Kay: Watching Bridgerton

Phoebe Dynevor and Regé-Jean Page star in “Bridgerton.” Credit: Liam Daniel/Netflix

I wanted to get 2021 off to a good start, so I binge watched Bridgerton over New Year’s Eve and Day. I had been so excited to learn that Shonda Rhimes would be producing this mini-series that I subscribed to Netflix streaming several months ago just so I could see it.

[Spoilers start now] I had high hopes for this production, and in many ways I wasn’t disappointed. The costumes! The settings! The characters! Those dance sequences! When a development company hurls money at a production like this, it really pays off. The series is spectacular to look at, a visual treat of the highest order.

However, Bridgerton isn’t flawless. I was unenthusiastic about some of the things the producers added to the source material—the angsty overtone, and interpreting Anthony as a jerk, which was a huge mistake in my view. And they left out Julia Quinn’s original witty dialogue, which was a sad loss. However, overall I was thrilled that the story really was a romance—a story in which the principal plot is the courtship between Hastings and Daphne, which I thought was fizzy and delightful. And they didn’t back off from the menstrual blood. Continue reading

Kay: Twas Daybreak (with apologies)

After I learned that Elizabeth had rejected the word “dismemberment” from this year’s randomly generated word list for the holiday story, I was unable to get it out of my mind. Twice I started a new story. One I came close to finishing. And both were about a wife who dismembered her husband and tossed his limbs down the well.

Not exactly the happy holiday ending we were going for.

In despair, I rooted through my past and discovered this holiday poem cribbage from 2014. I hope you’ve forgotten it! It’s an homage, if you can call it that, to Pride and Prejudice and the Bennett family. Dismembering, you’ll be happy to know, plays no part in this story.

Twas daybreak on Christmas, and all through the hall
All the servants were stirring, for tonight was the ball.
The Yule log was laid and the mistletoe hung,
In hopes that Sir Darcy’s fling would be flung.

Miss Lizzie still nestled all snug in her bed,
While nightmares of family danced in her head.
But Mary and Kitty, and Lydia, too,
Argued at breakfast about whom Darcy would woo.

Then out in the parlor there rose such a clatter
Jane sprang from the table to see to the matter.
Maids had dropped glasses, which smashed on the floor
The butler was livid and gave them what-for.

The cook was still worried her sauce wasn’t right
While Pa hit his sauce and got pretty tight.
The daughters decided to primp the whole day
When Mama’s hysterics just drove them away.

Finally—at long last!—the party time neared,
And moonbeams glowed down as the bad weather cleared.
Arriving by carriage the revelers came,
And the butler emerged to call them by name.

Here’s Darcy and Collins,
And Bingley among us!
And Wickham’s dismounting
To give us comeuppance!
To Lucas goes Collins
And Jane’s Bingley’s bride!
But Lizzie dumped Darcy
Because of his pride.

Lady Catherine de Bourgh is a pain in the heinie
Her ego is huge and her modesty, tiny
Here’s Caroline Bingley, the Gardiners, too
Georgiana is present to beef up the stew.

Mr. Bennet, the host, a right cheerful old squire,
Greeted each guest as he stood by the fire.
“I’m happy to see you, please drink and be jolly!”
So guests then embarked on all kinds of folly.

And then, in a twinkling, the music commenced
And Lizzie sat down, leaving Darcy incensed.
Kitty and Lydia flirted like mad
And Wickham decided to act like a cad.

His eyes—how they twinkled! His dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses from way too much sherry.
He spoke of his love, he said, “Come and be mine.”
And Lydia believed him, that smooth-talking swine.

They flew off to Derbyshire, where they could be wed
But Darcy pursued them, his heart full of dread.
He promised his Lizzie he’d bring back the villain
But said not a word about blood he’d be spillin’.

Lizzie stayed up like a ghost the whole night
Till Darcy returned at dawn’s early light.
“They’re married,” he told her, “and all will be well.”
“My hero,” she said. He said, “My precious belle.”

He then took her hand and got down on his knee,
“I was stupid and wrong,” he said. “Please marry me.
I thought I was wise, but it’s you I admire.
So if you can love me, let’s tell your good sire.”

Lizzie said yes with a fervor so fine.
“I love you, I do, please say you’ll be mine.
I’ll marry you now and love you forever
And stand by your side through every endeavor.”

And so our tale ends with a happy e’er after
And hearts full of love and plenty of laughter.
For you, my dear readers, I wish much the same,
But for poor stabs at poetry, I take all the blame.

Happy holidays, everyone! And best wishes from all of us to all of you for a wonderful new year.

Kay: Tis the Season for Reading

I don’t know about you, but I still have some holiday gift shopping to do. The boxes I have to send are sent, and last night I pre-gifted myself a set of six-oz. flannel sheets in a beautiful shade of blue. Yum! Just the thing to slip between on cold winter nights. But for the rest of my shopping list, I think I’ll buy books, purchased from my local independent bookshop, which carries a nice selection of new and gently used books. People are still staying home, and they need something to read. It’s a win!

