Recent reading —

I’m back to Nicola Griffith! Just about gave me whiplash to go from Sarah Prineas to Nicola Griffith. Both are great writers, but THE MAGIC THIEF is all light, quick, fun, with dragons! and then from there STAY is this intense, grief-and-recovery story where the only monsters are the human ones.

I don’t like to read in quick succession two stories that are too similar to each other: they get confused in my head and I don’t wind up enjoying either of them as much as they deserve, or if one is much worse than the other, I wind up feeling like neither was very good. So going from Prineas to Griffith wasn’t an accident. Jarring, yes, but on purpose and in a good way!


STAY by Griffith is a wonderful book, a very worthy sequel to THE BLUE PLACE, which as I mentioned a few weeks ago is a beautifully written mystery (or thriller or something over on that side of the genre family.) If I were in a reading group or book club, I’d try to get everyone to read THE BLUE PLACE and then we could take a vote on what it is!

STAY is, as I said, a grief-and-recovery story, so that does give you a spoiler for the first book (sorry). In STAY, Aud is a much more human, much more approachable protagonist. I liked her very much in the first book, but there she was sort of superhuman and in STAY that isn’t true.

Single best line: “So you won’t be lonely?” Read the book and you’ll find out what this is such a GREAT LINE.

Best plot element: I would never have expected the poor, white, fundamentalist Christian family to be presented so sympathetically and believably. I was amazed and delighted at how this family did not comply with any of Aud’s biases and how the author made each family member a rounded character.

Bottom line: Excellent writing, great storytelling with startling plot twists, not exactly a mystery or a thriller and in fact pretty hard to classify, but a VERY good book.

Note: A lesbian relationship is central to the story, so if that’s a big plus or minus for you, just letting you know.

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Good news!

ISLANDS has gone for a second printing! Particularly good news considering that it’s still in hardcover.

I do think the cover helped:

Absolutely everybody loves this cover

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Stochiometrical . . .

Has got to be one of the most unusual words ever to appear in a fantasy novel, wouldn’t you agree?

I laughed out loud when the concept of stochiometry and stochiometrical measurement appeared in Sarah Prineas’ story THE MAGIC THIEF: FOUND. I guess it’s not totally coincidental that her husband’s a physicist?

Anyway, great book, loved the way it ended, loved the resolution of the main problem. Didn’t see it coming. Way more interesting than a standard Good Guy Defeats Bad Guy resolution. And I’m glad that Conn didn’t . . . well, never mind! Don’t want to provide major spoilers.

Biscuits appear frequently in The Magic Thief! In honor of biscuits, let me provide a recipe for The Best Scones in the World:


2 C. white whole wheat flour
1 C. Unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 C sugar
1/4 C brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C. cold unsalted butter
1 C. sweetened shredded coconut
1 egg
1 1/4 C coconut milk (I like the Choakoh brand)
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp coconut extract
3/4 C top-quality bittersweet chocolate chips

Whisk together the dry ingredients. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. You really need to cut in the butter if you want flaky scones. If you have one of those awful flimsy pastry cutters with round wires, throw it away and get a good sturdy one with flat blades. Anyway, whisk together the wet ingredients and add; stir just until evenly moistened. Stir in the chocolate chips, which are given as optional, but trust me here, put them in.

Easy way to shape scones: spoon half the dough onto one end of a parchment-lined baking sheet and the other half onto the other end of the same baking sheet. Pat each half into a circle about 1/2 inch thick and 6 inches in diameter. Freeze. Cut each circle into 8 wedges after thoroughly frozen. Wrap in plastic and keep in freezer to store, or place wedges on a different parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees for about 25 minutes. You can brush the tops with milk and sprinkle with more coconut before baking if you like.

Personally I want my scones freshly baked and warm, so I freeze the scones unbaked and bake as I want them. Surprisingly, you barely have to adjust baking times to do it this way.

Okay! Pick a leisurely Sunday morning and try these out. Then you can write and thank me.

