Thursday, September 29, 2011


You know, when the Heartrending Economic Nooz Story of the day consists of my being expected to pity a family whose house is underwater, and the entire story features them playing with multiple iPads in ginormous, clearly VERY expensive space, furnished with wildly expensive designer leather furniture and a mid-century modern lamp I have seen for MINIMUM $1200 in some rather extensive and extremely recent shopping (and often over two grand) - I have to say, the level of my sympathy hits nil.  Just.  Not.  Feeling it.  Sorry, hugely conformist, conventionally pretty, trendy, young family people.  I've got nothing for you guys.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Pimping out "Changes" for a BMW ad?  Really?

I refuse to even link that blasphemeousness.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

More Histfic in Theaters

I have an affection for Michael York's Musketeer (he's always been one of those few blond men who got my attention) - but as someone marketing histfic of an adventurous nature, I can never argue seeing new versions of such stories coming to the screen.  Woo!

Quote of the Day

Leila, we love you.

"I'm all for Star Trek.  But we have to conquer them all before we can get to the Federation."

Winfrey Readin'

Zuba and I talked yesterday for the longest time.  We don't get to do that much, but the stars happened to align, and it's always a gas when we get to have a nice long call.  We were talking about the book at some point, and she told me she keeps a hard copy of it in a binder - she was one of my readers once upon a time.  A friend of hers was over at the house once, and she was telling me yesterday - "She asked me if you had thought about submitting this to Oprah."


Of course, this point is moot - not only with The Big O having retired her big show, but also given the fact that (even if she had time to read all the insane amounts of pitches one imagines a magnate such as herself must receive in an endless and misguided flow) Oprah is not actually in publishing.  Yes, she publishES - sure.  But she's not an imprint, and she's not an agent.  I have enough education in this field to know what doesn't work - and tugging the prodigious sleeve of Ms. Winfrey is as useful as recording a YouTube of my pitch and rilly rilly rilly RILLY hoping that my dream agent will come find ME.  Without any work.

Still.  Part of the reason for my "heh" above is that ... truth be told, In the Beginning - I did actually mention a couple of times how Oprah had featured "Pillars of the Earth" on her book club in November 2007.  The problem is, of course, in 2011 (almost 2012) discussing what a now-defunct talk show featured four years ago is about as effective as discussing the economy in 2007 terms.  The cycle is past, the (publishing) world has moved on.  In 2007 Harry Potter was still alive and so was Osama bin Laden.  2007 was another time, another place.

But in 2007 "The Tudors" cropped up, and reminded people how much they like histfic (emphasis on the FIC) for several years going.  "Spartacus:  Blood and Sand" (RIP Andy Whitfield) reminded them how much fun it is to turn it into Grand Guignol.  Wolf Hall won the Man Booker in 2009, and their long and short lists don't ignore histfic with any sort of reliable snobbery.

I just didn't happen to write about the Tudors.  They do seem perennial sellers - but they aren't the only history worth telling.  (And even they consist of more than Eight, Ann, and Elizabeth.)  It happens, I refuse to believe the Tudors are the start and end of interesting stories in history.  I have it on good authority, too:  I am not the only such blasphemer ...

Just think - Oprah herself read, with enthusiasm, about beheadings in medieval times, and exhorted a vast array of readership to do the same along with her.

Can ax-ings in Late Antiquity/the "Dark Ages" really be so far behind ... ?

Grey Weekends

Overcast and rain are kind of a wonderful thing to see around here, after years of frequent and often sustained drought.  The past week and a half have been unusually grey and wet, and the past week has been more than once hot and humid rather than cool, feeling like the beginning of autumn.  It isn't unusual for September to stay warm - but even in years without so much drought, humidity is usually finished with us at this point.  I've worn sweaters a couple of times, and put the sundresses away, exchanging for a few three-quarter sleeve or multi-season weight longer sleeve knits.  But October is less than a week away, and the short sleeves aren't ready for retirement just yet.

Today, the SBC gets together, and today I may send a query directly to the publisher who posted at one of my fora, asking for submissions from authors.  This morning, I take another fistful of analgesics.  Tonight, I suspect I will rest.

Grey Sundays are nice.  I'm beginning to look forward to sunshine again, though.  I get restless even with too much of a good thing.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


One of the fora I belong to has a lively thread right now, discussing authors' expectations - specifically, how it feels for a writer seeing scathingly negative user reviews at Amazon and the like.

I've made a point of developing a process callus; a good level of tolerance for criticism on a piece I am working on.  I also have a sort of dividing line, I think - between actual critique and what I think of as "the guitarist at the back of the bar" (someone smarming about perceived shortcomings, but whose commentary has less meaning than the comments of those who put thought into criticism).  The Guitarist is the person watching a band on stage, sneering how much better she or he could do than those performing.  The Guitarist is speaking more for the value of what he or she has to say than in response to what's really happening live up front.  The Guitarist, in terms of literary criticism, is the person reading who "hates" a work because they disagree with choices an author makes, rather than because it's poor storytelling or just not compelling for one reason or other.  The Guitarist is the person most likely to come up with cruelty, ugliness, and insult in critique.

