Sunday, May 31, 2015

Summer Reading List 2015...almost

I'm behind in formatting this summer's list, as last year I had it ready to go on Memorial Day. I will post it for real tonight (I hope!) but for now, here's a list of some faboo-sounding titles as reviewed by Graham Joyce via The Guardian:

Graham Joyce's top 10 fairy fictions
From Angela Carter's Nights at the Circus to Alan Garner's The Owl Service, Graham Joyce chooses his favourite books in which the Fair Folk find themselves in fresh landscapes
Pan's Labyrinth
Still from the film Pan's Labyrinth Photograph: 1996-98 AccuSoft Inc 1996-98 AccuSoft Inc/PR
I'm very careful to avoid the "F" word. They don't like it. And anyway, I've stepped away from the obvious "retelling of fairytale" candidates. Recasting fairytales has become a publishing sub-genre in itself, and has been done both well and to the point of entropy. More interesting are those works where the structures of fairytales are abandoned but the world of "fairy" is imported as a delicate spice. In these fictions, magical and impossible content tends to be offered in a more naturalistic mode of storytelling. The effect for the reader is that of riding a shuttle between natural scepticism and open credulity. If there were a film paradigm it would start with Pan's Labyrinth. All of these authors are rule-breakers. I'd call them "fantasists" except that it's a word with an unstable currency; but a sense of awe and dislocation is upheld here, and a new way of knowing is always the prize.
Here's my top 10 in no particular order.

1. The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye by AS Byatt

Stuffed with marvels. Byatt doesn't re-tell fairytales, she creates her own and endows them with intelligent intention and original power. The heroine of the title story, Dr Gillian Perholt, is a scholar and a decoder of stories, and the narrative nests inside that detail. But it's not all cerebral fun. This story has a very large genie endowed with impressive and stinky genitals.

2. The Faery Handbag by Kelly Link

To be found in the collection Pretty Monsters. Throw away everything you think you know about short stories and read Kelly Link: her stories get bigger each time you read them. You think you know what's in the bag, but you don't. The rhythms of Link's storytelling evoke some very old cadence patterns, but always operate in a modern idiom. I don't always know what her stories mean, but I always know that they are a delight.

3. The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue

Inspired by Yeats's poem about the legend of the changelings, The Stolen Child also owes a debt to JM Barrie's Peter Pan, another fairy story that was not about fairies at all but about the loss of imagination and about growing up. On the surface, a clever novel about some rather degenerate Fair Folk. But while our backs are turned the author performs a switch and delivers a luminous novel about our humanity.

4. Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter

Her collection The Bloody Chamber might be more obvious but some of those stories come under the re-telling category. Nights at the Circus is more anarchic and the chief protagonist is a peroxide blonde with wings called Fevvers, who was hatched from an egg laid by unknown parents. Yes, her wings are a metaphor but yes, her wings are real. Another landmark novel shunned by the Man Booker judges because it lacked, well, gravity. Many traditional fairytales are invoked and overturned throughout the novel.

5. Shod by Mark Goodwin

The wildly inventive Midlands landscape poet won prizes for this brilliant collection. Goodwin experiments with ambient sound or acoustic context for recording his poems, many of which reference fairytales, or furry tales as the poet calls them.

6. The Girl with Glass Feet by Ali Shaw

This is a novel that draws on the great tradition of European fairytales but which offers us a shimmering romance for our modern world. A luminous work, about a girl's transformation into glass.

7. The Owl Service by Alan Garner

Garner is one of the very greatest fantasy writers in the English language, though I admit that the categorisations of his work as "Children's" or "Fantasy" are meaningless. The Owl Service is set in Wales, and uses as its basis a story from the mediaeval Welsh epic, the Mabinogion. Published in 1967, in 2007 The Owl Service was selected by judges of the Carnegie Medal for children's literature as one of the 10 most important children's novels of the past 70 years. Really, I could pick anything by this writer.

