Home in All Seasons and other stories

A year ago today, we got the keys to our little house. Back then, it looked like this:

As of early this morning (hence the shade), it looks like this:

Why, yes, I have been having fun with it. :)

It's a great home—for me and Lou, for Maia, for a Great Pumpkin vine:

For a new set of basil seedlings, which have valiantly survived getting overturned twice:

For a set of tomato vines, which I am desperately trying to carry just a little longer through the standard Western Washington case of early blight:

Race against time: tomato crop
...versus the blight
...but there's hope!
And for a lot of other garden inhabitants, including a plethora of buttercups and the occasional squirrel. It also plays spring housing for a pair of finches, hostel to a couple of Steller's jays, and neighbor to a number of other small birds.

We've seen it in all its seasons, now, and I am satisfied. It's my Silver Bush, my Pemberley, my Burrow, and I'm grateful for it every day.

* * *

One busy morning this week, I pulled a load of towels from the dryer, dropped it on the bed, and went in for a shower. Twenty minutes later, I returned and began folding. It took me a few moments and a couple of washcloth-foldings to notice this:

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Writers' link of the week: Since Monday's post was on rest, here's Hilary Smith's "dark house, empty bowl: on leaving the world for a novel (and making it back alive)". A good reminder that we can't live entirely in the writing mania, and that the soul needs the care and feeding of normal life between times.

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Music of the week: I discovered Kokia a few weeks ago while looking for arrangements of Ave Maria (and her voice on the Caccini is quite stunning). Turns out, she's done everything from background music for anime to pop Christian music. In other news, I'm sometimes rather sorry that with all the languages I've dabbled in for days and weeks at a time, I never tried Japanese.

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Random amusement of the week: What kind of book reader are you? I couldn't choose between three; I'm a Chronological, Cross-Under Bookophile. Those of you who have never read Anne of Green Gables may see yourselves listed specifically under Delayed Onset Reader #1. :)

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And now, after professing my love for this house, I had better go clean it. Cheers! And happy weekend.


Currently Reading: Hood

Hood (King Raven, #1)That night Bran sat in the corner by the hearth, sipping wine in sombre silence, brooding over the unfairness of the Ffreinc king, the inequity of a world where the whims of one fickle man could doom so many, and the seemingly limitless injustices—large and small—of life in general. And why was everyone looking to him to put it right? "For the sake of Elfael and the throne," Ffreol had said. Well, the throne of Elfael had done nothing for him—save provide him with a distant and disapproving father. Remove the throne of Elfael—take away Elfael itself and all her people. Would the world be so different? Would the world even notice the loss? Besides, if God in his wisdom had bestowed his blessing on King William, favoring the Ffreinc ascendancy with divine approval, who were any of them to disagree?

When heaven joined battle against you, who could stand?

Author: Stephen R. Lawhead

Synopsis: In this medieval Welsh retelling of Robin Hood, dissipated young prince Bran ap Brychan is left with the responsibility for his people when his father is murdered—and with a price on his head, courtesy of the lord who has taken over his castle and his land. Bran never had much interest in being king even when there was a kingship to be had, but the terrible plight of his fellow Welshmen calls out to him. Setting up operations in the midst of the heavy forests around Elfael, he leads a band of outcasts in a campaign of hooded terror and robbery against the intruders, hoping to raise money enough to aid the people and buy back their land from King William.

Notes: "The Welsh are extreme in all they do, so that if you never meet anyone worse than a bad Welshman, you will never meet anyone better than a good one." Thus writes Gerald of Wales, quoted at the back of this novel as part of Lawhead's fascinating defense for his choice to set the Robin Hood legend among the Cymry—the eleventh-century Welsh. The quote continues with: "Above all, they are passionately devoted to liberty, and almost excessively warlike."

Lawhead's "Rhi Bran"—'King Raven'—starts off rather indolent and dispassionate, thanks perhaps to a privileged but abusive upbringing, but events and destiny waken the outlaw we all know and love. He's at least as much angry freedom fighter as playful robber, however, and his character development and exploits are neatly interlaced with a portrayal of historic Wales under Norman invasion.

Bran himself is a generally well-built character forced to undergo an arduous hero's journey, but Lawhead plays freely with reader affections and allows moments of flat dislike for the protagonist. Not only that, he creates a certain amount of sympathy—not approval, but understanding and pity—for Bran's enemies at times, alternated with horror. Sympathizing with 'the bad guys' is always an uncomfortable experience, but realistic in light of the humanity of the villains, and admittedly well suited to a tale of good-hearted thieves.

While the story is historical fiction first, it reads like fantasy, with several loosely supernatural occurrences to bolster that sense. The character development, action, and world-building so crucial to the success of the fantasy genre are all present, though I've met both worlds and characters with more powerful emotional resonance.

As for the writing, Lawhead is a serviceable if sometimes mildly annoying prosist with a good strong grasp of story structure. Comparing his Hood to Robin McKinley's Outlaws of Sherwood, the former cannot match the latter's beautiful phrasing and quick, powerful emotional connections, but is decidedly structurally superior. Hood may prove difficult for readers to get into on account of that, but the intriguing history and suspense win out eventually.

The portrayal of the medieval Church contains the standard grasping, worldly bishops and cardinals, but also holy, humble, and sincere churchmen; the latter including the ever-amusing Tuck, here in a role of lovable cornball heroism. The lot of them are blessedly free of anachronistic evangelical Protestant thought patterns—which sometimes appear in historical fiction from categorically Christian publishing lines (Thomas Nelson, in this case)—though Angharad has her suspicious moments. Lawhead treats history with deep respect, and publishing house aside, this book is simply fiction without the need for the word Christian preceding it.

The situation among the oppressed Cymry gives the Robin Hood legend a firm and unique placement, setting this novel apart from other retellings. It also raises the stakes enough to make its sequels seem not only like probably reasonable developments, but important and desirable ones.

