On this blog

Monday, April 14, 2014

Finger-Pointing - A Pet Peeve

I was wandering through an online bookstore recently.  It's a good way to while away the time or, in my case, fritter it away.  I think bookstores are actually wormholes, if you're a Trekkie or a sci-fi addict.  You go into one of them as young as Rip Van Winkle at the beginning of the story, and you emerge to discover that hours, at least, have passed.  I don't mind.  I love sifting through books, finding associations, looking at recommendations -

If you like this...you're sure to like THIS...

Generally I find THAT interesting, at the very least.  This afternoon I was looking up an author who had written a book in an era that interested me (and that I have not used as a setting for anything I've written).  The title of one book of this author caught my attention, and I clicked on it, found other books by the same author, read the author's profile, and thought, Hmmm...  

There were quite a few books, and the writer's credentials were excellent.  I was mulling over buying one or another of the writer's works, just as an intro, with the possibility that I had found a new favorite.

...And then I saw that this writer had published a sourcebook on a subject that I found very enjoyable.  It was geared toward writers with a specific focus.  Some hints on what to do and what not to to, and a compendium of facts that would be useful.  

I was sold.  I was, as they say, there.  This was a book that I would find very handy, and I decided I wanted it in paperback rather than electronically, because I could flip through it, mark it up, dog-ear it and put tabs in it.  A lot of the information in there was familiar to me, but some of it was confirmation of what I had wondered about.  The writing style was good, too.

.  .  . But then, as I got into the text itself, I began to see how this author made points.

"In her book 'Mary's Little Lamb', Julie Jones has obviously done absolutely no research into sheep-culture because she has her sheep's fleeces smelling of ambergris rather than bacon grease, and any moron who knows how to research will know that sheep hang out with pigs and so would smell of bacon grease.  In fact, in Jones' book I find so many errors, I used up a pink highlighter underlining them all!  Research is Crucial!"

Well, yes, I thought.  I looked further.  Maybe this was a one-timer.

Not quite.  Every time the writer made a point, an example of the wretchedness of error was given - and the writer's name and that of the book were given.  The tone was scornful, belittling and gloating.

Those examples might have been appropriate for a review.  This book was a sourcebook, not a review or a survey.  The writers that the author was putting in the pillory were storytellers who were not pretending to be scholars or experts.  They simply had some (rather bad) mistakes in their books that could have been avoided with some research such as that provided by the author.

Years ago I read the private journal of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.  The title has been translated to 'Meditations', but I don't think it is accurate.  They were his writings to himself, a sort of journal.  The translator remarked on one feature that confirmed, to him, the essential kindness of Marcus Aurelius: when someone is mentioned as having done something excellent, his or her name is given. But if Marcus is speaking of wrongdoing, vice or stupidity, the person remains nameless.  I went back through the book and checked: the translator was correct.

Marcus had the right of it: he was a great man and a good one.  

But the writer of the sourcebook - 

Well, it wasn't a sourcebook.  The scornful rants made it something less.  The writer, who wrote books that required the sort of research featured in his or her book, was belittling the competition.  And that, in my book, is gauche at best.

I put it back on the shelf, figuratively, by backing out of the page, deleting my browsing history and going elsewhere.  I don't need to promote backbiting.

Pity.  The (non-sourcebook) books looked interesting, too...

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Celebrating the Small Things - April 4, 2014

Little things... 

This wonderful Friday blog hop is the idea of VikLit (visit her blog and enjoy it!)   This is our time to celebrate the small things that often go unnoticed.  It is smile-making, and perhaps more importantly, makes me, at least, look at things with new eyes and find wonders I had overlooked.

Join us!  Details are at the end of this post.

A novelist, Robert Raynolds, wrote something that made me think, and made me nod years ago.   I still agree.

He said: The wonder of life is composed mostly of trivia.

If you think about it, the things that make up the fabric of our happiness are things that, taken one by one, seem so small as to be unnoticeable.  And yet, like the princess in the fairy tale who could feel a pea through twenty mattresses, once one is removed, its loss can be felt.

