Archive for October, 2010

Yo Ho Heave Ho!  Posting’s been light this week because — wait for it — I’ve been in the land of mermaid and princesses. And survived to tell the tale.  (Ariel survived my eye-rolling, too.)

Before our arrival and departure, I spent some time in the airport bookstores searching for my “plane book” — a book so good it makes me forget I’m flying. Both times, I was seriously impressed by the staff at the stores.  The Orlando store, in particular, had a fabulous clerk who hand-sold me a book that got me through a three-hour delay and turbulence.  (Meaning I looked longingly at the book for the three hours that I played with the small fry.) It’s called The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield, and it’s the first book I’ve read in a very long time that I can’t put down but don’t want to have end. Check it out if you get the chance.

The vacation was a blast from start to finish (well, maybe not the three-hour flight delay) but one of the highlights was stumbling across The Magic Kingdom’s League of Pirates, where small children can be transformed into blood-thirsty scoundrels and parents can have their wallets plundered.  But it was just so much fun, we didn’t much care.


Bess Wavewrecker, pirate empress

A special shout-out to pirates Lonnie and James who transformed my reserved girl into a crazy, kick-butt pirate empress heroine all her own, complete with new name.  If you ever get to go, give them a pirate high-five for me.


And speaking of heroines, I’ve closed comments for the contest, and the winner is Elizabeth Loupas!  Congrats, and thanks to everyone for playing.


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Here’s a secret — my daughter, at the age of nine, has yet to see The Little Mermaid. And it’s not because I forgot, or couldn’t find it in my movie queue, or happened to overlook it at the dvd store. It’s on porpoise. (Cue the bad pun/mean mother music here.)

When I was pregnant, I might have been just a teensy bit hepped up. I saw the movie shortly before she was born, and for some reason it really ticked me off.  No daughter of mine was going to give up her kingdom for a boy!  She was going to take kick-boxing, not ballet, wear jeans instead of dresses, and never, ever, trade in her fins for feet just for some dude with nice hair.

Ahem. Has anyone seen my daughter?

I’m thrilled, of course, that she loves ballet, that she’s graceful and delicate and beautiful.  I’m impressed by her very girly sense of style.  But the moral of the story is, watch what you say in the delivery room when you are on drugs, because it will come back to bite you.

Nope, no subtext here

Despite this, I’m not budging on the mermaid business. I don’t know why Ariel bothers me so much more than the other Disney heroines.  At the heart of it, I suspect, is her willingness to actually alter her body for love, and the way that body is rejected/overlooked by the prince, despite what those changes cost the poor little princess.  (I know, I’m reading too much into it, but it’s a subtext that makes me crazy.)

So, when she brings up Ariel, I counter with Nancy Drew, with Laura Ingalls, with Kitty Jones, with any one of a hundred of fictional heroines who can help her find her way along the path to a confident adulthood, a path that’s slippery enough on its own without some little mermaid adding to it.

I’m all about the strong heroines.  When she’s older, I can’t wait to introduce her to Harriet Vane, to Jane Whitfield, to Elizabeth Bennet and Claire Beauchamp and perhaps even my own strong Evenfall heroine, Gert Murphy.

Of course, she’s already met my very favorite, because I have a life-sized cut out of her in my office.


(It counts!!!!! I own Joss Whedon comic books and they totally count as literature!)

Don’t forget, post your favorite heroine in the comments before Thursday for a chance to win an autographed copy of The Heroine’s Bookshelf!

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The fabulous Erin Blakemore

So.  Today’s post is brought to you by author Erin Blakemore.  Erin lives in Colorado,  is a (former) roller derby queen, and has a debut book out this week.  Titled The Heroine’s Bookshelf, it’s an inspiring look at literature’s greatest and most enduring female characters, ranging from Laura Ingalls to Lizzie Bennet.  Learn more and find book club questions about her favorite heroines at http://theheroinesbookshelf.com.

Five Bad Things About Heroines

by Erin Blakemore

  1. 1.  They occupy your thoughts.  What is a blanc mange, anyway?
    2.  They create arguments with friends.  Who can resist sorting herself out by which March sister or Jane Austen heroine she would rather be?  And who can resist putting someone who makes the wrong choice in her place?
    3.  They suck up your time.  Lots and lots of time…dinner burning, kids crying, heart being restored to itself.
    4.  They don’t talk back.  Well, unless you do the talking for them.  This is terrible when you have vital questions to ask.
    5.  They aren’t real.  Not really.  Like it or not, I will never sit down to tea with Lizzie Bennet or a Coca-Cola with Scout.  They’re only on my bookshelf.  Sometime’s that’s enough…most of the time it’s not.

The Heroine's Bookshelf

Despite these terrible things, I spend quite a bit of time in the presence of literature’s greatest women (and the women who created them).  I do it despite all sanity, time constraints, and pleas for reason.  I do it because they’ve wormed their way into my heart, my brain, and my own rituals of self-care.  Who are your literary heroines?


