Wednesday, February 28, 2007

I made It!

I have returned from the library visit, completely intact. Even my ego is doing pretty good. The visit went well, I think, and if the kids were not riveted to their seats (the floor)--at least none were visibly snoring, or pinching the kid next to them, or otherwise acting up. Writing is pretty isolating, so it's cool to actually come face to face with your audience--and a bit daunting, too. But the kids were all attentive and respectful, and asked some pretty good questions. So, a success!

It's funny to think that you can drive forty miles from where you live and still be in the same city. It doesn't look like the same city, or feel like the same city, but the same city nonetheless. Living as I do on the north side of Porkopolis, I don't often have the chance to go towards southward, and it does seem to be true that Chicago is divided into two by an invisible Maginot Line. It's interesting to cross that line and see what's on the other side--a whole lot more of Chicago!

And I had a chocolate phosphate at Lindy's Chilie and Gertie's Ice Cream! That alone would have made the day worth it.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Guilty as Charged!

Boy, have they got my ticket!

(In all fairness, I should point out that I got the link to this site from Gwenda!)

Out of the Office!

I'm trying to get ready for a library visit tomorrow--so I got no time to be entertaining today, alas.

But check out Gwenda, Ellen, Jeff, Dave, and Sieur Crowley.

They always have interesting things to say.

If my library visit doesn't turn into The Lord of the Flies, and I don't get eaten alive--I'll be back on Thursday! (I'd probably better take Pig, just in case.)


Monday, February 26, 2007

Pup Tarts!

Not enough cute in your life?

There is now.

Fashionable vs. Chic

This Sunday's New York Times Magazine Style Supplement has a great article about, as author Zarah Crawford put it: Eccentric Ladyland. To wit--what makes makes a woman truly chic as opposed to merely fashionable?

Madama Crawford dismisses such style icons as Grace Kelly & Audrey Hepburn in favor of furiously chic ladies like Dame Edith Sitwell, Marchesa Luisa Casati, Elsie de Wolfe and--Mary-Kate Olsen. The former ladies were merely well dressed. But the latter ladies' "willingness to make complete and utter spectacles of themselves stands as a victory for female self-expression in the face of social expectation."

I'll have some of that, please.

None of these ladies citied were conventionally beautiful, at least not by the standards of their time. Mary-Kate Olsen is way too thin, even by pro-ana fashion standards. Edith Sitwell looked more like an Renaissance arch bishop than an It Girl. Marquesa Casati was a cat-like gothic queen in an era of ruddy cheeked Gibson Girls. Elsie De Wolfe was what is sometimes charitably described as "mannish." But instead of going to fashion, these ladies made fashion come to them. They dressed to please themselves with verve and wit, with blue hair and red lip rouge, and oriental robes. They dressed to shock and horrify, with blood-stained arms, and coal scuttle hats, and dead pigeon pendants.

Now perhaps the bloodstained arms and the dead pigeon necklaces are a bit much, but the meaning is clear. Madama Crawford points out what Udo and the Dainty Pirate already know, and what Flora is beginning to learn: clothes are merely a costume, a disguise, a way in which to outwardly manifest your inner creativity. So how can a Ranger not care about what she wears?

My favorite quote from the article, via fashion historian Meredith Etherington-Smith:

"...Outsider women have such a locomotive force on the development of fashion because they seek to express their own inner reality regardless of how the world regards their outer."

True chicness lies in being comfortable with yourself and how you look, and playing up the advantages you have, not agonizing over those you might be lacking. True chicness requires daring and trust in yourself, and an impenetrability to the opinions of others.

As Dame Edith said: "If one is a greyhound, why try to look like a Pekingese?"

Words to dress by. I think I'm going to go order that tricorn I've been coveting now.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Query from Me to Thee!

I've noticed that most other blogs have a lot of images on them. I've resisted the urge to drop graphics into my blog posts, partially because it's a hassle and partially because I'm a word gal and I like to paint pictures with language.

But I'm wondering if it might be good to have some images here and there. After all the original National Police Gazette was illustrated. People like pictures, no?

So, I ask you--would you like the CPG better if it had pictures in it? I'm not going to promise I'll follow your advice exactly but I'll consider it seriously!

Book Plates!

Thursday's Wall Street Journal had an interesting editorial about the bookplate. (You gotta subscribe to the WSJ Online so no linking.) Back in the Day, if you had a nice library of books, you had to have a nice book plate in the front of each book, marking it as yours. Back in the Dawn, when books were still rare, your bookplate might indicate ownership and warn off thieves. Later it just served as a mark of pride in ownership and also gently reminded borrowers that the book was merely on loan.

An off-the-rack bookplate, with your name written on, could serve, but if you were really important or really loved your books then you'd get something personalized. The American Society of Bookplate Designers and Collectors has some cool examples of personalized bookplates, including George Washington, Charles de Gaulle and Harpo Marx. Famous artists who also did bookplates include Aubrey Beardsley and Paul Revere. Contemporary artists such as Sergey Hrapov and Martin Baeyens have brought the bookplate into the 21st century.

Probably the most famous bookplate manufacturer in this country was Antioch Bookplate Co., which was founded in the 1920s by Ernest Morgan as an off-shoot of the Antioch College work-study program. Rockwell Kent made several of the company's most successful bookplates and Robert Whitmore created a design that I have come across several times in my years of old book buying: an Arts and Crafts style tree with a book perched in its branches.

