Monday, 28 October 2013

Ever After Book Releases Giveaways! and Contest! Help Me Find a Title for My NaNo Story...

Got a special Monday-instead-of-Wednesday post today because of... Drum roll...

New book releases from Entangled Publishing!

Find Your Ever After in Under An Hour

October is the official release month for the all new Ever After. Ever After features paranormal, sci-fi, and horror novellas, all with the romance you've come to love from Entangled--just in a shorter format.

 Ever After is celebrating in style with four new releases and great giveaways, including a Kindle Fire. Make sure to like their new Facebook Page and follow them on Twitter

Vampire Games by Tiffany Allee
Otherworlder Enforcement Agency #4

She’s seen the past…

OWEA Agent Beatrice Davis is haunted by the death visions that help her solve crimes. When Detective Claude Desmairis, her vampire ex-lover, asks for her assistance on a case, she'd rather help him than take the mandated leave to stave off her burn-out.

The truth won't stay buried...

Pressed to solve a series of crimes before the perpetrator blows the vampire world apart, Claude turns to a woman he thought he'd been able to leave behind. But he was wrong, and his feelings for her will only bring trouble in an investigation this dangerous. As their passions reignite, they see a possible future together. Until her visions show her the face of the murderer -- a man Claude can never betray.

Ghosts of Kingston Cottage by Libby Bishop

She believes in ghosts.

Medium and paranormal investigator Arabella Pierce is sent with her crew to Kingston Cottage, a haunted Maine seafarer's cottage on an isolated island, but for this investigation, her boss has stuck them with skeptical reporter Lucas Brown. Though he's hot as they come, Arabella can't trust a man whose sole job is to discredit her and the work she does. Not after what happened with the last few skeptics...

He believes in evidence.

But Lucas isn't as skeptical as he seems -- he wants the truth, no matter what that is. When the ghosts appear, he and Arabella must work together -- in tight quarters -- to convince the resident ghosts to move on before a storm strands the entire crew on the island. If Arabella can put aside her prejudices, she and Lucas just might have a shot at a lifetime.

Ghost of the Falls by Sarah Gilman

Determined to prove she's fit for the family business, exorcist Jade Clarence knows the assignment waiting in Maine is her last chance. Born into a family of exorcists, Jade's unorthodox ideas have gotten her into trouble in the past...and cost the life of a client.

After haunting a Maine state park for more than a century, Dutch Hutchinson will do whatever it takes to bring an end to his unfulfilling existence. When an act of arson brings a beautiful exorcist to town, Dutch takes corporeal form in order to spend his last hours in her company.

Jade quickly uncovers Dutch's true identity and finds herself falling for the man behind the spirit. But when Jade's legacy threatens their future, they will have to overcome the greatest of odds -- life and death.

Less Than Perfect by Kelly Jensen

Mikayla's read every book in her collection of post-apocalyptic novels at least twice. She thinks she's prepared for aliens taking over Earth. She's not.

Nor is she prepared for the attention of a good-looking refugee named Reg.

All Mikayla and Reg want is a safe place to see out the end of the world, hidden away from the aliens that call themselves The People, but cities of the depopulated United States not infested with The People are rife with gangs, the detritus of civilization and disease.

On a mission to restock their supplies, Mikayla and Reg are captured by The People and prepared for the procedure that will make them perfect, but no longer quite human. In order to escape, they need to rely on each other... if Mikayla can trust a man who seems too good to be true.

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Isn't that a fun collection of books? So far I've read the first one, Vampire Games by Tiffany Allee, and really enjoyed it. Fast-paced, the story's got intriguing twists and turns -- and a hero and heroine you root for right from the start! I don't read too many vampire or other paranormal books, but this one made me feel like reading Allee's entire series and then discovering others!

Don't forget to enter the separate giveaways for each book!

And now my more prosaic ROW80 check in... Four days left until the start of NaNoWriMo, and thanks to the third round of the Forum Marathon, I've got only eight notebook pages left to type on Captive of the Sea.

Then I can start the 1914 Alice and George story... It would be really nice to have a title for this one!

Here's a very brief blurb (drafted only yesterday!):

   Reluctant debutante Alice Underwood is responsible for handling her grandmother's estate, but has no wish to dismantle a home -- and an aviary -- that has helped define who she is. Raised in an upper class family in Montreal and Toronto, she longs to find a place in the world based on her merits and not her father's wealth and position.
A brief misunderstanding with two young tenants at her grandmother's cottage gives Alice one last summer to live on her own terms, dropping her father's name and taking on the role of governess to a passel of girls.
The last thing she expected was their brother to come along as well -- their older, crabbier, nuisance of a brother. Yet Alice is sure there's a good man underneath that crusty exterior. Only how can she reach him when she's hiding her own identity?

