Don’t Break My Heart

An acquaintance on tumblr recently asked for recommendations for a tv-show to watch that won’t ‘break my heart right away’.

I gave some thought to this. Avatar? No. Firefly? God, no. Sherlock? Ever so much no. Battlestar Galactica? Frak, no. Supernatural? HELL, no. Most shows, especially if you’re inclined to get emotionally invested in the characters, will break your heart sooner or later.

So I suggested one from what is, bizarrely, one of  the emotionally safest genres – murder mysteries.

No, really. Someone dies in every episode, sure, but it’s quite rarely someone you actually know! The drama comes from the murder of unknown characters, while the known characters – police, detectives, what have you – are completely safe. They might seem threatened now and then, undergo a bit of trauma, but you know they’re going to be okay in the end. I’d never thought about it before, but when I’m feeling shattered I tend to watch either murder mysteries/cop shows or a nice medical, where the doctors are likewise pretty safe. I don’t mind people dying right and left, as long as it’s no-one I’m personally attached to. (My attitude to blood is much the same – I don’t care about anyone else’s, but come over all queasy if I see too much of my own)

Of course there are always exceptions to the rule, especially if an actor wants to leave a show. But emotionally speaking, the shows where someone dies every episode are often easier than the ones where it comes as a horrible surprise. So if Supernatural or Sherlock have broken your heart, why not pay a little visit to Midsomer? The deaths won’t be surprising at all!

For the record, the show I recommended was ‘Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries’. I haven’t seen all of it, so heart-breakage is still a possibility, but it features a sassy lady detective in 1920s Sydney, who’s gloriously self-assertive and witty and there are also grumpy cabbies, charming policemen and sexy bits. I recommend it.


The Bookshop. THE Bookshop

I am home!

Which, sadly, means that nobody is going to make me a mocha when I lurch out of bed, or offer to cook breakfast for me, or watch the ninja while I sleep until noon. I miss you, kindly mother-in-law! But it does mean that I have my preferred brand of soymilk for my coffee (which the spouse made for me, so I still didn’t have to make my own), my favourite kind of bread for my breakfast toast (the USA does not contain King Henry rye bread, which is a terrible loss for the USA), and I have my own computer again and I have missed it so much!

I have also missed Tumblr. I love you, Tumblr.

It was a pretty great trip, all up. Got to spend time with family, show off my beautiful and well-behaved daughter, and do fun stuff like shop at the BIGGEST BOOK STORE IN THE WORLD. Seriously!

Powells' City of Books

Powells’ City of Books

This is only part of it, by the way – the City of Books is a full city block in size, with many rooms on multiple levels. My personal favourite is the Gold Room, which contains science fiction, fantasy, comic books and manga. Perhaps you would prefer to get some children’s books or YA from the Rose Room, a best-seller from the Green Room, a travel book from the Red Room or a historical tome from the Purple Room. They have everything, and I mean everything.

They buy new and used, so I’ve found out-of-print treasures for a few dollars, including a copy of the Egyptian Book of the Dead (Budge’s translation) which I’d been hunting for for ages. It is THE bookshop, the shop of shops, where you really can get lost – seriously, you can get so turned around in there. The spouse tells the story of a man who really did accidentally get locked in there one night at closing – he was sitting in an out of the way corner and had dozed off. There’s a coffee-shop that they let you take books into. There are shopping baskets in bright primary colours and a checking desk, so you can buy an armload of books, drop them off, and keep shopping!

The new and used thing means you should check every copy of a book – some will be much cheaper than others, especially if they’re a little foxed around the edges. There are some amazing bargains – but be warned! It’s possible to spend a lot of money in there very quickly. If you live close enough, you can offset this by bringing old books to sell off, earning yourself some store credit.

If you’re travelling from far away – well, try to control yourself. And make sure you have some spare room in your suitcase. But wherever you are in the world, if you love books, then Powells’ is definitely a place to put on your ‘places to visit’ list. Portland is a lovely city to visit, unless you really hate rain, and I absolutely recommend it a stop – or the destination – on a reader’s literary pilgrimage.

And if you can’t afford that, they have an online store.

