A Few Days Off

...so, I have the flu.

Properly ordered sentences aren't coming easily, so I think I'll take a few days off from the blog. May all of you stay well. :)


Top Ten Tuesday: Authors Who Deserve More Recognition

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

To be honest, I haven't had a lot of time to put into this, so forgive my almost-guaranteed major overlooks. Do, however, feel free to tell me about them.

Elizabeth Goudge. If it wasn't for J.K. Rowling, I don't know if she'd still be noticed; as it is, I say her name and far too many people say "Who?" Little White Horse, in my opinion, is one of the best fantasy novels ever written.

G.A. Henty. His books are long out of print, though a couple of small presses have taken them up here and there, but I loved In the Reign of Terror.

Patricia M. St. John. Another author too often out of print. My childhood would not have been the same without Star of Light and If You Love Me. She wrote a number of other great stories, too.

Catherine Marshall. When Christy was picked up as a TV series, recognition spread—but apart from the excellent casting of Kellie Martin, Stewart Finlay-McLennan, and Tess Harper, the story carried little of the power and virtues of the book (let alone of the original storyline.) Her other novel, Julie, is also excellent.

Zoe Marriott. I haven't yet reviewed Daughter of the Flames, which I just read, but that's coming soon. I thought it well written and moving. And from something she said on her blog, I don't get the impression that it sold very well. I certainly liked it enough to want to track down her other book, The Swan Kingdom, which apparently did a little better.

Wow. Five. That seems shameful. Granted, my favorites are often longtime popular favorites, but still. I'm looking at my shelves, thinking—George MacDonald? Frances Hodgson Burnett? Johanna Spyri? Therese of Lisieux? But those names seem pretty well known to me. I might be wrong. Of course, I've got serious catch-up work to do on newer authors, too.

You tell me, then. Whom have I missed?



Most of the time, my tendency to obsess about details actually benefits my writing. Artists of any sort, you'll understand: sometimes it's worth taking the extra time to fiddle with a word choice or play with the bass line or mix the right shade of blue.

Other times, it halts whatever I'm trying to accomplish. There comes a point where the words get so worked over that they lose their flow, and I either have to backtrack or start over.

Here, half-asleep on a Monday evening, I'm almost afraid to look at my query letter. It's close—it's so close to being ready. But I'm hanging on that point of overthinking, where I could destroy the entire thing with a touch.

Apart from destroying query letters, the occasional blog-post, and possibly entire novels—that hasn't happened to me yet, but I can imagine it all too well—overthinking makes simple decisions ridiculously difficult, causes a number of stress-related health problems that I won't sport with your tolerance by describing, and creates burnout. I have been there. And won't go again, if I can help it.

If I'd found the miracle solution to overthinking, I'd be wealthier. Or a more popular blogger, anyway. But so far, here are the best things I've found to counteract the madness:
  • Take a purely logical approach. List pros and cons of the decision, or ask a few questions about the problem.
  • Try a fresh start. Write the section over again, referencing the old version as needed.
  • Give it distance. Leave it alone till you've forgotten parts of the difficulty, or at least till you're more rested.
That's all I've got. Any of you have other ideas?

As for my query letter, it's had both distance and fresh starts these past months. Why I resort to logic last, well—that's a very different problem. Heh.


Pokemon-Shaped Pancakes and other stories

Happy Feast of the Annunciation! And thanks to commenter George for reminding me (via Facebook) that besides the Annunciation, today we "celebrate the Downfall of Sauron and the victory of the Free Peoples of Middle-Earth."

Happy Middle-Earth Independence Day! Frodo and Sam, we'll never forget you.

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Next reason for celebration: it's spring! Officially!

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A local homeschool partnership academy held a writers' conference this week, and I attended to give the elementary grades a couple of sessions on writing a short story. As it turns out, it's been awhile since I hung out with elementary students. I had to simplify a lot of my talk. :P

But we had a good time, and I got to meet a couple of published authors:
  • Sibella Giorello, whose novel Rivers Run Dry (one of a series about an FBI forensic geologist named Raleigh Harmon) is a suspenseful piece of crime fiction that I picked up and didn't put down till I'd finished it.
  • Catherine Madera, whose Rodeo Dreams I have yet to read, but who is as tall as I am and just as horse-crazy as I ever dreamed of being. Rodeo Dreams, according to Amazon, is about a teenage girl and her adopted mustang. As a Montanan teenager I went through a phase of wanting to adopt a mustang, so—yeah, I just might have to read that.
They were both exceptionally friendly and kind. And I didn't go all starstruck and blush, or faint, or shake, so the meet was a lot of fun. :)

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Another book I picked up recently and didn't put down till I'd finished: Abby Johnson's Unplanned.

I'm probably not going to do a full write-up of this book, because the reviews I do are mainly fiction or non-fiction somehow related to what I like to write. That said, I highly recommend the book. Abby Johnson gave Planned Parenthood eight years of dedicated service, including working as the director for her local clinic, before witnessing an ultrasound abortion that left her shaken. Days later, she drove to the office of the Coalition for Life group that held protests at her clinic and sobbed out the story to three of the workers. Thanks to the media firestorm that followed her resignation from her director's role, she became a nationally known pro-life advocate.

