Thursday, January 22, 2015

Monthly Successes

I've been doing fairly well with the schedule that I planned out for myself during the Christmas holidays...except that I never can seem to catch up on my sleep. I actually completed the several small monthly writing goals that I set for myself, plus a little side project which you may have seen already. So I suppose January may be deemed a success.

- Writing -

Wanderlust Creek and Other Stories has been packaged into its print and ebook files, and awaits only its cover art and a final proofread. That means I'm free to get back to work on One of Ours again, which I began doing on Tuesday. The part I worked on before Christmas was mostly composed of existing scenes overhauled and patched together with a few new bits—now I'm about to launch into a section that will need more intensive rewriting and rearranging. I saw a quote on Twitter the other day by author Terry Pratchett: "The first draft is just you telling yourself the story." That's quite how I feel about One of Ours at the moment. I need to be certain what the whole story is myself before I can begin making it presentable to readers.

- Reading -

A couple of months ago I subscribed to Open Road's Early Bird Books newsletter (also a tip picked up on Twitter), having heard that it often contained interesting older backlist titles. Just before the holidays I saw a mystery in one issue that looked good: Postmark Murder by Mignon G. Eberhart. I read the sample and liked it, and at a one-day bargain price of a couple dollars it was too good to resist. I got around to reading it the other night, and it was no help to the sleep problem: I stayed up till ten o'clock to finish it. This was the first book by Eberhart I've read, though I've heard her mysteries praised before, and I definitely liked it enough to want to seek out more!

- Listening -

Searching music downloads at Amazon for something else, I stumbled across the soundtrack to Victory at Sea, composed by Richard Rodgers and arranged by Robert Russell Bennett. I'd always been vaguely aware that Rodgers had scored a documentary on the Navy in WWII, and had later re-used one of the melodies from it for the song "No Other Love," but somehow I'd never heard any of it. Now I'm wondering whyever not. I've been downloading the tracks from Freegal as speedily as the three-a-week limit allows, listening to it and loving it. My favorite tracks are "Hard Work and Horseplay," "Song of the High Seas," "Mare Nostrum," "Theme of the Fast Carriers," and, of course, "Beneath the Southern Cross," which is so gorgeous in its original form that it's easy to see why Rodgers re-used it. (And this score is also the perfect soundtrack to a WWII novel that I have been valiantly refraining from beginning to research till I've fulfilled other commitments...)

So how's your January been going?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Book Trailer: Corral Nocturne

Up until now, I haven't ventured to try some of the popular 21st-century modes of book marketing on my own account, because I didn't think the shorter works I've published were really fitted for it. But then sometime recently it occurred to me that Corral Nocturne did, after all, have the potential to take advantage of one particular newfangled idea: the book trailer. So on impulse, I put in some hours of work on the side, and created this:

I've also put together a YouTube playlist with a lot of the music that I enjoyed listening to while working on the story—much of what I shared in this post, just all neatly together in one place.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

January's Chatterbox: Conversation With a Firebrand

Rachel served us up a nice explosive topic for January's Chatterbox: pyrotechnics. Once again, I couldn't find any fireworks in my work-in-progress (I don't suppose a prairie fire would do?), though if you recall, there are a few in the already-published Corral Nocturne. So I had a bit of flash-fiction fun, and managed to keep it a manageable length this time:

“Three left,” said Carl, weighing them in his hand. “Three nice little sticks of imitation dynamite. I’m just trying to decide where to put them so they’ll count.”

“Count for what?” said Donna, sitting down on the top step above him.

“Lots of noise,” said Carl. “More noise than just three little pops. I want to start a good honest ruckus…if I can make one that won’t mean too much cleaning up afterwards.”

He leaned forward, elbows on his knees, and looked to his left at the long irregular line of saddle-horses switching their tails at the hitching-racks along the near side of the street. “If there was a way of landing them under just one particular person’s horse, and sending it kiting out of town alone…” He juggled the firecrackers in his hand vindictively. “I’d almost like to stir up the whole bunch of them.”

Donna shook her head. “The punishment wouldn’t be worth the crime. Not unless you prefer a tarring-and-feathering for the finale tonight instead of the bonfire.”

