Saturday, December 25, 2010

Because What Else Would Lee Majors Be Doing Christmas Eve?

There's a Christmas elf by my keyboard with her Christmas pup and there are trees throughout the house...with the candles burning it smells like winter and mint and chocolate and something sweet but not quite identifiable. I notice it mostly in the morning, when nothing is yet lit; however, the smell lingers from yesterday with all the notes intact save for that of the ash of the wick.

I had been ticking off Christmas chores like mad until yesterday morning, when I happened to turn on the tv to a cartoon channel. It was a little weird to grab a bit of Christmas peace in front of the tv--but there was the madcap race to experience the season and the little cartoon kids always succeeded. Better yet, the cartoons weren't something that I had on my list. They were just fun.

Which brings us to last night and our yearly tussle over opening a gift on Christmas Eve. We opened one gift in my family on Christmas Eve and it was usually because we didn't see both maternal and paternal families on Christmas Day. The Pumpkin King's family opened everything Christmas Eve. Since our kids are the four-footed kind without a jot of overwhelming CHRISTMAS!!! eagerness, we celebrate everything on Christmas Day, together. Except for the Pumpkin King's insistence on getting started early. :)

Needless to say, the merriment of the morning had worn off by the time that he thought about presents. Just before we got started, he decided that we needed hot chocolate and I reached for the remote, wondering what kind of Christmas treats I could find. We watched an old Rankin-Bass Santamation movie and then I found the subject of this post. There was Lee Majors on Christmas Eve rescuing Dolly Parton and a passel of orphans! Scrooged fans know, what else would Lee Majors be doing on Christmas?!

We laughed. And then we watched the movie. Because what else would we be doing on Christmas Eve, save celebrating family in-jokes and traditions while the Christmas decorations flicker and wink?

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Call for YA Novels

I'm building my 2011 reading list and I'd like to add a few titles for my reviews at Supernatural Fairy Tales. Once a month SFT reviews books, usually titles aimed a young adult audience (although not usually children's books), that have some relation either to the supernatural or to fairy tales. This year, we'd like to concentrate on small press or independent works by YA authors.

We're looking for recommendations for authors whom you've enjoyed who may have a work out or coming out in 2011. We welcome suggestions from authors and from readers. In order to schedule review times for the months of February-May, we'll need to receive suggestions fairly quickly. Suggestions can either be listed in the comments to this blog or submitted directly to SFT.

In order to be considered for review, any books suggested will have to be available at some point during 2011 (or very early 2012 for books reviewed later in the year). Books should be available to the general public.

Book reviews will include the opinion of the reviewer, a link to a site where the book may be purchased, and a copy of the cover art (if available). Reviews may be posted to SFT and Goodreads and Amazon (if appropriate).

If you have any questions about book reviews, please feel free to contact me directly or send a question through SFT's review site.

Happy holidays!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Tiny Moments

^pause for chocolate^

The mint chocolate candle is more seductive than I antcipated. It has been devastating for the holiday bowl of Kisses in the kitchen and a warm counterweight to the cloudy cold front that is settling overhead. I am tempted to spend the entire afternoon curled on the couch under blankets and dogs and read the three novels that are tagging after me this week.

I could turn on the tree lights and drift into the company of trolls, fairies, and the PIs who keep them on the straight and narrow.

This I will do; first, however, I'd like to share some thoughts on a video that I watched yesterday. I've been following A. Lee Martinez's blog since this year's Apollocon and he recently posted a video introduction to his lastest novel. When I clicked the link, I anticipated a semi-slick book trailer. Instead, he'd uploaded a 9 minute introduction to his work and his book that consisted of his just talking to the mike, against a white wall.

Instead of a cute reminder of a book that I'd enjoyed, there was a video that reminded me that books are just as handmade as anything I'd recently seen at the Renaissance Festival; that they could grow in the same places, the same rooms, as those I remembered from being a kid. It's hard to explain how the two connect--they cross on a bridge that consists of what I remember of being an imaginative child daydreaming in my own white-walled room and what I can see of an author telling the story of telling the story without the kind of ad-type visual shortcuts that I find easy to dismiss.

To have a few minutes to appreciate and think about the craft of writing, when the rules and how-to books are silent, is a welcome break in a season of looking for those tiny moments of awe. And what better way to prolong the moment than by returning to the couch and the stack of novels?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Propagation of Difference

Thanksgiving ambushed me, but I think I'm recovered. Finished the NaNovel and am looking forward to editing it (don't ask me why, I'm just ready to rip the text to pieces). Haven't read much, but the nightstand is moulting novels so I should be catching up on that soon.

Meanwhile...the difference. A few days ago I received an e-mail that, as these things may, struck me as less friendly than it could have been. A few angry hours later and I'd updated some lists that needed updating and found myself once again grieving over the events of the past year and a half. It sucks...but things have changed. I'm not going to find another office job and start attending my old writer's group. Our two oldest dogs aren't going to run around in the backyard and then come in to snooze on the carpet. Things have changed.

Until yesterday it wasn't a profound change, because until yesterday these weren't changes that I allowed to move into the past. I'm still dreaming about my old job. Invariably, I'm trying to get things done knowing that I won't get paid or knowing that I'm skipping out on another job to finish "just one more thing" in the old one. I would dream that I was sneaking into offices that should have been closed just to finish paperwork. My brain wouldn't let it be over and I could feel myself tucking in my head like a turtle as I kept shuffling that damn useless paperwork. Then someone struck a match to my frustration and changes had to be made.

I don't know yet whether this means no more nightmares, but it does mean that I'm now aware that I can't just pick up where I left off. I can be a writer, but I can't hide out in a group of other writers and pretend. I can imagine not being a writer. I can think about working again without carrying around the burden of unfinished business.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Tiny Dogs and Symphonies

Mom's papillion is curled up so that he can take advantage of the warmth from the laptop and my lap at the same time. He's been twitching throughout Ride of the Valkyries and jumping up every time he thinks he hears the squirrel land on the sunscreen over the porch.

Despite that, he's managed to snooze a good part of the afternoon right here while I work on non-NaNo projects and try not to snooze while the laptop is precariously balanced between one leg and the arm of the chair. It's one of the few times I'm grateful to not be thin--my body provides proper spacing for all the denizens of the chair and we are quite cozy, thank you.

What I am not doing this week is reading much more than one of Mom's collection of Margery Allingham's Albert Campion novels. He has a discursive narrative style and is a chatty and allusive protagonist; however, I fear that he suffers in my own devotion to Sayer's Lord Peter Wimsey. There is, moreover, nothing that compares to scratching the tummy of a heavy-lidded pup who is anxiously awaiting the arrival of the nephew from school. Every heavy truck that passes makes him stare at the back door.

This was not the week that I should have planned to get the entiret of my novel finished, particularly since I am so amenable to the least distraction down here. Just being able to walk out of the house and to lunch or to the center of an older town not yet redone for tourists is a pleasure. There are architects and lawyers and hair salons and quilt stores and sandwich shops and a pool hall and buildings in the footprint of the 40's, low with wide covers for people who are on foot. Such a gracious design completely absent in the blank facade of a big box store.

So I am not storing up words but I am storing up the feel of a day's hike, the difference between grass and concrete underfoot, and the way it feels to come to the end of the block on which you grew up and sense that you are leaving the bubble of familiar space and are, perforce, encountering something new.

Harp music seems to work best on the pup.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Mall Trek

My mom's dog has retired to his bed and the cloud bank that built while I was out has crept close enough to make the hallway and room giving off this one a black blankness, save for the window and the shiny bronze magnolia leaves visible through it. YouTube on this laptop doesn't sound much better than the Walkman I had in high school.

Earlier it seemed like it was going to be a nice enough day for a ramble over the concrete paths to the local mall and I set out with the intent to pick up a sweater against chillier days later this week. When I was younger, the mall was the place to daydream--either about who you could be (it was the 80's--i was loud and tacky) or what would you be when LJ was firmly behind you. There wasn't much on that side of town, just the mall and a couple of parks.

Now, the mall sits across the street from Wal-mart and languishes. It happened to the center of town and it spreads outward, a slow silence and irrelevance. At one point, the low lights, empty storefronts and carpet meant that I passed through a section in silence, living an undreamed emptiness. After the cold front storms the coast, I'll take myself through the old center of town and see what I can of the places that I remember.

I do remember that I like the clouds and the way the sky opens over the flatness, without quite washing us away.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Deal Is...

Yesterday I started a scene that I hoped to use to sop up several of the 50k that I'm supposed to be writing as part of my NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) novel. Before I was well started, doubts started hammering in. Then I stopped writing and the fetters fell away.

We all know what we're supposed to do with doubts. Ignore them, lock them up, throw them out; do anything with them other than pay attention. I wanted to do that and just keep going. I was planning on getting t-shirt at the end of November and there are badges, too (for those of you don't know, I've been a badgeaholic since Girl Scouts). I've done this for several years now and there is NOTHING ELSE GOING ON IN MY LIFE RIGHT NOW. This should be easy.

It was easier, as it turns out, to listen to the doubts. To finally hear the criticisms from my current and former writing groups about my lack of clarity and emotion, to hear the Pumpkin King's concerns about the general lack of interest that my plot inspires, and, finally, to hear the reality underneath all of those writing manuals. Writing well is difficult and it requires skill and attention and drive.