I had no idea that the company survives today as Antioch Publishing and that they still sell book plates! Of course, many other places do, as well.

Including soon me, too! As soon as I can get to it (read: hopefully this week), I'm planning on doing a Fyrdraaca House book plate which will be available gratis, signed by moi, to anyone who would like to slap one onto the front of Flora Segunda. I've been meaning to do this for ages, and have already promised a few, but my recent time crunch has kept my wellmeaningness from translating into action. But now I'm spurred to get the deed done. I'll let you know when I do.

Flora Cover Art!

Owen Richardson, the very talented artist who did the cover art for the US edition of Flora Segunda, has just posted images of the cover-in-progress.

I didn't see the artwork until the cover was done, so I the first two treatments are new to me. I have to admit that I really like Flora Sketch 4. She looks so furious--typically Flora--and very active. And while I think the in the final version of the cover the blue looks marvelously bright and vivid, blue is a color I always associate with Bilskinir, so I would have been just happy with the green wash, I think. (The Fyrdraaca family colors are purple and yellow.)

I have never met Sieur Richardson, but clearly just from his art alone, I can tell he's a super cool gentleman. And according to his bio, he named one of his daughters Ozma. How cool is that? Very cool indeed.

But--if you are still reading the CPG, Sieur Richardson--as I commented on your blog: do tell about Flora's hair! I am dying to know if it gave you as much trouble as it gives Flora.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

I'm Kicking in my New Kicks!

Don't you just love shoes? Yay, yah, it's a female stereotype--girls just love shoes. But why shouldn't the super fantastic girl love shoes? They come in so many cute colors and styles, and if they don't fit--it's the shoe's fault, not yours!

Flora may well be somewhat disparaging about the importance of fashion, but Udo and I agree that while clothes may not make the person, they certainly do help define him/her! And nice shoes are the very foundation of a stylish look.

So, after a heady day of shopping in trendy trendy Bucktown, I am now Little Miss New Shoes, twice-over. Bucktown is where my favorite clothing store in Chicago is located: Robin Richman. Madama Richman is a designer after mine own inner Nini Mo heart--she designs her own line of knit-wear, and stocks many avantgarde European clothing lines--how avantgarde? Well, the lovely young saleslady described one designer's spring line as "clothing from a Victorian insane asylum!"

As though someone read my mind!

Anyway, along with these lovely garments, Madama Richman also stocks leather goods, eclectically strange jewelry made from salvaged Victorian buttons, ribbands and bones, and gothick house goods such as black plates embossed with skulls, and candles scented a la an Opium Den. (These are high class expensive gothick goods, more Momento Mori than Hot Topic.) If I had to describe her overall aesthetic, I would call it Futuristic Neo-Victorian Shaman. In other words, lovely.

(And I fear that my paltry words are not doing justice at all to this wonderful store. If you are at all anywhere near Chicago, please do check it out, even if you are not in the mood to buy, you will see some truly fascinating gorgeous fashion.)

Anyway. Shoes. Madama Richman's boutique also stocks Chie Mihara shoes. Chie Mihara is a Brazilian designer who currently lives in Spain. Her shoes are all somewhat retro, yet at the same time oddly futuristic. They look girlie without being cute, and, best of all, they are highly wearable. They are hand-made to be very comfortable and they almost always have tolerable heel heights. While I have to admit that I love the foot-binding (for all intents & purposes) look of 3 inch heels, I can't wear them to save my life. Chie Mihara's heel heights allow you to look super cute, and yet still walk.

So, I picked up a pair of Chie Mihara Over pumps. I couldn't find a link for these, but think of a low heeled court shoe (pump) that laces across the instep. The shoe came with black laces, but I'm sure I'll replace them with pink ribband. (And that way if I need to administer the Pink Ribband, I'll be prepared!) They are very sweet, yet also tough.

I was also lucky enough to get the very last pair of the Truman boots in Emerald Green on a super fanastic sale. Even Flora, I think, would have to admit these boots are pretty fine. (And so 1870s--I swear I saw an identical pair in purple in the Smithsonian some years ago.) Normally I don't go into knee high boots that lace--too easy to cross from super cute to witchy, and normally I only buy in black, but these boots were clearly the exception that proves the rule.

All together, a kicking day!

More Lymond!

Madama Kushner has found another Lymond Quiz! (How many Lymond Quizes does the world need anyway?) This one calculates which volume of the Lymond Chronicles you might be.

I might be The Disorderly Knights. Which fits in perfectly with my desire to have the face of an angel and the soul of the devil. (Well--maybe not in practice, but in theory it does sound fun--Gabriel certainly seemed to be enjoying himself.) TDK, one will recall, is the volume where Lymond crosses wit with his arch enemy Graham Reid Mallet, aka Gabriel, a member of the Knights of Malta, admit much disorderly hijinks . I am satisfied to be TDK, tho' my favorite volume is the one which follows: Pawn in Frankencensce, because my favorite scene in the entire series in antes the Chess Game. (I shall say no more so as not to fall into the Spoiler Trap myself!)

And speaking of quizzes, these originated in Quizilla, which allows you to create your own entertaining standardized tests, no timer or number two pencil required.


How is it that my whole entire life, I had never come across this song before?