   Nursing a broken leg from a hockey injury and missing out on the Grand Tour of Europe all his friends have embarked on, George McKerrow is cantankerous on his best days. The bitterest pill is having to recover on his own, at a lakeside cottage miles from the entertainments in the city.
His sisters' governess is a good-looking, feisty young woman, but it would never do for a McKerrow to make a play for someone of such lower stature. Hiding his growing attraction for her under a surly attitude does him no good when the children pull a horrible prank and release all the birds in the aviary. Stuck in his wheelchair, George is useless at hunting for them -- and even if he wasn't Alice, would refuse his help.
Then the unthinkable happens -- Canada is at war. The sooner his leg heals, the sooner George can heed the call and join up. He's a brave man -- but can he gather his courage to declare his feelings to Alice before he goes?

I don't have a proper image for Alice yet, but here's a little of what George looks like:
Please give me all the title suggestions you've got!

If I choose yours, I'll offer a prize: either a grab bag of books, or a 20$ Amazon (or local indie bookstore of your choice!) gift card.

And now, Transformer by Lou Reed:

Can you think of a title for me?
Are you joining us for NaNo?
Hope you've entered the book giveaway!

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

The Year of Shadows by Claire Legrand, Three Awesome Things, ROW80, and Other New Books

You know how a few pages into a new book you can already tell whether it's going to be dull, or you're going to simply like it, or -- you get that thrill -- you're going to adore it and start telling everyone about it?

And then, as if adoration wasn't enough, further in you suddenly realise that it's a book you're going to stay up late for, and you get excited, and then! Then you realise it's a book that's going to make you cry -- but there are two kinds of that.

There's the sort of bawling I did after I finished The Fault in Our Stars and The Summer of Skinny Dipping, and then there's the bittersweet crying of a satisfying ending, and that's just what happened to me the other night after I finished reading Claire Legrand's The Year of Shadows.

I love -- and admire -- books that make me laugh amidst the tears. For those of you who have read this book, the line that made me start crying was: "'She said she was sorry and that you showed her beautiful things.'" And the laughter, well... I'll share a snip below.

There's a lot in the book, about dreams and hobbies, and also a cat (who's point of view Legrand does really well (yes, the cat talks, sort of, like Calvin's Hobbes)), and a passing reference to Glorbit the Molasses Man (I love Olivia's voice!), and I wonder which book she's reading in school that's sad looking and has an old man on the cover?

And there's a character named Frederick. I never paid attention to that name before, but ever since my Frederick appeared fully formed and named in Druid's Moon, I've been quite partial to that name.

I've got nothing to criticise about this book. I'm off to reread some of Claire's entries on her blog tour, where she wrote new snips and shared excised snips featuring characters from the story. I'm also listening again to some of the pieces (right now it's Mahler 2), and I wish I could listen to Frederick's concerto.

If you haven't read the book yet, here's one of the bits that made me laugh and want to hug the characters (all you need to know is that Tillie is a ghost):
"'My toes are frozen,' Henry groaned.

'Here, have mine,' Tillie said gleefully, plucking off her toes one by one and dropping them down Henry's shirt, which made him shudder and dance around.

'Thanks for making me look like an idiot,' he said.

Tillie turned slow, grinning circles in the air. 'You're welcome.'"
(I love that line because Legrand's ghosts aren't in fixed shapes, they shift and weave, and do their best to hold their forms together; so Tillie's not turning slowly and grinning, she's literally a whispy shadow that's turning slow grinning circles in the air. At least, that's how I read it.)

My only comment is that I wish publishers had a "report a typo" form on their websites. Then nitpickers like me wouldn't have to bug authors, and all typos could get resolved easily and painlessly when the paperback or future editions of books are printed. Catching Frederick's name spelled wrong was kind of disheartening.

Anyhow, forget my red-pen tendencies! Just watch this:

The Year of Shadows trailer

Meanwhile, there are two new literary books that have recently been released: Kevin Brennan's Yesterday Road and Sooty Tern by Paul Lessard.

Also, Mark Forsyth, who writes the Inky Fool blog, has a new book out, and it's on my wishlist:

He recently shared his top ten lost words in The Guardian. Each word is awesome, even feague ("Feague is a term from around the 18th century that means to put a live eel up a horse's bottom.") but my favourite is gongoozle:

Words and reading naturally lead to Neil Gaiman! If you haven't listened to or read his speech on libraries and reading, you can do so here.

But if you're writing, as I am...

Why not contribute to a fairy tale?

Add the next line of the story here

ROW80 is going very well thanks to the Forum Marathon. As of yesterday, I had 20 notebook pages left to type and still ten days to do it in, before NaNoWriMo starts.