The deal is that I'm lazy. That working for nothing (on the miniscule chance that I'll ever be published) no longer inspires me. My characters don't speak to me and the plots don't unspool like a movie in my head. Pushing myself toward publication and revision just left me frustrated.

I like to read. That should be enough.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Monday Morning, Quiet

There are always so many little things to be done that the pressure of them builds like a storm front while I'm at the keyboard. November, with it's novel frenzies and holidays, is the nicest time to light the candles and open the windows, but the hardest month in which to take a break.

I'm reading my typical stack of things this month, including an old Andre Norton nove (Quag Keep), but not making as much progress as I'd hoped. I started the month with a complete rejection of the fantastic--who wants to go into the forests that have been so thoroughly mapped in the past? And yet, the parks they have become are comfortable.

Part of me would like to eschew a month of novel writing for a month of trying out the tasks I set before my characters. What would it take to walk from the Gulf Coast to Houston on foot? How long would it take? A caravan of novelists hiking through Texas would be a blast. Perhaps at the end of a month, there would be something left over to write about without the hollow feeling that's following me this year.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Fantastic October

While putting off the inevitable typing that breaks the Novel away from perfect conception and into rough physical text, I'm working with my photos from RenFest and Halloween to recharge my 'fantasy batteries.'

This time of year in our part of Texas when the days don't beat down your doors and windows and stalk you through the den and into the cool holt of the library.

Instead, they lure you into the familiar sand of parks and festivals, until part of them is ground into you, mingling the dust of the page with that of the ditch and byway and the trips made thereon. We were in the Arboretum yesterday when I sat down on a bench over an empty streambed and let my feet hang over the edge. I was looking for some of the hidden things we'd seen the day before at the fair, the creeping things that were underneath the tangles or the slow things that were paused in the sun. We found a row of turtles along a bench, stretching and shoving each other off stiffly to float among the pine cones in the shady water a few feet from our bench.

There were no leaf falls the way we'd been getting them, the stiff breezes that cleared out the first of this year's falling leaves with an brief interlude that lacked only a fiddle to set us all twirling.

It was the opposite at the festival--fewer leaves falling, but plenty of music to set people spinning. Then it was Halloween and we were lighting candles and plugging in pumpkins and handing out chocolate. Everything grinning and flickering--a holiday of shadows and scurrying and cautious laughter.

With the passing of October, Fall continues to feint at us. A formal edge glints along the coming seasons and the novel curls deeper in its burrow, safe for a few more hours from the clatter than will scare it forth.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Untrodden Territory

Although it's 90 degrees outside, Halloween is this weekend and I've been looking for something spooky to read. Yesterday, I happened upon an inexpensive paperback of Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness and a few shorter stories. After a hurried phone call to my favorite Pumpkin King (Is Lovecraft gory? Scary? Will I ever sleep again?), I picked it up along with a new Esther Friesner collection (Fangs for the Mammaries--suburban vamps of indeterminate sparkle-itude) to take the edge off should it prove too frightening.

Sadly, it's more familiar than frightening. Standing on bleak plains and looking out into darkness matches up with my experience of being out of work for going on two years and feeling the thunder of countless hours of bad news shuddering from the screen in front of me. So...yeah. More depressing than scary.

Perhaps this is something that I should have read earlier. Despite the utter restlessness with which I find myself approaching the text, the slow pace eventually calms me and then something chilly sighs beneath the words. Despite the raw places these stories poke, I'm entranced by their mystery.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

NaNo Countdown

So...what's up with you? I've been speeding through partial books lately, not really finishing anything and distracting myself with reunion depression, Ren Fest merriment, and Halloween decorations. Most recently, I've been gearing up for NaNoWriMo, during which I plan to draft my first YA novel.

Since I'm going to be doing NaNo, my other novel draft is going to be on hold. I'm drafting three chapters this week and then putting it aside to answer the profound fantasy question "How did the gold get in the rat?" You may have encountered this phenomenon yourself. Giant rats roaming the countryside of Questland, just strong enough to give your adventurer a bit of treasure and a bit of experience before he or she roams away from the village and into the wilds. How did all that coinage get in those rats and is it the reason they're so large, slow, and mean?

If that doesn't sound like a YA story that's because it didn't start out to be one. However, the character who seems to be the voice of the novel was younger than I at first imagined. While I'm a fan of adult fantasy (meaning that not written about teens, typically), this seemed like a good time to take a break and try out a different voice. I'm surrounded by excellent YA writers and have had the good fortune to meet others at our local convention and, while I'm not on their level, they are inspiring as writers and they seem to have fun with their characters.

The great thing about NaNo is that it gives me a chance to not take myself that seriously--this is basically a writing footrace and you're encouraged to have a good time while banging out 50,000 words during the month of November.

Since I've been lackadaisical this month, my Halloween post will be all about RenFest--with pictures! Meanwhile, back to the serious draft.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

An Old Time in the Hot City

This morning we ended up in Old Town Spring, which is a created remainder of an old rail-road town just north of Houston. It's full of antiques and food and quirk, just as you might imagine. We were looking for chocolate, but we've been blessed with a cool front this weekend and we both realized as we got out of the car that it would be nicer to poke around than to go directly for the chocolate.

His first priority was coffee and we ended up in one of the larger buildings not far from the beginning of the shops. The floor was wood, the windows lit narrow shelves of ceramics pressed into tight aisles. Everything smelled of coffee and the breeze pressed us further in. As I wedged myself carefully into the aisles, my mind leapt back to Brownwood and my Aunt Lois' house. Scent memory and place memory swept the table clean and threw laced images over the solid present. The wooden floor shifted and I was balanced in the past and present for a few seconds.

Since then I've been thinking of the surfaces below my feet. Wondering whether the concrete underlying the carpet is porous to the place or whether it's too hard to take impressions. I have since I was young wanted to live in a museum, in a place that is caked in poured concrete and glass and I wonder if I wanted to leave no impression on my surroundings, to live somewhere that I would leave with as little impression as a tourist leaves a museum. That can be accomplished without living in a concrete house--there is no impression that can be left on time itself that I know of.

Part of the dearth of book-related posts lately is that I've been reading about how to read and fussing with writing and with finding the purpose to gear up for submissions and continue lengthier drafts. There is something deadly sometimes about reading about why someone else reads and what he or she finds important. It can make books and lines seem inert as you struggle to conform your reading to theirs. Another reader's opinion by necessity forces yours to slide off unless they are similar enough to yours to allow you to substitute your impressions for theirs and their insight for your own.

My mind was starting to feel rigid and today, for a few minutes, it was permeable. Permeable and bouncy like the wood beneath me--the way a good novel should be, allowing the reader to slip into the cracks, snag on the ideas, and ultimately polish the words with use and thought.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cafe Society of One, or Draft Avoidance

I have, for this afternoon, been given the respite of the cafe without either deadline or meeting. There is sadness around me, as if the idea of literature is weeping within me. A woman at a table to my left is having to find a new home for a pair of cats, which will be separated. She is repairing the effects of the conversation.

The radio has slipped to the wacka-blast skitter that tells me a 70's tv drama is about to crash into my table. A studly cop, a mysterious host, and a superhero slink into my imagination. Somehow, the Spanish spoken at the table diagonal to the left fits this mood.

Against the emptiness, the tilting table with my decorative beverage and clear plastic pen scrapes the tiles of a future that brakes and stops at a present that passes it, until table, pen, and page are part of the past--spacetime dips further backward and I'm leaning against the pressure of a single direction.

Perhaps this episode suffers from the heavy insomnia tossed over my shoulders. Cold tea pools beneath a restless breath and my veins twitch on the beat of this music. Without the old metaphors, what would I have left?

At the information desk, a woman asks for something with the triangular face of an alien, narrow eyes seamed into her cheeks. The instant I wonder how you would read the proper distance on her countenance, how blank netlog conversations are the preparation for words alone marking meaning, I have abandoned the draft beneath me. It becomes a napkin upon which I'll catch the overflow of the afternoon.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

One Hundred, Because That is the Word that Comes To Mind

I sit and watch the tables fill and think of the minutes and the keystrokes and the beats per minute and the small ink letters that keep spilling from the pen.

A dirge slow marches from the back corner of the coffee shop, thumping past the empty seats. No one slouches in the door or whispers in the corner. Bees lurking in the lines hum the closer I come to the marred pages. I tumble backwards through the pages until I impact the story which I've not thought of since this began.

Reading an article and comments on the web, I feel an unsteadiness, the words blown hot and sharp over the Styrofoam blocks to which we cling, the draggled birds floating on the dirty river at Babylon's gates. We argue over the trash, the last use of the emptiness, already unpacked of ideas.

I've seem them in the lots, the grackles and the crows. Screams and bright eyes, bitterness that shrinks my mouth to a beak and shrills my speech. Picking over the empty Sunday afternoon, the only camaraderie in the baristas in their quiet show behind the low bar.

Blue vortexes of touch-speech dissolve conversations beyond the bar skirt, a diffuse silent chatter. The machines hiss, plates click, and mean and women toss their jargon and civility to each other, a salve of speech in the miasma of an afternoon so numb that only Dali could have painted it. Silhouettes order coffee.

Sharp thorns on the words tangle my attention and I sink into the overgrown, chasing the shadows that sound like music running fleet between the weeds.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

There's a Female POV in this Soup!!

