Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Spring Term

Spring this year has been a long, slow, chilly time in coming. The trees are still just barely budding, whereas in other years the leaves have all been out by early May. Temperatures are staying down too—which means that after switching all my light summer clothes into my closet, I'm stuck wearing the one or two warm pieces I left out over and over again. I keep wanting to imitate old Anthony Chuzzlewit: "It's a cold spring!" But I'm not as good at imitations as all my siblings are.

- Writing -

Camp NaNoWriMo was an unqualified success! For a naturally slow writer like me, I think the ability to choose your own goal and keep it manageable takes a lot of the stress out of the challenge. I estimated the length of the scenes I wanted to finish at about 10,000 words, and without working weekends, I clocked in at approximately 14,845 on the 22nd. That puts me at the halfway point of my first draft of One of Ours. But next I'm heading into a section where I'll be adding several entirely new scenes, which should be...interesting. I shall have to do another snippets post when I'm further along, but I've been sharing a few bits on Twitter for #wordplaywednesdayhere, here and here.

Following that, I took a couple days' break to type up the first draft of The Silent Hour, my next Mrs. Meade Mystery. Which was fun, since after a month's break from that, I was pleasantly surprised to find it looked a lot better to me than it did the day I finished the draft. Autumn 2015 is the projected release date.

- Reading -

I've noted before that intensive spells of reading and writing always alternate with me. Earlier in the year I was reading constantly and finding lots of books to enjoy; but since I've been so deep in concentrating on One of Ours my reading's been a bit patchy. Not much more to my credit lately than a couple of lightweight, moderately entertaining old mysteries (Call Mr. Fortune by H.C. Bailey and The House of a Thousand Candles by Meredith Nicholson). I did, however, read G.K. Chesterton's epic poem The Ballad of the White Horse earlier this month and enjoyed that quite a lot. While I didn't agree with everything P.D. James had to say in Talking About Detective Fiction, which I read back in March, after four volumes of Father Brown stories and this poem, I concur with her assessment that "Chesterton never wrote an inelegant or clumsy sentence."

- Otherwise -

We recently decided to hardwire our house, so we wouldn't have to live with the unhealthy radiation of a constant wireless signal. So my dad moved our modem and router to the cellar, ran new cable wires and installed jacks for plugging in an Ethernet cord in a few convenient locations throughout the house (I'm not sure there's anything around the house that he can't build or fix). I'm finding that the new system definitely refines one's internet usage. The deliberate process of sitting down at a table and plugging in an internet cord, instead of just being able to flip open your laptop anytime and anywhere to check email or Twitter, makes you a bit more focused and productive with the time you do spend online. It's also very convenient for typing fiction without the distraction of the Internet—you simply don't plug it in, and there you are.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Chatterbox: The View in April

Short and sweet this time. The subject of April's Chatterbox is travel by foot, and not finding a good instance of that in any of my current projects, I sort of extracted an idea from an unfinished bit of short fiction that's been languishing in my files for years, and wrote this little independent scene. 'Tisn't much, but it was fun to write. Because springtime always has to spill onto the page a bit at this time of year.

Les straightened up, looking around for something to wipe his blackened hands on besides his clothes—unsuccessfully—and then wiped them in a slightly furtive way, as if he hoped no one would notice. “I’m sorry,” he said sheepishly. “The spare is no good either. I should have checked it a long time ago.”

“Hmmm?” said Mariel, lifting her chin from her hand and looking at him. She was sitting on the hood of the car with one leg crossed over the other, and had been staring into the distance without speaking for the last few minutes. “Oh. Well, I guess we’ll have to walk, then. It’s only a mile or two, isn’t it?”

“Not much more…are you sure you don’t mind? I mean, I guess you don’t want to wait here by yourself—”

“No, I’ll go with you. I don’t mind at all.” Mariel slid from the car and inspected her shoes, then looked up with a smile, tossing her short golden-brown hair back from her face. “My shoes weren’t exactly made for walking, but then I’ve never found a pretty pair that were.”

