Currently Reading: Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc

So the soldier sighed and said he would advertise the mass, but said he doubted if there was a man in camp that was any more likely to go to it than he was himself. Then there was another surprise for him, for Joan said:

"But, dear man, you are going!"

"I? Impossible! Oh, this is lunacy!"

"Oh, no, it isn't. You are going to the service--twice a day."

"Oh, am I dreaming? Am I drunk--or is my hearing playing me false? Why, I would rather go to--"

"Never mind where. In the morning you are going to begin, and after that it will come easy. Now don't look downhearted like that. Soon you won't mind it."

Author: Mark Twain

Synopsis: Louis de Conte, Joan's page and secretary, tells the story of her life from her childhood in Domrémy through her generalship of the army of France to her execution.

Notes: One of my book clubs read this, and I loved it. Twain, whom I hadn't expected to be friendly to Christianity, treated Joan as a person of great piety and Bishop Cauchon, who led her trial, as a selfish sinner too closely in league with the state.
The character of Louis de Conte is fictional, though based in part on a real person. The book follows history quite accurately, as far as I could tell, despite the personalized descriptions and conversations that a novel requires. It appears to have been thoroughly researched.
According to a quote on Wikipedia, Twain considered Joan of Arc his best work (apparently, critics have never agreed.) I admit to not having read all of his works, but I'm inclined to take his opinion.


Mood Music: Playlist

One of our neighbors has chosen to play bluegrass, loud enough for the whole neighborhood to hear. Bluegrass is much too peppy for my mood right now. Maybe I should turn on my Asleep and Dreaming mixtape.


All right, it's playing! I forgot about this old mix. I love it. Here's the track list, in case any of you need a little iTunes inspiration:

Lay Your Head Down, Peter Bradley Adams
Stars, The Cranberries
The Story, Brandi Carlisle
I Do, Paul Brandt
Out Loud, Mindy Smith
Ave Maria (Schubert), Jim Brickman and Mario Frangoulis
Listen to Your Heart, Roxette
Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful, Julie Andrews and Jon Cypher (from Cinderella)
Overcome, Live
I Want to Spend My Lifetime Loving You, Tina Arena and Marc Anthony
I Blame Us, John van Deusen
Stanley Climbfall, Lifehouse
You're Always on My Mind, Willie Nelson
Run to the Water, Live
Gira con me, Josh Groban
Ave Maria (Bach/Gounod), Jewel
Caribbean Blue, Enya
The Gates of Dawn, Secret Garden



Apologies for the lack of post yesterday. I wasn't feeling well, and while better today, am still a little out-of-it. So, since this is my birthday, I'm going to take it easy on blogging. And by taking it easy, I mean "Here I am, posting about not posting. See you tomorrow!"

I did post a quick item on The Hog's Head, so feel free to check that out.

Back to more regular posting tomorrow ... I'll do my best.


Word Salad and Gray Tapioca

Here's to the fun books! Three cheers for the ones that entertain us and mean something to us, that encourage us so powefully that we couldn't care less how many adverbs the author used. (Supposedly it's better if said author pulls off the encouraging without the adverbs--so they tell me, anyways. I like adverbs and have a hard time giving them up.)

Holly Lisle's delightful rant entitled "How to Write Suckitudinous Fiction" is a piece to thrill every reader who prefers YA novels to anything considered more acceptable for his college-educated self. It should lighten the heart of every writer whose dreams tend more toward genre than Pulitzer. Apologies for the coarseness of some of the language, gentle readers, but if you can take the cussing you'll love the spirit of the work.

A favorite line:

"Anyone who includes hope in fiction is a backward Neanderthal hick redneck married to his sister whose non-branching ancestral tree makes him incapable of understanding that wallowing in filth and liking it is sophisticated."

Enjoy! I'm going to go try and break all thirteen of the Sacred Commandments of Suckitudinous Fiction.


Of + Verb = Bad Country Song

All I can guess about this common grammatical error is that people write what they hear. Let me explain what they hear, then:


In other words, a contraction of should have, might have, etc. What they think they hear is this:

"I should of gone to the store earlier."

Gone is a (conjugated) verb, therefore nothing can be of it or belonging to it. There is no "of gone." Although maybe if you're a country singer, you can come up with a song in which the lyrics go something like "It's the slow sad sound of gone." Go for it. Have fun. Just please don't write "should of."

"I should've gone to the store earlier."

"I should have gone to the store earlier."

But I didn't, so we're still out of milk. Maybe I'll do that now.


Currently Reading: Dear and Glorious Physician

"Odilus suffered from no illness of the body or brain", Lucanus said respectfully to the pragmatic Greeks. "He suffered from an illness of the soul, and he is now cured. In your rationality you had forgotten Hippocrates."

