10 Books Meme

There’s a meme going around FB, which is not the best venue for it, but you’re supposed to list 10 books that have stayed with you and why. They don’t have to be ‘great’ books…just ones that became important to you.

1) The Bible, assorted authors

Read and reread this one many times. Other than the religious aspects (which I take seriously), there are tons of stories in here, stories that are archetypes for our culture’s literature, that show up again and again in many variations. (And some of them are pretty shocking, I must say!) I have been told before that I’ve used biblical allegory in my own writing, although I didn’t do it intentionally. It’s just there in the backdrop of our culture’s mind.

2) Mrs. Frisbee and the Rats of NIMH, by Robert C. O’Brien

2nd grade. I still have my copy. This was the first book I recall LOVING and reading over and over.

3) The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabth George Speare

Also 2nd grade. My first romance novel. I didn’t realize it until years later, but that’s why I loved this one so much.

4) Watership Down, by Richard Adams

6th Grade. Mrs. Joyce read this to us in class, and I fell in love with it–the worldbuilding, the mythology, the characters. I bought my own copy and carried it around all the way through Jr. High until my choir teacher, Mr. Prestwood, gave me a hardback copy. (He also worked at Waldenbooks…yes, even then, teachers weren’t paid enough.)

5) The Red Pony, by John Steinbeck

High School. This stuck with me more than any other piece of required reading because of the intensity with which I HATED THIS STORY. I disliked a large percentage of the required reading, and was indifferent to other stories, but this one…..BLARGH! It’s eighty pages of a horse dying and a boy feeling guilty over it.

6) The Gate of Ivrel (plus The Well of Shiuan and The Fires of Azeroth), by C. J. Cherryh

College. Wow. Just wow. I developed my life-long love of Science Fantasy while reading this trilogy, and sorta fell in love with Nhi Vanye. I also loved that the POV character was the less-powerful one in the situation.

7) The Pursuit of the Screamer (plus Circle, Crescent, Star and Summerfair), by Ansen Dibell (Nan Dibble)

There were some amazing concepts in this series which really stuck with me. They weren’t original so much as the combinations of the concepts really clicked for me. Unfortunately, hardly anyone has ever read this amazing series. And other than some media tie-in for Beauty and the Beast (which I have not read), this was all the fiction the author published. I love, love, LOVE these books.

8) The Mirror Crack’d, by Agatha Christie

This book introduced me to Miss Marple. I adore Miss Marple, mostly because she’s not a modern kick-ass heroine. She’s an elderly woman who uses her superpower of collation to recognize personality types and make conclusions based on the tiniest bit of data she’s overheard. Seriously, the woman is brilliant. I’m hoping to be her in my old age….

9) Downbelow Station, by C. J. Cherryh

This is not one of my favorite of her books, so why is it here? Because it’s the book that taught me to push through. I read the first 100 pages of this book, got hopelessly tired of all the info coming at me, and put it away up in my closet. A few months later, I pulled it down and decided to muscle through. Well, I hit the interesting stuff on page 104 or so, and read the remaining 600 pages in one sitting. WOW. It was a rollercoaster from there on out.

One thing I learned from it is that complicated plots require a ton of information dropped in. Often that’s a turn-off, but sometimes it’s worth it.

10) These Old Shades, by Georgette Heyer

Different people will all have different opinions on which is the best Heyer book, but this is the first of hers I read, and the one that I’ll always go back to. It’s also one of the first Regency Romances I read (along with French Slippers by Deborah Chester), which formed my love for that period. I actually prefer Heyer to Austen (I know. I’m wrong), and I’ve even read all of Heyer’s mysteries.

So that’s it. If I have to limit it to 10, then that’s what I’ve got.

I’m not going to tag anyone, because I don’t approve of peer pressure, but if you want to do it, feel free to put a link to yours in comments below.

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The Traveling Dragon

Personally, I’d rather stay in my lair. I’m one of those people who like being home. I like being comfortable, and having my stuff around me. Travel is inconvenient, in many ways.

