Elizabeth: Poetry and Prose

On the bookself in my home office there is a handmade book from my angsty teenaged poem writing days, when I was apparently not a fan of rhyming. Many of them were Really Bad Poems. Some of them though, were rather sweet, with thoughts of life and love directed at long-forgotten (or more likely fictional) recipients.  Often, they were written using the image from a greeting card for inspiration and painstakingly typed on an old manual typewriter.  Talk about angst.

During my graduate writing program years later at UC Berkeley, we had one session which was a “poem-intensive.”   The guest speaker was a Poet, with a capital “P” for published.  We got a crash course in poetic-do’s-and don’ts and then had to write something of our own, which we then had to read aloud to the class and get the speaker’s critique.  Shudder!

It was an iterative process that I’m pretty sure could be used as an official form of torture.  While it was a learning experience, seeing my poem evolve from it’s initial state to its revised state …if truth be told, I was much fonder of the initial attempt than the end result which was far too dark and oppressive for my taste.

That was pretty much the end of my poetry writing days (if you don’t count scandalous limericks) and frankly I’m not really a big fan of poetry in general.  Possibly because it often makes no sense to me and leaves me feeling clueless.

Periodically I think “maybe I should give it another try.”  As a result, I have a fairly well populated poetry shelf in my home library; purchases of those books triggered by a variety of things, like Jennifer Crusie’s Crazy for You, where the car-mechanic hero with the English degree quoted poetry to the heroine.  At another time, for some unknown reason I felt the need to slog my way through Beowulf, though I’ll have to admit I found the Shrinklits version more palatable than the translated original:

“Monster Grendel’s tastes are plainish.
Breakfast? Just a couple Danish.”

I’ve got a number of Best Loved Poems compilations, one of which contains this fun entty:

“A Fence or an Ambulance” by Joseph Marlins

T’was a dangerous cliff, as they freely confessed,
Though to walk near its crest was so pleasant;
But over its terrible edge there had slipped
A duke and full many a peasant.
So the people said something would have to be done,
But their projects did not at all tally;
Some said “Put a fence around the edge of the cliff,”
Some, “An ambulance down in the valley.”

As I check the shelf, it appears I do at least have a fondness for love poems, though frankly, who doesn’t?  I’m pretty sure liking love poems is a requirement to get your official Romance Writer card.

“The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” by Christopher Marlowe

“Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove. . . “

“Paradise Lost (Eve speaks to Adam)” by John Milton

“. . .With thee conversing I forget all time;
All seasons, and their change, all please alike. . .”

“Love’s Philosophy” by Percy Bysshe Shelley

“. . . And the sunlight clasps the earth,
And the moonbeams kiss the sea—
What is all this sweet work worth
If thou kiss not me?”

I hadn’t thought much about poetry at all for a long time though, until I started reading Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series a short while back.  Penny is a big fan of poetry and has incorporated bits and pieces in her stories.  Margaret Atwood, Mike Freeman, and Ralph Hodgson are amoung the poets she’s mentioned in her author notes and I decided maybe it was time for me give poetry another try.   I’m sure both it and I have changed over the passing years – perhaps we’re now a better fit.

As I was at the bookstore picking up Atwood’s, Morning in the Burned House, I also picked up Mary Oliver’s, American Primative, and Raymond Carver’s, Ultra-Marine.

We’ll see what catches my fancy.  Who knows?  Perhaps I’ll find I’m a fan of poetry after all.

So, how about you?  Do you have any favorite poets or poems I should add to my “poetic” reading list?

Jilly: Bujold’s Sharing Knife Books, Old and New

I was super-excited to learn from Michaeline’s post a couple of weeks ago that Lois McMaster Bujold is to publish a new novella in her Sharing Knife universe. I’m a huge fan of the original tetralogy and somehow I never expected her to revisit this story world, so I feel a squee brewing. Yay! Fingers crossed!

The new novella, called Knife Children, should be published later this month. I see from LMB’s Goodreads blog (link here) that it can be read as a standalone, so if you’re tempted to take a look, don’t assume you have to read the original four books first.

That said, if you’re short of something to read right now, and you enjoy engaging, subtle fantasy stories, you could always try Beguilement, followed by Legacy, Passage, and Horizon. I usually revisit these books once or twice a year, so I’ve been enjoying a leisurely re-read this month while I wait for Knife Children.

I’ve also been pondering, not for the first time, exactly why these books fit so well with my personal id list—the tropes, characters, premises and details that I, as a reader, really, really like (click here to read more about id lists).