Author: Taylor Caldwell

Synopsis: After forty-six years of research and writing, Caldwell gave the world a novel telling the life story of St. Luke--author of the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts--from his early childhood through his interview with the mother of Christ. Lucanus begins with pure and mystic faith, but after a tragic loss determines to fight God by becoming a doctor and snatching people from the point of death. His apotheosis from angry young student to physician and Gospel-writer involves facing the worst of human suffering and weakness, the wisdom of many teachers, miracles, and a lifetime of being patiently loved.


It has always been difficult for me to read novels based on the life of Bible characters. Having studied the Bible (and, to some extent, the surrounding times) pretty thoroughly, I have a hard time suspending disbelief. Such a novel usually focuses on how "they were just like us," rarely taking into account the fact that the worldview of another time and place, being different from ours, meant that the emotional reactions to any given idea were actually not the same as ours.

The amount of thought and research put into this work did fascinate me, however. Caldwell writes with knowledge of Eastern and Western thought at the time of Christ, and blends the two into an interesting meld of philosophy, science and mysticism drawn from the Greek, Latin, Jewish and Babylonian cultures. Her descriptions are intense and detailed, and the characters keep their heads in the time instead of parading around as postmoderns in togas and wimples.

It isn't an easy read--the thing is 550 long pages, and far more given to introspection and imagery than suspense--but it was at least intriguing and thought-provoking.


NaNo Reminiscences

A little email from Lindsey over at the Office of Letters and Light has me feeling celebratory. Turns out the tale of my NaNoWriMo experiences just made it into their Wrimo Report feature! I'm all smiley now.

It's a tale of travel, time, the [swine] flu, and the encouragement to persevere, and I had a very hard time fitting it into four hundred words. Want to read it? It's showing up on the home page this week, but here's the permanent link as well.


Seasonal Anachronism

In walking about the neighborhood this week, I've seen something I have never seen before: spring happening in January.

Admittedly, if all those pink flowering trees want to bloom around my birthday, I can't complain. That might be the only time such a thing happens in my life, assuming I remain in the northern hemisphere. It makes me nervous, though. It's only January, little flowers and leaves! Don't burst out of the branches too soon--it could still snow.


SCL on Going Offline

Jonathan Acuff made me laugh on Facebook today. Here was his update, for those of you who haven't joined the Stuff Christians Like author's Facebook fans:
"The only thing Christians like more than the internet is taking a break from it. And telling you about it in a blog post or tweet."
I've actually done this--if it counts when you go overseas for two weeks without a computer and sort of decide to use that as get-control-of-your-online-addiction time. At any rate, a little break from the internet now and again can actually be a good thing. If you can fill all that free time with touring Europe, it can be a great thing.

Of course, going offline in this age is a little bit like taking a temporary vow of silence, especially when you're an introvert and a geek. Some of us converse more with a keyboard than we do with our voices. (My husband and I were just talking to each other on gchat ... while sitting side-by-side on the couch. We're nerds. We know.)

The SCL article on digital fasting is here. It is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, of course. You have to tell your friends if you plan to fast from Facebook, because otherwise they'll all text you to ask if you died.


Sunny Moment

... so, it hasn't been the most cheerful week on the blog. Or in the world. And, of course, it has been raining.

But as I was getting ready to pick up my Lysol and X-14 and start on the bathroom, the clouds broke and sunshine came into the living room. Sunshine! I thought it was supposed to rain for ten days straight, or something like that.

I went about my housework, and about the time I was ready to Comet out the kitchen sink, it came to me that if I wanted a piece of that sun, I had less than an hour to get it before dark.

But you still have to blog, and put a focused hour on story, and sweep and vacuum the floors and clean the counters, my brain accused me. Shouldn't have fallen asleep on the couch this morning, eh? And you know the bookshelves need dusting.

I outsmarted the guilt trip and am blogging out under the blue sky. As long as I don't drop my computer into the lake that is our back sidewalk, all should be well.

Happy weekend, everybody.


Days of Rest

The last several weeks have reminded me vaguely of raft guide training.

Learning to guide a raft through whitewater involves a lot of things: studying interesting scientific concepts like ferry angles, trying to climb a rope in deep water onto an upside-down rubber boat, swimming an ice-melt rapid on a 45-degree day, exhilaration, fun, and thorough panic. I enjoyed it, and I never want to do it again.

I made a big mistake during raft guide training, though, and it contributed to my finishing out the season with anxiety issues. Everybody told me "Take a day off." My boss recommended it, multiple times. But I worked two jobs and did guide training on the weekends, and apparently had some sort of need to prove to the world that I was Supergirl. In the end, I only managed to prove to myself that we mortals ought not give ourselves to work seven days a week, especially not when part of that work requires any sort of intensive effort. It is incredibly hard on the mind.