Meanwhile, Kait Nolan is also sharing Three Awesome Things on Wednesdays. So, writing-wise, my three awesome things are:

1. Last week, out of the blue, I wrote a 200 word vignette. A tiny little story (the working title is Late Night, Maudlin Street, but I might change it to a Morrissey lyric instead of a song title). Just needs a bit of editing...

2. Two nights ago, also out of the blue (or black, as it were, since I was falling asleep at the time), I caught the first line of my NaNo story. I have a starting point now! Capturing just the right words and tone for the first line led to...

3. Yesterday morning, when I scribbled 500+ words of the opening scene before I could lose it all. It's always great going into NaNo with a bit of extra under your belt, for those days when no words will come.

Bit of blog news -- next week I'll be posting on Monday instead, because I'm part of Tiffany Allee's blog tour! Also, my Books Read list at the bottom of the page seems to be messed up - all the latest entries are appearing at the bottom of the list. Does anyone else use lists on Blogger, and have a clue how to fix this?

Would you like to share Three Awesome Things?

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Forrester, Novak, Drinkwater, and Lewycka - Lots of New Books! Plus a Snip-sharing ROW80 Check In

Books, books, and more books!

Under the fiction-writing pseudonym James Forrester, famed historian Ian Mortimer crafted a thrilling adventure through Tudor England in his Clarenceux trilogy, praised by The Times of London as "an ingenious, authentically imagined treat."
The Final Sacrament presents the gripping conclusion to this Elizabethan adventure, where religious tensions, political intrigue, and personal vendettas collide.

1566. William Harley, Clarenceux King of Arms, has risked his life to protect a secret document, which could endanger Queen Elizabeth's place on the throne and plunge the country into civil war. But when his family goes missing, Clarenceux is put to the final test.

Will he abandon queen and country to save the ones he loves, or sacrifice everything for the good of the nation?

Filled with Mortimer's signature historical detail and vivid characters, The Final Sacrament delivers a dramatic close to the Clarenceux saga that highlights the adventure and spiritual struggles of Elizabethan England.

Those of you who read my reviews of the first two books in this series, Sacred Treason, and The Roots of Betrayal, will know how much I enjoyed Clarenceux's previous adventures -- but the final installment takes things to a whole new level.

If you're a writer who's constantly trying to raise the stakes for your own characters, you'd do well to take a page out of Clarenceux's struggles. At the risk of being spoilerish, there's a big shock near the beginning of the novel for readers of the previous two novels -- and the ending is very bittersweet. The latter is not a spoiler, I promise, but a warning.

Life does not go easy on any of the characters in this novel, as they face choices that will lead them to question their consciences to a depth that is often not explored in stories nowadays. As Forrester says in his note at the end of the novel: "Loyalty and betrayal simply meant so much more in the sixteenth century than they do today. That is why I set the Clarenceux trilogy in that period."

Forrester deftly introduces new characters amongst the familiar, and leads the reader to care for each of them, even (most of) the villains. There was one line among many ["Don't thank me," said the old man. "I just whispered it to the fire."] that twisted my heart a little, knowing how desperate was the plight of this family I've grown so attached to, yet aware at the same time that they had so few options left.

The author raises an interesting question with regard to historical accuracy -- how far should one go to match the written record?

Forrester states that "the real test of historical fiction is not how accurate it is but how good it is" and that "the social landscape of the past is much too interesting to be seen as a backdrop only to what actually did happen."

Having, I confess, been unable to finish Harry Turtledove's Elizabethan novel, Ruled Britannia, mostly due to the language, I much prefer Forrester's method of capturing the sights and sounds and smells of the era, as well as the tone of the language, without attempting to descend into outright recreation.

James Forrester is the pen name of acclaimed British historian Ian Mortimer, author of nonfiction works including The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England (a Sunday Times bestseller). He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society in 1998, and was awarded the Alexander Prize (2004) by the Royal Historical Society for his work on the social history of medicine.
Praise for the Clarenceux Trilogy
"Forrester delves deeply into 16th-century intrigue to deliver a whale of a yarn... A winner for any reader who loves historical, action-packed novels."--Kirkus Reviews (STARRED)
"No one can create a sense of historical space as convincingly as [Mortimer] does."--Daily Telegraph
"Writing fiction as James Forrester, medieval historian Ian Mortimer provides an authentically detailed backdrop for this fast-paced Elizabethan thriller."--Booklist
"James Forrester captures the sights, smells, and dangers of Tudor England and tells a gripping story."--Philippa Gregory, author of The Other Boleyn Girl

Also this week, Brenda Novak's latest, a Victorian romance called Through the Smoke, is out!

I loved the forthrightness of the female characters in this story! There were a few anachronistic word choices that jumped out at me, but Forrester had a good line about that, regarding his use of the word nursing: "Explaining such things in a novel -- and not using such terms when otherwise I was using normal modern speech -- seemed counterproductive and unlikely to enhance the reader's enjoyment."

