2007/12/31

Books 81 & 82, Last for 2007

81. Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan - This is a wonderful novella that shows that there is love, meaning and dignity in the most ordinary of lives. The story follows Manny Deleon through the last day at the Red Lobster he has managed for many years. The store is being closed by corporate due to low sales, but rather than close as a failure, Manny maintains that the restaurant will run that last day with the same professionalism and care that he tried to show every day. Then along comes a blizzard, and the few employees that stayed to the end start to show signs of giving up. If you've worked in retail or restaurants and found yourself caring more about your job than you intended to care; or made friends with coworkers that you never would have grown close to if it weren't for the job, you'll really life this sweet/sad little story.

82. The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen - A very good historical fiction that includes the 1918 Influenza epidemic, World War I disenters, and the tie between Socialism and unionization in the early 20th century. The story takes place in a logging town established on the principle that sharing the profits with everyone makes everyone profitable. When the "Spanish" flu breaks out in near by towns, the inhabitants agree that they will quarantine themselves until it passes by. Phillip, the adopted son of the owner of the mill is on guard when a starving soldier tries to enter the town, and when he finds himself unable to kill the soldier, the inhabitants true feelings about isolationism come to the surface. There's also the threat from a near by town that questions why so many able bodied lumberjacks managed to avoid going to war when their own sons are being killed in Europe. It's a good read about an event and political opinion that doesn't get a lot of attention, and the main characters have deep backstories that the author uses well to explain their feelings about their current situation.

2007/12/26

Books 76 - 80

76. The House of the Vestals by Steven Saylor - A collection of nine short stories that fall chronologically between the first and second book in Saylor's Roma Sub Rosa series. These are more (small) mysteries that involve Gordianus the Finder, some touching on historical figures (Cicero is back, and there's a story inspired by a young and brash Julius Caesar) and well as show some of the cultural differences between the Romans and the Egyptians. Master/slave relationships come up in every story, I suspect getting more attention than they really got during the days of the Roman Republic. Saylor knows his setting, and he knows how to tell a good detective story, making all of the stories enjoyable.

77. An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England by Brock Clarke - A novel in memoir form about a man who accidentally burned down Emily Dickinson's house, did his time in jail and then realizes the true consequences of his actions one he's out and tries to have a normal life. When a protagonist describes himself as a "rambler", a reader knows that the story is going to go on and on...and on. Way too much on and on. It's the characters he meets along the way (he's become the go to guy if you want a famous author's house burned down) and his family provide the most interesting aspect of this story. When other author's houses do start to be torched, I really didn't care who was doing it, and I didn't care our "hero" got blamed. I only wanted to read more of Brock Clarke's funny and true observations about people who love books.

78. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury - Every time I read Bradbury, I rediscover what a genius of writing this man is. A collection of chapters that could stand alone as short stories follow the attempts of humans to colonize an habitable Mars. The bulk of the stories take place in the early 2000's, making this timely science fiction as well as great science fiction, and written in the 1940s makes this classically perfect science fiction.

79. Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson - This little novel has been out a bunch of "best of 2007" lists, but I have to say it won't be making mine. It's beautiful prose, truly lyrical, and a first person narrative so strong you'll think your hearing Trond Sander tell you the story of the summer when he was fifteen and his life now, at sixty seven. In my opinion, you'll hear him too well, and be thinking his story is a great one if someone could punch it up a bit. The flap of the book calls this "magical" and "captivating". Yes, sort of, to the first, and no way to the second.

80. Ghost by Alan Lightman - On the surface, this is a novel about a man who sees something unusual at his new job in a funeral home and the turmoil it causes for people in his life. Underneath that simple plot, there are at least two other themes: peoples' need to have something to believe in or to be believed in themselves and the fuzzy battle line between science and pseudo science. They all come together when the employee's sighting gets out to the public. The main character is so full of ennui that I couldn't connect to him in any way, and other characters are introduced and manipulated to fill plot requirements, not the other way around. An interesting story ruined by really bad characterizations, imo. The author's style of writing dialog as one line of direct quote followed by paragraphs of paraphrasing by the narrator, sometimes inserting paraphrasing of the narrators own dialog in the same paragraph added to the flatness of the story.

2007/12/15

Photohunt Theme: Small


It's been a crazy week for me and time constraints have forced me to go to old scanned pics for this week's post.

I give you a small fisherman.

2007/12/12

This is where the English language is headed?

On the heals of locavore and grass station, we have another word of the year for 2007. This time it's Merriam-Websters choice, or more accurately, it's the choice of the people who voted in the online poll. Those people (who obviously spend a lot of time in online conversations have spoken and they have said
w00t.

Now, I'm the first person to say that language is a living thing, growing and changing every day. I argue that if ideas are being successfully exchanged, any grammar "rules" broken in those exchanges are superfluous. I once had a protracted arguement with a very good friend that "then" and "than" will become the same word in common usage some day, and it won't be the end of the English language.

But come on....w00t???? It's not even all letters, for crying out loud!

2007/12/08

Photohunt Theme: Long

Here we have a long view of some long Christmas horns on a long street. Going with synonym for long, there are some people at the bottom of the photo with a very protracted sense of loyalty.

It's PRETEND TO BE A TIME TRAVELER DAY!!

Sure, it's as silly as any of the other artificial holidays, but it's my kind of silly! I love learning about the everyday life of days long ago, I love the "fish out of water" concept of someone doing their best to survive in a foreign time period, and when you open your mind to perspectives of thought not of this time period, you learn a lot about yourself. TV shows like Highlander and Doctor Who can hold my attention no matter how bad the writing or character development. The film Somewhere In Time is as sappy as a maple tree in March, but I can watch it over and over and over (and tear up at the end every time). I will read the world's worst writing if the research on the time period is decent and the protagonist is gaining something from their experience.

I don't know who started Pretend To Be A Time Traveler Day, but I plan to celebrate in my own small way. When I'm out and about this afternoon, I'll be doing my best to phrase my speech in the patterns of a late 19th century Londoner, and I'll be wearing a scarf in honor of that very great time traveler, The Doctor.

2007/12/07

Yes, those are great ideas for books, Donald Maass

The very wonderful Writer Unboxed, a blog I can't recommend highly enough if you're at any stage in a writing career has posted a two part interview with Donald Maass of the Donald Maass Literary Agency (and the author of a lot of writing books). I strongly recommend reading the interview if you have any interest in what's being published as well as how and why it got that way.

In the article, it's mentioned that each month Mr. Maass's agency posts a wish list on their website of what they'd like to see submitted to them. November's list of detective stories is still up, and although I don't feel inspired to write in that genre, I'd like to read any of those ideas.

There's also a multi-genre wishlist in the first part of the article:

A Huck Finn-like fantasy featuring a raft trip down the Mississippi, with magic.

An African-American Lord of the Rings.

A noir novel featuring a Muslim detective–but not about terrorism.

An American epic like Of Mice and Men about today’s underclass, illegal immigrants.

A ghost story that’s truly contemporary—but not recycled Eighties horror.

An historical novel that weaves in scientists and big ideas.

A New York in mid-Century novel along the lines of Empire Rising.

A dog novel as great as Call of the Wild.

A literary romance with a heroine for all time and a tragic ending, written by a man.

The next The World According to Garp, about an idiot savant.


Yep, all interesting ideas. Some of those are a very tall order for any writer- "A dog novel as great as Call of the Wild"? Why not just say any book as great some other great classic? Of course any publisher would like that to show up on their desk! And a couple would be niche novels, not the "breakout" books that every publisher dreams of finding, and therefore might be tossed off the slush pile rather than read. But still, these are great ideas for books. In fact, I'm grabbing a couple. And I'm booking marking that monthly wishlist page.

2007/12/01

Photohunt: Red

Sunset view from my deck, July 2007. There were terrible thunderstorms with buckets of rain all day, and then the sky cleared as the storm did that most unusual of things (unusual in the Midwest US, at least) - it moved towards the west.


(Note: this is my inaugural post for )

2007/11/30

Cooking with writers

Food and authors rank pretty high on the list of things that I like to know more about, so when I ran across The Great New American Writers' Cookbook at the library the other day it was like discovering that someone had figured out how to make wine out of cocoa beans - two vices in one.

I'll admit I haven't heard of a good number of the authors who contributed, and it seemed too obvious that F Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway are represented by recipes for drinks. But there was one recipe in the book that made up for any disappointment I'd felt - James Purdy's Baked Chicken and Sausage.

James Purdy is perhaps my favorite author and I never miss a chance to spread the word about this almost unknown American treasure. His works run across many genres: poetry, Southern Gothic, literary fiction, short stories, plays and somethings that don't fit under any label. That contributes to him never having been published by one of the houses with deep pockets. Then there are his characters, usually the type of people who live a little outside the edges of "polite society". They are flawed, but not in the classic flawed hero way. Their flaws are seldom redeemed. I like that.

