Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The autobiography of a reader

Thank goodness for the Brontë Blog -- it keeps me informed of all sorts of lovely Brontë-related things, including this book recently released in the UK:

How to be a Heroine: or What I learned from Reading Too Much
On a pilgrimage to Wuthering Heights, Samantha Ellis found herself arguing with her best friend about which heroine was best: Jane Eyre or Cathy Earnshaw. She was all for wild, passionate Cathy; but her friend found Cathy silly, a snob, while courageous Jane makes her own way.

And that's when Samantha realised that all her life she'd been trying to be Cathy when she should have been trying to be Jane.

So she decided to look again at her heroines - the girls, women, books that had shaped her ideas of the world and how to live. Some of them stood up to the scrutiny (she will always love Lizzy Bennet); some of them most decidedly did not (turns out Katy Carr from What Katy Did isn't a carefree rebel, she's a drip). There were revelations (the real heroine of Gone with the Wind? It's Melanie), joyous reunions (Anne of Green Gables), poignant memories (Sylvia Plath) and tearful goodbyes (Lucy Honeychurch). And then there was Jilly Cooper...

How To Be A Heroine is Samantha's funny, touching, inspiring exploration of the role of heroines, and our favourite books, in all our lives - and how they change over time, for better or worse, just as we do.

Sounds great, right? Here's a positive review from The Telegraph for your consideration, too. I hope this book will be available in the U.S. soon! (Oh, and Danielle kindly pointed me to a dicussion with Samantha Ellis on BBC's "Open Book" -- you should be able to listen through iTunes. Starts around 16:00 -- very jolly!)

I do love the idea of tracking one's development through the books one has read and re-read. (What would be a good term for this?) It brought to mind another book, Erin Blakemore's The Heroines's Bookshelf: Life Lessons, from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder, which I recommend. Also, there's Laura Miller's The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia, which I found to be a fascinating memoir/contextual study of C.S. Lewis' Narnia books, though I don't share Miller's depth of disillusionment.

Can you think of other memoirs centered favorite books? I feel like there should be multiple titles springing to mind, but . . . no.

If you were to write a reading memoir, which books would you HAVE to include? I blogged about this once in terms of which authors I "blame" for my being a writer, but here's a longer (though surely incomplete) list:

Bread and Jam for Frances, by Russell Hoban
Knight's Castle, by Edward Eager
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis
All the Laura Ingalls Wilder books
The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë
Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
Middlemarch, by George Eliot
Gaudy Night, by Dorothy Sayers
Possession, by A.S. Byatt
Ragtime, by E.L. Doctorow
I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith
The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros

How about you?

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Friday, January 24, 2014

Friday Five: battling the gloom

I have been wrangling with the opening of my new story. The first paragraph languishes at the top of my computer screen, summoning just enough energy to mock me but otherwise managing to be completely useless.

Is my writing fairy smirking, too?

So when I read these opening words of Jane Gardam's Long Way from Verona (recced by Michelle Cooper at her blog), I thought "Wow."

I ought to tell you at the beginning that I am not quite normal, having had a violent experience at the age of nine. I will make this clear at once because I have noticed that if things seep out slowly through a book the reader is apt to feel let down or tricked in some way when he eventually gets the point.

I am not, I am glad to say, mad, and there is so far as I know no hereditary madness in my family. The thing that sets me apart from other girls of my age -- which is to say thirteen -- is that when I was nine a man came to our school -- it was a private kindergarten sort of school where you could go from five upwards but most girls left when they were eleven unless they were really stupendously dumb -- to talk to us about becoming writers.

My second thought after "Wow" was . . . "Man, I suck."

And then all the writing/publishing/being-a-deeply-flawed-human ANGST washed over me, etc., etc.

Perhaps you know the drill.

In an effort to stop the flailing, I am going to make a list of inspiring/soothing blog pages.

1. This blog post from author Mette Harrison about "Failure."
"It’s really true that you can look at your life as a series of failures or a series of successes. The same life, the same facts, just turned different ways. I think that it’s also true that failing is just a way of giving yourself another chance for success."

