Friday, March 27, 2015

More Gadgets for the Computer

me and computers
I have a more complicated relationship with my computer than I do with most of the humans I know.

It's a MacBook Pro and I am, on the whole, fond of it and proud of it. One major problem, however, is that the DVD player/reader doesn't work. It will accept DVDs into its mouth, but it will not play them. Having decided not to play them, it will not spit them out.

It's kinda like a two-year-old about this.

So I did some research on what kinda outboard DVD reader to get. (An outboard or external DVD player is one that sits next to your computer and plugs in.) Everybody said 'Get a Samsung 218' and so, by golly, I did.

I hooked this outboard up with the little wire provided using the Universal Directions that showed plugging the two ends into the slots they fitted.
Took like eight drawings to show this. I put the CD they provided inside the little drawer. It went whirr whirr for a minute.

So I'm sitting there thinking, "What now?'

I find the User's Manual on line and download it as a pdf.
You're thinking, "Why didn't she read the User's Manual first" and all I can say is that I never look at the directions first and thus have many interesting encounters with Things I Buy.

So I open the Manual and it spends ten pages telling me not to drop the thing in water and not to put heavy stuff on it and some stuff called RoH and WEEE which may have to do with recycling. I skipped that.

It explains very carefully how not to drop it in water, actually.

Then it gets to the stuff I need to know and it starts using words like firmware -- which has a nice sound to it, though god knows what it What is Buffer Underrun Prevention Technology?" and answers itself in a way that leaves me no wiser.
Me figuring out about computers
means. It asks, being philosophical or something -- "
And we continue.

How to Confirm Installation of the Device Driver.
Go to Macintosh More Info and click 'Device Manager'
which my machine doesn't have.
Just no Device Manager anywhere.

How to confirm USB 2.0 and install the USB driver
Well we just look at the Universal Serial Bus Controller, don't we?
which my machine doesn't have
or doesn't call that
or just doesn't want to talk about

I have reached Overload Confuzzlement Status at this point
and I am only halfway through the User's Manual.
And if I want to do anything or ask anything
the manual directs me to a website that doesn't exist.

I go to YouTube and watch some geek spend half his time explaining how to hook the wire up by putting the ends in the slots that fits
(Is this something people have trouble with? Really?)
and then lapse into incomprehensibility for a while
and then say, "... and that's how you do it."

This is what I wanted to watch all along
So I sit there and whimper
and the dog comes over and puts her head in my lap.

I say, "The hell with this" and go get an actual DVD
and take OUT the CD that came with the outboard player
and put IN the movie DVD
which is Nicolas Le Foch Man With the Lead Stomach
and that plays just fine.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Coming of the Seed Catalogs

image from

Joanna here, being topical over at Word Wenches.

My seed catalogs have arrived. This is the first sign of spring for me — not a sighting of the first robin — the sighting of the first seed catalogs. Now the truth of the matter is I don’t so much buy seeds and plant them. I live on stony, steep ground here and grow my plants in a few miserable little pots. But I dream with these catalogs. I meditate upon all the wondrous flowers and vegetables I’m growing in my mind rather than in reality.

Wenches ‘Catastrophe in the Conservatory’ by Thomas Rowlandson, c. 1816Anyhow, this got me thinking about woman gardeners in 1800 or so. The eons’ old association of women and healing
plants, edible garden herbs, and flowery borders made them natural gardeners.

About at this time botany got an intellectual boots with the Linnaean system of plant classification. Thank heavens this was one ‘science’ considered suitable for genteel women. They began collecting plants and writing about them. We have pictures of these women carrying their watering cans — dressed in a way we’d consider problematic for gardening work — headed out to botanize.

I delight to imagine the glasshouses filled with interesting specimens and women tending and caring for them. Studying them. Learning how to grow the most troublesome of their charges.
Describing the exotics.
Writing, y’know, monographs and papers.

There's a bit more of this over at Word Wenches ... here.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Technical Topics -- Breaking Comma Rules for Fun and Profit

... or, like, not
Punctuation Rule Breakage
Pro or con?

Elsewhere somebody talked about leaving out commas when he didn't like them. This is a response I made.
I'm assuming this is breaking hard rules, not just using the great expanse of stylistic wriggle-room Chicago Manual of Style and its brothers leave us.

I came up with five consideration to think about when playing fast and loose with commas. This holds true with a lot of writerly eccentricities besides comma punctuation, I suppose.

