's novels and Austen-related books, currently available free from Amazon (thanks, George!) Exciting? Oh, yes. I'm not usually a fan of Austen sequels—how can anyone expect to live up to the original? But I'll be at least looking into these.

Also, after poking around the internet, I've found a few more questions about books that I'll probably ask on Thursdays, at least from time to time. Some of these are a little more in-depth, so we'll go one by one. As with the old list, feel free to answer on your own blog if you like. If you do, please link back in the comments, so I can go read it!

Last week we talked about our fiction-induced idiosyncrasies, and I loved reading everybody's catch phrases and inspirations! Some favorites: "Brightly, brightly, and with beauty" (Masha, from Stranger in a Strange Land); Pollyanna's Glad Game (Rachelynn); seeking and finding wonder (Mr. Pond, Smith of Wooton Major and The Golden Key); and apparently I'm not the only one who can't stop themselves from using Gollumspeak on occasion. Good to know, George. :)

This week's question: If people looked at your bookshelf, what conclusions do you think they would draw about you?

I am very curious about this.


Currently Reading: Book of a Thousand Days

Note: I've just signed up for Goodreads! If you want to be my friend over there, click here. Can't believe it took me this long to sign up for a book reviewing community.

* * *

Day 684

Here's something true about darkness—after enough time, you begin to see things that aren't there. Faces look at me, and when I turn my head, they disappear. Colors wash themselves before my eyes, then fade away. Shiny gray dream rats dart between my feet but don't make a sound. I wanted to write this down so I can remember that those things aren't real.

My lady sees more than I do. Sometimes what she sees makes her cry.

Author: Shannon Hale

Synopsis: In this story loosely based on the Grimms' Maid Maleen, orphaned mucker Dashti goes to work as a lady's maid for the daughter of a lord. The two are immediately shut up in a tower under a seven year sentence, as punishment for her mistress' refusal to marry a terrible man. Lady Saren's suitors—one good, the other evil—come to woo her through the tiny remaining opening, and the frightened Saren commands Dashti to speak to both of them in her name. When the world outside goes silent and their food supply begins to run out, Dashti must find a way to escape, and then their adventures begin in earnest.

Notes: Shannon Hale, I love you.

I've put off reading this book for about a year, for just one reason: I'm not really fond of novels written in unusual form (journal entries, in this case.) Poetry, letters, present tense—all of those things make me hesitate when I flip through a book. Even first person POV can stop me, unless the voice is really strong. That's not to say these things are bad, just that I find them harder to get into.

But it is possible to miss very good books this way, and if the book has something else to recommend it (say, the name Shannon Hale on the cover), I may eventually give it a try. Often, as in this case, I'm glad I did.

Especially for a stand-alone book, Book of a Thousand Days contains strong, well-drawn worldbuilding. Dashti's culture, from her religion to her mucker songs to her yaks and boots, is vivid. The regions, the naming language, and other aspects of the Mongolia-based fantasy land add their color to the story without distraction or confusion.

Better yet, the storyline provides various opportunities for deeper thought, especially in its theme of self-sacrifice. I was sometimes put in mind of the author's Mormonism, but always positively; never in a preachy fashion.

But my favorite thing—and the thing that keeps me coming back to Hale's books—is the humor. Dashti kept making me laugh. Tough-girl heroines too often come across as shrewish or otherwise unpleasant; Miri, Enna, Becky, and Dashti (the four whose books I've read) are every one a delight. They're plucky, spirited, yet all different from each other. Their stories come off with a sweet balance of depth of thought and happy-go-lucky heart.

This book doesn't trump Princess Academy (the author's Newbery prize-winning work, which is an exceedingly rare object: a flawless book, in which not one splash disturbs the smooth flow of story). But it's probably my second favorite of hers. It feels good to read a book through to the end and turn the last pages with a smile. Even in young adult fiction, that joy is all too hard to find.

Recommendation: Of course I recommend it. Read it with some chocolate chip cookies if you want to maximize the fun.


Tasty Tuesday: Honest-to-Goodness Michigan Pasties

Tasty Tuesday
This recipe comes to you courtesy of my good friend Sarah, who sometimes comments here. During a chat over lunch, she told me about the classic pasties everybody in Michigan makes. Seattle, I have news for you. That tradition tastes good here, too.

As a general rule, based on childhood experience, I do not eat rutabaga. Not being aware of that fact, Sarah emphasized the importance of the rutabaga to the rest of the recipe, and either she's extraordinarily persuasive or I'm an easy sell or both, because I got myself down to the store and for the first time in my adult life, bought one (once I'd successfully differentiated the rutabagas from the parsnips).

Sarah's right. You'll want to include the rutabaga.

Here's the recipe, as I worked it out from her directions. She and I both tend to be sort of cooks who—well, as she put it: "...just wing it and make note of everything you would do different the next time and then by about the 3rd time you have pure perfection. :)"

Good enough for me. I've tried to make some guess as to measurements for the sake of those of you who are not the type to wing a new recipe. Best of luck. Feel free to ask questions in the comments.

Authentic Michigan Pasties

Pie crust (I'd suggest enough for two double-crust nine-inch pies)

Ground beef or finely chopped flank steak, uncooked
Carrots, potatoes, onions, rutabaga, chopped to about dime size
Salt and pepper to taste

In measurements: I used about 2/3 rutabaga, maybe 1/3 medium onion, a couple of medium-sized baker potatoes and two or three carrots to perhaps a pound and a half of ground beef.

Roll out the pie crust according to how large you want your pasties (I think the general idea is eight- or nine-inch pie crusts)

Mix the beef and vegetables together, all raw, and place in the center of each rolled-out piece of pie crust. Fold the crust over and crimp the edges (this can be done along the top or the side.)

Bake at 375 degrees for... Sarah's original directions said two hours, but I knew that in my enthusiastic little oven they'd be blacker than the leather cover of an old KJV by then. I made them half-size and only baked them 45 minutes. That worked beautifully.


New Blog Design, Christians and Art, and Narnia

As you may or may not have noticed: This weekend I completely redesigned my site, thanks to Blogger's relatively-new Template Designer. It felt a little nervy to put both my name and face in the header (yes, that is me)... I'd already found it embarrassing enough to redirect my blog to jennasthilaire.com with everything inside me shouting YOU ARE NOT FAMOUS DON'T BE PRETENTIOUS. Oh well. Pictures personalize a website—at least, that's how I feel when other people put their own up. And that is my name.