Recently, my spouse and I were running errands and knocking around plots. Our tastes are only similar in that we can both find stuff to read under the same broad label in the bookstore; however, we're both familiar with the tropes and commonalities of that section.

As I was describing a short story to him, he began to frown. By the end of the summary I was worried--his expression had closed in a frown, locking out the majority of the explanation. When I asked where the plot had gotten of track, I received a tense shrug. I just don't like stuff like that, your protagonists are talking about shopping and there's a mall and it's just women's stuff.

I will admit to a sudden desire to slap him. Women's stuff? Which he doesn't have to read because, you know, he's not a woman? Because a different perspective would, I don't know, break his brain? As I seethed--silently--beside him, I tried to find the outlines of his assumptions under the arguments. I believe that it's a case of assuming neutrality to a male POV and making the female POV of necessity only relevant to women, although I can't quite credit this. I could have cast the plot entirely with male protagonists in a quasi-medieval setting and it would have seemed like a standard be-careful-in-your-dealings-with-fair-folk plot...not a particularly gender-specific theme.

On the other hand, his opinion is valid. If he doesn't think he would relate to the plot as described, I should give him the benefit of the doubt. I don't care much for the armageddon-type plots he favors, either...although I don't see it as a gender issue (ew, boy stories...) so much as a plot preference. If he'd couched it in those terms, which I had been expecting, it wouldn't have been a big deal. It's the dissmissal itself that was irritating. Did the plot even register?

At the end of the day I decided to ignore it (relatively speaking), to assume that it has more to do with his tendency to class reading as pure enjoyment along with TV and video games. We'll still knock around plots. I'm just going to knock them a little harder next time.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Stuck, stuck, stuck, stuck, stuck

I finished E. L. Doctorow's Ragtime over the weekend. It was a great read, albeit one that embedded a few splinters to the conscience as one read it. Hopefully the library has a few of his other novels so that I can see what he makes of other topics.

I've begun The Age of Innocence; however, I am doubting that I will finish it before the books are due back at the library. The mannered pace is something that requires more patience than I'm likely to bring to it, unfortunately. Would propriety throttle my interest delicately, should the time limit not run out or would sympathy and then, perhaps, empathy twine through the reading? Why don't I empathize with these kind of characters? What makes Jane Austen and the Brontes as opaque to me as tinted glass?

There is a reading list growing in my head based on this reading, one that includes Babbitt and a few other books that I managed to avoid in high school and college. In a way, these are fortunate ommissions in that these can be discovered now, when time and experience have perhaps made their stories more understandable and less dead letters suitable for dissection into plot and theme and essay.

As might have been detected from the title and the reading list, I am still mired in POV issues. There is a growing need to focus on the world-building, to attach the created world to this with thin fibers that may detach easily in the telling yet draw one back toward the end so that we are left by the side of the same road that we stood on in the beginning. IMHO, this that started as a simple justification for a short story that was roundly dismissed as being only worthwhile if it could be perfected has become one of those things that has grown to swallow worlds in its expansion and yet is, as any draft, an evanescent, vanishing project just as likely to pop into nothing as to coalesce into a book. There is no perfection that I can bring to it, only a simple management of air to keep it aloft.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Pass Me a Weider's

I am stuck at the point where the pixels meet the LCD. The past few days have been a struggle with point of view while trying not to funnel the frustration of difficult drafts into pointless arguments about stereotyping, censorship, or Chick Lit. These are related issues--classification for control and protection and depending on a similarity of POV--but they aren't germane to the tangle of the drafts before me.

Instead, I find myself thinking of the Garrett novels by Glen Cook. Garrett is the voice in my head when I think about successful first person narration. He's the archetypal met-in-a-bar-and-told-this-unbelievable-but-true-anecdote and that is what I consider the epitome of this kind of narration. First person, to me, is about beguiling strangers, or telling truths just a nanosecond before the opportunity is gone forever, or explaining yourself when caught in a moment of reflection or imminent arrest. It's about having a story that has to be shared right then in it's entirety and that couldn't be told by anyone else but the person telling it.

At this moment, I don't have one of those characters or those voices yapping away at me, wondering when I'm going to stop fooling around on this blog and start listening to the story again.

Then I begin to worry that if I don't hear the characters that clearly, it won't matter which POV I choose because I won't be able to tell the story adequately. In real life, I'm not a catch-your-elbow-in-a-bar-and-chat kind of person. As a writer, I'd rather open a door and let you wonder around at a remove from the characters so that you have a chance to be in the world for a little while and not just in the story. I don't attach a value to one method over the other (or to POV itself); however, I do realize that part of the art is working with the vernacular and habits of the time. Yep, the pretension meter just jumped into the red. Sorry. Guess it's time for that Weider's and then some real work, right?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Library Day

The smell almost drove me away before I had finished. Sweet glue, dust, and use thickened the air that was barely thinned by a air conditioner hidden in some other corner; the scent was stronger than air anyway, and thrust the years back in a copse of shadowed wings that kept me balanced in crouch over my toes beside the lower shelves. Someone was leading the toddlers in a simple song in one of the back rooms but the entire library listened.

It's not that large of a library, yet it makes me feel small and awkward, as if I was much younger and not yet capable of dealing with all the choice and randomness. Except for some of the more familiar books, it feels more like it belongs in the tourist haven of Old Town Spring (remember books? remember libraries?) and there is a charmless practicality that draws one in and reinvests reading with purpose. Some of my earliest memories are of a library with a concrete floor, a fountain in the front, and grey steel shelves with same smell. The sidewalk in front of that dead storefront is unremarkable, but the shelves and the pale wood and the crinkle of books--the smell of them and feel of them--in this place carries me swiftly into elementary school, the Lake Jackson Public Library, and the Houston Public Library off Westheimer near the apartments where we used to live.

But the choice is small and I'm pressed to find something that I want to read. None of the books on my Amazon list are here, although there is a good gardening and cooking section to which I will be returning.

I'm not interested in ranting about what a library is or isn't, what it could be and what it's not--these topics are all tied into the idea that civic space and civic life are attenuating to the extent that people work longer hours, anesthetize themselves with entertainment, and then find politics (the engine of civic infrastructure) just another smorgasbord of opinion, entertainment, and team-building. Rant-y enough? Perhaps the idea that catches me is that the section in which I find myself looking is suffering the same shrinkage as it is in bookstores and I wonder if in perusing it I, like Alice, will shrink down to navigate its wonders.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Impossible Immortality or Why I Hate Spiderman

I have not always hated Spiderman. There were the ('70s? '80s?) live-action show and the cartoon (with Iceman & Firestar) that I enjoyed--I liked the idea of superheroism as a combination of job and collegial experience--something like being a fireman and living where you worked. Spiderman's sarcastic but effective code was fun to watch and I absorbed backstory, etc. exclusively through tv. Some years later, I married an ardent Spiderman fan. Not dress-like-Spiderman ardent, more like read-every-comic-book-see-every-movie ardent. Someone to whom Spiderman the character remained a potent emotional touchstone. Despite the movies' dreariness my spouse enjoyed them. Fair enough. He read the comics and watched the movies and was happy.

Then the story in the comics changed and I had to listen to fits of anger at the writers and at the editorial idiocies that took a storyline my spouse had enjoyed and basically said "whoops, didn't mean to do that, here's the new story." He's mad enough to give up something that he's enjoyed for a very long time and, bizarrely, I'm angry on his behalf. This is one of those continuity breaks that sheared him from the experience and, as such, puts him in the position of waste-binning one of the few pleasures he's held to since childhood. The problem is that there is a impossibile immortality that trails serialized character--the need to continue is fastened on to the need to change.

There is no immortality of experience for Spiderman that will continue to track the way a novel or epic or other similar narrative might. He isn't going to get old, he isn't going to have a final victory or defeat. He's just going to keep changing and leaving his former fans behind just as they leave him behind, in the detritus of an imaginary life while other kids pick up sheets and action figures and video games and move into the ruts of the story for a while. He could be cancelled in mid-arc. He could be rewritten in a thousand ways. I hate that this break chips away at other sadnesses in my husband's life and while I look forward to no more sarcastic, dreary, dull movies or convoluted discussions about storylines I fear that this may also make my husband feel just as abandoned on the dustbin as I've been feeling after losing my job. It's a crappy thing to do to a fan.

I hate Spiderman.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Somewhere to Go

From a sales table at a B&N on one or the other end of Houston I had found a copy of The Best American Essays 2009. Essays are something that I try to be wary of, like park trails with which I'm unfamiliar or neighborhoods that I've never before visited. Although trod or read by others, the possibility of danger (especially that of sudden shock to the view or the self-conception) turns me to safer paths.

As it turns out, the danger in this collection was that it would light the restlessness that I usually tamp down. We 'don't travel because of the dogs'--it's been a good excuse for the entirety of a marriage that covers the fact that we're not that flexible and our patience for each other's company is mediated by the minor absences of home, such as reading or watching tv.

For years I missed traveling with a ferocity that expressed itself in withdrawal. Then I grew accustomed to a circumspect prospect. Then I lost my job, the second car died, and the prospect withered to the precincts of the house. Frustration flared, but it died just as quickly with a sarcastic Haven't we been through this before?