Now, I didn’t make that recipe up, though I wish I had bragging rights to it! I got it from WHOLE GRAIN BAKING, this big handsome hardcover put out by The King Arthur Flour Company. I got it because I thought that it’d have lots of recipes in it that I didn’t already have in my other billion cookbooks, and I figured that KING ARTHUR FLOUR would publish great recipes. I was right on both counts!

Here’s another recipe from the same book that I just tried out the other day, when I suddenly decided to make a pumpkin bread pudding (one of the neighbors brought me a lot of butternut squash, so really a squash bread pudding) and I didn’t happen to have any good dense bread around.

I made this great bread which was really excellent for the bread pudding but also really excellent toasted and served with honey. Notice the orange juice in it? You don’t taste the orange. It’s there to compensate for the tannic bitterness of so much traditional whole wheat flour, so you really should use it if that’s the kind of flour you’re going to use. If you use white whole wheat, it doesn’t matter as much.


2 Tbsp orange juice
2 Tbsp water
2 Tbsp veg. oil
1 Tbsp honey
1/4 C. (packed) raisins (I used golden raisins)
2 Tbsp brown sugar
3/4 C milk, lukewarm
1 1/4 C whole wheat flour (I used white whole wheat)
3/4 C rye or white rye flour (I used white rye)
1 1/2 C unbleached bread flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp instant yeast

KING ARTHUR says process the liquid ingredients with the raisins and sugar until the raisins are finely ground. I didn’t, though maybe next time I will. I just tossed everything in the bread machine, set to whole wheat, and walked away. I did peek during the kneading and add a little more water. It came out a lovely, high, soft loaf. It did seem a shame to cube three quarters of the loaf and set it out to stale for the bread pudding. I’ll definitely make this again. Then, since I’m a carb fan, I’ll probably eat half the loaf instead of actually having supper.

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With the BLACK DOG manuscript, YA version.

My two options now are:

a) obsess endlessly in my own insular bubble — does it work? Is there enough romance? [Insert infinite series of “does it work?” questions here.] Or

b) send the manuscript to Caitlin (my agent) and get her take on it. Much more practical! So off it went this morning.

Whew! Any further revision now should be based on specific critiques and aimed at specific objectives and quite possibly notated with specific page numbers. This is quite a lot easier to deal with than continuing to work on my own.

I don’t mean that I stopped before polishing. I trust we all understand how important it is to polish up a manuscript to the best of your ability before tossing it out into the world. But ‘the best of your ability’ doesn’t mean ‘obsess over this thing for a decade’ either. Drag your heels like that and you’ll never get to write FINISHED on anything!

Up next!

Taking off the rest of August . . . lessee, that’s three days, including today. Got four books I want to read before starting anything else:

Sarah Prineas’ The Magic Thief: Lost and TMT: Found.

I read the first book a year or so ago. Middle grade fantasy, which is an interesting contrast to YA. I enjoyed it very much, especially the main character, and btw Diana Wynne Jones herself provided a laudatory quote, so enough said! I wanted some enjoyable fast light books to read because after finishing a revision I’m not in the mood for, you know, War And Peace.

After that, I think Nicola Griffith’s STAY and ALWAYS, the sequels to THE BLUE PLACE. Wow, does Griffith get bad covers. Honestly, what are her publishers thinking? But I am SO looking forward to these — though they will not be fast or light. Enjoyable, though, I hope! Griffith is a wonderful writer and I expect both the quality of the writing and the quality of the storytelling to be top-notch.

After that . . . to the salt mines. Got another YA fantasy to revise . . . want to cut one protagonist’s pov down to the bare bones, pretty much hand off the story to the other protagonist. I LOVE some of the scenes that will be going away. Oh, I am telling you, there will be much weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Plus I’m afraid it will be harder in practice than I just made it sound. I mean, in real practical terms, aside from the weeping.

But, taking the (paltry) rest of August off first! Maybe even the rest of this week!

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You don’t see that very often

So on the way to work this morning?

Guy in SUV herding a stray calf home along the highway. Luckily it’s a backroads kind of highway; with luck, I’ll be the only car they both met on the way home. Both the guy and the calf sort of looked like they’d done this before. Maybe the calf is an escape artist?

