Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Motley Crew

Oh, not that Crüe. I mean a motley crew of blog topics.

First off, I've nearly finished reading L'élégance du Hérisson, which has a number of articulate thoughts on the nature of art, the role of literature and what grammar is really for. During French class, the younger protagonist's teacher tells her that the purpose of grammar is to speak and write well.

"Alors là, j'ai cru avoir une crise cardiaque. Je n'ai jamais rien entendu d'aussi inepte. Et par là, je ne veux pas dire que c'est faux, je veux dire que c'est vraiment inepte. Dire à des adolescents qui savent déjà parler et écrire que la grammaire, ça sert à ça, c'est comme dire à quelque'un qu'il faut qu'il lise une histoire des W.-C. à travers les siècles pour bien savoir faire pipi et caca... Moi, je crois que la grammaire, c'est une voie d'accès à la beauté. Quand on parle, quand on lit ou quand on écrit, on sent bien si on a fait une belle phrase ou si on est en train d'en lire une... Mais quand on fait de la grammaire, on a accès à une autre dimension de la beauté de la langue."

Then there's this: Penguin launched its Decades series this month, with five titles each representing the best novels of the 1950s, 60s, 70s, and 80s. What brought it to my attention is that the designer of the 80s covers is none other than John Squire, former guitarist of brilliant band The Stone Roses. I've only read two of the books (From Russia With Love by Ian Fleming from the 50s and A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess from the 60s).

Also, I discovered through Pam the site 1000 Awesome Things. I can't list 1000 things that make me happy - well, I could, but I'd be typing all night! - but I've got five to start with:

The smell of old books.

Coming home and looking up the stairs and seeing my two cat's faces looking down at me.

A big latte, an empty notebook, a Pilot G-Tec-C4 pen in brown, and an hour before work.

My two nieces, nephew and goddaughter.

Springtime smells that remind me of Turkey.

And, the other day, I found this: library cats!

And finally, Ten for Tuesday Jobs. To date, I've had the following:

1. Envelope stuffer. When I was 16, working for my dad. Doesn't everyone start out that way?

2. Dairy Queen. When I was 18, and wanted to work somewhere where I enjoyed the products. Every day. At half price.

3. Second Cup. After being rejected by Westmount Stationery. You snobs! (I was looking for the clip from Fawlty Towers for that quote, but can't seem to find it.) I stayed here for two and a half years and never tired of drinking coffee or smelling the lovely smell of a new bag of beans.

4. EnRoute. Air Canada's in-flight magazine. The beginning of the aviation or security-related jobs...

5. Les Ailes de la Mode. Not that I knew anything about fashion, I just tracked the advertising. Saved some furniture company from putting out an ad that spelled Hemingway with two n's. They tried to argue with me, too!

6. GarLin, a security consulting company. Ah, Arnavutköy. Where else can you work in a converted villa that faces the Bosphorus? And knit shawls on the side for the Crazy Lady's Place?

7. United Nations, Part One. Involved in both aviation and security. How did I get into this, when my degree was in arts?

8. United Nations, Part Two. Joined a new section last year.

9. Translator. Mostly from Turkish to English or French.

And finally,

10. Writer! My real job. The only "career" I've had nearly my entire life, and the one that gives me the most pleasure.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Favourite Children's Books - Vince Ditrich's Picks

Children's books these days are divided into so many genres and categories that it almost seems funny to recommend, for instance, The Lord of the Rings, to a youngster. Yet I was 10 when I first read that and The Hobbit. Given the title of this blog, for one, it's arguably the book that touched me as a child, and I've reread it every year since then. But there are so many other authors that I'd also list as my favourites, which I won't repeat here; we've had discussions on this topic before on the Compuserve Books and Writers Forum, last year and the year before, as well as a discussion on what we learned from kids' books.

Which book touched you that you still remember? Was it a series, a specific genre, or a single story?

Many of the authors that have made a difference to me are Canadian, and sometimes I wonder if I would have discovered them at all if I'd grown up elsewhere. A number of authors and readers responded to the Compuserve thread, including Canadian authors (such as Marsha Skrypuch!), and then I started wondering, what about Canadian musicians?

And that's what led me to this series of posts (as detailed in the introductory post below).

The first featured picks come from Vince Ditrich, drummer and manager of Spirit of the West, who chose a few, being a reader after my own heart and unable to pick just one (cover photos and links inserted by me):

"1) I recall just loving ‘The Mad Scientist’s Club’ by Bertrand Brinley. I haven’t laid eyes on it since elementary school, but I know I checked it out of the library about a dozen times. Mad science, all your best friends, pranks, and a clubhouse…Could anything be better (before puberty and beer)?

2) Lost in the Barrens / Curse of the Viking Grave / The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be – Well, pretty well anything by Farley Mowat, but these ones really rattled my cage. My first read of ‘Lost in the Barrens’ was a high point in my life... I think I stayed up till about 4 in the morning on a school night to finish it off. Man, I was THERE with Jamie and Awasin, a fly on the wall. Mutt the dog, on the other hand, was just plain funny and Mowat’s style had a permanent effect and influence on my own writing.

