Monday, April 27, 2009


. . . for I am off to Ireland tomorrow. No, the kids aren't coming. Yes, it's just me and Chris. (Technically, for most of the time it will just be me, since Chris is going to Dublin to actually work. Not me--I'm on the Strictly Fun Tour.)

Everyone who reads my blog knows I love to travel, especially overseas. In honor of getting to visit a new country tomorrow, I thought I'd post some of my memorable moments from other overseas adventures.

1. Haiti: Gunshots in the alley behind our house. Lots of them. In the middle of the night. We always slept with our windows open, as well as the door to the balcony. All I could think of was how those bullets would ricochet around our cement-walled room if whoever was shooting aimed at our windows. Stayed awake for two hours. My missionary companion, on the other hand, sat up, looked out the window over her bed, and went back to sleep. (She'd been in the country a lot longer than I had--another couple months and I'd have just rolled over, too.)

2. Aruba: Topless beach. Our resort owned a private island that you got to by boat. Once there you could turn left, to the family beach, or right, to the topless beach. My husband wandered over there one day. Decided that most people who were topless on this beach should not have been.

3. Hong Kong: Having my mother detained at the Chinese border for an hour. My parents had come to visit, we took a day trip into China (since I am old, and this was before Hong Kong was returned to China, hence the border crossing) and apparently they didn't like the looks of my mother. We began to fear we'd spend our entire time in a border station, but eventually she was released into our care and we did get to see a little bit of China. Including pandas--that was cool.

4. South Africa: Sleeping on the floor of our hotel room because there weren't enough beds for the four of us.

5. England: Eating lunch in a crypt. St. Martin's-in-the-Fields' Church on Trafalgar Square has an aptly-named Crypt Cafe. You go down a level, pick up your food, and sit with gravestones beneath your feet.

6. Kenya: So many experiences, so little time :) But I've been dying to share this one. At the Nairobi airport the day my daughter and I flew home, we sat in the departure lounge for our British Air flight to London and watched the plane being prepped. It was the middle of the night and part of the prep apparently included a guy walking around the outside of the plane with a flashlight. What was he looking for--gashes in the side, fuel pouring out? And then he put the flashlight down and did a few pull-ups on one of the wheel struts. I'm telling you, that does not inspire great confidence when you're about to get on this plane for eight and a half hours.

7. Dubai: One more plane story. When my friend and I boarded the Emirates Air flight, we saw a very interesting notice written in big red letters to the side of the entry door. "IN EMERGENCY, CUT HERE". Imagine the emergencies that would require them to cut into an airplane. And then imagine that the rescuers need to be told where to cut.

It reminded me of a Friends episode, when Joey is building an entertainment center and his drill goes through the wall next to Chandler's head.

Joey: "Oh, sorry, did I get you?"

Chandler: "No, you didn't get me. It's an electric drill--you get me, you kill me!"

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Anyone besides me stuck in the midst of road construction this spring?

It's one of the drawbacks to having moved to what was, 11 years ago, little more than a few dozen houses next to the lake and is now a thriving near-city. Businesses, schools and roads have all had to play catch-up.

Which is fine. I'm not whining. (I may be whinging a bit, but that's completely different. For one thing, whinging is done in a British accent, which makes everything sound better.)

But I've noticed something unsettling as I've crawled along the road these last few weeks--all of this construction bears a disconcerting resemblance to the way I write.

In other words--it's a mess.

I would never have guessed I'd be a messy writer. After all, I'm quite neat with my belongings. My home is orderly. My calendar is up-to-date. I can find anything I need to on my bookshelves or in my closet. I almost always do the dishes before bed so the kitchen is clean when I get up. I hate piles of things and am very good at throwing out stuff.

Logically, one would expect that such behavior would carry over into my writing. One would expect that I have nice, neat outlines before I begin the first draft (or at least the second). One would expect that I would plan before starting. One would expect, at a minimum, that I would know, not only the beginning and the end, but anywhere from 2 to 8 plot points in between. One would expect I would do all my research in advance and keep it nicely filed to call upon as needed. One would expect that revisions for me would be a matter of cleaning and tidying.

One would be wrong.

I'm more like road construction--dirty, annoying, and with no pattern at all discernible to the naked eye.

Take my current WIP. You know I finished the first draft in November. You know I started the second draft in January. You would think (heck, even I would think) that after living with this story since last August and completing one and one-half drafts, that I would know precisely who does what and why.


At this point, the only thing I can say with complete confidence is that it's a timeslip romance. (Timeslip being a slightly more melodic word for time travel.) There's a girl, there's a guy, there's death and history and a first kiss. All the rest is still up for grabs.

Except the ending. I do always know my endings. To carry on my analogy, I know where my road is going, I just don't know exactly how it's going to get there.

But I've decided I wouldn't have it any other way. (Which may just be a case of making a virtue of necessity, but better that than fretting about it.) Because in the mess, my imagination is unleashed. I don't know why that is. I don't know why my mind won't wander at will before I've gone to the trouble of writing 70,000+ words. All I know is that the actual writing--not outline writing, not synopsis writing, not idea brainstorming--the actual writing of the story starting at the beginning and going on to the end is the only way I've found to discover what's going to happen.

This time (in the second draft, mind you) I'm discovering that I have some great secondary characters that are bursting to have as much fun as my heroine and hero. Which is fabulous--until I realize I need to go back 1 or 2 or 6 chapters and fix a detail or dialogue that no longer matches. Like I said, it's the drawback. The price I pay for being messy. But in the midst of the mess, I can see the straight, shining ribbon of black that is my story and it's worth all the backhoes and dump trucks and traffic jams to make it real.

