Saturday, October 23, 2010

Strickly a Book Review


A Hellion in Her Bed
by Sabrina Jeffries
Pocket Star Books Romance
4 1/2 spangles out of five
Regency Romance
Heat: We get a couple of pretty hot scenes here, per the genre requirement.

It's so good to see Sabrina back in top form! With her new "Hellions of Halstead Hall" series, she seems imbued with crackling new enthusiasm. And when Sabrina gets enthusiastic, her readers are enthralled.

This is volume 2 of the series. If you recall Volume 1, we have five aristocratic (but broke) children of the Regency era who lost their mother and father under mysterious circumstances. Their grandmother raised them, and they have not turned out quite as she hoped. Now that she's an old woman, she declares that all five must marry within a year or she will not bequeath her wealth to them.

The mystery of Mom and Dad's murders/suicides/whatevers now gets one more set of clues as Son #2, Jarret, steps into the spotlight. His grandmother's dreams for him interfered with his own so long ago that now he takes his frustrations out by gambling incessantly. Fortunately for him, he's fairly good at it. But when Gran gets sick and makes a deal with him to take over her brewery business, he begins to rediscover a childhood passion.

Speaking of passion, here comes Annabel from up north, a brewster in her own right, as some ladies were actually allowed to be back then. She's got family problems. Big family problems. And like Jarret, she faces the possibility of her brewery going under before long—but with her, every hope of her family retaining any money at all will be lost.

There's a positive crescendo of sparks between the hero and heroine, who are held back by one of those awful Family Secrets from grabbing their happiness straight off.

The pacing on this is speedy. It's one of those books where you have to drag yourself into work each morning because you stayed up far too late the previous night reading. The plot works extremely well, and there are character complications that can only arise when characters have multiple layers, as they do here. Plus the 12-year-old boy who appears seems to be an actual 12-year-old boy, and not one of those angelic little kid-a-trons that one so often finds in fiction.

Pack up this one in your reticule and take it somewhere where you can settle with a lovely cup of tea to peruse it at leisure! Next up will be Minerva, the scandalous novel writer of the family. Can't wait!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Living by a River

[It's a very special day! Not only does "Strickly Speaking" get its very first guest-blogger, Nancy Lennea, but her book, Destiny's Mountain, is being released today! Let's hear her talk about what inspired her. —Strick]


by Nancy Lennea

Tree swings, sandy beaches, sunny summer afternoons…I grew up within walking distance of the Long Island Sound and learned to swim at an early age. A young girl’s confidence to swim and snorkel while gathering hermit crabs morphed into a teen’s lazy weekend dates at the ocean on Long Island’s southern shore. The waves were intense, but I grew confident in my ability to stay afloat or to dive beneath the breakers.

Everything changed after college when I met and married a New Hampshire man. We settled in Rumney, a small town, population-wise (under 2,000), but large in acreage (over 42 square miles). Lakes and mountains filled this area and we bought our first house within walking distance of both the Stinson River and the much larger Baker River. Even back then, I filed away these memories. Many of these images came to mind when I sat down to write DESTINY’S MOUNTAIN, my latest release from Red Rose Publishing.

My husband and I soon discovered a sandy beach beside the new Baker River bridge. We brought our two dogs. The brother and sister were mutts we adopted from the pound (the family joke is they were practice before we thought about having a child).

I remember quite clearly swimming when the male accidently clawed my hand. As we loaded them back into the car, I noticed the diamond was no longer sitting in my engagement ring! My husband and I, ever hopeful, ran back to the water. This is when we discovered that the sandy bottom is made up of crushed gravel, river rocks, and…mica! Mica shines like diamonds. Finding my tiny stone among the thousands of sparkling bits of mica was a lost cause.


Years later, when our sons grew older, a time came when my rapid heartbeats mirrored the moment I lost my precious diamond. My oldest wanted to go swimming with his friends. In the river. Without me.

There comes a time in every mother’s life when she has to let go. Allowing my young son to go swimming without me put my confidence to the test. Had his father and I taught him to swim well? Could I trust the other boys not to hurt him? Would he break an arm swinging from the rope swing? Would a canoeist paddle around the bend and crash into him?

My husband and I had ensured our sons learned to swim from an early age. We visited relatives who had pools or took us to the ocean. Every trip to a hotel included a pool and my sons enjoyed every minute. Did anything happen to either child at the swimming hole? Not a thing. An ounce of prevention made sure everything went well. They will remember their hot summer days spent with their friends down at the old swimming hole on the Baker River.

The Baker River is a popular canoeing destination in the spring and early summer before the levels get too low to navigate. After hearing so much about it, we became the new owners of my father-in-law’s fiberglass canoe. After patching holes and repainting it, we strapped the huge canoe onto the minivan’s roof. The boys wore borrowed life jackets, and we packed a cooler and towels. Wearing shorts over our bathing suits, we parked one car at the swimming hole and headed to West Rumney.


It took over three hours to go what would have taken us fifteen minutes to drive. But what fun was had during those three hours! As a family, we worked together and took turns paddling, watching wildlife, and picking spots where we could stop for a swim or a lunch break. Memories like that will stay with us forever.