The Guitarist is an element I expect to crop up once I am published, but *hope* will not upset me much.  Because, very often, Guitarists represent the power of backlash against something particularly large, successful, or culturally prominent ... it's entirely possible I won't hear a lot of their thrumming.  Successful as I expect to be, I'm not under any illusions that J. K. Rowling need ever step aside to make room for my publishing accomplishments.

Actual criticism, however, fascinates me.

The critic is someone who really reads, and who develops sincere - and not necessarily emotionally-based - opinions.  The critic is someone who may well not like my work - but will be able to say that this is because the subject matter didn't engage them, or because the language was overwrought for their taste, or perhaps because the choices I made didn't work - and here's why.  This isn't someone who'll be crowing about what a hack I am, nor insulting me personally for the temerity of writing my novel at all.

The scary thing is that the critic is no one identity.

As I have learned that "historical fiction" has no single set definition - and that an agent claiming to rep it isn't necessarily the agent for me - so it is true that a reader who likes histfic, even military or religious or royal histfic, isn't necessarily going to like my work.  Even those who enjoy authors and works I consider similar enough to my own that I've used them in my proto-marketing may not glom to my stuff for one reason or another.  I think people who watch Game of Thrones might like The Ax and the Vase - but the Venn diagram illustrating both subsets and any shared audience is never going to come out to a zero sum.

It becomes necessary at some point to honestly realize, and accept, the inevitability that some people who read Ax will dislike it.  The question, then, is how much does that matter?  I'm not the sort for whom imperviousness to opinion is strong enough I'll be able to just sniff, dismiss, and say "I've sold x-number-of-thousands of copies" and tell critics and myself that it doesn't matter.  There are times my state of still being in potential - as opposed to having experienced being published ... being *seen* ... has clear advantages to me.  The future can still be so many things.  I can still hear my own chords, not that Guitarist at the back of the bar.  So far, there's no heckling and jeering to be hurt by, worried about.

I'm still nearly alone with my love of the work I was somehow able to produce.  It's recognizeable how precious a time, in some ways, this is.

At the end of the day, though ... the point of picking up the instrument is to play.  Is to go out there.  Is to present myself to everyone - Guitarists and all.

I may be nervous about that.  But it doesn't make me want to quit.

Time to Get Back to *Writing*-Blogging

Okay, the  diagnosis is not terminal.  Let's get back to talking about the craft of wordliness, shall we?

Friday, September 23, 2011


Conditions are never just right. People who delay action until all factors are favorable are the kind who do nothing.
--William Feather

What the man said.

Having been an English literary graduate, I've been trying to avoid the idea of doing art ever since. I think the idea of art kills creativity. I think media are at their most interesting before anybody's thought of calling them art, when people still think they're just a load of junk.
--Douglas Adams

And, as to what this man says:  funnily, though it tends to play well with my thoughts on my own creativity, I'm not entirely sure whether I actually work up enough concern about the whole thing to say I even go so far as to agree.  Still, it's a nice little buttress for my "blah, I'm not an artist" schtick - plus, it's an Adams quote - so up it goes!

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Today is my mother's birthday, and I have hardly gotten to say hello to her.  Tomorrow is the day we (begin to ... ?) find out whether my friend is dying of pulmonary fibrosis.

My grandmother died of PF.

My dad did.

It is simply, literally beyond my comprehension that a friend I have known since I was a twelve year old girl ... could die.  I love her so very much.  She has been a friend like none of my others; winsome and silly and all the things we naturally love - but her heart is unnatural.  It is wide and kind and utterly loyal.  She has for a husband a man with one just like it.  Her friendship is a gift I have been thankful for, has spanned across thirty-one years now.  We were little girls when we met.

We still are.

She is a woman of a depth of generosity I have always admired; she is brash, and wonderfully crass, and has a mean streak just as wide as mine.  She is pragmatic - and romantic.  But for her friends - and I am one of the oldest - she is the deepest well.  She was there for me when dad died.  I can hardly bear the thought of being there for her when she does.  Of being there for her husband, who is also, so truly, so deeply, my friend.

Please pray for peace.

Pray for my beautiful, bitchy, batty, and beloved friend.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Extremities: Work!

I'll just tell The Story of Today here as I told it to Mr. X ...


Today has been one of those days that try the worthiness of any paycheck. I think I told you yesterday about the situation with the wrong name on a new hire. Today, I came in and began to tackle the outstanding issues, because I needed to do that to distract myself. (My sick friend) has been on my mind, and I was pushing through.  I know I blow on and on about how great I am at work - but since coming here, I really DO take especial pride in it, and put in very high effort as well. So today I determined to deal with my weepiness and distraction, and beat on it with a lot of very concrete, very useful action. I lobbed a lot of "please confirm" and "let me know what to do" around and felt next steps should be progress.

