I darned a sock this morning. I’m trying to remember the last time I darned a frelling sock.* There are advantages to staying home all the time.** At the moment I’m actually reading*** books faster than I’m buying them. This won’t last. But I have TWO NEW BOOK RECS to add to the list just in this last week, and you will remember I am a Very Cranky Reader. I periodically have fantasies of doing a book rec a week for the blog. That would press pretty hard on my fundamental CRANKINESS—two rec-able titles in seven days is perhaps not unheard of but supremely unlikely—but it might be an interesting experiment.
After the monsoon, the Nor’easter. We had a no-nonsense hard frost last night, according to my minimum-maximum thermometer down to 28°(F) and the tropical jungle is all huddled anxiously on the Winter Table indoors. And it’s slithery outdoors. I hadn’t tried to go to my monks last night after I got a last-minute email from Alfrick saying that there was no contemplation before the night prayer, which was furthermore early . . . but this morning I was booted, spurred and caffeinated to bolt for Sunday [Anglican] Mass at the monks’, but by the time I had to leave it was still below freezing and I didn’t like the look of the roads. At. All. So I didn’t go. And I didn’t go to St Margaret’s tonight either for the same reason.† I’m beginning to feel like an eremite.
But I darned a sock.††
What with the last fortnight’s undesirable adventures, I’ve kind of lost track of where I am rattling through forum comments. So if I’ve responded to any of these already I hope I’m saying more or less the same things. This may be boring for you, but anything else would be very disconcerting to me.
Tall, thin, spiky shadow? Like, um, rose bushes? Rosebushes that SALUTE? Well, maybe there’s a breeze in there.
No, no, it’s the hob. It’s got to be the hob.
But what’s the hob going to do? They’re not warriors, are they? Maybe it could trip somebody, er, something, er, whatever is coming.
I think rose-bushes of apparently supernatural origin can probably do whatever they put their pointy little minds to. I wouldn’t trust Rose Manor’s own roses—the ones that can survive anything, even Cold Valley winters, and who eat children and small dogs when they can get them—not to have an agenda. And hobs . . . now I know I said something like this before . . . hobs protect their homes. That’s what they’re for. That’s what they do.
|bethanynash wrote on Sat, 07 December 2013 22:18|
|I hadn’t even considered the idea that the tall spiky shadow could be the hob… what does a hob look like? Is the hob tall? Would a hob salute?|
I think we’re in anything-can-happen territory here.
Yep. Got it in one. For a storyteller like me the fun is in taking a tradition or a fairy tale or a bit of folklore . . . and giving it a pink feather boa and a pair of All Stars, so to speak. Again, as I keep saying, I don’t do this deliberately, but when a story—or a hob or a dragon or a vampire or whatever—speaks to me, speaks to me rather than some other storyteller, it’s because THEY WANT THE BOA.
I learned a new word: “deliquescing”!
It’s a good one, isn’t it? It’s been one of My Words for some time. Vellicating, however, I’d forgotten about, till I saw it somewhere recently and thought, oh! I should use that!—especially since I’m twitchy myself.
What I’m wondering is, how will this experience affect Kes’ next volume of ‘Flowerhair’? As in, personal experience (blood, the sheer physicality and awfulness of violent death, which is expressed so well here) informing her writing.
We-ell . . . your life and your fiction have a strange relationship to each other. It’s as I’ve ranted in other contexts: yes, readers know a lot about me, the author of the story, but they don’t know what they know. I’ve never written about being a military brat, living five years in Japan where I clearly did not belong, and then coming back to America and finding that it wasn’t home any more . . . anywhere but here in the blog. But my particular experience of being an outsider—most authors feel like outsiders in one form or another, I think; it helps channel the storytelling—entirely informs my writing. But you can’t tell from my stories that I lived five years in Japan when I was a kid.
And . . . my own experience of extreme situations is that the last thing I want to do is stuff them in my fiction†††—which is what Kes says: nightmares that she doesn’t put in her stories. Flowerhair might retire and . . . er . . . open a florist’s. ‡
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* Your average cotton-with-a-little-spandex or equivalent isn’t worth the bother unless they’re really favourite socks, especially since they’re probably going thin all over at the same time. But nice heavy socks, like the wool oversocks I wear this time of year—they deserve respect, and darning when necessary.^ I used to have a darning basket but it got kind of intimidating.
^ Not least in my case when I find some wool socks I can bear to wear, even over one or two pairs of cotton socks+, I want to keep them as long as possible.
+ Yes. My shoe size goes up in the winter.