---
Fear is a strange thing. It changes everything. There is only one place where I actually enjoy fear. That place is in a book.

Some people are naturally fearless, like my heroine in DESTINY’S MOUNTAIN. She skinny-dips under a gushing waterfall. My hero stumbles upon her. Lots could happen…and it does! I use fear a lot more later in the book, set in a quirky New Hampshire college town nestled beside a river and eerie mountains. A couple of stalkers, a murder, mountain rescues, and wildlife give me ample opportunities to scare my readers.

DESTINY’S MOUNTAIN recalls that time in my life when the mountains called to me and the river calmed me. I swam in it, canoed down it, photographed it, raised a family near it, and painted it. Its fearsome springtime currents and gentler summer coolness helped me create a manuscript that will keep my readers on the edge of their seats while giving them a happy ever after. Read on!

BOOK BLURB

In a quirky college town surrounded by the mountains of New Hampshire, new art history professor Jacob Oliver hikes a trail on a crisp September morning. Divorced and forced out of his job with the Boston Police due to a horrific accident, he spots a naked woman beneath a majestic waterfall. Escaping, he falls and re-injures his knee.

Destiny Blake hears a noise; someone is on her mountain. She finds a handsome man sitting in the mud. Love blooms and lust consumes them after she helps him to the safety of her cabin. Soon assumptions tear them apart, leaving her vulnerable to the unwanted attentions of other men.

When Jacob decides he cannot live without her, he must save her from a madman who chases her up her mountain through the cold, snowy darkness of a November night. Ghostly voices push Jacob onward, while another spirit’s voice urges Destiny to fight back. Pain, hypothermia, and death threaten before the sun rises. Can Destiny and Jacob make it off Destiny’s Mountain…alive?


EXCERPT

Much later, Destiny reheated his coffee, returning the mug to him as he lay blissfully content on her bed. Her slim fingers wrapped his knee with the bandage while her silky lips kissed him from toe to thigh.

Watching her, Jacob sipped his coffee. Suddenly exhausted, he set the mug on her nightstand then relaxed back into her pillow. Even from there, her hair smelled sweet as it cascaded over her shoulders and between the lovely breasts visible inside her robe.

Destiny stood with her hands on her hips. “Your only mission today is to rest. I washed and dried your clothes. I’ll drive you home whenever you wish. I also called the police.”

Jacob’s body stiffened suddenly.

“Relax. I told them what happened in case you were missed and let them know your car is parked at the trailhead.”

“Thanks. I never thought to call them.”

“I didn’t know your license plate, and you didn’t tell me the color, but I suppose there aren’t too many Land Rovers around here.”

“It’s a bit ostentatious, but I used to take trips into the mountains and—”

“And?”

“Long story.” Why bring up painful memories now? He saw no need to dwell on things long dead, like his perfect life—before my accident.

“If you want, we can call a tow truck, but the police don’t plan to ticket you.” She bent over the bed and pulled the sheets and blanket up over his chest. When she ran her fingers down the long scar on his forearm, her gaze shot up and locked on his.

“How did this happen?” She turned off the radio, then sat beside him, still caressing the wound.

“I chased a robbery suspect across a rooftop. The surface had turned to glass due to a recent ice storm. I took a ride down the roof and landed in a scraggly stand of trees. The trees won.” He forced a smile.

She stared, wide-eyed.

He shrugged it off, downplaying the event. Still, when he glanced at her shadowed profile, he recognized her concern in the lowering of her eyelashes and her unusual silence. Reaching up, he pulled her into his arms and kissed her.

“Robbery suspect?”

“Guess I forgot to mention I used to be a cop. A lifetime ago,” he sighed.

“And now you’re a teacher? How? Why?”

“I had a bad accident while in a car chase and broke my leg. Crushed it pretty bad, actually.” Jacob rubbed his thigh through the covers, then tangled his fingers in the silken strands of her honey-gold hair. A foreign sense of peace washed over him.

“I thought I had fully healed, and then this happened.” He laid his head back against the headboard. Regret for the past cramped his stomach.

“Do you miss being a police officer?”

“I regret having been forced out. That fateful night spun into a turning point in my life. A very unhappy turning point.”

“Well, you’re definitely not the geek or stuffy teacher I expected you to be when I first saw you at the dining hall.”

“You’ve seen me before? How the hell did I ever miss you?”

Tell us about Nancy

Nancy grew up on New York’s Long Island then attended college in the beautiful mountains of New Hampshire. She worked during college in the dining hall while earning a degree in art education. She met her husband on campus and they raised a family in a nearby town. She volunteered as an EMT/firefighter on the Rumney fire department then worked for the State of New Hampshire as a 9-1-1 Emergency Medical Dispatcher. Retired from public service, Nancy now writes full time, lives in North Carolina, and is a member of Romance Writers of America, Heart of Carolina Romance Writers, Fantasy-Futuristic & Paranormal Romance Writers, Celtic Heart Romance Writers, and Sisters-in-Crime. She also writes paranormal romance, such as her recent release, DRAGON’S CURSE, as Nancy Lee Badger.

How can readers buy your book?

