Friday, December 31, 2010

Auld Lang Syne by Robert Burns

A reprise of a previous post

I thought my icon with a Nac Mac Feegle on it was a good idea, since I'm going to be talking about a poem by Robert Burns today. At midnight tonight (in all the various time zones), millions of people will sing some or all of "Auld lang syne". And most of them will have no clue that the words they sing are from Burns (at least in part), and many of them will have no idea what it means. By all means, send them this way, because here's the story in a lightly-edited reprise of a post I put up in late December of 2007:

It's New Year's Eve or, if you're Scots, Hogmanay, and both occasions are times for singing a traditional Scots tune with lyrics penned by Robert ("Rabbie") Burns in 1788, and likely based on a fragment of traditional song (tune unknown). (Attention, non-Scots: it's pronounced "old lang sign", not zein, just so you can annoy everyone you know by correcting them 'round midnight.)

First the poem (in its entirety), and then the explication:

Auld Lang Syne
by Robert Burns

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne?

  For auld lang syne, my dear,
  For auld lang syne,
  We'll tak a cup of kindness yet,
  For auld lang syne!

And surely ye'll be your pint-stowp,
And surely I'll be mine,
And we'll tak a cup o kindness yet,
For auld lang syne!


We twa hae run about the braes,
And pou'd the gowans fine,
But we've wander'd monie a weary fit,
Sin auld lang syne.


We twa hae paidl'd in the burn
Frae morning sun till dine,
But seas between us braid hae roar'd
Sin auld lang syne.


And there's a hand my trusty fiere,
And gie's a hand o thine,
And we'll tak a right guid-willie waught,
For auld lang syne.


Some translations and discussions of what it all means

auld lang syne - times gone by
be - pay for
pint-stowp - pint tankard
twa - two
braes - hills
pou'd - pulled
gowans - daisies
monie - many
fit - foot
paidl't - paddled
burn - stream
morning sun - noon
dine - dinner time
braid - broad
fiere - friend
guid-willie waught - goodwill drink

More about the poem

Burns didn't write the entire thing. The two verses that begin "We twa" are both entirely his writing; the rest of it is most likely his attempt to capture a much older song, and the phrase "auld lang syne", evocative as it is, is most definitely not his doing, but existed for at least 200 years before Burns's poem (and was used in poems by other Scots around the same time). In December of 1788, he sent the song to a friend, Mrs. Dunlop. Here's a sentence from that letter: "Light be the turf on the breast of the heaven-inspired poet who composed this glorious fragment! There is more of the fire of native genius in it than half-a-dozen of modern English Bacchanalians." He also said, "Apropos, is not the Scotch phrase Auld Lang syne exceedingly expressive? This old song and tune has often thrilled through my soul." And in a letter he wrote to James Johnson at the Scots Musical Museum in 1793, he said "The following song, an old song, of the olden times, and which has never been in print, nor even in manuscript until I took it down from an old man's singing, is enough to recommend any air."

Now, Burns's protestations about it being an old song aren't dispositive on their own, because it was a popular convention at the time to claim to have "found" or "discovered" some old poems that one had written one's self. However, other versions of Auld Lang Syne exist, some of which predate Burns's poem, and they have some commonalities that seem to indicate that a half-forgotten song called Auld Lang Syne existed.

What it all means

From When Harry Met Sally:
Harry: What does this song mean? For my whole life I don't know what this song means. I mean, "Should old acquaintance be forgot". Does that mean we should forget old acquaintances, or does it mean if we happen to forget them we should remember them, which is not possible because we already forgot them?
Sally: Well, maybe it just means that we should remember that we forgot them or something. Anyway, it's about old friends.

Here's my take on it: Burns isn't posing a subjunctive hypothetical here, as in "What if old acquaintance is forgotten?" He's asking (or the traditional song is asking) whether we should forget our old acquaintance and days long ago, but it's rhetorical, and the answer is intended to be "no, of course not." The chorus makes it clear: we're still drinking to honor days gone by, and in doing so, we're remembering. The second verse makes it clear that everyone's in charge of buying their own drinks. The third and fourth verses by Burns talk about the long history between the drinkers and close in friendship. In the third verse, the speaker tells of their youth together, running about the hills, pulling daisies, and how many long miles (and, impliedly, years) have gone past. In the fourth verse, they clasp hands and drink a "guid-willie waught" or goodwill drink as a means of acknowledging one another.

Usually folks only sing the first verse and the chorus, but I've heard some versions in which a second verse is shared (usually the final verse). The final verse is usually translated, or arguably rewritten as:
And here's a hand, my trusted friend,
And here's a hand of thine
We'll take a cup of kindness yet
For auld lang syne.

If you want to see pronunciation guides and translation into English side-by-side, the folks at Wikipedia have set it up for you, with my usual caveat that sometimes, folks screw with Wikipedia so don't rely on it too hard.

And so, my friends, I will be remembering all of you this evening, whether I make it until midnight or not, and I will drink a cup to auld lang syne.

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Thursday, December 30, 2010

In just two days . . .

. . . we'll be starting Pride and Prejudice here at Writing & Ruminating. I have gone "shopping" for some new user icons. Do you like this one? I think I do.

If you want to read along, by all means, grab any old copy of P&P you can find. Could be in a "collected works" volume, could be its own book. You could read the graphic novel, which is entertaining, but won't give you the full story. It's cute though, yes?

If you want to read online, you may do so over at Molland's Circulating Library.

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Writing progress

This week's writing progress for my YA novel includes a second song. I'm not just writing lyrics, either, but full-on songs - with guitar parts, intros, bridges, etc. I even figured out how to record versions of both of the songs I've written thus far, although the quality isn't good enough for widespread sharing - I had to use a headset to record myself and the guitar at the same time, and the guitar doesn't pick up exceptionally well.

The songs are helping me to know what's going on in the mind of the male lead in this story. Which is funny, since my main character and narrator doesn't necessarily see what her love interest is getting at. Isn't that always the way? Funnier still, only a very small amount of song information is going to make it into the book. Still, it's worth it to me to write these songs in order to get the male character "right".

It's been interesting writing music from scratch - I haven't done such a thing since a composition course in college, so it's kind of a fun challenge to sort out logical chord progressions. Also, it's getting me back to playing the guitar, for which I desperately need to learn some new songs - a lot of the ones I know are old. As in from the 60s and 70s. In other news, the callouses on my left fingertips are almost completely formed now, so my playing time is about to skyrocket.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My big fat New Year's superstition

This is not a long-held superstition, nor is it one passed down by generations of family members (unlike the "shoes on a table is bad luck" thing, which is TOTALLY the result of generations of my mother's family). It's one that I developed myself over the past half dozen years or so, and it is a simple concept:

I believe that what you do on January 1st sets the tone for the year. Therefore, if I want to be a person who writes a lot, I need to make time to do some writing on January 1st. If I want to cook more, I need to cook something. ("Something" on New Year's day means a pork roast and sauerkraut, based on long-held and family-bred superstitions, again from my mother's family.) If I want to read more, I need read. If I want to be a decent housekeeper, my house has to be clean by then, and I need to do a wee bit of tidying as well.

It's all very simple in theory, and not necessarily difficult in practice, but it does take being really conscious of choices on January 1st. And, I suppose, it means being really conscious of choices on the 2nd, and 3rd, and 4th as well. But come Saturday, my house will be clean and relatively tidy, the pork roast will be cooking, and I'll be spending some time reading, some time playing music (piano or guitar), and some real quality time on Scrivener, working on my YA novel, which is now about 28,000 words in length and just under the half-way mark as far as planned chapters go. (Okay, promise not to laugh? I'm on chapter 10C. Because I planned for 23 chapters, and then my characters did stuff after chapter 10 that I didn't plan for, but that totally makes sense, so I added chapters 10B & now, 10C - I'll fix it all later. It's okay if you couldn't keep that promise not to laugh.)

