Monday, December 31, 2012

Etiquette and Protocol in the 21st Century

William Hanson is the self-avowed etiquette and protocol expert from the U.K. Hanson insists that etiquette and protocol are very necessary in our digital age, because "people are persistently being rude, inconsiderate and generally ghastly." He believes that "good manners and etiquette, which are based on common sense, should be universal." Hanson was contributed to the commentary of the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middletonand The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee for the BBC, CNN, and America's Discovery TLC Channel.

Let's take a look at a few entries from his very popular blog.

Hanson has this advice on avoiding Christmas Card faux pas:

1. Do pick charity Christmas cards.
2. Make sure your envelope flaps are triangular, rather than straight.
3. Do not print signatures onto the cards. It's rude. Handwrite them.
4. Ditto, choosing not to address the card to the recipient.
5. eCards are not the same as a proper Christmas card.
And lastly,
6. If you feel you need to write to your address book with a chirpy Christmas newsletter, which will often boast of the family triumphs over the past 12 months, then it’s probably time you had a review of your contacts.

His post on "How to be a Downton Gentleman" has been well received. Nuggets of advice, include a gentleman never wears a hat indoors; when the ladies repair into the drawing room after dinner, gentlemen are to rise from their seats until they have left the room; the hallmark of a true gentleman is that he knows how to tie a bow tie; when wearing a waistcoat, a gentleman always has the bottom button unfastened; et cetera.

He offers this pithy advice on how to make your napkins the envy of your neighbors: "I love a good stiff napkin. I'd never dream of offering a guest anything but." He further says, "White is the best colour for napkins, although multicoloured ones are fine for out-door affairs. Gingham works nicely for barbecues and picnics." Napkins come in different sizes but are always square: dinner 22–26 inches, lunch 18–24 inches, tea 12 and cocktail 9. Hanson further gives instruction on how to perfectly starch a napkin.

What beauty products men should use is covered in: "Men can moisturise too" where he defiantly admits: "I love a beauty product." His favorite products are: Alpecin C1 Caffeine Shampoo, Bed Head Sugar Dust, Clinique Even Better Eyes, L’Oreal Nude Magique BB Cream, and Laura Mercier Flawless Skin Face Polish among others.

One of his freelance jobs include instructing others on how to be a butler: "I taught her how [I] clean silver, serve afternoon tea, set the table, answer the door, as well as [provide] butler service at table."

One final salvo that caught my eye is on setting up a guest bedroom to perfection involves fan folding the top couple sheets of a new toilet roll, a flourish on top of the tissue box, and ironed bedsheets and duvets.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Picture Day Friday: Canute

Canute was one of the great Anglo-Saxon kings of the early 11th century, who famously tried to command the tides. He could not control the sea, but stemmed the tide of Viking invasions on England's shores. Ironically, he was a Viking warrior, who went on to become the ruler of an empire which, at its height, included England, Denmark, Norway, and part of Sweden.

[Image copyrighted by the Daily Mail.]

Monday, December 10, 2012

Careful or You’ll End Up in My Next Novel

A T-shirt with a message of "Careful or You’ll End Up in My Next Novel" is a common sight at writers' conferences.

However, in the case of Angela Hargreaves, her own neighbors in Eccleshall, Staffordshire, are accusing her of skewering them in her erotic e-novel Rotten Row.

On Amazon, the book is described thusly: "[The story contains] tales of love, death, nostalgic regret, sexual encounters, romance, marriage, divorce and desperate times but ultimately how quickly our fortunes can and do change. [It] is about the petty spitefulness and complexity of living in close proximity to some neighbours."

The Daily Mail writes, "Authors often base their novels on their own experiences, over-heard conversations or eccentric characters they may have met throughout their lives." But as author Anne R. Allen writes, "I've tried to skewer a few real people in my fiction, but it never works. The character always takes over and makes herself sympathetic, and/or entirely different from the person on whom I tried to perpetrate my literary revenge." Even John Steinbeck admitted the impossibility, "I have tried to keep diaries, but they didn’t work out because of the necessity to be honest" to the character.

However, Hargreaves' neighbors see themselves in the steamy scenes and saucy characters. One person said, "...the book had caused 'major problems' and that there have been 'a lot of tears shed'. How would you like to live next to somebody who was writing things that were talked about in private into black and white? It is unreal."

Hargreaves is quoted by The Daily Mail saying, "The characters in Rotten Row are fictional and many of the things that happen in the book didn't happen at all."

As a counterpoint to this is this blog by Tamara Hunter on February 28, 2012. At the Perth Writers Festival this year, author Michael Sala said, "You have this terrible, terrible power as an author. You can literally take revenge on everyone if you want to. They’re all subject to how you design the story. You have got to be a little scared of that, I think." Sala's debut novel is The Last Thread, a fictionalized version of his own turbulent and secrecy-filled childhood.

Writer Rachel Robertson said that in her book Reaching One Thousand she "saw it as a mark of respect in a way to change the names. By using different names and being honest about them I am reminding the reader: ‘This is my take on this. This isn’t what really happened or the whole truth. This is my understanding’." Then again there's screenwriter, blogger and broadcaster Marieke Hardy, whose acerbic, voyeuristic, and entertaining memoir, You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead includes revealing stories about ex-lovers, passionate friendships, and a swingers’ party, said that "in her case, the decision to use real names felt more honest and honorable."

What ethics do you think should form the moral map for a writer?

[An interesting historical side note: Rotten Row was the area on the south side of Hyde Park in London where the fashionable young of the nobility rode decorously every morning in the Georgian and Regency period. It was also a fashionable place for upper-class Londoners to see and be seen during the afternoon promenade time.]

Friday, December 7, 2012

Picture Day Friday: Thari Women

Thari women from Pakistan's Sindh district that's part of the vast Thar desert. Culturally, they're related to India's Rajasthani desert nomads. Religiously, they're very much in the minority with their belief in Hinduism. Dhatki is the main language spoken in the Tharparkar region of Sindh where many of the Thari live.

In complete contrast to the monochromatic desert landscape they live in, the Thari have created a culture that is vibrant, colorful, and full of life. They are the world's premier environmentalists, in that, preservation and conservation are bred in them from birth.

Their livelihood is entirely dependent upon the rains during the monsoon season and deep wells the rest of the year. Thus water has informed their food consumption, culture, lifestyle, entertainment, dress, as well as their personal attitudes and values.

