Award-winning author
Unusual times, remarkable places

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

31 March 2009

Literary Maven Meme

I came across this meme on Julianne Douglas’s Writing the Renaissance blog and found it thought provoking. She didn’t tag anyone, but invited her readers to try it, so I did.

1. What author do you own the most books by?
Because most of my books were destroyed when the federal levees around New Orleans broke, the books I have now are not representative of what I had collected over the years. The author with the most books on my shelves now is historical romance author Lynna Banning, followed by historical romance author Jennifer Blake.

2. What book do you own the most copies of?
The Bible. And I’m an agnostic. Go figure.

3. Did it bother you that both those questions ended with a preposition?
No. As a copyeditor, I believe ending a sentence with a preposition or other weak word is better than writing a convoluted, unnatural sentence.

4. What fictional character are you secretly in love with?
It wouldn’t be a secret if I told you.

5. What book have you read the most times in your life (excluding children's picture books)?
Jane Eyre

6. What was your favorite book when you were ten years old?
Jane Eyre

7. What is the worst book you've read in the past year?
Dawn of Empire by Sam Barone. Many factors contributed to the beginning of civilization in ancient Mesopotamia, and Mr. B. ignored them all except the need to band together for protection from enemies. This is a wish-fulfillment book for guys about guys.

8. What is the best book you've read in the last year?
I’ve read a lot of great books in the past year, and many were by friends, so I’ll abstain so as not to hurt anyone's feelings.

9. If you could force everyone to read one book, what would it be?
I’d love it if everyone read a good romance novel and a good science fiction or fantasy novel so that I no longer wear down my teeth clenching my jaw when people make fun of genre books and the people who read them.

10. Who deserves to win the next Nobel Prize for literature?
I don’t read much literary fiction, so I’ll pass on this one.

11. What book would you most like to see made into a movie?
The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay

12. What book would you least like to see made into a movie?
The Lost Duke of Wyndham by Julia Quinn. I doubt any movie could do this fun book justice, and the dialog is so delicious that many scenes need to be read several times before moving forward.

13. Describe your weirdest dream involving a writer, book, or literary character.
When I was in college, I usually spent Thanksgiving with my uncle and his family. He liked to read suspense novels, and I always read books from his library when visiting. One morning when I woke up in a strange bed in a strange room, for perhaps thirty seconds I believed I was the hero of the spy novel I had been reading the evening before.

14. What is the most lowbrow book you read as an adult?
Before the Flood, I had a fantasy book. Its tone changed from section to section, it had an gratuitous torture scene, and the plot was stupid and unoriginal, yet I I loved it for no reason I can put a finger on. I can’t remember its name.

15. What is the most difficult book you've ever read?
The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides. I struggled long and hard through that book—in English—for an undergraduate class, and when I finished, I had no idea who won the war.

16. What is the most obscure Shakespeare play you've ever seen?
Once in Chicago I saw a Kabuki version of “MacBeth.”

17. Do you prefer the French or the Russians?
the French

18. Roth or Updike?
I don’t care for Roth, but haven’t read Updike.

19. David Sedaris or Dave Eggers?
I like David Sedaris, but haven’t read Dave Eggers.

20. Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer?
Hard one. I’ll say Milton only because he’s the easiest read for the modern reader, although Chaucer and Shakespeare both have had more influence on me as a writer.

21. Austin or Eliot?
I am ashamed to admit I have read neither, although both Emma and Persuasion are sitting on my to-read pile.

22. What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?
Acoustics and the physics of sound. A musician should understand these things, but I don’t.

23. What is your favorite novel?
Jane Eyre

24. Favorite play?
“Judith” by a 20th-century German playwright (again, the Flood destroyed my copy, so I don’t know who the author is. Do you?). I hated the play when I read it in 1975 or 1976, but it has stayed with me since and strongly influenced my depiction of my heroine in my forthcoming book, Like Mayflies in a Stream.

My second favorite is “Warp,” a wacky three-part so-called "science fiction epic-adventure" put on by the Organic Theater Company in Chicago. (At right, the good guy [left] fights his evil twin brother.)

25. Favorite poem?
“The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes White

26. Favorite Essay?
I'm generally not a fan of the essay.

27. Favorite short story?
""Gwilan's Harp" by Ursula Le Guin. When I read it for the first time in 1977 in Redbook, I really disliked it for what I saw as its lack of hope. With more maturity, I realized its message was the epitome of hope: No matter how much you lose, there’s always something worth living for. I’ve read it several times since for inspiration when life was bleak or meaningless.

28. Favorite work of nonfiction?
A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century by Barbara Tuchman

29. Favorite writers?
Barbara Hambly, Ursula Le Guin, Guy Gavriel Kay, Brandon Sanderson, you, and my other writing friends

30. Who is the most overrated writer alive today?
We’ll know in a hundred years or so.

31. What is your desert island book?
The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay

32. What are you reading now?
I usually have several books going at once, and now is no exception. I’m reading The Reincarnationist by M.J. Rose on my Kindle when I’m away from home, The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie while on the elliptical machine, and The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson before bed.

I invite my blog readers to do this meme as well.

25 March 2009

Eager for summer

Madeleine Robins writes delightful novels about a sword-wielding female private investigator in Regency England. She’s a graduate of the Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ Workshop.

Robert Crais also writes about private eyes, but his stalk the seamy back alleys of modern-day Los Angeles. He, too, is a graduate of Clarion.