Les was too mortified over the faultiness of the spare tire to think of a reply for this, so he only smiled half-heartedly and they started off down the road together.

The pavement of the road looked oddly bare and clean, only a few weeks out from the last melting of snow, and the strips of grass on either side were a rich, fierce new green, the blades just brought to the surface by the spring sun. A faint spicy smell came from the crisp pale tangle of last year’s dried weeds, a half-flattened border beyond the few yards of grass; and a tall silver maple leaning over the road was starred with fuzzy red buds like tiny curled caterpillars. Mariel walked with her head turned slightly aside, gazing into the sun-warmed brown woods, with deep green pines lurking behind the bare trees like the velvet curtains of a theatre in the middle of having its scenery changed. The tiny squeaks of a goldfinch and the singing of a dozen other small birds sounded from overhead.

When they had walked a little ways, Les ventured again, “I’m really sorry about this. Are you sure you don’t mind—”

“For about the tenth time, no—no—and no!” said Mariel with a laugh. “To be honest with you, I don’t know if I’ve ever driven somewhere without wishing in the back of my head that something like this would happen.”

Wished for it?”

“Yes. I feel like I’ve spent my whole life being rushed past places that I wanted to just stop and linger and look at. Right from the time I was little, and we’d go shopping downtown. There were so many fascinating things in store windows that I’d want to look at—not things to buy, just things to enjoy staring at for a little while. But of course a grown-up would have me by the hand and I’d be pulled along past everything because we were on our way to somewhere else. And it’s a thousand times worse with cars!” she exclaimed, with an earnestness that Les privately thought was adorable. “You’re whisked past a thousand things that you’d like a closer look at, but never get more than a glimpse as you go by, because of course you’re on your way to somewhere else.” She stopped for a moment. “If we weren’t walking, would we be seeing that?”

She nodded toward a gap in the trees. Through it they could see a range of hills, the bare budding trees misting them in shades of mauve and lavender patched with green pine; and a startlingly blue sky above, reflected in a small shining mirror of a pond at the base of the hills.

Les shook his head. “Only for about two seconds, if you happened to be looking straight that way,” he said. “Even if it weren’t for the trees here, the angle would change every minute as you drove along.”

“That’s true,” said Mariel with additional wonder. “Hills are always different depending on where you look at them from.”

She glanced up at Les as they started to walk on, with that pretty questioning lift of the eyebrows. “You don’t mind walking, do you?” she said.

“No,” said Les, smiling back at her, “I can’t say that I do.”
photo by myself   

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

To Write "Z" is Human, to Notice the "S" is Divine

For many years the name of the late Miss Elisabeth Marbury was a terror. It seems simple enough, but all new reporters would misspell it, and there were copyreaders who went through life without having learned that her first name was not spelled "Elizabeth."
~ Stanley Walker, City Editor

There are many things that can give you a unique view on life, and one of them is being christened Elisabeth with an S. Anne with an E is one thing—the Annes of the world have L.M. Montgomery to thank for having immortalized their plight, and anyway the E is easy to tack quickly onto the end when someone has noticed the mistake. But being an Elisabeth with an S brings with it a peculiar inheritance; it makes you the manager of a lifelong campaign (with losing odds) to have your name spelled correctly.

Years of patient education eventually engrain it upon the memories of extended family, but with strangers it's another matter. There is always a feeling of anxiety attendant to scanning concert programs and prize lists where your name is supposed to appear, and the remark "Got it wrong again," takes on a tone of resignation as the years go by. Birthday cakes and graduation cakes arrive with that tell-tale smudge in the frosting about the middle of your name, which means your father opened the box to check before leaving the bakery and had to request a correction (after having carefully spelled it over the phone while ordering, of course). I have always felt very kindly toward my orthodontist and his staff, the only group of people who have consistently gotten it right over the years (many years; my teeth needed a lot of work).