In the case of Through the Smoke, I think the trouble was more the English vs American language. Some of the interactions, especially with the servants, didn't ring true to me, especially since the story is set in 1840, right around the time of Dickens.

I don't want to dissuade anyone from reading the book, though. If you're looking for a well-paced crossing-the-class-barrier romance, then this is a great read! I definitely wished for more bedroom scenes between Rachel and Truman, since their every day interactions were so great at showing how well suited they were. Sometimes it's a shame that romance novels tend not to have sequels.

I think that's why I enjoy Novak's Whiskey Creek series -- at least the reader can catch glimpses of couples from previous books in the later stories of new relationships.

The prologue and first chapter of Through the Smoke are up on Novak's website, and she's also hosting a giveaway for a Kindle Paperwhite! Plus, if you purchase the book, you can send the receipt to Danita Moon and you'll receive a thank you gift.

And there's more - if you sign up to receive Amazon's romance newsletter before 20 October, they will gift you the first book in the Whiskey Creek series!

I also read these two last week, the first a new story and the second a book that I can't believe it took me this long to get around to reading:

I'd recommend both! The first is a sadly sweet love story, and the second is one of those books that's fun and easy to read, yet captures the heart and soul of a family while they're struggling through hard times. Here's the first line of the novel:
"Two years after my mother died, my father fell in love with a glamorous blonde Ukrainian divorcée. He was eighty-four and she was thirty-six. She exploded into our lives like a fluffy pink grenade, churning up the murky water, bringing to the surface a sludge of sloughed-off memories, giving the family ghosts a kick up the backside."
I'm delighted to discover that Drinkwater is writing some YA and that Marina Lewycka has many more novels!

ROW80 is going even better than I'd hoped, now that the first of this month's writing marathons on the Forum is under my belt.

Nothing like a bit of accountability to get me doing more work than usual. I typed up 1450 the first day, 2050 the second, over 1400 the third day, and I got an extra day in on Canadian Thanksgiving, and typed up 2100 words! Somewhere in there I also wrote a 200 word vignette...

Jen shared a great snip the other day. Here're the rules of her snip-sharing game:
"I decided it's game time. I have no idea who's out there reading this blog -- doesn't seem like all that many, but I'm hoping some of y'all will join in.

If you're a writer -- use your current WIP to play. If you're not a writer, but love books, use the book you're currently reading to play. That way, we can all play. :)

First -- figure out the number of pages in your WIP/book. Then go here and get a randomly generated number between 1 and said number of pages.

Got your page #?

In the comments, post the entire page if you choose -- or bits that you really enjoy. It's up to you. If using another author's work, be sure to include proper credit. If you blog, please pass on the game and see if we can really get it going. Don't leave me hangin', yo!"
Here's my page - the opening to Captive of the Sea, the novel I'm madly typing away:
I was born on King Arthur's grave.

My earliest memory is of Father telling me stories of the court of the king, who reigned over 500 years ago. Each tale started with a daring knight who, peradventure, fell afoul of a lovely maiden, and fought his way through perils back into grace and favour. The stories were scarfed by the mists of time, and my father ended them all with the words, "you are a daughter of Snowdonia, of the mountain whence Arthur will rise again."

Then the battles of the kings of our time began anew, and my father packed up our household and brought us to the teeming, reeking city of London. He disappeared every day into the milling crowds, seeking his fortune, and I hardly ever saw him except for an hour or so at sunset.

The fogs and smoke choked me, and I stayed as much as I could indoors. I'd look out my window early in the morning, seeking green sloping hills and purple-headed mountain ranges. Yet I could not look long; the fog and surrounding walls shut off all farsight, and my mother's strident tones soon summoned me to my duties.

My father returned home later and later of nights, and he did not tell me stories anymore.

Anyone want to share a snip?
Do you have any must-read book recommendations?

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Whole Lotta Writing: Marathons and ROW80 - Plus Usborne's Anniversary, Reisa Stone, and the Hockey Night in Canada SongQuest

Lotta writing happening, and NaNoWriMo isn't even here yet!

First up, there's a writers' marathon taking place on the Forum!

We're going to have three rounds I think, as as sort of warm-up to NaNo; first round is 11 to 13 October.
"The idea is to set aside all non-essential activities and spend the time writing instead. Feel free to set your own goals -- word count, pages, number of hours, number of scenes written -- whatever works best for you. A specific goal is not required, though.
Each mini-marathon will have its own thread, where you can briefly post progress reports and itsy-bitsy snippets of something you wrote during the marathon, if you like. The marathon will begin in October 11 at 12:01 am (00:01 if you're on a 24-hour clock) local time. That means your local time. And that also means that members will not all be on the same clock together, but that's OK, even though it means our down-under members will start sooner than the rest of us."
Also, this week marks the start of the final round of A Round of Words in Eighty Days for this year, which happens to be the third year of ROW80 and so this is the twelfth round overall.

