The Importance of Sanity and other stories

Normally, I settle down with coffee and computer on a Friday morning and try to get the blog out first thing. But this week I needed sanity first: removal of the post-Thanksgiving mess from the house, cleansing of some less-than-savory stew from mind and spirit, relaxation after a week tiring enough that—shamed as I am to admit it—even your ritual-happy blogger broke rules and went to bed once with teeth and hair unbrushed and full makeup still on.

This morning, then, I took my coffee to the couch with the cat and a novel, and didn't get up till I'd finished the book. After that, I went to work on our little house and didn't stop till it came clean. Now it's 4:30, I've finally got my computer open, and...

...and I've still got a birthday present to wrap for a niece, and a shelf to hang so I can get some plants into sunlight and out of Maia's reach, and potatoes to bake for tonight, and I've neither written nor played the piano. Though I did sing an aria (Caccini's Amarilli, mia bella) while scrubbing the kitchen. Multi-tasking is handy, when possible. It was nice to rest for a while, though.

And now I'm rambling. But that's what blogs are for, right?

* * *

Maia: "Pleeeease let me sit by you. You have toys in your lap."

Me: "They're not toys. I'm sewing, and you're not sorry for pouncing on my thread and tying a giant knot in it. I know you're not. And I see you coming."

Maia: "Yes, but I'm SO CUTE. And I'm upside down. Look at me."

* * *

Writer's link of the week: Sarah Clarkson's lovely "With Bach's Resolve" would do as well for any artist. Questions of lacking audience and of the obedience of creating beauty apply to all of us. Thanks to Sharyn Sowell for the link.

* * *

Music of the week: Cecilia Bartoli, outdoing me enthusiastically at the aforementioned aria.

* * *

Random amusement of the week: a double feature of BookRiot. First, secret passageways via bookshelves, and second, excellent reading nooks. (Yes, I did find the first one after discovering it linked in the second one. How could I not follow that link?)

Of the secret passages, my favorites are the Gothic one and the whimsy one. Of the reading nooks, I'd definitely take the hide-from-people one, although I also like the one with all the pillows and the one in the window. A window's presence would be ideal in any case. What would you pick?

* * *

After a brief blog interruption, the potatoes are in the oven. The four biggest that grew in our garden, as they're destined to be twice-baked. And now, to wrap my niece's present—I got her books; I hope she loves Kate DiCamillo's Because of Winn-Dixie as much as I did—and see about rigging that shelf so I can get my orchid and the unhappy kale and the even more unhappy aloe into sunshine, and pull out one or the other of my simultaneous revision projects. Life is good.

Happy weekend!


Currently Reading: The Hobbit

The Hobbit"Very pretty!" said Gandalf. "But I have no time to blow smoke-rings this morning. I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it's very difficult to find anyone."

"I should think so—in these parts! We are plain quiet folk, and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can't think what anybody sees in them," said our Mr. Baggins, and stuck one thumb behind his braces, and blew out another even bigger smoke-ring.

Author: J.R.R. Tolkien

Synopsis: Bilbo Baggins loves his cozy little dugout home and his six meals a day and his smoke rings. Therefore, he is not very pleased when the wizard Gandalf invites twelve unexpected visitors to tea and then bundles him off on a miserable and dangerous adventure. But there is more to Bilbo than he himself knows, and he finds himself burgling, riddling for his life, and even facing a dragon to help his friends.

Notes: The Hobbit belongs at the top of its fantasy/adventure category—clever, funny, artistically written, and containing the very unlikeliest of unlikely heroes. From his cartoonish name to his combination grumpy-old-man and adorable-puppy-dog personality, Bilbo Baggins is far from the standard handsome young farm boy who can usually be expected to venture forth on a quest, yet the story succeeds mightily as a heroic tale. And now you can all scold or mock me for the fact that I got thoroughly bored with this book despite its excellence and almost put it down.

The book is not to blame for my lacking the gene that creates Tolkien fandom—though I approximate that fairly well as a fantasy fan, which requires acknowledging a debt to the Professor—but then, I don't think I can be quite wholly blamed for the fact that the characters didn't walk off the page and take up residence in my heart. I'll admit, of course, that plenty of people find Bilbo, Gandalf, Thorin, Fili, Kili, Bombur, and the rest in a circle around their inner hearth. I just couldn't get attached enough.

Objectively, Bilbo is a fantastic character, complex and plucky and likable. Gandalf, however, while amusing, lacked the sense of power he exudes in The Lord of the Rings. Most of the dwarves were just alliterative names, though a handful were sometimes admirable and sometimes annoying—by authorial design, of course. Gollum and Bard and Beorn all proved interesting in their places, as did Smaug.

The action is more or less flawless. Goblins, terrifying wolves, fires, dark forests, giant spiders, disappearing Elves, a barrel-ride down a river, and a dragon-battle are a lot to fit into one small book, but Tolkien pulls it off. I'd like to say there was never a dull moment; if Rand al'Thor had been the protagonist, I would've been able to mean that. But those with the Tolkien gene—or at least a Y chromosome—should have no trouble staying hooked on the adventure.

Speaking of that Y chromosome: there are no named female characters in this book, as far as I can recall. Now, there are comparatively few named characters at all, and I'm no feminist by modern standards, so I'm not going to attribute any kind of ulterior motive to the author for that. Probably no female role occurred to him, or seemed to fit, especially considering that Tolkien lived and died before women really started running things in England. The lack may make the story harder for the average girl to get into, however. I wouldn't necessarily know; I'm an unusually girlish reader, which made things much harder for me.

Difficulties aside, The Hobbit is a brilliant, thoughtful little tale. Even I can comprehend why so many people love it. It's clear, for instance, that Tolkien loves his own protagonist; the little guy is treated with a great deal of fatherly tenderness, and from his unlikely beginnings Bilbo becomes a hero of the very best sort. It's hard to fault a tale containing that kind of glory, no matter how much my own emotions failed to invest themselves in it.

Recommendation: A near-perfect book for boys, as well as for girls who are less hung up on their own feelings than I am. Highly recommended.


Top Ten Tuesday: Most Anticipated Books of 2013

This topic requires me to confess something: I pay limited attention to upcoming releases. Not because I don't want to support authors, but because I find the average synopsis repellent. Strange, I know—but all the drama is exhausting. I feel the same way about kick-you-in-the-teeth first paragraphs. Pull me in with pretty language, show me signs of lovable characters. Don't tell me the book is about some wild, gutwrenching, apparently unresolvable situation, and then start off with "The one thing in life I can never seem to remember is that I'm dead."