It puzzles me greatly sometimes. I send out business emails (name clearly signed), reply to forum posts or comment threads (name right there in my username), or leave my business card (name plainly spelled out), and a good 75% of replies are bound to address me as Elizabeth. I begin to wonder sometimes—is the S really so hard to see, or is it playing tricks behind my back and turning into a Z whenever I'm not looking?

I suppose it's partly because there's not too many of us. I've only run into a couple other people named Elisabeth in my lifetime, and there's always a kind of instant recognition and sympathy among us; we all know what it's like. I've spotted a couple actresses in classic movies with the name: Elisabeth Risdon and Elisabeth Fraser. I'll bet they knew too. Even the Empress Elisabeth of Austria occasionally appears in print as the Empress Elizabeth—perhaps that's why she went by Sissi. (I discovered in recent years, incidentally, that one of the diminutives of Elisabeth—that being a German spelling of Elizabeth—is Liesl. I don't think adopting it as a nickname would help much, though, since in all my years of being a Sound of Music fan I've noted "Liesl" has a misspelling rate of about 50%.)

With all that, what are the odds of there being two writers named Elisabeth Foley? But when I came to publish my first book I found that there actually was another, a writer of textbooks, apparently. Hence my decision to include my middle name in my pen name. So I occasionally receive replies addressed to Elisabeth Grace, or—yes, you knew this was coming—Elizabeth Grace. But at least nobody has misspelled the middle name yet.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Western and an Element of Humanity

The other day, I was considering the question of why I like some of Louis L'Amour's books very much, yet others of his leave me fairly unenthused. Mentally comparing a few titles, I recognized a pattern in the ones I found less satisfying: after setting up an interesting situation in the first half or two-thirds of the book, the final section is almost entirely devoted to a long running fight, usually with the book's hero trying to escape rather large odds of villainy. Any questions or mysteries involved in the plot have either been summarily solved or put aside, and the only question left is one of will-they-escape.

For instance, the last L'Amour I read, The Man Called Noon, started off with a fascinating premise: in the opening sentence the protagonist regains consciousness after a fall to find that he's lost his memory...and he's being hunted without his knowing why. The first half of the book, as he tries to piece together the clues to his own identity and stay a step ahead of whoever wants to kill him, is well-constructed and compelling. Then about midway through, the focus of the story shifts a little to a cache of money that the villains of the book are out to get. The young woman who is the rightful heir to the money is unaware of its existence, and when she does find out, doesn't care greatly about having it; all she wants is her ranch free of the outlaws who have seized control. And that right there is as deep as L'Amour goes—he doesn't explore in the least the drama inherent in the idea of a girl being unaware of her inheritance, or the moment of her discovering it, or why she doesn't care about it. The only real reason the hero is fighting from then on is to keep the money away from the villains, who obviously shouldn't have it, and of course to keep himself and the heroine from getting killed by the villains in the process.

The Man Called Noon was an entertaining read, and yet for me it lacked a certain something that I've found in other books, even other books by the same author. And pondering why crystallized some ideas about the Western in my mind. I like Westerns, and I'm no snob about the tropes of the genre—I'll enjoy a good sharp fight or a suspenseful chase scene as much as anyone, provided it's not overdone. But for a Western story to really draw me in and make me care about it, there has to be a strong human story underpinning whatever familiar tropes are used. The question of the plot can't be as simple as whether we're going to get the stolen money back from the bank robbers, or catch the outlaw who shot a man, or whether the cattle drive will get to Abilene. Who does the theft of the money or the death of the murdered man affect—why—how? Why are the pursuers bent on catching the criminals—simply for justice, or are there personal reasons? Who stands to lose if the cattle drive doesn't get to Abilene, and what will they lose? Who feels the responsibility for getting it there, and why?

And I realize it doesn't just work for me this way as a reader; that's the way my mind works when I'm inventing a story of my own. I instinctively grab hold of the end of it that involves people first. If you can get this kind of thing in your story, and make the reader really care about the characters involved, then I don't think you have to worry about situations being clich├ęd. Human nature is capable of infinite variations, and when a gunfight or a chase becomes the stage on which those variations are played out, then a Western can be as compelling a drama as any other genre.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Left-Hand Kelly is an awards nominee!