Looking back to the very first round in January 2011, here's what I had to say:
"Your goal, whatever it is, should be MEASURABLE.
Your goal should be broken down into chunks.
You should make a post on your blog clearly stating your goals and linking to it in the Round of Words Linky Tool list.
My measurable goals is to get closer and closer to a final draft. I can edit about 800 words in one day (based on how I did last week), so in 80 days, I should be able to do half my novel!
Chunks: Okay, for the next two weeks, my specific goals are to edit three snips so well that I can post them in the Toolbox and Exercises on the forum, and have a snip left over for broadcasting on my blog and on Facebook."
I'd forgotten about the chunk idea, and I really like the way I phrased the editing process - fixing the story so that it's in a fit state to be shared with others.

So my measurable goals for this round are to:

1. Finish typing up Captive of the Sea in October
2. Draft the Alice and George story during NaNoWriMo
3. Do more research

Broken down into chunks this means I will:

1. Type 700-1000 words per day on Captive of the Sea, except during marathon weekends when I hope to get a lot more done!

2. Write at least 1667 (the NaNo bare minimum) every day in November

3. Search for research materials on Google (especially the Paston letters from the 15th Century and books published c. 1910-1913, as well as newspaper archives for those years) and splurge on some Folio Society books, especially this one:

Speaking of publishers, Usborne Publishing is celebrating its 40th anniversary!

I remember reading some of their history and science compilations as a kid, as well as this book on Greek myths by Evslin, Evslin, and Hoopes:

Usborne have got lots of fun stuff for kids and teachers on their website, and for readers too!

I like these bookmarks:

And don't forget, Neil Gaiman's All Hallow's Read is coming!
"All Hallow's Read is a Hallowe'en tradition. It's simply that in the week of Hallowe'en, or on the night itself, you give someone a scary book."
You have until Friday to enter the art contest!

In non-Hallowe'en book news, author Reisa Stone has two new stories, "Breathe" and "I'll See You", published in the latest Chicken Soup book, Miraculous Messages From Heaven. I love Reisa's message for her books: "I hope they'll inspire you to understand that love never dies."

Now for some musical stuff!

 Hockey Night in Canada on CBC (which is, I guess, the Canadian equivalent of the BBC, as in it's a state-owned channel) is running a contest!
"Hockey Night in Canada Song Quest is on the hunt for songs that celebrate what hockey is about: teamwork, commitment, hard work and going for the goal."
Whisky Trench Riders have two awesome songs in the contest!

Please like/vote/share the word, if you can! The best is to play and like directly through the SongQuest profile pages (you don't have to log in, except through Facebook) so that all votes get recorded. Thanks for your help!

If we reach 100 plays on each song within the next two weeks, I'll do a book giveaway!

not one of these but something equally good!

Are you looking forward to Hallowe'en?
Have you changed your writing goals recently?

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

A Rebuttal to Jonathan Franzen's Essay, The Little Prince, and a Travel Meme (sort of) from Denise Covey

I've finally taken the time to read Jonathan Franzen's essay "What's Wrong With the Modern World" which appeared in The Guardian on 13 September.

(I've refuted Franzen on this blog before (in my pre-Twitter days!), and am about to do so again!)

I also read Jennifer Weiner's response, a self-published author's rebuttal, a more friendly piece in The New Yorker (which I mostly agreed with, except for the bit where they praise his novels), and Nathan Bransford's well-formulated response (I'll be quoting a bit from this).

To begin with, I admit to not being a fan of Franzen's writing. I read The Corrections for book club two years ago and couldn't stand it. I posted a mini-review on the Compuserve Books and Writers Community that went like this:
" was the characters and story that left me cold.
How shall I phrase this? When I read about helpless characters in (for instance) Steinbeck, I do not have the constant impulse to fling the book against the wall.
With Franzen's characters, it was all I could do to rein in that impulse. I can not abide indecisive lily-livered people in real life, and certainly cannot bring myself to empathise with an entire book full of them. Characters who constantly refuse to speak up about their own desires, who constantly subvert the hopes and thoughts of others, and who leave a wasteland of pointlessness behind them. Ick.
I realise that all this only goes to show that despite myself, Franzen's writing drew me in. But I'm not sure that's accurate - I certainly never would have picked up, let alone finished, this book if it hadn't been a book club choice.
As an example, one of my book club choices was Steve Martin's The Object of Beauty. Another set of odd characters who might not necessarily have been the kindest or 'goodest', but I quite liked being in their world. Franzen's world made me want to kick his characters in the kiester.
The one line, the absolute only one line, that sticks with me as an example of brilliant imagery, was the observation he gave to one of the characters that the flowers planted around officce buildings are too weak to support us, that you "couldn't turn to them" in moments of crisis. (sorry, not at home and can't quote directly)
I guess that's sort of an apt metaphor for how I feel about his writing - it has its place, but I wouldn't turn to his world view, and especially not his characters, in moments of crisis."
The essay in The Guardian was excerpted from Franzen's latest book and, in a nutshell, compares our current decade to the pre-World War I (inexplicably written in lower case letters in The Guardian) era in which satirist Karl Kraus was busy denouncing inter alia Romantic trappings in favour of German sobriety.