Ms. Johnson tells her tale with compassion and fairness to both sides. Her experience includes being refused membership in a Baptist church for her work with Planned Parenthood, getting pushed out of an Episcopalian church for taking a pro-life stance, and being loved by her pro-life husband all the way through.

It's quite a story. My favorite part: she's found ways to help women in need through her pro-life work.

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Most of the time I don't remember my dreams at night, but sometimes I go through a spell where every morning I wake up with a strong memory. Among other things this week, I've dreamed that the band ALL CAPS came to visit—no, I've never actually met them—and I planned to make them pancakes shaped like Pokemon, unfortunately waking up before I got to do so. That sounded like fun. Although I'd have a better chance at making pancakes in the more familiar forms of Dobby or Reepicheep.

Less fun was the night I was Katniss Everdeen, running around in a giant parking garage with the Capitol coming after me. Parking garages are creepy enough without a murderous government getting involved. Fortunately, no muttations showed up, or I definitely would have waked the neighborhood screaming.

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Writers' link of the week: Six Common Plot Fixes, from James Scott Bell. I especially liked his key questions to ask about the plot.

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Music of the week: Okay, I'm officially on a mission to find great songs based on great books, movies, games, and TV shows. You know how I feel about the nerd-band ALL CAPS and wizard rock, and granted, Harry Potter is my strongest point of connection since I've never seen Doctor Who or Pokemon or played any video games other than Mario and three hours of Final Fantasy X, but still—literature-themed music is one of my favorite things ever.

I've only seen a couple of episodes of Star Trek, and this song is more about being a Trekkie than character storylines, but I just love it. And for Zelda players: I liked Tessa's Navi's Song too.

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Funny of the week: The Onion on an awesome new addition to Microsoft Word.

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Lou is out of town through tomorrow sometime. And while my usual response to his absence is to not sleep rather than stay in that cold, dark, creaky bedroom by my easily-spooked self, I'm trying to be a good Gryffindor. I plan to clean the house, hang out with the cat, try to get as much writing done as humanly possible, and... well, I'll probably sleep on the couch. If I get really freaked out, my parents have given me permission to call. :)

Happy weekend!


Currently Reading: Because of Winn-Dixie

Because of Winn-DixieMy name is India Opal Buloni, and last summer my daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for a box of macaroni-and-cheese, some white rice, and two tomatoes and I came back with a dog.

Author: Kate DiCamillo

Synopsis: Opal and her preacher father are new to the town of Naomi, Florida when Opal brings home a stray dog she found at the grocery. Before long, Opal and Winn-Dixie start attracting friends: Miss Franny, the librarian, who confronted a bear; an once-jailed musician named Otis; five-year-old Sweetie Pie, who wants a dog; Gloria Dump, a recovering alcoholic; pinch-faced Amanda Wilkinson, and... well, Dunlap and Stevie don't exactly try to make friends. When Opal and Gloria decide to have a party for all their friends—Gloria insisting that Dunlap and Stevie come, too—they set themselves up for a night that everyone will remember.

Notes: It took me fifty minutes to read this book—one straight sitting. It's now one of my favorite children's books.

While I grew up in Montana, I am the daughter of a Southern mama (a fact which results in some Washington State-induced headaches, as the natives here often associate the entire South with Jimmy Swaggart, George W. Bush, grammatical failures, country music stereotypes, and slavery). Finding a human portrayal of deep Southern poverty, then, just about made me giddy with delight. The telling itself is perfectly done—there are no tortured spellings attempting to convey dialect, but you hear the accent perfectly in the cadence of every phrase.

Opal and all her friends, including Winn-Dixie, have some sort of past or present difficulty that causes them sorrow. This sort of thing often results in a "gritty" or "realistic" book. Kate DiCamillo takes her tale in a different direction, celebrating joy after joy: Miss Franny's stories, Gloria's kindness, Otis' humility and apparently magical musical gifts, and the preacher's constant love for his little girl. That last, especially, carries the story. Sorrow takes on beauty and meaning as a pathway to love. I can't describe how glad this made me.

Recommendation: Great for children, and perhaps greater yet for adults. After you read it, you might want to make some fried chicken, or egg salad, or both. I recommend that, too. You'll understand what the South is on about.


Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish Pet Peeves

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

Back before I started reading a lot about How To Write, I accepted most writing at face value. There were books I loved, books I liked, and books I didn't care for, but as long as the tale was reasonably well-told, things like adverbs and word repetition didn't bother me.

Nowadays, little things jump out and wave at me, interrupting the flow of the story. I kind of wish they didn't. But here are a few of the things that have always, and will always, get on my nerves:

1. Over-writing. Too many adjectives, bulky sentences, too-obvious attempts to sound literary. Words have to proceed smoothly, without catching the reader and tripping him or her up.

2. Other people's notes in the margins. I don't notate my own books; marginalia not belonging to me are even more annoying.

3. Tense shifts. More tense shifts make it into published novels than I'd have ever expected, and while I don't claim absolute immunity from creating them myself, they totally throw me off when I'm reading.

4. Bad endings. Stories that don't resolve, or that hit the reader with a mean gut-punch, or that otherwise show no concern for the reader's intelligence or emotions. I wrote a whole blog-post about this once.