Commercially, the Thari are involved in handcrafting pottery, puppets, leather items, wood items, carpets, metal decorations, block prints, embroidered shoes, embroidery beading and mirror work on clothes and tapestries, painting, colorful and intricate jewelry, among other works of art and craft. The handicrafts are distinguished by their bright, cheerful colors.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Writing Advice by the Famous

A couple years ago, UK's The Guardian ran a list of dos and don'ts of writing fiction by well-known writers. Here are some highlights:

"Increase your word power. Words are the raw material of our craft. The greater your vocabulary the more ­effective your writing. We who write in English are fortunate to have the richest and most versatile language in the world. Respect it." —P.D. James, British mystery author

"Beware of clichés. Not just the ­clichés that Martin Amis is at war with. There are clichés of response as well as expression. There are clichés of observation and of thought—even of conception. Many novels, even quite a few adequately written ones, are ­clichés of form which conform to clichés of expectation." —Geoff Dyer, British journalist

"Style is the art of getting yourself out of the way, not putting yourself in it." —David Hare, British playwright and theatre and film director

Never complain of being misunderstood. You can choose to be understood, or you can choose not to." —David Hare

"A story needs rhythm. Read it aloud to yourself. If it doesn't spin a bit of magic, it's missing something." —Esther Freud, British novelist and actress

"Trust your reader. Not everything needs to be explained. If you really know something, and breathe life into it, they'll know it too." —Esther Freud

"The reader is a friend, not an adversary, nor a spectator." —Jonathan Franzen

"Don't read your reviews. Don't write reviews. (Your judgment's always tainted.)" —Richard Ford, American novelist

"Don't drink and write at the same time." —Richard Ford

And perhaps the most obvious and the most important:

"Write. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down. Finish what you're writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it." —Neil Gaiman, British author

Friday, November 23, 2012

Picture Day Friday

Ye Olde Fleece Inn is located at 14 Highgate in Kendal, Cumbria. Established in 1654 as a flourishing posting inn, it still boasts a thriving business. Food served is typical British fare, including Hanky Panky Pie (!!), and dozens of ales. Normal modern full-bar range of drinks are also served.

Image is copyrighted by Adam Bruderer.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Lord Byron was a fan, too!

When we idolize our favorite authors, we tend to forget that they, in turn, idolize other authors.

The first time this was brought home to me was when I attended my first annual conference of the Romance Writers of America in Dallas in 2007. As I squealed and babbled over my role models and beloved writers that I met in the hallways, in elevators, and of course, in the bar (best place to hang out at RWA!), I saw them also greet other authors with likewise delighted squeals.

I suddenly realized, that yeah, they're human, too, and readers first, authors second. They, too, love books just like I do and treasure their best-remembered reading experiences just like I do. Suddenly, these New York Times bestseller authors didn't seem so out in the stratosphere for the lowly aspiring author in me.

So it came as no surprise to me, when I came across this article in the UK Huffington Post that talks about a copy of Frankenstein that belonged to Lord Bryon and features an inscription by Mary Shelley has been discovered. Byron was a Shelley fan. I get just how he felt. (Click on the link to see a photograph of the inscription.)

Monday, November 12, 2012

High Tea: Pinky Up or Down

High Tea, as a tradition, has humble beginnings. It was traditionally served at around five in the evening at farms all around Britain's countryside. At the end of a long day that began before dawn, farmers and farm workers returned home tired and hungry. Along with cups of strong tea, served with milk and sugar, platters of hearty sandwiches (with meat, cheese, and veggies) and pastries (such as scones, tea cakes, jam rolls, etc.) were also served. An informal meal, it was consumed at the kitchen table, which originally had high stools in lieu of chairs for seating, hence the name "High Tea." This was the main meal of the evening followed up a light supper at eight o'clock.

Image copyrighted by Love Bites urbanization became more and more the norm, the rituals around high tea also shifted. It became more of a stylish and less hearty meal, more of a fancy tea, and was consumed between three and four o'lock in the afternoon. The dining room with a neatly laid out service—of fine bone china, exquisite linen napkins, crystal stemware, and real silver eating utensils—became de rigueur. Delicate finger food was served with a variety of lightly-brewed teas. Sandwiches and pastries still featured highly on the menu, but the smaller size of the offerings allowed for tiered serving dishes and lace doilies.

Modern High Tea is very popular in the UK as well as in Canada, the United States, New Zealand, and Australia.

Image copyrighted by Love Bites Tea is served with warm milk, sugar, lemon, and honey. Hot water is brought to the table in a ceramic jug along with decorative tins of various tea leaves. First, the teapot is rinsed out with hot water to warm the pot. Tea is spooned in, one for each cup of tea plus one for the pot. Appropriate quantity of hot water is poured in and the teapot's covered with a decorative, quilted tea cozy. The tea's allowed to steep for 5–7 minutes, after which it is carefully strained into each cup.

Sandwiches have to be cut into neat triangles and the crust removed. Typical fillings, include cream cheese and lox, cucumber and butter, pâté, smoked trout and horseradish, roast beef with mustard and watercress, crab paste with brandy, etc. Mayonnaise and sliced cheese are supposed to be a big no-no.

Scones are served with "fillings" in small bowls, such as fresh clotted cream, lemon curd, jams, and fruit preserves.

Savory pastries, such as mushroom and chevre tarts, florentine quiches, sausage rolls, cheddar bites, etc. are also served.

Image copyrighted by Love Bites The meal's rounded out with sweet pastries, such as jam tarts, mince pies, pecan tartlets, fruit flan, madeleines, raspberry linzers, cheesecakes, lemon bars, shortbread biscuits, custard kisses, sponge cakes, frosted fairy cakes, etc.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Home Offices

Office supplies and home offices are my two favorite hobbies after buying and reading books by the pound. I'm trying to curb my book and supplies buying addictions, but conversely, indulging my home office gawking since it's free.

The Internet is a great resource as are magazines. On the few occasions that I have sat down to design my own office, I've discovered that I'm never as creative as these people with the purchasing and/or the placement of furniture, furnishings, and extras. That is why I love perusing other people's creativity.

Expansive home offices by HGTV are HERE and Decoist's creative offices for small spaces are HERE. Which ones are your favorites of them all? (Please note: all images are copyrighted to either HGTV or Decoist.)

This is my top favorite. I find I like a lot of light in my home office: large windows and lamps plus light woods for furniture (not ceramic, metal, or any other non-wood materials), light-colored walls (not necessarily only beige or oatmeal, but light yellows, too) and high ceilings. What this does is that the rows of books on the walls of bookshelves provide the color in the room and pull attention to them.

Compact home office images copyrighted by

This gets my Most Creative vote:

Compact home office images copyrighted by

Monday, October 22, 2012

New Sub-Genre of Romance

I recently came across a new sub-genre of romance: New Adult. In my quest for an in-depth definition of this new sub-genre, I came across this blog from September 16, 2012 by NA Alley.

The basic definition of New Adult is that it starts when Young Adult ends and ends when Adult starts. By this I mean, for a contemporary fiction novel, the age range for the protagonists is 19–25. There are plenty of people who would say that 19 is really YA and not NA, and in our modern times of the 2010s, the upper range for NA should include the very young 30 also.

The definition gets tricky where historical fiction is concerned. Take Regency-set romances: heroines typically are 17 or 18 on the lower end and by historical society standards, they're adults, not young unattached independent adults (i.e., NA) but full-fledged adults. So would these books come under NA or A? Well, according to NA Alley, it depends on the emotional maturity of the characters.

For heat level in a NA romance, expect the same levels as elsewhere in romance, namely, sweet, sensual, spicy, and erotic.

I hasten to add that contemporary NA is not chick-lit, or rather, it doesn't have to be chick-lit. It can involve all sorts of human life situations and events, just so long as the emotional maturity level and ages of the protagonists remains at the early adulthood level.

For author promotion efforts, NA Alley recommends that writers seek college bookstores and newspapers and NA-friendly social networks.

