Saturday, December 6, 2008

Ooops, I Did It Again!

Both kids had basketball games today, and in the break between my daughter and I took a little trip to my favorite used bookstore (the son had shoot-around practice before his game). I knew as I walked through the door that I was too weak, that I would walk out with at least one book. Well...how about eight books for myself, plus two for my daughter? It began when I saw a like-new copy of a book I've had on my Amazon wish list since early last spring - The Falconer's Knot. I couldn't believe the selection of good young adult fiction they had this time. I halfway think some teacher had purged his/her classroom library, because there were several copies of some books.

Anyway, I got a whole selection of new historical fiction. Fortunately, the bookstore happened to be having their Christmas open house, and they had 20% off everything, so I didn't have to take out a second mortgage! I think I'll tell my husband this is my Christmas present. After all, it's just what I wanted!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Romance, or Love?

(Please indulge me as I talk about my own book.)

It's been a whirlwind of a week in my journey toward being a published author. I had submitted my first three chapters to an agent in September, and on Monday of this week, I finally heard from her - she wanted to read the full manuscript! Naturally, I was quite excited. I got the manuscript to her on Tuesday and settled for some waiting. As it turns out, I didn't have long to wait - I heard from her this morning. She said, "I have decided not to take your manuscript at this time, although I would definitely reconsider it if you decide you would like to address the following concerns...." She then goes on to say that the first 150 pages are "very engaging" and that she "loved" the "initial development of the characters" and the "young love" between those characters. However, she said, once they start on their pioneering journey (this is historical fiction, of course), "all the strong characters, tensions, concerns, and issues...got left behind." She said the relationship between the characters was central to the plot in the first part of the book, but that it "takes a second seat to many of the external events in their lives" once they start traveling.

I've pondered this on and off (well, OK, mostly "on") all day, and I think I understand our differences: she wants romance, and I wrote love.

In the first chapter of the book, the hero and heroine meet and get married the same night through a set of unusual circumstances (that I won't go into here, because this isn't really about my book). It's a marriage in name only, though, and they plan to dissolve it as soon as they get an opportunity. But over the next five chapters, they begin to be "in love" with each other. Not to flatter myself, but I think the reader can sense the sexual tension of those characters being around each other, becoming more and more attracted to each other, drawn together by a desire to protect each other from angry and unfair parents. Finally, they give in to that tension and decide they will stay married. The very next day they leave on their trip. And that's about the time the agent says she lost interest.

Throughout the rest of the book, that sexual tension is not so intense. They are married, after all, and now they can have sex whenever they feel like it. But now their challenge is to learn to love each other, with all the flaws that they sort of didn't notice during that period of infatuation. So they fight sometimes. They have to figure out how to deal with problems in a way that takes into consideration the needs and wants of two people instead of satisfying only themselves. They hurt each other, and they have to face up to that and to decide if they can get past that pain to continue on as husband and wife, or if it's time to give up.

Personally, I find those kinds of struggles interesting. It's part of what I liked so much about Hannah Fowler. But....it's a different kind of thrill than reading about/experiencing infatuation. Now that I think about it, Forged in the Fire (which I loved) seemed to lose some of its drive once Will and Susanna married. The same is true once Baudoin Bras-de-fer spirits Judith of France away from the captivity the father has imposed on her. Heck, even in television shows like Moonlighting or Scarecrow and Mrs. King or Remington Steele (ok, now you know how old I am, ha ha ha!), once the two main characters got together, the thrill of the show was gone, and it didn't last much longer. I haven't read the Twilight series yet, but I read a comment about it the other day that made the point that the writer deliberately maintains that intense sexual tension for three books precisely because she knows it's necessary to keep people interested.

So, I guess I made an error in plotting my story, if I wanted to be commercially successful. Are we as a culture so in love with the idea of being "in love"? Is love only interesting when it is fired by infatuation? Do we turn off when passion has burned down to a warm, steady glow? Does marriage bore us?

