Archive for December, 2012

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

19,000 people fit into the new Barclays Center to see Jay-Z perform. This blog was viewed about 97,000 times in 2012. If it were a concert at the Barclays Center, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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There is this meme going around among writers and I know a lot of writers. But they all know I don’t talk about my books that much because I’m a tinkerer and a ditherer. As with all memes, however, they all ran out of other writers to tag. Last week I got tagged four times. Robynn Tolbert was the first to tag me.

I’m breaking two of the rules. The first rule–that I post on Wednesday–is broken because yesterday was a sad, crazy day. The second rule–that I tag five other authors–is broken because pretty much every author I know who wants to do this has already done it. So if you are a writer who is reading this and you think “I want to do that!” consider this your open invitation to a spare tag. Think of it like a Google+ invite or something.

Anyway, here’s the rest of the story.

1) What is the title of your next book/work?

If only it had a title we’d be happy people. It has had several working titles, none of which convey the true scope of the thing. My favourite: The Cunning Woman Of Myddfai has been demoted to a section title. The current working title is a bit too stuffy for me but is a better overall descriptor. The Water Grimoire is where we’re at now, and while it does speak a lot to the item central to the story the book isn’t fantasy and that title makes it seem like it will be.

2) Where did the idea come from for the book/work?

I am fascinated by stories about the history of medicine. One of my favourite books of all time is Noah Gordon’s _The Physician_, about a young man in the middle ages who travels from London to the Middle East to learn medicine. Another of my favourite books is Edward Rutherfurd’s _Sarum_, which details the history of a place and the people who live there.

In my reading I several years ago came across one of the most beautiful Welsh myths of all time: The Physicians Of Myddfai. I’m using that myth as the starting point of the novel. The myth describes how one family in one area of Wales happened upon a book of herbal remedies that was in huge demand in the middle ages. My novel follows that book and that family through several centuries a la Rutherfurd’s _Sarum_.

3) What genre does your book/work fall under?

General fiction. There’s history in it, a small amount of fantasy (in the recounting of the legend), but mostly it’s just stories about people and what drives people to help others even when doing so comes at a tragic price.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I don’t want my book to be a movie. It’d be fine as a miniseries or a two-year HBO thing. But it’s not a movie. As to who the characters most resemble I’d say that in the fantastical origin section I would like to see the farmer Dyfedd played by Michael Sheen or Richard Coyle, assuming Coyle can use the Welsh accent he had in _Coupling_.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

The world of mankind is filled with ordinary magic, often found in books.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

We’re not there yet.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

It’s been seven years, which is a good thing. The book has changed over time into the book I more wanted it to be. Seven years ago I wasn’t the person to tell this story. Now I’m getting closer.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

As I said above it resembles the work of Edward Rutherford in structure while also bearing a whiff of Noah Gordon, Bernard Cornwell and Maeve Binchy.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My compulsive need to tell the stories of people.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

I talk a little bit about marijuana. So if you’re into that, there you go.

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Today is the day our puppy gets here. This will be approximately the 10th dog I’ve acquired in my life. I think I’ve gotten a dog every other possible way. Most often it’s been a drive out to a farm, but there was the time when I was a kid and we went to a strange house in the suburbs. That time we took the Cocker Spaniel puppy almost as much to rescue it from the weird lady as to have her (the puppy-not the lady) for a pet. That was before “backyard breeder” was an official term and before people were aware that the folks who sold inbred dogs out of their laundry room were a special kind of villain. I’ve rescued dogs from death row and adopted them after being on a waiting list for three years.

This will be the first time I’ve had to pick up a puppy at the airport. It feels strange to me, and since I myself hate to fly I feel like next I will be asking the puppy to go to the top of the Sears (or whatever it’s called now) Tower or go to the dry cleaners or eat fish fingers. We were planning to drive up to the Wisconsin/Minnesota border the day after Christmas to pick him up from the farm, but I’m assured by everyone from Vets to the Breeder to other pet owners that a two-hour plane ride is a lot easier on the wee fellah than a 20-hour trip by auto in the dead of winter.

I had to call the airlines today to double-check on some of the arrival details. The routing maze through the airline phone system and the unintelligible CSR agent reminded me of those early days of my marriage and life in Nashville when I worked as a travel agent.

I’m not the person I was then. I’m her plus a few new ideas, minus a few old bad habits. I’m her minus a few pounds and a great many delusions. I’m happier now than I ever thought I would be, but I’m nothing like I expected to be. I never went back to finish up college and go on to law school and I’m fine with that. I never had kids. I didn’t move back to Indiana after my husband finished grad school.