First off,
Let's say you leave out commas that do not, for some reason, please you on a case-by-case basis.

The publisher's copyeditor will have to laboriously add or remove those off-brand commas.
She really has no idea which comma-errors are done on purpose and which are true mistakes. She has to mark them all.
While she's doing all that comma work, she's not fine-combing your manuscript for other problems.
She's only got a set number of hours, most likely .
What do you want her to work on?

Managing Editore: Been a hard week
When you're confronted with her copyedits, you now have many hundreds of editorial marks and comments that you have to go through and leave in place or stet.

Then the Managing Editor picks up this complicated mess and says "I got an author here who doesn't know basic punctuation" or worse, "He's doing this on purpose?"
The Managing Editor's job is to look at every stet and say 'yes' to some and 'no' to some. You've given him work. Much work.
You have just pissed off the Managing Editor.
This is not a good thing
for anybody.

There will be some important stets you want to make. It's easier to argue for that one important stet if you have not just been stroppy over 800 missing-comma stets.

Sometimes we don't want to innovate
Whatever the outcome, the copyeditor, the Managing Editor, and you have wasted a lot of time and effort.


Finally --

While most readers won't notice commas one way or the other . . .

the ones who do notice intermittent use of the Oxford comma or failure to set off essential relative clauses with commas
will not only be distracted from the flow of your fiction,
they will see these as mistakes arising from the author's ignorance
rather than considered authorial choice
and in their heart of hearts, they will think less of you.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Defending genre

This is me, defending genre
Elsewhere, I was defending genre writing.
From folks who only like Literary Fiction.

And since I hate to waste good writing I thought I would bring that back here.

I say -- There's excellent genre. Scads of it.
So why do folks not see this obvious truth?

It's Sturgeon's Law, in part  -- "90% of every kind of writing is crap."

The difference between LitFic and genre writing is

Both excellent and mediocre genre writing is on the shelves, making a profit, being read and enjoyed, each in its own way.
Mediocre LitFic, of which there is any amount, remains in decent obscurity because it is not remotely commercial. It's not seen.

That leads to sampling error. 
You also get sampling error when you take the best books in a genre and declare them 'literary fiction' rather than 'really good mysteries' or 'great SF&F'.

Let us now praise genre and its forefathers in their generation.

Launcelot and Guinevere ... Pure Genre
Genre is story.

Storytelling is a Big Deal. Ancient as humanity. Core to what makes us human. Powerful.
What defines us?  What is our 'culture'? What books do we care about after a hundred or a thousand years?

King Arthur and the Round Table, Robinson Crusoe, Romeo and Juliet, Moll Flanders, The Satyricon, Song of Roland, Tom Jones, A Thousand and One Nights, Pride and Prejudice, Rob Roy, Poldark, The Importance of Being Ernest, The House of Usher, The Three Musketeers, Kidnapped, Last of the Mohicans.

Tales of high adventure, mystery, love, horror, bravery, sacrifice, triumph, humor, intrigue.
Pure genre.
One characteristic of this durable literature is that it was popular in its own day. Beloved up and down the social and intellectual scale. It was bestseller stuff when 'bestseller' meant stories told around the fire. 

It appealed to the hoi polloi.

So I don't so much want to hear 'noncommercial' as approval and praise.

Commercial' is not a criticism. 'Popular' doesn't mean poorly written.
Genre is the good stuff.

Friday, February 06, 2015

In for a Penny, In for a Pound

Joanna here, talking about ... well ... money.

‘Take care of the pence and the pounds will take care of themselves.’
Before 1724.

In the change purse of your average Regency housekeeper or light-hearted debutant or even your evil-eyed villain you might find farthings and halfpence, pennies, two pence -- all of those in copper. Then the silver coins, which would be four pence, six pence, shilling, eighteen pence, and half crown. You can see what they look like them and the gold coins that you as a Regency person probably wouldn’t have been carrying around in your pocket every day here.

There is a whole possibility of coins in that purse. When you reached in and pulled one out, maybe the most likely of all would be the humble and fascinating penny.

‘A penny for your thoughts’ dates to 1546.

The rest of this blog lives over at Word Wenches. Here.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

A careful, kind and intelligent reader asked me why, in Black Hawk, I used the word 'antiseptic' long before the germ theory and why Justine dissolved her antiseptic in liquid and packed it in bottles.  Why not just send the powder along on these expeditions.

(Jo clears her throat) and says 'THANK YOU' for caring enough to wonder about this.

