Currently Reading: Divergent

In order to get down, I have to trust them to catch me. I have to accept that these people are mine, and I am theirs. It is a braver act than sliding down the zip line.

I wriggle forward and fall. I hit their arms hard. Wrist bones and forearms press into my back, and then palms wrap around my arms and pull me to my feet. I don't know which hands hold me and which hands don't; I see grins and hear laughter.

"What'd you think?" Shauna says, clapping me on the shoulder.

"Um..." All the members stare at me. They look as windblown as I feel, the frenzy of adrenaline in their eyes and  their hair askew. I know why my father said the Dauntless were a pack of madmen. He didn'tcouldn'tunderstand the kind of camaraderie that forms only after you've all risked your lives together.

Author: Veronica Roth

Synopsis: In post-apocalyptic Chicago, you set the path of your life at age sixteen by choosing one of five factions: Amity, Abnegation, Candor, Erudite, or Dauntless. Your faction defines your home and family, your beliefs, your work, and the way you live.

After testing proves that sixteen-year-old Tris could live comfortably in more than one of the factions—a deadly truth—Tris must decide between selflessly staying with her family or making the bold choice to switch. Her decision plunges her into a wild existence, her life and security depending every moment on her own bravery and strength. But the dangerous result of her tests may be the only thing that can save her family and friends, provided it doesn't kill her first.

Notes: Divergent immediately appealed to me, as I've done adventure-and-risk-based education. Though I never could find actual pleasure in adrenaline itself, I know pre-risk fear and the resulting camaraderie very well, and Roth captured the nuances of feeling beautifully.

I'm with Four, though: I've climbed rocks and rappelled, guided class 3 and 4 whitewater, and done trust exercises, but the zip line is the one thing I couldn't make myself do. My head knew it was one of the lowest-risk activities I tried. My body refused to accept the challenge. Part of me almost regretted that as I watched Tris enjoy her ride. Almost.

The book has strengths beyond adventure. I suspect Roth, an evangelical Christian and Harry Potter fan, has read John Granger's books; if this book doesn't prove to be the first phase of an alchemical trilogy, I'll be shocked. The nigredo coloring, the breaking down, the reference to fire, all seem to point to an upcoming albedo and rubedo. There may be an internal cycle, too. I'd need to read it again to be sure.

Almost more interesting than the nigredo phase was the use of the number five. In alchemy, the quintessence is the resolution of the four elements, the hub of the wheel—if I'm understanding Granger and Burckhardt correctly—that has Earth, Air, Water and Fire as its spokes. Roth puts forward four factions paralleling the elements, and a fifth, Abnegation, that may track with either the lead to be made into gold, or Spirit, the fifth essence—the quinta essentia. Or both. Between Four's tattoos, Tris' number of fears, and the way the factions work, I'm very interested to see where Roth takes this in the next two books.

The book does have its dark and frightening moments, and Roth included some unremarked potential for sexual misconduct. When I look at things alchemically, I know why she included that scene; when I look at it as a writer, I get why she didn't try and pass open judgment on the situation; when I look at it as a woman who was once sixteen, I understand why she put that fear into Tris' simulation, and appreciated it. But still, there's the advisory. We'll see where the story goes.

While I don't often identify with pushy, tough-girl heroines, I found myself liking Tris very much. I could sympathize with her even when my own feelings ran in opposite directions. It takes a skilled author to pull that off.

The ending involves both real pain and equally real satisfaction. I'd say more, but it would involve spoilers. I do have every intention of watching for that second book to come out.

If you want more review, I just posted some additional thoughts over at The Hog's Head.

Recommendation: Read it with a sense of adventure. But make sure you find trained safety professionals before you start jumping off trains and running zip lines.... you can at least minimize the risk to your life. :)


Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish Websites

This topic daunts me; I nearly considered skipping the week out of fear that I'd accidentally overlook a good site. But nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

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

The Broke and the Bookish are looking for our favorite "bookish websites, organizations, apps, etc."

1. I use exactly one reading application: Goodreads. Are you on Goodreads? Come be my friend. :)

2. and 3. I participate in two literary discussion sites: The Hog's Head, where I'm honored to count myself among the Blogengamot, and school with the Hogwarts Professors.

4. and 5. I recommend two sites primarily focused on book reviews: 1) Books Kids Like, which covers a vast array of material, and 2) for conservative parents on the never-ending quest for Safe Reading Material, Litland Reviews.

6. For those who like darker literature—dystopian, Gothic, horror, myth, etc.—I subscribe to Redecorating Middle-Earth in Early Lovecraft, the blog of Dr. Amy Sturgis. I'm picky about my dark stuff, but I do enjoy her blog.

7. The book-related site I probably use most: My local library's website, complete with catalog and online request capability. It doesn't have the best search engine on the internet, but it's still wonderful. While I can't recommend mine to people who don't live in Bellingham, I wholeheartedly recommend everyone looking up their own library on the web.

8. Also, I participate every Tuesday in this meme by the ever-delightful The Broke and The Bookish. :)

Scanning through my Google Reader, it looks like most of the rest of what I read is more writing-focused...

What bookish sites do you use or visit most?


The Good, the Bad, and the Mediocre

A blogalectic with Masha and Mr. Pond. Their most recent posts: Masha's The Artist as Other and Mr. Pond's Othering Beauty.