** Somewhat depending on how you feel about things like darning socks. Or washing the kitchen floor which I did a couple of days ago.^ I actually kind of like all that fussy domestic stuff. It’s the time it takes I object to. And as I have said frequently, if I have an urge to tidy I’m unlike to waste it on the mere house^^: I’ll go out in the garden and thrash around there. Unless, of course, it’s zero degrees out there. In which case I may wash the kitchen floor.
^ You’d never know it. I have three dogs. Sigh.
^^ The house with three dogs
*** This includes throwing some of them violently across the room and then picking them up and putting them in the ‘Oxfam’ bag. Hey, they have been processed, and they’re now ready to depart my living space.
† Driving is always kind of a marginal activity for me, because of the ME. And although Peter stopped driving several years ago, he blocks the cold wind of reality in other ways. With him mostly out of action I’m feeling even less heroic (and more cold) than usual.
†† Life in the very very slow lane: I’ve forgotten how to do fiddly daily shopping—partly because Peter likes doing it^ and partly because I grew up in a culture that does once a week mega-shops. So I went to mini-grocery number one for lettuce and Peter’s GUARDIAN, and they had the lettuce but not the GUARDIAN. So I heaved a deep sigh, but I’ve already failed Peter once in the newspaper category this week, and a GUARDIAN man can only read the TIMES so often before he starts throwing silverware at the wall, and I walked to the far end of town^^ to mini-grocery number two where I bought the last Sunday GUARDIAN^^^ . . . but it wouldn’t have done me any good to go there first because they didn’t have any lettuce. Store managers get together to plan this kind of thing, right?
^ Takes all kinds
^^ Which takes about thirty seconds. It is, however, uphill going home.
^^^ Which is to say OBSERVER, for those of you who care. I have no idea why the Sunday GUARDIAN is called the OBSERVER.
††† Maybe in a decade or two. Or three.
‡ . . . although I doubt it.
I seem to need a night semi-off.* So I thought I’d give you a book rec. I should do this more often. All this frelling reading should be GOOD for something, shouldn’t it?
I read this quite recently—on Astarte. On the Kindle app on my iPad. There have been various outbursts on the forum about the far greater desirability of old-fashioned hard-copy books with ink and pages and covers you open and close over and against the virtual screen pages you swipe with a finger on your e-reader of choice. Most of us acknowledge, more or less reluctantly, that e-readers have their place, however, especially the carrying your entire library with you in one slim electronic package aspect. When the next 7,000 flights are cancelled at Heathrow/O’Hare/Kuala Lumpur/Mars Central at least you have plenty to read.**
There’s another reason for e-readers as most of you know although it’s not so much discussed. I think it unsettles us Luddites. Which is that sometimes an e-book version is the only one available. And then you’re very glad to have it.
I don’t remember when I first started tripping over intriguing references to ALCHEMY OF STONE. It finally got on my amazon wish list when it was merely out of stock, and I wasted some time looking around for it elsewhere while waiting for it to come back into stock. I think there was a spell there when it wasn’t available anyway, anyhow—except for £3,612,007 on eBay—so when I accidentally discovered, some time later, that it was available on Kindle, I grabbed it.
There’s a certain justice to reading it as an e-book however; the central character is an automaton named Mattie. She was created by a clever, but damaged both physically and morally, human man; and given by him partial autonomy. Their society is divided into Mechanics and Alchemists. He is a Mechanic; he grants her freedom to study alchemy, become an alchemist, live apart from him and stop ministering to his whims—much; but he retains the key that winds her heart. That keeps her alive. Or ‘alive’.
Of course the basic story tension is between Mattie, who is far more human than Loharri is, even if he is the one made of flesh and she is the one made of springs and clockwork—by him. But it’s also about the balance, or lack of it, in their society. The status quo is unravelling as the book opens, and things start going badly wrong. . . .
There is so much to like in this book, starting with the gargoyles on page one, who come to Mattie for alchemical help. Mattie herself is a spectacular piece of story-telling; you never for a moment forget she’s not human and yet every reference to ‘the bronzed wheel-bearings of her joints squeak their mechanical greeting’ or ‘Her frame clicks as she leans forward. . . . Her dress is low-cut, and . . . there is a small transparent window in her chest, where a clockwork heart is ticking along steadily’ or ‘She extended her hand, the slender copper springs of her fingers grasping a phial of blue glass’ only makes her more human.
And I liked this book a lot. Sedia writes so well. Real style is far rarer than one might wish it were. Than I wish it were. Now, truth in advertising: this is not the most cheerful and optimistic book you’ll ever read. But I prefer to read the ambiguous ending as hopeful.
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* Probably because we’ve had bad news about someone close to us and it casts a long shadow. . . . Dear bleeding Christ on the cross dying for our sins why is life LIKE THIS?
