Friday, February 26, 2010

Picture Day Friday

Strahov Monastery of Prague, Poland is known as a pilgrimage site and is the home of the famous Strahov library with a huge number of medieval books and writings. The first time it was mentioned was in 1120 CE, when St. Norbert founded the Order of Premonstratensians. There was a Romanesque monastery at first, later fully rebuilt in the Gothic style, and in 18th century big changes were made to add in the Baroque style.

Theological Hall of the Strahov Monastery Library...

Strahov Monastery Library copyright by

Philosophical Hall of the Strahov Monastery Library...

Strahov Monastery Library copyright by

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Like, write some code, bro!

Hello Readers.
I want to introduce you to the deeply hidden geek side of me via Like, Python. It is a version of Python that adds words, such as "like," "yo," and "bro" to Python's lexicon.

Python is an interpreted, interactive, object-oriented, extensible programming language for web development. A higher-level explanation of Like, Python is reading Python code like actually speaking the language normally; developed by Jonathan Howard.

Like, Python Keywords:

Valleygirl:omg, so, like, totally, right, toootally
Frat Guy:friggin, fuckin, dude, man, bro, broheim, broseph
Intrywebs:lol, rofl, teh, ohai, plz
Snoop:yo, homey, homeboy, sup, dog, shit, girl, ma, biatch, ho, shiiit
Local:wicked, hella, anyways
Misc:just, hey, yeah, ok, um, uh, ah, actually, something

Like, Python Code Fragments:

Print "Hello World"Hello World
Print like "Hello World"Yo, 'sup y'all?
Print (2 + 2).toString()4
Print like (2 + 2).toString()3.7, yo

Like, Python Code Samples:

# My first Like, Python script!
yo just print like "hello world" bro

#! usr/bin/python
uh from sys import exit
# Grab the user's name. 
ok so like name = raw_input("yo! what's your name?" ) right
# Make sure they entered something, then say hi.
if name.strip() is actually like "":
   toootally just exit()
   um yeah
   print like "Hi %s, nice to meet you." % name

Regency Python:

Now if I were to create a Regency Python extension to Python, here's what I would add to the lexicon...

bloody, addlepated, blush, swoon, lustily, desire, hell

Regency Python Code Fragments:

Print "Hello World"Hello World
Print bloody "Hello World"Lud! The world's going to hell in a handbasket!
Print (2 + 2).toString()4
Print addlepated (2 + 2).toString()*lisp* La, the cross in the middle is like Lady Grace's figure. *giggle* Oh, dear, 5. *giggle*

Regency Python Code Samples:
#! /usr/local/bin/python
   bloody cit sys.import(); sys.exit()
# Delicately enquire into first lord's title, curricle race time
desire title = raw_input("My Lord, I humbly request the name of your title *bow*")
desire time = raw_input ("My Lord, I humbly request how long your race took *bow*")
# Ensure lord isn't three sheets to the wind
if title.strip() or time.strip() is regarded as "":
   exit() hell
# Declare results for every lord.
   while title.strip() and time.strip() is disregarded as "":
      blush swoon
      print lustily "Lord " % title "ran his well-bred full-bloods in " %time "hours."
      desire title = raw_input("My Lord, I humbly request the name of your title *bow*")
      desire time = raw_input ("My Lord, I humbly request how long your race took *bow*") 

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Goodnight Indeed!

Richard Armitage reading bedtime children's stories. (Thank you, McVane, for the link.)

Oh, how I love thee, Richard, let me count the ways...

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Are You Entitled?

I've been avidly following the figure skating competitions of the 2010 Winter Olympics up in Vancouver, Canada. Thursday the 18th was the free skate contest for the men's figure skating title. American Evan Lysacek won the gold over Russian Yevgeny Plushenko by 1.31 points. Russia, including Putin, have made accusations of injustice and bias.

At the heart of the controversy is how and why Plushenko's undubitably more technically difficult program with minor flubs was trumped by Lysacek's expressive, faultless program with decidedly less wizardry.

To me, this speaks, first of all, to not understanding the changing market (audience) and changing rules (judges), both of which were spelled out well before the contest, but were received differently by the two contesntants and their coaches. You cannot keep hoeing the same row in the same fashion and expect a different harvest.