The NA category is so new that it's not a classification that's widely known even within the publishing industry. So you cannot walk up to a Barnes & Noble employee and ask where they have these books shelved. They're most likely going to be shelved with the adult books.

Note: As of today, Harlequin's Carina Press is open for submissions in the New Adult category.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Missing Pieces in the History of the World

Who and what events and discoveries would you include if you were compiling a History of the World? The BBC came up with their list of most oft overlooked moments. Here are a few:

1. "In 1909, Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch created a way of producing huge amounts of" industrial-grade ammonia for use in fertilizers.

2. "Ibn al-Haytham was born in about 965 in what is now Iraq, and is regarded by some by some as the real father of the scientific method, predating Francis Bacon and Rene Descartes in the 17th Century. He was [also] the first to disprove the theory that we see objects by rays of light emitted from our eyes, realising instead that we see because light enters our eyes."

3. The Danube Script found on Neolithic artefacts is as yet undesciphered and archeologists have not been able to decide whether it is indeed one of the earliest forms of writing or just random, ritualistic symbols.

4. "Double-entry book-keeping, which [was] introduced to Europe in the early 16th Century by the monk Luca Pacioli, is a financial accounting system that [recognizes that] all transactions have two aspects, a credit and a debit, and the two sets of figures [must] always balance."

5. The Seven Years' War (1756-1763) was truly the first World War, since it "involved all the great powers of Europe and saw France, Austria, Russia and Sweden on one side, and Britain, Prussia and Hanover on the other."

6. The Kingdom of Aksum (Axum) in north-eastern Africa became one of the world's greateast markets in the first century CE. It was one of Rome's great trading partners and was characterized by a "highly innovative urban civilisation."

7. The Law Code of King Hammurabi (1792-1750 BCE), the first ruler of the Babylonian Empire, are written in Akkadian, include concepts such as evidence-based justice and giving testimony under oath. Hammurabi "adorns the wall of the American Supreme Court."

8. Angkor Wat of 9th–12th century Cambodia was the "largest pre-industrial urban complex in the world" of its time, with "sophisticated hydraulic engineering and water management systems."

Monday, October 8, 2012

Guardian's Crime Fiction Recommendations

The UK newspaper The Guardian recently posted an open thread blog for best crime fiction among its readership. They asked: "Who are your favourites, and which are their best books? Let's have a brainstorm and see what we can come up with."

This is what I recommended: "From the classics, nothing beats Dorothy Sayers and Ngaio Marsh. Josephine Tey and P.D. James, in the same style, run a close second. From the modern crop of writers, Ruth Rendell and Deborah Crombie are superb as are Elizabeth George's early books. For a historical turn of events, I find C.S. Harris marvelous. Another historical mystery writer I really enjoy reading is Elizabeth Peters. She writes Egypt-set British Victorian mysteries. For all of these writers, my key takeaways are their protagonists—enduring, finely drawn, with new nuances revealed about them in every book, aka character growth and change—and scene setting and complex mystery plotting skills."

The comment thread's now closed but has close to 50 entries. It's a great spot to find authors who are new to you. My discoveries were Paul Doherty and his historical mysteries particularly the medieval ones, Margery Allingham's classic British crime series, and Margaret Frazer's medieval books.

The Guardian started the thread off mentioning Peter May, but he seems to be an oft occurring theme among the readers, too. P.D. James pops up, as does Dorothy L. Sayers. A tip o' the hat to the Scandinavian writers, who became so popular from the mid-1990s, and to Japanese writers. There was even a call-out for Russian author Dostoyevsky's books, though what he would've thought of his work being classified as genre fiction as opposed to über literary fiction is anybody's guess.

One significant name missing from the list is John Le Carré, but it's difficult to figure out which category books come under. They rarely fall under crime/mystery/thriller, but his field is very narrow these days, so I wonder if it can be bundled under the thriller category. Those books are ones that should not be missed!

Which myster, crime, spy, or thriller novels are your favorites?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Picture Day Friday: Medieval Tower at the Beach

Guidaloca Beach, at a natural bay on the island of Sicily, is overlooked by a 16th century watchtower, which still stands at the western end of the beach.

Image copyrighted by

Monday, September 3, 2012

Compiling Dictionaries: by Crowdsourcing or by Subject Matter Experts

Image copyrighted by SailorJohn at In an ongoing battle between which words are appropriate to enter into a lexicon, Deborah Cameron, who teaches linguistics and grammar at Oxford University, wades in with an op-ed on Berfrois.

Citing that the original edition of the venerable Oxford English Dictionary (OED) was likewise crowdsourced, the Collins Dictionary seeks to have ordinary citizens contribute words, word usages, and meanings for its next edition. The aim to describe current usage of words. The reason Collins is doing so is an attempt to try to stay on top of the rapidly evolving English language as well as free online sources, such as Wiktionary, YourDictionary, and even UrbanDictionary.

Do you think this populist venture undermine the credibility of the dictionary or will it add currency and give it a more modern feel?

Image copyrighted by topfer at Casual users find the OED conservative, elitist, and out-of-touch with ordinary language. Not only are everyday words not entering the lexicon in real time, those words may not even make it into the lexicon, because by the time the dictionary gets overhauled, the words are no longer in popular memory. History is lost.

However, scholars, journalists, and writers find the OED's focus on the full etymology, history, of the words invaluable as they do the OED's cultivation of a reputation for impeccable scholarship.

In the end, what it comes down to is curation. The editors of the OED have always been meticulous about editing and fact-checking the entries sent in by their legion of volunteers. Will the Collins be likewise vigilant? Otherwise, it's a case of fallen standards: seeking populism while losing its traditional market.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Picture Day Friday

Hey, there's the precursor to the twentieth century telephone booth. Jokes aside, that's a medieval sentry box from the ancient Etruscan necropolis of Populonia in Livorno, Tuscany, Italy.

Image copyrighted by ShadowRave at

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

IASPR 2012 Conference

The International Association for the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR) is hosting its fourth annual conference in York, United Kingdom in September 27–29, 2012. Titled The Pleasures of Romance, the conference showcases presentations by professors and scholars from all over the world.

"This conference asks one large question: What is the place of pleasure in popular romance? Popular romance—whether romance novels, romantic films, soap operas, fan fiction, advertisements, etc.—has long been both consumed and derided because of the pleasures they impart: pleasures of sentiment, pathos, comfort, arousal, satisfaction, [and] identification.

This conference will consider 'pleasure' in popular romance texts and popular romance studies and [by asking] the following questions:

1.What is pleasure?

2.How is pleasure represented in popular romance?

3.What are the pleasures of the 'text,' whether visual, cinematic, [or] literary?

4.What are the pleasures of consuming a romantic text?

5.How do we theorize the pleasure of viewing and being viewed?

6.Who are the producers of the pleasurable romantic text?"

The detailed conference schedule is available, listing seventeen sessions and panels.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Picture Day Friday

Medieval castle towers come in various shapes and sizes. Here are a couple examples from the ancient Etruscan necropolis of Populonia in Livorno, Tuscany, Italy.