Over the next few days, this will be me. Only without the cheerfulness, or the long hair/up-do, or the frilly dress, or all the vermin:

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The thinky post

I liked the image I used in the post the other day so well that I am reusing it. Why not? Pinky and Brain are symbolic in a lot of ways of my thought process.

Brain represents my methodical planning part - the part that sat down with a pen and paper last night and started making lists. I'm not going to tell you what all my specific goals and dreams are for 2011, but I will tell you what the categories are and what some of the things on the list are after this digression about goals and dreams:

Goals v. Dreams: They are separate things, you know - make no mistake about it. A dream is something you wish or hope for, whereas a goal is a specific, measurable target that it is within your own power to complete. That's a little something I learned at a time management seminar I once took in order to fulfill my Continuing Education requirement back when I was an attorney. It's good to have both, but it can be bad to confuse them, because you start to feel like a failure when dreams don't come true, even if it's not something that was ever within your control.

In the world of publishing, you can dream of selling a particular manuscript or of becoming a best-selling author, but whether it sells or not is not usually up to you, because it requires someone else to decide to buy it. This holds true whether you are trying to sell a manuscript to a publisher (some publisher must want to buy it for this to work) or if you have a book out there in the wild (some purchaser must want to buy it).

Your goal can be to finish a particular manuscript by a certain date (specific and measurable - see?). Or to send out a certain number of queries or submissions each week/month/quarter. It has been handy for me to remember this sort of thing over the past few years, and on the occasions when I manage to remember it, I am far less downheartened. See, when some of my dreams keep carrying over from year to year, I can remember that I met my goals that were designed to try to move me toward those dreams, or (sometimes) I can acknowledge that I did NOT set goals that would help me to move toward those dreams. Either way, if I've done my part - completing the draft, the revisions, the additional revisions, sending out the submissions - then I know I'm still moving toward the dream, even if whoever it is out there in the wide world that needs to get involved for it to happen hasn't acted yet.

For 2011:

It will not come as a surprise to many of you to know that I set things up in categories and in list form, in part because many of you do the same thing and couldn't think of another way to do it (I'm guessing) and in part because if you read my blog, you know I like to compartmentalize. Compartmentalization is what gets me through life - sometimes it's good (as when I am able to pack away something horrible or stressful in favor of working on something else) and sometimes it's not (as when I am able to pack away something horrible or stressful in favor of working on something else - after all, packing it away doesn't actually DEAL with it). Anyhoo--

The first things I thought of were writing related, so I have two lists - WRITING and NON-WRITING. My writing dreams are probably similar to yours - they include things like "get an agent" and "sell the Jane project, the body poems, the gnomes, the Shakespeare poems", etc. My writing goals include these categories: submissions, new writing, revisions, conferences, retreats, events, marketing and web presence. For each of those headings, I try to set measurable goals - they tend to be monthly, weekly, or daily sorts of goals (e.g., "write at least one blog post per day" or "attend at least two writing conferences in 2011"). There are some categories that still need actual goals set - a goal needs to have a target end date, even if it's far off; the Jane Project, for instance, took over three years to complete, but I always had August of 2010 as a target end-date - and I ended up finishing early, actually (although had I required an extension, I'd have given it to myself - still, having the date in mind helps you shoot for something).

My NON-WRITING list is subtitled "goals for me (not kid-related)". It's really easy as a parent to put things like "take M to look at colleges" on your own list. And yeah, I have to start that next year, and I want to do it, and I will enjoy it, but it is not for me. It is for M. So this portion of the list is stuff that I want to do for me and only me. It includes things like "yoga, 4-5x/wk" and "go to at least one movie or theatre event/month (concerts count)".

It occurs to me that I need to add yet another category of goals - the goals that I'm setting that aren't exactly for me - goals that have to do with cooking and house-cleaning and home improvement projects and finances. They benefit me, but they're for the good of the family, not just me.

And I still have to go back through those categories and set specific goals. Like, I know my web site needs a re-design, and badly, but "NEEDS re-design!!" is not really a goal. It's an observation. And I need to make a real plan, because that item's been on my list for three years running now, and without specifics, it is never, ever going to happen.

So, there it is. A weird little window into my thought processes. Or a window into my weird little thought processes. Either way.

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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Pride and Prejudice

Today, a quick quote from Chapter 5 of Pride and Prejudice. In it, Austen looks at the difference between pride and vanity. True, it comes from lines attributed to the sanctimonious Bennet sister, Mary, and it's a hair-splitting sort of difference, but proper understanding of what Austen means by the word pride is a good way to start out reading the book:

"Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us."

We'll be opening to Chapter One on Saturday. I hope you'll consider joining our chapter-by-chapter tour through Pride and Prejudice!

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Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John

For Christmas, I bought M a copy of Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John. I bought it because it caught my eye at the bookstore, and I liked the premise (shortest version: deaf girl decides to manage a rock band), and I read the first chapter while in the store to assess the writing and (a) forgot where I was, (b) lost track of time and (c) wanted to read on. I was a bit nervous about the purchase since M isn't always easy to buy books for, but she took to it immediately upon reading the ending. (Have I told you that M reads the end first? Well, she does. *headdesk*) Plus, M loves books that involve people who are deaf or blind. It's one of her favorite tropes, although of course that element alone isn't enough to win her over. But I digress.

I could seriously just point you to this review by Ana over at The Book Smugglers and cal it day, but I won't, because I stayed up until, I dunno, 3:45 a.m. reading this book because I absolutely could not put it down, and I therefore insist on reinventing the wheel, even though Ana's enthusiastic review (which I found this morning) pretty much says it all.

DUMB is the name of a rock band. At the start of the novel, Dumb has three members (all seniors in high school): twin brothers Josh and Will and a semi-punk girl named Tash (short for Natasha, if memory serves). They've just won a local Battle of the Bands, and they do a set on the school steps, which is where the main character, a girl named Piper, first encounters them.

Piper is smart and sassy and tired of being invisible. Lots of teenagers feel invisible, of course, but Piper even more so because she is deaf. She has hearing aids that help her a bit (in a quiet room with only one person talking) and the ability to read lips, but she has to work hard in order to understand what's going on around her. Her younger brother, Finn (a freshman), won't usually sign to her, her father never bothered to learn, and her parents just raided her college fund to pay for cochlear implants for her sister (something that made M cry, and M almost never cries, y'all). Oh, and her best friend just moved to San Francisco.

Without meaning to, Piper winds up becoming Dumb's manager, and she finds them a drummer (her friend Ed Chen, whom I adore), and then Josh drags the beautiful (but possibly talentless) Kallie into the band, mostly because he wants to get with her. Which means that now, Dumb has five members. "There was no togetherness, no blending – just five separate flavors of an indigestible dish called Dumb."

Piper has one month to get the band a paying gig. It's a simple sort of story, right? Will she or won't she succeed, and that's it? Well, yes. And no, no, no. Because Piper has to figure out more than what a manager does and how to do it. She has to figure out how to assess the music being produced by Dumb - something she cannot hear for herself. She has to figure out how to blend those five separate flavors together so that there IS a band, and not just five individuals working on their own - and that includes struggling with the various personalities and forcing them to get along together, which is no easy task. Plus she has to learn what rock and roll really is, and what music means. And of course she makes a few mistakes along the way, and she has to sort out how to fix them as well.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, her father is out of work and clearly views Piper's deafness as a handicap; her mother is working tons of overtime and stressing out because she's missing time with 11-month old Grace; Piper is conflicted about her parents' decision to "fix" Grace, who was born deaf but can now hear thanks to her implant; and Piper has to navigate changing relationships with her brother and with Ed (whom I love - I know I'm repeating myself, but seriously, I love him). And all of those folks are busy adjusting to the changes in Piper, who is rapidly and rather splendidly coming into her own.

This book has it all - romance, drama (of the best sort), rock & roll, characters you don't want to let go of and a highly satisfying ending (that wasn't spoiled for M despite having read it in advance, because until you read what comes before, it doesn't really make sense). I somehow had NOT heard of this book before I picked it up at the store, but I have vowed not to let the rest of you get away without hearing of it.