The agent told me she would be happy to reconsider my book if I made some changes. She wanted a total re-write of the second half of the book, to change the entire reason I wrote the story in the first place. I'm not going to do it. Maybe it won't be a commercial success. But at least it will be what I want it to be, to explore issues I think matter. I hope somebody else thinks they matter, too.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

No Light Confection, This

One of the dangers of living in an "advanced society" is a degree of arrogance toward those who came before. I recently read a little novel about the Great Plague of 1665 in London, and I couldn't keep from wondering how we in the 21st century would react if we were faced with circumstances similar to what the Londoners faced. I have a hunch that, regardless of how "advanced" we think we are, people would react in much the same way.

The novel was At the Sign of the Sugared Plum by Mary Hooper. It's a simple, short book for relatively young readers, but I found it to be really thought-provoking. The main character, Hannah, is a young girl who is coming from the country to live in London and work in her sister Sarah's sweetmeat shop (that's a candy shop, if you find it as confusing at first as I did). Hannah is excited about the prospect of living in the big city, and her top priorities are catching up on the city fashions and finding a sweetheart. Unfortunately for Hannah, she's come to London just as the plague has -- shortly after her arrival, the Bills of Mortality are announcing the number of deaths in St. Giles' parish has doubled during the week. Then the deaths begin in other parishes, then a neighbor's house is shut up for plague, then the Bills of Mortality begin to number in the thousands each week. Hannah's obsession with fashion is forgotten as she observes piles of bodies carelessly dumped into mass graves. Hooper does a fine job of moving Hannah's character through a growing awareness of the seriousness of the times she's living in.

One reason I liked the book so much was because it was so rich in historical detail. I've read other stories in which the plague had a role, but none of them ever brought home to me the way Hooper's book did the reality of what it must have been like to live during those times. The people of London were faced with an overwhelming crisis over which they seemingly had no control, and I find it fascinating to learn about how they reacted to that crisis. They had no idea what was causing the plague or how it was moving from one person to another; as a result, a hearty market for "plague preventatives" developed. Knowing what we know now, some of the things people tried to do to avoid plague infection were laughable -- carrying a handful of flowers to sniff, smoking heavily, taking specific herbal potions made to match up with their birth sign. Other things they did are horrifying, such as forcibly barricading an entire family into their home for forty days when a single member fell ill with plague, or killing virtually all the cats and dogs in the city. I also think it's interesting to look at the "civic government" side of the issue. Can you imagine being a city official who has to figure out how to dispose of 7,000 bodies in a single week, knowing next week there may be 10,000?

All that brings me back to my original statement. We look back on how seventeenth-century Londoners responded to the crisis of their times, and with the superior knowledge of history on our side, we can laugh at the ineffectiveness of their plague preventatives or condemn their practice of quarantining victims for its role in increasing the number of deaths. But I wonder if we would fare any better if we were faced with our own crisis, and I'm afraid the answer would be probably not. Human nature being what it is, we would probably respond with the same type of irrational fear.

We do have the advantage now of understanding germs and how disease is spread; but consider the descriptions of a possible outbreak of Ebola or bird flu. We may be able to understand that the disease is caused by a virus and that it's spread by contact with air-borne particles, but would that keep us from reacting with fear if or when we came in contact with someone who was ill? In one sad scene in the book, a child of one of Hannah's neighbors has died of plague, meaning the whole family will not only have to deal with grief but with being locked up. People from the neighborhood gather around to watch the scene when the baby's body is taken out of the house, but Hannah notices no one goes forward to comfort the distraught mother or to take care of the two little boys who are left. Would we be any different today? Or would we be like the "quality" folk of London, who got their Certificates of Health and got as far away from the city as they possibly could?