3) Citizen of the Galaxy / Starman Jones / Have Spacesuit, Will Travel – Robert Heinlein. I am not personally aware of anything that can touch these three ‘cadet’ books as far as Sci-Fi for younger people is concerned. I continue to re-read these periodically as they give me such pleasure and powerful doses of nostalgia. Heinlein was at the top of his game here, and the stories and characterizations are flawless. His skill blending science, drama, narrative, dialogue, theory and adventure is unmatched. Pure catnip.

4) Carrying the Fire – Michael Collins – Autobiography of Apollo 11 crewmember. Far and away the best astronaut book and honestly one of the most balanced and best written autobiographies I have read. It was a bit over my head when I first tackled it at age 11, but I re-read many times and learned a great deal about history, the vicissitudes of life, and how to write with excellence from this really outstanding book.

5) Honorable mention – Yertle the Turtle – Dr Seuss.
I think everybody has read it. It is worthy of everyone reading it, and then they should read it to their kids."

I agree :-)

Friday, 23 April 2010

Canadian Musicians and What They Read

Happy St George's Day and Happy Children's Day! I hope the link works; it's to the Turkish Wikipedia page.

In honour of Children's Day, celebrated by me in Canada, I'll be featuring some great Canadian musicians and their favourite children's books.

First up, Spirit of the West, whom you might know through their rousing Home For A Rest, or the song that first got me, If Venice Is Sinking, or even through the last Winter Olympics - three members of the band, along with folk musician Matthew Harder and Ashley MacIsaac, recorded a charity single called Dreams (available here), to benefit the first Ghanaian athlete ever to participate in the Winter Olympics, skier Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Mark Twain

Samuel Langhorne Clemens died 100 years ago tomorrow. For some inexplicable reason, the one story of his that comes to my mind the most often is A Literary Nightmare, 1876 (taken from Acephalous):

Will the reader please to cast his eye over the following lines, and see if he can discover anything harmful in them?

Conductor, when you receive a fare,
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!
A blue trip slip for an eight-cent fare,
A buff trip slip for a six-cent fare,
A pink trip slip for a three-cent fare,
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!


Punch, brothers! punch with care!
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!

I came across these jingling rhymes in a newspaper, a little while ago, and read them a couple of times. They took instant and entire possession of me. All through breakfast they went waltzing through my brain; and when, at last, I rolled up my napkin, I could not tell whether I had eaten anything or not. I had carefully laid out my day's work the day before—thrilling tragedy in the novel which I am writing. I went to my den to begin my deed of blood. I took up my pen, but all I could get it to say was, "Punch in the presence of the passenjare." I fought hard for an hour, but it was useless. My head kept humming, "A blue trip slip for an eight-cent fare, a buff trip slip for a six-cent fare," and so on and so on, without peace or respite. The day's work was ruined—I could see that plainly enough. I gave up and drifted down-town, and presently discovered that my feet were keeping time to that relentless jingle.

When I could stand it no longer I altered my step. But it did no good; those rhymes accommodated themselves to the new step and went on harassing me just as before. I returned home, and suffered all the afternoon; suffered all through an unconscious and unrefreshing dinner; suffered, and cried, and jingled all through the evening; went to bed and rolled, tossed, and jingled right along, the same as ever; got up at midnight frantic, and tried to read; but there was nothing visible upon the whirling page except "Punch! punch in the presence of the passenjare." By sunrise I was out of my mind, and everybody marveled and was distressed at the idiotic burden of my ravings—"Punch! oh, punch! punch in the presence of the passenjare!"

Two days later, on Saturday morning, I arose, a tottering wreck, and went forth to fulfil an engagement with a valued friend, the Rev. Mr. ———, to walk to the Talcott Tower, ten miles distant. He stared at me, but asked no questions. We started. Mr. ——— talked, talked, talked as is his wont. I said nothing; I heard nothing. At the end of a mile, Mr. ——— said "Mark, are you sick? I never saw a man look so haggard and worn and absent-minded. Say something, do!"

Drearily, without enthusiasm, I said: "Punch brothers, punch with care! Punch in the presence of the passenjare!"

My friend eyed me blankly, looked perplexed, they said:

"I do not think I get your drift, Mark. Then does not seem to be any relevancy in what you have said, certainly nothing sad; and yet—maybe it was the way you said the words—I never heard anything that sounded so pathetic. What is—"

But I heard no more. I was already far away with my pitiless, heartbreaking "blue trip slip for an eight-cent fare, buff trip slip for a six-cent fare, pink trip slip for a three-cent fare; punch in the presence of the passenjare." I do not know what occurred during the other nine miles. However, all of a sudden Mr. ——— laid his hand on my shoulder and shouted:

"Oh, wake up! wake up! wake up! Don't sleep all day! Here we are at the Tower, man! I have talked myself deaf and dumb and blind, and never got a response. Just look at this magnificent autumn landscape! Look at it! look at it! Feast your eye on it! You have traveled; you have seen boaster landscapes elsewhere. Come, now, deliver an honest opinion. What do you say to this?"

I sighed wearily; and murmured:

"A buff trip slip for a six-cent fare, a pink trip slip for a three-cent fare, punch in the presence of the passenjare."