How true doth ring every line; how perfectly Deteriorata describes my philosophy, my cynical world-view, and (most) everything that I hold dear. A manifesto for my ages and I'd never even heard of it until tonight!

Although, I'm not sure that Bothwell would agree that he is finally getting enough cheese.


Ellen Kushner has discovered a very clever Which Lymond Character Are You? Quiz and I just had to snag the link, and then snarf the test.

I was Lymond, alas. Of course, it's probably better to be Lymond than to have to live with Lymond, but on the whole, I think I'd rather be Gabriel. Clearly a great deal of strain is involved in being Lymond and living up to the reputation, whereas how much more fun to play at being angelically good while actually being angelically evil?

There's also a Have You the Brain Worms: Which Invader Zim Character Are You? Quiz.

Unsurprisingly, I was Gir. What can I say--I miss my cupcake, too. And I already know I have the brain worms.

How did you make out?

Friday, February 23, 2007

Friday Afternoon Meltdown!

  • You have the right to be laugh until you bust a gut: Reno 911: Miami opens today. My second favorite cop show ever...
  • Deus ex Machinima : Bill and John's Excellent Adventure--Danger Attacks at Dawn.
  • Are your light bulbs farby? Here's help.
  • Philip Pullman has lost me. I'm glad that someone seems to understand what he is going on about because I'm completely confused.
Happy Friday.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Writer's Rooms!

I steal this link from Gwenda's blog!

It's too cool not to pass on. The Guardian did a little photo survey of the offices of famous British writers, and it's fascinating to see how they work. Each is different--some muddled, some very organized. Since I spend a lot of time in my office, I'm fascinated to see how other writers organize their their writing spaces.

Those who know me will not be surprised that I like Beryl Bainbridge's desk the best. So gloriously old timey. I love the rug covering the table top, and the wonderful model of the Titanic.

And--I'm in awe of the fact that A.S. Byatt writes all those densely elegant books in long-hand. I write letters and notes in long hand, but I can't imagine writing an entire book that way. I can type faster than I can write, and I think I'd get confused if I couldn't see all my words marching along in black and white. I suppose it's all what you are used to. I know several writers who dictate and I couldn't do that either.

I love my office, it's very cozy and my desk is wonderfully huge. It used to belong to My Better Half, but then the legs broke and he was going to throw it out. My father replaced the legs with gas pipes and now it works perfectly again, much to MBH' chagrin, as I refused to give it back!

But sometimes, when I'm working hard, a cozy office can be a distraction. I wrote quite a bit of the last draft of Flora Segunda in my mother's laundry room, so nice and warm and sunny!

Thanks Gwenda for the fabulous link!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Dogs & Books & Adult Censorship

I seem to be the last one to weigh in the controversy surrounding this year's Newberry Winner, The Higher Power of Lucky, in which author Susan Patron had the gall to use the word "scrotum" when referring to that particular part of a dog's anatomy.

Now librarians throughout America have united to express their disapproval of Ms. Patron's word choice and claim that because of it the book is not welcome in their libraries. And this being America, where we all have opinions , other librarians, writers and publishers have leaped to defend her. (For more details, I link to Gwenda Bond's blog entry on the topic which then links to everyone whose opinion is actually informed, as opposed to knee-jerk.)

Of course, my opinion that the librarians are being childish for twittering over a perfectly normal anatomical term. But I also have to admit that I wouldn't want to read this book aloud to a group of snickering ten-year-olds either. Glad it's not my personal dilemma.

The brouhaha has made me think even more about a topic that I've been thinking about a lot ever since I went to the Children's Lit Lunch a couple of weeks ago. There I met many lovely librarians who were all universal in their desire to purchase books that did not have sex, swearing, or any thing else squiggy in them, and who implored me to keep all three categories out of my books.

But how do you write a book about a fourteen year old girl without at least skirting the edge of these issues? Fourteen year old girls do think about sex, and they do swear, and they do squiggy things. In Flora Segunda, our heroine is a bit preoccupied with other matters to confront the second topic, and I dealt with the first by making up my own profanity. But there is a lot of squigginess in the book that perhaps those lovely librarians would not have liked one bit.

And Flora Redux (which I just finished a couple of weeks ago) deals more with sex, albeit in a round about non-graphic non-overt tasteful way--she is fourteen for pigface's sake! There's swearing too, lots and lots of swearing (not by Flora), but I had already decided to handle that via Gramatica-type substitution. And like Book I, Book 2 is much with the squigginess, Califa being a very a squiggy place, after all.

Initially, my talk with the librarians left me panicked. Would no library take my books if I didn't censor myself? Must you decide to be true to your Art or write to your audience--or rather the gatekeepers who stand between you and audience? Well, in the end, of course, I realize that you must write the best book you can, be true to the characters and true to your audience, and let the librarians do what they will. A false book is much much worse than a banned book.

Still, I swear I won't ever use the word "scrotum." Maybe that will save me.

Why Must People Spoil?

So, I just stumbled upon my first really really bad blog review today and now I feel sad. Not so much because the reviewer (and alas, I'm not big enough to link to him) panned Flora Segunda roundly--but because in doing so he basically spoiled the ENTIRE PLOT, including every plot twist and reveal, and the ending, too.

And that just doesn't seem fair.

