February 13, 2015
So yes, I have discovered Georgette Heyer and I’m working my way through the historicals. If I’m going to be writing historical romance, I want them to look like this. So far, I think every book of hers I’ve read has had a scene that I have to pull out and hang on the wall. This is one from The Grand Sophy:
He said stiffly: “Since you have brought up Miss Wraxton’s name, I shall be much obliged to you, cousin, if you will refrain from telling my sisters that she has a face like a horse!”
“But Charles, no blame attaches to Miss Wraxton! She cannot help it, and that, I assure you, I have always pointed out to your sisters.”
“I consider Miss Wraxton’s countenance particularly well-bred!”
“Yes, indeed, but you have quite misunderstood the matter! I meant a particularly well-bred horse!”
“You meant, as I am perfectly aware, to belittle Miss Wraxton!”
“No, no! I am very fond of horses!” Sophy said earnestly.
Oh my goodness. Isn’t it gorgeous?
January 30, 2015
I’ve been reading Stephen Sondheim writing about art, creating, and writing, and picked out these choice bits. From Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981).
p. xvii. “Music straitjackets a poem and prevents it from breathing on its own, whereas it liberates a lyric. Poetry doesn’t need music; lyrics do.”
(This is one of those places where I went, “Duh, of course, why did I never think of it that way before? And then I think, well, what do we do about some Renaissance poetry that was originally meant to be sung, but these days we mostly look at it without the music — and maybe we ought to go back to listening to it instead of reading it…and so on.)
p. xviii. “Mis-stressing is a cardinal sin, and as an occasional sinner myself, it drives me crazy.”
(I recently taught a sonnet-writing class, and my example of the great crime of mis-stressing was from the Fleetwood Mac song “Dreams:” “When the rain wash-ES you clean you know…” Jolts me every damn time I hear it.)
p. xxvi. “There is something about the conscious use of form in any art that says to the customer, “This is worth saying.” …. The more random and imprecise, the more writing becomes blather….”
(This, a million times this…)
December 3, 2014
Looking at the list of things I’ve read this year (I started keeping track a few years ago and really liked doing it), I discovered I’ve not read as much as I’d like. So I’m making an effort to read a bunch off stuff off my “to read” pile before the end of the year. And there’s some really good stuff out there. Not necessarily new books, alas — but isn’t that the great thing about books? They’ll always be there, and the better they are the longer they last.
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
This got a lot of buzz when it came out a couple of years ago as being really intense and brutal. It’s about World War II, so it went on my list, and if I had realized that one of the main characters is a woman ferry pilot in Britain, I would have read this sooner. Women pilots in WWII being one of my Things and all.
So, this is a massively great WWII spy thriller. Intense and brutal as I mentioned. But I also learned something about technique. **SPOILERS!** One of the narrators is unreliable — she’s writing a confession after torture, so of course she is. But you, the reader, come to believe her anyway in spite of yourself. It’s not until much later in the book that you learn that what she wrote really was mostly lies — because, you’re reminded, you the reader were not the intended audience of her narrative. The reader is merely a bystander, and the intended audience is the Nazi interrogator. The true extent of Julie’s espionage skill is revealed, and it’s astonishing. I’ll say it again: the reader is not the intended audience of her narrative. I mean it is, of course, because it’s part of the book. But the key to sussing out what’s going on there is remembering that Julie isn’t talking to you. This kind of blew my mind. So: unreliable narrator. Remember who the narrator is talking to, the one who the narrator is intending to deceive.
Yeah, this is a great book, but be warned, I sobbed through the entire last third of it.
Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years by Elizabeth Wayland Barber
This book has been on my radar since it came out, almost 20 years ago, back when I worked in the bookstore, because its author was one of my smartest, most excellent professors in college. Professor Barber very kindly let me take her Ancient Civilizations class as a freshman, when I really had no business taking it, not knowing a thing about college level coursework. But this was exactly the kind of class I’d come to college for, and I couldn’t bear taking all survey classes my first year. I wanted to delve. I was finally going to really learn new and amazing things.
And I did. It’s because I took that class I’m able to write stories like “The Book of Daniel,” which takes place in the heart of ancient Babylon. It’s why I insisted on figuring out what “For the Fairest” would look like in Linear B for Discord’s Apple. Really, in another life I should have been a historian or an archeologist. But I like telling stories. I walk into a museum and I don’t see the objects, I see the stories around them.
And that’s what Professor Barber’s book, which I have finally now read, is about. It’s about textiles — weaving, spinning, and all the technologies involved in those activities — but it’s also about history, culture, and what each of these things tells us about the other. It’s about how to take the artifacts and suss out the stories around them, and what the lives of the women who used them must have been like.
So why did I read this book now, and not at any other point since it came out? (And it’s wonderful to think that she was writing this when I was her student — I remember her talking about the oldest preserved shirt and the painted ceilings that match weaving patterns.) It’s because of the Neolithic stories I’ve been writing/want to write. I need to know where the technology was at and what the women of the time were doing — and we don’t know. There’s no written record, only the artifacts. But we can look at the artifacts and make inferences. And this book is a really great lesson on how to do that. It’s excellent.
And what all are you reading right now?