“Or that crowd over there,” said Carl, continuing to juggle. A sea of buggies and buckboards were hitched all around the schoolhouse across the bridge. Lights were just beginning to show in the schoolhouse windows as the sun approached its setting, and the sounds that drifted over to them were the tap of dancing feet and the high hum of Uncle George Hornby’s fiddle blundering around like a good-natured blue-fly. “Now that'd make a commotion. With the right aim…there’s a perfect spot to land them, right between the wheels of the minister’s buggy.”

“The minister’s buggy,” said Donna, “is the most expensive thing he owns, and it wouldn’t be fair to make him get it repaired when he has a hard enough time making ends meet. Besides, it wasn’t his fault.”

“What wasn’t his fault?” demanded Carl.

“Oh, I don’t blame you. It’s only natural to want to bust up something like that dance because you got left out of it.”

She spoke quite calmly. When one is just-barely-sixteen and still wears one’s hair in a long schoolgirl braid with a ribbon on it, one is privileged to speak candidly to sulky good-looking boys several years older.

“I was not left out,” said Carl. “I was deliberately snubbed. I’m sitting here planning riot and insurrection because Susan Winters practically—practically—promised I could take her to the Founder’s Day dance, and then today she walked by without looking at me and went with that long-legged Sonny MacDonald instead.”

“I never saw anything wrong with his legs,” said Donna.

“The ideal place for these infant explosives,” Carl went on, looking across at the schoolhouse as if he hadn’t heard her, “would be right through one of those windows—if I could only be sure of their lighting on the right person’s nose.”

“Whose nose—his, or hers?” said Donna. “You could always ask Sonny out back afterwards and punch his—but I wouldn’t; he’d make mincemeat out of you. And if you ask me, I don’t think Susan’s nose would be much of a loss to anybody.”

Carl turned his head and stared at her.

“But like you said,” Donna went on hastily, “you haven’t got much chance of hitting either with a firecracker. And you’d have to pay for the window, and the burns on the floor, and somebody’d probably upset the table with all the pies on it, and Grandma Weatherby would have a spell—”

Carl gave a combined choke and snort which was a laugh that had taken him unawares. “From the way you’ve got it all pictured, you sound like you appreciate a good ruckus yourself!”

“Sure I do,” said Donna, “but at the right place and time.”

Carl grumbled something unintelligible, and continued to look moodily across the bridge, shuffling the three firecrackers like a deck of cards. Donna gave a little sigh. Sometimes one gets tired of being just-barely-sixteen and wearing a ribbon in one’s hair…

One might as well take advantage of it. She said tartly, “Were you really jealous of Sonny, or are you just mad because you’ve got no one to go to the dance with?”

Carl dropped one of the firecrackers in the dirt, and turned to look up at her in astonishment before even picking it up.

“I don’t like being made a fool of,” he blurted angrily. “Everybody knew Susan was supposed to be going with me, and now they know she threw me over at the last minute.”

“So you’re sitting over here thinking about spooking people’s horses because you hate looking ridiculous.”


He glared at her for a minute, and then got up. “Just for that,” he said, “I’d be willing to go over to that dance right now.”

Donna’s eyes drifted to his hand. “And the firecrackers?”

Carl grinned suddenly. “If you’ll walk over with me, you can tell me where to plant ’em.”

Donna sprang up. “And I know, too,” she said. “The place for those is right in the bonfire, at the exact minute the mayor finishes making his speech.”

“That’s not bad,” Carl admitted, his eyebrows going up. “But I’ll bet a whole lot of people have already had the same idea.”

Donna laughed, and her eyes danced. “Sure they have. It’ll be great, won’t it?”

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Life of Stories

My upcoming Western short story collection, Wanderlust Creek and Other Stories, now has a Goodreads page (in case you'd like to mark it to-read), with a book description (in case you want to know what it's about), and a semi-official release goal: I'm aiming for March. There'll be pre-orders at some point, of course; I'll let you know when that happens.

There'll be six stories in this collection:
  • "Single-Handed"
  • "The Rush at Mattie Arnold's"
  • "A Search For Truth"
  • "The Mustanger's Bride"
  • "Room Service"
  • "Wanderlust Creek"
Like Left-Hand Kelly, this book has been a long time brewing. The origins of half these stories go all the way back to before I published my very first book in the autumn of 2011. Yet it's funny, looking back over my notes and first drafts, how different the life of the project was for each one. "Single-Handed" and "Room Service," for instance, were both begun in 2011, and worked on periodically with gaps of months and even years in between, until I finally finished both in a feverish week-long burst of writing last July.