So what am I celebrating right now?  

I have Miss Frida (my cat - see my post about her a couple weeks back, here) beside me, sleeping.  She just turned ten years old this morning (April 4).  Old love is, indeed gold love.

I am about to head for bed (it is 12:15AM in the eastern United States - and good morning to my friends overseas!), and I know it will feel good to pull the covers up over my shoulder, settle into my pillows and drift off to sleep.

And tomorrow I will be visiting my charming mother and going with her to look at a place she may move to, which can care for her as needed, and where she will have friends.  We'll squabble, of course, and visit antique shops and, if she'll let  me, bake some pies.

And I will mix her an 'Old Fashioned', a drink she loves.  I'm blessed to have her still.

What are you celebrating?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Heroes - Villains #1 Les Misérables

My first survey of characters will be from Les Misérables.  I have read the book in French and in English (and have run into some truly terrible translations – but that’s a note for another time), have seen the musical umpteen times and watched one movie based on it.  No, it wasn’t the one that came out in 2012.  I heard Russell Crowe’s singing and decided to pass.

Les Misérables is a sweeping story covering about thirty years, starting in Toulon prison in southern France, and ending  in Paris in 1832.  It tells the story of the ex-convict Jean Valjean as he makes his way through his life, pursued by the relentless Inspector Javert, who first encountered him in the prison.

Let’s look at them all:

Missing the Villains
Jean Valjean – the book might as well be named for him. I am surprised that it was not.  A convict who served nearly twenty years at hard labor at the prison of Toulon, one of the big installations for the French Navy on the Mediterranean, second only to Marseille.  Toulon was originally the base for the naval galleys, and they needed rowers.  Hence Valjean.  By the time the story opens, galleys are more or less passé.  His original ‘crime’ was to steal a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s family.  Continuing attempts to escape added to his sentence.    He has learned that the justice system is anything but, and having paid his debt to society, he is nevertheless still treated like a criminal.  He rebels.  The book chronicles his change of heart, his change of fate, and his dealings with those who had persecuted him.  

Javert – born in Toulon prison of a Gypsy prostitute and a galley convict, he was raised in the prison.  For him, the only way to escape the prison was to join the police.  He serves the Law.  It is not for him to show pity; his concern is that the law is upheld.  He met Valjean when the man was a convict.  He has a long memory.

Thenardier, Monsieur and Madame – husband and wife team.  They are swindlers, robbers, abusers.  At the start of the book they are in a smaller town.  By the middle of the book they are in Paris running a ring of hardened criminals involved in all sorts of crime.  Their daughters are prostitutes (pimped by their father, apparently) and their brothers were thrown out on the streets.

Fantine –a young  woman, seduced by a wealthy student and abandoned when she was pregnant. She entrusted her daughter to the Thenardiers to house and feed and love in exchange for a monthly payment while she worked in a city.  They used the child like a slave. Fantine loses her position and everything else when her ‘shameful’ past catches up with her and she descends into poverty, prostitution and, ultimately, illness and death.

Marius – a wealthy student and lawyer, involved with some friends who have revolutionary notions, which he has embraced wholeheartedly. He tries to do what is best.  He also falls in love with Valjean’s adopted daughter.

So, where do they fall?  Here is my take:

Protagonist:  Can you guess?  Jean Valjean.  The book follows his progress and the obstacles he encounters.

Hero:    Jean Valjean again, no surprises.  In addition to being the protagonist and main character, he is a very good man, the epitome of a ‘hero’.  His wholehearted turnaround to embrace his own reclamation is the watershed moment of the book.  Everything after that serves to challenge him and illuminate the way of goodness and heroism for him:  This song, where he hesitates between speaking the truth and returning to prison or keeping silent and allowing another to suffer:  Who Am I
He is true to form right up to the moment that he frees the formidable obstacle that stands between himself and a happy old age, and that is his …

Antagonist:  Javert.  He serves the law, and he is as unbending toward his own infractions as he is toward anyone else’s.  His focus on the letter of the law makes him determined to bring Valjean to justice.  In the play he seems to have a touch of religion and poetry (which gives us the splendid song  Stars
which hooked me for life). 