Rev. Mr. ——— stood there, very grave, full of concern, apparently, and looked long at me; then he said:

"Mark, there is something about this that I cannot understand. Those are about the same words you said before; there does not seem to be anything in them, and yet they nearly break my heart when you say them. Punch in
the—how is it they go?"

I began at the beginning and repeated all the lines.

My friend's face lighted with interest. He said:

"Why, what a captivating jingle it is! It is almost music. It flows along so nicely. I have nearly caught the rhymes myself. Say them over just once more, and then I'll have them, sure."

I said them over. Then Mr. ——— said them. He made one little mistake, which I corrected. The next time and the next he got them right. Now a great burden seemed to tumble from my shoulders. That torturing jingle departed out of my brain, and a grateful sense of rest and peace descended upon me. I was light-hearted enough to sing; and I did sing for half an hour, straight along, as we went jogging homeward. Then my freed tongue found blessed speech again, and the pent talk of many a weary hour began to gush and flow. It flowed on and on, joyously, jubilantly, until the fountain was empty and dry. As I wrung my friend's hand at parting, I said:

"Haven't we had a royal good time! But now I remember, you haven't said a word for two hours. Come, come, out with something!"

The Rev. Mr. ——— turned a lack-luster eye upon me, drew a deep sigh, and said, without animation, without apparent consciousness:

"Punch, brothers, punch with care! Punch in the presence of the passenjare!"

A pang shot through me as I said to myself, "Poor fellow, poor fellow! he has got it, now."

I did not see Mr. ——— for two or three days after that. Then, on Tuesday evening, he staggered into my presence and sank dejectedly into a seat. He was pale, worn; he was a wreck. He lifted his faded eyes to my face and said:

"Ah, Mark, it was a ruinous investment that I made in those heartless rhymes. They have ridden me like a nightmare, day and night, hour after hour, to this very moment. Since I saw you I have suffered the torments of the lost. Saturday evening I had a sudden call, by telegraph, and took the night train for Boston. The occasion was the death of a valued old friend who had requested that I should preach his funeral sermon. I took my seat in the cars and set myself to framing the discourse. But I never got beyond the opening paragraph; for then the train started and the car-wheels began their 'clack, clack-clack-clack-clack! clack-clack! clack-clack-clack!' and right away those odious rhymes fitted themselves to that accompaniment. For an hour I sat there and set a syllable of those rhymes to every separate and distinct clack the car-wheels made. Why, I was as fagged out, then, as if I had been chopping wood all day. My skull was splitting with headache. It seemed to me that I must go mad if I sat there any longer; so I undressed and went to bed. I stretched myself out in my berth, and—well, you know what the result was. The thing went right along, just the same. 'Clack-clack clack, a blue trip slip, clack-clack-clack, for an eight cent fare; clack-clack-clack, a buff trip slip, clack clack-clack, for a six-cent fare, and so on, and so on, and so on punch in the presence of the passenjare!' Sleep? Not a single wink! I was almost a lunatic when I got to Boston. Don't ask me about the funeral. I did the best I could, but every solemn individual sentence was meshed and tangled and woven in and out with 'Punch, brothers, punch with care, punch in the presence of the passenjare.' And the most distressing thing was that my delivery dropped into the undulating rhythm of those pulsing rhymes, and I could actually catch absent-minded people nodding time to the swing of it with their stupid heads. And, Mark, you may believe it or not, but before I got through the entire assemblage were placidly bobbing their heads in solemn unison, mourners, undertaker, and all. The moment I had finished, I fled to the anteroom in a state bordering on frenzy. Of course it would be my luck to find a sorrowing and aged maiden aunt of the deceased there, who had arrived from Springfield too late to get into the church. She began to sob, and said:

"'Oh, oh, he is gone, he is gone, and I didn't see him before he died!'

"'Yes!' I said, 'he is gone, he is gone, he is gone—oh, will this suffering never cease!'

"'You loved him, then! Oh, you too loved him!'

"'Loved him! Loved who?'

"'Why, my poor George! my poor nephew!'

"'Oh—him! Yes—oh, yes, yes. Certainly—certainly. Punch—punch—oh, this misery will kill me!'

"'Bless you! bless you, sir, for these sweet words! I, too, suffer in this dear loss. Were you present during his last moments?'

"'Yes. I—whose last moments?'

"'His. The dear departed's.'

"'Yes! Oh, yes—yes—yes! I suppose so, I think so, I don't know! Oh, certainly—I was there I was there!'

"'Oh, what a privilege! what a precious privilege! And his last words—oh, tell me, tell me his last words! What did he say?'

"'He said—he said—oh, my head, my head, my head! He said—he said—he never said anything but Punch, punch, punch in the presence of the passenjare! Oh, leave me, madam! In the name of all that is generous, leave me to my madness, my misery, my despair!—a buff trip slip for a six-cent fare, a pink trip slip for a three-cent fare—endu—rance can no fur—ther go!—PUNCH in the presence of the passenjare!"

My friend's hopeless eyes rested upon mine a pregnant minute, and then he said impressively:

"Mark, you do not say anything. You do not offer me any hope. But, ah me, it is just as well—it is just as well. You could not do me any good. The time has long gone by when words could comfort me. Something tells me that my tongue is doomed to wag forever to the jigger of that remorseless jingle. There—there it is coming on me again: a blue trip slip for an eight-cent fare, a buff trip slip for a—"

Thus murmuring faint and fainter, my friend sank into a peaceful trance and forgot his sufferings in a blessed respite.