"The Rush at Mattie Arnold's," on the other hand, was an idea that came to me unexpectedly and got dashed off in just two or three days. It was some of the most fun I've had writing and one of the easiest stories to write. "The Mustanger's Bride" was also great fun and was written in a spurt of a few days...except there was a gap of five months in the middle of the spurt.

I don't have many outstanding memories of the composition process for "A Search For Truth," but I do remember editing: it's the story where I just kept on cutting out words. No plot changes, just heaps  and heaps of excess words that puzzled me with how in the world they got there in the first place. I have a feeling a few more will end up getting the boot in the final edit-and-proofread stage, too.

"Wanderlust Creek," which is one of my favorites among my own stories, was a long time in development before it actually made it to the page. For several years I slowly accumulated pages of notes in one of my favorite note-taking notebooks, gradually putting scenes in order and straightening out a tangle of ideas for the climax. I think I had the subconscious feeling all along that I was waiting until I felt ready to do the idea justice—and I am glad I waited. I finally sat down to write it last summer and finished it over the course of a couple months.

But by hook or crook, by the long route or the short one, all six eventually made their way to the triumphant finish line of THE END, and by the end of this month, should have undergone their final edits and been fitted between the covers of a proof copy. And you know, I'm getting a bit excited.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Be Yourself, Quoth the Poet

Just before Christmas I read An Essay On Criticism by Alexander Pope. I'd just glanced over it years ago, since it's in the wonderful poetry volume Anne's Anthology that we own, but after reading a very interesting guide to English literature this winter that put Pope and several other poets on my list of authors to try, I decided to sit down and read it in earnest. It turned out to be doubly enjoyable for me, since it is in fact all about literature. It starts out, as the title implies, discussing literary critics, but eventually segues into observations on the literature they critique—both pointing out the faults of the critics and suggesting ways authors can avoid laying themselves open to criticism.

There are some marvelous gems of observation on writing here, and the forthright style in which they're presented is refreshing. How curious, incidentally, that I, much more at home in the prose and history of the 19th and 20th centuries, should find an 18th-century satirist one of the most kindred-spirit poets I've encountered so far. Here's a few choice samples from An Essay On Criticism:

True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,
As those move easiest who have learned to dance.

Isn't this true? Though we are always learning, I personally feel that many things I can do easily now were gained during an apprenticeship of sorts, my early days of writing in which I wrote many things not fit for publication, but learned through practice the most effective ways to use words and phrases, to shape paragraphs and scenes and dialogue.

Be sure yourself and your own reach to know
How far your genius, taste and learning go.
Launch not beyond your depth, but be discreet
And mark that point where sense and dullness meet.

I like this. Know your own powers, he's saying: be aware of what you can do best and make the most of it, instead of striving for a second-rate imitation of something that's beyond your knowledge or your skill, at least for the present.

But in such lays as neither ebb nor flow,
Correctly cold and regularly low
That, shunning faults, one quiet tenor keep;
We cannot blame indeed—but we may sleep.

This one troubles me a bit, because I see faults of my own in it. Too often I've shrunk back and chosen the safest, easiest and most unremarkable way to write something, because I was simply too shy to take a risk with a bolder style or statement. This is something I'm consciously trying to improve this year.

True wit is nature to advantage dressed;
What oft was thought, but ne'er so well expressed.

So many others have said this, though seldom so elegantly as Pope (which proves his point right there). It reminds me a bit of what I said about instinct in my post on the three I's of being a writer. Perhaps one may have an instinctive wit, and must learn how to give it expression; or one has a knack for expressing things that others will instantly recognize but might not have been able to express themselves.

And these excerpts just scratch the surface. There's many more thought-provoking musings on similar subjects—language, style, content, dullness—in An Essay on Criticism, which I'd encourage anyone in the business of literature, whether writers or critics/reviewers, to seek out and enjoy for themselves.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Top Ten Movies Watched in 2014

Time for my annual list of ten favorite movies watched for the first time this year! If you're interested in the full list of movies I saw in 2014, you can take a look on my Letterboxd account. A new innovation, that—I thought it would be interesting to keep a log of films watched as I do with books on Goodreads. The site is very simple and fun to use, except for one very exasperating thing: unlike Goodreads, they won't allow you to add genre tags unless you give a watch date. Of course I can't remember when I first saw every film, and I'm not going to going to make up fake dates, so the genre tags only cover movies watched (or re-watched) since I started the account.

