Friday, March 20, 2015

Celebrations 20 March 2015 - Skipping (Reading Essentials)

Welcome to the February 20 edition of the Celebrating the Small Things blog hop, started by VikLit and now run by Lexa Cain, our fearless new leader and her two wonderful co-hosts L.G. Keltner @ Writing Off The Edge
Katie @ TheCyborgMom

Today I am celebrating a wonderful reading (and writing) tip:

Skipping Through Books...
I have a terrible confession to make.   It has required a lot of courage on my part to take this step, especially on a public forum (more or less, since mine is not the most widely read blog by a long shot).   I don't know too many people who would willingly admit to it, at least not in this modern world where people take pride in reading every single word of a book.  Certainly, only one other person I know will admit to this particular practice.

The thing is, the practice has enabled me to circumvent unpleasant things and get to the meat of a book and then, armed with confirmation of the book's quality, go back and have another go at the unpleasant parts.  Since I have seen the whole of the book, I can now inspect its separate parts.

What am I talking about?


One of my favorite authors (C. S. Lewis) has this to say:
It is a very silly idea that in reading a book you must never "skip." All sensible people skip freely when they come to a chapter which they find is going to be no use to them. In this chapter I am going to talk about something which may be helpful to some readers, but which may seem to others merely an unnecessary complication. If you are one of the second sort of readers, then I advise you not to bother about this chapter at all but to turn on to the next.
Lewis was speaking of philosophical and theological subjects, but I have found that the advice is equally valid to those who are trying to plow through a passage of purple prose that threatens to derail them (Dickens has a lot of this), or who are having heavy going with a particular scene that has no apparent bearing on the rest of the book, (Melville's digression on the history of whaling in Moby Dick, for example) or the discussion of gardening practices in Lady Chatterly's Lover, per the reviewer in Field and Stream.

Just look at what not skipping does to your face!
I have gone skipping through most of Dickens, happily thumbing past his description of the nasty things that the law did to the fellow who they decided had killed the happily late Marquis de Saint-Evremond, and his various disquistions in all his books on society, injustice and the method a gentleman should employ while chasing a runaway hat on a windy day.

With this useful, and previously forgotten, technique, I am able to sit down, pick up The Pickwick Papers , and read what I enjoy, going back when I have more fortitude to suffer through enjoy  the parts I skipped.

That's worth celebrating, don'tcha think??

So what are you  celebrating?  (And have a wonderful weekend!)

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Insecure Writer's Support Group - March 4, 2015

The Insecure Writer's Support Group

If, unlike me, you do not live in the Land of Oblivia, and (like me)you are, or think you may be, a writer, the first Wednesday of the month is the time for the Insecure Writer's Support Group blog hop. This is the once-a-month blog hop started by Alex J. Cavanaugh .

IWSG = Insecure Writers' Support Group (click for the link).  We share our insecurities and support each other with empathy, sympathy and  practical suggestions. 
Visit the site - and visit the co-hosts:
Chemist Ken,  Suzanne Sapseed, and Shannon Lawrence!

It is time for admissions.  I've been mulling things over and maybe I can give some enjoyment and, perhaps, get some nods, if I make a confession or two.

You see, I have a fundamental problem with 'bettering' myself as a writer.  That doesn't mean I will succumb to it.  It does mean that once in a while I look up and find that pet...fear, if you like...staring me in the face.  It's like this:

We are supposed to 'hone our craft', to read books about our craft, to attend seminars regarding our craft, to participate on discussion boards centered about our craft.  We are supposed to speak knowledgeably about our craft, and use words that indicate our knowledge about our craft (you know...  The stuff that proves that you are knowledgeable): 
"Each book in the series has its own story that opens up the changes to the MC as the events of the book pertain to them.  In the first book, XX is unstoppable in his own sphere.  He is assured, capable, brilliant, unflappable...  But then a chink develops.  Someone loves him and he confesses, however fleetingly, the fear that he only admits to himself when he is drunk awake in the wee small hours of the morning with no one to hear him.  The second book sees the widening of that chink until that moment where the unstoppable, unflappable hero is brought to a standstill and realizes that it is he  who needs support and protection given by others . And the third book... well, that particular weakness is gone, but there is more.  Oh - and the megatheme that over-arches the entire trilogy is the relationship between XXX and YYY."
...And your listeners look at you and say, "Huh?" and write you off as a nut case.

All these things we are supposed to do to make ourselves better.  Listen, learn, think...  Admit it, they can be uncomfortable.