I certainly understand that no book can be everything for everyone, and there will always be someone who either doesn't like or doesn't understand what you are trying to do. (And to salvage my ego a bit I don't think this reviewer understood AT ALL what I was trying to do. Nor did he seem take into account that FLORA SEGUNDA is a book for kids--but I digressively wail, sorry.)

The real sticking point is: Just because you dislike a book, must you entirely ruin the book for others by outlying the entire plot? I suppose if you think the book is total crap (clearly this reviewer 's opinion) then you think the book is past ruining.

But it seems unfair to readers who might want to give the book a try anyway. At the very least, you could warn the reader that there are spoilers ahead. This seems to me to be common courtesy to both readers and authors. In the reviewer's defense--he did note that he doesn't normally write reviews, so perhaps that's why he didn't seem to understand professional reviewing courtesy. Still...the person he guest-reviewed for should have known...

Also--I don't think it's very nice (or professional) for a reviewer to actually call an author stupid. But perhaps I'm just overly sensitive. Writers often are!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Query: Crackpot Hall

Recently someone asked me where I came up with the name Crackpot Hall.

Alas, I didn't come up with the name--I just borrowed it.

The real Crackpot Hall is a seventeenth century farm house in the Yorkshire dales that is now in ruins. According to this webpage, a plaque at the site says that at one time there was a fifteenth century hunting lodge on the property, which was later replaced by the farm-house. The house was only abandoned in the 1950s, and I couldn't find out any information about who lived there. The ruins don't look like much now, but the farmhouse was once quite comfortable and expansive, tho' not as grand as its name might suggest.

According to its Wikipedia entry, the placename crackpot comes from the old Norse word kraka (crow) and pot (cavity or cave). (Back in the Day, this part of Yorkshire was riddled with Vikings, hence Yorkshire is riddled with Viking placenames.) Was there was once a hole full of crows there? Do crows even live in holes? Sounds rather like a dark and sinister place to me. Crows are sinister birds, after all, full of malice and tricks, attracted to carrion, and sometimes seen in the company of one eyed men.

Of course, today when most people use the word crackpot they mean a "whimsically eccentric person" or a "crank".

(I'll let you guess which meaning I prefer!)

I first came across mention of Crackpot Hall years and years ago, when I was still quite young--altho' today I don't remember exactly when or how. When I was thirteen, my parents and I took a motoring tour of North Yorkshire, perhaps we went by the site, or read about it in a guidebook. Anyway, the name, so deliciously strange, stuck in my mind rather firmly. When it came time to name the family home of the Fyrdraaca family, whimsically eccentric or cranky some, darkly sinister others, Crackpot Hall seemed to fit perfectly.

(I can hear Valefor saying in disgust: Fyrdraaca House, not Crackpot Hall!)

Monday, February 19, 2007

More Cover, Less Art!

Galleycat has revisited the issue of when Bad Cover Art happens to Good Books, and they were kind enough to quote from the two-cents email I sent them last week.

Astute readers will note that while, here, I weaseled away from identifying my dear friend who also got cover art shafted, I wasn't so shy in my letter to the blog editor. The friend is, of course, Paul Witcover, and the book Tumbling After. I didn't realize that Paul's publisher saw the light when the book went into paperback and did another, vastly superior cover, but good on them. It was a great novel, and deserved better than it got. Alas, that so many books these days do!

At least the two books in question, World Leader Pretend and Tumbling After, were not historical novels. That's the genre that really gets shafted, IMHO, when it comes to covers. No matter how historical accurate the novel itself, if the cover art is created by an in in-house artist (as opposed to re-purposed from some museum-y painting), it's almost always horrific.

Viz.: Maritime historical novelist Joan Druett is currently running a cover art contest; the winner is the person who can pick out the most historical inaccuracies on the cover of her latest book, Deadly Shoals.

I recall the early covers of The Chronicles of Lymond by Dorothy Dunnett. They were published as cheap bodice rippers, and though the books take place in the sixteenth century, I remember one cover had a thirteen century knight on it. Another had a hero and heroine in a clinch, but the book itself had no romance plot element in it. Later, the publishers came to their senses and put elegant cover art on these, the most elegant of books; perhaps by then they realized that people who liked bodice rippers were not going to like Dame Dorothy's novels, and vice-versa.

And then--as a more modern instance--what the heck is up with the cover of The Witch of Cologne? The woman on the cover is wearing her stays (corsets) backwards! Not to mention the minus a chemise (ooow, the rubbing!), and the corset is wrong for the time period the book takes place in too.

So, Sieur Frost and Sieur Witcover--it could have been a lot worse. At least there is no farby underwear on your book covers!

NB: "farby"--a living history term for grossly inaccurate clothing or gear.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Taking Covers into Your Own Hands.

I gotta admire James Bernard Frost, author of the newly published World Leader Pretend.

He fought the Law (i.e. his Publisher) over the World Leader Pretend's cover design.

And when the Law (i.e. his Publisher) won, he didn't give up. He created his own cover, viz. a sticker to stick over the offending artwork.

Now he has a (probably) very annoyed Publisher but lots and lots of publicity.

Only time will tell with will prove more essential, but I do know that he has sold a copy of the book AND the sticker to me. Good on him for standing up for himself.