I don't mean to say that I believe everyone is so callused to the suffering of others. Actually, Hooper does a good job in showing Hannah dealing with the conflict of knowing what others need and wanting to do something to help, but fearing for her own safety so much that she can't make herself do what she knows need to be done. That's humanity, I think. In the end, Hannah and Sarah do take a big risk to do something to help someone else (although, of course, they get a big benefit as well). I like to think that "our better angels" will come out -- at least sometimes. Maybe the bigger the crisis, the more extreme the conflict in our human nature appears - there is a mighty pull for self-preservation, but maybe it will be balanced by noble regard for the needs of others and courage to risk personal danger.

Did I ever say I love historical fiction?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Wonder of Words

This entry will be only loosely related to reading.
Yesterday in class, I had one of those serendipitious "teaching moments" arise. We were going through an analysis of an argument about U.S. policy toward Israel, when one of the students said, "What does 'boon' mean?" Ever eager to show off my vocabulary skills (ha ha), I defined it for him as a "gift, or a windfall." He responded, "So why didn't the guy just say 'gift'?"

What a wonderful opportunity to talk about the writer's most valuable tool! We discussed how the choice of a particular word influences the image the writer projects to his/her audience, and also how language choices allow us to be more precise in conveying our exact meaning. As one young woman in the class pointed out, there is a difference between being "scared" or "afraid" (I added "fearful," "anxious," and "terrified"). Although that little side discussion meant we didn't get as much done during that class period as I had planned to, I think it was very productive, both in terms of just what they learned about vocabulary AND in terms of what language can do for them in an argument. So, I can ease my guilt that the day wasn't wasted!

They all looked at me like I was either pulling their legs or purely nutty when I told them the best gift I got last Christmas was a dictionary. I'm serious, though! I enjoy poring through it, looking at word meanings and word origins, synonyms and proper usage. One feature I was especially pleased with in the version my husband gave me was the effort to give a date for the word. The entry for a word will include the date when the word (or at least its first definition) first appeared in a dictionary. That has been very helpful to me in editing my little historical novel. There were several times when I found that a word I'd used didn't exist (or at least wasn't in common usage) until maybe decades after my story is supposed to take place. Call me obsessed if you must, but that kind of detail matters to me - I went back and changed the words to something that was more historically accurate. Sometime maybe I'll write a post about what I learned from that experience; words that entered the dictionary during a particular time period seem to reflect the general mindset of the period (which suddenly sounds quite obvious, but really isn't as simple as it sounds).

I think I'm going to offer my students an extra-credit assignment about vocabulary. Maybe I can be the matchmaker who leads them to their own love affair with words...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

What's a "Strong" Woman, Anyway?

It's funny how themes in current events and themes in my reading will sometimes wind themselves together. There's been so much talk in the news lately about "strong" women and feminism and the "glass ceiling" since John McCain selected Sarah Palin as his running mate. It just so happens that I've recently finished reading books with what could safely be described as "strong" women. In two cases, I would agree wholeheartedly; in the last case, I would describe the female protagonist as a bully, just another pit bull with lipstick.

The three books in question are Hannah Fowler by Janice Holt Giles, Bella at Midnight by Diane Stanley, and Boone's Lick by Larry McMurtry. The only thing all three books have in common is a female protagonist who faces an overwhelmingly difficult situation. Hannah is kidnapped by maurading Indians, but manages to escape and make her way home, despite the fact that she's several months pregnant. Bella discovers a plot to start a war that will lead to the death of her best friend from childhood, and she sets off alone to the neighboring enemy country to warn him and to try to avert the war. Mary Margaret (in Boone's Lick) takes a wagonload of children across the American West to track down her wayward husband, braving flooded rivers, Indian attacks, and cold weather. No doubt about it -- all three of these characters had to be physically strong and mentally tough to get through the challenges they faced.

So, your question probably is....who's the bully? It's Mary Margaret. I suppose McMurtry gave her characteristics that are supposed to prove how "strong" she is. She's stubborn to the point of being obnoxious. She's single-minded and unrelenting in her pursuit of finding her husband, even if it means dragging her kids across the northern Great Plains in early winter. She's bossy, even hateful at times, to Seth, her husband's brother, who has stayed with her all these years while her husband is off starting several other families with Indian women. She belittles him, she contradicts him, she won't even let him drive the wagon. Perhaps McMurtry wants us to see her as "strong," but I see her as mean-spirited and selfish -- a bully, or a pit bull in lipstick.