Liz here again. Answer Erin’s question in a comment before next Thursday, and you’ll be entered to win a signed copy of her book, plus an Evenfall bookmark.  I’ll put my thoughts up before then, too. And for those folks who would like to remain anonymous (Hi Barb! Hi Lori! Hi Leslie!) because they are too shy to post, whoops!  Sorry about that.  See you in the comments!

Also,  if you are in Boston and have time on October 28th, Erin’s reading at a special event that examines all kinds of heroines and what their roles are in today’s society.  Check it out, and tell her I said hello.

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Who’s Your Heroine?

As a kid, I learned how to read relatively late — I think it was the end of first grade — but once I started, I couldn’t stop.  I read everything that would hold still — cereal boxes, billboards, even The Thornbirds in fifth grade (I loaned that one  to my teacher, Sister Mary Rose.  Good times in the Catholic school world.)

My daughter has turned out just like me, which I’m sure amuses my parents to no end. I get no sympathy when my daughter gets busted reading during math class, when I have to remind her to put down her book when she walks down the stairs, or when I have to resort to draconian punishments.  (“Do that one more time and I’ll … I’ll take away your book!”)

Baby Bookworm with ancient copy of Nancy Drew

But the flip side to having a baby bookworm  is one of my greatest pleasures — I get to introduce her to some of my favorite characters, the girls and women I loved when I was her age.  And unlike me, they show no signs of wear and tear.  Nancy Drew is just as perky in her blue convertible, Ann Shirley just as brave and generous, Laura Ingalls just as feisty and independent as the first time I opened a book and went inside their worlds.

And my daughter has returned the favor.  Because of her, we’ve plowed through books I might not have ever read, and discovered some fabulous new characters along the way. Kitty Jones in the Bartimaeus Trilogy is as strong a role model as they come.  Ella Enchanted is brave and independent (even if she’s cursed to be obedient — not as good a plan as a parent might think).  And what little girl – or mother, for that matter –  wouldn’t want to be Hermione Granger?

Who is your literary heroine, and what have you learned from her?  Start thinking now, because later this week I’ll have a surprise guest posting here, and you’ll have a chance to win a book all about fabulous fictional heroines.  See you then!

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Hello in Five Words

This week I’m obsessing about two things: plot and State of Play.

As a writer, plot is where I work the hardest.  I have a hard time saying hello in less than five words.  Writing query letters killed me (if I could tell the story in one page, why bother with a 320 page novel?).

Now that I’m working on my second book, I’m paying particular attention to plot — I want to make mine as tight and compelling as I can right from the beginning.  I’m always looking for ways to do it better.

That brings me to this week’s second obsession –the BBC mini-series State of Play. Oh. My. God.  If you haven’t seen this, stop what you are doing and rent it, now.  (I’ll wait. I’m still just getting to hello, remember?)

I don’t watch much television, and when I do it’s usually with half an eye while I read or edit or something else.  Not with this show.  It’s so tightly written, so action-packed, that I can’t do anything but sit on the edge of the sofa and bite my nails.  It doesn’t hurt that it stars Bill Nighy doing his best malevolent long-legged spider impression (he alternates between that and sprawling hound dog) and cute little nibble James McAvoy from Atonement. (James, did you hear I wrote a book? The role of Cort is wide open — call me!)

Each show has heart-stopping action and twists, but it also has compelling characters (some of whom don’t make it through), whip-smart dialogue, and cliff-hanger endings.  I’ve seen the first three episodes and ordered the final three.  All in the name of research, of course. If you watch it, leave me a comment and let me  know what you think.

Oh, and hello. 🙂

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A Trying Day


The slavering beast's work


Yesterday was a trying sort of day.  I kept trying to write, but kept getting distracted.  The slavering beast kept trying to remove the gutters from the house.  (He succeeded, too, despite his bleeding gums.)  My son kept trying to launch rockets onto inappropriate places, such as the top of the media cabinet, at the ceiling fan, and into the gaping maw of the slavering beast. (Still bleeding.)

Later that day, my daughter, exhausted from a full day of school and ballet class, kept trying to avoid her homework.  And at the very end, alerted by pathetic cheeping noises, we found a chipmunk trying to escape the now bashed in gutters.

I hate trying days. They try my patience, which, everyone knows, is in limited enough supply on a good day.  As a child (oh heck, let’s admit it — until five or six years ago, even) I had no use for the serenity prayer.  You know the one: “Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change….” I HATED that prayer.  I tend, when confronted with an obstacle, to keep bashing my head against said obstacle until one of us collapses.  Sheer stubbornness has gotten me through many a difficult situation.