A round medieval tower and wooden gate:

Image copyrighted by ShadowRave at

A square tower:

Image copyrighted by ShadowRave at

Monday, August 20, 2012

Focus the Mind on One Task

Has this ever happened to you? You're reading a document, when it suddenly reminds you of the email your friend sent to you yesterday that you hadn't replied to, so you open your email program, only to find two high priority emails from your boss that you start answering, only to be interrupted by your co-worker calling you for lunch. And so your mid-morning goes, by the end of which, all you've achieved is a meal.

In his post Monk Mind: How to Increase Your Focus, blogger Leo Babauta explodes the myth that multitaskers are getting more work done and are getting more satisfaction from that work, in terms of quality and sense of achievement. Focusing on single tasks is the way to go in order to achieve success. Leo writes, "My ability to focus on a single task has dramatically improved, and that one habit has changed my life."

So how do you go about focusing the mind on a single task? Take the case of writing an article for a magazine.

Clear Away Distractions

Close all email systems, browsers, and social media programs.

Turn off all notifications.

Disconect your computer from the Internet.

Clear your desk of all pieces of paper except for those necessary for your selected task. As in the case of writing the article, you'll need your folder of research material, interview transcripts, and notes.

Leave only the programs open that are necessary for achieving your selected task. So for the article, perhaps you'll need the folder where you've saved your research and nascent article files and your word processing program.

Plug in headphones, whether you play music or not is up to you. Headphones cut out ambient sound and also signal to other people that Serious Work Is In Progress.

Now, do nothing but that one task.

Practice Doing One Thing

If you can't focus on one task for more than a few minutes, start out with small goals in the begining. Say, you'll work on your task for five minutes, then reward yourself by taking a one-minute break to read email. Slowly build up to ten minutes on, one minute off; and so on. Be sure to have a timer set so that you can accurately build this up. In his article, Leo writes, "Set up a positive feedback cycle for single-tasking focus, and you’ll reverse the years of training your mind has gotten to switch tasks."

Sounds overly simplistic? Give it a try. The mind is flexible and can be retrained.

In conclusion, Leo writes, "While a few years ago I couldn’t sit down to work on something without quickly switching to email or one of my favorite Internet forums or sites, today I can sit down and write. I can clear away distractions, when I set my mind to it, and do one thing. And that changes everything: you lose yourself in that task, become so immersed that you pour everything you have into the work, and it becomes a meditative, transformative experience. Your happiness increases, stress goes down, and [quality of] work improves."

Monday, August 13, 2012

That Frog In Your Throat

Image copyright by socyo at Returning to blogging after a hiatus of three months makes this post about procrastination even more relevant. I've been reading about ways to get more efficient in how I use my time. The end of the year and then again in August before the school year begins have traditionally been the times when I re-evaluate my goals and priorities for the upcoming months.

Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time by Brian Tracy refers to the Mark Twain mantra: "Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day."

According to Tracy: "Your frog is your biggest, most important task of the day, the one you're most likely to procrastinate on. It is also the one task that can have the greatest possible impact on your life and results at the moment. [So] tackle your major task first thing each morning before you do anything else and without taking too much time to think about it. If you have to eat two frogs, eat the ugliest one first. There is never enough time to do everything, but there is always enough time to do the most important things."

The way I interpret this is that I should plan my day in advance (say, the night before or at the start of the day) by creating a prioritized list of tasks I want to get done that day. Then the first thing I tackle is either the most important task on that list and/or the most 'procrastinable' task. The latter is the task that I'm most reluctant to get done—it might be something I have been putting off for days. So getting that done and out of the way in the morning itself will take the pressure off from the rest of my day.

"Whenever you complete a task of any size or importance, you feel a surge of energy, enthusiasm, and self-esteem," says Brain Tracy. "The more important the completed task, the happier, more confident, and more powerful you feel about yourself and your world. The ability to concentrate single-mindedly on your most important task, to do it well, and to finish it completely, is the key to great success, achievement, respect, status, and happiness in life."

Who wouldn't want these feel-good endorphins first thing in the morning? Especially when, I don't have to have burning pain in my legs or heaving sides to get it? Frog legs for the win! Bon Appétit!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Resuming Posting

The domain is still down. I own the domain, but finding a reliable host has taken a much more arduous route that I'd first imagined. In the meantime, this blog has been languishing, so I shall be returning to my weekly blog posts starting Monday, August 13. Thank you for your patience.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Domain Maintenance

I apologize for my absence from the blog here this past week. I expect a few weeks of outage. I'm in the process of transferring my domain and attendant services over to a new registration service, that is not only slower than molasses but also complicated. Hope to return to blogging soon. Thank you for your patience and understanding.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Picture Day Friday: It's Not a Caterpillar

If this is not a caterpillar, then what is it?

Image courtesy of

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Errors in the Use of Words: Mistakes of Purists from 1905

In The Art of Writing & Speaking the English Language (The Old Greek Press, 1905), Sherwin Cody refers to his pocket-sized book as a book of quick study rather than an exhaustive reference. So rather than correctly and strictly adhering to rules, this book aims to "add knowledge of the differences and shades of meaning, fine distinctions in the values of words, and variety of expression."

Through his book, Cody says he has "tried to lead the student to a nicer discrimination in the meanings and values of words in common use, and to avoid making a pedantic prig of him. While purity of language is greatly to be desired, nothing is more amusing than to read the tirades of the purists."

He continues, "There is a vast amount of rubbish afloat about good and bad usage, and I know no class of pedants more disagreeable than those who set up to correct the English of everybody else. I want to make language freer more accurate, and more expressive, not stiffer, drier, and deader. (How the 'stiffs' will carp at that word 'deader'! Let them!)"

In the late 1800s, every time a comprehensive/official/correct book by one of the purists came out, a host of fellow purists waited in line to tear it down. Cody said that it got to be so that "it became dangerous to open one's mouth."

(This sentiment has a modern-day ring to it, doesn't it?)

He then goes on to say that this is all wrong. "Language is for the purpose of expression, and it is full of elisions, substitutions, comparisons suggested, and words used in certain phrases with meanings purely idiomatic and unexplainable. If we frighten ourselves with a bugaboo of errors, we shall become stiff and awkward."

Are you nodding your head as empahtically as I am?

As every writer and reader knows, such specious arguments about language still abound. We're told that language should not be like this, but should be like that.

For example, in Cody's day, he said that they were told that a sentence should not end with a preposition. But Cody says, "Throwing the preposition to the end is one of the most thoroughly established idioms of the language."

In 1905, Cody said that it is alright for it to be so. But aren't we still fighting that battle to this day? So which rules are our modern-day pendants referring to when they say that it is incorrect usage of grammar for the sentence to end in a preposition? Eighteenth century ones?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Bookish Meme 2: Reading Habits & History

Image copyrighted by Credit for the original set of questions goes to Janga of Just Janga. I've changed/deleted some of the questions that were already covered in my March Bookish Meme post.

What were your favorite childhood books?

There are so many to choose from, but basically, anything by Enid Blyton, a British children's author from the 1940s. My first book by her was Merry Mister Meddle, a book about a little man who always got into trouble. My first foray into mysteries was via her The Mysterious Bundle, a book featuring a group of children called the Five Find Outers who live in a small village and are smarter than the local constable. Her farm books, such as Mistletoe Farm and her boarding school books, such as the St. Clare ones will be ones I won't ever forget

What are you reading right now?

