Too Excited Not to Post...

After pulling off three of my best writing days ever—a total of 11,027 words—I've finished the draft of my fairy tale retelling! And I couldn't resist sharing. [EDIT: I'm an idiot. The link won't take you to my story, as my wording suggests. It's just an image. It'll be an indie- or self-published book eventually, if I can pull it off, which I expect to be able to do.]

42933 / 35000 (complete!)

Happy rest of 2011, and happy New Year!


Happy 2012! And a few other stories...

The new year is coming, I'm rather enjoying this week of vacation with my husband, and after writing 3700 words yesterday, part of me hopes I can finish this novella in 2011. So you get a short post today.

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If you've got a Kindle or Kindle app, you can get The Giver for $0.99 over at Amazon, December 30 only. I just bought it, meaning I will most likely get around to reading it one of these days, at long last. Thanks to George for the link.

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For something like a decade, I swore off New Year's resolutions, but somehow this year I've wound up with a OneNote (ever heard of that MS Office program? I'd forgotten it existed) notebook full of them. Books to write and revise. Information on how to clothes-shop smart, rather than just grabbing the first thing off the rack that fits and is somewhere in the blue-green range that I know I can wear. An order to myself to warm up my voice gently and daily, so I can get over the vocal problems I've had. Stuff like that.

Down with the idea that all such goals are doomed halfway through January! I can do this.

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Here's something for writers. Here's something for Harry Potter fans. Here's some Christmas music (yes, it's still officially Christmas. And yes, I linked LindseyStomp just a few weeks ago; she rocks.) And here's something funny (advisory: it's on Cracked. You've been warned.)

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And now, I'm off. Thanks to all of you for spending time around me and my blog this year, and for your friendship and encouragement. I thank God for you all; I really do. Happy weekend, and may you have a very happy year!


Currently Reading: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell...Mr. Canning complained that the nightmares Mr. Norrell had sent the Emperor (which chiefly concerned a captain of Dragoons hiding in Buonaparte’s wardrobe) would scarcely frighten his children’s governess let alone the conqueror of half of Europe. For a while he had tried to persuade the other Ministers that they should commission Mr Beckford, Mr Lewis and Mrs Radcliffe to create dreams of vivid horror that Mr Norrell could then pop into Buonaparte’s head. But the other Ministers considered that to employ a magician was one thing, novelists were quite another and they would not stoop to it.

Author: Susanna Clarke

Synopsis: Mr. Norrell is the first practical magician in England in centuries, and he’s ready to kick the theoretical magicians out on their ears. Jonathan Strange is the second practical magician, trained by Mr. Norrell, but he wants all England to understand all about magic. Mr. Norrell has little use for talk of the Raven King, a magician regent of an earlier age who is thought to still exist somewhere. Jonathan Strange believes the Raven King ought to be studied and perhaps convinced to return to England. With such opposite natures and goals, the two men cannot agree, but they have no one else who can truly share their great passion: magic.

Also, there’s a murderous fairy.

Notes: First, hilarity.

Working over the course of ten years, Clarke wrote this novel—which is over eight hundred pages long and contains a couple hundred footnotes—entirely in a sort of Edwardian drawing-room English, slightly more gentlemanly in flavor than Austen perhaps, but with a similarly satirical style. The jokes, which include sly jibes against novels, don’t leap off the page and attempt to flag your attention; they lie down in the text and disappear, and you catch them only if you’re paying attention. I suspect that a second read through would turn up far more wit than even the first did.

The difficulty, speaking right up front, is in achieving that second read through. It might seem entirely ridiculous for someone who read and loved something like nine or ten thousand pages of Wheel of Time to complain that an 800-page novel is too long, but if I hadn’t caught the flu and needed something reasonably non-demanding to do with two days, I might never have finished it.

Here’s the deal: the first couple of chapters fascinated me. Mr. Norrell, in the character of mystery, was actually interesting. Once we followed him to London and watched him shuffle through various political affairs with the dull and loathsome Drawlight and Lascelles planning his every move, he lost—for me—all interest and much sympathy as a character. I don’t read stories for the sake of conflict and resolution; I read them because the characters matter to me, and for the whole first part of the book—it’s in three parts—the only character I strongly pulled for was John Segundus.

But as I say, I was sick and bored. So I pushed through. As soon as Jonathan Strange came onstage, the story got my attention.

Then the “gentleman with the thistle-down hair” began to involve himself, and the story got creepy. The enchantments he put over people and his eerie lack of sanity kept me fighting chills down my spine for several hundred pages. I should mention that Clarke’s portrayal of humans as weak in magic but strong in reason, and fairies as the exact opposite, makes for an interesting study.

Clarke’s portrayal of magic, while we’re talking such things, was anything but that of Harry Potter. Rowling sets up the wielding of magic as morally neutral, and she shows its use as being subject to the moral law. Never in the Potter series is any kind of spiritual invocation used. Clarke, by contrast, includes the following in a footnote: “Magicians are chiefly interested in the usefulness of… supernatural beings; they wish to know under what circumstances and by what means angels, demons and fairies can be brought to lend their aid in magical practices. For their purposes it is almost irrelevant that the first class of beings is divinely good, the second infernally wicked and the third morally suspect.” This she compares to priests, who she says “are scarcely interested in anything else.” (Page 521)

This is not morally neutral, and you can make of it what you will in the context of the book. I will say it made me watchful, especially considering the grotesque aspect of certain spells. Neither demons nor angels were invoked by Strange or Norrell, but the fairy was, and the fairy was evil. And crazy. Did I mention that he was creepy?

Beyond all that, the mythology is intensely and beautifully developed, the voice never misses a note, and the themes of the Raven King and the nameless slave and the restoration of magic to England are all very thought-provoking. It’s a dark, shadowy sort of a story, full of unexpected turns, old-fashioned British humor, and a very long progression toward an unlikely but excellent friendship—and that last, more than anything, is the point of the tale.

Recommendation: Read it on a rainy day; it’s especially handy if you’re sick. But if you dream about frightening things in books, as I do, don’t read it before bed.


Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Books of 2011

For weeks I've looked forward to this list, for the delight of reminiscing about what felt like a year of honestly fantastic reading.

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish! Do come join the fun...

For the sake of sanity, series count as one entry; otherwise, The Wheel of Time might have made an unfair share of appearances. Also, I've not counted re-reads unless I hadn't read the book since childhood. Re-reading a book as an adult is a new experience even if you remember the story.

Not necessarily in perfect order:

1. The Host by Stephenie Meyer. A tale of two souls in one body, the physical force of love, and what it means to be human. By far Meyer's best work, in my opinion. Review.

2. The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale. Beautiful on the first read and even better on the second. I loved this story with my whole heart. Honorable mention to Forest Born, the fourth Book of Bayern, as well. Review.

3. Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo. Artful prose, deeply empathetic character portrayals, and a warm, loving, thoughtful little heroine. Review.

4. Enchantress from the Stars by Sylvia Louise Engdahl. Sci-fi meets fantasy in a beautifully-written interplanetary tale. Review.

5. The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. These books finished what began with stories like The Chronicles of Narnia and No Flying in the House: they sold me wholly on speculative fiction. It's my favorite genre now. Review of book 1.

6. The Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. I liked the first one, but loved the second and third. It's brain candy, hilarious and suspenseful, but it sneaks a little bit of classical education into you when you're not looking. I've got the fourth out from the library right now. Review of book 1.

7. The Emily books by L.M. Montgomery. I greatly preferred the first to the second and third, but adored the heroine and truly did love her early days (and, admittedly, a few of her later days as well). Review of book 1.

8. Anna Karenina by Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy. Two moral and spiritual journeys: one toward despair and madness, one toward happiness and peace. I didn't expect to care much for it, and was very pleasantly surprised. Review coming.

9. Beauty by Robin McKinley. My first experience with McKinley's work, and as a fan of fairy tale retellings, I adored it. Lovely in every way. Review.