Also, there's no entitlement. Because you do X, there're no absolutes that you will be rewarded with Y. That may be your desire, but when other people and factors are at play, you may get Z.

Lysacek remarked on Plushenko's statements about the quad, "If it was all about one jump, they'd give us ten seconds to go out and do our jump, not four minutes forty seconds."

Big picture, contestants. Don't lose sight of overall goal while honing one particular sub-goal even though it's spectacular and unique.

The only thing under a contestant's control is focusing on self and product: What can you deliver? How can you improve your craft, your skill, your product? Without reference to who else did what, what did you do with your performance? What new tips have you learned from this experience?

All of this reminds me of grumblings from writers when they receive marks and/or comments from contests and submissions to which they send their work.

Judging, by its very nature, is a subjective exercise and no one is entitled to or owed anything by these strangers. All you can confidently do is your best and hope that the judges' biases don't work against you. If they do, well, there's always the next contest, the next sub.

Does this rip your gut out? Of course, yes! Does this mean, you should rip into the one who has found success? Of course, not!

Look only unto yourself. One contest, one sub doesn't matter. Ultimate goal is being published. Don't lose sight of that.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Snarking Romance

Emerson College journalism major undergrad Kimya Kavehkar wrote an article for the The Berkeley Beacon titled: Judging these Books by their Steamy Covers.

Copyright AmazonTherein she explored these novels: Full Throttle (2007) by Wendy Etherington, Her Colorado Man (2009) by Cheryl St. John, Irish Thoroughbred (1981) by Nora Roberts, and Toxic Bachelors (2005) by Danielle Steel. Intrepid reporter and reviewer Kavehkar deems these covers "steamy" and the novels "raunchy," including Irish Thoroughbred.

The point of the article, as titled, is purportedly to judge the book by the covers not by the back cover copy. Yet, that's precisely what Kavehkar proceeds to do. Instead of snarking the covers, she writes short snarky reviews that have everything to do with being self-indulgent in personal biases and negligent in journalistic ethics.

To draw attention to the eggregiousness of the snark, Smart Bitch Sarah Wendell runs snark on snark: A Snide Romance Review Drinking Game.

In the comments section, author Maisey Yates wrote: "And really, the biggest issue is, that if that article were available in the check out line at the grocery store, no one, regardless of how much cat food was in their cart, would spend good money on it."

That is at the heart of the matter. Taking on the likes of megablockbuster authors Nora Roberts and Danielle Steele while still an apprentice writer is akin to shooting yourself in the foot before even getting said foot in the door. Instead of snarking romance novels and their covers, Kavehkar should figure out what magic these two stars create with their romance novels that makes something so easily snarkable so likeabe, so marketable, so profitable. Now, that would be a worthy journalism undergraduate thesis.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Picture Day Friday

St. Nicholas in Tallinn is Estonia's main Russian Orthodox cathedral. I visited here in the summer of 2002 and was blown away by its beauty.

St. Nicholas is also by far the grandest, most opulent Orthodox church in Tallinn. Built in 1900, when Estonia was part of the tsarist Russian empire, the cathedral was originally intended as a symbol of the empire's dominance—both religious and political—over this increasingly unruly Baltic territory. The cathedral was dedicated to the Prince of Novgorod, Alexander Yaroslavich Nevsky, who led the famous Battle of the Ice at Lake Peipsi in 1242, which halted the German crusaders' eastward advance. It was deliberately placed in this prominent location right in front of Toompea Castle at the top of Toompea Hill, on the same spot where a statue of Martin Luther had previously stood. Designed by respected St. Petersburg architect Mikhail Preobrazhenski, the church is richly decorated in a mixed historical style. The church's towers hold Tallinn's most powerful church bell ensemble, consisting of eleven bells. You can hear the entire ensemble playing before each service.



Friday, February 12, 2010

Picture Day Friday...Part 2

In honor of the Olympics and my hometown, here's wishing all the best of luck to one of our greatest winter athletes: Apolo Anton Ohno (website,Twitter).

Copyright Dallas News

(And I mightily resisted all scantily-clad and shirtless pictures of him.)