HIGHLY recommended. As in, what are you waiting for? Go buy Five Flavors of Dumb, it's that good. (See how I managed not to say "it's one tasty novel"?)

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Monday, December 27, 2010

Pretty Pictures

Know what's cool about being an official picture book author? I mean, besides being paid for something I wrote and knowing that I'm going to have a realio, trulio book out in the world in 2012?

Getting to see in-process sketches.

I cannot show them to you. And I cannot actually describe them to you either - in part because I'm pretty sure I shouldn't, and in part because it would be really, really hard to describe the many things going on in each of the two-page spreads in my beautiful book.

But if you are one of those people who has written one (or more) picture books but hasn't yet sold them, then you should know that seeing the words come to life in actual artwork feels almost like a miracle and definitely like a gift.

And you should probably also know that the majority of folks I know who have written picture books haven't seen all the sketches that I have. (Some of them only see the final artwork once it's all the way done.)

I've been lucky enough to see rough sketches and now the far more finished sketches prior to the wonderful illustrator, Mónica Armiño, starting work on the final art, and I know plenty of authors who were not in the loop for this portion of the creative process. So in addition to feeling like a gift, I'm pretty certain that it is an actual gift, and I believe it's one of the things to love about dealing with tiger tales books, a wonderful, independent publisher.

Just wait until you see it!

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Are you pondering what I'm pondering?

First, let me credit Pinky & the Brain for the AYPWIP question. Man, I loved that show. And Pinky's ridiculous answers to that question. (E.g., "Uh, I think so Brain, but burlap chafes me so.") But already I digress.

Second, I am guessing that at least some of you are pondering the sort of thing I'm pondering, which is one of those end-of-year, taking-stock-of-things sorts of posts. It occurs to me to use this somewhat fallow week to actually find a few still points and engage in a bit of reflection and planning. It's been a long while since I've done either of those things - I've been in full-on head-down-keep-charging mode for a while now when it comes to many things, and while that has a tendency to get things done (finished the Jane project, wrote the Shakespeare poems, revised the body poems collection, sent queries to agents, started a new WIP) it is not always advisable to stay in that mode for lengthy periods of time because if you start running in an ill-thought-out direction, you can find yourself far, far from civilization without any real clue how to find your way back. Or something. (Pick your own analogy if that one didn't work.)

I look forward to finding out what your accomplishments for 2010 and plans for 2011 are (besides the almost-upon-us reading of Pride and Prejudice, that is). And I am planning now to find quiet time tonight or tomorrow to start rounding up my own thoughts on the subject(s).

P.S. - Man, did I use a lot of hyphenated phrases in this post or what?

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Pride & Prejudice

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."

It's one of the best-known and most-oft quoted (and parodied) first lines in literature, and it comes from our next joint reading project, Pride & Prejudice, which kicks off on Saturday, January 1st.

Austen herself is making a sly reference to one of her own literary icons, Dr. Samuel Johnson, who in an article in The Rambler (#115) wrote, "I was known to possess a fortune, and to want a wife."

I hope many of you will join me in the reading of Pride & Prejudice!

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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Quoteskimming - the Kevin Smith edition

I was on Twitter the other day when Neil Gaiman made mention of a particularly interesting/motivating rant by Kevin Smith. And sure enough, I went over to ThatKevinSmith's Twitter page and found inspiration. Here are a few pieces of what he said:

Sometimes, you gotta believe FOR everybody else - and sometimes, you do it by yourself for a long time. Then, if you're lucky, someone like @TheJonGordon starts believing with you - first theoretically, then in practice. And two people believing is the start of a congregation. You build a congregation of believers and you try to build a cathedral. Sometimes, it's just a church. Sometimes, it's a chapel. Folks who don't build churches will try to tell you how you're doing it wrong, even as your steeple breaks the clouds. Don't listen.

But before all of that, you gotta start with the idea - and not just the idea for the story/movie/novel/installation/song/podcast/whatever You gotta start with the idea that you can do this - something that's not normally done by everybody else. . . Embrace a reasonable amount of unreasonability.

But nobody else can believe in you if you don't believe in what you're doing. I've willed almost all of stuff I've done into existence, and if I can do that, ANYBODY can do that.
And here is a link to his blog, so you can read the whole thing. (Profanity is all from the original, so you know, but I think most of you will enjoy what he has to say about pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps and choosing to be Batman.)

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The Blizzard is coming! The Blizzard is coming!

Right now it's only light snow, but it's starting to stick and become a bit heavier. Where I live, we're in the 8"-12" projected range, and by late afternoon we're supposed to have wind gusts of up to 50 miles per hour. I'm quite pleased to see the snow, but I will not be ALL the way pleased about the snow until I know that S is safely at home (whether it's my home or her father's - at the moment, she's at the gym).

I'll be back a bit later with a quoteskimming post. Meanwhile, the Blizzard is coming!

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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

I hope all of you who celebrate Christmas are having a splendid day today!

My day so far:

1. Christmas phone calls with my parents and my brother, all of whom received signed copies of Linda Sue Park's A Long Walk to Water as part of their present. I've also sent a donation to Water for, the nonprofit organization founded by Salva Dut, whose story is found in Linda's marvelous book.

2. Baking croissants (thanks, Dough Boy!) and eating them hot with butter and a cup of tea.

3. Baking cranberry bread while listening to Christmas music. The cranberry bread is from my great-grandmother's recipe - the one great-grandparent I actually knew. I was lucky enough to have her around until I was a senior in college, which is pretty incredible, but her family tended to be long-lived. She was born in 1891 and lived to be 92; come to think of it, her daughter (my grandmother) lived to be 92 as well. Wild. This morning's music: Harry Connick Jr. and Straight No Chaser - those are two separate albums, but come to think of it, they'd sound good together.

4. Doing laundry. (Sing it with me: "She wants to lead a glamourous life . . . ")

5. Reading. This morning, I read a bit of A Christmas Carol. Because 'tis the season. Here's the very end:

Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.

He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!

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Friday, December 24, 2010

Pride & Prejudice reminder

Those of you seeing this on Live Journal are probably wondering what Mr. Knightley is doing here since this post is about Pride and Prejudice. Well, as you can see from his disgruntled expression, he "is clearly not reading Jane Austen."

Although we recently finished a reading of Sense & Sensibility, I have succumbed to pressure (gentle pressure, but still) to re-read and blog about Pride & Prejudice.

You are officially invited to join me on January 1, 2011, for a chapter-by-chapter reading of Pride & Prejudice. It does not matter what edition of the book you use, although I heartily suggest not buying an edition that includes zombies, as we will not be reading that particular adaptation, and I don't really like The Annotated Pride & Prejudice done by David Shapard because I found multiple inaccuracies or errors in his notes.

Should you find yourself needing a copy, may I recommend the lovely Penguin paperback pictured to the left? (It's the edition I gave to M for Christmas last year.) Or pretty much any other copy - they can be had for less than $10 or £5, or for free from a library or online at Molland's Circulating Library.

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A Visit From Saint Nicholas

A Christmas Eve reprise. Because this poem deserves an annual reading, in my humble opinion.

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, there was no such thing as childhood. Oh sure, there were babies born, and young human animals who were expected to shape up and become sentient beings, but the idea of childhood as we know it did not exist. Nor did children's literature.

In an anthology edited by recent Poet Laureate Donald Hall called The Oxford Illustrated Book of American Children's Poems, I learned that there wasn't much in the way of American children's poetry for quite a long time. The poem that blew the doors open, although not off, was A Visit from Saint Nicholas, by Clement C. Moore, which was first published in 1823 without authorial attribution (which is a rather long-winded way of saying "anonymously", come to think of it).

