Sunday, January 16, 2011

Vignette: Herringbone

(A scene that would come from my 2009 NaNoWriMo novel, if I rewrote it enough. (The novel, that is.) Reality is shifting, and Emily's just discovered one alarming piece of evidence, at her Aunt Clara's house, a place that Henry occasionally visits.)

Henry shook his head. "What do you mean, it changed?"

"I mean," Emily said, "that yesterday it was a flagstone path, and today it's brick."

"So you're losing your memory."

She frowned at him, then flounced out of her seat, exasperated. "Wait."

He waited.

She returned with a cellphone, and sat down to peck at the screen.

"You're calling somebody?"


"I am waiting."

"Here." She thrust the phone at him. "I took a picture of one of the cats, lolling on the path. Right out there. Yesterday."


"And, look at the path."

He looked. He looked down at the image of the garden on the phone, then looked up and through the French doors, at the same bit of garden. He walked to the doors and again compared image with reality. He opened the doors and walked out, down the path in the garden. The brick path.

He took a few steps down the path, a few steps back, again comparing the photo with the scene in front of him. Finally, he said, "Well."

"You see?"



He said, "I don't know."

"You were going to say, 'Maybe somebody played a prank and installed the brick path last night', weren't you? And then you saw the moss, and the cracks. That path's been there for years."


"Except it wasn't there yesterday."


She nodded. "And then you wondered if I Photoshoppped that photo and put it on my phone, to mess with your mind."

"Well, no. But maybe somebody put it on there for you. Or something. That's what I was thinking."

"I remember taking the photo. You don't have anything but the photo for evidence, but I remember taking the photo. And, really, you don't remember the flagstones?"

He backed up to the French doors. "Sort of. I don't remember the bricks. I remember thinking that that rosebush, the one in the corner, was a nice shot of color in the summer, and that you needed something else for color in the winter because the whole place was so..."



"Like flagstones." She folded her arms.


"Like the path that was there yesterday."

"Also right."

"So what's the conclusion here?"

"Matching straitjackets?"

Image: By Jean-Noele Lefargue. Wikimedia Commons.

Vignette: Painkillers

"My head hurts."

"Try some aspirin."

"Aspirin never works for me."

"Try some caffeine."

"Caffeine makes me nervous."

"Take a nap."

"I can't sleep; my head hurts."

"Did you want a solution here?"

"No, I want sympathy."

"How about a nice cup of tea?"

"That's not sympathy, that's caffeine."

"Look, it's the best I can do without turning into a girl."

"Sympathy makes you a girl?"

"Yes. Sympathy has to be expressed with an 'awwwwww' in a baby voice. That turns you into a girl. Instantly."

"Can't you just produce the sympathy and then switch back?"

"I'm not risking it."

"You might like being a girl."

"Nail polish. Panty hose. Lipstick. All that smiling. No, thank you."

"You claimed that women enjoy wearing panty hose."

"I lied."

"You'd never have to wear a tie again."

"Tempting, but insufficient."

"No draft."

"I'm already too old for the draft."

"You could take bubble baths."

"I can't wish for bubble baths without, again, turning into a girl."

"So you would wish for them if you could."

"We are not going there."

"You could cry."

"Oh, my God, no. That's worse than the panty hose."

"You could wear high heels."

"You've changed sides in this debate, haven't you?"

"Apparently. We could discuss girdles."

"Please tell me that women no longer wear girdles."

"Some of them do. They just have different names."

"We need to stop now."

"Am I giving you my headache?"


Image: By Stilfehler. Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Vignette: Morning

(On the "back on the horse" principle, also known as "post something!")

A muffin.

It was a blueberry muffin, at least. No bran, none of those odd little unidentified grain berries. Nothing to inspire the remark, "At least it's got fiber."

And it was hot, like a proper pulled-out-of-Grandma's-oven muffin. And the blueberries looked real.

But all the same, she didn't want a muffin. She wanted chicken. Or beef. Yes, beef. A nice ribeye steak, without all the fat trimmed off the way they insist on doing these days. And a baked potato, with one of those round scoops of butter.

Yes. That would do nicely. Would have done nicely. But here, instead, was a muffin, sitting sturdy and pudgy on the plate.

She picked it up and pulled off the steamy paper, and ripped its little muffiny head off, and put a pat of butter on the bottom of the top and another one on the top of the bottom. And watched them melt. And thought about sour cream and chives. And crispy fat. That was really a ribeye's reason for existence, that crispy fat. And beer. Don't forget the beer.

And you could follow a nice ribeye with pie. That would be a far better excuse for the blueberries' existence. Pie. With ice cream or whipped cream or heavy cream.



Image: By Kevin Payravi. Wikimedia Commons.