Let me know if you come across anything in the new site design that needs fixing, and I'll do my best to oblige.

While normally I'd do my own writing about writing today, fellow Blogengamot member Arabella Figg put up a post at The Hog's Head discussing whether Christian films can be good. Her thoughts and the ensuing discussion on the relationships between Christianity, Christians, and art—including a contribution from Hollywood screenwriter Janet Batchler (who wrote Batman Forever, among other things)—fascinated me. I recommend that. The basic principles are applicable to the art of writing.

If you need further reading material, I just posted a review of the new Narnia movie, Voyage of the Dawn Treader, also at The Hog's Head.


The Giveaway Winners Announced! ...and other stories

The contest to win a copy of Annie O'Connor's book, Going to See the King, has come to a close! The entrants, numbered in order of entry:
  1. Donna
  2. Rachelynn
  3. Mary
  4. Sarah
  5. George
  6. Lindsey
  7. Maria
  8. MissPhotographerB
  9. Mr. Pond
  10. Rachel
  11. Farmer's City Wife
  12. jennaseverythingblog
The winners, courtesy of Random.org:

Farmer's City Wife!

Winners, email me at librarylily at gmail dot com with your shipping address... well, Sarah, I can probably hand-deliver yours. :) Annie is passing me the copies today, and I plan to have them in the mail by Monday.

If you didn't win and you need a gift for a young child, the book is available on Amazon. I recommend it. :)

* * *

Writer's link of the week: Veronica Roth on Not Writing, or Why Your Brain is an Ice-Cream Maker. Sure enough, sometimes we really do need a day off.

* * *

My friend Agnes sent me an email this morning requesting prayer for a 31-year-old coworker undergoing experimental treatment for a very fast-moving cancer. I don't know Krista, but because I also don't know who will be motivated to pray or help underwrite the high costs of her treatment... here's a link to her web page.

* * *

Lastly but not leastly, here's your funny of the week. This site contains a lot of bad language, either created by the autocorrect or by the people who saw too late what their autocorrect did, but it's also possibly the funniest site I've ever seen. I haven't yet been on it without laughing myself to tears.

Happy weekend, everybody!


Thursday Book Questions: The Wrap-Up

[Tomorrow at noon, the drawing for my friend Annie's books closes! I'll be tracking down that random number generator and choosing winners. If you haven't entered yet, you can do so by commenting here.]

Last week, we closed off the Thursday Book Questions meme with five of the most personal questions we'd come across. Books we've been avoiding (sometimes because they're intimidating or tragic; sometimes, as jana.kaye with Marilynne Robinson's Home, because we just needed the time to really absorb it.) Books that made us angry—theological works were mentioned more than once (favorite answer, from George: "...heresy and apostasy give me tummy aches." Me, too.)

There were books that we didn't expect to like but did, or thought we would like and then didn't (Harry Potter got mentioned on both sides, and then we had some back and forth on Katherine Paterson's Bridge to Terabithia, which I haven't read since fifth grade. Maybe I should make an experimental re-read out of it.) Lastly, we talked about our favorite pleasure reading, which was fun, and as there were too many to list, I'll just say: if you're looking for fun stuff to read, check out the comments.

Also, commenter Donna has promised to respond as soon as she can. :)

Thanks to everyone who participated! If you haven't, it's never too late, of course.

My problem now: What to do with Thursdays? Today, at least, I'm going to ask you a question: What habits, phrases, or idiosyncrasies have crept out of a book and into your life?

My answer will be in the comments. Feel free to either put yours there or write your own blog-post on the subject and link back.


Currently Reading: Keturah and Lord Death

[If you haven't entered yet, you still have till Friday at noon to try and win a free book!]

"Tell me what it is like to die," I answered.

He dismounted from his horse, looking at me strangely the whole while. "You experience something similar every day," he said softly. "It is as familiar to you as bread and butter."

"Yes," I said. "It is like every night when I fall asleep."

"No. It is like every morning when you wake up."

Author: Martine Leavitt

Synopsis: A beautiful young woman follows a hart into a forest, becomes lost, and meets Death, who is a lord. He has come on his black stallion to claim her, but she takes up the mantle of Scheherazade, telling him a story of a girl who searches for her true love. She has no ending to tell him. Captivated, Death grants her a bargain: one day of life to find her own happy ending.

Notes: This book was recommended to me by fellow Blogengamot member Arabella Figg, and does credit to her taste. Set in medieval times and written in a voice that emulates the language of fairy tales, it follows a path to an ending that probably should have been more obvious to me, but which took me rather by surprise. Still puzzled, I turned the page after the end and read the acknowledgements. Once I'd done that, the whole story made sense.

Everything about this story is beautiful. Unique, interesting characters, lovely and fitting prose, apotheosis as Keturah fumbles through her attempts to find true love and help her village, and enough of thought and symbol to keep me thinking for days. It certainly made me want to read more of Leavitt's work.

It offers food for introspection, too. Apparently I'm still very much in love with life—either that, or with the golden-hearted hero archetype. It's a tough call. I can't say more without spoilers, so we'll leave it at that. :)

Recommendation: Read it in a pensive mood, perhaps by lamplight on a quiet evening. It should fit perfectly.


Tasty Tuesday: Potato Moussaka

Tasty Tuesday
[Have you entered to win a free book yet? If not, you can do that here.]

All right, I admit it: A lot of the time I cook simply. Half-hour chilis with fewer than ten ingredients. Beef-bean-and-cheese burritos. Chicken enchiladas with canned mushroom soup.

Every now and then, however, I go to cooking with a little more artistry and respect. Because as Leopold says, in a romantic comedy that I found likeable if somewhat forgettable, "It is said that without the culinary arts, the crudenesses of life would be unbearable."

Hear, hear. So on Sunday night, I made potato moussaka. Which has made an appearance in another romantic comedy, in which slender blonde girls with Wonder Bread sandwiches make fun of six-year-old Toula Portokalos for having "moose kaka" for lunch. Really makes you want to eat it, doesn't it? But I promise you that this is worlds better than a Wonder Bread sandwich.

Once again, I'm not sure how copyrights work on internet-posted recipes, so for the sake of the law, I'll just link it: Mousakas Patates. You'll want that page for its serving suggestions and such, anyway.

Cinnamon. Nutmeg. Garlic. Allspice. Béchamel sauce. Potatoes and ground beef and cheese... It's definitely worth the prep time. Enjoy.


Win a Free Book

The dirt was dry and dreary as I drudged daily across the desert. I didn’t really mind, though; I was going to see the King.”

