Thursday, October 28, 2010

Eva Ibbotson

I read today that writer Eva Ibbotson died last week. She was one of my "discoveries" when I began reading childrens/YA books again as an adult. Ibbotson made her name with fantasy aimed at slightly younger readers like Which Witch? and Island of the Aunts, but I really liked some of her later stuff, particularly Star of Kazan, which is set in pre-war Vienna.
A couple of things I didn't know about Ibbotson which I found out in the obit. She was born in 1925, which made her 85 when she died. (I never picture my favorite writers as old, somehow.) She published her first children's book at 50. (All right!) She was born in Vienna into a Jewish family which fled to England in 1933. She got a degree in physiology and studied at Cambridge. She married an entomologist. (I seem to recall butterflies playing a role in Journey to the River Sea, which is about the Amazon.)

I'm sorry we'll never see any future books from Ibbotson (unless she left some in manuscript.) And if you haven't read her, you have a delight in front of you.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Carole Anne Carr recently presented my other blog, The Paris Hat, with a Literacy Builder Award. This means I have to name 5 favorite words and pass it on to 3 other bloggers. I'm going to do this on Pray for Rain as there are more followers and maybe it fits the theme better? Anyway, thanks Carole Anne! I had trouble picking out only five favorite words, but here they are:




charley horse


My three bloggers are:
Booknapped by Marie Devers, even though she hasn't posted much lately (something about being pregnant.) Hopefully she'll start up again when she has more time.
Katie M. Stout - One Page at a Time, because she covers so many literary topics.
Mary Aalgaard - Play Off the Page, which is always chock full of literate quotes.

By the way, if you believe Wikipedia, a charley horse is known as a "granddaddy" in the UK, a "horse's kiss" in German and a "corky" in Australia.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Adventures in Critiquing

A few weeks ago I joined Critique Circle, an online critique group. I also found a local critque group and have attended two of their meetings. This has been a big step, though not for the reason I thought it would be. I knew that reading my work in front of people, even friendly people, would be a bit hard for mem but I managed it in the end. No, the problem turned out to be critiquing other people. I did everything I was supposed to on Critique Circle: I read all the FAQs, the Newbie page, I looked up archived critiques to see how others did it. The way Critique Circle works, you have to critique other stories in order to earn credits to put up your own stuff. So after a week or two of research, I finally dived in and critiqued one of the short stories. I can say two things about my critique: 1) it was honest and 2) it was nicely phrased -- no rudeness. Exactly what the guidelines said it should be. And yet I went around very troubled afterwards. Perhaps the person who put up the story hadn't expected or wanted honesty. Perhaps I had stopped someone's writing in their tracks or persuaded the person to toss the story. I didn't like the thought that I might have disturbed someone's confidence in their own writing. And yet, secretly, I was kind of proud of my critique. I like critiquing. I have definite opinions about certain things, and I like to express them.
So it was as a very conflicted person that I went to my critique group and proceeded to make a rookie error -- reading them a scene I had revised in a fury and hadn't really re-read. They didn't hate it, but they pointed out some problems, and, being new in the group, (this was only the second thing I'd read) I came away thinking I must have looked like someone who couldn't write at all. Believe me, I saw the irony in all this.
When I'm in doubt or turmoil I try to fall back on what I call the Two-Day Rule. Wait two days before making a decision about this. Give yourself some perspective, let your emotions fade. (This sounds wise, but it also allows two days of pure nobody-loves-me-think-I'll-eat-some-worms wallowing.) So sure enough, Monday came and I got a little perspective and began to re-structure my ruined scene. And I got an message on Critique Circle from the person who wrote the story, thanking me for giving her an honest critique! I promptly and boldly then went out and critiqued two more stories and submitted one of my own (won't get any feedback on it for a week or so.) So I might get the hang of this yet. Or I might be repeating the two-day rule to myself again one of these days.
Anywaym as a Giant of Critiquing, I am now my proclaiming my official disapproval of two things:
The one-sentence paragraph.
The. One. Word. Sentence.
Maybe I'll do a post about them one of these days...after I've gone back over my own writing to edit out all the times I've done it myself.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Scottish Play

One summer when I was in high school I went with a group of friends to a Shakespeare-in-the-Park production of Richard III. Richard III is one of Shakespeare's longer plays, and it got to be kind of late and we were all a little sleepy by the time Richard was being visited by the ghosts of all the people he had had put to death. Then we heard the sound of a motorcycle. It crossed the park, ripping up the grass, and began to circle the stage and the audience, fading in and out as the actor playing Richard struggled to make himself heard. It was pitch dark except for a few lights on the stage and an array of floodlights on the hill behind us. The motorcyle returned, and we heard wild cries and laughter. It was at the top of the hill now, and I remember turning and seeing the cyclist silhouetted by the lights, standing up on the pedals with his fist raised towards the stage. We heard him shout: "Hail, Satan...Hail, Satan!"
Then he turned and zoomed down the other side of the hill, fading back into the night.

Well, such scenes can happen only once in a lifetime. I don't expect, when I go to see Macbeth next week, that it will be interrupted by a Satanist on a motorcycle, though I can always hope. Anyway, in preparation for it I've been going over certain key parts of the Macbeth with my son so he can follow it when we go see it. I had forgotten how gruesome it is. Two appearance by witches, Banquo's ghost, the murder of Macduff's family, and someone's head being carried onstage. I'd also forgotten that Macbeth is the source of such familar quotes as:

"By the pricking of my thumbs
Something wicked this way comes."

"After life's fitful fever he sleeps well."

"It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

And, of course:

"Out, damned spot!"

One of the best books I've read about Shakespeare is Norrie Epstein's The Friendly Shakespeare. (There are also companion volumes on Jane Austen and Dickens.) Not exactly biography, and not exactly criticism, these books focus on the relationship between the reader and favorite authors, teasing out what makes Shakespeare, Austen and Dickens seem like old friends. If you haven't read it, go look for it.