Saturday, November 28, 2009

Reading, week of 11/22

Last week I actually didn't finish a single new-to-me book--almost unheard-of, for me. Too much was going on with my job search for me to easily focus on reading, and none of the books I tried worked for me. I did read, of course--I just turned to old favorites, like the Jane Austen on my bedside table and the Louisa May Alcott on my Kindle.

This week was better, more relaxing all around, and I finished three books.

Carbonel: the King of the Cats (Barbara Sleigh, 1955) was meant to be a read-aloud for my 5-year-old, but when I got it I realized it was too long and complex for her. But I read it myself anyway and enjoyed it thoroughly. It's set circa 1950 in England with a girl and a boy finding magical adventures, and it feels similar to the Chronicles of Narnia in voice and tone, but without the religious overtones. I'd recommend it for kids who enjoy Narnia and/or Harry Potter, and for adults like me who've never outgrown that kind of story!

Serenity: Better Days (Joss Whedon, 2009) didn't work as well for me. I think I'm going to stop trying the graphic novels based on Joss Whedon TV shows, because the appeal just doesn't come through in quite the same way. I had some trouble following the story, possibly because I don't read a lot of comic books, and Mal just isn't quite Mal when he's not Nathan Fillion, you know?

Touched by Time (Leanne Shawler, 2005) is a time travel romance in which a modern woman and a Regency gentleman both see ghosts in their bedroom (it's the same room). Eventually they touch each other, which pulls the modern woman back to 1812, but only between sunset and sunrise. She knows that the hero is destined to disappear, presumed murdered, and she makes it her mission to use archival research to solve the mystery and give him a happy life. A fun, quick read, and a different take on both the Regency (hero is not an aristocrat!) and time travel.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


On this Thanksgiving I am thankful for:

1. Getting a new job when I least expected it. I almost didn't even apply, because the job posting listed a Masters degree as a desired qualification. I don't have one, and I figured in this economy they'd get plenty of applicants who did. But I interviewed, was offered the job the very next day, and I start 12/9.

2. Finishing a good draft of my alternative history. Time to go back to the scary but exhilarating process of submitting to editors and agents, at long last.

3. My family--a supportive and loving husband and a beautiful daughter who's loving kindergarten and having fun learning to read on her own.

It's been a long year, and in many ways a hard one. But with the new job and the completed novel, I'm looking forward to the holiday season and feeling cautiously optimistic for 2010.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Busy busy busy

Because I have been too busy to post of late (Update coming over the weekend! I mostly promise!), I'm going to do something I've never done before and don't plan on making a habit of. Just to keep the blog from growing cobwebs, you understand...

I'm posting a lolcat:

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Write or Die

I never wrote in the pre-internet era. (Unless you count the Narnia-derivative talking horse stories I produced in elementary school or the teen romances I started and never finished in high school, in which the heroines were NOTHING AT ALL LIKE ME because they played clarinet or flute while I played saxophone, they were petite while I was tall, they had naturally curly red or black hair and blue or green eyes instead of standard-issue straight brown hair and dark eyes like mine, and above all because the hero NEVER played the same instrument in the band or position on the football team as whatever boy I had a crush on at the time.)

You know, I still tend to give my heroines better and more unusual hair than my own, though I now realize that straight hair is easier to manage, and am so wholly reconciled to its brownness that I actually dye it a few shades darker than its natural hue. But that's fodder for another post.

So. Writing. Internet. In the years I've been writing seriously, I've always had the net there to help me with my research or provide a link to a supportive writing community. E.g. just last week I needed to describe a French hussar's uniform from 1805, and I found a print of one from 1804 in less than five minutes using Google. In a world without an internet, I would've had to wait for interlibrary loan, because neither the Seattle Public Library nor the University of Washington library system has a large Napoleonic collection. Or else I would've spent even more on research books than I already do.

But one site I've been using more and more lately is nothing but a simple productivity prod: Write or Die. You give it a time limit and a word count and tell it how cruel you want it to be. It gives you an empty box to type in. If you stop typing, it gives you a virtual rap over the knuckles.

I usually set it for 500 words in half an hour, and on a good day I can make that in 15 minutes. Maybe that sounds like a bad thing to you--as if I'm valuing quantity over quality--but I don't think that's the case. Using Write or Die forces me to plan out what I'm going to write instead of rambling, so I'm more focused.