Today I have some exciting news.

Left-Hand Kelly is a nominee for Best Independently-Published Western Novel in the Western Fictioneers' Peacemaker Awards!

This was my first time submitting anything to an awards competition, and I really didn't know what my chances would be, so I was determined to keep my expectations down. I woke up yesterday morning, remembered that it was the day for the announcement of nominees, and couldn't keep down a little thrill of excitement in spite of low expectations. I took myself firmly in hand. "You were not nominated," I told myself. "Remember that. You were not nominated, so you will not be disappointed."

But when I arrived at the website, there was Left-Hand Kelly on the list of nominees. At least, I think it was. I'm still getting used to the idea that this actually happened. All yesterday I had moments of unreality where I thought, "Did I really see that this morning, or am I the victim of an exceptionally vivid imagination?"

But yes, it did actually happen. You can read the official announcement and lists of all the nominees at the official site or here at the Western Fictioneers blog. The winners will be announced on June 1st.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A Tribute to Ron Scheer

I was very sad to learn this week of the passing of Ron Scheer, Western author and blogger at Buddies in the Saddle, who had been battling cancer for the past year. Ron's blog was one of those that I read most avidly from around the time I started this one, and his opinions on my own posts and writing were always valued. He was an enthusiast for all things Western, and early Western fiction in particular, and his detailed posts on the history of the genre and reviews of those early books eventually turned into a fascinating two-volume study, How the West Was Written (you can read my review of Volume I here). Ron was one of my biggest influences among present-day writers and blogging friends—his always-interesting posts and the ensuing discussions in the comments led me to fiction, nonfiction, movies, and the hundred different side trails that branched off from those discoveries. There are so many things about the West and Westerns that I might never have learned if it wasn't for him.

Learning of his passing made me think a little about my grandfather, who passed away in 2009, two years before I published my first book. Grandpa always loved hearing about his grandchildren's accomplishments, and he was also a reader, so I've often thought of how lovely it would have been to be able to show him my own published book. Somewhat in the same way, since Ron was kind enough to read my first book of Western short stories and spoke well of them, I would have liked to have been able to send him a full-length Western novel someday—a mature work, so to speak—and have been able to say, "Look how far I've come...and some of it was surely because of your influence and encouragement." I wish I had had that chance.

Ron had Wanderlust Creek and Other Stories in the currently-reading section of his blog sidebar at the time he stopped posting in February. I do hope he liked it.

My thoughts and prayers are with Ron's family. He will be sadly missed.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Weekend Odds and Ends #23

Interesting and entertaining odds and ends discovered in between Camp NaNo sessions:
  • At Vaguely Circular, Katie Lynn Daniels has a good piece on the art of procrastination—i.e., how to make the most out of your writer's block.

  • A fascinating, detailed post from mystery author Camille Laguire on how changes in the publishing industry have impacted the mystery genre over the last few decades.

  • Suzannah shared the link to this great collection of autochromes taken in England in 1928, a perfect companion to the series I recently did on vintage color photos and film (parts one, two, three).

  • Here's a nice post by Yvette at in so many words on the novels of English writer Angela Thirkell, including a delightful excerpt from August Folly. I just discovered recently that Virago Modern Classics is finally starting to release some of Thirkell's Barsetshire series on Kindle—though not in order! But even a few is something to celebrate, after how much I enjoyed my first taste of Thirkell's work, and hopefully the whole series will come out eventually.