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ’kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap—
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas, too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof—
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a pedlar just opening his pack.
His eyes—how they twinkled; his dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly
That shook, when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Everlasting by Angie Frazier

I finally got my hands on a copy of Angie Frazier's book, Everlasting. You know that old saying, "better late than never"? Well, to follow it with another cliché, truer words were never spoken: Though I'd have liked this book when it first came out six months ago, back then I was finishing the Jane project (and therefore not really reading). And just after that I embarked on the six-week composition frenzy that was the Shakespeare poems. (Note to Santa: Please send me an agent, Santa? I've been a very good girl this year. For me. I know that's relative, but still. Aaaand . . . I digress.) What I'm getting at is that I'm glad I got to read this book even though it's now and not then.

Angie Frazier () did such a great job creating the world that her characters inhabit that it was easy for me to imagine the dirt and the stench of some of the places her characters inhabited. It was also - and unfortunately - all too easy for me to imagine the bit of woods later in the book with ginormous black widow spiders in it for which I will get even with Angie if it is the last thing I do. She did such a great job writing her characters that I forgot that I don't really care for the names Camille, Oscar or Ira. I don't really care for the name Randall, either, but as his character was left in San Francisco early on in the book and it was clear to me (and Oscar, but not Camille) that Oscar was the proper hero for whom to root, I didn't worry about wanting to like Randall. But I did worry about wanting to like Oscar despite his name, and by midway through the book I found myself thinking that Oscar's not all that bad a name really and I was almost ready to declare it a perfectly dishy name by the end of the book, but I am not quite addlepated enough to do so. Oscar was a perfectly dishy character, however, so all was well.

The book starts out as simple historical fiction - Camille is engaged to Randall, and sets to sea with her father for one last jaunt before her marriage. Oscar is the first mate on the ship, and he and Camille have an obvious bond, but he lacks sufficient status and means to be considered a worthy beau for the daughter of a prosperous businessman (her father is not just a sea captain, but also owns his own shipping company). This being 1855, I figure our plot is essentially the same as the one Leo and Kate had in Titanic.

But wait! Just off the coast of Australia, things get way hinky when Camille finds a letter in her father's cabin and learns that her mother - who she was told died giving birth to her - is (probably) still alive (although dying of consumption) in Australia. She doesn't reach the end of the letter, but before she's interrupted, she reads about a map to a fabled magical relic, and next thing you know, we're in a historical fantasy (albeit set in the real world of 1855). And what a historical fantasy it is - no preternatural creatures, exactly, just some truly old magic at work.

One of the things I appreciate about the story is Angie's willingness to put her main character(s) through hell. I'm sure the impulse was there to let someone else sustain the horrible injuries and go through the many difficulties and torments between the beginning and end of the book, but Angie did not flinch - and truly, neither did her characters, which is one of the things that made me so willing to like them. So much so that, as I already said, I almost got over their names.*

*I realize the name aversion is just me, by the way. There is nothing wrong or improper about any of the choices - some of them just aren't names I care for. Others - like William and Samuel - were just dandy as far as I was concerned. And it didn't stop me from liking the book.

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It's a blustery day here

Rumor has it we might be getting a massive winter storm, but it will be coming after Christmas now if it comes at all.

Many prayers and good wishes to those of you who have been subjected to extreme weather recently, whether it's rain or snow. And safe travels to those of you who are hitting the road today!

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A Christmas Carol

This post is about the story by Charles Dickens, not an actual song (although I did list some favorite carols the other day).

I am certain I've said this before, but I LOVE this story. How can you not love a story that begins "Marley was dead: to begin with" and then almost immediately launches into a digression about the phrase "dead as a doornail"?

Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge's name was good upon 'Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind! I don't mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country's done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.
Want some more quotes? You can check out last year's quoteskimming post drawn entirely from A Christmas Carol. I like to re-read the story, and usually do so every few years. I read it last year, in fact. The year before, I listened to Patrick Stewart's performance on CD - it's not an unabridged version, being more akin to his one-man show, but it's marvelous. And I like the many movie versions of it. Here are some of my favorites:

A Muppet Christmas Carol: The Great Gonzo is the narrator, beginning with "Marley was dead, to begin with". Rizzo the Rat "assists" him, usually to humorous effect, and the role of Ebenezer Scrooge is played wonderfully well by Michael Caine. I am especially fond of the ghosts of the Marleys (they gave the role to the crotchety old guys who sat in the balcony, and assigned them the names Jacob (as in the original) and Robert - ba dum bump) and the Ghost of Christmas Present.

Scrooge! Starring the extremely talented Albert Finney, who was a rather young man at the time, not that you would know it when you see him in full Scrooge regalia. It's a musical version of A Christmas Carol with wonderful songs, including "Thank You Very Much", "I Hate People", "Father Christmas" and "I Like Life". If you haven't seen this version, you should do so at least once.

A Christmas Carol (1999) starring Patrick Stewart as Scrooge. It took me a while to become accustomed to the idea of a thin, bald Scrooge, but I managed. It has a much darker opening than some other versions, as it starts at Marley's funeral, rather than skipping to the "present" day. I love this version as well. Joel Gray's performance as an androgynous Ghost of Christmas Past is a bit trippy, but in a good way. Dominic West is Fred (the nephew) and Richard Grant is Bob Cratchit. Fans of Captain Picard Patrick Stewart won't want to miss it.

Scrooged starring Billy Murray as a modern-day network executive, Francis Xavier Cross. It's all about profits and market shares for him, and Murray sends up the networks while depicting a modern-day Scrooge character. He's brilliantly funny in the role, with great turns by Carol Kane, Bobcat Goldthwaite, and David Johansen (aka "Buster Poindexter"). The ending annoys me these days (direct speech to the "audience", which I didn't love when I first saw the movie in the theatre), but the rest is almost pure gold.

A Christmas Carol (1984) starring George C. Scott as Scrooge. Scott played crankypants characters so very well, and Scrooge was no exception. I haven't watched this version in a while, but I remember it being fairly true to the story and very well-done.

A Christmas Carol (2009) with Jim Carrey voicing the role of Scrooge in an animated version of the story that didn't bother to make anyone's eyes track well except for Scrooge's, so most of them look a bit daft. You can read more of my comments about it in this post from last year.

I like this story so well that I didn't mind "A Diva's Christmas Carol" starring Vanessa Williams on Lifetime or The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past starring Matthew McConaughey and Jennifer Garner.

I'd love to see a new live-action version of the movie, although I'm not quite sure who I'd like to see as Scrooge. And I'd love to know if you have a favorite version of this story.

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Last-minute gift ideas from the Bard

In The Winter's Tale, Act IV, scene 4, Autolycus (a pedlar and a pickpocket, who ultimately helps Perdita and Florinzel to escape and avoid Florinzel's father's wrath - man, do I need to re-read that play and blog about it come next June!) comes into the shepherd's house where Perdita has been raised, singing about his wares. Perhaps those of you in need of a last-minute gift will find something here. At the very least, I hope you will enjoy the lovely rhyme:

Lawn as white as driven snow;
Cyprus black as e'er was crow;
Gloves as sweet as damask roses;
Masks for faces and for noses;
Bugle bracelet, necklace amber,
Perfume for a lady's chamber;
Golden quoifs and stomachers,
For my lads to give their dears:
Pins and poking-sticks of steel,
What maids lack from head to heel:
Come buy of me, come; come buy, come buy;
Buy lads, or else your lasses cry: Come buy.
Form: The poem is written in trochaic tetrameter. Tetrameter means there are four poetic feet per line, and "trochaic" means that the feet are trochees (TROkeys) - two-syllable feet composed of a stressed followed by an unstressed syllable: DUMta DUMta DUMta DUM(ta). That last "ta" is in parentheses because sometimes Shakespeare leaves it off, truncating the final foot.

"Cyprus" here refers to a kind of black lawn or crape fabric made in Holland. A "quoif" is a variant spelling for a "coif," a type of close-fitting cap to be worn on the head. A "stomacher" was usually a jeweled or heavily embroidered piece to be worn around the waist. "Poking-sticks" were small sticks or rods used to adjust the pleats on ruffs.