Picture Day Friday

Yellow seems to be the hot new color for 2010 romance book covers, per Twitter conversation with agented aspiring writer Elyssa Papa.

My Reckless Surrender by Anna Campbell
What The Lady Wants by Jennifer Cruise
A Little Bit Wild by Victoria Dahl
Nothing But Trouble by Rachael Gibson


[Edited 2/20 to add Sherry Thomas's cover, thanks to Sadrine Thomas...]

His At Night by Sherry Thomas

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Life's Interfering With Life

This is the case for how the intrywebs are interfering with my reading that is interfering with my writing. It's a ruminating, rambling post, so you're forewarned.

Granted, all three—writing, reading, interwebbing—are essential to my well-being and satisfaction in life. I couldn't give up any one of them and still lead a content existence.

And yet, for productivity, priority has to be re-examined and re-established.

There are authors out in Romancelandia who do effective and efficient online promotion through blogs, Twitter, Facebook, message loops, emails, and newsletters without being on all the time. They also do in-person appearances at book-signings and conferences and yet manage to write steadily with the same quality of writing. One such rare superwoman is historical romance writer Jo Beverley. I'm fascinated by her! I know for a fact, she has the same (rainy) 24 hours a day I do, even if she's in fab ye olde England and I'm in modern Seattle, and yet look at what she does with her day and look at what I accomplish. (Le Sigh!)

I thrash around with email, Twitter, Facebook, Google Reader, LiveJournal. Either I drop it all to read, or I drop surfing and reading to write.

I'm sure there is a right way to surf the intrywebs, which would take less time, but I haven't found it yet, because like shoveling when it's snowing, stuff keeps on coming in continuously. When I've finished one pass, I need another pass and another and another... And then my personal roles in life (mom, chauffeur, chef, washerwoman, dishwasher, and miscellaneous service provider) demand attention, and the reading and writing has to wait for another day.

Then again, I could simply not open the laptop at all and read and read, but at the end of the day, I'd feel like I'm missing all the interesting conversations that have been happening around in Romancelandia while I was offline.

If I don't surf, nor read, then I'll have the glow of accomplishment, but zero entertainment, which is not ideal either. I need all three so that at the end of the day, I'm satisfied I've accomplished something, I've been entertained, and I've exchanged ideas and laughs with friends and acquaintances.

So if Jo Beverley doesn't have more than 24 hours, she must be giving up eating and sleeping to that she can squeeze all that she does in. Well...of course not. So then she must be a subscriber to this paradigm: "Work smarter, not harder."

According to the article "Work Smarter, Not Harder" by Jane McBride Choate in the September 2009 issue of the Romance Writers Report, "[We] writers need to maximize our efforts, our time, and our energy. We don't have the luxury of squandering any of our resources."

In the article, author Melissa Mayhue advises, "Stay organized and set goals and priorities. Be a list person."

Author Amanda Cabot recommends, "Keep track of your time by recording your tasks in a record book for at least two weeks. Take analysis of your productive times."

Choate also suggests, "Think like a lawyer. Keep track of billable hours."

Author Allison Brennan "sets priorities—and then keeps them." She says, "What has helped me in staying offline during my set writing time and then rewarding myself with online time when I hit my daily page goal."

Author Karin Tabke echoes this advice. "The important stuff trumps the less important. Family first, writing second, everything else later."

When tempted to do things other than write, Cabot poses the question, "What is the opportunity cost?" Choate says, "Know the true costs of how you spend your time."

Put this way, the only way to be more productive in the same amount of time is to lay out all that you need to accomplish in a day, group tasks together, prioritize, set times for when what should get done, and decide what falls in the optional bucket that can be done if unexpected extra time shows up in the day.

Another issue at hand is that society is trending heavily towards multitasking. If you're a one-task person, you're way behind the times. By multitasking, I'm not saying walking and chewing gum at the same time. But rather, what author Stephanie Bond does: "writing on an AlphaSmart while running on the treadmill."

However, according to the article "Divided Attention" in The Chronicle of Higher Education, "Humans' working-memory capacity—that is, their ability to juggle facts and perform mental operations—is limited to roughly seven units. And that is under optimal conditions. If a person is anxious or fatigued or in the presence of an attractive stranger [hur!], his working-memory capacity will probably degrade." George A. Miller, professor at Princeton, calls this an "information bottleneck." His recommendation is to "chunk information" so you can pack more into each of those seven units.