What if, for example, I crack open John Truby's book The Anatomy of Story, which I bought recently, and discover that I have been going about my writing, which I love, which gives me a reason to value myself, which has made of many a wasteland of a bad day a time of enjoyment and increase, all the wrong way, that all I do is wrong or wrong-headed or just plain stupid and inept, and I will need to scrap everything?  What if my attendance at seminars and workshops and critique groups leads me to the aghast realization that what I offer for others to read and enjoy not only will not sell, but will be judged laughable by "real" writers and thoughtful readers?

What if I conclude that I am a phony?  That I only have a dream, and that having it doesn't mean that it is any good?  What if I might as well scrap things and resign myself to holding a place in the might-have-beens?
The Tragic Fate of a Might-Have-Been
...We are, after all, talking about insecurities, right?
We can linger and peer at them and choose not to venture away from our own little patch of endeavor.  Goodness knows, the temptation is to just leave well enough alone.
The movie  Notting Hill has a moment that, for me, expresses the fear of failure:  Anna Scott, the famous star, has decided to submit an argument about why she should get the last brownie, which is supposed to be awarded to the person with the most pathetic story:

Anna: I've been on a diet every day since I was nineteen, which basically means I've been hungry for a decade. I've had a series of not-nice boyfriends, one of whom hit me. Ah, and every time I get my heart broken, the newspapers splash it about as though it's entertainment. And it's taken two rather painful operations to get me looking like this.
Honey: Really?
Anna: Really. [indicates nose and chin] And, one day, not long from now, my looks will go, they'll discover I can't act and I'll become some sad, middle-aged woman who looks a bit like someone who was famous for a while. 
The correct response to this internal dialogue is, as in the movie, 'Nice Try, Gorgeous.'  And you have a good laugh at yourself and get on with it.
That's what it's all about , isn't it?  Acknowledging your insecurities and getting on with it?  That's what we're all doing.
In fact, Truby's book is interesting and while I'm learning from it, I'm also nodding my head and saying, 'Yep.  I'm doing that.  Good to know!'  And I'm looking for a seminar or two to go to.
Now excuse me.  I have a megatheme to scrutinize. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015


I had the most interesting discussion with someone on the subject of romance novels.

"Come on and kiss de Girl"

Based on that discussion, I thought I'd see what others had to say about what is or is not a 'Romance Novel'. Some of the language seems to rule out LesFic or Gay Romance; I don't necessarily agree with that. A romance is a romance.

I write across genres, depending on the story. However, I have two romances: The Orphan's Tale and The Safeguard, both set in the 19th century, one in Paris, the other in 1864 Georgia. They are love stories; one ends with a kiss, the other with the heroine rising to stand, beaming, as her returning lover rides across the lawn toward her.

That said, here are some definitions:

This blog post from a while back has a definition I endorse:
A story about the growing love relationship between a couple that has an HEA ending. There may be other elements, but the love relationship and its progression should be the focus. Because of this, there should not be lengthy separations between the lead characters. There should be, however, an emotional bond with the reader that develops out of their story, and it doesn't matter whether the bond is laughter or tears or a strong sense of lust.
Another, quoted there, says:
A romance is just like any other type of fiction out there; it can be mystery, suspense, science fiction, historical, western, comedy, even horror. The only differences are that the story concentrates on the relationship between the lead male and female, and the book is guaranteed a happy ending."

RWA (Romance Writers of America) are a little more limited:

Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.

A Central Love Story: The main plot centers around individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as he/she wants as long as the love story is the main focus of the novel.

An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending: In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love.

Romance novels may have any tone or style, be set in any place or time, and have varying levels of sensuality-ranging from sweet to extremely hot. These settings and distinctions of plot create specific subgenres within romance fiction.
Finally, there is this summation:

A novel is generally considered to be romance fiction if:

1.A love story is central to the plot - The main idea of the story must be that two people who are in love must struggle through obstacles to their having a relationship. While their can be sub-plots (job, family, etc.), the love story must be the main element that drives the narrative. And...

I love you, I love you, I love you - I do!  But don't get excited:  I love monkeys, too!
2.The ending is emotionally satisfying and optimistic - The appeal of the romance novel for many is that the struggles of the lovers are rewarded and the risks they take pay off in a happy ending for them both.

A romance novel may be a one-off ("single title"), or it may be part of a series. Within the parameters of the romance novel, there are many romance subgenres, which yield endless variations in: 
*Timeframe - Romance novels can be set in the past (historical); the present (contemporary); or even the future. 

Most normal men would opt for armor...
*Setting - Whether the Scottish Highlands or a made-up universe or even Topeka, romance novels can be set anywhere. The story can take place during a family reunion or a murder investigation (which would put it in the romantic suspense subgenre).  

