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What Are You Reading? (May and June 2014)

Monday, June 2, 2014
Open Book by Dave Dugdale

Open Book by Dave Dugdale

It’s the first Monday of the month, and you know what that means . . .

Book Reports!

And I just realized that I forgot to do this post in May, so we’ve got two months’ worth of books to catch up on!

If you’ve challenged yourself to—or even officially signed up for—a reading challenge in 2014, now’s as good a time as any to start reporting your successes. Tell us what you’ve finished over the last month, what you’re currently reading, and what’s on your To Be Read stack/list. (And if you’ve reviewed the books you’ve read somewhere, please include links!)

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  • What book(s) did you finish reading (or listening to) since the April update?

  • What are you currently reading and/or listening to?

  • What’s the next book on your To Be Read stack/list?

Fun Friday–Can You Guess the Theme?

Friday, May 23, 2014

Fun Friday 2013

I just started reading this book:

The RangerChosen to help Robert the Bruce in his quest to free Scotland from English rule and claim his crown, the legendary team of warriors known as the Highland Guard battles on.

Embedded deep behind enemy lines, Arthur “Ranger” Campbell is prized for his razor-sharp senses and his ability to blend into the shadows. But when Arthur infiltrates the clan of the chieftain who murdered his father, his heart is locked on revenge. Inside he faces unexpected resistance from the sweetest of obstacles—a honey-haired siren who is his enemy’s daughter.

Intrigued by this ruggedly handsome newcomer to her father’s forces, the vivacious, enchanting Anna MacDougall is a woman whose skill at uncovering deception rivals Arthur’s own. Though yearning for a quiet life with a good man to love, Anna is drawn to this mysterious knight whose eyes devour her but whose words push her away. As danger, treachery, and the threat of looming war draw them closer into each other’s arms, a warrior made of steel must make a choice from the heart: love or revenge.

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I just picked this book up at the library and hope to read it while I’m off work next week:
The Forest LairdIn the pre-dawn hours of August 24, 1305 a.d., in London’s Smithfield Prison, the outlaw William Wallace, who is to be executed at dawn, is visited by a Scottish priest who has come to hear his last Confession. So begins The Forest Laird, the first book in Jack Whyte’s masterful new trilogy.

Wallace’s story leads us through his many lives—as an outlaw and a fugitive, a hero and a patriot, a rebel and a kingmaker. He is the first heroic figure from the Scottish Wars of Independence brought blazingly to life in Jack Whyte’s new trilogy, the Guardians, and will be followed by his two compatriots Robert the Bruce, King of Scots; and Sir James Douglas, known as The Black Douglas. Their exploits and escapades, desperate struggles and medieval savagery, high ideals and fierce patriotism are the stuff of legends, and the soul and substance of these epic novels.

(I actually wanted the one about Robert the Bruce, but it was checked out and had a long waiting list.)

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I recently downloaded these books to my Kindle:
HighlandersGet swept away by the romance of the Highlands in three historical romance novellas from Harlequin!

Brenda Joyce – The Warrior And The Rose

    Lady Juliana MacDougall prays for her loved ones to survive battle against Robert Bruce… but the battle comes to her when her lands are attacked by a band of Highlanders, including a man wearing the colors of her clan’s worst enemy. Taken hostage by Alasdair Og, Juliana quickly learns he’s as exceptional a lover as he is a ruthless warrior. But how can she ever love Alasdair when he’s her blood enemy?

Terri Brisbin – The Forbidden Highlander (The MacLeries #6.5)

    Honor-bound by an arranged betrothal, James Murray never anticipated falling in love with his intended bride’s dearest friend instead. The passion between James and Elizabeth MacLerie is undeniable, but they are torn between love and loyalty to their clans…

Michelle Willingham – Rescued By The Highland Warrior (MacKinloch Clan #3.5)

    Celeste de Laurent is determined to never again live in poverty. After sacrificing love for a secure marriage, she now stands to lose everything as a widow. Her only hope is to bear an heir – and what better man to father her child, and save her from a terrible fate, than Dougal MacKinloch, the only man she ever loved?