I’ve met wonderful people who make my life a better place than any of those other things would have done. I wouldn’t trade a single one of my current friends and acquaintances for anything. Each of them–even if we’ve only traded a few words a few times–has had an impact on me like the drops of rain that smooth a rock.

I’m nervous about Fergus because he’s another change–and a big one. But if he’s like every other change he’ll be a whole lot of love that conspires with the difficulties to make me a better version of who I am.

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Most of this was just posted to Goodreads, but I’ve added a few additional thoughts while I wait for the dog to come back inside.

Oh, Harry.

Many people when they age take up hobbies.

It would appear that Michael Connelly has taken up the hobby of Harry Bosch Book By Numbers writing. Because it’s all here, in on handy volume
1. Gritty LA Death
2. Gruff Harry pursues the Case Nobody Believes In.
3. “You are a Crime Tourist” view of the exotic world of law enforcement. Learn about on site prison interrogations, handy cop slang like “put a bow on it” and new tech like raising serial numbers off firearms.
4. Mention of Harry’s great house in the Canyon.
5. Jazz 101
6. LA Restaurant name-dropping
7. Harry’s Rocky Relations With Women
8. Cameos from leads in other Connelly series.
9. Title of a recommended book, album or film slid in for handy cross-promotion.
10. Out-of-the-way LA Hangouts mentioned.
11. Harry butting heads with an outsider partner. Now that blacks (Jerry Edgar) women (Kizmin Ryder) and homosexuals (Kizmin Ryder) are more accepted and common, Asian-American David Chu is the latest flavour of Exotic Cop.
12. Harry Vs. The Man.
13. Twist ending with a character from earlier suddenly becoming VERY relevant.

I’ve read every Harry Bosch title except 9 Dragons and The Drop, so I know how they work. And I obviously enjoy them enough to keep buying them. But this time more than any other it just feels…like a shadow of a good Harry Bosch read. Everything is there but it’s all flat, colourless, perfunctory, void. Connelly is pushing Harry through the motions.

I could especially do without the Harry Vs. The Man element. It’s never been my favourite aspect of the Bosch books, even though I understand why fatherless Harry constantly conflicts with authority figures. In every other respect we’ve seen Harry quasi-mature over the years. I’d really like to see him stop having run-ins with various police bosses, especially since it now seems like a laughable clone of the serious ones he had in the earliest books of his storied (heh) career. Certain of the aspects I don’t mind as much. Reading about the food is always interesting and I’ve been turned on to a lot of great writers and musicians thanks to the cross-promo in Connelly’s works. Nevertheless I’d love to see Harry Bosch work some new ground. He’s a fantastic character who is in real danger of becoming a caricature.

Thanks to Lee Child allowing Hollywood to cast everyone’s favourite Scientology Gnome in the role of 6’5″ burly Jack Reacher I’m now starting to indulge in an activity I’d previously loathed. I’m starting to cast the characters in books I love if only so that Hollywood will stop putting Michael Gambon and Tom Cruise in things that ruin them for me. So as I cast Harry Bosch I send a silent thank you to a FB commenter whom I do not know but whose recommendation of Kim Coates for the role of Harry Bosch is…genius.

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For days now I’ve read about how guns are the key. Getting rid of them or getting more of them–either choice is supposed to stop these violent massacres. Never mind the number of accidental gun deaths.* Never mind the people who don’t have guns so they use their trucks or cars or bodies as bombs. If you’re gonna kill, you’ve crossed a mental line. “How” is the least of your concerns.

Nobody is talking about why our kids–let’s be honest, it’s mostly our boys, and I’ll get to that–are getting to the point where they’ve crossed that mental line and said “I will find a way to end multiple lives, including my own.”

Nobody talks about how many times those boys think that they are actually SETTING THE VICTIMS FREE.

Why do you think these shootings keep happening in schools?

When No Child Left Behind passed in 2002, schools irrevocably changed culture. They now became much more tied to one type of testing, with success and subsequent money measured by the success of the testing.

One of the major pieces of NCLB is the “Our Way Or The Highway” classroom provision:

The act requires schools to rely on scientifically based research for programs and teaching methods. The act defines this as “research that involves the application of rigorous, systematic, and objective procedures to obtain reliable and valid knowledge relevant to education activities and programs.” Scientifically based research results in “replicable and applicable findings” from research that used appropriate methods to generate persuasive, empirical conclusions.[10]
Non-scientific methods include following tradition, personal preferences, and non-scientific research, such as research based on case studies, ethnographies, personal interviews, discourse analysis, grounded theory, action research, and other forms of qualitative research. These are generally not an acceptable basis for making decisions about teaching children under the act.

