Top Ten Lists, Writing, and Life

Monday posts can be challenging to write on time. And since I've never gotten caught up enough on life to try scheduled posting, I'm susceptible to days like today when my brain goes dead before I can get a blog up.

So I went onto YouTube to watch a few videos, hoping to clear my mind out enough to find some coherence, and found this:

Beautiful, no? Some of hers were so close to some of mine that I felt like sharing. In the spirit of Kristina's video, then, here are ten things I want to do with my life. Apologies for writing it in a list instead of doing it up in a lovely video with music, but I don't have a video camera, and I don't trust my webcam to make me look attractive. :)

Oddly, this is a little more terrifying at thirty-three than it would have been ten years ago. More personal. And harder. I've done some of the things I've always wanted to do—I've gotten married, recorded a CD, gone to Europe, written a novel, owned a horse... and I'm starting to think that getting fluent in a foreign language doesn't have enough of my priority... but my life hasn't ended yet, and neither has my capability to wish.
  1. Publish the book I've written.
  2. Write and publish another... and another... and more.
  3. Turn around and help another author get published and get recognized.
  4. Have or adopt at least one child.
  5. Grow old with the man I've loved and married.
  6. Find some way to make a lot of people's lives easier, happier, more comfortable, better.
  7. Live up to the Beatitudes.
  8. Give someone the encouragement they need to succeed at whatever it is they're supposed to do.
  9. Help get Gregorian chant back into the Mass.
  10. ...and one purely selfish one, just for the heck of it: Go to a big Harry Potter convention, like LeakyCon, with at least a couple of friends. HP is one of the most communal things I've been part of online, and one of the loneliest things I've ever been part of in person. Someday, I'd love to amend that last part.
It's not everything, and it's hardly in order of importance. But it's something.

What about you? It's a personal question, I know—but feel free to share as you wish.

And yes, I know I link Kristina Horner a lot. Also, that I'm doing a lot of lists of ten lately. The standard book-related top ten should post as usual tomorrow. :)


Why They Call Introverts 'Anti-Social' and other stories

After tallying up the various signs of spring last week, I should've expected the snow.

My friends in Anacortes got over a foot in the blizzard. My sister guesses at sixteen inches in her yard. My friends in Mt. Vernon have posted shots of snow-covered patio tables that look like frosted three-layer cakes on a decorator's wheel.

Here in Bellingham, half an hour's drive from Mt. Vernon and forty-five minutes from Anacortes, we have half an inch. The streets are dry. And apart from the fact that the wind is still blowing, I'm not complaining.

* * *

Lou and I had only one busy evening this week. I couldn't remember the last time that happened, so I asked Lou. "Summer," he said.

Both of us are introverts, and we can tell how stressed we'll be at the end of the average week by how many busy weekday evenings we're scheduled for. One is fine. Two is all right, although more stressful if he and I are busy on different evenings. Three is a strain, and any more than that means have a quiet weekend or go crazy.

It felt good to be quiet.

* * *
Maia: "Ooh! I knocked it over and it rolled! Best game ever."
Me: "Oh... eww... no, kitty. Get out of there! All right, I'll pick you up and make you..."
(Two minutes later)
Maia: "Dang it, you caught me already!"
Me: "Don't you do that again; I just told you No. Find your sock or something."
Maia, hiding behind a chair in the living room: "Cats can play with anything they want."
(One minute later)
Me: "Maia, I will NOT PET YOU if you play with the TOILET BOWL BRUSH. Go find something else to do!"

* * *

Writers' link of the week: An intriguing in-depth interview with John B. Thompson regarding the history and present state of the publishing industry. (H/T @RachelleGardner)

* * *

Literary link of the week: Mr. Pond just wrote a fascinating piece on the absence of literary criticism in our vehicles for common thought. Well worth the read.

* * *

Music of the week: I do try not to repeat artists very often, but this new work of Eric Pazdziora's gave me chills.

Besides, Eric has been helping me with my query letter this week, as has Mr. Pond. I totally owe them both one. Or maybe ten. :) Enjoy.

* * *

Funny of the week: Okay, if you've never used the Gather hymnal in church, which is probably most of you, since it's—I believe—supposed to be Catholic, here's an ordinary funny for you. Made me laugh. (H/T @ACatholicWife)

But if you ever have used the Gather hymnal, you simply have to check out this medley of... well, in scatterusout's words:
"With the new Mass translations coming out this year, the "Gather" hymnal will sadly become obsolete. With that in mind, I composed a tribute medley to some of the best songs contained therein. Unfortunately, I didn't have a hymnal around when I was tracking this, so I did the best I could to remember the lyrics from memory. Enjoy!"

Lou and I sat on the couch and laughed through the whole two minutes and forty-nine seconds. I'm no friend of book banning, let alone book burning, but how about book recycling? There are thousands and thousands of these in parishes all over the country. Think how many trees we could save.

H/T The Crescat

* * *

And now I'm going to go spend a quiet evening with Lou. Happy weekend!


Currently Reading: The Great Hunt (The Wheel of Time, Book Two)

The Great Hunt (Wheel of Time, #2)Rand worked his mouth, trying to get a little moisture. He stared at the column approaching Fal Dara as if it really were a snake, a deadly viper. The drums and trumpets sang, loud in his ears. The Amyrlin Seat, who ordered the Aes Sedai. She's come because of me. He could think of no other reason.

They knew things, had knowledge that could help him, he was sure. And he did not dare ask any of them. He was afraid they had come to gentle him. And afraid they haven't, too, he admitted reluctantly. Light, I don't know which scares me more.

"I didn't mean to channel the Power," he whispered. "It was an accident! Light, I don't want anything to do with it. I swear I'll never touch it again! I swear it!"

Author: Robert Jordan

Synopsis: Expecting either to lose his power at the hands of the Aes Sedai or to go insane and die of it, Rand al'Thor parts with his girlfriend, Egwene, an Aes-Sedai-in-training. He leaves Fal Dara with friends Mat and Perrin on a hunt for the mythical Horn of Valere and healing for Mat. But Rand cannot escape his destiny. No matter where he goes, no matter what he chooses to do or not to do, he either finds or causes trouble—or both.