Mary Margaret looks even worse when compared to Hannah and Bella. While Mary Margaret bullies Seth, Bella forgives Prince Julian for ignoring her -- his best friend -- when he sees her (a common peasant) while he's out on the town with his highborn friends, an act that hurts her deeply. Her love for him motivates her to carry out a plan to save his life that puts her in an unfamiliar and uncomfortable -- and possibly dangerous -- position, even though she believes she's nothing to him. And while Mary Margaret is driven to find her husband so she can finally get control of his role in her life, Hannah is driven to travel miles of rough territory without rest by her love for Tice (her husband) and her baby Janie. At one point, Hannah wants to get a drink from a creek, but she recognizes that if she gets off the horse she stole from the Indians, she would never be able to get back on in her weak condition. So she does without water until she gets back to a neighbor's house. Now, that's strength -- to deny yourself what you want immediately, and maybe need desperately, for the long-term good of others and yourself. Of course, both Hannah and Bella benefit from their sacrifices as well, but the way they are written makes it clear that for both characters, self-interest takes a back seat.

I guess what has me bothered by all this is that I'm afraid a "strong woman" is going to be narrowly defined in the Mary Margaret/"pit bull with lipstick" mode. I'm afraid we aren't going to value the type of strength Hannah and Bella show, because it sometimes looks like weakness. But what kind of world are we going to have if everyone is a Mary Margaret?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

In Memory of Mrs. Howell

When I think back on my early education, there are two teachers who stand out as favorites -- Mrs. Kendall in fourth grade, and Mrs. Howell in sixth grade. Mrs. Kendall was just a wonder of "active learning" before anyone was calling it that. We wrote our own books, and made a bulletin board display of a town (I got to make the supermarket), and another display of the Sahara (camels that time). Mrs. Howell, though, may have been the more influential of the two because she introduced me to so many books that I still consider favorites.

Every day after lunch, we had a rest time and Mrs. Howell would read aloud. (Obviously, that was in the days before every moment had to be filled with instruction geared toward a test.) She turned off the classroom lights so the only light came from the windows -- which made it easier to step into the world of imagination. She took us back to the Boston Tea Party with Johnny Tremain, to the mysterious Pink Motel, to the brink of danger with Five Boys in a Cave, and to post-WWII Germany and The Ark. It was the best part of the day.

This summer, I decided to revisit some of those classics from sixth grade. I had to do some hunting, since most of these books are out of print. But I managed to find copies of The Ark by Margot Benary-Isbert and Five Boys in a Cave by Richard Church. I read Church's book first, remembering the thrill of adventure as Mrs. Howell read about the boys finding their way along a river down in the cave.

I have to admit it -- it just wasn't quite as thrilling as I remembered. And The Ark, too, seemed stiffer than I remembered it being when Mrs. Howell read it. Don't get me wrong; I'm glad I went back to re-read the books, and I'm encouraging my kids to read them as well. But it really made me think -- was it Mrs. Howell's reading that made me remember the book, more than the book itself? Was it that she added excitement and character to the book with her voice, as much as the writer did with words?

When the kids were little, I read aloud to them every night. (Some of my daughter's memories will include having to poke Mama in the ribs to make me wake up and read the right words, ha ha!) As they've gotten older, though, I've quit doing that. My husband still reads to them occasionally, but not nearly as much as he used to. Both kids are old enough now that they are strong readers on their own, so I guess we think they don't "need" us to read to them anymore. Remembering Mrs. Howell has made me rethink that attitude. Sure, they don't need me to read the "big words" for them now. But maybe they are missing out since I don't share my love and enthusiasm for the books that meant -- still mean -- something to me.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Scattered Thoughts after a Day of "Junking"

This post isn't going to be about something I read, but about a book I didn't read, but instead put back on the shelf.