But anyway, here's the list of the best:

Seven Days in May (1964)
This film is proof positive you can make a taut political thriller without any (onscreen) explosions. The suspense builds slowly but surely as the characters gradually uncover the details of a plot and search for a way to stop it, with time ticking down on their chances.

The Farmer's Daughter (1947)
A delightful, quirky romantic comedy about a Swedish farmer's daughter who starts out from home to become a nurse, but ends up working as a maid in a congressman's home and eventually becomes caught up in politics herself. As much a fantasy as every movie about politics is (i.e. the bad guys always lose out) and perhaps more so, but so much fun.

The Wreck of the Mary Deare (1959)
When the captain of a salvage boat climbs aboard an apparently wrecked and drifting ship, he discovers a single officer left on board, acting strangely and reticent about what happened to the ship—and ends up involved in a courtroom controversy where the ship's officer tries to save his reputation by proving foul play was involved in the wreck. It's remarkable just how tense and interesting the first half of the movie is, with only two actors aboard an empty ship in a storm. This one's the "Why have I never even heard of this movie before?" entry for this year.

Sunday Dinner For a Soldier (1944)
A family of orphaned siblings and their loving but irresponsible grandfather, living on a houseboat, set their hearts on entertaining a soldier on furlough for Sunday dinner through a USO program. Very sweet and funny, with natural and lovable characters and a charming picture of small-town home front life during WWII.

Executive Suite (1954)
When the president of a corporation dies suddenly, the other executive officers immediately begin plotting, campaigning and scheming to be elected in his place. This is one of those crisp black-and-white 1950s dramas (like 12 Angry Men) that holds your attention with an intelligent script made up entirely of the conversations and interactions between its characters (there isn't even a musical score).

Golden Boy (1939)
This one comes under the heading of an old classic I'd always heard of but never got around to watching. The story of a young man who, much to his father's dismay, turns his back on his musical talent for the quicker fame and fortune found in boxing, it's a good fast-paced drama with a lot of snappy wisecracking dialogue—I enjoyed it quite a lot.

The Ox-Bow Incident (1943)
If you've heard this film described as somber and intense, that's correct. The well-known story of a lynching-bent posse, seen through the eyes of two drifters who go uneasily along with them, is nevertheless worth watching, with a good ensemble cast and some scenes really stunning in the way they're acted and shot.

O. Henry's Full House (1952)
This is really a set of five short films put together to make one feature, each based on a short story by O. Henry. I was very pleasantly surprised on how well done the adaptations were—you can read a full review I wrote of the film here.

Little Lord Fauntleroy (1936)
A near-perfect adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic children's book about a half-American little boy who discovers he is the heir to an English earl. The script is marvelously faithful to the book and the casting excellent—they could have done better than Mickey Rooney as Dick, but C. Aubrey Smith is just perfect as the gruff Earl (he even looks exactly like the character in the cover art of the paperback edition I grew up with).

Thunder On the Hill (1951)
When most of the people connected with a recent murder case, including the woman convicted of the crime, are stranded at a hilltop convent by a storm, a determined nun who has become convinced of the woman's innocence begins searching for overlooked evidence to clear her. A very enjoyable cold-case mystery, better constructed than most movies in this genre.

Runners-up: Bad Bascomb (1946), White Banners (1938), Rage in Heaven (1941), The Cheaters (1945), Boomerang! (1947), Panic in the Streets (1950), War and Peace (1956), My Cousin Rachel (1952), His Girl Friday (1940), The Great O'Malley (1937), Of Human Hearts (1938)

Previous years' lists: 2013, 2011

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Year's Literature

Goodreads and my record book and I put our heads together and decided that the total number of books I read in 2014 was 97. As always, that covers anything Goodreads calls a book, including plays, novellas, Kindle Singles and individual short stories. Here's a look at some of the highlights (linked titles go to my reviews). And if you missed my top-ten list from a few weeks ago, you can find that here.