Moiraine Sedai insists that he is the Dragon reborn; Ba'alzemon says the same in Rand's dreams. Rand refuses to become the one chosen to break the world, but the Wheel of Time drives him along the Dragon's path, and the Dragon's banner sits folded in his saddlebags.

Notes: I've been checking these books out from the library, but part of me wonders at what point I'm going to have to start buying them. And whether I'm going to wind up at a midnight release party for Memory of Light in 2012, dressed as Nynaeve al'Meara.

Did I mention that I love Nynaeve? You were right, Donna. I cannot wait to see who that girl becomes.

Robert Jordan has me thrilled over everything about epic fantasy right now—the carefully constructed universes, the battles and magic, the quests and heroism. I did not see this coming. I never would have pictured myself as a genre reader—no disrespect to any genre, but the things that make me love a book have never been genre-specific. I like a little bit of everything. Be that as it may, I think I've lost my heart to speculative fiction.*

The most fascinating bit of symbolism in this book for me, at least on first read, was the use of a simple form of the yin yang symbol as the White Flame of Tar Valon and the Dragon Fang, together as seals on the Dark One's prison. I'm no Taoist, but it's not as if Christianity has no contact with the idea of resolution of contraries. It certainly did in past centuries, when guys like Aquinas and Luther thought alchemy was great. Robert Jordan was apparently a High Church Anglican and a Freemason; I'm not sure where his philosophies will take this, but I'm interested to see how the wielders of saidar and saidin reunite.

I also think Rand al'Thor is wonderful—along with nearly all the girls in the tale, apparently. Rand is undeniably the hero, but I may lose my respect for him in the next few books. The way he held out against Selene's purring temptations was beautiful and heroic, as has been his tenderness over Egwene. But after Min's final statement to Egwene left me in a fury (Pattern or no Pattern, that is not something you say to a friend, Min Farshaw!), I went and read a bunch of online spoilers. Clearly, numerous things are not going to go the way I want them to.

On the other hand, spoilers are not the best way to find out how things go. Also, most of my anger at Min subsided after a couple of re-reads of the last few chapters, and—well, there's no way I'm not going on with the books. Even with the cliffhanger ending (I hate it when authors do that), I loved this book far too much to stop now.

My new goal is to get all of them read before the release of the final one. I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.... I brought home The Dragon Reborn from the library today.

For amusement purposes: I found a fantasy cast for a Wheel of Time movie, in which the actors chosen look strikingly like my own mental pictures of the characters. That is, of the characters I've known thus far—there are numerous names that I don't even recognize. (Warning: Not all of these celebrities are modestly dressed...)

Recommendation: Make yourself comfortable. Seven hundred pages, and you're not going to be able to put this book down.

* Speculative fiction, from Wikipedia: "Speculative fiction is an umbrella term encompassing the more highly imaginative fiction genres, specifically science fiction, fantasy, horror, supernatural fiction, superhero fiction, utopian and dystopian fiction, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, and alternate history in literature as well as related static, motion, and virtual arts."


Top Ten Tuesday: Book-to-Movie Adaptations

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

This topic has already received some consideration on this blog here. I did not list ten, however, and neither did any of you, so there's still some room for discussion.

Actually, I'm not sure I can come up with ten. If I loved a book, chances are I'll growl through the movie, fussing over minuscule deviations from the beloved character depictions and story. But here's what I've got:

1. The Princess Bride (thanks, MissPhotographerB, for reminding me of this one!) [Cary Elwes, Robin Wright]. Yes, it had to be shortened and changed somewhat. But with the brilliant interplay between Fred Savage and his grandfather, the Westley and Buttercup romance, Inigo, Fezzik, Vizzini, and the awful Humperdinck, what's not to love? Book and movie are both hilariously worth the while. Novel and screenplay by William Goldman, directed by Rob Reiner, produced by Rob Reiner, Andrew Scheinman, and Norman Lear.

2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I [Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint]. I can't speak for the as-yet-unreleased Part II, and there's no way I'd include any of the others, but oh, I loved this movie. The book, of course, is one of my top five favorite novels. Written by Steve Kloves, directed by David Yates, produced by David Yates, David Barron, and J.K. Rowling. Novel by J.K. Rowling.

3. Pride and Prejudice [Jennifer Ehle, Colin Firth]. I've also seen Lizzy Bennet played by Greer Garson, Elizabeth Garvie, and Keira Knightley, but Jennifer Ehle is the Lizzy I picture when I read the book. Plus, the role of Mr. Darcy totally made Colin Firth, one of the best actors in the business. Written by Andrew Davies, directed by Simon Langton, produced by Sue Birtwistle. Novel by Jane Austen.

4. Much Ado About Nothing [Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson]. Do plays count? If so, I love practically everything about this film—the star-studded cast, the hysterically funny Dogberry and Verges, Benedick and Beatrice, and most of all, the bright, laughing energy that carries the story from start to finish. Adapted and directed by Kenneth Branagh, produced by Kenneth Branagh, Stephen Evans, David Parfitt. Play by William Shakespeare.

5. Sense and Sensibility [Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman, Kate Winslet]. One of the most artistically breathtaking films I've ever seen, this adaptation catches the spirit of Austen's novel despite editing it down quite a bit. The acting is also exceptional. Written by Emma Thompson, directed by Ang Lee, produced by Laurie Borg, Lindsey Doran, Sydney Pollack, James Schamus, Geoff Stier. Novel by Jane Austen.

6. Anne of Green Gables and the sequel [Megan Follows, Jonathan Crombie]. The first movie is fantastic and faithful to the book; the second takes some liberties, but is still thoroughly enjoyable; the third is a disaster of epic proportions, especially for anyone who liked Rilla. I adore the first two. The characters are very well portrayed. Written by Kevin Sullivan and Joe Wiesenfeld, directed by Kevin Sullivan, produced by Kevin Sullivan and Ian McDougall. Novels by Lucy Maud Montgomery.

