Waiting on Patrick Rothfuss

I don’t like to read book series that aren’t finished yet. My husband knows this about me. It’s too stressful for me to wait until the next book comes out. The anticipation kills me. I was late to the Dark Tower waiting game but it was still tough – especially when Stephen King was struck by a van. What if he had died?! It took him 22 years to finish that series of seven books. And no, that doesn’t come out to a book every three years because the last three books all came out in a little over a year span. Readers were waiting five or six years between books.

Speaking of authors dying before finishing their masterpieces, I found my way to The Wheel of Time before the series was completed and not long before the author, Robert Jordan, died, work unfinished. That fourteen book series took 23 years and two authors and introduced me to Brandon Sanderson, the author brought in to interpret Jordan’s notes and finish the series.

Betwen Harry Potter and Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander (another not-finished series I’m engrossed in) and Wheel of Time, I had been caught up in a small circle of authors for a number of years. When I came up for air, my first instinct was to read some more Sanderson. So I did.

I read a great novella called Legion. I read his Mistborn trilogy. I read the Rithmatist and Steelheart, accidentally stumbling into two more incomplete trilogies. And then I paused to consider what to read next. My husband suggested I try another author besides Sanderson.

He suggested The Name of The Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. A friend of ours had met Mr. Rothfuss and even had him sign a copy of the book for my husband. The note the author wrote to my husband made it clear he was of a similar personality to the friend, which is, to say the least, a bit off-kilter.

I was blown away my Pat’s writing. The fantasy world he created was impressive, as was the characters, the magic system, the storytelling. But it was the writing that really stood out to me. It was like reading poetry in novel form. In the epilogue of the book, he described silence. Specifically a silence of three parts. I could feel that silence. My ears pulsed with the absence of sound. I was mesmerized.

I’ve read many fine authors who have told gripping stories. Many deliver great dialogue. Gabaldon, in particular, tells a story with such an impressive vocabulary that I’m in search of a dictionary. But I cannot recall another author that created such vivid imagery, who described what I should see and hear so beautifully. I quickly started the second book.

And then my husband dropped the bombshell. The series wasn’t finished. That’s right. It wasn’t finished. I was furious – not with Patrick Rothfuss, whose third book I was now dying to read. But with my husband, who had led me into this trap.

As is the case with most readers, though – well, as it should be with most readers – I eventually fell into a comfortable state of waiting. The burn for the next book died down as I went on with my life and other books. I’m now in a state where I’ll need to re-read the books to regain that eager, give-it-to-me-now state of anticipation.

And then I followed Patrick Rothfuss on Facebook. He tells really cute stories about his kids and posts some funny stuff. That’s why I followed him. Then I learned that not everyone is capable of falling into that comfortable state of waiting. Some people get downright irate if authors don’t publish within a window that these readers think is appropriate. And they tell the authors about it every chance they get. And they get pretty ugly about it. And then other people defend the authors.

The arguments don’t change much and it doesn’t seem to matter what post is there. They’ll complain on any post, whether it’s about his books or not. I found it laughable. And sad. But it also got me to thinking.

Do authors owe anything to their readers? The complainers say yes. They say that the authors are getting paid to do a job and they need to get off Facebook and quit operating charities and do their job. Dammit. The supporters say the authors are sharing their creative talent with us and they don’t owe us anything. They can share or not share, their choice. The complainers turn red in the face at that and remind the supporters that these authors are getting paid! They aren’t sharing – they are selling a product.

I basically fall on the side of the supporters. I mean, of course, if an author is on contract, he or she needs to finish the book(s) on whatever schedule he or she agreed to. But otherwise?  Are movie makers required to make more movies after a big success? Are artists required to draw more or paint more? Does Annie Leibovitz have to keep taking pictures even if she’d rather operate a charity or become an accountant?

And the complainers seem to forget this is a creative process. If the writer gets writer’s block, he can’t just churn it out anyway. It’s not like building a house. He’s creating a world and immersing us in it. The complainers will remind us all that Rothfuss said the books were all finished – he was just editing. Ok, so he has since said he regrets making the comment and for him, the bulk of the work is in the editing. He’s kind of obsessive about it. So get over it. He’s not ready to share the story.

Ironically, the complainers have often presented one of my other favorite authors for contrast: Brandon Sanderson. They talk about how many books he publishes and how good they are. I like Sanderson. I enjoy his books. A lot. He’s a great story teller. But his books are not Rothfuss quality. They don’t have the same artistic imagery. He’s pulp fiction in comparison. So of course his books don’t take as much time.

But even if they were as good… who the bleep cares? I know a lot of computer programmers. Some of them code really, really fast. Others take longer. Some have more bugs in their code or it’s not structured well or not easy to read. Whatever. Fact is, you can’t ask the slow coders to code faster. You either accept their pace or you don’t. As a supervisor of computer programmers, a person can decide the person’s pace is good or fire them. That’s it. Readers have the same choice. Accept the author as he or she is… or move along.