From now until Friday the 10th at noon, enter for your chance to win Going to See the King, a children's story written and illustrated by my talented friend Annie O'Connor! In celebration of the book's release on Amazon, Annie has given me three copies to give to three happy winners. Yes, that's right:
  • 3 copies (your odds are very good)
  • 3 winners
  • All you have to do: Leave me a comment saying you want one!
(Ahem: If you're the parent of one of my age-five-or-under nieces, nephews or godchildren, your child is already getting this for Christmas. You're of course welcome to enter, if you want a copy for another reason—say, to pass on to someone else...)

I fell head over heels in love with this story. From the perspective of one of the Magi's camels, Annie takes us through the desert, to Herod's palace, and finally—spoiler alert—to Bethlehem. All the camel wants is to see the king he's heard so much about. It's well-told, alliterative and fun, with beautifully-colored illustrations. It's also absolutely sweet.

Want a copy? Leave me a comment saying so. Please enter only once per person. The contest ends Friday at noon. It's fair and democratic: winners will be chosen by random number generator. I'll reveal the winners Friday afternoon sometime.

No limits on where I'll ship, although the further you are from Bellingham, WA, the longer it will take to arrive. I plan to ship the copies Monday so you have them by Christmas if possible.

Enter away!


The Absence of Vampires and other stories

Congratulations to my friend and fellow writers' group member Annie O'Connor, whose children's book Going to See the King is now available on Amazon! This is just the sweetest, most beautiful little story. Hang around my blog next week, and you might well win a free copy. :)

* * *

After a year and more of working at it, I feel like I'm starting to understand what goes into making a job out of writing. This week's to-do list, in retrospect:
  • Finish NaNoWriMo. Toss the manuscript and start over again.
  • Be overwhelmed with gratitude toward gamma readers, and spend hours thinking about their suggestions.
  • Make trips to Barnes & Noble, Wal-Mart, and the library, in the name of market research
  • Organize Google Reader and subscribe to more book-related blogs and Publisher's Lunch
  • Remember that even in an office job, it sometimes took me a focused hour and a half to write an email
  • Organize My Documents folder and set up a special folder for the NaNoWriMo manuscript
  • Remember that my website still needs designing. Think about it. Waste twenty minutes in Paint.net relearning why a past idea didn't work.
  • ...and write. Blog-posts. Novel. Even a few Tweets.
It's a good life.

* * *

I keep breaking a promise to myself. I'd sworn not to respond to my siblings' anecdotes about what their small fry did with the words "The other day, Maia..."

The problem is that she does all these toddler-like things. Giving me a naughty look and then deliberately doing what I just told her not to. Getting into things she shouldn't and leaving disaster for me to find. Attacking my feet with her teeth and claws out... okay, maybe that one is cat-specific. But still. How can I help it?

* * *

Writers' link of the week: Natalie Whipple's What Happens When It IS You. Because it's good to have realistic expectations. And as someone who put neither vampires nor outright sex in her novel, who writes the old-fashioned way (third person perspective, past tense), who could base her life memoir around the theme of waiting (but I'll spare you)—it could totally be me someday.

Natalie Whipple, I hope very much that you get published soon. I love your blog. I can't wait to read your books.

* * *

Cheer-worthy article of the week: This pope plays it right. Okay, this is a couple of weeks old. But many thanks to Jonah Goldberg, not only for rising above the media's usual epic-disaster response to any suggestion of a conflict between church and sex, but for writing a beautiful, sensible, respectful piece. Three cheers, sir.

* * *

Music of the week: Eva Cassidy's Songbird. How has this song been out for years without me knowing it?

* * *

Funny of the week: Eric Pazdziora calls it the "Best. Paper. Ever." From experience, I can tell you that it's medically accurate.

* * *

Victory: Today, I cleaned my house before blogging. (Blogging is one of those projects that expands to fill all available time.) I'm going to go write other things for awhile.

Happy weekend, everyone.


Thursday Book Questions: Part 11

Five questions a week. Eleven weeks. Post your answers in the comments (or on your own blog if you prefer, just link back in the comments) and I'll do the same thing.

We've come to the last five questions in the Thursday Book Questions meme. Now I have to come up with something else to do on Thursdays. Thinking...

Last week was Thanksgiving, but two weeks ago we found it difficult to determine what it meant to skim a book. Read it really, really fast? Try and hit the high points while overlooking the rest? We weren't sure, but some of us do it, some of us don't, and some of us even admitted to skipping ahead. (I've done that, too--but only if I think the book likely to be depressing.)

We also talked organization, which brought about some of the most interesting responses we've had yet (Mr. Pond used to arrange books by the color of the binding until that became impractical, Sarah [mother of three small children] just tries to keep hers on the shelf, Donna says "Ahem. I am a librarian.", John Stanifer keeps C.S. Lewis and all his critics together, and Masha takes the cake with "I like to organize my authors based on who might have gotten on with each other - Kierkegaard and Rilke are together, Hemingway and F. Scott. I also like to put people like Sartre next to overly pious authors and imagine the arguments.") And others. There were too many to list.

This week's questions get personal, even dramatic:

51. Are there any books you’ve been avoiding?
(answer here)
52. Name a book that made you angry.
(answer here)
53. A book you didn’t expect to like but did?
(answer here)
54. A book that you expected to like but didn’t?
(answer here)
55. Favorite guilt-free, pleasure reading?
(answer here)

I'm looking forward to your answers!


Currently Reading: Ice

Involuntarily, she glanced again at the castle with its soaring ice turrets and crystalline ivy. If he was real, then all she knew of the world—all she knew of science and the rules of the universewas false. Half of her wanted to explore every inch of this place. The other half wanted to turn back the clock and redo the day before.

He padded closer to her, and this time she didn't retreat. "You can return to your 'research' station and pretend all is the same as before. But it is not the same, and it will never be the same. You cannot erase what you now know. Your world has changed."

Author: Sarah Beth Durst

Synopsis: Science and Inuit mythology combine in this retelling of the fairy tale East of the Sun and West of the Moon. Teenage researcher Cassie Dasent marries a polar bear to gain her mother's freedom from the trolls. Cassie eventually falls in love with Bear and accepts him as her husband, but he never lets her see him in human form. When Bear tells her that he has "fixed her chemical imbalance" to allow her to conceive, she feels betrayed, and turns her flashlight on him as he sleeps. The trolls claim him, the magic palace melts, and Cassie is left pregnant and stranded on Arctic ice. Her only hope to save her husband is to find a way to the troll castle, which lies east of the sun and west of the moon.