But it’s also a rare chance to expand your horizons, learn how other people live, and gain experience that you can’t read about. When you stand in a place you’ve only seen in pictures before, you smell the air, you grasp the vista’s size and scope. You learn things that people don’t include in the Wikipedia article. You talk to the people, and hear their opinions about things. (Our hostess in Cardiff was from China, and had strong opinions about immigration. Our host in Oxford told us to visit Blenheim, noting that someone who’d grown up in a place like that -would- believe they could defeat the Nazis.)

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That’s why I do it.

But travel gets harder with every year. Not only because of airline cutbacks, but also because I’m just getting older. The meat suit needs more tender care. It’s creaky and whiny.

We learn to compensate. I’ve finally figured out how to keep my feet from swelling on a plane (turns out the culprit is stretching out my legs.) I switched to a lighter piece of luggage this time, only to learn that not having a rolling bag along made things tougher. I brought two pair of shoes this time–of different design, which prevented the blisters I had last time. I tried to think of the the challenges in terms of how a character might endure them (because that’s what writers do.)

We rented a room in another person’s house on this trip–not someone we knew–a house that’s 160 years old. I was reminded how uneven the floors of old houses are. How they creaked at night. We discussed how the maintainance on a house like that is never-ending. How thick the old stone walls were.

We stayed on a boat (a Dutch barge) for part of the trip. It wasn’t like a boat at sea, but still a firm reminder of how slippery the deck gets. Water is a precious commodity on a boat. Ironic, huh? The boat swayed gently at night. Creaking. Because it was moored next to a grassy bank, there were spiders. Nothing like walking toward the head at night and into a spider web. I think that another boat bumped into us late one night, shoving us against the bank. A little scary.
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We both got sick while there, which added to the constant rain in Oxford made us a little miserable. I need to remember what that’s like. I need to recall what it was like to take a real shower once we got to a hotel, and get warm and dry…

So I’ll try to remember everything, writing down the details. Because that’s what writers do…

#SFWAPro

Welcome to England, or Never Be Warm and Dry Again

The last time we were in London (Aug 2005), it was 80-85ish degrees and sunny. We wandered Hyde Park, visited important buildings, museums, and sights. We thought it was wonderful. (Yes, I even thought it might be nice to move to the UK one day.)

This time went a bit differently. London rained on us, Cardiff was chilly, and Oxford? Well, it pretty much looked like this:
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Art by Eva Czarniecka

The artist captures the weather better than I could ever do with a camera.

The frequent rain left us with wet shoes, wet socks, wet pants. Added to that, our clothes wouldn’t dry out when washed due to the cold and humidity. Drip-dry travel clothing hung in our London hotel room for days without drying. We didn’t even bother to try drip-dry while we were in Oxford–we just found a laundrette with dryers. But our clothes were never completely dry. When we dressed in the mornings, it was chilly enough that we could no longer be sure if we were putting on cold garments or damp ones. It was uncomfortable; even with umbrellas and rain ponchos, you just can’t stay dry.

I was finally seeing the misty, rainy England that I read about in books.

Now, I suspect that if I lived in England, I would have ways to deal with the rain. I would have spare shoes and wellies and better umbrellas. I would be able to change clothes and get warm. But as a tourist, I had only two pair of shoes with me and three pair of socks. Three pair of pants, the hems of which were all soaked. When we reported to Heathrow, it was with luggage filled with damp clothing. Ick.

I’m a girl from the desert. I don’t like being cold. I don’t like being wet.

But from a writer’s perspective, it -was- a helpful experience.

Soldiers on the move have to endure this for weeks or months. Travelers have to live with being wet. As a person who lives in a house in Oklahoma, I don’t ever have to put up with continually being soggy, worrying about whether I’ll rub a heel raw, or develop blisters and sores. I just got a tiny taste of that on this trip, and hated it.

So perhaps I learned from it. I would hope so.

(One of the things that was funny about this was that I was reading the “Captain Lacey” mysteries by Ashley Gardner wherein Lacey HATES the weather in England, and I completely sympathised with the man. Ugh!)

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The Writer and the Non-Exclusivity of Ideas

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A writer friend and I have been talking about ideas in fiction. It’s true that there are no new ideas in fiction. Everything has been seen before. Authors are simply reassembling ideas formed out of the soup of our culture’s zeitgeist, trying to achieve some novelty via interesting combinations, and hoping that good execution will please readers.

