Happy Halloween!

And the rest of Hallowmas, too, for those of you celebrating it! No, Blogger spell-check, I did not make up that word.

I attempted to Goth myself up for the day, but owing to the lack of black nail polish and hair dye, I think I came out an alchemist instead:

black, red, silver, open flame,
and yes, I kind of AM a big dork.
This costume needs an alembic*, though. Hmm.
Maia, as you may see from the picture, is going as a cat who would never, ever submit to costuming (and Lou will probably go as a guy who is in the middle of a huge project for work and therefore didn't have time to change after the office). We're all prepared for our usual one trick-or-treater. We humans are, anyway; Maia's dogma includes the statement that "If anyone should welcome a stranger at the door, let him be anathema."

In honor of this year's world-ravaging flood of Halloween debate posts, most of them roiling with unrecognizable shards of history and dangerously pointed agendas, here's the clearest and most factually-sound article I've ever seen on the relationship between Christianity and the night of October 31: Martha of Ireland's Reclaiming the Reclamation, over at Internet Monk.

Also: Christie has spent the week celebrating at her mommy/lifestyle blog, because Halloween is her favorite holiday. The Hog's Head has run a full week of debates on which Harry Potter book is the scariest (I still think it's Chamber of Secrets), and Kristina Horner and friends threw a wicked awesome Potter-themed Halloween party to trump all wicked awesome Potter-themed Halloween parties. The drinks are my favorite part; they served everything from firewhisky to Amortentia to flesh-eating slug repellent to Veritaserum. I might have to try out some of those recipes for future episodes of the H.P.B.C.

Happy Halloween!

* And possibly spectacles, and a lab coat or something. Yeah. I suck at this.


Currently Re-reading: A Wrinkle in Time

For a book I've read and worshiped as many times as I have Madeleine L'Engle's little magnum opus, a review seems a bit superfluous. What could I say? A few psychedelic and/or sentimentally spiritual elements of the tale haven't held up well to fifty years' aging; overall, however, I prefer not to criticize. Simple and childlike the climactic scene may be, but I still cry over it. I adore this story with all my bookish heart.
"But she could love Charles Wallace.... She could stand there and she could love Charles Wallace."
If the act of standing there and loving someone has salvific virtue, I do more good in this world than I think I do.


Harry Potter Book Club: Chamber of Secrets, Chapters 17-18

Hail, goodly friends and members of the H.P.B.C.! We spend this Halloween week wrapping up the (arguably) Halloween-est of a very Halloween-ish set of books.

I went looking for more wizard rock suitable to the final chapters of this novel, and... gosh, there are a lot of covers of "Save Ginny Weasley." But here's another The Moaning Myrtles tune, based on the end of chapter 16:

Before we move on: if you haven't, you should read Masha's "Basilisks and Other Delights" (her potions!! And her photography!!):
...myth is always semi-fluid, it's the deeper symbolism that ties it all together more than the externals. The real myths of the basilisk are so varied themselves that it seems more nit-picky than even I want to be to cry foul on this particular incarnation. Especially when, at heart, the book's version is a match. Rowling's basilisk is like myth itself - altered by time and place, decorated through her own imagination, and yet an obvious descendant of its namesake.
There's also a new post from Christie, on Harry and problems with authority:
Cornelius Fudge insists on taking Hagrid [to Azkaban] for safe-keeping, making the excuses that he's "got to be seen doing something" and that the "Ministry's got to act."  If that mentality is not perfect fodder for the growth of fascism, I don't know what is... This throws into juxtaposition Dumbledore's wise, benevolent, almost anarchist-by-comparison approach to leadership.  It's an interesting subject for scholarly study. Those in official positions of authority have their hands tied.  In crisis, they act in what can be argued is a logical way, as their duty is to act according to the good of the whole society. Then we have Dumbledore, who is also an authority figure, but who acts on preternatural instinct.
I have the smartest friends. ;)

On to Riddle and the basilisk! Harry, darling Harry, I don't blame you for "shaking from head to foot" as you walk between the serpents into the Chamber. I'm practically shaking just reading about it. Terrifying.

* * *

This Week in Reading Harry

Read: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, chapters 17-18

Shameless SPOILERS.
Meme by MSHatter15.
The difficulty is trying to write about the end of book two without spoiling book six....

Potential Discussion Points:

Kinda makes you afraid to keep a journal, eh?
Art by ryuuenx.
1. Ginny's diary—and opening up to the wrong person. When I was in fifth grade, I gave my diary a personality and wrote its sympathetic letters back to myself:
"Dear Jenna,
It is wonderful that you share such sweet secrets with me. You know I won't tell! Do you have another boyfriend? If so, tell me about him."
Sheesh. Never again. I wouldn't be able to help thinking about Tom Riddle:
"Ginny poured her soul out to me, and her soul happened to be exactly what I wanted.... I grew stronger and stronger on a diet of her deepest fears, her darkest secrets."
The case of Ginny's possession by a... SPOILER... erm, memory of old Voldy's is one of the creepier things in the series. It's all very well for Mr. Weasley to scold her—"Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can't see where it keeps its brain!"—but I'm not sure how that holds true; his own car seems to think for itself a few chapters earlier, in the Forbidden Forest. And Ginny grew up in the Burrow, where everything has a personality and even the mirror talks back to you. The poor girl didn't stand a chance against Lucius Malfoy's brutish trick, nor against Tom Riddle's shrewd sympathy.