10. That Summer by Sarah Dessen. I loved this story for its splendid sense of place and character, and for how much I could sympathize with protagonist Haven McPhail. Review.

The Silmarillion may knock something off the list if I finish it in time (can I get through the last 2/3 in four days? We'll see...) It's beautiful so far.

What were your favorite reads of this year?


Two Turtledoves

Happy second day of Christmas!

Lou has this entire week off work, so I'm declaring a holiday on the blogalectic. Masha and Mr. Pond can either post whatever they feel like on the themes of art and beauty and sacred time, or enjoy a break. I, in the meantime, am going to take my sister's family their gifts and use my new pruning shears to cut back the peonies for the winter. :D

Blogging should resume as usual tomorrow, mainly because I've been looking forward to this week's Top Ten Tuesday list too much to not participate.

Hope you're all enjoying your holidays!


It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas... and other stories

First Christmas decorating session in the new house!

Of course, Maia had to be involved in everything.

Except, of course, for the group photo. At least we got her in one shot:

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Of course, the Christmas ornaments have been gradually migrating to one quadrant of the tree, high and away from tables the cat can climb upon. She and I keep having this conversation:

Me: "Maia, the Christmas ornaments are not toys... honestly..."

Maia: "If it rolls, it is a toy. If it swings, it is a toy. If I can liberate it from your absurd hiding places, it is a toy. Oh, and so are your Christmas cactus blossoms."

Me: "You... you are getting a lump of coal in your stocking this year."

Maia: "Cool beans. Aren't those just about the right size for batting around the floor? I bet they leave an interesting black trail, too."

Also, this week I found an avocado behind a chair in the living room. I guess I won't be leaving such things on the counter anymore, no matter how well I think I've got them tucked out of her reach.

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Writers' link of the week: P.W. Creighton on the Holiday narrative.

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Music of the week: Vivaldi's Gloria, with special thanks to Maria both for reminding me of the piece and for recommending this good recording.

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Random amusements of the week: Merry Kitschmas parts one, two, and three, compiled and suitably punned by Eric Pazdziora.

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I love Christmas.

A very merry one to you and yours!


Currently Reading: Auralia’s Colors

Auralia's Colors: The Red Strand (The Auralia Thread #1)Auralia lay still as death, like a discarded doll, in a burgundy tangle of rushes and spineweed on the bank of a bend in the River Throanscall, where she was discovered by an old man who did not know her name.

She bore no scars, no broken bones, just the stain of inkblack soil. Contentedly, she cooed, whispered, and babbled, learning the river’s language, and focused her gaze on the stormy dance of evening sky—roiling purple clouds edged with blood red. The old man surmised she was waiting and listening for whoever, or whatever, had forsaken her there.

Author: Jeffrey Overstreet

Synopsis: In the wilds outside House Abascar, a pair of Gatherers—criminals cast from the House—discover and adopt the abandoned Auralia despite suspicions that she is one of the feared Northchildren. Independent and comfortable with the wild, Auralia proves to have a talent more dangerous than the Gatherers could have imagined: an ability to create and work in supernatural colors, when no one outside Abascar’s palace is allowed to wear anything but drab. Amid the House’s internal turmoil and the external threat of approaching beastmen, Auralia’s unruly gifts enchant everyone from Gatherer to prince, and threaten those with the power to destroy both her and her people.

Notes: This, impressively enough, is original fantasy.

Granted, the beastmen basically resemble Jordan’s Trollocs, and I doubt Jordan originated the concept (they’re not that unlike Tolkien’s Orcs, after all.) And I seem to recall a moment or two when Narnia came to mind, though those instances were perhaps nothing more than a slight resemblance of names. But overall, the story didn’t seem much like anything else I’ve read.

Fantasy fiction comes in a lot of voices, many of which—at first glance, at least—are rather dry to the touch. Which is perhaps my biggest problem with the genre. I’m not attracted by letter-scramble names, medieval weaponry and blazing action; I want a tangible, emotive sense of place and character. If anything, I’d say Overstreet’s poetic prose did this too well. A sentence like “The child became twigs and burnt autumn leaves, thin and fisty fingers clutching acorns and seeds as though they were stolen jewels” contains lovely imagery, but the metaphorical structure annoys me. That’s just me. O ye of great love for poetry, you’ll probably adore it.

Despite my distaste for metaphoric sentences, however, I did appreciate the colorful, sensory use of language. I felt and knew the world; I knew and loved Auralia, Cal-raven, Scharr ben Fray, and the ale-boy.

The story never took an expected turn that I can remember, which was another surprise. There was a fair bit of head-hopping, and I didn’t necessarily know who would turn out good and who, not so much. Even the one plot point I was very confident in wasn't bothered with until the epilogue.

Like most first installments in fantasy series, the ending was anything but. I spent half an hour or better Googling, reading reviews of the next few books, trying to figure out if a certain very important character returned in the sequels. Weirdly enough, the answer proved hard to find. Eventually someone answered it in the affirmative, which is good, because I had no intention of reading any further if not.

Recommendation: Read it in evenings, with hot spiced tea or cider and warm colors around you.


Top Ten Tuesday: Books for Santa to Bring

Actually, this one is surprisingly tough. Not because I don't want books—I always want books—but because my wish lists are always so carefully prioritized, and not necessarily identical two weeks running.

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish! Do come join the fun...

Books I intend to get my hands on one way or another:

1. Everything by Shannon Hale that I don't already own. I have Princess Academy, The Goose Girl, and The Actor and the Housewife. The other Bayern books are first priority.

2. More of Orson Scott Card's work. I have Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead. I'd like to get the rest of the Ender and Bean books, and the novel Pathfinder looks intriguing.

3. The Wheel of Time books I don't already own. I have #s 8, 10, and 11, which is what happens when you series-shop the paperback sections of your local used bookstore.

Books I'd like to get eventually:

4. The Emily books by L.M. Montgomery. I'm still miffed at book 3, but Emily was kindred spirit enough that I liked her story anyway.

5. The Percy Jackson books by Rick Riordan. I'm just enjoying them too much not to consider adding them to my shelves.

6. The first three Time books by Madeleine L'Engle. The only reason these aren't on my immediate list is that my sister has them, therefore I can read them any time I want.

7. Alec Forbes of Howglen. I've got it in free Kindle version, but I'd like it in hard copy.

And now we start getting into a broader list, in which I include every new thing I want to read. This list changes so frequently that the three included here are specific to December 20, 2011, 12:56 PM PST:

8. Matched and Crossed by Ally Condie. Loved the first one, dislike dystopian so much that I'm not wholly confident of loving the sequel. But I will read it.

9. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. It looks fascinating.

10. Something by Brandon Sanderson. To feed my love of good, thorough high fantasy.

What books are on your Christmas list?


Sacred Time and the Spice of Life

A blogalectic with Masha and Mr. Pond.

Last week, Masha talked about her spaces-set-apart, and as it turns out, we share a love for making home sacred. As for Mr. Pond, he was apparently too busy publishing a tale called Bradie Law and the Grumpenmire to post; since I got a fair bit of amusement out of Bradie Law, I'll let that slide. On with the blogalectic, and the next concept involved in sacred time: rite.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: if spontaneity is the spice of life, routine and ritual are the meat and potatoes. Some people like more spice than others, of course, and whether we're talking about spontaneity or food, I tend to have the tastes of a nervous old Englishwoman. I prefer things a bit bland, thanks very much.

Reading other writers' rituals always interests me, though my own may not prove interesting. Inspiration can certainly hit anytime (and has a penchant for choosing the most inopportune times), but for the daily grind, I treat writing like work. That is, I get up with my hardworking husband, breakfast with him, pray Lauds, shower, dress, and get makeup and hair done. Then I check my email and Facebook to get rid of the immediate possible distractions, open up Blogger or Scrivener or Word, and set to.

Granted, this doesn't always turn into great productivity. But I generally work better when I feel neat and organized and together and—well, pretty.