5. Awkward similes. I ran into this recently; without taking examples directly from the book, it would be things like "The bay was very blue, like a pool of sapphires that rippled and pulsed as if stirred by a giant invisible washing machine agitator." The book was otherwise good, but the similes kept making me snicker.

6. Tics. This is actually one of my own biggest problems—the tendency to create a phrase that I like and re-use it over and over. It's fun to write, but annoying to read. Robert Jordan, whose Wheel of Time series I love very much so far, never refers to a woman folding her arms without saying "She crossed her arms beneath her breasts"—and every time, a little voice in my head shouts "A MAN WROTE THIS."

7. Lack of terminal stop. It's a simple copyediting mistake, one anyone can make. But it happens with some frequency in published books, and I always feel as if I've run off a cliff. If there's a pen handy, I'll draw in the missing punctuation.

8. Objective voice. The story just isn't very interesting if I don't get to experience the protagonist's feelings.

9. Unlikable protagonists and/or sidekicks. Jerks, cads, buttkicking who-needs-a-man women; too many displays of things like arrogance, dishonesty, extreme selfishness, lack of mercy. Sorry, but if I wouldn't want to make that person my friend, why would I want to read a book about them?

...and perhaps the biggest, most frustrating one:

10. Caricatures and stereotypes of Christians and the Church. Treatment of religion as some merciless, controlling, murderous organization makes me want to throw the book across the room. The portrayal of Christians as hypocrites who do nothing but make their children unhappy and insult people who disagree with them makes me want to cry. I have been a Christian my whole life, and a member of both evangelical and Catholic churches. Yes, I've come across a few instances of hypocrisy, control freaking and failures of mercy. But I've also come across immense love and forgiveness and honor, not to mention truth and something to hold onto in an unstable world. I know the Church intimately, and love her with my whole heart. People might as well be attacking my husband or my sisters or my parents. Don't mess with my dearest and best.

...apparently I could write a whole blog-post about that. Heh.

Oh, and since I just took a lunch break and read Kathy's list, here's a peeve I totally should have included: Cover art that doesn't match the text. I just ran into that this week—a heroine with straight hair and a perfect face on the cover, curly hair and a big scar in the book. Argh.

What are your own pet peeves regarding books?


Introvert, Know Thyself

Those of you who have spent much time around this blog—or me, for that matter—know me for an introvert. Since extroverts make up about seventy to eighty percent of society, bringing their priorities into their majority rule, I enjoy any work that speaks to the inner questions we quiet ones carry around with us:
  • Why can't I keep up with the rest of the world?
  • Am I boring?
  • Am I a bad person for lacking the energy to be publicly involved in important causes?
  • What keeps me out of the inner circles—and why do I suspect that if I got in, I'd be forever exhausted?
  • Is my need for silence, books, and process time an unhealthy thing?
  • Why does anyone like loud music?
  • Am I the only one who couldn't shut their eyes and describe what everybody in the room is wearing?
  • Why won't the person sitting by me in this airplane stop talking?
  • Why do people bother with the telephone for non-urgent concerns when there's email?
  • etc.
For those reasons and many more, I enjoy the blog Shrinking Violet Promotions, which celebrated this gray and sleepy Monday with a post entitled Dispelling Ten Myths About Introverts. It made me want to cheer, especially this part:
8. We are not broken extroverts.
Really. We’re not. Stop trying to fix us already.
But I also strongly appreciated number 10, which pointed out that being lost in our own thoughts does not amount to being self-absorbed:
"We are self aware, which is an entirely different thing. The thing is, when we are alone, we’re not just thinking of ourselves and our feelings, we’re thinking of you and your feelings, the human condition, society, spiritual matters, in general, pondering deep thoughts."
Self-absorption happens to all humans, including me. But—amen. Usually, my silence means I'm overtired, writing a book in my head, and/or trying to solve the problems of the universe.

All of the ten myths and responses interested me. Some time ago, I gave up worrying about the fact that it takes me a long time to think through things, that I don't have a lot of physical or emotional energy, that I'll never really be popular or much sought after. Introversion and its attendant limitations and difficulties give me nearly every strength I have in areas of focus, depth, compassion, perseverance. It also makes me who I am as a writer. It's not a problem; it's simply a set of boundaries that I must live by or abide the consequences.

Those consequences are real and serious. I once ran them all the way up to severe depression. That isn't something I care to try again.

With the ten myths adequately dispelled, commenter Carin Bramsen corrected another big misunderstanding: introverts are not milquetoasts. No, we are not. Extroverts may fight like tigers, but introverts fight like a stone wall. We won't move to stop your free rambles, but we protect our sacred ground.

Of course, there are a few other myths to be handled, such as introverts lead a boring life (that's entirely a matter of personal preference—I haven't been bored outside the Department of Licensing in a number of years), or, simply, introverts are boring (if you've made it this far down my blog-post, I hope you'll disagree.) There's also the idea that introverts are uncommunicative (Blogs and email are God's gift to introverts—a way to communicate at leisure), and I'm sure there are more.

Are you an introvert? Do you know one well enough to understand them? What do you wish the outgoing three-quarters of the populace knew about the quiet sector?


The Coming of Flowers and other stories

The ornamental cherry trees are blooming.