2. Riddle vs. Hagrid: pretty is as pretty does, and the same holds true for intelligent and likable. We don't really meet Riddle till after he loses his nose and starts growing out of the back of people's heads, and we know Hagrid well as the kindly and innocent-natured Keeper of the Keys. But when the pair of them were boys, Riddle was a model student, an honor student, well liked and unassuming, and Hagrid was fascinated by monsters and was "in trouble every other week" for smuggling them into the school.

Fifty years later, he was still smuggling monsters into Hogwarts...
Art by JamusDu
Beneath the appearances, Hagrid was as good-hearted as he was clumsy, and sixteen-year-old Riddle had already committed murder. More on that in *ahem* book six...

3. Voldemort's arrogance. The snake-nosed antagonist is so inhuman that he mostly comes off as caricature, but in one point he comes off as shockingly human: he despises everyone whose intelligence is unequal to his. "Stupid little Ginny," he calls her, an eleven-year-old girl who didn't know not to trust the person who portrayed himself as her best friend. He refers dismissively to Hagrid as a "great oaf". He wants to talk to Harry before murdering him because he wants to find out how the greatest sorcerer in the world was beaten by a one-year-old with no obvious magical genius. And then:

4. "You're not... the greatest wizard in the world." That's Albus Dumbledore, says Harry. And it's true that Dumbledore is the only person in the world, wizard, witch, or Muggle, whom Voldemort actually respects. It's only the respect of an enemy who knows that this one person might be able to beat him, but it is what it is.

5. What Harry's loyalty to Dumbledore brings him:

Art by wynahiros

a. Resurrective love. As Dumbledore said, phoenixes make highly faithful pets, and Fawkes comes in singing—the spine-tingling, otherworldly song of powerful love and loyalty. As a musician, I've always been glad that the moviemakers didn't try to recreate phoenix song in Half-Blood Prince (whether they did in CoS, I can't recall.) I doubt it would have been successful. It's the sort of thing I think everyone will hear differently.

Fawkes comes in handy in battle, blinding the basilisk while singing and healing Harry's mortal wound with his own tears, and then he provides the escape route as well. Hey, Maia, you could learn a thing or two from that phoenix...

b. Identity: Gryffindor. The Sorting Hat gives half the answer to the question Harry's been asking the whole book. That question is: "Am I evil?"—or, perhaps more specifically, "Am I irredeemable?" Only a true Gryffindor could've pulled Godric's ruby-encrusted sword from the Hat, says Dumbledore.

Art by Jin-Tonix
6. Identity: Doppelgangers. "We even look something alike," says Riddle, after enumerating a lot of Harry's worst fears: the things they two have in common. We will be revisiting this in future books, so I'll just note it here.

7. Identity: Choices. "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."

This is one of Dumbledore's most famous quotes, and deservedly so. It moves me still, after all these years of knowing it, after years of being an adult and theoretically in control of my own choices. I'm afraid that my own choices show that I'm a great time-waster and a narcissist. Maybe I just need that lesson over and over again.

Harry learns here that what makes him good or evil is not his inborn predisposition toward one or the other, but what he chooses to do with himself. Saving Ginny Weasley seems like a pretty dang good start. ;)

Art by Alkanet

Our Ginny, coming soon
Art by keepsake20/Amanda Dockery
8. Kindness. I find it powerfully moving that neither Harry nor Dumbledore once accuses Ginny of anything. Harry is quietly supportive and thoughtful toward her, exactly what he needs to be.

Dumbledore, who is older and in command, is more. If I liked nothing else about the Headmaster, I'd love him for his kindness to Ginny in the final chapter. He silences her rising guilt and any further protest from her parents, prescribes a hospital stay and some immediate physical comfort, and says the one thing that will jump-start her healing: "There has been no lasting harm done, Ginny."

A lot of who Ginny Weasley becomes in future—her bravery, her sheer chutzpah, her strength and sense of humor—probably grows out of her experience of Riddle's possession and Harry and Dumbledore's kindness. Punishment or shaming could have broken her for life, but she's now got what it takes to be great.

Art by LovelyHufflepuff
9. Lockhart. It's funny, but now that he's completely lost his memory and has therefore forgotten how awful he's capable of being, I'm rather fond of him. Innocence and childlike need are infinitely preferable to anything he was before.

Art by crystaltiger52
10. Dobby's redemption. I love everything about this. Dobby, the abused slave, goes on trying to subvert his evil master even though the magic forces him to hit himself in the head at every attempt. And then Rowling saves him with a burst of compassion and a dirty sock. I just... I love this.
"Least I could do, Dobby," said Harry, grinning. "Just promise never to try and save my life again."

Bonus point: Laura says Tolstoy's parties are the best parties "unless you wander into them as a bear". I think she might be right, but the one at the end of Chamber of Secrets sounds pretty darn fun to me.