It doesn't feel properly authorial, though. Surely I ought to be incapable of creative thought without a cigar handy, or some very specific type of tea. Or some elaborate process involving taking twelve steps toward the west, turning a cartwheel, drinking half a bottle of merlot and possibly tying my feet to the desk. None of it does much for me. I need quiet, a neat house, comfortable but not sloppy clothes, my hair out of my face, and plenty of eye shadow. And my little Dell.

It makes for a simple routine, if a time-consuming one—good eye shadow is itself a work of art—but it orders my days.

And if it's un-authorial to jump up at twelve o'clock sharp and say the Angelus, mid-sentence if necessary, well—I'll just say that such rituals are part of making time sacred.


Killing Off Lovebirds and other stories

'Tis the season to... not talk about what I've been up to all week, because too many people I've been putting together presents for read this blog. :)

Suffice it to say that I've thought about almost nothing but Christmas prep this week, and now face this blog-post with an oddly disoriented feeling. Friday, is it? I didn't get around to posting on Tuesday, did I? What else have I not gotten done? Hmm.

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Reading can be done even with sapped mental powers, so I'm now halfway through Anna Karenina. And I'm nervous. Somehow or other I do know how this ends for Anna, but hers isn't the only plot thread and it scares me silly when two people get really, really happily married halfway through a Russian novel. I'm not sure I trust Tolstoy not to kill one of them off.

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Writers' link of the week: Shannon Hale on biting off more than you can chew. Despite not having four children and the attendant chaos, I know exactly what she means about "attempting to write a book that's too hard for me." I appreciate her spirit in tackling that task.

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Music of the week: this glass harp duo has been around for a while, but I still find them impressive. And it's hard not to appreciate a little Tchaikovsky, even if it is overplayed this time of year.

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Random amusement of the week, because it's getting harder to guarantee funny... though this is funny: the blog It Just Gets Stranger. I particularly recommend Snuggie Texts and Technology.

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The cat just cuddled down on my lap, and I was about to get up for lunch. Dilemma.

Happy weekend, everybody!


Currently Reading: The Titan’s Curse (Percy Jackson, book 3)

The Titan's Curse (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #3)“Wow,” Thalia muttered. “Apollo is hot.”

“He’s the sun god,” I said.

“That’s not what I meant.”

“Little sister!” Apollo called. If his teeth were any whiter he could’ve blinded us without the sun car. “What’s up? You never call. You never write. I was getting worried!”

Artemis sighed. “I’m fine, Apollo. And I am not your
little sister.”

“Hey, I was born first.”

“We’re twins! How many millenia do we have to argue—”

“So what’s up?” he interrupted. “Got the girls with you, I see. You all need some tips on archery?”

Author: Rick Riordan

Synopsis: When a fight with a manticore ends in the disappearance of Annabeth, Percy will do anything to find her—even travel with quarrelsome Thalia and the more quarrelsome Hunters of Artemis. Even elude a dozen unkillable skeletons, endure Aphrodite’s soap-opera fawning and giggling, take a turn bearing an unbelievable burden, and stand trial before the gods.

Even if Annabeth still seems to hold out hope of saving Luke.

Notes: LOL.

I laughed more through this book than I can remember doing since the early pages of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The chapter titles had me snickering almost every time. Granted, Riordan played the dam joke so long that by the end only a junior high boy could appreciate it, but since that was his audience, and I’d gotten such hilarity out of the first part of it, I grinned and put up with the replay.

Part of me wishes I’d known my Greek mythology really, really well before reading the books; I’m curious how much I’d have been able to predict the storylines if I had. Perhaps not much, though. I actually am familiar with the villain of this piece, but I didn’t see the details coming. Of course, with this series it almost matters more who the various deities are related to than what they did.

As with the first book, I found some of Riordan’s characterizations over the top—the goofy Pegasus’ street lingo, notably—but mostly, they just amused me. As with the second book, I couldn’t put this one down. I believe I read it in a single Sunday afternoon.

Thalia and the Hunters made for interesting new characters, and I lost some sympathy for Luke in this one. I hope the son of Hermes straightens out, for his dad’s sake at least. But if he'd retained any right to Annabeth's heart thus far, I'd say he's lost it now.

The usual advisory applies: Riordan’s basically clean schoolboy voice neither glamourizes nor condemns the gods’ creation of numerous illegitimate children by mortals and other beings. A watchful parent can certainly aid a child’s moral discernment, should there be concern. And as always, there’s no one like Percy—or Rick Riordan—for making the characters memorable.

Recommendation: Hilarious, relaxing Sunday afternoon reading, and good for the Greek holes in your classical education.


Sacred Time and Making Space

A blogalectic with Masha and Mr. Pond.

This past week, we covered the quest for silence. Masha spoke of going to the wilderness, and Mr. Pond of saying yes.

The making of sacred time involves other steps beside silence, of course, and one of those is creating a place—somewhere set apart, a space where things like silence and ritual can flourish, however idealized that may sound.

I admit I haven't put a lot of time and thought into creating my own space as sacred—not as set apart from the rest of my life, anyway. If anything, our home itself is that place. Lou and I live very quietly, and nearly everywhere you turn in our house, you can spot a crucifix, an icon, a statue, a piece of art. Here in the living room, Mary looks out from the shelf, St. Michael from the wall, Christ from the coffee table beside the Bible and breviary and, at the moment, the Advent wreath. It would all drive some people crazy, I suppose, but for me, it's easier to hold onto faith when I can touch some physical evidence of its enduring nature.

As for a place for art, I am surrounded by the evidence that others have believed and lived as I do, in the sense of being writers: many books. Shelves full. It's an inspiration like no other, if sometimes also a distraction. The Kindle has its strengths and weaknesses and on the whole I'm very glad it exists, but it will never replace that.

To my personality, both clutter and clean-freakery are obstacles to art. I'm comfortable in neither; neat and cozy and lived-in, however, set me at ease. But perhaps I'm just making excuses for the fact that while I truly can't bear chaos for long, I do tend to forget to dust.

There's at least one more crucial ingredient to home decor that serves as a place set apart for both devotion and writing, and that is lighting. Which is hard to come by in the Pacific Northwest, especially in winter—some gray days, when the clouds hang thick and low, it never gets beyond twilight. Sheer golden curtains, generous windows, old-fashioned light fixtures that diffuse the glow of incandescent bulbs, and lamps all get marshaled against the dark and the dingy. Candles, too. When it comes time for prayer, nothing will do but candles; a lamp simply couldn't substitute, not fully. Maybe it's the elemental nature of fire—a dangerous, almost a living thing.

Writing all this makes me want to pull out my notebook and write longhand, by candlelight. That would be an interesting experiment (I wonder if I'd come up with better first drafts, or whether I'd ever come up with first drafts at all). So says the blogger, typing by lamplight directly into the Internet, with the glow of a backlit screen reflecting off face and fingers. I can't deny that modern convenience has its place, not when I love and use it so much.

As with silence, the manner of making sacred space may differ from one person to the next. This is something of mine.


Many Moons and other stories

To the delight of stargazers everywhere, there's a total lunar eclipse in the morning!

I stayed up late last night finishing the Emily books, so I'm tired. And yet I might just get up and try to see this. It won't happen again till 2014, and who knows whether we'll have a clear night then?

And on the stargazing note: my favorite event of this past week was Lou setting up our telescope down at my parents', so we could all look at moon-craters and Jupiter with two of its moons. Mom and Dad and sister and brother-in-law and niece turned out for it. My two-year-old niece was enthralled at the sight of the moon through the lenses.

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I have never liked living with suspense. Which means that I read in bed a lot, pushing past the midnight hour to find out what happens. This has its challenges; there's no comfortable way to read lying down for very long. At least, not lying on your side with your head on the pillow. You can prop up the book and read one page, but then you have to prop yourself up to read the facing page. It gets annoying.

My favorite thing about the Kindle: it fixes that problem. Though I probably shouldn't stay up tonight blasting through Anna Karenina.