What this means is concentrating on one task at a time for a longer time so as to achieve more on that task before context-switching, to use a computing operating systems terminology. In effect, minimize distractions while doing a task, otherwise you risk performing sub-optimally at every task. Which leads right back to, schedule it and stick to it.

In a tangential fashion, this advice from Brennan is pure gold for me, "Working from home has to be working at home." Meaning, it doesn't mean that you have extra free time to do every odd job you or your family can think of to squeeze in. It means, exactly as it's written: You. Are. Working. "You have to keep writing time sacred. It's the only way to keep your sanity."

So here are my takeaways from this:
1. Make lists
2. Prioritize
3. Schedule
4. Stick to Schedule
5. Do one task at a time only
6. Guard writing time zealously
7. Know that everything you want to do will not get done

(Interestingly enough, my list has seven items, too. Coincidence? Hindu cosmic lucky number?)

Is this something you struggle with, too? What solutions have you put into place? Is there anything new you learned from here?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

20 Cheer Up Tips From 200 Years Ago

Gretchen Rubin runs The Happiness Project site and blog and has written an award-winning book based on her observations, interpretations, and research.

Recently, Gretchen posted these twenty tips from 1820 for cheering yourself up that caught my eye. In her blog opener, she says, "I read it in a biography of the English writer Sydney Smith in Hesketh Pearson's The Smith of Smiths. In 1820, Smith wrote a letter to an unhappy friend, Lady Morpeth, in which he offered her tips for cheering up."

1st. Live as well as you dare.
2nd. Go into the shower-bath with a small quantity of water at a temperature low enough to give you a slight sensation of cold, 75 or 80 degrees.
3rd. Amusing books.
4th. Short views of human life—not further than dinner or tea.
5th. Be as busy as you can.
6th. See as much as you can of those friends who respect and like you.
7th. And of those acquaintances who amuse you.
8th. Make no secret of low spirits to your friends, but talk of them freely—they are always worse for dignified concealment.
9th. Attend to the effects tea and coffee produce upon you.
10th. Compare your lot with that of other people.
11th. Don't expect too much from human life—a sorry business at the best.
12th. Avoid poetry, dramatic representations (except comedy), music, serious novels, melancholy, sentimental people, and everything likely to excite feeling or emotion, not ending in active benevolence.
13th. Do good, and endeavour to please everybody of every degree.
14th Be as much as you can in the open air without fatigue.
15th. Make the room where you commonly sit gay and pleasant.
16th. Struggle by little and little against idleness.
17th. Don’t be too severe upon yourself, or underrate yourself, but do yourself justice.
18th. Keep good blazing fires.
19th. Be firm and constant in the exercise of rational religion.
20th. Believe me, dear Lady Georgiana.

Gretchen's favorites are #1, 3, 6, 13, 15, 16, and 17.
Mine are #3, 5, 6, 7, 11, 15, 16, 17

What are your favorites?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Boke of Cookry: Frytor of Erbys

Inspired by Nicola Cornick's cooking post, this is mine. Having eaten at this place many times and tried out the recipes at home, I can personally attest to the fabulosity of this restaurant and book.

Copyright and Robert ShellÞe Bors Hede Inne is part of the Camlann Medieval Village: a Living History Museum project. Camlann re-creates the every-day experience of a 14th century rural village typical of Somerset, England for the study, interpretation, and enjoyment of medieval arts and culture.

Copyright and Robert ShellÞe Bors Hede Boke of Cookry is a unique, illustrated, 214-page work that contains 101 recipes in Middle English with modern translations and modern working recipes. Introductory chapters explain food, gardens, kitchens, cooking techniques, and meals in the Middle Ages. There's also a 85-page glossary of Middle English culinary terms. A veritable goldmine research guide for the medieval historical writer.