Unlike debate, which searches for a winning argument, dialectic searches for synthesis. But in this bloggers' dialectic, Masha and I—despite some agreement—have turned up a few seemingly opposite ideas. Last week, it occurred to us that in the pursuit of common ground, we ought to look around for the root of our disagreement. Neither of us is quite sure where it is. But Mr. Pond has a theory:
Whereas Masha directs us to the Good, the universal, Jenna directs us to the immediate, the particular. This is the distinction that divides Western thought between itself. The line may be a fine one, but it seems my compatriots are on opposite sides.
He's talking about kataphasis and apophasis, two words I had to Google, and which—after Googling—I'm convinced that a lot of people on the internet don't really understand much better than I do. I suspect Mr. Pond is on to something, but until I've educated myself a bit further, I don't dare try to say just what.

But I did love this, from his piece:
Artists... occupy that strange and liminal space of living within a communal role, as Masha notes, while being a voice in the wilderness. They dwell on the borders, on the third road between nature and supernature, between the people and God, and speak what they see as they turn from one to the other. Art is capricious and dangerous, as are all things in that perilous shade, and the artist dances a deadly step of mockery and wonder. They belong to neither world and to both. So they hold the Mirror of Scorn and Pity, the face of judgement, up to the people, while knowing irrevocably that the reflection is their own.
Also, this bit from Masha's, which inspired the above:
Beauty does speak, it triumphs, and this is the "ancient, communal role" (Kathleen Norris) of the artist - to delve deep into the experiences of his world and birth beauty, to "call forth" the riches of everyday. 

In so many ways, the role of the artist is similar to the role of the prophet, a "necessary other" existing and creating, not in "untrammeled freedom" but in an "exacting form of discipline" (Kathleen Norris) that submits the Artist to the demands of his vocation and demands from him not only talent, but devotion and commitment as well.
Which leads us into the topic for this week: if the artist's vocation demands talent, study, discipline, and the wisdom to survive the 'perilous shade', what happens when the result is mediocre? Every artist, no matter how great, has created mediocre work at one time or another. No one reaches greatness without it. Is mediocrity good, or evil, or indifferent?

And what is mediocrity, exactly? What if the artist did the best they could possibly do, but lacked the training or resources to achieve high quality—yet an audience, perhaps a non-artistic one, is still moved by the work? I feel this way about a lot of my songs from, say, ten years ago. When your primary influence is Christian pop music, your abilities will be desperately stunted, and mine certainly were. Yet people were moved to tears by some of those songs, and my singing voice has never been that good.

I would call those songs mediocre. (And some of them, just downright lame.) But they served some purpose, they had spots of goodness, and they took the best artistic effort I could offer at the time. Good, bad, or indifferent? I don't think there's an easy answer.

What if an artist managed great success in one part of the work's creation, but failed in another? Or what if he or she created a beautiful piece intentionally to blaspheme the good—or conversely, tried to create a beautiful piece with the idea of defending the good, but sacrificed truth and/or beauty for agenda? Do these things create mediocrity, or something other—some mixture of good and bad?

Sometimes, mediocrity happens simply because we artists have not yet delved deeply into the experiences of our world. I remember that time in my life. The idea of mediocrity didn't trouble me much; I simply thought of doing my best and doing well. I'd advise any young artist to think likewise. Let perfectionism always encourage you to outdo yourself, but don't let it bully you into suffocating comparisons. Polish your talent, feed your devotion, hold to your commitment.

Nowadays, I still sometimes produce mediocre work. I do, much as I hate to admit it. But to the best of my knowledge and hope, I sometimes produce better. Art changed for me when life became a strange and dangerous liminal road, where my own reflection terrifies me, but the deadly dance is filled with wonder.


All Cats are Slytherins and other stories

It's summer! Officially. Of course, this being the Pacific Northwest, the weather forecast still looks like this:

Rain! But at least the highs are in the sixties and seventies, not the forties and fifties. The lows run in the fifties rather than the thirties, and the chance of rain runs 30-40 percent rather than 80. That's summer here, y'all. And am I ever glad to see it.

* * *

Lou and I thoroughly enjoyed our road trip. Highlights:
  • hanging out with MissPhotographerB and her cat
  • hanging out with MissPhotographerB and her friends
  • long walk with MissPhotographerB through MSU and surrounding neighborhoods in the near-dark
  • Bob and Ashley's beautiful wedding
  • pizza with Lou's friends, including the groom, two hours before the wedding
  • sharing a table with Lou's friends, some of whom I remember from our last trip, at the reception
  • finishing reading Dante's Purgatorio aloud to each other in the car
  • spending some honest-to-goodness quiet time, just the two of us, no computers
  • covering 44 hours of travel time and a wedding in five days, and still coming home more rested than when we left

Of course, the first thing I did upon coming home was catch cold. But I still feel so much better than last week that I can't complain.

* * *

Owing to the cold and post-trip catchup, I missed this week's Top Ten Tuesday. But if you want to know the top ten reasons I love being a book blogger, well—you're one of them. I love talking about reading and writing with people, especially when those people become my friends. Thanks. :)

* * *

Around the time Maia turned six months old, she took to hiding under the bed whenever anyone comes over. I hoped that she'd at least come out and visit Lou's parents, who took care of her while we were away. But apparently, they caught just one glimpse of her. She hid from all human companionship for five days.
There's no Gryffindor in that cat. None whatsoever. Not a lot of Hufflepuff, either, come to think of it. And she's not that brainy... well, I don't know why I'm surprised.

* * *

Writers' link of the week and Funny of the week are one and the same today. Read the color comic on the front cover of this little magazine. As someone who has tried to write in the middle of the night, I could sympathize. Hysterically.

* * *

Music of the week: Beautiful. I love finding random YouTubers with great voices.

