Monday, July 26, 2010

Off to RWA National

Image copyright by RWAImage copyright by RWABlog will be on hiatus while I'm attending the national conference of the Romance Writers of America in Orlando (not Nashville as the logo indicates; that was the original destination, but due to devastating floods, the conference has been moved to Orlando).

Friday, July 23, 2010

Video Day Friday

Thanks to Smart Bitch Sarah Wendell for this Old Spice Commercial guy touting the goodness of libraries.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

In Praise of the Humble Comma

Image copyright by liebchen11.files.wordpress.comIn June 2001, journalist Pico Iyer wrote an essay in praise of the humble comma for Time magazine that for the first time made punctuation humorous, inviting, and fun for me. Until then, it had been nothing but an unceasing drudgery of rules and rote memorization. Of course, Lynne Truss's book Eats, Shoots and Leaves was to follow later and indelibly impress upon my mind the importance of grammar with verve and wit.

Image copyright by St. John the Evangelist Catholic School & National Punctuation Day"The gods, they say, give breath, and they take it away. But the same could be said — could it not? — of the humble comma." So starts Pico Iyer's essay. He, then, goes on to write: "Add it to the present clause, and, of a sudden, the mind is, quite literally, given pause to think; take it out if you wish or forget it, and the mind is deprived of a resting place."

"By establishing the relations between words, punctuation establishes the relations between the people using words. Punctuation, then, is a civic prop, a pillar that holds society upright."

Image copyright by St. John the Evangelist Catholic School & National Punctuation Day"Punctuation [...] becomes the signature of cultures. The anarchy and commotion of the '60s were given voice in the exploding exclamation marks, riotous capital letters and Day-Glo italics of Tom Wolfe's spray-paint prose. Yet punctuation is something more than a culture's birthmark; it scores the music in our minds, gets our thoughts moving to the rhythm of our hearts. Punctuation is the notation in the sheet music of our words, telling us when to rest, or when to raise our voices; [...] Punctuation adjusts the tone and color and volume till the feeling comes into perfect focus [...]"

"Punctuation, in short, gives us the human voice, and all the meanings that lie between the words. 'You aren't young, are you?' loses its innocence when it loses the question mark. Every child knows the menace of a dropped apostrophe (the parent's 'Don't do that' shifting into the more slowly enunciated 'Do not do that'), and every believer, the ignominy of having his faith reduced to 'faith'. Add an exclamation point to 'To be or not to be...' and the gloomy Dane has all the resolve he needs; add a comma, and the noble sobriety of 'God save the Queen' becomes a cry of desperation bordering on double sacrilege."

This essay is quite simply marvelous, isn't it. Go HERE to read it in its entirety.

Image copyright by Pico Iyer and Oregon LiveJust who's Pico Iyer? Here's an interview of him by Scott London. "Pico Iyer once referred to himself as 'a global village on two legs.' It's a fitting description for someone born in England to Indian parents, immigrated to California as a boy, was later educated at Eton and Oxford, and now spends much of his time in Japan." Another interview with him by Oregon Live.

(Oh, yes, and National Punctuation Day is September 24.)

Monday, July 19, 2010


Seattle scored the grand prize in this year's Bulwer-Lytton contest with this entry by Molly Ringle:

"For the first month of Ricardo and Felicity's affair, they greeted one another at every stolen rendezvous with a kiss—a lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity's mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world's thirstiest gerbil."

Contest judge Scott Rice, a professor at San Jose State University, praised her "outlandishly inappropriate comparison" to the Seattle Times. "It is a send-up of writers who try too hard to be original, and it is a send-up of those revolting couples whose public displays of affection make them poster children for celibacy," he said.

Victorian novelist Edward Bulwer Lytton, author of the words "The pen is mightier than the sword," wrote the following in his novel Paul Clifford (1830):

"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."

This first line of his novel is what led the English department at San Jose State University to create this hilarious (and painful) annual contest in his name.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Picture Day Friday

Copyright Central Asia Institute

Children of Korphe at their weekday studies in their tiny village on the windswept, bone-chilling cold Pamir mountains of Baltistan in northwest Pakistan.

One day, a lost, sick mountaineer stumbled into Korphe. He was taken in and cared for by these people who had nothing. When he was leaving, Greg Mortensen asked the wise man Haji Ali what he could do in return. Ali said, "Listen to the wind." Hearing the children's voices at their recitation, Mortensen understood. The children had a teacher who showed up thrice a week for a few hours, and they wrote in the dirt with sticks.