As this is my "Foodie Friday" post, I'll include Mr. Purdy's recipe. I don't think I'd ever make it myself - there's way too much meat for my tastes. At 84 years old, I'm hoping he's not eating it too often, either.

James Purdy's Baked Chicken and Sausage
Four large chicken breasts split
8 Italian sweet sauces
8 strips of slab bacon
4 garlic cloves
3 small white onions
5 tablespoons sweet butter
Chopped fresh parsley

Brown chicken breasts and sweet sausages in separate skillets in garlic and sweet butter. Place chicken breasts and Italian sausages then in a very large iron pot. Cover with the bacon slices. Cut up garlic cloves and white onions and add them to the chicken and sausages. Cook in very slow oven at least 2 hours, turning occasionally to allow the chicken and sausage to cook evenly. Scatter fresh parsley before serving. Serve with Virginia Spoon Bread and green salad.

2007/11/29

My favorite writing books

There are enough books about writing that if you took the time to read them all, you'd never have time to write. (I don't think that's irony, I think it's that the people who write books about writing know that other authors are always looking for way to work on their writing without actually doing it. We're a crowd that begs to be distracted.) I won't pretend to have read even a small percentage of all those books, but I've read enough to know that there are some good ones, some repetitive ones, and some that are just plain wrong. Of the good ones, there are three that are on my desk all the time, right next to my thesaurus and dictionary. In reverse order of which ones I would save if my computer caught fire and the whole desk were about to go up in flames:

3. Coaching the Artist Within by Eric Maisel - Maisel has a pretty cool job, coaching and teaching people to coach writers, painters, actors and other creative types. He's written a lot of books about what stops us from creating, how to get deep down to the part of us that doesn't judge our work before we ever set pen to paper, and most importantly, that creation is Work. It's not magic, it's not a "either you have it or you don't" ability, and it's not easy. Coaching the Artist Within covers all the roadblocks, self made and external, that we allow to get in our way so that we don't have to do the work. I've got several of Maisel's other books, but this is the one that speaks to me when I need a kick in the butt.

2. Room to Write: Daily Invitations to a Writer's Life by Bonni Goldberg - This is a wonderful little book full of writing prompts and exersises that are more than prompts and exercises. Each starts with a few paragraphs explaining why whatever the prompt is exploring is important to a writer, then gives the directions for a short writing assignment, and ends with a quotation from published writers, statesmen, artists, etc. that connects to the exercise. This is the book I grab, open to a random page, and start writing when my muse doesn't show up for work.

3. Bird by Bird:Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott - This is my writing bible. When I am lost and ready to give up, this is the book that reminds that lost is okay and giving up was never really an option. There's good nuts and bold advice about writing in here, mixed in with a lot of "you're not the first person to feel this way and you won't be the last". This is the book of reassurance and compassion that every writer needs to get through those dark days...weeks...and, let's admit it happnes, months.

2007/11/28

National Book Critics Best of 2007 List

The National Book Critics Circle has, for the first time, asked its members and former winners to submit the title of the book from 2007 (Well, sort of. See the rules.) they'd recommend for others to read. So, it's not really a best of list, but the "Best Recommended" list.

It seems that more former nominees and winners submitted titles than member critics, but maybe that's just a sign that writers are more interested in reading good books than critics. Or maybe they're more excited about recognition for deserving books, even if it's not their own. The NBCC plans to do the list monthly next year, which I think might be going too deep in a shallow pool, but it will get some minimal publicity for books that are getting no help from their publishers.

The fiction winners for 2007 are:
1. Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Riverhead)
2. Denis Johnson, Tree of Smoke (Farrar Straus & Giroux)
3. Michael Chabon, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union (HarperCollins)
4. Philip Roth, Exit Ghost (Houghton Mifflin)
5. Per Petterson, Out Stealing Horses (Graywolf)


The only one of those that I'm familiar with at all is Roth's Exit Ghost, which I started and then quit when I realized I really wanted to read the series in order.

2007/11/27

And now for something wrong, oh so wrong!

(Purely personal p.o.v. rant follows. Click only if you're curious about something annoying and offensive to me.)

Fox TV out does itself in the "think like fourteen year old boy who's afraid of real females" department with its graphic art for the new Terminator spinoff, The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

2007/11/26

Books 71 - 75

71. No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy - Amazing story, amazing characters, amazing writing. In a book only slightly less minimalist than the more recent The Road, McCarthy holds your attention by knowing just when to cut from the violence to the good that keeps most of us from jumping off a bridge. The monster at the center of the story is as completely believable as the sheriff who reluctantly hunts him.

72. I Am America (And So Can You!) by Stephen Colbert - If you're a fan of the show, you'll like the book. If you've never seen the show, you'll find out if it's something you might enjoy. If you've seen the show and not been impressed, the book will bore you. If you don't like the show, why would you pick this book up? All of this is to say, the book is the show, for all its successes and failures. Everything in the book could have been done on the show, verbatim. There's even little sidebar comments, just like during the "The Word" segments on the show. My opinion - I expected more from a book by someone as literate as the real Stephen Colbert is, something beyond the exact same material he does four nights a week. He could have published old scripts and it would have been just as funny.

73. Fire In The Blood by Irene Nemirovsky - Another book discovered by the researchers working on the Nemirovsky biography, this is the story of a middle aged French man and the family and community that keep him from being a total hermit. I suspect that this was only the first draft of the book, and yet, it's still quite readable. Short and with more than a few places where a paragraph or two takes the place of what should have been a whole chapter, the sense of place and characters are what make this a very good book, even when the plot weakens.

74. Dream Angus, The Celtic God of Dreams by Alexander McCall Smith - This book is one of the Myth series from Canonsgate, where well published authors write new stories for old myths, as well as using them for inspiration for contemporary short stories. (That sounds more complicated than it is, really. The publisher's website explains only a little better.) McCall Smith tells the story of Angus, a god of love, dreams, beauty and youth in Celtic culture. This author recognizes that all those things don't guarantee a perfect life for the young god or the humans that aspire to them. The myth stories are classically mythic and the contemporary stories show McCall Smith's ability to see love as painful and beautiful at the same time.

75. The Gathering by Anne Enright - When any group of adult siblings reunite, for any reason, wounds are reopened. When it's a very large family (in this book, eleven brothers and sisters gather for the funeral of a middle child brother), you can simply multiply the internal drama. Anne Enright has done an amazing job of tapping into the pain and love that we try to leave behind when we leave the family home to start our own lives, only to find that we've carried it everywhere and it colors everything we do. The novel is non-linear (and as a fan of non-linear, I'd say it's a little weak in this book) and almost stream of conscious first person from the sister who was closest to the brother who has passed away, both in age and emotion. The jacket blurb teases with a secret that isn't all that surprising and possibly not even that important in the lives of any of the members of the family. It's the entanglement of histories and personalities that make this book (and all families) so rich.

2007/11/25

Ok, now we can start the winter holidays


Time rushes on, but there are still old memories to appreciate, such as this Santa Village my Grandfather built out of scraps in 1930. He was a lucky one, never completely without work, although he did go down to one day (at that time, a ten hour day) a week. The light posts are solid copper pipe - the kind that is being stolen out of buildings now because copper is so valuable. It was someone's trash when he built this.

2007/11/24

Techy meme

From Sat-8:

Do you have any of the following gadgets, and what kind? when did you get them?

1. Cellphone? Yes

2. Digital camera? Yes

3. Video camera? Yes, but I have no idea if it still works. It hasn't been out of the closet in three years. It's 8mm, not digital.

4. Video game console? No. I've made it a personal crusade to not have one in my house, but that might be changing soon. Those Wiis look awfully fun.

5. TiVo/DVR? No, still using VHS. I'll probably switch when I can't buy tapes anymore.

6. mp3 player/iPod? No, but if Apple hadn't gotten nasty with it's new iPods, I would have. Silly things don't work on OS 10.3.9.

7. Laptop computer? Yes.

8. Any widget or app on your phone or computer to makes your life easier (commute time calculator, on-time flight alert, zocdoc, etc.)?
I have Minuteur and Noise on my laptop to make my writing easier. Minuteur makes it easy to do timed writing exercises, and Noise makes it possible to block out all kinds of ambient sound when I'm working.

2007/11/23

How big is a turkey's (carbon) footprint?

This weekend, I'll be attending two big family gatherings, and at each one there will be at least one person who takes it as a personal affront that I eat very little meat. I swear, I make no judgment of people who eat meat, as my reasons for not eating it are by a personal health situation. But there always one person in a crowd who insists that I defend my choice, and since I have no desire to discuss my health with fringe relatives, I try to come armed with a few facts about the benefits of eating less meat. Nothing dulls a heated debate like numbers. They don't change anyone's mind, but sometimes they do bore and/or confound some people.