I've found it too easy to tell myself that writing could not have the same effect on me. I love writing. Sometimes it doesn't even feel like work, and it definitely doesn't feel like thinking about what a low-head dam can do to a boat full of people. So if I pull up my computer and put a few hours into my story on Sunday afternoon, it won't hurt my week, will it?

Oh yes, it will. And I made the mistake of doing that very thing, several weeks in a row.

A lot of the Old Testament confuses me, even after years of study, but the fact that "Keep the seventh day as a holy day of rest" got into the Ten Commandments makes vast amounts of sense. Though I take Sunday instead of Saturday, I need the day of rest for sanity, and even for the sake of my work; the short break gives me a better perspective on my projects, as well as stronger mental and creative powers.

Starting with last Sunday, then, from henceforth I take my day off every week. It's good for me.


Praying for Haiti

As you've all probably heard, yesterday's 7.0 earthquake in Port-au-Prince has taken a lot of life and left a lot of people without family, friends, home, work, and supplies.

Along with the general intentions, Lou and I hope and pray for the safety of the child we sponsor through Compassion International, and for that of her family and village. She lives in the mountains, so the quake itself was possibly less of an immediate danger than any mudslides which might result from it. Compassion, like most other charitable services with outposts in the country, was at last word still trying to reach their resident staff. (Disasters tend to take out communication, on top of everything else.)

There are numerous ways for those of us who can give to do so: Compassion, Catholic Relief Services, and many other charitable organizations are active in the relief process. And we can always pray.


Barbara Michael, 1921-2010

I remember her as the fiercely independent woman she became during WWII when she left her parents' house on an errand into town and returned having signed up with the Navy. Likewise, as the mother who clung more and more to her only son and his family as she began to feel the effects of age. I remember her as the fellow writer who handed me a scrapbook of newspaper articles she'd written and published long before my birth, said I should read them since I liked to write too, and then patted my hand and said "Besides, you and I were always good friends."

She was the short woman who somehow gave life to my very tall father, and had lived near or with my family since her widowhood over twenty years ago. She died Friday night at home with my parents, in my mother's arms, and we all believe she went on to Jesus.

Rest in peace, Grandma. We all love you.


Spelling Snark

I think I'll clear up a couple of issues for the world ... or I would, if the world read my blog.

Listen up, world! If you mean voilà!, as in French for "See there!", please say so. Please, please do not say "viola!", which is either 1) a musical instrument or 2) a flower or 3) an old-fashioned first name. Seriously—I have studied several languages at the alphabet level, and have never yet run across one in which the vowel combination "io" makes the sound "wah."

Similarly, "I before E except after C and when sounding like A as in neighbor or weigh (and on weekends and holidays and all throughout May ... Brian Regan, you rock)—and in the word 'weird!' " According to The Oatmeal, every time anyone spells it "wierd," a dolphin gets run over by a jet ski. Think of the dolphins!

The Oatmeal covered a lot of other common spelling errors in the above link. That piece is a little crass in places (okay, it's a lot crass all the way through—sorry about that), but by the end it's definitely harder to forget that there is no A in "definitely."


Currently Reading: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness

"In the nine years after Skree's king and all his lords--in fact, everyone with a claim to the throne--had been executed, the people of Skree had learned to survive under the occupation of the Fangs of Dang. The Fangs walked about like humans, and in fact they looked exactly like humans, except for the greenish scales that covered their bodies and the lizard-like snout and the two long, venomous fangs that jutted downward from their snarling mouths. Also, they had tails."

Author: Andrew Peterson

Synopsis: Janner Igiby grew up in a land ruled by terror, where children and adults disappear without warning and the disgusting Fangs regulate everything, even the hoeing of a totato patch. His mother and grandfather refuse to talk about his father, who died before Janner can remember, and Janner spends most of his time studying and helping around the farm and watching over his brother and sister. But when the Fangs throw all three children in jail, the bond posted leads the evil ruler of Skree to believe that Janner's mother has the Jewels of the lost kingdom Anniera, and life becomes a bigger and more terrifying mystery than even Janner thought it could be.


This is a book to thrill the heart of a young boy. After all, the protagonist is a young boy, and the tale is full of glory and humor and dragons and interesting people like Janner's grandfather, Podo the pirate. There's even a recipe for booger gruel, which made me gag while I laughed.

It took me a little while to hit that can't-put-it-down mode, which may have been due to a slightly episodic feel in the early chapters and/or to the fact that when I started reading I was distracted by my own storytelling. I'll have to post sometime about how hard it is for me to read when I'm caught up in writing. Anyway, last Sunday afternoon I sat down with this book and didn't let go of it till I'd finished.

Throughout the story, fear and humor balance each other with the precision only an expert storyteller can manage.

Recommendation: Yes. It's a good book. It deserves an extra star just for the line "... in the mind of a boy, a warning isn't much different from an invitation."