Go forth and discuss! Coming soon: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Also, pumpkin juice.

"Oh, well... I'd just been thinking... if you had died, you'd have been welcome to share my toilet," said Myrtle, blushing silver.

Best. Offer. Ever.

* Oh. My. Gosh. I'm laughing so hard right now. Yes, that is a real example. It's obvious that, among other things, I had no idea what the word boyfriend meant. Humble little Ginny was sure that "famous, good, great Harry Potter would never like her", but nine-year-old Jenna apparently thought something more along the lines of "I'm totally awash in pheromonal ecstasy around this sixth grader, therefore I love him and we are so getting married." :P


Tessering Minds and other stories

Last week was mostly pictures; this week is mostly words, because my camera's memory card is full. But I could hardly have failed you in the gratuitous cat picture department:

The Today meme is hosted by Masha! Join in over at Piękno, or leave your own sensory notes in the combox...

Today I am...

* * *

Feeling... sleepy and kind of aglow. A choral arrangement I worked up recently is hopefully going to be performed soon (!!!), in a small but friendly way, and I got so excited about its being liked and chosen that I'm afraid I was sort of in and out of sleep last night. When Lou's alarm went off this morning, I still had my rosary in hand and was hazily praying, trying to drift off properly.

Granted, I hadn't even made it to the first decade, so it's not like I prayed all night. But that's because I couldn't get further than about "Our Father, who art in..." without my mind—as L'Engle might've put it—tessering off somewhere.

* * *

Seeing... down the street, for the first morning this week. The fog lifted suddenly last night. We've had days of thick, still whiteness that often hovered well into afternoons and re-settled, after short breaks, before dusk. Morning fog is common in the fall here, but daytime fog is not; autumn is usually too windy.

* * *

Smelling... and Tasting... coffee, at the moment. With lots of cream, of course.

* * *

Listening... to—among other things, because it's been a good week for music—my old friends Naomi and Justin Boyer. You guys. They covered Florence & The Machine. With the banjo. In their kitchen. This is such a sweet little video.

I miss your voice, Nay.

* * *

Grateful... for an hour of babysitting two of my nieces this week, during which we picked flowers and swung in the apple tree and played with blocks and read "Donald Duck and the Magic Mailbox" for the who-knows-how-manyeth time.

Also, for laughter.

Me, standing among the pews and calling up to three nervous guys rehearsing Gregorian chant in the choir loft: "You guys need to picture yourselves wearing cowls!"

Baritone, leaning over the edge of the loft: "Towels?"

I took in breath to call back, and then the mental image hit. And it was just so wrong for what I was trying to get them to think... The number of times I almost lost myself in a fit of laughter during the ensuing choir practice was probably unconscionable. But there's something to be said for being easily amused.

* * *

Reading… *deep inhale, dramatic pause* War and Peace. At long last. I'm kind of loving all these Rostov children, and Pierre, even if he is crazy about Napoleon.

I'm also re-reading A Wrinkle in Time, because I didn't re-read it in time for book club this week (but that turned out to be all right: we all said we loved it, and then we started debating about The Hobbit,* and... yeah), and because it's one of the primary influences on my A.D. novel.

Studying… I sat down and studied choral conducting once this week. I was very proud of myself.

Working on... so much, when I can get my brain to focus. Hurrah for a week of having MuseScore and four Word documents open at once! And for having to sometimes shut the four Word documents to open a set of two, because my computer overheats....

* * *

Loving... my husband, who is more patient with me than I am with myself, and my little, quiet life. And fall, and music, and stories about tesseract travelers and Russian boys who tie policemen to the backs of bears, and... kind of everything right now; I'm feeling agreeable.

Hoping... for sleep, so I can stop alternating between hyper and groggy.

* * *

flowers, picked with the nieces

Happy weekend!

* Me: "I want to love The Hobbit, and I've read it twice, but I still found it excruciatingly boring..."

L: "That is just—I'm sorry, that is wrong!"



Currently Reading: The Hollow Hills

The Hollow Hills (Arthurian Saga, #2)Through a man’s life there are milestones, things he remembers even into the hour of his death. God knows that I have had more than a man’s share of rich memories; the lives and deaths of kings, the coming and going of gods, the founding and destroying of kingdoms. But it is not always these great events that stick in the mind: here, now, in this final darkness, it is the small times that come back to me most vividly, the quiet human moments which I should like to live again, rather than the flaming times of power. I can still see, how clearly, the golden sunlight of that quiet afternoon. There is the sound of the spring, and the falling liquid of the thrush’s song, the humming of the wild bees, the sudden flurry of the white hound scratching for fleas, and the sizzling sound of cooking where Arthur knelt over the wood fire, turning the trout on a spit of hazel, his face solemn, exalted, calm, lighted from within by whatever it is that sets such men alight. It was his beginning, and he knew it.

He did not ask me much, though a thousand questions must have been knocking at his lips. I think he knew, without knowing how, that we were on the threshold of events too great for talk. There are some things that one hesitates to bring down into words. Words change an idea by definitions too precise, meanings too hung about with the references of every day.