7. The Twilight films [Kristin Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner]. Especially Twilight (directed by Catherine Hardwicke) and Eclipse (directed by David Slade). While managing to be extraordinarily faithful to the text, these come across as well-paced, beautifully filmed movies. This is true despite the over-billing for Mr. Pattinson's hair and Mr. Lautner's chest. As a coastal Washington State resident, only a half-day's drive from Forks, the cinematography in all three films thus far has been a constant delight. Screenplays by Melissa Rosenberg. Novels by Stephenie Meyer.

* * *

My lack of ability to finish the list probably owes to how few movies I've watched in the last couple of years. Yes, I'm leaving off the Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings adaptations, though I liked some things about the first and third Narnia movies and all of the Lord of the Rings films (cinematography and acting in LOTR: outstanding.) As a growly book-nerd, I just don't appreciate major shifts in character motivation. Also, I've said this before and I'll say it again: When a character is larger than life [e.g., Aslan, Dumbledore], you don't mess with their lines.

Since I can't make ten, here's a bonus:

The Phantom of the Opera [Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, Patrick Wilson]. I've never read Gaston Leroux's novel, and not being a big horror fan, I'll probably never watch any of the other film adaptations. But I love Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical. There's nothing like seeing it onstage, but the cinematography and the voices of the lead actors—and Emmy Rossum's sweet, terrified, childlike face—leave me breathless every time. Written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Joel Schumacher, directed by Joel Schumacher, produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Lyrics by Charles Hart, Richard Stilgoe, Alan Jay Lerner. Novel by Gaston Leroux.

Feel free to fill in my blanks and/or make up your own list!


The Many Irritating Online Habits of Otherwise Nice People

Two days ago, I sat staring at yet another harsh political tweet from a well-known author (who writes fiction, not political punditry.) I chose to follow that author months ago thanks to his very creative and likable online presence, but too often he'd upset me with statements demeaning some of my own views.

Wait, I thought. I have control over my Twitter feed. And I unfollowed him. The guy is a great writer and I hated to do it, but I'd reached my limit.

He's not the first person I've unfollowed for political bashing. Some weeks back, I went into my list and culled another author and an agent, both of whom had posted numerous incendiary tweets. I just cut a book reviewer from my Google reader for a particularly nasty statement (usually, it takes more than one), and can think of three more tweeps and two bloggers (none of whom follow me—I doubt very much that any of them are you, oh my friend) who have had me hovering over that unfollow button for similar reasons. Life is too short to spend it frustrated at people who treat others as if they're stupid or evil for having different beliefs and ideas.

Author Jody Hedlund posted an excellent piece on her blog last week, entitled Five Ways Authors Alienate Readers on Social Media Sites. It's not just authors, of course. It's also not just politics—that's referenced in her first point, but all of her points are absolutely correct, and number three is another serious frustration for me.

I highly recommend Jody Hedlund's post. Go read it, if you will, and then here are a few additional comments from me:

The worst thing you can do, in my opinion, no matter where you stand on the political scale, no matter what the issue at hand, is assume that everyone with heart or reason agrees with you (or your party, etc.) That is an incredibly arrogant and unjust assumption. For every time you do that, I'll find you someone with the opposite perspective who has a well-educated and reasonable, questioning mind, very real feelings, and true love for those around them.

Ms. Hedlund doesn't mention religion, but it has a similar effect to that of politics. It's possible to offend people either through overbearing religious comments or by making offensive anti-religious statements, both of which just sound stupid to those who disagree.

Dirty language is another big turnoff for some people—myself included, honestly. An occasional use of even the worst swear words will not upset me, but use a steady flow of them, and I just don't want you in my head. I'm sorry.

As for self-marketing: If you want to make a name for yourself through social media, join communities and participate. Do not push your book or website in every comment you make, and don't harass people into re-tweeting your promo posts. Those sorts of things are in extremely poor taste, and those who practice them make me feel as if I can't promote them because they'll annoy the heck out of all of my friends, too.

The snarky image is popular, but dangerous. If you choose it, know what you're risking.

Okay, I think I've ranted long enough.

Nobody's perfect, of course. I've learned a lot in my few years online, and can think of several statements I've made that I would phrase much differently or not say at all now. People usually deserve the benefit of the doubt.

Most of us enjoy knowing and working with people who are well-informed, reasonably open-minded, kind, clever and/or funny, pleasant, cheery, friendly, and other such things. The longer I'm online, the more I realize the importance of generosity in all human relations. Let's be the ones who keep the peace.

What makes you consider unfollowing someone?


Lost Winds from November and other stories

Recently noted signs of impending spring: chickadees, swelling buds on the end of cherry tree branches, the sun still up at nearly five PM, an admittedly chilly attempt at barbecuing, and—wait, wind? Where did the wind come from? That creature usually belongs to November. At any rate, I'm looking forward to warmth and sunlight. Oh, spring, tarry not, but come quickly!

* * *

After well over a year, I've taken the excuse of writing for this season of Silhouette to work up a few of the remembrances I never got around to writing about our Rome trip. The tale of St. Peter's went up this morning. Enjoy. And while you're there, feel free to check out the rest of the journal.

* * *

At the moment, I am very carefully not working on my query letter. My friend and critique partner Mr. Pond suggested I "take a fortnight" away from it, of which I've completed only ten days. Of course, parts of it keep popping into my head—I practically have the darn thing memorized. Not sure whether I'll make it to the full two weeks, but I'm trying.

* * *

There being no excuse for lack of education, part of my query-letter-writing process has entailed reading nearly every bit of agent advice I could find on how to compose one. I've read so much on the subject that I've sometimes been ready to claw my eyes out at the thought of reading one more post. The internet occasionally has that effect on me (she said, as she wrote one more post...)

Of the ten thousand ways to distill a two-hundred-page story into two paragraphs, nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-eight lead to forgettability. I know. I've been working on mine for awhile. But here are two queries I've read online that got their books on my to-read list:

Real Mermaids Don't Wear Toe-Rings. I expect to sympathize strongly with this protagonist. Also, mermaids make me think of summer and water and beautiful things.
The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic. Risky little gimmick, but brilliant. I think it was the line about semicolons that sold me.

* * *

Apparently, large contingents of the publishing industry dislike semicolons in fiction. Fair enough. I love those little jot-and-tittles, though. I feel a trace of sorrow every time I take one out of my book, no matter how unjustified its presence.