2. "On a long run, on a long run," from Will Wheaton.
"I can stop being so hard on myself, and I can stop judging myself, and I can stop holding myself up to standards that are so high, even the people I’m comparing myself to every day would have a hard time reaching them."

3. "This is Not the End; It's the Middle," from dear friend Saundra Mitchell.
"I’m still working on a new book. I think it’s a worthy one. It won’t shut up and leave me alone. So can’t stop. I won’t stop. I’m not done."

4. And here's an old favorite: 12 Things Happy People Do Differently.

5. Also, baby animals!

So how about you? Any "go-to" websites/blogs/images/what-have-you to recommend for one who is feeling deflated and angsty? I'd love to see links in the comments! Perhaps I could make a "Masterlist of Anti-gloom."

In the meantime, don't be so hard on yourself, okay? And have a great weekend!

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

It's a fine day for a GIVEAWAY!

Last fall when I was promoting The Dark Between, I was fortunate to hang out with a bunch of cool writers. Some of them even signed books for me to give away! Learn more about the books below, and note that I'm also offering an ARC of Grim, a short story anthology featuring modern takes on classic Grimm fairy tales (due out in hardcover at the end of February). I would be happy to sign my story, "Untethered," which is based on the wee little Brothers Grimm story, The Shroud.

You could win ALL these books:

Inception, by Teal Haviland
Earthbound, by Aprilynne Pike
Elegy, Tara Hudson
Infinityglass, by Myra McEntire
The Dark Between, by Sonia Gensler
The Lost Sun AUDIO BOOK, by Tessa Gratton
Grim (the ARC), edited by Christine Johnson

It's easy to enter through Punchtab -- everything is explained below. However, if for some reason the widget isn't appearing, please provide your name and email addy in a comment and I'll enter for you.

Heck, let's make this giveaway INTERNATIONAL.


Thursday, January 16, 2014

January Tea and a Book: ALL PASSION SPENT

As hinted in a previous post, I read Vita Sackville-West's All Passion Spent, and it is perfect companion for tea! Now, as the title may suggest, this is not a novel of high action and blistering passion. (Heh.) Rather, it is the story of recently widowed Lady Slane, who finds herself surrounded by bossy children who want to micromanage the short time she has left on Earth. What does Lady Slane do? She decides to rent a house far from her children and spend the rest of her days in quiet contemplation. In her new setting she has plenty of time to reflect on the past, but she also makes new friends, including an eccentric millionaire who loved her from afar long ago.

Just so you know, the novel was adapted by the BBC in 1986, and this TV movie starring Wendy Hiller was nominated for four BAFTA awards. If you go here you can see a clip -- a clip that involves TEA! The movie is available on disc from Netflix or can be purchased from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Now, for our tea. Though Lady Slane expects to live in isolation, with only her maid Genoux as companion, she ends up entertaining from time to time:

The only things which touched reality were the routine of her life with Genoux; the tiny interests of that life -- the tradesman's ring at the back door, the arrivial of a parcel of books from Mudie's, the consultation as to Mr. Bucktrout's Tuesday tea, should they buy muffins or crumpets? (113)

As soon as I saw the reference to crumpets, I knew I had to make my own from scratch. I used a friend's recipe, which he texted as a photo (a bit hard to read!), but this recipe is very close. (And if you really want the one I used, I'm happy to email it to you.) The main thing is that you need to budget some time for the batter to do its thing. Also, you will need a griddle and some crumpet rings. For the latter I just used muffin rings purchased from Amazon.

The most important thing is that your crumpets should have lots of holes to trap the butter and honey (or jam, if you prefer). If the holes aren't forming, you probably need to add water to your batter.

My first few attempts were pretty ugly, but I added water, adjusted the amount of batter in the ring, and ended up with these lovelies. (You may prefer yours a little thicker.)

The result -- teatime with toasted, buttered, and honeyed crumpets! Mmmmm. For the tea I chose a flavored China Black -- Lychee Congou from the English Tea Store, which has a light, fruity quality to it that paired nicely with the crumpets.

Happy tea and a good book to all!

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Writing Room Envy -- Vita Sackville-West

Occasionally I come across a photo of an author's writing space and find myself overcome with delight and envy. Usually I just sigh at the hopelessness of ever having such a magical space, but from now on I will share these photos, maybe once a month, so that we can all study them for clues on how to make our own writing nooks more inviting and inspiring.