I'd take a picture, but it's raining and nearly dark. Maybe next week.... For now, I'm just so happy to see this early sign of spring.

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Oh, wait—the equinox is in two days. Thank God! I am ready.

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The second of my three Silhouette posts just went up: a travelogue describing the medieval cathedral in Siena, Italy. I included a couple of pictures, just because the church is so unbelievably gorgeous. Here, you can have a shot:

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Between having a cold and having a lot of other writing work to do, I went about three days this week without working on my book at all. Which might be the longest I've gone since November of 2009, if you don't count last year's road trip.

Last night, I'd had enough. I let go of everything that could wait and went through a whole chapter. Granted, it was my favorite chapter and it went quickly, but it felt ever so good to get real work done. I love my little book.

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Maia has taken to opening the latch on the dry goods cupboard and hiding behind the cans. I've finally had to tape the door shut. Thus far, that has foiled her.

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Writers' link of the week: I already posted a lot of these on Monday. But since I noted Rachelle Gardner's mythbusting post, here are the two sequels she's posted since: Mythbusting Part Two and Mythbusting Part Three.

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Music of the week: Since we were talking Möbius strips on Wednesday, here's a related piece that shows all sorts of genius.

Also, I highly recommend her arrangement of "His Eyes are as Green as a Fresh Pickled Toad", the gnome's singing valentine for Harry Potter in Chamber of Secrets. You can find it with other offerings at the web page of Vi Hart & the Harry Potter Septet.

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Funny of the week: I got on So Much Pun this week, after months of absence, and found this. It did make me laugh.

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I'd love to work on my story tonight, but honestly, I'm so tired.... I might just read. Either way, a happy weekend to you!


Currently Reading: The Dragon Reborn (The Wheel of Time, Book 3)

Egwene stepped out of the silver arch cold and stiff with anger. She wanted the iciness of anger to counter the searing of memory. Her body remembered burning, but other memories scored and scorched more deeply. Anger cold as death.

"Is that all there is for me?" she demanded. "To abandon him again and again. To betray him, fail him again and again? Is that what there is for me?"

Suddenly she realized that all was not as it should be.

Author: Robert Jordan

Synopsis: Tortured by the future the Wheel is weaving for him, and wanting to be sure that he really is the Dragon, Rand flees Moiraine and company in the middle of the night and heads for the Stone of Tear, where the sword Callandor awaits the hands of the Dragon Reborn and no one else. Hoping to keep him alive, Moiraine and Perrin give chase.

Meanwhile, Egwene and Elayne are raised to Accepted status in their Aes Sedai training, and the Amyrlin gives them and Nynaeve the task of discovering the members of the Black Ajah, who have infiltrated the White Tower.

Notes: This far into the series, some spoilers are inevitable. If you’ve never read the first three books, be forewarned.

After spending eighteen hundred pages getting to know the world and its inhabitants, I'm totally caught up in numerous characters' lives. At the end of book two, I was furious with Min Farshaw. And I'm glad I went online to find out what would happen, because that gave me time to reconcile myself to the way the romances are going to go down. I’ve got a strong tendency to root for first love, and accepting that Rand and Egwene were not going to end up together has been hard.

Sixty-four pages into book three, Min had showed enough feeling that I'd decided to cheer for her after all. And then she disappeared from the book. Not cool, Jordan.

With Rand on the knife-edge of insanity, this volume focused on Egwene and Perrin, sometimes Mat. All of whom were far more interesting to follow around than Bayle Domon in the last book. But I missed Rand. Whenever he did come onstage, I wound up heartbroken for him.

For the first time, I almost liked Mat Cauthon. At the moment I'm reserving judgment, but I think his heart is mostly good.

As for Perrin—I love that guy, and he has proven consistently heroic. It made my day to see him go after Faile.

Egwene got to hang around with Elayne, whom I like, and Nynaeve, whom I continue to love despite her tendency to pull her braid in every scene and her furious transparency about Lan. I like Lan all right, but honestly haven't caught on to that aspect of Nynaeve's emotions. Also, her need for vengeance has gotten a little old.

One of the more powerful scenes in the book, and one I've especially waited for, was Egwene's trip through the three-arched ter'angreal. Robert Jordan didn't disappoint me. He made me cry, actually. It gave me a few ideas about who Egwene might become to Rand: not his wife, but something almost more—leader of the yang as he leads the yin, and through her choice of Ajah, I'd expect her to fight alongside him in Tarmon Gai'don or at least the overarching war. I could live with that.

Now, on to symbolism. First: A sword in a stone that can only be drawn by one person? Hello, King Arthur.

Second: The ter'angreal are truly interesting. Sheriam introduces the three arches as a facing of fears, and certainly Nynaeve and Egwene face fears inside each arch, but their primary test in each case is to obediently leave right in the middle of the most difficult part. I haven't quite figured out what to make of that.

Then there's Egwene's dream ter'angreal: a Möbius strip, a ring with a single edge. Infinity upon infinity? I wish I knew more about Eastern mythology for this sort of thing. These books are circles and threes at every level, and judging from all the red and gold that keeps cropping up, I'd guess they're alchemical, though I haven't caught sight of a pattern yet. I'm less than a quarter of the way through the series. But the Wheel of Time, the ouroboros rings, the White Flame of Tar Valon and the Dragon Fang—these all point to the esoteric, probably the Gnostic and hermetic thought Jordan drew from his Freemasonry.