Here's something interesting from that I found while looking for information on why less meat consumption is better for the environment. The study is ten years old, but given that if the ag business hase improved its energy usage, all branches of it have probably done so at the same rate, the comparisons should hold.

The ratio of energy consumed to produce one unit of protein:
Chicken 4:1
Turkey 13:1
Milk protein 14:1
Pork 17:1
Eggs 26:1
Lamb meat 50:1
Beef cattle 54:1.

I thought that was pretty interesting, because I know a lot of people along with myself who chose eggs and milk products over meat and think we're doing a good thing environmentally. It turns out - we're not.

2007/11/22

My favorite Thanksgiving book

It may be the subversive in me, but the one book that I recommend for Thanksgiving reading is Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen. It's not only about Thanksgiving, but that one chapter is guaranteed to get you thinking. There's plenty of food for thought throughout this book, and on a day that's become more about gluttony than thankfulness, more fodder for the brain works to everyone's benefit.

2007/11/21

Another electronic reader

Amazon debuted Kindle, their newest entry into the electronic book reader market on Monday, at that means the reviews of people who actually paid for the thing are starting to be posted. (There are lots of reviews on the device's page at Amazon, but the positives mostly come from hand picked testers and the negatives from people who don't have one. So, pretty much useless, in my opinion.)

One of the first real customer reviews to show up on a Google blog search came from XML Aficionado. I appreciate that that blogger isn't taking part in the Amazon kick-back program, that involved embedding an icon on your blog that if used to click through to the Kindle order page and a device is actually ordered, the source blog page gets a $40 Amazon credit. Just 10 clicks and your Kindle has paid for itself! SmugBlog also has a review, although that blogger admits to spending more time using it to look for books rather than reading one, which they finally get around to at the end of the day.

Another positive review from Robert Love, someone who didn't expect to like it as much as he did. He points out something I've been wondering about, though. If this is primarily a reading device, why is the keyboard so big? I get the need for an alpha interface, it is easier to search through what's on the device if you can type in a word rather than scroll everything. But I suspect that the real purpose of that keyboard is to encourage shopping, surfing, and whatever else Amazon will make money off of beyond the purchase of the books.

That brings us to price. Yep, $400 is expensive for almost anyone who isn't a gadget geek or someone who already favors digital readers. I don't think they'll convert many conventional readers at that price. The $9.99 per book price is great, if they have want you want. About 75% of the books I read I get for free (okay, I get them for paying property taxes) from the local library. And their collection goes light years beyond Amazons. I doubt that is going to change in my life time (despite Google's plan to put every written word online).

I'd say the Kindle (and that is a strange name - kindling, right?) is a step towards the day fewer books are printed because more are being bought digitally, but it's a small step. It's not going to change how most people read.

2007/11/20

A writing contest AND vocabulary booster

Answers.com has posted their latest writing contest (limited to North Americans, for some techno-silly reason), and I'm already smarter without having done one bit of writing. The ten words and phrases that must be included in the entry had several that I'd never seen before. I love new words more than I love a no-fee, good prize very short story writing contest.

On their list of ten, I'd have to say my favorite is sapid. Halva sounds pretty good too, but that could be my stomach talking.

2007/11/19

Books 66 - 70

66. Mr. Pip by Lloyd Jones - An absolutely fantastic book about the power of stories and the people who tell them. Set during the 1990s blockade of Bougainville by New Guinea, the lone white man in the settlement does his best to help the children of a besieged village that there is more to life than what they see around them through the words of Dickens' Great Expectations. This could have been a story that has been told thousands of times before, a teacher broadens horizons and the students go out to a better world, but Mr. Watts isn't that great of a teacher. He is, however, a master story teller who knows when to deviate from his source material when the going gets very tough and very serious. If you've ever caught yourself thinking of how a fictional character would handle a situation you're facing, or wished that you lived in a favorite book rather than the real world, this is a book that will speak to you.

67. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid - What impressed me most about the book was the author's ability with first person narrative. The entire book is a one sided dialog between a young Pakistani man and the possibly American tourist he befriends at a cafe in his recently returned to home town. He tells a story of the American Dream and its hidden costs, along with a verypersonal love story. The story isn't particularly original or surprising, but it is well written.

68. Faith For Beginners by Aaron Hamburger - This novel manages to funny, enlightening and thought provoking in just the right balance. The plot is simple - a mother hoping to salvage her relationship with her just barely adult son books them and her dieing husband on a vacation to that place so well known for peace and tolerance - Jerusalem. They tour the sights, discover what faith and religion are really about, and in the end, discover that families are a lot like the Middle East conflict: getting along comes down to the people, not ideas. This is also a great book about vacations often being more work than what they're supposed to get you away from. I'd recommend this as light reading with a eye opening message.

69. Timeless Classics: Selected Shorts, A Celebration of the Short Story, Volume 19 (Audio Book) - The Selected Shorts series is a recorded version of the many live and radio presentations of great known and undiscovered short stories, read by people with really great story telling voices - sometimes the authors themselves, but more often actors. This collection consisted of: James Thurber's The Night the Ghost Got In read by Isaiah Sheffer -Comic Mayhem is unleashed when a family hears a ghost in the night - and calls in the police; Edith Wharton's Roman Fever read by Maria Tucci -Two women reflect on romance and intrigue, long ago in Rome; Jack London's Make Westing read by Steven Gilborn -Danger, adventure, corruption and secrecy dog a ship as it rounds Cape Horn; D.H. Lawrence's The Rocking Horse Winner read by John Shea -A dark fable of a magical toy helping a little boy cope with family troubles; Shirley Jackson's The Lottery read by Marian Seldes -In Jackson's classic nightmare of society and sacrifice, someone will be the chosen one; Richard Connell's The Most Dangerous Game read by Charles Keating -A meditation on what it means to be a hunter - or the hunted, this tale unfolds on a remote island full of strange prey; Raymond Carver's Cathedral read by James Naughton -A subtle and intimate portrait of a man during a visit from his wife's blind friend.

The stories I'd read before I discovered things I'd missed, and the new to me stories kept me listening when I was supposed to be doing something else. Thanks to this audio collection, I've discovered that it's only reading Jack London that bores me to tears. Hearing his story is quite another thing altogether. If you're looking to hear some really good stories, you can not go wrong with this collection.

70. Carnival by Elizabeth Bear - I liked the canon that Bear created for this long bit of science fiction, and that's what kept me reading despite the too obvious attempts to write an epic. (When the first line of a writer's bio proclaimed that she shares a birth-date with Sam and Frodo, I smiled and rolled my eyes.) This is the world of New Amazonia, a matriarchal society of unexplained resources that other survivors of Old Earth would like to partner with, if not conquer. Gender roles play an important part when two "gentle" males are sent as diplomats to negotiate some sort of alliance, but their real motivation is something different. The men are long separated lovers that pick up where they left off, when they're not disagreeing with each other. It took me a couple weeks to get through this book because it's so overwritten, but I did always come back to it.

2007/11/18

Not a lame "here's my cat" post.


Well, almost not that.
Since so much of my blog is dedicated to reading, I thought I'd post of photo of by reading buddy. So, yeah, this is a "here's my cat" post. My cat that insists on draping himself across my shoulder when ever I open a book. He can't read, so I don't have to worry about him becoming one of those LOL!cats.

2007/11/17

Everybody has read that book (not)

I was poking around at LibraryThing.com (trying to decide if I want to bring my account up to date, or start over somewhere else), and took a look at some of their many, many lists drawn from members tags. One that caught my eye was Books Tagged Unread, which could mean anything from "bought it and never read it" to "I know I should have read this if I call myself I reader but I've never gotten around to it". It's not scientific, it's not a good sampling, it's not a list that means a whole lot, but I wondered where I fell in this group, as I've never used the "unread" tag, because it seems silly on a data base of books "read".

Here's there top 25. I've bolded and italiced the ones I've read and italiced the ones I started and didn't/couldn't finish.

1. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
2. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
3. One hundred years of solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
4. Crime and punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
5. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
6. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
7. The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien
8. Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes Saavedra
9. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
10. Ulysses by James Joyce
11. A tale of two cities by Charles Dickens
12. Life of Pi : a novel by Yann Martel
13. The name of the rose by Umberto Eco
14. The Odyssey by Homer
15. The brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
16. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
17. War and peace by Leo Tolstoy
18. Moby Dick by Herman Melville

19. The time traveler's wife by Audrey Niffenegger
20. The kite runner by Khaled Hosseini
21. Pride and prejudice by Jane Austen
22. Vanity fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
23. Emma by Jane Austen
24. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
25. Foucault's pendulum by Umberto Eco

Well, at least I've started a lot of books that other people think should be read. That's about all this means.