8. Briar Rose by Jane Yolen

This is a young adult novel, but nevertheless, the book won the annual Mythopoeic Society Award for Adult Literature in 1993. It combines the Sleeping Beauty story with the Holocaust and themes of homosexuality. That's right. Got it banned somewhere in the American Midwest. Constantly surprises as the standard images of the tale of Sleeping Beauty dissolve into the realities of life under the Nazis.

9. Winter Journey by Joel Lane

A clever reversal of the feral-child story, first published in Black Static magazine, a terrific venue for this kind of writing. Joel Lane is another gem of a short-storyist. The narrator pursues some kind of fox-being, a creature that possesses one person after another, always travelling.

10. Sweet Bride by Kate Rusby

Can we have a song? Yes, let's break the rules and finish on a song. The Barnsley Nightingale singing her own composition. This song is an extraordinary tale of dangerous seduction and it calls on a pan-European tradition of willing abduction into the world of the Other.

(I loved Ali Shaw's The Girl With Glass Feet, and own Jane Yolen's Briar Rose. Both are exquisitely delivered stories in the faerie-tale tradition.)

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Back in the submissions game....

not that I ever should have left, but sometimes those repeated rejection letters and emails just get to me, and I take a break. Tonight I submitted three stories to three different magazines within one publishing group. I shall keep them nameless at present, but will venture to say that this publishing group has a hugely successful readership, and publishes for several age groups. Hence, three different magazines. (They publish more than three, but those were the only ones my work was appropriate for. At present, anyway.) Tomorrow I'll print another to send via snail mail (yes, some publishers do still accept hard copy. Amazing.) and in coming days will try to finish and subsequently polish a historical romance I've been working on for a couple years now so I can get that off into the ether as well. And for the record, I do not read romance, historical or otherwise. Anyone that knows me will tell you that not only do I not care for it, I LOATHE it, and think it is a waste of paper. So how did I come to write one? I have no idea. It began as a horror story. I kid you not. Yes, I know I'm twisted. No, I do not care. Truth be told, I rather enjoy it. Go figure.
     Future writing plans include another submission to Wild Sister Magazine (I missed the May deadline, which was incredibly disappointing as the topic was healing.) as well as my usual seasonal observations for SageWoman. Sadly, in order to do so I will have to isolate myself from the goings-on of my family so I can get this work done. Previously that didn't bother me terribly much as there was always time to spend with them later. Now that I'm working away from home, I only have a certain amount of time to spend with my family, and am loathe to use it sitting at the computer. The writing won't get done any other way, however, and so I am trebly glad that my husband and older children understand and support my endeavors. It breaks my heart when my little one asks me to play with him and I have to tell him no, though. Usually I cut my writing time short, thus accomplishing little to none of my planned work. How did the literary domestics of the nineteenth century do it? How did Sarah Josepha Hale do it? How do I do it?
     It's a difficulty I can't seem to satisfactorily puzzle my way out of.

Victorian treasures

     I have just started reading Ruth Finley's The Lady of Godey's: Sarah Josepha Hale, and though I find the writing style a bit outdated (published in the 1930's), Sarah Hale herself is an incredible figure in American history. All I knew of her was that she was the editor of the Godey's Lady's Book magazine for forty years. I did not know she embraced educational reform, women's equality in both the workplace and education (she was one of Elizabeth Blackwell's most ardent supporters. Don't know who Elizabeth Blackwell is? For shame. America's first lady doctor, she is.) as well as a successful author, among many, many other noteworthy achievements. Essentially, she was one of the first (respectable) professional women in America.
     Widowed just before her fifth child was born, Sarah Hale remained a single parent, saw one of her sons off to successful military service, though he died very young while in service; her second son became a successful linguist whose work is still referenced today, and her youngest son was a rousing success at Harvard. One daughter married incredibly well, and the other never married, but was the mistress of a well-respected prestigious girls' school. Wow. Reading about all her successes, I'm afire to check out her editorial work in Godey's Lady's Book, which has been out of print, oh, for forever. Searches on yield either nothing, or terrifyingly expensive antique copies. Much sadness. However......
                                                 ...EUREKA!  (Not quite the jackpot, but good enough to start.)

