Sunday, January 30, 2011

I Swear

Because I'm a word nerd, one the things I've been noticing lately are the words that an author chooses for a character to swear with.  These are the words that come out of a character's mouth when emotions are at the highest, when the action is peaking.  They can add period authenticity in historicals and subtly reinforce elements of a paranormal world.  In a contemporary, they can serve to peg the character into a class, region, or ethnicity.  Swear words have a lot of power and they tell you a lot about a character. James Lipton likes to ask his famous interviewees what their favorite curse word is.

The book that sent me down the path of this post is Meljean Brook's The Iron Duke, and Mina's favorite oath: "My blue heaven." It just fit so perfectly into the world where the skies are clouded with smog; and there's this one moment when she sees an actual blue sky, possibly for the first time:
Rhys watched her face as she stepped down from the car, and saw that her first glance was in the same direction as everyone else who journeyed from London-- up, where the sun hung high in the brilliant blue sky, rather than shining like a dull coin embedded in a shark's belly.  Her lips parted and her face softened, and Rhys vowed that he would see that expression again.
I swear I'm not that old, really, but I knew that "My Blue Heaven" was the name of a song; I thought maybe from the 40s or 50s, but when I looked it up, the original is even older than I thought -- 1927.  Not quite the right era, but it does kind of evoke the motorcars and early era of technology that fits in with the steampunk aesthetic, yes? No? OK, maybe that's a stretch


.
I don't know, maybe I'm reading too much into it, but it's just one of those little authorial choices that seems to add so much to the story, at both a character and world-building level.


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



Then came Anne Stewart's, Reckless, which opened a bit shockingly:

"Move yer bleedin' arse," Miss Charlotte Spenser's maid, Meggie, said to her.


The contradiction of formal title and the rude language and particularly that the maid says it to the lady, is a great hook and pulled me in to the character quickly.  Unfortunately, it ended up being a bit gimmicky as the whole schtick about the "Bluestocking Ladies" learning how to swear was dropped right away.  It was a decent introduction but it could have added a lot more to the story if the author had wanted to work it a bit more.

But... I can't let this one drop without observing that it can't possibly be a coincidence that it's exactly the same line that Eliza Doolittle lets loose with in My Fair Lady, can it? (Well, technically, Eliza says "bloomin'," rather than "bleedin'". Still.)


********

I already talked a bit about how Kim Harrison uses the phrase, "By the Turn" in her Rachel Morgan/Hallows series.  I found it a bit heavy-handed (though that could be a cumulative effect of multiple books) and it lacks the delicious subtle layering of Brook's "my blue heaven," BUT it does reinforce the otherness of the Hallows world and the cultural magnitude of the event that "outed" all the paranormal beings.

********

So tell me about your favorite use of profanity in fiction - how do authors use it to make a point about their characters?  For you writers lurking out there, feel free to jump in with any of your own favorite examples.

And finally, I leave you with this, just because it's hilarious (it's heavily bleeped but you might want to have headphones on if you're at work or have rugrats in earshot)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Thursday Thirteen, Edition 23: Stuff I Do


Thirteen Things I Do Other Than Read, Blog, or Read Blogs....

  1. Work. I have a good job, and it's fairly consuming. Add in the commute and it's a good 10-11 hours/day.
  2. Parent. I have two kids in grade school.  They require a certain amount of upkeep -- food, clothes.. you know how it goes.
  3. Girl Scouts. I was a leader for 4 years. This year I've stepped back from leading but we still do a lot of Scout activities. (Want cookies? Call me).
  4. Quilt- it's actually been quite a while since I did anything on this, but I finally got going on a project for my niece who'll be two in May.  Hoping to have it done by then.
  5. Scrapbook - photos, papers, stickers, albums, oh my.  I swing both ways: traditional paper and digital. 
  6. Internet forums - when I want to kill 10 or 20 minutes online, this is where I go.  I'm a member of several different once and they each have different "personalities."  I've made a lot of friends this way over the years --I've been a member of one of them for going on 13 years!
  7. Facebook... need I say more?
  8. Social director - I manage a list of folks that all used to work together for happy hours every other week.  It's a fantastic bunch of people and has evolved into a fairly powerful networking group--we genuinely know, like, and look out for each other.
  9. Other networking - I keep an eye on LinkedIn and try to make it a point to jump in with something that's hopefully helpful to a contact, usually around 3-4 times per month.
  10. Begin home improvement projects.  I have trouble finishing them, though.
  11. Housekeeping.  Oh man, do I hate this.  And I do a lot less than some people (mymomcoughcough) would consider a bare minimum.  But I haven't figured out how to avoid entirely, so.
  12. Drink coffee.  I do live in Seattle, after all.  The first time I ordered a drink with more than two descriptors, I had a funny little moment, but I got over it.  Double-tall non-fat vanilla latte, if you please.
  13. Play puzzle games - if I can't read, I might be playing sudoku or spider solitaire, or this facebook game called Combine that I have found oddly addictive.