Over the past week and a half, I've had the opportunity to visit some flea markets, a hobby I occasionally get to indulge in. Invariably, I find myself drawn to the booths with used books. To tell the truth, I'm scanning the titles hoping beyond hope to find a copy of Judith of France -- it could happen! Although I never find Judith, there's usually something else that I find that I'll bring home, some classic of children's literature, or something that I remember from my childhood, or something I haven't read by an author whose other works I like.

Today, I found Man of the Family by Ralph Moody. It is the sequel to Little Britches, which is one of the absolute best books I've ever read. It was hardcover, obviously old, but still in good condition (not like the mildew-speckled copy of Carol Ryrie Brink's The Pink Motel I bought once!). I checked the slip of paper stuck in the book for the price - $1.50, great - and stuck it under my arm to purchase as I went about scanning for the elusive Judith.

When my kids were finally ready to check out, I handed the book to the woman behind the counter, who said, "Oh, this is one of those old books someone wanted to really take care of -- see, they didn't put a sticker on it, they put the price on this piece of paper. Fifteen dollars."

After cursing myself for leaving my glasses in the car (I guess I'm going to have to start remembering them every time), I said, "If it's fifteen dollars, I don't want it. I'll take it and put it back." Which I did, mourning the fact that I wouldn't get to read the book, after all, or share it with my kids.

I thought about that experience as we were driving home. I think the woman and I were looking at the book from completely different perspectives. To me, the book was a story waiting to be told again. I was looking forward to giving Ralph Moody the chance to spring to life again and act out his drama (ala the post about The Great Good Thing). For the woman at the flea market, the book was a valuable antique object - published in 1950, she told me. I don't think she was at all concerned with what was inside the book. The sad thing is, no one is going to read that book. Unfortunately, I am such a cheapskate I'm not going to pay $15 for an "old book." And unfortunately, someone who would buy the book as an "antique object" published in 1950 probably wouldn't think of reading it - it would become part of a collection or to add a touch of quaint charm to decor.

I was afraid that my tightwad ways were going to deprive me of the chance to read this book, since you can't find it in the libraries (around here, anyway), and I was sure it's out of print. But there it was in a quick search of "the favorite online bookstore," not only clean and new with a lovely, artful cover, but $5 cheaper and eligible for Free Super Saver Shipping!

So it seems Ralph Moody will get his chance to tell his story, after all - at least it's still available. But that's something I found myself thinking as I scanned through the hundreds of books I saw over those couple of days of "junking." How many of the people who wrote these books had such great hopes for them, only to have the books wind up crammed into a box with a dozen others, offered for 25 cents each?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

I'm still here!

I have been reading, I promise! Since the last entry, I've done four books, but the inspiration to blog about them and the time to do it don't seem to coincide lately. Like right now - I'm as dry as toast, even though I have a few moments.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

There Had to be More to the Story

These are the historical facts (as best I can tell from my admittedly limited research): Charles the Bald, King of France, married his 12-year-old daughter Judith to Aethelwulf, the 60-year-old king of Wessex, England, in 856. When Aethelwulf and Judith returned to England, they were met with a rebellion led by Aethelwulf's oldest living son, Aethelbald, who had been ruling Wessex while his father was on a pilgrimage to Rome. Aethelwulf abdicated rule of Wessex to Aethelbald, and in another year or so, dies. 14-year-old Judith then marries Aethelbald, a move that was both illegal and highly unpopular. Within another year and a half, the marriage is annulled, and not long afterward, Aethelbald also dies. The next we hear of Judith, she is 18 and has eloped with Baudoin Bras-de-fer, one of her father's soldiers. Charles excommunicates the couple, who then travel to Rome to seek an audience with the pope in hopes of getting the Church's support of their marriage. Pope Nicolas agrees the marriage is valid, Charles names Baudoin as Count of Flanders, and Baudoin and Judith have a son before she dies a few years later at age 26.