Can you ever imagine wearing something like this?????

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Divine Dinners!

I simply must share these culinary dee-lites with all of you, as they are simple to make and 'oh-my-goodness' yummie. Enjoy!
Last night's dinner:
One-Pot Creamy Spinach Peanut Lentils
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Yield: 4
Serving Size: 1
  • 1/2 Tbsp Coconut Oil
  • 1/2 Cup Onion, chopped
  • 1 tsp Garlic, minced
  • 1 Cup Lentils
  • 2 13 Oz Cans Reduced-fat Coconut milk *
  • 1/4 Cup + 2 Tbsp Natural peanut butter
  • 1 Tbsp Coconut sugar
  • 1 tsp Paprika
  • 1 Tbsp  Fish Sauce
  • Juice of 1 Large lime
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • Pinch of salt (optional) **
  • 1 Large bunch of fresh spinach
  • Chopped peanuts, for garnish
  • OPTIONAL serving ideas:
  • Rice, Quinoa, Cauliflower rice etc. *** (I served mine with brown rice and a side of roasted Brussels sprouts. Yum)
  1. In a large sauce pan, melt the coconut oil over medium heat. Add in the onion and garlic and cook until lightly golden brown, about 2 minutes.
  2. Add in the lentils plus 1 whole can of coconut milk and only 1/2 CUP (not half the can!) of the additional can, stir and reduce the heat to medium or medium low, so that the coconut milk is just lightly simmering. Simmer, uncovered, until the lentils are tender, about 35-40 minutes.
  3. Once the lentils have cooked, add in 2 additional Tablespoons of the coconut milk along with the peanut butter, coconut sugar, paprika, fish sauce, lime juice, red pepper flakes, and optional salt. Stir well and then add in the spinach. Cover and cook until the spinach has wilted.
  4. Serve was desired and garnish with cilantro and chopped peanuts!

And tonite?

Pasta e Ceci
Serves 4-6
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
• 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
• 1 medium sweet onion, finely diced
• 1 large carrot, peeled and sliced into thin rounds
• 3 garlic cloves, minced
• 2 tablespoons tomato paste
• 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
• 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
• 1 (15 ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
• 6 cups low sodium vegetable or chicken broth
• salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 2 cups dried ditalini pasta
• 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
In a large pot, over medium heat, warm the butter and olive oil; saute the onion, carrot, and garlic until soft, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Add the tomato paste, oregano, thyme, the chickpeas, and 2 cups of veggie broth; stir to combine. Bring the pot to a boil, reduce heat and simmer gently for 5 minutes.
Add the remaining veggie broth, bring it to a boil and cook the pasta in the soup until just al dente, mixing occasionally so it doesn’t stick, about 10 minutes. Taste and add more salt and pepper if necessary. Mix in the Parmesan cheese.
Ladle into bowls and sprinkle a little more Parmesan on top.

(My five year old has been snacking on this right out of the pan as it's been cooking. His comment on seeing all the ingredients piled on the counter? "Oh, I like carrots!" This after saying he didn't like what I was making. ...not that I've ever made it before...)

Enjoy these one-pot wonders!!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

A kool freebie from Anne @ Modern Mrs. Darcy!