DESTINY’S MOUNTAIN releases today and is available for download from Red Rose Publishing. The buy link is: http://bit.ly/a4NOHE
Visit my website at: www.nancylennea.com
Visit my blog at: www.nancylennea-inlove.blogspot.com

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Of Gods and Capes


This column originally appeared Nov. 17, 2009 at Comic Book Resources.com.

Why do people worship a god? What sets a god apart from humans?

The answer seems fairly obvious but for some people it is a subtle distinction, even in our real world. But what about a world, a multiplex of universes, where hordes of beings run around with what we’d consider god-like power?

The DCU [DC Comics universe] contains heroes who can theoretically (if you twist physics on its ear) juggle planets with their pinkies. There are folks who effortlessly travel back and forth through time, who contain the power of entire suns within themselves, who can command reality to change in the blink of an eye.

Gods, right? Nope, they’re something called superheroes. Or supervillains, depending on where their personal moral boundaries lie.

But in the DCU and within the Wonder Woman mythos especially, there are also beings called “gods.” Wondie specializes in the Greek Olympian pantheon, but she’s also palled around with Egyptian, Roman, Norse, Indian, and Hawaiian gods. There’ve been strange folks as well who called themselves “New Gods.”

Perhaps the primary differentiation between gods and superheroes is the matter of worship. Oh sure, Wonder Woman has had a few worshippers, and I believe Superman has as well, but these were isolated incidents. You know, some people will worship anything and drink grape Kool-Aid to celebrate their high holidays.

But why shouldn’t people of the DCU worship their superfolk if they have the same powers as gods?


Gods make covenants with their worshippers. They’ll take care of them. They’ll give them riches or health or the perfect love. They’ll grant some form of eternal life. They’ll make their crops come in abundantly, and cause terrible storms to back off.

Gee, that’s sort of like what superheroes do, only they do it because it’s the right thing to do and not because they want to be worshipped.

Back before science had been conceived, people needed explanations for why life worked the way it did. Thus they created (or discovered) gods and worshipped them in order to make life better.

In the DCU’s Ancient Greece, apparently, people began to forget the gods, for the Olympians created a superior race (formed around used souls, sort of like a heavenly chop-shop) whose mission it would be to bring humans and their worship back to the gods. Thus we discover (1) that the gods need worship to power themselves, and (2) the origin of the Amazon race.

These Amazons were set in Greece to bring the metaphorical sheep back to the fold. Can’t you hear them now as they go door to door?

“Hail, brother Leonidas! Have you heard the Good Word about Gaea’s Way? Our head priestess has prepared a pamphlet we’d like to leave with you...”

Needless to say, the peaceful Amazons learned the art of defense quickly.

The Greeks attacked the Amazons in larger and larger numbers until by necessity they became experts in war. One god, Ares, actually set in motion the downfall of the nation that was supposed to have helped his family regain their power. The Amazons lost their way for a time but were allowed to return to their gods’ good graces if they guarded the world from terrible recurring threats coming through Doom’s Doorway.

Even with this loyal nation’s worship, the Olympian gods retreated for centuries (saving power?), only to emerge in these past few years within the DCU to counter Ares’ new plots for world domination. With the birth of Wonder Woman humanity once again knew the Olympian gods were alive and ready to be worshipped.

But now there were so many others with similar power: Superman and all his ilk, Martians, Daxamians, wizards of unimaginable might, scientists who could bottle the secrets of the universe.

Often gods have been seen to be as easy as a supervillain to vanquish. There have been rare exceptions that have raised a bit of a sweat on those involved. But should gods be on a par with superhumans? Shouldn’t they exist on an entire level above them, if not two or three? Shouldn’t there be a distinct difference between gods and capes?

(At left: Steve Ditko's version of Aphrodite and Athena. Not very imposing, are they? Construction paper hearts, bah!)

I would like to propose some definitions:

• Gods don't wear garish Spandex or sport colorful capes. Gods don’t need to attract attention by what they wear; they attract attention by what they are.

[After I posted this list on the CBR MBs Walter Simonson replied to this rule and "Do you hear me, New Gods?" comment with:

"They do hear you, Carol. But really, gods wear whatever they want to.

"Believe me...I know."

I believe that out of all the comics professionals in the world, he would indeed be the one to know.

(But in this instance he's wrong.) (Or at least he is on my web pages! Mine! Mine!)]

• Gods exist across dimensional lines. Aphrodite on Earth-1 (whatever it’s now called) = Aphrodite on Earth-2 and Earth-52. She is the same entity, though the flavor may vary slightly from dimension to dimension.

• Gods are aspects of nature and human interests and as such can change their appearance to suit the angle they're working on. Thus we can have both a helmet-wearing Athena and one who totes a Kindle. They just don’t do it wearing Spandex.

• Gods are rarely accessible. We will not see Amazons going up to Olympus every day for afternoon tea or Diana strolling with the god of her choice. Gods are called by extremely high ceremony and MAY mistily appear or not, or may only speak through an oracle.

• Usually when a god wants to make an appearance, they take on the form of a known human and speak to the person they want to. Then the god leaves and the person may spot the friend elsewhere whose form the god took, then realize that they must have been talking with a god. Lately Gail Simone has been having gods speaking through existing humans using fancy-fontted speech, which is also quite acceptable, if often difficult to read.