Recommendation: Read it for a fresh take on Robin Hood and some interesting history. Don't pass up Lawhead's defense of his Welsh setting, either; that's likely to be one of the most enjoyable parts of the book.


Top Ten Tuesday: Confessions of a Bookish Sinner

All right, there is nothing on this list that I've had to mention in a confessional. Yet. But I'm a bit shy about it anyway. After all, at confession, I just talk to Jesus; here, I'm admitting my faults to the whole internet.

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

Don't think too badly of me, but...

1. I almost can't read non-fiction books anymore. Blogs have totally spoiled me for 60,000-word information dumps.

2. I'm just on the tipping point where I'm about to start not finishing novels that don't appeal to me in the first fifty pages.

3. I hate it, hate it, hate it when people make notes or highlight passages in a novel. LET ME EXPERIENCE IT FOR MYSELF.

4. Back when I shared a room with siblings, a book fell off the shelf above my top bunk to land sprawling on the floor, wedged behind my sister's bunk. I loathed that particular book so much that I left it there. In fact, I might have encouraged it off the shelf.

5. I am terrified of writing forcefully negative book reviews, but I sometimes think it would be cathartic.

6. I finish approximately one-third of my book club's book picks.

7. For these seven deadly sins I will get disproportionately furious with entire stories: 1) preachy Christianity; 2) anti-Christianity; 3) preachy politics; 4) ideological sexual amorality; 5) graphic, clinically-described violence à la Jurassic Park or The Hunger Games; 6) unsympathetic characters; 7) miserable endings. I'll avoid them beforehand if I can spot them coming. Sorry. This stuff revolts me like an overdose of greasy fried fish.

8. I like Harry Potter so much that I'm afraid I'm a bit of a jerk to people who insist that his story is dangerous. See? I didn't have to use the word insist. I could have used something more generous, like 'believe'. I like Harry Potter so much that I'm afraid I'm a bit of a jerk to people who believe that his story is dangerous. Mea maxima culpa. Forgive me.

9. When I'm deeply focused on writing or revising my own stories, I prefer not to read. It's sometimes almost impossible to shift out of my own characters' minds and into someone else's.

And possibly the worst:

10. I have a very hard time understanding other people's taste in books. Why do they like this one, which I loved, and that one, which I didn't? Why aren't they turned off by this author's weird use of commas? Why is their perspective on that novel totally opposite from mine? Why doesn't everyone think just exactly as I do? The world would make so much more sense.... :P

All right, don't leave me embarrassing myself by myself. Confess your own bookish sins in the combox, or link your own post on the subject. It always feels rather good to come clean.

Six Days You Shall Labor: The Artist and the Importance of Rest

"There's never enough time to do all the nothing you want."
~Bill Watterson

Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your manservant, or your maidservant, or your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it.
~Exodus 20: 9-11

I feel like rest is an under-appreciated and under-pursued essential in the artistic life; in any life really.... I think of Tolstoy, lost in the distractions of his brilliance and passion; of eerie, miserable Virginia Woolf; of Joyce’s desire to be someone other than who he was and I’m thankful to be un-encumbered by genius, to be full of a restfulness and a love of simple opulence. I have no intention of letting my life slide by. But rest is a part of life, isn’t it?

I can't claim to belong to the guild of restless genii, but I'm certainly encumbered by difficulty in relaxation. I dislike most games, tend to get bored if forced to go very long without a book or my computer or a notebook and pen, and generally avoid public gatherings like bars (too noisy) and parks (too crowded). Novel-reading is usually restful only if I've already read the book; otherwise, the suspense is exhausting. Movies work most of the time, but if my mind is busy enough with a story of my own, I'll tune out the movie and focus on my story. That's an uncomfortable experience, but I can do it.

The fact is, some of us artist-types thrill to work—our work, anyway. We're not necessarily bigger fans of mindless drudgery than the rest of humankind. Sometimes, one form of creativity is all the rest that is needed from another; Masha exemplifies this when she says that she writes better after throwing pottery and throws better after writing. At other times, plain relaxation is needed, and Masha describes a day of hers thusly:
My feet are up, Yarrow is sleeping and I’m alone with my thoughts. I’m not talking to anyone, and I’m listening as Tori Amos rocks me back to the nineties. I spent most of the day resting, at a cafe while my mother wandered with Yarrow. I didn’t write anything, or post any blogs, I got into an argument on Facebook about the nature of sin and bought my husband a random gift on Amazon. Now it’s dark and I’m drinking coffee in candle-light.
For the work-loving artist, rest must often be actively sought. Various places to find it include:
  • Nurture
  • Another form of art
  • Prayer
  • Nature
  • Contemplation of beauty
  • Alone time
  • Family and/or friends time
The hardest thing, though—the one that stands in the way of many a relaxing Sunday afternoon or stress-free get-together—is letting go of the constant fretting over projects, over the passage of time, over the quantity and weight of the items on a to-do list. Masha is right that "rest is an under-appreciated and under-pursued essential... We like to be busy." I've not read the entirety of the book in which this is contained, but author Annie Payson Call has a vital point:
"A large amount of nervous energy is expended unnecessarily while waiting. If we are obliged to wait for any length of time, it does not hurry the minutes or bring that for which we wait to keep nervously strained with impatience; and it does use vital force, and so helps greatly toward "Americanitis." The strain which comes from an hour's nervous waiting, when simply to let yourself alone and keep still would answer much better, is often equal to a day's labor."
Rest, desired or not, is part of life. The challenge is to surrender to it when it's offered. I am not the only artist, let alone the only person, who becomes chronically insomniac in the throes of big projects. Nor am I the only one who gets irritated in the back of the DMV with my number on a paper slip. There may not be many people who try to outline the last half of their current novel-in-progress during a movie, but there are some of us, and I'm far from being alone in my inability to make it through a single Eucharistic prayer without getting distracted by the impulse to plan or create.