Notes: I've always found this particular fairy tale—itself a form of the Cupid and Psyche myth—rather moving. I remember first reading it in its Whitebear Whittington incarnation, years upon years ago, when I was too young to be anything but vaguely haunted by the lines:

Three drops of blood I've shed for thee!
Three little babies I've born for thee!
Whitebear Whittington, turn to me...

Sarah Beth Durst puts the logical polar bear spin on the tale of a white bear, and gets inventive from there. The protagonist, having long outgrown her Gram's stories about her mother being the North Wind's daughter, lives for science and data and the thrill of chasing the beautiful, deadly bears across the likewise beautiful and deadly ice. Cassie's devotion to empirical observation is challenged when she sees a great bear walk directly through an ice wall—and before long, she's warm in a frozen castle, wondering how her GPS reads a latitude of 91 degrees, promising to marry the king of the polar bears if only he'll save her mother from the trolls.

Armed with an impressive amount of research into polar bear science and Arctic survival techniques, Durst leads Cassie and her readers through a physical and emotional journey from spite to trust, from disdain to love, and from a will to live to the will to give life. The descriptions show the Arctic as fantastically beautiful and then as something like Dante's lowest circle of hell. The adversary horrified even tree-crazy me into almost understanding Cassie's desire to never see one again.

The tale is well-told enough and meaningful enough that I'm surprised I didn't love it more. The main problem, I think, is that I didn't get along with Cassie. Till the end of the book, when she adjusts her attitude in all of the areas that made me furious with her, her primary good quality is that she's a survivor. "Survivor" isn't a good enough trait to get me past "selfish" and "mouthy" and "doesn't want her baby." But perhaps that's just me. I'm naturally drawn to characters like Harry Potter, Anne Elliott, Ender Wiggin, Lucy Pevensie—the really pure-hearted ones, and sometimes even those other people label "too perfect."

But I can't fault Cassie's character development, and there's a lot to be said for that. Anyway, judging from other things I've read, my somewhat lackadaisical response is unusual. A friend recommended Ice to me. She generally shares my taste in stories, and loved this one.

Recommendation: Read it with a cup of hot chocolate, and be grateful you don't live inside the Arctic circle. Unless, of course, you do.


The Finish Line

11/30/2010 12:12 PM
50,909 words

I could have validated a little earlier, I suppose, perhaps being second instead of third of my writing buddies to make it to goal. But I had my heroine in a tight spot (cue Ulysses Everett McGill: "Damn! We're in a tight spot!") and couldn't stop writing until she got safely out of it.

Now I can breathe. And so can she—for a little while.

Of those 50,909 words, approximately 30,600 are part of the current draft. It's something to start with, now that I can cut the scrapped parts into a separate document and delete stupid sentences instead of just striking them out. Won't that be a relief.

Today is supposed to be Tasty Tuesday. Let's see... if I want to celebrate, what should I make? Maybe the guiltless, faultless family chocolate chip cookie recipe. Oh, and Farmer's City Wife wants fudge recipes, so if you have one, do go share it with her.


Time and Effort

Pushing off, so to speak, from Mr. Pond's post on oranges and grass... because we're still not arguing

Click to view full-size. My entire life resembles this graph...

Twenty-seven hours and forty-nine minutes of NaNoWriMo remain to me. I have 1,651 words left to write. Not being a marathoner myself, I can't say for sure, but my guess is that when you get to the last mile, you're pretty confident you'll make it. You might want to die one step beyond the finish line, but you will. get. there. Or else.

It's definitely true of this great November write-a-thon. And I might even work on my novel a little further tonight. Maybe I'll try for the win on the early side. A little certainty makes life easier.

Honestly... I'm ready to be finished. If September and October hadn't been a revision marathon, November might not have been so exhausting, but the thought of writing without a deadline sounds lovely right about now.

Says Mr. Pond:

I do run.

The first few months were miserable. You can’t breathe, for one thing. You can’t really run very far without having to walk, for another. Physically, you have a sensation like the musical experience of listening to someone almost play the violin. Even when it starts getting easier, it doesn’t really.

Now I love running. Not the thrill of having run, or being able to call myself a runner, but the act of running itself.... Because this—not that—is the joy of running. The freedom and rhythm of body, breath, and movement. The ability to move effortlessly for even part of the time, the lightness of pace and rhythm. The subtle teasing sense when walking that you could start running if you wanted. The fluidity of movement.

Of course, he goes on to say, running still has its painful life-hating moments of pushing yourself farther or faster than you thought you could go. Those, however, are moments. And he compares all that to writing. The words come painfully, especially at first. With time and practice, you experience things like ease of motion, freedom, the joy of the work.

Couldn't have said it better myself. As a writer, I live for those times of sheer absorption in the beauty of good phrasing, of powerful scenes, of words that fit and flow together till they vanish—like the clear, clean glass of a window—into the vision they are put in place to convey.

Times like that happen more in the daily run than in the marathon. Now is the time to grit my teeth and put the remaining strength of every muscle into finishing strong. Come December 1, I can pause for breath, take a day or two off, and go back to the routine jog along the bay.

For now, I have twenty-six hours and thirty-three minutes to get in those other sixteen hundred-odd words. I'm off to work on it.


Happy Thanksgiving!

This isn't the post I had planned, but I've still got 1100 words to write for NaNoWriMo today (9,379 words to goal), a full evening starting in minutes, and it might be nice to have some time to just relax and be thankful. :) So: Happy Thanksgiving! Scheduled posting returns Monday.


Tasty Tuesday... sort of

Tasty TuesdayThis being Thanksgiving week, I tried to think of something from the holiday table to post for a Tasty Tuesday recipe. The only problem: My specialty, as it were—the thing I am asked to bring to both my parents' and Lou's every Thanksgiving (and usually every Christmas, too)—is green bean casserole. And you can find the recipe for that on the can of fried onions.

A couple of tips, though: Add a little soy sauce, if the recipe doesn't already call for it. I used French's onions last time, and I don't think their recipe did. Durkee's might. (I have no preference between brand of onions, if you're wondering.) But definitely add it. Maybe 1 or 1 1/2 teaspoons per recipe. I never measure.

Also, I suggest going easy on the milk. I guarantee I don't come near the 2/3 cup recommended. Mushroom soup has a good strong flavor when not over-diluted.