As a Catholic, of course, I can't reconcile some of these ideas with my own. I ran into one particular philosophical roadblock in this book: Moiraine (if I remember rightly) describes the Dark one, Ba'alzemon, as—among other things—the "embodiment of paradox." My brain went straight to one of Chesterton's discussions of symbolism:
"For the circle is perfect and infinite in its nature; but it is fixed for ever in its size; it can never be larger or smaller. But the cross, though it has at its heart a collision and a contradiction, can extend its four arms for ever without altering its shape. Because it has a paradox in its centre it can grow without changing. The circle returns upon itself and is bound. The cross opens its arms to the four winds; it is a signpost for free travellers."—Orthodoxy, Chapter 2
Symbols are merely expressions of ideas, and not necessarily fixed in their interpretations. I'm pretty sure that Jordan, an Anglican, wouldn't equate Jesus with the Dark One. Still—I've long believed that lone ideas can be dangerous, especially in reaction to an apparent opposite, and that paradox brings light and order and beauty to the world. You'll never catch me calling it the epitome of evil in one of my books. :P

Be that as it may, Jordan is an impressive symbolist. It's part of what makes reading his work so fun.

Anyway, I'm tasting a bit of my love for Harry Potter in the way I'm feeling about this series thus far. There's a lot left to read, though. I remember the niggling worry in the days leading up to Deathly Hallows, wondering—how is Rowling going to resolve all this? Will I be as happy with the seventh book as with the previous six, or will she kill it for me? Jordan could go either way. For now, I intend to read on.

Recommendation: I just compared my feelings for The Wheel of Time to Harry Potter. If that's not enough recommendation, what is?


Top Ten Tuesday: The Fictional Family

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

This week's theme:

Choose the top ten characters you'd want as family members.

I love my family, and there's not a book character in the world that I'd trade them for. But if I were to make a fictional version of myself, and surround that Jenna with already-existing fictional people, here's who I'd pick:

Father: Mortimer Folchart. Who can help loving Mo? He's such a good man.

Mother: Marmee March. Nobody in all of fiction does a better job of raising their daughters than Marmee.

Brothers and sisters: The Pevensie children, especially if I get to be Lucy.

Aunt and uncle: Aunt and Uncle Gardiner. Not only are they kind and considerate and good-humored, they take superb vacations. I'm up for the Derbyshire tour, carriage and all.

Daughter: India Opal Buloni. I'd help her forget her sad memories, and I'd totally be okay with the dog.

Son: Can I be mom to all the Weasley boys? I could never pick just one. And I'd take Ginny, too, of course. Mrs. Weasley is my hero.

Grandfather: The Alm-Uncle. He may have a tough exterior, but he loves his little Heidi with a very big heart.

Grandmother: Miss Alice from Christy. I'm really reaching here; surely I'm forgetting some great grandmas... But Miss Alice is wise, lovely, and resorts to Quaker thees and thous in affectionate moments. Of course, I mean the character from the Catherine Marshall novel—if you've only seen the old TV series, you've seen an exceptionally cool and hard portrayal of her.

Who would you pick?


Helpful Writing Links

Most Fridays, I post one of the most interesting or useful writing-related links I've found in a week. The only problem with that is the sheer number of excellent writing-related pieces I've usually read within any given seven days. Here's a little catchup:

Know yourself. Are you a Dreamer or a Keeper? Most of us, as Sarah Clarkson says, have a bit of both. As a fantasy writer, I can't help sympathizing with some of the Dreamer ideas—or at least the language thereof—but for the most part, I'd classify myself as a Keeper. If that puts me in a category with Jane Austen, all the more delightful.

Rachelle Gardner busts a few myths, including the idea that a good book will find a publisher and success. This terrifies me, but it's true that there simply are no guarantees. The quoted Kristin Nelson statement about success, with its use of the word "lottery", says a lot.

Diana Pharaoh Francis tells The Truth About Writing Books, including the facts that second books really don't come any easier than the first, and that "...every writer is neurotically different in his or her own way." True. Very true.

Zoë Marriott continues the neurotic theme with a tale of insecurity. I haz it, too. Don't we all.

Jaclyn Dolamore speaks a little common sense into our fears of the query process. As someone wound incredibly tight in pre-query mode, this came as something of a relief.

Michael Hyatt gives tips on creating mental focus. I'm totally with him on keeping caffeine in moderation, working in timed bursts with breaks, and setting mini-goals. I am also tempted to try the music thing. Music can be much more distracting than helpful, but if it's instruments only... maybe a little Clair de Lune would help me focus on that novel of mine.

Katie Ganshert talks about disaster planning for writers. I have every intention of trying her notecard technique with a couple of my novels-in-progress.



Out of Many Waters and other stories

Japan, Japan... there aren't words.

There are, at least, numerous ways to help out.

I'll second Mark Shea in both prayers for Japan and gratitude that our coast didn't also get hit. And since I've lived for years in paranoiac terror of a tsunami here (no doubt following an earthquake caused by the faultline running right along our coast, which would probably also set off our resident active volcano, Mt. Baker... so much for positive thinking), Mr. Shea also deserves my thanks. He put me more at ease for Bellingham's sake, at least.