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Early last year, my little city made Forbes' top five potential real estate trouble spots. Now it's in the news for having the lowest average sunshine amount in the nation (only because nearby Forks and Alger weren't counted, I'm sure.) And we won't even talk about the general tone of the bumper stickers around here.

Crazily enough, I love this little town anyway. It's immensely beautiful. Today, it's even sunny.

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Writers' link of the week: Jon Morrow's 'Five Crippling Beliefs that Keep Writers Penniless and Mired in Mediocrity.' Important, thoughtful, interesting—but potentially dispiriting, so here's also a glorious little Sir Arthur Conan Doyle quote about books themselves, for inspiration.

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Music of the week: I am so grateful to Michael Gungor for posting his thoughts on 'Zombies, Wine and Christian Music', I could just sing. He said much of what I've wanted to say for years: 
"There are emotions and attitudes of different genres of music that are the soul of the music. You can’t remove the anger from screamo and have it still be screamo. It’s the soul of that music, whether that soul is good or evil is not the point, simply that it is the soul. So when you remove the soul from music and transplant the body parts (chord changes, instrumentation, dress, lights, and everything but the soul…) and parade it around with some more “positive” lyrics posing as Christian music, then what you have is a musical zombie."
I loved this article. I'd like to take it and write a very long post in response, enlarging on his thoughts and moving on to some of my own. And possibly migrating from music to fiction. Unfortunately, I haven't the time at this moment.

Anyway, that's not music, and what I promised you was music... so here's some Gungor.

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And that's all from me... I know there's funny stuff on the Internet, but I'm out of ideas. Although you could always Google Dwight Schrute quotes.

Happy weekend!


Currently Reading: Emily of New Moon

Emily of New Moon (Emily, #1)“Poor Ilse!” said Aunt Laura, sighing.

“Yes, her father doesn’t like her. Isn’t it dreadful?” said Emily. “Why doesn’t he?”

“He does—really. He only thinks he doesn’t.”

“But why does he think it?”

“You are too young to understand, Emily.”

Emily hated to be told she was too young to understand.. She felt that she could understand perfectly well if only people would take the trouble to explain things to her and not be so mysterious.

“I wish I could pray for her. It wouldn’t be fair, though, when I know how she feels about it. But I’ve always asked God to bless all my friends so she’ll be in that and maybe some good will come of it. Is ‘golly’ a proper word to say, Aunt Laura?”


“I’m sorry for that,” said Emily, seriously, “because it’s very striking.”

Author: L.M. Montgomery

Synopsis: When little Emily Starr’s beloved father dies, her aunts and uncles cast lots for who will take her, and she goes home with spinster aunts Elizabeth and Laura of New Moon. Scolded by Elizabeth and coddled by Laura, she finds allies in ‘crazy’ Cousin Jimmy, atheist wildling Ilse Burnley, and a secret talent for the literary arts.

Notes: The impressive thing about Montgomery’s writing is that, though I only recall reading this once before, and that probably close to two decades ago, I remembered an impressive percentage of the story as I re-read it. Her descriptions are more effusive than is usually tolerated today, more poetic-prosy; her interactions get away with dialogue tags and adverbs more frequently, not to mention the passive voice; but things play out memorably, and with warmth and interest.

Emily had interested me when I first read her, perhaps in my early teens. This trip through, she won my heart. I found something of the kindred spirit in her, what with her penchant for scribbling and her rather lonerish way of looking at the world.

I enjoyed rediscovering a lot of other characters as well: Ilse, whom I'd always loved; Mr. Carpenter, whose unorthodox classroom rule made me smile; Father Cassidy, whose brief appearance was so packed with kindness and a love for all things faerie that I picked him out as a favorite on the spot. Jimmy, the gentle poet. Elizabeth and Laura, the grim aunt and the kind, yet both wholly human—Elizabeth proven to have a heart, and Laura to have weakness—and both ultimately lovable.

The book was darker than the Anne of Green Gables series, as introspective, passionate Emily is darker than laughing, sparkling, fiery Anne. I like a little darkness in story, provided it exists to set off light rather than to moralize or just be dark for dark's sake, and Emily passed the test in this her first book. I intend to get hold of the sequels immediately. Emily Climbs I’ve once read, but Emily’s Quest I have not.

Recommendation: A fantastic, wintery sort of book, especially good for introspective, writerly types.


Top Ten Tuesday: Books that were Childhood Favorites

The only question is: when did childhood end? I'm nearly thirty-four, and I still like kids' books.

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish! Do come join the fun...

For the sake of the question, though, I'll stick with the ones I loved as a child, starting no later than junior high. It's very hard to limit this to ten.

1. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I still pretty well have half of it memorized.

2. Heidi by Johanna Spyri. One of the most sympathetic young characters I've ever known.

3. The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. My sister Beth and I read one set of these entirely to pieces, and worked hard on a second.

4. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. Someone got me a set of these when I was seven, before we moved from one end of the country to the other. I read nearly the entire series on the six-day drive.

5. The Anne books by L.M. Montgomery. Anne Shirley is probably partially responsible for how much I daydream.

6. The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Sara Crewe was my hero. Of course, I loved The Secret Garden, too.

7. The Time books by Madeleine L'Engle. The first three, anyway; I've still not read Many Waters.

8. Patricia M. St. John's books. Particularly Star of Light, The Secret at Pheasant Cottage, Treasures in the Snow, Three Go Searching... I may be forgetting some titles, too.

9. 101 Dalmatians by Dodie Smith. Warm and vivid and well-developed. I loved this book.

10. The Pippi Longstocking books by Astrid Lindgren. She had a horse, which might have made the story for me even if she hadn't been utterly hilarious and lovable.

Beverly Cleary's Ramona books, Wilson Rawls' Where the Red Fern Grows and Summer of the Monkeys, George MacDonald's Wee Sir Gibbie and Alec Forbes, the Bobbsey Twins, the Saddle Club, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm... see, I knew I'd never be able to keep it to ten.

What were your favorite books when you were a kid?


Sacred Time and the Quotidian Roar

A blogalectic with Masha and Mr. Pond.

From Masha:
These dark morning times of silence give the hours that follow a sacred taste.  Surrounding myself with true silence in the early hours, I am better able to carry with me an interior cloister in the busyness of the day - a reminder that all these mundane tasks - repeated again and again - weave around me the sacredness of time given in love.
From Mr. Pond:
For Jenna, and Masha, and myself, these days of preparation and silence attract us to the place where our art is born. We create out of silence; the silence, not the sound and fury of the world around, gives us stories, and “the courage to stand up and die in order to utter a word or a poem.”
There is a time to delight in sound, but noise rules the modern world. It's not all auditory, either.

The roars and strident horns of traffic. The neighborhood garage band. The omnipresence of stereo and surround sound. Television's barrage of story, advertisements, story, advertisements with jingles, news, weather forecast, advertisements. Information on steady flow from the Internet. The vicious mania of political debate, where according to one bumper sticker, "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention." The Mack truck of noise and shocking imagery and sexual brazenness that hit me last time I went to listen to Top 40 radio. Protests and counter-protests, and people who swerve or shout or throw things from car windows at protesters. Cursing. Vitriol. War. Newscasts that are a list of horrors. Online witch hunts, self-righteous and cruel, destroying the reputations of decent people who happened to say something that wasn't politically correct.

I don't listen to music much, just because it's so hard to find quiet in this world. But I look forward every week to King FM's Sunday night broadcast of Compline (night prayer) from St. Mark's Anglican Cathedral in Seattle. The prayers are sung, a mix of hymn and chant. The way chant is designed, at the end of each line the music reverberates off the great stone walls and then pauses for breath—an instant of silence.

No other music soothes me better than Gregorian chant. Everything about it proves that despite the thunder of our daily lives, somewhere there is silence and stillness and rest.

It's not enough for me to know that these things exist somewhere. It never has been. I have to find them, to befriend them, to know and live in them as much as I can.