Though, until the Target Audiences for Popular Novels resemble me more closely than they do now, the publishing industry is probably best served by ignoring that advice.

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

That said, there are a handful of 2013 releases I already know I'll be interested to read.

1. A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. The final installment of The Wheel of Time. I'd actually wait in line at midnight for this one.

2. Transparent by Natalie Whipple. Because I've been reading the author's blog with much enjoyment for a couple of years. Her House of Ivy and Sorrow looks more interesting than Transparent to me, and I expect to be very excited to read it, but that one's not coming till 2014.

And... well, shoot. I was going to say Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger, but that's already out! Which means it's time to get my hands on a copy. She has a YA debut—Let the Sky Fall—coming, too, but the more I'm around the categories, the more I generally favor middle grade and young teen stories over the young adult ones. Keeper looks like especial fun. Though I just may wind up reading Let The Sky Fall, too.

More will come up as we progress through 2013, of course. I'm vastly more susceptible to reviews than to synopses.

What soon-to-come books are you looking forward to?


Blogalectic Holiday: Random Q & A

In honor of the holiday, Masha gave us an easy topic: a list of questions to answer. To veteran bloggers, listing comes almost as naturally as speaking, and I'm thankful for the comparatively light work after a cheery Thanksgiving weekend that was rather too busy for much blog prep.

1. If you could escape into just one story, what would it be?

Escape? I'm usually my own biggest problem. Finding a way directly into a story wouldn't be likely to change that. :P But if I just need a vacation in a fictional world, well—I've already answered that one.

2. What book do you think should be mandatory for writers?

People write and think in an immense variety of ways. Therefore, I say: go find your own mandatory book. For me, it was probably the Harry Potter series, but it'll be different for everyone.*

And no, I don't often read books about writing. For me, they've never proven quite as helpful for writing fiction as has the generally more enjoyable act of reading fiction.

3. What movie do you think should be mandatory viewing for writers?

See above. Only I'm no film connoisseur, and off the top of my head, not one movie of my acquaintance has had a noticeable impact on my writing. Several TV shows, on the other hand, have been influential. The Gilmore Girls is great for dialogue. The Wonder Years is great for narrative. And The Dick Van Dyke Show is great for comical character interplay.

That said, I like artsy but accessible movies like The King's Speech or the Ang Lee Sense and Sensibility. They're beautiful enough to inspire me artward, and might fairly represent the sort of novel I'd like to write: lovely storylines and scenery, thoughtful characters and relationships, happy endings. They're only missing the magic and unicorns.

4. Do you ever take drugs, smoke, or drink to ‘encourage’ your imagination while writing?

Hah. I'm at my most creative when all my faculties are present and accounted for, thank you very much.

If I need wackadoodle inspiration, I can always go to sleep. Of course, I've not got a lot of use for psychedelic Big Birds, tone-deaf people in denim singing in a porch swing at Mass, impossibly large house parties with the drinks table arranged according to the color wheel, and the zombie apocalypse, all of which have figured in my dreams in the last few weeks. But I most definitely do not need any stimulant to provide me with more such dreams.

5. Why does the world need books?

Because so many of us love them. And for other reasons, which are far too many and too complex to bother listing right now. That question could probably inspire its own blogalectic series.

6. What part of the [writing] process do you find most difficult?

Marketing, even to agents and editors. My default emotional position reads as follows: if perchance someone sincerely wants to hear from me, they'll ask. This is not a comfortable way to go about life, let alone marketing.

7. What books have scared you the most?

The single most terrifying book I've ever read, at least in recent years, was Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None. Closely following on its heels (creeping silently through the jungle, peering at it with a giant eye) was Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton. Horrid books, both of them, as far as I'm concerned.** I might never have forgiven my first boyfriend for making me read them if he hadn't also loaned me all his Harry Potter books and introduced me to Nobuo Uematsu and Orson Scott Card.

* * *

All right, that was fun. What about you? Feel free to answer any or all of the questions in the combox or on your own blog.

* Disclaimer: This presumes, of course, that writers have studied a fair helping of the classic works in the language in which they intend to write.
** Yes, I'm being a little tongue-in-cheek. And Then There Were None was a fantastically structured murder mystery. Jurassic Park was at least an engaging story. I'm still thoroughly sorry I ever read either.


Happy Thanksgiving!

Things Maia is thankful for:
  1. tummy rubs
  2. socks
  3. dark corners to hide in
  4. anything that rolls
  5. houseplants to play in
  6. most definitely not the black and white cat that sits in the back yard and stares into the windows
  7. also not the camera flash
  8. also not strangers
  9. warm laps
  10. cabinet doors that open when batted at
  11. warm laundry
  12. windows
  13. hands to play bear trap with
  14. tasty, tasty cat food
  15. the rocking armchair in the living room
  16. small battable things on shelves and tables
  17. blankets to burrow into
  18. her two people, when her two people are providing the prompt and obedient service properly due a kitty
  19. shelves and furniture to play on
  20. her tail
  21. spiders to catch
  22. chin rubs
  23. cushions
...and I am thankful for all of you. :)

This blog returns Monday. Happy holiday weekend!


Currently Reading: Wrecked

Wrecked“Sorry. Just swimming,” Miranda called, willing Eleanor to leave her alone.

“Miranda!” Eleanor shrieked again, her voice piercing the air like a siren. From far off, Miranda could hear a dog bark. “Don’t do that. You know if you need to go swimming, you should have Louisa watching you.” Eleanor shook her head. “I’m worried about you. This isn’t normal. Dr. Dorn says that this isn’t healthy. You need to get back into your routines, into your life.

Miranda swam over to the side of the pool and blinked up at Eleanor. “I said I was sorry,” she said in a low voice. In the semi-darkness, she noticed that her fingers gripping the gutter of the pool were ghostly white. The air was chilly, even though the water was a temperature-controlled eighty degrees. “I’m fine,” she repeated, a steely edge to her voice.

Author: Anna Davies

Synopsis: Born on the mainland and orphaned young, Miranda has always been out of place on tiny Whym Island—but when she’s involved in a boat wreck that takes the life of several of her friends, she goes from out of place to outright ostracized. Her only comforts are in swimming and in Christian, the stranger who saved her life the night of the wreck. But Christian has his secrets, and Miranda doesn’t dare believe in who he claims to be—nor in the sea witch who intends to kill both of them.