God of heaven and earth, hear our prayers for the people of Japan—for safety and provision for those who survived, that the missing will be found, and for the souls of those who died.

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Thanks to Easter being almost as late as it can possibly be this year, for those of us on the Gregorian calendar, at least, Ash Wednesday finally rolled around this week. It feels odd to just be starting Lent, halfway through March and so near spring.

The night before, we had an impromptu Mardi Gras celebration with some friends. It might have been the first time I ever made more than passing notice of the holiday. No flashing at our party—it was strictly chaste. :) But I did bring brownies, since I'm giving up sugar for Lent and didn't have time to figure out how to make king cake.

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Lou and I came in possession of my family's antique dining table a couple weeks ago. Like most old dining tables, it came chairless, so we drove down to IKEA in Renton and got some plain straight-backed chairs to go around it.

IKEA is painted blue. As in, the primary color—the bright version used for Legos and Play-Doh and the like. I never knew this.

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Writers' link of the week: Nathan Bransford on self-publishing millionaires Amanda Hocking, J.A. Konrath, and the publishing industry. This piece fascinated me from start to finish. I'm one of those who will pay premium for my favorite books—I spent $35 to get Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows from a local indie bookstore at midnight on release day—but when it comes to buying books I haven't read, I've got a limited budget and am therefore slow and choosy.

It's tempting to buy something by Ms. Hocking just to see how well someone can put together a book by themselves. I'm curious. :) Besides, her covers are just lovely.

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Music of the week: Allegri's Miserere mei Deus, in short form I think—the full version apparently runs near ten minutes. The work is an arrangement of Psalm 51 in Latin. Sung by the Boys Air Choir:

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Funny of the week: I don't know where YA Highway got this chart, but it is awesome.

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Last year, Lou and I forgot to change our clocks and wound up attending Mass in Spanish. Which was kind of fun, but I think we'll try and show up for an English liturgy this year. Don't forget to set your clocks ahead!

Happy weekend. :)


Currently Reading: The Book of Three

"That's not the end of it," Taran said. "She means to kill my friend."

"If she does that," said Eilonwy, "I'm sure she'll include you. Achren doesn't do things by halves. It would be a shame if you were killed. I should be very sorry. I know I wouldn't like it to happen to me..."

Author: Lloyd Alexander

Synopsis: Taran works his job as Assistant Pig-Keeper and dreams of heroism. When he loses the magic pig and winds up on a quest to help his hero, Gwydion, he finds the whole process somewhat more difficult and uncomfortable than he expected. Before long, he is running for his life, trying to protect a few of the peskiest friends anyone could ever ask for. But good and evil are fighting for his world, and with the help of friends and dreams, even Assistant Pig-Keepers can become heroes.

Notes: This book was a kick to read—just hilarious.

Nearly every character in the tale was annoying, yet in a totally endearing way. Exaggeration-prone Fflewddur Flam with his honest harp, opinionated Eilonwy, and... Gurgi.

Gurgi is unique; I can't think of many characters like him. The closest I can come is either Guy from the Tim Allen movie Galaxy Quest, who fears that his role is always to be the superfluous character who dies, or Mog from Spaceballs. (Two of the funniest movies I've ever seen, incidentally, though the latter is not overly clean.) So, Gurgi reminds me of two awkward, amusing characters from sci-fi spoofs, and almost nobody else. I don't quite know what to make of that, but his behavior and his Dobbyish way of speaking (or does Dobby have a Gurgyish way of speaking?) made me laugh a lot. And I've got to say—if I can do it without spoilers—that a certain scene between Taran and Gurgi is one of the most moving in the book.

Which leads me to my favorite thing about the tale: the protagonist's friendships. Taran and Eilonwy, bickering; Taran and Gurgi, learning to respect each other; Taran quietly watching Fflewddur tell outrageous lies, Taran and each of his heroes. These made the book for me. I think Eilonwy will be my favorite. Yes, of course, that means I plan to keep reading.

Recommendation: Certainly—it's a cheerful, satisfying, light read. Keep a thumb in the pronunciation guide in the back.

Edit: Trusting memory instead of Googling to double-check = FAIL. "Mog" should have been Barf the Mawg. Oops. :)


Top Ten Tuesday: Dynamic Duos

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

Right, so I couldn't stick to duos. I had to include a trio and a quartet.

1. Frodo and Sam [The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien]. The friendship between these two is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful things in literature. Sam's wholehearted faithfulness and Frodo's humility and gentleness make for a near-perfect depiction of love.

2. Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger [Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling]. Their Platonic spirit/body/mind resonances support a powerful chemistry and commitment, from their bonding over the memorable mountain troll battle through their obvious affection "Nineteen years later."

3. Sofya Semyonovna and Rodion Romanovitch Raskolnikov [Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky]. One is a prostitute, the other a murderer. But there is honest-to-goodness redemptive love between those two.

4. Fred and George Weasley [Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling]. Weasley's Wizard Wheezes? The famed exit from Hogwarts? The way they talk, alternating phrases? The determined loyalty to their family? I don't know what to say about them—every thought makes me want to laugh or cry.