Farmer's City Wife hasn't put up the usual host post yet, and Lou and I are about to brave the snow and get out for the evening, so I'll post this as is. And yes, I know green bean casserole is the easiest thing in the world to make and has starred in some incredibly annoying commercials, but honestly, the family spread would be a little lonely without it. I love that stuff.


On Pushing through Bricks

Mr. Pond wrote an encouraging post last week titled on giving up, or not, in which he discussed the life-or-death line between a story that is hard to write and a story that hurts to write. It's an all-important distinction, and one I've even had to take into account in this November madhouse that is National Novel Writing Month.

This is sort of a response, but not really a debate, so I won't call it blogalectic. I'll just recommend his post, particularly if you're the writing type, or the running type, or just someone who has to persevere at something. Knowing when to go on and when to stop matters.

Right now I'm procrastinating on my novel by writing a blog-post. A Monday blog for which I have made zero preparation isn't more fun to write than a novel; it just seemed easier. Much as I need to stay caught up and get ahead, right now I feel like I'd make more progress trying to push my way through a brick wall than trying to write 1,667 words of this fiction.

Not that I'm complaining, mind you. There's a big difference between the me of last Monday and the me of today. The hard work at last feels like worthwhile hard work. I've got story I can move forward with. I might be pushing brick walls, but at least I'm braced against solid ground.

Writing gets romanticized as wild artistic inspiration, but anyone who writes seriously knows the crazy amount of effort that goes into making a flight of fancy appear smooth and artistic. Ever seen a world-class figure skater pull off a triple axel? Three and one-half revolutions, waltz jump into loop position, left forward outside edge to right backward outside edge, and they land on one foot with their arms gracefully outstretched. Ever tried to pull off even a single axel? I have, and without the added hazards of skates or ice. Suffice it to say that it is nowhere near as easy as it looks.

Writing professionally, writing for publication, attempting to write a book worthy of being read and re-read and loved—this involves the kind of disciplined effort that makes it possible for one human to gracefully perform a feat that the average human could wind up in traction for even trying.

Sometimes I wonder why I claim to love writing, since it is far more work than fun. But then, some people love gardening, and that is also not fun. Some people love running, and that is downright miserable. And I've known a handful of people who loved mountain-climbing, which experienced Alpinist Wojciech Kurtyka has called "the art of suffering."

Anyone who loves something that involves this much struggle and effort just needs to be stubborn. Fortunately, that's one of my stronger traits. (Also one of my greatest weaknesses, but that's a different blog-post. :P) In perseverance we imitate the dandelion, which is possibly the most stubborn living thing in all of nature. Dandelions can get through bricks (or concrete sidewalks, anyway). A little pressure from underneath, in just the right place; the mortar cracks, the brick heaves up a little, and out comes the flower on the other side.

Of course, then the flower is still a dandelion. But hey, all analogies break down somewhere, right? Okay, I think I'm getting loopy. NaNoWriMo will do that to you. Back to work now.


Snitches and Snatchers and other stories

Much as I should be cleaning house at this moment--my mind is all hopped up on Harry Potter right now. I just saw the first Deathly Hallows movie, and the review I just posted at The Hog's Head was only a start of my responses. I didn't talk about Dobby's death, or Bill and Fleur's wedding (which I thought lovely, being the sort of girl who would photoshop images of a griffin, cross and lily together for the front cover of her own wedding program), or the Silver Doe scene, or the Ministry of Magic... already I'm thinking "How did I leave all that out?"

Well, I needed to get it up. And there just wasn't enough time or space. But maybe I'll get to it later, in the comments or over here. I'm strongly tempted to see the movie again.

* * *

My Minerva McGonagall costume is no longer in existence, but I wore my Gryffindor badge, made by my friend Rachael in 2008 for the Deathly Hallows midnight release party, and brought with me a plastic Quidditch Harry Potter. The latter was a gift from my friend Heather, who saw the movie with me today; she got it off a string of Snitch-chasing Harry Potter Christmas lights. Completely. Awesome.

* * *

This week's big news: I rebooted my NaNoWriMo novel. I'm not cutting back my word count, but I typed in a string of asterisks and started over at Chapter One. I already feel better about it. I'm taking it slower, and sometimes I even edit. Haha. Take that, crappy paragraphs.

* * *

Writer's link of the week: Be professional, says James Scott Bell. I try—I really do. Does it kill your chances if you have lousy fashion sense? :P

* * *

Music of the week: Lou and I are learning the Dies irae. We're loving it.

* * *

Funny of the week: Girls, be grateful if you did not have parents like this. The most awful celebration idea ever... It's not funny exactly, but I did laugh till I cried.

Also from cakewrecks.blogspot.com: a Potter post in keeping with the spirit of Deathly Hallows release day. I will link it on The Hog's Head shortly as well. It's brilliant.

* * *

Now I'm going to clean my house. Happy weekend, everybody! And if you're going to the Harry Potter movie, have fun. :D


Thursday Book Questions: Part 10

Five questions a week. Eleven weeks. Post your answers in the comments (or on your own blog if you prefer, just link back in the comments) and I'll do the same thing.

Last week we covered how long we'd gone without reading (not very, with a few exceptions for things like giving birth and having West Nile virus), books we could not/would not finish (everybody had something different, but reasons usually included disgust and/or boredom. And new commenter Masha told me to give Lolita another try), distractions (we all have them), and movie adaptations, for which our responses were so diverse that you'll have to go and read them.

To my amusement, just days after I read Farmer's City Wife's comment about dreadful Jane Eyre adaptations—and oh, are Jane Eyre adaptations ever dreadful—I read on Dr. Amy Sturgis' blog that a new one is being made. I watched the trailer, and supposedly they are playing up the Gothic elements of the story instead of just focusing on the romance. Which means that I am going to have to see it. Maybe I'll hate it, but I go as if compelled to the Harry Potter movies, and might as well do the same for Jane Eyre. Less than 24 hours till I see Deathly Hallows! :D

46. The most money I’ve ever spent in the bookstore at one time?
(answer here)
47. How often do you skim a book before reading it?
(answer here)
48. What would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through?
(answer here)
49. Do you like to keep your books organized?
(answer here)
50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them?
(answer here)


Currently Reading: Shift

"Are you sure this is a good idea?" I asked Win when we were out of earshot.