First up, we have Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962), who seems most notorious for having been Virginia Woolf's lover, but she also was a celebrated poet, novelist, biographer, and expert gardener. In the 1930s she and her husband Harold Nicolson purchased Sissinghurst Castle in Kent with the plan of restoring the gardens.

[click photos for larger view]

Vita claimed the Elizabethan Tower as her own personal space. Can you even imagine? Actually, for all the allure of Internet-free solitude in a tower worthy of Rapunzel, it's not hard to imagine the cold and damp creeping in. But I'm sure Vita had a servant build a fire, making it all toasty before she even stepped through the door.

She wrote in the small room (small?) at the top of the tower so that she could have views of the garden she'd personally brought back to life. Apparently this was her "sanctuary," and she rarely allowed others inside. I find this room so very appealing--it manages to look elegant and comfortable at the same time.

I could never replicate this look in my own office, but I have noted the rugs and flowers. I have a nice wood floor, but no rug. This must be corrected as soon as possible! And wouldn't it be nice to have fresh flowers on my desk from time to time? (A nice silk arrangement would be more practical, but would it be as satisfying?) And though I don't have much wall space, I could hang more pictures.

I've never read anything by Vita Sackville-West, but her writing space has inspired me. As soon as it arrives in the mail, I will dive into All Passion Spent. Perhaps it will prompt a "Tea and a Book" post? Stay tuned to find out . . .

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Thursday, January 2, 2014

It's 2014 -- shall we chat about goals?

We made it through another year!

Let's celebrate with tea and a good book. :)

I'm not going to do an extended recap/evaluation of 2013, even though I enjoy reading those posts from other folks. Instead I will list some goals for 2014:

1. Journal/blog more. This post from Neil Gaiman really got me thinking, and like him, I plan to blog more and tweet/tumbl/facebook less in the new year. I totally understand the allure of interacting with the world in 140 characters or less (or with photos, etc.), but I'm not that good at it, and it's making me feel strangely fragmented. Anxious, even. I miss the old days of Livejournal. I miss the details, the ruminating, both from my friends and from myself. In the new year, I hope to curb the number of quick blurtings and take more time to express thoughts and share deeper joys. It may be that no one has the time or inclination to read that sort of thing these days. But I'm not blogging to promote myself or create meangingful/practical content for users (or whatever the platform mavens say). My stories are my product. My blog is me. And maybe you'll come by and visit from time to time? I'll certainly make a point of visiting you!

2. Read more. I only read 50 books last year. I recall long stretches of time when I was stuck in a particular book, not making any progress, or just between books, and I felt myself getting out of the habit of reading. In those times, my imgination seemed to slow down, too. I must be more intentional about reading! And lo and behold, studies show that reading novels is good for brain function! (Thanks, C, for linking that article.)

3. Spend more time researching and planning my next story. I'm already a planner rather than a panster, but I still get in too much of a hurry somtimes. Since I don't have a hideous deadline hanging over me, I'm going to immerse myself in the historical context for my next story, and do some deep thinking about character and motivation, before I launch into the first chapter.

4. Be more like Elfrida. One of my favorite novels read in 2013 was Rosamund Pilcher's Winter Solstice. The main character is a warm soul who offers physical and emotional refuge to friends in crisis. Now, I'm too much of a cranky hermit to be 100% Elfrida, but I do want to be a better friend. A better listener. I need to be quicker and more adept at offering the same sort of refuge to my friends. And darn it, I could actually invite people to my house from time to time. Maybe I should start small, like with a bookish tea party? Something casual and joyful, with lots of yummies? Let me know if you're interested. :)

5. Be more conscious of living in the moment (and detach self from phone). This one is pretty self-explanatory.

What about you? I'd love to hear about your goals.

Useful stuff:

--Dr. Lisa has some great suggestions in The 3 R's of Successful Resolutions.

--Family lawyer Shel offers 10 New Year’s Resolutions for Couples (without using the word ‘weight’).

--And here is a procedure for dealing with negative thoughts/emotions (from Elephant Journal).

Let's have a HAPPIER NEW YEAR, friends!

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]