The Devil's Delilah, a traditional Regency by Loretta Chase
Charlotte Web, a children's tale by E.B. White

Have your reading habits been affected by the Internet?

Oh, absolutely. Most of my discoveries about authors have been due to chats on romance blogs and boards and on Twitter. Sometimes, the recommendations are just for a book, and I get hooked on to the writing so much that I buy the author's entire backlist. Sometimes, it's a particular book that comes highly recommended by trusted sources that goes on my keeper shelves and that I return to over and over again

What is your reading comfort zone?

I mostly read historical romance fiction and historical fiction. I also read a limited number of contemporary and western romance fiction novels. Lately, I have been challenging myself to read books by male authors, more nonfiction, and non-romance fiction

What makes a book a keeper for you?

I have to love the characters, first. If the book is set in medieval times or Georgian-Regency times, I'm already half-way to liking it. A plot that's different from the norm, even while it works with the basics of the norm. And oh, the writing. I don't like Hemmingway-style brevity, nor Annie Proulx-style choppiness, but neither do I like Woodiwiss-style purple prose—overly lyrical and chock-full of metaphors are tiresome. I go for being able to paint an original picture with precisely chosen colors. And of course, if the book is by an author whose other books I have loved, I'm predisposed to liking the current book, too

What will inspire you to recommend a book?

Characters, story, writing

How often do you agree with critics about a book?

Not often, it would seem

How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?

I rarely comment on books, and the ones I do so are ones I have liked. I go for my opinion, not for a fair and unbiased review

What is the most intimidating book you've ever read?

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. I despised the protagonist, architect Roark. And yes, I finished the doorstopper

How often do you not finish a book you begin?

These days, less and less, and not because I'm dogged about slogging to the end, as I was in my salad days. In fact, I'm far more discriminating now. However, for the last couple years or so, I've only read books by auto-buy authors or those recommended by a select few friends and acquaintances. So my hit rate is much higher

What's the longest you've gone without reading?

Perhaps 2–3 days when I was sick. I've always read, whether it's fiction, nonfiction, or textbooks

What's the greatest number of books that you've read in a day?

Two romance fiction books

What's your favorite film adaptation of a novel?

By film adaptation, I mean a new take on the original book, a new film based solely on the original book. So Clueless based on Emma by Jane Austen is a shoe-in for me

Can you think of a book you didn't expect to like but did?

There are many such books, but a recent one that comes to mind is the one I read last year: Welcome to My World by Johnny Weir

What books have you read most often?

The St. Clare and Mallory Towers book series by Enid Blyton
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer
Devilish by Jo Beverley

What book do you have the most copies of?

Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen is the only one. I don't have even two copies of any other books

What book have you tried but failed to finish most often?

I have always loved Tolstoy's short stories, but pray-god, not War and Peace. I want to like it, but I can't even get a quarter of the way through it

Friday, April 20, 2012

Picture Day Friday: Victorian Food Art

Thanks to Loretta Chase for bringing Edible Artistry to my attention.

A basket of flowers made in fruit-flavoured water ices

According to Ivan Day of Food History Jottings: "By the 1880s, this highly ornamental style of cuisine was being practiced by home cooks as well as professionals. Cookery schools like that of Mrs Agnes B. Marshall in Mortimer Street, London were not only teaching housewives and domestic cooks how to make these spectacular dishes, but also sold you the necessary moulds, cutters and other equipment."

Mrs. Marshall sounds like the Victorian version of Jamie Oliver or Rachael Ray, doesn't she?

Ivan Day is an independent social historian of food culture and also a professional chef and confectioner.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Redefining eBooks: Just Plain Text or a Richer Experience

The Department of Justice has accused the top six book publishers of New York City for colluding with Apple to set the price for eBooks at $12.99 to $14.99. Amazon wanted to set the price at $9.99, which caused so much outrage among the publishers that they sought a new kind of partnership that believed what they believed was the right price for eBooks, namely, Apple.

Publishers and booksellers think that the price of an eBook should be somewhere between the price of a mass market paper back (MMPB), which currently hovers around $7.99, and a trade paperback (TPB), which is around $14.99. They believe that this way, the loss in eBook version of hardcovers (HC), which are usually around $25.99, is recouped in eBook version of MMPBs.

Consumers, on the other hand, think that the price of eBooks is incredibly hyped. They believe that the price should be around $5.99 (some even suggest $3.99). The thinking here is that there are no printing, storage, and shipping costs associated with eBooks. Yes, there are production costs, such as editorial and artwork, but those are shared with the print versions. So the price of the book should be lower than the price of a MMPB.

In my opinion, the reason behind this assumption by consumers is because an eBook is nothing more than a digitally available file of the text that can be found in the pages of a MMPB.

You could argue that a HC and MMPB versions of the same book (the latter of which is usually released a year after the former) have the exact same text. That is true. However, the HC provides the value-add of, what hardware electronic manufacturers call "form factor." The HCs come with dust jackets, end papers, good quality paper, and a satisfying heft and look on the bookshelf. This justifies their price.

Similarly, a TPB shares the same text as the MMPB version of a book, but again "form factor" comes into play: the height, the slimness, the texture of the pages, the book and page design, and for some, the image of reading "literature," since most of non-genre books are published in TPB.

The advantages of a MMPB over HC and TPB is ease of use: holding it up, reading in bed/bath/beach, and carrying it around.

An argument could be made that an eBook similarly has a very different form factor from a MMPB, with easy-to-read text on a light eReader that allows searching within the text. So the eBook should be able to command it's own niche for pricing.

From a consumer's point of view, however, the purchase of the eReader with its host of features, is completely decoupled from the purchase of a book. An eReader allows the reader to read innumerable books, not just one particular book, meaning, the eReader reading experience is not tied to the book being read. So the eBook is once again reduced to mere text, at which point, it's no different from the lowest print version of the text, namely the MMPB.

What completely astounds me is that in all these shenanigans in deciding on the price for an eBook nobody seems to have given one thought to innovating the content of an eBook.

Instead of trying to pass off the same-old, same-old as the new new, why not truly provide something new? Give the reader a reason (or a dozen) to pay more for digital content. Provide them with features on the digital version that they will not find in any of the print versions, thereby, redefining the "form factor" of an eBook. This might induce people to pay a premium $12.99 for it or to own multiple copies of a book (print and electronic).

What do I mean by extra features? This is not just more text, such as deleted scenes, interviews, author's notes, or readers' guides, added to the back of the main book. This could easily be added to print books, too, so this is nothing cool.

Let's choose the example of a historical novel. What if an architectural detail, the name of a famous painter, a seminal event, etc. were hotspots in the story? If the reader were to tap on it, a balloon would pop up with detailed information, including a picture if appropriate, about the topic. The author has already done the research and could easily code the text of her manuscript with these tidbits, which could be stripped from the production of print books, but highlighted in the electronic versions.