So if I could, I’d tell all the complainers this: grow up. No one owes you anything. You are just being ugly and childish. There are so many good books by good authors out there that there is absolutely no way you could get through them all before Pat finished the final book in his Kingkiller Chronicles – even if it took him twenty years. So go read some of those. Read Sanderson. He’ll keep you busy. I get it. I know what it’s like to want the rest of the story. But yelling at the author won’t do any good. Get a life. Please. Let the rest of us enjoy the person without your vitriol.

Advertisements

Inside Out

So here’s my dilemma.

I’ve got this post I wrote a bazillion weeks ago. Ok, not really. I wrote it back in May but with all that’s happened since then, it feels like a bazillion weeks ago. It’s about my adopted state of Texas and one of its quirks. I should really read over it and publish it already. It won’t be relevant if I wait too much longer.

But then there’s how Sunday morning went and I really want to tell that tale – about how I really wanted to stay in bed and cuddle and listen to the rain but dragged myself to church instead. Because I had to, more than wanted to.

Oh, and then there’s my thoughts about my step-dad that brought me to tears during the Father’s Day worship service. But my dad-dad reads my blog and I don’t want to hurt his feelings. Could I write it in a way that would convey the emotion I was feeling but not hurt dad’s feelings?

And then there’s all the reading I’ve been doing about Charleston and all the different perspectives and my overriding feeling that we just aren’t ever going to progress to some place valuable as a nation. I want to write about that too but… Nah. I know for sure that I don’t have the energy to plumb those depths.

So what’s a woman to do?

I think I’ll talk about movies. I’ve seen some doozies lately. And by that, I mean really, really good ones. Seriously.

Several weeks ago… well, sometime after I wrote that post about Texas that I’ve yet to publish… I saw Mad Max: Fury Road with my husband. I was quite simply blown away. Blown. Away. That movie was perfect. There’s lots of good blogs and articles out there about just how perfect that movie was so I’m not going to try to bumble through it myself. Here’s one of them. I don’t have anything to add – that article pretty much sums up my reaction to the movie.

Sunday night, we had a movie marathon – Jane, Daddy, and me. First we watched The Butler. I was amazed again. And chilled. And thought about Charleston. And sat there still. And happy and sad at the same time. We decided to top it off with Forrest Gump. Because why not? And because Jane hadn’t seen it yet and that seemed like a shame.

So then we get to Monday afternoon. I was barely able to get off work in time to join my family at the last matinee-price showing of Inside Out. We had been looking forward to it for several weeks now. Or maybe a bazillion. I don’t know. I’m pretty sure we started looking forward to it long before I wrote that Texas post that maybe I’ll get around to sharing later this week. Maybe.

Anyway, totally different tale than Mad Max. That probably doesn’t shock you. But… again… I was blown away. Blown. Away. This movie is magical. It nails emotion. It found a way to explain the inner workings of the brain in a fantastical and magnificent way. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed out loud as much during a movie as I did in this one.

You have to go see it. You simply have. To. Go. See. It. Right now. Or when the theater opens. Whichever comes first. I loved this movie. My family loved this movie. I loved watching my family love watching this movie. Hal was on the edge of his seat near the end. I think Jane and I might have missed some of the on-screen magic just then because we were too busy staring at the in-theater magic sitting next to me: back straight as a rod, face intent, a slight smile, body leaning forward with anticipation.

It’d be hard to escape the theater without catching the at-credits extras but make sure you don’t. You can leave after the cat. But don’t you dare leave before the cat! I’m telling you – the entire movie was precious and sincere and lovely and funny and charming and insightful. But the cat – the cat was real. The cat got it right. So make sure you stay for the cat.

That’s all I’m saying.

So, yeah, I could have talked about what’s wrong with Texas’s obsession with football. I could have talked about my deceased step-father. I could have walked the minefield that is divorce and tried to discuss Father’s Day. I could have talked about faith and commitment and fatigue. I could have talked about racism and America. But life is heavy enough and you need a smile.

So go watch Inside Out. And stay for the cat. It won’t let you down. I promise.

2Cellos!! Live!

My husband and I finally celebrated our anniversary Thursday night. Just about a month and a half late. But see, we take turns planning what to do and 2015 was my turn and by early November I still didn’t know what I wanted to do.

And then… and then… my mother-in-law complained on Facebook that 2Cellos would not be visiting Denver on the American leg of their tour. But guess what? They would be coming to Dallas…

Score!