Author: Mary Stewart

Mini-Synopsis: Charged with the care of the infant who will become King Arthur, Merlin works his science and magic together to protect the boy, to raise him as destiny demands. Merlin’s narration takes us from Arthur’s birth through his presentation to Uther Pendragon, the pulling of the sword from the stone, and the recognition of him as king.

Mini-Notes: While The Hollow Hills got a slower start than The Crystal Cave—for me, at least, perhaps because I was so looking forward to seeing Arthur developed as a character—the last third of the book ought to have speed and suspense enough for anyone. Stewart’s descriptive prose carries the earlier portions and perseveres right through the climax to the finale, infusing all the scandal and the glory of the Arthurian legend with a vivid sense of place and a very believable immanence. Her realism could have sucked some of the magic from the story, had her imagery not been so beautiful at all the right moments.

This is a thoroughly quality, readable, and—I think—unique take on the myth. I’m no Mithraist, and I haven’t been looking in fires, but I foresee myself tracking down the third installment before the year ends.


Harry Potter Book Club: One More Time...

Everybody, Christie specifically requested this week off. I will do my level best to make next week happen.

In the meantime, the Blogengamot is starting a week-long debate over at The Hog's Head (which is finally nargle-free, YAY) about which Potter book is the scariest. I'm up tomorrow defending Chamber of Secrets. :) See you over there if you're interested...


Real Fall Snapshots and other stories

Today I'm short on words and sleep. I seem to be spending this week making up for never having been sleepy at all in September.

But it was a beautiful day, with heavy morning fog followed by bright afternoon, and I took a hop down to a local park—one full of big old trees and surrounded by lovely neighborhood—for some real fall photography. Well. Real fall snapshots. I have friends who are real photographers. I and my little... erm, *pulls out camera*... Canon cannot rival such artists for that crown.

Anyhow, fall pictures. Cat picture first, though, to placate Maia and George.

Apologies for the blurring on this next one, but you know. Internet paranoia. I wanted to get a shot of just how pretty some of Bellingham's older neighborhoods are in the fall, though. Without driving all the way over to catch the view from my first apartment as a 'Hamster, which view is absolutely splendid this time of year. This is just outside the park.

A lot of spiderwebs whited into visibility by fog:

I saw two crows and thought of Masha, so I got pictures of them.

Your happy hiker:

Music of the week: a mellow offering from the King of Instruments: Mascagni's Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana, played by organist Gergely Rákász.

Happy weekend!


Currently Reading: Ceremony of Innocence

Ceremony of Innocence"It is strange about her bicycle," said Krause. "Dennis said that she took her bicycle when she went out, but we did not find it near the crime scene."

"It was probably stolen," I said, suddenly angry. "Why does it matter? Do you expect to find mysterious gravel in the treads?"

"Perhaps," said Krause. "Frau McClelland, do you have any idea who killed Suzy Davis."

"I don't have the faintest idea."

"But really. Any idea at all?"

"Suzy mixed herself up with some dodgy people. She was an optimist. She trusted people, even enough to hitchhike. Anyone who had any claim to victim status was a potential saint to Suzy. She made friends easily, even with Turkish shopkeepers with hardly any German and less English. She had friends who were PKK supporters, Hamas, Hezbollah."

"We know all that," said Krause. "What I am looking for is a name."

Author: Dorothy Cummings McLean

Synopsis: When Cat McClelland's ex-boyfriend, Dennis, shows up back at her flat, she asks him if he's looking for his mobile phone. To Cat's dismay, however, he's looking for Suzy Davis, who once proposed marriage to him. He's shortly followed by the police, who inform the pair that Suzy Davis' body was just pulled out of the nearby river—and that both Cat and Dennis are suspects.

Cat's narration of her and Dennis' history since their first acquaintance with Suzy contains political intrigue, terrorism, romantic jealousy, clashes of religious morality, and fierce human desperation pitted against conscience. Suzy is dead, but the question of what's left for Cat and Dennis is unresolved until the last pages.

Full disclosure: I read (and on rare occasions, comment upon) Dorothy Cummings McLean's blog "Seraphic Singles", not because I'm particularly in need of the content, but because I enjoy her writing and her perspective. I bought this book of my own free will and received no compensation from either author or publisher for reviewing it.

Notes: Part thriller and part literary novel, Ceremony of Innocence would be a unique and interesting find even in mainstream fiction—but this was published by the Catholic house Ignatius Press. Without meaning disrespect to Ignatius, as I'm not very familiar with their lists, I have to say that it’s incredibly unusual to pick up a novel shelved by religion instead of genre and be able to remark on how well it's written. This one is spectacular.

Over the course of a short and intense mystery plot, McLean carefully examines the subject of innocence. I won’t spoil the point of whether the heroine, Catriona McClelland, is innocent or guilty in regard to Suzy Davis’ death; apart from that matter, however, cynical Cat is anything but an innocent character. By means of flashbacks, Cat’s many failures and cold personality are contrasted—on and off the core theme—with Suzy’s warm naïveté and her passionate idealism. It makes for some interesting questions. McLean easily avoids one of the commonest errors of so-called Christian fiction: she doesn't hand out pat answers.