Classics this year were mainly represented by a re-read of Tolstoy's War and Peace; I also made the acquaintance of a third and final Bronte sister with Agnes Grey (that would be Anne). I have continued to tentatively feel my way deeper into the world of poetry: I greatly enjoyed Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Alexander Pope's An Essay on Criticism; also read Wordsworth and Coleridge's Lyrical Ballads and sampled a first volume by Emily Dickinson.

One thing that I read quite a bit of this year was plays. The Mikado and The Gondoliers by Gilbert and Sullivan, The Rivals by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, The Man From Home by Booth Tarkington and Harry Leon Wilson, Our Town by Thornton Wilder (which, on the page, lived up to nearly everything I'd heard said of it), and a first serious effort at Shakespeare with The Tempest. I tracked down a copy of A.A. Milne's rare Miss Elizabeth Bennet—and shortly afterward made the discovery that two volumes of Milne's plays, appropriately titled First Plays and Second Plays, are available in the public domain and delightful besides!

In a switch from last year, I read very few Westerns—a couple by Louis L'Amour (The Burning Hills and The Iron Marshal, both pretty good), a couple by B.M. Bower (The Quirt, good; The Parowan Bonanza I liked less)—but quite a few mysteries. I've been continuing with Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey series, which, after a couple of rather uneven books to begin with, has really begun to hit its stride with Unnatural Death, The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, and Strong Poison. Also read a decent but not brilliant Georgette Heyer mystery, Detection Unlimited; the first of a brand-new series that promises very well, Rachel Heffington's Anon, Sir, Anon; and Ethel Lina White's Some Must Watch.

Speaking of Heyer, after the success of The Grand Sophy I was emboldened to try more of her Regency books: I loved Frederica and the short story collection Pistols For Two. And speaking of short stories, I seem to have read proportionately fewer collections of those this years, compared to novels: I revisited Katherine Mansfield's The Garden Party and Other Stories and appreciated it much better this time, and found F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tales of the Jazz Age to be well-written but horribly bleak (excepting one hilarious story with no pretensions beyond comedy). The Five Glass Slippers anthology of Cinderella-themed novellas was a great read as well, and Just Patty by Jean Webster was light cheerful fun.

Historical nonfiction largely reflected my growing interest in World War II history: The Miracle of Dunkirk and Incredible Victory: The Battle of Midway by Walter Lord, They Were Expendable by William L. White. I also found some interesting reads among the ranks of Kindle Singles this year. Three Days in Gettysburg by Brian Mockenhaupt was interesting; Peace on Earth: The Christmas Truce of 1914 by David Boyle was excellent, and so was my favorite, Operation Cowboy by Stephan Talty—finally, a nice clear account of the true story of the rescue of the Lipizzaner horses during WWII.

In other nonfiction, I was happy to finally read How The West Was Written, Vol. I by Ron Scheer, a fascinating study of early Western fiction whose progress I've been following for a long time on Ron's blog. Theological highlight, The Kingdom of God by Martyn Lloyd-Jones—and, a little harder to classify, A Turtle on a Fencepost by Allan C. Emery, which I'd describe as an anecdotal memoir of events from a Christian life.  You may remember my mentioning Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon, which came highly recommended and is a great little book for any creative type. And Leaving A Trace: On Keeping a Journal by Alexandra Johnson also proved unexpectedly interesting and inspiring.

Last but not least, novels of all varieties! A number of good reviews by friends and acquaintances convinced me to finally read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and also Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay (yes, you read that correctly: I read a contemporary novel). This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart, and also Madam, Will You Talk?, which I think is the weakest of hers so far story-wise, but her writing is always a delight. The Shepherd by Frederick Forsyth, a short Christmas novella; Linnets and Valerians by Elizabeth Goudge, a children's fantasy I adored for the writing and characters in spite of mixed feelings about elements of the plot. No Highway by Nevil Shute, Miss Buncle Married by D.E. Stevenson, Wired Love: A Romance of Dots and Dashes by Ella Cheever Thayer, The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery.

Previous years' reading roundups: 2013, 2012.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas

December has been a month mostly filled with non-writing busyness: wrapping presents, running errands, Christmas baking, hoping the rain will turn into snow before Christmas Day, and eagerly following the installments of Rachel Heffington's Christmas serial story. (If you haven't been following along, do go back to the beginning and read it; it's delightful.) I've laid aside One of Ours for the holidays; I'm planning to do some editing on the stories for my upcoming collection at my leisure on vacation.

