pegkerr: (Default)
An interesting article, a review of a book about literary fame here.

The always wise Jim Hines ([ profile] jimhines) has a pithy list outlining the nature of depression, here. Much of it looks extremely familiar.

I have been busting a gut laughing at the Twitter hashtag TedCruzCampaignSlogans. Especially now that on the first full day of his campaign, CNN has pinned him into admitting that he, the tireless hater of Obamacare ('We must repeal it!') is going on Obamacare himself now that his wife has left her employer, Goldman Sachs to join him on the campaign trail, and so his family has no healthcare coverage. The delicious, delicious irony.
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I've been reading a lot for escape lately, but reading has been difficult. I've had bad luck with a crappy succession of mindless escape fiction I've been taking out of the library, so I went out on the internet looking for fanfiction.

I was in the mood for some Éomer/Lothíriel, which is generally my preferred pairing in the LOTR universe. I like Éomer as a character, because he is quite well-rounded and has an extremely interesting background. He's heroic, but he's human, too. He shows the full gamut of human emotion. Unlike the more saintly Aragorn, Éomer has a temper which has at times altered the course of his character arc.

We know, from Tolkien's afterward, that he married Princess Lothíriel of Dol Amoth, and we know at least a little about her family, but Tolkien (to the best of my knowlege) never brough Lothíriel onstage. This is catnip for fanfiction writers: a pairing with one incredibly interesting, appealing character (Éomer) and another who is more or less a blank slate, so they can build a very wide range of stories. But Lothíriel's situation is interesting, as little we know about her, too: she is coming to a new culture, learning an entirely different language, and it's a great device for the reader: as Lothíriel learns about Rohan, the readers learn about it, too. And the culture of the Riddermark is extremely interesting, not just standard medieval fantasy.

The great risk, of course, is turning Lothíriel into a Mary-Sue character. I haven't run much into that, however, because the Éomer/Lothíriel pairing is one of the rarer ones due to the fact that the courtship and wedding and indeed the entire relationship happens after the book ends, off-stage, and so the more clumsy beginning fanfiction writers may not even KNOW about the pairing. On the contrary, the few who do write it are steeped in Tolkien's lore, and I think, better writers.

Two of the prominent writers I've enjoyed the most are Lady Bluejay and Lialathuveril, both of whom have returned to the pairing again and again, writing some impressive, novel-length works. They have played with a number of questions: was it an arranged marriage or a love match? Or was it an arranged marriage which turned into a love match? Or was it an unhappy marriage? What is Rohan like? What sort of role does Lothíriel have in her new home? What does she discover about the different role of women in her original home by the sea as opposed to her adopted home?

Deandra writes Éomer/Lothíriel, too, and she's quite prolific but her works are generally shorter, and not, I think, quite as richly complex.

However: as I said, I went out on the internet looking for more (since it's a rarer pairing it's hard to find new stuff) and I ran across a story and author I'd never encountered before. I must say I think it's one of the strongest fanfiction stories I've ever read. It's REALLY different than the standard Éomer/Lothíriel story, which often concentrates on how they met, how they fell in love, and how did Lothíriel adjust to Rohan.

I've seen some Éomer/Lothíriel stories that deal with Haradian characters (generally they're cast as villains), but I've NEVER seen a Éomer/Lothíriel story which takes place partly IN Harad. Éomer and Lothíriel spend almost the entire story apart, but they are learning about each other and their relationship is changing, even so. It examines big, big questions which seemed to me particularly timely, considering the goddawful news out of the Middle East: what is justice? How does a nation recover from war? What should you do when you encounter your enemy afterwards--if you win OR if you lose? What are the moral justifications for going to war? There was what (I thought) was a really surprising twist toward the end, and the ending itself was absolutely stunning.

I'd really love to get your reactions. The story is In His Face A Shining Light and it's by Carryon14.
pegkerr: (words)
Here's the NaNoWriMo song (Kristina Horner of the Parselmouths/All Caps).

pegkerr: (Loving books)
Yes, I am still obsessing about Occupy Wall Street. Now there's a way that writers can help. A new website has been started called Occupy Writers (they're on twitter as @OccupyWriters). Read about it here:
Taking up their pens to fight, more than 100 authors have signed up at Occupy Writers, a Web site that launched last week as a rallying point for authors to show their support for the protest movement.

Francine Prose, author of “Blue Angel,” “Reading Like a Writer” and “Goldenglove.” (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
As well as offering a petition (which succinctly reads, “We, the undersigned writers and all who will join us, support Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy Movement around the world”), the organizers of the site are asking the authors to write about their experiences and thoughts about the protests. So far, two authors have posted messages.