But we often hear mistaken assumptions about our ideas: You based this character/plot/style on…

Now, I had a critiquer read “The Nature of Demons” and tell me, “You based him on Dr. Watson, didn’t you?” And the answer was YES. I actually read up on Dr. Watson while writing the story, and tried to give my main character the same “I am superior because I am British” air that Watson had. It was intentional.

As writers, we sometimes do this. We mimic a character, a writing style (I tried to do Richard Henry Dana in “A Hand for Each”), or a plot element.

But more often, we’re NOT doing that. We’re writing something that’s original to us.

I’ve even tried my best to assure I didn’t copy something that I knew was current. For example, when I wrote “A Hand for Each”, I had to sit down and watch all the Pirates of the Caribbean movies to make sure I wasn’t coincidentally repeating something that had been in one of those. (That’s called suffering for your art.) This is one reason it pays to be well read in the genre. It helps us to know what’s already been put out there.

And yet…

It’s entirely possible that whatever a writer wrote sounds like something else that’s been seen before–without any relationship existing.

When I used to read reviews*, I was often flabbergasted by the things people told me about my writing. Or sometimes I laughed. I’ll put some examples down here.

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1) More than one reader told me that “A Hand for Each” was an origin story for Davy Jones. It wasn’t. The story is set almost 100 years after the first historical mentions of Davy Jones. But people looked at the main character’s name and assumed that I’d meant to imply that.

In truth, I wrote the story with filler names and only chose names after it was done. The POV character’s name, Jonas Davies, came about because I love Erskine Childers’ The Riddle of the Sands in which Arthur Davies solves a mystery. Jonas came from the fact that I was watching Season 6 of Stargate. I needed a Welsh-sounding name to go with Davies, so I just stole Jonas. And thus my protag became Jonas Davies.

It had nothing to do with Davy Jones.**

2) I’ve been told that my main character in “The Stains of the Past” is a Mary Magdalene character.

Well, I can see that, although I certainly never put that there intentionally. It could have come through my subconscious but it’s such a well-established character archetype that it’s hard not to have a few of those pop up in your fiction.

3) One of my favorites: Having “Whatever Else” described as “sexually subversive.”

I’m still baffled, years later. I don’t even know what that means. I certainly never set out to write a sexually subversive story. I kinda see how the critiquer got there, but it’s really not the point of the story. Go figure.

(This is my story that no one wants to publish. I love it, but it will probably never see the light of day. :( )

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The truth is that readers will see what they want to see.

They’ll see reflections of what’s currently in the mainstream (like the recent post comparing Outlander to Battlestar Galactica–yes, there are similarities, but they’re two separate entities.)

They’ll see archetypes that are well established or plot lines that are common. Seriously, in these post-Campbell days, every plot seems to be the Hero’s Journey, doesn’t it? (Even if the author has never read that book.)

They’ll see things that the author never meant to put there, a result of either the reader’s bias or the author’s.

And sometimes the reader’s just thinking too hard.

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So if you really ‘got’ that subtext in some author’s work…if you caught that one character that’s modeled on another…or if you noted how the plot is just like the plot of book X…

…please keep in mind that you could be right.

Or wrong.

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*I don’t read my reviews anymore, but that’s a story for another day.
**I didn’t even see the connection until it had been through a first reader who said ‘the name is brilliant’. It took me 3 days to figure out what she meant.

#SFWAPro

Office Space: The Art Edition

I picked up some new art within the last few weeks, and I finally got some of it up on the walls in my office.

Here’s my first batch, a couple of photos by Julie Barrett, another by an artist whose name I’ve forgotten, and a limited edition (the clockwork ladybug) from Dr. Julius Roundbottom
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My second batch is over the computer (hence the typewriter) and includes a couple of pieces by Doc Savage, a bulletin board with picture scraps for a book that’s on the back burners, and one piece (pinned on that board) by Kiri Moth that happens to capture one of the first scenes in that book.