Ramble: Fiction and Blogging and E-Books and Whining

"So what do you think?"
"Yeah, I know."
"Well, I mean, it's fine. It's perfectly correct and the grammar's fine and the paragraphs break where they should, and so on."
"Uh huh."
"It's just..."
"Well, I wouldn't say that."
"But it's true?"
"I'm withholding my answer."
"It's like I'm shoving words around with those things. Those things that they push those things around with in that sport. Stop looking at me like that. Curling! You know, curling, where they push boulders around on the ice very very slowly."
"Yeah. Got it."
"That's all you have to say?"
"How about a nice cup of tea?"

So, it usually takes some struggling to get me to write my self-assigned two hundred words of fiction a day, but I'm usually moderately satisfied with the result. Lately, however, it's been more of a struggle, and the product has been bad. Not even a good, entertaining kind of bad, but a dreary, plodding kind of bad that makes me imagine someone reading it and keeping their eyes down after they're done, pretending to still be reading while they desperately try to think of something pleasant to say about it. That's why you haven't seen a vignette here in, er, ten days.

So, OK, fine, how about doing some reading? That's been weird, too. I keep setting out to read a book, and looking up twenty minutes later to realize that I'm on the computer, in a blog or forum.

It's partly the books that I'm trying to read. For years, I've been selecting used paperbacks using what I call the first paragraph test, and for years it's worked.

What's the test? Well, a first paragraph has to have at least a little action. It shouldn't have any character description, a character's full name, or any setting detail, without a darn good excuse. Anything along the lines of "Jane Janet Jones, accomplished actress, pushed her rippling midnight-dark hair behind her delicate shell-like ears, a tiny line forming between her fine green eyes as she looked out at the November weather through the window of her small but luxuriously appointed third-floor Boston brownstone apartment ..." will send the book right back to the shelf. And after it avoids those pitfalls, it needs an "I know it when I see it" engaging surprise about it.

I just picked up my copy of Final Curtain, by Ngaio Marsh, expecting a good first paragraph, and I was rewarded:
"Considered severally," said Troy, coming angrily into the studio, "a carbuncle, a month's furlough and a husband returning from the antipodes don't seem like the ingredients for a hell-brew. Collectively, they amount to precisely that."
Now, that's a first paragraph. I'm even willing to forgive the full name ("Katti Bostock") in the following paragraph.

But Final Curtain was written in (let me check) 1947. It appears that in recent years, writers and/or publishers have learned about the first paragraph test. I'm a third of the way through a paperback mystery that sported a very promising first paragraph, but quickly shifted to Generic Witty Banter between Generic Feisty Heroine and Generic Protective But Slightly Controlling Hero. Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with Banter and Feisty and Protective; it's the "generic" part that I object to. At least I didn't buy the whole series. I've been known to do that, when entranced with a good first paragraph.

Um. What was my point? Yes! My point was why I'm not reading. It's partly books that cheated on the first paragraph test. And it's partly Internet addiction. So that's where the E-Books come in.

(A digression: How do you spell E-Books? Ebooks? eBooks? e-books?)

I find that if I have a book open in my Mac Kindle reader thingie, I occasionally look up to realize that I'm reading the thing. And if I have the same book in my phone, I can read it during those few-minute pauses out in the world when, lately, I too often find that I don't have an actual print book on me. So E-Books, while I vaguely disapprove of them, do get me reading.

And to circle around to my original point, it's possible that my inability to write is coming from my failure to do enough enjoyable reading. In an effort to fix this, I'm hunting down new books by writers whose writing I like--Martha Grimes, Calvin Trillin, and Margaret Visser, to start. I've already violated my anti-E-Book principles and downloaded The Black Cat by Martha Grimes, and I may move on to Margaret Visser's latest book, the one about "thank you" customs.

(Another digression: Do any of you read Martha Grimes? How do you feel about her recent tendency to fully verbalize the thoughts of cats and dogs? I love the rest of her stuff, and I've always loved the opinionated animals, but the verbalizing? Not working for me.)

So. Um. There we are. I continue to produce two hundred words on many days, but for now, they continue to be drearily, twitchily bad. So I'm reading about Richard Jury. Yay!

That is all.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

100+ Books: This year's strategy

This year, on the 100+ Book Challenge, I'm going to cheat.

OK, not so much cheat as, well, um... cheat. That is, I will read 100+ books, but, see, there are a lot of children's books that I love and want to read again. Harriet the Spy, Ramona the Pest, everything by Robert McClosky, Goldie the Dollmaker, all of the Rumer Godden children's books, and so on and so on. So I've decided that in any week that I don't read my quota of two books, I'll fill in with a children's book that I've been wanting to re-read anyway, or one that I've always wanted to read. And, yes, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel counts.