And I haz  reasons (excuses):

As to the word 'antiseptic'. Millennia ago, long before they understood the mechanism by which it worked, folks knew some stuff discouraged infection. By mid-C18 folks had a word for that and it's the same one we use today. Antiseptic. The OED gives us a 1751 "Myrrh in a watery menstruum was 12 times more antiseptic than salt water."

The writer's problem is that 'antiseptic' sounds very modern.

So I sat for a while pondering whether I should use it. This is classic historical writer dilemma and one of the things that drives sensitive souls to drink -- coffee if not brandy, anyway. 'Historical Word Problem' hits me three, four times a book.
But antiseptic is a couple generations prior to date-of-story, so I went ahead and laid it down.

I also considered the vexed question of which medications would be carried as mix-it-yourself powders and which would be aqueous solutions or tincture-of-this-and-that. It seemed to me the choice depended on the exactness with which the solution must be prepared and how quickly the solution would be needed when called for.

I posited that Justine's mixture takes a good long while to go into solution -- thus the boiling water -- and is likely to be needed PDQ, if needed at all. Bottled at the source, it can be used immediately. Prepared In the field, it would need hot water and a long while to dissolve.  This is the same reason a modern first aid kit intended for use in the outback would have its antiseptic in liquid, ready to use, form. 
Justine includes one bottle for immediate use and also the powder for mixing a further supply.

I have her dissolve in water rather than alcohol because this is a water-soluble powder. Oddly, I find no indication folks thought of alcohol as antiseptic in 1800. It may just be I haven't researched it enough.

Carrying liquids could feel a little 'off' to the reader for several reasons. I think it's because liquid is heavy. Some part of our mind is reluctance to see clunky bottles of liquid cumbering up a medical kit that has to be carried through the jungles of Borneo or wherever.

The medical cases of the era were heavy.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Technical Topic -- Recasting a sentence

Me bringing stuff back to the blog
Elsewhere, somebody said, (more or less):

I don't like this sentence. How do I fix it?

Dressed in drab black and a Roman collar, the slim middle aged man looked at them curiously.

I took that question and brought it back here to think about it.

Sometimes we can change a word or pull out a phrase and the sentence sings. But sometimes it's better to wind back to zero on the redraft. Many tears have been shed trying to save a sentence that should just be put out of its misery.

Philosophically speaking, we look at what the sentence does. What is it about? What hopes and dreams did you have for this sentence when you wrote it?
Then we plunge in.

1) Sentences are written from strong nouns and verbs. We place the foundation of the sentence there, all four-square and stalwart and solid.
 The noun and verb of your sentence are:

Dressed in drab black and a Roman collar, the slim middle aged man looked at them curiously.

The man looked.

2) Can we find a more exact and specific noun?

... the clergyman, the reverend father, the priest, the monk, Father Dudley, the rector of the parish, the abbot, the visitor from the dioceses, the deacon ...
Let's make it the deacon.

3) Can we find a more exact, specific verb? What did the deacon do?

... hid his interest, peeked at them, peered in their direction, watched them,, studied them covertly, stared, was interested, was inquisitive, was curious, was intrigued. ...

4) One possible sentence:

The deacon watched.

which is another way of saying, 'the man looked' but now it is a specific man looking in a slightly more specific way.

5)  Heck. Let's give that deacon some action more interesting than merely observing them.  Let's have him step back into the shadows
while he's watching.
This 'stepping back' is an action-y and visual verb to make up for 'watching' being kinda dull and static. 

The deacon stepped back into the shadows, watching.

6) At this point we could set the sentence in place and go write a description of the man or some action or other interesting things. 

Somewhat more story, for example
But we got an innocent sentence sitting there doing nothing in particular. Let's put more story into this sentence.  Let's connect it to the POV character with another of those action verbs that make a visual.  Our POV character and friends can

limp in, trudge in, creep in, slip in, come to hide, take shelter ...
Our POV character and company limp in.

7) And that gives us:

When they limped in, the deacon stepped back into the shadows, watching.

8) But when --  you ask --  do the  adjectives arrive to dress up the scene?

Mostly, they don't.
We don't need to lay on a slathering of modifiers because our nouns and verbs are doing their jobs.

Our noun contains Dressed in drab black and a Roman collar because those descriptors come as a side order with the word 'deacon'.

Should we talk about  slim middle aged?
I'm going to say -- 'No.'
Here's why.