By 2:00 I could see three new hires whose accounts (though background is confirmed cleared) were still not enabled. I had also just received word that the huge several-days of meetings I'd set and begun firming up had been blown out of the water. So I'm working to (a) reach out on the accounts, and (b) find new meeting space, which in a twelve-bank system spanning the nation, I probably need not tell you is not a minor job. And (coworker) is pinging me a LOT asking about progress on (b) - to the point where I sort of gave her a sit-down via text and told her I was having to prioritize the new hires' accounts, and was working on the meeting as I could.  In a few minutes, I was midway down my existing list, and compiling the (grim/lack of) results already. I fired those off and commenced a new round of calls on the accounts.

In the end, it took until midafternoon for me to winkle out that the account contact was out - so I followed her voice mail's instructions and left a message at the service center. Who "usually respond within an hour." An hour and a half later, I am calling again, and receive the instruction to call the central Help Desk. Which: no. This is almost as good as the time I did call the central HD and received the instruction, regarding my broken printer, "contact your department admin."


So today has been a war zone, and ever-increasingly stressful. I just received my ping that my 5:00 "dailies" are due for my boss - a pinger I am usually ahead of by a couple of hours. I haven't even looked at his day tomorrow, so this could run me into overtime - I can't expect to get out of here anything like on time - and I've got grass to mow, and limited daylight to do it (though I don't think we did get the rain I was hearing about).

Oh and then there was the trip to the restroom, where one paper seat cover fell in before I could get situated.  The second - thanks to The Wonder of Modern Technology - auto-flushed even as I was READY (ahem) to get situated, but not quite there yet.  So I stood there and pulled out a third, so stressed at this point (and no puppies handy to poke in the eyeballs), literally screaming just a little bit from frustration.

Anyway. I finally reach a relevant human body on the new accounts and learn that the background clearance hasn't come through. Which I know I saw yesterday MORNING - and here we are, it's after 4:00 p.m. I reach out to HR and leave a message saying as sweetly (as someone can who is in an emotional state to gleefully poke puppies in the eye by now) as I can, please LET ME KNOW WHAT I CAN DO. I'm hardly off the phone when my phone rings again - and it's Relevant Human Body, saying, "gee, found that clearance - with so-and-so out, I hadn't looked today - hey thanks for the reminder."

Bits of me keep passing out at this point, and I believe my brains and some strategically important teeth and organs fell out on my desk.

So ... because so-and-so was out of the office ... nobody LOOKED FOR CLEARANCES ... ??? Is what you are telling me?

Yeah. You are welcome for that REMINDER.

Within ten minutes, three confirmations banged into my inbox in QUICK succession. Bam! Bam! Bam! New acconts, all enabled.


Off to set up the dailies and GTFO if you get my drift. The confirmations did help me out, but just having the backwash of stress like this is enough to make you want to bolt.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Getting There

It should be possible to get through the remaining list of agents before the Conference, which is both a goal and a frustration - because then it'll be time to compile yet a new list.  Boy am I glad I have JRW to look forward to!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Two and a Half Days

... and weekends are never long enough!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Interesting Searches

This string is coming up in my stats these days.  Have to admit:  encouraging.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Book Associations

About a week ago, X and I were talking about reading and writing, and I brought up A Memory of Lions again. He's aware of the book, and of course I have gone on public record with its influence on my own work. Oddly enough, this was the first time I explicitly recommended he read the book, though. We've talked about "voice" a bit of late; his own tone and voice, as he has begun work on a regular review column, and the way he makes such a good reader for mine. So in thinking about my own, I said, really - read Memory and it will make so much about my own writing and focus so clear to you.

And that was the first time I heard it.

X's ex had a thing for Godwin's (better known) work - and also for Mary Stewart.

My mom has been making fun of me for twenty-nine years now, over my habit of re-reading books - specifically, and *most* particularly: Stewart's Arthuriana. As he put it to me last week - she felt she didn't have to read any more Arthurian works. And I have always felt the same. Much of an Arthurian/Merlin nerd as I should have been, I was actually very limited in my indulgences - because nobody could have improved on my experience of The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, and The Last Enchantment. Even The Wicked Day, though I liked it, almost felt extra-canonical to me. A good book, but the whole had already been produced.

X's ex, apparently, had that relationship with both Stewart *and* Godwin.

I've read Sherwood, Memory, and even Godwin's modern satires, Waiting for the Galactic Bus and Snake Oil Wars - but never have gotten myself to crack Firelord. It seems, with Parke Godwin, I'm almost obsessively a one-book woman. Sherwood was GOOD. But Memory is something deeper - and something far to special to me. TOO special. I can't let anything stand beside it - not even Godwin's other works. What if I felt about Firelord as I do about Sherwood? It would be a pointless read. And Stewart's Merlin did it all for me.