Silence requires lifting a hand to stop the motion and speaking a simple word: no. No, I cannot have a television and still read a book a week. No, I cannot participate actively in Twitter and still put full artistry into my novels. No, I don't need to know why the two are mutually exclusive—I just need to know that for me, for now, they are. No, I will not attend the outrage party, nor will I join in its great mockery of charity; outrage grows from a culture that despises silence and reverence.

These are roads I have taken to silence. Your journey may cover different terrain. Be that as it may, the goal is well worth seeking.

From silence focused upward come stability, goodwill, and peace. Likewise, the quiet, solid conviction that allows for creation, for beauty and art. These things flourish with the step back, the bowed head, the echo of truth, the pause for breath.


Secondhand Wonders and other stories

Momentous piece of news this week: thanks to George, who offered me a deal I couldn't resist, I now own a Kindle.

Thanks to the flu, I'm not very photogenic. The Kindle looks great, though.
George's old second-generation Kindle, in fact, which has traveled out West to introduce my bookshelf-loving self to the wonders of the handheld library. I've already downloaded both War and Peace and Anna Karenina, so I am looking forward to many happy hours with the device. But my first impressions are that it's awesome.

Maia, of course, took immediate possession of the packaging.

She sends her thanks to George for the thoughtful gift.

* * *

With the end of November, my goal was to have at least 26,000 words written on the novella. I came out over 27K, so—success! Of course, I'd also hoped that by this time I'd have caught the thrill of the approaching ending. I know how it should end, and in my opinion it will be lovely, but for now I'm stuck in the long slow slog of the middle. Ah, well. For the sake of the ending, I'm slogging onward.

* * *

Thanksgiving went off delightfully. I made five green bean casseroles. We had the best waffles I've ever had anywhere, enjoyed excellent dinners at both houses, gave a tour of our new house and yard, and spent lots of time with lots of family. Also, a glass pan exploded, which was rather exciting in a whoa-did-we-seriously-just-get-showered-in-glass-shards way. Fortunately, no one got cut and the turkey was still safely in the oven.

* * *

Writers' link of the week: Nathan Bransford's exploration of a few common writerly diseases. It's brilliant, I say. Brilliant.

* * *

Music of the week: Oh. My. Sweet. Ocarina. This is nerd heaven. And I've never even played Zelda, I've only watched others play it.

* * *

Funny of the week: Actually, Mr. Pond sent me this comic (from Over the Hedge) weeks ago. But sometimes, funny stuff is hard to find, so I pasted it into the file for such a time as this. I will say that the strip demonstrates exactly how I feel about the news.

* * *

November has ended, the trees have lost all their leaves at last, and I haven't gotten well started on preparations for Christmas yet. I may not get quite as much writing done this month.

Happy weekend, everybody!


Currently Reading: Forest Born

Forest Born (The Books of Bayern, #4)Ma felt [Rin’s] forehead, her cheeks, made her stick out her tongue, prodded her belly, listened to her elbows for creaks, pulled down her earflaps to look for rash. “Seem fine. You not feeling fine?”

Rin shrugged again. She’d never bothered anyone about the spiny things in her heart. It did not seem right to complain, especially not to Ma, who worked from the moment her eyes opened until she groaned as she lay down at night. Maybe everyone felt knotted like that but it just was not something spoken aloud. Or maybe only Rin was all wrong.

Author: Shannon Hale

Synopsis: The quiet one in a large, active Forest family, Rin has always run to the trees for peace—until the day she wanted something for herself too much, and the trees began whispering horror back at her. Terrified, Rin leaves the Forest for Bayern’s capital, where her brother Razo’s girl gets her a job helping care for the queen’s little son. But the boy is in danger, and Bayern faces deadly attack from the nearby kingdom of Kel. Despite the horror, Rin’s connection with the trees may help save lives.

Notes: I’ve now read all the Bayern books, and loved all the heroines. The Goose Girl is my favorite, both the book and the girl, but I felt a unique and strong connection with Rin as well.

After taking us through wind, fire and water in the three previous books, Hale leads us to the forest, a realm of quiet, ancient thoughts. The heroine she places there is silent and tormented with a sort of tree-rot inside herself, an overwhelming and inescapable sense of her own wrongdoing. Rin’s self-loathing comes from the sort of memories that healthy young people in good families regret—a moment of verbally bullying another child, a powerful lie, a stolen kiss—and the torment of those memories takes over her life and personality.

Having given her protagonist the burden of guilt, Hale sets about using the symbolism of trees and the methodology of courageous self-giving to set things right. Goose girl Isi serves as mentor, with Enna as comic relief and Dasha as stranger-becoming-sister. Among the “fire-sisters”, so called because all three of them can speak elemental languages including that of fire, young Rin learns to face her own strengths and weaknesses.

Hale has called this an incredibly difficult book to write, probably her hardest, and I could understand that, particularly if spunky Miri (Princess Academy) is the character most like Shannon herself. Rin spends much of the book absolutely frozen in fear, terrified to speak or act, and maintaining interest in a protagonist who will hardly say or do anything is an immense challenge. Rin’s fears and darkness permeate the story, and though the book has its funny moments, it doesn’t have the romance or the sparkling thrills of Hale’s others. Rin’s journey and victory are like Ents, like trees: slow, still and quiet, internal.

Which, of course, is why I loved Rin so much. I felt like I was her, like I knew all of a sudden why I fall in love with big old trees, and what was happening when I said mean things to my sisters when I was younger or when I’d set myself to get my own way no matter what. I understood the secret the trees finally gave Rin for dealing with herself, and thought I could sense some way to try applying it in my own life, through faith in which a tree is centrally symbolic. A book is like a mirror, said Georg Christoph Lichtenberg; I’m not sure I’ve ever found one so clear. Of course, the best mirroring books will be different for everyone; this one worked for me.

As always, Hale’s imagination is vivid, sensory, her magic and her settings and her characters all alive and tangible. The only thing I missed from this book was the sweet romance she portrays so brilliantly; I had hoped we’d get to actually see Rin right a certain wrong. The book was primarily about Rin finding herself, and I understood that; I also understood why the last scene in the book was what it was. It was still a happy ending. It was just the kind of happy ending that makes me itch to write a scene of fan fiction.

I also suspect the book was subtly alchemical, and there seemed to be some ring composition/symbolism going on. I’d like to study the tree symbolism in it a bit, too, as I think that aspect is the first and potentially the strongest relief from what might otherwise have been just a tale of self-actualization (besides outright tragedy, there are few things more lonely or disappointing than just self-actualization.) Between the ancient elm in which Rin meets transformation, and the even more ancient aspen grove, there’s some interesting thought to work with.

Recommendation: Read it under a tree, and then go hug your family.


Top Ten Tuesday: Books on My Winter To-Read List

Sometime in between writing three novels and attempting to get a finished one published, there actually are a few books I hope to read this winter. Fortunately for reading time, there's not much I can do in the garden these days.

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish! Do come join the fun...

Of course, I read only five of my ten Autumn to-reads. We'll see how I do with winter's.

1. Emily Climbs and Emily's Quest by Lucy Maud Montgomery. I just re-read Emily of New Moon and must, must, must read the sequels.

2. The Battle of the Labyrinth (Percy Jackson #4) by Rick Riordan. Book three was too hilarious to not keep going with the series.

3. Lilith by George MacDonald. If I keep this near the top of my reading list, someday I might just get around to it.

4. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. While I've never brought home her paranormal romance series, her writing is lovely and the plot of this story looks fascinating.

5. Crossed by Ally Condie. Out of love for Matched, and despite my general dislike of dystopians. I'm simultaneously hopeful and terrified.

6. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. It keeps haunting me lately, reminding me that I meant to re-read it in autumn.

7. Something by Tolstoy. Considering that it took my getting the flu to finish the bulky, shadowy ramble that was Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, I think I'd better schedule a week of fever and sore throat and stuffy head for sometime after Christmas if I hope to get through Anna Karenina or War and Peace.

8. Something by Brandon Sanderson; maybe Mistborn. Recommendations, anyone?

9. At least begin Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. I keep telling myself I'm going to do this.

10. Brother Lawrence's The Practice of the Presence of God. I haven't actually read it through in years, but blogging about it yesterday made me want to.