I scrambled onto the website and tried to buy tickets. Seats were literally getting gobbled up as I tried to learn the layout of the facility and figure out which tickets we could afford and where we’d want to sit and holler to my husband in the other room about our choices. I finally got the “best” two adjacent seats still available, which ended up being the row above the box seats but all the way over near the front such that we couldn’t see unless we leaned way over or stood up. More on that in a minute.

We paid extra ahead of time for the good parking and got there an hour early. We waited in line to buy souvenirs. I bought a glass of wine. Speaking of the wine, like my sippie cup?

20150226_194523

The only way you can take your drink into the show is in one of these costs-two-dollars-extra cups. Cute, dontcha think?

Anyway, when we were finally allowed to go find our seats, we came to realize just how bad they were. Reasonably close to the stage but couldn’t see squat. Fortunately, a few people to our right never showed up and the entire row shifted to give everyone the best possible view. Most of us stood the whole time, which was just fine, because…

IT WAS A ROCKIN’ GREAT CONCERT!!

20150226_215330

Luka and Stjepan are very talented. Not just in playing their electric cellos, but in entertaining. After playing a couple of songs, Luka announced, “This is not a classical concert. You don’t have to sit still and be quiet. You can cheer. You can hoot and scream. You can stand. You can sing along. You can dance. You can even flirt with Stjepan… {pause}… but just the guys.”

Stjepan, apparently having a reputation with the ladies, crossed his legs and played up the part as everyone laughed. He would later talk about loving the next song because “It is so beautiful. And it’s nice because it’s just… so beautiful.” Which setup nicely for later when he announced, “This next song… It is not beautiful… It is not a very good song… {turning to Luka}…why are we even playing it?”

And when the song was over, he said, “Nice, wasn’t it? It’s nice to be so talented.” (This might sound arrogant but it was affected in such a way that it came across as a joke. In fact, it sounded as if he was talking about Luka since Luka had had the more difficult part.) But then he pointed to Luka and said, “He played pretty well too, don’t you think?”

Continuing over the laughter, “You saw how hard he had to work?” He mimicked the rapid back and forth movement Luka had made with his right hand on the bow. “That’s hard work,” he said. “But he has had lots of practice. Since he was twelve in fact, he’s been practicing that.” The naughty insinuation was clear.

20150226_215720

After playing almost an hour just the two of them, they reached their signature songs and the audience started going wild as they played Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal followed immediately by Guns N’ Roses’ Welcome to the Jungle. Then their drummer joined them in Thunderstruck and it was a full blown rock n’ roll concert.

Everyone cheered relentlessly when they finally left the stage. Just as I thought they wouldn’t return for an encore, Stjepan walked out and took a seat. He looked up at the crowd and nodded his understanding of what we wanted. And then he proceeded to very slowly play scales. But soon Luka joined him and we were treated to several more hard-hitting songs. Stjepan rolled around on the floor while playing, as if he were some heavy metal guitarist. When a group of kids started clapping, they actually started working it into the music, pausing and pointing to the crowd when it was time to clap. I loved it.

20150226_215321

One of the most fun moments for me, however, came later. We quickly ran downstairs when the concert ended so we could be near the front of the autograph line. We were actually fairly successful and got through within twenty minutes of them sitting down.

Quick side note here… I don’t know if it was the size of the venue (and thus the size of the crowd) or if book worms are just bigger on autographs than music lovers. I waited well over an hour, maybe two, to get Diana Gabaldon’s autograph and there were twice as many people behind me as there had been in front. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law experienced about the same for Neil Gaiman. This line was definitely long, but still nothing compared to those authors.

Back to the concert… It took them about a half hour to come out to the table, but when they did, the line moved quickly. The young, well-dressed women in tall spiky heels and short dresses in front of us quickly took off their coats and fluffed their hair. I put mine on so I’d have less to carry and stuffed my wine sippie in my husband’s pocket.

Before I knew it, we were at the table. I placed my tote bag in front of Luka, who signed it and passed it on to their drummer, Dusan. I followed the bag as my husband snuck some pictures and got our CDs signed. Dusan passed the bag to Stjepan, who signed it while continuing to flirt with the young, well-dressed women in tall spiky heels and short dresses in front of us.

“Why don’t you give me your number? I’ll call you tonight,” he purred.

“Are you serious?” the hopeful young lady asked.

“Sure,” he crooned. “Here.” He slid a piece of paper toward her.

“He’s probably just joking,” she said nervously. “But, ok, I will.”

She scribbled her name on the paper. I wondered if she noticed the stash of paper strips in his pocket. Luka jokingly apologized to all the people in the line for Stjepan’s holding up our progress. Then Stjepan glanced up at me, totally uninterested in what he saw, and mumbled a perfunctory (and nonsensical, since I hadn’t spoken to him) “Thank You” before… and here’s the best part… he looked down to find a tote bag in front of him.

So he signed it.

Again.