Sand in swim trunks: the essence of romance!
*Hero - He can be an "average guy" (as long as he looks better-than-average with his shirt off); a man in uniform (whether military, fireman... or kilt); or not even a "man" at all, as happens in the popular paranormal subgenre ("Hello, Werewolf!").
 *Tone - The sexual explicitness of romance novels ranges from demurely warm (the inspirational genre is generally not explicit) to hot and steamy... to super-sizzling.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Uh...  No.
The Sheik springs   to mind as a very good illustration.  Women were swooning over that book in the 1920's.  Having read it, myself, I have to say that it is an excellent illustration of The Stockholm Syndrome, and I do wish that Diana (no relation) had had the gumption to brain him and his spineless buddy with something very heavy.  Several hot-sellers from the 70's, in which the woman is repeatedly raped (and just loves it) do  not, to my mind, qualify as romances, but nevertheless fit the various descriptions, though (to my mind) with one or two of them, the HEA (Happily Ever After) consists of being stuck with the Nasty One, whether male or female, for the rest of their life.   

I think this is a topic that is not going to go away, and I tend to enjoy listening to the arguments.  Besides, when has the presence of romance, in whatever form, *not* lent spice to a story?


Friday, February 20, 2015

Celebrations February 20, 2013 - Winter, wolves, polar bears and cats with scarves

Welcome to the February 20 edition of the Celebrating the Small Things blog hop, started by VikLit and now run by Lexa Cain, our fearless new leader and her two wonderful co-hosts L.G. Keltner @ Writing Off The Edge
Katie @ TheCyborgMom

Howdy, Neighbor!  Where's the food??

Today I am celebrating the fact that my roof has not caved in and I have not encountered an angry polar bear.  At least not yet.  In view of the arctic temperatures southern New England has been *cough* enjoying over the past month, I expect a migration that may rise to the level of Attila the Hun's campaigns.  In fact, the drifts are so high, I have a strong suspicion that the pile of snow left by my terrible foe, the snow plow, especially by the mailbox, is housing a family of polar bears, or at least timber wolves (who are wondering, poor dears, when they may expect the caribou to arrive).
You...did say there were caribou here??

At least they are quiet.  By day.

I have learned that we will get rain on Sunday with temperatures in the 'forties, but I have every confidence in the blessings of nature and winter that the temperature will drop down into the sub-zero zones, allowing the wolves and polar bears to practice their ice skating.  The bright side is that I will have a source for financial gain, since I suspect people might pay money to see skating polar bears.  Or not.  It's cold.  However, if they do come to watch, and

they are as obnoxious as some of the folks who have come through here within the past several months, I truly believe that the bears, who are known to be somewhat crusty with pushy humans, will thin the ranks of the cretins and make life much easier for me, over all.  If I can train them and the wolves to scoop litter boxes my life will be enviable. 

The REAL snow queen!
Frida  and the cats can whip them into shape!  (note the pile left by the snow plow, in the back Left of the photo!)

So what are you  celebrating today?  (enjoy them, and enjoy your weekend!)

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Happy Valentine's Day! (A post from Frida)

Good evening, all.  I'm Frida, Mom's little cat (she has another, who is nearly 19 and a total doofus)  She has mentioned me once or twice, calling me a 'Writer's Block', which is not funny.

At the moment Mom is outside with a pickaxe:
Mom's Ice Removal Implement
 a snow shovel:
There  has to be a better way to exercise...

Paddock Boots (designed for winter riding)

Oh la-la!  Ceux sont tellement chic!
And an excellent vocabulary to use in addressing the Snow plows that come by and bury the driveway just as she has finished shoveling:

This truck appears to be named 'You Blasted STINKER!'

Since she is otherwise occupied, I will simply extend what I know are her wishes for a happy Valentine's day for all who celebrate it.  I regret that all I have is a Valentine she did of me and a friend.  But the thought is there.

And here it is: 

...oh, dear...  She just came stamping in, kicked off her boots and said something through her teeth about writing a fight scene!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Celebrations, February 13, 2015

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Welcome to the February 13 edition of the Celebrating the Small Things blog hop, started by VikLit and now run by Lexa Cain, our fearless new leader and her two wonderful co-hosts L.G. Keltner @ Writing Off The Edge
Katie @ TheCyborgMom

When I was fairly young, perhaps 16, I read a book by Robert Raynolds with the title The Sinner of Saint Ambrose.