It's interesting that one of Sieur Frost's issues with the cover design of the book is that it makes the book look like a SF novel, when in actuality the novel is about a guy who plays online fantasy role playing games. A book about a fantasy gamer is not the same thing as an SF novel, but apparently the Publisher decided that only people who read SF would want to read a novel about a gamer.

A dear friend of mine had exactly the same cover issue several years ago when he published a brilliant novel about a young man's slow psychological breakdown. This young man was also a gamer and segments of the novel took place within the game itself. Despite the gamer element, the novel was not SF. It was a psychological thriller. However, the Publisher slapped a SF cover on the book, and threw it in the SF section of the bookstore where it died a lonely and unjustified death. Do Publishers think the stink of genre is so strong that even a whiff it requires the book be quarantined with its fellow stinkers? Apparently so.

I hope that Sieur Frost's book escapes the dicey fate of my friend's book, but I can't imagine that his publisher is going to do much PR for him now.

Or maybe they are delighted at the extra ink he's getting.

As another friend of mine said recently, publishing is a capricious world.

So I am learning.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Hack It, Hack It Good.

Sometimes I wish I were a hack writer.

But not today.

More Notice!

Maura McHugh has an incredibly nice and super insightful review of Flora Segunda on her blog. Of all the reviews I've gotten so far, Maura's the only one to point out a few effects I was working hard to achieve, and which--since no one else had noted them--I feared I had utterly failed to achieve.

All good reviews are delightful, of course, but this one is particularly pleasing. I find it easy to get all the whiz-bang adventurey hi-jinks down, it's the subtle stuff that is so very very hard. Trying to strike a balance between telegraphing your sub-text (and then it's hardly subtext any more is it?) and being so sub-textual that you are sub-sub and no one notices--that's a difficult teeter-totter to stay on.

Thank you, Maura!

Apres chocolate, le deluge!

I do hope everyone was well treated by Cupid. I made out pretty well, I think. The Cheese-Swilling God of My Idolatry showered me with not one, not two, not three but thirteen different fancy chocolate bars!

These luscious slabs are now residing comfortably in my desk drawer, waiting to sustain me through Flora Redux's rewrite. Yes, indeedy, the rough draft of the sequel to Flora Segunda is finito, and now awaits its final polish. It look me a while to get going, but when I did finally get some momento momento-ing, writing moved quite quickly and I'm quite pleased with the end result.

I feel that I can state with utter confidence that Flora Redux outdoes its predecessor in thrills, chills, loud music, dogs, disguises, fashionable footwear, and snacks.

Particularly snacks.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Hello Cupid!

Bring me my Bow of burning gold:
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold?
Bring me my Chariot of fire...

Happy Valentine's Day.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Query: Gramatica Font!

An inquisitive reader asks:

How did you come up with the characters for your spoken magic? Are they taken from the alphabet of a real-life language I'm just not familiar with,or did you actually somehow digitally manufacture a font?

I know it's a real pain for typesetters to have to deal with weird characters or fonts (and alas that several of the letters I use, including the eth in Ha<eth>raa<eth>a and Landa<eth>on, are not standard to most fonts). I've been lucky so far in that the publishers I've dealt with have been very good sports about my wacky spellings and words.

Gramatica is supposed to be the language of those things which can not be spoken, in which Words can take concrete form. Therefore it's a non-alphabetic language. But how do you write down Words that can't be written down? Obviously, you have to use some sort of character set, but it was important to me that whatever these characters be, they not refer to aknown alphabet, nor they be easily read or pronounced.

In mss. form, I just use wing-dings to signify Gramatica Words, and I believe that is what The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy used when they printed the two Hardhands stories. I know they had to manufacture an eth as it wasn't standard to the font they use--what they ended up with wasn't a perfect representation of the real letter, but it was close enough.

The credit for the super cool Gramatica fonts in Flora Segunda lies completely with Harcourt's book designers. Instead of just going with wing-dings, they decided to create their own non-alphabetic font, which they did to great effect. They also had a calligrapher design the wonderful title sequence. I was terribly pleased with how the Gramatica and the title calligraphy came out; Harcourt's desingers did a real whiz-bang job of coming up with lettering and symbols that are evocative and yet mysterious.

NB: In case you were wondering, in Califa eth is pronounced as a hard th. Therefore, Landa<eth>on is LandaTHon and Ha<eth>raa<eth>a is HaTHraTHa. In case you were wondering!

Snow, Snow, Snow!

All night it was snowing, all day it has been snowing here in Porkopolis--my first Mid-western "blizzard"! It's actually quite cool, since I don't have to go anywhere other than escorting Bothwell to his jakes (i.e. the back-yard). We have been sitting in the front window and watching the world go white.


The weatherhead on tv says that the dreaded Lake Effect Snow is about to begin--I have much about this phenon. but never experienced it myself, so I'm looking forward to that. I do hope the blizzard doesn't go on so long we have to start chopping up the furniture.

(Well, so maybe I do!)

Back to my ice-weasel spotting.


At the Anderson Bookshop kidlit breakfast the other day I got into a conversation with several people about books that end on cliffhangers, thus forcing the reader to wait for the next volume to find out the end of the story. My fellow conversationalists seem to all agree that this was not a good thing.

Why do writers do that? one asked me somewhat plaintively. Can't they see how awful it is for a reader, particularly a kid, to plow all the way through a book only to have to wait to find out how the story ends?