As always, I'll be on blogging break this week between Christmas and New Year's. If you follow me on Twitter, I've scheduled links to revisit older posts throughout the week. I'll be back in January with, among other things, my annual reading roundup and list of top ten movies watched this year. Until then, a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my readers—I hope you have a wonderful holiday!
photo and edibles by myself

Monday, December 22, 2014

Re-post: The Letter

I wrote this bit of flash fiction back in September for a challenge, and I'm re-posting it here by popular request. The original challenge was hosted by Yvette at in so many words, with inspiration drawn from a picture—participants got to choose from three vintage illustrations Yvette posted at the beginning of the challenge, and the idea was to write a short bit of fiction to go along with the picture of their choice. Mine was the one seen here, by artist Robert George Harris, and here's what I imagined lies behind it:

I closed the door behind me. The warm, quiet dimness of the room seemed to be standing still and listening, and I stood still for a minute too. I felt like I had shut out the clamor and chaos that had followed me all day, just as if I had cut off a clamor of sound by shutting a door. It had been a strange, tense day, with the consciousness of what was going on in the world lending a distracted edge to everything. Word of a naval battle was filling the news, in stark black headlines on the newsstands; in the tinny, stentorian voices of the war correspondents coming over the radio, with an undercurrent of tight excitement to every word that made you feel like you might hear the boom of the guns in the background at any moment.

I had read all about it in the newspaper at the counter of a drugstore at lunchtime, and then had gone on through my afternoon with a with a feeling of unreality in everything I did and looked at—as if this everyday life was only show, and the real thing outside had intruded on it and turned it hollow. It was a relief to be back in the quiet, comfortingly familiar embrace of my own room—I felt normal again, but still with a lingering, more acute sense of that world outside.

I went over to the desk and took out the letter that I had slid away there before supper, so I could come up and read it in peace and quiet afterwards. I slit the envelope and took out the sheets of paper, and walked over to the fireplace. There was just enough of a flicker coming from the coals that I could see the words on the paper, so I curled up into the comfortable corner of the big flowered armchair, tilted the letter toward the glow, and settled down to read. The letter was the same as always: brisk, practical, bantering; mixing incidents of service life with answers to what I had written. I read it through slowly, quietly enjoying it, a faint smile touching my face now and then.

When I finished, I put the sheets back in order, and my eye traveled up to the heading in the corner of the first one. The date on it stopped me. It was the day after the fleet had been in action, according to the newspaper. I fingered the letter slowly, my eyes drifting upward from it to look into space. It had been written after that battle, only hours after the action. And it was the same as always. I’d always known where the letters were written from, sensed the things they left out. But I’d never made the connection so strongly before to the things not said, as I did now with the black-headlined newspaper containing the account of the battle still lying on a table in the same room. The feeling of something dark and threatening loomed up at me out of the shadows beyond the firelight.

I sat very still and stared out from the depths of the armchair across the room, and in my mind I heard the guns thundering, growing louder till the echoes quivered in the dark corners around me. I saw the hot sun and the violently sparkling blue sea and the metal of the decks, shaken with impact and veiled in black smoke. Behind all the cheerful teasing and anecdotes traded back and forth in our letters, this was the reality; this was the danger that he had to live through. It was always there, though it only became real to me in brief moments of clarity, like this night.

Something broke gently in the fire. I looked at the letter, and then I folded it slowly, the paper crinkled where my sweaty fingers had left spots of dampness. I was about to get up, to put it back in the desk, but I stopped. I leaned my head against the back of the chair and stayed there, very still, the folded letter clasped beneath my hand.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Watch the Horizon: "Pendragon's Heir" by Suzannah Rowntree is coming

Blanche Pendragon enjoys her undemanding life as the ward of an eccentric nobleman in 1900 England. It's been years since she even wondered what happened to her long lost parents, but then a gift on the night of her eighteenth birthday reveals a heritage more dangerous and awe-inspiring than she ever dreamed of—or wanted. Soon Blanche is flung into a world of wayfaring immortals, daring knights, and deadly combats, with a murderous witch-queen on her trail and the future of a kingdom at stake. As the legendary King Arthur Pendragon and his warriors face enemies without and treachery within, Blanche discovers a secret that could destroy the whole realm of Logres. Even if the kingdom could be saved, is she the one to do it? Or is someone else the Pendragon's Heir?