So it was a funny thing to find, after all these years knowing him, this strange new thing to know. That a man would find two women who are suckers for the same books - something so unique and so personal as a book - isn't anything odd. (As he put it, roughly, "geeky is as geeky does" or something like that.) What was strange was such an intimate similarity between myself and her. It shouldn't, yet it strikes me odd we have the same tastes in something that means so much to me. Obviously, we've had the same taste in something else that means rather a lot to me - and I am not of the type to find reasons to (a) dislike or (b) disrespect "the ex" generally. I'm not nuts about everything she does, but it's not as if our lives actually touch, so for the most part her existence is no-harm/no-foul as far as I'm concerned. Yet I've always maintained an implicit expectation of our dissimilarity overall. We've gravitated to vastly differing lifestyles - so the fact of our respective involvement with X has never generated much interest in her.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this odd little bump in the night - was that X felt some reluctance toward the reading recommendation. The mental association of the author is *that* strong, for him, with her. To go into a Godwin book - even one he's not sure she's even read - simply *speaks* of her, to him.  My being something of a unique and special creature in his life, he recoils from tying me to anything else, even by my own association.

And that is the surprise.

Writing, for me - no matter my denials of how precious each baby word may or may not be to me - no matter how pragmatic about my work, my characters, my talent; or the marketing, etc. - is "mine". If it's not a badge I wear to prove anything to people, it IS a commitment for me. And I have learned how to commit, in this life. I am dedicated to my authorship, and "take it personally" so to speak. Right down to my voice - and where I learned it.



Earlier this morning, I was listening to Rolling in the Deep again. A friend who's a coworker is in town for meetings, and she brought me both of Adele's CDs. So I had it playing - and Rolling is the first track on 21. It was all I could do to contain myself, listening to that song. Its power is unbroken for me, no matter how often I hear it - and here I was, sitting at my desk, all but weeping.

Not a lot of art nor even personal emotion actually can overcome me. It takes something I care about VERY deeply to exert such influence over me.

A Memory of Lions' influence over me is complete. As complete as Rolling is. As complete as that swelling, bombastic bit of Wendy Carlos' Moog-performed Brandenberg concerto, the piece my dad used to play to wake up my brother and me. As complete as the memory of a hospital ... where I held my dad's still-warm hand ... where I first held my youngest niece, and smelled her red-gold head. Memory is the one piece of literature which owns me outright; the work I would save from a fire; the one I would seek on the worst day of my life. It is beautiful, but not because it is fanciful. It's, like ... X-beautiful to me, actually. It can be so hard, it can be so sad ... it can be so joyous. It can make you stand up, make you want to fight. Make you silent.

I don't know whether the power of her books is the same for X's ex. It's odd, but I find myself incurious. And I don't resent his reluctance to partake of this thing, so meaningful to me. Life is an odd thing; sometimes it comes up with stuff like this - and if you ascribe too much to it, if you CARE about it beyond synchronicity's inherent interest, you can drive yourself a little mad. Perhaps it's reassuring, some thread in the women this man I love has in turn loved. He spent more than a quarter of his life with her; and he and I have spent almost as long, ourselves, knowing each other now.

X knows me better than any other person ever has - and yet his curiosity is inexhaustible, I sometimes think. Certainly, we never run out of things we want to talk with each other about.

Finding unexpected surprises is a part of the blessing of attracting fascinating people to your life. I'll never forget the time he showed me that ridiculously funny spit trick he can do. And he's unlikely to be able to ever wipe his memory clean of some of my funnier attributes.

It's kind of a joy, though, that not everything left to learn is just that much workaday triviality.

I contain multitudes (my blog profile says so!). So does X. What a neat collection of things human beings are.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Research Rats

This is one of those nights where the agents are just blurring before my eyes.  Work went from seven to six today, and I didn't get done at home the things I had planned either.  And now I can't really seem to manage even just sitting here and seeing straight.

It'd help if I weren't clicking on the ones who like "every kind of commercial and literary fiction" (as long as it's good - because isn't that a hepfully nondescriptive phrase) - or the ones who require snail mail submissions, which I just don't feel like I can do tonight.

Monday, September 12, 2011


I remember when it took me almost a minute to scroll through my latest list of agents to query in my Favorites menu.  Now, a mere three quick "page down"'s and I see a nice chunk of other links in addition to what now remains of the list.  It started at over 120 agents, and even with the occasional swing from one agent to finding a better one at the same agency during my researches (this is what happened with my recent Big Response, actually), I have burned off easily 80% of that.  Whew.

Go me.  And the Conference is in less than a month now, too.  Busy times - and very good ones.

JRW: Annual James River Writers Conference Attracts National Literary Talent

RICHMOND, Va., Sept. 12, 2011—“Some of the most exceptional and talented writers publishing today” will highlight this fall’s ninth annual James River Writers Conference, according to conference chair Katharine Herndon, a Richmond-based educator and writer.

The conference will be held Oct. 6-8 at the Library of Virginia in downtown Richmond. “This year’s lineup of exceptional national talent is once again drawing attention across our region,” Herndon said. “Attendees will join Richmond’s lively, growing literary community for exploration into all facets of today’s changing publishing scene.”