I’ll boil it down for you; for decades teachers have known that different kids require different types of classroom environments and teaching methods. Many times those children, most often boys, have behavior types that don’t integrate into the current classroom setting. These boys would have done very well in the Blab Schools of the past, where the lessons involved speaking loudly and regularly. They often do well now in Montessori situations. But the type of classroom that the government mandates in NCLB doesn’t work for some personalities.

That’s okay. For that we have Ritalin! And for the side-effects of Ritalin we have Prozac. Your boy doesn’t do well in school because he is A LITTLE BOY and he’s active and physically inquisitive. But that doesn’t work because we don’t have enough time for three recesses a day and two PE classes a week because we have to make sure everyone passes the NCLB-mandated tests. So the teacher tells you that your boy “may have” a disorder. And it’s on YOU to make sure that your LITTLE BOY–who is acting like a healthy, active, physically inquisitive little boy–gets the expensive tests and the expensive drugs that will keep him quiet and keep him from being a nuisance to everyone else in the class.

Yes, there are people with genuine attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It’s a frustrating brain chemistry for the person to have and I’m thankful that there are medicines to help those people.

I am outraged that those medicines are misused to tranquilise other children and turn them into zombies ‘well-behaved pupils’ so that teachers with the impossible task of maintaining the classroom style a bureaucrat finds acceptable can “teach”. It isn’t the teachers’ fault, ultimately. They are between the Devil and the deep. It isn’t your fault for having given birth to an active little boy.

Anyway, now we’ve got kids on drugs that are not meant for kids, but are the only things left to try because the side effects from the other drugs not meant for kids are slowly breaking their little minds. I’ve seen little boys who were mentally handcuffed by drugs turn despondent, violent and suicidal. I’ve seen it happen a lot since 2002.

And now I strongly suspect that I’m seeing some of those boys grow up to take out others on their personal exit path.

*Or purposeful gun deaths. Suicide is the #1 cause of gun deaths in the US. In most of those cases the guns are legally owned, obtained and kosher hunting rifles or duty-issue sidearms.

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I think it’s time I come clean about my quirky ways of dealing with these things. Although I think it’s pitiful that a person has seen so many massacres make the news in her lifetime that she actually has to develop a “personal massacre policy”. Life is a bowel of cheeries, isn’t it?


  • I don’t watch any of the news coverage on TV.  At all.   My being informed about the various tidbits of information and grief vulturing don’t solve the problem, bring anybody any comfort or even allow me to be mentally in a place where I can offer comfort to others.
  • I don’t read any news coverage online for the first 24 hours.   Online coverage has become my preferred news source over the last few years because it’s marginally less entertainment-driven than the televised counterpart.   Yet everyone is so in love with breaking the newest piece of knowledge that things get garbled in the translation.   In this latest instance I’ve seen many “facts” quoted on Facebook and used to argue for changes in social policy that then turn out to not be “facts” at all.
  • I don’t go anywhere near Twitter for the first 48 hours.   I’ve toyed with staying off FB, but that’s where I conduct a lot of my interactions with other writers and I’m not letting some mass-murdering broken person to cramp my life and come between me and my friends.  But I’m only ever marginally on Twitter–in fits and starts–so to go there would be Disaster Trainspotting for me.
  • I will not discuss the politics of the situation for 24 hours after the incident.   Waving the bloody shirt is a time-honoured bit of emotional politicking that I try to indulge in as little as possible in my normal life.   I’d like to say I never do it, but I will admit to making appeals to the Holocaust in defense of our policies toward Israel and making appeals to the Civil War dead to argue against the modern secessionists.   Those deaths are decades past.   While they are no less tragic, there has been time to mourn.   I really don’t think that as people are scrambling to see if any of the victims are still alive is the time to say “Hey! Let’s talk about Social Policy!”    I know other people do feel like it’s exactly the time and that’s their right, of course.  I’m just not playing along.
  • I will not read anything at all about the shooter/massacre committing person until 7 days have passed.  I figure that’s my way of honouring the dead. They get a form of shiva before I turn my attention to the one who ended their lives.
  • I will not mention the name of the criminal in writing at all; I also try to not speak it, but that’s less permanent.   There’s no way to Google a spoken conversation with my husband.   But I won’t add to the notoriety of Sirhan Chapman Booth by speaking his name.   My mom always said that sensational violence, teen pregnancy and suicide are contagious because there is a type of person who is fueled by seeing it done by someone else and takes it upon themselves to do likewise.    Since these massacre folks seem to want notoriety I figure the very least I can do is deprive them of it and thereby deprive someone else of the potential thrill of their own bloody deeds.
  • I will pray and praise God.  I’m never more aware of the brokenness of the world than I am during a tragedy.   I love that God loves us in spite of that.
  • I will not name-call, ridicule or speak hatefully about people who have different social policy opinions than I do.   On Friday a FB friend jumped in to talk about social policy issues and immediately–in the wake of violent, hatefilled actions on the news–spoke violently and hatefully about those on the other side of the social policy issue.    That bitterness feeds the culture of hate, makes hate and the dehumanization of others a common currency and I refuse to join in.  Absolutely refuse.