• Gods work behind the scenes. A sharp-eyed Amazon may see the ghostly image of Artemis when she looks at the moon, or perceive the presence of Hephaestus when working at the forge, inspiring her. Batman won’t see anything mystical because he’s not a believer. (This is the Field of Dreams concept at work and was utilized well in The Hiketeia.)

• If things are dire enough that a god has to make a personal appearance, the human greeting said god should have shoes off, knees on the ground, eyes averted, and speak humbly if they dare speak at all.

• Though a superbeing may create big things or lift big things or destroy them, only a god (besides being able to do the same) can imbue those objects with purpose. A godly weapon, for example, would be the same as any other weapon, but it has a particular purpose which thus gives it greater ability to accomplish such.
Subclause 1: Godly weapons are extremely rare and not at all as common as kryptonite or Starbucks.
Subclause 2: The person who wields a godly weapon must be extremely skilled and/or powerful enough to handle said weapon. One cannot just pick up a god-forged axe off a subway seat and conquer the world with it. Likely one would accidentally hack oneself to death with it instead. Perhaps the weapon would be programmed to harm those who dare touch it without being of high enough caliber.

• Gods have limits. Greater gods have fewer limits than lesser gods. These should be defined.

• Gods are much more emo than regular characters. They have shorter fuses as well. They do not believe in Dr. Phil. They will strike down their enemies quickly and harshly, though they may regret things after their enemies have died. Gods do not forgive well at all. This is why ceremonies to call them have to be so complex, to show the gods that their worshippers are 100% supportive of them and their inflexible egos. It is a small miracle that Diana has "talked down" some gods in her time.

• Gods are as immortal and as powerful as the concepts they represent. Worship also plays a percentage in powering them, but the state of that universal concept is the real power. Remember that gods exist across dimensional lines, so even though, say, Isis isn't widely popular on Earth-1, on Earth-17.5 she's the big kahuna, and so her power gets a good boost from that worship. Earth 46.88 doesn't have any war, so Ares doesn't get any boost from that corner. On Earth 3.14159 Ares was never worshipped but there's an awful lot of war so his presence is felt there and powered up across the multiverse.
Subclause: So you think there are only 52 universes? Just wait a while. DC’s lack of continuity assures us that there are at least a few more out there.

• Gods cannot travel through time in a non-normal manner. This would allow them to gain control of every situation, correct their mistakes, and change history. If a schlub like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day can manage to change himself, his future, and that of several other characters while dealing with one small day’s worth of time travel, imagine what even the most minor god could do if they could travel through time. Let’s leave this meddling to scientific human-types using time bubbles and whatnot. In fact, let’s say that gods cannot even utilize a device like a time bubble.

• One thing comics gods can NEVER do is create a soul. This is reserved for some consciousness far, far above their level. Gods can create stuff and animate it, but it won't contain true life. (That's not to say that a wandering soul couldn't possess that stuff...) Can the Source create souls? Perhaps, but DC’s Source (from Jack Kirby’s New Gods mythos) has always seemed namby-pamby to me, too low-level, mean and downright goofy to be taken seriously. OTOH, Gaea might begin to have the power to create a soul. Maybe.

• There are beings who call themselves New Gods. Their magic does not arise from eternal cosmic concepts, but rather from mega-advanced technology. People like Granny Goodness don’t have any personal powers that we’ve really seen, though she, like most of the New Gods, can utilize some of their tech. (They can press buttons.) A handful of them are very advanced but only Darkseid hovers on the brink of minor godhood. He’s not there yet, though he thinks he is.

So what’s your definition for how a god is distinctly different from a supercape? Or do you think there’s an advantage to the two concepts existing on the same level?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Strickly a Book Review


Amazon Ink
by Lori Devoti
Pocket Books Fantasy
4 spangles out of five (actually a 3.85, but I've rounded up)
Heat: No explicit sex. Violence level isn't gory, either.

First, thanks to Nancy Northcott, who offered the sequel of this volume to me, a series I'd been unaware of, thinking (for some odd reason :^D ) that a Wonder Wacko would be interested. I hate to come in on the middle of things and so started with Book 1 of the Amazons series.

It took some effort to get into this book. It wasn't because of the actual prose, which is tight with vivid description and snappy dialogue. The heroine, Melanippe (Mel), is one of those ├╝ber-grim urban fantasy types, harboring lots of resentment to the Amazon society she's left. You know the typical urban fantasy chick: they react with their more-than-human fists. Say hello, how are ya? and they punch your lights out. A guy asks if they want to go out for a cup of coffee, and they kick them where it'll hurt most. Anger, anger, anger. The anger, of course, leads these ladies to discovering that they hold even more power within themselves than they had imagined, so that in the end they can inflict more damage. There seems to be little deep brain activity in these femmes. Check out the current run of Wonder Woman to see an unfortunate variation on the type.

Wonder Woman is not an urban fantasy chick. Or at least when they try to make her such, she thus becomes not-Wonder Woman.

The use of the name "Melanippe" was a grabber for me. One of my favorite characters in the Plastic Age WW, despite her crying jags, was the oracle Menalippe, whose name obviously was misspelled from the classic Amazon. I liked seeing her proper name used here. Is that a strange reason?