2007/11/16

I smell a marketing ploy (smells quite tasty, actually)

There's an article in yesterday's Christian Science Monitor that explains that instead of sitting down to a big ol' roast turkey on Thursday, Americans might want to considering getting their history correct, and choose a nice ham as their animal protein. Why? Because the English settlers who established Berkeley Plantation said thanks quite a bit of time before the Mayflower travelers. And they didn't eat turkey.

But what did they eat? Someone wants us to believe it was ham.

There's not much doubt that the Berkeley settlers probably were the first to thank their God for having gotten them as far as they did. But according to sites that are only looking for historical accuracy, such as VirginiaIsForLovers.com, a site operated by the Virgina Tourism Corporation, there was a simple prayer said, and then they moved on. No groaning board, no questionable attempts to include the aboriginals that they'd just as soon seen dead, and no respite from the daily grind of surviving, I bet. When they did eat, it quite likely would have been ham, a meat that when smoked keeps a whole lot longer than fresh poultry. But that claim to being the real first Thanksgiving? If saying thanks is enough, we're going to need to move it to Florida, because certainly Hernando De Soto's crew said something about being grateful for coming to the end of their first trip. And they were actually looking for someone who had landed before them. So perhaps we should be eating seafood for Thanksgiving?

So, why is someone trying to tell us to eat ham for Thanksgiving? That's where the title of this post comes in. Hog farming is still a very big business in Virginia.

2007/11/15

Two poems

(But first we pause to pat ourselves on the back for posting some original writing. Ahhh, yes....that was supposed to be a major part of this blog and of particpating in NaBloPoMo!)

Two cingquains, one traditional and one modern, on the same topic. These are the result of my morning writing warmup.

November

Wasn't cool
Wasn't wet wind
Now one day later
Winter


November

Low skies
Get out the coats
Cemetery garden
Vermin moving into the house
Close time


if you're curious about what's the difference between the traaditional and modern form, here you go, from the wonderful Writing Fix website.


Totally unrelated, but potentially poetry inspiring, SpaceWeather.com has issued an "Aurora Alert" because of current solar windstream patterns. I've seen one Aurora Borealis in my life, surprisingly when I was near a major city with lots of light pollution. They are amazingly beautiful, even in a watered down form.

2007/11/14

More Blogs Than People

There was a very interesting Q&A with Derek Gordon of Technati in yesterday's Chicago Tribune. Patrick T. Reardon, a staff reporter for the newspaper, asked the question that every blogger asks them self when they hit that "publish post" button:Is anybody reading this? Turns out, the answer is: probably not.

"Q Any idea how many of the 109.2 million blogs you (Technorati)track get no hits in the course of a year?

A Just over 99 percent. The vast majority of blogs exist in a state of total or near-total obscurity."


Some bloggers might find that depressing. Me, I think it means that any hit I get is beating the odds, and I'm darn happy about that.

Mr. Reardon also asked about the ratio of blogs to people. I know a lot of people in my real (non internet) life that have blogs, but I know a lot more who don't have them. I'm guessing that's true for most people. But, factor in all the folks that have more than one blog, and suddenly...

".....there is one blog for every 23 people with Internet access (based on the May 2007 estimate by eMarketer that more than 1 billion people use the Web)."



So, how soon until there's a blog for every person in the world?

"It is likely that the number of registered blogs will one day exceed the number of people who have Internet access, but one cannot extrapolate that, therefore, each of those persons actually has and uses a blog. The combination of spam blogs and individuals with multiple blogs means that the total volume of registered blogs will easily, one day, exceed even the total number of people on Earth, even if only some fraction of those people are, in fact, bloggers."


After reading that, and the other numbers about inactive blogs, I had a very strong urge to delete an old LiveJournal account. That's one less dead blog jacking up the numbers.

2007/11/13

2007 Word(s) of the Year

Oxford Universty Press has chosen its word of the year, and it's a good one, I think. It's locavore, a person who chooses to have a smaller negative impact on the environment by obtaining the food for themselves and their families as close to home as possible. Generally, that "close to home as possible" is defined as a 100 mile radius, but depending where the locavore lives, sometimes it's a smaller circle, sometimes it's bigger. As a word and a movement, I think locavore has staying power.

I can't say the same thing for the word of the year chosen by Webster's New World Dictionary. It's environmental too, but Grass Station? That's a new one on me, so good thing they included a definition in their press release: "a theoretical fill-up spot in the not-too-distant future; it reflects America's growing love affair with hybrid cars and vegetable-based fuels (and words), including ethanol and biomass fuels -- some of which really are distilled from plain old grass". Uh-huh. It's an interesting turn of a phrase, but I can't see it becoming a part of many people's working vocabulary. (By the way, Webster's New World Dictionary is not Merriam-Webster, for those of us who believe that dictionaries, like news sources, come with different levels of esteem.)

2007/11/12

Book Reviews

61. Roman Blood by Steven Saylor - This series of mysteries was recommended to me when I was lamenting the end of the HBO series Rome. I owe the recommender a fruit basket or something, because these books seem to be everything that show was, and more. The books follow the cases of fictional character Giordiannus The Finder (1st Century BC for Private Detective), with many real historic figures included to provide the plots. In this book, it's just-starting-out orator Cicero (yes, that Cicero) and his loyal, smart, and thinking-with-the-wrong-head slave Tiro that join Giordiannus to exonerate a wealthy farmer accused of one the worst things a person could do in ancient Rome - patricide. It looks like I'm hooked on another series.

62. Hotel de Dream: A New York Novel by Edmund White - A fascinating piece of RPF about a novel that Stephen Crane most likely never wrote. During his last days, Crane narrates a final story to his wife about a young prostitute in late 19 century New York and the man who loved him. On the Crane side of this story within a story, several other literary figures make appearances (Henry James and Joseph Conrad most notably), to talk shop with their contemporary and end up giving their opinions about Crane's choice of subject for his last book. White does a good job of turning two stories into one, with just enough nonfiction included to make it an almost believable fiction - exactly what RPF should be.

63. Lord John And The Private Matter by Diana Gabaldon - I enjoyed the first two or three books in Gabaldon's Outlander series, but lost interest as the dramatic plot became second to the romance and domestic issues of the characters. When I discovered that she'd written a book about perhaps the most interesting side character from the whole series, British soldier Lord John Gray, I had to give her another try. This is an author who knows how to research a time period and how to make that research come alive. The plot of this book, Lord John investigating a murder of a soldier and at the same time trying to discover if his cousin's betrothed is fit to be a husband, is over the top with twists and red herrings. However, the sense of place and time, especially when Lord John is dealing with his own secrets, had me reading this book straight through. It's a fast, light and enjoyable read for those who think there's a serious shortage of books that include Molly houses and the men who patronize them.

64. Feast of Love by Charles Baxter - The hook (some would say beauty) of this book is in its simplicity - simplicity of characters, simplicity of story, and, most importantly, simplicity of writing. The premise is an author interviewing people about their experiences with love. What we get is ordinary people being made extraordinary because they dared to love someone else. From that point of view, this is a wonderful book. However, I felt that by halfway through you could guess where a character was headed, or worse yet, didn’t care in the case of the female narrators, who all come across as more immature and self involved than the male characters. It’s a great book if you’re looking for something that says that love is more than worth the pain, but if you’re looking for more than that, you might be disappointed. I certainly was.

65. The Indian Clerk by David Leavitt - Don't let the math scare you off of reading this book. You don't need to understand it, you simply need to understand what it is to be able to work in the field you love and discover that work alone does not make your life complete. The characters in this book set in WWI era London and Cambridge could work any where and in any field and still go through the self discovery and heart break that makes up this book. Leavitt does his normal fantastic job with sense of place and time, but seems to have lost his ability to edit, as the book rambles a bit, then covers major plot points in a few paragraphs. This is not Leavitt's best work, but it's still a good read.

2007/11/11

The view from the penthouse


Not my penthouse, unfortunately. Looking out over Navy Pier in Chicago, this is the view from the condo that my main character finds almost impossible to walk away from. Not knowing the rest of his story, you can't hardly blame him, can you?

2007/11/10

I'd like to buy a vowel, please

It took me ten days into NaBloPoMo before I drew a complete blank. Not too bad, I think. So, I've gone to the well of prompts from the Writing Prompts group, and found a Saturday one that won't tax my brain too much. (I did say I was drawing a blank, didn't I?)

From Patrick's Place, a Saturday Six.

1. What was the brand and model (if you remember) of the first computer you remember using? A Wang something or other. It was in the math lab at high school, it was huge, ugly, and intimidating as all hell. I never was able to get it to run the math packets we were supposed to use for "independent" learning.