Also, I've entirely forgotten what my book club's winter books might be. Fortunately, we give over responsibility and have a party in December. No one has to read anything; we just gather around and admire Agnes' Yule log. It's like something out of a magazine.

What do you plan to read during the snows and freezes and flu season?


Sacred Time and Murderous Fairies

A blogalectic with Masha and Mr. Pond.

The holidays have arrived! Thanksgiving weekend closed with the first Sunday of Advent, in honor of which I caught the flu, unfortunately missing the first day of the new Mass translations and everything. But among the changes introduced by the season is the blogalectic's temporary shift into a discussion we can all more or less post freeform upon.

"Sacred time," said Mr. Pond, by way of topic suggestion. "In the quotidian," added Masha. And though we spoke of talking primarily as artists, as it turns out I can't think how to separate this idea from religion.
"O my God, since Thou art with me, and I must now, in obedience to Thy commands, apply my mind to these outward things, grant me the grace to continue in Thy Presence; and prosper me with Thy assistance. Receive all my works, and possess all my affections."—Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God
If only I were close to making all my time sacred, to devoting the proper hours to work and prayer and not to futzing around on the Internet or marathoning through insanely creepy 800-page novels on the excuse that I have the flu. I confess I'm not. And it's hard to be sorry when I know that thanks to the novel-binge, I can now spend the hours before bedtime working on my own stories and not reading madly, convinced that I'm condemning myself to dream about murderous fairies.

But there's no time like Advent for remembering that I never regret having prayed morning prayer, that getting meals ready in reasonable time is a worthwhile act of love, that minimizing the Internet and maximizing Scrivener will nearly always leave me happier about my day. Or that all of these things can be done in devotion.
[Brother Lawrence] examined himself how he had discharged his duty; if he found well, he returned thanks to God; if otherwise, he asked pardon; and without being discouraged, he set his mind right again, and continued his exercise of the presence of God, as if he had never deviated from it. “Thus,” said he, “by rising after my falls, and by frequently renewed acts of faith and love, I am come to a state, wherein it would be as difficult for me not to think of God, as it was at first to accustom myself to it.”—from The Practice of the Presence of God
That book says some things better than I ever will. It's also short, and every bit as free and online as this blog.

There are, however, a few key things I'd love to talk about in regard to sacred time and the artist: silence and ritual, for instance. I'll save them for the next few weeks.... Masha, the floor's all yours.


Happy Thanksgiving!

Lou and I have a busy one planned: two family gatherings, two packed-out and well-surrounded dinner tables, a grand tour of our new house for all the relatives who haven't seen it yet... We're going to devote ourselves to enjoying family time. This blog returns Monday.

I hope your holiday is filled with good things!


Top Ten Tuesday: Authors I'd Love to Invite to Thanksgiving

Have you ever spent a full day with your face and fists and chest pressed against a brick wall, your feet trying to drive you forward, nothing to show for your effort but sweat and scrapes and grit-filled eyes? That's what trying to get anything done yesterday felt like. Apologies for not getting to the blog.

It's a holiday week! And The Broke and The Bookish have given us a holiday theme to go with it. It'll be very hard to keep it to ten, but after all, I only have twelve plates. (And only five chairs. But oh, let's dream.)

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish! Do come join the fun...

While we're fantasizing, I’m allowing for authors who have already died. Hey, maybe someday we’ll sit around heaven and talk.

In no particular order:

1. Jane Austen. Wouldn’t that be a night of hilarity?

2. Orson Scott Card. My literary hero.

3. C.S. Lewis. I’d love to call him Jack, but doubt very much I could get past a stammered “Professor Lewis”.

4. JRR Tolkien. He can teach me some Quenya.

5. J.K. Rowling. Not that I’d be able to open my mouth and talk sensibly.

6. George MacDonald. A gruff old gentleman who likes to talk mysticism and fairies. Sounds like fun.

7. Shannon Hale. Whose humor might rival Austen’s, and who could talk to me about publishing high fantasy for young adults.

8. Stephenie Meyer. I just think I’d like her.

9. L.M. Montgomery. Her Anne books have been part of my existence for as long as I can remember. And I think her Emily books may be part of my future.

10. Madeleine L’Engle. She sounds like a lovely person.

Who would you invite?


Endless Devotion and other stories

Five years ago this afternoon, I sat in a coffee shop across from a reserved young man, sipping a mocha and hoping my green cowl-necked shirt looked cute enough. Lou seemed, like me, to be enjoying the fact that we'd progressed from his answering my questions about the Catholic Church—my ostensible reason for being there—to spilling life stories and talking over common experiences with sparkling warm eyes, which had much more to do with the real reason.

That day, I caught my first glimpse of happily-ever-after.

* * *

As of yesterday, I'm approximately halfway through my little novella—right on track to finish in early December.

Currently distracting me: my finished novel. It seemed wise to read through it again, since I worked on it for eighteen months without stopping, and golly... there's something about that story that makes me want to forget about food and sleep and the Internet and everything that makes demands on my time and devote myself to making every line perfect.

* * *

Writers' link of the week: Mike Duran on making the necessary sacrifices. On account of which, I have been thinking about deleting Tweetdeck from my computer. I tend to go to Twitter when I get stuck for ideas, and that's a dangerous wormhole straight to procrastination.

But that's another whole post, in which I go on debating whether Twitter is really worth my time as an aspiring author.

* * *

Music of the week: There's a free download of a Danny Schmidt song, all acoustic and poetic, over at the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity site. I don't know how long it will be up, but it's there as I write. H/T Mark Shea.

* * *

Funny of the week: If you watch more television than I do (shouldn't take much—I don't have a TV), you'll get more of these pairings of literature and pop culture than I did. But I still found some that made me laugh.

* * *

Now I've got a thousand words to write, more novel to read through, a house to clean and dinner to make and a bunch of cooked pumpkin to freeze.... that ought to fill the rest of my day.

Happy weekend!


Currently Reading: The Princess and Curdie

The Princess and Curdie (Puffin Classics)“Have you ever heard what some philosophers say--that men were all animals once?”

“No, ma’am.”

“It is of no consequence. But there is another thing that is of the greatest consequence—this: that all men, if they do not take care, go down the hill to the animals’ country; that many men are actually, all their lives, going to be beasts. People knew it once, but it is long since they forgot it.”

Author: George MacDonald

Synopsis: With Princess Irene gone from the country, Curdie finds himself becoming rather dull and ordinary till he nearly kills one of Irene's great-great-grandmother's pigeons. Under instruction from the old Princess, he journeys to rescue Irene and the king from a city grown beastly with corruption.

Notes: All my readerly friends told me that this book, the sequel to The Princess and the Goblin, is better than its predecessor. I’m going to have to agree. The story reads more clearly, with a more straightforward progression of events, and I found it much easier to get into.

I loved the symbolism of growing toward humanity versus beastliness. It’s very obvious, but then, this is a children’s story. Irene’s great-great grandmother (whom, I suspect, is the Princess in the title; Irene herself doesn’t show up till late in the tale) carries on her role of guide and protector in the fight against corruption, both internal and external. Between she and Curdie and the creature Lina and Princess Irene, there is strength to rid the world of much evil.

Curdie, of course, is all kinds of heroic, which makes him quite lovable. He has some downright loathsome enemies to deal with, and does so with the same spirit we remember from the first book.

Irene is a little older, a little sadder and more womanly, and she does well in the little we see from her. I would have taken more from her character, but such was the nature of the story.

I delighted in this book all the way to the last page, and then, in my opinion, it was three paragraphs too long. MacDonald gives us more of this tale’s future than I thought we needed to know. I suppose he thought we needed to know, and it’s his book, but still. Overall, though, the book was a joy to read and two hours well spent.

Recommendation: Read it with the wonder of childhood, and maybe chocolate chip cookies.


Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Own But Haven't Read Yet

They're on my shelf. They're ready and waiting. And yet I keep going to the library or the bookstore, and reading something else instead.

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish! Do come join the fun...

To be honest, unless you count a lot of old family books I inherited, I don't have that many.

1. On Walden Pond (Henry David Thoreau). A book of unknown, uncertain interest.

2. Most of Mark Twain’s works. These are some of the old family books; I’ve read a few, but by no means all.

3. King Arthur and His Knights (Sir James Knowles). I’ve read half of it. One of these days, I'll make it all the way through... as a fantasy fan, I'm ashamed of myself for never having read an Arthur legend from start to finish. I've also bought, started, and not finished Tennyson's Idylls of the King.

4. Evelina (Fanny Burney). Every now and then I remember that I own this book, but I'm always in the middle of something else.

5. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (Susanna Clarke). The first few pages of this book captured my attention in spectacular form. The next hundred completely lost it. I don't know whether I'll make it to the end or not.

6. Linnets and Valerians (Elizabeth Goudge). After loving The Little White Horse, I couldn't resist this recent find at a book sale. But I made the mistake of picking up Jonathan Strange first (see above).

7. Chaucer's Poetry. This was Lou’s purchase, and he only just bought it, but I’ve been meaning to read Chaucer forever. After taking three years to get through Dante for the first time, I'm a little afraid of Geoffrey.

8. Cowper's Poetical Works. Another old family book, one I've only flipped through.

9. Some of Lewis' nonfiction: The Abolition of Man, The Pilgrim's Regress, and a couple of others.

10. Lilith (George MacDonald). I keep getting distracted, but this is definitely on my to-read list.

What books are sitting unread on your shelves?



So, Masha got her post in, but Mr. Pond had too many other deadlines going on. As for me, I've spent the last few days enjoying family time, which was totally fun—lots of niece and nephew time—but now Auntie Jen is ready to collapse on the couch and not move or think for a while. :)

As it happens, we three blogfriends also need a week or two to catch up and figure out what we're going to do with our long-running discussion over the next several weeks. Especially since those weeks take in the holiday season.

Pardon the blip in the blogalectic, if you will, and we'll be back.


A Plethora of Elevens and other stories

11.11.11. I considered turning lunch into elevensies to celebrate, but forgot.

* * *

Also, Veterans' Day.
"We must dread it for a little while yet, I suppose," said Rilla. "Peace won't come—can't come—for some weeks yet. And in those weeks dreadful things may happen. My excitement is over. We have won the victory—but oh, what a price we have paid!"

"Not too high a price for freedom," said Gertrude softly. "Do you think it was, Rilla?"

"No," said Rilla under her breath. She was seeing a little white cross on a battlefield of France. "No—not if those of us who live will show ourselves worthy of it—if we 'keep faith.'"—L.M. Montgomery, Rilla of Ingleside
Love, prayers and thanks to all those who serve and have served in our armed forces!

* * *

Oddly enough, I just looked at my word count for the chapter I'm writing, and it was 1,111. Haha.

This little re-tale is shaping up, uncertainly but continuously, and I'm delighted to see the progress bar hit one-third. Between Thanksgiving festivities, a trip out of town this weekend, and various minor distractions, it's going to be a challenge to stay on pace from here on. But I intend to do my best.

* * *

Last weekend, I pulled down the tomato plants, and wound up with these:

Which I had to hide from Maia, who thinks they're cat toys.
I had no intention of battering and frying that many cherry tomatoes. Hence, salsa verde, which apparently you can make with green tomatoes instead of tomatillos.

Well, salsa verde y naranja.

It took me two hours to chop all that.

Needs beer.

Final verdict: sour, but good. And we have lots.

* * *

Writers' link of the week: We all hear about the Big Six publishing houses; have you ever wondered who they are? Steve Laube explains. Straightforward, simple, and informational.

* * *

Music of the week: I believe I put up a Kina Grannis video months ago, but she keeps moving up in the world. I like this song a lot. Also, this looks like a really hard way to make a video.

* * *

Funny of the week: The man who taught his cat to text message. Occasionally dirty, and it weirds me out a bit that the cat has the same name as my husband, but it's still funny.

* * *

I'm off to get down some more words, sew up a pair of socks, and chill with my husband and cat. Hurrah for Friday night. Happy weekend!


Currently Reading: Wuthering Heights

Wuthering HeightsWhat were the use of my creation, if I were entirely contained here?  My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff’s miseries, and I watched and felt each from the beginning: my great thought in living is himself.  If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger: I should not seem a part of it.—My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees.  My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary.  Nelly, I am Heathcliff!  He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.  So don’t talk of our separation again: it is impracticable; and—’

She paused, and hid her face in the folds of my gown; but I jerked it forcibly away.

Author: Emily Bronte

Synopsis: When Catherine Earnshaw’s father brings home an abandoned gypsy child, she doesn’t start off liking it. Before long, though, she and the boy—christened Heathcliff—become fast in a bond of crazed affection that dominates their lives, their separate marriages, the lives of everyone around them. Their passion will subdue everything but their own self-interests.

Alternate synopsis: A young pair fall madly in love, prove exceptionally selfish, and then go crazy and die.

Notes: After dragging my heels for years, and after numerous recommendations from George, I happened upon the right time and mood to read this book. It proved utterly perfect for a windy Halloween weekend. Heathcliff was the most terrifying human monster I’ve ever read in a book, perhaps excepting Achilles from Ender’s Shadow.

I’ve heard it said that the reader winds up not liking any of the characters in the story, but that must have been an exaggeration. A few weak moments aside, I wound up liking Edgar Linton rather well overall. His daughter and Hareton showed some decency in the end, too.

It never came clear to me whether I was meant to like Nelly Dean or not. For the most part she made good sense, but her harshness occasionally took me by surprise. But then, she grew up in a house with Hindley and Heathcliff around; who wouldn’t learn harshness?

Cathy Earnshaw mystified me a little. In Eclipse, Bella Swan calls her the real monster and the cause of all the trouble. I saw moments where such an accusation was perhaps justified, but for the most part she simply seemed like a common child who’d learned to dominate her authorities and was therefore used to getting her way. Not a good thing, but not entirely without redemptive possibilities, and certainly not entirely to blame for Heathcliff's sins.

Maybe I ought to read the book again once the main horror at Heathcliff wears off, so I can give her due consideration.

Actually, I probably won’t. I didn’t like it that much.

I didn’t hate it as much as I expected to, either. For a story so bent on portraying humanity working hard to become as awful as it could be, I found it tolerably readable. It dragged on a bit at the end, but I cared enough about the Cathys and Edgar and even Linton Heathcliff to stay engrossed throughout the bulk of the tale. Linton was despicable, but he was also suffering cruelly. And I’m just not confident enough of my own potential saintliness in similar circumstances to criticize.

As a matter of fact, Bronte’s strength in this novel lies at least partly in showing How They Got This Way. Even Heathcliff, who has segments of past that are ultimately mysterious and whose obsession with Cathy I found as heartless as everything else about him, has some early moments in which I really felt for him. Despite the darkness of his nature, his character was human and not caricature. Which is probably what made him so terrifying.

In Gothic ghost-story aspect, Emily Bronte reminded me perforce of her sister Charlotte. The air of the supernatural was as present in Wuthering Heights as in Jane Eyre. There are similarities between the two bitter and brooding leading men, as well. Rochester was only half monster, though, and had the fortune to love a good strong woman. Apparently these things make a difference.

Recommendation: If you want a spooky tale to read on a windy Halloween, you probably won’t find one more suited.


Top Ten Tuesday: Books I've Read that were Outside My Comfort Zone

The great thing about books read from outside our comfort zones is that they can broaden our range of ease. Of course, they can also define the lines more firmly. I've got some of both on my list.

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish! Do come join the fun...

Sometime around the end of high school, I decided to make a point of reading classics. Austen and Dickens proved a delight beyond words, but some authors gave me more of a challenge. Hence, about half this list. The other half is a bit more random.