I’ll try to describe in a fairly generic, non-spoilery way what I enjoy most about the stories.

The books are set in an imaginary pre-industrial country that looks a lot like America. There are typical fantasy elements—romance, a hero with mage-like powers, scary mythical creatures, blood magic, powerful objects, horses-n-swords, success against overwhelming odds—but here the story is so grounded in normality that the fantastic aspects blend seamlessly with the familiar.

Right from the start of the book the hero and heroine’s romance is as inevitable as it appears improbable. Fawn is a dewy eighteen-year-old farmer’s daughter, two months pregnant after a disappointing tryst in a cornfield, who runs away from home rather than be branded a slut. Dag is a fiftysomething-year-old one-armed battle-scarred widower who has nothing left in life but thankless duty. From their first desperate encounter with one of the aforementioned scary creatures, Dag and Fawn rescue one another, and it rapidly becomes apparent to them (if not to anyone else) that their differences make them perfectly suited, empowering them both. Her common sense, logic, honesty and hungry curiosity challenge his idealism and stimulate his talent for innovation, leading him to develop all kinds of hitherto unsuspected abilities.

Continue reading

Jeanne: Writing the Unlikable Protagonist

Some of my very favorite books have unlikable protagonists:

  • Ain’t She Sweet, by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
  • A Long Way Down, by Nick Hornby
  • Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn,
  • Girl on a Train, by Paula Hawkins
  • A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy O’Toole
  • Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte.
  • Citizen Vince, by Jess Walter

But, you point out, most of those novels are literary fiction. Only one is a Romance.

True, but I’ve never subscribed to the notion that Romance can’t take on the same challenges as other genres. The only two rules your book has to follow to be a Romance are:

  1. Must have a central love story.
  2. Must end with a happy ever after.

That’s it. Somewhere along the way, a lot of romance authors (and, to be honest, readers) have added a third, unwritten rule: The protagonist must be likable from Day One. I beg to disagree. Continue reading

Nancy: Cover Redux: Paint It Black Edition

What would you think if your lover gave you a black rose?

Last week, we Ladies spent a lot of time looking at, talking about, and sharing book covers. By the end of it, I thought I was ‘covered’ out; then I quickly realized I have to engage a graphic designer for my January release, pronto. That sent me back to the interwebs, down rabbit holes and into quicksand pits. Eventually I emerged, a little worse for wear, but brimming with ideas not just for One Kiss from Ruin, but for the other books in the Harrow’s Finest Five series as well.

And one of those books might get a black cover.

Just like weddings, it’s all about love, romance, and the dress

As you might remember from my cover reveal last week, the cover of my series-launching novella features the heroine in a Victorian-era dress. A very pink dress. As a general concept, a woman in a period dress without her face showing has set the tone for the series covers. However, none of the other books in the series are the same low-heat (formerly known as sweet) level, so the innocence of pastels won’t be a hallmark of the series branding.

I already know the heroine on the cover of the first full-length novel in the series will be in green. The hero loves her in green, as it brings out the color of her eyes and makes him all swoony. And I found a stock image of a woman in an amazing green dress that I hope my designer can use (although that’s not necessary, as dress color is apparently a pretty easy thing to change). Then there’s the heroine of the third novel, who’s a fiery redhead, a femme fatale, and – so Society thinks – a merry widow. She wouldn’t show up to the event of the Season in anything less than a red dress.

As for my second novel’s leading lady, she would look lovely in blue. However, in the first few scenes of the book, she’s the mysterious woman in black. That black dress gets the hero’s attention, tugs on his – ahem, let’s keep it G-rated and say heartstrings, and is referenced occasionally throughout the book. I would love to have a cover with her in her black dress, holding her sparkling masquerade mask from the same scene, and maybe featuring another fun element that I’ll keep under wraps for now. But a black cover on a romance that’s not gothic or erotica? Is such a thing done? I’m so glad you asked, because I did some research, and here’s what I learned. Continue reading

Jilly: Books That Put The World To Rights

When you’re feeling down, do you use fiction to restore your emotional equilibrium? I know I do.

Many of my friends, on both sides of the pond and on differing sides of the political divide, are feeling angry and/or depressed at the state of our world right now. They’re responding in a variety of ways, but the one thing they have in common is that almost all of them are finding their balance by losing themselves for an hour or two in a well-chosen and usually much-loved book.