How did I finally save him from an asylum? I took him to a neighboring university and made him discharge the burden of his persecuting rhymes into the eager ears of the poor, unthinking students. How is it with them, now? The result is too sad to tell. Why did I write this article? It was for a worthy, even a noble, purpose. It was to warn you, reader, if you should came across those merciless rhymes, to avoid them—avoid them as you would a pestilence.

Friday, 16 April 2010

SMART Writing

How many times do I, or other writers, blog about our plans and our goals and our word counts? We get excited by 1,000 words here, a contest there... Well, now Claire, at All The World's Our Page, has challenged herself and us:

"The most important question of all when it comes to writing is, why do you want to do this?
If the answer is just to see if you can, or because you love the process, then you don’t need to set strict goals for yourself. The enjoyment is in the process.
But if the answer is because you want to see your work published, then you need to set yourself some concrete goals and treat this as more than a hobby. Not necessarily as a job- but absolutely as a project that requires strong management."

She details the steps for managing the writing project, which I won't repeat here. Go see!
What I will show is how I broke it down:

I had a stack of note cards handy, and was so inspired by her post that I grabbed the first one and wrote across the top Specific. Then I wrote down nine items related to THE FACE OF A LION and Rose's story, from agent seeking to contest participation to getting a further 60,000 words down and finishing the first draft of Rose's story.

That wasn't enough. On the second note card I wrote Measurable, and detailed final deadlines for each step. The third note card was headed Achievable, and I jotted down ideas for when to get the work done.

The final card is titled Relevant and Time Limited and looks like this:

1. Agents - SAT am - 1 hour each week
(for me this means send my letter for THE FACE OF A LION to all the agents I've found/heard of in the past couple of months that might best fit me, tweaking the letter for each one; once that list is exhausted I'll search for new agents; either way, this process continues every Saturday until I land an agent. I mean, what's an hour every weekend?)

2. Contests - THIS FRI pm - done!
(I had two or three writing contests to submit to, and I've done that. Two aren't accepting submissions until later this year, so I saved those in my email.)

3. Blog Promotion Project - THIS SAT pm
(this should only involve one or two steps, mostly internet searches and a quick letter. If it works, you'll definitely hear more about it!)

4. 500-word Weekdays - get up at 6 am
(I always talk about getting up at 5 and going off to the cafe to write before work. I'm finally realising why this never succeeds beyond a day or two - I love writing pen on paper, but I put off transcribing all those words. Then I get backlogged, and end up using possible writing time (weekends, mainly) to type up previously written words. And who wants to get up at 5 all the time? My new, smart option, is to get up at 6, and write at home! on the pc! and not pressure myself. On pen and paper I can get up to 1500 words an hour, so 500 on the pc should be achievable. I'm going to reset the alarm clock right now.)

5. Research - 1 library book or 2 pages of notes (usually off the internet) - take notes MON/TUE/WED pm
(this is mostly what I've been doing anyway, so hopefully there's nothing unachievable here. With at least 10 library books left, I ought to complete this stage in about 10 weeks, and then the goal will change to begin consolidating my notes as relevant to the should-be-more-near-completion draft.)

And that's it! Five specific goals. Measurable - an hour earlier each day and one extra hour on Saturdays. How can it not be achievable?

Only one item I didn't note on the cards. Surrey. The Surrey International Writers' Conference. I'd love to go this year.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

The Draft Is Now At...

Rose's story that is. The draft is now at...

36,001 words!

It's not that much to celebrate, though, unfortunately. I started the story last June/July, and at this rate wouldn't be finished before Christmas, whereas the goal is to complete the first draft this summer. Close to 1,500 words today; I need at least 1,000 words *per day* if I'm going to make that goal. That's a lot of five a.m. wake up calls.

(misses the first verse)

Blog friends + Fun + Celebration = CONTEST

That's what Sarah Wylie says. Check out the awesome prizes she's offering as part of a contest to celebrate the fact that her novel has been accepted for publication:

"1 Lucky Winner will receive a critique of their first 30-40 pages by the fabulous Suzie Townsend + a pack of Twizzlers + a copy of Hex Hall

3 Lucky Winners will receive a query letter critique by one of these three agent extraordinaires: Kathleen Ortiz, Joanna Stampfel-Volpe, or Colleen Lindsay (One agent will be randomly assigned to each winner.)

1 Winner will receive a writer's survival guide consisting of Twizzlers, a copy of Silver Phoenix and When You Reach Me, and a cute notebook and pen [snip]

1 Lucky winner will score a lunch date with THE Janet Reid and THE Suzie Townsend. Um, yeah, that's not a typo. (I'm tempted to enter myself. Would it be so wrong?) Unfortunately, this is not a free trip to NYC. BUT if you live in the NYC area, or whenever you're visiting NYC? You. Janet. Suzie. LUNCH."

Monday, 5 April 2010

First Page Blogfest!

Kelly over at Kelly's Compositions hosted a blogfest over the weekend.