* * *

Maia has discovered how to get up on the island in the kitchen. That was one of the few remaining refuges for non-cat-safe houseplants, freshly baked cookies, and the like. The only remaining catproof surfaces are the stove, the tops of refrigerator, dresser, and wardrobe, and the highest bookshelves. All of which are covered. I have three inedible plants on the top of the refrigerator alone.


* * *

Currently Readings can go on for the next several weeks without my having to read another book. Should, actually, or "Currently Reading" will become a decided misnomer.

Of course, now that I've started reading the Wheel of Time books, they've taken over my mind. It took great self-restraint to not try to find book three at the library the other day, but I can't give myself that much distraction from revisions right now. Maybe in a week or two.

* * *

Writers' link of the week: Since we're talking queries, here's my list of query helps:

* * *

Music of the week: Want to know how out of touch I am? I have never heard Justin Bieber sing. I'm going to change that right now.

...and now I have come out of the cave I've been living in. I don't quite know how to praise a tween heartthrob without sounding either predatory or motherly, but: he has a kind face, a good voice, and fortunately for him, when half a million girls would do anything to be with you, there's only so much joking the boys can do about that picture of you sitting in a giant heart.

* * *

Funny of the week: This is so true. So very true.

* * *

Three-day weekend! And a (theoretically) quiet one. At the moment, it's even sunny. Three cheers, and a happy weekend to you!


Currently Reading: A Wizard of Earthsea

A Wizard of Earthsea (The Earthsea Cycle, #1)"Maybe," said Vetch, "I am no seer, but I see before you, not rooms and books, but far seas, and the fire of dragons, and the towers of cities, and all such things a hawk sees when he flies far and high."

"And behind mewhat do you see behind me?" Ged asked, and stood up as he spoke, so that the werelight that burned overhead between them sent his shadow back against the wall and floor.

Author: Ursula Leguin

Synopsis: A country boy proves to have a mage's powers, and is named and apprenticed by a passing wizard. When the young man, Ged, accidentally attempts to summon a spirit, his master gives him the option of going to wizard school. Hoping for as much power as he can achieve, Ged accepts. Shortly into his studies, he makes a rival, and in competition casts the spell that will change the entire course of Ged's life and leave him with a great evil to undo.

Notes: So many people have told me to read this book and its three sequels that I knew I'd have to get to it, and quickly. The first one never seemed to be in at the library, but my friend Lazarus gave Lou and I a copy for Christmas. Win.

The book proved difficult to get into, mainly because for the first sixty pages or so, I hated the protagonist. Every time I turned a page, I had time to stop, shake my head, and mutter "You're shaping up to be a little Voldemort, you punk." This is a big deal for me, because to love a story, I really need to connect with the protagonist. Which meant this book had two things working against it: not just an unlikable person to follow around, but the fact that the reader is kept at an emotional distance even from him.

The tale reads almost like a history book, or like narrative sections of the Old Testament. If you've read the Old Testament, you know how it works. You get a lot of time with David and Abraham and Joseph, but you never really see their world from their eyes. The writing is objective, rather than subjective—an act of wisdom for the Bible, I suspect, and an interesting choice for a novelist.

But all my friends say it's one of the classics of our time, I told myself. I made it through Les Mis, right? Not to mention the Bible, more than once. I ought to be able to handle 167 pages of the history of a jerkoff wizard.

I'm glad I did. Ged, once he got good and humbled, showed a repentant side that Voldemort never achieved. He turned out to be quite a decent guy, once he knew he had a shadow. It was especially worth reading the book for his friends Vetch and Yarrow, whom I thought wonderful. I would have loved to get closer to them than the text allowed, but their characters were the brightest and clearest lights in the tale.

As for the text itself, it was admittedly impressive to find a novel that read so much like Biblical stories—stories done in a good lyrical translation, of course, one that took care for the beauty as well as the meaning of the words.

Symbolically, the story contained some interesting uses of the concept of naming, and a slightly different take on the shadow than that of George MacDonald's Phantastes. I haven't figured out what to make of all of it yet. Maybe I should read the sequels.

Recommendation: Oddly enough, I'm tempted to say "Read it out loud to yourself, preferably pacing up and down a shoreline." It seems that sort of thing, rather like poetry. Make of that what you will.


Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Love Stories

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

Okay, I'm not going to lie. I'm a girl, and I love a good romance—love it without apology. Romantic stories get a lot of undeserved knocking about. I'll admit to preferring clean, not-specifically-genre romances that give me lots to think about, but many of my favorite books (and even more of my favorite movies) focus in on that sweet resolution of contraries that is a good love story.

Today's topic asks for our top ten favorite romances from literature. After much consideration, I've come up with the following. The primary difficulty was keeping Jane Austen from getting dibs on all the best spots on the list:

10. Miri Larendaughter and Peder Doterson [Princess Academy, Shannon Hale]. While admittedly a very young love between two very young people, their shy tenderness and the halting steps they take toward each other are beautiful and believable. And when either of them is in need, the other one responds with faith and loyalty.

9. Maria Merryweather and Robin [Little White Horse, Elizabeth Goudge]. Robin's proposal to Maria makes me laugh a lot. It gets better every time I read it. But it's only one aspect of a love that sweetly juxtaposes both obedience and desire. That's a rare and lovely combination.

8. Amy March and Theodore Laurence [Little Women, Louisa May Alcott]. I like Meg's romance with John Brooke, and I like Jo's love for her jolly, kindly Professor Bhaer. But for some reason, one of the scenes that I turn to most frequently in that book is the poignant little moment when Amy sits in a French garden with letters on her lap and deep sorrow in her heart, and.... well, if you don't know what happens then, you'll have to go read it. :) It's the pinnacle moment of a beautiful, growing love.

7. Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe [The Anne of Green Gables books, L.M. Montgomery]. Ah, Anne. It took her so long to figure out what Gilbert and the rest of us knew from the day she broke her slate over his head in school. Every time she softens to him a little, we all catch our breath. And their joys are immortally sweet.