This year’s headliners include:

Tayari Jones, winner of the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award for Debut Fiction for Leaving Atlanta
Kathi Appelt, winner of the Newbery Honor Award for The Underneath
John Casey, winner of the National Book Award for Spartina
Robert Goolrick, the New York Times bestselling author of A Reliable Wife
Karl Marlantes, winner of the William E. Colby Award for the New York Times bestselling Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War

“In addition to being able to meet and greet our headliners,” Herndon said, “attendees will be able to take part in one-on-one pitches with top publishing agents.”

Also, conference participants will attend sessions on everything from digging deep into character and writing in various genres to launching an online Twitter presence as a promotional tool.

Attendees will enjoy soaking up the atmosphere, mingling with top authors and writing professionals, and finding inspiration for their inner muses. The entire program fits with the James River Writers mission of connecting and inspiring writers and readers.

Registration is $190.00. Pre-conference workshop registration in fiction and poetry is $40.00. Registration and further details, including information on hotel accommodations, are available on JRW’s Web site,, and by calling 804-433-3790.

Friday, September 9, 2011

My Dad Called it Fighting the Dragon

... my beloved friend ... just says it feels like someone is sitting on her chest.  She is near weeping - from the fear.  From the pain.

Oh my lord Christ.  How can I be a good friend to her?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Wow II - You Can Boogaloo if You Want To

I got a detailed, thoughtful, engaging request for a full within about twelve hours after the query.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


I just pulled up to an agency on my list with the most intensely well-written and inviting copy I have seen YET on any site in all of the research I have done so far.  And this agency, yes, does histfic - and reps some works I would absolutely WIGGLE to get in alongside.

It can be an incredibly hard job, just finding an agent at all who does my genre, or does my particular type of my genre, or who is open-minded, seems intelligent, and manages a diverse catalogue.  This place is exceptionally intriguing.  Not by dint of their obvious success.  But because it is so obvious how they should have become so.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Recycled Lou

The dedication I've had on The Ax and the Vase since it was a little baby book, not even a manuscript yet, says:

To Louise Smith and those who recycled her name

Louise Smith was my grandma, and mom and dad gave me her first name for my middle name.  And my middle name is how I became an author.

When I was a kid, if anyone ever found out my name, they called me "Weezy" after Mrs. Jefferson - and they always did so with this screeching pronunciation - so it was never my favorite part of my name.  Diane doesn't really seem to have any provenance but that mom liked it, and Major ... well, that part of my name will come up in a later novel.  It's #3 in line and a rollicking story.

But Louise, now ... Louise wasn't a good name, in my book, for a quite long time.

Then I learned its etymology.

I also learned to love the link to my grandma.  I am the only Louise in my generation of the family.  And my grandma ... can never be replicated.

Sooner or later, running across Clovis had to happen.


Clovis' name is the progenitor of mine, of course - but even "Clovis" isn't the real name.  It is the Romanized version of a name we theorize was most likely something more like "Chlodo-vechus".

Chlodo ... Hludo - the first-root means famed, but is also a distant cousin of the word loud.  I can appreciate this, as a part of myself.  Nobody much mistakes me for a dainty, shy flower.  And, if fame is not a state I in fact seek, the essence of meaning in the word, the stream and thread of meaning that links it to A Big Noise, is something I understand.  Clovis was a seeker of glory.

Vechus ... Wiga - the second-root means warlike, warrior - a man of conflict, of terrible power.  Clovis sought this through his whole life.

Famed warrior.

Glorious victory.

Clovis had a connection to his name far more fundamental than me and my Weezy issues.  He fulfilled its promise - its threat - its ultimate depth - absolutely.

He was named by his mother, the Queen Basina.  She became Queen to Clovis' father in a welter of scandal, and I enjoyed countless inspirations creating her character.  Legend of her is rife with her overweening pride, her terrible selfishness, her unseemly behavior.  And she it was who endowed her son with his epoch-shaking name.

Because his name has adorned dozens of monarchs ... been appropriated in languages across the world ... survived a millenium and a half ... and burned with enough power people still reach for its light even not perceiving the fire.  Clovis.  Louis.  Ludwig.  Ludovico.  Lew, Lou, variations of centuries, cultures - genders - the most dizzying array of extensions ...  He lives with us, almost anyplace.  It's a given name.  It's a surname.

It is a middle name.

And I am so grateful to have been given it.  To share it with my granny.

To share it with my King.

To have told some part of its endless story.


Dad would have been seventy-four today.  I can't believe it's been nine years.

That's not all that much less than a third of the whole time I had him for a dad to begin with.

And THAT is simply impossible to believe.  My dad is forever.  And he was the best.

Just One

Just one query tonight, but not the only one for the holiday weekend, and I have done a stack of eliminations too (most of them today, I think), but I am going to stand. This one is a fast responder, too, so that will be nice. Still not getting responses - even on the partial request from April 18. *Sigh*

Time to button up anything work-like, though. The query's out, the query spreadsheet updated (and I found out poring over it I actually recently re-queried someone I had already done - D'OH! - but if I only do that once in my process, that may actually be above average), and I want to sit back and talk politics with the dog for a while. Which is to say, in Major-speak: relax. Just a few more hours before September at Work - and September, this year, is promising to be hairy.