The Twelfth Day of Christmas

Happy Epiphany!

For the twelfth day of Christmas, I hereby give you ... ten boys a-singing. Believe me, you've never heard that carol done like this unless you've actually heard this.

Now I have Toto's Africa running through my head. Oh well. It's a fun song.


Perfectionism, Adrenaline, and Happy Writers

My new favorite advice for authors/publishing industry blog: Agent Nathan Bransford. I want his attitude.

Several things attack my attitude on a regular basis whenever I get very emotionally involved in my writing, most notably perfectionism and fierce adrenaline drives.

Perfectionism can go from helping me write a better book to shutting off my creativity in under a second. My writers' group had to rescue me from agony over a scene last week, and Lou had to help me survive another on the weekend. Not the way I want to live most of the weeks of my life.

Adrenaline comes from being "strong-willed." I've affectionately described my will as an iron bar running through the center of my being. Once it gets set in any direction, it does not budge. If it decides that I will succeed at something, whether that be novel-writing or making a recording or yodeling, I'll drive myself to exhaustion trying. It's useful. And kind of silly. And occasionally a little scary.

Here, for anyone likewise afflicted, are Mr. Bransford's Ten Commandments for a Happy Writer. He's right about the lot. Enjoy.


The Devil's in the Details

Here's a little kitchen aphorism that can save you loads of pain: If you chop hot peppers, wear latex gloves. And if you don't have latex gloves, go to your plastics drawer and get out a couple of sandwich baggies and put them over your hands. You might even want to double up on those.

I went about learning this the hard way on New Year's Eve, having promised my husband a nice dinner. Since he likes to challenge himself with the stars at Thai restaurants, and was bringing home a friend who, being male, I assumed would like steak and spice, I decided to serve marinated steaks with mushrooms and jalapeños.

To my surprise, after chopping the peppers, one of my fingers stung a lot more than it should have just from standard winter chap. The stinging had begun to spread all over my hands within half an hour or so; I scrubbed my hands again and went to my computer. Lou signed out of IM and I knew he was on his way home, friend in tow, giving me about five minutes to put the computer away and do some last minute straightening up. Thinking about where to start, I rubbed my left eye.

After a good three minutes of holding my wrists over that eye, trying not to get too close with the fingers while wiping away the tears, I expected to greet husband and guest with one nicely made-up eye and one swollen red one painted only with saline water. (As it turns out, my eyeliner is tougher than I thought.) I got the computer away, one-eyed, and went about turning on the porch light and making dinner.

Fortunately, our guest admitted to a fondness for spice. Lou commented that the meal had turned out spicy, but I didn't particularly notice, because I spent every chewing moment either holding onto my water glass or waving my hands about under the table. For those unacquainted with the powers of capsaicin, that little hellfire chemical in chile peppers, it can burn so hard through your skin that you feel it all the way at the bone.

Miss Manners probably doesn't recommend that hostesses leave the room every few minutes, but the burning sensation just kept increasing. Lotion worked for a minute, tops. Vitamin E oil actually seemed to make things worse faster.

After dinner, I snuck into the bedroom, pulled up my computer and Googled "jalapeño burning hands". Google gave me a question-and-answer site with over seventy comments. The first person suggested bleach. Others suggested rubbing alcohol. A couple of people said not to do either, that it was dangerous to fight a chemical burn with chemicals. (That's probably true.) A few said milk (internally or externally?). Still others said there was no remedy. Everyone disagreed, and they all seemed to have reason or experience or dire warning on their side.

All right, I thought, I'll suck it up. I sat on the couch and tried to behave myself until I could bear it no longer. I went into the bathroom and doused my hands in rubbing alcohol, rubbed them till they dried, and went back to the couch ... and the burning began to ease.

Glory, hallelujah! But I could still feel traces of the stinging in my thumbs the next day, though I repeated the alcohol treatment every time I washed my hands for hours. Lesson learned. If you ever plan to spend some time with hot peppers, consider yourself warned.

And if you want a tasty capsaicin challenge for yourself, here's a recipe.

Marinade for four 4-8 oz steaks:
1/2 cup rice vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp mustard
Garlic salt and pepper

Fork meat well on both sides and turn in marinade. Let sit in refrigerator for at least six hours, turning once. Broil to desired doneness.

8 oz sliced mushrooms
3 large jalapeños, de-seeded (unless you really want the full burn) and julienned
Garlic salt
Cooking sherry

Heat olive oil very hot in a skillet. Throw in mushrooms and peppers and season with garlic salt and sherry to taste. Cook till heated through, but not thoroughly wilted.

Potatoes mashed with garlic powder and ranch dressing make a good side dish. For greens, I made a spring mix salad with slivered almonds, chopped tomatoes, and parmesan.