The other day, if you recall, I named Pendragon's Heir as one of my top ten favorite reads of 2014. I beta-read a near-final draft this autumn and loved it, and I can't wait to re-read the published version! So today I'm happy to help announce the date on which we will all be able to do so: March 26th, 2015. In the meantime, you can add Pendragon's Heir to-read on Goodreads at this link, mark the release date on your calendars, visit Suzannah's blog (link below), and spread the word among other readers likely to be interested!

Author Bio
When Suzannah Rowntree isn’t travelling the world to help out friends in need, she lives in a big house in rural Australia with her awesome parents and siblings, trying to beat her previous number-of-books-read-in-a-year record. She blogs the results at and is the author of two non-fiction books, The Epic of Reformation: A Guide to the Faerie Queene and War Games: Classic Fiction for the Christian life. Pendragon’s Heir, her debut novel, springs from her lifelong love of medieval literature.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books Read in 2014

Today I'm linking up with Top Ten Tuesday, a weekly blog event hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, for my annual list of ten best books read during the year. This year's list seems like one of the most unusual mixes I've had—and it seemed like I had a bit of a harder time putting it together. Besides a few really splendid standouts that were easy choices, there were a lot of books that I liked (I'll talk about more of those in my general year-end reading roundup post after the New Year!), and it was challenging picking out just which ones were the best to round out the list. But here they are—in the order read, not order of favorites:

The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer
I was finally lured into trying one of Georgette Heyer's Regency books by  seeing rave reviews of this one from what seemed like my entire online acquaintance. The Grand Sophy did not disappoint: it's an entirely delightfully witty, madcap romantic comedy. Read my review here.

Thorofare by Christopher Morley
A big, rich, rambling, beautiful novel, this wins my award for favorite book of the year. Told mostly from the perspective of an English boy, the nephew of a college professor who teaches in America, it traces his journey to the States and the family's life in village, city and country on both sides of the Atlantic, exploring with pleasant humor and an incredible eye for detail the curious differences and similarities of English and American culture in the late Victorian/early Edwardian era. Read my full review here.

The Third Man by Graham Greene
Written specifically to serve as the source material for the screenplay of the excellent 1949 film, this novella has comparatively less material, but it's definitely worth reading for its crisp storytelling and wry wit, and its slightly different angle on the story through the medium of fiction. I actually read it through twice. If you've seen the movie and liked it, you'll probably enjoy the way the book complements it, as I did.

Until That Distant Day by Jill Stengl
Here is that rare thing, at least in my experience—a recently-written historical novel that completely captivated me. Though it's billed as historical romance (and there are satisfying touches of love interest involved in the plot) this is more a story of a family, a sister and brothers struggling to survive and preserve their relationships with each other as they are pulled different ways by the tumult of the French Revolution. Extremely well-written and very hard to put down!

The Winslow Boy by Terence Rattigan
A play, not a novel—I seem to have read quite a lot of plays this year (more on that in my year-end roundup). I saw the 1999 movie years back and liked it, but reading the play impressed me even more. The characters and the pre-WWI setting are alive on the page, the play itself an absorbing and thought-provoking study of justice and the cost of standing for conviction. I ended up reading this one twice, too. Find my (short) Goodreads review here.

Pastoral by Nevil Shute
A novel of life on an R.A.F. bomber base during WWII, centering around the sometimes difficult progress of a romance between a young pilot and a female signal officer—deceptively understated, with a feel for everyday life, like both of Shute's books that I've read so far. It's not the kind of book that grabs you with a flash and a bang, but rather one that creeps up on you quietly till you're entirely absorbed. Review here.

Plenilune by Jennifer Freitag
Once again something very much out of the ordinary for me makes my top-ten list. In fact, I can't quite compare it to anything I've ever read before. If you move in any of the same online circles I do, you may have heard ought of this book: an ambitious planetary fantasy written in a stunningly grand and gilded style. My review here.

Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War by Mark Harris
An unusual and interesting piece of WWII and film history, this book traces the wartime experiences of five famed Hollywood directors, the effect of those experiences on their lives and careers, and the often complicated and controversial role of documentary filmmakers in the army. (And isn't that old-movie-poster cover pretty cool?) Read my review here.

