Top Ten Places Books Have Made Me Want to Visit

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Oh man, how to narrow this down to ten?

1. Wales. Susan Cooper and Lloyd Alexander chiefly are responsible for my love affair with Wales. Between Prydain and Will Stanton I was hooked early, and Brother Cadfael and Celtic lore in general only strengthened my love. I’ve even attempted to teach myself the Welsh language, that’s how much I love it.

2. The Rest of the UK. I have read way too many books set in England, Scotland, and Ireland to not want to visit every corner. Carl is looking at getting his PhD in either Scotland or England, and the thought of actually living there for 3-4 years seems like a dream. A really good one.

3. Greece. Books like MWT’s Queen’s Thief series and CS Lewis’ Till We Have Faces, and Lloyd Alexander’s The Arkadians, not to mention all the Greek Mythology I grew up on (did anyone else ever play the board game By Jove? Friends of ours owned it, and we would play it all the time) kindled in me a deep, deep desire to someday visit the land that has inspired so many wondrous stories.

4. Oxford, England. I know I already listed Great Britain above, but Oxford deserves its own special spot. Not only is it the home of my beloved Lord Peter and Harriet Vane, but so many of my favorite authors attended or lectured (or both!) there, that I can’t even imagine walking around there.

5. Mankato, Minnesota. Maud Hart Lovelace based Deep Valley on Mankato, her own home town, and someday I intend to visit there and pay my respects to Betsy Ray properly.

6. Prince Edward Island. Because Anne and Emily and Kilmeny and the Story Girl and Jane and Marigold, that’s why. Because LM Montgomery. And because it’s beautiful.

7. Mythology is to blame for a lot of my travel lust, it seems, because I also really want to visit the Scandinavian countries due to my fondness for Norse mythology. Also, as with PEI, because I think they’d be beautiful. And because Carl’s heritage is largely Swedish. But mostly because of myths.

8. Colorado. The first time I read Susan Coolidge’s Clover and In the High Valley, I fell in love with her description of Colorado. I am 100% certain it’s nothing like that today, but I would still love to visit and see for myself.

9. Egypt. Yup, blame it on the myths again. Also on Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s The Egypt Game. And the Amelia Peabody books.

10. Narnia. I know it’s not a real place. But oh, how I’ve always wished it was.

As always, check out The Broke and the Bookish for more Top Ten lists.

Sinusitis and Love

Sinusitis is no fun at all, guys. Seriously. I thought my occasional tyramine-intolerance migraines were bad until I had to deal with daily sinus headaches.

Ho-ly smokes.

I think I’m over the worst of it now, I’ve still got some pressure and pain, but I ate a tiny piece of jalapeno this evening and my head pretty much exploded and then I felt so much better. Not cured, but on the road. Thank goodness.

The downside to sinusitis (aside from constant pain, of course) is that I haven’t been able to accomplish much of anything for the last almost-three weeks. The upside is, I’ve gotten quite a bit more done on my niece’s baby quilt, since resting on the couch with a quilting hoop and Netflix was about all I could manage. If I’m very diligent, I just might get the quilt done in time for Christmas. Which would be excellent, since she turned a year old last week.

(In my defense, I am quilting in one-inch squares, no pattern to follow, no lines drawn in (the fabric is light-colored and I didn’t want to leave pencil markings behind), no stitching lines to follow, just me measuring and pinning every. single. line. as I come to it. If I’d drawn the lines in or was following a pattern, I’d have had this finished ages ago. I’m slow, but not usually that slow.)

I am, despite the burst of productivity on Miss M’s quilt, glad to finally be able to start getting some other stuff done. I set up the sewing table to work more on Halloween costumes today – I would be finished with the underdress of Joy’s medieval outfit tonight if it weren’t for the fact that the sewing machine noise keeps Gracie awake so I have to quit once they’re in bed. I cleaned the kitchen earlier today, and made a delicious, healthy supper. It doesn’t sound like much, but considering what I’ve been getting done, it’s a lot.

And just in time, since we’re having company join us tomorrow for dinner. (eek!)