An Extra Book

So I’m going to the US for two weeks, leaving next Wednesday. It’s going to be the first time I’m travelling with a tiny person – the ninjatot will be turning three while we’re over there – and I am of course freaking out to a truly paralytic degree because WHAT IF I FORGET A VITAL THING. THERE ARE SO MANY VITAL THINGS PASSPORTS AND TICKETS AND TOYS AND SPARE CLOTHES AND WIPES AND DIAPERS AND NNNGH.

But! There’s an upside!

For the first time, I’ll be travelling on a plane with an e-book reader.

That’s right! No big backpack full of books for me! I’ll have my reader whose charge usually lasts around a week, plus my iphone – which admittedly will mostly be used to keep the kid quiet by letting her play her edumacational games and change my wallpaper repeatedly – my ipod, and Phil, my trusty tablet-with-keyboard-dock. I’m hoping to actually get some writing done, if I can get the ninjatot to sleep. I’ve always had good luck writing on planes. (Phil is named for Phil Coulson, the small, dapper entity who can do almost anything.) I also have a portable recharger for the iphone, which I will undoubtedly need, which can double as an adaptor for charging my devices in the US.

It’s going to be weird, travelling so completely wired up. I’m only going to be taking one paper book! (For take-off and landing. I’ll probably take an Austen, I can always reread those) When I remember earlier trips, with my backpack full of seven or eight books, and the anxious fretting over running through them too fast, it’s hard to believe my reading habits have changed so enormously over the last few years. I bought my first e-reader before my daughter was born, and if you know an expectant mother who likes to read I promise you, it is the best baby shower gift ever. You can work them one-handed, they stay ‘open’ without you needing to hold onto them, the print’s adjustable so you can put it down beside you where the kid can’t see it, and if you’re immobilized by a caesarian you won’t run out of reading material. E-book readers are the mother’s friend!

I find that I rarely read paper books now. I still love them, and I’ll go back to them more when the kid’s a little older, I think – she still rips pages now and then –  but not if I’m planning on leaving the house. Not having to worry about running out of book while I’m out of the house is too awesome to give up. Although now I have to worry about my book running out of battery, which never happened before! And while in theory I have a phone, a tablet and an ipod to amuse me if that happens, my electronic devices have developed a near-uncanny skill at synchronizing their recharging cycles, despite all having a very different battery life.

Oh, well. At least they’re not as heavy as eight books and a laptop, like I had last time!

I hope all of you enjoy your Easter/Spring Celebration/Long weekend, however you spend it!

2013-10: The Alchemist Of Souls by Anne Lyle

Book two of the 2013 ten – ten books I haven’t read before, by authors I haven’t read before!

Alchemist of Souls was good…. but.

There’s nothing like damning with faint praise, I know. But that was definitely the feeling I came away with. “It was good, but…”

The prose was good, but the pacing was off.

The characters were likeable and engaging, but their motivations often weren’t really explained.

The idea was first-rate, but the climax was disappointing.

The title was good, but was only barely relevant to the story.

The history was good, but the Plot McGuffin was huge and unwieldy.

Honestly, I enjoyed reading it at the time. I liked the characters, the portrayal of Elizabethan England was realistic and engaging, and I do always enjoy alternate histories. But when I finished the book, I found myself feeling kind of unsatisfied. The plot wasn’t resolved well, and too much of it had just leaped up out of nowhere in the last third of the book. I’m sure a lot of people would read and love this book – I like to see the gun on the wall in act one, before it gets used in act three, but people who don’t mind the author holding back would no doubt enjoy the twist.

Nevertheless, the prose and characters were excellent, and I wouldn’t hesitate to read more by Ms Lyle.

Universal Writing Advice

There’s supposed to be no such thing as one-size-fits all writing advice that applies to everyone. Challenge accepted!

1: Make words

It doesn’t matter if your make your words with a keyboard, or a pen, or a pencil, or a chisel on stone tablets. MAKE WORDS.

2: Back up words.

Save your files onto an external drive, or use cloud storage, or make photocopies and store them in a tin box, whatever, but save your words! Don’t let a virus or computer theft or a fire destroy your words!

3: Read New Words

Reading things stimulates your word creation! Read new stories, learn new words, and incorporate them into your own words. More words is always good. But make sure you know your new words thoroughly before using them!

4: Make More Words

Always keep making more words. Keep practicing, keep refining, and keep wording.

Obviously there’s more to it. But start with making words, and you’ll get there.