** Although a back-up battery and a universal^ mains charger would be a good plan.
^ I guarantee that when they start laying power cables in the red dirt of Mars your travelling mains charger/power adapter will need another lobe. Every frelling country on Earth seems to have its own unique idea about electricity delivery. Think of the rampant pioneering possibilities of an entire fresh planet.
That would be graphic book rec, or if you prefer fabulous comic book rec.*
. . . Oh heavens, how do I try to tell you what a hoot it is, and how adorable? Especially when my head is going bang bang bang as the inevitable result of two and a half hours in a dentist’s chair today.** Well I can start by saying that it’s perfect reading for lying on a sofa with an assortment of hellcritters and a sore head***.
A charming young Victorian woman, whose famous father is an archaeologist, wants to go for a walk in Kensington Park, but has no chaperon. Being an enterprising sort, she fishes one of her father’s mummies out of his sarcophagus, dresses him in tails and a top hat, and drags him outdoors. They listen to Mozart. They take tea.
They fall in love.†
One warning: the plot, such as it is, is very, very, very ridiculous, and for pity’s sake don’t expect consistency or for all the loose flapping bits to be tied up before the end. Once you’ve got your seatbelt on—and your rational intellect sent off to read Schopenhauer†††—you’ll be fine. But I spent the first several pages going, Wha’? Wha’? I don’t read much illustrated storytelling and am not used to the tropes. It’s okay, I went back and reread the beginning. But I hope you won’t have to.
I loved the drawing—Queen Victoria alone is worth the price of admission‡—and the text is full of divine one-liners. I usually figure that anything in the first few pages doesn’t count as a spoiler but in a very short graphic novel, um. However . . . our mummy gets drunk on his tea: ‘ . . . I’ve had neither food nor drink in thirty-two centuries . . .’ While he’s sleeping it off he dreams of his children, and they guess he wants to marry the pretty lady. Maybe her father won’t agree to it, he says. Why wouldn’t the lady’s father agree? they ask. ‘Because I’m dead and it’s just not done,’ he replies.
A word here also for the translator, Alexis Siegel, who must have had a hell of a time in both the good and the bad way.
Go for it.
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* I’ve never quite become friendly with the ‘graphic novel’ or, since they’re not always fiction, ‘graphic literature’ terminology. Having spent my entire professional life being whacked around by one or another genre label^ I feel that graphic literature sounds like an attempt to civilise something that at its best is often enthusiastically and energetically uncivilised.^^ But I admit I don’t know fiddlesticks about that corner of the publishing world, so I may be tilting at non-existent windmills about this.
^ When are you going to write/have you ever written a real book?
^^ A bit like F&SF, for example. Or what the Victorians did to fairy tales when they decided to dumb them down for kids.
** Yes. Shorter than predicted. He didn’t finish. Moan.
*** Even if the need to keep the youngest of the party firmly trapped in place was not ideal in these circumstances
† Well of course.
†† Well of course.
Schopenhauer at one point uses the example that in case of a child’s death a woman with a lesser intellectual capacity will suffer less than a woman with a developed intellect.
The point being that the analysis and understanding of death and its consequences enhances the pain far beyond the mere acute animalistic pain. Thus the higher evolved the intellect the more the suffering. . . .
I’m afraid this chiefly makes me want to climb in my trusty time machine and race back through the centuries so that I can rip Schopenhauer’s head off and give it back to him on a platter with an apple in its mouth. Of all the . . .
And just by the way I observe that it’s apparently only the woman who grieves? Presumably there had been a dad involved in this situation? Presumably men are pure intellect and don’t stoop to mere weak mortal grief at all? Grrrrrrrr.
Note that I hated Philosophy 101 in college. Just for reasons like these. My [male] professors weren’t overly fond of me either.
‡ Although once I got my seatbelt on, the one place I was thrown out of the story again was by reference to Queen Victoria’s corgis. It’s not Queen Victoria who has corgis.^
^ Okay, it’s a joke, fine. Don’t joke about DOGS.
‡‡ And it’s totally cool to have a book rec about a thirty-two-hundred-year-old mummy named Imhotep on Halloween. Eat your heart out, Boris Karloff. Or Arnold Vosloo, for that matter.
I need something more nearly resembling a night off than my usual shortish Wednesday. So I thought I’d give you someone else’s story.