Publishers could host additional content on their websites, provided by the authors, hot-linked to from within the eBooks, such as musical pieces, an online viewing of a museum's art gallery, recipes of historical foods, and so on. For a nonfiction book, the bibliography could be hyperlinked to the actual papers and books on the Internet. The website tie-in would give the publishers another way to brand their eBooks.

What this does is gives the reader an incentive to plunk down their hard-earned money for something new and different, rather than an entitlement demand from publishers for the same text. What it also does is that it respects and leverages the electronic medium to change the conversation about books. Now a book is no longer passive text on the page, but an interactive reader experience.

It's time for the publishers to forge ahead into the 21st century and own the new medium instead of vainly trying to confine it to the standards of the medium from the 15th century.

Monday, April 16, 2012

A Subscription-Based Circulation Library Plan for eBooks

In the wake of the Department of Justice suing the Big-6 book publishers and Apple for colluding to set prices for new eBooks in order to cut Amazon out of the running, I've been thinking that someone somewhere needs to figure out how to lend eBooks out to people.

Now, OverDrive and a few public libraries have been trying to do just that, but the list of choices on OverDrive is thin. Not all publishers believe that eBooks should be lent out through libraries. Also, publishers are not convinced that eBooks should be allowed to be treated just like print books by the library, i.e., the libraries buy a print book once and then it's free in perpetuity (or till it falls apart) for the readers.

The publishers feel that this would be a loss of revenue for them for eBooks and have tried to come up with draconian rules as to the number of times an eBook can be lent before the library must pay for a new license to the same book. Libraries are strapped for cash and are used to paying once for a print copy and then never again, so this renewing of licensing fees doesn't fly with them.

OverDrive's books are also locked up by Digital Rights Management (DRM), because the publishers are afraid of the books being pirated if they're open. (If you visit sites like this, you quickly realize that it's not terribly difficult to strip off DRM, so why bother with DRM in the first place?)

Addressing the first concern of the publishers that they're not getting enough money for their product, I have an idea that's a combination of what Netflix and public libraries do, in the form of the old-fashioned Regency-era circulation library.

Say, a brand new company comes along, with the truly innovative name, eBook Circulating Library (ECL). It charges customers a monthly subscription fee. For that fee, a reader can check out, say, three books at a time. Every time, they return a book, they can borrow one more, and so on, for an unlimited number of books every month.

Each book can be borrowed for one month and can be renewed once for another month. If a reader fails to renew or return the book on the due date, then after, say, two reminders and a grace period of, say, one week, the reader is charged the full price of the book. Alternately, the book expires and is deleted from all devices that the reader copied it to. In either case, the book is then taken off the reader's list of checked-out books, and the reader can borrow other books.

Now, these eBooks are DRM-free with no geographic restrictions, so readers can read them on the eReader of their choice.

Each book is tagged with a unique activation code like boxed software from say, Microsoft. So when the reader first opens the book on their reader, the device sends the code back to the ECL company informing them that this particular copy was opened by this particular reader on this particular device on such-n-such date.

If you copy the book to your other six devices or lend it to your close friend, each time, the copy is opened on a new device, the activation information is sent to ECL. However, this eBook can be read on only a total of, say, ten devices, and no more than that during the current borrow/renew period.

The hitch in this idea is that the books still need to be DRM-free. But, if every reader is paying a fee for the privilege of borrowing copy of the eBook, then perhaps the possible loss of a few to piracy can be shrugged off by the publishers.

What problems do you see with this idea?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Picture Day Friday: Little Free Library

The mission of Little Free Library is to promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide.

It all started three years ago, when "Todd Bol came up with an idea to remember his mother, a teacher who had loved books and encouraged people to read. At his home in Hudson, WI, he built a box, made it waterproof and filled it with books. It looked like a miniature one-room schoolhouse, with a sign underneath that said 'Free Book Exchange.' Bol put it on a post outside of his house and invited neighbors to take a book, and return a book. 'People of all ages, men, women, kids came up and just loved the library,' Bol said. 'They got excited and they started coming up to me saying, "I’ll build one, do you need books?"'" And the idea took off. Now there are Little Free Libraries in at least 28 states and six countries. (More coverage on this story is HERE.)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Do You Write In The Margins?

Image copyrighted by There are people who are vehemently opposed to defacing books, inside and out. Many take great care not to crack the spines of mass market paperbacks or dent the dust jackets of hardcovers.

Me? I like to write margin notes. I highlight relevant lines. My paperbacks don't have uncreased spines. My dust jackets might end up with creases and minute tears. About the only thing I will not do is dog-ear the pages.

Looks like I am in ancient company. Even those monk scribes who laboriously worked for months on a single illuminated manuscript, tended to leave margin notes.

The following, unintentionally humorous, GEMS come from the spring 2012 issue of Lapham's Quarterly, entitled Means of Communication. Thanks to Brain Pickings for bringing them to my attention.

Image copyrighted by The parchment is hairy.

Oh, my hand.

Thank God, it will soon be dark.

Writing is exessive drudgery. It crooks your back, it dims your sight, it twists your stomach and your sides.

As the harbor is welcome to the sailor, so is the last line to the scribe.

Now I have written the whole thing: for Christ's sake give me a drink.

My justification for marginalia comes from How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler (1940).

"When you buy a book, you establish a property right in it, just as you do in clothes or furniture when you buy and pay for them. But the act of purchase is actually only the prelude to possession in the case of a book. Full ownership of a book only comes when you have made it a part of yourself, and the best way to make yourself a part of it—which comes to the same thing—is by writing in it."

"Reading a book should be a conversation between you and the author. Marking a book is literally an expression of your differences or your agreements with the author. It is the highest respect you can pay him."

Does that make you want to take a pen to your books?

Monday, April 9, 2012

My Home Library

Image copyrighted by

Whenever I meet new people or visit people's houses, books always seem to crop up in the conversations. And I find I'm unfailingly interested in people's book collections. What someone reads tells me a lot about the kind of person he or she is. Assuming as my blog reader, you're likewise interested in my home library, here're a few questions I posed to myself and answered herein.

Where is your home library housed?

The library is split up into three pieces. Adult fiction is in the study upstairs, children's books actively being read are in a bedroom upstairs, and the rest of the collection (nonfiction, children's books, coffee-table books, etc.) are all in the library downstairs.

What is the system of book organization?

The fiction is alphabetized by author only and unsorted within each author section. The bookshelves consist of smallish rectangular boxes, each alphabet gets one or more boxes, depending upon the number of books. The children's books, upstairs, are organized by author only and not alphabetically. The children's books, downstairs, are completely unorganized, except for board books on one shelf and the rest on another. The nonfiction is organized thematically, for example, sciences, travel, foreign languages, cookbooks, etc., but unorganized within each category.

Approximately, how many books do you own?


What was the first book you were gifted with?

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, translated into English by Katherine Woods and published by Harcourt, Brace & World in NYC in 1943. My mother owned it before she was married, and she gave it to me when I was born.

Which books did you buy first?

Four books in 1979:
The Mutiny of Board H.M.S. Bounty by William Bligh, adapted by Deborah Kestel and pubbed by Playmore Inc. under arrangement with Waldman and Son, NYC (1979)
Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll, pubbed by Piccolo Pan Books, London (1977)
Man in the Sky: the early years by Althea Braithwaite, pubbed by Colourmaster International, Huntingon England (1972) —The Littles Go Exploring by John Peterson, pubbed by Scholastic (1978)

Which is the book with the oldest copyright in your collection?