2Cellos

And I gotta say, I know the girl who wrote her name and number down for him feels like she had the time of her life. She probably thinks she had the best experience of anyone there. I’m sure she was giddy and floating on cloud nine as she left. I sincerely hope her friend was driving.

But, being the 40+ year-old dismissed woman after her who got a double signature out of the guy too busy flirting to notice what he was doing? Hah! I got the last laugh and enjoyed every minute of it. I’m too old to catch a rock star’s attention. But I’ve got all of that attention I need from the guy I cuddle up with every night. I wonder if anyone else got quite as unique a souvenir as I did.

 

Dear White People

My husband and I went to see Dear White People Sunday evening.  First, I want to say that we both thought it was a wonderful movie in every respect and we fully recommend it to everyone.  The second thing I want to say is this.  It was not about race.

Don’t get me wrong.  Race was a very heavy and present backdrop.  The plot centers around a growing discontent between the black and white students on a fictional ivy league campus.  It deals fully with the kinds of issues unique to African Americans and it takes a critical look at white privilege as well as those senseless acts and comments white people do and say without thinking.

But it’s not about race.  What struck me as I left the theater, still savoring all the complex characters and their relationships with each other, was that it’s about people trying to find their place.  It’s about people not fitting in and then not being true to themselves in an effort to fit in.  It’s about internal and external conflict of character.

Yes, race was an important part of that discovery.  What does it mean to be black?  What does it mean to be biracial?  How must a person act to fit in with his or her black classmates?  What if a black student wants to fit in with the white classmates instead?  What if a person is black and gay?  And a nerd?  What if they can’t fit in with the black students and also can’t fit in with the gay crowd?  What about the rich legacy black kid whose dad has strong expectations of him?  What if he’s hiding part of who he is?  What if a woman finds herself in an angry/defiant black revolutionary role but is in love with a white man and is afraid her friends will find out?  If a white woman is dating a black man just to make her family squirm is she using him?  Is it any different than him sleeping with a black woman that he’s not really interested in?

These characters were so rich and engaging.  Each was striving for something he or she didn’t have.  And in some cases, couldn’t have.  Their struggles were real and oh-so believable.

Now… I’m not black.  I am ignorant of most of what black people in this country have to deal with.  I have spent a small amount of time over the years talking to black friends and acquaintances so I have a secondhand sense of some of it.  A secondhand sense is wholly inadequate but it’s about the best I can ever get.  I understand from an academic sense what institutional racism, white privilege, and micro-aggression is about.  I say this so that my next statements will not be taken to mean that I think my experiences are of the same magnitude.

What often makes a book or movie engaging to a reader or watcher is the ability to relate to one or more of the characters.  One reason Hollywood appears to use in not making many movies with all black or nearly all black casts is the fear that white people will think the movie will not relate to them.  Boom, just like that, they lose a large chunk of the potential audience.  Black people?  Well, they are used to only having a handful of black characters and most of them stereotypes at that.  So no need to worry about them.

Here’s the deal with Dear White People.  I related to these characters.  And, no, I’m not talking about the clueless white people, although I admit to seeing me in some of their actions too.  I mean that I was able to relate to the black characters.  Not their struggles with being black, but with their struggles with being alive in this world.

A dilemma  of sorts was presented in the movie.  It went something like this:

You walk into a restaurant and to the waitress, you look like a black customer that didn’t tip her well in the past.  She only takes your order after taking everyone else’s in the room.  You wait 45 minutes before your food comes out.  Now it’s time to tip.  What do you do?

1) Leave the standard 15%.  It’s what’s expected.

2) Don’t leave a tip!  The service was terrible!  A tip is to reward good service and she didn’t provide that.

3) Recognize that she expects you, a black person, to not tip well.  Leave a generous tip to try to change her perspective.

Obviously, I’ve never faced racism in a restaurant.  I still got excited at the familiarity as the dilemma was presented though.  Why?  Because I’ve experienced the same dilemma.  Families with young children are often assumed to not tip well.  So some waitstaff are not as attentive as they should be.  Should I confirm their invalid assumptions by giving them the lower tip that they so richly deserve?  Or should I tip them handsomely in the hopes that they will drop their stereotype and treat the next family better?  Been there.

Then there’s trying to fit in with the group that I’m not actually part of.  A black woman in the movie tried so hard to fit in with a particular group of whites.  If she played her cards just right, she could get some pseudo-acceptance, but she was never fully part of the group.  And in her attempts to be part of the group, she left behind her black friends.

Likewise, when I was fourteen and trying to show the older boys on the hiking trip that I could keep up with them – indeed, be one of them, I abandoned my girlfriend who wasn’t as strong or as fast.  I didn’t dare walk with her at the back, where I could have enjoyed her company, because I was afraid the boys might think I couldn’t keep up.  I threw away what I had to chase after something I couldn’t.