1. Les Miserables (Victor Hugo). Hugo tried hard to bore me to death with about 900 of the 1200 pages, but I kept going; I had to know what happened to Valjean and Cosette and Marius.

2. For Whom the Bell Tolls (Ernest Hemingway). I knew Hemingway would be depressing in places, but I felt like I ought to face up and read him anyway. The point of this work seemed to be that a little romance and a lot of... er, getting the earth to move... is what makes this horrific life worth living, but I'm sure Masha can point out the more worthwhile aspects of the story. :)

3. The Brothers Karamazov (Fyodor Dostoevsky). This was an intentional stretch of personal taste. I liked it, or at least I liked Alyosha, but I had a hard time making much sense of it at the time and should probably re-read it. When I later read Crime and Punishment, though, I loved that.

4. The Divine Comedy (Dante). Shakespeare excepted, I find poetry extraordinarily difficult to read, but I've loved this work enough to read it more than once.

5. Wuthering Heights (Emily Brontë). George finally talked me into reading it. :) That's tomorrow's review post, so I'll maintain my silence for now.

6. The Hunger Games books (Suzanne Collins). I usually prefer to avoid books that are very violent, and while I saw some good in especially the first of this series, the third in particular was a devastating read. 

7. Phyllis Whitney's books. My grandmother loved these, so I read a couple. Murder mysteries creep me out. Psychopathic murder mysteries really creep me out.

8. And Then There Were None (Agatha Christie). Along the same lines as the above murder mysteries. Possibly worse.

9. The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien). I read them after seeing the first movie, and found them occasionally dull, often wandering, and generally difficult to get through. A couple of years ago, I read them again and loved them. Some things just take time.

10. Jurassic Park and its sequel (Michael Crichton). I know so many people who have loved those books and the movies, but quite frankly, they're two of the books I'm most sorry I ever read. Horrifying. :P

What books have you read from outside your comfort zone?


Arches, Bells, and Supernatural Story

A blogalectic with Masha and Mr. Pond.

Masha's latest installment, a celebration of comforting mythologies, contained this lovely statement:
The essence of myth is not something that can be studied, it can only be experienced. The stories and characters can be written down, studied, and known, but the essence is elusive, like a half-remembered dream.
Which tells me she doesn't entirely disagree with Mr. Pond, who wrote one of the more important posts that has yet come out of this conversation:
Mythology grabs us round the throat and tells us the way the world is. It demands from us sacrifices and rituals and prayers and traditions. If we accept mythology, we don’t have the luxury of choice. The world is in some way set. The stories are there. We can embellish them if we want. We can question them. We can, of course, walk away from them. But at that point we are no longer within the mythology. We have stepped outside of that story. This is laudable, or foolhardy, or despairing—it depends.
Mr. Pond quite fairly questions a certain sensibility in the way both Masha and I presented the word mythology; that is, the suggestion that we get to pick and choose which supernatural narrative we want, and how much of it. I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Pond here. My use of the words "sampler platter" was meant (if rather opaquely) as a subtle jibe, not as support for the Western treatment of mythology as a giant free-for-all buffet. It's one thing to live in peace with beliefs other than our own; it's quite another to treat all belief with so much attempted scientific objectivity that we forget, ultimately, that it holds the right over us, not we over it.

This week's word is mythos, defined by the Oxford as (1) “a myth or mythology” or (2) “(in literature) a traditional or recurrent narrative theme or plot structure” or (3) “a set of beliefs or assumptions about something.”

Not so different from the words we've already discussed, really. But it emphasizes the narrative aspect. I tend to think of mythos as the overarching (usually supernatural) story or stories that define and shape a culture.

In the post that Masha and Mr. Pond were responding to, I spoke of fantasy fiction as a way to deal with big questions outside the clash of polarized modern mythologies. But there's another reason for loving fantasy fiction, and that's because it's a place where mythos is still allowed to exist and flourish.

Under a magical mythos, the beauties and the horrors are both greater than we often meet here. It's not just your life in danger; it's your soul—the dementors may suck it from your body, or the magic ring may waste it away, or the Myrddraal and the Black Ajah may come in thirteens to turn you to the Shadow.

But there are the feasts and songs of Elrond's house and the flowers of Lorien, and the magic and wonder of Hogwarts, and shepherd-boys may marry royalty. And at the end, there is light and the hope of salvation in Going On.

And all of it echoes against a bell inside of us, something that was made for more than lattes and ten-hour workdays, parties and television and stress and sickness and grief.

If I disagree with any part of Mr. Pond's rejoinder from last week, it's the plain (and quite possibly hyperbolic) statement that mythology is dead. I suggest, rather, that it has gone into hiding:
It is one of the ironies of history that classical models and pagan myths were so intricately intermingled with Christian themes that when the elite rejected Christian civilization, they implicitly rejected Classical paganism as well....

For all their fine talk of freedom and of dictatorships of the proletarian, the elite wished nothing other than to bar talk of modesty, decency, fortitude, honor, and self-sacrifice from the public square. They wanted to replace all reasoning about the nature of virtue with rhetoric and oration on feelings about values. To do so, not only Nuns and Knights had to be banished from the public imaginations, but also Vestal Virgins and Homeric Hoplites.

Whence, then, scourged and half-stripped of the golden plumes of their wings, did the trembling muses flee, when they fled from the scornful lashes of modernity?

Why, to the only ghetto that held no love for modernity: to us, we happy few, the sons of fantasy whose eyes were fixed with dreamy nostalgia on the things long past (including pasts that never were) and to the sons of science fiction whose eyes were fixed with mingled hope and fear on things to come. —John C. Wright, Harry Potter and the Christian Magicians, Part II: Baptizing Dumbledore
But there is one realm outside speculative fiction where mythoi still exist, for those who long for such things. I trust Mr. Wright, Mr. Pond, and Masha will all gladly agree that some of us still willingly live under great narrative arches, where the bell that echoes at the words of Harry Potter rings clear and true at sacred words and mysteries.

P.S. If you haven't read John C. Wright's treatise on paganism in literature, 'Harry Potter and the Christian Magicians', I highly recommend it. It took me 45 minutes to read, and was worth every second. The links: Part I, Part II and Part III. Enjoy.


For 'Tis November and other stories

The frost came hard last night, almost certainly destroying the tomato plants beyond hope of recovery.

I hope it also destroyed the aphids. We got one lovely head of broccoli some weeks ago, which appeared to be aphid-free, but the stalks I cut this last week... suffice it to say that I put them in the freezer before throwing them in the compost. I hate aphids.

This weekend, I intend to clean out the vegetable garden. That's an enjoyable process in its own right. I can't wait to replant it in the spring.

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Four days into November and I'm still a little jealous of those doing NaNoWriMo, but not totally, because a group of writerly friends are attempting to achieve serious writing goals alongside me. (Want to be one of them? Email me or leave me a comment with your email address.)

Also, because as much as I loved NaNoWriMo in 2009, in Rome, with a bright-and-beautiful new idea—last year, it was death by monstrosity.

Thus far, as per my own challenge, I'm 869 words ahead! Of course, if I want a thousand words out of today, I've got 500 to go.

Oh, and I got the progress meter I'm using in my sidebar from honorless.net.

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Speaking of the sidebar, I have removed the Google Followers widget for these reasons. Natalie Whipple recently did likewise, which inspired me in the first place.

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Writers' link of the week: authors don't usually have control over the cover art on their published book, but I probably spent half an hour or better on The Cover Girl's blog. This was my favorite post. Controllable or not, a good cover is beyond price.

You can also read Tina Francis' post about Dreamers who Do, which is not about writing, but still highly appropriate for those of us trying to accomplish big goals right now.

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Music of the week: I'm short on ideas. But we can always use a little more Mozart.

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Funny of the week: the speaker on the green side is a snarker after my own, er, heart.

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Time to go see if I can salvage any of the half-ripe tomatoes, clean house, and write another 500 words. But first, don't forget: if you're in the US, daylight savings time ends this week!

Happy weekend!