Now Mel lives rather isolated, running a tattoo parlor in Madison, Wisconsin with her mother and grandmother (warrior and sorceress respectively) and is a sore disappointment to both. She also has a young daughter who barely shows up in the book, far less than she should to be such an important cast member. The daughter is a cypher to us and also to herself, as she doesn't know her Amazon heritage, which Mel has kept secret. (In this kind of environment and with the powers these people employ, how is that accomplished, exactly?)

The book is a murder mystery with serial killings. Mel is the prime suspect, both among the Amazons and the Madison police.

It takes quite some time to discover just what these Amazons are, how they might function (still largely unexplained by the end of the book, but we learn enough to figure out some of the relationships), and that various sets of powers/skills appear to the members of their all-female society. Everyone gets one set. Except a few, and that's where I continued to be confused. Mel, it seems. is one of those multiple-skills folks and she's growing in power in the sorcery department.

And yes, it is undefined sorcery, though there's an attempt in there to try to define it. I'll give the author points for that, but I still detest the use of undefined magick.

So the world-building is very vague for the first, oh, third of the book, and deep characterization is non-existent, so as I said, it makes it difficult to stay with the book. But at some point I began to wonder what would come next and how Mel would straighten out her various relationships. What came next proved interesting and kept me in the story. Unfortunately, Mel and her relationships are left as murky as Mel herself. She begins and ends a creature of resentment, anger and revenge, with motherly feelings toward her daughter (and another, whom you'll discover in the book), and (of course, per urban fantasy rules and the best thing about that sub-genre) two romantic possibilities. But this is not a romance at all, so don't go looking for that kind of thing here. (Even though Mel suddenly and for little if any reason goes all mushy any time she encounters a non-handicapped male. I found that disconcerting.)

So: started off not very interesting, but somewhere in there was interesting enough to read to the end. I'm semi-tempted to pick up the next volume to see if the emphasis on charting this Amazon culture stays the primary focus, or if the characters get some depth to them and learn to operate from something other than angry reaction.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Plein Air — FAIL!


It's been a rough week. I've been on vacation—good thing! Because everything's been happening! But today was a little... well, something-er than the other days this week. Not quite sure yet, but it may be a positive "something."

It began with me figuring out when to get up. Y'see, yesterday the doc diagnosed Bran-Bran with liver disease and sent us home with a mountain of meds. Obi's got kidney and intestine problems, and yesterday we discovered that both cats had yeast infections in their ears.

So I was trying to figure out when to get up because Bran needs to get a pill BEFORE breakfast, by at the very least 5 minutes, in case he decides to throw it back up. But Bran's used to having breakfast as soon as my feet hit the rug beside the bed. He was outside this morning (which has been his usual place to be up to about a month ago), and trotted in. I grabbed him at the door, shoved a large pill down his gullet, and he took it as if this were an ordinary occurrence. Mind you, my hands stink because of all the chlorine due to the well project.

Bran and Obi let me toodle around the house for a few minutes before serving them breakfast. Breakfast is now sprinkled with their herpes med. Since they didn't eat their special food (low protein for Obi; high protein for Bran) last night, I used regular food packets, added to Obi's low-protein kibbles. After breakfast Bran gets his antibiotic and another kind of antibiotic. Obi gets a quarter heart pill. Both get treats.

I'd (barely) finished my State Fair painting yesterday, including a late-night varnish, and this morning proceeded to frame it. Then I packed for a plein air excursion to Cary, the first I've been able to put on my schedule with a painting group, since they only do this on Tuesday and Friday mornings. Tough for those with full-time jobs to attend.

I jumped in the shower and jumped out soon after. The water is quite hard now, difficult to get anything to suds up. "Hard" also as in you have to scrub at it to make it flow off you. The chlorine smell isn't gangbusters any more, and the water's no longer dark brown (except on occasion), but there was a sudden, permeating smell that sucked the oxygen out of me. I had to keep sticking my head out of the shower to breathe, and finally cut the conditioner short so I could escape.

Mind you, I know the dangers of combining chlorine and ammonia, but that makes an odorless gas and I hadn't been using ammonia anywhere. My elderly aunt once cleaned her bathroom with chlorox and ammonia, and her daughter found her in time to drag her out into the open air with minimal lung damage.

Don't know what this was. I've been running the hot water in there a couple times today hoping that'll take care of it. (Windows are open; fabulous day!)

Jumped in the car (late!!!), grabbed some snacks for later, and followed Mapquest directions to Cary's Hemlock Bluff Nature Preserve. Mapquest of course was wrong, but they were close. I scouted the location for a good place to set up, leaving my equipment behind. There were two painters at the top of the trail down to "Swift Creek," which was where I wanted to paint. We introduced ourselves and I continued on to see the creek. With the tropical storm recently past us I expected burbling liveliness.

Instead what I found was a long puddle. And that was after about 3000 STEEP steps down, down, down. I could never get my equipment down there, and if by some miracle I did, I'd definitely never get it up the bluff again. So I returned to the painters, we had a lovely chat as they were working on some very nice paintings, and then I proceeded on to the State Fairgrounds.