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A book I read this week has affected me more than any other book I’ve read this year. If you hop on over to Book In The Bag you can read all about it.

This wasn’t the review I was going to write. I had planned all along to review Kameron Hurley’s Bel Dame Apocrypha series, but this book was so…impactful…I had to talk about it.

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Just got home from Target. If you ever want to punish me for something (a judgmental attitude toward Romance novels; a poorly-made batch of carrot soup; recommending that you watch BBC Comedies) just send me to Target a week and a half before Christmas.

There is a reason I’m a quasi-shut in. It isn’t because I’m crazy. It’s because I am among the sanest misanthropes you’ll ever meet. And also because I don’t want to go to jail for gutting a woman who stands an arm’s-length away from the cart she has parked diagonally so that nobody can get past her at all. I just want Play-Doh. I have no plans to assassinate the Pope.

Yesterday on Twitter Aunt B. told everyone that if they don’t want people calling Easter “the Day Of The Zombie” that they shouldn’t mock the Mayan religion. All true. I’m not a fan of mocking anyone’s religion. But I don’t think that my religious courtesy is going to keep people from calling Easter Zombie Jesus day. People would rather look clever and whistle past the graveyard than be respectful of those they perceive to be tyrants. I try to make my peace with it. Hearing people call Jesus a Zombie is far less horrifying than being fed to lions for their amusement. At the same time, though, sometimes some of the people I meet make me wish I could just become Jesus Jerky for a few big cats and get it over with. Being chewed and digested only lasts a little bit. Couple days at most. Being mocked and scorned is a lifetime hobby only slightly less pleasant than flossing.

I know that people don’t keep the Christ in Christmas and I don’t really care all that much. Nothing about women fighting over talking dolls in the toy aisle says “Jesus was born on this day.” That’s kind of the problem with synchretism. As much as we try to remake the festivals of other religions into the Born Again version, they are still things that belong equally to non-Christians. I kind of personally get offended when people talk about Keeping Christ in Christmas because really they mean “Forcefully grafting Christ onto Yule.” Which, you know, I’m fine with celebrating Christ at the Winter Solstice because I’m fine with celebrating Christ all the time. My life is a celebration of Christ. That I get out of bed any day is a celebration of Christ who strengthens me. But I can’t expect people to go all misty-eyed over Jesus if they don’t want to, any more than I can expect women who don’t know him to gaze adoringly at my husband.

Why am I babbling like this? Because that visit to Target is stuck in my head the way a strawberry seed gets caught in your gums and makes them bleed in tender pain. My mind is bleeding from all the acquisitive sorrow of shopping.

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I’ve had several people approach me over the years about writing Romance novels. One former employer put me in contact with a literary agent and I seriously contemplated writing what they call “category romance”. I can’t do it.

I love a good love story. Love is the only engine of survival, as Leonard Cohen warbled. Unfortunately the things that pass for Romance are often very dissimilar to the things that pass for actual love. I can’t bring myself to perpetuate the candy-coated infatuation that passes for a lot of romance stories. Frankly–and I know this is strong stuff–I’d rather write porn. I don’t WANT to write porn, but I have to be honest and say a lot of what I’m seeing in modern romance novels concerns me because it is porn for women.*

When I say that I mean that many men, who are visually cued into their sexuality, use visual pornography as an idealised escapism. Whenever I’ve read or spoken with recovering porn addicts their stories are the same. They use pornography as a way to give a sexual thrill that is unencumbered with the messiness of life. In porn there are no head colds, overdue bills, partners worn out from a long day at work. Solitary pornographic pursuit offers the physical release of sexuality without the emotional and intellectual entanglements of full partnership.

