31 August 2010

Writing Tuesday: Go forth, be fruitful, and extrapolate

For writers of speculative fiction (fantasy, science fiction, etc.), extrapolation is the foundation of good world building. Or maybe it's the second floor. I'm not keen on the metaphors today, but it's definitely important.

Okay, so what is extrapolation? Roughly speaking, it's the process of projecting and expanding known information into an unexperienced area to arrive at conjectural knowledge.

Those curved lines are probably more question marks.

For world-building writers, the "known information" can be divided into two categories:

#1: Rules, history, and status that you (the writer) have created yourself.

#2: Rules, history, and status that the writer did not create, but that are an implied part of the world.

In my own reading experience, it's #2 that trips people up. Most science fiction (and a fair share of fantasy) takes place in our own future or another (possibly nearby, possibly interacting) part of our own universe. But even stories that are set on an entirely made-up world are going to be filled with human beings-- or a recognizable analog thereof.

Humans are clever, inventive, greedy, organized, and often foolish. Some are cautious and some are risk-takers. Throw them a bit of new technology (or magical power) and they will demonstrate every one of these qualities in horrifyingly unique ways.

For example, in I, Robot (the film version), technology has advanced sufficiently to produce stand-alone humanoid machines called 'robots'. These are agile, mobile, and intelligent enough to speak fluent English. Let's make a list of some of the "known" information:

(type #1) Advanced, high-speed artificial intelligence
(type #2) Humans like to go places in a hurry, and are known to use automobiles
(type #2) Humans like to be safe

Given this, the writers (presumably) considered the question of how people get from place to place. They conjectured (extrapolated) that people would stick some kind of robot brain inside their vehicles and let it do the driving.

For a counterexample, let's consider the Star Wars universe, where a partial list might include:

(type #1) Advanced, high-speed artificial intelligence
(type #1) Abundant energy and advanced motive technology (levitation devices, space travel)
(type #2) Long-range, guided weapons already existed in our own 20th century

Given this, a very obvious conjecture is that the war-making parites in the Star Wars universe would have the capability of launching fusion bombs from a distance of many miles, if not many light years. And yet, the climactic field battles in Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones bear more resemblance to medieval warfare than anything remotely modern. Extrapolation fail.

When to not bother with extrapolation

Basically, you shouldn't bother if you don't need it and/or really don't want it.

A six-page science fiction short story called Ned's vacation to Mars is likely to have such a narrow focus that the details of a Mars-vacationing future aren't relevant. If Ned only came to Mars to resolve a love triangle, then it's not important to extrapolate the existence of competing travel agents, asteroid settlements, or the Martian independence movement.

The great J.R.R. Tolkein provides a study in contrast for the use of extrapolation. His society of hobbits, for example, makes a great deal of sense based on their implied similarities to humans: They build homes, brew beer, and use modest technology (such as mill working); their society is organized with a few vague laws and many strong customs; and they spend most of their time growing and eating food.

But the elves make no sense at all. They live thousands of years and do practically nothing. They haven't developed any technology (not even the eco-friendly kind); they've never explored, much less mapped, the eastern part of Middle Earth; and as far as the reader can tell, they don't even have farms.

What's more, these physically present higher-order beings are almost entirely ignored by human societies in the third age. They have the dangerous trait combination of mysterious wealth and physically apparent difference. There ought to be regular (if failed) military expeditions to conquer and plunder their lands. There should be less hostile but equally greedy efforts to open their borders to trade (think Commodore Perry and the opening of Japan). There should be a cult of elf-worshippers.

"I was watching a tree grow before you interrupted me, dwarf!"

And yet... I'm going to give Tolkein a free pass on this one (I'm sure he's grateful). Partly, the lack of realism can be explained by the elves' non-human nature and the dark-ages-like setting that limits contact and exploration. But mostly, it should be noted that Lord of the Rings is not intended as a high fantasy, world-creating work that demands extrapolation. It is an extended work of mythology. It is an Anglicized hobbitized version of The Odyssey.

When extrapolation is useful

Creating a world is not easy. David Eddings wrote that most people who had a notion to try writing fantasy would "eventually decide to take up something simpler -- brain surgery or rocket science, perhaps."

Some of the challenges of world creation are making it easy enough for the reader to follow, having everything make sense, and simply producing a massive volume of original "stuff". But with a very small set of original ideas (e.g., technology or magic) extrapolation provides plenty of solutions.