Middle English

Take gode erbys • grynde hē and medle hē wt flo~ and wat~ & a lytel ȝest and salt • and frye hē ī oyle • and ete hē wt clere hony

—"The Forme of Cury", London BL Add. 5016, a 15th C. copy of a 1390 compilation, translated by Samuel Pegge

Modern Translation

Take good herbs, grind them, and mix them with flour and water and a little yeast and salt, and fry them in oil, and eat them with clear honey.

Working Recipe

1 package dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 cup fresh herbs (mustard greens, parsley, anise, and cilantro)
2 cups flour
2 1/4 cups cool water
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup honey
oil for frying

Dissolve yeast in warm water; set aside. Wash and dry herbs; mince. Mix flour and cool water together; add dissolved yeast, salt, and herbs. Cover and allow to sit in a warm place for one hour. Heat oil in deep fat fryer to 375oF. Drop spoonfuls of batter into fat and fry until golden, turning once. Drain and serve drizzled with honey.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Lessons in French WINNERS

Copyright SourcebooksThank you all for participating in the four-day LESSONS IN FRENCH by Laura Kinsale extravaganza. Thank you also to Laura Kinsale for responding to queries and comments and to Sourcebooks for underwriting the giveaway copies.

Without much further ado...

Madame Randomizer has chosen the FOUR WINNERS!!




Katherine/K. Hall

Congratulations to the four of you! Please send your mailing addresses to keira at keirasoleore dot com, and I'll forward them on to Sourcebooks. Thank you!

[Edited 2/9/10: Helen, just emailed me to say that she already has a copy of LIF. So I let Madame Randomizer draw another name.............Debb of hand.pecked, please send me your address.]

Oddest Book Title

Copyright The BooksellerThe Bookseller's annual Diagram Prize for the Oddest Book Title of the Year award has drawn a record number of submissions, prompting custodian Horace Bent to create a "Very Longlist" for the very first time, reports The Bookseller. Bent, who blamed social networking site Twitter for the rise in suggestions, received a total of 90 submissions—almost three times as many a last year (32).

"Although Bent received a record number of submissions, he expressed frustration at the reciprocal rise in the number of ineligible submissions. He told The Bookseller: 'The adage that everyone has a book in them may well be true, but that doesn't mean every Tom, Dick and Harry out there can bash a few words out on a keyboard and then upload it to Scribd with a humorous title like: The Historic Adventures of the Purple Waffle Iron on His Horse Made of Asparagus, and then think they have a chance at winning my prestigious award. I refuse to ackowledge such submissions'."

Bent has pared down the list of competing titles to the Very Longlist of 49 titles, with The Origin of Faeces, The Master Cheesemakers of Wisconsin, Is the Rectum a Grave?, and Peek-a-poo: What’s in Your Diaper? vying for this coveted award..

The shortlist will be announced by the judges on February 19. The public can then vote on their favorite through March 21. The winner with the most votes will be announced on March 26.

Here are my favorite of the Very Longlist...
–How YOU Are Like Shampoo: For Job Seekers
–Briefs for the Reading Room
–Planet Asthma: Art and Acitivty Book
–Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes
–Afterthoughts of a Worm Hunter

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Ask me anything

Friday, February 5, 2010

Lessons in French GIVEAWAY #4

Copyright SourcebooksToday's the last day of the four-book LESSONS IN FRENCH giveaway extravaganza by Sourcebooks. And since today's also my reguarly scheduled Picture Day Friday, let's take a look at Laura Kinsale's covers as they've changed publishers and/or gone through reprintings. (Go here and click on the book titles to read Laura's commentary on the covers.)


Uncertain Magic by Laura KinsaleUncertain Magic by Laura KinsaleUncertain Magic by Laura KinsaleUncertain Magic by Laura Kinsale


Midsummer Moon by Laura KinsaleMidsummer Moon by Laura KinsaleMidsummer Moon by Laura Kinsale

Which covers do you like? Is there something you'd like to see done for the covers that's not currently being done (or conversely, something not done that's being done)?

Copyright SourcebooksToday's the last day of the Laura Kinsale giveaways. Comment to add your name to be chosen to win a copy of LESSONS IN FRENCH.

FOUR winners will be announced on Monday, February 8. So be sure to check back then to see if your name was one of those chosen.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Lessons in French GIVEAWAY #3 & EXCLUSIVE

Copyright SourcebooksWe're at Day Three of the LESSONS IN FRENCH giveaway. Today, Laura is chatting with us about her writing life and a silly, lightning round. Laura also has an exclusive peek into her current work-in-progress just for the readers of this blog.