Not a lot of writing done of late, but I’m seeing light at the end of the tunnel for From the Shadows, and even a hint of hope that I might be able to finish the first draft of Magic in Disguise by the end of the year. I confess to feeling some discouragement that my wretched body seems determined to throw a monkey wrench into all my plans, all the time (if it’s not one thing, it’s another, she said in a gloomy tone to rival Eeyore’s), but I am determined to not let it master me.

Because in the long run, what’s a few extra weeks, or months, or even year? Am I suddenly going to lose masses of fans because I didn’t publish the sequel to Magic Most Deadly exactly one year after the first book? Or are people going to forget all about me if I’m not churning out books steadily? Is my value, my worth, going to drop if I don’t publish on a regular basis?

(The answer to all those questions, by the way, is no.)

And you know, a few weeks with constant pain has taught me a lot, even as it’s eroded my plans. Plus it’s given my husband and kids a chance to show their love for me in practical, tangible ways, like Carl making an absolutely delicious supper Saturday evening because I couldn’t move my head, even though he’d had class Friday night and all day Saturday. Or the girls playing quietly and nicely with each other several afternoons without me having to ask, just because they saw me resting on the bed and knew that Mommy was hurting again.

I dunno, as important as writing is to me, moments like that are even more important in the long run. Maybe not to me as a writer, but to me as a person.

So there are my ramblings from the last few weeks. What’s new with all you?

Anne and Me

Last night I watched the first half of Anne of Green Gables with a group of ladies in my building (and you can be absolutely certain that, mature, reasoned, responsible ladies that we are, we were every one of us sorely tempted to stay up until midnight watching the entire thing, and only barely managed to be sensible enough to call it a night after Part 1).

It got me thinking about Anne, and my relationship with her over the years. As a child, she was one of my best friends. I adored her temper, her dramatics (and sadly, unconsciously imitated both), her sense of beauty in the world, her vivid imagination (I unconsciously imitated those as well, with a much happier result). Anne, like Lucy Pevensie, Vesper Holly, Mary Lennox, Sara Crewe, Jo March, Emily Starr, Eilonwy of Prydain, Betsy Ray, and others whom I am most certainly forgetting at the moment, had a hand in shaping the person I grew to become.

As an adult, I started to lose some patience with Anne. Her dramatics made me wince, her over-exaggerations caused me to roll my eyes, her disdain for ordinary, everyday life seemed short-sighted and arrogant.

Watching the movie this time around, though, I found myself with an entirely new perspective. When others laughed at her statements such as “being in the depths of despair” or wishing to be called Cordelia instead of Anne, I found myself wanting to gather her in a big hug. I think it’s being a mother of little girls that’s helping shift the way I see things now. Now I can see Anne as the child who never had any kind of touchstone with reality, whose only exposure to a life beyond harshness and ugliness came from books, and who genuinely had no idea how to properly interact with the world until Matthew, Marilla, and Diana (and even Mrs Lynde, to an extent, in her advice to put Anne in school and Sunday School) showed her through example and friendship. Now I find myself getting really emotional, as Matthew’s kindness and Marilla’s practicality took a child who literally had no life beyond books and made her capable of living in the world and loving it as much as her dreams. Instead of wincing at her insistence on giving everything “imaginative” names, I now can appreciate how she was simply trying, in her own childish way, to make the beauty that she saw for the first time in her life fit the flaming glories it brought to her inner life.

I said in a post a little while ago that while I still love Anne, I don’t know that we would be friends anymore – I had started to feel like I’d outgrown her. I don’t feel that way anymore. Now I think I’ve gotten to a point of enough maturity to properly love her and befriend her once again.

One Year In

I was tremendously excited a few weeks ago, thinking about the approaching anniversary of Magic Most Deadly’s publication. I’ll do a sale! I thought. I’ll do the giveaway I never managed to do for its publication, of those lovely vintage jewelry pieces I bought! I’ll do an excerpt of Magic in Disguise! I’ll post some of my memories of the writing process! I’ll share some of my favorite moments in the book! I’ll talk about what I’ve learned in one year of being a published author!

A little over a week ago, Joy got sick. It was nothing major, just a head cold. It spread to Grace, and then to me. Joy got better. Grace started to get better. I kept blowing my nose.