The first, from author Francine Prose, is a short, impassioned paragraph about the protests moving her to tears.

“I kept thinking about how, since this movement started, I’ve been waking up in the morning without the dread (or at least without the total dread) with which I’ve woken every morning for so long, the vertiginous sense that we’re all falling off a cliff and no one (or almost no one) is saying anything about it.”

Poet D.A. Powell also added his voice to the conversation, in a poem titled “The Great Unrest.” Lemony Snicket, the penname of author Daniel Handler, posted thirteen observations “while watching Occupy Wall Street from a Discreet Distance.” Number 11: “Historically, a story about people inside impressive buildings ignoring or even taunting people standing outside shouting at them turns out to be a story with an unhappy ending.”

Other authors are using Twitter to show their support for the protests. Salman Rushdie was one of the first writers to agree to sign up for the Occupy Writers protest. On Sunday, he made a trip to Zuccotti Park, writing on Twitter about his experience there.

The list has a mix of radical writers and moderate ones.
pegkerr: (Loving books)
I get the Writer's Almanac email from Minnesota Public Radio every day. Yesterday's included these two paragraphs about Louise Erdrich, and my immediate reaction was yes oh yes indeed yes:
She said, "We have a lot of books in our house. They are our primary decorative motif—books in piles on the coffee table, framed book covers, books sorted into stacks on every available surface, and of course books on shelves along most walls. Besides the visible books, there are the boxes waiting in the wings, the basement books, the garage books, the storage locker books. They are a sort of insulation, soundproofing some walls. They function as furniture, they prop up sagging fixtures and disguised by quilts function as tables. The quantities and types of books are fluid, arriving like hysterical cousins in overnight shipping envelopes only to languish near the overflowing mail bench. Advance Reading Copies collect at beside, to be dutifully examined—to ignore them and read Henry James or Barbara Pym instead becomes a guilty pleasure. I can't imagine home without an overflow of books. The point of books is to have way too many but to always feel you never have enough, or the right one at the right moment, but then sometimes to find you'd longed to fall asleep reading The Aspern Papers, and there it is."

She said, "By having children, I've both sabotaged and saved myself as a writer. [...] With a child you certainly can't be a Bruce Chatwin or a Hemingway, living the adventurer-writer life. No running with the bulls at Pamplona. If you value your relationships with your children, you can't write about them. You have to make up other, less convincing children. There is also one's inclination to be charming instead of presenting a grittier truth about the world. But then, having children has also made me this particular writer. Without my children, I'd have written with less fervor; I wouldn't understand life in the same way. I'd write fewer comic scenes, which are the most challenging. I'd probably have become obsessively self-absorbed, or slacked off. Maybe I'd have become an alcoholic. Many of the writers I love most were alcoholics. I've made my choice, I sometimes think: Wonderful children instead of hard liquor."
pegkerr: (Default)
I've fallen a bit behind on keeping up with my friends/reading pages and so haven't followed too much about all the reactions to the Wicked Pretty Things anthology kerfluffle (last month, Jessica Verday withdrew her story from the anthology after receiving a note from the editor which stated that her story “would have to be published as a male/female story because a male/male story would not be acceptable to the publishers.”) But I'd guess that Jim Hines' reaction is among the classiest. See Jim's post to read more about the dispute and aftermath. Way to go, Jim. Thanks for continuing to be a hero. And kudos of course to Jessica Verday and the rest of the authors who took a principled stand by withdrawing their stories. (Jim says that a commenter has passed along the subsequent announcement that the anthology has now been cancelled.)
pegkerr: (Eliza)
Literature's gender gap
Women are underrepresented in literary publishing because men aren't interested in what they have to say

(Rather a bald, sweeping statement, but the author offers evidence.) I've mentioned the story before about the cover for The Wild Swans, I think. When we were discussing possible covers, my editor said, rather to my surprise, that she expected the audience would be women. When I asked her whether she thought gay men would read it, she said she said something (and I can't remember the exact wording) that she didn't think men read books with...a woman in the cover art? A woman's author's name? Can't remember exactly.

(The author's on Twitter at @magiciansbook.)
pegkerr: (But this is terrible!)
Here's an interesting article about the difficulties inherent in attempting to write sex scenes. Specifically, good sex scenes, the ones that don't pull the reader out of the story because he or she is too busy guffawing. Apparently, there is an annual award for the worst of the worst: the Literary Review's Bad Sex award.
While these nominations provide testimony to the creative potholes authors can slip down when they stray into the bedroom, the awards themselves prove their opposite – good sex writing - does exist. Against that the bad is selected, according to Jonathan Beckman, assistant editor of The Literary Review.