There. And they said it couldn’t be done.


Rainy Days and Rereading

This post is late, and I apologize. It’s rainy today, and entertaining a hyperactive toddler who’s cooped up in a small house takes a lot of energy. My love for Playschool is being seriously strained, as is my capacity for imitating the dance-moves on Yo Gabba Gabba.

It’s a shame, because it’s a perfect day for curling up on the couch with a cup of tea and a book, preferably an old favourite. Something you know is going to be good, with no nasty surprises and the comfort of revisiting old friends. It’s the kind of day that cries out for a cosy reading-nook and a teapot with a cosy.

I have neither, but I am rereading an old favourite. Having just acquired the latest Harry Dresden, I’ve been warming up by reading over the whole series. I’m reading ‘Ghost Story’ now, and my heartstrings are being extensively wrung. I like it, though. I love the characters, and I’m glad to see them again. Jim Butcher is one of the authors I can read over and over again – his continuity isn’t always perfect, but I love his prose, his snarky dialogue, and his characters.

My ultimate re-read author is Jane Austen. Her elegant prose is a joy to read every time, and I love the characters – even Fanny Price, who many readers loathe. But I’m shy and anxious myself, so that helps me identify with her. There are some I just want to slap – I am looking at you, Miss Crawford – but most of her characters I am delighted to meet again.

Jules Verne is very hit or miss for me. I reread ‘Around The World In Eighty Days’ over and over again, but spent most of ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’ wanting to smack Harry across the ear until he stopped freaking whining. I couldn’t even finish ‘20,000 Leagues Under The Sea’ because it’s just page after page after page of fish and I just got so bored. How can being kidnapped aboard a giant steampunky submarine be so dull?

Among more modern works, I can always reread Patricia Briggs’ ‘Mercy Thompson’ series – most of Briggs’ work is, for me, eminently rereadable. Tamora Pierce is even more so – her ‘In The Hand of the Goddess‘ was the first fantasy novel I read with a heroine instead of a hero, when I was very young, and I have adored her work ever since. The Tortall series’ and the Circle books I will happily read over and over, even though I’m much older now than most of her protagonists.

What books can you guys read and reread? What favourites do you keep coming back to on rainy days?

Cut Off

My friend Miranda’s internet has been cut off. She lost it for almost a week during the flooding not long ago, and this week it has gone out again. She called tech support, and was cheerfully informed that a tech would be along on Monday. She made this call on a Tuesday. So another whole week of being cut off.

I don’t know about you, but the very idea of losing my internet access gives me the heebie-jeebies. How could I write my blog? Check my Tumblr? Email friends, play Candy Crush Saga, write, and do all the other things I do daily?

Well, obviously I couldn’t. I’m just not sure I remember how to fill the day without them. Playing with the kid is good of course, and there’s stuff to do, it just… isn’t the same. And as Miranda pointed out to me, it can make writing really hard.

It’s funny how completely necessary Google has become to me when writing. What vegetables are native to Spain? What’s the average number of kittens in a litter? What fabrics would be used in seventeenth-century Italy? How does a flint-lock pistol actually work? What’s the average distance a laden horse can travel in a day? What about a wagon, how fast are those? All of those, except for the kittens, are searches I made for my last NaNoWriMo novel…. a fantasy set in Analogue-Europe. Researching a novel is a pain in the butt at the best of times – during November, going and finding a book on the history of Italian fashion takes FAR TOO LONG, especially if you only need the dress for one scene.

I know, I know, the Internet isn’t the most reliable source. But Wikipedia and its many cousins are generally reasonably accurate, which is nice, and there are lots and lots of references out there that are maintained by unpaid enthusiasts on subjects obscure enough that finding a book would be very difficult. On the other hand, finding a picture reference for seventeenth-century Spanish peasant garb only took me about twenty minutes online, and the Internet allowed me to forward this to an artist I have never met, via Deviantart, and commission a little picture of my characters as a reward to myself for finishing. The Internet is awesome, and the thought of losing it even for a little while is quite distressing.

So today I’m going over to Miranda’s house to watch Ghibli movies and cook. It’s the least I can do for a friend in need.

Here is my NaNoWriMo picture! EcoKitty does lovely cartoony commissions and I recommend them.

My protagonists, ready for action!

My protagonists, ready for action!