6. Emma Woodhouse and Mr. George Knightley [Emma, Jane Austen]. It took me a few reads of this book to get past Emma's manipulative ways and really love her, but—mission accomplished. Sometimes I just pick up the book and read the last several chapters, over and over again. Emma got one of the great men of fiction, and the Emma who has mended her ways is good and great enough to deserve him.

5. Alec Forbes and Annie Anderson [Alec Forbes of Howglen, George MacDonald]. I considered leaving this one off because of Alec's annoying detour through infatuation with Kate, but the rest of the story is just too good. The pair's childhood days leave nothing to be desired, and the happy ending between the ever-constant and honorable Annie and her repentant hero is breathtaking.

4. Beatrice and Benedick [Much Ado about Nothing, Shakespeare]. I've read the play and enjoyed that, but I especially recommend the Kenneth Branagh/Emma Thompson movie, which follows the text quite closely. This is a laughing, competitive, grown-up love story with a very apropos title. And despite all the practical joking involved, it seems clear that the anti-marriage Benedick and merry Beatrice are only tricked into recognizing the love they already feel.

3. Anne Elliot and Captain Frederick Wentworth [Persuasion, Jane Austen]. Youth and young love get reverenced a lot, but there's nothing quite like a well-told mature romance (meaning that the characters are mentally and emotionally adults.) Elegant and intelligent and stronger for her early sorrows, Anne is one of the perfect heroines of all literature. Once he learns to forgive, her captain deserves her. I love this story.

2. Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy [Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen]. The unmatched brilliance of this tale belongs in part to what the title describes: both Lizzy and Mr. Darcy come into their acquaintance with a key flaw in their judgment. They are the antagonists to their own happiness. Fortunately for us, both of them conquer their failings, freeing themselves to love. It's beautiful.

1. Jane Eyre and Edward Fairfax Rochester [Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë]. She is young and virtuous; he is angry, immoral, and has a dark secret. But they are made of the same stuff underneath. I never get tired of watching them live out the truth that love overcomes a multitude of wrongs, nor of the fact that they have one of the most shamelessly happy endings in existence.

Wow, it's hard not to be effusive. Pardon all the adjectives in this post.

Runners-up: Ender Wiggin and Novinha, whose romance was perfect in Speaker for the Dead but appears to go through some horrible times later on; Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. And ever so many more. Mark and Jane in That Hideous Strength might even qualify. Oh, and while we're talking Lewis, there's always Cor and Aravis.

I'll stop there. Who would you choose?


Write What You Love

A couple of weeks ago, author Sarah Hockler put up a post listing ten ways to stay sane as a published writer. As an unpublished writer, of course, I found some of the tips more currently applicable than others. This one was my favorite, and it applies to every writer:
7. Write what you love. Notice I didn’t say the oft-spouted “write what you know.” You don’t have to know anything. You just have to care about it enough to find out, to imagine, to create.
Perhaps the greatest compensation we writers ever receive from our effort is the chance to spend extended amounts of time with a beloved creation, shaping it, forming its features from the dust, putting pieces of ourselves into it, and breathing into it the breath of life. Or if not the greatest, it's second only to having someone else say they loved it, with a light in their face that tells you it mattered to them almost as much as it matters to you.

It's well worth drawing characters, settings, plots, and concepts from what we love. What we don't know, we can always learn. And that, oh friends, is how I write about stars.

Now, I'm going to take Ms. Hockler's #9 advice and take a break from talking and dreaming about writing, for the sake of actually working at it.


Soldered Monuments to Magic and other stories

"If you're going to call yourself a Gryffindor," I told myself this week, "you should be brave enough to drive around Seattle by yourself. You have a license, a car, fourteen-plus-years of experience, and no excuse."

It's not the first thing I've convinced myself to do by appealing to House loyalty. And since I survived it, it probably won't be the last.

* * *

Favorite part of the Harry Potter museum exhibit, which has two days remaining in Seattle: throwing a Quaffle, without hitting anyone in the head. Better yet, I actually got it through the near hoop, which was approximately three feet from my face. I considered trying again for the far one, which might have been six feet away, but there were young boys behind me and I thought they should get their chance at the fun. They did have fun. The Quaffles went all around the room.

I'll save comments on other details from the exhibit, since such things really belong at The Hog's Head (unfortunately, it'll probably take a few days before I can get them up there. Busy weekends...) But I'm glad I made the trip.

Of course, the very concept of an exhibit of artifacts from the Potter tales is a two-sided coin for me. Sort of like the idea of touring England. Sure, I'd love to someday visit the country from whence came so many of my favorite stories. But those stories have made England a land of magic and myth to me, a liminal place where one can cross thresholds to Narnia and Middle-Earth and Austen's parlors and the Wizarding World. If I went, I'd only see the England part—with half a cart soldered into a barrier at King's Cross Station, and wardrobes with hard wood for backs. And it seems likely that not many of the ladies will dress like the Miss Bennets, and that quite a few of the gentlemen will have laid down their swords and chivalry for computer cases and coarse language.

Not that it wouldn't be fun, simply as England. It's just hard to top Hogwarts and Cair Paravel.

But there in the museum, I caught a glimpse of the other world when I stared into Buckbeak's face and blinked without thinking. He didn't move. Oh yeah, I thought, maybe I'd better back away now...

* * *

Taking Thursdays off my blog might just prove itself a wise decision. I actually put some structured, undistracted time into working on my book yesterday, even with a busy afternoon and evening.

* * *

Writers' link of the week: Joseph Finder on the writing desks of champions. Maybe I should write standing, like Nabokov, instead of curled up on the couch with both cat and computer on my lap.

* * *

Quote of the week: "That anyone at all in the world would set their sad heart and tired hands to working beauty out of chaos is a monument to Grace."—Andrew Peterson, Adorning the Dark: An Artist's Benediction

* * *

Music of the week: At writers' group, we worked from a prompt that asked us to take the first line from our favorite song and write a story using that as the first line. I wasn't sure what my favorite song was. But this one came to mind.

* * *

This, to be exact, is more fantastic than funny, but I'll give it the funny's place this week. Here is my friend Jana's brief poem on punctuation.

* * *

And now I have dinner to make, and an evening of quieter activities. Happy weekend.