When I read a summary of history like that, I often wonder what really happened. That's not to say I don't believe the writers of history, but these names on the pages were people, with personalities and motivations, and I just would like to hear the story behind the summary.

Margaret Leighton's novel Judith of France is a fine effort to do just that. In Leighton's novel, Judith becomes a naive young girl who is manipulated by her father and the local archbishop, and who falls in love with the handsome hero of her father's wars against the Vikings but dutifully goes off to England with her weary but kind old husband. Aethelbald -- who seems to be a character really shrouded in mystery as far as history is concerned -- becomes a vain and ambitious young man with a violent temper, and the explanation Leighton gives for how Judith married him is entirely believable. Leighton also fills in some of the blanks of how Judith got from the marriage to Aethelbald to an elopement with Baudoin, and it is a story full of adventure and romance. The character of Baudoin is interesting -- on the one hand, he seems to be your average romance-novel hunk, but on the other, he has his own hangups about being the son of a freedman in a society prejudiced against anyone except highborn people, and the question of his possible involvement in Aethelbald's death is never really resolved.

This story was "young adult" fiction of 1948, and as such, it's much more demure than the same story written today probably would be. Actually, that points to something that I found a bit disappointing this time around (I haven't read this book since I was a teenager). Leighton develops Aethelbald's character into a great villain -- the description of his eyes as looking like a hawk's was really cool. The scene when he forces Judith to marry him is powerful. But then it is followed up with this passage: "...Judith found all her fears and scruples being swept away by Aethelbald's wooing. He was young, he was strong and bold; when he set himself to be charming it would take a far harder and more experienced heart than Judith's to resist him." It's a little out of character for Judith to go from being completely repulsed and fearful of him to being charmed by him. I needed to see that happening instead of having two sentences that told me it happened. I can understand how it could happen; maybe Aethelbald is a medieval version of Ted Bundy. (Spoiler!) Think how much more shocking his murder of the old woman would be if we the readers, like Judith, had fallen a bit under his spell by being able to see his charm in action.

Some of the same problem bothered me with the relationship between Judith and Baudoin. Before her marriage to Aethelwulf, she sees Baudoin twice, I think, and doesn't have any conversation with him at all. (Another spoiler!) But when he comes to rescue her from Aethelbald, they are in love. Leighton wants me to buy into "love at first sight." As a teenager reading the book, I did; thirty years later, I'm more skeptical. I would like to have seen a couple of scenes where they had the opportunity to talk to each other and to develop some basis for their love other than just physical appearance. Leighton does a great job, though, of putting flesh on the historical skeleton of Baudoin; even thirty years later, I'm in love with him myself, ha ha ha!

To sum it all up, Judith of France gives insight into what could have been the reality behind the cold historical fact. It's a real shame this book is out of print and, I'm sure, on the "discarded" list for most libraries.

Monday, April 7, 2008

How Far Am I Willing to Suspend My Disbelief?

The good news is - I finally broke out of my slump! My kids were at a skating party for a friend's birthday, and I was totally unsociable. I read the whole time. Part of that is because I didn't know the other kids' parents, but the main reason is I was just so caught up in the story -- Pirates! by Celia Rees. It was a gripping adventure with a deliciously creepy villain and a honorable, faithful love interest. There was enough history to satisfy the historical fiction nerd in me. But........

As I thought about the story the next day, I saw some places where the author seems to have expected me to just "go with it" and not think too much. Now, I learned in "Introduction to Literature" as a college freshman that a part of engaging a story is being willing to suspend your disbelief. After all, a story is NOT life, and some things have to be manipulated to make it work as a story. But I felt this particular story asked me to give the author a little more liberty than I really should have had to.

(There are probably some spoilers below)

I had no problem suspending reality to "believe" the ruby necklace had some kind of magical link that allowed the Brazilian to track Nancy for more than a year. Actually, I was quite satisfied with the author's explanation for why he bothered to do that when most men would just cut their losses and find some other 16-year-old to marry. Being so creepy, the Brazilian would of course be driven by a desire for revenge. And I really liked the imagery of the necklace as a collar or choke-chain on Nancy. It was the perfect metaphor for what her life with the Brazilian would be like.