Back to the mess.

Friday, April 03, 2009


What's not to love in a new Armand Gamache novel? This time, Inspector Gamache of the Quebec Surete and his wife are celebrating their anniversary at a remote lakeside inn. The only other guests are a family in the midst of a rather tense reunion. The town of Three Pines, where the first three Gamache novels were set, gets a cameo appearance, as two of the town's inhabitants are at the family reunion. Which leads to awkwardness for Gamache when he has to suspect his friends of committing murder. An ingenious method (a statue walking off its plinth) and a surfeit of bad feelings is a good backdrop for Gamache's kind of investigating. A moving sub-plot about Gamache's personal history adds depth to the entire story. What are you waiting for? Go get STILL LIFE and meet a wonderful detective and storyteller.

It goes without saying (but I'll say it anyway) that I adore everything written by Bill Bryson. The minus in this grade comes solely because it's not a travel book, which are my favorites. This is a memoir of growing up in the 50s in Iowa and had me, naturally, laughing out loud. From Bryson's mother, who wrote a newspaper column and didn't know her son skipped most of elementary school, to the advent of color TV, to the innocence of a time when a woman could slip away from a White House tour and not be found for four hours (while setting more than a dozen small fires), Bryson delivers yet another wonderful book.

A classic historical romance, about a mathematical Duke and the Quaker girl who saves his life. When the Duke of Jervaulx has a stroke (although, of course, no one in the book knows what it is), he winds up in an insane asylum where Maddy Timms becomes convinced that, although he may have lost his speech, he hasn't lost his wits. She becomes his advocate and, eventually, his wife, all in an attempt to protect him from his avarious family who want him stripped of his title and property and locked away for life. Jervaulx is impatient, unkind, and sometimes cruel--Maddy is self-righteous and scared of what she feels for her unexpected husband. The story took me on a lot of twists and turns before delivering a most satisfying conclusion.

THE LIKENESS/Tana French/A++
This is going on my list of favorite books ever. The follow-up to INTO THE WOODS, this novel is centered on Cassie Maddox. In the fall-out from the previous book's end, Cassie has moved from Murder to Domestic Violence. But then a woman is found dead--a woman who looks uncannily like Cassie. Even odder--she's using a name and a persona that Cassie created years ago as an Undercover officer. So Cassie once more takes up the skin of someone else's life, this time to try and find a murderer from the inside. Besides being a wonderful story, this book is bursting with questions of identity and friendship and ethics. I simply loved it. And a more satisfying end than INTO THE WOODS. I can't wait to see what French does next.

CORALINE/Neil Gaiman/A-
Totally and completely freaked me out. A kid's book, no less. One I gave my daughter to read. Coraline is a girl longing for adventure with parents who are busy being, well, adults. And then she discovers a doorway in her house that leads to a parallel world, with parallel parents who have button eyes and want Coraline to stay with them forever. Coraline prudently leaves--but then discovers that her own parents have vanished. To save them, she has to return to the parallel world, with only a talking cat and her own courage for guidance. She is a resourceful and wonderful child--but man, I had nightmares after. My daughter didn't--I'm not sure what that says about the two of us.

BAD FAITH/Carmen Callil/B+
A history of a truly nasty person in a truly nasty time--Louis Darquier who served as the Commisar of Jewish Affairs in France's Vichy government. The author had a personal connection to this history--Darquier's daughter, Anne (whom he and his wife left in England with a nanny as a baby and never saw again) was the author's psychiatrist for years before, at the age of 40, committing suicide. That led Carmen Callil to investigate Anne's background, leading her to a virulently anti-Semitic man who'd do anything for money and an Australian mother who was too drunk and drugged to protest even if she'd wanted to. It was an unflattering portrait of Vichy (the French government that ruled by Nazi permission during their Occupation of France) and a horrifying look at the sentiments that allowed tens of thousands of French Jews to be deported to death camps in the east.

A small story for fans of THE GOLDEN COMPASS trilogy, recounting the first meeting of the Texan balloonist Lee and the warrior bear Iorek who both feature heavily in the other books. Definitely recommended if you're a Pullman fan.

Joss Whedon. Quotes from 7 seasons of Buffy. What more can I say? Except, perhaps, "I laugh in the face of danger. And then I run away." Or maybe, "This is the crack team that foils my every plan? I am deeply shamed." Or even, "If you get killed, I'm telling."

IN THE HEART OF THE SEA/Nathaniel Philbrick/A
A fabulous true survival story, about the wreck of the whaleship Essex in 1820, an event that inspired Melville's novel MOBY DICK. With a good grounding in Nantucket and the history and culture of whaling life, the story picks up in the far reaches of the Pacific where, for the first time in recorded history, a whale attacked a whaling ship. Not just attacked--sunk. The 19 men aboard made it into 3 smaller boats used to hunt the whales and had to navigate 3000 miles to the west coast of South America. Only four survived. This is not a story for the faint of heart--there is stupidity and ignorance and cannibalism. But talk about transporting the reader to another time and place. Suffice it to say I don't feel the need to ever go whaling--I'll just pick up this book if the impulse strikes.

FREEDOM/Malika Oufkir/D
Sadly, after a month of one great book after another, I ended with this one. I enjoyed Oufkir's previous memoir, about 20 years spent as a political prisoner in Morocco, but this follow-up left me cold. It read more like her diary, a disjointed, disconnected series of impressions about adjusting to her new life in France. I'd skip this one and stick with the first, STOLEN LIVES.