Some people find catharsis in a story where the good guys smite the baddies and justice prevails. Sometimes I want smiting. Usually I prefer something gentler, upbeat, a fun story in a world where smarts, humor, kindness and generosity triumph.

Austen, Heyer, Pratchett and Crusie are bankers for me, but we’ve talked about them at length here, so chances are you already know whether they do it for you.

With that in mind, I’d like to share three recently-discovered favorites, in the hope that you might find them as restorative as I do.

The Kingpin of Camelot—Cassandra Gannon
A light, twisted and entertaining mash-up of well-known fairytale characters in an alternative Camelot where people are born Good or Bad. Good Folk (who are not all good) are privileged, while Bad Folk (who are not all bad) form the underclass. Following the untimely death of King Arthur, his evil regent The Scarecrow seeks to marry Queen Guinevere and claim the throne for himself. Gwen, who is Good, needs to protect her daughter, which she does by marrying Midas, the biggest, smartest, Baddest gangster in Camelot. This story has contracts, magic, humor, snark, battles, a child who is the antithesis of a plot moppet, a heroine with sweaty stable boy fantasies, a world put to rights and a fabulous Happy Ever After.

Tsumiko and the Enslaved Fox—Forthright
Tsumiko, a teacher at St Midori’s School of the Heavenly Lights, unexpectedly inherits a fabulous estate, a huge fortune, and a butler. Argent is a fox in human form, a powerful trickster who is magically bound to obey Tsumiko. Argent needs Tsumiko for his own survival, but he resents and possibly hates her for it (he’s tricky, so you can’t be sure exactly what he hates). Tsumiko is the first of Argent’s owners to reject the idea that one person should be able to own another. With implacable determination she sets out to free him, uses her new-found wealth and power to build a caring and diverse community, finds a purpose in life and earns lasting love. This book is as delicious as a cup of top notch hot chocolate on a cold day. It hits all my pleasure buttons and I’m eagerly anticipating the second book in the Amaranthine Saga, Kimiko and the Accidental Proposal, which goes on sale in a week or so. Continue reading

Elizabeth: Death by the Book

I have been a fan of mysteries since Nancy Drew found that old clock and the Hardy Boys uncovered that treasure in the tower.  Nancy, Ned, Frank, and Joe led to Beverly Gray, The Dana Girls, Ginny Gordon, and my favorite – Judy Bolton.  I collected the books at garage sales, flea markets, and the like, and many of the editions were from the early 1930s (and smelled like it too), with beautiful old dust jackets and the original story-lines.   I don’t think there were any murders, but many of the stories were dark and a little edgy.

In later years the Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys were revised and brought up to date a bit.  Nancy’s roadster morphed in to a sports car, she traded in her suit and hat for trousers, and the racial stereotypes in the Hardy Boys books were addressed.  Sadly, vocabulary words such as “ostensible” and “presaged” were also eliminated, as was slang and about 5 chapters from each book.

When I moved on to the ‘grown-up’ section in the local library, there were the romantic mysteries of Elizabeth Cadell, Phyllis Whitney, and Mary Stewart, not to mention my favorite, M. M. Kaye with her “Death in . . .” series – Kashmir, Zanzibar, Kenya, Cyprus, the Andamans – I visited them all (except Berlin – that one still creeps me out).  Unlike the early mysteries that I cut my reading teeth on, so to speak, these definitely featured dead bodies along with a nefarious villain or two.  I haven’t re-read any of them in decades, afraid perhaps that they won’t pass the test of time.  I’d rather remember them fondly than take the chance of being disappointed.

Fortunately, there is a whole wide world of mystery stories out there – old, new, cozy, suspenseful, contemporary, historic, and everything in between. Continue reading

Elizabeth: Book Squee – A Duke in Shining Armor ©

As I may have mentioned a time or two recently, I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately, both from the local library and my very own TBR pile.

That means that last week, I finally broke down and read Loretta Chase’s A Duke in Shining Armor.   The book was published last November, but I held off reading it, not because I didn’t think I would enjoy it, but because I knew once I read it, I’d be desperate for more, with no next-in-the-series on the horizon for a while to come.

Once I finished the book I posted a review on Amazon / Goodreads, as I have been trying make sure to do, regardless of how long the book has been out.  Afterwards, I perused what others had written and was frankly rather surprised at the wide-range of reviews people posted.  I get that not every reader is going to like every book, as Jeanne talked about in her Did Not Finish post yesterday, but it was baffling – and eventually a bit amusing – to see such seemingly contradictory comments: Continue reading