A year later, Mortensen returned with stones and stonemasons, and together, the village raised a school building equipped with books, pencils, and teachers.

Pennies for Peace is a program of the non-profit organization Central Asia Institute, founded by Greg Mortenson, for building more such schools in the region. He's the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace...One School At A Time.

The mission of Central Asia Institute focuses on community-based education, especially for girls, in the mountains of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other Central Asian countries. Research from the developing world reveals that a fifth grade education for a girl improves not only the basic indexes of health for her and her family, but also helps her spread the value of education within her community. Literacy, for both boys and girls, provides better economic opportunities in the future and neutralizes the power of extremist leaders.

For more than a year now, we've been saving all our change and sending periodic checks to Pennies for Peace. In addition, we donate, along with company match, a chunk of money. We've read and re-read and re-read again Greg Mortensen's books for adults and children.

One man...can much.

Copyright Central Asia Institute

Monday, July 12, 2010

Online Anglo-Saxon Archive

Staffordshire Anglo-Saxon Hoard image copyright by The GuardianOxford University has embarked on an ambitious "mission to create the world's largest online archive about the period," according to The Guardian. Dr Stuart Lee, who is running Project Woruldhord, hopes that it will be a teaching resource of use to schools, historians, literature students, archaeologists, art historians, and the general public. To that list, I add historical fiction writers!

From the Project Woruldhord website:

Staffordshire Anglo-Saxon Hoard image copyright by The Guardian"Members of the public, of academia, of special interest groups are asked to submit via an online web site any images, documents, audio, video they have of material they would be happy to share with the rest of the world to further the study of Old English and the Anglo-Saxons.

Staffordshire Anglo-Saxon Hoard image copyright by The Guardian"We would welcome images of buildings, sites, artefacts; teaching handouts or presentations; audio of readings or interviews; video clips of crafts, sites; and so on. In fact anything that you feel would benefit teachers, researchers, and interested parties who wish to learn more about the Anglo-Saxons.

Staffordshire Anglo-Saxon Hoard image copyright by The Guardian"Oxford University will collect the material together and then make everything submitted freely available on the web for educational purposes to a worldwide audience. You will retain copyright over anything you submit but you will simply have to agree to its redistribution on the website.

Staffordshire Anglo-Saxon Hoard image copyright by The Guardian"The collection is now open, and will close on October 14th 2010 (only fitting, said Lee according to The Guardian, as the date 'marks the Battle of Hastings and the end of Anglo-Saxon rule'). The period covered by the archive runs from the fifth century to the 11th or 12th. Go to the collection site to make a submission."

Friday, July 9, 2010

Picture Day Friday

Maldives: thousands of reasons to visit, zero to not.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Historical Inaccuracies in Romance Fiction

I'm a little late in commenting on the kerfuffle that raged in Romancelandia last two weeks about historical inaccuracies in historical romance fiction and should it matter and if so, how much?

THIS review of Bonnie Dee's JUNGLE HEAT by Sarah Frantz that questioned the main protagonist's musing about his sexuality in context with his time period and location and the lack of socio-political impact of the surroundings on the characters, led to a heated discussion about how much actual and accurate history should romance novels adhere to, admittedly, an oft-repeated refrain in Romancelandia.

Katiebabs presented her viewpoint in THIS post by asking, "I [have] wondered if an author doesn't research enough or have their facts correct, should that be a big deal?" She answers her own question by saying, "I feel as an author, if you're writing a historical piece of fiction, you should to the best of your ability [to] research the time period." The key words here being "to the best of your ability." [KS: I agree. An author cannot possibly research exhaustively (an infinite problem), nor can she do better than her abilities.]

THIS post on History Hoydens by Kalen Hughes started focused discussion off in grand style by commenting: "To me, it seems ridiculous to even bother writing 'historical fiction' (be it romance, mystery, whathaveyou) if the 'historical' part is optional." She also posed a relative question: Should books be "HISTORICAL Romance" or "Historical ROMANCE"?

In THIS post, Courtney Milan lists how much she researches each of her books and why the research and her chosen time period are important to her. So her avowal that she's "not writing period pieces" is puzzling. She further states, "I think the past is a vehicle for the present." [KS: This is where she and I part company. You could say that for a contemporary novel, the past is the vehicle for the present, or a character's backstory is the vehicle for his current motivations, but for a historical novel, this is precisely the reason why the novel would feel modern.]