This wasn’t a little baby calf, but still, cute, for a cow. Black with a white face. Guess that means it was a black hereford, which are pretty common around here. Wish I’d had my camera!

Last time I saw livestock on that highway? It was a black angus bull and he tossed his head and thought about attacking my car. Made me wonder if in cow country there’s a special way to blink your lights that means Bull On Highway.

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Viciousness online

I almost agree with this, but not quite.

It’s all very well to suggest we might all be nice to children:

“Making fun of people has become a part of our culture, and I’m not expecting to change that. But I am sincerely asking that everybody stop with the kids – and I mean all kids, from Justin Bieber to Rebecca Black.”

Apparently Rebecca Black is a kid who had a song recorded, didn’t do it well, and wound up on the receiving end of tons and tons of vicious hatemail and derision. That is ugly and I hope everyone who participated felt at least a little uncomfortable with the pile-on even while posting, and ashamed afterward.


The mob thing is no prettier when it’s aimed at adults. Really.

“This is a person who just wanted to have their book out there and has the same hopes and dreams as any other writer. Some rude Internet behavior negates all of that? People will ridicule her and scorch the Earth and trash what this author has built in the name of teaching a lesson?”

Jacqueline Howett behaved not just like an idiot, and not just like a rude thin-skinned idiot . . . she behaved like an unbalanced person. It’s a pity that hundreds or thousands of people thought the appropriate response to this was to form a mob. And it wasn’t any nicer because she’s an adult.

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The Canon of Great Books

Which books should be removed from the canon, Nathan asks?

Ooh! Ooh! I know!

Madam Bovary.

I was forced to read this horrible book TWICE in school. TWICE. Why did I actually read it? Why not just buy the cliff notes? At least the second time?

Some questions have no good answers.

Every single character in the book is disagreeable or pathetic or both. Mostly both. Every single thing that happens to anybody is disagreeable or pathetic or both. MOSTLY BOTH.

You realize, this is my memory of the book talking. I’m hardly going to go read it again to see how accurate my recollection is.

On Amazon right now, I see there are nine reviews of this book, at least the edition I clicked on. 3 of them are one-star reviews. 3 of them are four- or five-star reviews. I am certainly not going to add to the one-star reviews because who am I to say the book is ACTUALLY bad? All I can say is I personally really detested it. Twice.

On the other hand, can I vote for a book to be removed from the canon just because I loathed it? Sure. If a third of its readers hate it, why should it be imposed on college students everywhere? Let them all read books I love! Pride and Prejudice would be a MUCH BETTER CHOICE.

Seriously? How about if Lit teachers assigned books in pairs? Then students could read the first chapter of each and pick the one they want to read. Much better chance that you’ll be reading books that don’t actually make you feel actually nauseated every time you pick them up.

By the way? For making you actually WANT to read classics? Try reading Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer.

After reading that, I put a bunch of classics on my TBR pile . . . after being forced to read Madame Bovary made me take them off on just general principles.

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Every now and then —

I drop in at Amanda Hocking’s blog. You know, for a Famous Person who gets coopted to be an Example To Us All on a fairly frequent basis, she has a very balanced perspective.

I rather like this, for example.

Not that she reaches important conclusions, but she makes good comments. Like here:

I don’t know what this means, exactly, or what the answer to the problem is. Why teenage boys aren’t reading is actually a multifacted problem, and this answer isn’t as simple as changing the cover of a book. But Jo Rowling had to go by J. K. Rowling because the publisher didn’t think boys would read a book written by a girl.

I do think that this may be more of an intrinsic difference between boys and girls and less of a problem to solve, you know? Here’s an intriguing comment from Hocking’s blog:

It sounds like the issue is reading. My brother is turning into a bigger Jane Austen fan than me, but will he read one of her books? Noooo. My husband is an online news junkie and loves sci-fi – so long as it’s on NetFlix. He doesn’t read books, let alone Twilight, but he enjoyed the movie and couldn’t give a rats ass whether the book was written by a female, male or extraterrestrial so long as it’s entertaining.

Women, in general, are better at visualization. Books play like movies in our heads as we read them. A lot of guys don’t read that way.