So the book of essays, slim and yellow, turned out to be like a single tile in the puzzle of the way through Oz. I find myself thinking that I could be in New York City in a few days and spend just a few hours walking in brick and mortar canyons. Perhaps I could point the car toward Florida and an ocean that's not the color of mud. Each essay, each little slice of somewhere else, is like a tasting menu of the ideas that grow in other places, a non-locavore feast of language soaked in the specificity of a single vineyard, a call to find somewhere to go and something new to think.

To which the response will be, ever and always, that the restraints of thought are not territorial but psychological.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Just One More Page

Last night I fell into The Changeling Sea and didn't return until the last word, the last slow smile. I'm always looking for great fantasy that turns on the sea and this short book by Patricia McKillip worked a wonder in between the covers. One of the emotions that I appreciate from fantasy is that coming to the end of a book can seem like you're coming to the end of a vacation--you've been through new and emotional experiences and you're coming home to the familiar with the taste of the foreign still salted over your lips. In these austere times, a few hours of vacation in the dead of the night is greatly appreciated.

The book did remind me, however, that I'm moving away from the current fantasy stories and relying more and more upon discovering those that have come and gone without benefit of a tonal 'new urbanization.'

I did find another McKillip book that I'm looking forward to--her The Riddle-Master of Hed is now in the stack beside the bed, as is David Lindsay's A Voyage to Arcturus. I'm hoping to read this second book while I'm finishing Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros. Lost in between several planets and time periods, I hope to arrive home some time after the cool weather has settled in to stay and the pumpkins are decorating the vines.

Which reminds me--vines need to have something upon which to grow and I need to find my vine supports. Just as soon as I finish this chapter.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Loose the Hounds!

Varda and Merlin are chewing each other into sopping pieces of fluff in their mutual joy at having the run of the house again. At some point, I'm going to have to put Varda's food back were she can get it, since I think her anxiety diet is over. I could get back to work, too, save for the overwhelming perspectives poured over me while I read Alone With All That Could Happen. My brain is resisting absorbing the ideas; it is thick as a heavy dough and just as set in place, steamed to the plate upon which it's been slapped.

One dog slips behind me and pants for a few minutes, letting the tile bleed away her heat and I tilt my head back into the wrist rest wedged against the back of the chair. It pounds with the overcast day, the thrum of the fan, and the gasp of the dog. Absence mops up a stray motion. The dog slips away and finds her packmate already reestablishing trails and perches.

My in-law's dog is middle-aged but already slow and quiet, like Wynn and Baron where just a little more than a year and a half ago. Varda and Merlin are argumentative and quick to fasten onto ledges and corners, quick to ravel stray blankets and slick areas in the carpet, quick to snap and shout. I'm falling back into the slow ruts of an older dog, ignoring the tussle of the two behind me. They've been up all weekend, blind to the waves of in-laws and siblings who have slept on the couch and talked at the tv.

We've--the three of us--slept on the floor longer than we planned while intentions built like Hermine's waters in the ditches beside the roadways. Sleep, like heat, drains and pulls them away from us and we come to rest back at normal, back at the pile of couch and page and dog, away from the pens and keyboards and restless motion of work.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Still Working on the Key to Great Literature

It's a been a rainy weekend (near miss by a defunct but still wet tropical storm) and that means plenty of time to sit around and read Alone With All That Could Happen and continue my quest for improving the unwieldy and ridiculous stack of plot from my last NaNo outing. AWATCH is a beautiful and clear exposition of what forms good writing. This is no breathless guide to marching up a bestseller list; instead, one finds friendly essays on topics such as point of view that flense the technical bulk away from a precise guide to how each topic builds meaning and layer into a work.

I take notes and try to block out the sound of the tv and the tidal pull of the kitchen--having guests seems to draw every dish and measuring glass out of the cabinets every other day or so. For a little while, I remember that writing has always been in opposition to the expectations that lace themselves around me. Even though many of them have fallen loose lately, it doesn't take much to tighten them back up.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Something to Fall Over Me

The in-laws are down this weekend and that's a good thing. It means that I can cook for more than two people and actually spend time with a human being during dinner (instead of the TV) AND while washing up. It also means going out to those places that we'd ordinarily talk about but not get around to (oddly enough, this includes the liquor store for holiday supplies)--places that include the local used bookstore. Which we're supposed to be avoiding because of the precarious nature of the stacks of books already tottering around the house.

After Blue Lab I was in the mood for some outrageously bad fantasy. Something that I could yell out while reading. I guess it's the equivalent to wanting to watch MST3K. Something so bad that it comes out the other side and becomes some kind of altiverse classic. I went so far as to make a list of the books published by the same publishing house, titles which include Chauvinisto and The Esper Transfer.

I didn't find any of those but I did come away with a few books that might be good reading. We'll see over the next few days. Meanwhile, I'm working my way through a stack of how-to-write books that I found while straightening up the front room prior to decorating for Halloween. Instead of working on the novel, my brain is trying to absorb the key to all literature. This is a quest, people, and I will forge that key!

Bwa ha ha ha! Paths will become a real novel! It will not grow dust bunny ears and lurk in a cabinet. The plot will not be so ridiculous that only whales could swallow it!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Internet is Kong for People

Merlin and Varda are bored. Lately, it's been either too hot or too wet for us to spend much time outside and the plethora of mushrooms makes a circuit of the yard a yelling, running irritation for all of us. The answer for them is a plastic toy roughly in the shape of a snowman with a hole in which treats can be stuffed. Sometimes the treat is accessible with effort, sometimes it becomes permanently wedged in the toy, causing much barking over who gets to carry it around and shake it at me in hopes of getting other, more accessible, treats added to the center compartment.

Usually these toys are sold under the name Kong. I'm coming to feel that the internet is fulfilling the same function for me--I sit here and poke around, hoping to come across something interesting or useful or entertaining. Too often, I'll keep poking, even if treats aren't forthcoming. It wouldn't be a bad thing, except that I'm not 'bored' in the sense of having nothing to do. I'm 'bored' in the sense of 'overwhelmed by all the stuff I should be doing such that the brain goes "gaacck" and refuses to function.' Stressed to boredom. Which is perfect for distractions, because you are motivated to displace your attention rather than just at a natural lull in your activities (suitable for a nap or a walk or a game of Don't Eat the Mushrooms).

Reading requires attention, the feeling of deadlines slipping by vitiates attention through banking a certain amount of distress at the thought of deadlines, and voila, one spends two hours clicking through all the links occasioned by one phone call from one's mother. Still stressed but thoroughly distracted, one is full of the random 'treats' of random info.

This post is a salt-free snack.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

And the Summer Rolls On

Finished Marjorie Hart's Summer at Tiffany this afternoon. I spent a considerable amount of time while reading the book wishing that my grandmother had been more forthcoming when we were younger before realizing that I was probably not a patient listener at that time. Sometimes, you just don't know when you should be paying attention. After having read Mrs. Hart's memoir, I find my interest in the Roaring '20's sparked and I'm looking for a good book on that decade and perhaps another one on the history of Tiffany--her enthusiasm poured through the text like sunshine.

I still have a stack of books that I'd hoped to finish this summer and I should turn away from any additional reviews, etc. that might add to the list. Right now, Kraken is on my nightstand, as is The Worm Ouroubourous and I'm trying to ignore my desire to pick up Franzen's Freedom. Right now, reading is slipping between me and writing. I think my brain is rebelling against months of sitting at home hoping the 'jobless recovery' will eventually transmute into 'various employment opportunities.'

Meanwhile, I'm going to dive back into Kraken and hope that it's just the chill needed to counter this last month or so of summer heat.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Thumbs Firmly Jammed in the Meh Position

For the first time in quite a while, I've finished a book that I can't honestly decide whether I like or not. The book itself (Blue Lab, by J.A. Jones) reads somewhat like a second-round novel draft you should have brought to your writer's group earlier. The voice is there, the pacing is almost there, and the logic is...well...interesting.

I picked this up because I'm working on a similar mix of tech & fantasy in one of my drafts and I was curious about how the author had handled it in this instance. The main POV character was a child born a few generations after the (factual, in this case) King Arthur, living in a small village and trying to survive the open secret that he is the bastard grandson of the monarch who has fallen from vying with the High King to the bandit lord of this village. Myths in this story are covers for alien visitation, words are alien because aliens apparent prefer 'gre'at n'umb'ers o'f a'postro'phes. Evolution, thy deity is Extra Keystroke. Aliens who have artifically long lives apparently aren't able to reason their way to the potential downside of their decision (although apparently their biological systems can), but super-powered mutant children can help with this. Earth was once a vacation spot and is now a laboratory--this was one of my favorite conceits.

By the end I was hooked and firmly on the side of the good characters, but this was mostly because I was reading around the alien parts of the story (excising the mechanical parts from the cyborg genre?) and focusing on the fantastic. It was fascinating to find areas where the author had left in artifacts of previous edit rounds (creatures referred to that had never been mentioned, references to scenes that weren't in the book), but these weren't frequent enough to interfere with the story. My first urge is toward sarcasm...but there are emotional hooks that catch at you as you're hurtling past. It wasn't a bad book. It was a sad book--an unfinished tale.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Writing Seasons

We're finally starting to feel fall slipping in under the heat pallisades summer has thrown up around this part of Texas. With the change of season, I'm finding my imagination shifting onto different paths. I've always been the kind of writer who picks up some things easier in cool weather, with the lead-in to the winter holidays being a good time for me to outline and come up with new ideas and summer being a good time to slog through revisions (long days, extra incentive to stay inside, hurricane season preparations goading me to straighten stuff up).