* * *

JuNoWriMo Tally
Week 1 hours: 10
Week 2 hours: 5.5
Week 3 hours: Vacation. So there. I did get in 45 minutes, though.
Week 4 hours: 2 and counting.

Now, I need to bump up those hours, clean house, make quiche, clear all 490 items out of my Google Reader so I stop being afraid to open it, and get over this cold. That's a long to-do list, but it's Friday, and other than the scratchy throat and clogged sinuses, I feel great.

Happy weekend, everybody!


Currently Reading: The Path of Daggers (The Wheel of Time, book 8)

The Path of Daggers (Wheel of Time, #8)Cadsuane drew breath. A chance she would have scoured anyone else for taking. But she was not anyone else, and sometimes chances had to be taken. “The boy confuses them,” she said. “He needs to be strong, and makes himself harder. Too hard, already, and he will not stop until he is stopped. He has forgotten how to laugh except in bitterness; there are no tears left in him. Unless he finds laughter and tears again, the world faces disaster. He must learn that even the Dragon Reborn is flesh. If he goes to Tarmon Gai’don as he is, even his victory may be as dark as his defeat.”

Author: Robert Jordan

Synopsis: As Rand leads a charge against the Seanchan, the Asha’man begin to mutter and show signs of madness. Perrin goes in search of the crazed Prophet, and Faile and Morgase are captured by the Shaido. Egwene prepares to declare war on Elaida, and Elayne, Aviendha, Birgitte, and Nynaeve help to turn the weather and then make their way to Caemlyn.

I love names and meanings, and the Wheel of Time world is scattered through with well-named characters:

Rand 'rim (of a shield)'
Elayne 'torch'
Verin 'truth'

Perrin is possibly derived from Pierre (the French form of Peter, meaning 'rock'). Mat, as far as I can guess, is meant to be similar to Matthew ('gift of God'), perhaps combined with something else.

The difficulty is that some of the names are hard to trace. Egwene comes close to Eugene, meaning ‘well born’. The last half of Nynaeve’s name sounds like Niamh (pronounced Neev), which means ‘bright.’ Aviendha seems to be related to Avendesora, the Aiel tree of life. The dream world, Tel’aran’rhiod, apparently comes from the Welsh Arianrhod, meaning ‘silver wheel’ or ‘round wheel’. There’s alchemy in that last, I think.

Fun fact: despite the glossary, nobody pronounces the names alike. I had a brief and pleasant conversation with two friends about the books recently. One of them rhymed the Aes in Aes Sedai with days (I pronounce it eyes, which I think matches the glossary); the other inflected on the last syllable of Perrin, rather than the first. What would have happened if we’d gotten to talking about Tel’aran’rhiod and ji’e’toh? Who knows? One can’t remember everything in the glossary, anyway, especially the unintuitive pronunciations: no native English speaker, for instance, will pronounce a’dam as EYE-dam.

Moving on, this book didn’t frustrate me like the last one. The cliffhangers and head hops were still stressful, but I could feel for Rand a little more, and some things actually happened. The Bowl of the Winds got used (and the Atha’an Miere are one stubborn people—just sayin’.) The Seanchan got set back somewhat. Min and Rand are together, although not as together as I could wish. Elayne and Aviendha are going to be first-sisters. Loving Nynaeve seems to have given Lan some tenuous hold on life.

The ta’veren effects are fascinating, too; I suspect that the odd pull of chance and emotion could make for an interesting study. And this story still has some of the best worldbuilding I’ve ever come across. It is true that there could be fewer descriptive paragraphs, but I’ve not gotten tired of learning about these lands and people.

Recommendation: Yes. I liked it better than the last book, and look forward to the rest.


Artistic Sensibilities

A blogalectic with Masha and Mr. Pond.

From Sense and Sensibility:
"You must not inquire too far, Marianne—remember, I have no knowledge in the picturesque, and I shall offend you by my ignorance and want of taste, if we come to particulars. I shall call hills steep, which ought to be bold! surfaces strange and uncouth, which ought to be irregular and rugged; and distant objects out of sight, which ought only to be indistinct through the soft medium of a hazy atmosphere. You must be satisfied with such admiration as I can honestly give... It exactly answers my idea of a fine country, because it unites beauty with utility—and I dare say it is a picturesque one too, because you admire it; I can easily believe it to be full of rocks and promontories, grey moss and brush wood, but these are all lost on me. I know nothing of the picturesque."

"I am afraid it is but too true," said Marianne; "but why should you boast of it?"

"I suspect," said Elinor, "that to avoid one kind of affectation, Edward here falls into another. Because he believes many people pretend to more admiration of the beauties of nature than they really feel, and is disgusted with such pretensions, he affects greater indifference and less discrimination in viewing them himself than he possesses. He is fastidious and will have an affectation of his own."

"It is very true," said Marianne, "that admiration of landscape scenery is become a mere jargon. Everybody pretends to feel and tries to describe with the taste and elegance of him who first defined what picturesque beauty was. I detest jargon of every kind, and sometimes I have kept my feelings to myself, because I could find no language to describe them in but what was worn and hackneyed out of all sense and meaning."

"I am convinced," said Edward, "that you really feel all the delight in a fine prospect which you profess to feel. But, in return, your sister must allow me to feel no more than I profess. I like a fine prospect, but not on picturesque principles. I do not like crooked, twisted, blasted trees. I admire them much more if they are tall, straight and flourishing. I do not like ruined, tattered cottages. I am not fond of nettles, or thistles, or heath blossoms. I have more pleasure in a snug farm-house than a watch-tower—and a troop of tidy, happy villagers please me better than the finest banditti in the world."