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In Freedom's CauseAt the end of the 13th century, the people of Scotland suffered cruelty under the heavy hand of their English ruler, Edward Longshanks. This stirring tale recounts their valiant struggle for freedom under the legendary leadership of William Wallace and Robert Bruce. Time has burnished the feats of these great Scots heroes to mythic proportions, but both were real people, and this gripping tale of courage, loyalty, and ingenuity places its fictional protagonist alongside Wallace and Bruce within an accurate historical context.

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And I recently posted this image on the blog:
Sexy Scotsmen

Yes, there are seven of them (though they are not all “tall as church steeples”). Aside from all of them being terribly good looking, they have something else important in common.

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Anyone care to venture a guess as to why I seem to be stuck on a certain theme at the moment?

(A few people already know from participating in the comments-conversation that happened when I posted the Sexy Scotsmen image a couple of weeks ago, so I know this isn’t completely unknown to everyone out there.)

#TBT Post: Does it matter what Jane Austen looked like?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Throwback Thursday

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Throwback Thursday Post of the Week:
Does it matter what Jane Austen looked like?

Originally posted: April 1, 2007

I don’t usually post on Sundays, but my mom forwarded this link to me. It’s a nice op/ed piece on Jane Austen and if what she looked like and what she was like as a person have any effect on how we read her novels:

“It is a failing to read Shakespeare and feel impoverished by the lack of biographical detail. It is no less a failing to read Austen and wonder what the mirror said when she looked into it. I cannot think of anything that would make Emma richer than it is.”

Verlyn Klinkenborg, The New York Times, April 1, 2007

Jane Austen

It’s interesting that this essay should appear in the NY Times today. I recently read another article (from the British Guardian) where the writer poses the idea that publishers are as concerned about what an author looks like as they are with the quality of the writing.

“Amid the pile of first novels in front of me, a handful of author photos proves her point: Ivo Stourton looks as if he has stepped out of Brideshead Revisited, snapped outside a sunny villa. His publisher makes much of his youth and Cambridge education. And an A4-sized photograph of a smiling Priya Basil slips invitingly out of the review copy of her novel as if to win favour.

That is not to imply that this is a talent contest—only that everything counts.”

Kate Kellaway, The Observer, March 24, 2007

This is an area long debated by literary critics—and something I had to learn about as an undergrad in my Literary Criticism course. Is it possible to separate the author from the work? The theories of literary criticism are vast and wide—and very similar to the theories of philosophy . . . and some are rather along the lines of “If a tree falls in the forest…”

For example: Is a poem good because of the response that readers have to it, or is it good because it has the potential to create a response in readers? Does the author lose authority over his/her writing as soon as someone else reads it (reader as authority)—in other words, does it matter with what intention an author writes something, or is it only what the reader gets out of it that means anything?

Wow—this has made me dig out my notes from that class, which was one of my favorites.

So let me as you—when you read, do you find out everything you can about the author? Do you try to figure out what the author is trying to say or do you read it looking only for your own interpretation of it? Does knowing about an author’s personal life enhance or detract from your reading experience?

Stephen King on Writing for the Money

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Excerpt from Chapter 16 of Part 4, “On Writing,” in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

On Writing

One more matter needs to be discussed, a matter that bears directly on that life-changer and one that I’ve touched on already, but indirectly. Now I’d like to face it head-on. It’s a question that people ask in different ways—sometimes it comes out polite and sometimes it comes out rough, but it always amounts to the same: Do you do it for the money, honey?

The answer is no. Don’t now and never did. Yes, I’ve made a great deal of dough from my fiction, but I never set a single word down on paper with the thought of being paid for it. I have done some work as favors for friends—logrolling is the slang term for it—but at the very worst, you’d have to call that a crude kind of barter. I have written because it fulfilled me. Maybe it paid off the mortgage on the house and got the kids through college, but those things were on the side—I did it for the buzz. I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for joy, you can do it forever.