What does the POV character see?
9) Let me get into the whole Adding descriptors bit

When we are in character POV,
and we want to add visuals, sounds -- anything in the environment --
we do not just pluck the sights and sounds at random.

We add the visuals, sounds, and smells that the POV character notices.

Imagine the scene.
What would this POV guy entering the church notice in this scene?

The expression on the deacon's face?
... Probably not. The deacon is on the other side of the room.

Age? Body type?

But the first thing most people notice when entering a space is the location of the figure in it.
The location of the deacon.

When they limped in, the deacon stepped back into the shadows behind the pulpit, watching.

10) We could add more modifiers, certainly.
We could have them limp painfully or slowly.  We could make the shadows deep. We could make the pulpit tall and wooden. We could have the watching being done warily.  The deacon could be fit and middle-aged ....
Modifying is cheap thrills.

But sentences have a certain weight to them.  A certain complication and gravity. A certain amount going on.
A sentence with a certain balance and weight
I think the sentence is about as heavy as it should be. I wouldn't add more words.

We will need a description of the deacon eventually, but why not add it when the deacon is close enough to see?
Then, when we have the POV character face to face with the deacon,
we can put several pieces of body description close together into a chunk
and build a complete word picture.

One goal of adjectives is to be interesting in-and-of themselves. But it's also nice to stuff the description full of story. It's not just about how the guy looks -- it's what the appearance tells us about his character and the story.

So, some lines down, the deacon ...

-- stalked toward them vigorously
-- about fifty, with a craggy face, too brown to match this city parish
-- pale-skinned but fit
-- the upright, hard strength that came from hard work rather than a gym membership
-- in drab and durable black, worn at the cuffs and elbows

11) I'm going to add something kinda nebulous.

Maybe the basic problem with that original sentence is that it does not form a harmonious whole. The parts of if seem to have been selected at random from a bin and glued. The subordinate clause does not relate to what's going on in the sentence.  

Dressed in drab black and a Roman collar, the slim middle aged man looked at them curiously.

When they limped in, the deacon stepped back into the shadows behind the pulpit, watching.

The original sentence is of the type:

Able to leap tall buildings with a single bound, Superman finished typing his letter. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Technical Topics -- On Beyond Said

Elsewhere someone was wondering whether to use 'said'.
Or not.
 I keep talking about tagging, actually.
So I will do it some more.

Here are a couple of simple, basic guidelines in the tagging of dialog:

1) Make certain the reader knows who said every line of dialog. No confusion.

2) Don't forget there are lots of ways to tag dialog. Be adventurous.

3) You can almost always tag with 'he said' and you will be invisible

4) You can tag with the equivalent of 'he said' and you will be less invisible.
.....   'he muttered', 'he whispered', he 'remarked', 'he answered', 'he objected'.

5) In the choice between 'he said' and one of the saidisms,
you are about all the time better going with 'he said'

6) You can tag with an action
.....   'he began to put the fire out', 'he stabbed Guido', 'he activated the bomb', 'he put oil on the salad', 'he reconsidered'
Action tags are good.
Action that occurs close to the dialog tags it. The action has to be performed by the one speaking. It has to be in the same paragraph.

7) Tagging actions are separated from dialog by a period.
..... "Let him go." George cocked the pistol.
..... "You cut your hair." Maurice sneered. "It was a mistake."

8) Unless the action occurs inside the sentence.

There are two possible ways to do this. 

You can write this sort of sentence with em dashes. They go outside the quotation marks.
Using emdashes is beloved by the Chicago Manual of Style.
"Use emdashes," they say.
I have many issues with the CMOS

..... "I'm a friend of rabbits"--his eyes glittered--"generally."
..... "I have better things to do tonight"--he put down the gun--"than murder intruders."

I find this a particularly ugly way to indicate an inserted action. I think it distracts the reader.

The other way to do this is to use commas. 

..... "I'm a friend of rabbits," his eyes glittered, "generally."
..... "I have better things to do tonight," he put down the gun, "than murder intruders."

This may be 'incorrect' according to copyeditors, but good, careful writers are doing this.

9) 'Said' and its brother saidisms are always separated from dialog by commas.
.....  "No one does it better," Anna whispered.
.....  "A bird in the bush is worth two in the hand," Maurice maintained.
.....  Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."
If you do not know whether something is a 'saidism' or an action, go sit and think about it for a while. Over there.