Talking politics it is, for now. And blogging.

Query Letter Advice

I'm not very good about loving to read about the process of shilling, but for some reason query tips do usually get my attention.  Here's a link with query letters and their commentaries.

I love marginalia, so commentaries on queries is bait for me.  Enjoy - and don't forget to read further for dos and don'ts as well.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Merrily Damned

More than one of the images in the post below come from one of the vintage films I've been watching this week, Merrily We Go to Hell (and now, feel free to guess what got me on that train of thought).  This is the lurid tale of an alcoholic, love of whom turns perhaps the freshest and most darling girl I've ever seen onscreen ...

... into a despairing victim.

And yet, as melodramatic as this kind of a thing could and even should go, this film contains two of the best performances I have seen in recent memory.  Sylvia Sidney is our heroine (and those of us of a certain age will NEVER believe the flicks we know her for - though she makes a convincing case for quitting), and she is simply remarkable.  Not least for her outright loveliness - but she also starts us off with a convincing, fresh ingenue and brings us through a certain jading, and finally to her ultimate understanding.  Clearly, this actress could not have been exactly what we see in her first scenes - in order to play her later ones - so the deveopment is rather remarkable to watch, and the innocence no less fresh when you reconsider the first act.

It is an impressive piece of work, and she sounds, looks, and breathes exactly right throughout.  The film is really hers - and she is a fully rightful owner.  It's excellent.

Played against this, we have the alcoholic husband, Frederick March.  March has some very nice credits to his name, but I never rememeber being quite so stricken by him before.  A leading man less than firmly at the center of attention, his role as Jerry is incredibly tricky.  He plays a pretty good drunk - not Foster Brooks-ing it up, and yet not underplaying the condition either.  Affable and definitely fumbling, when his focus is clear, his charm is genuine.  You find yourself rooting for him, and glad he finds as lovely a woman as Joan - and yet, we all know, the "happy ending" comes way too soon to tell the whole story.

March's performance in the wedding scene alone is an amazing balance.  That scene is all his, and he is perfect.

The screen pairing is enjoyable, too.  These people are appealing, have that thing we so like to call "chemistry" - and even though we know their fate will either have to be unbelievable (i.e.: happy) or, barring that, unsatisfying (less so), but sometimes, with movies, getting there is all the fun.

Of course, "fun" and "entertainment" become unfortunate terms in the telling of a story like this one, but it is a pretty great movie.  Though the story has some of the inevitable compromises of both film and its day, the endpoint is worth reaching, with these leads.  Very definitely recommended.

Clip "Show" ...

One of the things about watching all these pre-code films I've been enjoying is of course the costume design - and the fashion. Not the same thing, as one has more pointed aim in storytelling than the other tends to consciously have for most people. But, of course, I am not most people. I see Tallulah Bankhead wearing an ensemble sewn to resemble white satin blouse peeking from under a simply showstopping black satin dress - just as her character is about to have her goodness and conscience fight to emerge from her darkest impulses, and I see a lot more than an arbitrary choice.

I also see all those beautiful low-backed, bias-cut hand stitched dresses, and notice their unsubtly sexual decor.

Dress clips were a vintage type of jewelry I’ve always found pretty, but never seem to have thought about very much, but watching these old movies, made with an eye to titillate, I've started to notice what a signpost an inch and a half of rhinestones - shaped roughly like an arrow - and pointing at a lady's posterior really is.

The thing is, the presentation is almost invariably hopelessly elegant, to the modern eye.  But in 1932, these fashions were outsandingly pointed - and quite literally so.  "LOOK AT MY CURVES" these little pieces of jewelry say quite clearly - and they do one the favor of directing a viewer unambiguously which curve to focus on.  Oh my goodness!

And it didn't die in the 1930s, not by a long shot.  In the 80s we still had "butt bows" on prom and wedding party dresses, there to "add interest" to the back of a dress (for weddings, this was ostensibly because the whole party would be walking down the aisle, and thus backs to all in attendance) - and we hated them then, and we revile them now.  But we certainly had them.  And peplums - often with a similarly pointed shape.

In the 1950s, we had Rosemary Clooney (not a minor sex symbol, in this particular number) encased in yards of black velvet, Edith Head's famous giant rhinestone brooch guiding the dorsal gaze.

If the cut of this showstopper weren't exaggerated enough, and if the sculpted backline and neckline were just too subtle for some, that set of sparklers iced the cake.  So to speak.

It's hardly a new thing - the bustle was an extreme example of posterior fashion afflictions.  But just because the dress clip is smaller by a factor of several dozen doesn't make it any subtler.  It was an ARROW for heaven's sake!  "What you are looking for is:  here."  Oh my.

The other way to wear dress clips?  In pairs, at a slightly higher altitude, and framing, or pointing toward another set of erotic features.