(quoted from pg. 253)

About the book:
“Long live the King” hailed Entertainment Weekly upon the publication of Stephen King’s On Writing. Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King’s advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported near-fatal accident in 1999—and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery. Brilliantly structured, friendly, and inspiring, On Writing will empower and entertain everyone who reads it—fans, writers, and anyone who loves a great story well told.

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Work Cited:

King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. New York, NY: Pocket Books, 2000. Print.

Stephen King on Writing with the Door Closed

Monday, May 19, 2014

Excerpt from Chapter 20 of Part 1 “C. V.” in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

On Writing

“When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story,” [John Gould] said. “When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”

Gould said something else that was interesting on the day I turned in my first two pieces: write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts out being just for you, in other words, but then it goes out. Once you know what the story is and get it right—as right as you can, anyway—it belongs to anyone who wants to read it. Or criticize it. If you’re very lucky (this is my idea, not John Gould’s, but I believe he would have subscribed to the notion), more will want to do the former than the latter.

(quoted from pg. 47)

About the book:
“Long live the King” hailed Entertainment Weekly upon the publication of Stephen King’s On Writing. Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King’s advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported near-fatal accident in 1999—and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery. Brilliantly structured, friendly, and inspiring, On Writing will empower and entertain everyone who reads it—fans, writers, and anyone who loves a great story well told.

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Work Cited:

King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. New York, NY: Pocket Books, 2000. Print.

Fun Friday: PUPPIES, PUPPIES, PUPPIES!!!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Fun Friday 2013

#TBT Post: Writing Bad Guys—Creepy Cartoon Caricatures

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Throwback Thursday

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Throwback Thursday Post of the Week:
Bad Guys—Creepy Cartoon Caricatures

Originally posted: September 14, 2009

Boris & NatashaMaybe I’m aging myself here, but surely most of you can easily recall the ZZ Top song “Bad to the Bone.” All throughout this series, that’s the song that’s been running through my head as I’ve written about how to create Bad Guy characters. But there are two ways to go about this. There’s creating “Bad to the Bone” villains (like those pictured on this page today)—the creepy cartoon caricatures; and then there’s creating Bad Guys (antagonists, dark heroes, villains) who have just a little something about them that makes them sympathetic to the reader. Those are the two qualities I’d like to focus on for this, the second to last formal entry in the Bad Guys series. (We’ll end with a bang by talking about Bad Girls.)

For most of us growing up, our first exposure to Bad Guy characters came from cartoons, whether on TV or in the movies. When we start naming villains, it’s usually easiest to start with the Disney movies:Captain Hook the evil queen in Snow White; the wicked stepmother in Cinderella; the hunters in Bambi; Cruella de Vil; Jafar; Ursula; Captain Hook; Gaston (Beauty & the Beast); Aunt Sarah, the Siamese cats, and the rat (Lady & the Tramp); Prince John, Sir Hiss, and the Sheriff of Nottingham; Scar and the Hyenas; and so on. And there were those we saw on TV: Boris & Natasha; Dastardly and Muttley; and Wile E. Coyote. What makes it so easy to name these characters as Bad Guys/villains? Because they’re presented very simply: they do bad things, they have to face the consequences for doing bad things, and we’re told through the “moral” of the story that doing bad things is, well, bad. Therefore, these characters are bad for doing bad things. We’re never given their backstory in such a way as to become aware of why they became bad. They’re just bad because they’re in juxtaposition to the heroes/heroines of these stories.