One of the nicest things about entering the State Fair art contest is that so many people behind the tables will complement your work. As a painter who lives alone, I rarely get any comments, much less good ones, so this was great. One lady said she always loved my paintings. Gee! Almost bought a sausage dog from a vendor on the way out (they're feeding the set-up folks), but that splurge will have to wait until next week and the actual fair.

Instead I stopped off at Briar Creek on the way home and, tired of the usual fast food in my home parts, got a Mediterranean lunch that was quite good. Topped it off with an Orange Julius. Haven't had one of those in years. It was watered down but still good.

But before that as long as I was at the fairgrounds, I zipped down the road to the NC Museum of Art to see their new, expanded digs. They look like airplane hangars. And the parking lot that was near the main entrance? It's now auxiliary parking, and the old, long-walk parking lot is the way to go. I'll remember next time.

The old building is under renovation now, so I only saw the new place. It's quite different on the inside: high ceilings and lots of walls for paintings. I wish I had those kind of walls. There's a Rodin gallery that leads out to a Rodin garden, I guess, with a long lily pond, bamboo plantings, and a handful of statues. Man, Rodin liked big hands and feet! The people looked like large Hobbits. And there was one lady all twisted around that was clearly pornographic. No joke. She was holding one leg up very awkwardly with the sole purpose of showing off her privates. Sheesh!

After all that excitement I got home and tried to take a nap, but due to all the walking/climbing done today (Ha! Daily exercise completed with bonus points!), my newly-diagnosed pinched nerve was acting up and I didn't want to take a pain pill in case I go out this afternoon. Which I will.

Because I've got to get some bags of dirt and fertilizer to replace the dug-up bushes and such around the patio. The entire thing won't be done, but I do want what's out of the ground back in, and the pots o' plants I've had sitting during the drought, waiting for better days, planted. But the patio cleaned my accounts out. Heck, just the vet bills would have done a job on my last paycheck. Did I really need the dirt? Yes!

Just checked the bank balance. Waitaminnit. That's wrong. That shows I have money. Surprise! We must have gotten a stock disbursement today; the amount and account were right for that. Whew. Bills can now be paid. A few bags of dirt can be bought. Thank you, universe!

For dinner both cats got just their prescriptive dinners. Both turned up their noses. Obi's was sprinkled with generic Metamucil and both got the herpes sprinkle again. Later on Obi will need to get his subcutaneous fluids injected, both will get ear drops, Obi will have another quarter heart pill, and then there are snackies and, "Good boy!"

So that brings us to the weekend, in a place where I thought I'd be for last weekend. I'll be dealing with the plants and (hopefully) finishing up a portrait. I was thinking about getting some plein air painting in tomorrow, but will see how work progresses and try to hit that Sunday morning. We're having beautiful, sunny weather and there is a little bit of color in the trees. It'd be a sin to waste that, even if I am lagging behind.

Today's plein air attempt may have been a bust, but it gave me a great idea about how to handle the remaining walkways in my yard. The nature preserve lined their walkways with 4x4s and filled in with bark mulch. I can do that, and it will cost less than 10% of what concrete would. Plus it'll be much more eco-friendly.

So what started off as a frantic, disappointing day has turned into an interesting adventure with some nice photos from my nature walk. It's been quite different from a normal day, and I even wind up in the black! Can't beat that.

Whoops, I forgot to give Bran his Clavamox. It's got to be given when he eats. If he turned up his nose at his prescription dinner, does that count? I'd give him some treats to fill his tummy, but am saving those for after the ear drops tonight. Decisions, decisions! (Later note: he threw up the Clavamox immediately.)

Ever have one of those days?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Ca-CHIIINGGG!! (ouch!)



I've tried all kinds of ways to control the weeds in my backyard, which is also my septic field. I've had bulldozers come through twice, but the weeds eventually prevailed. Closer to the house, I once had a crew who swore they could smooth out the terrain, make matters so bad I couldn't even DREAM of getting a lawn mower through. So the weeds grew. And grew.

Finally I decided the time was right to go for that back patio. I mean, just get an estimate. A friend at work, who had previously recommended some real idiots (and who eventually admitted that the guys were idiots when they did a second job for her) recommended a guy from her church who built in-ground swimming pools professionally. As a sideline he did other concrete work, like patios.



So last winter he came over to give me an estimate. I knew the costs would be astronomical, but I just wanted to know what neighborhood such a project would be in. I used landscape paint to outline my dream patio. Surprisingly, he estimated a price I could come up with by spring if I scrimped! Wow!

Spring came and he came back to confirm. His price doubled. If this hadn't been a recommended guy, I would have waved bye-bye to him. I explained there was no way I could afford the patio now, but by fall I could. He tried to pressure me into doing it right then, another danger signal. Sorry. Please call back in the Fall.

On the way home, he stopped and phoned me. If I could give him a sizable deposit now, he'd freeze the price, no matter how the cost of concrete might skyrocket. Against my better judgment—I mean, what was I thinking?—I accepted. And his price was now $500 more than it had been a half-hour before.