2. What year do you remember using a home computer for the first time? 1990

3. Hype aside, which platform do you prefer: Mac or PC? Mac, baby! (oops! Was that hype?

4. Take the quiz: Are you a Mac or PC? Well, their reasoning is wrong, but the results are right.


You Are a Mac



You are creative, stylish, and super trendy.

You demand the best - even if it costs an arm and a leg.



5. How fair would you consider the quiz to be based on the responses? Not fair at all. (see above)

6. If money were no object, what brand of computer would you most likely purchase? Sticking with Mac, through and through. Even when my hard drive died and we had to scrimp on groceries for a couple months. Mac before meat, that's my motto!

2007/11/09

I've got Tiramisu in my coffee...

...and it's a very, very lovely thing!

No opinions, no insights, no soul searching in today's post. Just a rave about Steep & Brew's so good it should really cost more Tiramisu flavored ground coffee. Their holiday flavors are not on their website yet, but they're out in the retail establishments that carry the brand, and oh boy...if the aroma isn't enough to have you thinking of the fine Italian desert, the flavor will get you there. Not too strong, not too sweet, and no alcohol undertones...this is very, very good stuff. My only complaint - no whole bean options for this flavor. Oh well...all that much faster to get a pot going!

2007/11/08

I oughtn't be in pictures.

As a watcher of television and movies, the Writer's Guild of America strike is sort of interesting to me. As a writer who once thought she wanted to be a screen writer, it's more than interesting because these are people who share my art and dreams. A writer is a writer is a writer. We tell stories. It doesn't matter whether they're acted out or on the page, it's the same thing: putting words together to communicate an idea that wasn't there before. I may have realized I do not have the collaborative spirit that a screenwriter needs to have to succeed, and I really suck at not controlling everything my characters do, but still, I think I know what's in the hearts of people who are lucky enough to make things up for a living.

I find myself following the posts and especially the comments at DeadlineHollywoodDaily. It's the best place I've found to get an almost unbiased look at what's happening with the strike. With every day that goes by, I become more certain that writers do deserve to own what they write, every last bit, unless they chose to sell it free and clear. I also become less certain how people who are known for being introverts and independent thinkers will stick together long enough for a successful strike. I don't know any writers who like to spend a lot of time interacting with other people. Sure, we enjoy watching them. But presenting a united front? Artists? It's just not in our blood. And just how long can people who write because if they couldn't they wouldn't want to live be able to go without writing? I know they're working on stuff on their own, but a big group of those striking folks are used to getting positive strokes for what they do. Can they go back to doing it only for themselves? I know I couldn't. Good thing for me novelists are independent contractors.

2007/11/07

On procrastination......

According to the blog schedule I wrote for myself, I should be posting some original fiction today. To put it bluntly, I got nothing. Call it a block, call it negative inspiration, heck, call it anything you want - I'm just not writing. I am not without some self-discipline, however, so I headed over the best place for writing prompts and exercises I've ever had pointed out to me, Toasted Cheese. It was simply too perfect that the first item on their 2007 exercises archive was to make a list of the things I do when I should be writing.

1. Surf the net. Well, duh, huh? This wasn't much of a problem until two or three weeks ago, when I finally installed a wireless router in my house. My darling little iBook doesn't have an airport card, and the wired modem was on a different floor from my writing space, so when I sat down to right, I was not connected to the net. Now, because of changes brought on by my partner's work requirements, the wired modem sits right next to me. I'm hooked up all the time. And hooked is exactly the right word to use.

2. Bake. I justify it because it's certainly cheaper to make home made goodies and just because I'm trying to eat better/eat less doesn't mean everyone in the family needs to give up the chocolate and butter and sugar and all that other yummy stuff, right? And, I've always found that cooking clears my mind for new ideas. It's probably that "use a different part of your brain" thing. But, using the quiet alone time to do something that would be better served when the family is actually around to eat the stuff is a bad health choice and a bad use of my time.

3. Watch old movies on TV. This is another "but it helps me write!" lie I tell myself when I'm doing it to avoid work. Yes, I get some good ideas, considering my main character in one novel is over a hundred years old. I do need to experience his culture, and movies are a great way to see what he's seen change. But I show so little discrimination in what I watch, it's obvious I'm avoiding work, not doing something to move it forward.

4. Research for other people. I love to research. To avoid work, I'll volunteer to do research for other people's writing. I could spend the time doing my own research, but that would mean facing that I wasn't using the research, so I avoid that bit of self-recrimination by working for someone else. I can say I'm working, and I'm helping other writers and that's good, right? Not at the expense of my own work, and I damn well know it.

This little list would serve no purpose if I don't use what I've learned here to fix the problem, so here goes.

1) Unplug the Ethernet cord during a scheduled work time. Sure I could plug it right back in, but I do have some pride and self control. If I take a physical action to stop the addiction, I can see the problem and the solution. Sometimes you have to see the scars before you can stop cutting.

2) I'm not going to stop doing something I love to do for my family. But, I can get it out of my system in larger blocks, freeing up larger blocks for writing.

3) Use some of my research skills to figure out what to watch, when it's on, schedule the time, and then NO MORE!

4) Just say no. If I stop volunteering, I know I'll be asked. I can say no. If I'm not helping other people, I'll have to help myself.

2007/11/06

Books I'm looking forward to reading

The first is The Book of Other People, edited by Zadie Smith. Due out in mid-December, the book is a collection of character studies and short stories by some of the best writers working today. InTheNews.co.uk has the entire list of contributing authors as well as a sample and short review. Although I'm looking forward to new Zadie Smith, Dave Eggers and Andrew O'Hagan, as well as discovering some new good authors, it's the fact that the book focuses on character is what really excites me.

The second, which I really hope to get on CD from the library, is Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life by Steve Martin. I've never read an interview with Martin where I wasn't impressed by how intelligent and funny he is, and I'm curious how he got that way. I've been equally impressed with his writing, both the essays and the fiction, and that brings up a very funny alphabet book he's just had publishedThe Alphabet from A to Y with Bonus Letter Z! I'd not recommend it to actually teach the English alphabet, but if you're already confident in your letters, it's a blast to read. (Bonus link, Steve Martin and the illustrator of the alphabet book on NPR a couple weeks ago. Have a listen, have a smile.)

2007/11/05

Book Reviews

56. Famous Writer's School by Steven Carter - Told in letter form, this novel is actually a novel within a novel, a (how not to write) writer's guide, and a tiny bit psychological thriller/romance. That seems like a lot, but Carter fits it all together in the story of Wendell Newton's correspondence writing class. The stories of three students are told in three distinct styles, and through Walter's comments on his student's work, Carter shows how an author can twist, change and manipulate the same story into several different versions. Maybe Wendell's a better writer than he gives himself credit for being.

57. In The Woods by Tana French - A double mystery for police detective Rob Ryan. A young girl is murdered and left where she can't be missed in the very same area where Ryan was the lone survivor of a bloody crime when he was twelve years old. He was never any help in determining what happened to his two best friends, but working this crime helps jar a few memories. The relationship complications between Ryan and his partner are silly and unoriginal, but the families of all the murder victims make for a lot of very good back stories. This book is more interesting than your average police procedural, and far more realistic (if unsatisfying) in the ending.

58. How To Talk To A Widower by Jonathan Tropper - Chick lit written by a guy about a guy - who knew it could be so good? Certainly not me, and now I'm really looking forward to reading some of Tropper's other books. This one is about a twenty-nine year old coping with the loss of his wife. That includes taking care of a sixteen year old step son that it would be easier to be a friend to than father and getting back into the dating and sex routine. In the meantime, he's got a sister who's starting a marriage, a twin sister trying to end one, and a mother who's self medicating her way through her own tragedy. What I enjoyed most about this book was that I know people that are like many of these characters, but they're not nearly as fun.

59. Summer Knight: Book Four of the Dresden FIles by Jim Butcher - Definitely the most convoluted of this series that I've read so far, I'm still not quite sure who was on who's side in this book. However, the characters and the canon keep getting better and Chicago is still a factor in the story, and that'll keep me reading these books until the very end.

60. In Awe by Scott Heim - This is a dark, bleak, sad, heavy story of friendship between three outsiders in contemporary rural Kansas. Scott Heim's first book was Mysterious Skin, and somehow Heim has found a way to go to an even blacker place of love and hate than he did the first time around. The sense of place is amazing (I don't think there's a color or smell or sound that Heim can't bring to life with his words) and the characters are laid wide open, sometimes telling their own stories, sometimes through stories that they write down for Boris, a teenage boy with a doomed crush, to use for a writing contest. The other characters, Harriet, a widow not doing a very good job coping with the recent death of her only son; and Sarah, a close friend of the dead son and now a sort of mentor to Boris, both enable each other and Boris in a journey that can't end well. If this all sounds too depressing for you to read, it probably is.

2007/11/04

From this morning's walk....