The Cousins by Maria M'Intosh is a children's book pubbed by George Routledge and Sons of Ludgate, London. The copyright page has been lost, but the last known owner was one Emily P. Mason. Her name's inscribed inside along with the date January 1, 1882. I bought it from Barter Books in Alnwick, Northumberland, England on June 26, 2002.

What are your most unusual books?

Seven Poems by Hans Christian Andersen, translated into English by R.P. Keigwin, published by H.C. Andersen Hus in Odense, Denmark in 1955. I acquired this collection from the Andersen House in Odense on July 10, 2002. In the western world, Andersen is not known for his verse, though he wrote quite a bit in his salad days, including one when he was but a schoolboy. A few of his poems have been set to song and are very popular as national songs.

Why I Live On The Mountain is a collection of thirty Chinese poems from the Great Dynasties, translated by C.H. Kwôck and Vincent McHugh, with calligraphy by John Way, and pubbed by Golden Mountain Press, San Francisco in 1958.

Which is the shortest book, in terms of number of words?

Baby Face by Dorling Kindersley (2002) has 18 words.

Which is the longest book, in terms of number of words?

I have a hardcover collected edition of 566 pages by Wings Books, Random House (NYC, 1991) of three of Dorothy Sayers books: Strong POison (1930), Have his Carcase (1932), and Unnatural Death (1927). (Aside: Sayers's full name is Dorothy Leigh Sayers Fleming.)

Are you a hardcover book collector?

I haven't gone out of my way to collect hardcover books. If the book I'm interested in buying only exists in hardcover, then I'll buy it. Otherwise, whatever is the cheapest edition, gets my money.

Has your library grown steadily since your first purchase?

Not at all. My collection was tiny through all my schooling and college years—I borrowed heavily from friends and libraries. It's only when I got my first full-time job that I had the spare cash to purchase books. Even then, I read far more from the library than I bought from the bookstore. It was finally when I became an aspiring writer of historical romance fiction that I started collecting books in earnest. I needed books on the craft of writing, for research, and as examples of writing in my sub-genre. In addition, I felt that if I expected others to buy my future books (when—not, if—pubbed), I should be doing the same thing for other authors.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Picture Day Friday: Book Crate Bed

Richard Avedon's Book Crate Bed

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Seattle's Edible Book Festival

Image Copyright FryBooks_blogspot_com "Eat a Book Today" is the motto of The Edible Book Festival "celebrating books and food and the people who love them." It is organized by the Seattle Center for Book Arts. This year was the seventh annual event on March 31.

If you make and take an entry to the event, entrance is free, but prior registration is required. If you're only going to watch (and eat!), then there's a fee of $10 per person.

Image Copyright Keira SoleoreEvery year, the emcee of the event is someone hamming up as a literary figure in costume. Last year, it was Julia Child; this year, it was Ben Franklin.

Schedule of Events:
• 11:00 to 12:00 Entries accepted, installed, photographed
• 12:00 to 1:30 Public viewing and voting for Best in Show
• 1:30 Celebrity Judges award prizes
• 2:00 Edible Books eaten with tea, coffee, milk

• Most Pun-derful
• Most Drop-dead Gorgeous
• Most Delectably Appetizing
• Best Young Edible Artist (K-12)
• Best in Show

"Create and bring a piece of edible art related to books: it can pun on a title, refer to a scene or character, look like a book (or a paper, a scroll, etc.), or just have something to do with books. Whatever the inspiration—it must be edible. Think of brainy, beautiful, silly, clever, and tasty transubstantiations of books we love into treats we eat! Every type of book—children's classics, detective novels, biographies, fiction and non, poetry, short stories—should be sculpted from a smörgåsbord of foodstuffs. Supply a placard with the title of your piece and your name." Also include the book you're riffing of.

The following images are all photographs taken by me. Commentary follows each picture. Click on the image to get a bigger, better view.

Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Image Copyright Keira Soleore

Le Petit-Four Prince from Le Petit Prince or The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Image Copyright Keira Soleore

Oh, those poor bleeding arms in Farewell to Arms by Hemmingway

Image Copyright Keira Soleore

Delicious panna cotta in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brainna Cotta from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards

Image Copyright Keira Soleore

Harry Potter and the Deadly Challah-ohs

Image Copyright Keira Soleore

Call of the Wild Rice from Call of the Wild by Jack London

Image Copyright Keira Soleore

The magnificient breaded dragon is holding sway over cheese in The Girl with the Dragon Fondue

Image Copyright Keira Soleore

Image Copyright Keira Soleore

Check out the hellfire in Satanic Purses from Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

Image Copyright Keira Soleore

Grilled with a Dragon Tattoo

Image Copyright Keira Soleore

The pièce de resistance of the show: Quoth the Raisin "Petit Four" from The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe.

Image Copyright Keira Soleore

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
`'Tis some visitor,' I muttered, `tapping at my chamber door -
Only this, and nothing more.'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

Image Copyright Keira Soleore

Monday, April 2, 2012

Sir Walter Scott and the Modern Novel

[This is a long post.]

Image copyrighted by Wikimedia Commons The quotes in this post are from Beacon Lights of History: Great Writers by John Lord (©1896). The edition I read was published by WM. H. Wise & Co. in 1921. It's an erudite biography with quotes, remarks, opinions, and facts all delivered mostly in a conversational tone, but sometimes with extremely dry asides that are, maybe unintentionally, hilarious.

"Perhaps one test of a great book is the pleasure derived from reading it over and over again. Measured by this test, the novels of Sir Walter Scott are among the foremost works of fiction, which have appeared in our world."

Sir Walter Scott is said to be the father of the modern novel and the father of the historical fiction novel. His books were termed Romances, not in the popular meaning of romance novels, but rather stemming from the French word roman, meaning novel.

John Lord in his Beacon Lights was openly admiring of Scott: "He who could charm millions of readers, learned and unlearned, for a quarter of a century, must have possessed a remarkable genius."


A trip to his grandmother's house in the Border Lands of Scotland in his early childhood, introduced Scott to many of the tales, ballads, and legends that went on to become a lifelong passion for him. "As a youth, he devoured everything he could find pertaining to early Scottish poetry and romance, of which he was passionately fond. he was also peculiarly susceptible to the beauties of Scottish scenery..."

By the time, Scott graduated from University, he was fluent (in literary and colloquial) French, Italian, and German and literary Latin. In addition, he was a dedicated student of philosophy and Scottish Law (current and antiquarian). He'd written verses in Latin and English and translated books from German and Italian into English. Despite this, Lord wrote, "On the whole, he was not a remarkable boy, except for his notable memory (which, however, kept only what pleased him), and his very decided bent toward the poetic and chivalric in history, life, and literature."


"Great lawyers and great statesmen are rarely so egoistical and conceited as poets, novelists, artists, and preachers."