This fall, I don't think I'm going to be able to focus on new things, however. I've been piling up a set of drafts that are just hanging out and I need to give them the attention they deserve. Imagination will just have to content itself it with finding something to do with all the paper and scrapbook stuff in the front room. Oh, and figuring how I'm going to get all the Halloween decorating done this week, before my in-laws arrive (I thought they'd enjoy seeing the house all dressed up--we'll see). Maybe the heat will hold on long enough for me to get everything done.

Meanwhile, I'm picking up and reading the first bits of a handful of books. My attention has swung toward the physical spaces around me and the interior spaces offered during reading is too cramped. I think I'm reaching the end of my memoir fascination, but I have two more to go before I exhaust my teeny reading list. There is a tendency toward the twee and precious that is clogging the text of the last two, something about looking back on parts of life that neither author seems to want to integrate into their current life. Perhaps they'll seem more welcoming after a day stuffing chrysanthemums into pots and beds.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Reading Vacation

I didn't realize how much I needed something fun to read until a few days ago, when were cruising through B&N and poking through the shrinking F/SF section. Soon, the closest B&N will be a giant plastic playland with a caffeinated oasis for bored parents and people taking their laptops out for an afternoon. There is only so much one family of avid (yet broke) readers can do for a bookstore.

That day, we ended up with a stack that included Nicole Peeler's Tracking the Tempest, which happens to be the second book in her Jane True series. I don't remember seeing the first one and that B&N likes to stock only the most recent book ('cause ya wouldn't come back and by the first in a series if ya missed it, would ya?), so I picked up the second. It looked both amusing and as if it wouldn't take itself too seriously. As it turned out, both things were true.

It kept me laughing, resulting in my husband continually asking me what I was reading. I just ignored him and kept going. :) The story is an interesting mix of Boston, English/Scotch/Irish folklore, froth favorite--selkies!!! Yea!! Jane's voice was pitched at that perfect sardonic tone that hits the serious and the silly sweet spots at each twist of the roller-coaster plot. There is an interesting physicality to the characters whom Jane encounters and a good visual rendering of the magical elements (even if at times the characters seemed to moving around in little glass display cases).

I read the book in just a day and a half and am now stuck waiting for the third one to come out in January. Looking forward to scooting out and picking that up for a cozy bit of winter reading. Oh, and tracking down the first one. Now to go find out what just crashed and which dog is guilty...

Monday, August 23, 2010

Other People's Navels

I am awash in a reading list of blogs, most of which function (as this one does) as a draft of life that might have once gone into a letter or a phone call (or lecture...). My online reading habits then bleed over into my book list and I wind up with a stack of memoirs and essays interspersed among the other books. Recently, I've begun to feel that every other book I pick up is some kind of memoir.

This is good in the sense that I've been wandering through the entire bookstore or library instead of concentrating on the genre section and trying to encourage family members to embark on writing down pieces of their lives. It's been less good in that I've come to feel this is partially because we don't have kids and I feel sometimes like the old house on a cul-de-sac that was nice for a while and is now withering inward from the lawn to the shabby porch to the increasingly closed off rooms inside. The one that renters make temporarily their own and then move on.

On balance, am I appreciating the flash of perspective that I get from another person's story or am I borrowing the emotional trappings of the success and diligence and courage of others? Since reading is my one go-to source of comfort as well as a favorite way to spend time, what I read signifies where and who I am at particular moments in time. It shows what I'm willing to explore and what I don't let in. Right now, I just want to make sure I'm letting the right narratives in.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Shape of Memory and Experience

When asked earlier today what I remembered about a trip to Canada that my family had taken when I was a child, it was surprising to the person asking me that I couldn't remember the order of hotels and the specific order of the travels, which seems to me something that I would have had no control over and therefore no proper awareness of (other than we stopped here, we stopped there)--I have an episodic memory of arriving at hotels, of embarrassing meals and disappointing Northern swimming pools, the giant ground wasp in North Carolina, and the feeling of ennui upon climbing out of the van at another grassy battlefield filled with wall-sized posters of historical battlefield minutia.

The pool in Pennsylvania became the basis for a short story that I'm still struggling with--the story is a bifurcated narrative of what travel was like and what it meant to live anonymously on a vacation with my head in a book, daydreaming or reading. What it meant to confront the fear that accompanies the unforeseen exhaustion of one's parents and the weird embarrassments adults visit on their offspring.

Niagara, in contrast, was all sun and thunder and food and castles. I don't remember the maps, though...or the specific hotels (although I remember the false fire alarms and the unfamiliar formality). I remember the son of the friend of the family who made some kind of living off making fake musket balls for tourists.

It wasn't, in other words, a continuous trip for me, the way they are now. Now, I drive and plan and am aware of the shape of the road and the links between places. Perhaps this is a good analogy for some of the challenges that I have with fiction--I perceive it in episodes rather than in coherent journeys. Nonlinear.

For whatever reason, this is a good reminder to stop sitting around pretending to work and to actually get down to work, before another narrative dissolves into a piecemeal memory of that story that I was going to write.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Now that we're down to one car, I tend to spend more time in the bookstore each week while acting as chauffeur. This means that I've long since abandoned being a one-section reader and have been remembering interests that have lain dormant since I had access to a good library. While this doesn't give me much grist for the blog (since I tend to end up reading lots of first chapters and not much else), it did bring up a wish the other day that's been getting stronger.

While thumbing through the biography section looking for Frederick Pohl's memoir (still looking, will find it eventually), I found a book about a job at Tiffany's in the 1940s. I skimmed it and thought about picking it up. Although it looks like an interesting read, it made me think of my grandmother and the trip she made to Texas with my mom (by herself), coming from a life in Pennsylvania that my mom has always missed to be near her family and friends. My mother's father passed away when she was a little girl and that perhaps is the root of her preference for the north (although there is nothing to explain her Anglophilia save for a library card that runs high to English mysteries).

There is a story in my family that stopped and another one that started and I'm part of the new storyline. Why this has been running through my head, I don't know. I am looking forward to reading about Tiffany's in the 40's and thinking about how the questions of heritage will find their way into what I'm writing. I'll let you know how the book turns out. :)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Harrow My Heart

I was skimming my blog bar when I finally slowed down enough to read the latest entry in Clarkesworld Magazine. A few minutes later I was numb and by the end...I realized the numbness was the anasthetic that prepared me for having something slipped in close to the heart. I think this entry might be one of those touchstone pieces that one reads every so now again just to savor it.

The writer part of me wants to go dancing on the slippery edge of a volcano after reading it--what could possibly be left to say?--and the reader part of me wants to stand on a street corner handing it out and insisting that passers-by read it. The writer part is a little vain and a little bereft with the cascading ending of a series of formerly productive writer's groups and could use a little (non-burning) mountaintop time to regroup.

The reader just wants to read more good stuff. To that end, it looks like another 'not this time' for Ivanhoe. There are good books crammed on my shelves, some of which will hopefully lift me as high as Ms. Valente's piece and some of which will joing Ivanhoe and his fellow characters under the bed, growling out a reminder of their half-read state. Back to the shelves!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Muddy Stream

Well, Ivanhoe is not going so well. There are two introductions before the main body of the text begins, not to mention the long essay at the beginning telling me all that I was afraid to ask about the text as literature. There is a sentence in the second prefatory section that remarks that the writer hopes the 'modern reader' will not be '...much trammelled by the repulsive dryness of mere antiquity,' and yet, I find myself so trammelled before the first page of the first chapter is over.

There are places were the text seems to cast itself away from the scene (when describing the forest at the beginning, for instance) and many other places in which it muffles scenes like a winter blanket. I find myself stopping at the same places to admire the view and skimming the same areas that bogged me down previously.

At this point, I wonder if there is any sense in trying to force myself through something that I don't care for--there is only so much time available and there are other books that could be read, ones that would move much quicker because they are more in sync with my (sloppy? brisk?) reading habits.

What I want from this, however, is a sense of what a novel can be. Ivanhoe is a popular book that has been called into service (if you believe the introduction) by people over and over again for the way Scott pictures the knights and the society and the love story. Even if this was never his intention, he built a part of the theatrical structure upon which modern fantasy is based, not to mention the Renaissance Festival circuit that is my post-school celebration of the coming of Fall. There has to be something in here.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Book Under the Bed

Do you have a book under the bed, one of those lurking tomes that just doesn't get read, despite intentions to the contrary? I have two come to mind, growling in a murk of guilt and purple prose. Technically, I suppose that could make for a lovely twilight landscape or a bountiful autumn feast(gold leaves, purple grapes). At the very least, both of them will make for an autumn festival of blogging as I attempt to finish both E.R. Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros and Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe between now and the end of September. If I have time, I'll add in John Crowley's Little, Big.

What stops me in the first two books, earlier and earlier in each attempt, is the language. It doesn't flow for me in the way that it seems to for others. I was thinking about this in the bookstore a few days ago and I decided that I've reached the point in my life when I have different 'ports' available. Essentially, there are few "firsts" left for books (especially if I'm reading genre books in a narrow subcategory) and there are few "bests" left for them either. Not to mention that I'm older and looking for a different kind of escape in the novels I read. Whether this means that I'm looking for older protagonists or a particular authorial voice, I've found that the particular moments for some books has passed me by.