  • I got a good chuckle out of this album and this one, discovered when I was browsing for music recently: popular Disney songs old and new recorded in the style of various famous classical composers. "The Ballad of Davy Crockett" in the style of Aaron Copland is pretty clever...and the Cinderella tunes done after the style of Debussy and Grieg are really pretty.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Beautiful People: Sibling Edition

I know I just said recently that I'm not very good at this kind of thing. But deep in rewriting One of Ours and having One of Ours pretty constantly on the brain, this edition of Beautiful People appealed to me because a fair amount of my plot deals with a set of siblings, and I feel that I'm still trying to dig a little deeper into my characters during this run-through of the story. If you've been around writing blogs a lot you may have sometimes run across the Beautiful People meme, as I frequently have—it's a link-up hosted by Sky at Further Up and Further In and Cait at Paper Fury, in which writers answer a series of questions about one of their characters, or in this case, a set of characters. This is the first time I've ever done it.

The siblings in this novel are my main female character Alice Carteret, age twenty-three, and her two younger brothers, Phil (eighteen) and Jeff (thirteen). Here are the questions:

1. What is the first memory they have of each other?
With Alice being the oldest, her first memory of her brothers is likely when they were born. I don't know about Phil...but considering Jeff's character and the way oldest sisters are (and how would I know anything about that?), I'm sure his first memory of Alice is of her telling him "no" about something.

2. Describe their relationship in 3 words.
Caring, occasionally aggravating.

3. What kind of things do they like to do together?

Their days are usually busy with farm chores, but in their free time the boys enjoy typical outdoor amusements like fishing or swimming. In the evenings they all might enjoy things like reading aloud or playing games by the fireside.

4. What was their biggest fight?

Phil and Jeff bicker on a regular basis, but none of their scraps have risen to the level of a particularly memorable fight...at least not yet. The biggest clash between Alice and Jeff comes in the final third of the book, so my lips are sealed there.

5. How far would they go to save each other?
Alice would do pretty much anything in her power to protect her brothers. Being an orphan and the oldest, she feels a strong responsibility for raising them and looking out for them. In a situation of actual danger, I'm sure Phil would react to save either of his siblings without thinking of himself. Jeff hasn't given the idea much thought...but he has enough family loyalty that he'd certainly stick up for his brother and sister if anything from outside threatened them.

6. What are their pet peeves about each other?
Jeff doesn't like either Alice or Phil—especially Phil—"bossing him around," whether he deserves it or not. They, meanwhile, think he's a bit spoiled and uses his position as the youngest to get his own way. Alice and Phil get along quite well, though she's sometimes a bit worried by his quietness, which makes him difficult for her to understand.

7. What are their favorite things about each other?
As of right now, the boys probably appreciate the fact that Alice is a good cook. Alice is grateful for Phil's reliability; he's the member of the family that she can always depend on even when she doesn't know what he's thinking.

8. What traits do they share? Mannerisms, clothing, quirks, looks, etc?
Alice and Phil resemble each other the most physically; they're both fair, have the same blue-gray eyes, and thin features that can seem a bit plain at first glance but are quickly transformed by a smile. Every now and then you'll catch one of them make an expression or gesture that reminds you of the other. There is a root of stubbornness—or call it resolution, if you will—that runs through the whole family, which is most evident in Jeff, but will occasionally crop out in different ways in the others too.

9. Who has the strongest personality?
That depends on how you look at it. Jeff is definitely the most emphatic and the most stubborn, but Alice probably has the greatest moral strength of character.

10. How does their relationship change throughout your story?
Now, that would be spoilers, wouldn't it? Let's just say that each of the boys will go through experiences that shake them up a bit, and leave Jeff with (hopefully) a little more appreciation for his older siblings, and Phil with a little more confidence and authority in the family.

Friday, April 3, 2015

March Snippets

So I decided to take the plunge and do a small Camp NaNoWriMo challenge to help myself along with the One of Ours rewrite. There's one long, rather important sequence of scenes that would give me such a sense of accomplishment to finish, so I'm making that my April goal. I chose 10,000 words for my personal challenge, though there's always a chance I could raise it before the end of the month if things go better than I expected. And of course, I'm estimating wordcount; I figured that with this size notebook I write an average of 350 words per page, and I multiply that by my daily page count.