But according to Lord, Scott was sweet-tempered, merry, generous, cheerful, witty, modest, unpretentious, bright, and well-beloved. He was also a brilliant storyteller and a good sportsman, yet he was peremptory and pertinacious in pursuit of his own ideas. Admist great fame and prosperity, he never lost his "intellectual balance," his habitual modesty, or his work ethic.

"He praised all literary productions except this own. His most striking peculiarity was his good sense, keeping him from all exaggerations, which was always offensive to him."


Scott was a solicitor by day and a writer by night. He assiduously attended to his duties in the Courts, but "No man can serve two masters." Scott's heart was not in lawyering, but in writing about the beauty of Scotland—the land, its people, its culture, and its politics.

Prodigious Interests

Other than poetry and long fiction, Scott wrote short story collections. His nonfiction efforts, included writing: reviews, essays, biographies, histories of Scotland and France, political pamphlets, dramas, religious discource, introduction to divers work, encyclopedia entries, book-length translations, and editing of collections of other authors.

In addition to his literary pursuits, many other things called upon his time: five children, the law, a vast correspondence with famous people with the postage itself exceeding 150 pounds per anum, an avid interest in reading, a passion for vigorous hiking in the Scottish countryside, a yen for traveling, an outpouring of love overlooking the building of a castle mansion at his beloved Abbotsford and the cultivation of its 1,200 acres of land, and cheerfully entertaining a constant stream of guests (friends and curiosity-seekers alike).

"How Scott found the time for so much work is a mystery."


Scott started writing poetry as a young boy of five and continued writing poems and ballads throughout his schooling. He gained middling fame for them. However, it was finally in 1805, when his first original poem The Lay of the Last Minstrel sold 50,000 copies that he became truly famous in the British Isles. In 1808, his poem Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field was "received by the public with great avidity and unbounded delight," and eventually sold nearly 50,000 copies. Scott continued to write and sell poetry while engaged in his fiction pursuits.


At the time Scott decided to try his hand at prose fiction, it was still considered aesthetically inferior to poetry and especially to the classical epics or poetic tragedies. So in an astute move, Scott published his first novel Waverley (1814), dealing with the Jacobite rebellion of 1745, anonymously to test the waters for the reception of such reading material. Despite his unacknowlegment of the novel as his, it was widely known that he was the author. It was so popular, that in 1815, he was given the honour of dining with George, Prince Regent, who wanted to meet the 'Author of Waverley.'

In the next fifteen years, Scott wrote at the cracking pace of nearly three novels a year—all were Scottish, most of them historical. His novel Guy Mannering (1815) sold out its first edition on the day of publication. Antiquary (1816) sold six thousand copies in six days. Rob Roy (1817), a portrait of the great Scottish hero, sold out its edition of 10,000 copies in two weeks. And so on.

Of the book Old Mortality from the series Tales of My Landlord, Lord had this to say: "It is justly famous for it was the precursor to [his] brilliant historical romances. He made romance instructive, rather than merely amusing, and added the charm of life to the dry annals of the past."

Here then is the definition of a historical fiction novel, according to Lord: "Scott's ability to 'toil terribly' in accumulating choice material and then, fusing it in his own spirit, to throw it forth among men with this 'hurried frankness' that stirs the blood, was the secret of his power. Fashion in these times delights in what is obscure and difficult to understand, as if depth and profundity must necessarily be unintelligible to ordinary readers." However, Scott participated in his writings in full enthusiasm, a feeling, which was "like sunshine upon a landscape, lighting up every beauty and palliating, if it could not hide, every defect." [Text in single quotes is Scott's own opinion of his writing.]

Scott was the first English-language author in the early 1800s to have a truly international career in his lifetime with many contemporary readers in Europe, Australia, and North America. His prolific output and the popularity of it made him a shoo-in for a baronetcy in 1820. Scott was the first purely literary man to be made a baronet.

He died in September 1832. By 1847, Scott's literary work had produced as profits to Scott (during his lifetime) and his trustees (after his death) a total of $2.5 million from Britain alone.

Of Scott's literary climate, Lord wrote: "The most supremely fortunate writer of his day came to a mournful end, notwithstanding his unparalelled honors and his magnificient rewards." In contrast: "When we remember the enthusiasm with which the novels of Scott were at first received, the great sums of money which were paid for them, and the honors he received from them, he may well claim a renown and a popularity such as no other literary man ever enjoyed." [Lord was writing this in 1896.]

Lord further wrote: "[His novels] have some excellencies which are immortal—elevation of sentiment, chivalrous regard for women, fascination of narrative, the abscence of exaggeration, the vast variety of characters introduced and vividly maintained, and above all, the freshness and originality of description, both of Nature and of Man. What is simple, natural, appealing to the heart rather than to the head, may last, when more pretentious poetry shall have passed away."

Walter Scott, however, had this to say about immortality: "Let me please my own generation and let those who come after us judge of their facts and my performance as they please; the anticipation of their neglect or censure will affect me very little." Spoken like a true commerical fiction novelist with no aspirations to pretentious literary fiction greatness.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Picture Day Friday: Mongolian Landscape

Where Mongolia, China, Kazakhstan, and Russia meet at 9,800 feet.

(Click on the image for a much better look. Photo copyrighted by kitseeborg.)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Hilarious Guide to Toasts for Gentlemen from 1914

"A toast is to a good fellow what the hole is to the doughnut—the hole doesn't mean anything off by itself. Neither does the toast. [For] a good fellow—well, a toast improves his flavor, so to speak. It's like the chap who tells you, 'My, you're looking fine!' You knew it before, but now you're sure."

Image copyrighted by Printed in 1914 by The Reilly & Britton Co. of Chicago, The Good Fellow's Toast Book by George N. Madison, offers a collection of 400 toasts for many different occasions that a gentleman might encounter in the course of his life: bohemia, bachelorhood, drinking and conviviality, temperance, friendships, girls, love, kisses, hosts, mothers, and new years among many others. A "good fellow" here means a talented but slightly dissipated and reckless gentleman.

Image copyrighted by The book warns gentlemen against the pitfalls of a hasty toast given in response to a hasty request: "It takes talent to make an old toast sound sincere; it takes genius to get a chuckle out of last season's joke." So..."forearmed is better than forewarned." In other words, carry this book in your coat pocket or purse and consult it frequently.

Here are a few samples from the book:

Drink, and the world drinks with you;
Swear off, and you drink alone.

Let us drink to the thought that where'er a man roves
He is sure to find something that's blissful and dear;
And that when he is far from the lips that he loves,
He can always make love to the lips that are near.

Image copyrighted by When turkey's on the table laid,
And good things I may scan,
I'm thankful that I wasn't made
A vegetarian.

Here's to the chaperon;
May she learn from Cupid.
Just enough of blindness
To be sweetly stupid.

God made the world—and rested,
God made man—and rested,
Then God made woman;
Since then neither God nor man has rested.

Image copyrighted by A wedding is the only function which can't go off smoothly unless there is a hitch in the proceedings.

To Home—the place where we are treated best and grumble most.

Here's to our bachelors, created by God for the consolation of widows and the hope of maidens!

Here's to the Love that lies in Woman's eyes,
And lies—and lies—and lies!

In conclusion,
A good toast and a good glass go well together;
The one tells me you have the right spirit;
The other tells me I have it.