There’s plenty more examples that I won’t elaborate on.  Let’s just say that this movie did a terrific job in making these characters accessible to everyone.  I believe it proved that a movie can have all the main characters be black and still be something non-blacks can relate to.  It wasn’t poking fun like a Tyler Perry movie.  It wasn’t a gut-wrenching portrayal of slavery or pre-Civil Rights era.

No, it was just a story of ordinary people trying to find their way in the world.  And those people just happened to be black.  It added to my understanding of the rich diversity of black perspective.  It proved (although it sadly shouldn’t have needed to) that there are as many different perspectives among black people as there are black people.  Same as whites.

I don’t want to minimize the important analysis of the complexity of race in America that the movie engaged in.  There are a lot of lessons for both blacks and whites, plenty for us to ponder on how we relate with the each other, both within our race and without.  But I truly believe the bigger lesson was that we all face the same most basic struggles.  How to find our place in the world.  And how to be content when we find it.

The Summer of 1989

I didn’t plan on posting anything today, and indeed there will be thousands upon thousands of blogs about Robin Williams today.  If there were not already thousands before I even roused from bed this morning.  I don’t have anything profound or significant to say about him or depression or suicide or even life.  I have no expectation to rise anywhere near the top or even any level of significance in the mass mourning of a great man.

What I do have is a fond memory from my pre-driving teenage years and since this memory involved him and resurfaced because of his death and because this blog is called mybrightspots and the memory is definitely a bright spot in my life, I will share that tale.

It was the summer of 1989.  I would be heading into tenth grade in the fall.  My best friend invited my mother and I to join her and her mother to watch Dead Poets Society at the theater.  I asked my mother if she wanted to go and was befuddled by her response.  There was no “Oh, I’d love to, but…”, no hesitation nor consideration.  Just a strange look on her face followed by, “No, that’s ok.  You guys have fun.”

My mother loved this friend and loved the friend’s mother as well.  She loved Robin Williams.  I couldn’t interpret the look on her face.  I couldn’t understand why she wanted to spend that Saturday afternoon cleaning house and doing laundry instead of watching this movie with these people.  I shrugged.  Oh, well.

I don’t recall if we went on opening day or if we just arrived late or what.  All I know is that when we walked into the theater, it was immediately obvious that we would not be sitting together.  I have never been in a more full theater in my life.  We found two seats near the back and I think my friend’s mother had my friend and I sit there before she wandered off to find her own seat.  I have a faint memory of guilt that mother and daughter did not sit together but relief that I was not cast out on my own.  I also remember thinking maybe it was best my mother hadn’t come.  Where would she have sat?

The movie was incredible.  Inspiring.  Moving.  Heart-breaking.  To this day, it remains one of my favorites.  And it’s at the top of my list of Robin Williams movies I want Jane to see this week.  My husband and I were up late last night, cruising IMDB and commonsensemedia.org to bring to mind all of his works that we loved.  I have this deep desire to show my children this wonderful actor, to help them understand what the world has lost.  Popeye for Hal.  Jumanji and Mrs. Doubtfire for Daryl.  Dead Poets Society and maybe Good Will Hunting for Jane. Maybe not The World According To Garp just yet. It feels important.  This honoring and remembering and educating.

Back to 1989, though.  I came home on an adrenaline rush.  I could barely contain my excitement as I burst into the house.  “Mom!” I exclaimed.  “Man, you should have been there!  That was awesome!”

The strange expression on her face from earlier was back but intensified.  “I’m glad you enjoyed it,” she said, in a mildly disconnected and certainly not enthusiastic way.

“You’ve got to go see it, mom!  That was the best movie ever!  Robin Williams was wonderful!”

“It was a movie?” she asked.

Now it was my turn to be confused.

“Um… yeeeessss…?  What did you think it was?”

“I thought you were going to some group that was going to sit around and listen to people read poems written by dead guys.  I couldn’t figure out why you wanted to go, but more power to you.”

It took awhile for the laughter to die down.

And even though Robin Williams is gone, it’ll take awhile for the laughter he left me with to die down.  If it ever does.

Rest in Peace, you talented, flawed, and wonderful man.

Worth the Waiting

Tuesday night was a really special night for me and a friend of mine. For my 40th birthday, my husband purchased two tickets to Art and Letters Live’s Diana Gabaldon talk in Dallas. I was thrilled! He was willing to accompany me even though he has not read any of her books (having instead listened to me prattle on for years), but he knew that the occasion would be even more special if I went with someone as equal in nuttiness over this author as me.

And so it was that I left work about 3:30 in the afternoon and picked up my friend. In exchange for the blessed ticket, she offered to drive us and buy my dinner. We stopped at Wal-Mart to each pick up an extra copy of the latest book to get signed for friends.