First, to criticise Franzen's style. The best way I can do this is simply by saying he is no Julian Barnes. I have a lot of empathy for the alienated individualist who becomes enamoured of another culture (in Barnes' case, France, in mine, the United Kingdom), and Franzen seems to fit that mould, especially when he finally comes around to revealing, through personal anecdote, how German ideologies drew him in. Even though I often disagree with Barnes, I can empathise with him. Franzen does not achieve this, and a lot of his failing in this aspect is due to his writing style. He should have opened with that personal anecdote. And he certainly shouldn't, as Bransford so pithily put it, toss off "irresponsible throwaway lines that show his unwillingness to grapple with the dark underside of the world he wants for us".

Second, let's address some of these throwaway lines. Read this:

"Although Kraus would probably have hated blogs, Die Fackel was like a blog that everybody who mattered in the German-speaking world, from Freud to Kafka to Walter Benjamin, found it necessary to read and have an attitude toward."

How does anything in that sentence explain how the magazine Die Fackel was "like a blog"?

(I also thought it was telling that he slipped in the line "characters in novels need to have actual desires" when, to me, it seems as though none of the characters in The Corrections has such a desire. They plod along, doing what's expected of them, and reacting to, rather than instigating, events.)

I'm also not sure what his point was in suggesting that it's a new phenomenon to "take positions on what is hip and to consider, under pain of being considered unhip, the positions that everyone else is taking" - haven't we been doing this since at least the Enlightenment and probably since Shakespeare's day or earlier? Ancient Greece? Art has been around for a long, long time.

Then there's this: he quotes Klaus: "Believe me, you color-happy people, in cultures where every blockhead has individuality, individuality becomes a thing for blockheads."

Then he says "You're not allowed to say things like this in America nowadays." Which is an odd footnote, coming from someone who, a few paragraphs earlier, threw out the blanket statement: "Even now, Germany insists on content over form."

I haven't come down one way or the other in favour of either Romanticism or Germanic art and culture (maybe one of the great things about the 21st Century is that we don't need to choose between those two anymore), so as soon as I read Franzen saying "Romance culture makes everyman a poet. Art's a piece of cake" all I can think of is Amanda Palmer's Ukulele Anthem and the line "stop pretending art is hard."

Franzen goes on to say this: "To me the most impressive thing about Kraus as a thinker may be how early and clearly he recognised the divergence of technological progress from moral and spiritual progress." I might not have disagreed with such a statement. To my mind, this has been the case for a long time. Add greed, and you've encapsulated the human condition. But then Franzen adds: "A succeeding century of the former, involving scientific advances that would have seemed miraculous not long ago, has resulted in high-resolution smartphone videos of dudes dropping Mentos into litre bottles of Diet Pepsi and shouting "Whoa!""

Yes, it's very easy to take potshots at the dumbest YouTube videos. But let us not forget that it was the writers and scientists of the generation Franzen was born into that promised us we'd have flying cars and cities on the moon by now. I'd rather have Twitter than a flying car, any day.

Which brings us to, third, Franzen's attack on the current generations. He follows on from the thoughts above by noting that "The logic says that if we want things like or home DVR capability -- and who wouldn't want them? -- we need to say goodbye to job stability and hello to a lifetime of anxiety."

However, I'm pretty sure the job instability came first, and by choice. Most of Generations X and Y have seen their parents throw away 40 years of their lives on job stability and a dearth of dreams and willingly decided that this wasn't what they wanted.

Franzen adds a few comments about not being a Luddite because he happens to use a computer for work. Okay. I don't pay attention to any advertising, and have a cheap-y basic cellphone. But I bought an iPad so I could use Scrivener, the best writing software in the world. I still have a pc. And I love Twitter.

What I'm getting at is, to each his own. I don't care what kind of computer he uses (or the fact that he doesn't use an old Remington typewriter or something equally quaint), so why does the fact some authors are on Twitter disturb him so much? There are plenty of other authors out there who aren't on social media - Julian Barnes, to name him again. Paul Auster. I don't need to go on. People use the software and features they're comfortable with. If some are doing it out of the usual misplaced 'keeping up with the Joneses' that's their problem.