Here's the first page of THE FACE OF A LION:

Austin met the cat during his first week in Turkey.
Bored with helping his parents clean their villa, he set out to explore the town. Every few minutes he had to climb onto the stone wall edging the street – there were never any sidewalks in this country – when a car or bus full of tourists whizzed past on the narrow road, a stench of diesel fumes floating behind. As the roar of each vehicle faded, the seaside sounds rushed back into his ears: the drone of motorboats slicing the water, cicadas buzzing in the distant tops of the fir trees, and below everything else, the unending rhythmic crash of waves breaking one after another on the sand.
He waited on the wall as another car zoomed by, then peered through the exhaust and added up the houses he had passed. His mum had said there were forty houses in the original village. Something had to be wrong somewhere, because he had counted every house for the past ten blocks and already reached sixty – and there were still a few streets to cross before he reached the ice cream shop at the bend of the road. Maybe his mum's memory was slightly fuzzy; she had a tendency to exaggerate the merits of Kuşadası-in-the-past. Sixty houses, plus at least fifteen more, that made –
An unearthly howl filled the air, drowning out the disappearing rumble of the car. It came again, a long-drawn out screech, close at hand. Austin ran to the crossroads. The wall here fell away in a sharp drop to the weed-filled garden of a boarded-up villa. On a patch of paving stones, two kids crouched over the prone figure of a thin grey cat. One gripped its front paws as the other tied a couple of tin cans to its tail. The cat wrenched and jerked its back legs.
"Hey! What are you doing?"
His yell was swallowed by the roar of two buses zooming past behind him, and a truck loaded with watermelons that came clacketing up the street. He looked down, ready to risk a jump, and saw a garden shed directly below. He leaped, and as the boys glanced up, hands still on the squirming cat, he vaulted off the shed's roof to stand beside them.
"What are you up to?" He glared, trying to look as imposing and foreign as possible – easy enough, given the contrast of his blond hair and blue eyes to their own dark features. They looked about eight years old, four years younger than him. They wouldn’t meet his gaze, but shot each other shifty glances out of the corners of their eyes.
"Abi, yabancı bu. Bizden büyük."
"Ya birini çağırırsa? Hadi gidelim."
It was impossible – but he had understood what they said! They were afraid because he was older – what if he called someone?
He took a step forward, as if to grab the cat. As one, they released their grip, leapt up and ran off.
The cat crouched low on all four paws, eyes wide and ears taut, but did not move as Austin approached. If it would just trust him… With one hand extended, palm out, he waited. Either the cat would sniff the offered fingers or get up and run.
Slowly, slowly, he bent and untied the twine binding the tins to a tail puffed out and crackling with electricity. The cat did not twitch once, even as Austin broke away the last of the metal and tossed it aside, but eyed him the entire time, as if waiting for a signal.
He stroked the cat between the ears and, to his surprise, heard the low rumble of purring. The yellow eyes narrowed and, for a moment, he had the silly idea that the cat was actually smiling at him.
"Thank you."
He had been bending forward, petting. He overbalanced and nearly tipped over, palms flat on the tiles to keep from pitching head first into the cat.
Had it actually spoken? He gazed at the shadowy creature, who had stopped purring, but stayed still, yellow eyes fixed on him. Had he really heard –
"Thank you, Augustine."
There it was again! A kind of chirping sound. His parents' old cat used to make the same sounds; not meowing or purring, just chirping, like a new species of bird. And under that tone, he could have sworn the cat had spoken in English.
He peered around the garden. No, there was definitely no one else near. He sat and stared back into the unblinking eyes. Far down on the beach, he could still hear the ordinary shouts and laughter of tourists, and the unending whine of cicadas and crash of surf. The smell of fried fish floated up from the restaurants on Ocean Boulevard.
He said the first thing that came into his mind. "My name's not Augustine, it's Austin. After my great-grandfather." He kept his voice low, as though he might be overheard. Silly, talking formally to an animal – the cat wasn’t really talking was it?
But the chirping English came again. "In Latin, your name is Augustine, or Augustus. In Ancient Greek it would be Σεβαστός."
Sebastos. Austin heard the cat's mrrp!, the soft Greek letters, and yet understood the name as if it was in English. "But no one speaks those languages anymore!"
"Perhaps not here, Augustine. Yet I know a number of languages from a variety of places, and times."
He strained his ears, listening carefully to the English words under the chirps, watching the cat's mouth, trying to catch each word as it came.
"In return for your kind gesture today, rescuing me from those young hooligans," the cat rested a paw on Austin's knee, "I may be able to do something for you. Not a favour, exactly, but I fancy you're a little bored here?"
"How did you know?"
"You were not walking with a friend and you had time to notice an animal in distress." The cat sat up, so that they were nearly face to face. "I can lead you to an adventure."
"An adventure? Where would we go?"
"Not where but when."