Call charges her readers with "disobedience... of the laws of rest." She is, however, optimistic: "...fortunately, if we are nervous and short-sighted, we have a good share of brain and commonsense when it is once appealed to, and a few examples will open our eyes and set us thinking, to real and practical results."

It seems the height of wisdom that a day sacred to rest and worship sits among the Ten Commandments. It's also the one I break most often. I'm not Jewish and it might not be sinful by my creed to do a little story-writing in the afternoon of my holy day, but it might not be wise, either. There are consequences to slaving over unnecessary work at the expense of silence and rest: burnout, an increase of selfish tendencies, the overlooking of needs close to us, wasted energy, relational breakdown, temperamental decay, superficiality... the list could surely go on.

This week, perhaps I'll take a little exercise in the resting of the mind. Prune my tomatoes without plotting blog-posts. Give over those last-minute checks of Facebook at 11:30 PM, and pray the rosary before sleep instead of imagining out the rest of A.D.'s storyline. Read and sing instead of double-checking Google Reader. Worry just a little less about what I might not be accomplishing.

What might you do to find rest in your own life?


The Blogger is Absurdly Tardy and other stories

Yes, this blog is getting posted awfully late. I'm not sure whether to use huckleberry picking for my excuse, claiming that it took up half my week, or whether to admit that I've been writing my book in the mornings for a couple of hours before even opening my email, which means other stuff gets put off till later in the day.

All I can do is make up for it with cat pictures.

* * *

So yes, huckleberry picking. The berries weren't particularly thick, but we got a few. Otherwise, it was really a rather fun year. It was sunny but not baking hot, there were hardly any bugs—though Lou did pick two spiders off me the first evening—and it's hard to beat good family time.

Highlights include:
  • Visiting with—among other awesome family members—Maria and Katie, who have both commented here.
  • Talking with ten-year-old Daniel and twelve-year-old Victoria, both of whom absolutely loved the book Pride & Prejudice.
  • Getting rather badly lost with Lou and Daniel, and finding our way back after 45 minutes of hard walking and praying (thank God! And thanks, St. Anthony, St. Jude, Mary, and St. Joseph for the prayers...)
  • Getting to see the Swan flying at its zenith among the stars, far away from ambient light. It's startling how much more depth and dimension the night sky has when you're standing in the middle of nowhere.
And other things, like auntie-time and long conversations and Aunt Wynn's biscuits and rosaries around the campfire. And not getting eaten by bears. Or mosquitoes. That sort of thing.

All pictures courtesy of Lou, with whom I left the camera as he's less prone to getting awkward shots of people halfway between sitting and standing, making faces, tying shoes, and the like.

* * *

It would be beneath a cat’s dignity to admit it, I suppose, but Maia seemed sincerely glad to see us when we got home—or at least, sincerely glad to see the return of her source of tummy rubs. She was unusually cuddly the first day we were home, which meant the morning went something like this:
Maia: Purrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. *jumps on Jenna’s lap* *settles down and enjoys an ear scratch*
Lou: *shifts position on couch*
Maia: THE SKY IS FALLING! *bolts*
Me: Ow! Do you have to push off quite that hard?
Lou, laughing: I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle her.
Me: Oh, it’s not just you. She also does that when the postman puts the mail in the box, and when people walk by on the sidewalk.
Maia, several minutes later: *jumps on Jenna’s lap* Purrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. *cuddles*
Me: You should know, cat, that I’ve got to get up and switch the laundry and freeze another batch of huckleberries. Aw, but you're so cute. Did you miss your people? Poor kitty. I suppose I can hold off another few minutes.
Lou: *shifts position on couch*
Me: OW. Curses.
Lou, laughing: "I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle her."
Me: It’s not your fault. Anyway, I should get up. *continues working on computer*
And thusly.

* * *

Writers' link of the week: As much as I talk about story, and the power of story, and the worth and value of the narrative arts—I think it's healthy to remember the truth explained in David Wong's "5 Ways You Don't Realize Movies are Controlling Your Brain." Also, it's sometimes funny. Standard Cracked advisories apply.

* * *

Music of the week: Meditation from Thaïs.

* * *

Random amusement of the week: How to pronounce Uranus. I agree wholeheartedly with his final suggestion, and might just be pretentious enough to start doing that.

* * *

And now it's ten o'clock, and I'm off. Good night, and happy weekend!


Harvesttime Quests and other stories

Huckleberry picking is next week. And as much as I love blogging, y’all—and I really do—it’s a lot easier when I have internet access. Therefore, I’m taking Monday through Wednesday off. The blog should return next Friday, with huckleberry-picking pictures if I don't forget to bring the camera.

* * *

Thanks, everyone, for the happy anniversary wishes from last week! It was.

Having gone out to dinner just days before, we decided to stay in and grill steaks, which meant that I got to have fun with the decorations.

Lou took the pictures. Candlelight photography has never been my gift.

* * *

In other news from the week, Bellingham has had a proper heat wave for once:

That was today. I just went outside and panicked because some of the leaves were drooping on my pumpkin vine. Fortunately for the garden, it's supposed to cool down a little after today, but I've missed hot weather so much that I only complained once, and only halfheartedly, while standing over a stove boiling blackberry juice to rubber last night. (Oh, the quest for the mythic 'jelly stage', which dwells somewhere between syrup and rock candy. We'll see whether I succeeded when I open the first jar and try to spread the contents on a plate of biscuits.)