But for all the vituperation at authors who get it wrong, there appears to be little consensus on how to get it right. Some writers follow the forensic language of anatomy, others adopt metaphor and euphemism, while opponents of literary sex shun it for crass approximations with pornography.
I've actually been thinking a bit about this during the past month because for unknown reasons (in fact, I've been rather mystified about it) for the past three months I've been gorging on romance novels. It's really my first attempt for a wide-ranging exploration of the genre. Well, not so wide-ranging, as a matter of fact. I've been reading almost exclusively Regency romances, ignoring other niches such as paranormals, highlanders and westerns. What have I discovered?

First of all, that there are an awful lot of bad romances. Secondly, much of what I've read in the field is very repetitive and/or derivative.

I don't know why on earth I'm reading this stuff. Maybe I'm restlessly searching for someone who is doing it right, even as I'm wading through so many books where the author is doing it wrong. In fact, this compulsion (and it has truly seemed like a compulions; I've read possibly fifty of the damn things in the past two months) is downright baffling to me. One possibility is that I'm studying the use of the erotic in fiction. This is one area that I never felt comfortable attempting myself, and I thought it was a true deficit in my own writing. I envy writers that can manage it gracefully (Kij Johnson is certainly one whose confidence in this type of writing just always made me marvel) I just never had the courage to try it because I knew (and know) that when done clumsily, the result could be so very embarrassing. My overly developed critical review of my own work (the same thing that led to my writers block) made me so self conscious that I couldn't really even bring myself to write sex scenes, even when I wrote with the intention that I would only ever be the only reader. The bravest thing I ever attempted was chapter twelve in The Wild Swans, when Sean and Elias went to the bathhouse, but neither of my two main characters actually participated in the graphic encounters right there on the page, and I cut to black several times in that book rather than writing an encounter with the camera on, so to speak. I almost broke out in hives when my critique group went over Chapter 12, I found it so stressful.

One of the most erotic scenes I've read in my romp through the pages of a host of romance novels is particularly striking because of its restraint. It took place when a man and a woman are sitting next to each other in a theater box. The man slowly unbuttons the buttons on her glove, one by one and slowly insinuates a finger inside to stroke the palm of her hand.

Who are authors you admire who do sex scenes well? Have you attempted to write them yourself? Do you find it easy or difficult? Do you balk at showing your work to other people? Does practice make perfect? Do you that a wide-ranging sexual experience is necessary to write sexually explicit prose with ease and confidence? Other thoughts?
pegkerr: (Default)
I've started carrying a miniature Moleskine notebook in my purse. They're fun for jotting down random things. Here is a fascinating article, with abundant illustrations about twenty famous men (including Ben Franklin, Leonardo Da Vinci and Mark Twain), and the things they put down in their pocket notebooks.

(Would be curious to see an equivilent article about women and their pocket notebooks.)
pegkerr: (Loving books)
Ever wondered about how a book's subtitle is created? Don't miss this hilarious chart from Publishers Weekly, Subtitle-o-Matic, about how to generate a book subtitle. It's HILARIOUS because it's TRUE. Martin Kihn also has a website, Subtitle-o-Matic.
pegkerr: (Default)
A very interesting site examining the problems of translating the Harry Potter into Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese here.
pegkerr: (Default)
Mark Tiedemann, who was in the Clarion East class of '88 with me, has just posted a fun essay about his memories of the workshop. It gives you a good snapshot of what Clarion is like. And it includes a picture of me (with a dreadful perm growing out, brandishing a water gun), when I was twenty-eight years old.
pegkerr: (Default)
Although both of my novels have romantic elements, I've never considered myself someone who generally reads romance novels myself. There are a few exceptions. Jane Austen, of course, is the most important one. I adore Jane Austen, as long-time readers of this blog know. Interestingly enough, it was a science fiction writer who got me to read Jane Austen, when I was (I think?) somewhere in my late twenties or early thirties. Eleanor Arnason made an off-hand comment at a panel at a science fiction convention (or perhaps it was one of our one-on-one conversations afterwards; my memory is hazy) that one of the best Iago-like depictions of evil she's ever read takes place in the opening chapter of Sense and Sensibility. Fanny Dashwood cleverly leads her husband, step-by-step, to repudiate the promise he made to his father on the latter’s deathbed to support his sisters. She gets him to agree to a little, and then a little more, and a little more, until by the end he is actually congratulating himself for his generosity for resolving to behave in totally dishonorable and miserly way to the women his father commended to his care. I was intrigued by her description of the passage and so read the book--and I was hooked. It's curious, that my introduction to romances was due to my writerly curiosity about how to write an effective villain.