Isn’t that an interesting suggestion? If true, it would certainly seem to follow that boys would read less than girls — intrinsically.

But if I had a boy-type kid, I’d have a lot of gross-humor and horror type books and comics and things lying around the house, if that’s what he liked.

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Some days are like this —

What I did yesterday instead of working on the ongoing revision of BLACK DOG:

a) Took dogs for run.

b) Went to work. You’d think I’d forget how to get to the campus after three weeks off, but I made it. Parking lots crammed because students haven’t started ditching classes yet.

c) Got home and gave dogs snack.

d) Made this cool eggplant dish to use up these great Japanese eggplants. Very quick and easy and not bad when nibbled. Put eggplant dish aside after nibbling.

e) Made these phyllo cheese straws because I happened to have feta around and wanted to use up the phyllo. Turned out all right. Made yogurt-garlic dip to go with them.

f) Took dogs for run. Turned out to be hotter than I thought. We all came home and collapsed in the air conditioning.

g) Made some pretty good zucchini fritters to use up yet another zucchini.

h) Prepared to work on revision at last, but Dara came and sprawled on my lap and said it was her turn for serious petting. Had to admit she was totally right. Read a Ngaio Marsh mystery instead of turning on laptop because I can read and pet dog at same time.

i) End result, zero work on revision.

So, yes, Eric is totally right, in order to get stuff written you have to settle down and write it . . . but some days it just doesn’t happen.

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Revision update!

Not done!

But closing in on the end of BLACK DOG, my paranormal YA werewolf story. Somehow it feels like I’ve been here before. Which, of course, I totally have.

I will probably finish (again) about Wednesday — nine days longer than I thought it would take. Not dreadful, but I did hope to get it all the way done before classes started. Sigh.

So! Thinking about the revision process:

Type a) writing new material, like a whole new chapter, even — easy, fun, fast.

Type b) making major changes, like adding a new character or taking out an old character or combining two characters or adding a major plot twist or whatever — not as easy, but not too disagreeable; fast-ish.

Type c) going through the whole ms while making an infinite series of judgment calls about whether each character “works” in each scene and whether each character arc is clear and whether you’re enough “in the head” of each viewpoint character — hard, tedious, totally not fun at all, sloooooow.

Probably not a coincidence that the part I hate doing takes much longer to get through!

I know from experience that I will wind up not sure whether the characters work well enough — should I fiddle some MORE with the character? I have a hard time saying Enough! and throwing my ms. to the sharks. However, as I say, I expect to declare myself finished Enough! with this one about Wednesday.

I am always very pleased, btw, when a REAL reader contacts me and says how great the characters are and how they fell in love with _______. Love that! Major validation! Not that I turn down compliments on other aspects of a book, mind you.

On the subject of revisions, check this out: THE INTERN.

A little while ago, INTERN heard from a writer-friend who had just gotten his first-ever revision letter from his agent.

“She started out by saying what an amazing concept I have and how much she adores the novel. Then she basically said the entire plot doesn’t make sense, the ending is one giant cliché, and she almost stopped reading after two pages because the first chapter’s so bad.”

How, wondered INTERN’s writer-friend, did his agent decide to sign him at all, when the manuscript was rife with so many embarrassing problems?

INTERN encouraged him to ask his agent this very question. A few days later, INTERN heard from him again: “She just fell in love with the concept.”

INTERN has heard similar stories from other first-time novelists, often substituting “voice” or “writing style” for “concept.” Conventional wisdom states that your manuscript should be as perfect as possible before going on the hunt for an agent. In truth, though, plenty of less-than-perfect manuscripts find representation—as long as they’re less-than-perfect in the right way.

I’m glad to say that my editorial comments have never been quite that comprehensive! But that’s a useful way of thinking about manuscripts, isn’t it? We all need help prying our fingers off a ms. and letting it go. Sheer boredom with it helps get the job done for me, but it helps to think it’s okay to be less than perfect! Throw that ms. to the sharks and find out if it’s less than perfect in the right way!

So, anyway — looking forward to a short break before starting Fall’s Revision #2!

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