As an exemplary example, I'll cite the master of world creation, Robert Jordan (The Wheel of Time).

At some point, I speculate that Jordan decided he needed a group of mid-level villains-- i.e., people who weren't necessarily evil, but who nonetheless provided violent opposition to the protagonist. Jordan didn't try to create a new type of magic or an extra deity to define this group, but instead used what he already had:

(type #1) magic, employed by a very small percentage of the population
(type #1) a roughly universal theological belief in the Creator, whose will/goodness/nature is referred to as "the Light"
(type #1) the Dark One (a Satanic sort of counter-deity), worshipped/followed by a small percentage of the population
(type #2) jealousy, fear, and paranoia as part of human nature

From this, Jordan extrapolated the existence of a quasi-religious organization called the "Children of the Light." They seek out Darkfriends (recklessly and erroneously) and they describe all magic-users as "witches", believing that their abilities result from an alliance with the Dark One.

"Only a Darkfriend would deny being a Darkfriend!"

Mission solved. Realism enhanced. Confusing, extra inventions not required.

Later in the story, we are introduced to a group/culture known as the "Aiel". They are a warrior society with a strict code of honor (called "ji e toh")-- imagine a cross between the Klingons and (the Hollywood version of) Shaolin Monks. The Aiel are twice involved in the conquest of Cairhein (one of the nations in Jordan's world), and the second conquest is mostly benign. Also, Cairhein is top-filled with foolish young nobles.

The result is inevitable: Many of the Cairheinen, impressed by their conquerors/liberators, decide to emulate the code of ji e toh. They add their own twists and misinterpretations, and it's disparagingly referred to as "playing Aiel".

This society of imitators was not essential to the plot, but their existence was both realistic and damned funny. More importantly, they added a usable element to the story without requiring any effort from the reader to learn something new.

When extrapolation is required

If you're writing any kind of mystery, especially with a science fiction or fantasy setting, you owe it to your readers to consider all the possibilities.

Let's say Ragnar the Mighty is our murder victim, taken down by a venomous Aldosian Serpent. Nashai the snake handler is the initial suspect. But then the bodies of several nameless peasants are found floating in the harbor, all of them likewise victims of Aldosian Serpent bites. Our intrepid investigator traces the peasants back to Langor the Wizard, who is known to be skilled at mind control, and thus the mystery is solved: Langor controlled the peasants, forcing them to carry snakes to Ragnar; several were killed (and dumped in the harbor) owing to their lack of skill before success was achieved and Ragnar finally bitten.

Extrapolation: Couldn't Langor have simply used mind control on Nashai the snake handler? Or, for that matter, couldn't he have controlled one of the snakes? Or cast a spell on Ragnar and forced him to annoy a bundle of snakes himself?

"And did he disengage the holodeck safety protocols?"

Perhaps the answer to all three questions is 'no', but you'd better make sure the reader understands the rules of magic well enough to predict that. Otherwise, they will have eliminated Langor as a suspect and feel cheated by the given solution.

A few tools for extrapolation

* People seek power - this should always come up when dealing with magic and technology. If your wizards are few and powerful, will they see themselves as natural rulers? And if not, will those who do see themselves as rulers try to control or eliminate them?

* Every technology spawns dozens of uses - Likewise for every type of magic. If it helps, make a list of human needs and desires and try to imagine the technology/magic being applied to each of those. My list goes something like this: War, mating & dating, earning money (especially if one can displace/outproduce an existing enterprise), health, entertainment, convenience, and recombination (mix it with another technology, especially if that other technology is something generic like computing or transportation).

(Note that if you're writing speculative, futuristic realist fiction, you should be so good at extrapolating these that all of my advice is useless, or you aren't going to amount to anything anyway. This advice is for those who consider themselves storytellers and like to use a science fiction setting.)

* People are social - Any given technology might have its detractors and supporters. Are they organized? Do the users/wizards have a guild? Is there an institution for training people to use this thing?

And finally, if you're shooting for any realism, I offer the following observation: People tend to grossly underestimate the ease with which social organizations are formed, but just as grossly overestimate their power and stability. Nations come & go; they merge & divide. The Illuminati, Freemasons, and Skull & Bones are all real, but so are thousands of quilting societies that you've never heard of. If it helps, think about all the clubs you were involved with in college: those type tend to form quickly and fade quickly; they don't have any lasting institutional power, but they can make a significant impression on individuals and a few events during their heyday.