Of course, Jane Austen wasn't considered a 'romance writer' in her day because the marketing category simply didn't even exist yet. Even today, I think that people who dismiss her as a mere romance novelist (often without reading her) are missing the point. She wrote about love and marriage, true. But she was hardly a wild romantic, but more of an Augustan realist with a very keen sense of the absurdity of human nature. When it comes down choosing between the worldview of Marianne or Elinor Dashwood, I think Miss Austen would clearly side with Elinor.

I also read Georgette Heyer's novels, which were recommended to me by a friend. I loved them and reread them almost every year. I had a couple Joan Aiken and Jane Aiken Hodge romances, which I picked up because I read Joan Aiken's children's books, and because Joan Aiken wrote continuations of Jane Austen's works.

Last year I picked up the Sons of Destiny novels of Jean Johnson ([ profile] ladyofthemasque) because I'd read and enjoyed some of her fanfiction. These were fantasy romances. Magic+sex=fluffy and fun.

But last month, I did something I'd never done before. I'd just finished the Jean Johnson books and when I got the bookstore gift card from my family, I went into a bookstore and headed, somewhat uncertainly, to a section I'd never hung out in before: I think I'll buy a romance. Any romance, I don't care. Um, well, a good romance. But which one? No recommendation. No knowledge of the author. Could I pick a romance up off the shelf and just read it cold?

I didn't know and I had literally never tried doing such a thing before. I have a sense of a slight preference for type (I was gravitating toward the historical romances, particularly regency) but I have no idea who popular romance authors are. As a genre, I had a little idea of how the marketing works from reading, of all things, Elizabeth Peter's Die for Love, a marvelously snarky and fun murder mystery set, of all places, at a romance writers convention. Yeah, Elizabeth Peters was right. The covers of romance novels ARE embarrassing. I thought about Joanna Russ' essay "How to Suppress Women's Writing" as I browsed the lurid covers. Here was writing by women, for women. It's wildly successful, but I'm embarrassed to pick it up. I thought a lot about that as I browsed, but yeah, I was uneasy about being seen carrying a book with those stereotypical clinch bodice-ripper covers. How interesting. Was I buying into the disparagment of the genre without thinking about it?

My first two picks were okay. Fun and pleasantly salacious. I enjoyed them well enough that I went back last weekend and picked up four more, again, picking cold. OMG. This last attempt was much less successful. I squirmed at the egregious errors, in history and voice. It was like biting into a bon bon, hoping for some delicious chococolate, and encountering plastic. Well, that was a waste of money. The cover blurbs were useless and "New York Times Best Selling Author" is no guarantee of quality, believe me. The historical errors irritated me, and the cliches were a turn off.

Well, what do other people think are good fantasy novelists? So I googled "Best romance novels" and picked a book that came in #1 on several lists: Outlander by Diane Gabaldon. There are over sixteen hundred reviews on the Amazon page, so I guess a few people have read it. I was interested to discover, when I got to the bookstore to pick up a copy, that although it was considered a rather groundbreaking book when it came out, and won the best novel of 1991 from the Romance Writers of America, it is now shelved in "Fiction." Not Romance. No clinch on the cover.

So I'm diving into the book, and so far it's certainly gripping my attention. No taste of plastic in my teeth so far. I'll keep you posted.

MyCharityWater Campaign Report:

91 people served
42 donations
29 days left

The Charity:Water blog posted about this campaign, and I felt more than a little envious. He raised more than $25,000? What fundraising mojo does he have that I don't have?

Then I realized he is one of the co-founders of Twitter.

Oh. Guess that answers that.

(Only 29 days left! There's still time to make the goal!)
pegkerr: (Default)
I ran across a book today that I think anyone on my list who's a writer, particularly a fantasy writer, should definitely check out. It's called Lost Crafts: Rediscovering Traditional Skills. The name on the cover is Una McGovern, but it's not clear if she's the author or an editor. ISBN 978 0550 104267. Oh my gosh, HOW I wish I'd had this book when I was writing The Wild Swans. It's part history and part instruction, and over a hundred skills are explained. How to milk a cow. How to skin a rabbit. How to sheer a sheep. How to mend a fishing net. How to make a boat. How to thatch a cottage. How to mend a stone wall. How to lay a hedge. How to make and mend a quill pen. How to whittle a brier pipe. How to make rope. How to tan leather. How to sweep a chimney. How to make cider, lemonade, butter, cheese, jam and marmalade. How to make a bow and arrows. How to make a basket. How to keep bees. How to forage for wild food. How to make bobbin lace. How to navigate by the stars. How to make hay. How to make a broom. Etc. Click on the "Take a Look Inside" and go the the second page and you'll see the whole list. It's quite impressive.