I think that I picked up Little, Big too early. It was something that I wasn't ready to embrace when I first picked it up and now it's become that book that I've carried around for at least a decade without finishing. There is a momentum of failure that I'm overwhelmed by when I look at the cover.

Reading them this year would be overcoming a challenge and it would give me an interesting point of reference for where I am in my life--what it is about these books that speaks to me or doesn't? Can I drag them out from under the bed (to make room, doubtless, for others) and add them to the shelf?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

All Hail Saint Cleese

I thought today's post would end up being more gratuitous YA bashing. Then I looked at my bookshelves and thought about what I'd been reading lately. There is a good sprinkling of YA or younger protagonists and I'm not complaining about the stack of reading beside Varda's Window of the Suspicous Neighbors (at least she isn't barking at the more familiar people outside).

For the most part, these are books that I think I'll enjoy (except for the lurking Ivanhoe, which I may finish but will never appreciate). My challenge is that my tastes crystallized in the early 80's, too early for Manga, and in an Anglophile household in which British mystery fiction was considered superior readng material. There is a certain cast of snark, a certain literary tic, a certain cast of characters who are part of my literary pantheon.

While there are little altars to Sayers and small engravings of Christie beneath the stained glass windows bearing the image of John Cleese and Tom Baker in this pantheon's temple, there are no chapbooks featuring Jane Austen. There is a giant hanging tapestry of Neil Gaiman.

What I struggle with is that given these interests and influences (aside from taking myself too seriously) is that they give me an anarchistic take on the idea of rules for texts. Or I'm making this up because today my brain isn't capable of cogent argument given the fact that finishing the novel draft left me in the bottom of a well, hungover from the emotional bender of a painful last chapter. Today, I need a literary chapel and a quiet place to rest.

Monday, August 2, 2010

To Everything It's Season

As I'm weighing the victory that is the finished draft of my novel and the irritation that is the fact that it looks like I'll be losing another writer's group, I feel like running screaming through the house. Not unlike Merlin, who is barking his frustration at Varda, who has snagged the 'good' bone.

Merlin is taking a break to stare into the fan, fur blowing Fabio-like behind him and then he's whining at Varda's shoulder. This combination of melodrama (which is probably not on Merlin's mind as he gets his nose as close to the fan as he can) and begging for attention is hideously familiar. I mean, it's not the end of the world if you have to switch groups because of a disconnect with the leadership or because of a conflict with meeting times--it happens to other people in other groups all the freaking time.

I'm going to miss having a physical, in-person writing group, though. I like to talk plot points and theme and the difficulty of even recognizing POV (I tend to blow past it & multiple POVs just don't usually bother me). I won't miss the YA explosion, which is starting to feel like 'blah, blah, blah' bellowed from a Charlie-Brown's-Teacher megaphone in the intonations of Miley Cyrus. Tired. Of. It.

The question before me is whether this is the end of the season of depending on group commentary or the end of the season of sending anything out for publication at all?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

One Degree is Not Enough

As I've been running away from reading fantasy lately just as fast as I can, my shelf recently held both Simon Winchester's The Professor and the Madman and Susan Gubar's and Sandra M. Gilbert's The Madwoman in the Attic.

For some reason, reading both of these at the same time has raised a good deal of mental static. I find that my empathy with two men involved in making the Oxford English Dictionary is reduced, perhaps because I'm having a hard time shaking the modern judgmental attitude that Madwoman feeds so well. While I suspect that both books intend to engage the reader's emotions, it bothers me that my response is primarily emotional, and that it remains a relatively rigid one.

It's not just reading a critique of privilege that in some sense undercuts the empathy that I possess for men who enjoy that privilege--I have inherited a kind of idea of Oxford as a secular heaven and reading about it and the dictionary it produced is a little like shaking coals on the head of the lapsed English major in me. Perhaps I didn't let myself fully give in to the fascination of the story? Perhaps the real story for me isn't the relationship but the dictionary itself?

There were a few suggestions in the back of Mr. Winchester's book that I think I might try to track down--something to give me an excuse to go poke around in a library for a change, rather than bookstore. As soon as I finish Madwoman, which is starting to give me a righteous headache.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Pressboard and Oil Paint

Over the weekend I finished Michael Perry's Truck: A Love Story; something that I'd picked up on a lark and come back to after suffering from a surfeit of Roger Whitakker videos and, as you may recall, being high on nostalgia and rain.

The book floated congenially on this mix, being a memoir that was gentle and humorous. I was surprised to find that it seemed to fit like a puzzle piece in the evolution of reading that began with a book of my dad's when I was young: an old farm picture book with glossy auburn bulls and dark brown horses and flecked chickens all painted on a perfect day beneath a clear wash. It wasn't something that was familiar to me--I was a suburban kid--but it would have been familiar to my grandfather and my dad (and to my husband, had I known him then), but it was full of the kind of images that came out of the books that I was reading at the time. Later on, it would be superseded by biographies of Sacagawea, a series of Anne of Green Gables books, a series of Wizard of Oz books, and Little House on the Prairie. Then To Kill a Mockingbird. Books that had (no disrespect intended) a certain perspective on dust and the ways in which people moved through it. The things that cling to a life well-lived.

This book falls along that continuum. I appreciated the way in which the appreciation of others' competencies ran through the book. I've been in that place where a brother-in-law knows enough to get me out of a repair jam and I don't think I handled it with quite the humor or the appreciation that Perry did (although I'm thinking that there will be lots of cookies & pies the next time my in-laws come down) and I loved the way in which he told about his garden and his community and brought a generous grace to those around him.

And, you have to love a book that causes you to read long stretches to your husband in the evening. Peaceful snickers and woofling puppies seem the apotheosis of that pressboard and paint book, even if we're living in suburbs and the sleekest critter around is the dog.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Hint of LJ

It has been a mucky and humid summer, the kind during which you are likely to be wading through your lawn in the morning (at least in terms of water clinging to the grass gone wild) and in which the dogs tend to wait at the edge of the patio until they are bribed out into the dampness, the rain, or the mud. Perhaps there is something in the rain that continues to pile in from the coast that contains a hint of Lake Jackson; the water perhaps is filling up the gutters and soaking into the yard to carry the memories deep into the land upon which I now live.

The ties to childhood were laced tight last night as I reread Winnie the Pooh, which had come free with a reading program (iBook?) that my husband had downloaded. The book was complete with illustrations, same as the book that I'd had on my shelf. Pooh floated up to the bees as a muddy bear rain cloud and snuck tastes of honey that extended down to the sides of the honeypot. I hadn't read it in years and the sentences were thick on my tongue, tasting of an earlier iteration of English. The narrator gently prodded Christopher Robin into the tales of the Hundred Acre Wood and walked all of the animals through their lives in the 'wild.' It is the kind of tale for which the word "lovely" is intended, the kind of word that trails its silken approval over the words like a bow on a basket.

It's not just children's books that are causing me to think that something has taken root in my brain and started to prompt me to change my reading--yesterday I found myself in B&N, in the Fiction & Literature section, reaching for a book on the top shelf and thinking that I was reaching for the stars themselves. The idea of reaching into the firmament, into the foundation of my own speech and thought, was strong. There is something of a different life and perspective that certain books offer that I find myself missing, almost a chemical imbalance, that I'm seeking to set right.

Perhaps it's that in spending so much time writing the novel I've come to have the awful feeling of talking to myself in a closed room. I need to listen to other voices and I need to find my way back to the opened senses that I had the first time I encountered genre literature, the first time I read Tolkein or Anthony or Anderson or Dickson (Yo Ho Hoka!) and give my voice a rest. Or at least a break.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

How Nostalgic the Days

When I was very young (second grade? First grade?), my parents brought home an album by Roger Whittaker. While skimming YouTube yesterday, I came across some of the songs from that album and received an object lesson in having grown older.

One of the songs in particular swirled a bitter bit of nostalgia through those days—I hated it at the time because I couldn’t incorporate the emotion and it was depressing. Today, the song plays without effect. The melodrama is just another restatement of a cliché that I feel that I’ve heard a thousand times and I’ve done that kind of putting off until an impossible tomorrow.

This doesn’t mean that I’m no longer nostalgic, just that I learned it early and have to look further afield for it these days. As everything seems to be sliding into the novel these days (the casserole of the imagination) this may find its way in as well. What did I have to look back on at six or seven? Did it change how I watched the days going by to know that they were shorter than they felt?

Today the music and the shades need to be brighter and more menacing, but I’m still in a sleepy haze of yesterday.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Rain and Reading

Did I say this week was going to be about organization? The weather is not cooperating with that particular idea--more rainy days better suited to reading in a bright corner than shuffling paperwork. Not to mention the dogs who are now mucky with chasing through our decidely slow-to-drain yard. I don't think they care for water, but they can't avoid the puddles and Merlin's short enough so that the grass touches his belly.

If the week is as good as reading as the weekend was, I'll have a good dent in my stacks by Friday. I finished both Home from the Shore (Gordon R. Dickson) and Eric John Stark: Outlaw of Mars (Leigh Brackett) over the weekend and both were good reads. I'd never read any Brackett before and it's been some time since I read anything featuring an adventuring barbarian such as Stark, but I was hooked. This book is actually a compilation to two shorter novellas (and possibly a reprint from an original separate publication?) and despite the stories' short length, they took the reader across the breadth of the landcape of a colonized Mars and in flashbacks to the Mercury of Stark's childhood. Both stories seemed to deal with the ennervations of immortality and the inevitable moral rot that sets it as people grapple with extended lifetimes as well as with the almost always fatal lure of power over others. They were most enjoyable for the time spent with Stark, however. Instead of dwelling on bloody action or sex as seems popular now, both novellas kept the focus on Stark's drive to prevail over circumstance and incorporate his dual nature of 'barbarian/beast' and 'civilized man.' Time spent with him thinking and doing, rather than wallowing or lusting.