Marianne looked with amazement at Edward, with compassion at her sister. Elinor only laughed.

—Jane Austen
For some weeks now, Mr. Pond and Masha and I have been having this extended blogalectic on art and beauty, and I fancy our discussion is not unlike the conversation above. Masha emphasizes a strict and aesthetic view of beauty. I make some codgerly comment about how I prefer simple, healthy, lively things. And Mr. Pond laughs and attempts to get us to agree.

It's fun. But it does perhaps leave Masha and I, like Marianne and Edward, at some form of an impasse. I think Mr. Pond is right when he says that "If I can be so bold, the ‘Art’ that Masha seeks to produce seem to correspond with Jenna’s conception of ‘Good Art’: the sympathetic communication of the intimate and the universal through beauty." Masha and I do appear to agree on some levels. We disagree on terms, though, and I disagree with Masha's accusation that my granting the name of art even to ugly and/or blasphemous creations is relativistic. I do not equate art with goodness, therefore my definition of art does not call evil good.

I certainly believe, however, that goodness and beauty are the rightful pursuits of all art.

Having read Mr. Pond’s admirable discourse on the Neoplatonic interpretation of beauty, I really feel my lack of a PhD in attempting to respond. I did learn a lot from it, though. For now, I'll simply clarify one of Masha's statements by noting that as Neoplatonism has not made its way into magisterial church teaching, one can be Catholic, big C or little c, with or without baptized Platonic ideas of art and beauty.

My own understanding of beauty is more instinctive than anything else. I’m intrigued by Masha’s definition of it as "the visible form of the good," (visible presumably standing in for all senses, including the spiritual faculties) but must agree with Mr. Pond that:
This definition is one I like and admire. I haven’t fully embraced it in my own thinking, though I do share a conviction that Beauty and the True are irrevocably linked, and the True inevitably coincides with the Good.
All I can say is that beauty can be found anywhere on this earth, and in wildly different things, if one only troubles themselves to search it out. I find beauty in the thick wet greenery of Seattle and the open, red desert of Phoenix; in the crumbling old towns of Italy and the newer skylines of America’s cities. I find it in the solemn laying on of hands by all the priests at an ordination Mass, and in the energetic dancing of the bride and groom at their wedding.

More, I find it in all the virtues, at least when they’re practiced righteously rather than self-righteously. And perhaps because of that, I find it in the penny dreadful's bright portraits of courage and love, just as I find it in the subtler colors and softer prose of the more complex work of literature. Even by Masha’s definitions, then, I am unafraid to call both by the name of art.

This week’s topic regards the nature of beauty and meaning and whether one can exist without the other. Which brings me, at least, back to the matter of communication. But perhaps because of my wide-open definitions, the question seems to have a simple answer. You can have meaning without beauty; you can mean something quite ugly. But beauty always speaks. It haunts and comforts, even when it doesn't bother with words.


It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and other stories

Yes, I know that's a movie title. Fair warning: I've never seen the movie, and this post has nothing to do with it.

Tomorrow morning, bright and early, I leave on a road trip (for which I still have not begun to pack.) Today, you get the Wednesday and Friday blogs rolled into one.

* * *

Real Mermaids Don't Wear Toe RingsCurrently Reading: Real Mermaids Don't Wear Toe-Rings

I looked down and wished I had a moron stick to beat myself senseless with, since all the time I was grinning like the village idiot, I'd had a death grip on his Dooley's Drugs bag.

"Oh!" I said, handing it to him. "Sorry."

"That's okay," Luke said with a grin.

"That. Bag. Yours." I pointed dumbly.

Sheesh. Such a firm grasp on the English language. But that only made Luke smile wider. Was he mocking me?

Author: Helene Boudreau

Synopsis: Jade thinks it's bad enough to get her first period while trying on swimsuits, but it's worse to run into cute Luke Martin in the feminine hygiene aisle. Still worse is to fall asleep in a bathtub full of Epsom salts and wake up with a tail. Of course, the discovery of the genes Jade inherited from her mother raises a key question: how the heck did a mermaid drown?

Notes: I don't really have a long review of this. It was cute; it made me laugh out loud several times. I liked Luke, definitely enough to wish he would have been more involved in the story. And I liked Jade, her dad, and her best friend.

And I have to give a thumbs-up to a book that includes a recipe for five-minute microwave chocolate cake in the back. Oh, that looks so good.

Recommendation: Read it for laughs, and then go make the cake.

* * *

Months have passed since I last let anything on the internet upset my life, but this week has been strangely dominated by the WSJ piece and responses mentioned last Friday. My inbox holds somewhere between 120-150 emails related to the controversy. The later comments on my Hog's Head post have turned into a brawl, and a mean one at that. I started journaling some thoughts in response to one well-known author's rant, paused to go make dinner, and wound up crying so hard that I could barely see the saucepan. My writing time and trip preparations have gotten short shrift.

Some friends and I are finishing up a post that hopefully will hit the web soon, voicing our unified ideas on the subject. In the meantime, one of those friends—Mr. Pond—has posted a piece on the reason this has become such a Big Deal: reason itself has been sadly lacking from the debate.

* * *

Writers' link of the week: Pete Peterson's Truth in the Guise of Illusion.

* * *

Music of the week: From the very gifted Ryan Seiler, another of the Ministry of Magic boys who has put together some great stuff on his own.