No, no, no, this isn't the way to deal with contractors! But still, the winter price had been astoundingly low. This was probably reasonable. I tried not to beat myself up too much about it. And I cancelled all plans to go to RWA Nationals or on a vacation I'd had my eye on for a couple years. This would clean out ye savings pretty well. (Don't tell Suze Orman!)

The project was scheduled for last week. A medium-sized crew arrived to begin making forms. Apparently there'd be no digging down; the concrete would rest on the ground as is. But then Tropical Storm Nicole came through with about five inches of rain. The ground was too soggy for concrete.

Yesterday a full crew arrived before dawn. It was a vacation week for me, but I couldn't sleep in. The truck carried three loads all in all (24 cubic yards), and everything got poured. After a while the crew pulled most of the forms off and then applied a broom finish.

Today work began at about 9 (while the cats and I were at the vet$). There was cleanup work to be done, expansion joints to be sawn, hosing-off of the surfaces, and more flowers to be trampled.


Oh, did I mention the trampling? The crew's original way to get into the back yard was deemed too soggy to travel, so they came in through the side flower garden via path and plantings. My trellis had to be dismantled (bye bye clematis) and moved.

Then the low, decorative cement block walls in the back came apart, to be tossed into my iris beds. Brick edging was tossed willy-nilly. Bye-bye, rose bushes and daylilies. Don't know how or why they got back into the baby hydrangeas I'd been nursing through the drought, but they did. At least I'd moved a few azaleas that were in their original route's way, so those survived. I will give them points for digging up my favorite azalea and moving it, but they tried hard to mutilate the lovely rhododendron next to it.

But the patio's done now. Our contractor, a very friendly guy, happened to hear about a problem with my bathtub drain and fixed it (it was much more difficult than he'd thought) (he's licensed for plumbing), and when I asked him to reiterate the steps in how to chlorinate a well because I was going to do that the next day, he gleefully dumped the supershock into my well, though I wasn't prepared in the least for immediate chlorination (no drinking water! No washing water! Luckily, I'd done laundry the night before, or I'd be out of clothes). I'd planned on doing some scrubby house-cleaning, which was now out. And I ran back to stop the guy hosing down the concrete next to the fish pond. Chlorine and fishies don't mix.


(The bench above overlooks my small pond, which the contractor is keen to do a waterfall for next year.)

Everything concrete-wise looks great. Oh, I'll need to hire a crew to come in and help raise the ground level to be flush with the cement (more ca-ching), which will be difficult because THE JOB TOOK $400 MORE THAN HE SAID IT WOULD and he never asked when the time came to go over the total we'd agreed on. (He didn't charge for the drain and chlorination, which would have cost about $400, though I'd planned on doing the chlorination myself. Oh well.) There's a low spot on the patio around the pergola column on the left in the bottom pictures. He told me how he'd had to... well, something, which meant that spot would be low. He says he calls such "birdbaths." I can't do anything about it, but will try to remember that a small "birdbath" is better than the large pond-bog I usually got in that spot pre-concrete.

I'll pray that the rose that is snapped in half will grow back, and I'll see what I can do to try to save the other flowers. Hoping that many will just come back next year, since it's so late in the year now that they might as well have been hit by frost.

I'll try to make it to the next payday without bouncing anything. MasterCard is going to love me. It will take some time, but I'll get back on my financial feet and dive in again with more yard and house projects. Next: fix that big hole in the living room wall where the built-in analog TV used to be. I really should get some nice-looking furniture for the patio. And after that...



I can't be the only person here who works on home projects. What have you done lately around your house? What are you planning to do?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Sturgeon's Law

"90% of everything is crap."

Unfortunately, that seems to hold true for the books I've picked up lately. Last night I finished a regency I'd bought because someone had recommended it as including a fascinating (and rare) look at work prisons. I'd never read a regency that included such, and was disappointed in this that the glimpse was a brief one, only a couple pages, and did not contribute to the plot.

Okay, I thought, so it might turn out to be a nice regency. But it wasn't. Oh, I made it through the book, but I did so because the writer—who seemed to be able to produce decent prose—had to resolve her situations and I wondered how she'd do that. I was wrong. Oh, things were resolved. In a wishy-washy fashion.

First of all, we were given a heroine who had zero self-esteem. That's okay; the heroine in my books, Touch of Danger and the upcoming Star-Crossed, also suffers from that problem. But she gets over it. She learns and grows. This heroine took a step forward every so often, but quickly moved backward into her misery.

The hero had zero respect for the heroine. Oh, he'd loved her since she was a child. Yet he'd let her take four Seasons and hadn't offered for her. He'd have been content to take the chance of someone else proposing to her? He liked knowing she wouldn't accept anyone because she loved him, and it was fine how she was thus depressed and beginning to be scorned as a spinster? How odd and illogical. It's only when her dowry becomes so great that he decides that yes, he could stand to have her as his wife. Even though, remember, he's loved her since she was a child.

The heroine has also loved him, and apparently that's enough to put up with his emotional bullying and disrespect. The two don't communicate so everything goes unresolved until near the end. Things get worse and worse, our heroine falls far backward into the throes of terrible self-esteem and depression, our hero gets more controlling and demanding, and the solution is found when a high-born mucky-muck deigns to treat them as if they hadn't become the scandals of society that they made themselves.