I found reading this novel a very Catholic experience, which is to say that while living under the same dogmatic umbrella as the protagonist, I related to the idea of innocence from an antipathetic perspective. I strongly sympathized with Suzy’s aforementioned warm naïveté—so much so that I was shocked to discover that she believed things I could not sympathize with at all. I did not sympathize with the (admittedly context-less) Graham Greene quote used as an epigraph. I’m afraid I did sympathize with Dennis’ offscreen Uncle Archbishop Franz a lot. I did not often sympathize with Cat; her sardonic mind, which contained a lot of—not shameless, but perhaps stoical—knowledge of sin, was more than a little uncomfortable to inhabit. She did win my solidarity in one regard, however: I thoroughly understood her insecurity toward her beautiful, much-younger boyfriend.

Ah, yes, Deniz. How to speak of him without spoilers? Well. Another point of sympathy with Cat: he was very lovable.

The mystery holds up well and delivers a couple of solid jolts toward the end. The jumps back and forth in time are occasionally mildly confusing, as almost always happens with time jumps, but the flow of the story is otherwise perfectly readable. The ending manages to be chilling and Catholic all at once, which is impressive.

As an ending, it's hard to classify; it's not exactly happy, nor is it entirely tragic, nor does it seem reasonably described as "bittersweet." Hope and horror exist together, all wrapped up in each other. The horror was of a sort to leave me hungry for more of innocence in the world, but I suspect that's just one of many possible responses.

I read Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory partially in preparation for this novel, but, as I discovered via epigraph and acknowledgments, by that motive I should have read The Quiet American. If the Wikipedia plot synopsis can be trusted, this story is in some ways a retelling of that one. But Cat's last paragraph moved me rather powerfully: it contained a direct answer to the question The Power and the Glory's whisky priest leaves his readers with. It’s hopeful, and it’s the answer I believe.

Comparison between new releases and classics is never fair—but McLean, by building her novel off Greene's, invites a certain level of comparison. This book is perhaps short on the really iconic images that Greene was master of, though the Temple Dance Priest scene deserves mention: that’s a beautifully horrific experience for a tradition-loving Catholic to read through. But Ceremony of Innocence isn't short on good writing. It's well phrased, tightly edited, suspenseful, thoughtful, non-didactic, and interesting. It holds its own in both its thriller and literary categories, is beyond outstanding for anything stamped with the religious label, and it suggests that McLean's future work is more than likely to be worth reading.


Harry Potter Book Club: Week Off, Again

Hello, book club friends,

Christie has had the flu and I have a serious case of trying to learn accompaniments for a children's choir rehearsal tomorrow, so today you get just two things from me.

First, Tor's Steven Padnick complains "Can We Stop Sorting Ourselves into Hogwarts Houses, Please?" (Honestly, sir: no, probably not. But I do get your point.) What do you all think about the ideas in the article? Agree? Disagree? Correctives? For myself, while compassion as a virtue isn't specifically assigned House representation, I think Hufflepuffs are generally good at it, as is Harry in his best moments, and I think the series itself emphasizes the virtue. But I was very intrigued by the Avatar: The Last Airbender elemental/virtue pairings.

Second, with apologies for the language: "Sh*t Harry Potter Fans Never Say." You guys. I laughed so hard. Possible spoilers if you've never seen the movies OR read the books.

Book club resumes next week! Enjoy your break. And read Masha's basilisk post. :D


Defenseless Plants and other stories

A few weeks ago, I mentioned having had—and enjoyed—a nice long conversation with my mama about art in church. Some of the thoughts from that conversation made it into an article, which my old friend Justin Boyer published this week on his Christian thought blog, TheoCult. It's written ecumenically, for both Mom's sake and Justin's, and I honestly loved writing on that topic. Check it out if you're interested. Hope you like it. :)

And now... the Today meme is hosted by Masha! Join in over at Piękno, or leave your own sensory notes in the combox. Today I am...

* * *

Feeling... odd. Shaky. Hopeful. A little bit alight. Here's what happened:

This summer I've been considering giving up on my 2009 NaNoWriMo novel, A.D.'s story, together with its sequel and worlds and characters and everything. This early fall, I've been hearing whispers in my ear that I'm one of those writers that, as Flannery O'Connor suggested, academia ought to stifle outright.

Tuesday, after a bout of discouragement with my fairy tale retelling immediately followed by a bout of discouragement with my ability to write decent music, I sat down to my journal and wrote this:
That thing where you are convinced that nothing you write can ever be good enough. That the critic will always be Right and you will always be Wrong... When it's halting both your novels and your music... What do you do?
And I stared at the words, pathetic as they are. Stared long and hard, and thought of A.D., and of Mom saying that I ought to consider reverting to the previous draft, and of the reasons she says that—they're serious—and the reasons I can't quite go that far. And I thought: I'm going to pull up that old draft and read one of the emotional scenes, a scene I haven't looked at or worked on this year. If there's something worth saving, I'll see it in that scene.

I read it. And as I finished it and scrolled back up, the epiphany hit—the way to save that story.