Normally I like to linger in bookshops, but in This Year of Covid-19, I think lingering is not advised. So I went hunting for ideas so that I’ll be prepared when I get there.

The Library Journal has—among other lists—a comprehensive and interesting “best of” list of crime fiction (my favorite genre), but I have to tell you: there are a lot of books on that list that, were I compelled to make a selection based on available descriptions, I would seek out the cookbook department. This year I am unable to read or watch much that is difficult, violent, or suspenseful. And the adjectives for the various books on this list are “heartbreaking,” “high-octane,” “depravity,” “intense,” and “vigilante,” among many others that make me want to move along.

The book on this list that looked most interesting to me was Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden about drug activity on Native lands (dubbed “Native noir”), and there’s a cozy mystery (The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman) that doesn’t appeal to me but at least is not described as “depraved.” For those of you who enjoy a gripping read, the books on this list might be just what you’re looking for.

There’s also a seven-year-old boy whom I want to shop for, and I think I’ll look for a volume from the list that aMightyGirl.com recommends, called “Elementary, My Dear Mighty Girl: 50 Books Starring Mighty Girl Detectives.” It’s probably high time that he start learning that women hold up half the sky.

Another list I’m taking to the bookshop is BookRiot’s rather specific “7 Great Books by Writers of Color From the First Half of 2020.” This list has some titles that I find promising, starting with The Chai Factor by Farah Heron, a romance that’s described as “laugh-out-loud” funny, about a Muslim Canadian who’s on the verge of finishing her master’s thesis when she falls for Duncan, a member of the barbershop quartet now renting her grandmother’s basement. That sounds like something I’d write, in fact, and maybe I’ll just get that one for myself.

(And, for those of you who might be interested in checking out the efforts of the Ladies, here are the author pages of Jilly Wood, Jeanne Oates Estridge, Michille Caples, Justine Covington, Nancy Yeager, and me.)

I’m looking forward to a trip to the bookshop, because indie bookshops have been struggling through the pandemic. The American Booksellers Association estimates that one independent bookstore has gone out of business in each week of last year. (For a great graphic round-up of how a few of the indie bookstores are doing, check out this cartoon by Bob Eckstein.)

And for those who might not have a handy, local, indie bookstore to patronize—and if you don’t want to shop Amazon—check out Bookshop. It’s an online indie bookseller billing itself as the indie alternative to Amazon, and a chunk of its proceeds go back to small stores. It’s a bit of David to Amazon’s Goliath, but it might be worth taking a look.

What about you? Do you give books as gifts for the holidays? And if you do, what are you buying this year?

And to all of you—happy holidays!

Kay: It’s Time for the Bird!

This week we’ve been talking about what we’re grateful for, and one of the things I’m grateful for is that I can still laugh. As Elizabeth mentioned yesterday, humor can help us get through some dark times.

As a writer, the week’s theme had me think about POV. How would a turkey approach this fall festival feast? Of course, s/he’d be grateful if s/he had made it this far. But perhaps our bird would also be also proactive.

I had never thought of turkeys as being particularly bloodthirsty—that is, until news reports starting popping up about Gerald, the ferocious turkey that had taken over a park in the city where I live. I had a personal connection to this story because a good friend is a volunteer there, tending the roses, and one day she had to beat the bird off with a big stick when it attacked her. Other people did, too, because if you didn’t protect yourself, Gerald would draw blood. 

Sometimes though, maybe, if you’re a turkey, you have to.

In any event, this year I’m celebrating the holiday outdoors on a patio with three friends socially distanced. It won’t be terribly warm outside, but the day promises sunshine, and we’ve got a patio heater to keep us warm. The hostess is supplying her family tradition for the entree, which is crab cakes, and I ordered a more traditional meal (yes, sorry, turkeys) for myself on Friday. We’ll have a good time and, I hope, be reasonably safe.

I had so much fun looking up these cartoons that I’m adding two more that made me laugh out loud, even though they’re not related to the turkey theme. I love Maxine (so topical! Although I added an edit), and right now, I think we can all benefit from the wisdom of The Most Interesting Man in the World.

Wherever you live and however you’re marking the day—or not marking it at all—best wishes from the Eight Ladies!

Kay: Columbo—A Hero for Our Time

Peter Falk—wearing his own raincoat, a $15 thrift store find—as Columbo

Lately I’ve been mostly unable to read or watch new fiction. I’m not sure why this is happening now, although lots of people have mentioned that between the U.S. elections and the pandemic, all they can read is books they know the ending to and all they can watch is reruns of The Great British Baking Show.

One of the TV programs I’ve been catching up on is Columbo, starring Peter Falk. It’s showing up at my house on a rerun channel on antenna TV, although I’m sure it’s available from fine streaming platforms everywhere. Even though every episode is constructed exactly the same way (the murder is shown on screen at the beginning of the show, so it’s more of an affable “police procedural” than a “mystery”), so far, I haven’t tired of it. I never thought to wonder why until I read this wonderful cartoon in The New Yorker.