I spent a while working on The Summer Country last month too, and I have only five chapters left to that, but I hit a slow patch and decided it was time to switch back to One of Ours for a bit. I'm finding it's actually very helpful having two active projects, so I can switch to something fresh if I get stuck. That way I make progress with both. One thing that may have aided this latest switch was the excitement of rediscovering a lovely Jerome Moross film score, from The Proud Rebel (1958), which fits perfectly with One of Ours in my head. The good old City of Prague Philharmonic has recorded a nice selection of tracks from it, and I've updated my soundtrack post for One of Ours with links to those. Meanwhile, here's some snippets from the past month's work on both projects (okay, from the first few days of April too):

"I expect it's our fault," said Peggy with a sigh. "We made a bad impression on her by accident the very first time we ever met her, and it stuck."

"What's Blackstone?" said Peggy.

"I think it's a place in England," said Drew.

"Nope—it's a set of big thick books written by a man from England," said Raymond, giving Drew a friendly clunk on the head with the borrowed book, which fortunately wasn't as thick as a Blackstone. "Close enough."

"It's no use," said Raymond, "Mrs. Butler will never let her over this threshold again, so don't try to be sentimental now, Peggy." And he turned away looking so fiercely unhappy that Peggy was almost sorry she had shown him the note at all.
~ The Summer Country

"Oh, I can't stand Maud, and neither can any of you if you'd only admit it," said Clarice with a frank scorn that made several of the older girls stifle an impulse to impolite laughter.

John Daly got up before them again, and he stood and let his eyes rove over their faces for an instant—as a man will do who has been made thoughtful, and wonders how the eternalities rest on his fellow-men.
~ One of Ours

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Bookshelf Tag

I saw this fun bookshelf tag over at The Edge of the Precipice, and couldn't resist doing it for myself. It was originally created by Natalie at Raindrops on Roses and Whiskers on Kittens, and there's no rules about passing the tag on—it's for whoever wants to join in. Now, I'm just sticking to my own personal bookshelf, which is one of several in our house—it doesn't hold our main Jane Austen collection, for instance, or the N.C. Wyeth-illustrated Scribners, or any of the horse books and children's historical fiction that are now in the keeping of my youngest sister. These are just the books that I personally own.

Describe your bookshelf (or wherever it is you keep your books-it doesn't actually have to be a shelf!) and where you got it from:
My bookcase is a three-shelf folding bookcase, light reddish-brown—it's actually a stackable unit; you can add another of the same kind to the top if you like. I got it as a birthday gift from my parents two years ago, and believe me, it was the perfect gift—all my books were stored in boxes and bins under my bed before that. Right now it looks pretty much the same as it did in the pictures I took for this post, except that I parted with my copy of Calling Dr. Kildare, which I decided I wasn't likely to read again, to make room for National Velvet and Understood Betsy on the top shelf. I also evicted 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea from the bottom shelf to make room for the copies of The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment that I want to re-read, and the household copies of Anna Karenina and War and Peace have been crammed in on top of some other books. I'm due for another sorting-through of my library, which I'm going to do as part of the thirty-day minimalism challenge.

Do you have any special or different way of organizing your books?

I have them loosely arranged by type—fiction on the top shelf; history, biography and memoir alongside writing craft books and mystery on the middle shelf; classics, poetry and miscellaneous on the bottom. I've also managed to arrange them by height—and I use the library shelving method my mom taught me, pulling all books forward to stand equal with the widest on the shelf so the spines are even all the way across. It certainly looks nicest, but it does mean you have to take them all out every once in a while to dust behind them!

What's the thickest (most amount of pages) book on your shelf?

Les Miserables, at 1463 pages, just beats out The Complete Works of O. Henry at 1424. (I suspect anybody with Les Miserables on their shelf will be answering this question the same way.)

What's the thinnest (least amount of pages) book on your shelf?

Beechenbrook by Margaret Junkin Preston, at 50 pages.

Is there a book you received as a birthday gift?