The night involved a lot of standing in line. About a half hour waiting in line for our books. Another half hour waiting for food at the museum’s cafe. Almost that much again waiting to get in to the church sanctuary for the talk. And then a staggering two hours waiting to get the books signed. Standing up past my bedtime with about 15 pounds of books in my arms was exhausting! And the crazy part was that when we left the museum after 11:00 that night, the line still stretched back farther than the point where we had managed to start. I am very curious what time the last person got her (or his, but likely her) book signed. I wonder if she got anything special for her determination.

image

It would have been hard for me to have been this cheerful at this point if I were her.

The best part of the night, though, was without a doubt the talk. After about 20 minutes of waiting in our pew in the balcony of the church (at least we were sitting), we were regaled with the sounds of bagpipes and drums coming up the aisle below us. I was terribly amused when the five gentlemen in full Highland regalia turned to face us because one – the drummer, front and center – was actually not in “full” regalia. While the others were wearing the traditional tall socks and matching shoes to go with their kilts, he was wearing sneakers and ankle socks! I’m guessing someone had forgotten part of his costume.

After a lively and entertaining introduction from a very funny reporter from the Dallas Morning News, Diana Gabaldon took the stage to a standing ovation. She is a dynamic and outgoing person and I couldn’t help but wonder how hard something like this might be for a shy author. When she began to speak, I noted just how raspy her voice was. Of course. She had been in Ontario the night before and had been doing this nearly nightly for two weeks! I almost felt bad requiring her to talk that night. Almost.

Some of you may not know who this author is so let me save you the trip to Wikipedia. Diana Gabaldon is the author of the Outlander series of books, which is slated as a new mini-series premiering on the Starz network on August 9th. There are 8 books in the main series, published over the last 25 years, and numerous books, novellas, and short stories about various side characters.

The basic premise is that a British Army nurse from World War II named Claire accidentally falls through time, landing herself among some Scotsmen of the 1740s. Her modern sensibilities and dress make them and others instantly suspicious and launch a series of events making it impossible for her to make it back to the stones that would return her to her time.

The books track her, her 1740s husband Jamie, and a number of other engaging characters through time and space, encountering historical figures, danger, magic, and more. It’s full of adventure, intrigue, romance, war, betrayal, and questions of loyalty. It’s also full of really big words that I’m always looking up, which I love… especially since I read on my Kindle, which will open up the dictionary entry with the touch of my finger on the word in question!

Her talk mostly concerned how she came to be a writer and how the first book formed. I knew that she had been a biology professor, holding a PhD in Quantitative Behavioral Ecology. What I didn’t know was that she had programmed in Fortran to support a colleague’s research (on the contents of bird gizzards).

That programming experience, coupled with some comic book design work for Disney and a need to earn some extra income while her husband built his new business, caused her to contact Byte magazine and another early computer periodical about creating software programs for them. As part of that gig, she was given some access to CompuServe, one of the forerunners to the internet. On CompuServe, she joined a literary discussion group composed of readers and writers.

When she decided to try her hand at writing a novel, she didn’t tell any of her CompuServe friends because she had seen how the professional writers in the group seemed to react to the wanna-bes. She also didn’t tell her husband out of fear he’d try to get her to stop.

This wildly popular series around the world started like this:

Hmmm. I don’t know if I have adequate imagination to make up my own plot so I think I’ll go with historical fiction so if my mind isn’t up to the task, I’ll have existing stuff to work with. Ok, now what? Or… when?

She saw a Doctor Who rerun where the doctor picked up a companion in the 1740s – a young Scotsman in a kilt – and she thought Ooh! Man in a kilt – I like that! Ok, so 1740s Scotland. Fiction requires conflict and she quickly found Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite Rebellion.

She wanted a woman with this group of Scottish men, to add some sexual conflict, and thought that making her English would add even more conflict, so she threw the men into a cottage and had the woman walk in. (This is how she writes – no outline, no planning, just throw the characters together and see what happens).

One of the men looked up and said, “Who are you?”

To which the woman replied, “I am Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp. Who the hell are you?”

Hmmm. That’s a problem, she thought. Eighteenth century women wouldn’t talk like that.

Try as she might, she couldn’t keep Claire from behaving like a modern woman. She finally caved to her character and decided Claire had to come from the future and thus added time travel. Claire also took over the story – she’s the first person perspective in the novels.

And so it began.

She eventually put pieces of the story on CompuServe and asked around about literary agents. She then had a series of experiences that is every starting author’s dream. She got an introduction to the (highly successful and very selective) literary agent she wanted. He agreed to look at excerpts of her manuscript (which was incomplete). He found her to be a great storyteller and agreed to take her on. He then sent her manuscript to five publishers, telling them they had 30 days to respond. FOUR days later, he called her to say that 3 of the 5 had already responded that they wanted the book. And just like that, she was a fiction author.