Uh... what?

I think that editors shouldn't encourage writers to make their characters so unlikeable. Or if they do, they should insist that the characters GROW during a story (anyone heard of "character arcs"?), and become better people, happier people, because of their efforts to improve themselves. (We're talking romance here, which always has a HEA.)

To make things worse in this book there are three very explicit (and too-long) sex scenes. It seems every romance has to have these, no matter how badly they fit the pacing, no matter how mechanically things are presented, no matter that they have little place (as written) in the book they inhabit.

I'm not against sex scenes. I'm not even against explicit sex scenes. But they, like any other scene, must have a purpose in the book. They must move the plot forward. Otherwise it's merely cheap porn. (And I have nothing against good porn.)

So 90% of everything is crap. This makes finding a good book, or even discovering that rare great book, so exhilarating. In the meantime, I encourage authors to make their books the best they can. I encourage editors to help their authors improve their craft and the stories they tell.

Questions: What situations do you hate to find in books? What do you rejoice in seeing? What makes a book a keeper?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Go go go, NaNoWriMo!



I made a schedule for blogging and then completely disregarded it as life sped up. At the very least I'd hoped to space some of my Star-Spangled Panties reprints so people knew I wasn't completely obsessed with Wonder Woman.

Oops.

NaNoWriMo (aka "Nanoo Nanoo") is National Novel Writing Month and occurs each November. I've never taken part. I mean, their idea of novel-length is shorter than mine is, and I just can't write a full novel in one month unless I were to lose my job. (Knock on wood that doesn't happen... unless the lottery comes through.) But I can treat it like I do "Book in a Week," in which the theory is that you knock out a first draft of a novel in a week (as unlikely as doing it in a month), but in which most people just set aside everything else so they can concentrate on their writing for a week. I can do that. I think.

Why? I've got novels that need serious rewriting I should be working on instead. My wip's second draft isn't finished. But I'll use NaNo as an excuse to fill my creative banks and get rid of some serious negative energy that the current run of Wonder Woman (and previous runs) has cast over me.

Y'see, I want to write a Wonder Woman novel.

No, it's not going to be fanfic. And I realize the probabilities of getting it published are extremely slender. (Though rumors of a movie and, in the past week, of an upcoming TV series, are rampant, and so the timing would be right.) This will be structured and thought through like I would a real novel bound for a bookstore. No, Jean-Luc Picard will not be making a guest appearance. No, there will be no slash with Superman. Or Io.

I'm having fun mulling this over in background mode during my days. How will I present Wondie? Not like I think Wondie should be in on Earth-Strickland, but rather as an amalgam of her best eras, the way she should be in her comics. She'll have the energy of the Golden Age, something we haven't seen in the book since, well, the Golden Age. She'll be mid-powered—perhaps Silver Age or Golden Age level. (Which fluctuated greatly, but I'll have it defined.) There'll be touches of Bronze Age and Plastic Age, and perhaps even a dab of Dark Age, if I can find anything worth preserving from that.

This week is vacation. Painting is my priority, as well as using evenings to make sure that second draft is completed by November so it can rest in a digital drawer and "rise" like bread dough, to be brought out in December for a fresh look. Each day this week I hope to decide on another basic element of my Nano novel.

So far I know that my protagonist is Diana of Themyscira, aka Wonder Woman. Our secondary plot will be headed by Diana's younger sister, Donna Troy, aka Troy. Angle Man's going to be a villain who gets a chance at reformation, but he's not going to be the Big Bad, as I've never been able to take AM all that seriously. Mike Schorr or Micah Rains—I can never recall which was which—will show up as a major supporting character with the possibility of love interest somewhere along the line, possibly the very end. This will not be a romance.

Haven't figured my plot yet. I'm reading a "20 Basic Plots" book that's giving me a different view on starting points. First, though, I'm starting with the Enneagram to figure out Diana and Donna's basic personality, what lessons they both need to learn, and what their weaknesses in character might be. Fun! At this pre-study point I think Diana is an 8: Protector, and Donna is a 2: Giver. I'll report back on this later, but do you have any ideas?

I'm also saving up scene ideas. When I read a Gail Simone WW story, I get the impression that she came up with "spectacle panel" ideas and then had to figure out how to string 'em together. Often the stringing didn't work well. But having the image in mind for a particular splashy turning point is a good idea, I think. And watching part of that Jackie Chan movie yesterday reminded me that Wonder Woman should fight not like Batman, not like Lady Shiva or Super Gladiator (though she should be able to function occasionally in those roles), but like Jackie Chan. It fits her ebullient, Golden Age ambiance best, and would also make her more unique in the superhero community. It would also provide for lively, fun action—no need for bloody swords!

Wonder Woman should be unique in her world. I think that's why writers have such a difficult time with her because so many of them are trying to squeeze her into a traditional superhero mold that she just doesn't fit. Look at the best WW writers: Marston, Sekowsky, Perez, Messner-Loebs, Simone. When they wrote their most memorable WW stories, they showed her outside the bounds of ordinary superheroing.

Well, I'm going to try that. And I'm going to have a ton of fun doing it. Wish me luck, and any out-of-the-box suggestions you might have, feel free to make them!