If at other times it takes me an hour to write 500 words, trust me, it's not because I'm carefully pondering each word and producing deathless prose. No, I'm popping over to Gmail every time I see a new message, or else I'm stopping to research as I go along. Sometimes you can't write any farther until you've looked up that detail, but most of the time it's more like what happened to me last week: I needed to confirm a half-remembered biographical detail about the first Duke of Wellington's father, who was titled the Earl of Mornington. I googled and got what I needed, but also found several photos of and articles about the current Earl of Mornington (the current Duke of Wellington's grandson, and one of these blog posts I'll explain why the titles work that way). I promptly clicked on the links and spent a good fifteen minutes reading what amounts to celebrity gossip. While it's sorta nice to know his wife is pregnant with twins after years of trying, and since he's just a few years younger than me it's vaguely interesting to imagine how my life would've been different if I'd been born to English old money and old blood, all that has exactly ZERO relevance for my manuscript. And if I'd been using Write or Die, I would've just made a note to myself to confirm the detail later and wouldn't have been sucked down that particular rabbit hole.

Plus, I have a full-time job and a five-year-old. Anything that makes me write faster is a Good Thing.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Reading, week of 11/9

I promise next week I'll start with those writing craft and life posts. This week I was too busy actually doing the writing!

The theme of my reading week was Nostalgia. I picked up Betsy-Tacy (Maud Hart Lovelace, 1940) from the library hoping that I could read it to my five-year-old daughter who's just starting to like chapter books for read-aloud time. She wasn't interested--I'm learning not to bother with any book for her that doesn't have an animal on the cover!

But I'd heard so many people say the Betsy-Tacy series was an all-time favorite that I decided to read it myself anyway. And I enjoyed it, in a pure nostalgia sort of way. Betsy and Tacy are two little girls growing up Minnesota circa 1900. It's a sweet book, and I liked it enough that I'll probably try the later books, where I understand the reading level gets higher and the plots more complex.

In The Food of a Younger Land (Mark Kurlansky, 2009), Kurlansky discovers a never-published WPA project from 1941 looking at local and regional American foodways and cuisine. He provides an introduction and excerpts. If you're interested in the intersection between food and culture, you'll enjoy the book just to see how much has changed in the last 70 years or so. E.g. tacos were unknown outside of the Southwest, Pacific salmon were considered inferior to the Atlantic variety, etc. It's not the kind of book you read cover to cover. I focused on what I wished I could eat (everything from the Vermont sugaring-off, game dinners) and what I'm glad I don't have to (chitlins, lutefisk, and yes, I know both of those still exist).

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Reading, week of 11/2

I'm planning some changes to my blog in the next week or so. I want to make it less of a reading diary and more about writing, research, and the writing life.

I'm still figuring out how I'm going to go about that. I may set up a weekly schedule--say, Research Mondays, Craft Wednesdays, and Time Management Fridays--or I may just commit to blogging three times a week on a writing-related topic but not being terribly regimented about topics and times.

But I have decided to limit my reading diary posts to once per week. With that in mind, here's what I've been reading the first week of November:

The End of Empire: Attila the Hun and the Fall of Rome (Christopher Kelly, 2009): Until recently, I was only familiar with the Roman Empire at its peak in the 1st Century AD. I knew early church history and the Marcus Didius Falco novels (there's you a contrast!). But of late I've been seeing a lot of books about the fall of Rome. (Imperial anxiety on my own nation's part, perhaps?) The End of Empire explores what can be known about Attila the Hun and how his actions helped cause the collapse of the western empire within a few decades of his death. I had trouble keeping all the eastern and western emperors and their generals and diplomats straight, but it helped fill out my picture of a corner of history I'm just beginning to explore.

I read the first chapter of Betraying Season (Marissa Doyle, 2009) several years ago when Doyle entered it in an RWA contest I was judging. Between the time my daughter was born in 2004 and when I went back to work in late 2005, I must've judged over a dozen writing contests. RWA chapters are always looking for volunteer judges, and I had enough time on my hands to answer most of the pleas for judges that went out. Betraying Season was one of the two or three most outstanding entries I encountered, and I was thrilled when Doyle sold it and its prequel, Bewitching Season. It's the story of a magically gifted young British aristocrat in the 1830's trying to improve her witchy powers while visiting her old governess in Ireland. If you liked Sorcery and Cecelia, give Doyle's books a try.

Cake Wrecks (Jen Yates, 2009) contains many favorites from the Cake Wrecks blog along with some new material. Fun for a laugh after a long week.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Flesh and Fire

Flesh and Fire (Laura Anne Gilman, 2009) is epic fantasy with an unusual twist--the otherworldly aspect of the story is magical wine. It's just the kind of fantasy I like best, set in a recognizable alternative Europe, with an epic, historical feel but without the standard swords & sorcery quest structure. And the world-building is wonderful, enough to hold my attention all by itself. That said, I was just warming to the characters and starting to put together the plot threads when the book ended--it's more set-up for the rest of the series than a self-contained story.