Heck, even though I'm not currently producing fiction, I may just end up buying it anyway.

There's a companion volume, called Lost Lore: A celebration of traditional wisdom, by Una McGovern and Paul Jenner. Haven't seen that one, but the description reads:
cooking with a range / counting sheep / curing drunkenness / finding water / signalling with semaphore / identifying plants and trees/ making and taking tea / natural first aid / using an abacus/ navigating by nature / preparing antidotes to poisoning / predicting the sex of a baby / repairing clothes / curing warts / weather forecasting. Lost Lore is a celebration of the time-honored wisdom upon which we all once relied. It draws on folklore, tradition and superstition, and is packed with amusing anecdotes and historical extracts which illuminate the beliefs and knowledge of our ancestors. It brings to life the wisdom and practical skills that helped generation after generation, only becoming lost with the advent of mechanization and the technological age. Following in the footsteps of Lost Crafts, Lost Lore is a beautiful book that will once more immerse you in the pleasures of the past.
pegkerr: (Default)
I'm late to the party, but...

[ profile] naomikritzer sent me a link to a story a few months back because she knows I'm interested in reading good fanfiction depictions of Neville Longbottom. I didn't get around to reading it until this weekend, but the story sucked me right in. It's a re-telling of Deathly Hallows from Neville's point of view, covering what happened at Hogwarts, with Neville running the D.A. An author's note at the conclusion of the story ended with this:
...This story is not dedicated to my readers, or to a group of fictional, if -- at least to me -- compelling teenagers [i.e., the D.A.]. It is dedicated to the real-life soldiers who gave their time and effort to help me with the psychology of war. Many of these young men and women are as young as eighteen themselves, and they are not fighting with wands and hexes on the grounds of an imaginary wizarding school. They fire real bullets and shed real blood on the very non-fictional battlefields of the Muggle world even as you read this, and their courage, their sacrifice is too often ignored because they do so out of our daily sight...Go ahead and drop me some feedback if you want, but I would also ask that the next time you spot a young man or woman in uniform, take a moment to shake their hand. Their truth is greater than fiction.
That's quite a particularly graceful note, I thought. I remembered that Rowling has said that the series, and particularly the last book, is about recovering from the scars of war. Perhaps this fanfiction writer worked at the Veterans Administration or something?

There was something about that last line that niggled at me, though, something half-remembered. Who was this author, anyway?

I took a look. The author's name was "thanfiction" (on Livejournal as [ profile] thanfiction). I sat there for a second and then my eyes widened. Thanfiction? Wait a minute. I spent a couple minutes googling, following up on something I'd noticed fleetingly on my friends list sometime in the last month.

I told you I was late to the party. Well, it was a weird trick of timing, actually. Naomi had sent me the link months ago, before the knowledge hit the internet (she said she's a little embarrassed about doing so, in retrospect), and I didn't look at the author's name until I had finished reading the entire story. But yes, dear reader, I had unknowingly spent the last two days reading and enjoying Dumbledore's Army and the Year of Darkness (the "DAYDverse") a work written by one of the craziest people I've ever encountered on the internet: the notorious Amy Player AKA Victoria Bitter AKA Mr. Frodo AKA Jordan Wood AKA Andrew Blake AKA thanfiction. The dots were connected that thanfiction was the person that [ profile] fandom_wank calls "VB," I guess, about a month ago.

Read more )

So what did I really think about the story? And how did my opinion change, once I knew the authorship?

Armchair psychology is so much fun )

Tell me about an author whose works you enjoy, rather against your own inclination, because you find the person doing the writing to be absolutely reprehensible. How do you reconcile that for yourself?
pegkerr: (Default)
There was an interesting discussion on Steve Brust's blog recently, prompted by a letter he sent to Miss Manners which Miss Manners actually printed and answered (Steve was asking about the etiquette of putting a donation button on his website). As a number of Steve's readers pointed out, Miss Manners in her response didn't perhaps entirely consider the aspect that there is a long and honorable history of patronage of the arts.

I was amused to discover this morning that the Academy of American Poets has an Adopt-a-Poet program, based upon the Adopt-a-Highway program. For $30, you can adopt a poet, to assist in the care of maintenance of their website.

I've always thought that if I ever win the lottery, I'd use a large part of the money to create grants to help support a good number of artists and writers that I know.

I live in Minneapolis, which has a thriving arts and writing community.

What about you? In what ways are you a patron of the arts?


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