The sandy soil of the region I live in does not provide the terra firma needed to nurture the trees that turn a variety of colors. For the most part, we get yellows, darker greens, and browns, with an occasional dark red from someone's pet maple. But that doesn't mean that a glorious autumn morning lacks for moments that make you stop and stare. This view is across a pond near my home.

2007/11/03

Getting my characters to talk

Anyone who writes will understand the frustration of being psyched up about sitting down to work and discovering that at least one of the characters you planned to work with is not speaking to you at that moment. Of course, the “right” thing to do is to plow on, make that character work for you. After all, they belong to us, not the other way around, right? My problem is I’m not a very tough boss. When I was an actual boss person, I was awful at telling people to do something they didn’t want to do. I was always trying to find ways to make them want to do the work, possibly even enjoy it, and often ended up doing the work myself rather than have an unhappy employee. I’m the same with my characters. I’m not good at making them do things or say things that don’t feel right, even though I know I can fix it in a later draft when they do come around for a more productive visit. I want them to be happy now. (Not that all my characters are happy people. Some are true bastards. One is in a terribly dysfunctional relationship and knows it. But, they’re in situations of their own making, and that's close enough to happiness for this fiction writer.)

All of this prelude is in explanation of what I’m about to post. It’s a tried and true exercise that I’ve found works well for me as a way to a character talking, because, they, like real people, love to talk about themselves. It's the well known Questions segment from “Inside the Actor’s Studio”. Today it also serves to introduce a major character from one of my novels in progress, working titled “Sucklimation”. (It’s not a vampire story. The word suck in the title refers to something lower on the human male anatomy. And it’s not porn, either.)

Michael (An artist going through mid-life crisis at the same time he meets a new muse who comes with more baggage than Michael wants to carry)
What is your favorite word?
Roundabout
What is your least favorite word?
Bottom line
What turns you on?
Finding that one tiny mark that keeps something from being perfect
What turns you off?
Too much hunger for anything. Passion is good, but when it becomes a hunger, that’s too needy for me. You could call it addiction, but that wouldn't be quite right.
What sound do you love?
Silence
What sound to you hate?
Chewing
What profession other than yours would you attempt?
Chef
What profession would you not like to participate in?
Chambermaid
What is your favorite curse word?
Bedamn. I don't use swear words.
If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
“You were right, it really didn’t matter what you believed, it was all about how you lived.”

2007/11/02

Cut the fat, cut the craving

Yesterday The Chicago Tribune ran an article critiquing three hot pumpkin drinks. At first, I was surprised that Starbucks, the place that put the drink on the map with their Pumpkin Spice Latte, came in with a very average "C". Last fall, I looked for excuses to be near a Starbucks so I could get "just one more" before they removed them from their menu, I loved these drinks so much. My autoload Starbucks card recharged more often in October and November than it did the other ten months of the year. I wondered if maybe the critic had gotten a bad drink. If he stopped at a licensed store, like a Target or in an airport, most likely he did. How could the drink I loved be rated so cruelly? And did I need to give Dunken' Donuts a shot?

Luckily, before I could grab my car keys, the caffeine monkey on my back jumped off long enough for me to hear the soft chattering of the good nutrition monkey. And he was reminding me, I'd had only one PSL this year, and I hadn't been impressed. Maybe they'd changed the recipe? No, he chittered on - you no what it was. It was always the whipped cream! A mediocre drink had cloaked itself in creamy, fluffy, thick....fat. When I committed myself to eating better, eating less, and moving more about five months ago, fat for the sake of fat disappeared from my diet. If a food can't stand up without garnish, what kind of food is it? Without the whip cream, the PSL was okay, but certainly no better flavor-wise than what I could make at home with the pumpkin flavored non-dairy creamer I buy at the grocery. Sure, it lacks the caffeine punch, but I can always drink two cups and still save money and fat.

I think that by allowing the whip cream to melt into his drink, the critic discovered exactly why it's there in the first place. You taste that lovely sweetness, and your tongue gets coated with animal fat, and you don't realize that the drink itself isn't a melding of flavor at all. It's pumpkin flavored coffee. Good stuff, but nothing to get addicted to.

2007/11/01

A Promulgation

Cool word, huh? It means "a public announcement". I thought something as big as the first day of Nablopomo deserved a special post, and special posts deserve special words. So that explains the grandiloquent title. And what is the post that's deserving of this verbosity? (These words breed like drosophilas....oops, did it again!)

I'm making a public commitment to submit a story to a contest. It's 3500 words, the deadline in December 21, and I have no idea what I'm going to write. Winning is not the target, it's not even on the map. What I need to do is to learn to let things go and I know I'll never do it without a deadline and fear of public embarrassment for failing to meet a goal with such a low bar of achievement, so here I am, promising myself and the virtual world that this time, I will do it.

Now, I only need an idea.

2007/10/31

Happy Halloween Reading

Each year, Halloween gets me to thinking about the broad range of actual horror within the horror genre. What scares one person can make another role their eyes. What gives me nightmares (anything with snakes on people) might be an amusement to another reader. The "best all time scary story" has got to be one of the most subjective lists anyone is every going to attempt. That said, here are my tops in three categories:

Non-Fiction: Helter Skelter, The True Story of The Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi - Bugliosi may go over the top of the facts in his attempt to paint the Manson clan as evil incarnate, but it wasn't a very high leap. This is the book that convinced me that very bad things can happen to good people by pure random chance.

Short Story: The Lottery by Shirley Jackson - for pure creepiness, I don't think this story can be beat. You have no idea what's coming the first time you read it, and when you do know what's coming the story is even more horrendous.

Novel: Ghost Story by Peter Straub - this is everything a scary story should be in my opinion. It's got the foreboding thing down pat, ghosts with attitudes, and characters who aren't so stupid that you don't care that they're being haunted. This is one of only a handful of books I've ever read that had me hearing things and sleeping with lights on in my own house. (Straub's website is one of the most fun sites by an author that I'm aware of, too!)

I'm sure there will be other "best" lists published today, but one of the better ones I've found so far is seven years old. As I don't think there's been any truly classic horror published recently, I'd recommend this list from CNN if you're looking for some more great scary recommendations.

2007/10/28

My P.O.V., literally.



Today I start the rebranding of my blog. Considering its rather narrow and infrequent content before, it shouldn't take much to change things around.

I've been reading some discussions on other blogs about mission statements and statements of purpose, something I know that is a great way not only for others to see what you're aiming for, but more importantly, so you know what you're aiming for. A lot of writing coaches preach the gospel of not only putting your goals in writing, but clearly defining the benchmarks that determine if you're working towards those goals or not. In the coming weeks, I hope to do just that sort of thing - get those plans and "I'm going to do X,Y,and Z before the end of the year!" out of my head and into the virtual permanent record of the internet.

But first (ohhh, I am so good at those "but firsts!"), I thought I'd share what my actual point of view is - my view from my desk. This is where I do 100% of my creative writing, and about 90% of my blogging. And in doing this, I introduce the theme of my Sunday posts: My P.O.V. Sunday will be a photopost day of things I've seen that affect me personally. My lack of photography skills will be further proof that words really are the correct medium for art, but I'm going for expression and maybe explanation here. Mundanity will occur more frequently than exceptionality, but that's why it's my P.O.V.

2007/10/24

Book Reviews

51. How to Pick a Peach: The Search for Flavor from Farm to Table by Russ Parsons - A fact filled skim of where and when our fruits and vegies are at their best, along with some classic recipes for showing off the flavors. As we become more aware of the high price of eating healthy (environmentally and economically), it only makes sense to try to get the most for your dollar and your carbon footprint. Unfortunately, Parsons just scratches the surface on all the types of food that fill the produce department and farmers markets in this country, perhaps because there's no getting around the fact that unless you live in Florida or California, you're going to have a very limited diet if you want to eat locally year round. If you are buying food that's travelled across the continent to get to your plate, Parsons tells you what to look for and how to keep it from turning to green mush in your refrigerator.

52. The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan - A family of two girls and two boys takes their minor quirks and turns into full blown disfuctionality after both parents die. Told from the point of view of Jack, the second oldest, the story covers about three years of a downward spiral that no one seems to notice, even though there is some interaction with world beyond their house. Jack feels no conscious judgment about what they have done and what they do, leaving it up to the reader to fill in the emotions. The book is only 150 pages long, but this early novel of McEwan's is what he writes so well - incredibly personal stories told with so much detail you can almost smell the characters. (Quick question for anyone reading this that has read the book - what was up with Tom? Was there a medical reason for his immaturity, or was it all psychological?)

53. Fool Moon: Book Two of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher - There's a bit of a "hollow man" thing going with Harry Dresden in this volume of the series, with him taking quite a beating (more than once) but still he keeps charging on. Well, it is sci-fi, right? Ignoring that aspect of the story isn't too hard though, because Butcher invents a whole new species of werewolf, one that doesn't have survival as its only purpose in life. These werewolves are environmentally and socially conscientious. Makes a lot of sense for an animal that's endangered and lives in a pack, no?