And here's the current opening of Rose's story:

Rose stomped up the stairs and, out of habit, grazed her fingers across the mezuzah, even as she slammed the door open. She was so angry she was crying, but as quickly as the tears came she dashed them off her cheeks with the back of her hand. Her mother and Jacob needn’t think she was upset; she was furious. She tossed her book and slate on the stairs – see if she shared any of her notes with Sister Natalia again – and clomped through to the kitchen.
“Mama! Wait until you hear what –”
But the kitchen was empty. No pot over the hearthfire, no mixing bowl on the table. Jacob’s wooden blocks were scattered on the floor under his chair.
“Mama? Where are you?” Suppressing her anger, and no longer crying, Rose ran up the stairs, leaping over her bag, through the bedrooms, back downstairs and finally out to the garden. She glanced over the hedges to the houses on either side. Tuesday was ironing day, yet the sheets still billowed on the [Rubina]s’ line and Rachel’s [pinafores] hadn’t been taken down off the [Blume]s’.
“Where is everyone?” She asked out loud. A [finch] twittered above her head and hopped onto a higher branch of the orange tree.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Hans Christian Andersen

Born 2 April 1805. One of the stories I always remember is The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf (I believe it's in public domain, so I reprint here the version I copied from gilead.org):

THERE was once a girl who trod on a loaf to avoid soiling her shoes, and the misfortunes that happened to her in consequence are well known. Her name was Inge; she was a poor child, but proud and presuming, and with a bad and cruel disposition. When quite a little child she would delight in catching flies, and tearing off their wings, so as to make creeping things of them. When older, she would take cockchafers and beetles, and stick pins through them. Then she pushed a green leaf, or a little scrap of paper towards their feet, and when the poor creatures would seize it and hold it fast, and turn over and over in their struggles to get free from the pin, she would say, “The cockchafer is reading; see how he turns over the leaf.” She grew worse instead of better with years, and, unfortunately, she was pretty, which caused her to be excused, when she should have been sharply reproved.
“Your headstrong will requires severity to conquer it,” her mother often said to her. “As a little child you used to trample on my apron, but one day I fear you will trample on my heart.” And, alas! this fear was realized.
Inge was taken to the house of some rich people, who lived at a distance, and who treated her as their own child, and dressed her so fine that her pride and arrogance increased.
When she had been there about a year, her patroness said to her, “You ought to go, for once, and see your parents, Inge.”
So Inge started to go and visit her parents; but she only wanted to show herself in her native place, that the people might see how fine she was. She reached the entrance of the village, and saw the young laboring men and maidens standing together chatting, and her own mother amongst them. Inge’s mother was sitting on a stone to rest, with a fagot of sticks lying before her, which she had picked up in the wood. Then Inge turned back; she who was so finely dressed she felt ashamed of her mother, a poorly clad woman, who picked up wood in the forest. She did not turn back out of pity for her mother’s poverty, but from pride.
Another half-year went by, and her mistress said, “you ought to go home again, and visit your parents, Inge, and I will give you a large wheaten loaf to take to them, they will be glad to see you, I am sure.”
So Inge put on her best clothes, and her new shoes, drew her dress up around her, and set out, stepping very carefully, that she might be clean and neat about the feet, and there was nothing wrong in doing so. But when she came to the place where the footpath led across the moor, she found small pools of water, and a great deal of mud, so she threw the loaf into the mud, and trod upon it, that she might pass without wetting her feet. But as she stood with one foot on the loaf and the other lifted up to step forward, the loaf began to sink under her, lower and lower, till she disappeared altogether, and only a few bubbles on the surface of the muddy pool remained to show where she had sunk. And this is the story.
But where did Inge go? She sank into the ground, and went down to the Marsh Woman, who is always brewing there.
The Marsh Woman is related to the elf maidens, who are well-known, for songs are sung and pictures painted about them. But of the Marsh Woman nothing is known, excepting that when a mist arises from the meadows, in summer time, it is because she is brewing beneath them. To the Marsh Woman’s brewery Inge sunk down to a place which no one can endure for long. A heap of mud is a palace compared with the Marsh Woman’s brewery; and as Inge fell she shuddered in every limb, and soon became cold and stiff as marble. Her foot was still fastened to the loaf, which bowed her down as a golden ear of corn bends the stem.
An evil spirit soon took possession of Inge, and carried her to a still worse place, in which she saw crowds of unhappy people, waiting in a state of agony for the gates of mercy to be opened to them, and in every heart was a miserable and eternal feeling of unrest. It would take too much time to describe the various tortures these people suffered, but Inge’s punishment consisted in standing there as a statue, with her foot fastened to the loaf. She could move her eyes about, and see all the misery around her, but she could not turn her head; and when she saw the people looking at her she thought they were admiring her pretty face and fine clothes, for she was still vain and proud. But she had forgotten how soiled her clothes had become while in the Marsh Woman’s brewery, and that they were covered with mud; a snake had also fastened itself in her hair, and hung down her back, while from each fold in her dress a great toad peeped out and croaked like an asthmatic poodle. Worse than all was the terrible hunger that tormented her, and she could not stoop to break off a piece of the loaf on which she stood. No; her back was too stiff, and her whole body like a pillar of stone. And then came creeping over her face and eyes flies without wings; she winked and blinked, but they could not fly away, for their wings had been pulled off; this, added to the hunger she felt, was horrible torture.
“If this lasts much longer,” she said, “I shall not be able to bear it.” But it did last, and she had to bear it, without being able to help herself.
A tear, followed by many scalding tears, fell upon her head, and rolled over her face and neck, down to the loaf on which she stood. Who could be weeping for Inge? She had a mother in the world still, and the tears of sorrow which a mother sheds for her child will always find their way to the child’s heart, but they often increase the torment instead of being a relief. And Inge could hear all that was said about her in the world she had left, and every one seemed cruel to her. The sin she had committed in treading on the loaf was known on earth, for she had been seen by the cowherd from the hill, when she was crossing the marsh and had disappeared.