Don't tell a sixteen-year-old this, but that age is rather young.  I thought I knew all sorts of things and have, over the years, realized that I certainly do not, which is a good thing.
The book which, if you ignore the rather wretched cover, was excellent - a tapestry of far-flung travels, the crumbling Roman Empire, Saint Augustine before he mellowed, Stilicho the Vandal, and other historic characters told in a human way while somehow keeping their legendary feel.  The narrator's voice, overlying it with the feel of a man thinking back from very old age, gave the story an almost dreamlike feel... "Ah yes...  This is how it was...  I remember it well..."   I do think I need to purchase another copy and reread it.

I underlined all through it, every time something struck me.  There was a lot of green ink (my favorite color at that time) throughout it.  My favorite quote from author Robert Raynolds was:

The Wonder of Life is Composed Mostly of Trivia.

I'm not sure why I underlined that at the age of 16 years.  Maybe I had a flash of perception.  At any rate, I think Mr. Raynolds was right.  Those things that make our lives the most wonderful are the ones that come to us day by day.  The driver smiling at me as I inch my car forward to allow her room to go into a parking lot.  The pre-dawn sky that I see through oak branches.  The taste of a cup of hot tea first thing in the morning.  The sudden weight of my 19 year old goofball of a cat as he lands on my lap, curls up, and blinks up at me with myopic affection, his white whiskers against his black self lending an air of dignity that is most misleading.

Friday afternoons, watching the work week wind down and realize that I can open my eyes at 5:30 AM (when I usually get up) smile, and turn over for another couple hours' sleep.

So I'm celebrating the trivial things as well as the Work In Progress that is drawing near completion, the prospect of doing a beta-read this weekend, and the new recipe I found for Vietnamese-style grilled pork (which I may use with hanger steak...).

...and I should also add that I am finalizing my post responding to two 'Very Inspiring Blogger' awards.  I had to wait till I stopped blushing.  The response and the tagging have been fun.  Wait and see!

So what are you  celebrating today?  (enjoy them, and enjoy your weekend!)

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

IWSG February 4, 2015

The Insecure Writer's Support Group

The first Wednesday of the month is the time for the Insecure Writer's Support Group blog hop. This is the once-a-month blog hop started by Alex J. Cavanaugh .

IWSG = Insecure Writers' Support Group (click for the link).  We share our insecurities and support each other with empathy, sympathy and  practical suggestions. 

Visit the site - and visit the co-hosts:
Gwen Gardner, Dolorah, Sarah Foster, and M. Pax!

This month I'm talking about 'Clone Wars'.  Not the Star Wars type.  I mean the fear people have about copying others.  Bec0ming too much like others, losing their sense of who they, themselves, are.  Getting overwhelmed by something that causes them to lose their voices.

We are told that writers need to read.  That writers who do not read end up shriveling up and blowing away.  So we must read.  Read a lot, read widely, read to enjoy, read to learn, read in order to learn how to write, much as an apprentice used to sit and watch the Master make a masterpiece.

And at the same time, we are cautioned against plagiarism.  Now, I am absolutely against plagiarism.  I have seen some shocking examples lately from groups that expose plagiarism.  Often, someone has cut and pasted something from fanfiction.  You can't do things  like that.  It is illegal, immoral and stupid.  But what of the person who encounters a way of looking at things, a way of describing things, that he or she embraces wholeheartedly and seeks to imitate.  Not copy: imitate.


But what if you find something so overpoweringly fabulous, you end up lost in it, overwhelmed by it,  transfixed by it to the point that you can't say what you want to say, feel as you think you ought.  You are stunned, almost like someone who has fallen in love at first sight.  I remember the almost stammering reaction I had to the magnificent end of the third episode of Star Wars  (not the prequels - don't get me started on them).  I felt breathless.

So...  it could be bad.  But it could be good.  Okay, I get that - but why is it so important?  What could I possibly gain from that - and what do I stand to lose?
What do you stand to lose?
I think of the great books I've read, some of which are actually acknowledged to be great books. Watership Down, Eagle in the Snow, The Lord of the Rings, The Rose of Old St. Louis (not a classic book, but an indispensable), The Dean's Watch, Green Dolphin Street,  and many more.  They made me see things with new eyes, to stand back and evaluate how I felt about tings, what moved me.  Some left me breathless.  With each of them I felt as though I were looking at my world through new eyes. 
Did I feel overwhelmed?  Not really.  I think it was more a feeling of finding what was right, what was true. 
I found a quote I love:
"Expose yourself to excellence, and you will be excellent. Expose yourself to mediocrity, and you will be mediocre. Read the right books, watch the right shows, eat the right foods and engage with the right people. The rest is just a distraction from excellence."