It's beautifully simple. It means starting over again from the beginning and working from both old and new drafts, but this time I'm mostly not revising—I'm just rewriting. Keeping scene, character, setting, storyline, mood, but modifying the voice. Making it work for the audience it's designed for.

The other book has to be prioritized, but A.D. must be rescued. I'm giving myself three days a week when I can work on her tale. But hey, I once rewrote half this book in nine days—it's just a matter of knowing exactly what I need to do and getting mentally and emotionally caught up into it.

I am caught up into it. For the first time in well over a year. It feels wonderful.

* * *

Seeing... that it's a huge mistake to leave a defenseless plant on the dining table overnight. But then, I knew that.

The poor little peace lily wishes I would've remembered to put it back
out of Maia's reach...
But something this cute can get away with anything it wants, right?

Also, more autumn:


Peony bushes

...some kind of white non-edible berry bush

Mums growing under the crocosmia

One of the last fairy roses

* * *

Smelling... coffee. So needed.

Tasting... well, tonight we're having family to dinner. I'm making orange salmon, cream of leek and chicken soup, Caesar salad, and Italian parmesan bread in the bread maker. Also, baked brie. None of that is prepped, and the house isn't clean yet either, so possibly I should not be blogging right now.

* * *

Listening... to vintage Evanescence. I am no Amy Lee, either as vocalist or pianist, but this has been fun to learn to play. Also, I totally love her skirt.

Grateful... for the ability to love writing fiction again.

* * *

Reading... A Ceremony of Innocence by Dorothy Cummings MacLean. It was pretty hard to put down yesterday; I'm not allowing myself to pick it up again till after company leaves tonight, or I'll forget to clean house and cook dinner.

Studying… This week I got in two study sessions on Evoking Sound and one on music theory, which felt good, although I just about burned my brain out on the last. My knowledge of music theory is desperately patchy. Most of what I do is instinctive and self-taught; hence the aforementioned lack of confidence.

Maybe next week I'll get Spanish in there, too.

Working on... two novels, naturally, and ensemble prep for the upcoming concert.

* * *

Loving... surprises that come in the mail after you more or less forget you ordered them. Look at our baby quince tree! I am so excited about this.

Hoping... for a happy evening with the family tonight, and for lots of quiet time for Lou and I around concert rehearsal and cantoring this weekend. He wants to work, and I want to write.

Happy weekend!


Currently Reading: Enchantment

Enchantment“Are you so clumsy that no one gave you any work to do?” asked the king. “Look at your arms and shoulders—I don’t know if you could lift a basket of flowers.”

“I lifted the stone that blinded the bear,” said Ivan, getting a little annoyed.

Katerina looked concerned. “My father is teasing you,” she said.

Ways of showing humor must have changed a lot over the centuries, then. It sounded to Ivan like he was being insulting.

“In my land,” said Ivan, “I’m regarded as a…” He had no idea how to say athlete in Old Church Slavonic. It wasn’t a concept likely to be useful in the liturgy or histories. “As a good runner.”

The king’s face went white. “They say this to your face? That you run?”

Ivan had to think frantically to guess at what he had said wrong. Then it dawned on him. “Not running from battle,” he said. “Running races. Two men side by side, then they run and run and see who arrives first.”

“We have slaves carry our messages,” said the king.

“Then I suppose no one but the slaves will run races with me,” Ivan said, chuckling. But he found himself chuckling alone. So much for humorous banter. Apparently the jokes would go only one way around here.

“I’ll bet you’re not Christian, either,” said the king.

Author: Orson Scott Card

Synopsis: While visiting family in the Ukraine, Russian-American graduate student Ivan returns to a place that haunted him as a child: a clearing in a forest, where a beautiful princess sleeps beneath fallen leaves, guarded by a bear. A kiss awakes the princess, Katerina, upon which Ivan finds himself betrothing himself to her in order to save them from the bear and the witch Baba Yaga.

The first of many problems with that betrothal is that Ivan is engaged to another woman back in America. But as he follows Katerina into her world, a thousand years into the past, he faces more immediate difficulties: her disdain and that of her people, his own physical ineptitude for battle, and the complication of having a scientific mind when pitted in a life-or-death struggle against raw and malevolent magic.

Notes: This story is a retelling of the Sleeping Beauty tale in the context of the Baba Yaga mythos, and therefore stakes at least a dual claim on the interest of any fairy tale fan. It's well done; Russian language, folklore, superstition and political situation are portrayed with Card’s characteristic humanity, as are the respective immersions of the chronologically challenged young couple into each other’s cultures. The latter is notably hard to pull off—a young academic with an American standard of living plunged into a culture that values men for physical strength, a Dark Ages princess faced with airplanes and modern noise—but Card makes it believable.

Like all Card’s best works, the narrative is lined with subtle but powerful insights, some stated in his characters’ words, some in their deeds. There’s quite a lot about sex; this isn’t a children’s fairy tale retelling. It's handled with gentleness and decency, however, along with a beauty rarely found in modern treatment. It’s also handled with an eye to redemption, as are the dealings with Christianity and Judaism and the old Russian gods.