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And here’s a set of “Mrs. Frisbee and the Rats of NIMH” illustrations also done by Kiri Moth, for which I sorely need to buy frames.
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This wall has a couple more pieces by Doc Savage, as well as that closest, which is an imprint by Mark Roland–monochromatic, so it’s difficult to photograph–and the newest, a watercolor from Tabitha over at Not Yet Read.
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And here I have another bulletin board that has, yes, another unframed piece by Kiri Moth, and below that, the gorgeous painting by James Galindo that was published with my story “Taking a Mile”.

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It’s taken me 15 years to accumulate all these, and I dread moving to a smaller office one day where I’ll have to pick and choose. And taking an objective look, I need MOAR FRAMES.

Social Media: What am I doing out here? (2014 version)

I admit  it, I consume more social media than I should.  Yes, it does subtract from the time I spend writing, but it’s also my connection to most of my friends. My writer friends are scattered to the four winds, so this is the way I stay in touch with my world.

But if you want to know what I’m doing in social media land, here’s a summary:

 

FaceBook

I have both a personal FB and an Author Page. The author page basically repeats this webpage. The personal one is for my daily use. I post about my dogs, my coffee shops, and various other stuff.

I will friend people if it looks like we have some friends in common. If I glance at your page and we don’t seem to have anything in common, I won’t.  If you post a whole slew of angry political stuff, invite me to play games all the time, or post pictures that I DO NOT want to see, I’ll block you.  In my opinion, FB is for fun, not angst.

Quick note: FB is NOT a reliable way to contact me. Unless you’re someone with whom I talk back and forth regularly, it’s likely that FB will stick your message in the Other File, which I only check once every few months. Also, if you message me and I check status on  my phone, my notification of your message disappears….and I may not recall that there ever was a message. So it’s not all that reliable…

 

Twitter

I’m on Twitter pretty regularly. This is actually a better spot to message me, because the notification doesn’t disappear if I’ve checked on my phone. Like most people, I tweet stupid little stuff, and RT things that my friends tweet. I will, hopefully not too often, pimp my own work.

I will follow most people if their tweets look interesting–and if I perceive that they’re actually communicating with people. I will not follow someone who’s following 11K people, because they’re just there for the numbers. I won’t follow you if all you do is tweet to promote your book. I won’t follow you if you’re tweeting politics or spewing hate against someone. And I will probably unfollow you if I note that you’re keeping track of your followers and unfollowers.

 

Tumblr

My Tumblr is my newest social media platform, and I rather love it.  I rarely post stuff on my books or any deep thoughts. I’m posting pretty pictures, just ones that I like. Some are pictures of Portugal. Some are foxes. Some are just pretty scenery.

Weirdly, I’ve hidden some of my friends there because I find that my friends all tend to repeat each other. So if a good blog post is going around, it may show up 10 times in my Tumblr feed. For me, Tumblr is all about the pretty pictures, and the occasional Pacific Rim or Sleepy Hollow  fan stuff.

 

Pinterest

I have a Pinterest account, which I occasionally recall that I need to feed.  If it were a hamster, it would be dead many times over.

This is basically a place where I stick things I want to remember.

Hey, but I have a Foxes page! If you ever need cheering up, looking at pictures of foxes is a good place to start.

 

Caveats:

1) Any and all of these will fall by the wayside if I have a big deadline coming up.

2) If you have to reach me, email is always more reliable. See the ‘Contact Me’ page for guidelines.

3) Just because you’ve emailed or messaged me, that doesn’t mean I’m obligated to answer, or will answer promptly. I often ignore my phone when it rings or my front door when someone knocks (that’s usually just UPS dropping off a new book, anyway.)  That’s not a personal slight, I promise. It’s just that I get busy working in my fantasy world, and lose track of the real one.  I used to have a file marked “In the Morning” where I put emails and such, but found that I kept delaying them until the next day….and the next….and….(see #1 above)

 

Also, I’m a member of several groups, including Carpe Libris and Novelocity, both of which I update with spotty regularity. And I’m a member of a few closed groups, like Codex and SFNovelists, which have public aspects, but you can’t get into the private forums.

 

Anyhow, that’s where I stand. I have some other social media platforms (LJ, Google+, Quora, YouTube, and others) but they’re mostly ignored. The above are the places that you actually can find me ;o)

 

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