Most Clarion graduates write the expected science fiction or fantasy: Tobias Buckell, Octavia Butler, Ted Chiang, Cory Doctorow, Gregory Frost, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Nalo Hopkinson, Vonda McIntyre, Tim Pratt, Kim Stanley Robinson, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Lucius Shepard, and New Orlean’s George Alec Effinger (now deceased), among others.

Soon, I’ll be among their exalted company: I’ve been accepted to Clarion for 2009. I and seventeen other equally thrilled and trepidatious new Clarionites will attend the grueling writing bootcamp for six weeks this summer, starting in late June.

Every week, each Clarion student will write a short story and critique everyone else’s story. Each also will have one-on-one time with the instructors, who this year are Holly Black, Larissa Lai, Robert Crais, Kim Stanley Robinson, Elizabeth Hand, and Paul Park. I’m not familiar with most of their work, so I’ll be busy reading to prepare.

I’ll return home in early August, shell-shocked and ready to share what I’ve learned on this blog.

Any extra sleep you can donate would be much appreciated.


Other good news

Candace Proctor, a fellow SOLA member and an occasional visitor to this blog, is a finalist in the Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA contest. Her historical mystery novel Where Serpents Sleep (written as C.S. Harris) finaled in the Novel with Strong Romantic Elements category. Winners will be announced in July at the RWA annual meeting. Please join me in congratulating Candace.

Therese Fowler, who was interviewed on this blog a year ago, has a new book out this week, Reunion. Her first book, Souvenir, came out in paperback last month.

18 March 2009

Fabulous Blog award

Barbara Martin nominated me for the "Your Blog is Fabulous" award. Thank you, Barbara! I'm glad you've enjoyed my postings.

Part of accepting the award is to point out five things I am obsessed with and cannot live without. I'm also supposed to nominate five other fabulous blogs for the award.

My five obsessions are:

1. Dark chocolate. Truly the food of the gods. My current favorite is Ghiradelli nonpareils.

2. Books. I've been an obsessive reader since I was a child. I love not just the stories in them but the smell of the ink and paper and the feel of the cover. My favorite genres are fantasy, science fiction, mystery, historical fiction, history, and biography.

3. Herbs. One of the first things I do when I move to a new house is to put in an herb garden. I enjoy choosing and using fresh herbs when I cook.

4. Cats. I am currently without one for one of the few times in my life.

5. Creating. Some writers are driven to write. I'm driven to create. Other than writing, my main creative outlets are playing music, cooking, and quilting, but I've toyed with all kinds of crafts.

It's hard to choose only five people from among the many wonderful blogs I read. My choices are five that in the past year have expanded my reading horizons or helped me be a better writer.

Lisa Kenney of Eudaemonia

Charles Gramlich of Razored Zen

Julianne Douglas of Writing the Renaissance

Steve Malley of Full Throttle or F**k It

Carleen Brice of White Readers Meet Black Authors

10 March 2009

Necessity, mother of invention

Despite having almost no natural resources, the land between the Tigris and Euphrates (Mesopotamia) was home to the world’s first civilization. The people who settled there made creative use of their meager resources—reeds, rushes, clay, palm trees.

Although most of Mesopotamia was desert, reeds—a general term for any tall, grasslike plant that grows in wet places—grew abundantly along the rivers and canals. The ancient Mesopotamians used reeds to:

•weave mats

•make styluses to write with

•drink beer out of large jars, thus avoiding the sediment at the bottom

•make flutes

•make baskets

•probably make furniture

•burn for fuel

•build boats, some with reed structures on them (see seal impressions)

•build houses (with reeds bound together serving as structural supports, bent reeds forming the curved roof, woven reeds serving as walls and "carpeting," and perhaps a clay "skin" for insulation)

A comparison of ancient carvings of reed houses with modern reed houses suggests reed houses in Mesopotamia have changed little in thousands of years. The Ma'dān (“Marsh Arabs”) of Southern Iraq and some others who live in marshy areas still make reed mats, furniture, and buildings. The picture at left shows a particularly elegant reed house, apparently wired for electricity given the light fixture on the right side.


Carleen Brice is running a poll at her White Readers Read Black Authors blog. She invites you to stop by and cast a vote for whether you think bookstores should have a separate section for African-American fiction.

04 March 2009

Coming up for air

I finished a second draft of my historical novel, Like Mayflies in a Stream, last night . . . well, technically, this morning. It still needs work before I turn it in on the 15th, but I’m excited to have finished this revision and happy with how the book is shaping up.

I did part of my research before and while I wrote, and I’ll do the rest over the next week or so in an orgy of reading and Internet searching. That may sound backwards, but researching after the the first draft is done has advantages. Because I know exactly what it is in the novel, as I read background materials any mistakes I made jump out. So do possible cool details to add. Also, it’s not until the novel is close to finished that I know what topics I need to research to write it.

For example, a week ago I didn’t even know what commodity cash is and yesterday I rewrote all the financial transactions in Mayflies to make the economy more historically accurate.

The research I’ve already done has been so fascinating that I hope to write another book set in ancient Mesopotamia. It’s startling how much of our culture is rooted in that time and place. The 360 degrees of a circle and the 24-hour day, for starters.

Interspersed among my usual author interviews, editing tips, and pictures of stuff in my yard, my blog will start including more about my research—not just cool facts about guys who wore sheep-fleece skirts with tails but also the quagmires of writing about a time period where most of the evidence has washed away, been stolen, is still buried, or is hard to interpret.

When you do background research for your books, how much do you do ahead of time, while you're writing, and after you've finished the first draft?