* * *

Funny of the week: When a week has been this emo, nothing will do but cry-laughing over the best of DYAC. As it's hopelessly obscene, however, I'll link you a clean one that made me laugh—best shopping list ever—and the not-so-clean one that did actually move me to tears of mirth.

* * *

JuNoWriMo Tally:
Week 1 hours: 10
Week 2 hours: 5.5

We'll see how many hours I can fit in between packing and cleaning up and all that, but since week two ends at midnight tonight... oh well. Maybe I can make up for it in a future week.

In the meantime, I'm going to think of that which is cheerful. Say, getting to see MissPhotographerB tomorrow evening!!

Happy rest-of-the-week and weekend, everyone....


Top Ten Tuesday: Aww Moments

I love this list idea. Whether or not I'll be able to come up with ten in the half hour or so I've got to complete this, I can't say, but here's my best effort.
Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish! Do come join the fun...

Semi-spoilers follow for Pride & Prejudice, Persuasion, Jane Eyre, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Ender's Shadow, Little White Horse, Ben-Hur....

...yes, spoilers....

...don't keep reading if you don't want to know.

1. Jane Eyre's reunion with a badly injured Edward Rochester.

2. Captain Wentworth's dashed-off letter to Anne in the Musgroves' hotel room, in Persuasion.

3. Elizabeth's joyous letter to her aunt Gardiner at the end of Pride and Prejudice.

4. Harry Potter, comforting his son about the possibility of winding up in Slytherin house. His son's name...

5. Bean's tears at the end of Ender's Shadow, and his brother's comfort.

6. Ben-Hur, looking over the back of Simonides' chair at a sleeping Esther.

7. Any of several times where Matthew Cuthbert does something special for Anne of Green Gables.

8. Numerous mini-scenes surrounding Maria's tea party at the end of Little White Horse. Although I like Robin's proposal, too.

I am so tired. What am I forgetting? Surely there are some sweet kid moments--or dog-or-cat moments. Maybe there's something in Pollyanna? I just can't think.

Your turn. Fill me in on what I'm missing. :)


A Blogalectic Hiccup and a Question of Beauty

It's Monday (yes, yes, I'm Captain Obvious.) On Thursday, Lou and I are headed for a five-day whirlwind road trip to Denver by way of Bozeman. I've got an insane to-do list for the two interim days, and am currently exhausted beyond rational thought.

All of which, when added up, means I don't have a blogalectic post in me today. It simply... isn't there.

So, if you haven't read Masha's post on Art from last Wednesday, or Mr. Pond's synthesis of Masha's and my apparent disagreement, from Friday, I encourage you to do that. I'm loosely of the opinion that my definition of good art is really quite close to Masha's definition of art, and that our disagreement is primarily semantic. Which puts me in some agreement with Mr. Pond.

But I'll save further commentary for next Monday. For now, I'll leave you all—and Mr. Pond and Masha, if they wish to engage it—with this question: If beauty is necessary to good art (or all art, if you prefer Masha's terminology), what, objectively speaking, is beauty?

Have fun.


Darkness Seeking Light and other stories

When people ask what I do, I say I'm a homemaker and a writer; I keep the house clean and maintain a blog. And if the person keeps watching me with an obvious "And...?" I might explain that I've written a book and have just begun to seek publication.

It's taken me two years to come up with a decent way to explain how a woman with no job and no children can fill up her time. Whether or not people actually think this, I've usually heard their "Oh, that's nice" followed by a silent "How many soap operas do you watch?!"

Answer: none. We don't have a TV, and I've never even been on the Hulu site.

This week, I haven't even opened my Google Reader. I spent my first five minutes on my Facebook news feed since Monday, at 11:30 last night. I've worked on my novel, on a manuscript critique, on a friend's wedding program, on this blog, on laundry and cooking and grocery shopping and running writers' group.... Apart from evening events and a family visit on Monday, it's taken me my week, from alarm clock to nearly falling asleep on the couch. I haven't even read a book since finishing Howl's Moving Castle on Sunday afternoon.

I am beat, but it was a good week.

Oddly enough, the one form of entertainment I've kept is Twitter. Thanks to Tweetdeck, it takes me less than half an hour in any given day to keep up with my friends and #JuNoWriMo. Of course, I never would have thought that of all social media, Twitter would be my companion of choice.

* * *

Thanks to Twitter, I've been somewhat up on the big scandal of the week: the WSJ article attacking the darkness in YA fiction, and the tsunami-sized response. And I feel like my own response to all that would take weeks to write and fill several blog posts. For now, suffice it to say that while I thought both Ms. Gurdon and Sherman Alexie had some good points, neither of them really even tried to be charitable, and neither touched on the real underlying problems.

I don't have weeks to write a thesis on darkness in young adult literature right now. But here's what I try to do in my own writing, because it's what I've found in the books that have healed and helped save me. Mr. Pond sent several of us a long quote from George MacDonald's Wee Sir Gibbie this morning, which aimed squarely at that key point. I hope he won't mind me re-posting this sentence:
"It is the noble, not the failure from the noble, that is the true human; and if I must show the failure, let it ever be with an eye to the final possible, yea, imperative, success."

* * *

Maia's to-do list this week:
  • Tuesday:
    • Wake up at five AM, throw toys on Lou, keep him awake for two hours.
    • Rip up a leaf on the peace lily.
  • Wednesday:
    • Wake up at five AM, bat metal toy around wood floor.
    • When mean old Jenna takes away toy and hides it under her pillow, throw sock around bed.
    • When mean old Jenna takes away sock and hides it under her pillow, wait till she's gone back to sleep and then pounce on her suddenly.
    • Rip up a leaf on the peace lily.
  • Thursday:
    • Rip up a leaf on the peace lily.
  • Friday:
    • Jump up on stool, see if peace lily can be dumped upside down between the bookshelves. Make sure it's watered first.