54.Sin In The Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys and the Battle for America's Soul by Karen Abbott - This book tells the story of the infamous Everlaigh Club, one of the most exclusive and well known brothels in America in the early 1900s. Intertwined with its story is the story of the two sisters who owned and ran it, and how reformers and politicians won the battle against sin in Chicago's Levee district. In an attempt to balance the story, there's a little too much about the "good guys", and quotes and antidotes are sometimes repeated for no reason, but it's a very interesting read if you're into Chicago history or the recent history of whore houses.

55. Later, At The Bar by Rebecca Barry - A novella about the clientele at a small town bar set in rural New York told as a collection of short stories makes for a very pleasant read, once you get into the book. The first few chapters had the feeling of a group of wacky original characters in search of story, but eventually the lives and the plots of the short stories begin to overlap, and you'll have finished the book before you know it. I'm giving bonus points to the author for having one of her fictional characters suffer the very non-fictional consequences of a life spent drinking like a fish.

2007/10/17

Man Booker Prize awarded, but there's better news than that!

The winner of the 2007 Man Booker Prize was announced today. It's Anne Enright's The Gathering, which I haven't read yet, but do have on order from my local library. It sounds like a good book and I'm looking forward to reading it.

But what's the better news? Everyone might end up being able to read all of the Man Booker shortlist books for free, online, if the Booker Prize Foundation gets their way. According to The TimesOnline, the good people at the foundation are negotiating with the publishers of the books to put the books, every single word, online for worldwide download. I think that's a very cool thing. Inevitably, there's always one of these books each year that doesn't get published in the US, and the current pound/dollar exchange rate has completely stopped my purchases of books from the UK. I hope that they're successful with this plan.

2007/10/15

Books vs. The Environment - Don't make me choose!

I love books. I love to read them, touch them, smell them. There is no me without books. As an author, I hope to someday be the cause of yet another real and actual book to enter the universe. But my love of all things book related comes with a twinge of guilt. These wonderful gifts of written communication that make the world what it is and what it will be chew up acres and acres of trees and gallons of petroleum in order to be printed. Then there's the delivering of the books, whether it be to a home or a store or a library. Of course this devouring of resources is for a good cause. And there are many, many consumer products that have a more negative impact on the environment. But I'll never be responsible for giving birth to one of those products. We could all switch to digital readers, but until someone invents one that has all the positives of a paper book, I don't see that happening. What's a writer and reader of print media with an environmental conscious to do?

Well, it turns out, an author can do quite a bit. Treehugger.com has quite an interesting list of things to ask for when it comes time to the nuts and bolts process of publishing a book. It doesn't have to be a choice between print or not to print, a book can make a smaller impact on the environment and still make its way into the hands of an appreciative reader.


Readers can do their bit too. Make your book purchases count. Once you're done, pass a book on. Locally, nationally or internationally, someone will want it. Adopt A Library.org is a great place to start looking, if you don't already know of an organization that can use your old books. Recent US postal fees have made shipping books internationally much more expensive, but there's a movement afoot to restore the M-bag shipping rate and let Congress know that getting books to those that need them might be a better use of funds than, oh I don't know....occupying a country that doesn't want us there.

If you've only got a few books that could use a new home, there's Bookcrossing.com, the "pay it forward" method of book recycling. You don't have to join the group to be a part of the process, but it does have some great hints on where to leave books, and it's kind of fun to track a book's travels.

Last but most certainly most, in my opinion, there's always the option of borrowing a book from your local library rather than buying it. You won't reduce the number of books printed and you're not supporting the author, but you can have the warm fuzzy feeling of knowing that the book you're reading is getting maximum use for its environmental footprint. I'm a huge supporter of public libraries, and even at the cost of someday selling a few less books, I'll always champion their cause. There are many things that come before me being wealthy and keeping the earth healthy is one of them. Besides, libraries buy lots and lots of copies of books. As long as my book is out there, somewhere, I'm published. I don't have to kill a rainforest to do it.

2007/10/09

Blog for the environment!

As you can see by the little banner at the right,

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day (or this one for when the other goes away)

I'm particpating in Monday's Blog Action Day. I may not add much to the number of people reading the posts, but it's all about single voices joining together, right?

2007/10/08

I have a new favorite quote.

Being a word person, I of course appreciate the magic of a well turned phrase. But beyond the perfectly arranged sentence, there are those phrases that hit you at just the right time in your life, and you take them to your heart and keep them there to use as nutrition for your soul. Then your life changes, or you change, and another quote comes along and replaces it because you can't live on one inspiration your whole life.

Here is my new mantra:

The miracle isn't that I finished.
The miracle is that I had the courage to start.


I heard this yesterday on television, while watching the Chicago Marathon. An amateur runner used this to describe how is able to run. You see, this man wasn't the conventional marathoner - he was a large man. And he used to be much larger. A few years ago, he'd gotten the usual bad news that comes to the morbidly obese, and decided to do something about it. (I identified with that too, I'll admit. Life is short, but I'm trying to not make it shorter with bad choices.) Along with a trainer, he took up running, and now this man, who by any standards is still obese, runs in marathons. Amazing.

Unfortunately, I did not catch the name of the man being profiled, but I did catch the quote, which I suspected wasn't original to him. I was right. The original smith of that perfect little "each journey begins with one step" phrase was John Bingham, a couch potato turned fitness and motivational guy. I haven't had a chance to poke around his website yet, but judging from the front page, he's a guy who understands that inertia can a seductive little bitch.

And that's why I love this quote. It sums up how hard it is to ignore all those little voices that stop you from doing whatever is it that you want to accomplish that you've never accomplished before. It is easier to not write. It is easier to not pay attention to what I'm eating. It is easier to stay at the computer than go out for a walk. Because doing what I'm doing is no risk, I know the results. Taking the first step, having the courage to commit to begin, not knowing if I'll succeed? That's what really takes courage.

2007/10/06

What not to say when you can't think of anything to say

I've been doing a lot of browsing around the world of blogs, trying to get some inspiration on what I'd like this blog to be. Right now, it's a resting place for my mini-reviews, but those could go somewhere else. What do I want under my own, real name? Ideally (which is based on idea, so I might have already made my choice, eh?) I'd like it t be about my writing life, but I'm just not ready to take that leap yet.

What I have found is here interesting post about what not to blog, from ProBlogger.net. I have to admit, lists sound like a great way to go, and it never occurred to me that you could blow your entire wad with one long list. Good to know.

What also never occurred to me is that the case of the blogger who was an overnight success in the blog would, then had nothing left to write about. That's equivalent to the one hit wonder rookie novelist, and I would guess just as rare. Does anyone really? make the front page of Digg the first time out, then have nothing more to say? Hell, at least talk about what that felt like...there's a whole new topic.

2007/10/05

More Shilling for NoBloPoMo


A LOLCat. Why did these things ever escape Livejournal????? I still think NoBloPoMo is a good thing, even if I question the artistic judgment of TPTB.

2007/10/04

I've Never Been Much Of A Joiner

If there is a genetic marker for being a hermit, I'm sure I have it. I am a natural loner, and most of the time, I'm quite happy that way. (I guess I wouldn't be one if I wasn't happy, would I?) But, as much as writing is a very solitary pastime, if I go on the way I am I am never going to finish anything. I need to put something out there, and I need someone standing over me to make me do that. So, as you can see by the little badge to the right, I have joined the November-National Blog Posting Month ...ehhh, festival? No, I know that's not right, but it sounds more fun than "You must post to your blog every single day for the entire month, no days off, no exceptions", doesn't it? I think so.

You might be wondering why I don't sign up for the Novel Writing Month wingding (those "happy names" are sticking with me). After all, do I not fancy myself a novelist? Unfortunately, NaNoWriMo carries a lot of negatives in my mind, none due to anything that it actually stands for. I think it's a great idea. I wish I could do it. But every year, I think about all the fanbrats that I know from my years in fanfiction that get involved, and I want no association with that group. Then, I think about how I'm serious about my fiction writing, and a forced march is not how I want to accomplish it. I know there are very talented writers who participate in NaNoWriMo, and I say Huzzah! for them. Me....I just can't join that one.

So, why NaBloPoMo then? Easy. It's not about the novel. It could be about the novel, but I can transgress. Transgress while I still am being more disciplined than normal. I may write some of my "writing exersices here", I may think out loud about something I'm having trouble writing, or I may go off on a rant about adjusting to my partner now being a telecommutor and how that's changing my creative life as well as my family life.

So, I've joined NaBloPoMo, I intend to complete the task, and I still keep a level of independence from falling "rules".