For those of you who don’t want to click the link, the cartoon’s author, Joe Dator, says he’s been thinking about why he’s watching Columbo reruns. His analysis is pretty good, I think. He points to how Columbo is a relaxing kind of hero: he’s not a fancy dresser—far from it!—and his partner is a rescue beagle. He doesn’t carry a gun, much less shoot one. There are no car chases or foot races. Columbo’s success is due to his work ethic, and he’s not cowed or awed by the wealthy and privileged suspects he interviews, who live in exclusive enclaves and consider themselves untouchable by law enforcement.

“Let’s just say,” Dator, the author, concludes, “that there’s a bit of comfort and wish fulfillment in seeing this humble public servant walk into sumptuous mansions and make arrogant jerks who think they’re above the law finally face the consequences of their crimes.”

The final frame is the back of a head sitting at a desk in the Oval Office of the White House. “Oh, if only,” Dator writes.

Isn’t that the truth? Where’s a Columbo when you really need him?

Well, right now he’s on COZI TV, and, yes, I’ll be tuning in.

Kay: Read Any Banned Books Lately?

Well, I missed it: the week of Sept. 27–Oct. 3 is Banned Books Week. I guess I missed that headline because I was too busy reading.

Banned Books Week was the brainchild of the American Library Association and other organizations in 1982, when the Supreme Court ruled in Island Trees School District v. Pico that school officials can’t ban books in libraries simply because of their content. Now more than 14 organizations sponsor the week and reach an estimated 2.8 billion readers and 90,000 industry professionals.

The banned book lists are based on information gathered from media stories and voluntary reports sent to the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom from communities across the United States. However, surveys indicate that 82–97 percent of book challenges—documented requests to remove materials from schools or libraries—go unreported.

I read about the list back in the 1980s and was shocked to discover that Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, a book that had profoundly moved me, was on it. It turns out that The Bluest Eye is one of the most frequently banned books of the last decade. Other classics that have hit the list in the last 10 years are Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee seems to have made the list every year since it was written. (For more frequently challenged books, go here.)

Continue reading

Kay: Me and Nora

Nora Roberts

I’ve been having a tough time with the WIP. I’m doing revisions after an edit letter, and friends, it’s not going well. The book sucks. Why didn’t the editor just say so? I hate it when they’re so polite, like they think you can make it better. No, I cannot make it better, because maybe you didn’t hear me: The whole thing sucks. If I could have made it better, I would have done so long ago.

I should probably just delete the whole thing now and save everyone a ton of misery.

So I went looking for something to cheer me up, and what I found was 10 well-known quotes from Nora Roberts. She’s so bracing. I swear to you, that woman has never thrown herself a pity party in her life. Hearing her speak or reading her advice is like dashing ice water on your face. It makes you blink, but it brings you to your senses. And more good news: her birthday is Saturday, so you have time to get her a card. Continue reading

Kay: The Train Wreck of Traditional Publishing

Did you ever wish you had a traditional publishing contract? Count your lucky stars. Since our pandemic began, traditional publishing has gone off the rails.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch breaks it down for us on her blog. It all began when she tried to order a book in June and was informed that the book would ship in September. Surprised that it wouldn’t arrive sooner, she looked into why that should be.

And guess what? It turns out that traditional publishing isn’t all that nimble when it comes to crises. Here’s the story.

What the heck happened?

When the pandemic hit and bookstores closed, some publishing companies moved their biggest spring and summer releases to the fall, hoping that the situation would have recovered by then. But as the pandemic dragged on, the schedule fell apart, because the fall schedule was already mostly full. Continue reading

Kay: What Next?

The view from my living room window, 10am, Sept. 9, 2020.

A friend gave me a $50 gift card to Amazon for my birthday a few weeks ago, and today, while we in California’s Bay Area are living with skies that look like the apocalypse, I spent it on ebooks.

I was frightened when I woke up this morning to dark red skies—fires are all around us but haven’t been of immediate danger. However, when I first moved to California, a big fire erupted just a mile or two behind my house and burned through more than 3,000 homes and killed 27 people. Most of my street evacuated voluntarily at that time, but I had faith in the fire department and the hydrant at the end of my block. My faith was rewarded, too: the fire came no closer than about three-quarters of a mile. Continue reading

Kay: Agatha Christie’s Villains

We’ve been talking about plots this week—Jilly about what she likes; Jeanne, what she doesn’t; and Elizabeth, how many plot elements in a story are too many. In keeping with the theme (especially Elizabeth’s theme of murder mysteries), I found a great article by Dorothy Gambrell in Bloomberg Businessweek, of all places, that charted plot and character elements in Agatha Christie novels. It’s pretty cool.

I’ve read quite a few of Christie’s novels, and while I’m not a huge fan of her work any more, there’s no denying that she had a huge influence on the development of the mystery genre. So it was interesting and fun to look at these charts and see what characteristics Christie gave her killers, broken down by age, gender, occupation, method, motivation, and relationship to the victim—and how these elements changed over Christie’s working life. (I tried to post some of the charts, but alas—Bloomberg didn’t use a format that I could reproduce.) Continue reading