KS: Laura, thanks for continuing on in our conversation. I come from the PNW, a land of tall trees and mists. So I completely identify with your need for open spaces and the sun. Do you walk a lot (daily?) in your land of mountains and sunshine?

LK: Yes, depending on the weather. I just [on Tuesday] got back from a short hike with Ventoux through the melting snow and increasing mud and slush. It's beautiful, but slippery!

KS: What's in the works for the next destination in your globe travels?

LK: I might go with my husband to northern Italy and Prague for our (insert significant number here) anniversary this year. But I'd better get crackin' on the plans if we are going to!

KS: What drew you to writing historical stories? Did the interest come up through your education or extra-curricular reading (under covers with a flashlight) during aforementioned Serious Educational Pursuits?

LK: Actually, I just happened to sell a historical manuscript first. I had started a couple of contemporaries. But I dropped them when I sold THE HIDDEN HEART and never regretted it. I really enjoy historical research, plus I don't have to keep up with current slang. ;)

KS: Would you consider writing a contemporary or in any of the other sub-genres of romance, or even a pure historical fiction story?

LK: I might consider writing a book about John of Gaunt. WOLF HALL made me think of it. I doubt I'll actually do it, though.

KS: Having gobbled up, er, very carefully read LESSONS IN FRENCH a few times, I'm dying waiting for an answer to this question: What's next for you? When?

LK: I have ideas. Some are gelling, some aren't.

KS: What about reprints of your past hurrahs?

LK: Most of my books, except the four that I did for Berkley, are in print or ebook form. By May, Sourcebooks will have re-issued THE HIDDEN HEART, UNCERTAIN MAGIC, MIDSUMMER MOON, SEIZE THE FIRE, and THE PRINCE OF MIDNIGHT. From Avon, THE SHADOW AND THE STAR and FLOWERS FROM THE STORM have never been out of print.

KS: And here's where I adopt a wheedling tone: How about one teeny exclusive tidbit about your current work-in-progress?

LK: How about this?

In January, 1825, the Bank of England held a gold reserve worth 17 million pounds.
By September, 1825, this reserve had dropped to 3 million pounds.
At the end of November, three country banking houses were the first to fall.
On the 12 of December, 1825, the crash which struck terror and alarm throughout London commenced...
History of the Bank of England, John Francis, 1862

KS: Thank you, thank you very much! And now, for the lightning round...

Favorite Color: sea green
Winter or Summer: winter
Spring or Fall: fall
Cactuses or Evergreens: hmmm, both
Favorite Dish (you've made): Sour Cream Enchiladas
Favorite Dish (you've eaten out): El Fenix bean and cheese nachos (notice a trend?)
Walks or Jogs or Hikes: Hikes
Favorite Word: concatenation
Knit or Sing: neither!
Favorite Movie: Shakespeare in Love
Mayonnaise or Mustard with your Fries: Mayo

Be Brilliant: Should you marry him? The next time he surprises you, notice whether it's for the better or the worse. If for the better, grab him. If for the worse, run.

KS: Laura, it's been a right pleasure having you here on this blog. Thank you for your time.

Copyright SourcebooksWhat do you readers think of the exclusive peek? What would your answers to the lightning round be?

Comment to be entered to win one of four copies of LESSONS IN FRENCH from publisher Sourcebooks.

In the comments to Tuesday's blog, Laura Kinsale asked a question of her readers: "What animal that I haven't used yet should be the mascot in my next book with an English setting?"

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Lessons in French Giveaways: Answers to Day One Quiz

1. My Sweet Folly
2. For My Lady's Heart
3. Flowers From the Storm
4. Midsummer Moon
5. The Hidden Heart
6. The Shadow and the Star
7. Shadowheart

Lessons in French: GIVEAWAY #2

Copyright SourcebooksToday is Day Two of the LESSONS IN FRENCH giveaway. As mentioned in the comments section of yesterday's post, here are a few answers from Laura Kinsale about her animals.