2007/09/25

2007 Books 41 - 50

41. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan - Of course it's well written and of course we know every detail that touches the characters of this story - it's Ian McEwan! But strip away the style, and all you've got is a fleshed out cliche. I expected so much more from this author.

42. Coaching The Artsist Within by Eric Maisel - Eric Maisel has written quite a few books on becoming a more creative person, and as this one was the only one my local Borders had when I had a gift certificate burning a hole in my wallet, I thought I'd give it a try. There's a lot of good stuff here, all coming down to creating not being a something we arrive at effortlessly. I didn't do the exercises, but for they seem like the sort that would produce results. I liked his ideas well enough I'm going to give a few of his other books a try.

43.Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen- A story of a man's early years with a tent circus and his last days in a nursing home. The circus story could have stood on its own as a really good read, and then there wouldn't have been the too fast and too "happily ever after" ending. As historical fiction set during Prohibition and the Depression, this book is well researched.

44. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling - There's a lot to like in this book, and a lot that could have been made better if Rowling had an editor that actually edited. Reminding myself frequently that I'm not the audience this story, I slogged through the overwritten, dragged out, OOC or just plain WTF? moments, and when all was said I done, I think this is a decent ending to a more than decent story.

45. Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje - Beautifully written story about....well, there's the part about the two sisters and the farm hand, and then there's the part about the sixteenth century French author. Other than one of the sisters being the one that researches the author, I'm not quite sure what the connection is supposed to be. Yes, they all suffer losses because of love, but that's an awfully common shared experience to base a novel on. But it is beautifully written, and the characters will hold your interest while you read the book.

46. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne (Audiobook read by Michael Maloney) - This is one book that is going to stay with me for quite awhile. It's not very long, but it packs an emotional wallop. At the center of the story is Bruno, a nine year old boy adjusting to his family relocating for his father's new job. Many critics and blurbs for this book think that to mention anything more specific spoils what is supposed to be a slow reveal of where Bruno is living, but honestly, if you don't guess the location and what his father's job is when the boy first mispronounces the name, you're just not paying attention. Michael Maloney's reading of the story put me off at first, sounding as if this were a child's story rather than a story from a child's point of view, but once the implications of what Bruno and his family are a part of, that voice is all that keeps you hoping for a happy ending.

47. Storm Front - Book One of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher - I caught most of the Sci-Fi series based on this series, and liked the combination of magic and private eye story. The books (or at least this first one) do an even better job of that, because there's more time to give back story and more time for complications to arise - in other words, more depth. There's also more of Chicago in the books, and that's enough to make me want to read the next in the series.

48. Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee by Charles J Shields - Shields almost pulls off an exhaustive "just the facts" look at the life and work of the author who have the world To Kill A Mockingbird. Occasionally, a bit of supposition sneaks in, but with the book based almost entirely on old interviews with Lee, letters written to or from her, or first person accounts it's left to the reader to decide the question that everyone wants to know - why was there never a second book? Before we get to that, though, there's plenty here about her life before she became a writer, how important she was to Truman Capote and "In Cold Blood", how her family reacted to her chosen profession, and last but not least, what she went through as a private person thrown into the public arena. I'd recommend this biography to anyone who aspires to be a published writer.

49. Grave Peril: Book Three of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher - I had to skip Book Two ( 15 library copies, all checked out - proof that SciFi should renew the TV series!), but it didn't lessen how much I'm enjoying these Occult/Gumshoe Mystery genre cross-over books. In this book, we find out a lot more about the vampires of Dresden's Chicago (there's one introduced in the last third of the book that deserves his own series of books); how God and religion work side by side with the Dark and Light Arts; and we meet what has to be Harry's worst relative - his Sidhe godmother. The plot is a little slow, covering the same ground over and over until Harry understands just what it is that wants him out of this world, but the characters are what makes this a "couldn't put it down" read.

50. First Love, Last Rights by Ian McEwan - A very early collection of short stories by Ian McEwan, and WOW! do they show what a gift this man has for writing about the darker side of humans. Incest, child abuse, murder - McEwan finds a way to relate all the taboos to deaths of people, animals, or dreams - nothing was too creepy for McEwan to explore. If you like his better known best sellers, I'd strongly recommend this collection to see where his roots lie.

2007 Books 31 - 40

31 .Pompeii by Robert Harris - A fast, light read that devotes the bulk of the pages to the day before Vesuvius erupted, but the bulk of the action is in the few pages that tell what happens after the volcano goes off. The historical information is interesting enough, but I never really cared about any of these people because they never were made flesh - they exist to tell the story, not be the story. Even real person Pliny the Elder suffers, as he only seems to be in the story to give it a touch more realism, not to have an affect on the people he comes in contact with. I also had a problem with the dialog. Sometimes it is anachronistic, sometimes there's too much of it, and way too often, it's dull.

32. Bittersweet by Nevada Barr - Bittersweet indeed! Beautifully told tale of the love between two women in the late 19th century and how they made a life for themselves, sometimes on their own terms, sometimes by bending the truth. The ending is sad (of course), but honest for historical accuracy. Nobody writes about the wilderness of America like Nevada Barr, giving the reader a sense of place that is a character unto itself.

33. Winkie by Clifford Chase - A "we lost our innocence on 9/11" allegory about a teddy bear that becomes real. And then "he" has a cub. And then he gets arrested for terrorism. And then he's charged with just about every crime you could charge someone with who dares to be different. And then the government makes a mockery of the judicial system and the press becomes a pawn of the government. And there's more, but it really must be read to be enjoyed. This is a very original and well written story about fear mongering, personal freedoms, but most of all, staying true to yourself.

34. Christine Falls by Benjamin Black - Benjamin Black is the pen name of Booker award winner John Banville . Writers say they use pen names when their other name is well known so that books in different genres can stand alone - there's no bleed over of expectations. In the case of Christine Falls, those expectations are there anyway, because the publisher marketed the book on the idea that it was writing it. Good call by the publisher, because if an unknown had written this book, it would have been a so-so first novel that got a little attention for the subject matter (young single mothers being taken advantage of by a creepy group that wants to make sure there will always be Irish Catholics) and would have been criticized for being a character driven story with dull, two dimensional characters. Better luck next time, if there is a next time.

35. The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollen- If you live in the United States and are responsible for feeding yourself or someone else, this is a must read book. (Outside the US, you'll probably still learn a lot, but the book is about the industrialization of the American diet.) Pollen follows various food chains from the beginning (really the beginning- how they evolved into something humans could turn into food) to the end, when we consume them. Along the way, he explores the different paths those foods can take, and how those paths might be changing our health and our culture. What could have been a book that shocks and alarms is instead a book that informs without being the least bit preachy or dull. As a species, humans can eat almost anything we want, but the book begs the question, should we eat anything we want?

36. Gertrude of Stony Island Avenue by James Purdy - An empty nest story told in the usual style of Purdy - lots of dialog that reveals very little, lots of internal dialog that tell the real story, and characters who seem determined to be unhappy. This one's a little different, in that Carrie, the mother who finds herself without a child shows more gumption than the usual female in Purdy's books. She's lived to other people's needs her whole life, and now with her estranged grown daughter gone and her husband dying, she begins to look for a life of her own. I'd recommend this only for people who are fans of Purdy, otherwise, there's just not much here.

37. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini - Okay, so I'm extremely late to the party on this one. It's been a best seller off and on for a couple years, it was on every "best of the year" list imaginable, but I had to be perverse and deliberately not read it. My loss. This really is a very good book, both as a tool to understand a part of the world that has been very misunderstood, and also because, for the most part, it's a darn good story. I thought the ending seemed forced into the "it'll all work out eventually" mode, but up until that point, I was truly engaged by this book.

38. Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier - If this had been Chevalier's first novel, it would have been pretty good. But coming after the almost perfect Girl With Pearl Earing, this story seems flat and forced. It's as if the author decided she wanted to do this time period, found a historical figure (William Blake) to write around, and failed to come up with an actual story that involved that character. The sense of time and place is good, but the story about the country family trying to make it in London goes no where. It's a narrative without a purpose.

39. Grave Writer by Mark Arsenault - A simple story that tries to blend the genres of thriller, mystery, and courtroom drama and doesn't quite make it on any level. The mystery is incredibly predictable, but the characters show some originality: A former prize winner crime writer, now obituary writer, draws jury duty and is assigned to a case that helps him work through his obsession with revenging his wife's death. Along the way, he almost realizes he's got a great kid and a handicapped father who's ready to make up for lost time.

40. Atonement by Ian McEwan - Part character study, part historical fiction, all good book, this is the story of two sisters and an old family friend who's lives are changed drastically when the youngest sister acts with her imagination rather than common sense. Especially good for writers and want to be writers, because at the center of this all is a fabulist that went too far with her story.