Someone tweeted me this a few days ago and I was avoiding work* or something and clicked through to read it. I really liked it. Don’t let the typos at the beginning put you off—as they nearly put me off—these things do happen, especially when you’re attempting to perform your proofreading late at night and you just want to hang the freller and go to bed.**
I like the way she’s taken a fairly ordinary things-that-go-bump-in-the-night story arc and made it real through her characters. I like the way the characters aren’t quite what you’re expecting. I like the seamlessness with which she makes her characters not quite what you’re expecting***.
There are more stories where this one came from on her web site, and she’s got a book for sale on amazon: http://www.amazon.com/City-Ghosts-Stories-Betsy-Phillips/dp/145369983X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1382572476&sr=8-1&keywords=Betsy+Phillips+A+City+of+Ghosts
I haven’t bought it yet but the ebook is CHEEEEEEEAP and I’m sure I’ll decide it’s wasteful not to buy it.
. . . And just in case you need a Silly Animal Video:
Although my informant says it’s gone viral so you may have seen it already. I do feel that the human in question is a trifle naïve to have put that cat gym next to the door and then be surprised at the result. . . .
* * *
** Ask me how I know this.
*** I may also be extra-disposed to like stories with porcelain-faced dolls in them at the moment because I’m reading ALCHEMY OF STONE.
Yesterday was a black hole, by the way*, but I’m better today. I think.
Oh, yes, the “Are you published?” after you’ve said that’s what you do. Even after you say how many novels you’ve written (since occasionally that comes first) and you know perfectly well that no one (I think no one in history but I could be wrong) writes over 20 novels just for the heck of it. It’s work. It takes time. It takes time away from other things in life that a writer might want to do. I wrote one monster . . .when I wasn’t published, but chances are very, very high that if the thing had not been published, I would now be much better at knitting, singing, gardening, riding, and the house wouldn’t look like it does…and it would have been my only novel. . . . .(Of course I’d have gone mad. Madder than I am. But I don’t think I’d have sat down to write just about a book a year without deadlines and checks. Also, we’d now be very broke.)
Yes. And that’s the other thing: if you can’t earn a living by writing, then trust funds and/or wealthy spouses aside, you’re going to have to earn it some other way. Now earning a living is a major time suck. It’s just that if you’re doing it for love, you can manage to ignore the forty cents/shilling thruppenny per hour you’re ultimately getting paid, so long as you can keep eating.
Not being a blog follower when PEG came out, but still having visited the website enough to know that sequels were definitely not the hell goddess’ thing, I came to the end of the book . . . I tried my hardest to reason with myself . . . if this was where the story ended, then this is the story that needed to be told and I should look inside it to find the meaning, and I came up with all these beautiful ideas about friendship and perseverance and had completed the grief process up to acceptance… Then discovered the sequel tantalizers online.
::falls down laughing:: Sorry. It’s friendly laughter. Still . . . ::falls down laughing some more::
There certainly could be a story about how Sylvi and Ebon, Marked for Life by Their Tragic Separation, went on to do Great Things Alone. That’s just not the one I’m writing.
Er, this Peg II crashing to a halt business is a little frightening. I’m glad it was past tense and I feel like I’ve heard positive things about it lately? Hmmm.
PEG II crashed and burned because I was refusing to recognise that it needed to be two books. Two more books, making a [YAAAAAAARRRGGH] trilogy. So the pacing, the story arc, the way everything fit together, was totally bodged and gleepy in the original PEG II. This was scaring me quite a lot, as you may imagine. I still don’t know whether it was just I had my head down so far I couldn’t see the forest for the trees or if I really was suffering a total mental block about the idea of a [twitch] trilogy [twitch]. Anyway. By the time I finally figured it out, or let myself figure it out, I had the morale of club moss or a dead octopus or something. I could not face starting over from the beginning right away. Meanwhile—remember that benchmark about eating?—I had to keep eating. So I wrote SHADOWS.
I admit PEG II and I are still not the best of friends. There’s an awful lot of I Have Been Here Before, But Not in a Good Way. But we’re getting there.
I really like the family dynamics in your work- I get rather sick and tired of lowly orphan/foundling hero/heroines- is that just fantasy writer quick hand of being able to send them off questing without too many obstacles??? I think I’m going to do a short story on the peeved mother who gets left behind on the farm who suddenly has to do all the chores and swears at that mysterious old stranger who has gotten little Timmy all excited about saving the world.
Thank you. Yes. I agree. Orphans are fine, but there are a lot of families out there.** And families are interesting. I’ve been thinking about that story about the left-behind mum too. And the other three children, the herd of goats and the ill-tempered pony. And the cabbages. And the mortgage payments. Feel free to write it first. All good stories can be retold indefinitely.
As an avid fantasy reader one thing that bugs me IS sequels that are done just for sequels sake. Singletons are lovely.