I do find myself liking the adventure of harvesting and preserving. Mom and I canned five quarts of apple cider—the product of our big old Transparent tree—yesterday, as well as plum jam. All you L.M. Montgomery fans, remember from Anne of Avonlea that "Davy had no sorrows that plum jam could not cure"? I believe he was caught swiping spoonfuls from the cupboard once, too. Well, now I know why. Methinks I need a plum tree.

* * *

Writers' link of the week: By posting this, I feel guilty of the 'indirect boast', which Mr. Darcy applied to Mr. Bingley as follows:
"Nothing is more deceitful," said Darcy, "than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast."

"And which of the two do you call my little recent piece of modesty?"

"The indirect boast; for you are really proud of your defects in writing, because you consider them as proceeding from a rapidity of thought and carelessness of execution, which if not estimable, you think at least highly interesting."
Still, I liked this Pearl S. Buck quote, and I have a feeling that most of you fellow artists will, too.

* * *

Music of the week: In honor of the Feast of the Assumption, which was Wednesday, Ave Maria.

* * *

Random amusement of the week: Arabella sent me this comic as reminiscent of Maia. The concept is funny, but it's the posture and expression of the cat in the front that's the kicker. Also, the artist is apparently fond of making cat cartoons, so there's more to see.

* * *

I'm off to clean house, make dinner, and water the garden! Happy weekend, and have a pleasant next week as well.


Currently Reading: The Name of the Wind

The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle #1)“Here you go then.” The innkeeper laid down three pens, a jar of ink, and my receipt from the bookstore. “These gave me almost as much of a puzzle as why you had run off without your clothes.”

“I’m going to the University,” I explained.

He raised an eyebrow. “A little young, aren’t you?”

I felt a nervous chill at his words, but shrugged it off. “They take all kinds.” He nodded politely as if that explained why I had shown up barefoot and reeking of back alleys.

Author: Patrick Rothfuss

Synopsis: Unwilling to let himself go down misrepresented in history, Kvothe Kingkiller narrates his own story to the Chronicler. Over the course of this first day, he tells of his beginnings in a troupe of the performing Edema Ruh, of destitution when the Chandrian destroy the life he knows, and of becoming a gifted musician and arcanist and joining the University.

Notes: While much of epic fantasy focuses on the saving of worlds and the motions of kings and armies, The Name of the Wind—the first in a trilogy known as The Kingkiller Chronicles—focuses in on a single character, known as Kvothe (which, Rothfuss helpfully points out early on, rhymes with “quothe”, which I believe is supposed to be “quoth”, but that may just be my spelling nerdery up against unstated reasoning from the author.) Kvothe is genius, wizard, musician, performer, hero, failure, naive yet street-smart, dangerous but compassionate—more than enough character for what should eventually be three 600-page books.

Though ostensibly told in third person, the bulk of the narrative is Kvothe’s own: an older-and-wiser, sometimes poignant, sometimes humorous telling; something like what might have happened if The Wonder Years had been written about Aragorn son of Arathorn.

From its beautiful title and short, haunting first chapter, Kvothe’s story sets itself among the great works of fantasy. Prose-wise, it’s not the only great work to contain annoying stylistic quirks, but said quirks are comparatively few and the book reads smoothly overall. Kvothe’s insistence on giving his own story in his own unedited words, once Chronicler has talked him into it, provides a nice little bit of theorizing about storytelling—nothing too deep, but enough to leave the reader feeling as if they’re in the hands of a master.

As soon as he starts talking, Kvothe himself is immediately human. The reader gets all the vicarious experience of life as a poverty-stricken, exceptionally intelligent wizardry student, but they experience it as Kvothe, with his determination, his faults and strengths. Kvothe is no shell for the reader’s emotions. He insists on being known fully for himself, on account of which, he gains all he needs of the reader’s allegiance.

Rothfuss’ magic system is scientific, treated with all the informative detachment of the university professor. It is neither a sort of superpower, like Robert Jordan’s or J.K. Rowling’s, nor a summoning of supernatural beings, like Susanna Clarke's. Nor is it a form of religious derivative or sorcery; the religion in the book bears no apparent connection to the working of the arcanists at the University, with their sympathetic bindings and alchemical laboratories. It’s an intriguing setup.

Religion does have a presence in the book, but Kvothe comes across as something of an agnostic, more interested in scientific studies and being a man of the world than in the church of Tehlu. The story of Tehlu’s incarnation and conflict with the devil are interesting and full of relatively direct parallels to Christianity, but Kvothe’s closest experience with religious practice thus far is a curious piece of symbolism and a clear complaint about the world’s experience of religion and/or the church. It’s unremarked and beautifully done and therefore rather less irritating than bog-standard church-bashing. The perspective on religion is from the outside, however, for whatever that's worth.

Though technology and fashion are not current, the scientific mindset makes the story and characters comparatively relatable to the present day. Readers not usually interested in high fantasy may find this book to their taste for that reason, among others.

The tale itself, following more after the style of an old storyteller’s work than of a modern suspense novel, makes an honestly pleasurable read. It’s intellectual and witty, gripping but not necessarily out to destroy your workday or your sleep, funny and sad and hopeful, and certainly fascinating enough to hook this reader on the notion of picking up the sequel eventually.

Advisory: The scrael basically seem to be automatic, dog-sized killer spiders. They scared the pants off me in the first couple of chapters, and I was relieved to discover that they had almost no role in the rest of the story. I suspect they’ll show up in future installments, however. Be ye forewarned.

Recommendation: Read it for excellent, thoughtful development of an intriguing character.


Top Ten Tuesday: Storybook Romances That Would Make It In The Real World

Congratulations to The Broke and the Bookish's Jamie, whose wedding is this Friday and the inspiration for this week's topic! Best wishes for your marriage, Jamie. I think you'll love it. :)

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish! Do come join the fun...
The primary difficulty in making this list will be not taking up most of it with every last one of Jane Austen's happy couples. On account of which, the following is formatted one point per author. But I'll start with Jane:

(Mild spoilers ahead)

1. Jane and Mr. Bingley. Because they're so much alike. "Opposites attract" is nowhere near as ideal or common as I once believed, though it works well for some people. In my experience, being married to someone of your own general temperament can be quite comfortable and peaceful.