5. Legolas and Gimli [The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien]. Fast friends whose character and love bond them despite opposite natural tastes and beliefs. How can anyone not admire that?

6. Eustace Scrubb and Jill Pole [The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis]. "Gosh, what a little tick I was." "Well, honestly, you were." They're stubborn, they're honest, and they get through a lot together.

7. The March sisters [Little Women, Louisa May Alcott]. I grew up with sisters, and the Meg-Jo-Beth-Amy quartet rang true and tender.

8. Tom and Huck [The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain]. They're desperately annoying, even if they are hilarious, but how can they not be included?

9. Mo and Meggie Folchart [The Inkworld trilogy, Cornelia Funke]. A father-daughter pair well worth the inclusion on this list.

10. Jane and Lizzy Bennet / Elinor and Marianne Dashwood [Pride and Prejudice / Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen]. Tie. Austen sisters for the win.

Honorable mentions: Peter Pan and Wendy (whom Kelly listed, but I forgot about), Heidi and Peter the Goatherd, Enna and Isi and Razo... and I feel like I'm forgetting some important people. Also, a lot of these lists will probably want modification after I've finished the Wheel of Time books, but as yet I don't dare include anyone since Robert Jordan doesn't always take relationships where I expect them to go. :P

Who would you include?


The Writer and the Stage

I'll never be Lady Gaga.
When not writing novels, blogging, or keeping house, most of you know that I moonlight as a musician. This has given me a fair amount of experience with getting up in front of people. I've performed solo, with my sisters, in worship teams and church choirs, with a Gregorian chant schola and with a barbershop chorus. Sometimes I've sung my own music; sometimes other people's. I've given public performances where the crowd expected me to deliver on the promise of entertainment, and I've stood on the platform for church liturgies and services where the musician's goal is to disappear and leave the prayer standing, whole and on its own.

Not that I've ever been brilliant at it. My soft little half-trained voice and quiet guitar and not-very-showy personality are rather more suited to the corner of a coffee shop than center stage. But I know the stage, and I have the awkward love-and-fear relationship with it that anyone might. Anyone, at least, who has artistic impulses and the tendency to succumb to violent tremors when nervous.

Stage fright is such a primal thing. I can't reason it away any more than in my outdoorsy days I could convince myself, harnessed and anchored, to leap off a platform forty feet in the air. There's not much risk to swinging by doubled-up ropes from aircraft-carrier cable bolted into trees. My mind knew that; my body believed otherwise. When it comes to the performing arts, my body consistently rebels against my mind's calming words.

But the stage isn't entirely a world of horrors. If it was, I'd not have returned to it, either by seeking it or having it asked of me.

As a writer, whether of song or prose, creation is usually complete only in sharing of the finished work. Hard as it has always been to pull out the guitar and tell my family "I wrote a new song" (even when I know they'd appreciate it), I've done it. My fingers always shake on the strings. But the performance—that act of sharing what has been written—is always an important ritual. It's an acknowledgment that what I've created does not belong to me alone. That it must be given.

It has always been the hardest gift for me to give.

Much as we may dream of fame and fortune, few humans take comfort in platforms that raise us over the heads of others, that put bright lights on us and ask us to pour out what our hearts hold. We novelists may think we're exempt from that necessity—I sometimes catch myself cheerfully picturing a hidden, literary life—but with authors reputedly having to do more and more of their own marketing, I doubt most of us can get away with the reclusive ideal.

Not that I'm worrying about book tours and the like, not yet. I've got to sell the novel first, and should such things happen, at least the performance aspect won't be a new experience. The stage meets me in other ways, though—less immediate, less oh-heavens-maybe-I-should-start-taking-beta-blockers panic-inducing, but nonetheless real and challenging.

For instance, having my story critiqued. Or trying to write a minimum of four blog-posts a week, all of which need to be well-written, reasonably interesting, and not overly likely to cause me shame. Then there are the query and submission processes, in which everyone gets rejected sometimes.

I keep thinking all of this will get easier with practice. Over the last few months, I've had numerous encounters with the stage in the form of solo vocals. I've been out of my wits every time. If anything, the stage fright has gotten worse.

Why didn't I pick life goals that could be lived out behind the scenes? Why choose the writer's world of performing and publishing, which puts me constantly at war with my own fears and pride? I'm already the nailbiting sort—why make monsters of my insecurities?

In some ways, it was never a choice. Like many writers, I don't remember a life without writing and can't imagine one. In other ways, it's a choice every time I say yes to a request for music or hit send on an email containing a manuscript. Sometimes I say yes only because I couldn't live with myself if I started saying no out of fear.

There may be better answers to these questions, but I don't know them. For now, there's only another deep breath, another step up onto the stage, and a constant prayer for the strength to sing.


Tweak and Polish and other stories

As of Tuesday, I missed my self-imposed let's-do-this query deadline. As of today, the query is still in stages of minor tweaking, and the novel itself is only halfway through a final polishing read (not counting Anne Mini's drilled-in before you submit read, where the otherwise-finished manuscript is read IN ITS ENTIRETY, IN HARD COPY, and OUT LOUD. I will be doing that, oh yes. With all three hundred and seventeen pages.)