As if that wasn't enough, Franzen goes on, quoting Kraus to back him up: "'This velocity doesn't realize that its achievement is important only in escaping itself. Present in body, repellent in spirit, perfect just the way they are, these times of ours are hoping to be overtaken by the times ahead, and that the children, spawned by the union of sport and machine and nourished by newspaper, will be able to laugh even better...'"

Quoting a turn-of-the-last-century satirist who was railing against newspapers, in one's argument against Twitter et al, just starts sounding like the recurring "O! Tempora, O! Mores" cry, echoed down the years from when Cicero first proclaimed it. It's been done.

Not that we don't need constant self-reflection, if we're to evade the 'divergence of technological progress from moral and spiritual progress'. Louis C. K. was on Conan O'Brien the other day talking about this sort of thing, about how we need to stop reaching for our cellphones every time we're alone or sad (especially when listening to Springsteen!), and just need to... Well, the trouble is, what he meant to say was "we need a good cry once in a while." But it seems like no one reads the right books anymore. Any fan of classic YA and MG knows what a good cry is. Stephen King uses the phrase aptly in The Stand. (He's my second recommendation to Franzen. Julian Barnes, and now Stephen King. One more to come.)

A fourth point is that if I was a software creator, I'd be a little miffed right about now. All the people who invented Twitter and Instagram and so on actually created something neat and interesting. To deride them all in one go as "techno-boosters" would be like denying Nikola Tesla the recognition he deserves - oh, wait. Franzen's also conflating the medium with the message, by which I mean that Twitter (for instance) may have been created by a handful of people, but there are millions of users on there tweaking the medium for their own ends. We've got satirists, recreated historical figures, protesters, stupid people, authors and musicians and all sorts of other creators, readers, activists, and so on. And on. And some people don't like it, that's fine. They use Facebook instead. Or blog. Or keep their own private journals. Or have fun sorting images on Pinterest (as an aside, J. Simmons has a brilliant series of essays on The Uses of Freedom, commenting on Pinterest and so on). Last I checked, Wikipedia has only 175 staff members and all its editors are volunteers. Not sure how that qualifies as "a global corporate system of control." Franzen actually suggests that "Maybe people will get as sick of Twitter as they once got sick of cigarettes." Obviously he's exposing his ignorance here - anyone remember AngelFire blogs? GeoCities? Hangouts may change. But that doesn't mean the act of being online should be equated with smoking.

(Now I'm going to pick at two personal items. "As a wedding present, three months after I returned from Berlin": this, coming on the heels of a story of how a girl in Germany rejected him (though it was "his decision") makes me wonder, as does "For some reason – perhaps to reassure myself that other people, too, were getting married – I read the nuptials pages religiously", why did he get married if he didn't want to? And finally, "I did the work [on the essays] late in the afternoon, after six or seven hours of writing short stories" - but what did they live on? Did his wife, perhaps, support him at this stage? But Bransford has already brilliantly addressed the attitude towards women in Franzen's essay: "Even if you accept that it's harder for freelance writers to make a living these days than it was in the past (Franzen doesn't provide evidence), he seems unwilling to accept a tradeoff between a world where female voices have greater prominence for one where it's harder for writers to make money.")

Two final points. While I am still hoping to be published traditionally, I aim for this simply because of that tradition. I'm old-fashioned that way. Franzen talks about back "when publication still assured some kind of quality control" and I both agree and disagree with him in the same breath. I do think there was maybe a certain level of quality back in the day. And yet, how to explain the absolute dreck that has been published alongside good books since Gutenberg and Caxton first set their hands to moveable type? The 21st Century doesn't have a monopoly on crappy books. And what about small-town drugstores that sell only torn-cover paperbacks off a rotating rack and the only library is in the next town? Surely having books and authors galore all over the internet is a wonderful thing compared to such limited choice.

Finally, the generational considerations once more, and this is where Franzen lost me completely. He has the gall to say all this:
"I could, it's true, make a larger apocalyptic argument about the logic of the machine, which has now gone global and is accelerating the denaturisation of the planet and sterilisation of its oceans. I could point to the transformation of Canada's boreal forest into a toxic lake of tar-sands byproducts, the levelling of Asia's remaining forests for Chinese-made ultra-low-cost porch furniture at Home Depot, the damming of the Amazon and the endgame clear-cutting of its forests for beef and mineral production, the whole mindset of "Screw the consequences, we want to buy a lot of crap and we want to buy it cheap, with overnight free shipping." And meanwhile the overheating of the atmosphere, meanwhile the calamitous overuse of antibiotics by agribusiness, meanwhile the widespread tinkering with cell nucleii, which may well prove to be as disastrous as tinkering with atomic nucleii."
As if this all started with the rise of the internet. It started in his parents' generation! Who was it that cared so little for the planet they thought DDT was a great thing? Who derided Rachel Carson for speaking out? Who used to throw garbage - and cigarette butts - out the window while cruising and idling in gas guzzling monster cars?