High honors also to Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, Anne and Captain Wentworth, Edward and Elinor, and probably Emma and Mr. Knightley despite the age difference.

2. The March sisters and their respective spouses. Meg and John were domestic, similarly placid, and generous toward each other. Amy and Laurie "pulled well together", quite beautifully so. And Louisa May Alcott may have invented an Ideal Husband for her stand-in character, but the scraggly, gentlemanly professor and the tomboyish writer were comfortably and lovingly matched.

3. Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe. Gilbert adored Anne, and once Anne figured her own heart out, she understood where her dreams really lay and built her life on that.

Barney and Valancy were equally well suited and wonderful together. Montgomery's Emily/Teddy pairing was a bit more difficult; the reader is forced to convince themselves that the two ever learned to communicate on the human plane. As for Pat, though she was pointlessly clueless for an absurdly long time, I think that when Jingle became her home, he became her whole world.

4. Sam Gamgee and Rosie Cotton. Tolkien wasn't much of a romantic writer—at least, not in the current, common sense of that term—but those two hobbits were down-to-earth, cheerful, and happy filling their house with children.

5. Meg Murry and Calvin O'Keefe. Meg needed a sweet guy who loved her even when she felt ugly, and Calvin needed a loving home. They had everything to offer each other.

6. Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley. They could laugh together. I liked Ron and Hermione, too, but they would probably always have been one of those couples that bickers all the time—which does seem to work for some people. I do love the way Hermione handles Ron in the epilogue.

7. Perrin Aybara and Faile Bashere. Perrin treated Faile respectfully and fought for her, and in return she loved him with her will as well as her heart. Which, of course, is what "making it in the real world" takes.

8. Percy Jackson and Annabeth. Suffering together can do a lot for the strength of a couple's bond. So can loyal friendship.

9. Mo and Resa Folchart. Talk about not being willing to give each other up for lost.

10. Maria Merryweather and Robin. Because Maria was willing to love humbly, and Robin delighted in her.

Why yes, I do like adverbs. How ever can you tell? :)

Which fictional romances do you think likely to survive in the real world?


Ship Comes In: The Artist and Practical Concerns

"..go on and send this one out..I am not so sure that any place will take it..however, the purpose of sending it around would be to show various people that you CAN write stories. After reading this they will remember you and be interested in the next one. Somebody might even take it."
~Flannery O'Connor

"When an artist is in the strict sense working, he of course takes into account the existing taste, interests, and capacity of his audience. These, no less than the language, the marble, or the paint, are part of his raw material; to be used, tamed, sublimated, not ignored or nor defied. Haughty indifference to them is not genius nor integrity; it is laziness and incompetence. You have not learned your job."
~C.S. Lewis (quote from "On Good Works and Good Work", contributed by btanaka)

"...whether I like it or not, the ability to sell writing is an important aspect of the writer’s life. Do you carve out a special time for this aspect of writing—say, Wednesday afternoons to research and marketing? Do you wait for inspiration to strike? Do you dream of something working out without any effort on your part...?"

In my happiest writerly daydreams, Enya is my hero. From Wikipedia (yeah, I know):
"Enya was quoted as saying: 'The success of Watermark surprised me. I never thought of music as something commercial; it was something very personal to me'... An American businessperson has coined the phrase "enyanomics" to explain Enya's ability to sell millions of records without giving any live performances."
In other words: yes, like most introverted artists, I dream of succeeding without having to do the difficult and distasteful work of selling. As a musician, I already know what live performances are like, and I can tell you that my hand shakes when I give autographs (er, autograph... I've done it once) and I nearly misspelled my own band name in marker on a young girl's cell phone. This does not bode well for book signings. Though I could probably manage blog tours without difficulty.

Unfortunately, it's just shy of a hundred percent deadly, speaking careerwise, to depend on the whim of the fates for success. We all know that, but most of us—myself included—have trouble with proactivity. Masha's questions of the week cover this subject:
"How do we meld the practical side of making art with the creative side? Do you think about audience, about saleability, about all the non-artistic aspects of writing, or do you just write and hope for the best?"
The questions consist of two basic issues: first, to what degree the artist should consider his audience in the process of artmaking; and second, what sort of time and effort the artist should put into selling his finished work.

Regarding the first matter, what I think Lewis is claiming in the above quote is that art is not a self-indulgent, freeform release of mental and/or emotional pressures. The goal of art is to create recognizable, communicable beauty. As Aquinas puts it, beauty requires "integritas, consonantia, claritas"—integrity/perfection, proportion/harmony, brightness/radiance (translation courtesy of NewAdvent.org.) These things require technique and effort, as well as an intention to actually convey something to the audience.

While it's true that—as Christie points out in Masha's combox—some artists are more consciously influenced by audience than others, it's possible to create a false dichotomy between writing for yourself and writing for an intended audience. Most of us choose to write a particular sort of book (or poem, or essay, or story, etc.) because it's the sort of thing we enjoy; i.e., we're already part of our own intended audience. Some universal, or at least common, part of ourselves responds to that sort of work, and we can write for ourselves as long as we write for the common or universal part.

As for selling created work, the process and requirements differ so greatly from one artist to the next that there's simply no straightforward prescription for success. Some ideas are more obviously marketable than others. Some writers send queries; others attend conferences and pitch in person; many do both. Some break in quickly, and others rack up hundreds of rejections. Some self-publish and succeed that way.