The only immediate answer I had was that I'm not sure it's the always the writer who makes that decision, and of course, both writers and publishers want people to buy books so anything they can do to make the reader want more may seem like a good idea to them. Particularly if the book is part of a series.

Flora Segunda is part of a series, of course--well, I know it doesn't say that anywhere on the book itself, but it is part of a series--but each book has a self-contained plot. Of course, each book will have unresolved issues in it that will carry to the next volume. There might be an extra little oomph in the last few pages that might just set up a plot in the next book, but the story you've just spent all that time reading will wrap up. I promise.

Readers invest a lot of time in your book, and money too. You owe it to them not to string them along. I also find it extremely annoying to race to the ending of a book only to find there is no ending--to be continued is the only resolution, and obviously that's not a real resolution at all. Not only is it annoying, it's unfair too. (Particularly when the next volume might not be out for months.)

In fact, that very thing happened to me last night. I stayed up late, rapidly turning pages, trying to finish an extremely absorbing really terrific book (which shall remain nameless) because I just had to know how it ended, only to get to the last page and--WAH!--there was no ending. The book stopped at a most climatic and cliffhanging point.


I was so annoyed I almost threw the novel across the room. And I felt a little betrayed too, like the author had tricked me into reading three hundred pages--for nothing.

Does writers think this is a good idea--alienating their audiences? Do the publishers think it's a good idea--to make the reader come back for more? Obviously someone thinks it is a good idea or it wouldn't be done at all.

I wish that someone would think again.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Poor Maureen Dowd!

Not a good day for Maureen Dowd.

First she's taking super fantastic flack for her Sunday New York Times column ragging on chicklit.

And now this.

Better luck tomorrow, Madama Dowd.

Monkey Fishing!

If only one could go to the Florida Keys and fish for monkeys...doesn't that sound like the best vacation ever?

But alas one can not.


(And for those people who actually thought for a moment that you might be able to go to the Florida Keys and fish for monkeys...I have a modest proposal for you...)

Anderson Bookshop's Kidlit Breakfast.

Saturday I attended the Children's Literature breakfast sponsored by Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville. It was a great event and I really enjoyed myself.

This was my first real chance to talk to teachers and librarians--the ones who are actually in the trenches fighting the good fight encouraging kids to read. I learned a ton of stuff and it was really nice to actually connect with the "gatekeepers" so to speak. When you write for adults you can reach out directly to your audience, but I've discovered that when you write for kids you really are filtered through several layers: teachers, librarians and parents. And your feedback is often filtered through these layers, as well.

So it was exciting for me to make some of these connections. I was only sorry that I couldn't talk to all 400 odd attendees--I'm sure they all had something interesting to say!

In addition, the event had two guest speakers, Jack Prelutsky and Brian Selznick. Sieur Prelutsky is the Poetry Foundation's Children's Poet Laureate and he gave a marvelous talk on the importance of poetry, and then sang several of his new poems. Sieur Selznick's gorgeously illustrated book "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" is an interesting attempt to make a silent movie in book form and it is getting quite a bit of buzz.

Also, there were heart shaped donuts.

Class of 2k7

I've been wandering around myspace, checking things out and I came across the myspace page for the Class of 2k7. They are a group of YA authors all with debut novels in 2007, who have banded together to help each other along in their entry into the cruel cold world of publishing.

What a terrific idea, and I only wish I'd thought of it! As I have moaned before, it's hard trying to drum up on business on your own, and a collective can definitely help the world seem a bit more hospitable.

Check out their site; they are a group of super talented newcomers, with some fabulous books to offer and I wish them super luck at this, the very beginning of their long and successful careers...

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Me at Myspace!

I now have a myspace page.

I have gone from hardly any official presence on the web to now having four official presences that I must keep up with! I tell you, trying to run your own PR machine is pretty time-consuming...if Bothwell had opposable thumbs, I'd put him on the job.

But alas, Bothwell is safe from having to do any actual work, and it's all up to me. Thus does the 21st century dawn--we are all our own brands these days and must act accordingly.

Anyway, please stop by myspace and say hello. Right now I only have one friend--some guy named Tom that I don't even know--so I'm rather lonely...

Friday, February 9, 2007

Great Harry!

Boy, am I excited about Showtime's new series The Tudors. I saw a preview the other night and it looked bloody fantastic--that is--bloody AND fantastic.

Jonathan Rhys Myers may look not a wit like the young Henry, but I don't care. I think he's a great choice to play Great Harry in his rock-star phase. What--you didn't know that Henry VIII had a rock-star phase. Oh yes, my dearies, he sure did.

Today we remember Henry mostly as that guy who looked like Charles Laughton, waved a turkey leg around, and executed six of his wives. No matter that historically speaking, Henry did not look like Charles Laughton, turkeys hadn't been invented yet (at least not in Europe), and only two of his wives went to the block--a mere 33.3 percent. It was only later in life that Henry turned overweight and overbearing. He became King of England in 1509 at the age of eighteen and for the first twenty odd years of his reign he was handsome, dashing, erudite, boisterous and stud-ly.

(Nb: The Warlord of Califa is modeled a bit after Great Harry: likable but cunning--affable yet cruel. Flora knows him only in his disabled dotage, but in his salad days Florian was formidable...)

Judging from the previews, this is the Henry that Jonathan Rhys Myers is going to play. And judging from Sieur Rhys Myers' past roles, I think he's going to portray a ruthlessly charming predatory Renaissance prince really really well.