It’s a good story, and I dropped a lot of things I was supposed to be doing in order to find out how it ended as quickly as possible. I might still prefer Card’s sci-fi, which has a long-lasting hold on my imagination, but it seems his fantasy is also worth reading.


Harry Potter Book Club: Chamber of Secrets, Chapter 16

All right, magical friends?

Art by RockingNeverland
We're moving forward even though Christie hasn't posted yet. (You can all go comment on her last post, though!) Christie, bless her, needs a Time-Turner for all she's trying to get done—too bad the Ministry of Magic's entire stock SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER—so we're just going to move ahead one chapter, to give her some space to catch up.

Even though Chapter 16 ends on a particularly wretched cliffhanger.

Masha posted, focusing in on Dumbledore and his emotional connection to Hogwarts:
...there is a sort of magic to home, both in the series and in reality. Being rooted to a place is powerful and leaves a mark on both the person and the place. It seems too that Dumbledore is very much at home in Hogwarts.... The sense is that Dumbledore's emotional connection to the school is similar to Harry's and to Riddle's. It's his place, and because it is his: emotionally as well as vocationally, the change in official status does nothing to damage his magical link to the school and it's students. It's a rich detail, I think, and one that gives a layer of tangible, natural magic to the series. 
Which is a beautiful thought, and makes me feel even more affectionately about my own little house. <3

(Story time: My neighbor told me yesterday that she dreamed she had come over to feed Maia and discovered, upon entry, that somehow we had managed to make the inside into three stories full of nice spacious rooms. I don't know if she's read Harry Potter, but my immediate thought was: Undetectable extension charm FOR THE WIN.)

Art by chrisables
We haven't gotten to book five (let alone seven) and all the talk therein about love being more powerful than any magic, but I think Masha's on to something with this insight—and it's a point I don't immediately recall having heard put into so many words before: that Dumbledore's love for the school grants him a deeper connection to it, which in turn gives him a magnified and potent knowledge of it—which is strengthened by his magic and possibly its as well, of course.

For fun this week, by way of Masha's hitting Like on various Pinterest boards, which then show up in my Facebook feed: You guys. Quidditch Pong!!! Does not this look like the most nerdtastic game ever??

Beer pong with butterbeer and Quidditch hoops!
And, via that post, Expelliarmus shots! How have I never known about these? Maybe because I am afraid to do shots (mostly afraid I'll choke to death; straight hard liquor is nasty and makes me splutter.) Still. They look like fun.

On to chapter 16!

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This Week in Reading Harry

Read: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Chapter 16

All right, everyone. The day has come to link what might be considered one of the biggest and most important songs of the origins of the wrock phenomenon: Harry and the Potters' "Save Ginny Weasley".

(Why, yes, wizard rock has always been more about having fun than about being musical....)

Here's a brief history of wrock, for anyone who's interested. Funny, but they don't mention Library Lily and the Tales of the Bard, who jumped into the scene as early as 2008, just in time for the last Myspace hurrah, and made a splash big enough to be heard all the way from one side of the Whoville world—you know, the one Horton hears—to the other. Such an omission. Pfffft.

Potential Discussion Points:

Art by MarsW
1. Who confides in a guy like Percy Weasley? It's telling that Ginny comes even to her crush object (in company with Ron) to share a terrifying secret, rather than going to bossy, self-righteous, legalistic Percy (or even, it may be added, to the not-often-serious Fred and George). Percy is the oldest Weasley family member present; he should have been the first protective one, the advocate she could have counted on.

It's spoilerific to say much this week, but what Ginny has to say could partially implicate her in some serious charges, and Percy has made himself the last person in whom she could place her confidence. People own up to failure where they most hope for mercy, not where they know they will receive judgment. Which is part of the comfort of the confessional.* But now I'm getting off Potter topics.

2. The basilisk. Hey, Masha, you can put up that basilisk post now, the one you were talking about way back when. I don't know much about the mythology, so I'll defer to others.

Art by GingerOpal
3. Some exceptional luck must have been involved in the fact that no one has so far gotten killed by Slytherin's monster (sheesh, "Slytherin"... how I didn't automatically know it was a snake on first read, I'll never understand). Every victim has met the deadly eyes through reflection or camera lens or ghost, has thereby gotten Petrified, and has then lain helplessly on the floor while the hungry snake disappeared back into the pipes. Maybe Dumbledore's magic knowledge of the school provides a certain protection. Or maybe this is just a mystery novel for children, so outright murder was not considered proper for inclusion. (Yet.) Either way, boy, was that a string of lucky breaks.

4. Harry and Ron solve the mystery! The first half of it, anyway. I love the way this plays out.

5. Lockhart. At last, we get the whole story on this jerk. Vindictiveness isn't one of my besetting sins, but I have to admit to grinning when all the teachers look at him "with something remarkably like hatred." And then I catch myself and feel sorry for him, because he's gotten himself into something he can't possibly handle. He's obviously a bungler, magically speaking; Harry stands a better chance than he does, even without the aid of SPOILERS.