But a few years ago, one of those internet memes was going around.  A friend forwarded it to me, and in the say ‘something nice about this person’ section, they’d written “I admire how she never stops trying to make the world the way she wants it to be.”

On the surface, it sounds lovely, and the glow from that kind commented stayed with me for a day or two.  But this person has called me a stubborn #$@#@ more than once. Or twice, even. And eventually I realized that they were saying the exact same thing, only in nicer words.  And for some reason — perhaps the timing — I took it to heart.

The thing is, you can’t outstubborn a small child.  Or you can, but it’s ugly, and it usually ends with both of you in tears.  And what exactly are you trying to do, anyways? Change the world to fit your specifications? As if you’re the only one living in it? As if you are the only one trying to accomplish something?


Worn out from destroying the house


So yesterday, I kept trying. Trying not to lose my patience. Trying to model the type of behavior I wanted. (Minus the gutters.)  Trying to recognize that just because I wasn’t accomplishing my goals didn’t mean that others weren’t meeting theirs.  Trying to remind myself that, even on the most trying days, I can still try tomorrow to get it right.

(Prize winner is Teresa — she gets a copy of Turtle Moon and a very cute Evenfall mini-bookmark!)

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I’ll Show You Mine ..

It has been pointed out to me that asking what your favorite book is without sharing my own isn’t quite fair.  So, here goes:

I don’t have one.

If you’ve been following along, you’ll have noticed that in my last post I mentioned I have an entire bookcase filled with favorites.  So how can I possibly pick just one?  Ahh, you say, but that’s exactly what you asked us to do.  Play along now.

Okay.  I do have favorites, but they change according to season and whim.  Every year — or at least every other year — I try to reread The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings series.  Nothing I’ve read has every come close to it, and I don’t think anything ever will.

Now that I have a daughter who loves to read, I’m revisiting CS Lewis, too.  Then there’s Amy Bloom, particularly A Blind Man Could See How Much I Love You. Perfect word placement in every single sentence, and characters to die for. Practical Magic, Turtle Moon, Second Nature, and Illumination Night by Alice Hoffman. Fairy tales for grown ups. Diane Gabaldon’s Outlander series. The Time Traveler’s Wife. The first 10 books or so by Robert Parker.  Alas, Babylon, by Pat Frank. (Not exactly soothing in times of world crisis, but at least I’ll know how to cook an armadillo if necessary.)


The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid by Jiri Trnka


I could go on and on, but let me add just one more.  As a child, I collected fairy tales, and I still have a few around the house that I like to page through.  I read everything I could get my hands on back then.  As an adult, I still loved to read, but I didn’t get the thrill that comes with discovering a new world until one particular book: Mama Day by Gloria Naylor.  I fell in love with it, and still go back to it regularly when I’m stuck on my own writing. It’s gorgeous and complicated and funny and sad, all at once.  And it made me realize that magical worlds don’t have to be just for kids, that adults can have — and sometimes need — an escape like that too. Perhaps we need it even more, because we are the grown ups.

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So.  Here’s a secret.  I have a lot of books.

There are books on the coffee table, books next to the bed, books by the bathtub, and a few left in random places like on the cellar stairs or on top of the puppy’s crate.

But they are just the tip of the iceberg — decoys, as it were. Our old house in Connecticut, while big on lots of important things, such as acreage and horses, was deficient in other, equally important assets, such as charm and storage.  I was able to make this latter issue work to my advantage in at least one aspect– my book addiction.  Since we didn’t have any real place to display books, I had them all over the place — in the one nice bookcase we owned, in tubs under the bed, on the coffee table, in my office, even in the barn.  (Nothing like reading in a horse stall on a rainy evening.)

When we moved to our new house, my husband had a surprise for me — a gorgeous, double-doored bookcase.   “Now,” he said proudly, “You can have all your books in one place!”


I’d apparently hidden my addiction all too well, because only of a fraction of the books could fit. But the bookcase (that’s how it’s referred to — THE bookcase, as opposed to the children’s bookcases (3) my office bookcases (2) the basement bookcase (1) and the old bookcase) does have an important role. It holds my favorite books, filed in alphabetical order.  These are the books I reread time and time again.  Some because I love the story so much I can’t bear to have it end. Some because I am blown away by how real the characters are. Some because I’m amazed by the technical mastery, the way the writer creates a world out of nothing, and I read the story over and over to learn how to make my own writing better.


THE bookcase


This week, I’m giving away a book that does all of these things — Turtle Moon, by Alice Hoffman.  It is one of my favorites, and it has it all — an addictive storyline, a magical setting, and characters so heartbreakingly real you wish you could sit them down over coffee and straighten their lives out.  It’s the kind of book I buy whenever I see in second-hand stores, to loan out to friends so my own copy never has to leave the house.

To win a brand-new copy, all you have to do is leave a comment by Wednesday telling me what your own favorite book is, and why.  (Bonus points if you include a story about it.) Ready? Go!