Notes: The cover and premise of this book caught my attention recently, and I made a point of tracking down a copy. The mythology Davies created around her setting—a touristy South Carolina island with strange, unchartable tides and a lot of local legends about a sea witch—is laid out in a beautiful prologue, which immediately hooked me on the storyline. I plunged into the first chapter, intrigued by the ominous feel.

To my surprise, the rest of the book read like a rough draft, suggesting that the author has good ideas but lacks technique. The first chapter showed strong signs of potential character development, but most of the interesting characters died at the end of it. Thereafter, inexplicable behavior progressions and disjointed dialogues were common. Occasional bits of story were summarized rather than narrated. The plot was woven neatly in the first chapter, but threads eventually worked free of the narrative and flapped aimlessly in the sea breeze. It became obvious halfway through that the overall setups were much too frayed to be tied up properly at the end.

My experiences with teen paranormal romances suggest that this sort of thing is fairly common. More startling, though, is how unedited the work is, especially coming from a top-tier publisher like Simon & Schuster. One small church is consistently referred to as “Cavalry Chapel”; I’m at a loss to know who or what to blame for a mistake like that. And I have spent years scolding fellow aspiring writers for capitalizing pronouns combined with dialogue tags after terminal punctuation and close quotes. This is all one sentence, and should be treated as such:
“Sephie!” He called as the wind whipped his face.
These, and similar, errors would have been overlookable if they’d occurred once, but they iterated throughout till I gave up trying to read and began skimming. Unless the copy I got was pre-copy edit and final print run, which is unlikely but possible, I find this hard to excuse.

I felt bad, though. I liked Miranda very much at first; I would have liked to have understood her latter motivations better. Christian fascinated me, not least because of his very un-mythological name, but I never could decide what to make of what seemed like obvious but inept attempts at Christian symbolism—or, considering that the author couldn’t spell Calvary Chapel, possibly a subversion thereof.

Finally, the book bears two clear influences: Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid and Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight. Regarding the latter, overt homage—often juxtaposed with overt scorning of the more un-P.C. sides of Meyer’s story—is unbelievably common among current paranormal romances and urban fantasies, and is nearly always distracting. It certainly is in this case, the biggest offense being Christian’s “sparkly” skin, which, as he was an underwater creature, could have passed muster had it been done with any subtlety or logic or even thoughtful description.

Regarding the Andersen tale, I’m not sure whether to praise the author for having the courage to stick vaguely to the original in the end, or whether to express a very non-vague frustration at how badly the ending to the original sucks. There’s some redemption to Davies’ finale, but it’s not the startling visions of wonderful things that might have made the turbulent ride seem bearable in retrospect.

It’s really too bad. It was a great story idea, and Davies’ latent talent could surely have developed enough with time to give the concept and characters what they deserved. Maybe her next book will be better.

But I still like the cover. And the prologue.

Recommendation: It’s like me playing sonatinas on the piano: enthusiastic, sometimes expressive, but uneven and inaccurate and prone to jarring chords or abrupt halts in the more difficult passages. Read as you choose, just don't expect technical perfection.


Top Ten Tuesday: Books and Authors I'm Thankful For

Hurrah for a topic full of happy thoughts! How am I going to limit this to ten?

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

Looks like I'm going to have to cheat.

Books and their authors:

1. The Harry Potter series and author J.K. Rowling. For helping to stabilize my mind and heart in my time of darkest confusion.

2. Little Women and author Louisa May Alcott. For dwelling so closely to my own family, ever exemplifying and supporting the intimate friendship I now have with parents and sisters.

3. Orthodoxy and author G.K. Chesterton. For putting a finger on my own madness, and then pointing the way to sanity.

4. The Divine Comedy and author Dante. For pointing to the stars.

Authors whose claim on my gratitude is less tied to a single great work:

5. Clive Staples Lewis. For the countless times you've talked me free of Plato's Cave.

6. J.R.R. Tolkien. For being at least half the reason that fantasy fiction, such as it is, exists today.

7. St. Thérèse of Lisieux. For showing me that my weaknesses are overcome-able, no matter how often I submit to them. And for the prayers.

8. All the authors who gave me my childhood companions. Frances Hodgson Burnett for Sara Crewe and Mary Lennox, L.M. Montgomery for Anne Shirley, Johanna Spyri for Heidi, Laura Ingalls Wilder for herself, Madeleine L'Engle for Meg and Charles Wallace Murry, and ever so many more.

9. The authors who have taught me how and what to write. Jane Austen, Orson Scott Card, Shannon Hale, Elizabeth Goudge, Charlotte Brontë, Robert Jordan, and most of the authors previously mentioned.

10. A handful of yet-to-be published authors whose frequent encouragement, example, and critique of my own work has helped me immeasurably. Mr. Pond, Masha, Christie, Josh Richards, Jana G., Annie O'Connor, Jessi S., Laura B. and Ryan H. who are website-less, and hopefully I haven't missed anyone... You were credited here first. I'll see you in the annals of celebrated writerdom someday.

Which authors and books are you thankful for?


The Four Things that Make You a Better Writer (and a bunch of sub-things that have helped me)

When I saw Christie's recent list of three things that have made her a better writer, I considered hinting to Masha that it might make a good blogalectic topic. I never got around to it, but Masha needed no hinting. She listed her "Three Things that have Made Me a Better Writer", and I was all prepared to do likewise until I started thinking about it.

Because—it seems to me, anyway, after pondering their lists—there are really four basic activities that improve a writer's skills. Between Christie's list and Masha's, all four received mention in some form or another. Both Christie and Masha also credited some activities that were subordinate to the main, which is more the point of the original idea. I like to be excruciatingly thorough, so I'm going to do both.

The four things that help a writer improve in his craft:
  1. Reading and studying good literature.
  2. Practice.
  3. Tutelage and/or critique.
  4. Life experience.
For once I'll restrain my hyperexplanatory self and let those stand. Here, however, are a handful of secondary items that have made a difference in my own writing. Oh, and there's no way I'll keep it to three.
"...she only demands from each of you either one thing very clever, be it prose or verse, original or repeated—or two things moderately clever—or three things very dull indeed, and she engages to laugh heartily at them all."

"Oh! very well," exclaimed Miss Bates, "then I need not be uneasy. `Three things very dull indeed.' That will just do for me, you know. I shall be sure to say three dull things as soon as ever I open my mouth, shan't I? (looking round with the most good-humoured dependence on every body's assent)—Do not you all think I shall?"