I don't even consider children's chapter books to be cheating--much. There are many adult books that are as quick and easy to chew as many children's books. But the picture books, yeah, that's cheating, and I'll be counting them anyway.


Image: By Nevit Dimen. Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Vignette: Me and My Muse

"Are you writing?"


"Why not?"

"Because I'm too full of thoughts."

"Shouldn't that be the best time to write?"

"No. They won't come out. It's like one of those big cans of fruit punch, if you don't punch an air hole. When it's full, you can't pour it out neatly, because there's no air flowing in, and it splurts and splashes."

"That's a really strange metaphor."


"Whatever. And they don't make those cans of fruit punch any more, so nobody's going to know what you mean."

"Fine. You asked."

"So why not punch an air hole?"

"If I knew how, I would."

"Maybe that's what those people who drill holes in their skulls are trying to do. Like Egon in Ghostbusters."

"Let's not go there."

"Is this conversation helping the air flow at all?"

"Only in the sense that it's keeping me typing."

"So what do you think I'm going to say next?"

"I think you're going to stand there and annoy me while I Google to make sure that I've got the definition of simile and metaphor right."

"Do you?"

"Yes. Look, I just figured out who you are. Aren't you supposed to be giving me something to write about here? And aren't you supposed to be female and wearing diaphanous Greek robes?"

"Not in the mood today."

"Well, I've written my two hundred words. So get out."

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Books: 100+ Reading Challenge, 2011


J. Kaye's Book Blog runs a "100+ Reading Challenge", a challenge to read one hundred (or more) books during the year. Reviews are optional.

I failed this last year. (Sniff.) But I'm signing right up again, and I won't fail this year! Really. I think. Maybe. It could happen.

Well, anyway, I enjoyed listing all my books, so I'll do it again this year. Books that I started last year and finished this year (about six are in mid-read) will be listed, but they won't get numbers. (They'll get NAs.)


In Progress:
  • American Stories, by Calvin Trillin. Started 2010.
  • Missing Melinda, by Jacqueline Jackson. Started 2010.
  • Writing Fiction for Dummies. Started 2010. (Hey, Amazon was offering it for free!)
  • The Gift of Thanks, by Margaret Visser. Started 1/29.
  • Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades, by Steve Solomon.
  • The Resilient Gardener, by Carol Deppe.
  • An American Cutting Garden, by Suzanne McIntyre.
  • The Flower Farmer, by Lynn Byczynski.
  • How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe, by Charles Yu.
  • C# In Depth, by John Skeet.
  • The Art of Unit Testing, by Roy Osherove.
  • The Murders of Richard III, by Elizabeth Peters. Started around 9/27.
  • Implementation Patterns, by Kent Beck.
  • Flower Confidential, by Amy Stewart. Started 11/4.
  • Le Divorce, by Diane Johnson. Started around 11/20.
  • Fadeaway Girl, by Martha Grimes. Started around 11/25.
You see why I don't get anything finished? I've decided that if I read enough in 2011 to make up for what's missing in 2010, I'm retroactively declaring both years successful.