But really, after #1 and #2, reading is my first love and I'd always rather be doing that than *almost* anything else.  So even when the blog is quiet, you can assume that if I'm breathing, books are getting read.



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Monday, January 24, 2011

Bloggiesta 2011 - Finish Line


OK, I'm a little late with this but I was all worn out from the fiesta yesterday.

Here's the original list with updates
  • Write reviews. Drafted/outline two reviews; completed one for publication this week.
  • Write backup posts for a rainy day. Drafted two thinky posts
  • Write that great post idea from three months back.  See above; also noted some ideas for future and uploaded to google docs.
  • Create template posts for your future reads. This doesn't really work for me since my format is very loose.  I did do one for the Thursday Thirteen posts that includes the header pic and the footer text.  It took me less than 10 minutes.
  • Clean up tags & blogrolls - Blogrolls-DONE; labels not so much
  • Fix the favicon - DONE
  • Work on any specialized projects (Friday Fantasy Feature) - not so much
  • Put out invitations for guest posts for above - Opened up some dialog with fave fantasy bloggers
  • Master the art of the feed reader and blog subscriptions. Researched a bit.  Did not really have any "a-ha" moments.
  • Make business cards (eh, maybe).  Nah.
  • Back up your blog. Nah
  • Participate in some mini-challenges. I read most of the challenge articles but didn't really do the exercises.
  • Learn more about blogging, read great articles, get inspired. Yes!  thanks fellow participants!
  • Make sure you have properly copyrighted your blog and know what to do when somebody reposts your material. Sooo, as near as I can tell from the decidedly non-actual-legal advice I found on the challenge and elsewhere, your own material is copyrighted whether you put the special little symbol in your footer or not; registering with the copyright office (for a fee) may give you more protection. Opting out of that for the moment. 
  • Help other bloggers, answer questions, share your expertise (let’s face it – this is the best part of Bloggiesta!) Yes!  I can't really say "Done" because how can you be "done" with something like that? but I did chip in my 2 cents here and there while I was hopping around.  Good thing there was a challenge for this because I am known for being shy and retiring online.
========================================
Things I did that I didn't expect to:
  • Added social networking buttons to the post footer template.
  • Went down a rabbit hole researching fancy ways to organize labels on the Blogger platform; decided to leave any major re-org for another time, but collected a list of reference links.
  • Discovered a book with associated challenge that sounds interesting (The Heroine's Bookshelf).
  • Thinking about glomming onto the Sunday Salon meme.
  • Updated my "About" page.
 ========================================
So all in all, a very productive weekend.  I managed about 12 hours over two days, perhaps a bit more if you include the bloghopping (loved the participant feed reader!)

Many thanks to Natasha at Maw Books for hosting and organizing; I found the whole event to be a great motivator for those "tune-up" items that are easy to procrastinate on.

    Sunday, January 23, 2011

    Bloggiesta 2011 - Almost Done

    Today's been almost a bust.  I completed a post for later this week and meandered around some other blogs.  Added one to the blog-roll.  It's been a puttering kind of day.

    I'm clearly not going to make it to 20 hours.  Maybe I'll get a second wind after dinner.  *yawn*

    Right now, I'm thinking: siesta.

    Bloggiesta 2011 Check-In

    Halfway Mark
    It's really more like 2/3s over, but since I didn't start until today, I'm 1/2 done.

    How am I doing?  Not too bad.  I've spent about 8 hours on Bloggiesta, interrupted by a shopping trip for craft supplies (school project for the kid, quilt project for me) and a school play-- just spectators; my girls had several friends performing.

    I pruned back my blogrolls for those that are no longer active (*sob*); updated the "About" page and debugged my favicon.  Sites that provide free hosting for .ico files seem to come and go; my favicon has been MIA for awhile now.  I found a new hosting site for it (IconJ) and it's working again.  Took awhile though; and I fiddled with my ISP account for a bit to see if I could host the file myself but it was too much of a PITA to set up.  Of course, I made that call after spending close to an hour on it.  Grrr.