You can hear a recording of John Coates singing this over at YouTube, starting at the 4:37 mark, if you're so inclined.

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S is taking psychology this year, which makes for interesting conversations now and again. She came home with this latest tidbit, and I am all set to experiment on myself, but it occurred to me that some of you might want to experiment as well, so here's the thing:

According to S, studies show that if you listen to a particular piece of music while studying, then listen to it while sleeping, your dreaming brain will actually keep on studying. This study sounds sensible to me, and is in keeping with one from a good 25 years or more ago that said that if you listened to a particular piece of music while studying and then again while taking a test, your test scores would improve. (Either the same study or a related one linked scent/taste and memory, and proved that if you ate chocolate while studying and then again just before or while taking the test, you'd recall more of the information. And who am I to question the sensible use of chocolate?)

My experiment: I'm going to listen to a particular piece of music from the playlist I have for my WIP when writing, then listen to it while sleeping to see if my brain will figure out what comes next in the scene for me. It can't hurt, right?

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

My local Borders is closing

I know it's not entirely fashionable to discuss Big Box Stores on writerly blogs, unless it's to be happy that a book is carried there or upset if it's not, but where I live, the nearest independent bookstore is in Philadelphia (Joseph Fox Bookshop, to be precise), which requires a drive and tolls and paid parking, so I don't go there terribly often. The nearest independent children's book store is Children's Book World in Haverford, which is a longer drive plus a toll, although at least the parking is free. But there are three Barnes & Nobles within 10 minutes of my house, along with a Borders store.

And it is to that Borders store that I go nearly every Thursday morning and every Friday afternoon to meet Angela De Groot for writing time. We've been going there for years now. We know all the book sellers. We know all the baristas. We are acquainted with quite a few of our fellow patrons, as well. People we are used to seeing. People who have, on occasion, held our favorite table for us because they knew we were coming. (Our favorite table is near an outlet, and outlets aren't always easy to come by.)

I've known for weeks that the store is closing, but today it felt more real than usual. Because when that store closes, we won't only be losing a place to sit, we will be losing a small community. We may not know the names of all our fellow patrons, but we recognize many of the regulars and are used to exchanging pleasantries. Will we see them again? Maybe, maybe not. It's all very sad. What if we don't see the kindly man who comes in to read his newspaper anymore? Or the lovely lady who nurses her iced tea for hours and reads with her nose almost pressed to the page? Or the nice man who always stops to enquire about our writing? Or the very old Holocaust survivor who hits on Angela? Or the lovely woman who was recently widowed, who comes in to find people with whom she can talk? (At least we have her email address, but still.)

Somehow I became "regular" there without realizing that's what was happening. And now I'm suffering the consequences of what happens when a place at which you were a regular goes dark. And I don't regret a moment of it, but I am a bit saddened by it. And now, I am going to pack up and head to my dwindling Borders for an unusual Tuesday afternoon session. (Angela's parents are visiting, so we'll leave them in peace in her house - by which I mean, we will go to Borders so her dad can watch TV!)

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At a Lunar Eclipse by Thomas Hardy

In honor of the lunar eclipse, I thought I'd share with you this lovely sonnet by Thomas Hardy. While he thought of himself as a poet who also wrote novels, he is mostly thought of as a novelist who also wrote some poems. Novels of his with which you might be familiar include Tess of the d'Urbervilles and Far From the Madding Crowd. I can tell you that I detested read Jude the Obscure when I was in college and I've never forgiven him for it. If I recall correctly, Mr. Hardy struggled mightily with the Industrial Revolution and Victorian ideas of proper conduct. But this lovely sonnet almost makes me rethink my position on Mr. Hardy.

At a Lunar Eclipse
by Thomas Hardy

Thy shadow, Earth, from Pole to Central Sea,
Now steals along upon the Moon's meek shine
In even monochrome and curving line
Of imperturbable serenity.

How shall I link such sun-cast symmetry
With the torn troubled form I know as thine,
That profile, placid as a brow divine,
With continents of moil and misery?

And can immense Mortality but throw
So small a shade, and Heaven's high human scheme
Be hemmed within the coasts yon arc implies?

Is such the stellar gauge of earthly show,
Nation at war with nation, brains that teem,
Heroes, and women fairer than the skies?

Form: The poem is an Italianate sonnet. It's written in iambic pentameter (five poetic feet per line, each of which is an iamb - a two-syllable "foot" composed of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one: taDUM. A line of iambic pentameter goes "taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM"). The rhyme scheme is ABBA ABBA CDE CDE.

Discussion: Notice how he starts the poem with a simple observation of the eclipse: The earth's shadow creeps across the face of the moon, and it's all very calm and orderly. The second stanza compares the calm, orderly shadow with the reality of life on earth, including its "continents of moil and misery". "Moil" means hard labor - essentially the same as toil. In the third stanza, he's asking a Big Question about the human soul: Is this life all there is? Is our mortality limited to the boundaries of the planet on which we dwell? And in the final stanza, he basically moves to what I consider the Peggy Lee "Is that all there is?" standpoint: "Is that shadow cast out there in the universe all that we are, really? Is that all the representation we get for nations at war and people who think, heroes and gorgeous women?"

Big questions, Mr. Hardy. And lovely images. And so very much to think about.

It is now 1:00 a.m. here in New Jersey, and the moon has started to be erased. I don't know that I'll see it go dark and then return, but I shall try.

Happy solstice and a good Yule to those of you who are celebrating! I hope the rest of you take a moment today to mark the turning of the year. I know I am looking forward to those extra moments of sunlight that will soon be coming our way.

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Time for tea

This morning I made banana chocolate chip bread (overripe bananas had to be used or tossed, and I prefer to use them up) and bourbon balls (just like rum balls, only with bourbon). And it occurred to me that some of you might want the recipe for those bourbon balls, which are a no-bake cookie and are exceedingly easy to make.

Bourbon (or Rum) Balls

2 c. vanilla wafer crumbs
2 T. cocoa powder
1-1/2 c. confectioner's (10X) sugar, separated
1 c. pecans, chopped fine
2 T. light corn syrup
1/4 c. bourbon or rum

In a mixing bowl, combine vanilla wafer crumbs, cocoa powder, 1 cup of confectioner's sugar and pecans. Add corny syrup and liquor to the mixture and stir until all is moistened. Put remaining 1/2 cup of powdered sugar in a small dish. Using your hands, roll the dough into balls, then roll them in the confectioner's sugar. Store them in a closed metal tin for at least 12 hours before serving.

How many it makes will depend on how big you roll them - I think I got about 2-1/2 dozen out of what I made today.


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Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat . . .

Boy, do I wish you were here with me so we could sing that song as a round. You know the lyrics, yes?

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat
Please to put a penny in the old man's hat
If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny will do
If you haven't got a ha'penny, then God bless you!
I know at least three versions of this song - two separate tunes, plus one that has a separate chorus interjected. It would be ever so much fun to go Christmas caroling again. I love to carol. And to sing in any sort of chorus or round. Fa la la la la, la la la la . . .