To her chagrin, the first book was marketed as Romance. It has been shelved under many different sections in bookstores including Romance, Historical Fiction, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror (have no idea why), and… History! She found that one at a little bookstore in Britain. When she pointed out to the young man that the books didn’t belong there, he explained that there was a little old lady that determined where all the books should be shelved and she insisted that’s where it belonged. “Apparently, she believes in time travel,” he quipped.

The romance reputation turns a lot of people away before they even break open the book. That’s a mistake. I’m not going to lie – there is considerably more sex than in most novels I’ve read. She’s known for writing very good sex scenes. But the books do not follow the usual rules for romance novels and the sex is not the point of the stories.

(A quick aside: As her main characters aged from their twenties to their forties about twenty years ago, she was asked if she thought people really wanted to read about people in their forties having sex. She responded, “Well, I’m 42 and my husband is 43. I don’t plan on stopping having sex any time soon and if he knows what’s good for him, he won’t either.”)

I’m sure that many of her fans – admittedly mostly women – are in it for the sex… or for Jamie. But I’m not. I genuinely enjoy the writing, the dry wit, the complex story lines, the dialogue, all the (very accurate) detail, the conflict, the history… all of it.

After waiting for two hours to get my books signed, I finally got to stand next to her. The museum staff were very efficient. Someone had already stuck a post-it note with my name on the appropriate page and had me mark it with the book flap. As I approached the front of the line, one woman took my phone so she could take a picture of me with Diana. Another took my purse so I’d be unencumbered. Another took my books and, glancing at the two post-it notes, asked which person I was so she could introduce me.

Before I knew it, I was standing next to Diana as the lady slid the book in front of her and introduced me. Diana said hello, addressing me by name, as she signed the book. I said hello and commented that we were happy to see she had a glass of wine to help her get through this.

“Actually, it’s Diet Coke. I wish it was wine.”

I mumbled something in response and then my friend approached her and commented on the wine. “She probably thinks we are such lushes!” she remarked later.

image

That’s Diet Coke, not wine, as it turns out!

I enjoyed hearing the history of the novels and picking up some writing tips and meeting her, however briefly. Mostly, it was just nice to get a glimpse into the mind and face of the person responsible for one of my favorite series of books.

My Favorite 50 Words

This week was my first time to participate in a Weekly Writing Challenge. Actually, it was my first time to even look at one, to be honest. I’ve never had a problem finding something to say so it’s never occurred to me to look for a prompt!

I thus found it rather interesting when my first time to look created a truly difficult challenge for me. Tell a story in 50 words. Just 50. OK, I thought. Well, there was Hal’s reluctance to take a nap after falling asleep at church. I wasn’t sure there was enough meat for a large blog post. Maybe it’d work.

I soon learned two things. The first, that 50 words is beyond brief, I learned when I looked at my word count half way through and saw I was at 94 words. I then realized that my story actually had two scenes and would have to be two separate tales.

Here’s the first (inferior) one:

He briefly fell asleep on the pew. Then complained when the organ awakened him as I rose to sing. At the front for the children’s sermon, he laid down and closed his eyes, pastor ignored. But when nap time finally came, he would not. Such is the way of a child.

When I asked my husband and daughter for feedback, they said the same thing I was thinking. It moved around too much. It didn’t seem to have focus, a purpose. It fell flat.

The second one, Naptime worked better. Especially when I was able to add a picture. I published it without first looking around to see what other people were posting. I think that’s best. Keeps a person from second-guessing herself.

I learned my second thing when I started reading other posts. I learned that it really is hard to get it right. A lot of people submitted poetry. Quite a bit of it good poetry! But the write-up said this: “A fifty, much like a poem, challenges readers…” And for my literalist brain, if a fifty is much like a poem, it can’t be a poem.

Telling a story in 50 words, complete with some character development, plot, imagery, conclusion, clarity – that’s hard! Some of what I read never seemed to coalesce into stories. They struck me as wordy people trying to contain themselves in something brief. Or stories that tried for mystery but just left me confused with what they left out or tried to imply. The ones I liked managed to make me see and understand so much more than 50 words would seem to allow room for.

That first day or two, I read them all and saved off some of my favorites. I haven’t been able to keep up since then, but I’ll keep trying. I’ve noticed a few bloggers linking to all of them on their post. Gosh, with as many out there as there are, that just makes my eyes glaze over! What I would love to know is which ones YOU like best. And why. So that’s what I’m going to give you here. Some of my favorites. And why. In no particular order.

I recommend you follow the links before you read what I have to say. I don’t want to spoil them nor influence your reaction to them.

Let’s start with the master, the person who authored this particular writing challenge: Boy with a hat’s 50 word stories #138 sets the stage for what makes a good story. I love the recognition that he doesn’t have to explain what happened. “Snap!” is sufficient. And then the boy gazing up at the end. It says so much.