10) Do not double-tag. If an action or other method tags the dialog, don't add 'he said'. You will eliminate many 'he saids' from the manuscript by following this simple rule. Over a lifetime you will eliminate a small mountain of them.
..... NOT "You watch the door," he said loading the second musket.
..... BUT "You watch the door." He loaded the second musket.

11) Do not mistake actions performed by the mouth, tongue, lips and throat for saidism. One does not grin, laugh, mime, simper, chortle, frown, or sneer words.
Go ahead. Smile me a couple words.
The  readers won't care about this but grammar purists all over the English-speaking world are grinding their teeth. Can't you hear them?
Can one 'grind out' words? Spit them out? Cough them out?
I'm still thinking about this.

Also, one does not hiss dialog containing no 's' or 'z'.
It's not, "Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum," he hissed.

12) Many lines of dialog are tagged by responsion. We know who spoke because they are taking turns. (Middlemarch does this for pages.)
Tweedledee said, "Your fault!"
"Not," Tweedledum snapped.
"Is not."
"You're the one who put Cicero in the pudding."

13) Many lines are tagged by 'voice'. The reader knows the speaker because no one else sounds like that.

14) Many lines are tagged by special knowledge, by location in the scene, by what the speaker perceives. 

15) You can tag with Internal Monologue. This assigns the dialog to the POV character.
.....  "Probably you want to point that gun at the lizard men."  You idiot.  

16) You can tag with Internals, which also assigns the dialog to the POV character.
.....  "Probably you want to point that gun at the lizard men." George had always been an idiot.. "Not so much at the choir."


17) You can tag with Direct Address in a two-man conversation or where it tags the next line of dialog or responsion or where the Direct Address identifies the speaker. 'Not now, Papa' tags the daughter as the speaker.

Careful not to over use this. Real speak contains very little Direct Address.

In short, tagging dialog gives the writer a lotta freedom of choice. We only start out with 'said'.
We don't have to stay there. 
There's a whole big universe of clever things to do with words when we jump off and let go.


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Tobacco in the Regency

From the first importation of tobacco into Europe, to Spain, round about 1528, folks tried various ways to get the nicotine habit. By the Regency, folks had their choice of snuff, cigars, or pipes. 

Now, snuff is a whole extensive subject I am not going to go into except to say that it leads to a snuff boxes [pictures of snuff boxes] which are the delightful byproduct of a nasty habit. If I’d been living in the Georgian era I would have collected snuff boxes and carried them about full of little fruit pastilles. [pictures of fruit pastilles]

Were there cigarettes?
Well, no. Not really. Technically there was something fairly similar to cigarettes in Spain well before the Regency. They were called papelate and based on the South American custom of wrapping cut tobacco in rolled corn husks or bark or something other than a tobacco leaf. We have paintings of Spanish folks smoking this way, but no way to tell if papelate were routinely wrapped in paper.

To see the rest of this breathlessly fascinating post, (and have a chance to win a copy of one of my books,)  head over to Word Wenches here.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Timeline confusions (SPOILERS)


I've had a couple people come away from the timeline of the books a little confused.  In fact, the sound of heads banging on desks is about deafening.

So let me provide a general comment on the timeline as a Guide for the Perplexed.  And then I'll probably do it again in a week or so, but with more specificity than I can scrape together right now. And I'll only do that if I'm not buried in work of some kind or another.

We have three confusing time periods. Like ... sometimes I have two books happening at once.

1794 -- And we are in Forbidden Rose. Hawker, Pax and Justine are all young. Hawker is 12 or 13. Justine, 13. Pax, about 16.
Galba is Head of the Service. Grey has not yet joined the Service. Annique is living with the gypsies at this point. Doyle is a senior Independent Agent. Hawker is merely a raw possible recruit, on probation.

In 1794, Hawker walks onto the stage in Forbidden Rose leading a pair of tough little donkeys. About a third of the way into Forbidden Rose Hawker will meet Pax when they change duty at the watching post on Maggie's house. A bit later Justine and Hawker meet for the first time on the street outside Doyle's prison.
Black Hawk also visits 1794. This is in the first fallback section from the frame story.  We open that segment with Justine and Hawk getting together in Paris in front of the now-inactive guillotine.  This is the day after Doyle is freed from prison in Forbidden Rose.  In this segment of Black Hawk, Pax, Hawker, and Justine go to the Coach House and rescue the last Caches-in-training. 

Forbidden Rose and the 1794 section of Black Hawk then come together and end with the same scene. That's the one where Justine gives Severine into Maggie's keeping.

1802 -- This is where things gets complicated, because now we got three books involved.