Laura Kinsale, a huge welcome to my blog. This is quite an honor. I've been an admirer of your work for many years, but getting to know you on Twitter these past few weeks has been quite fun. Since you're doing a major blog tour and talking everywhere about your writing life and your books, I'm taking a different tack here, a glimpse into the person behind the scenes of those marvelous stories.

KS: When did you first fall in love with horses and riding? Who was your first pony? And do tell me more about Firedrake.

LK: Oh, wow, a question about horses. Nobody in my real life ever asks me about my riding, unless I happen to be paying them. OK, well, that's not quite true, as I have barn friends now, but it was [only me] for years and years—I'm the only horsey person in my family.

But I was so horse-crazy my parents were happy for me to have lessons. I think my first lesson was at the age of 6. They didn't put me on any pony! It was a horse, and I swear I still remember him—a big bay, and it was a looong way to look down.

I took lessons off and on up until my teen years, this and that barn, which isn't really a good way to learn. Then I went on to other things, but when I got my first job, as soon as I could figure out the money, I bought my first horse. This was around the same time I started writing.

I was "into" dressage and I had to board him nearly an hour away to get some (bad, in hindsight) dressage instruction. I used to think about my characters during that 2 hours a day back and forth in the car. They were my first two characters, Tess and Gryf, and they were so real to me they might as well have been sitting in the seat next to me.

OK, OK, I can feel myself starting to run on and get boring here. Sorry! Don't ask me about horses! [KS: Boring? No way. It's always interesting to read about the early influences in a writer's life. Carry on, please.]

What I love about riding, and dressage in particular, is that it is totally absorbing, both mentally and physically. When you are riding dressage, you do nothing but ride; you don't think about the guy who cut you off on the highway or your sales ranking on Amazon. You are paying attention to every step, every change in balance, the feel in the reins. Besides the occasional leap 15 feet across the arena, on a day like today when the snow on the roof is melting and coming off in sudden "sliders" that sound like a cannon going off against the metal walls.

It's good for a writer to do very physical things. I believe this more and more.

KS: Despite having ridden for so many, many years, did you find you had to do research on horses, riding techniques, equipment, etc. for your books?

LK: About the most fun I ever had was taking a course in carraige driving at Gleneagles, Scotland. It was just a blast, and quite different in certain ways from riding. (When on a horse, you are the pivot in the center. Driving a carriage, everything is out in front of you, a very very different feel.)

I drove a half-thoroughbred, half-Clydesdale mare. Her name was Folly. The instructor gave her name that lovely nothern British pronunciation: "foley." They said she didn't like to be ridden, but just she loved to pull a carriage.

By the end of the week I was doing courses between traffic cones. Carriage horses always wear blinkers up beside their eyes, so they don't spook at things in their peripheral vision. When Folly would come trotting through those cones, you could see her looking from side to side, as if to say, "Where next? What needle do we thread next? This is fun!"

And of course...Folly the mare gave her name to Folie in MY SWEET FOLLY, and then a number of years later Folly the heroine gifted the name on to my first Great Pyrenees dog, Miss Folly.

KS: Dogs are your other love. Have you always had a dog growing up? And why the Great Pyrenees? (Just because they're cuddly and cute?)

LK: No, I just longed for a dog growing up. I've had a series of dogs as an adult. My father originally got some Pyrs as livestock guardians for a flock of angora goats. [KS: Oh, so that part of Ventoux's bio is truth and not fabrication.] He ended up breeding one litter.

I had been thinking of getting another dog for awhile. I happened to be there the day they were born, and then again a few weeks later when I was the only person around in a huge rainstorm, I helped the mother save the puppies from a minor flood. I went down to check on her at the barn, and she was piling them up on a dirt mound surrounded by water. Together we got them under cover. I was a goner then.

And there is nothing on earth cuter than a Pyrenees pup. (For about 10 minutes—they grow VERY fast.) And they are not dogs for everyone. They are large and while generally kind-tempered, but can be dog aggressive—they are bred to guard against predators, after all—and they like to roam. So while I love the breed, I'm not an advocate for widespread ownership unless people educate themselves.

KS: Er, Ventoux channeling Walter Matthau? (Heh!) How did that come about?