We all learn, by a certain point, that our generation didn't invent sex.  But most of us have a tough time thinking of any generations within our reach - much less any PEOPLE we might know of - actually engaging.  It's okay to consider the Victorians a scandalous bunch, with their buttoned up shirtfronts and abundance of prostitution - or the ancients - or name your mistress-keeping monarchs.  But grandma?  Saints forfend.

But check her jewelry box, the one you put away after she died.

And try not to remember what I just told you about neon signs pointing arrows toward her derriere ...

Saturday, September 3, 2011

"The Visitor"

Revisiting Star Trek:  TNG has renewed some of my perspective on the Trekverse as a whole, and really cemented DS9 as my favorite part of the whole.  Quark, Gul Dukat, Garak, Worf-and-Jadzia, and Odo are probably the best things in this whole "world" - and the depth of storylines is most appealing to me.  One of the aspects I like best is the realignment of optimism - allowing war and even conflicting loyalties into a canon so heavily focused on "humanity perfected".

Even if I were able to believe in the Whig-history idea that evolution is a force of ultimate improvement, actually guiding our species to eventual excellence (which - I can't), the fact is it makes for insufferable storytelling.  TNG has pretty bad whiffs, at times, of an intolerable self-superiority which not only isn't much to my taste, it's frankly dangerous.  It posits an impossible and imaginary societal high horse, from which bigotry really isn't very far removed.  I know Rodenberry's idea was to present an ideal society and culture.  But in the practice of storytelling, the fact is that members of any community so vaunted and wonderful can come off as prigs, and sometimes (speaking as a genuine bleeding heart) the "enlightened" attitudes  are just about enough to make you choke someone.

This context also tends to lead to presumptions about best-outcomes, and even best-practices which are shortsighted at best.  The prime directive is one of those things, it could be argued, that permits and fosters certain levels of blindness and even a lack of responsibility in some ways.

So, indeed, does breaking it, but that's a cookie crumbling.

In the ep referenced in the title of this post, though, the PD really isn't an issue, in that an alien planet isn't our Item of Concern - but it perhaps could have addressed the problem at hand.  Which is time travel.

And changing the history of the entire Alpha Quadrant because one single person in it can't manage a bereavement.

The thing about "The Visitor" is that it goes down so easy.  Tony Todd is so good in it, and he's a pleasure to watch in any case.  Even Cisco comes close to dragging a tear out of me, in the midst of my frustration with the sequence of events.  The history laid out in the story is INTERESTING - even if the venue (an episode framed entirely on Earth and in a rainy bayou) takes the audience out of the Trek universe in the first place.  Some of the ways this story is told are alienating in themselves, but much of what it presents is kind of intriguing.  And certainly, it seems that the makers of the series are proud of an love this particular script.

So it's INCREDIBLY irritating that (a) the story first presents a whole lot of dark and fascinating ideas and then (b) not only does a big old take-back on all of it, but actually presents the selfish act of reversing history itself as a triumph.  Presents the indulgence of one single person's self-pity, by relieving it at the expense of fifty or sixty years of time (and, not for nothing, utterly negating the experiences of all the billions or trillions of sentient beings who lived through that time), as something quite wonderful.

If there were a Prime Directive of time:  surely, it would have a judgment on the appropriateness of usurping the history of the universe for the sake of an author who quit after one book.  In almost every ep, since TOS, touching on time travel, there's an explicit prohibition on tampering with the timeline.  But in "The Visitor" - a guy unable to deal with loss suddenly is a hero, for obsessively trashing a couple generations of chronology.  Heck, for some species, maybe hundreds of generations.

It doesn't even matter how long a time is chucked for the resolution.  The point is that, even in a series controversial for its relative "darkness" in the ST canon, the ending in this case is an utter departure from this entire universe - and this is presented as a good outcome.

Picard can be a presumptuous nit from time to time.  Bashir, of course, is the very soul of unwarranted arrogance (but this is used to propel his storylines, and it works).  TOS was saved from its liberal-elite superiority by the fact that Kirk was a pugilist with a reliable weakness for the scantily-clad and curvy.  Trek as a whole is a bit sure of its morality at times.  It can be a pleasure to watch them turn this on its head, and DS9 has a record of doing this, perhaps, better than any other piece of the overall puzzle.

So "The Visitor" hiding out in the midst of this series is really frustrating.  It makes me want to growl at the screen - not least because of all the virtues I mention it possesses.  I even believe a creative screenwriter might have found some less weak-willed way around the progression.  Some way to "save" the day without just throwing away years - and, frankly, the entire Trek scheme of morality.

Oh, gravy, I actually find myself tempted to write fanfic rectifying my irritation with this story!  Hee.  That can hardly be healthy of me.


In most things, there is that "exception that makes the rule" or some anomaly playing against an overall.  The imperfection in a good thing that makes it the more beautiful somehow.  "Expensively flawed" my dad might have joked, about the way a treasure is enhanced by some minuscule - but visible - anomaly.

The good in "The Visitor" is one of those things that makes me appreciate the whole of DS9 so much - it displays the stuff I love, even when it falls short.

The lives of the many outweight the lives of the few - or the one.  Except Jake Cisco.