In 1802 Justine and Hawker are 19 or 20. Pax is 24 or so.
Galba is Head of Service. Grey is Head of the British Section. Hawker is a young Independent Agent.

We have an 1802 segment of Black Hawk full of our three young spies saving Napoleon from an assassin. At the end of that 1802 section of Black Hawk, we see Justine shoot Hawker. This is on page 228.

The action of Spymaster's Lady opens five or six days after that shooting scene. Offstage, Grey and Hawker got picked up when Hawker was getting himself out of the Louvre. There is Hawker in prison, dying from Justine's bullet.  Annique gets thrown into the cell and they're off!!  Hawker, Grey, Annique and Doyle run headlong across France.

Rogue Spy starts when we're in the middle of the Spymaster's Lady timeline.  The two stories go forward in parallel. Action of one story happens while stuff is going on in the other.

While Pax in that tavern working up the courage to go
to Meeks Street, Grey and Annique are walking across Devon to London.

When Hawker visits Daisy's house in Rogue Spy it's been maybe three weeks since he was shot. He's only now come to terms with his final breakup with Justine. Meanwhile, across town, in Spymaster's Lady, Grey is dealing with Annique as a prisoner at Meeks Street.

Rogue Spy wraps up with the death of the Merchant but Spymaster's Lady continues. So later events like  Meeks Street headquarters getting shot up and Annique escaping to Soulier's house take place after Cami and Pax have already been married and sailed for France.

1818:  1818 is the frame story of Black Hawk. It's 16 years since Justine shot Hawker. Sixteen years since Cami and Pax, Grey and Annique married.

Hawker is Head of Service. Galba has retired. We haven't visited their timelines, but we can assume Cami and Pax, Grey and Annique have had many adventures in the intervening years, done important work, and have settled into a happy life. Maybe they have kids even.
And in 1818, Hawker and Justine marry.

So that's the way all these events spread out.
And that's just as clear as mud, isn't it?

Go ahead. Ask me something. I'll try to clarify.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

The Christmast Tree Says Goodbye

Yesterday was Twelfth Night, the last of the traditional Twelve Days of Christmas. It's gone and taken with it the Twelve Drummers Creche 7Drumming, Eleven Pipers Piping and the rest of that leaping, dancing, twittering lot. If you went in for Twelfth Night festivities -- the way my Regency folks probably did -- you'd be sleeping off a surfeit the food and drink today

We've come to the feast of Epiphany.

In my house, this is the day we take all the Christmas stuff down.

Christmas tree 2014 4I had a small, small Christmas tree this year. Green branches in various places, but a small tree. Many beautiful presents from friends and family. Much love. But not so much decoration of the house.  (The Kid had all four wisdom teeth out two days before Christmas so I was mostly figuring out how to be festive with no solid foods.)

Today I took the little tree down and de-decorated it. I will go out in the next couple days and plant it in a specially wondrous spot at the edge of the woods. For me, here at the beginning of the year, this is re-creation and new committment and planting a tree goes with that.
3 kings
In other news, Epiphany is the day the Magi show up, bearing gifts.  Melchior, 118px-07._Camel_Profile,_near_Silverton,_NSW,_07.07.2007Caspar, and Balthazar bringing gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Somehow I always think of camels on this date. They're bad-tempered, if you were wondering, and they bite.

I've posted this over on WordWenches here, if you want to see the comments.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Technical Topics -- On Modifiers

I was nattering on elsewhere about my stance on adjectives.
As I say, I'm not against modifiers. I'm just not in love with them.

Here's why, being general about it.
The strongest writing is powered by nouns and verbs. If we find ourselves needing lotsa modifiers, it may be because our nouns and verbs aren't doing their proper work.

At some stage of redraft, it's maybe useful to mentally pluck away all the modifiers -- the adverbs, adjectives, and modifying phrases -- and look at the writing without them.

Is this stripped-bare passage left without precision, color and exuberance? Can we perk up the nouns and verbs? Make them visual and specific?

Can we exchange 'the crisp, smooth-skinned, shiny-green eating apple' for 'the crisp Granny Smith'?

-- We're tempted by modifiers because they're easy to add. We can slather on three dozen adjectives in the time it takes to locate one good noun.

-- We're tempted by modifiers because most of the rare, impressive, Latinate words we know happen to be modifiers rather than nouns and verbs. (I think that's because our language base is Germanic. Latin is the fancy add-on.) 
And who doesn't want to sound erudite.