  • NA: Writers On Writing, compiled by The New York Times. Started 2010, finished 1/1/11.
  • 1: Dirty Secret, by Jessie Sholl. Started 1/1/11, finished 1/3/11.
  • NA: Why Shoot a Butler? by Georgette Heyer. Started 2010, finished 1/6/11.
  • 2: The Midnight Folk, by John Masefield. Finished 1/10/11.
  • 3: The Black Cat, by Martha Grimes. Started around 1/11. Finished 1/15.
  • 4: Tell Me, Pretty Maiden, by Rhys Bowen. Started, er, around 1/7, finished 1/20.
  • 5: Final Curtain, by Ngaio Marsh. Finished 1/22.
  • 6. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, by Helen Simonson. Started 1/23, finished 1/25.
  • 7. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley. Started ?, finished 1/29.
  • 8. Unnamed Self-Help Book. Started in 2010, forgotten, restarted in January, finished 1/29.
  • 9. Home Rules, by Jodi Picoult. Started 2/2, finished 2/5.
  • 10. Devil Bones, by Kathy Reichs. Started 2/5, finished 2/7.
  • 11. The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag, by Alan Bradley. Started 1/29, finished 2/9.
  • 12. A Pint of Murder, by Alisa Craig. Started ?, finished 2/13.
  • 13. The Grub-and-Stakers Quilt a Bee, by Alisa Craig. Started ?, finished 2/19.
  • 14. A Wrinkle In Time, by Madeline l'Engle. Started 2/19, finished 2/20.
  • 15. Under the Lake, by Stuart Woods. Finished 2/27.
  • 16. Food and Loathing, by Betsy Lerner. Started 3/2, finished 3/2.
  • 17. Murder is Easy (aka Easy to Kill), by Agatha Christie. Started ?, finished 3/4.
  • 18. Slow Love, by Dominique Browning. Finished 3/6.
  • 19. Something From the Oven, by Laura Shapiro. Finished around 3/18.
  • 20. Dolores Claiborne, by Stephen King. Finished 3/19.
  • 21. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, by Stephen King. Finished 3/21.
  • 22. At Bertram's Hotel, by Agatha Christie. Finished 3/23.
  • 23. The Body in the Library, by Agatha Christie. Finished 3/26.
  • 24. A Darker Place, by Laurie R King. Finished 3/29.
  • 25. Fresh Disasters, by Stuart Woods. Finished 3/31.
  • 26. The Secret Adversary, by Agatha Christie. Finished 4/6.
  • 27. A Game Of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin. Finished 4/6.
  • 28. A Clash Of Kings, by George R. R. Martin. Finished 4/17.
  • 29. Biting the Moon, by Martha Grimes. Finished 4/23.
  • 30. Dakota, by Martha Grimes. Finished 4/25.
  • 31. A Pig in Provence, by Georgeann Brennan.
  • 32. A River in the Sky, by Elizabeth Peters.
  • 33. Paths of Desire, by Dominique Browning. Finished 5/24.
  • 34. Four Tenths Of An Acre, by Laurie Lisle. Finished around 6/2.
  • 35. The Persian Pickle Club, by Sandra Dallas. Finished 6/6.
  • 36. Don't Make Me Think, by Steven Krug. Finished 6/7.
  • 37. Devices and Desires, by P.D. James. 
  • 38. A Certain Justice, by P.D. James.
  • 39. Shattered Silk, by Barbara Michaels.
  • 40. Up Jumps the Devil, by Margaret Maron.
  • 41. Shooting at Loons, by Margaret Maron.
  • 42. Killer Market, by Margaret Maron.
  • 43. Home Fires, by Margaret Maron.
  • 44. Rituals of the Season, by Margaret Maron.
  • 45. The Secret Lives of Hoarders, by Matt Paxton and Phaedra Hise.
  • 46. Slow Dollar, by Margaret Maron.
  • 47. Sand Sharks, by Margaret Maron.
  • 48. Singled Out, by Sim Brett.
  • 49. Life Would be Perfect If I Lived In That House, by Meghan Daum.
  • 50. Service Included, by Phoebe Damrosch
  • 51. Death's Half Acre, by Margaret Maron.
  • 52. Winter's Child, by Margaret Maron.
  • 53. A Murder Is Announced, by Agatha Christie.
  • 55. Storm Track, by Margaret Maron.
  • 56. Last Lessons of Summer, by Margaret Maron.
  • 57. A Pocket Full of Rye, by Agatha Christie.
  • 58. False Scent, by Ngaio Marsh.
  • 59. Last Bite, by Nancy Verde Barr.
  • 60. Flood, by Stephen Baxter.
  • 61. Dead Beat, by Jim Butcher.
  • 62. High Country Fall, by Margaret Maron.
  • 63. Uncommon Clay, by Margaret Maron.
  • 64. Ammie, Come Home, by Barbara Michaels.
  • 65. Scales of Justice, by Ngaio Marsh.
  • 66. Grave Mistake, by Ngaio Marsh
  • 67. Water Like a Stone, by Deborah Crombie. Completed 10/2.
  • 68. The Balloon Man, by Charlotte MacLeod. Completed 10/9.
  • 69. Farm City, by Novella Carpenter. Completed 10/15.
  • 70. Gardening Without Irrigation, by Steve Solomon. 
  • 71. The Midwife's Apprentice, by Karen Cushman. Finished 10/26. (Yes, it's a short children's book. I'm counting it anyway. It's good, too; give it a try.)
  • 72. A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Started around 10/24.
  • 73. An Episode of Sparrows, by Rumer Godden. Started 10/28, finished 11/1.
  • 74. The First Five Pages, by Noah Lukeman. Started 11/2, finished 11/3.
  • 75. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King. Started 11/5, finished 11/6.
  • 76. Shared Death, by Deborah Crombie. Started 11/5, finished 11/7.
  • 77. Wanting Sheila Dead, by Jane Haddam. Started 11/7.
  • 78. Families and Other Nonreturnable Gifts, by Claire Lazebnik. Started 11/19 or so, finished 11/23.
  • 79. Call of the Mall, by Paco Underhill. Finished 12/1.
  • 80. The Clothes on Their Backs, by Linda Grant. Started 12/1, finished 12/5.
  • 81. The Plain Old Man, by Charlotte MacLeod. 
Image: Wikimedia Commons.