Grace got bronchitis. I kept blowing my nose.

Today, Gracie is tired but recovering from the bronchitis. Joy is all better from the cold. Carl, the stinker, never got sick. I, you guessed it, am still blowing my nose. With a massive sinus headache to boot (but I’m not complaining too much, because I went to the chiropractor yesterday for the first time in years, and this morning I woke up with no backache at all, which hasn’t happened for months).

Which means that it wasn’t until around 11:00 that I blearily remembered that today was the 30th, and one year ago this day I became the official published author of a novel.

Sorry, Magic Most Deadly. You deserve a better celebration, but I have to go blow my nose again.

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Concept Art

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m more of an audible reader/writer – I don’t tend to visualize stories as I read them/write them. I hear them in my head, instead (one reason why I rarely bother to read to stories aloud when I’m editing them. Since I hear it as I write it, reading aloud is redundant).

This means that I tend to write my characters all in “white space.” I’ve had to train myself to write in background details for scenes, so that my characters aren’t all talking heads.

This also means that when I placed my sci-fi novella-turned-novel From the Shadows on a futuristic spaceship, I didn’t bother visualizing how the spaceship would look, its design, or anything beyond a vague “sleek and shiny.”

I knew I would need to get more detailed at some point, but when Amanda and I were discussing elements for the cover and decided that it needed an image of the ship on it somewhere, I had to buckle down and figure out exactly what it looked like.

This led to figuring out logistics as well, what parts of the ship did what, and a rough sketch of the outline to send to Amanda so she could see what I had imagined.

I never claimed to be a great artist

I never claimed to be a great artist

Somewhat to my surprise, it was fun, sketching it and plotting it and detailing it. (I have a rough plan of the inside layout of the ship, too, but that isn’t even close to fit for other people to see – I need to polish it up.) And it has helped with the writing, as well – knowing what the setting looks like in my mind helps me to unconsciously write more natural details into the scenes and keep the characters from being the talking heads I veer toward so naturally.

I’ve been toying with the idea of once in a while sketching out scenes from my books now, in hopes that it strengthens my ability to be a visual as well as auditory writer, and that it makes for more detailed writing and a fuller experience for the readers.

(Also, it makes me wicked excited to see how Amanda incorporates the ship into the cover art.)

Book Recommendations: Cozy Mysteries

I asked for some book recs on Twitter the other day, as I’ve gotten burnt out on too much YA (when all the protagonists start sounding alike and you want to shake them all for normal, teenage behavior, I think it’s a clue that it’s time for a break). I got some good suggestions, but it occurred to me how difficult it is to give recommendations when you’ve only got 140 characters to understand what sort of books the other person likes and dislikes. So I thought it was time for a new series on the blog – Book Recommendations!

This will be where I list off various books I love, like, etc. in a genre, and you can feel free to offer up suggestions for others based on what I already like. I’ll throw in some specifics of things I dislike as well, to provide balance.

This isn’t purely selfish, either: I’ll update the post with suggestions from the comments, and then whenever someone is looking for a good book in a particular genre, they can just click on the post and have a handy list right at their fingertips.

So, to start off: Cozy Mysteries!

Cozies I Love:

Agatha Christie, of course. Still, and always, the Queen of Crime! (But I’ve no intention of reading the new Poirot novel, because that to me seems like even greater sacrilege than Jill Paton Walsh’s attempts at Lord Peter.

And speaking of Lord Peter … Dorothy L Sayers. I love Peter, and I love Harriet, and I love Bunter, and I most especially love the way she writes.

Ellis Peters. I have almost all the Brother Cadfael mysteries, and I just started collecting the Inspector Felse series. At this point in my life I almost even prefer Felse to Cadfael. Shocking, yes?

Mrs. Pollifax. Dorothy Gilman’s other books are a little weird for my taste, but I adore Mrs. Pollifax. More adventures than mysteries, they’re still pure entertainment, and pure delight for me to read.

Josephine Tey. The woman was brilliant. That’s all.