The paperback copy of Home from the Shore reminded me a little of a YA novel (possibly because of the illustrations). I loved the descriptions of the underwater dwellings and the acknowledgment of the intelligence of the dolphins and whales and the idea of humans choosing separate evolutionary paths and then having to learn to understand those differences. I haven't yet read the sequel to this book and I'm hoping that we have it somewhere around here, since this apparently feeds right into that storyline. Because of this, it ends as you would expected a cliffhanger to end, with dangling plots that encourage you to go forth and find the next installment.

Not only were both of these books quick and good reads for a long weekend, but they helped me to see where my novel was a little threadbare, places where I hadn't taken the plot seriously or thought through the conflicts that would come from certain decisions. Lately I've found that shorter novels and short story collections are giving me more scope for reading because I'm not committed for the same length of time that huge series or standalone novels require and I can focus on and finish them in the spaces that are available to me. Hope y'all are finding good things to read as well!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Evening Thunderstorms

It only took a week of doubt about the computer to give me an excuse to let my writing schedule slip by several days. While my brain stalled in idle, two more ideas (one short, one...novel-length?) shook out and I think I'm going to have to work them in addition to trying to get at least 50K on the novel I'm avoiding. The computer issues have also made me rethink my laissez-faire attitude toward storage.

Then the rains came. The thunderstorms this evening left the dusk yellow, like the light after a hurricane, and that compounds the idea of getting my files in order. Every summer I spend a few days wondering how much of my 'essential' paperwork I could pack in the case of a hurricane (more likely in this area, post-hurricane-power-outage) evac. Usually it just amounts to an idea that I need to have better organized paperwork and a few hurricane-themed short stories (not unlike the dwarves & dragons one I'm working on now). The computer meltdown really took me by surprise, though--it' wouldn't be hard for a storm to do the same.

This means that the next several weeks are going to be about getting those hardcopy drafts filed, getting the ones that need it committed to electronic files and then saved off to DVD, and then perhaps one working copy here and everything else in storage. Since Organized Brain spends lots of time daydreaming during repetitive tasks, this could be a productive time for the novel and a good way to catch up on the writing I've been avoiding lately.

Meanwhile, the thunder's growling softly in the distance and my brain is tending to favor real dreams over text. Zzzzzzzz.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Back and Forth

With the demise of one pc, I'm back in Baron's old room, at my old pc, experiencing a bit of deja vu as Varda and Merlin reenact eternal canine dramas and the light coming from the window at my left highlights a familiar side of my face. I should miss being in the new computer room, with the new chair and the turquoise walls and the less demanding sunlight hitting the protected side of the house; however, I like the shaky old desk, the room that I don't have to share (except with the dogs) and the memory of our retriever laying across around my toes as I work.

It's difficult to fight against the idea that the tide has gone from the house, that with the one-year anniversary of me being laid off and the death of the new pc, I'm being dragged into the past and left to float in the detritus of things that have been.

This past weekend, however, I picked up The Madwoman in the Attic and I'm deep in the difficult prose parsing the idea that contained within our literary imagination are images of women wholly embodied by male writers with which female writers grapple and put forth in there own fiction. There are passages that crumble into apprehensible bits only after treading over them several times, dropping one down the rabbit hole of theory and history. Each section gives me a new way of looking at the sections of the novel and a new piece of armor against the idea that I should let the tide carry me out and forget about ever getting back to shore.

Even though I find myself washed back into the old computer room, it's not the same place that it was. It's waiting its turn to be painted and straightened and made over into something new. I'm not the angel who will attend to this, clearly (else it would have already been done), but I might use the in-between to grow the novel into new spaces.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

*Nom* *Nom* *Nom* Oh, Was that Your File?

After having been so careful to ensure that all the writing made it over to the new pc, it seems a little rich that said pc should have crashed. One hesitates even to bring up the fact that one is now waiting on both the novel draft being rescued and the resuscitation of the pc with one's spouse, who has spent many unsuccessful hours trying to diagnose the failure. I just walk past the computer room, look at the stuff spread all over the floor, and sigh. The dust in the room might as well be gunpowder.

Fortunately, backups exist for most of the stuff. I'm not even going to bemoan anything that might be lost, because I knew the risks of a single-point-of-failure file storage. I think the next several days are going to be devoted to back-up planning and arguing with the pc people about the meaning of 'defective' and the amelioration of such.

Perhaps it's a good day for coffee and short stories by hand?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Hey, That's My Story!

Recently I've been exchanging drafts and comments with an online circle of writers who are the remnants of various in-person writer's groups to which I used to belong. I'm glad there are still people with whom I can exchange drafts, since I enjoy reading drafts and I like the accountability of doing my revisions semi-publically (years of temp work has addicted me to external feedback).

One of the things that I don't like about exchanging comments is that there isn't as much possibility for discussion regarding the comments. What this means is that there is a greater possibility of misinterpretation/offense, which acts against the effectiveness of receiving comments. It usually stings to hear that there are potential challenges with your scenes, characters, and plot and everyone needs space for reaction to that; however, it's sometimes easier to take in a setting where everyone is receiving feedback and you're with friends rather than receiving paragraphs of "change this, change that" from someone whom you haven't seen in a while.

Maybe it's just that I've been a little sloppy with my comments lately, forgetting to indicate the places where I particulary enjoyed the text or becoming hooked on certain plot twists of my own that don't tell the story the actual author wants to tell. That's another thing that it's easier to do online--give opinions that veer into rewrite territory instead of indicating where you feel the narrative loses your interest or becomes too complex to follow. I think I'm being a little too stingy with acknowledging the good and too eager to jump with both feet on the stuff I don't prefer. I've been hijacking the plot and trying to steer it on a different course.

That I'm trying to redirect other plots probably means that I'm not doing enough revising on my own and that I'm once again letting comments (and blog entries) substitute for revision. Drat my devious brain!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Dark Chocolate, Bad Men, and Canvas

For a change, it's raining. My back door seems to be growing something and the sunflowers are either shaggy or brown and I'm glad the reading room faces the front lawn. Actually, the chair doesn't directly face the window, so I'm curled up against one of the exterior walls and listening to the house hum.

My brain is just as soggy as the lawn, so I've been spending the morning reading one of the Frazetta books. Teeny biographical paragraphs cower beside giant color prints. I can look at the pictures and seep into the grey and brown shadows lurking in the corners just as I'm doing. When there's an odd bark or flash, I can peer through the edge of the glass.

There are rarely sights as transfixing as those in the book.

I'm trying to get through Red Planet Noir, but I need to be hiding from the sun to enjoy that kind of fiction. It's like dark chocolate on days like today, you can just handle one corner before the heaviness gets to you.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Stay On Target

Last week's break has me still skating on the crumbling edges of various projects. For some reason, the more it rains, the more tempting the TV has been. Now the that the dogs are starting to show a little nervousness around the louder thunderclaps, the couch and a pile of pre-fuzzied blankets are kinda tempting too.

Soon, I'll have the best of both worlds when my Netflix 70's cheesefest arrives. (Thanks to John Scalzi's AMC column) the three of us can play MST3K all day the next time it rains!) I'm hoping that all the movies are better than the groan of despair that my husband let out when I handed him the list (a slightly different one than that in the column--blood & guts is NOT my cup-o-tea). I don't have to take my movies seriously to enjoy them. And I have a weakness for Olivia Newton-John movies.

At some point it will stop raining, my mom will stop telling me about "tropical masses out in the Gulf," and I will switch from "vacation/evacuation" mode. Meanwhile, I'm still working on the 250-word-a-day plan and daydreaming about how much glitter, disco, and gold fabric I can stuff in the first draft.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Dog Days of Literature

I was treating myself to the last few shorts in the Oxford American this morning when I came across one about the writer burying her dog. Oooof. I force marched through the entire piece, stiffling the tears or smearing them on the back of my arms.

As it turns out, I was unsuccessful in hiding the outburst from the dogs. Almost before I had a chance to defend myself, dogs were pawing my shoulders and trying to lick my cheeks and eyes. They're still young enough to have that anxious do-something response and there's not much better than a warm pile of concerned canine to chase away a chill of sorrow or winter.

I think this afternoon I'll stick with the Martian noir that I've been enjoying. The dogs love hardboiled dialogue combined with a flung squeaker toy. Gives them a chance to bark back.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Submission Weekend

Since it was a holiday and we were pretty much rained in until last night (yea!! backyard fireworks!!), this past weekend was a submission weekend. These typically start on the heels of rejection or two and come up about 3 months or so after the last batch of submissions. I open up the spreadsheet, mark off the rejections and look to see what hasn't been sent out lately, open the poem files, and scan through to see how they look.

The first part is the easy part. One or two or five will catch my eye and then I'm off to Duotrope to find them potential homes. Inevitably, there's editing done. Lines shifted, new endings added, words shifted, titles changed. Then it's off to compare and contrast what I have with what's already out there. This is the part where the self-image and the reality meet with a thump. I'll get over myself eventually and some poems will end up being submitted. Three months later, as the rejections start to trickle in, it will start over.