November 28, 2014
I hope you (that is, those of you who celebrate it) are having a lovely Thanksgiving holiday. I am hoping to spend much of this weekend reading.
This I believe: there should be more funny historical fiction. Historical fiction ought to be allowed to be funny, and not always dry and upright and serious. We’re not going to school, after all.
Right now I’m reading Georgette Heyer, and it’s hilarious. This is from The Black Moth, which takes place in the mid 18th century (think Dangerous Liaisons). This scene made me laugh. And look, it’s available on Project Gutenberg!
She glanced again at his averted head with a wistful little smile.
“Oh!” she murmured. “Oh!“—and—”It is very dreadful to be a highwayman!” she sighed.
“But surely you could cease to be one?” coaxingly.
He did not trust himself to answer.
“I know you could. Please do!”
“That is not all,” he forced himself to say. “There is worse.”
“Is there?” she asked wide-eyed. “What else have you done, Mr. Carr?”
“I—once—” heavens, how hard it was to say! “I once … cheated … at cards.” It was out. Now she would turn from him in disgust. He shut his eyes in anticipation of her scorn, his head turned away.
“Only once?” came the soft voice, filled with awed admiration.
His eyes flew open.
She drooped her head mournfully.
“I’m afraid I always cheat,” she confessed. “I had no idea ’twas so wicked, although Auntie gets very cross and vows she will not play with me.”
Oh my gosh it’s just adorable.
October 31, 2014
My partying and costuming will happen tomorrow. I promised niece Emmy pictures of my ball gown for the masquerade I’m attending, so I’ll post those, assuming they turn out.
In the meantime, ’tis the season for All Hallow’s Read, and the recommending of scary books. Some of mine:
The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells. My favorite scariest book, bar none. Seriously wicked.
The October Country by Ray Bradbury. Possibly the greatest horror/supernatural short story collection of all time. Includes the my all-time favorite story, “Homecoming.” (In other horrifying news, in googling info for this post I discovered that the first hit for “The October Country Homecoming” is a link to Cliffs Notes for “Homecoming.” For the single story. Dammit people, just read it, it’s not that long or complicated!)
Sunshine by Robin McKinley. This is truly the anti-Twilight. Girl lives in small town, girl meets vampire — and things do not go well.
What are some of your favorite scary books?
September 19, 2014
This week I have been:
- Reading submissions for the FenCon writers workshop.
- Reading the first 35,000 words of a novel manuscript so I can start working on it again after leaving it alone for a month.
- Reading the revised version of my Wild Cards graphic novel script.
- Reading a meaty technical thing on prehistoric archeology in Britain in Ireland for this story I’m writing.
- Reading the books that are due back at the library in a week.
I feel like I’m back in grad school.
September 12, 2014
This was a panel at Shamrokon — specifically, we talked about space opera and whether it was possible to have space opera that didn’t involve war or violence. We got a bit into the semantics of it all — like, “peaceful space opera” and “anti-war space opera” are not the same thing, because there’s quite of a bit of anti-war space opera — Haldeman’s Forever War and Bujold’s Vorkosigan series — that still focuses on war. And does “peaceful” specifically mean “lacking in violence,” or specifically lacking in person-on-person violence? For example, can a story focusing on a violent natural disaster be considered “peaceful” or are we specifically looking for stories that don’t rely on violence or trauma at all?
It’s a bit of a rabbit hole, trying to define this sort of thing.
Arguably the best part of the panel is when everyone, panelists and audiences, just started tossing out favorite books, authors and reading suggestions. I wrote a some down and am now posting it at the request of some of the panel attendees. A lot of the suggestions are classic older works, many of which I haven’t read, which is why I wrote them down. I don’t think I got everything, so if y’all want to add more, feel free.
Arthur C. Clarke (The Songs of Distant Earth and Fountains of Paradise were my picks)
“The Machine Stops” by E.M. Forster
Solar Clipper books by Nathan Lowell
Naked to the Stars by Gordon Dickson
The Way Station by Clifford D. Simak (All Simak’s work, some people argued.)
Soviet-era SF: Several people mentioned that Soviet SF of the 60’s and 70’s reads quite different that U.S. SF and isn’t as focused on war. Like, first contact stories tend to be about everyone being happy to meet each other and good things coming out of it. (I remember getting hold of an anthology of 70’s Soviet SF stories and reading that kind of story there.) We didn’t talk about Stanislaw Lem specifically, but probably should have.
Someone recommended a book that I think was called At Auberly Fair, but alas I didn’t write down the author and haven’t been able to find any sign of it online, so I’m not sure I got this title right. Can anyone verify?
Also mentioned: Andre Norton, Anne McCaffrey, C.J. Cherryh, James White, and my own list includes Douglas Adams and Iain M. Banks.
Space opera is experiencing quite a nice resurgence right now, but the books all seem to be war stories. Who are some more recent authors and novels that deal with space and space opera without telling war stories? (I suddenly think of Andy Weir’s The Martian, a new novel that was recommended to me by like five different people last month.)
What a lot of these suggestions have in common is they’re about building things or exploring places. The ideal of Star Trek’s Federation (but even Star Trek told a lot of war stories, what with the Borg and Dominion and such). They’re a bit utopian. And I think we all agreed that this is a good thing that we’d like to see more of.