He stopped and turned to me, his face only half illuminated by the light spilling from the garage into the small parking lot. "It's more than a good idea," he began, "it's necessary. As your best friend, it's my job to make sure you take advantage of an opportunity like this. You will never again see the inside of a jail cell, Eagle," he said solemnly. "We both know that it's likely I may once again spend a night in the slammerrich men's sons are obligated to get at least a DUI or something. My dad would probably be disappointed if I didn't. But I won't allow you to let your moment pass you by."

Author: Jennifer Bradbury

Synopsis: College freshman Chris Collins didn't expect to be greeted in his dorm by an FBI agent wanting information on his best friend, Win. But then, he didn't expect Win to split near the end of their recent cross-country bike ride, either. Agent Ward would like to know where Win went, and Win's father would like to know even more. Chris isn't sure he cares, but when he realizes he might be able to find out, he has important decisions to make—secretly, and in a hurry.

Notes: Wow. A reasonably clean YA tale from a male first-person perspective.

My favorite thing about this book: The characters of Chris and Win, especially by the end. I liked their personalities and their development, and while I felt like I had a pretty good idea of the basic answer to the mystery involved, that didn't matter because the characters and their relationship were much more interesting.

Also interesting to me: Chris's bike trip goes through Concrete, Washington, which I know. Then it takes a side jump up the Chuckanut Drive, which I've driven. It winds up in Anacortes, where I lived for over ten years and briefly met Jennifer Bradbury.

The book was paced like a mystery novel, with jumps back and forth between timelines. The overall feel, however, was more of an easygoing summer adventure story. I liked that, too. There were a few points where my suspension of disbelief was challenged a little bit—some of the FBI agent's conversation, for instance--but everything about the bike trip was interesting and believable.

Between good humor, some intriguing thoughts, and wanting to know for sure what happened to Win, I basically read this in one sitting. Chapters 26 and 27 were my favorites. But I can't say why without spoilers.

I'm pleased to see that the author has a new novel, Wrapped, coming out in May. Hmm...

Recommendation: Read Shift on a quiet afternoon or evening, and dream of summer.


Tasty Tuesday: Zucchini... something

Tasty Tuesday
Technically speaking, I probably should have done this during zucchini season. But I made it the other day, having found a sale at the grocery, and it's just good.

My family always called this zucchini glop. Hopefully that doesn't sound too awful—I'm sure any of you can think of a better name for it. They say that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet; zucchini glop by any other name is a tasty use for the proliferating vegetable. You can only make so much zucchini bread. Here's what to do with the extra squash.

If you have any suggestions for a better name, please leave me a comment. :D

Zucchini _______

About 3 medium or 5 small zucchini
1 small/medium onion
Olive oil
2-3 slices bread, cut into crouton-sized pieces
1-2 cups grated Monterey jack cheese

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat olive oil in a skillet and cook zucchini and onion until al dente.

Sprinkle cheese over zucchini and top with bread pieces.

Bake 15-20 minutes or until cheese is bubbly and bread is toasted golden brown.

Serve. It's a great side for chicken dishes.



The mark directly between and equidistant from two points on a line.

What you get when you cross the Atlantic with the Titanic.

Where we are in NaNoWriMo.

Current word count: 25,031

I considered making today's post a direct response to Mr. Pond's On Caring Too Deeply, but right now it's getting awfully difficult to stare at a computer screen and type. Besides, his post was very good and I didn't really disagree with it. And it's hard to think of creative new ways to celebrate NaNoWriMo when the program is totally kicking my rear—even if I am staying caught up on word count.

I'm starting to feel as if I care too deeply about finishing without a better reason than "I hate giving up." Last year at this point in the novel, there was action. Captures. Attacks. Fear. Emotional twists. This year, they're cooking. And talking.

I'm even bored.

Perhaps it was a mistake to speed-write a sequel to a novel I've had time to revise. Or perhaps I've just got the halfway blues. In the Halfway video, over at the NaNo site, OLL staffer Lindsey says "If you've been thinking about quitting: Don't do it!"

Dang it, Lindsey, you read my mind.

The will to get through got me something innately revisable last year—something that held enough beauty to be worth salvaging. If I want that again—and I do—it will mean a lot of extra effort. It means I need to not just write, but put some real time into structuring the novel.

I'm the one who signed up for this sport. So be it, then.


Daisies Standing Guard and other stories

Current word count: 20,268

"I'm at twenty thousand words and I'm feeling awesome/man, I should make writing my career
My main characters have chemistry, my setting is believable/think I'm gonna win this year" *

How I wish that were the case.

Last year I never once considered quitting NaNoWriMo. This year, I've written twenty thousand words that are almost entirely wrong—bad prose, wrong emotional progressions, inane scenes. The story in my head, what shards of it exist, is not what keeps coming out on paper.

I've considered stopping, even though I've been ahead on word count for almost the entire time, and the tingling in my right hand and pain running from elbow to palm are pushing me that direction. The only thing keeping me going is that every couple of days I hit on something that I do actually want to use in the final draft.

Well—that and the fact that I hate giving up.

But as I crossed the 20,000-word mark this morning, I found a little joy in it. I started a new chapter yesterday, and the 1700 words it contains are, for the most part, not crap. One more small encouragement to continue.

* * *

Apart from writing novels at top speed, November means a return to winter weather around here. Much to my amazement, I know people who actually wanted this to happen. Since we didn't get summer weather till the second week in July this year, I would have been just fine not having winter weather till January.

...but we did have such a beautiful sunrise this morning. And sometimes I've even been able to see the stars.

* * *

Yes, the stars. The Pleiades are up this time of year, bright and beautiful. Next on the to-find list: Aldebaran, which should be close by, and the shape of Taurus. Aquila and the Swan have moved to the west during my most-common stargazing hours, and Cassiopeia is nearly overhead. I've never been able to really trace Pegasus—it's hard in town if the constellations aren't composed of very bright stars, which problem has also held me back on Aquarius and Perseus. Oh well. I do what I can.

* * *

Music of the week: This one's for all of you Hunger Games fans. I've got to say, mixed as my feelings were about that series—as a lyricist myself, I loved Collins' folk songs. I might not have imagined Rue's lullaby in a minor key, and the recording here isn't the best, but ultimately, this is beautiful.

* * *

Writer's link of the week: John Green's NaNoWriMo pep talk. Favorite quote:

"Here’s my answer to the very real existential crisis that grips me midway through everything I’ve ever tried to do: I think stories help us fight the nihilistic urges that constantly threaten to consume us."

* * *

Funny of the week: The Oatmeal on How to Pet a Kitty. Not quite as funny as the printer one, which I've already linked some months back, but equally true.

* * *

I'm off to clean house. Happy weekend, everybody.