There are no guarantees, no proven paths—only vague directions and a vast range of possible routes. When we've created good art, we really just have one responsibility: to do what it takes to get our work where it needs to go.


Happy Geeky Writer and other stories

On account of today being our fourth wedding anniversary, this post is mostly going to be pictures.

First, so Maia gets her due representation:

Second, look what Carrie-Ann gave me!!!:

A Jane Austen action figure!
Complete with writing desk and a tiny brown Pride & Prejudice.
I couldn't stop grinning when I pulled it out of the box.
Thanks, Carrie-Ann!

Third, keeping a growing pumpkin from ripping itself right off the vine, or the vine off the fence:

Fourth, dahlias.

Fifth, I suspect Charles Darwin was struck with the nascent idea for On the Origin of Species upon harvesting Russian bananas from his garden.

Tell me that isn't trying to become a dog.

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Music of the week: in honor of the occasion, here's a hymn we had at our wedding.

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That's all for today! I'll try and write a proper post next week.

Happy weekend!


Currently Reading: Wildwood Dancing

Wildwood Dancing (Wildwood, #1)“Jena,” said Florica, “that frog’s eating my best plum preserve.”

Gogu had escaped the pocket and was approaching the nearest jam dish in very small hops, as if he thought this would go unnoticed. I picked him up as unobtrusively as I could and stuffed him back in the pocket.

“You still have the frog,” commented Cezar, frowning.

I could see he was about to launch into one of his speeches about how unsuitable a frog was as a young lady’s pet: an argument I had no answer for, because I could not explain exactly what Gogu was, only that pet was a woefully inadequate description for my dearest friend and advisor. It seemed a good time to change the subject.

Author: Juliet Marillier

Synopsis: Every full moon for years, Jena and her four sisters have been sneaking through a magic portal to dance with the fairies in the wildwood. Jena takes responsibility for keeping everyone safe, but when older sister Tati falls for one of the strange people there—not, apparently, a safe one—Jena’s difficulties begin. Between Tati pining and cousin Cezar trying to take over the family home in the absence of Jena’s father, for once Jena has more than she can handle. Her frog-friend, Gogu, is her greatest help—but Gogu has his secrets and troubles, too, and he cannot be her frog-friend forever.

Notes: One of the reasons I favor the fantasy genre is for its emphasis on dimensional worldbuilding, and Marillier proved her capabilities from the little note in the front that directs the reader to a short glossary in the back. As a reader, I don’t much care whether the book’s world is real or imaginary as long as it’s tangible, and Marillier’s combined Romania and fairyland set the mood from places like Piscul Dracului (Pis-kul Drah-koo-looy), which means Devil’s Peak, and Tăul Ielelor (Tah-ool Yeh-leh-lor; say aloud for full creepiness effect), which seems to share mythology with the Inferi-infested lake in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and the Dead Marshes in The Lord of the Rings.

Marillier blends several myths and fairy tales to create her story. Notable among them is Transylvanian vampire lore—carefully scrubbed of nearly all suggestions of Bram Stoker’s Dracula—as well as The Twelve Dancing Princesses and The Frog King. The blend is well managed, and thanks to the author’s worldbuilding skills, the tale succeeds better than most at portraying fairy revelry.

Mingled with the otherworldly material is the mostly human conflict between a determined, capable young woman and an unusually power-hungry, domineering young man. Protagonist Jena—I have to admit, it was fun to find a main character who basically shared my name—is neither the eldest nor the most beautiful of the sisters, but she has the intelligence and womanliness to carry her story well. Set against her is cousin Cezar, with whom she shares the memory of his brother Costin’s death. Cezar’s motives are mixed, but his villainy is decided and often irritating in an Umbridgean sort of way.

Any reader who has any experience with fairy tales will know from the beginning that the frog, Gogu, is not only not a frog, but is clearly Jena’s love interest. His character and relationship to his lady fair are thoroughly enjoyable, an exceptional rendering of the Frog Prince/King tale. Both his amphibian side and his human-boy side show themselves vividly to the reader, and he manages to come off as a truly good young man without degenerating into the Hot, Adorably Flawed But A Little Too Perfect And Definitely Unnaturally Romantic Teen Hero (surely there’s a shorter name for that archetype) so common in young adult fiction.

Marillier is a Druid of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, which order seems primarily to emphasize a spirituality of art and nature without establishing any universal form or object of worship. The tale contains no sign of neopagan practice as far as I noticed, and of course I don't know what the author's pantheon and practices are, but her interest in the relationship between humans and the natural world is nicely hinted at in a note about Transylvanian lore in the back. That would probably have been more apparent on reading the book itself had I known beforehand to look for it.

The main themes of the story appear to be trust in self and others, mutual respect, and ‘true love’ of the Princess Bride variety. There are a few hints of Christian ideals, thanks in part to Marillier’s good-faith treatment of Romanian Orthodoxy as part of the characters’ lives, and in part to the simple fact of there being Western fairy tale tropes involved. Mostly, however, it’s just an interesting story of character apotheosis and relationships, set in a place where this world and the Otherworld meet.

As such a story, I loved it. I hope it will be only the first of many Juliet Marillier books I read and enjoy.

Recommendation: Read it for a beautiful, well-imagined Transylvanian fairy story, with quality character development and happy romance.


Top Ten Tuesday: Best Introductory Posts to Me, My Blog, and I

Today's topic would have nothing to do with books if we all didn't blog about them so much. But then, I suppose that's the idea. :)

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish! Do come join the fun...
Welcome to A Light Inside, the blog of an eclectic reviewer and novelist-hopeful! These ten posts should thoroughly introduce you to the proprietor, the site itself, and the friends thereof.