Currently Reading: That Summer

That SummerIt's funny how one summer can change everything. It must be something about the heat and the smell of chlorine, fresh-cut grass and honeysuckle, asphalt sizzling after late-day thunderstorms, the steam rising while everything drips around it. Something about long, lazy days and whirring air conditioners and bright plastic flip-flops from the drugstore thwacking down the street. Something about fall being so close, another year, another Christmas, another beginning. So much in one summer, stirring up like the storms that crest at the end of each day, blowing out all the heat and dirt to leave everything gasping and cool. Everyone can reach back to one summer and lay a finger to it, finding the exact point when everything changed. That summer was mine.

Author: Sarah Dessen

Synopsis: Haven McPhail is set for the worst summer of her life, including two weddings: her father's to the woman he left his family for, and her sister's to the unexciting Lewis, who seems to turn feisty Ashley into something spineless and tame. To make matters worse, Haven has grown to nearly six feet tall at fifteen. When she runs into her favorite of Ashley's ex-boyfriends, Sumner Lee, she can't help recalling the summer when everything seemed perfect—her father loved her mother, Sumner made Ashley come alive, and Haven's relationships with all of them came easily. In the summer of painful changes, Haven comes to grips with the past and the future.

Notes: For a long time, I've planned on picking up a Sarah Dessen book. She's a fantastic writer. When I think of the best YA writers today, in terms of evocative prose, I think Neil Gaiman, John Green, and Sarah Dessen (I haven't yet read all of their competition, but still.)

This book was her debut, and it captures a Southern summer at every turn of phrase—the heat, the flowers, the brief transitional freedom, that delight that can never quite be grasped.

Introspective fifteen-year-old Haven was particularly easy for me to identify with, making first-person narration an unexpected joy to read. Haven and I also have height in common, which made me understand her in a very rare way. The comments from everyone, the pokes in the back as reminder to stand up straight, the slouching and folding up into smaller form—I knew of it all, and sympathized. Likewise, her self-comparing to her sister. In fact, I could have accepted more of this from her. For me, height comparison is something that at her age I noticed with most people very quickly, especially men or very short women. I would have expected the several inches' difference between her and Sumner to stand out to her right away.

Height is just one of Haven's difficulties, however, and I sympathized strongest with her central feeling: that longing for The Time When Life Was Perfect, and her clinging to the one link she has left. I understood it, especially in the context of summer.

Is it true that "everyone can reach back to one summer and lay a finger to it, finding the exact point when everything changed"? I'm not sure. If I don't limit it to my teens, the summer of 2003 was one such moment for me, and the winter of 2004 another. But I certainly think summer works as a time of metaphoric change and clarity.

Just one advisory: there's a bit of swearing in the book. More than I would have read at fifteen, when I was more strongly concerned over such things, but nowhere near as much as Catcher in the Rye.

Recommendation: Read it with a glass of lemonade, and maybe wear some flip-flops for good measure.


Top Ten Tuesday: Fictional Characters I'd Name My Children After

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish! Feel free to join the fun. 

Disclaimer: Dear potential grandparents, should we be given the great honor of having any children, we will stick to good old-fashioned names from the Bible, saints, and the honor of family members. I won't subject your grandchildren's Christian names to my whimsy. I promise.

...but this list was unreasonably fun to create, anyway. As a kid, I used to plan out names for my future children. I never had fewer than eight at any one time. It was hard to limit this to ten—I had to rule out using more than one name per book, otherwise it would have been the Top Ten Names I'd Pick from Harry Potter and the Jane Austen Canon. For simplicity's sake, I also chose not to include names that are already in my immediate family (the sort of thing that in real life, I might actually use. Go figure.) Apologies to Anne Shirley, Anne Elliot, Annie Anderson, Elizabeth Bennet, and Andrew "Ender" Wiggin.

Without further ado:

1. Maria Merryweather [Little White Horse]. Smart and lovely and adventurous and true, Maria is one of the best female characters in all of fiction. I could even give my aforementioned whimsy full rein and call my daughter Maria Loveday. Isn't that beautiful? I'm probably not hippie enough to do that in real life, but still. Oh, and I also like the name and character of Robin.

2. Harry Potter. Yes, I would. If I dared. The name and the hero have neither of them any cause for shame. Other great Potter characters with names I really like: Hermione, Lily, Luna, Ginevra, Arthur, Fred, George, Fleur, and Neville. And while I'm not keen on Albus, there's nothing wrong with Brian. I have a feeling there are more that I'm not thinking of off the top of my head.
[Edit: After getting a couple of hilarious comments, I thought it best to clarify that I'm referring to Harry's first name, not his full name. I'm not that crazy about the books!]

3. Elinor Dashwood [Sense and Sensibility]. I love her, and I love her name. While I wouldn't say sense is my strongest characteristic, I have some natural sympathy with her personality. Other Austen names I love, besides the family ones: Emma, Jane, Charles, Frederick, Edward, Edmund.

4. Lucy Pevensie [The Chronicles of Narnia]. The name means light (as in, the opposite of darkness), and she's wonderful—so sensitive to Aslan and to everything good and right. But I love Peter and Edmund nearly as much. I do actually have a character of my own currently named Lucy.

5. Adelheid [Heidi]. If I could figure out how to pronounce it. Heidi, at least, is easy enough to say. I sometimes think I have more in common with Heidi than with any other character in fiction. This would work well for a child very much like me.

6. Alexey [The Brothers Karamazov]. I love Russian names—well, some of them. And I was very fond of Alyosha. Too bad Katarina is awfully conflicted, and Lise is a little crazy, and there aren't any Svetlanas that I recall.

7. Gilbert Blythe [the Anne of Green Gables series]. I can't go wrong with this name. Gilbert shares his name with G.K. Chesterton, and Blythe almost seems like it could make a cute little girl's name. "Blythe by name, and blithe by nature," as one of Anne and Gilbert's daughters is described.

8. Rebecca, daughter of Isaac of York [Ivanhoe]. She's brave, beautiful, pure of heart and kind to the suffering. What more could a woman ever want to be? She totally made that novel for me.