Javert is one of literature’s most famous suicides, and the cause of his self-destruction, after his rescue by Valjean, who had every reason to wish him dead, has been argued up and down for years.   I have my own theory... 

Javert is the antagonist.  Is he a villain?  
Not at all.

Javert was one of the obstacles that Valjean had to overcome.  Javert’s actions are nicely summed up in Valjean’s song when he frees Javert, who had been sentenced to be shot as a spy:

“You are free, and there are no conditions,
No bargains or petitions.
There’s nothing that I blame you for. 
You’ve done your duty: nothing more.”

And – going a little apart here, Javert’s suicide was his  way of fulfilling the law after seeing that there is something greater than the letter of the law and his duty.  The Law required that a lapsed parolee be returned to Justice.  Valjean had shown himself to be a good man.  The only thing that stood between Valjean and freedom or, if you like, the thing that would return Valjean to the galleys was Javert.  So Javert took himself out of the equation and allowed a good man to go free.  An antagonist, and an admirable man.  Not a villain.  
(The singer here, distinguished Australian actor Philip Quast, handles this difficult song beautifully.  Javert's Suicide)  If you are a fan of fine singing, there are two passages, one starting at 2:34 and one at 3:53 that are simply breathtaking.

Villain: The Thenardiers win this hands down.  They stink and squabble, murder and corrupt through the entire book.  In Paris they control the crime in part of the city.  Torture, murder, kidnapping, robbery, prostitution - they do it all.  In the musical they are humorous…  Until you listen to one of their songs, here:  Dog Eat Dog

Nice person:  Fantine.

Jerk:  Marius.  A good many people who watch the musical want to thwack him with something firm because he seems rather spineless and moons about like a doofus.   In the book he achieves ‘Jerk-ness’ (just ask Javert) when he sees Valjean leading Javert off to his supposed execution.  He had had dealings with  Javert, and had some hazy notion of maybe speaking up for him.  The sound of the shot puts an end to that muzzy train of thought.  And for the rest of the book he looks oddly at Valjean for having executed the spy, as he thinks. 
Let us remember that Marius was participating in an armed insurrection, firing upon government troops, inciting riot and revolution and rebellion and other such things.  In this case, he is the pot calling the kettle black.

I have run into a lot of people who have trouble not equating 'Hero' with 'Protagonist' and 'Villain' with 'Antagonist'.  As we have seen here, they are not necessarily the same.  By the same token, the male romantic lead can be an utter jerk, like Marius.  Or, at least, a spineless ninny who is prone to fuzzy thinking and snap judgments.

My next post will deal with Richard Adams' book, Watership Down.  Heroes, villains, deus ex machinae, prophets - you name it.  And it is about rabbits!

Insecure Writer's Support Group

Today is the first  Wednesday of the month, which means it is IWSG day. The once-a-month blog hop started by Alec Cavanaugh . IWSG = Insecure Writers' Support Group (click the words to visit)

We share our insecurities and support each other with empathy, sympathy or practical suggestions. 

Today is also the second day of the A to Z Blog Hop (which I am enjoying, but not participating in because I have a whole lot of other things that I have committed to including finishing an installment of a trilogy by Christmas, participating in Camp NaNo, working (my job keeps me busy) and other things.

This month I will share a graphic that expresses beautifully, at least for me, a writer's reaction to someone who:

  1. doesn't 'GET' your work.
  2. insists on saying so
  3. tells everyone you are a writer 
  4. tells everyone how many books you are selling (and they have no idea of the number)
  5. insists on sitting you down and telling you how the thing should have ended
  6. gets miffed when you take a half hour to write
  7. tells you what you should write so that you may make money
What do you do?


This is a blog hop with lots of good participation.  Go forth and read!