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Archive for August, 2010

I’ve gotten so very swept up in A Song of Ice and Fire that the characters invade almost everything I do. Watching TV shows I’ll think “I bet Tyrion Lannister would handle this a whole lot better” or “She reminds me so much of Arya Stark”. I’m about halfway through the second book and I love it almost more than the first. I’ve now been to Pyke, which may the most romantically desolate place I’ve ever come across on my travels. (By ‘Romantic’ I mean the old-style. Not lurvey-durvey but imaginatively artistic. I hate it when words become so captive to newer meanings that the older, deeper meanings seldom get dusted off.)

But thanks to Pam Nail’s Facebook status update last week I’ve gotten a new reading passion that has me putting aside Martin’s epic and sitting in front of Safari weeping and laughing and smiling. And smiling.

Over on Buzznet there is a daily journal called Mark Reads Harry Potter. It is just what it sounds like. A 26 year old man who never read the books or saw the movies decided to read it, one chapter at a time, and write his feelings about that chapter daily. If you are a Harry Potter fan at all–not even a rabid ‘have the books memorised’ type like me–I guarantee that you will enjoy it. Because it reminds you of your first time. Of how it felt to find out this thing about that character and that thing about this character. Of how each twist hit you with literal shock (I didn’t see that coming AT ALL) and awe (J.K. Rowling is a plotting and character-development GENIUS).

Don’t get me wrong–there is nothing wrong at all with A Song of Ice and Fire. They’re still among the best books I’ve ever read. I rank them up there with the others that I praise and shove into people’s hands: Winds Of War, War And Remembrance, To Kill A Mockingbird. But after reading Mark’s journals it occurs to me that the Harry Potter series is more than books to me. It’s an experience of heartbreak and joy and laughter and friendship quite unlike every other thing I’ve ever read. That’s why I go back to them time and again.

My mom read the first one on a dare, much to my surprise, just before Christmas. We discussed at dinner with a gaggle of her friends. I was sad to think that one of those woman was a teacher, because she–and my mother’s other friends–had written the Potter series off without even opening one of the books. To their minds it was about teaching children witchcraft. Nothing else. Nevermind all of the rest of us daring (?!?) Christians who’ve read and re-read the series and can vouch for it’s outright CHRISTIAN messages, identical to those in the beloved-by-believers Narnia series.

I don’t mean to get into the whole “Christians hate Harry Potter” argument for the gagoogleth time. I mean merely to point out what marvelous and inexpensive joy people forego out of stubbornness and willful ignorance. I will say again–because it must be said–that it is odd for us to decry talk of magic when our religion is founded on the principle of blood magic and open communication with the Divine. Every time a Christian prays we are indulging in the greatest mystical experience available to mankind.

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I am on the horns of a dilemma. (I always liked that phrase, because it sounds as physically painful as it is emotionally and it also makes the dilemma sound like a goring, charging bull. Which dilemmas often are.)

Two men and one woman–all of whom read this blog on occassion–are responsible for goading/lightly encouraging me to read the George R.R. Martin Epic Fantasy series A Song Of Ice And Fire.

If it weren’t for these motley friends of mine I would have sauntered past any book display with these books in the store. It would have turned into a light trot upon glancing the word “Fantasy” and then morphed into an all-out RUN FOR YOUR LIFE upon seeing the series title.

I have long had a very, very, very low tolerance for Fantasy novels. I have friends who love them and so I keep trying to read them. But I cannot stand the general milieu. I’m not one who goes in for cordwainers and wheelwrights and sorrowful princesses lounging on divans. I’m definitely not one for elves marching through woodlands and mages with long fingernails reading spells from scrolls. You see, I’ve played Dungeons and Dragons in my time and while the games are fun, the reading material in the genre keeps seeming forced and copycattish to me. It’s as though the Fantasy Genre for the last 30 years has been one long quest to rewrite “The Lord Of The Rings”. And while I’ll not fault anyone else for enjoying their chosen form of escapism I will happily stick to reading about women who open cafes and fall for handsome but careworn builders who sublimate their grief by remodelling old Victorian houses.