The last trick proved wholly successful. It made quite a crash. The plant survived, but I've got a lot of mud to scrub off the wall and out of the carpet.

* * *

Writers' link of the week: Kate Hart on being Erudite and reading Dorothea Brande's Becoming a Writer. Maybe I ought to read that book. Of course, I'm always talking about reading writing books, and I never do it. Shame on me.

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Music of the week: My e-friends Eric and Carrie Pazdziora, together with harmonizer Jenna Satterthwaite (whose last name is practically as cool as mine), have started a band! I absolutely must give them a shout-out, along with a summons to Bellingham, WA. Harry and the Potters is playing at Mt. Baker Theater soon—why shouldn't Thornfield do the same someday?

Also, props on the mega-wonderful name. It makes me think of Jane Eyre, which is always a good thing.

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Funny of the week: Worth a snork. Although I've become a Firefox convert, and use IE only for checking one gmail address when the others are already open in Firefox and Chrome.

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JuNoWriMo Tally
Week 1 hours: 10
Week 2 hours: 2 and counting

All right, I admit it. I killed an hour on the internet this morning. It's hard not to do after a long week, and when I'm trying to come up with a Friday post. But it also means I now have a very busy evening.

Happy weekend, everyone!


Currently Reading: Enchantress from the Stars

Enchantress from the StarsIt’s easy for me now to see through Georyn’s eyes and to speak in the words appropriate to his view of the world. With Jarel it is harder, since I didn’t know him well; still, I can try to imagine how he must have felt. This, then, is the way I think it was: for Georyn’s people, for Jarel’s, and for us....

Author: Sylvia Louise Engdahl

Synopsis: Elana, a young diplomat-in-training with the most advanced civilization in the universe, stows away on a mission to protect a feudal society from planetary invasion by a scientific, space-age empire.

Notes: Perhaps my favorite thing about this book is simply the beautiful way it’s written. It weaves three unique narratives together, section by section:
  • Georyn (pronounced JOR-in), the medieval hero who goes to slay a dragon; his thoughts are written in the language of fairy-tales
  • Jarel, the scientist, who alone of his fellow Empire subjects has learned to see the planet's natives as human
  • Elana, the very young narrator, who attempts from above-and-beyond to speak for both men as well as herself.
All three perspectives come with perfect and distinct voice, and all of them are treated with great respect.

The incorporation of fantasy elements into a science fiction story fascinated me (not least because I’ve done something of the reverse in my own novel.) Georyn, the brave dragon-slayer, undergoes three magical tasks in preparation for his quest. He sees Elana as ‘the Enchantress,’ a beautiful and benevolent magician, and he stands prepared, like any knight, to defend the Lady’s life and honor. Jarel is more of the usual sci-fi type in his love for planetary exploration and his scientific beliefs, which hold primacy over anything that could be called faith. Both men, however, are outside their time and culture enough to catch onto Elana’s spirit and long for something more than what they can have.

Elana—and here comes Ms. Engdahl’s point—lives the ideal toward which human progress is supposedly striving. Engdahl believes in and hopes for such a future. And while to me, interplanetary utopia seems as unlikely as the magic Georyn believes in, Engdahl comes from a place that I can at least sympathize with—namely, that neither pure scientism nor simple superstition provides a full outlook on life. She, I think, would at least say that science and what we might call mystery must work together. Maybe she’d accept the term faith. But I would even call it religion. Be that as it may, Elana’s resolution of those alchemical contraries provides a beautiful, albeit staunchly moralistic, picture of what might happen if humanity could achieve such near-perfection.

Speaking of the moralism, Elana and her father have decidedly philosophical debates on why their community requires what it does. I rather enjoyed this, instead of getting turned off by the author’s thoughts and theorizing. At least, on first read. The Starwatcher was such a lovely Wise Old Mentor that I couldn’t help myself.

Traditional themes of self-sacrifice, compassion and courage are canvassed as well. Toward the end, this actually moved me to tears.

Lois Lowry’s foreword is worth the read, too, although she makes the all-too-common mistakes of assuming first, that separation of church and state is constitutionally mandated, and second, that it was designed to keep all religious discourse out of politics. At least she confines that to one sentence, and the rest is enjoyable.

Recommendation: Read it beside a window on a starry night, and dream.


Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Fictional Settings

Every story has its setting, and some of them make you want to fold yourself into the book and find yourself wandering through the beautiful world therein.
Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish! Do come join the fun...

Of course, not every lovable story with a well-described setting has that exact effect. Between the Adderhead and the Magpie, I'm not really sure I'd want to go to the Inkworld. And as much as I loved Speaker for the Dead, Lusitania scares me a bit. The Descolada just doesn't sound like any fun.

Here, however, are a few places I'd be more than happy to live for a while.