CruellaAs we grow older, though, and we begin to experience life—an abusive adult, the schoolyard bully, the first romantic interest to break our heart—we begin to realize that being “bad” isn’t as black-and-white as it’s portrayed in those cartoons. People who do bad things aren’t bad all the time. In fact, they can be quite nice and charming sometimes. In real life, it’s hard to pick out the “bad guys” around us—mostly because they don’t come with names like Cruella or Dastardly or Snidely Whiplash, or with pencil mustaches with curlicues on the ends for them to twirl while chuckling menacingly. They don’t tie the Nell Fenwicks of life to the railroad tracks. (Though there are some real-life creepy cartoon caricatures who do commit heinous acts like that; and even when we do learn their entire backstory, we find nothing that makes us sympathize with them.) Cartoon bad guys are over-the-top—in appearance, in costume, in personality, in sheer evilness. They are, in other words, “Bad to the Bone.”

If you are creating stories for very young children, these types of bad-guy characters are fine—in fact, these are the best type of bad guys for children’s stories. Because at that age, they are thinking in terms of black-and-white, right and wrong. They haven’t started to experience the gray areas of life.

Dastardly and MuttleyIn the first (original, 1977) Star Wars movie, Darth Vader was one of these caricaturish bad guys. He had the black body-armor, the swirling black cape, the creepy breathing machine, the ability to choke someone from across the room just by pointing at him, the intimidation factor, and served as the “evil henchman” for a dastardly leader in Grand Moff Tarkin. When Tarkin decided to destroy Alderaan, Vader didn’t speak up for the peace-loving people who’d long-since given up all of their weapons. When Tarkin gave the orders to “terminate her, immediately,” Vader didn’t stick up for Leia. Without a second thought, he killed Obi-Wan Kenobi. And then he went after our heroes. In the second film (Empire Strikes Back), Vader did even more dastardly deeds. But then we found out something very interesting about his backstory: he is Luke’s father. (Sorry if I just spoiled that for anyone ;-).) It is through Luke’s character that we begin to feel sympathy for Vader as Luke, in the third film, sets out to redeem Vader. And his sympathy is justified. At the end of Return of the Jedi, Vader/Anakin chooses to save his son and destroy the evil emperor who’d turned him into that creepy cartoon caricature embodiment of villainy.

JafarProbably one of the best-known literary villains of the 21st Century is Voldemort from the Harry Potter books. Because the first few books are written for younger readers, Voldemort is portrayed as one of these creepy cartoon caricatures: he’s the embodiment of evil because he has it out for our young hero. But the series is a wonderful example of how we come to know what evil truly means—how a person develops emotionally to understand that “the world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters” (Sirius Black from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix). As the series progresses, as Harry Potter ages and starts to understand that there are many more gray areas of life than there are black-and-white, more of Voldemort’s backstory is revealed. Then, once we get to the sixth book, we are treated to his entire backstory: the miserable family he came from; his early life in an orphanage; the tragedies that led him to fall into vengeance and darkness. At one point, Harry compares his own life with Voldemort’s: how his (Harry’s) mother loved him so much she sacrificed her life to save Harry, and how Voldemort’s mother didn’t love her son enough to go on living after her muggle husband abandoned her when she stopped giving him the love potion she’d snared him with—she abandoned her own baby and then went off and died of her broken heart. We also learn there is one way for Voldemort to save himself in the end: to feel regret for everything he’s done. It’s the exact same decision that Darth Vader must make at the end of Return of the Jedi. Except Voldemort makes the opposite choice. In both stories, it’s through the eyes of the hero (Luke and Harry) that we as the viewer/reader begin to feel something akin to sympathy for the bad guy. And it makes both characters—the hero and the villain—resonate all the more for it.

Wile E CoyoteIn Bullies, Bastards & Bitches, Jessica Page Morrell sums up creating sympathy for Bad Guys this way:

      “The forces that shape villains in fiction and in real life can rarely be undone. Thus, when you’re creating sympathy for a villain, you’re doing so because of his situation and backstory. Not only do readers want to walk along in your protagonist’s clothes, they want a close-up meeting with the villain, a meeting so physical and fully wrought that the character’s smell, posture, and menacing or seemingly benign presence will take over their senses. Readers want a glimpse or, better yet, a tour of the inner workings of someone drastically different from them” (p. 214).

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