Happy extrappy,

30 August 2010

Reading Nonsense

It’s Reading Monday. Personally I have never quite understood what it is about Reading that makes it eligible for its own day here on our blog – I mean, we don’t have Bristol Tuesdays or Warwick Wednesdays, now do we? Nevertheless, Reading, Berkshire gets its own day. Understand it if you can.

I’ve never been to Reading, so I can’t tell you all that much about it (other than what Wikipedia informs me, but you can check that out yourself. Unless you accidentally click on some other language in the left sidebar on Wikipedia – you might end up get the page in Volapük [whatever language that is] or something. If you can understand that, you’re better than me! [Though the Volapük Wikipedia page for Reading isn’t all that informative, so I don’t reckon I’m missing out on much]).

However, since I don’t know much about the topic of this blog post I have done a little research in an attempt to assemble as much information as possible.

For instance, in addition to the one in Britain, there appears to be more places called Reading. In the US alone, there are (at least) eight Readings, and then also a North Reading, a West Reading and a Port Reading (I wonder, though, why there aren’t any East, South or Starboard Readings).

There are also a number of people by the name of Reading, most of whom are dead. Such as John of Reading (who died in 1346), Pierson B. Reading (who died in 1868) or Bertice Reading (who died in 1991). There are several people named John Reading, and again, many of them are dead. Not to worry, though, there is a Peter Reading who is still alive, so it is too hasty to conclude that there is a connection between the name Reading and death rates.

“Reading” can also refer to certain activities. For instance, in legislature reading refers to “the mechanism by which a bill is introduced”. How clever. In computer wizardness, “reading” is “the act of a computer extracting data from a storage medium”. Speaking of mediums, in divination “reading” can refer to any number of ways of predicting the future. Reading tea leaves, reading palms, reading other types of tropical trees, reading omens and reading cards.

Finally, “reading” is also a process, apparently. Again I consulted Wikipedia: “[Reading is a] cognitive process of decoding symbols to derive meaning from text”.

I have no idea what that means. I think I’ll find a book instead.

29 August 2010

Drabble Dare # 8

It is Sunday, and by now our Sunday posts should be a familiar drill. But just in case you're joining the party late, or perhaps you're just slow on the intake (not that any of our readers would be that, of course...) I have composed a quick exercise routine to remind y'all what you're here for today:

What do we want?

When do we want it?

By the end of Thursday, September (I can't believe it's September already!) 2nd!

How do we want it?

By email (theburrow360 at gmail.com), tagged with "Drabble Dare" in the subject field (and we won't shoot you if you also include you name/pen name, in case that isn't entirely obvious from your email address)!

Why do we want it?

Ah.... Now is not the time for existential questions...

What image do we want your drabble to be inspired by?

This one:

"Girl with parrot"from the Tuti-Nâma-Manuscript, 1585, Chester Beatty Library.

So, everyone, say it with me:

Send your drabble to theburrow360 at gmail.com by Thursday, midnight, GMT (you know, when Tursday turns into Friday in Britain)!!!

The winner will be announced at Saturday

Now stretch...

(Just don't do this...)

28 August 2010

Drabble Dare #7: RESULTS!!!

Welcome to this week's drabble results!!!

Because I am ME, and it is at my discretion (or digression, as the case may be), I am posting TWO winners today... One because it was perfect to the original meaning of the painting... shows a knowledge of the mythology and tells the tale that is supposed to go...

By Julia Kent

“Don’t look down son, keep your eyes above the horizon.  There is no need to fear, just follow my lead.  Nothing can hold us down on this earth, we will soar far above all others.  I will be a leader of men.  Stay by my side and remember what I have told you.”

My father mistakes my resentment as trepidation.  I focus on the horizon to avoid his gaze, not in agreement of his words.  He means to hold me back from my true destiny with his pithy rules.  I shall show him who is the true leader of men.

And the OTHER because it shows the perfect spirit of the Tart, and the Naked World Domination plans *tee hee*

By Maria Bratt

Don’t mind me; I’m just hiding in your bushes, looking in your windows. I like what you’ve done with the curtains, very fluttery. Why do you insist on baking at eleven-‘o-clock, shouldn’t that be done in the morning? I don’t mind, really, your new apron hardly does its job of protecting your delicate bits.