LK: LOL. It's something about his eyes. Sometimes he just get this expression, sort of solemn and exasperated, like Oscar in The Odd Couple.

KS: I'm a bit, ahem, disappointed that there's nary a sign of a real bull or a hedgehog on your site or in your life. You write about Hubert so convincingly, I thought you had first-hand knowledge.

LK: I do have a bit of first-hand knowledge, but when I went home for Christmas, hoping to video some of my father's bulls, it turned out they'd just been sold. Now there are new ones, but the word is they are so young they wouldn't do for Hubert. They are Herefords anyway. Hubert is a Shorthorn. We must stick to accuracy!

KS: Laura, thank you very much for a stellar interview here. We'll continue with more questions tomorrow, including a lightning round.

Copyright SourcebooksLaura has kindly consented to respond to comments today, too. So keep your comments coming to be entered into the four-book drawing of LESSONS IN FRENCH.

Do you own dogs and/or horses? Have you always had a dog or a horse in your life? What about other pets? And if you don't own pets, do you think you will or not in the future?

And in the comments to yesterday's blog, Laura Kinsale asked a question of her readers: "What animal that I haven't used yet should be the mascot in my next book with an English setting?"

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Lessons in French GIVEAWAY #1

Copyright SourcebooksHere we are at Day One of the LESSONS IN FRENCH giveaway.

As a passionate fan of Laura Kinsale's work, I read her books for the people in her stories and the gorgeous writing. With a few words, she can shade in the details of a scene, bring a character to life, and expound on life's profound mysteries. The magic of that deft hand never fails to enchant me.

In keeping with my fascination... Here are seven lines from her novels. In your comments, guess which book each line comes from.

(Psssst...If you're never read a Kinsale, you might find some clues here.)

1. "My dear girl! I could never fall in love by letter. Though I have no doubt you are a notorious breaker of hearts, not to mention a princess in disguise, and if I were a few miles closer to Toot-above -the-Batch I would be in great danger."

2. Ruck felt her sleep—always sleeping, this wife of his—this drowsy miracle, slumbering in his arms as if she were in some enchantment.

3. The Third Day evenng meeting of the Analytical Society was a thundering success. For the Timmses, it began early in the afternooon, with the arrival of a powdered and liveried footman at the door of their modest house in Upper Cheyne Row, bearing a note penned in that arresting style of handwriting favored by the Duke of Jervaulx.

4. Merlin dabbed at the hedgehog, pretending to clean off the ink, while she tried to see if a clear paw print showed through Mr. Pemminey’s letters. But the animal had had enough of espionage. It rolled up tightly and would not uncurl.

5. Standing amid a bedraggled group of nearly naked Indians, Lady Tess Collier was aware she didn't look much like a lady.

6. "I hope you like them!" she said breathlessly, when she had a chance.
"Tomorrow— " He tasted the corners of her lips. "Tomorrow I'll like them. Tonight . . . Leda . . ."

7. "My lady," he said cooly, exposing nothing of the unexpected emotion that rose in him. "Your husband is well?"
"Lord Ruadrik is well, God be praised. And my son and daughter." Abruptly, she help his hand so hard that her rings cut into his fingers. "I wish the same blessings for you, Allegreto."

So, which books do these lines come from?

Copyright SourcebooksAs mentioned yesterday, I have four copies of LESSONS IN FRENCH to give away, courtesy of the publisher Sourcebooks. Comment on today's blog and on the next three ones to be entered to win one of four books.

Monday, February 1, 2010

GIVEAWAYS: Lessons in French

Copyright SourcebooksAs promised on Friday, here's more information about the LESSONS IN FRENCH by Laura Kinsale giveaways. Yes, in the plural. I have multiple books to give away. Five, to be exact, thanks to the generosity of the publisher Sourcebooks.

Here's what you need to do. I'll be posting a blog everyday this week, Tuesday through Friday on LIF and all things Laura Kinsale. Comment on the blogs to toss your name into the hat from which I'll let Monsieur Randomizer pull out four names.

The fifth book will go to one of the commenters on the thread announcing this giveaway on the Laura Kinsale Fan Page on Facebook.

So...gather your friends, your near and dear, and let's get ready for a Kinsale extravaganza!!