-- We're tempted by modifiers because we don't trust the strength of our own writing. So we concentrate on surface decoration rather than underlying sentence design. Then we end up with the dress way up above instead of the one here down below.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Technical Topic -- Starting With a Dream

Elsewhere, folks are discussing beginning the story with a dream sequence.

I have lots of stuff to say. 
Most of which I have already gifted to the world but am perfectly happy to say again.

So I go something like this:

Dear Dreamer,

When we approach a new story we ache to start with what happened to everybody in fifth grade and the history of the Seven Kingdoms and acting-out-stuff-we-could-tell-in-200-words. We are convinced the reader needs to know all this infodump and backstory to understand what's going on.

But this -- generally three chapters of -- backstory and infodump
doesn't belong in Chapter One.
Chapter One has lots of other stuff it needs to do,
and backstory gets in the way of doing that vital stuff.

A dream, even a recurrent dream that is important to the plot, sounds very much like backstory.

If you need the info contained in the dream, drop it in Chapter Eight:

Maurice looked up as she came in. "You look awful," he said.

"Another of those dreams."

He pulled over a new plate and put half his English muffin on it. Not the part he'd bitten into. The other half. "Tell me about it."

"I don't want to--"

"Tell me."

She dropped into the chair, propped her forehead in her hands and spoke, not looking at him. Not looking up. "It was ... 1943, I think. Or '44. I was a nurse, somewhere tropical. The South Pacific. They were bringing in sailors all mangled to bits. Some ship had been hit."

"And you were working on them. A bad enough dream." Maurice put milk in a cup of coffee. No sugar.

"I wasn't working. I was in ... a big browny-greeny tent. Hot. Sweaty inside. I was in my quarters in the tent, looking in a mirror. That was the worst, worse than what happened next. I looked in the mirror and it wasn't me."

"Like the other dreams."

"Like all the rest. I had a gun. I shot myself, looking in the mirror, seeing myself do it."

"Drink your coffee." Maurice set it down at her elbow.

That's 200 words. It conveys the information. It doesn't tangle the feet of Chapter One when Chapter One is busy doing other things.
It doesn't pull the reader out of the ongoing story to tell a little barely connected pocket story.
(If you absolutely must act out the info in the dream, this can become a flashback.)

And plopping the dream into the realtime of the story lets the protags immediately relate to the information of the dream.
That protag reaction gives the dream emotional meaning.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

What the Animals Got for Christmas

Cat in chair smallI don't forget the animals at Christmas. They may not know what's going on, but they know it involves food.

If I left them out of the festivities, the dog would gaze at me sadly, wondering how she'd failed me. What she'd done wrong.
The cat would stomp over and bite my ankles. Mandy with toys 2

So they both got finely chopped chicken served to them in a lordly dish with much crooning and praise.

Up there's the cat in her accustomed cat-coma, sleeping off Christmas dinner, cat version.
I didn't buy her any toys. She turns her nose up at toys.

Christmas birdAnd to the right here is the dog, slightly more alert than the feline. Note the new squeaky toy. It's blue. It has eyes. And spots. And three (count 'em three!!) air bladders inside, each squeaking at a different note. The dog has a high old time playing tunes on it.

Outside is the accustomed tribute for the birds. Sunflower seeds. Only the best for my feathered friends.

The dog is grateful.
The cat, as usual, accepts my tribute.
Who knows what birds feel?

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Winter Solstice

For some astronomical reason tonight is one of the longest nights earth has ever seen.

There's an article here that explains why, though I don't actually understand it, being one of those folks who looked on in puzzlement while people circled an orange around a lamp and explained summer and winter to me. I understood it for about five minutes, I think.

A friend in the Southern Hemisphere points out that for her this is one of the shortest nights ever. There is a certain strange balance in all things.

But locally there's sure as heck a long cold night acoming.

I light candles against all the kinds of darkness. Many good wishes for every one of you as the sun returns.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Winter. Snuggled in.

Snow. Ice pellets. Howling winds. Temps of 26 degrees.

But I bought milk, meat and apple juice yesterday. I bought roses.

I haz a wood stove. I haz kitty litter and satusmas. I haz egg custard and bread and a rough-draft chapter to whip into shape.

Life is good.
. . . so long as the electric holds out.