Modern Mrs. Darcy is such a fun blog. Anne's posts and updates are great. And she gives us gifties. Like this reading journal.:
As a rule, I’d rather be reading than recording what I’m reading.
But I do it anyway, because I love having a record of what I’ve read, and what I want to read.
While Goodreads is nice, I have a soft spot in my heart for paper. I like to touch, browse, and jot notes in the margins. Besides, there’s nothing worse than intending to read, grabbing your phone or your laptop to plug in the book you’re about to start, and falling down the social media rabbit hole. 20 minutes later you forgot why you got online in the first place and you forgot all about your book. (That can’t be just me.)
reading journal 1
There are great reading journals on the market (this is my favorite), but ready-made journals lack flexibility. Blank books are nice, but some of you (and that includes me) need a template to get started.
That’s why I’m delighted to introduce the printable MMD reading journal.
reading journal 3
Here’s what you’ll find in the journal:
• a blank “books I want to read” list
• a blank “books I abandoned” list
• 30 full two-page book entry spreads, to record thoughts, quotes, and opinions at length
• 12 3-per-page book entry pages, for when you want to remember you read a book but don’t want to journal about it
• 8 pages of reading inspiration
• 16 pages for note-taking
• lots of bookish quotes for your enjoyment
reading journal 5
This journal is designed to be flexible. (Hat tip to Lauren of Santa Clara Designs who worked hard to make it easy to use.) Print all the pages, or just the ones that interest you. Print as many or as few book entry pages as you desire. If you love to take notes print plenty of notes pages.
reading journal 2
Here’s how to use it:
1. Check your inbox. The journal is free to all subscribers (blog or newsletter). All current subscribers should have a journal ready and waiting for them. Not a subscriber? Sign up here.
2. Download the journal. (I recommend downloading it instead of printing from a preview pane.)
3. Print the journal (or selected pages, as you choose). The PDF is designed for single-sided printing. The cover page is in color (it’s not necessary to print it in color, but it sure is pretty); the rest is black and white.
4. You can leave the journal full size (8.5 x 11), but I cut mine in half to create a 5.5 x 8.5 journal. (I love the deckle-edge effect I got from cutting the pages in half.)
reading journal 6
5. To finish the journal, either:
• Hole punch it and place it in a 3-ring binder. I love the binder option because you can easily add and remove pages and dividers. (My Avery polka dot binder is from Target: this is the same binder in a pretty floral design. These are the dividers shown.)
• Have it spiral-bound at an office supply store. Kinko’s did mine for $3.99. (They also printed my cover page in full color; I used thick cardstock for the front and back covers.) The spiral-bound version looks terrific and is more compact, but it’s not as flexible. (I use book darts in my own spiral-bound journal for keeping my place.)
I’m looking forward to hearing your feedback on this Journal 1.0 project. Thanks for subscribing, using, and sharing!
I never travel without my reading journal

Making friends...

   I have made a new friend. She is intelligent, witty, observant, and sadly, deranged. She is also dead.
   On a recent trip to the Montague Bookmill I found a copy of Jean Strouse's Alice James: A Biography. I know who Alice James is: she is the sister of author Henry James (Portrait of a Lady) and William James, considered by many to be the father of modern psychology. So why is this sister worthy of a biography of her own? Because she is (was) an incredible person: she was an avid writer of charming, witty letters to friends and family, letters that allow her personality to shine; her diaries (published in 1964) show a woman of deep, complex thought who saw, heard, and processed everything around her; finally, she taught history from 1873 to 1876 for the Society to Encourage Studies at Home, a Boston-based correspondence school for women founded by Anna Ticknor. So how is it that this person has been shrouded in shadows through history?
   The first (and probably main) reason is that she was a woman. As much as I love the society and culture of the nineteenth century, if I had lived it, I too probably would have been considered one of those 'unsettled' women whose minds were sadly offset by too much reading. (How that was justified as a basis for female insanity I have yet to figure out.)
   The second reason, of course, being that she was mentally ill. I haven't read enough of the biography to find out exactly what Strouse thinks the issue may have been, but internet sources say that Alice (she and I are on a first-name basis at this point) had at least two major breakdowns by 1882, and would experience several more before her death from breast cancer in 1892.
   For years my scholarly focus has been on Louisa May Alcott and the struggles she had with her father that drove her to create both exquisite happy childhoods and violent threatening worlds in her writing. Last summer I read the diary of Dorothy Wordsworth, another famous sister to an even more famous brother, also suffering from the Victorian 'female complaint.' Alcott herself recorded similar low points in her diary, though never succumbed to the title of 'invalid' until her physical health finally gave way as a result of lupus. These three brilliant women are barely a fraction of the women that Victorian society deemed unstable (actually, Alcott managed to avoid that stigma) and are only known to us through their literary works. Even this may not have happened had someone not seen the value of their thoughts. How many other women have been lost?

Photograph of Alice James