I'm glad I had this weekend. Since Apollocon was angstier than anticipated (aren't I too old for that?), I felt as if the boost I was hoping for didn't get me quite over the fence. It's good to take a minute and appreciate the chance to speak and be heard.

Friday, July 2, 2010

All is Fuzziness

Today is a good day for things done indoors. It's been raining off and on for the past few days as bands of rain cast off from Alex way down in Mexico skim through the yard and over the house. The dogs are bored. They are also suspiciously fluffy. Shedding in response to the stress of staying inside?

Neither dog likes to be brushed. Hugs, treats, tussles over chew toys, all of these things are considered appropriate displays of affection; however, the brush (even accompanied by treats) is something to be chewed into submission whenever it appears.

I happen to feel the same way about revision. Chewing the page into submission is often tempting, as is pretending it's not as fluffy a mess as I know it to be. Maybe if I don't take it seriously and put it back the drawer and just start over...but then another shaggy manuscript ends up sitting on my monitor, panting cheerfully and covering the plot with stray bits of nonsense.

Because I'm the master of procrastination, the dogs are the ones who get the attention this morning. Varda hooks her paws around my wrist, hooks her neck against mine, and tries to wait out the brushing. Then she tries to eat the brush. The brush is prickly--inedible unless you attack it at the handle. Where my fingers are.

We amass a stack of fur. Slick otter girl that she is, Varda gets away and inhales a handful of fur. A few minutes later, Merlin will be attempting to eat his way through the stack until he's lifted up, hind paws dangling, to be brushed like a head of fox hair on a wiggly elf.

Once they're brushed, my chastened metaphors for neat manuscripts loll against the wall and stare at me, sharing a respite from rainy day restlessness. All around us, however, the fuzziness remains.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Vitamin R

Rejection, thou sting of utmost fiery prickliness, that landeth directly upon the bum of our ego and causeth us to jump from the chair and forswear further endeavor, because of thee, my ego shall not sit for a week.

Which pretty much sums it up. Although each depersonalized "not-what-we-need-at-this-time-thanks-for-submitting" makes me feel like the editor/reader/person-behind-the-curtain is damning the U.S. education for giving me a diploma and a degree, I'm trying to look at these instead as something that gooses me for another round of revisions and another five submissions.

So the drafts continue to grow and mutate and get sent out the door. They're mostly going to come back to me and I'll mostly never know why. I'll try to patch it up and send it back out the door. Sometimes I'll do so with humor, sometimes vengefully. I'll continue to take massive doses of Vitamin R.

Despite the bruises, my ego tends to respond to the idea of "This story chose you; you are the one to tell it, however well or poorly." Fight for your story, fight!

Monday, June 28, 2010


Why yes, I have been spending copious amounts of time reading the "Maggie Quinn: Girl vs. Evil" series. The best way back into a love of the fantastic is connecting with the kid who loved it in the first place, and Maggie's adventures certainly do that. In addition to short-circuiting the been-there-done-that circuit in my brain and connecting directly to the girls-gone-questing circuit (a crucial but little-used part of the entertainment-goes-here neural net), the stories don't mess around with the idea of good vs. evil.

We're all aware that part of the attraction of fantasy is the idea that there is a point to being brave--that there is a victory to be had over the forces of darkness and grimness and evil and wrong. It's something that it's sometimes cool to subvert in terms of making "monsters" into heroes and borrowing more plot devices from horror and the literature of the grotesque. Humor should come with an edge burnt black and the idea that laughing at the hopelessness is the ONLY candle in the dark.

Or maybe it's just me. One of the last things that my defunct writer's groups left me with was the idea that I wasn't willing to mess my characters up enough. There are rules for these things, about how to torture and mangle and exhaust your characters just to the point where all the reader feels is the pounding of the blows, like a thunderstorm on the windshield. Then, when the rain slows, you're so relieved that it feels like sunshine.

So the concept of opposing forces is something that can seem missing. It's as if chaos fielded an entire team and the other side only fielded one player and a stadium full of impotent but hopeful fans. Yeah, I recognize that feeling. It's the way that it feels to watch the news, to skim through certain times in history, to let laziness win on the days it sometimes does. But it's not--and this is crucial--not why I pick up a book. If the laziness won, I wouldn't be holding that book.

The laziness pretty much carried the weekend. It kept me in my seat and hurrying away from talking to authors and panellists at the convention this weekend. Apparently, the aftereffects are still there, because this was intended to be a lighter post. I found a new series that I absolutely love and I'm gratefully reading it as fast as I can. I'm really excited about it. But I've been playing on the wrong side and it's going to take a bit to recover.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Is It Today Yet?

I didn't want to go to the convention this weekend, but I didn't know why until we were already there and I was watching people mill around prior to the first panels of the morning. It turns out, being at Apollocon this year is all about what I've lost--there was the panel where the moderator talked ceaselessly about his dog that had passed on (almost lost it in that one) and no one seemed capable of addressing the actual topic; there was the panel about writing that focussed on "it's who you know--network;" and then my husband grousing that he'd rather be on a panel than listening to them.

Yep. Let's talk about Wynn and Baron being gone for a year now, me being out of work and cut off from humanity for a year, and my writing going nowhere during that "freebie" year. Although I had a good time in places (and acted like a dork in others, but we're not discussing my foolishness in the face of favorite authors), I never resolved the painful/pleasant into a coherent day.

Fortunately for me, I was able to go book shopping. I picked up several small press/self-published books that will be mentioned as I read them--by name, unless I throw them across the room. I talked to a few of the authors and found it interesting to see how people approached sending their texty litters out to good homes. Several books were written or marketed by couples, which seems both baffling (my spouse and I are on opposite ends of most reading/writing spectra) and cozy.

On the way home I pulled Rosemary Clement-Moore's Prom Dates from Hell from the bag-o-books. Score!! It was basically "giggle, snarf, can-i-please-please-read-you-this passage" until we got home. The story thus far is both funny and chilling. I was particularly creeped out by her description of the "extreme-weather drill" and the way she makes you feel the imbalance of the power relationships leaning into your awareness while the plot continues to fizz and spark. This book makes me regret I don't have a niece or daughter with whom to share it.

We'll see how tomorrow goes and whether I can sneak any more books into the reading satchel. After all, I'm going finish at least one of them tonight. Yea, reading!!

Friday, June 25, 2010

By This Strange Path

I'm well into The Professor and The Madman. It turned out to be a great find and a fascinating story. I'm amazed by the lives that the two protagonists led up to their collaboration on the OED and I find myself wondering if the internet is leading back around to the kind of part-time scholarship that characterized Professor's Murray's life. The sections on Dr. Minor's life are heartbreaking. The book is about creating systems from chaos and "fixing" the flexible language and both men's lives seem to reflect that as well.

Finding a narrative to fling myself into was a welcome change. I threw the book I was reading yesterday across the room. Twice. It wasn't that it was bad, which would have been just irritating. The narrative was manipulative and without grace, which meant that you could see the gears wheezing even as it twisted your emotions. Bleh. Double Bleh. In fact, I think it rates a Triple Bleh.

Perhaps fantasy narratives just don't mesh with my reading preferences anymore. I remember when I first realized that enough pop had bled into country and enough years had stapled themselves to my hide that I was actually enjoying CMT more than the radio. Welcome to middle age, sweetheart. Twang! Since I'm not sure whether it's just no longer part of the subset of literature that I enjoy or if it's just not a great book, I should leave it alone.

I guess I'm just worried that I'll be a grump at the convention this weekend if my interests have changed. Not that it will matter to anyone but my husband, who will have to deal with me; however, I'd prefer not to turn into a fidgetting irritant as soon as someone says "wizard" or "starship." Guess we'll just have to see. Bwa ha ha ha!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Emotion Leads to Shopping

The book I'm currently reading could be described as a pastiche and possibly as the kind of talking-down-to-the-kiddos YA that encourages blank looks and sarcastic thoughts. I feel a saccharine smile forming in my head, an animated smiley sun that narrates even the darker parts of the book, until the voice of the-narrator-that-could-have-been breaks through. At those points, I can focus on the story and not my reaction to the story. It seemed like a good idea when I found it, in a stack with its siblings on a rack tended by the writer. The writer assured me that not-just-kids would find the book fun to read.

Have you ever found yourself distracted by the book that the one you're reading could have been? I'm determined to finish this book because of that narrator-that-could-have-been. It could be that once the story gets going, that voice will stay for longer than a sentence or two. Meanwhile, I find myself once again at a B&N, eavesdropping and drafting a short story based on the picture of a wizard and too many nights of science-based TV. And continuing to read, as furtively as possible, the fluffy pastiche.

Which leads me to the sale table and a stack of books that I'm hoping will go unnoticed on the table at home until they're safely read and secreted on the bookshelves. What does despair of the fantastic lead to? One book on current scientific theories about the universe (too much math for me, but there are pictures), one book about the OED, and one book about a guy's love affair with his truck.

Books that are set firmly in this universe and that turn away from the siren call of the imaginary, the Celtic, and the wizardly. I was hoping to pick up some new books this weekend, but I think I'll just focus on taking notes and trying to avoid taking home any more cute but untrained strays.