Friday, December 05, 2014

The Oldest White Horse on the Hill

The Oldest White Horse on the Hill

Joanna here, talking about a British hill figure, the White Horse of Uffington.
Uffington horse attrib davepriceThis is Nicola’s neighborhood, as you see here.  I will nonetheless forge on bravely into her bailiwick.
Okay. Let’s say you’re a Regency miss visiting friends in Oxfordshire in the parish of Uffington.  Even though the White Horse can be seen twenty miles away, your carriage arrived in the Vale of the White Horse at night. You had to pull yourself out of bed at dawn to creep out in the garden and finally see it.
A skimped, hurried breakfast and you’re off.  This is Midsummer’s Day. You drive through throngs in the morning to get to the White Horse. You’re not surprised there’s a fair and foodstalls, jugs of beer, and sports. Midsummer’s Day is always  a big event. You have a village fair back home in Yorkshire. But this is huge. Beyond Cerne_Abbas_Giant_Renovation_(10) There must be thousands of people here.
You’re in time to see the festivities start. The young men gather in a troop, up spade, shovel, mattocks, and hoe, and head up hill for the “scouring of the White Horse.”  All the nearby towns, you’ll be told, claim a role in the scouring and restoration of the White Horse by ancient custom.
Now I will break into your Regency scene here and say that I have been to the White Horse of Uffington myself.  It’s impressive. There it is, carved into the endless green, 374 feet long, 227 feet high.  Designed to be in proportion when viewed from below. It’s . . . big.
The figure is on the side of that sloping hill, just a lazy walk from the road below. It was clear and quiet when I was there.  The figure feels very old. The artistic convention of it is sophisticated, but alien.  And it’s beautiful.
There’s a superstition that if you stand in the ‘eye’ of the horse and make a wish, it’ll come true.  So I did that. And it pretty much did.
Back to the Regency, where I spend much of my time. Your giggly friend twirls her umbrella and admires the manly form of the local squire’s son who’s joined the village lads scraping away at the encroaching vegetation.
What it looks like near the eye
You climb the hill with the others to get a close look. The White Horse is made simply enough.  You can walk over and see how the shape of it is cut into the ground. This chalky ground underfoot has fascinated you from the first. The paths bordering the garden at your friend’s house are all perfectly, dazzlingly white. The stones in the fields are white. Under a layer of grass and dirt, you find chalk.  The White Horse was created when people scraped away the grass, set the edges, and filled in level with more chalk. But in every generation since then, these people have kept the figure alive. You’re lucky enough to see it happen when you arrive at the one-year-in-seven festival when the White Horse is ‘scoured’.
Come for the dancing, singing and drinking, stay for the legends.

Read the rest at Word Wenches.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Back again after a hiatus

Cat, for no reason
My blog has been in abeyance for a couple months. This is a 'New Book Coming Out and Desperately Doing Promo' sorta thing.

I will now try to keep on top of the blog again and post interesting things in a timely manner.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Regency Spices

 I was fumbling through my spice shelf the other day, as one does, trying to decide whether I wanted to make some kind of fancy beet salad to go with my last burrata cheese ball — this turned out to be a non-problem because I left Catonporch5the cheese on the counter while I was thinking all this and the cat jumped up, seized the cheese ball in her little white teeth, and went running off to scarf it down in secret under the forsythias.
Anyway, I got to wondering which of my spices I got here in my house would be in the kitchen cabinet of your well-supplied Regency housewife or cook.
Up above there’s my spice cabinet, which I have over the sink because having it over the stove is harder on the spices, them getting heated up and damp from the steam and all. As you will see, there is a bit of a crowd of spices.
So what spices and herbs do I hold in common with my Regency housewife?
She would have had access to all the herbs that grew in hedgerows and kitchen gardens since the first modern people walked across a land bridge into the British Isles about 40,000 years ago … though they didn’t so much go in for DSCN1986kitchen garden at that time.
A Regency woman would have easily matched my pitiful little array of traditional herbs. See them pictured in a line: sage, rosemary, mint, thyme, and oregano. She would have called the oregano ‘wild marjoram’, just to make everybody’s life interesting.
Wiki HerbsThe Regency housewife would have had many more of these traditional herbs at hand — dried or fresh parsley, (thus the ‘parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme’ that are headed to Scarborough Fair,) ordinary marjoram, dill, sweet basil, coriander, (of which more below,) fennel, garlic, scallions, mustard, saffron, and caraway. And she’d use herbs we don’t necessarily associate with everyday cuisine any more, like marigolds, lavender, roses, and violets, tansy, and angelica.

And follow the rest of this posting at Word Wenches here.