9. Jean Valjean [Les Miserables]. I didn't wholly enjoy that droll, rambling monster of a book—though it had a lot of great moments—but I loved the protagonist. There went a man who had it truly hard, but made the best of what he had and knew grace. Of course, naming an American boy Jean is a bit unkind; I'd have to anglicize to John (my father's name) or feminize to Jeanne, which connects to Jeanne d'Arc. I win either way.

10. Lavrans [Kristin Lavransdatter]. Another book that was hard for me to read, primarily because I despised the main character's love interest and spent half the book angry with Kristin for making such terrible choices. But it was very moving, and there's not a better man in fiction than Lavrans. He reminds me of my own dad.

Yes, I know it's not the most serious bookish question I've ever asked or been asked. But do you have a name or names that you've ever thought of giving to a child?


Oscar Wilde and the Fun of Revisions

"I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon, I put it back in again."Oscar Wilde

I've found myself sympathizing a lot with Mr. Wilde this week. One use of the word that went into and out of my query numerous times in the last twenty-four hours, until Mom finally told me upon perusal that I should take it out. "Are you sure I don't need it for clarification?" I said. She was sure. And right. After this past week, I can hardly read my query anymore. The words just don't absorb.

When not checking my query for stray thats, I killed the rest of the week on several paragraphs at the beginning of Chapter 2. At last, over the weekend, I figured out how to make them interesting. Which reminded me just how much I love revisions.

Writers are divided on whether drafting or revising is to be preferred. I took part in a chat last night in which there were many of us on both sides.

Writing a first draft is a risk. You never know for sure if what you're going to come up with will be worth anything at the end. It's an adventure, a thrill.

Writing the second, the third, the fourth, is frustrating. You might get tired of the story, or of being open to other opinions on how the tale should be told, but you take what you already know is worthwhile and make it the best it can be.

I love the latter. Revising gets hard, troublesome, tedious—but it rarely gets old. And now I'm going back to it.


A Touch of Masochism and other stories

A query letter, as I understand it, should be in the range of 250-350 words. At this moment, mine is at 355. One of my spare documents contains over 5700 words of cut-and-pasted failures. As for the amount of time it has taken, I couldn't say; a half hour here, two hours there, again and again over the course of several months.

But if getting published is an Olympic sport—the closest analogy I've come up with—such an investment of time makes sense. I'm preparing for the qualifying race.

That, at least, is what I tell myself when I start worrying about using time wisely.

* * *

A couple of weeks ago, I linked to blogger Darcy's excellent post on emotional purity. Darcy continued the series with stories from readers and then a gracious conclusion, so for anyone interested, those are worth a read. As I said before, my own parents understood grace enough to get free from the dangerous ideas before they did real harm to our family. But I know too many stories...

Along the same lines: former Quiverfull daughter Hillary McFarland has a beautiful blog, Quivering Daughters, devoted to the encouragement of girls who grew up in authoritarian families. Eric Pazdziora, who sometimes comments here, writes guest posts there from time to time.

* * *

Maia napped on my lap yesterday afternoon as I worked, and around midafternoon I got sleepy. I took a break and turned on a couple of YouTube videos. She twisted her head around, rested her chin on my hand and watched the videos with me.

* * *

Writers' link of the week: A keynote address by Rick Riordan, on the top five misconceptions of writing. A quote:
About five years ago NPR did a survey of people walking through a Barnes & Noble bookstore in Washington D.C. The question they asked: Do you think you have a novel inside you? 81% said yes. But what separates the idea from the reality? A lot of insanity and a touch of masochism.
The rest is very much worth reading, an excellent depiction of the realities of the writing life. If you read through the whole thing and you still want to be a writer, you probably already are one. If you finish the piece absolutely thrilled about writing and the idea of someday being an author... well, you and I have a lot in common. :)

* * *

Music of the week: My sisters and I used to do this sort of thing. And the only reason we never did Mumford & Sons, I'm sure, is that the band didn't exist back then. It's been probably six years or more since we sang together regularly. I was always the girl with the guitar.

I can't begin to say how much I miss that.

* * *

Funny of the week: Cake Wrecks meets the Superbowl. I'm rooting for the sparkles. Also, I think Sauron would probably take Voldemort in a fight.

* * *

Off, as usual, to clean house... and cook dinner... and write a query letter and work on revisions. Have a great weekend, everyone!



Much as I hate to do it, for the sake of making better progress on my novels, I think I'll take Thursdays off blogging for awhile. That is, unless I actually have something worth saying that can be written up in an hour or less. Or unless you really, really like this sort of thing:

Currently reading: The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander (The Chronicles of Prydain book 1)
The Narnia Code by Michael Ward

Out from the library: The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan (Wheel of Time book 2) and two Kate DiCamillo books, because I'm crazy enough to think I can get all of this read in three weeks, along with Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop, which I have to read for book club.

Currently writing and revising: That old career make-or-breaker, the query letter. Also, still working on revisions to the novel.

Never fear, though! I do plan on keeping the other four days a week going as scheduled. See you tomorrow.


Currently Reading: The Eye of the World (in two parts: From the Two Rivers and Through the Blight)

From the Two Rivers: The Eye of the World, Part 1 (Wheel of time, #1-1)"I suppose I had better give you a sample. So you can tell the others. Eh? Just a taste of what you'll see tomorrow at your festival."

He took a step back, and suddenly leapt into the air, twisting and somersaulting to land facing them atop the old stone foundation. Even Rand forgot his irritation. He flashed Egwene a grin and got a delighted one in return, then both turned to stare unabashedly at the gleeman.

"You want stories?" Thom Merrilin declaimed. "I have stories, and I will give them to you. I will make them come alive before your eyes."

Author: Robert Jordan

Synopsis: Teenage Rand al'Thor and his friends Perrin and Mat have been seeing strange apparitions. Then an Aes Sedai—a woman who can wield the One Power—and her Warder come to town. Not long after the strangers' arrival, the town is attacked by Trollocs, and the three young friends' houses are the primary targets.

Aided by the Aes Sedai, Rand and his friends flee their homes, accompanied by Rand's presumed future wife. The most evil power in all of history is seeking Rand and his friends, though, and as it turns out, each of the young refugees from Rand's town has an unexpected destiny.