In a follow-up post HERE, Sarah Frantz writes, "...for historical m/m romance in particular, the historical accuracy is of paramount importance to HOW the romance progresses." [KS: To me, this statement holds true for all historical romance.] Sarah writes further, "The historical accuracy of the way people thought about themselves, about love, about sex, about IF they could fall in love and WHO they could fall in love with, the etymology of the terminology they used to imagine their relationships, is vital to the progress of their relationship because the very WORDS we use define how we think and how we see and interact with our world." [KS: I agree. Sarah puts it far more articulately here than I do below in my comments section.]

Commenter Jo Beverely asked, "What’s really interesting, and comes up in this discussion, is what modern readers have against virginal heroines. Once they were the norm and were also in most cases historically accurate. Now, for many readers, they're seen as a negative." [KS: Indeed. Even in modern-day India and Pakistan, for example, virginity for women and men is still the norm in middle-class first marriages. So I for one would believe that 200 years ago this was the norm in upper-class England. Many modern western readers find it laugable. See the different lens through which we view that same England of 200 years ago?]

Courtney Milan then caps off the kerfuffle with a hilarious laying out of options HERE, where clearly only one is correct. "When people talk about a 'historically accurate book,' they can mean any of the following: attempt to recreate a period piece, in which the author mimics the formal sentence structure and word choice of Regency-era works.
2.a book, set in historical times, where the author gets all of the major (e.g., plot-dependent) details right, and the vast majority of the minor ones.
3.a book, set in historical times, wherein the author demonstrates that she has done her homework by including as much detail as possible.
4.a book, set in historical times, wherein the characters adhere firmly to the strictures of their time, without any deviation, no matter their (otherwise historically accurate) motivations."

As a reader, I object to this comment by Sara Lindsey: "I do my best to keep my setting authentic by means of accurate historical details, but my characters' conduct is largely modern, and I think it has to be in order to appeal to today's (predominantly female) romance readers." [KS: Speaking strictly for me, if I wanted modern conduct, I would read a contemporary. I read a historical for historically appropriate conduct (with latitude).]

* * *

In all of these discussions, most everyone was talking about the details (events, word usage, things, real long-dead people, places, etc.), except for Sarah Frantz who refered to how a person thought.

THAT is at the crux of a historical novel to me. It's not what's without, but what's within that sets a historical in a particular time and place. All the external details are nothing without the characters' reactions to them and emotional feelings and thoughts about them. Our historical characters are people of their times, and just as how we react to our current political, socio-cultural, etc. goings-on, so did they.

Therefore, no matter if an author sets her scenes with completely accurate historical details, if her characters think like twenty-first century people, it'll be a wallpaper historical.

It's the Cogitations and Meditations (hah!) of our characters that makes historical fiction HISTORICAl.

That is not to say that internal or external motivations cannot make a character deviate from the norm, nor does every character have to embody every appropriate reaction to every thing in his environment. In fact, all characters better not be the norm, nor does your book have to bloat with all historically accurate socio-politico-economic thought, otherwise you'll end up with a boring book that'll never see the light of day. But there have got to be historically accurate justifications for every motivation that forges a new path. That is what a story is all about. Just Because is simply as commenter Janet Mullany called it: [the author's] Well of Laziness.

Commenter Anna Carrasco Bowling sums it up perfectly: "Give me (and let me write) love stories that couldn't have happened at any other time and place and live fully within the world as it was at the time, and I am one happy reader/writer."

Monday, July 5, 2010

Intriguing Cover Design

After reading Jessica's post about iconic romance covers at Read, React, Review, I was primed for debut author Maisey Yates's post about her October release that features one of the first new Mills & Boon Modern Romance covers.

See this...

Image copyright by Maisey Yates and Mills & Boon

Versus the old style...

Image copyright by Maisey Yates and Mills & Boon

Now the cover has become a modern women's fiction novel cover. It has come of age. Brava to the Mills & Boon design team!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Blog Schedule

I used to write a five weekdays a week sort of blog. At least that was the plan that I was able to keep up fairly well, with occasional misses and some planned hiatus. However, unfortunate circumstances—that I won't get into here—force me to say that from now, it will be an intermittent blog, as and when I'm able. Some day I hope to return to the regular Monday to Friday blog. I do love blogging and responding to you all who visit so faithfully. I thank you for your time and energy in visiting and reading. Hope you have a grand summer and do stop by from time to time, because I'll have something to say about this-n-that-and-oh-that-too, never fear.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Picture Day Friday

Robin Hood's Bay, England

Robin Hood's Bay England photo from