In fact, I was happily reading one such book and revelling in the sheer joy of it when I got an email encouraging me to read A Game Of Thrones, the first book in Martin’s as-yet-unfinished fantasy series.

I was hooked almost instantly. I took my Kindle everywhere. Pools, bathtubs, water closets, breakfast, lunch, and dinner tables. It didn’t matter. If I was there, so was my Kindle. I breezed through the book until…

I realised that if I kept reading at that pace it would be over. And that was just something I couldn’t have. Because while I want to know what happens I also don’t want to leave that well-written and perfectly drawn world.

So I dragged my feet for the last couple of days and just now finished Book One. Book Two is lying in wait on my Kindle and I’m torn between diving in and waiting patiently to make it last.

On the upside, I’m not allowing myself to read a word of it until I get at least 500 words written on my own work. It’s a nice motivator and works really well. Since I’m not writing Epic Fantasy I don’t find my own work suffering from authorial mimicry the way it does when I read something closer to the Women’s Fiction genre. Although I am starting to worry that there will be dragons appearing out of nowhere in the middle of my heroine’s cafe.

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In the grand tradition of bloggers who are paranoid, I didn’t announce that I was leaving my house empty and possessions largely unguarded before I went on vacation.

Now that I’m back, I can safely put all your minds at ease. I was neither dead nor nearing death; merely visiting my parents’ home in Indiana.

They have a swimming pool, two full refrigerators and an HDTV with cable. So all in all it had the makings of a very nice vacation–had it not been for two guys.

Guy #1 is my husband. He is (unlike me) able-bodied, so he went further north to a music festival in the Michigan Dunes. That meant that for the first time in our married life we took separate vacations. Now, there have been many times that I have gone on a vacation while he stayed home to work. I’ve been to the Jersey Shore and the mountains of Gatlinburg and Colorado without him. But I’ve never been on vacation in one place while he’s been on vacation in another. Something about it was like a sad song for me; it carved into my heart a bit. At my nephew’s birthday party on Sunday afternoon I overheard my marriage being discussed by two other people who (wrongly) surmised–despite what they’d been told–that we were separated. With a capital S. As in “on the way to Divorce”. Not true in the least, of course, but I’ve seldom been angrier at my physical limitations.

The other guy–Guy #2–is my puppy Gob. Since my parents don’t have a dog-proof fence (unless the dog is old and fat like my lovely fuzzy Quinn), I couldn’t (wouldn’t) let Gob off-leash. I spent the better part of five days tethered to a puppy. I promise you that is the strangest way to have a vacation you’ll ever experience. I sat on the top step of the pool and read while Gob lay a leash’s distance away, sunning himself like a supermodel. Why on earth does a BLACK dog love to be in the sun? Sometimes I think he’s part charcoal briquette.

It was a good change of scenery, but the truth of the matter is that the older I get the more attached I become to my Tennessee home and lifestyle. When I was younger I used to dream about moving back to live close to the rest of my family. I wanted to have babies that I could drop off at my parents’ house on Saturday night while my husband and I went to the movies. I essentially fantasised about reliving my parents’ life like some sort of Broadway revival. “Ladies and Gentlemen, this decade the role of Adult will be played by Katherine Coble.”

I don’t have those dreams anymore. In fact, they strike me as the dream a person has when they haven’t fully awakened; one of those lucid fantasies where reality and fantasy blur into a comforting haze. Now my dreams are more along the lines of chomping at the bit to get back to my keyboard and bang out the germ of the story that started to grow in my head while I sat in my parents’ pool. Being a writer is another sort of odd fantastic dream to have. It might even be more fantastic than the simpler “grow up and have babies” dream of my youth. But it’s my dream, formed in my adulthood. Formed out of my likes and dislikes and the friends I’ve made in the place I made for myself.

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