Singletons are different. They feel different, they read differently, they hold together differently. It’s not just that they’re perforce shorter, although that’s the obvious thing. It would be a gigantic pity if The Serial Mind totally took over. But I want to put in a word of defense of writers writing less-than-great sequels. Some of them . . . are just writing less-than-great sequels. It happens. But some of them have been told that either they’re writing a series or that there’s a rumour that Wal-Mart is hiring. Remember the need to keep eating. I’m lucky: I’ve been around a long time as a writer of singletons and most people are mostly used to it. I’ve been haunted by sequels all my working life but when I wrote SWORD and HERO while series were desirable they weren’t yet a stick that your public and your publisher beat you with.***
…. I think I’ll stick to quilt pattern designs. Hmmm. A pegasus would look great.
A pegasus would look great. But if it’s a McKinley pegasus remember they are NOT horses with wings.
Thank you for the glimpses into your mind and life that you provide in the blog. I’ve become a compulsive blog reader in the last year or two. It’s not only what you write but the way you write that draws me irresistibly. Thank you!
You’re very welcome and thank you. And I want to say out here on the blog that generally speaking I try not to copy and paste the really nice compliments because it makes me look like such a prat. But I read them with ENORMOUS PLEASURE. Just sayin’.
We shall make t-shirts that say “FRELL YOUR FRELLING SEQUEL” and wear them around.
I’m beginning to think I should officially look into the t-shirt thing as an author who needs to keep eating while she [re]writes her next [frelling] novel. There’s also the footnote t-shirt. Maybe there should be a PEGASI ARE NOT HORSES WITH WINGS t-shirt too.
What I love is books that continue around the edges of them. They are so much more ‘real’ than books where the author finishes everything off.
YES. EXACTLY. As a reader I way prefer books where it’s not all tied up with a big shiny ribbon at the end. The big-shiny-ribbon conclusion tends to kill it dead, for me, and send retroactive gangrenous ripples back through the book that I had perhaps been enjoying—or at least successfully suspending my disbelief for—till then.
. . . I sometimes approach sequels with an attitude of “oh, so these poor characters — don’t they just get to live, well, not happily-ever-after necessarily, but out of the spotlight maybe? With no more than what the rest of us typically have to deal with, at least?” Whereas if they’ve landed in a sequel again it’s because something Very Exciting has happened.
Snork. As a fairly dedicated stay-at-home myself†, who relishes her hot baths, pillows and blankets, and mains-electric reading lights, as well as a writer (mostly) of singletons, I like your attitude.
. . . why, a good 60% of the time is the next sentence out of someone’s mouth Oh, are you published?
AND this one…
Oh, I’ve always wanted to write – everyone tells me I should write a book about (blah blah blah) …
SOOOOO, my question is always: Do you like to read? To which, invariably, the reply from alleged aspiring writer is: ohhhh noooo – I hate to read!
‘Invariably’? You poor thing. You need to find a better class of pub/gym/chat room/alternate reality to hang out in. The aspirers who talk to me usually do love to read—and seem to think this means they’ll be natural writers. Cough. Cough. And it’s a beginning, of course—it’s even a good beginning, being a reader: it’s just not enough.††
* * *
* What a good thing it was already a Saturday! Or I might have been forced to hang a KES ep out of order!
** Harry has a brother! Okay, she’s an orphan, but she has a BROTHER! Also, I was younger then, and it was harder to keep account of too many important characters. Trying to hold everyone straight in HERO was a steep learning curve. If someone had told me then I was on track to write a book with PEG’s cast of characters I might be a manager of graveyard-shift supermarket shelf restockers by now.^
^ This is the Mysterious Disappearing Footnote from the other night, for anyone who was confused by the forum exchange about it.
*** There’s a similar sort of defense to be made about orphan protagonists. I’m sure there are some out there that were created orphans for no better reason than that the author wanted to get on with the story . . . but that’s not actually a bad reason either. What starts to get on my nerves is if there’s a huge doodah about the protagonist’s orphaned or otherwise tragedified state when it isn’t, as I-the-cranky-reader sees it, earned.
† Bell ringing is VERY EXCITING! I rang a HARVEST FESTIVAL today!
†† And the awful truth is that there are a few good writers out there who are not great readers. I Will Name No Names, but I know a few of them. Arrrrgh. It’s like the comforting truth that it takes time to write really well. No. Wrong. It takes some of us a very long time to write anything worth reading. Not all of us. Arrrrrgh. On the whole I’m willing to leave the non-readers in peace because I pity them for what they’re missing. THE FAST WRITERS I WANT SHIPPED TO ANOTHER GALAXY. NOW.