If you're looking for the fun side, you'll perhaps want to start here:
  • "The Modern YA Novelist", a parody of Gilbert & Sullivan's Modern Major-General song, complete with pictures and internet memes. I stayed up all night making this one, shamelessly cracking myself up the entire time.
  • "Pride and Prejudice and Facebook", in which Elizabeth Bennet tries to deal with the standard frustrations of social media over-share. Will make more sense if you've read P&P, or at least seen one of the movies.
  • Some of the lovely commenters around here helped me come up with this fantasy cast for L.M. Montgomery's The Blue Castle. I'm still proud of us for that list.
For more serious posts, in which I usually discuss writing as Art, sometimes in conversation with other bloggers (especially a couple of my literary besties: Masha, who lives in a yurt and makes flavored vodka, and Mr. Pond, who studies fairy tales in grad school in Scotland), try these:
For sample book reviews, here's The Great Gatsby for general audiences and The Scorpio Races for YA readers.

If you want some basic details on me, here's "Raindrops on Roses", a list of a few of my favorite things. Also, Friday posts tend to be all about life in my own little world, and "Failing Silence and other stories" gives a good picture of my relationship to the garden, the cat, and music, which are frequent topics of choice.

And finally, for the romantics among us, here's how a book nerd announces her engagement. At least, this book nerd. It was four years ago and I'm long since happily married, so no particular need for congratulations, but it's still one of my favorite posts. Though I do wish I could've found a less awkward picture of Anne and Gilbert.

That's ten!

What's your favorite post on your own blog? Leave me a link in the comments, and I'll try to come by.

* blogalectic |blaw-guh-LEK-tihk| n. a dialectic between two or more bloggers, in which each participating blogger hosts his theses on his own blog.


But Few are Chosen: The Artistic Temperament, Fanaticism, and Life

“I don’t really think it is discipline you lack, if you are thinking of discipline as the ability to sit down and work, to do it, to keep at it, etc… Rather than something you lack, it may be something you have too much of… [it may be that] you simply don’t know how to control your own sensibility—too much sensibility… The writer [requires]... a certain fanaticism... an automatic control to the sensibility.”
~ Flannery O'Connor

Flannery’s words make me think that sometime, some writers don’t have to choose. They have that ‘certain fanaticism’ which automatically controls sensibility.... Flannery had it, Tolstoy did not. Which comforts me, because it shows that even the distractions of an over-developed sensibility can’t get in the way of the artist’s vocation—if there is enough genius to make up for all the time away.
~ Masha

A lot of factors will "get in the way of the artist's vocation", and distracting sensibilities are just the start of it. Considering the powerful rewards of creating beauty, though, distractions and difficulties are a good thing; if it were easy, everyone would be a fine artist, and no one would fix the plumbing.

I couldn't find O'Connor's letter to playwright Maryat Lee, from which the above quote was taken, but Masha interprets it as something like a championing of artistic dedication:
Maryat... has flung herself passionately into the racial turmoil of the fifties and sixties. Her involvement in the fight for social justice is intruding on her writing. Flannery is not a part of the movement, not because she is for segregation, but in part because she has that fanaticism necessary to the writer.... [S]he is comfortable in her role—a vocation to see, reflect, and inspire rather than a more active and public vocation.
It goes without saying, of course, that there's a place for both roles. For some, the active and public vocation needs to take precedence over artistic tendencies. If I got actively, publicly involved in a battle like that, I'd be in a mental hospital within three years, but for some people, it's exactly where they ought to be.

Masha closes her piece with concern about the self-deluding tendency to glory in the possession of the artistic temperament without earning the right to the title of Artist by producing Art. About this, I have little to say. The artistic temperament makes a lot of happy people who surround themselves with works of beauty that are far more practical than efforts at fine art could ever be. Anyone who reads Masha's other blog, in which she talks about her home life, will see this in action, though she may have perfectly achievable literary goals as well. For myself, my flower garden is more practical thus far than my three novels put together—it's a glimpse of beauty that costs the observer nothing, and it makes our little house more of a home.

Not everyone with the vocation to art has the vocation to create fine art, though I suspect nearly all of us in the Western world attempt it. Still fewer people possess the combination of determination, skill and lucky timing to sell their attempts (and that's the problem that'll get me, if anything does.)

I don't have much dislike for the artistic temperament as such, provided it isn't used as an excuse for bad manners and failures of generosity. But I don't possess much of it myself. What I have is the badgerlike tendency that makes me identify with the house of Hufflepuff—an inborn obsessiveness that locks on and doesn't let go, that allows me to bypass my own distracting passions and work till my hair starts falling out and lack of sleep threatens my emotional stability.

It's both strength and weakness, that perseverance, but it's absolutely necessary for me to do what I hope to do. Not every art form requires such levels of dedication to a single project, and not every artist works with my near-unbearable slowness. The fanaticism, as O'Connor put it, is crucial for me. I am no Tolstoy. But if he got by with distracting sensibilities, others may do likewise.


Sunshine to Remember and other stories

It must be written up today that for once, we are having perfect weather.

And I am loving it.

I also love the sweet peas, which have suddenly become one of my favorite flowers.

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Gratuitous cat picture!

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Writers' link of the week: I have debated with myself whether to link this, and I'm going to. So. People have been arguing over whether it's supposed to be satire or straightforward. If it's satire, O world, so is my life. I disagree with Ms. Manguso on a few partial points, and even then, mainly insofar as charity and humanity are affected; e.g., it would be unchristian to entirely "avoid all messy and needy people including family", but there's nothing wrong with setting aside some work time when you shut the door and turn off your phone, which I think is mostly what Manguso is suggesting anyhow.

Also, there's no reason one can't pick and choose their ascetic practices to some extent. I admit I have more than two outfits.

One other disclaimer: a lot of commenters seemed to think the piece was extreme self-absorption. I don't think so, unless you read the last paragraph as an exhortation to perform charity for art's sake alone, which I did not. I saw the article as offering generally excellent advice. But then, there are some things one might actually have to be born and raised ascetic to understand.