Emma could not resist.

"Ah! ma'am, but there may be a difficulty. Pardon me—but you will be limited as to number—only three at once."
Sorry, Emma.

Under the subheading of study:
  • Re-reading. Not just once, but absorbing myself in a book until it's practically infused into my bloodstream.
  • Reading conscientiously. Getting out of fantasy—and getting further into it. Regularly searching out classics. Looking for the best in any genre or category.
  • Writing book reviews. This has forced me to read more widely and more actively. It also makes me more conscious of the books I choose (most of the time; wait till you see Wednesday's review), and allows me to see my own strengths and weaknesses in analyzing another author's.
Under the subheading of practice:
  • Private journaling. I have hundreds of pages of journals, most of them quite ridiculous (that's all part of growing up, right? Right?) and still add entries to a private journal when the mood strikes. Journaling allows me to be creative in new ways, or to blow off technique long enough to get some overbearing emotion out of the way. It's also provided countless hours of practice translating thoughts and feelings into words.
  • Blogging. It forces me to write to deadline; also, to write to be understood by—and interesting to—others besides myself. Nearly seven years and over 950 posts in, I've probably got three or four thousand hours in this little site alone.
  • Finishing those first novels. Not just starting them. It's important to learn how to complete a story arc. When I was nineteen, my mother ordered me to finish that story about M. the teenage ice skater, which I did, and but for that I might have never finished anything to this day. NaNoWriMo 2009 was good for me for similar reasons.
  • Remembering I'm a writer, even when doing menial work such as emailing. Working for clarity, for good phrasing, and for interest and humor when appropriate.
Under the subheading of critique:
  • Having a wide variety of readers. That NaNoWriMo novel has been read by my mom and sisters multiple times, Lou twice, a round of beta readers, a round of gamma readers, two trained poets, and my in-laws. Of these, some read fantasy and some don't; some read juvenile fiction and some don't; some read novels, and some don't. Every reader has added something to the value of the work.
  • Learning how to take criticism. How to pull the real implications out of a tangle of suggestions, which may in themselves be vague, confusing, or emphatically contradictory. How to distinguish between tough truth and dangerous conflict with the story's direction. This is one heck of a deadly fairy dance under the moon, and learning to do it properly is much of what proves your mettle as a writer.
Under the subheading of experience:
  • Suffering. Which develops empathy, range, and can also build wisdom. We don't get good at storytelling without persevering through and processing pain of our own, which is why—I'd posit—there are so few truly successful child writers despite there being numerous musical prodigies. For me it's been depression, terror, exhaustion, childlessness, conflicts, heavy internal wrestling over various political and intellectual issues, and just not being the most emotionally stable cookie on the platter.
  • Religion. No, I'm not joking, or exaggerating, or claiming that religion inevitably makes better writers than atheism or agnosticism. In fact, my agnostic tendencies have worked positively against some of the artistic stunting caused by early, heavy influence of weak and moralistic Christian fiction. Being Christian, however, supports my sense of wonder, of hope, of love beyond sentiment and goodness beyond plain decency, which every great novel I've ever read, including the ones by atheists, has successfully mirrored somehow. Those things are, I believe, the core of whatever beauty exists in my own work.
Being neither infallible nor necessarily good at big-picture thought, I may have missed something. If so, point it out! And I'd love it if you share what builds and strengthens your own creative powers, in the comments or on your own blog.


Priority Dilemmas and other stories

* * *

Maia: "YES! You're finally sitting down. After a flipping HOUR of me following you around and meowing. Ahh, a nice warm human lap is the best place on a cold day. Purrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr."

Me: "My coffee's still in the kitchen..."

* * *

Rarely as I make it to movies, this week set me fangirling over three.

First, I made plans to see The Hobbit with a group of friends. Yes, I'm terribly skeptical about it on numerous grounds, and I'll probably re-read the book beforehand in order to prepare myself to fume at Peter Jackson like a proper nerd. Or to sympathize with my fuming-proper-nerd friends, at least. But I'm sure I'll find some things to cheer for. Cinematography! Martin Freeman! Gandalf!

Of course, Les Miserables is coming out within days of The Hobbit, so I had to look that up again to check on things—and it purports to be one of the rare Hollywood offerings that could be worth the price of seeing it in the theater rather than waiting for it to turn up at Crazy Mike's or on Netflix. Besides, it was directed by Tom Hooper, who directed The King's Speech. Presumably everybody knew that but me... anyway, that movie looks unusually un-missable.

Lastly, I discovered yesterday that a trailer was just released for the adaptation of Stephenie Meyer's The Host, which is coming in March and which I must see. If it's as good as the first three Twilight movies—I haven't brought myself to watch Breaking Dawn—I'll be satisfied.

* * *

Oh, and while we're on Twilight, consider my heart officially warmed. H/T Arabella.

* * *

Reader's link of the week: Anthony Daniels' remarkably self-aware essay on one book-lover's attempt to survive the apocalypse as bibliophilia—or book-publishing, at least—goes digital.
"Whether the book survives or not, I am firmly of the opinion that it ought to survive, and nothing will convince me otherwise. The heart has its beliefs that evidence knows not of."

* * *

Writer's link of the week: Being unpublished is better than being badly published. Which is an oddly encouraging, if irrelevant, thing to remember when I'm stuck in all kinds of revision.

* * *

Music of the week: I've often said that I think Palestrina's "O Bone Jesu" is possibly the most beautiful piece of art in existence. But Mozart's "Ave Verum Corpus" comes awfully close. Lou and I are singing it in an ensemble for a concert this weekend.

* * *

Random amusement of the week: The Postmodern Essay Generator. It's a bit scary how close this comes to making sense. Or as much sense as a postmodern essay can make, anyway.

* * *

Possibly owing to Murphy's Law, what with the concert coming right up, I've got a touch of a cold, which has sapped all motivation. Clean house? Whatever. Practice concert music? Meh. Get any real writing done? Why, when there's a whole internet full of mind-numbing available?

But I can procrastinate no longer. Even though Maia's being cuddly.

Happy weekend!


Currently Reading: Summers at Castle Auburn

Summers at Castle Auburn“Corie! You’re back!” Cressida exclaimed, coming over to kiss me on the cheek. My sense of well-being increased a hundredfold. She pulled up a small stool and sat before us, taking my hand in hers. “How was your trip?”

“Bryan kissed her hand,” Andrew informed her.

Cressida looked amused. “Ah, then it was most successful,” she said. “How is it that you have not died of the ecstasy?”