I can sympathize with a coward, being naturally terrified of everything myself—which, oddly enough, means that the handsome and flirtatious Lockhart actually has my sympathy here, for the very first time, as he's put on the spot in the teachers' lounge. He immediately destroys that sympathy, of course. It was almost nice hanging with you for half a page, Gilderoy.

6. "Books can be misleading". Yes, they can. Teachers can be, too. And so can the idea that human physical beauty and human goodness are necessarily associated.

7. Myrtle's death. This is just... tragic. A life obsessed with pettiness, struck down in a bathroom stall, and finally foregoing, for schoolgirl vengeance's sake, anything "the next great adventure" might hold. What a story.

Art by ava-angel

Comes in handy for plot purposes, of course.

8. Harry and Ron's bravery. There's never been much reason to doubt their courage, but unraveling a centuries-old mystery, taking a fraudulent teacher captive, and going into a creepy drainpipe to face down a basilisk, just on the faint hope that Ginny might still be alive? This is one of their finest moments. You boys are wonderful.

Next week, we're going behind Salazar Slytherin's Gothic doors... wands out, everyone!

Art by DeathlyToxicity.

* While I'm off Potter topics... Perhaps that's also part of why Pope Francis said what he did a few weeks back (what he said was not what the headlines said he said. But then, it pretty much never is. OK, I linked the last couple for fun. Advisory on the final: language and [conservative] politics.) Hey, Hermione, I think you need to make SPOILER SPOILER into a SPOILER again. Her Quick-Quotes Quill has been partying hard.


Stout Winds and other stories

Happy memorial of St. Francis of Assisi, who loved the animals and elements as brothers and sisters! Maia is commemorating by... burying herself in the bedclothes, because it's chilly. But here's a picture of her from the last day we had the window open:

"Today" is more like "This week" here... and I added a couple of words. But it's still Masha's meme at heart. Join in over at Piękno, or leave your own sensory notes in the combox...

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Today I am...

Feeling... exhausted. I hiked (well, glorified walk, really—it was a path along the edge of Lake Whatcom, so it was basically flat) six miles yesterday. By mile four, the family knee curse kicked in. Those last two miles were a tad rough. Day and trail were both splendid, though, and I thoroughly enjoyed all my conversations with my in-laws and Aunt Judie. It was all much more than worth having both knees muttering epithets in the background for the last hour. Next year I'll remember to bring ibuprofen.

Seeing... a little more autumn than last week. The Floridian Christie was asking for proper fall pictures the other day. The leaves are just starting to turn around town, and I'd love to walk out and get some photos, but today I can't even walk across a parking lot without hobbling (I know; I've had to do it twice.) Here, however, are the few autumnal images I could get without leaving my porch.

First: being right off the bay, we get some stout winds this time of year. I am not surprised that this hook:

did not choose to hold this hanging basket:

Which is surprisingly brown on top...
guess I should go water it.
when confronted with last weekend's gusts. I've got a tougher replacement hook ready to go up sometime this weekend.

The star jasmine is way ahead of everything else in getting its autumn colors on:

Lastly, here are some of the finally-cut pumpkins:

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Smelling... hints of yogurt and toast from lunch.

Tasting... my favorite new meal of the week was spaghetti squash, inspired by Kristina Horner's post and commenter Emily Hornburg, who suggested topping said squash with bacon, ground beef, tomatoes, and cheese. I cooked up some bacon, drained the grease, browned the ground beef and some mushrooms in the bacon pan with some sherry and garlic salt, added a few tomatoes from the garden, mixed some shredded cheddar into the hot squash and ladled the beef/bacon mixture on top, and sprinkled the whole thing with parmesan. The result? Squash even Lou could love. I will be making that again, oh yes.

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Listening... to Faure's "In Paradisum", from his Requiem; I'm learning it with a treble schola for an upcoming concert. It's... well, heavenly.

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Grateful... for MuseScore. It's wonderful and it's free. Writing music out is more helpful for my sightreading than reading alone ever could be. It's also helpful for when choral composers write perfectly good church hymns all in unison. What is the point of that?! I've spent way too much time this week on SATB voice leading, but haven't begrudged a minute. It's almost as much fun as conducting.

Silly composers. You skip writing parts for your hymns, and Jenna will do it for you.

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Reading... still The Hollow Hills by Mary Stewart. It's hard to get a lot of reading done when I'm trying to do so much writing.

I'm adding these next two in hopes that I'll get more done if I have to admit to failure or success every week:

Studying... Evoking Sound by James Jordan. I meant to work on it at least two or three days, and only got to it once, but I have been practicing consistent tempo every chance I get, and the rhythm layering concept is fascinating.

Working on... (still) chapter three of my fairy tale retelling; I've had to go back, rip into a scene, and rewrite it to different emphasis. But this is chapter three of nineteen. All of which I want to have done by sometime in December. I need to get caught up into it—it goes so much faster when I do—but I'm honestly so burned out on novel writing right now that everything is harder than it needs to be.

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Loving... my confirmation saint, St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face. Tuesday night I made a nice dinner, and Lou brought in some little flowers:

St. Thérèse and St. Francis, pray for us!

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Hoping... for a peaceful weekend, for us and for all of you. :) Have a happy one!