When her mother wept and exclaimed, “Ah, Inge! what grief thou hast caused thy mother” she would say, “Oh that I had never been born! My mother’s tears are useless now.”
And then the words of the kind people who had adopted her came to her ears, when they said, “Inge was a sinful girl, who did not value the gifts of God, but trampled them under her feet.”
“Ah,” thought Inge, “they should have punished me, and driven all my naughty tempers out of me.”
A song was made about “The girl who trod on a loaf to keep her shoes from being soiled,” and this song was sung everywhere. The story of her sin was also told to the little children, and they called her “wicked Inge,” and said she was so naughty that she ought to be punished. Inge heard all this, and her heart became hardened and full of bitterness.
But one day, while hunger and grief were gnawing in her hollow frame, she heard a little, innocent child, while listening to the tale of the vain, haughty Inge, burst into tears and exclaim, “But will she never come up again?”
And she heard the reply, “No, she will never come up again.”
“But if she were to say she was sorry, and ask pardon, and promise never to do so again?” asked the little one.
“Yes, then she might come; but she will not beg pardon,” was the answer.
“Oh, I wish she would!” said the child, who was quite unhappy about it. “I should be so glad. I would give up my doll and all my playthings, if she could only come here again. Poor Inge! it is so dreadful for her.”
These pitying words penetrated to Inge’s inmost heart, and seemed to do her good. It was the first time any one had said, “Poor Inge!” without saying something about her faults. A little innocent child was weeping, and praying for mercy for her. It made her feel quite strange, and she would gladly have wept herself, and it added to her torment to find she could not do so. And while she thus suffered in a place where nothing changed, years passed away on earth, and she heard her name less frequently mentioned. But one day a sigh reached her ear, and the words, “Inge! Inge! what a grief thou hast been to me! I said it would be so.” It was the last sigh of her dying mother.
After this, Inge heard her kind mistress say, “Ah, poor Inge! shall I ever see thee again? Perhaps I may, for we know not what may happen in the future.” But Inge knew right well that her mistress would never come to that dreadful place.
Time-passed—a long bitter time—then Inge heard her name pronounced once more, and saw what seemed two bright stars shining above her. They were two gentle eyes closing on earth. Many years had passed since the little girl had lamented and wept about “poor Inge.” That child was now an old woman, whom God was taking to Himself. In the last hour of existence the events of a whole life often appear before us; and this hour the old woman remembered how, when a child, she had shed tears over the story of Inge, and she prayed for her now. As the eyes of the old woman closed to earth, the eyes of the soul opened upon the hidden things of eternity, and then she, in whose last thoughts Inge had been so vividly present, saw how deeply the poor girl had sunk. She burst into tears at the sight, and in heaven, as she had done when a little child on earth, she wept and prayed for poor Inge. Her tears and her prayers echoed through the dark void that surrounded the tormented captive soul, and the unexpected mercy was obtained for it through an angel’s tears. As in thought Inge seemed to act over again every sin she had committed on earth, she trembled, and tears she had never yet been able to weep rushed to her eyes. It seemed impossible that the gates of mercy could ever be opened to her; but while she acknowledged this in deep penitence, a beam of radiant light shot suddenly into the depths upon her. More powerful than the sunbeam that dissolves the man of snow which the children have raised, more quickly than the snowflake melts and becomes a drop of water on the warm lips of a child, was the stony form of Inge changed, and as a little bird she soared, with the speed of lightning, upward to the world of mortals. A bird that felt timid and shy to all things around it, that seemed to shrink with shame from meeting any living creature, and hurriedly sought to conceal itself in a dark corner of an old ruined wall; there it sat cowering and unable to utter a sound, for it was voiceless. Yet how quickly the little bird discovered the beauty of everything around it. The sweet, fresh air; the soft radiance of the moon, as its light spread over the earth; the fragrance which exhaled from bush and tree, made it feel happy as it sat there clothed in its fresh, bright plumage. All creation seemed to speak of beneficence and love. The bird wanted to give utterance to thoughts that stirred in his breast, as the cuckoo and the nightingale in the spring, but it could not. Yet in heaven can be heard the song of praise, even from a worm; and the notes trembling in the breast of the bird were as audible to Heaven even as the psalms of David before they had fashioned themselves into words and song.
Christmas-time drew near, and a peasant who dwelt close by the old wall stuck up a pole with some ears of corn fastened to the top, that the birds of heaven might have feast, and rejoice in the happy, blessed time. And on Christmas morning the sun arose and shone upon the ears of corn, which were quickly surrounded by a number of twittering birds. Then, from a hole in the wall, gushed forth in song the swelling thoughts of the bird as he issued from his hiding place to perform his first good deed on earth,—and in heaven it was well known who that bird was.
The winter was very hard; the ponds were covered with ice, and there was very little food for either the beasts of the field or the birds of the air. Our little bird flew away into the public roads, and found here and there, in the ruts of the sledges, a grain of corn, and at the halting places some crumbs. Of these he ate only a few, but he called around him the other birds and the hungry sparrows, that they too might have food. He flew into the towns, and looked about, and wherever a kind hand had strewed bread on the window-sill for the birds, he only ate a single crumb himself, and gave all the rest to the rest of the other birds. In the course of the winter the bird had in this way collected many crumbs and given them to other birds, till they equalled the weight of the loaf on which Inge had trod to keep her shoes clean; and when the last bread-crumb had been found and given, the gray wings of the bird became white, and spread themselves out for flight.
“See, yonder is a sea-gull!” cried the children, when they saw the white bird, as it dived into the sea, and rose again into the clear sunlight, white and glittering. But no one could tell whither it went then although some declared it flew straight to the sun.