    Those are the visible changes; for the rest I have drafted about 4 upcoming posts to varying degrees of completion and jotted down ideas for 3 more.  I also checked out this year's mini-challenges -- unfortunately none of them really resonated with me so I don't know if I'll participate.

    Research
    I poked around on a couple of different stats counters.  I've had people tell me that my numbers look too low, but two different programs are showing approximately the same numbers, so *shrug* I guess I'm what you call a "boutique" blog, lol.

    I did some research about ways to categorize/group labels in Blogger -- I'm very jealous of the two-level organizational capability that Wordpress has.  Ultimately I decided not change anything at the moment because my options (that I could find) appear complicated, difficult to maintain, and yet still not quite what I want.  Toying with the idea of moving all my author labels to a page though, since the label list is getting long and I'll probably always have a lot of authors with only one link.

    Hopping
    Outside of my own blog content, I've hopped on over to a couple of random Bloggiesta-ers to check out what they're doing, and left a couple of comments.  I wish I had time to visit everyone, it's such a candybox to have a couple hundred blogs to choose from -- you never know what you're going to get, but your odds are good of finding something tasty!

    Friday, January 21, 2011

    Bloggiesta 2011

    Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It:
    A blog-improvement marathon.  Hosted by Natasha at Maw Books, this is an event that she has run a number of times.  Officially it goes from 8 am today (ie, NOW) to 8:00 am Monday morning.  However, there is flexibility -- not many of us can expect to start right at that moment or to work continuously all weekend.  Click on the emblem in the sidebar to see the announcement post with the rules, sign-up, and suggestions.

    I did this challenge about a year and half ago, in the summer of 2009, and my goals are going to look remarkably similar now as they did then.  Thing is, some things you can do once and forget them; some you need to pay constant attention to, and others, well, you can let them go for awhile but it's good to spruce them up every now and then.  The Bloggiesta challenge is good motivation/inspiration for me to do that kind of maintenance and  maybe to look at my long-term strategy.

    This Year's To-Do List
    Because Natasha has gotten so good at these lists, I've done a cut and paste from her post (credit where it's due!), deleted the ones that I'm not interested in or have completed, and modified a few to suit me:
    • Write reviews.
    • Write backup posts for a rainy day.
    • Write that great post idea from three months back.
    • Create template posts for your future reads (ie: title, images, linking, tags, etc,) so you can open up, write review and post without being bogged down with technicalities (interesting idea, no?  worth a try!)
    Notice that these all pertain to making it quicker and easier to get good content out of my head and into the blog.  I have a notion that I might outline a few ideas I've had -- I could write them later but there are a few ideas I've had knocking around for quite a while.  What I've learned after three years of blogging is that at this point? if I don't do something pretty soon, they'll fade away.  These ideas don't need more mental percolation time to gel; they need butt-in-seat, hands-on-the-keyboard time to make it happen.

    Some housekeeping type things, to do in between the heavy-duty content generation:
    • Clean up tags & blogrolls
    • Fix the favicon
    • Work on any specialized projects (Friday Fantasy Feature)
    • Put out invitations for guest posts for above
    • Master the art of the feed reader and blog subscriptions.
    • Make business cards (eh, maybe).
    • Back up your blog.
    • Participate in some mini-challenges
    • Learn more about blogging, read great articles, get inspired.
    • Make sure you have properly copyrighted your blog and know what to do when somebody reposts your material.
    • Help other bloggers, answer questions, share your expertise (let’s face it – this is the best part of Bloggiesta!)
    I'm not going to have much time to work on this today, and I have some other stuff to do here and there over the weekend, but I figure I could probably get in 15 or 20 hours.  Let's call 20 the goal.  I'll be checking in here and there, and be sure to visit Natasha for the linky -- do some bloghopping and get some ideas for your own improvement program.

    Thursday, January 20, 2011

    Thursday Thirteen, Edition 22: 2011's Most Anticipated Paranormals






    In the January tradition, here are 13 paranormal/urban fantasy/fantasy releases this year that I am eagerly awaiting.  What's on your list?


    1. Lover Unleashed, J. R. Ward
    2. Demon Marked, Meljean Brook
    3. Magic On The Hunt, Devon Monk
    4. Kiss of Snow, Nalini Singh
    5. Naamah's Blessing, Jacqueline Carey
    6. Pale Demon, Kim Harrison
    7. The Tears of the Sun, SM Stirling (unofficial)
    8. Disillusionists #3 (title tbd), Carolyn Crane (unofficial)
    9. Vampire in Atlantis, Alyssa Day
    10. Forgotten Sea, Virginia Kantra
    11. Eternal Kiss, Laura Wright
    12. River Marked, Patricia Briggs
    13. Shady Lady, Ann Aguirre



      Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

      The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others’ comments. It’s easy, and fun!

      Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

      View More Thursday Thirteen Participants

      Sunday, January 16, 2011

      2010 New Author Round-up

      Every Year, Jackie at Literary Escapism hosts a New Author Challenge, the spirit of which I like very much.  However, I'm not very meticulous about posting links etc. so I often don't sign up for the challenge formally.  But I think it's worth talking about -- it's very easy to stay in that circle of known authors, especially with everyone writing series these days.  Sometimes it helps to have a nudge to try someone new.  So I fell pretty short of the challenge goal of 50, but here's my round-up.  I'm sure there are a few I've missed, as I'm also not especially meticulous about documenting what I've read unless I also happen to review it.  (I read lots and lots of books that I don't review).

      In no particular order:

      Jill Sorenson
      Louise Allen
      Diana Rowland*
      Jennifer Rardin*
      Kate Emerson
      Cherie Priest*
      Barbara Monajem
      Wendy Markham
      Carolyn Crane
      Keri Arthur*
      Elisabeth Naughton
      Gayle Williams
      Shaba Abe
      Vicky Pettersson - no reviews yet but really liking the Zodiac series
      Devon Monk* - wait, really? no reviews on this one either?  love, love loving it
      Tracy Madison
      Laura Wright
      Nancy Holzner
      Courtney Milan
      Meredith Duran
      Christie Ridgeway
      Charles de Lint
      N. K. Jemisin

      *The starred authors are ones I was inspired to try by Jackie's various "mini-challenges" that she held throughout 2010.  I find it much easier to commit to a monthly theme than a whole year-long goal!

      Tuesday, January 4, 2011

      Forged: A Random Word Association Post

      Forge, as per dictionary.com:
      –verb (used with object)
      1. to form by heating and hammering; beat into shape.
      2. to form or make, esp. by concentrated effort: to forge a friendship through mutual trust.


      It's just such an evocative word.  It makes me think of fire and heat and sweat and dark smoky places lit with glowing orange; of  mysteries and caves and middle earth; of volcanos and lava and brute force.

      "To form by heating and hammering; to beat into shape..."  That works on so many levels, doesn't it?  The raw material is tested by fire, pounded on by great force -- and emerges stronger, less brittle, able to be honed and sharpened; potentially deadly.

      Then there's the notion of forging on, forging ahead, forging a path -- strong phrases with strong imagery; the implication of challenging barriers.  You never hear about someone forging a retreat.  One who forges is almost by definition a hero, right?

      This post was inspired by the title Hellforged by Nancy Holzner-- which I'm liking; and which reminded me of Demon Forged by Meljean Brook which I totally loved.  It almost makes me want to go hunt for titles that use the word "forged" (except as it turns out you need to really enjoy reading World of Warcraft books if you want to go that route).

      Is there a powerfully evocative word that's been catching your attention lately?

      Monday, January 3, 2011

      Maybe This Time, by Jennifer Crusie - Review

      To Borrow A Bandwagon
      One of my favorite bloggers is running a blue light special on Crusie reviews, and since Crusie is also one of my favorite authors, I figured I'd hitch a little ride.  Hopefully Jessica won't mind too much.

      "Maybe This Time" is a great title for how I was feeling about Crusie when I bought it.  She used to be one of my all-time favorite writers; I just couldn't get enough.  But... well, I haven't loved everything.  The collaborations with Bob Mayer were OK, but they weren't the Crusie stories I loved.  And to be honest the two three-way collaborations with Anne Stuart and others were pretty much stinkers.  So I was pleased to see that this was a new solo act, and I thought, "maybe this time..."

      It sat on my shelf for a little while though-- it's a hardback, and I usually don't drag my hardbacks back and forth on the commute, so they wait for the perfect weekend moment.  And what could be more perfect than Christmas Day in the afternoon, with my kids sleepily playing with their new loot, after the chaos settled?  A little gift to myself, as it were.

      The Characters
      Now, I've been keeping up with Jessica's reviews, and she is pulling so many little tidbits out of Crusie's style, and I'm sitting here going, oh yeah, that, and that, and that's in here too... Andie, the heroine, is a slightly scattered high school teacher who is kind of anti-corporate and yet she'd make a heckuva CEO or drill sargeant:
      "Mrs. Crumb, I do not want to have to fire you, but I will if you cause any more problems.  You will keep the kitchen clean and you can supervise the Happy Whosis*, but you will not tell any more stories about ghosts, and you will not make any more veiled threats, and you will either assist me with the cooking or get out of my way, and you will answer any questions I have without muttering.  Is that clear?"