Notes: It was a lot of fun watching Robert Jordan break nearly every known rule of writing and still succeed.

I suspect that Mr. Jordan is responsible for aspiring fantasy writers who think it permissible to create 250,000-word manuscripts with a cast large enough to fill a small town. He may also be to blame for strange naming conventions including apostrophes (his name choices seemed to be drawn from an odd mixture of Gaelic and Semitic languages.) Also, given the time, I could have edited a lot out of this book; numerous scenes seemed reasonably unimportant. Finally, the long-lasting point of view jumps were maddening.

All of that said, I liked the book. I liked it a heck of a lot more than I expected to.

First, I thoroughly enjoy it when a story gives me echoes of other stories, especially religious ones. This first book of the Wheel of Time series is full of such things. It's sort of like reading Star Wars, where nearly every religion in existence is mishmashed into the mythology, but it was interesting. Most of the time, the effect was quite subtle, just enough to make me curious.

My favorite thing, though, was the characters. I especially adored the reluctant hero, Rand, the sturdy and stable Perrin, curious, intelligent Egwene, and to some extent, the lovely Moiraine. And despite her tempestuous nature, I even liked Nynaeve. (The pronunciation guide in the back helped me get a handle on the troublesome names: e-GWAIN, mwah-RAIN, NIGH-neev.) Give me a character I can love, and I'll brave just about anything to get through a book. Robert Jordan gave me several.

The question for me now is: Do I dare invest the necessary time to read all twelve or thirteen or however many other novels are in the series, all of them ranging from 500-1000 pages? Yeah, I read fast. Quite fast, honestly. But that's still a major investment of time, regardless of whether said time is linear or set upon a wheel.

I've checked out book two from the library, so we'll see how things go.

Recommendation: Stretch out in a chair with the drink of your choice, and settle down for a very long, very enjoyable read.


Top Ten Tuesday: Best Debuts

Fail: I forgot a link. Update: Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish! Thanks for hosting, team!

This topic required so much research that I had to limit it. After cutting it down to the top ten best debuts on my bookshelves, and spending an hour on Wikipedia, I have still not come up with ten. Ender's Game wasn't Orson Scott Card's first, Little Women wasn't Louisa May Alcott's, Ben-Hur wasn't Lew Wallace's and Inkheart wasn't Cornelia Funke's. I have a number of Dickens novels, but not Pickwick Papers. I don't have the first works by Fyodor Dostoevsky or Frances Hodson Burnett or Mark Twain or Johanna Spyri or Elizabeth Goudge, and in some of those cases, it would have taken too much extra time to discover whether some of their earliest works actually qualified as books. And I haven't read The Pilgrim's Regress, so my especial apologies to C.S. Lewis.

But with that disclaimer out of the way, here are a handful—not ten, unfortunately—of the best debut novels on my bookshelves, which I can claim with any confidence were their authors' first published full-length works of fiction.

1. Sense and Sensibility [Jane Austen]
Jane Austen had to pay for the publication of this one herself, if I remember rightly from her biography—but it did so well that when she submitted Pride and Prejudice, she did not have to pay again. While I think it lacks a little of the spirit of Pride and Prejudice or Persuasion, it is a brilliant book from concept to completion. As a daughter, a sister, an introvert and a wife, I love it to pieces.

2. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone [J.K. Rowling]
Deathly Hallows may be my favorite, but I have a special place in my heart for this book. Short of a knock on the head, I'll never forget my breathtaking first week with it. For sheer creativity and humor and symbolic glory, I'd never met its equal. It remains the one in the series that I've re-read the most times.

3. Jane Eyre [Charlotte Brontë]
'Dark am I, yet lovely,' says the Shulammite, and the tale of Jane could say it, too. While I don't often take to very dark books, I love this one from cover to cover. It's one of the most satisfying works I've ever read, it's beautifully written, and as Elizabeth Baird Hardy recently pointed out, the entire tale is underscored by the sense of a pause on a threshold, a waiting with held breath. Liminality (is that a word?), romance, Gothic imagery, intense and subtle beauty—what more could anyone want?

4. Anne of Green Gables [L.M. Montgomery]
I've loved a set of these books nearly to death, and while I adore every last one of them, perhaps the last most of all, the first has a special brilliance. From Anne's captivating of Matthew Cuthbert through her wild imaginings with Diana Barry through her tempestuous-but-satisfying relationship with Gilbert Blythe, there's not an off note in the sonatina. It's a perfect book.

5. The Hobbit [J.R.R. Tolkien]
Inasmuch as I've only read this once, and years ago, I might not be able to rhapsodize so long or so passionately—but the journey of Bilbo Baggins, and the elves, wizard, dwarves, Gollum, and dragon he gets to know, is a beautiful thing. I should probably read it again one of these days.

6. Catcher in the Rye [J.D. Salinger]
I only liked one paragraph, but it was a darn good paragraph. And this is considered such an important novel that I felt it worth mentioning despite my rather personal dislike for the way Holden Caulfield chooses to relate to the rest of humanity and the world. I do, however, love Salinger's Franny and Zooey. But that wasn't his debut.

7. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland [Lewis Carroll]
As a child, I used to daydream about the little garden that Alice could see under a crack in the door. Too bad it had a head-chopping queen in it... but that image of a beautiful place, just out of reach, stuck with me for a long time. Besides, the book is hilarious and contains all the ethereal, bizarre meanderings of a dream. Through the Looking Glass may even be better—I'll have to read them both again to remember which I liked most.

8. Twilight [Stephenie Meyer]
The concept of a vampire whose conscience refuses to allow him to drink human blood... well, it's brilliant. And it just gets better: the vampire falls in love with the human girl whose blood is more desirable to him than any other. Whatever anyone thinks of the prose, the idea is spectacular, and Meyer brings some beautiful symbolism out of it. Keep dreaming, Mrs. Meyer.

...and Ivanhoe wasn't Sir Walter Scott's debut, and Uncle Tom's Cabin doesn't appear to have been Harriet Beecher Stowe's, and A Walk to Remember wasn't Nicholas Sparks', and The Testament wasn't John Grisham's, and I have a lot to do this afternoon, so I'm stopping here.

What are your favorite debut novels?