Books I'm Reading and Finished Books

  • The Making of Outlander by Tara Bennett
  • Testament of Experience by Vera Brittain
  • Zoom sur Plainpalais by Corinne Jaquet
  • beta read! (JB)
  • ***Reading At Intervals***
  • Sophie's Choice by William Styron
  • The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  • The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw
  • Burning Sky by Lori Benton
  • 12 Anne and Avonlea books by L. M. Montgomery (skimming/reread (this was free on Kindle!))
  • Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford
  • Istanbul Noir (Akashic Books anthology)
  • The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien manuscripts edited by J. D. Rateliff
  • The Jerusalem Bible
  • ***Finished Books***
  • The Children of Men by P. D. James
  • A Daughter's A Daughter by Mary Westmacott (Agatha Christie)
  • A Girl From Yamhill by Beverly Cleary
  • Sunlight by Margaret Rucker (poem; floating in a cocktail glass)
  • Save the Cat by Blake Snyder
  • Preface to The Hobbit, by Christopher Tolkien
  • Ilk Defa... by Beste Barki (essays)
  • Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers (essay)
  • The Moon and I by Betsy Byars
  • The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson
  • Rogue Warrior by Regan Walker
  • Beauty and the Beast by Villeneuve
  • Black (what was this? I don't remember!)
  • Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani
  • Thomas the Tank Engine by Rev. Awry (26 book collection)
  • beta read (Born to Run by RB)
  • The Little Turtle by Vachel Lindsay (poem; reread)
  • The Kraken by Alfred Lord Tennyson (poem)
  • Android's Dream by John Scalzi
  • The Mysterious Tadpole by Stephen Kellogg (reread)
  • Yashim Cooks Istanbul by Jason Goodwin
  • Miniatures by John Scalzi
  • Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain
  • Kitty-in-Boots by Beatrix Potter (illustrated by Quentin Blake)
  • All or Nothing by Rose Lerner (short story)
  • Merry Christmas, Emily (board book)
  • Extra Yarn by __ and Jan Klassen
  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  • The Outlandish Companion II by Diana Gabaldon
  • The Outlandish Companion I, Revised by Diana Gabaldon
  • MacHinery and the Cauliflowers by Alistair MacLean (short story)
  • The Dileas by Alistair MacLean (short story)
  • The Gold Watch by Alistair MacLean (short story)
  • betty, butter, sun by Monica Byrne (short story)
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them screenplay by J.K. Rowling
  • The Very Cranky Bear (Scholastic)
  • various haiku by R. Wodaski
  • ongoing rereads of most board books listed last year!
  • see the 2016 list and statistics at http://thegirdleofmelian.blogspot.ch/2016/12/annual-books-read-statistics-2016.html
  • see the 2015 list and statistics at http://thegirdleofmelian.blogspot.ch/2015/12/annual-books-read-statistics.html
  • see the 2014 list and statistics at http://thegirdleofmelian.blogspot.ch/2014/12/books-read-in-2014-review.html
  • see the 2013 list and statistics at http://thegirdleofmelian.blogspot.ca/2014/01/toast-to-professor-books-read-in-2013.html
  • see the 2012 list and statistics here http://thegirdleofmelian.blogspot.ca/2012/12/the-hobbit-review-and-year-end-books.html
  • see the 2011 statistics on http://thegirdleofmelian.blogspot.ca/2012/01/books-read-in-2011-statistics-fourth.html
  • see the 2011 list at http://thegirdleofmelian.blogspot.ca/2012/01/books-read-in-2011.html
  • see the 2010 list at http://thegirdleofmelian.blogspot.com/2010/12/books-read-in-2010-listed-here.html
  • see the 2009 list at http://thegirdleofmelian.blogspot.com/2009/12/books-read-in-2009-part-ii.html
  • also in 2009 at http://thegirdleofmelian.blogspot.com/2009/12/books-read-in-2009-part-iv.html
  • see the 2008 list at http://thegirdleofmelian.blogspot.com/2008/12/books-read-in-2008-part-ii.html
  • also in 2008 at http://thegirdleofmelian.blogspot.com/2008/12/books-read-in-2008-part-vi.html
  • also in 2008 at http://thegirdleofmelian.blogspot.com/2008/12/books-read-in-2008-part-iv.html