Yes, several! My siblings gave me No Life For a Lady by Agnes Morley Cleaveland one year, and the O. Henry volume was another splendid birthday gift from my parents.

What's the smallest (height and width wise) book on your shelf?
My paperbacks of Ivanhoe and Murder on the Orient Express are the shortest, both the same height; the front cover of Ivanhoe might be a fraction of an inch narrower.

What's the biggest (height and width wise) book on your shelf?

The Art of Illumination by Patricia Carter.

Is there a book from a friend on your shelf?

Well, if you count my family as friends, sure! But no, I don't think there's any gifts from outside the family there at present.

Most expensive book?

I'm guessing the Complete Works of O. Henry, since it's leather-bound.

The last book you read on your shelf?

From start to finish (as opposed to pulling something off and reading a chapter or two)? The Turmoil by Booth Tarkington, out of the Growth trilogy volume.

Of all the books on your shelf, which was the first you read?

Tough one! It could be Understood Betsy or David Copperfield; I know I read them both as a little girl but can't recall exactly when.

Do you have more than one copy of a book?

Not personally, no.

Do you have the complete series of any book series?
Not on my personal shelf. There's a full set of the Anne of Green Gables books in the house that began as mine, though it's sort of become family property now.

What's the newest addition to your shelf?

If you don't count those books I mentioned at the beginning of this post as just having moved on there (which we've owned for a while), I think it's the Growth trilogy.

What book has been on your shelf FOREVER?

That's hard to say, since most of my collection went on there at the same time when the bookcase was new.

What's the most recently published book on your shelf?

Ahem. Left-Hand Kelly, by myself.

The oldest book on your shelf (as in, the actual copy is old)?

Meadowlark Basin by B.M. Bower, published and printed in 1925.

A book you won?

None at present.

A book you'd hate to let out of your sight (aka a book you never let someone borrow)?

Probably Growth, because it's old and rare, and rather a favorite.

Most beat-up book?

The most beat-up book I own is not actually on my shelf; it's a used copy of The Singing Hill by B.M. Bower that's so battered I have to keep it in a plastic bag. The pages are yellowed and fragile and the covers are crumbly and discolored. But it had taken me quite a while to locate any copy at all, and it kept me up late finishing it, so I didn't mind.

Most pristine book?

I don't know exactly; most of my newer history/biography hardcovers are in quite good condition.

A book from your childhood?

I've already mentioned Understood Betsy twice, so I'll go with Swift Rivers by Cornelia Meigs, one of my favorite historical fiction books.

A book that's not actually your book?

I've sort of inherited the Dickens and the Russians, but the one that my mom occasionally reminds me really belongs to her is The Day I Became an Autodidact.

A book with a special/different cover (e.g. leather bound, soft fuzzy cover etc.)?

The Complete Works of O. Henry definitely has the most elegant binding—dark brown leather with gold lettering and designs on the spine, shiny gold edges to the pages and red-gold moire endpapers.

A book that is your favorite color?

My favorite color is coral, with pink for a runner-up, and there are actually no coral or pink books on my shelf! The red spine of the War and Peace dust jacket has faded to a rather peachy shade (all that reading it out in the sun by the pool last summer), but that doesn't quite count.

Book that's been on your shelf the longest that you STILL haven't read?

I think the only book on my shelf that I haven't read is Alexander Stephens' History of the United States. And I've only read a bit out of the Robert Frost's Complete Poetry.

Any signed books?


Friday, March 27, 2015

Favorite TV Episode Blogathon: The Virginian, "Siege"

When I heard about the Favorite TV Episode Blogathon being hosted by A Shroud of Thoughts, an event focusing on single episodes of classic television, it sounded to me like the perfect opportunity to write about an episode of my favorite TV Western, The Virginian, something I'd occasionally thought about doing before. The choice of episode was an easy one: an entry from the show's second season, "Siege."