In the spirit of caroling, I will share with you a list of some of my favorite carols or Christmas songs:


Angels We Have Heard on High (love the glorias)
Adeste Fideles/O Come All Ye Faithful (I can sing it in Latin or English and like it either way)
Silent Night (I can sing it in German, English and, oddly enough, do a verse in Japanese - machs nichts)
The Holly and the Ivy
Christmas is Coming . . .
Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming
O Come, O Come Emmanuel
Wassail, wassail all over the town . . .
Must be Santa (I know all the hand motions, too!)
Deck the Halls
We Wish You a Merry Christmas
Il est né, le Divin Enfant

Christmas songs

In the Bleak Midwinter
Let it Snow (let it snow, let it snow)
Silver Bells
I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day (I know three versions, like the tune on Bing Crosby's album best)
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Merry Christmas Darling
Santa Claus is Coming to Town
Frosty the Snowman
Baby It's Cold Outside
The Little Drummer Boy
Do You Hear What I Hear?
River (I especially like the recordings by Robert Downey Jr. and by k.d. lang)
I'll Be Home For Christmas
The Christmas Song (Chestnuts roasting on an open fire . . .)
Carol of the Bells
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Sleigh Ride
Walking in a Winter Wonderland (which I still sing as "walking in my winter underwear" sometimes because of an episode of Evening Shade in which Michael Jeter's character bugged the crap out of Burt Reynolds by singing incorrect lyrics - and why yes, I am old)
And these three from Barenaked for the Holidays, which is one of my favorite holiday CDs ever (it has awesome Chanukah music on it as well): "Elf's Lament", "Footprints", and "Christmastime (Oh Yeah)"

Favorite novelty songs

Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer is pretty spectacular
Dominic the Donkey is hilarious ("dippety dip, hee-haw, hee-haw, it's Dominic the donkey")

I am 100% positive that I've left a couple of favorites off my list, but this is as much as I can come up with without going through all my holiday CDs. And you? Favorite carols and holiday songs?

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

The King's Speech

As some of you already know, I've been nearly desperate to see The King's Speech since before its (extremely limited) open several weeks ago. It has finally come to my local art house theatre, and I took myself to see it this afternoon. I laughed, I cried (as did most of the audience), and I was completely blown away. I am not certain there are enough superlatives to describe this film, but the two that come to mind for me most readily are "extraordinary" and "magnificent".

The King's Speech is a title with a double meaning - it refers to the speech impediment suffered by King George VI of England (previously Prince Albert, known as "Bertie" to his family and, as it turns out, to his speech therapist), and it refers to a particular speech made by the king, dealing with Britain's entry into World War II. Prince Albert was never supposed to be the monarch, really - he was the "spare". His elder brother, David, succeeded their father (George V) to the throne, becoming King Edward VIII. But as many of you know, King Edward VIII abdicated from the throne in order to marry American commoner and double-divorcée Wallis Simpson, thereby changing history.

The role of "Bertie"/King George VI is played by Colin Firth, and it's the best performance I've seen him give (and that is saying something - of course, I still have to see A Single Man). His speech therapist, Australian Lionel Logue, is played by the marvelous Geoffrey Rush, and his wife, Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mum) is played by Helena Bonham Carter. Know how over-the-top and extreme she is as Bellatrix Lestrange? She is the opposite here, and it's an elegant, understated performance that she turns in.

The supporting cast was tremendous - Derek Jacobi as the overbearing Archbishop of Canterbury, Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill, Professor Dumbledore Michael Gambon as King George V, Guy Pearce as King Edward VIII, Jennifer Ehle as Mrs. Logue and (in a cameo) strikeMr. Collins David Bamber as a theatre director (Firth, Ehle and Bamber were in the 1995 BBC production of Pride & Prejudice together).

The movie begins in 1926, when Prince Albert, Duke of York makes a disastrous radio broadcast at the close of the British Empire Exhibition as a result of his stammer. His wife, Elizabeth, finds speech therapists to treat him, eventually turning to Lionel Logue, an Australian with rather unorthodox manners. (For instance, he calls the prince "Bertie" instead of "your royal highness" or "sir", and he encourages him to swear, sing, roll about on the floor, etc.) The movie provides a great deal of insight into the life of King George VI and his upbringing, of course, not all of which is sunshine and roses. The movie has pathos and heart, and the moment when the king bellows "I have a voice!" gave me chills and reduced the man to my left to tears.

If it's open already near you, go see it. If it isn't, by all means go as soon as it is. The movie, the costumes, the sets, the script, the director, the cinematography and the acting are all worthy of superlatives. I predict massive awards falling on the film and its actors, and well-deservedly. It is that good.

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Had we but world enough and time

I spent the morning writing at Panera with friend Angela De Groot. I managed to put up the earlier quoteskimming post and to write about 300 words on my work in progress. I also discovered a so-far unreported error in the Scrivener Beta for Windows, so I did my part to report it and work out the kinks, etc.

Now I'm home, and I'm looking at all the things I really want to do - not just the things I must do, and some of them are also on this list, but the things I WANT to do:

bake cookies
wrap gifts and package some for mailing
go grocery shopping
make chili
see The King's Speech
work on my WIP
write a new song for my WIP
practice piano
sewing project
shop for stocking stuffers

(For the curious, here's today's plan: See The King's Speech at 1, then stop at the grocery store, then come home to make cookies and chili. I will also work on the WIP some more, whether it's a new song or additional text.)

As I was contemplating all the possibilities - so much to do, and all day to do it - I started muttering "Had we but world enough and time" - the opening line of Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress". And it occurred to me to pause in order to read the poem, so I got myself a hot cup of tea and took a few minutes to read the poem and to watch the video below, which somehow calmed me down and cheered me up all at the same time (not that I was particularly down, but I sure was flustered). So here's a reprise of the last time I posted about this poem, in case you need a moment's pause as well. I've even included video of Damian Lewis reciting the poem (RAWR!) so you can really "get away" for a moment:

Here is Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress", which I featured during National Poetry Month as part of my Building A Poetry Collection series of posts. But first, a clip of the yummy Damian Lewis reciting - nay, performing - the first two-thirds of the poem:

My favorite lines from the poem? The first line ("Had we but world enough, and time"), the last couplet of the second stanza ("The grave's a fine and private place,/But none, I think, do there embrace.") and these lines from the middle of the third and final stanza, which was omitted from Lewis's performance:

Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapt power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

The full text of the poem as well as discussion and analysis can be found in my post from April 14, 2009, among other places on the web. I also note that "Let us roll all our strength and all/Our sweetness up into one ball" is specifically referenced by T.S. Eliot in his marvelous poem, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock", which you can read here in a prior post.

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I love the movie The Princess Bride, so it probably comes as no surprise that I also liked Jael McHenry's online article, "Publishing and The Princess Bride: What Aspiring Authors Can Learn From Florin".

Here's a sample:

Is this a kissing book? If I had a nickel for every writer I'd heard say "But my book doesn't FIT any established GENRE!", the proceeds would count as a "good deal" on Publishers Marketplace. In a word: yes. Yes it does. And picking your genre is unimportant in some ways, but very important in others.
I am not a "put a bumper sticker on your car" sort of girl, but I do enjoy reading them. I liked this one that I spotted on a Prius when I picked up M after school the other day:

"Those who say it cannot be done shouldn't interrupt those doing it."

I saw this little quote unattributed somewhere online and tracked down its source as Ann Landers. While I don't think it holds true 100% of the time, I do believe it to be the case quite often - even in writing.

"Opportunities are usually disguised as hard work so most people don't recognize them."

And last week, Patti Smith was on the Colbert Report, and here's a bit of their exchange. Colbert asked whether she had any advice for a young person who's trying to become an artist:

Smith There's a certain amount of sacrifice. You have to work really hard. . . . I'm a hard worker, and I guess I'm lucky.

Colbert Is that what you'd tell a young person, just "work hard?"

Smith Yes. Being an artist you have to be ready to sacrifice. It's like being a mother. It's a full-time job.

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Oh happy day!

I am so very glad that "Don't ask, don't tell" has been repealed, and that U.S. soldiers and sailors who happen to be gay no longer have to hide their true selves.

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Five things on a Friday

This particular five things is all about my younger daughter, M, who turns 16 tomorrow.

1. M is on her first build for Habitat for Humanity today. I'm so proud of her for participating in community service, and Habitat is one of the charities that has long been close to my heart.

2. She's doing quite a lot of community service, actually - she's also part of her high school's "Adopt a Grandparent" program, which means that she'll be playing bingo with people at a senior center once a month. (She couldn't go today because she was selected to participate in the Habitat build; otherwise, she'd have been a bingo-playing fool.)

3. She's been doing stuff for the F.O.P. Christmas party as well - largely making decorations, but on Sunday she will go to the hotel where the event is being held to help decorate, and on Monday she's one of the kids who will be helping at the actual party. (Not everyone gets to go - you have to make all the meetings to even qualify.)