Trust Fall

Any good theater geek can tell you about the title of this post - it's one of those exercises we used to use (and which appears from time to time on your lesser sitcoms, for HILARIOUS effect) to foster the ensemble spirit.

If the truth were told, I can't actually remember our ever in fact using this exercise.  It's possible we did; my theater days are FAR enough behind me, at over twenty years now, I am no reliable witness as to what might have gone on, or what we did on our own time to foster our own actor-osity.  But the exercise does *exist* at least, and it does kind of make a point.

I've come up against the interesting fact that, in life, trust isn't always a two way street.  This of course is obvious stuff - the very essence of storytelling would be destroyed if human beings treated with one another equally in such things.  BUT the point on which this particular issue is interesting to me, and interesting today, is that it isn't always a matter of some betrayal.

Mr. X and I have known each other now for nine years.  For the past six or seven, he has been one of my trusted readers.  It isn't because of our relationship - at least not its emotional component - but because of that brain of his I like so much.  He does represent a likely member of my audience, but he is also a remarkably good DISPASSIONATE reader.  This isn't to say he has no bias - his opinion of me, and of my writing, tends to be on the very high side generally - but it does allow him to consider my work in itself, even though he likes it.  He's been probably the best reviewer of my pacing and of my POV (as a woman writing first-person male, I do very very well, but he has helped me tighten that and just occasionally given the go-ahead on certain aspects of narration), and been a fundamental part of The Ax and the Vase since the beginning.  He's also been tireless in taking each piece as it came - including the entire manuscript, once I had a draft - and responsive in the best possible sense of criticism.

X too, of course, is a bit of a writer.  More often than not, this is an informal thing - but recently, it came up that he's got a regular, public gig ("and I helped!").  At his inaugural piece, he felt his voice wasn't dead-on, and I suggested he have a reader.  This is something I have done for many years in many contexts.  I've been a proofreader, editor, copy editor, and composer for everything from a book-length financial services guide to death and taxes to every newsletter for every job I've ever held, to PowerPoints, letters, proposal documents, team-building-rah-rah-blah-blah, and the resumes and individuals' professional documents of all kinds.  I can read for tone, for grammar, for length, for layman-accessibility, and for organization - and any combination or isolated aspect of these and beyond.  This has been a part of my career for almost as long as my career, and I've done it both personally and professionally all the way along.  It's no small part of my success, and of my visibility to executives who matter.  And it's 100% calculated, too.

So it's no accident that at every job I have, I become to go-to grammarian, and eventually the de facto house author, for *whatever* needs doing.


This work doesn't necessarily translate into the personal realm.  Which brings us back to X and his own writing.


An awful lot of serious writers have a very, VERY hard time sharing their work at all.  Some of us feel we are good enough, we don't "really" need to.  Some feel we're not good enough, so showing our work is a painful experience.  But those who most want to get PUBLISHED, particularly in the traditional (agent/publisher/actual books-on-shelves products) sense, sooner or later force ourselves to find good readers.

I had good readers in X and in Beloved Ex (hah - of all combinations) and a few others, but at last year's Conference, the Sarcastic Broads got together and, as much of a loner as I prefer to be, and as hard as it is for me to accept outside critique, I knew a good thing when I saw it, and have reaped the benefits many times over.  It's good for me, and good for all of us Broads, I think.

And so I suggested to E, if he's worried about losing his unique self-expression, he needs a reader.

The obvious nomination in this category, and I made it with caveats, was myself - and we had the discussion yesterday.  In the end, I think we tenatively decided to go for it - but the fact is, in really looking at it ... I realized that the reader relationship isn't always necessarily bilaterally beneficial.

It may owe to the nature of what he writes about, for which I really am *not* the demographic, but even though we may make it work, this is a dynamic I have said there's no-harm/no-foul if it doesn't work for him.

Funny how what looks analog in simple description, might not work out in parallel in practical experience.  And why, and how that is okay.

I would be LOST without X as a reader.  He's caught me every time I've done the authorial trust-fall.

Isn't it funny he might not be best served with me, though ...  Life's just not as tidy as a theater exercise.

The moral of the story is that simpatico is a jewel when you find it.  Find your Sarcastic Broads - or your X - or whomever serves your writing the BEST ... and keep an open mind as to who that may be.  Take the trust-fall.

They can be surprising, pleasurable relationships when you find them.  I am very much blessed in my readers!

Friday, September 2, 2011

More Pre-Code

Tonight's special is "The Cheat" with Tallulah Bankhead.  The opening credits are unpromisingly murky, but the print appears to be nice and bright once the movie proper begins; film restoration is a wondeful, and frankly kind of fun thing.

A lot of people are enjoying mid-century period pieces these days.  Me, I'm having an awful lot of fun diving back to the 1930s.

So It Shall Be Written

We expect of others what we know of ourselves.

I know this isn't a particularly deep, nor new thing to say.  Sometimes, though, it's just *particularly* true.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Seven in One Go

Looking at some more writing contests.  Seven have a certain promise.  Nice.