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That Sinking Feeling

“Would Columbus have discovered America if he’d said ‘What if I sink on the way over? What if I meet pirates? What if I never come back?’ He wouldn’t even have started.”

Willy Wonka, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator

I am, in the words of my best beloved, an Eyore.  Give me good news, and I’ll somehow manage to find the down side in it.  If you manage to land an agent, for example, I’ll be terrifically happy for you and offer to take you out for drinks.  If I find an agent, it has to have been a mistake, and it doesn’t really matter anyhow, because my book will never sell, publishing will go kablooey if it does, and if, by some sheer miracle of luck said book does happen to manage to make it into the bookstores, a hurricane and a wildfire will burst out simultaneously, not only keeping anyone from buying the damn thing but burning down all bookstores in the process.

Think I’m kidding?  Not so much. I happen to have a lovely vintage bottle of Mumm’s DVX champagne sitting in my refrigerator.  It’s about 10 years old, and I’ve been saving it for ‘when I sell a book.’  Did I pop that cork when I landed my fabulous agent?  Nope.  Did I pop it when he sold my book in record time to my fabulous editor?  Still  no.  What about when I received my ARC?  Negative.

That bottle still sits, perfectly chilled, labeled, and untouched.  (Although to be fair, my husband has gone out and bought me a less expensive bottle of bubbly at most of these steps, intoning “Shut up and drink the damn thing, will you?” as he stood over me.)

So what exactly am I waiting for? What event or milestone is ‘worthy’ enough to pop the top? I don’t know, but I suspect it will be as close to the end of the process as possible — probably when I walk into my local bookstore and see it for sale on the shelves.  Only then will it seem ‘real’ — and only then will I stop worrying that something could go wrong. (The title is Evenfall, if you are interested, and it comes out in February.  Feel free to prove me wrong by preordering a copy.)

I bring this up only because this mental habit of assuming the worst is something I’m trying to change.  My daughter turned nine this week, and she’s as lovely and wonderful as a dream.  She’s unlike me in many ways — she’s graceful, for example, and already so kind I find myself trying to model her behavior when I’m frustrated.  But in one way, at least, she’s starting to take after me — I can see her turning happy events over in her head and worrying how they can go wrong. The quote at the start of this post is from one of our favorite books.  And while we cackle like hyenas whenever it is read (get the audio version by Eric Idle of Monty Python fame — it’s hysterical) I hate to say that at least one of us recognizes the truth of it.

Is this trait genetic or environmental?  I don’t know, but I suspect a bit of both.  Can I do anything to change it?  Again, I don’t know, but I think I have to try. And if that involves popping open and drinking vintage champagne in the next few weeks, you can count me in …. probably.

Speaking of celebrating, we have a winner! Barb, A Devil in the Details belongs to you. If you didn’t win, stick around — I’m doing a contest a week till my new website is up, and there will be another chance for another book in a few days.

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My son and my dog are kindred spirits, separated mainly by species.  They delight in causing chaos, and have a devil-may-care glint in their eyes at the most inappropriate moments.  Like this:  I’m frantically trying to get dressed in the 30 seconds allotted on the morning schedule when my son comes whipping into the bathroom.

“I let the dog in the house because it’s raining.”


“He had a mouse.  In his mouth.”

“Where’s the dog now?”

“In the house.”

“Where’s the mouse?”

“In his mouth.”

It’s like a demented version of Cat in the Hat. I give up on getting dressed and fly through the house half-clothed, attempting to corral the dog, who of course runs away with the mouse’s tail hanging out from his massive jaws.  Clearly, this is some kind of fabulous new game. When I finally get him to spit the carcass out in exchange for a piece of cheese, I realize something it would have been nice to know ten minutes earlier.

“Alex?” (Insert Ominous Mom Voice here.)

“Yeah.  I forgot to tell you, it wasn’t a real mouse.  Just a mouse puppet.”

Shrieking ensues.

There are little demons and hounds in this week’s giveaway book, too.  (Notice that smooth transition? And I bet you’d forgotten about the giveaway.)  It’s called A Devil in the Details, by K.A. Stewart, and the winner will be chosen at random and announced on Wednesday.  All you have to do to be entered is leave a comment between now and then.

A Devil in the Details is a fun, fast read, and the main character reminds me a bit of Buffy the Vampire slayer, if Buffy were a man who used an ancient sword instead of her keen vampire slaying skills.  (And yes, for those of you who have known me a long time, I am still lamenting the loss of Buffy on prime time television.  I’m predictable that way.) There’s a kind of watcher, and snappy dialog, and a demon who may or may not be a force for good…and the aforementioned slavering hell hounds.  But no small pajama-clad demon carrying mouse puppets.  This one?  He belongs to me.

Devil in sports pajamas

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