The Tudor court was a seething jungle of intrigue, sex, power, lust and greed, all played to extremely high stakes, as Anne Boleyn, Thomas Cromwell, Thomas More, and Catherine Howard, just to name a few, all found out. Viz. the preview, all this fun stuff is in the mini-series, and I just can't wait.

(And you know what--if I could pick any actor in the world to play Hardhands---guess who it would be....?)

Obituary Fever!

I just realized I posted two obits/memorials back-to-back. Remember that old canard about famous people dying in threes--well if we put Frankie Lane and Anna Nicole together--I wonder who will join their trio...


Poor Anna Nicole!

I know the blogosphere is chattering away at the (not surprising) untimely death of Anna Nicole Smith, and since I'm now part of the blogosphere myself, I guess I can chatter away, too.

I always kinda liked Anna Nicole's style. Not her style per say, that is--she did project an aura we uncharitably call trashy and I've never found trash to be particularly appealing. But I always admired her perseverance and her grit. She took the only thing she felt she had going for herself--her looks--and spun that one single trait into money and fame. In that, she followed in the footsteps of many illustrious women throughout history, including the Empress Theodora, Madame de Pompadour, Anne Boleyn, and Eva Peron just to name a few. You can argue that these ladies left a more positive mark upon history than Anna Nicole does (if she leaves a mark at all) but that's not the point--the point is they all used their beauty and their bodies to get to the top. You could argue that those infamous ladies of history had no choice--they lived in a time when women weren't valued for much other than their bodies--today we have other options. But Anna Nicole wanted fame and fortune, and apparently she had a clear eyed understanding of where her talents lay (which is more than many of us can say, remaining eternally deluded about our prospects). Anna Nicole's talents did not lend themselves to discovering the cure for cancer, or winning an Oscar, or solving the Mideast Peace Problem. She knew what she had to do and she did it.

Of course, she married that Texian for his money, but surely he knew that a twenty six year old woman wasn't going to marry an eighty nine year old guy for anything else--as I am concerned she earned that cash fair and square. He got a gorgeous attentive wife and she got a rich man. What's not fair in that?

Sure, her life after the Texian's death was a train wreck, but again--can you blame the lady for cashing in? No one was calling to offer her a UN ambassadorship or a scholarship to Harvard. She took the opportunities that came her way and ran with them. Clearly, she didn't want to go back to that trailer park--I can't say that I would have wanted to go back either. Would you?

Obviously, Anna Nicole had many problems, and in the coming weeks the full extent of these problems will be revealed, no doubt. And I suspect these details are not going to do anything to burnish her tarnished image. No matter. I still have to applaud her determination to hold on to what she had achieved through a combination of shameless outrageousness and beauty-and I wish her story had had a happier ending.

Bon voyage, Anna Nicole!

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Ride Hell Bent for Leather, Frankie!

Singer Frankie Lane died yesterday--I'm sorry to say that I didn't even know he was still alive. And now I'm sad, because I loved Frankie Lane.

Who is Frankie Lane? Well, his most famous song was the theme to the television show Rawhide.

(What was Rawhide? The fourth longest running tv western ever, and the show that launched the career of the Man with No Name, aka Clint Eastwood. )

But back to Frankie in the late 1950s and early1960s, US popular culture went through a western mania. There were western movies, and western tv shows, and western lunch boxes, and western serials, and western fashion and a lot of people jumped upon that western Conestoga wagon, including Frankie Lane. The singer, who had been previously known mostly as a crooner, sang the theme songs to several famous movie westerns, including Gunfight at the OK Corral, 3:10 to Yuma, and (later) Blazing Saddles. In 1961 he released two western themed albums: Hell Bent for Leather and Deuces Wild.

Now I was not alive in 1961, but my daddy was, and he, a huge cowboy fan, purchased these albums. When I finally arrived some years later, and, some years after that, became old enough to operate a record player, Frankie was waiting for me.

To this day, I think I know the lyrics of every song on both albums, and the cover art--Frankie posing in 1960s flat-top cowboy hat, hand nonchalantly resting upon the butt of his 45 in Hell Bent for Leather--Frankie pointing his 45 directly at his audience in Deuces Wild--is branded upon my memory. Can I over-estimate the influence that these albums had upon my youthful mind?

No, I can not. The songs, ballads about cowboy life and cowboy death (none of them traditional, I might add, but written to take advantage of the western mania) thrilled me. They were full of characters: gamblers forced to fun to Texas after a bowie knife fight goes bad; teamsters hopelessly searching for cool water in a hot desert; the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo; aces and eights, the Dead Man's hand; the man who must follow the wild geese; the man begging his wife not to forsake him on their wedding day; faithless women and faithful horses; and, of course, the ruthless gunfighter. His songs told stories--mostly melodramatic tragic stories. (Also a big influence on me--to this day, I prefer a sad ending!)

These songs fired my imagination. I played the albums over and over on my little plastic Fisher-Price turn-table, and practiced my quick draw. I was a cowboy for Halloween. I wished I had a Bowie knife. No matter that I had no idea where the Bank of Monte Carlo was, or exactly what a poker hand was, or even, for that matter, why exactly someone would follow a wild goose. All I needed Frankie's deep thrilling voice. My imagination supplied the rest.