“Perhaps she believes that if she lives, she will experience the ecstasy again,” he suggested.

I shook my head. “Oh, no. I know whose hand Bryan should be kissing, and it is not mine. But it was wonderful all the same.”

“And the purpose of your journey? The hunt? How did that go?” she asked me.

“They captured none of our people,” Andrew said before I could answer. Cressida’s hand, which had been tight on mine, relaxed a little. I frowned slightly, for it had not previously occurred to me—

I shook my head. I was too content and happy right now to worry over odd little moral dilemmas. Like what my friends the aliora thought about my hunting trip to trap more aliora.

Author: Sharon Shinn

Synopsis: Since childhood, Coriel Halsing has spent her autumns and winters and springs as apprentice to her witch-woman grandmother—and her summers at Castle Auburn. The illegitimate daughter of a high-ranked lord, Corie lives for the visits to her adored half-sister Elisandra. But in the last few summers preceding Elisandra’s wedding to ladies’ man Prince Bryan, Corie’s innocent enjoyment of the royal life is darkened by the dangers and moral difficulties of knowing too much about castle politics—and by the fear that she cannot save sister or friends or slaves or anyone she loves from the ever-tightening snare of political finagling and fate.

Notes: Good worldbuilding is supposedly the high point of fantasy, and it’s still one of my favorite discoveries to make in a new author or book. Shinn’s quasi-medieval Auburn is not particularly expansive or inventive, but, through narrator Corie’s eyes, it’s beautifully realized. The fairylike aliora, the plethora of (as far as I can discover, imaginary) herbs, the layers of politics, and the little details of Corie’s upstairs-downstairs life are endlessly interesting and well-drawn.

Possibly better even than the worldbuilding, however, is Shinn’s rare capability for character advancement through plot and time, age and revelation. Corie’s perception—and therefore the reader’s—of various characters develops and changes throughout the book. The reader will see and anticipate more than Corie does, but the developments were well done, sometimes surprising, and in a couple of cases, downright creepy.

Corie fascinates as heroine; a shade too flawless in her fantasy herbalist role, perhaps, but human enough to go through that absurd crush on charismatic bad news that nearly all of us seem to get at some point in our youth. She holds the odd mix of morals more likely to belong to today’s neopaganism lite than to an actual medieval: strong distaste for slavery, cruelty, and mistreatment of women, but irregular convictions toward sex and lies, and no qualms whatsoever about meddling. The latter makes her weirdly unsympathetic at moments, but only moments; her bravery and openness keep her favorable overall.

Her ability to talk on free and equal terms with regent’s son and apothecary, guardsmen and lords alike, lets her fill out the plot with a dual perspective that’s just plain fun to read. She's also generally smart. The reader will spend half the book begging her to do one important work—scruples over meddling be damned, in this case—but she thinks it through and handles it wisely, although that storyline did involve the plot’s most obvious resort to herbalist ex machina.

While I rarely predict more than the basic ending of a book, I’m also rarely so confounded at every attempt to discern how things might resolve. Of Corie's two potential lovers, either seemed equally likely to become her final choice; either would have been acceptable, too, though I did wind up with a clear favorite. (Kent, if you must know. There stands a hero and a man.) As for the Elisandra plot thread, I saw none of those payoffs coming, though some were fairly obvious in retrospect.

The fact that Corie never figured out her own heart till she was asked for it made the romance feel a little underdeveloped from her side, but she gets the ending that’s right for her. And as one might expect from a book where the fairylike beings were shamelessly ethereal and the wise woman’s knowledge was shamelessly infallible, the ending was shamelessly cheerful. I certainly enjoyed it without shame. In fact, I’m anxious to track down some other Sharon Shinn works and read them, too.

Recommendation: It's brain candy made with quality ingredients—it's rather like going to the top chocolatier in town and discovering that dark chocolate with a hint of balsamic vinegar is startlingly delicious. Enjoy.


Top Ten Tuesday: Books I'd Want on a Desert Island

Looking at this week's topic, I'm struck by the fact that if I were stranded alone on an uninhabited island, the books I'd want wouldn't necessarily be my favorites. Even the best novels seem insignificant when stacked up against that level of isolation. What I'd want would be the bedrock-works of culture, community, and religion: the books that would best convince me I wasn't entirely alone. The books with the ideas that would help me stay sane.

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

Here, then, are the reminders of communal reality I'd want around me if I ended up alone with the coconut palms and the four winds and the tides.

1. The Holy Bible. The full Canon of Trent, please, and heck, if I could get the rest of the Old Testament Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha appendixed into the back, I would. I would want as much reading material around as possible. But all that aside, I'm not interested in a life of solitude that doesn't include the Psalms and the gospel of John.

2. A great big volume of the Desert Fathers' writings. They were all hermits. Their thoughts might prove helpful.

3. The complete works of Shakespeare. No, this is not cheating. We have two of these volumes lying around our house. I'd learn off whole sections and quote Beatrice to the toucans and shout Hamlet at the monsoons.

4. Bulfinch's Mythology. With a fair amount of spare time on my hands, once I'd learned how to harpoon fish with a sharpened stick, I'd catch up on my classical education. And then I'd have a more thorough understanding of the next book on my list, which is:

5. Dante's Divine Comedy. When I got tired of reciting Shakespeare, I could start on cantos of this. And should the island eventually be rediscovered, and my skeleton found in a cave with a trunk of carefully preserved books, I suspect the Purgatorio and Paradiso would be almost illegible from wear. (The Inferno, maybe not so much.)

6. The biggest, most thorough dictionary existing in the English language. Because coming across an unknown word and not being able to find out what it means would just be unbearable.

7. A solid language course, possibly Wheelock's Latin, although I'd also take Spanish or French or Russian or Italian or Greek or Hebrew or Mandarin or Japanese or, or... or even Quenya or Sindarin.

8. A great big book of astronomy. Because the one benefit to being on an uninhabited island would be the view of the stars.

9. All right, maybe I would take one favorite with me. Like the whole Harry Potter series, or the Space Trilogy, or The Chronicles of Narnia, or even The Lord of the Rings. Something epic, anyway.

10. Lastly but not quite leastly: the biggest book of blank pages available to mankind, and an endless supply of pens. Nobody said anything about how many pens I could take, right? I'd want a bushel of them. Then, when that island-rediscovering party comes along and finds my cave, there'll be one little contribution to human society left for them to find: hundreds of pages written through in tiny, tight handwriting. I won't guarantee that it would be an important contribution. But with all that spare time and solitude, it would seem wasteful to leave nothing.