4. Plus she's a founding member of her school's Go Green for the Greater Good club (they recycle electronics).

5. M is now 6 feet tall. (No lie.) Strange but true: When she was 5'10-1/2", she was embarrassed about her height and didn't want to grow any taller. She slouched and moped. Now that she's actually 6' tall, she's totally at peace with it. She stands tall. She even wears heels to dressy events. I love that about her. I also love how confident she is that she's going to meet and marry a 6'10" Englishman someday.

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In the Bleak Midwinter by Christina Rossetti

It snowed here last night. Not very much, mind you, but it was enough to turn most of our local roads quite dangerous. And I know many of my friends are already seeing snow where they live. And so it came to pass that last night was my first singing of "In the Bleak Midwinter" since the turn of the seasons.

Christina Rossetti was an extraordinary poet. One of her poems, "In the Bleak Midwinter", has been set to music at least twice. My favorite setting is the one written by Gustav Holst (who many folks know for his symphonic work, "The Planets"). I must confess that I only have the first and last verses committed to memory, and that's all I sing when I sing this one. Which is often, in these shortest days of the year. The poem is pretty on its own, but the Holst tune is magical.

My favorite lines are these:

Snow had fallen,
Snow on snow,
snow on snow

and it's because of the repetition. But hey, that's how snow piles up, yes? Snow on snow on snow. *sigh*

Here in its entirety is Rossetti's poem.

In the Bleak Midwinter
by Christina Rossetti

In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen,
Snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter,
Long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold him,
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When he comes to reign;
In the bleak midwinter
A stable place sufficed
The Lord God incarnate,
Jesus Christ.

Enough for him, whom Cherubim
Worship night and day
A breast full of milk
And a manger full of hay.
Enough for him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air;
But his mother only,
In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him —
Give my heart.

And here's a wonderful recording of the song by Corrinne May, singing in a coffee shop no less:

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Sonnet 116 by William Shakespeare

It's only been a few days since we finished reading Sense & Sensibility. A lot of people I know associate today's Shakespearean sonnet with the book because it was included in the 1995 movie version written by and starring Emma Thompson. The poem is first recited by Marianne and Willoughby when he first visits her after she twists her ankle in the rain; it is later quoted by Marianne as she looks at Combe Magna in a different rainy scene, just before Colonel Brandon carries her soggy self back to the house.

As a screenwriter, Emma Thompson could be making the point that love is not an ever-fixèd mark that can withstand tempests, or she could be making the point that what Marianne and Willoughby had was not true love. I rather favor the former interpretation, jaded though it may be. Nevertheless, this sonnet is one of my favorites (heck, it's one of almost everybody's favorites), and it seemed like an excellent choice for a cold winter's day here in New Jersey. (Then again, it'd be pretty perfect for a warm summer's day in, say, Auckland as well.)

Sonnet 116
by William Shakespeare

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixèd mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
  If this be error and upon me proved,
  I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Analysis and discussion

This particular Shakespearean sonnet shows the Bard at his finest. While it's written in iambic pentameter like the others, and the rhyme scheme is the same as other Shakespearean sonnets (ABABCDCDEFEFGG), this one makes quite a lot of use of enjambment, a technique where one is expected not to pause or stop at the end of each line, but only where punctuation exists. Thus, the first part of the poem when recited aloud would read as follows:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments.
Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no!
It is an ever-fixèd mark that looks on tempests and is never shaken;
The entire poem, start to finish, is keen on making the point that love is constant as the North Star (the star by which "wandering barks" or boats guide themselves), and that it withstands time and testing. True to Shakespearian sonnet form, the first eight lines set the situation: love is constant. The turn comes in the ninth line, when Shakespeare starts to discuss the fact that love is not affected by time in particular. And the final couplet turns the poem again, becoming personal: I love you, it says, and will love you always.

There's a lovely bit of analysis of this poem woven into the ShakespeaRe-Told version of Much Ado About Nothing starring Damian Lewis (RAWR!) as Benedick and Sarah Parrish as Beatrice. The poem itself starts at about 2:30 into this clip:

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A word of thanks

I really feel like I ought to publicly thank the following recording artists for their help as I work on my work in progress (a contemporary YA romance, about which I'm saying little else in a worldwide public forum). I have been enjoying my project so much that I can't wait to start it or get back to it most of the time. I've dreamt about my characters once (new for me - shhh, don't tell the gnomes I never dreamt about them), planned a couple of field trips for slightly more moderate weather, and composed one song so far. (With a second song in progress - I will say that the guy is in a band, and when he writes new songs, I actually sit down and write music & lyrics, because . . . I don't know why, really. It just seemed like the right thing to do. But I digress.)

And, of course, I made a playlist. There's one overly long playlist with in excess of 70 songs on it, but I don't listen to all or even most of them - they're there as possibilities when I reach certain scenes.

Here are the ones that have been getting lots of play in the first 9 chapters. And yes, I realize there are several repeat artists here - they excel at writing happy love songs. They're in no real order:

"Today Was a Fairy Tale" by Taylor Swift
"Let Me Take You There" by Plain White T's
"Enchanted" by Taylor Swift
"Can You Tell" by Ra Ra Riot
"Mine" by Taylor Swift
"The Rhythm of Love" by Plain White T's
"Love Story" by Taylor Swift
"You and Me" by Dave Matthews Band
"If My Heart Was a House" by Owl City
"You Belong With Me" by Taylor Swift
"Swing Life Away" by Rise Against
"If the Moon Fell Down Tonight" by Chase Coy and Colbie Caillat
"Sparks Fly" by Taylor Swift
"1,2,3,4" by Plain White T's
"You and I" by Secondhand Serenade

Um, yeah. It's really heavy on Taylor Swift and Plain White T's. And it's not like I listen to music 100% of the time when I'm writing. Often I listen to it before writing a scene, or when stuck in the middle. Also, these aren't the only songs I listen to for this project. But these are the ones with the most play.

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Corsets, automatons, & words like cladistics - a steampunk conversation


There's a rumbling of animatronic tom-toms afoot on the interweb that is related to steampunk books - which includes Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore, of course, because of Jackie's automaton - and it MUST be true because her book is listed in the SLJ article on Steampunk that came out on December 1st (even though I didn't really think of it as steampunk myself – then again, according to a list located by my local librarian in charge of the graphic novel collections for kids, The Invention of Hugo Cabret was steampunk, even though I and the three librarians who discussed the list all considered it historical fiction, really, if you had to classify it; but I digress).

I did a linky post about the SLJ article on Monday as part of my contribution to the Alternate History/Steampunk initiative being organized by Colleen Mondor. But it occurred to me that what I'd really truly like to do is a steampunk conversation involving some of my writerly friends who trend that way, so I contacted Tiffany Trent, Lisa Mantchev and Jaclyn Dolamore to see if they might want to play. And they did – lucky me!

I sent along two or three questions to get us started, and started keeping track of the conversation, which has been pieced together from emails starting . . . NOW:

1. What attracted you to steampunk elements in the first place? Is it the clockwork, the corsets, the awesome inventions?

Jackie Dolamore: I don't really think of my work as steampunk, but as fantasy that draws from the real world and its history, and I'm attracted to that uncanny element in history. One of my favorite museums is the Lightner Museum in St. Augustine, FL, which is housed in one of Henry Flagler's grand old hotels and is full of every sort of strange thing from the past, including a few automata, a wonderful collection of mechanical musical instruments, weird collections of things, a mummy, creepy paintings, overdramatic furniture, an electrical machine that was supposed to do something medical or entertaining, I can't remember which . . .