This one, Silence, does the short story thing perfectly. It draws you in to the woman’s pain and separation. It sets up the hope that she’ll say something. You are holding your breath, hopeful, and then… bam.

This one didn’t have a descriptive title but it had a great lead-in picture. I felt the story fully pulled me into the person’s state of mind and made me proud of the personal growth in those short 50 words.

Quiet Please, Can’t You See I’m Recharging? started with a funny, wry statement that immediately made me smile. And then finished up with an obvious solution that is readily apparent to the parent of a teenager. It just felt true.

He Didn’t Leave… I’m not necessarily fond of seemingly weak, fearful characters, but something about this story struck me. I think it’s the bit right at the end where he seems to act nonchalant about staying and she makes it clear that why he stayed is as important or more so than staying.

This one I like because of its social commentary. The differences that so many of us hold significant that absolutely shouldn’t be.

I like Crow simply because of its beautifully detailed descriptiveness. I can see it all so clearly. And feel that hesitation before making the last move. And that brief moment of balance.

The Last Laugh: I adore the wording of the first sentence. And the message that sometimes we get bad advice and don’t learn to let go of it is interesting to ponder.

What makes Unexpected so wonderful is the irony. And the character’s recognition of that irony.

In Darkness, I like the double meaning of the word darkness and the obvious fear of being dismissed into the great unknown.

I’m not sure why this one is called third-wave, but my failure to understand the title did little to dilute my enjoyment of the story itself. How can someone make a character this strong and this identifiable in so few words?! I love that the girl has such a strong, mature, feminist response to the world that she then belts out in the only way truly accessible for a five year old.

What I liked about this one is that I could tell the speaker was embarrassed but not about what. My curiosity grew and the way it was revealed was so well done. Plus, I can relate considerably to putting my foot in my mouth.

I’m sure it was more than the picture that made me smile at this one, although it certainly set the right tone. Whether the story is talking about the statue or a real person makes no difference to me. The speaker’s attempt to divine true intent was the win.

I greatly appreciate the extra work that went into the font variations in Érase una vez…. I like how it implied movement and pace. I also like how it made me feel like I can speak Spanish. Even though I can’t.

I followed the link to Climb: A Play in Fifty Words simply because I was intrigued at how you would write a short play like that. And she delivered. Delightful!

Ok, I’m deliberately not including examples of stories I didn’t like. I don’t think that’s nice, nor important. To each, his own. So when I tell you that I am linking this next one, which includes 3 tales, because I particularly like the middle one, please don’t take that to mean that I despise the others. They just aren’t the one I’m writing about. On The Importance of Memory took me by surprise with the last sentence. Very nice and very funny.

And… I know I said that one lesson I learned was that it was difficult to tell a story well in 50 words. Many of the ones I didn’t care for, I didn’t care for because they weren’t really a story. They were just a scene or an idea. But this description of a bonfire is proof that you can get my attention without telling an obvious story. I was enjoying the beautiful imagery but when I got to the naked knees and crickets and people falling asleep, it suddenly felt like a story had been told. I felt like I was there.

In that lesson, I claimed as well that poems shouldn’t count. And then I found this one. I clicked on The F Word with a fair amount of apprehension. Was I about to read a teenage boy’s screed? Some obscene writing from a college student? An X-rated sex scene? No. To my delight, it was a perfectly balanced poem! How much harder is it to write a coherent, complete scene but break it up in nearly equal syllable counts and make it rhyme in all the right places?! Even the unspoken fifty-first word rhymed. Excellent.

Here’s another poem that I found right before I published this that I enjoyed. I liked the visual and the story… now that I’m more amenable to poems. 🙂

I also said that these were listed in no particular order, which was true. Except for this one. This one was hands-down my favorite of the ones I read. I was skeptical at first. When I wrote mine, I fought the urge to give explanatory statements before and/or after my story. I ultimately decided that was cheating and didn’t do it – and I tended to dislike the ones where people did that. It felt like the entire idea couldn’t be expressed in the fifty words so they were bolstering their story. So when I saw the overall word count on The Word Peddler’s submission, I was prepared to not like it. Then I read The Bits That Haunt Us and the world slowed down. I felt a chill go down my spine. I just stared at the words for a minute when I finished. And then I read on and understood why the explanatory words were so vital. The story was perfectly written and I assumed it was fiction. But it wasn’t. The hairs on my arms stood up. Suddenly I knew that the imagery from this story would never leave me.

I wish I had time to read more before publishing this post, but it feels important to actually publish this during the week of the challenge. So, here’s the DpChallenge page where you can find them all. Please take a look and share in the comments any that you particularly liked and why. I’m curious to hear from you and to read all the great ones I know I’ve missed!