Rabble in Arms by Kenneth Roberts
This is detailed, excellently-written, fascinating historical fiction, based around Burgoyne's invasion from Canada and the campaigns leading up to the Battle of Saratoga during the Revolutionary War. I couldn't believe how much history I learned that I'd never had a clue about before (full-scale naval battles on Lake Champlain, anyone?), especially since I've walked over some of the very ground where it took place.

Pendragon's Heir by Suzannah Rowntree
This one is slated for publication in 2015, but I read an advance version of it in 2014 and it definitely belongs on my best-of list—I literally couldn't put it down all day. A splendid historical fantasy and fascinating twist on Arthurian legend—you're going to want to keep an eye out for this one. As a matter of fact, you can check back here on Saturday the 20th for an announcement of the release date!

A good half of this list I acquired via library; The Grand Sophy and Until That Distant Day I bought on Kindle, while for Plenilune as well as Pendragon's Heir I was fortunate enough to be an advance reader! Thorofare, meanwhile, was an impulse purchase of an out-of-print used book which really paid off.

Previous years' top-ten lists: 2011, 2012, 2013.

Friday, December 12, 2014

December's Chatterbox: Night Shift

The topic of Chatterbox for December is waiting fulfilled. I couldn't find a suitable scene on that subject in any of my in-progress or in-planning-stages manuscripts; and since I gather this really ought to be a Christmas Chatterbox anyway, and I figured it would satisfy my usual December impulse to write something Christmasy—in short (as Mr. Micawber would say), I have been inveigled into writing a piece of flash fiction again.

A few remarks. First, I find that I really love writing about winter weather. That's writing something I do know, and it comes so easily! Second, I'm a bit fascinated with old-time aviation stories—I'm pretty sure reading Nevil Shute has helped with that. My lack of technical knowledge has kept me from venturing any writing of my own on that subject, however. I've tried to edge around anything too technical in this piece, and I hope I haven't made any really egregious mistakes. And once again, this turned out much longer than I thought it would be. So long that I've put a decent portion of it beyond a click-here-to-read-the-rest jump break, to keep it from entirely swallowing up my blog. I am apparently unable to cram the passage of two hours into anything less than two thousand words.

Ted Grandy twisted the dial on the radio, in an unsuccessful attempt to tune the static out of the Christmas music coming faintly through. He shook his head. The storm was playing havoc with the radio tonight.

Outside the brittle ice-frosted windows of the tiny office all was a dim stormy shade of blue, the silent line of empty barracks and hangars half obscured by the blowing snow. Further out, the runway lights gleamed faintly on the edge of a wide expanse of field, the only thing that looked a bit like Christmas out there tonight.

As Ted slid off his headset and turned away from the desk he noticed there was someone in the narrow, bare semblance of a waiting-room that adjoined the office. It was a girl in a plain gray coat, with a dark-green scarf folded inside the collar. She was walking up and down the room, her hands folded under her arms as if they were cold—and they probably were; that room was always an echoing icebox. Ted wondered how long she had been there—he had not heard the car or taxi that must have brought her, with this wind. He glanced at the clock, which said five minutes past ten, and then opened the half-glass communicating door a little and leaned out. “Miss, would you like to wait in here? It’s not much warmer, but there’s a heater.”

The girl turned and looked at him for a second, without unfolding her arms. “Thank you,” she said, and walked slowly toward the doorway.

Ted held the door open for her and shut it once she was inside, the small evergreen wreath on the outside of the door swinging precariously on its nail with the motion. There was not much room to move about in the office, with the desk, the radio equipment, the heater and some filing cabinets crowding close, but the closeness and the bright electric light seemed to add to the impression of warmth that was mostly an illusion to begin with.

The girl sat down in the single swivel chair that Ted pulled out from the desk for her, and folded her gloved hands in her lap. She was an ordinary-looking girl with dark-brown hair, rather pretty. She sat quietly, but her eyes strayed to the frosted window over the desk with the fine-grained blowing snow sliding past the pane.

Ted, with a slight furrow of curiosity in his forehead, glanced at the clock again. “There isn’t another passenger flight until two o’clock, you know,” he offered tentatively—wanting to be helpful, and yet not wanting to come across as patronizing or prying if the girl was not there at this hour by a mistake.

“Yes, I know.”