Jump on over to the women’s side of the fence. We’ve got partners with head colds who are worn out from long days at work. We’ve got overdue bills. We’ve got partners who don’t talk a lot or notice when we get our hair cut or change our perfume. Watching plastic strangers have sex isn’t particularly ideal for escaping from that. But give us a book where a handsome man unencumbered by a real job has all the time in the world to be caught up in the every move of the heroine and we’re as gone as a twelve-year-old boy locked in the bathroom with Playboy. “This is how it ought to be! This man ought to think about nothing but ME and how wonderful I am! And he should tell me. And fly me to Cancun.” I’ve seen married men suffering from their wives’ addiction to romance novels in greater numbers than I’ve actually seen married women suffering from their husbands’ addictions to visual pornography. And yes, I’ve seen both.

I know I could do it–write those kinds of books. I could do it in my sleep, and judging by the storylines of some of my more literary dreams I often do. But I don’t want to do it because I don’t want to be complicit in that kind of cramping to marriage. In this way I actually feel called to NOT WRITE, which is a strange thing to bring up in the circles I move in.

I’ve been working on other novels, where love is found and had amongst the other things that happen. But my books are meant to be stories about characters fighting adversity and triumphing into the greater grace of life. The verse that inspires most of my stories of late (even though they are not overtly Christian) is Matthew 16:25. Whoever loses his life for God’s sake will find it. My characters get hit with those Bad Things That Happen To Good People and get to the place where they realise that they’re happier in this new and unexpected skin.

I wonder where on earth I found the inspiration for THAT?!?

*yes, porn is also porn for women. I know that many women find visual pornography arousing. I personally can’t get past what I know about that sausage-making so it doesn’t really do it for me.

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I’m a Gemini, which if I believed in astrology would mean that I believe that it’s so true that I have two sides to my personality. I mean, I know that I do but I don’t know if that’s because I was born at the end of May or because I’m just nuts. Either way, it’s dratted inconvenient at times.

Like this morning. I started writing a serious blog entry about Christian Mysticism to answer questions that Jessica Thomas had over at Mike Duran’s and then I realised that my brain can’t parse those thoughts successfully. So I’m back to writing a blog entry that is far less deep but far easier to crank out in my present state.

Right now I have some words to say about Christmas novels. I never used to read Christmas-themed literature because back in the day when reading books meant trips to a store and browsing the stacks there just weren’t that many Christmas novels shelved in the areas I tended to go. Then I got a Kindle and spur-of-the-moment book purchases were a lot easier and a lot cheaper. If I’m in a Christmas mood I darn well WILL spend a buck or two for an afternoon’s worth of Christmas romance reading. Thanks to the library, this year my Christmas reading has been even cheaper, as in most of it has been subsidized by my homeowner’s taxes. (I hate when people say Libraries are free. Even when I say it, as I do.)

This year, though, we’ve got a problem brewing in the Christmas novel world. It’s my third year of this style of reading and before now it’s been relatively easy* to tell the difference between the Christmas stories where angels help widowers find love at Christmas time while simultaneously whipping their motherless young into acceptable, mannerly shape and the the Christmas stories where people get drunk at Christmas parties and have gynecological exams casual sex under the tree. The covers were different, the titles were different, the blurbs were different.

This year, though, thanks to 50 Shades of Gray and the new passion for erotica someone has gotten their pornut butter in my chocolate. And it’s not the good combo you’d think. I like romance. I like the nurse realising that she and the doctor have always been in love but didn’t know how to say it without the help of the tearstained orphan who showed up at the clinic the day after Thanksgiving.

I don’t like crude sex. For me nothing is a bigger turn off in any book than the word “dick” used in a sexual sense. I can put up with stirring loins and even erections. But “he felt his dick get hard as he watched her tight ass away” doesn’t say Romance to me. It says “rutting”. And for some reason the marketing teams at various publishers have been camouflaging Rutting books as Romances. I don’t understand it. People want erotica. Why not just say “this is an erotic novel”? I keep getting this coal on my Kindle. Bah humbug.

*with one exception. Back when the pictures weren’t as clear on the Kindle I downloaded a freebie called “Bound For Christmas” that I assumed was about traveling home for the holidays. It was about traveling to bondage and S&M sex for the holidays. Oops. I deleted that one tout de suit.

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