What books would you want with you?


Artist and Analyst, Critic and Fan

Analyzing the texts we love is a big part of loving for many of us... So when we analyze how often do we critique? Or is it just all affirmation? How do you analyze your favorites? What aspects do you find most intriguing? How does it develop your relationship to the text?

After a cheerful week talking about fandom, Masha took this week's conversation in the direction of textual analysis—an important aspect of both the writer's work and the reader's. Love it or hate it, we don't learn to read or write well without it. I, fortunately, happen to love it. Most of the time.

There are—to get the annoyances out of the way first—forms of literary analysis that frustrate me to no end. The modern tendency to judge older texts (or authors) by the moral or stylistic standards of today is plain chronological snobbery. I've little patience for deconstructionism and none whatsoever for Freudian psychoanalytic attempts to see into the sexual stirrings of the author, though my interest picks back up when we get around to Jungian archetypes and Campbell's hero's journey.

I also wish that current works weren't so heavily subjected to shallow criticism based on use of the passive voice or adverbs. Likewise, that textual studies and conversation everywhere could move away from being quite so issue-centered. And I won't even get into how baffling and frustrating it is to deal with the fact that the default position for literary culture nowadays is flat disrespect for so much of what I've always considered good and true and beautiful.

Set all that aside, however, and textual analysis is good clean fun. Masha's questions are all interesting, so I'll take them one at a time.

When we analyze how often do we critique? Or is it just all affirmation?

I can't speak for everyone, but in most contexts I don't hesitate over a little fair critique. Though I love The Lord of the Rings, I get bored with stretches of it, owing to the overall lack of interesting female characters, Éowyn notwithstanding. I'm also not afraid to chuckle at Victor Hugo's interspersing his beautiful Les Misérables storyline with some of the longest, dullest rants possible, though I'll grant that his topics were probably of some interest to the nineteenth-century French, and will even admit that they should be more interesting to me.

Harry Potter is usually criticized for the wrong reasons, so I tend to speak of him with lots of affirmation and occasionally a touch of defensiveness. It's not often that I bring up the real flaws in the story or even my personal conflicts with it, though both exist. And I find almost no fault whatsoever with Jane Austen's three strongest novels (Pride & Prejudice, Emma, and Persuasion, which I believe are her best in terms of narrative wholeness and technical perfection; feel free to challenge me on that, if you like), though certain aspects of modern Austen fandom trouble me.

How do you analyze your favorites? What aspects do you find most intriguing?

That depends on the nature of the book. The first thing I did with Harry Potter was check out the witchcraft accusation. I did happen upon a couple of incredibly sketchy websites trying to use the Potter stories to make witchcraft appealing to kids—and by sketchy, I mean disreputable fonts, absurdly loud color schemes, and in one case a claim that Moses was a Parselmouth, which suggests that the site's writers scored appallingly low on the reading comprehension section of their SAT's. But it became very clear very quickly, on the testimony of pagans and ex-pagans and Rowling herself, that Harry had nothing whatsoever to do with neopaganism or New Ageism.

Sir Frank Dicksee, Romeo and Juliet
Beyond that, I developed a fascination for the source mythologies, including medieval Christianity, the Greco-Roman pantheon, and alchemy. The latter was an entirely new concept to me, and though it's often used in young adult literature nowadays with no more apparent depth than the color changes, I love the way Elizabeth Goudge used it in The Little White Horse and Stephenie Meyer used it in the Twilight saga, and it made an immense difference in my understanding of and appreciation for Romeo and Juliet.

My own analysis nowadays tends to focus on the depth of world and character development, the writer's mastery of prose and storytelling skills, the narrative unity of the work, the philosophies of key characters and—when relevant—the author, and when I know enough about it, the tradition in which the work is written and the work's relation back to that tradition. Those are the critical points that most frequently turn up in my reviews, and those are the points I focus on as a writer.

How does it develop your relationship to the text?

Everything a reader learns about a text can affect the relationship between the two. Most of the time, I find the effect of new understanding to strengthen the bond between me and a story I love, though certain things can occasionally detract from that—well-thought-through critique, say, or someone's reasonable praise on philosophically antagonistic grounds.

Ultimately, I like getting in on a book's secrets and developing a good strong intimacy with my favorites. After all, the ones that teach me the most are the ones which stick around to influence my thought patterns as well as my further reading and writing endeavors. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that's much of what analysis is for.


Roaming the Milky Way and other stories

Some Fridays I can find a lot to write about, but then, some Fridays I'm alert and focused. Today, it's sunny and cold, and I'm sleepy. I'm also oddly prone to dropping things, and I keep forgetting what I'm supposed to be doing in favor of, say, contemplating whether to give one of my young novel characters a short man ponytail or a faux-hawk instead of generic "cropped hair". Really important stuff like that.

[The tenth of my brain which is actually awake is muttering, "A faux-hawk, really? Leave the poor kid some dignity." But the somnolent nine-tenths have me almost convinced it's the logical choice.]

Fortunately, posting cat pictures doesn't take much brain power. Less fortunately, I don't have a nice long cat-photo series, since Maia has decided to spend the chilly day burrowed in the bedclothes. But here's the amazing camouflaged creature in her natural habitat—my fleece throw:

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Three-year-old niece: “Auntie Jen, you have bumps on your face.”
Me: “It’s unfortunate, but true.”
Niece: “Why?” (yes, she’s in that stage)
Me: “Because Auntie Jen’s face, like her soul, has never realized that she’s not a teenager anymore.”

Hey, as Mr. March said, if she’s old enough to ask the questions, she’s old enough to receive true answers. :)

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Writers' link of the week: All right, as much as I hate .gifs, the tumblr Title To Come made me laugh and laugh during the inevitable procrastination this morning. The two that arguably made me laugh the hardest, in the first twelve pages at least: "When people tell me writing isn't a real job" and "When someone points out a massive plot hole in my manuscript." Advisory: language. Sometimes very funny language... that last .gif comes from The King's Speech. If you've seen that, you may be able to guess which scene was used. :P

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Music of the week: A lovely Celtic rendition of the Ubi Caritas.

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Random amusement of the week: Funny, I've been saying "hold down the fort" my whole life, without ever thinking about how silly it sounded. No more! Vlogger David Mitchell has corrected me. But at least I knew not to say "I could care less", right?