* Lyric from The NaNoWriMo Song by Kristina Horner and Luke Conard.


Thursday Book Questions: Part 9

Five questions a week. Eleven weeks. Post your answers in the comments (or on your own blog if you prefer, just link back in the comments) and I'll do the same thing.

Last week, we talked favorite fictional characters, and very few of us could pick just one. Austen, Tolkien, Lewis and Rowling created the majority of the ones listed, but we had several mentions of Anne of Green Gables and one resounding, unchallenged vote for Jean Valjean. Many of us talked of Snape in the "Favorite villain" category, though we had to debate somewhat over whether he counts as a villain; others noted Fagin, Fyodor Karamazov, and the president from Fr. Elijah. We also talked about our library habits and what sort of books we take on vacation (usually light ones—physically and mentally speaking.)

This week's questions:

41. The longest I’ve gone without reading.
(answer here)
42. Name a book that you could/would not finish.
(answer here)
43. What distracts you easily when you’re reading?
(answer here)
44. Favorite film adaptation of a novel?
(answer here)
45. Most disappointing film adaptation?
(answer here)

Now we get to my favorite part: reading your answers. :)


Currently Reading: ah... oops.

No Currently Reading review post today, owing to the fact that I haven't read anything new since Shadow of the Hegemon. But I did walk today from writers' group over to the library, where I picked up Jennifer Bradbury's 2008 YA novel, Shift.

...yes, for those of you who wonder—that's the Jennifer Bradbury we knew some years back. The one who has also won a game of Jeopardy. A mutual friend told me she'd had a book published. I'm thoroughly excited to read it.

Notes coming next week. I've also reserved some other books and am working on tracking down more new YA fiction (especially fantasy), so hopefully this feature won't have to skip another week for awhile. :)


Tasty Tuesday: Chili

Tasty Tuesday
I'm starting to have to think to come up with recipes, a problem that is exacerbated by starting off the day behind on NaNoWriMo. But I'm ahead now, thanks to a burst of something that resembled inspiration and a comparatively free day, and as it was also a cold day, I thought I'd share one of our easy winter recipes.

Everybody does chili a little differently. It does not get more basic than this. People talk of thirty-minute meals; this is one of the very few that I can actually prepare in that short of a time.


1-2 lbs ground beef
1 red pepper
1 small can tomato paste
1 large or two small cans diced or chopped or crushed tomatoes
2 cans kidney beans
Garlic powder
Chili powder
Optional: a little onion and/or fresh garlic

Brown the ground beef. Dice the red pepper, throw it in with the beef and cook a little longer (also add onion and fresh garlic here, if you're using those.)

Add the tomato paste and stir in. Then add all the other canned goods. Stir.

Give it a good sprinkle of garlic powder, unless you're using real garlic, and then a healthy amount of chili powder. I don't know how much I add--probably around a tablespoon. Season to taste.

Serve with grated cheddar cheese and/or saltines, sour cream, etc.


On Writing Crap

In response to Mr. Pond, Running and Writing

I walk. Running has never been my thing, unless you count the occasional wild, formless romp across open spaces that a combination of feeling unobserved and a good stiff wind inspires. That said, my sister-in-law Marie ran the Bellingham Bay marathon a few weeks ago, and watching her make that victory almost made me consider marathon training. Not quite—the family knee curse quickly overshadowed the idea—but almost.

Maybe I'm just the sort of person who is generally up for a little self-challenge. That personality attribute is the one and only reason I've rappelled off a cliff, intentionally swum a class III rapid, or gone down the speed slide at a water park. It is not the only reason I chose to do NaNoWriMo, but it certainly set me up to find the concept of writing a novel in a single month irresistible.

Mr. Pond takes philosophical issue with NaNoWriMo, though he does not discount that the program works for some of us. He has good reasons. To Mr. Pond, for whom the entire concept of writing revolves around beauty, the thought of writing "a crap draft" is unthinkable. The NaNoWriMo site says "Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that’s a good thing." "Writing a lot of crap is never a good thing," says Mr. Pond.

He and I have pretty strong agreements in the arenas of artistic philosophy. So why did he look at this free-for-all and say "I can't go along with that" when my immediate response was "I absolutely have to do this!"?

An important part of the debate process is defining your terms. The word crap is pretty arbitrary, and I think Mr. Pond and I took it to mean two different things.

What exactly is crap, in the figurative, NaNoWriMo sense? (Yes, I know you all know what it is literally.) Bad sentences? Plot holes? Inclusion of the Traveling Shovel of Death or other dares? Flat characters? Telling instead of showing? A sickly-sweet or garishly tragic ending? Clichés? All of the above?

My first NaNo novel had six of the eight possible problems listed above. And I knew those problems were coming into existence as I wrote. But something else happened around the failures: The outline I had carefully drawn, giving myself one bullet point for every day in November, slowly collapsed under the exploration of the original concept, leaving only the most basic framework on which I structured the concept itself. Characters revealed interesting things about themselves, things that didn't show up on their original dossiers. The unexpected crept in, the worlds proved to be worth exploring, and when I clocked in my final word count on November 29—57,500 words—I knew that I could take the heart of that story and revise it into something worth reading.

I've now written that book three and a half times, not at all to my surprise. It currently clocks in at 72,138 words. There are a few sentences that made it from the original draft all the way through, I believe; not many. There are a few scenes that are almost untouched except for a little polish on the wording. Those things carried over because they weren't crap. Oh, I wrote a lot of crap. But I wrote a lot. It wasn't nearly all bad.

Attempting to write fast freed me from caring too deeply about every sentence to progress. It gave me permission to mess up and just keep going, to not care that Chapter 5 wasn't polished before I went on to Chapter 6, to allow some plot points to remain ambiguous or to fall out of use entirely. More, it gave me a need to finish that was stronger than my need to overthink everything. I can't express how much I needed that. Maybe I really only needed to do it once, to open my mind to the process necessary for creating a complete first draft. I hadn't written one since I was nineteen.

After all, we all have to start somewhere. No one begins by writing beautifully, and first drafts of novels are almost never very readable. There's a lot of bad art made in the process of learning to create the good.

Ultimately, I don't think Mr. Pond and I disagree that much about the value of NaNoWriMo itself; his comments on his own post clarified his position for me. The one line in his piece that I can't confidently agree with is the statement that writing a lot of crap is never a good thing. I guess that depends on what he means by crap.