      *the housecleaning service Andie hires

      Oof. It's certainly clear to me.

      The hero is Andie's workaholic lawyer ex, whose job drove them apart. As the story of how they broke up gets filled in, you see pretty clearly that both of them failed each other and neither is a true bad guy.  His impression of Andie after ten years: "She'd looked so good, warm and round..." (that was for Jessica). Crusie is pretty famous for her characters and dialog, and while MTT is chock full of her trademark madcap secondaries, it's really more of a plot-driven story than I expected.  As a result, North, the hero, is adequate but in a sense is kind of just along for the ride.

      Interestingly, Andie doesn't get a BFF in this story, which traditionally has been one of the best parts of the Crusie book.  Instead, she's the centerpiece of several secondary relationships, and I'm afraid that the one between her and Alice, the little girl, kind of steals the show from the romance.  Andie also especially sparkles with Lydia, her former mother-in-law:
      "If you find out what's wrong with Carter and fix it, if you bring these children to Columbus, you'll have the full force of the Archer family behind you."

      "Okay," Andie said, taken aback.

      "But if you break my son's heart again, I'll rip out your liver and fry it for breakfast." Lydia stood up, looking down at Andie. "Don't blow it this time, Andromeda," she said, and swept from the room.

      The Story
      So.  The story is completely crazy, and the setup doesn't make a lick of sense for any time in the last two centuries.  It's an homage to Henry James "The Turn of the Screw" with a nod to Edward Gorey-- it comes with a castle, a string of suspiciously coincidental deaths, and a very strange late-twentieth century spin on the Agatha Christy houseparty, where the entire cast is trapped together in the creepy house. It takes a certain amount of torture applied to the contemporary format to get it adequately hammered into the James' parallel.  But if you can run with that, the dialog and story pacing will haul you through the rest of the story at a trot.

      This isn't Crusie's first run at a paranormal story but it's by far the best.  I'm not a big fan of the ghost stories in general but the ones where nobody's falling in love with an incorporeal being seem to work better for me.  Crusie does a great job turning the madcap three-ring circus into a high-stakes thriller with a convincingly creepy edge.  It turned quite a bit darker than I expected and she got me with the twist at the end.  (Hint: just because there are only a few pages left? doesn't mean it's all over...)

      An honorable mention goes to the character of Isolde, the medium who helps them with their pesky ghost problem.  She's got some salty sarcastic one-liners when she's introduced, but here she is when the story takes a turn for the serious, in North's point of view:
      She was a caricature of a woman dangerously out of touch with fashion, all dark eye makeup, big hair and shoulderpats, but the emotion she was feeling was real, and he couldn't leave her alone in that icy barn of a hall, especially since she really believed the place was haunted. [snip]... Whatever Isolde Hammersmith was, she wasn't a faker or a con artist.
      Which is a pretty nice microcosm of how the whole story darkens from kooky to creepy.

      The Tropes
      All up, a pretty typical rollicking Crusie story in terms of characterization, humor, dialog and pacing, but with more of a mystery/thriller at its heart and less of romance (perhaps her collaborations with Mayer have left a stamp on her plotting chops).  It's been said that the "old-skool" romances were typically a coming-of-age story for the heroine, and I think that's a pretty good description of Maybe This Time. While we get a glimpse inside North's head once or twice, the story is told almost entirely from Andie's point of view; and a major theme for Andie is resolving old baggage... some of which may or may not be attributed to simple immaturity.

      Feminism?
      I'm not good at this sort of analysis, but Jessica leaves me no choice but to consider it.  I can't say that the professional woman gets a very good rap in MTT.  Actually, pretty much all the women are crazy or bitchy in some way or another except for Andie, who holds the only remnant of normalcy or "real"-ness.  Wacky hippie mom, piranha mother-in-law and reporter; crazy drunk housekeeper.  The next-sanest (or at least, most sympathetic) woman in the story is Isolde, the medium, so... yeah.  Make of that what you will.


      The Buzz
      Chrisbookarama
      Dirty Sexy Books
      S. Krishna's Book Reviews
      The Stay At Home Feminist Mom
      Romance Rookie
      Smexy Books


      As always, if you have reviewed this book and would like to leave a link, please feel free to put it in comments and I will edit it into the list.

      Note, the Edward Gorey illustration is from his book "The Gashlycrumb Tinies." Hard to mistake the homage there.

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