The trouble is, Franzen says that he was "born in 1959, when TV was something you watched only during prime time, and people wrote letters and put them in the mail, and every magazine and newspaper had a robust books section, and venerable publishers made long-term investments in young writers, and New Criticism reigned in English departments, and the Amazon basin was intact, and antibiotics were used only to treat serious infections, not pumped into healthy cows."

Bransford has already noted how mistaken this view is, and on how many fronts:
"Yes, Franzen actually points to the '50s as a bastion of intellectual vigor and environmental stewardship. (I guess DDT and acid rain and Ozone depletion and pre-Clean Air Act pollution didn't count. Oh, and antibiotics for livestock were approved by the FDA in 1951.) It was a wondrously enlightened world, except for the whole segregated swimming pool thing.

Oh yeah, except for that."
(see Bransford's page for supporting links)
Bransford could have added a list of all the books that were banned in that era of the 'robust books section', including J. D. Salinger and D. H. Lawrence. (When I read Franzen's comment that "If I'd been born in 1159, when the world was steadier," I laughed out loud. Talk about glamourising history!)

But his rose-coloured glasses towards 1959 are misleading for an entirely different reason. Franzen was born in 1959. He's not a product of the 50s; he was a teenager in the 1970s. He turned 21 in 1980. Hello, MTV!

So when he says "Whether I like it or not, the world being created by the infernal machine of technoconsumerism is still a world made by human beings" he could just as easily look back and deride his own adulthood in the 1980s and the world created by those human beings. (Franzen should listen to the Manic Street Preachers' The Holy Bible, celebrating its 20th anniversary next year.)

Change the word 'modernity' to 'humanity', and his closing line might carry some weight: " As long as modernity lasts, all days will feel to someone like the last days of humanity." Because it's not "the experience of each succeeding generation" and its difference that matters, any more than whatever level of change and technology a person is comfortable with; the real issue is and always has been the same: how much we can learn from history, and what we do with these changes; how we treat others in the 'last days' is all that matters.

Franzen is the same age as Neil Gaiman. I'd like to see those two discussing these issues at a book festival panel sometime.

Meanwhile, it's the 70th anniversary of Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince)!

Here's a website that includes excerpts in the 220 (!) languages into which The Little Prince has been translated.

I'm borrowing a meme from Denise, all about travel!

What's your favourite place to visit in your own country?

There're a lot of places I haven't seen yet! The Yukon, the extreme north of Quebec, Gaspé, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island! So far I've enjoyed visiting Fredericton, New Brunswick, and all along the St Lawrence Seaway.

As for Turkey, I love every place along the Aegean Sea.

What about your favourite place overseas?

Wales and Yorkshire. And probably the Scottish Highlands, but I haven't been there yet!

What's the best thing you've ever eaten overseas?

Besides pide in Turkey?

Where are you off to next?
Hopefully Plattsburgh for shopping in November, and New York City! And maybe England at Christmas!

Do you have a bucket list destination?
Do I ever! *deepbreath* Highlands, Shetlands, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Russia, Trans-Siberian Railway, Yukon, northern Quebec, Gaspé, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, the 35 or so US States I haven't visited yet, the rest of England and Wales, eastern Turkey, Australia, New Zealand, Patagonia, and -- maybe I should stop here...

What's the worst place you've stayed?
Well, it was my own fault. I wanted to see what my childhood summer place near Izmir was like in the wintertime. But our house was boarded up, so we had to stay at a pansiyon. And they hadn't been expecting guests, so the heat was off. It was cold. It was damp. Brr!

On the plus side, we made a fort out of all the blankets and had a huge pile of snacks, and eventually warmed up enough to fall asleep.

Big city hotel, bnb, igloo, tent...?
Bed and breakfast in a big city! Or a renovated farmhouse in the country - funnily enough, I shared the photos from my last such stay in the same post where I dissected Franzen.

Linton on Craven, Yorkshire

Is there anything you can't travel without?
Camera. And pen and paper, natch!

What has travel taught you?
Actually, there's a lot more I could learn. I still haven't ever visited a country where I don't speak the language and am entirely out of my element. Now that would be an experience!

Have you read Franzen's essay, or his novels? D'you want to wade in to the discussion?

Don't you just love the little Prince?

Feel free to pick up the travel meme!

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
  • see the 2015 list and statistics at
  • see the 2014 list and statistics at
  • see the 2013 list and statistics at
  • see the 2012 list and statistics here
  • see the 2011 statistics on
  • see the 2011 list at
  • see the 2010 list at
  • see the 2009 list at
  • also in 2009 at
  • see the 2008 list at
  • also in 2008 at
  • also in 2008 at