Better to submit when the polish is complete than risk rejection by an over-stressed agency assistant who has seen one too many characters looking at each other. So says everyone. And I agree. I have to do this sometime, perfectionism be danged, but I'm getting through all the steps first.

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Also as of Tuesday, Lou and I celebrated the third anniversary of our engagement—an event which made for, among other things, what is still one of my favorite blog-posts I've ever written (excepting the green of the text, which is an unfortunate remainder of my rookie-blogger stupidities.) What can I say? I was just so happy.

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The cuteness of a cat, present even when misbehaving, appears to be a powerful natural defense. Cats might not survive as a species if they weren't so adorable.

But I do love Maia. Even though I scolded her for jumping onto the stove this morning, she's cuddled down on my lap right now. Which I appreciate, because the living room is so cold today, even with the furnace going.

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Writers' link of the week: Kirsten Hubbard's excellent piece on setting.

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Music of the week: How did I miss this? It was uploaded days ago, and I follow the MoM boys around like an over-driven detective in legal fiction, waiting for them to post music videos. Speaking of which, I need to find myself some more good literature-themed music. I love wizard rock, but Harry Potter isn't the only tale out there, and thus far, I've not managed to get into Led Zeppelin or Iron Maiden.

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Funny of the week: The Onion's stats on Why Haven't We Finished Our Novel. I notice they don't include "too busy blogging" and "keeps chickening out of difficult plot decisions and justifying that cowardice by killing time reading other writers' blogs."

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I've actually cleaned house today before working on my blog post. As it turns out, there is a first time for everything.

Happy weekend!


Currently Reading: The Goose Girl

"I'm sorry, my lady," said Geric, rubbing his arm, "but I failed to force an apology out of the offending goose."

"You're not likely to, either. He's a naughty bird. They all are."

"Poor company."

"Oh, but I like my geese. Like cats, they can't be told what to do, and like dogs, they're loyal, and like people, they talk every chance they get."

Author: Shannon Hale

Synopsis: Princess Anidori-Kiladra of Kildenree, thought of no use in her own country, is forced into an arranged marriage with the prince of Bayern. As she travels to meet her prince, her lady-in-waiting, Selia, mutinies with the help of nearly all her guard, and Ani has to flee for her life. With the aid of a Forest family, she makes her way into Bayern, disguises herself, and goes to work tending the king's geese.

Selia has successfully installed herself in the palace as the prince's fiancée, put a watch out for someone of Ani's description, and begun to provoke war between the two countries. As Bayern prepares to attack the peaceful Kildenreans and the wedding approaches, Ani has nothing with which to stop Selia but her golden Kildenrean hair, her ability to speak to the wind, her newfound friends, and the truth. But then, with a little hard work, those just might be enough.

Notes: I read the Grimms' tale this book is based on a long time ago, and probably should have read it again for familiarity, but the key points I remember were there. I love a good fairy tale retelling, and have looked forward to this one for a long time.

Shannon Hale's worlds and people consistently come alive for me. The wind-speaking, the horse speech and various bird languages, especially that of the geese, came off as wholly believable and interesting. And I loved Ani. It made me happy to watch her come to life as she lived among the poor and worked for her truth and her country. Of course, I knew the ending of the story—I've read two sequels. But that didn't stop me from getting caught up in the suspense of her tale.

The romance proved mostly (intentionally) humorous, especially compared to the sweet, slower-built love that Hale heroines Miri and Enna get. On the other hand, Shannon Hale can write some good funny stuff, and the friendships and the character progression are far more important to the story. Getting the history of Ani's friendship with Enna and Razo was one of my favorite things about the book.

Now I just have to read Forest Born, and I'll have gotten through all of Ms. Hale's young adult novels. Wait. Dang it. Hey, Shannon, now that your twins are born, want to write some more books???

Recommendation: Yes. And if you want to make the experience perfect, have some chocolate chip cookies while you read.


Top Ten Tuesday: Books We've Bought and Haven't Read

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

This week's theme:

Top Ten Books I Just HAD To Buy...But Are Still Sitting On My Bookshelf

Most of the time I don't buy a book until I know it's something I really want to read or have to get for my book club, so this was hard. :)

1. Walden by Henry David Thoreau. It's supposed to be good, but...

2. and 3. Not one, but two Arthurian tales—Tennyson's Idylls of the King and Sir James Knowles' King Arthur and His Knights. I've started both and finished neither.

4. C.S. Lewis' The Seeing Eye. A definitely-should-read I've only read bits and pieces of.

5. Fanny Burney's Evelina. That one just got set on a shelf and forgotten. Oops. There's still time, anyway.

6. and 7. A couple of foreign language books, one a Russian kids' novel (if I'm guessing right from the cover and title), titled Kanykuli v stranye skazok, which I think translates to "Tale of a vacation in the country" or something like that. I know less Russian than I used to, and I never knew much. The second is an English-Arabic picture dictionary, which I've never been able to make sense of.

...and that's all I've got. Most of the other unread or half-read books on my shelf were either inherited (sorry, Mark Twain, I haven't read every one of the almost-complete set of your novels yet) or given to me (you know how sometimes people give you books they think will benefit your worldview? They never seem to try fiction. But if I'm not interested in the worldview, and it's also not a good novel, it's a lot less likely to come off my shelf. :P)

What have you just had to buy, and then never read?