1. Hogwarts. I know this will be on nearly every list, but who can resist a magical old castle that you first sail to in little boats across a lake? Where portraits move and talk, and staircases go somewhere else on a Friday? And where you can learn to turn yourself into an animal at will, or Accio a book right off the shelf and into your hand? Of course, if you annoy someone you can wind up with tentacles or beaver teeth. Fortunately, Madam Pomfrey is resident Healer. [The Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling]

2. Narnia. Especially during the glory days of the High King Peter's reign. I'd love to walk through Cair Paravel and out along the seaside, and meet talking animals and Centaurs and dryads. And if I were very, very lucky, Aslan. [The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis]

3. Lothlorien. Where the Elves live in trees amid beauty and plenty, and no evil comes unless you bring it with you. Rivendell would be just about as much fun; possibly more, considering that I'm unfortunately afraid of heights. [The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien]

4. A Regency drawing room, or possibly just Pemberley. Ah, for the land where manners held sway, and where good conversation, books and music were the occupations of an evening. The card games might annoy me, though. Like Anne Elliot, I have never been much of a card player. [Any of Jane Austen's books.]

5. Maienfeld and the Alp. It just sounds so peaceful. Besides, German is a beautiful language. [Heidi, Johanna Spyri]
6. Bayern. I want to speak those elemental languages, and maybe learn to speak with the birds and horses, too. [The Goose Girl and sequels, Shannon Hale]

7. Moonacre Manor and Silverydew. Where the little white horses rush in from the sea at dawn, and kindness and laughter and song and goodness are everywhere. At least, after Maria rights her family wrongs and wins over the men from the forest. [The Little White Horse, Elizabeth Goudge]

8. Perelandra (Venus). Malacandra has never interested me all that much, and we know what Thulcandra is like—but all the fruitful islands that rise and fall with the waves passing beneath them sound like a paradise. [Perelandra, C.S. Lewis]

9. Tar Valon. It's true that the Aes Sedai are a manipulative bunch, and awfully controlling of any girl who comes to the White Tower, but if you have the spark and can pass the tests, you have superpowers. I'm afraid that challenge would be irresistible. [The Wheel of Time books, Robert Jordan]

10. The Secret Garden. And the old mansion, with its spooky corridors, and the moors around it. Dickon, with his animals, would be a welcome companion, and I wouldn't turn down Mary or Colin, either. [The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett]

What are your favorite settings in books? Which would you most like to visit?


In the Beginning, There was Art

In response to Masha, Beyond Boys and Girls, and Mr. Pond, The Birds and the Books

After all three of our posts and some discussion in comment boxes, I feel as though we've hashed out the question of male and female imbalances in literature as much as I wish to for now. It was a good discussion, but the question itself doesn't interest me much; I enjoy gender, as part of life and (therefore) story, and too much of politics can kill the delight in anything. So I'll move on, happily, to the next question, which Mr. Pond helped set me up for with this little bit of wisecrackery:
"If you can lock two literary critics in a room without them finding some point of disagreement within ten minutes, then run screaming to the Ghost Busters—it’s a doppelganger."
That made me laugh. It's just so true. But in giving my own opinion on this week's topic—the need for an objective baseline for Art, and what that should be—I'll have to step back, even from the concept of whether any two critics could agree on the placement of such a baseline. Way back. As in, to the beginning.

In John chapter 1 in the Bible, the creative principle is described as 'the Word', the famed Logos:
"something said (including the thought); by impl. a topic (subject of discourse), also reasoning (the mental faculty) or motive; by extens. a computation; spec. (with the art. in John) the Divine Expression (i.e. Christ)"—Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and The Hebrew Bible
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.... All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men."—John 1:1,3-4, NASB

Now, before I go any further: The majority of this is thanks to my having spent the day with my mother, an artist, who had a lot to say on the subject when I told her I needed ideas for this blog post. She helped confirm my thoughts against a distinction between Literature with a capital L and entertainment/craft/schlock that supposedly doesn't count as Art.

Because I believe that the objective baseline for art is communication. Wherever we communicate, the creative principle is there. God may not be, of course. But our inherited ability to put available words to the expression of our ideas is present in everything from the illiterate troll comments on YouTube to Shakespeare, just as the refrigerator-framed drawings by a child come from the same source that gave us Raphael.

Are those troll comments and mighty works of crayon, then, art? Yes, in the most basic sense. Are they good art? Do I even have to ask? There is great art, and there is good art, and there is weak or flawed art, and there is plain old bad art, and I think we can agree to some extent on those definitions. But I don't draw a line on my bookshelf between Jane Austen and John Grisham and say of the latter, with a shake of my head, "There, but for the grace of God, go I."

[Dear God, can I please write books that sell as well as John Grisham's? And that people can love as I love The Testament? Please.]

As a writer, I look at the two successful authors and say "Jane's objectively a better artist, at least in most ways. From her, I learn about portraying subtlety of human interaction. But from John, I learn more about pacing."

Now, there's a place for searching out the best art, the kind that Masha means when she says "In good writing, as in any other art, the intimate and the universal come together..." There's a place for learning the difference between good prose and bad prose. There's a place for choosing literature that offers the mind more than a cheap-joke sitcom could.

In searching out things to read, I look for the intimate and the universal. I look for a good surface narrative with hidden depths of thought. I look for beauty anywhere I can find it. But most of all, I look for something that speaks to me. Because as Mr. Pond says,
"What makes literature great, irrespective of gender, is what George MacDonald called ‘sympathy’—the ability to identify with another creature, and share in their experience of hope and of suffering."
That is good communication. And the best of literature communicates sympathy on the level of the sighs too deep for words.


The After-Party Crash and other stories

The visiting relatives packed up and left yesterday after a fun week including a graduation, a birthday, and more sugar than I've eaten in the average month. We loved seeing you, T & C and family! And we will try to make it out to your place one of these days.

Also loved seeing: MissPhotographerB and her friends! I still can't believe I left my camera in the glove box. But if all goes well, we're headed through her town in a few weeks.

