Elizabeth: Valentine’s Day Curmudgeon

Who could pass up chocolate dipped strawberries or heart-shaped cookies?

Unlike some of the others here on the blog, I didn’t need Michaeline’s reminder on Sunday to know Valentine’s Day was fast approaching though, frankly, it’s a holiday I’d just as soon forget.

That probably sounds strange coming from a romance writer and a life-long fan of Happily-Ever-After but the day unfortunately has some pretty negative memories attached to it.  While it may be a magnet for love for most, for me it’s when I got laid off from a job I loved – twice – and when my mom lapsed into a fatal coma.

Hardly the stuff of a cheery Hallmark greeting card.

You’d never know I harbored a dislike of the holiday by looking around my house or in my office at work though.  There’s a heart-shaped wreath on the front porch, a vase of fresh roses on the dining room table, and a Valentine-y plaque and a bowl of chocolate hearts on the corner of my desk. Continue reading

Elizabeth: Friday Writing Sprints

I have been craving chocolate dipped blueberries for weeks.

I blame Louise Penny and her story, The Beautiful Mystery (or as I like to think of it – The Mystery of the Murderous Monk).  Her description of the chocolate dipped delights, like all of her food-related descriptions, had me searching the aisles at the local markets.  I was finally successful a few days ago, but the package remains on the counter, unopened.

Crazy, right?

I think it’s unlikely that they will taste as delicious as what Penny described, but as long as they are in the package, I can believe they will.  Once the package is open, reality will kick in.  Sure, they might be even better than I’m expecting, but then again they may not.  So for now, I’ve got a good book in hand and potential deliciousness awaiting.

To take my mind of chocolate dipped blueberries, flaky croissants, baguettes, cafe au lait, and all of the other delicious-sounding food Penny includes in her stories, I’m going to spend some time trying to put some non-food-related words on the page.  I have a story in progress, but I think I’ll start things off with an attempt at today’s random words/prompt.

Care to join me? Continue reading

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?

Elizabeth: Author Squee – Louise Penny

It seems people are constantly giving me book and author recommendations – friends, magazines, random people on the internet – they are all responsible for the truly staggering depth and breadth of my TBR pile.  Some of my more persistent friends have recommended particular authors many times, sure that I would enjoy them immensely, yet I’ve never quite gotten around of them.

I blame GoodReads giveaways, RWA conferences, and my (possibly) regrettable tendency to read books I enjoy over and over again, rather than moving on to something new.  I’ve been trying to be better about that.

No, really, I have.

Since I instituted the “at least every other book has to be a new book” rule, I’ve read many, many new stories/authors and found some real keepers.

My current “find” is Louise Penny. Continue reading

Elizabeth: A Turn of Phrase

agents, editors, agent, editor, pitch, pitching, manuscriptIt’s probably no surprise to anyone, but I’m a big fan of words.  When writing, I love it when I find just the right one, with just the right nuanced meaning to get an idea across.  I like words that are slightly old fashioned or not commonly used; words that are whimsical; and words that are evocative.  I’d give you some examples but naturally, all the words in my head went into hiding as soon as I tried to find them.

I’ve been doing more of my reading on my Kindle app recently and one of the things I’ve really enjoyed is being able to click on a word and instantly get a definition while I’m reading along.   Sure, I could pull out the dictionary when reading a physical book, but that’s not nearly as instantaneous.   I’m finding that I’m looking up words fairly frequently – even words I’m pretty familiar with – just to be sure I’ve got their meaning correct.  I’ll admit there have been a few occasions where my understanding of the meaning of a word was not quite as precise as I’d thought.

Looking up a word when you are not completely sure of the meaning is one thing, but what happens when you encounter a phrase that leaves you puzzled?

I’m thinking about a book I read a while back that had the line: 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

Nancy: Serious About Series, Part 1: Chief Inspector Gamache

How the Light Gets In, the ninth Chief Inspector Gamache novel, was my introduction to the series.

How the Light Gets In, the ninth Chief Inspector Gamache novel, was my introduction to the series.

For the next few weeks, I’m going to talk about different book series I’ve been reading and what they’ve taught me about planning and writing two upcoming series of my own. As I told you in last week’s prologue to my series on series, first up is Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache cozy mystery series. The books are set in Quebec and star – you guessed it! – Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, head of this fictional world’s Quebec police force homicide division.

There are lots of things to love about Penny’s books, but if you’re a regular reader of the blog, you know she had me at cozy mystery. Oh, how I love a good cozy mystery! While I did binge-read several of the books after finding How the Light Gets In (book 9, and boy howdy! Stuff Happens in this one), I didn’t do it aimlessly or purely for the joy of it. I took some time to parse through what drew me into the series, what has kept me there, and in the spirit of great art, what I can steal or at least borrow for my own series writing pursuits. Looking at this series affords us the opportunity to explore one that is long-running, has the same recurring main character, and includes an overarching story that spans the course of the series thus far.

Give the protagonist a raison d’êtreContinue reading