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And now I should go clean house, which task, in my current half-dreaming state of mind, is probably going to resemble this scene of Anne Shirley's:
"I don't like picking fowls," she told Marilla, "but isn't it fortunate we don't have to put our souls into what our hands may be doing? I've been picking chickens with my hands, but in imagination I've been roaming the Milky Way."

"I thought you'd scattered more feathers over the floor than usual," remarked Marilla.
Happy weekend!


Currently Reading: Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow

Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow (Jacob Wonderbar, #1)Jacob went and sat in the larger captain’s chair, and when Sarah reached the cockpit she pressed her lips together. “You think I can’t drive a spaceship?” she muttered.

“I got here first! He gave me the keys. Please?” Jacob adopted his best pleading face, which didn’t often sway the sympathies of Sarah Daisy, but on this occasion he had to try. He was reasonably sure he would be the first sixth grader ever to blast off into space, and he imagined that it would result in a great deal of fame. If he was listed in a history book he might even be inclined to read one someday.

Author: Nathan Bransford

Synopsis: When Jacob and his best friends trade a corn dog for a spaceship, the first thing they do is break the universe. Their search for a way to fix the problem and return home gets them captured by terrifying space buccaneer Mick Cracken, stranded on a world that smells like burp breath, and chased by a crowd of substitute teachers on Planet Paisley. They even get to meet the King of the Universe! But most of all, Jacob hopes to find his long-lost dad—who, it seems, just might be out there somewhere.

Notes: It’s hard to imagine young boys—and girls—not loving Bransford’s Jacob Wonderbar, terror of substitute teachers and adventurer extraordinaire. Jacob has a lot of heart underneath the bluff, and his best friends are just as much fun: forceful Sarah Daisy, who believes she can do everything, and gentle Dexter, who doesn’t understand how to make decisions when other people’s feelings are involved. I loved Dexter.

The plot details have middle school boy written all over them: the burp breath planet, goofy space people, talking spaceships, over-enthusiastic scientists who can be distracted by a math problem to solve. Not to mention the corn dog (though I must admit that I love corn dogs) and the challenges of school. It’s not a particularly challenging storyline, but it’s the sort that even kids who otherwise care little for reading might enjoy—playful, funny, suspenseful, and punctuated with lively illustrations.

Fortunately for its older and female readers, it's not all young boy humor. Sarah Daisy's independence is played for light comic effect without undermining her strengths; Dexter is treated with honest sensitivity, and Jacob is allowed to be very imperfect without losing the reader's sympathy. And if Jacob's teacher doesn't warm the hearts of teachers everywhere, I don't know what will.

It wraps up cheerfully, but leaves some threads open for the sequels. And in the end, it’s hard not to like a book that takes a little time to gaze at the stars.

Recommendation: Children of the right age and/or reading level can be expected almost universally to enjoy it.


Top Ten Tuesday: Fictional Characters Who Defied Bad Politicians

So yeah, can you tell I'm disenchanted with election day? There's not much that's less inspiring to me than politics, which realm seems to favor any man who can prove his principles to be a dangerously unstable amalgam of a used car salesman's and a jackass'. Ergo, grumpy blogger who refuses to go anywhere near Facebook today.

Being an optimist, however, I can usually come up with some happy thoughts. Here are ten.

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

Literature is full of heroes and heroines who stand up to corrupt power. If only it were as simple as Harry makes it look, right?

1. Harry Potter. For refusing to champion the Ministry of Magic while Scrimgeour was making false arrests. Down with dirty political shenanigans, like trying to pacify the public while undermining their safety and well-being! Honorable mention to Hermione and Ron for backing Harry entirely; especially Hermione, as she knew or at least upheld the law better than Scrimgeour did. The Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling

2. Albus Dumbledore. For refusing to join Cornelius Fudge in lying to the public. Even though it eventually meant his own arrest. (Well, attempted arrest. These things would be so much easier if one were vastly smarter and more magically powerful than the leaders of one's world. And if one had Fawkes for a pet.) The Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling

3. Andrew 'Ender' Wiggin. For standing up to mayor and bishop and Starways Congress alike to save Lusitania. Ender merits perhaps the highest honors of anyone on this list, as he respects rightful authority—both secular and religious—and challenges it, when necessary, with wisdom and humility. Speaker for the Dead, Orson Scott Card

4. Maria Merryweather. For telling off her own wealthy relation and making him give Paradise Hill back to God. The Little White Horse, Elizabeth Goudge

5. Mortimer Folchart. For sabotaging his own work to keep the Adderhead from becoming immortal, at the risk of his own life. The Inkworld books, Cornelia Funke

6. Rand al'Thor. For being apparently the first man in centuries to stand up to the Aes Sedai, even their Amyrlin Seat, and for having no patience whatsoever with subtle political games (which is generally an impractical tactic, but refreshing). Of course, Rand developed his own set of problems in coming to power, which happens, especially when you're using a tainted form of magic that's slowly driving you mad. But he still managed to turn things around and become a good guy again. The Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan

7. Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee. For arguing with the king of Bayern and his council to prevent a very unjust war with Kildenree. You go, sixteen-year-old girl. The Goose Girl, Shannon Hale

8. Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee. For marching into the Dark Lord's territory to destroy his source of power in his own forging fire. That takes guts. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien

9. Treebeard. For calling out the Ents and marching against Saruman. Three cheers for the tree-shepherds! The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien

10. Mark Studdock. For the line "It's all bloody nonsense, and I'm damned if I do any such thing." No, he's not the most deserving character. Mark is a chump at best through most of the story, and even this act of bravery doesn't shake him entirely free of his idiocy, but it becomes his own redemption. Sometimes, all any of us chumps can do is keep ourselves from becoming evil. That Hideous Strength, C.S. Lewis

Hmmm. There's nothing like getting to the bottom of a top-ten list and realizing you left out The Hunger Games and Twilight. Frankly, I'm not sure which would be more terrifying: facing down a cabal of powerful and ruthless vampires, or defying a sadistic human government with innumerable sci-fi horrors at its disposal. So—

11 and 12. Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark. For breaking the Games rules, refusing to submit under torture, and standing up to both Presidents Snow and Coin. Bravery of the first order, there.

13, 14, 15, 16, and beyond. Bella, Alice, Carlisle, and Edward Cullen and friends, all for taking direct and unbelievably courageous action against the Volturi. Way to defend the freedom to live in peace.

All right. I spouted this list off the top of my head—obviously. Who am I forgetting, and who do I not know?