But as for this:
I write because I’ve thought long and hard about writing, about the pain and life-hating and sweat stains that accompany the determination to actually Be A Real Writer. I write because I value craft and language and clarity and style, for the beauty of words and the love of sound. I write because quality matters, beauty and wonder and joy matter, even in spite of an age that tells us there’s 3,456,789,462 hits on any given query, that success lies in numbers, and a majority can’t be wrong.
That I agree with, wholeheartedly.


Old Glories and Hallelujahs and other stories

First sentence: November 1, 12:00 noon, at my parents'.

* * *

Current word count: 10,827
Today's goal: 8,335

NaNoWriMo started off with a bang and a half. First, I got ahead right away. That beats last year, when it took me an all-nighter on a plane to catch up.

Second, thanks to 170-odd-thousand enthusiastic participants, of which I was one, the site was either painfully slow or down for the first four days solid. Props to OLL for having the cutest over-capacity message ever. And props to the brave NaNo server guy, who has been working long past normal hours to get things running. The site works much better today.

As for word count: It's nice to be ahead of schedule, but it feels a little like cheating. Since I don't have a full-time job, I just have a lot more time to write than most Wrimos. My one handicap this year is creative exhaustion; that last revision really drained me. It doesn't even things out, but it has certainly increased the challenge of getting my daily 1667.

* * *

I had forgotten what dull scenes and incomprehensible sentences I can create during NaNoWriMo. Sometimes the only way to keep going is to remind myself: No one will read this draft. No one, I say. Believe me—you don't want to.

But just like last year, I'm discovering the story in ways I, being a lousy planner, could never do with just an outline. More on that Monday, if I can get my thoughts together in time.

* * *

Last year at this time, I was spending my last hours in Rome. The six of us who went—Lou and I, his parents, Mike and Kay—had a reunion this past Saturday. We went through a bunch of our pictures, ate pizza and pasta and gelato and drank cappucini and Italian wine.

I started typing up some of the memories, but it got too long too fast. Mercy. I feel like there's still at least three or four blog-posts on that trip, waiting to get loose from my head.

* * *

In other news, Maia jumped in the shower this morning. Strange cat.

* * *

Writer's link of the week: The future belongs to the best editors. I consider myself a pretty decent editor, and I'd still take the class he describes. Thanks for the link, @michaelhyatt.

* * *

Music of the week: This made me cry. The idea of a random act of culture is pretty cool in its own right, but this piece is so much more than culture—this is sacred and transcendental.

If I could have gotten past tears enough to hit all those Fs and Gs, I would have wanted to join in on the last few lines. That's all I know my part for... but one of my secret little dreams is to sing the whole song with a choir someday.

* * *

Funny of the week: Farmer's City Wife on How Not to Flirt. I laughed and laughed. It sounded so familiar.

* * *

To my fellow Wrimos reading this: Good luck! (And I missed you at write-in this week.)

To all of you: Happy weekend!


Thursday Book Questions: Part 8

Five questions a week. Eleven weeks. Post your answers in the comments (or on your own blog if you prefer, just link back in the comments) and I'll do the same thing.

Last week's questions were more directed at personal taste than some weeks' have been. Favorite poet? There weren't a lot of duplicates. I'm a bit shocked that I forgot to say Shakespeare or King David, though I don't regret mentioning MacDonald.

We also had a variety of thoughts on the ways and means of giving negative reviews. Latin got the most votes for language we'd like to be able to read in, and George and I had a brief discussion on the merits of Sindarin versus Quenya. Lastly, the world holds so many books that are intimidating for so many different reasons (as Eric noted) that it was a lot of fun to read everyone's answers on those questions.

This week's questions:

36. How many books do you usually have checked out of the library at any given time?
(answer here)
37. How often have you returned a book to the library unread?
(answer here)
38. Favorite fictional character?
(answer here)
39. Favorite fictional villain?
(answer here)
40. What books are you most likely to bring on vacation?
(answer here)

Come one, come all with answers! I do love reading them.


Currently Reading: Shadow of the Hegemon

"Oh, spare me your delusions," said Peter. "You're a little boy in hiding."

"I'm a general who's between armies," said Bean. "If I weren't, you wouldn't be talking to me."

"And you want an army so you can go rescue Petra," said Peter.

"So she's alive?"

"How would I know?"

"I don't know how you'd know. But you know more than you're telling me, and if you don't give me what you have, you arrogant oomay, I'm done with you, I'll leave you here playing your little net games, and go find somebody who's not afraid to come out of Mama's house and take some risks."

Author: Orson Scott Card

Synopsis: The members of Ender's jeesh--his core army, the group that helped him defeat the Formics--have been kidnapped; all except Bean, who narrowly escaped a bombshell. Suspecting that his old psychopathic enemy, Achilles, is behind the kidnappings and attempted murder, Bean goes into hiding. While on the run, he deduces that Achilles is building a dangerous political career by means of genius and charisma. Achilles has also taken brilliant jeesh member Petra Arkanian, Bean's friend, as a slave strategist. For Bean to have even a chance at rescuing Petra, he must team up with Ender's brother Peter, get into global politics, and prepare to put his own life on the line.

Notes: One of my favorite things about Orson Scott Card's work is his linguistic depth. Everything about that fascinates me, from the Battle School slang (jeesh, oomay) to the smatterings of Hindi and Portuguese, to Petra's recognition of the fake Turk soldiers by their accent on the Russian loan words. Card's characters come from all over the world, and the primary ones are all academic prodigies, so the language support helps a lot with my buy-in.

Card's characters are also very lifelike. I had a pretty impressive nightmare about serial killers after reading several chapters before bed; Achilles absolutely terrified me. On the other hand, it was fun to get to know Petra better, interesting to meet an older and perhaps barely less sadistic Peter, and Bean's development is such that I keep winding up hopeful for him.

This particular novel was less emotionally moving for me than Speaker or Ender's Shadow, more action-oriented and somewhat more painful. It also did not have the heartrendingly beautiful, satisfying ending of either of those. Of course, after both of those I was afraid to go further with the series; long stretches of happiness don't make for compelling reading, and it seemed to me that Ender and Bean had both been through enough. But now I have to keep going.

Which, obviously, I would have done anyway. So many stories nowadays are obviously designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator; it's incredibly refreshing to read something intelligent, something thick with meaning. I've never found a novel that beats the Ender books for that.

Recommendation: It's hard to imagine myself not recommending something written by Orson Scott Card. This is a good book. My only qualification: Read it in broad daylight if you're susceptible to psychological creepiness.