Anyway, it's fascinating but it makes my hair stand a bit on end at the same time, and I like to convey that in a book if I can. I think automatons are one of the most fascinating things from the past, and it's easy for me to imagine myself in the 18th century seeing this technology and feeling full of wonder at its possibility and horror at its soulless humanity . . . Am I being too wordy yet? Anyway, Magic Under Glass was driven by fascination by automata. I'm similarly mesmerized by zeppelins, so I used one in my short story for the Corsets and Clockwork anthology, but I feel like I didn't have enough space to really explore it so I'm hoping I can squeeze one in my next WIP. . .

Lisa Mantchev: I am fully prepared to admit the first thing that attracted me to steampunk was the costuming! What's not to love about cobbling together thrift store finds with a silk corset and shiny brass bits? And then there's my addiction to antique shopping and treasure hunting. My house is already full of bits (more art nouveau than Victoriana, perhaps) but I love owning things with a history, and the dirtier the discovery, the better. Plus "researching steampunk" sounds like a way more legitimate way of spending the day than "surfing eBay for watch bits."

Tiffany Trent: Unlike most, my attraction to steampunk comes from a totally different angle. In tandem with all that was going on in the Industrial Revolution, the Victorian naturalists were revolutionizing our understanding of the world around us. They were also collecting things to the point of extinction. (Meet the world's first hoarders, everyone!) I'm utterly fascinated by the Victorian approach to nature and the things they tended to ignore (racism, classism, etc., etc.) while hunting down beetles in South America. Of course, the awesome clothes and the spirit of invention don't exactly drive me away, though.

Kelly Fineman: (For Lisa) Is the Théâtre Illuminata set in a steampunk alternative universe? There are clockwork horses and a steam train, but I wasn't entirely certain whether you conceived of it as steampunk, precisely, though I'm pretty sure I read a short story of yours that was decidedly steampunk.

Lisa Mantchev: I think the theater series rubbed up against a steampunk costume and come away wearing some of the shiny bits. I do have a novella collaboration with James A. Grant that appeared in Weird Tales Magazine (reprinted in Steampunk Reloaded, edited by the Vandermeers) that is Honest To Goodness Steampunk, though.

Kelly Fineman: I have a follow-up for all of y'all, which is this: How much steampunkishness is required for something be steampunk? If we accept Lisa's proposition that there needs to be steam technology and some sort of industrial revolution (and I think that is a valid presupposition), then how many other elements are required?

Lisa Mantchev: As for "how much steampunkishness is required?" I'd say that's up to both the writer and the reader, Results May Vary. And where I said "Industrial revolution" before, maybe I should have just said "revolution." Anarchy of any kind puts the -punk in steampunk.

Jackie Dolamore: The "how much steampunk is required" discussion . . . well, I'm a poor one for that because I don't think I really write true steampunk. I was told my short story needed more science . . . and I definitely don't think I've got the punk part. I think I'm a wee bit more on the "fantasy of manners" side than the "anything-punk" side.

Kelly Fineman: I love the term "fantasy of manners", which (interestingly enough) is sometimes called "mannerpunk" in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way. I suppose it's hard to be focused on hierarchical society and still manage to be a punk, yes?

Tiffany Trent: I must secretly (or not-so-secretly) admit that I'm not sure I'm writing true steampunk with these books, either. But Victoriannaturalistpunk is a bit of a mouthful.

2. To your way of thinking, is there a particular time period associated with steampunk?

Tiffany Trent: Tricksy question. It depends on one's focus, I think. Culturally, we could probably look at Chinese steampunk quite early on--they had invented printing presses and movable type long before Gutenberg. And we could look at the Baroque era with its amazing automatons and observatories. Most people think of the Victorian era, but honestly my steampunk is a mashup of Baroque and Victoriana because I'm weird like that.

Jackie Dolamore: I'm sure everyone thinks of Victorians first, but I agree with Tiffany that it could cover a lot more ground. Would love to see more Asian steampunk!! My aforementioned next WIP could probably be tagged as 1920s German steampunk. Where there's technology I suppose there could be steampunk? And if the trend continues I'm sure we'll see more and more variety.

Lisa Mantchev: Because I view steampunk as alternate history, I think it can function in any time period as long as there is steam-driven technology and some sort of industrial revolution occurring. I think we see a lot of Victorian-era England-ish gas lamp fantasies because of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells (and bustle skirts! and top hats!)

Tiffany Trent: Darwin inspires me, of course. Before I started The Unnaturalists, I started a book about Darwin. (Which I still intend to finish). I loved that there was so much fighting about very nature of our being, about using taxonomy and cladistics to try and describe our world. The Linnaean view of life (prevalent at the time) is very different than the one we hold now, thanks to Darwin.

My steampunk is set in Fairyland, basically. It's a "what-if-the-Victorian-naturalists-got-stuck-in-Fairyland?" book. What would they do if they woke up with dragons outside their windows? I tend to think they would do just what they did with nature in this world--shoot it, stuff it, study it, collect lots of it, and maybe find other uses for it. But I liked using the Baroque trappings to indicate an even deeper rigidity and self-righteousness in the culture. Thus, the mix. ;) Haven't gotten to read a lot of multicultural steampunk, but I hear rumors of it being in the works from various quarters. I see lots of it in art—James Ng's art is what I'm thinking of with Chinese steampunk.

3. Who are your favorite steampunk authors?

Tiffany Trent: Well . . . my fellow conspirators here, of course. Cherie Priest. Caitlin Kittredge's YA steampunk Iron Thorn will be out in Feb. and is awesome. I love Philip Reeve, but am not sure he considers himself steampunk or would much appreciate the appellation. I can name more, if interested.

Jackie Dolamore: I loved Kenneth Oppel's trilogy, especially Skybreaker, because the idea of a lost airship floating around forever with frozen dead people and amazing natural treasures on it is exactly that kind of hair-raising awesome I mentioned . . . And the Vögelein comic. Jane Irwin also did an online serial about The Turk, the same automaton that inspired me in the final draft of Magic Under Glass.

As a reader, I don't like my books to be too gadgety or deviate too much from what feels like real history to me (purely personal opinion) but I'm more forgiving with graphic novels because you can have so much fun with the visuals, so there's also Kaja and Phil Foglio's Girl Genius. I've only tracked down the first two volumes, but that's a lot of fun. I'm sure I'll be adding more to the list because there's so much coming out now!

Lisa Mantchev: I just did a panel on steampunk YA, and we also included:
Incarceron and Sapphique by Catherine Fisher
The Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare
Leviathan and Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld
The Hunchback Assignments by Arthur Slade
Worldshaker by Richard Harland
Side note: [still Lisa] the more we try to create a list of Must Haves, the narrower the field gets. I'd rather err on the side of "if it's shiny, invite it to the party!"

Tiffany Trent: Agreed re: categorizing the genre. Therein lies the path to stagnation.

Kelly Fineman: LOVE that side note. And I agree wholeheartedly. Then again, I'm not a "purist", and I rather expect there are some longtime spec fic writers who are gnashing their teeth and calling shenanigans on some of the books being labelled as steampunk these days.

Lisa Mantchev: And then there are the longtime spec fic writers who are calling shenanigans on the entire genre, an attitude I find tiresome and elitist.

Jackie Dolamore: I guess I'm not too much into branding or stifling anything, really. I mean, that's why I love YA--because there is so much more diversity in books published, etc., so I certainly don't want to suppress the evolution of subgenres. (We're talking about YA and adult books here, but still... I just want to see creativity and diversity everywhere!) Even if I think 90% of a genre is crap I still hate seeing people knock it because, oh, the 10% is worth it. I mean, some steampunk is just too goggles and gadgets for me, but that's just me. I can see why others might find it appealing, so I think going around knocking it is just obnoxious. (Although I didn't follow the discussion . . . I don't follow the spec fic world.) That goes for anything: paranormal YA, dystopian . . . whatever.

Kelly Fineman: MAJOR thanks to Jackie, Lisa and Tiffany for taking part in a conversation that I found so very interesting, for making me think, and for giving me lists of authors to put on my TBR list (which was already long enough, thank you, but I'm always glad to lengthen it).

A complete round-up of Alt History/Steampunk Week links can be found at Chasing Ray.

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