And further, loved seeing: the crowd from the Great Annual Memorial Day Hockey Game. For the one hour I could be there, it was fun.

It's Friday. The sun is supposed to come out and stay for a couple of days, and for the first time in weeks, Lou and I have no major events to attend. Time to care for our inner introverts. Goodbye, world! We like you. But we'll see you next Monday.

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Owing to the busyness, I went days without checking either Google Reader or Facebook. If you made a major announcement this week, and I missed it, please forgive me.

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Writers' link of the week: ComputerSherpa's The Periodic Table of Storytelling, which lists almost every imaginable trope and archetype. Look closely—there's brilliance in every corner.

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Music of the week: I find it very difficult to write to music, even non-lyrical music. There are, however, a few pieces—Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, for instance—that work well for me. And then there's epic movie and video game soundtracks. As it turns out, game composer Nobuo Uematsu can almost unfailingly put me in the mood to write.

Aerith's Theme, performed by YouTuber and pianist Arkton.

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Funny of the week: A twofer, from Eric Pazdziora, because I couldn't resist either one. Here are Cause and Effect and The Return of the Christian Album Covers.

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JuNoWriMo Tally
Week 1 hours: 2 (and counting)

Happy weekend, everyone!


Surprise Thursday Post: JuNoWriMo

Created by writer Shallee McArthur, JuNoWriMo is like NaNoWriMo, except it's in June and you can set your own goals. Which is good, because I don't have 1667 words a day in me this week.

I'm not sure I could handle a word count goal right now, honestly. So I'll set a time goal instead: ten hours per week on my work in progress. Not blogging, not handling critiques, not researching the publishing industry—just plotting and writing.

The first week starts yesterday. I've put in one hour. More to come.


Currently Reading: The Dark Divine

The Dark Divine (The Dark Divine, #1)He leaned over the drawing. His face was still obscured by his shaggy hair, but a black stone pendant slipped out of his shirt. “Kiss me, and I’ll give it back.”

I grabbed his hand that held the charcoal. “Who the hell do you think you are?”

“So you don’t recognize me?” He looked up and pushed his hair out of his face. His cheeks were pale and hollow, but it was his eyes that made me gasp. The same dark eyes I used to call “mud pies.”

“Daniel?” I let go of his hand. The charcoal pencil plinked onto the table. A million questions slammed against one another in my brain. “Does Jude know you’re here?”

Author: Bree Despain

Synopsis: Pastor’s daughter Grace Divine—yes, that really is her name—was in love with her brother Jude’s best friend, Daniel, three years ago. But three years ago, Jude and Daniel fought, Daniel disappeared, and Jude came home covered in his own blood. When Daniel resurfaces, Grace can’t help still feeling for him, but good-hearted Jude reacts in rage. The strange savagings and disappearances around town seem to justify Jude’s distrust. Caught between the brother she loves and the beloved who was once almost a brother, Grace faces an evil that puts all three of their souls on the line.

Notes: Womanizers. Brooding ‘I’m not good enough for you’ guys. Byronic heroes. Free-living rascals. Angry young men. Whatever form they come in, bad boys have never been my type. But Bree Despain chose her male lead well, because this is a story about grace.

The imagery isn't subtle. The protagonist's name is more than self-explanatory. Daniel means “God is my judge,” an interesting thought considering that the answer offered is Grace Divine. The name Jude comes from a Biblical apostle and derives from Judah, which means “praise God.” I could go further with that one, but it might lead to spoilers.

It’s great to see a character in a mainstream novel allowed to be Christian, innocent and pure of heart. Grace's conflict over right and wrong is natural and well chosen, but the Christian elements are toned down for the mainstream audience. For instance, considering the situations Grace faced, I'd have expected her to pray.

Some Christians may not appreciate the completely extra-biblical monster mythology, which is a few steps beyond throwing a Little Drummer Boy in with the shepherds and magi. That sort of thing has never greatly bothered me, but I’m tempted to see where Despain takes some of her plot threads before I give the themes a wholehearted endorsement.

The use of the Prodigal Son parable gave me chills.

Paranormal romance doesn't often appeal to me, thanks mainly to my distaste for amped-up love triangles and the idea of kissing a monster. This book avoided those issues well enough, but I’m starting to think that rushed writing and editing is a frequent problem for the genre. I got tripped up a number of times by odd tense shifts and wording garble apparently left over from editing processes. The prose itself is a tad choppy, and the mythology could have been developed a little more.

That aside, I enjoyed the story and found it hard to put down. I got attached to both Daniel and Jude and loved Grace overall as a protagonist. The ending took me very much by surprise, though early in the book I’d managed to come up with a mild suspicion in the right direction.

Also, as a bit of a nerd, I had to smile—if sadly—at the Star Wars reference at the end. I can remember Yoda saying those words.

Readers must pay attention to the section headers to stay on track with the timeline hopping, but the back story played an important role.

The cover seemed inappropriate to me. Not only is it a revealing picture of legs wrapped with a purple scarf around the crotch (the detail is quite noticeable up close), but it shouts sex instead of the true point of the story. As Grace apparently starts and ends the tale a virgin, the overt sexing of the cover appears to be misguided symbolism at best and a base marketing ploy at worst. Not that I have strong opinions or anything. :)

The sequel just came out, which means I have yet another series to continue.

Recommendation: It’s hard not to recommend a tale focused on the relationships between grace, love, forgiveness, fear, and salvation. Some Christians will appreciate it, and some will not; some non-Christians will hate it, and others will love it. I found enough of value to look to the sequel with hope.