Cozies I Like:

Ngaio Marsh. Sometimes she can be a little too dry for my taste (it seems half the mysteries are less “mystery” and more “Alleyn and Fox collect evidence and by the end of it know who did the crime, and sit around and snigger at Nigel’s ignorance until they Reveal All), but she’s still brilliant.

Carola Dunn. I have read all the Daisy Dalrymple books, and the Cornish mysteries, and while they aren’t necessarily the best things ever, they are delightful period pieces. And since they are set in the ’20s in England, I can justify buying them as “research” for my own stories. Score!

Margery Allingham. Sad to say I recently gave away all my Campion books. I like them, but not enough to let them continue taking up space on my shelves.

Laurie R King. I only like the Mary Russell stories (I read Touchstone and hated it so much I couldn’t read anything by King for months afterward), and even those have started appealing to me less with the most recent books. Not exactly cozy, but also not really hard-boiled or noir either.

Charles Todd. These can get a little grim for me (and I can never, ever read them late at night), but they are brilliantly crafted. Like the Mary Russell series, these are a little darker than typical cozies, but they also don’t fit into any of the other mystery categories.

Anna Dean. The Dido Kent books are imperfect, but they stay true enough to the time period (Regency) while still managing to feature an intelligent and independent heroine, that I thoroughly enjoy reading them.

Anthony Berkeley. Technically I’ve only read one Roger Sheringham book (they are even harder to find than Campion books), but it cracked me up, and I’ve been on the lookout for more ever since.

Cozies I Sorta Like:

Elizabeth Peters. These hover between farce and genuine mysteries, and I wish they’d make up their mind which they are, because the in-between makes it hard to like them, but there’s a lot of brilliance in them all the same.

The Cat Who books. I pick them up every once in a while, enjoy them for a bit, and then promptly forget about them afterward.

P.D. James. Are these even cozies? I really don’t know. I like them all right, but I can only read so many in a row before I have to turn to something else.

Georgette Heyer. They’re OK, but I always expect the detective to be much more clever than he/she ends up being, and I inevitably guess the culprit long before anyone else. Which is lovely for my ego, but does get boring to read after a while.

Cozies I dislike:

Anything that takes a real person and turns her (it’s usually a her) into a detective. I’ve tried a few of these, and I end up hating them with a passion every time. (Tell the truth, I’m not really a fan of any book that fictionalizes real people, unless said book is by said person him- or herself, i.e. the Little House books.)

ANY mystery featuring Jane Austen characters. Please, no.

Cozies that insist on featuring the exact same characters and developments and “quirks” in every single story, that go through a dozen books and never let the main character grow in any way, that feature protagonists being Too Stupid to Live or doing idiotic things like hiding evidence from the police for no other reason but that they want to prove something, that rely on people being idiots in order to keep things a mystery. Whew.

Anything too “cutesy.” Most themed mystery series get on my nerves after the first book or two. I realize that themes are an essential part of many cozies, but they tend to get repetitive quickly.

~

I’m sure I’m missing some, but that sums it up as best I can. Make your suggestions in the comments, and I’ll update the post with them as they come in!

Update:

If you don’t mind real people fictionalized, Stephanie Barron has written a Jane Austen mystery series which is rather well done.

Over on FB, someone mentioned the Flavia de Luce series by Allan Bradley, which are written for adults despite featuring an eleven-year-old protagonist.

The Phryne Fisher series is delightful fun for the most part, even though I had to quit them after a few books due to my own personal inability to read casually about child abuse.

The Nero Wolfe series is not quite cozy, but reportedly not too hard-boiled, either.

The Mrs Bradley series is quite extensive and shooting to the top of my list of books to find!

Already Booked (My Life, That Is)

Worked some on From the Shadows today and thought, “Boy, if I could just take one week where I did nothing but write (like I did when I wrote the initial novella), I could have this sucker done.”

Then I looked at our school schedule calendar and saw that we don’t take a week off until mid-October. And that week is already booked for finishing sewing the kids’ Halloween costumes and, if there is any time left after that, making them some fall dresses.

Sigh. I guess pecking away at it here and there, during the evenings and in between math and grammar lessons, will have to suffice.