Here, then, is Sarah Manguso's "How to Have a Career: Advice to Young Writers". Enjoy.

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Music of the week: Thornfield, the folk/Americana band featuring Internet friends of mine Eric and Carrie Pazdziora, released their CD a few days ago! I bought it yesterday and have been enjoying it. Great piano, lovely voices, and fun, light lyrics.

Unfortunately, there don't seem to be any music videos available (hint, HINT, guys), but you can sample the tracks and buy a copy on their site. The album and an EP are also available on iTunes and are coming to Amazon and other places.

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Random amusement of the week: The Atlantic's "How to Eat Like Your Favorite Authors". I got a good laugh out of this, but some of these recipes look fantastic. I do have a lot of kale. And some beets.

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I'm off to get some more sun. Happy weekend!


Currently Reading: Insurgent

Insurgent (Divergent, #2)I keep staring, but I don’t see myself. I can still feel her fingers brushing the back of my neck, so much like my mother’s fingers, the last morning I spent with her. My eyes wet with tears. I rock back and forth on the stool, trying to push the memory from my mind. I am afraid that if I start to sob, I will never stop until I shrivel up like a raisin.

I see a sewing kit on the dresser. In it are two colors of thread, red and yellow, and a pair of scissors.

I feel calm as I undo the braid in my hair and comb it again. I part my hair down the middle and make sure that it is straight and flat. I close the scissors over the hair by my chin.

How can I look the same, when she’s gone and everything is different? I can’t.

Author: Veronica Roth

Synopsis: Tris Prior, after surviving the sort of horrors that would psychologically damage anyone permanently, faces further horrors with less will to survive. Erudite leader Jeanine is prepared to use manipulative bargaining and brutality to rid the city of the Divergent, and Tris and Tobias are not safe anywhere they go. Tortured by the memories of shooting her friend, Tris begins lying with a reckless fury and mistaking senseless risk for self-sacrifice, unaware of how close she is to losing herself, her loyalties, and everything she cares about—even Tobias.

Notes (spoilers for Divergent follow): Roth deserves some real credit, first of all. This novel seems to suffer comparatively little from the standard second-book-in-teen-trilogy problems—meandering plot, flattened characters, the confusion of obviously-rushed text. It’s true that I got a bit lost around the Candor faction, and Tris’ unsettled mental state wore off on me somewhat, but overall the novel read smoothly and easily enough. In fact, despite my oft-harped-on dislike for present-tense narrative, I had to double-check to remember whether she’d used it.

This review must be prefaced, however, with a disclaimer: I'm not the best reviewer for ‘gritty’ and ‘edgy’ dystopians. Quite frankly, I’m sickened and distressed by the violence, to the point where I nearly put this book down three times with no intention of picking it up again. I think I'm through with the genre. It's unfortunate that my tolerance ran out on Insurgent, as this series is one of the best offerings of its category, but I doubt I'll finish the trilogy unless curiosity really gets the better of me, simply because of the gruesome aspects and the body count. I'll give Insurgent as fair and dispassionate a review as I can, of course. Because I know some of you have similar feelings to mine, though: if you have difficulty with that sort of content, it may just kill this book for you.

Roth’s faction system, the basis of her dystopia, has always been a little more difficult to buy into than, say, Ally Condie’s utilitarian society or Suzanne Collins’ televised gladiatorial combat. As a reader, it’s hard to imagine oneself as anything less than Divergent. Who, really, is ever so sold on a single virtue that their thought patterns can be neatly circumscribed around it? This leads to the suspicion that when the faction system was put together, the humans within it were modified somehow, but no other hint of this has yet appeared.

Admittedly, a believable excuse is eventually given for the structuring of the society itself—though not for certain factions being called “Erudite” and “Dauntless” instead of “Erudition” and “Dauntlessness” to unify semantically with Amity and Candor and Abnegation—but the structure still seems unlikely and inhuman from the outset. Thanks to the believable excuse, however, it could be very interesting to see where that setup is taken in the final installment.

Considering the popularity of this series, I suspect Roth’s evangelical Christianity shows through so clearly to me only because I grew up in it and know the signs thereof. Among these hints is her pointed shredding of the straw man that far too many evangelicals believe the Catholic Church to be (including myself circa ten years ago), though to her credit, she names no names unless you count the theoretically symbolic use of Peter. I rolled my eyes, but I don’t entirely disagree with her points, just with her blinders. Non-Christians should be able to read this book without feeling proselytized, anyway, and I believe that evangelicals whose principles and tastes allow them to read violent teen fiction will mostly cheer her from premise onward.

The one point that might still get her into trouble with her religious fellowship is the ambiguity of Tris’ physical relationship with Tobias. After a certain scene, it’s logical to presume that when the curtain fell, the pair of them finished what they’d started. If they had, however, the rest of the story should probably have been different. As far as I saw, Tris gives no sign of the subtle shifts in perspective and bond that naturally occur once a girl has had her man to bed. The reader is left to make of all that what they will. It's intentional ambiguity on Roth’s part, I would guess, but also somewhat odd.

For a young author—Roth is only twenty-four—she displays a strong perceptiveness overall, along with the ability to put memorable thoughts into her text. The characters of Tris and Tobias are well drawn, generally possessing a depth and complexity beyond YA standard. Tris’ lies to Tobias made her (Tris, not Roth) decidedly unsympathetic at times, but her character progression is interesting, and Tobias’ handling of her instability was honestly beautiful at times.

Like its predecessor, the book ends on a cliffhanger, but not an emotionally cruel one. The story is unfinished, but the reader has what they need to bear the year or so before the final installment reaches the stores.

Recommendation: Read it for a charged depiction of young love amid mental manipulation and the breakdown of a closed society.