However, I found the romance with William unrealistic. I know they grew up together, but I couldn't see how they would have developed a devotion to each other that would lead them to pledge undying romantic love for each other. I think part of my problem with it was that William was only 12 and Nancy was only 10 when his father sent him to sea. I know people matured faster in those days than these, but I don't see children of those ages being that aware of choosing a mate. Yes, Nancy saw William two other times after he had started his career as a sailor, but would that really be enough to build a commitment that would last through the impossible circumstances they are up against? Wouldn't William, especially, just consign Nancy to the realms of memory and go on to marry some other respectable young woman? It all just seemed a little too easy -- William was always faithful. That relationship just didn't get much development.

I'm sure the reason it didn't is because this story wasn't really about Nancy's love for William; it was about Nancy's relationship with Minerva, her mulatto half-sister. And I'm ok with that. It was actually sort of refreshing to have something other than a romantic relationship as the major plot line. But that leads me to another idea that I couldn't quite buy. Minerva is supposed to be younger than Nancy. How much younger is never really specified. But we know that Nancy's father left shortly after she was born to go to his plantation in Jamaica. Even if we assume that he almost immediately started his affair with Minerva's mother, that means Minerva would be at least a year younger than Nancy. That means she's 14 or 15 during the events of the story. The problem I have with this is that Minerva never fails to be poised or brave or to know exactly what needs to be done. Ok, maybe it's because she's been a slave and she had to develop those qualities to survive, and maybe it's because being a Dahomey woman warrior is in her blood -- but it just seemed unrealistic to me.

But the thing that bothered me most was something really small (aren't those always the worst?!!). When Nancy shoots the overseer, she is still wearing the dress she wore at the dinner party at the Brazilian's house. The author makes a point of telling us about the amount of blood and other matter that was scattered around the room after the shot. The slaves go in and dispose of the body and clean everything up so Nancy and Minerva can get away. But then at the climax of the book when the Brazilian has caught up with them -- he has the same dress for her to wear, just like he's recreating the moment more than a year ago. WAIT!!!! Number 1, that dress would have been ruined by blood spray, etc. from the gunshot. Number 2, the slaves would have burned it or something to get rid of any evidence. There's no way that I can believe that the dress would have been in any condition to be used in the Brazilian's little revenge fantasy.

All that said, I still enjoyed the book. It was a great "escape" novel, and it made me think about what life must have been like for slaves and women (completely under the power of men) during that time. (Maybe I'll write about that another time.) And it got me out of the slump -- I've already started on my next book.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Help! I'm Backsliding!

Here it is, nearly the middle of February, 2008, and I have yet to finish a complete book. I've dabbled in reading now and then so far this year, but I seem to be in a slump. I've got excuses -- oh, boy, have I got excuses. School started again, and I have two "new" classes that take a lot of prep time. Both the kids are playing basketball, and we seem to meet ourselves coming and going on our way to games and practices. Minor car trouble. Bad weather. Painting the bedroom, finally, after 12 years. I'm trying to do one more edit of my own little book. I'm just too darn tired - I can't keep my eyes open when I sit down with a book. Blah, blah, blah...

It's not that I haven't done any reading at all. I've read through the manuscript of a friend's first novel, looking for typos and making suggestions about characters and plot. I read through my mother's little book of memoirs that I published for her on Lulu.com as a Christmas present. One of my friends has loaned me several of her own books that she thought I would enjoy. I started the romance novel she suggested, but made it through only three chapters before I quit -- it was ok, but just not what I felt like reading. She has now loaned me a non-fiction book about gardening that she says is funny and well-written. I don't care so much about gardening, but I can appreciate humorous, well-written non-fiction. But it's been over a week now, and the book is still on my bedside table, unopened. Nothing has grabbed my imagination lately. What's going on???

I'm going to pick up that gardening book tonight, I am! I've got to get my mo back!