Grownups in Cloaks: A Celebration of Dorky Fandoms

For a discussion topic this week, Masha chose literary fandom. I took her cheery post as license to break from heady theoretical essays—or what passes for them on my blog, anyway—and have some fun.

After all, she introduced the topic with anecdotes of her own:
I can catch [an unkind attitude toward fans] in any review of Tolkien because I'm a fan. Not the dorky kind, the one who names her kids after characters or watches the awful movies Peter Jackson made from The Lord of the Rings over and over. I’m the kind that learned elvish and Old English in College, studies the Appendices and can tell you all about the First Age of Middle Earth. So, the dorkier kind, I guess.
To which I must say: How did I not know you studied Elvish, Masha?! Nai i Valar nauvar as elyë.* (All right, I admit I had to look that up. I didn't study that much Quenya.)

Dork on exhibit at a WWU Yule Ball
Anyone who has read this blog for more than a couple of days knows I take Harry Potter fandom very seriously. It's also true that I've got Jane Austen's books half memorized, have written two songs about Wheel of Time characters, have at various points made it through the first chapter of the Council of Elrond's Quenya workbook and most of The Silmarillion, and am only waiting for MissPhotographerB's next visit to buy a jar of glittery makeup and drive to Forks, but none of that quite compares to what happened when I met Harry. More on that later.

Masha notes that devoted fans are responding, in part at least, to the creation of a myth:
...there is something similar in the way all fans relate to their books. For me the real relationship [to Tolkien's work] was possible because there was a whole mythology, there was depth and meaning and intention, along with a story to follow and characters to love.... I like being able to fall into a world that is real enough to believe in.
Nearly all fantasy and science fiction fandoms, from Tolkien's to Trekkies, arise to some extent from just this sentiment. The Wizarding World is certainly part of Harry's appeal. Given an audience, good immersive worldbuilding usually results in at least a cult following.

Commenter BTanaka suggests, over at Masha's, that fans are made when a story generates personal investment during formative reading years:
...I suspect that most 'hardcore fans' of a particular story or character encountered their story early on in their reading/viewing career and found it to be the most engaging story in their experience to date. From then on, it sort of becomes the 'benchmark' by which they judge other stories, and they retain a nostalgic fondness for it even as they develop into a more mature consumer of fiction.
He's right about some of us, anyway, depending on how you define early on. I read Lewis, Grimm, Austen, Dostoevsky and Hemingway before I came across Rowling, but Harry Potter—and literary analysis thereof—transformed me from a passive reader to an active one. Literature, instead of being either museum or playground, became the Hogwarts castle: a massive school full of talking portraits, magic rooms hidden behind doors pretending to be walls, and staircases that go different places at different times—in other words, a living and mysterious world of infinite secrets and endless corridors to explore.

When something opens up your perspective that dramatically, you love it. So yes, I'm a fan of the dorkier kind: a wizard rocking**, trivia-spouting, occasionally costume-wearing, text-analyzing geek. I sit with the Blogengamot at The Hog's Head—my proudest fan moment was joining that circle. I've even threatened to name my kids after some of the characters (not seriously, though. My relatives would kill me. And a name like Hermione or Luna would be rather hard to live up to.)

Dork being unoriginal at Vancouver
HP club's Yule Ball
It's true, as Masha noted, that outsiders often look askance at fandom or condemn it outright. It looks like obsession to the uninitiate, especially if they've heard a news story or two about someone who took fandom from crazy fun to just plain crazy.

To most of us in the cloak-wearing crowds, however—whether the cloaks come with wands, Darth Vader masks, pointed plastic Elf ears, or glittery makeup—fandom simply celebrates something that changed us. It seems no more likely to be harmful than an annual hard-core session of fantasy football, or a willingness to drive a few hundred miles to see a favorite band, or a lifelong quest for the perfect home brew.

But now I've gotten to my own point: the stories that make us into fans change us, I think, or quicken something in us. Sometimes that's quite subtle, but Harry wasn't. To this day, I lean on that boy for some of my relationship to life and faith and books and what it means to be a decent person. It's not that he taught me something I didn't know; it's that he turned knowledge into emotion and planted it in my soul like the astronauts planted the flag on the moon. This ground has been gained.

Sometimes I show my gratitude by blasting wizard rock while I clean house. If the world doesn't understand that, well—I don't understand their love for MTV. So we're even.

Tell me a tale of magic
Carry me away into a land where anything can happen
Anything at all
Tell me a story
Lay adventure like a road before me
Capture me in glory and the wonder of it all

* "May the Valar be with you."
** wizard rock: music inspired by and/or including lyrics based on the Potter stories.


Unregretted Insanities and other stories

There are weeks, and there are busy weeks, and then there are seven days of straight cray cray. This week, the East Coast got hurricaned, George Lucas sold Star Wars to Disney, Halloween and All Saints' Day came and went in rain and bluster, and NaNoWriMo began.

Oh, and I was busy, too. But that's much less interesting.

For once, I didn't pause to regret not signing up for NaNoWriMo, despite the fact that I have two novels I'd love to write this fall. Or rather, I paused to regret it, and discovered I couldn't spare the energy. I've got two novels in the throes of heavy revision. I've got vegetables still waiting to be preserved and a lot of garden to winterize and Christmas to get ready for and two sites besides this one in desperate need of my attention and a concert coming up and very little November to spare for anything that doesn't have to be done.

But for all you Wrimos, here's to a happy November of creative insanity. Go easy on the Traveling Shovel of Death.

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Maia: "No, Lou, you can't have your lexicon. I'm using it."

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Fellow stargazers and dreamers, I loved this post by Terpsichore of the Egotists' Club. Perhaps you may, too.

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Writers' link of the week: Bellingham author Tara Kelly on exemplifying every writer's worst career nightmare. Which reminds me, I'd rather like to read Harmonic Feedback, which claims my attention doubly by means of involving music and being set locally.

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Music of the week: The song that always, always drives me back to the piano. I've played only once this week... that's not enough.

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Random amusement of the week: Literally Unbelievable. It's a site full of Facebook screenshots of people taking The Onion stories seriously, which is often hilarious. (And often profane. Be forewarned.)

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I'm off to make dinner. Don't forget to set your clocks back on Saturday! (Now that I've said that, the question is whether I'll remember.)

East Coast readers, I hope and pray you came through Sandy safely and without too much trouble.

Hey, Disney, can Pixar make the next Star Wars? They never pick a bad script.

Happy weekend!