Frankie got me started on the West, and he got me started on make-believe and on stories. I couldn't read, but I could listen to his songs, and listen I did. I'm listening still.

Happy Trails, Frankie.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Query: Why CPG?

Why The Califa Police Gazette you wonder...

I'm so glad you asked!

Well, older hands (much much older--those who have reached their hundred and fiftieth year or so), may recall once seeing upon the newstands a pink papered publication entitled The National Police Gazette.

First published in the 1840s, the NPG was a cross between COPS and The National Enquirer. Under the guise of warning the public of the wickedness of the world, the NPG covered crimes, celebrity gossip, and rough sports, such as boxing and rat-baiting. Supposedly, the NPG was telling you all this for your own good, because only by knowing about badness could you avoid it, but it's hard to believe that the newspaper's public weren't reading it just for the good stuff.

And the good stuff was pretty good: scalpings, lynchings, high-wire electrocutions, white slavery, abandoned women, pugilists, acrobats, women in trousers, runaway horses, runaway brides, bagnios, and all the other news that the New York Times did not deem fit to print.

And to add to the NPG's charm, it was printed on pink paper!

In the 1860s, the NPG got on the illustrated bandwagon, and began accompanying its lurid articles with lurid black and white pen and ink drawings, and that really got its readership going. Photographs were still expensive and required absolute stillness, so drawings were the only way to capture a scene, and capture the scene the NPG's artists did, filling the pages of the newspaper with lightly clad ladies, train wrecks, execution scenes, horse stampedes, dog fights, and men jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge, among other events.

The NPG stayed in circulation well into the 20th century, but the rise of on-the-fly photography, and the development of cheap photo reproduction processes stole most of the paper's graphic thunder. People had other, more realistic outlets, for their baser urges, and they didn't need the NPG anymore. And eventually the paper died a unlamented death, the relic of another naughty age.

When I decided that Califa needed a similar publication, one which would act as shadow to the more respectable Alta Califa, Califa's paper of record, the National Police Gazette proved the perfect model, so I quickly appropriated the name. Alas, that my blog is not usually nearly as exciting or naughty at its namesake, once removed, still, I do strive to entertain, and to inform, and will try to be occasionally lurid, for old time's sake.

Jacket Flap!

Poking around the other day, I came across Jacketflap, a fabulous resource for readers and writers. It's a comprehensive compilation of information on publishers, editors, and etc., and all sorts of other information useful to writers. There's a great blog consolidator, fabulously categorized, that allows to read lots of different blogs in one place. And best of all it's free! Check it out!

Interlude: New CPG Features!

In the interest of entertaining my readers (currently numbering only three!) I have decided to inaugurate two new regular features, which I hope will provide plenty of infotainment for those who have honored me by checking in here regularly. You know who you are--thank you!

New Feature Number 1:

Poking around on other blogs, I've noticed that some writers get lots of questions from their one's asking me any questions (pout)--so I figure I'll ask myself questions, and after a while maybe some one who is not me will pipe up with a query or two.

Questions can be about anything, butI reserve the right to stick with those I know the answer to. How do you query me? Send me an email...And keep it nice and clean, please...

New Feature Number 2:
Here's where I burble on uninterrupted about all things Califa--geography, history, characters, food, fashion, etc. The whys and the wherefores, and what exactly was I thinking? Questions re: Califa stuff will also be entertained, also via email.

We now return to our regularly scheduled programing.

Thank you!

PS. What's my email address? Hint.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Library Thing!

I'm probably the last person in the Omniverse to find this super cool site, but, just in case you've missed it too, here's my trumpet to the world.

Library Thing lets you create an on-line catalog of your library. Each personal library is linked and cross-indexed to other personal libraries, which allows for a nice exchange of book ideas and reviews. Though adding every book in your library--if you have oh say about 5,000 books like me--is rather time consuming, Library Thing makes the process pretty easy.

Many authors have libraries on Library Thing, and though it's cool to see what absolute strangers are reading, all the more interesting to see what your favorite authors have on their shelves.

My user name is Ysabeau, if you want to look me up, and I'll try to link here once I can figure out how to do that! In the meantime, start cataloging!

Fantasy & Imaginary Friends

Madama LeGuin's article in the New Statesman on the importance of imaginary friends is--ayah--what she said exactly!

I agree on all points. Too sad that once we grow older we are supposed to exchange up our imaginary friends or un-imaginary friends who all too often do not exhibit half the loyalty and faithfulness our invisible friends did.

(Of course, not all of us do give up our imaginary friends...or is it more accurate to say that sometimes our invisible friends don't give up us?)

In fact, if truth were told, I wonder how many adults still do have invisible friends; they've just learned to keep their yaps shut about it...

Thursday, February 1, 2007


Although Miss Erin, in her review, didn't mean to pay "Flora Segunda" any compliments, I personally feel that being called "weird", "bizarre", and "weird" (again), and finally (the most delightful coinage of them all)--"un-normality"--to be high praise indeed!

As Moz once said, If People think I'm strange, well that's because I am...and so is Flora!

So on behalf of all the weird, bizarre and un-normal girls out there, thank you, Miss Erin!


I have just discovered that "Lineaments of Gratified Desire" has made the Locus Recommended Reading for 2006 list!

Yay for Tiny Doom, Hardhands, and most particularly--Pig!