"Siege" features a device often used by Western series when they wanted a change of scenery: sending one of the regular characters off on a journey, where adventure will most certainly befall. In this case it's Trampas (Doug McClure), who, after striking it rich in an all-night poker game, decides to go back to the little town of Logan, New Mexico, where he spent some time several years before, to pay off the debts he left behind and visit some old friends. He's particularly looking forward to seeing Carole (Elinor Donahue), a girl he once courted before her disapproving brother, banker Duke Logan (Philip Carey) ran him out of town—but finds that Carole is now happily married to the new town marshal, Brett Cole (Ron Hayes).

Now with no reason to stay longer, Trampas heads out of town to visit some former employers before going back to Medicine Bow—but his trip takes a darker turn when he finds the elderly couple have been robbed and murdered by marauding Comancheros. Tracking down and capturing the killers, he brings them back to Logan, where the authorities seem strangely reluctant to imprison or try the men.

The situation as explained by Duke, along with Trampas' friend Charlie Sanchez, the amiable Mexican hotelkeeper (Nestor Paiva) is that the Comancheros essentially run a protection racket in Logan—they are allowed the run of the town so long as they mostly behave themselves, and the townspeople can't lift a hand against them under threat of what the Comancheros would do if they did. Since the murders took place outside the town limits, the only way the killers can be tried is if Trampas stays to press charges. Comanchero leader Lopez (Joseph Campanella) wants his men released or else, and Duke, determined to pacify Lopez, puts all the pressure he can on Trampas to drop the charges and leave—persuading his sister Carole, whom he has convinced to share his views, to use her influence with Trampas to the same effect. But meanwhile, Trampas' determination to see justice done is having its effect on Brett, who has slowly awakened to a sense of his duty as town marshal and is now also determined to back Trampas, much to his brother-in-law's anger and his wife's dismay.

Much as I like the usual episodes of The Virginian set around Medicine Bow and Shiloh Ranch, "Siege" is a favorite because of its engrossing plot—which, as it gradually builds to its suspenseful climax, becomes a clever variation on the High Noon-style stand for justice—and its overall high quality. The guest cast is excellent, and the script by Don Mullally is perhaps the best thing about it, filled with practical and moral conflicts for multiple characters and keen, layered dialogue that fits together like pieces of a puzzle. "Siege" has an almost cinematic feel; a self-contained story running an hour and a quarter (the running time of the show was 90 minutes with commercials, the first Western TV series of that length), it's very like a compact Western movie. Whether as a standout entry in a good series, or a stand-alone Western for fans of the genre, it's definitely worth watching.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Spring Cleaning of Life

This spring, I'm doing another thirty-day minimalism challenge. It's not like our challenge of the autumn before last, which focused specifically on cleaning out unnecessary possessions. This is a clearing-up and simplifying of life in general—a spring-cleaning of life, I'd call it. Minimalism isn't just about getting rid of physical things; it's about simplifying your life and your possessions so you can more fully enjoy the things that are most important to you, and hence cut down on mental clutter and stress. And minimalism as a title doesn't entirely satisfy me either, though it's the word most people use and springs handily to the tongue. To me the word conjures up an image of a bare white room with metal furniture, modern art and no curtains. And that isn't me at all, as Miss Pole would say. Some folks do invent their own term for the mindset...how about 'simplisticism'?

Anyhow, this is the challenge sheet, found at this link:

Click to enlarge

The daily challenges can be taken in any order; I've already marked mine up and re-numbered most of it. You can also freely adapt and invent your own challenges to replace things that don't really apply to you—for instance, a day devoted to reading instead of TV would be no problem for me anyway, so I've replaced that with an overhaul of my physical book collection. Likewise, I'll probably come up with a new one to replace "Don't buy anything for 24 hours." I'm typically frugal by nature and don't have an issue with shopping too much, so it'd be more to the point to challenge myself to spring-clean an aspect of my life that really is a challenge.

I enjoy fits of organizing from time to time, and spring is usually one of those times, so an overhaul of closets, plans and schedules appeals to me right about now. How about you? Do you like this sort of spring-cleaning?