I am so glad a nudist moved into the neighborhood, it was so boring here before; nothing to look at but wrinkly men and old women past their prime.

Oops, was that a branch I just broke?

“Who are you?!”

 “Just your friendly neighborhood Peeping Tom?”

So congratulations, ladies!  Fabulous drabbles!

27 August 2010

The Sound of Music

Lordy! It’s already my turn for the motivational thingy again?!? I think this particular subject is the toughest one of all, especially for procrastinators like Yours Truly. Some days I am almost flying high on the Motivational Jet Plane, while other days I’m sinking faster than Titanic into the murky waters of the I’ll-Do-It-Another-Day ocean.

It’s really annoying, this motivational malarkey. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s a fabulously handy thing to have around, but when it’s not there you’re kind of screwed. And sometimes you need to be motivated just to get motivated, if you know what I mean, and quite frankly some days I need a kick up the butt just to get out of bed, never mind do anything that is the least productive.

Of course, this motivation thingy applies to anything and everything, not just writing, but seeing as this is supposed to be an informative and useful writer’s blog, I suppose I should probably try to stick to the subject at hand.

Which is motivation, in case that wasn’t obvious already....

Anyway, I’m probably the last person to ask for advice about pulling your finger out and using it (along with your other digits) to write that bestseller, but in a funny way I am probably also the best person too. Confuzzlegasted? I’m the worst because I can safely say that I am the least motivated Burrower in the history of the, er, Burrowers (which isn’t all that long now that I think about it, which kind of takes the point of the phrase away, but never mind), so it’s kind of like asking the Devil about feather boas and fishnet stockings (which, now that I think about it [I seem to be doing this a lot today, sorry] might not be that strange at all if he’s a kinky kind of Devil).

What was I talking about? Oh, yes – something about me being the worst and the best person all in one. So, as for me being one of the best people to consult when seeking motivational advice, I say this because although I’m notorious for slacking in the writing department, when I do get my Motivational Mojo flowing, I can type like the Devil himself (though not that kinky one with the feather boa and fishnets).

So on those rare occasions when I do get fired up, what were the triggers? What was it that gave me the push that was big enough to get me out of my writing slump? I don’t have many triggers, but there are one or two things that really help. I’m going to use an example from a recent(ish) writing ‘success’ for today’s blog (yes, I know it's a ramble and a half, but I do get there eventually).

Back in January 2009, I had been hearing the same song over and over on the radio for weeks on end (luckily I liked the darn thing or I would have gone doo-lally). I was re-reading the final Harry Potter book one day, and I happened to hear this particular song just as I was reading the chapter which detailed, through a series of flashbacks, the relationship between two peripheral characters. I didn’t really think anything of it, but when I went to bed later that night, my brain was humming the song and thinking of the characters from the book at the same time (I know, the fact that my brain did two things at once shocked me too *snort*). I don’t remember dreaming about it or anything, but when I awoke the following morning, I had a full story in my head and proceeded to write it over the next three days. Now this wasn’t a novel by any means, but it was 15k words, so not bad at all in my humble opinion.

It was the song that did it. Okay, the fact that I can get kind of obsessed with writing the history of Harry Potter characters that we know little about helps, but it was the song that pushed me into writing. I’ve always enjoyed using songs and their lyrics to inspire short stories, but it wasn’t until I wrote this particular story that I realised how powerful a tool music can be. Since then I have frequently used music as a motivational tool; whatever genre you are writing, there’s bound to be a music type to suit. Enya’s haunting voice was constantly in the background when I was writing my first ‘original’ novel (I really need to dig the CD collection out actually, because I still haven’t finished that particular story *shifty*), while when I was writing my NaNo novel last year, I had MTV Hits on in the background, which mostly played disco-y stuff at the time what with the festive season approaching and everything. This was absolutely perfect for getting into the head of my main character, who is sort of a funky modern-day Cinderella.

Yes, music could prove to be a distraction – I wouldn’t recommend blasting it till your windows shatter, for example – but the right music can really make a difference, and if you haven’t tried it already, then I highly recommend it. If it can help me, the Person Most Likely To Never Finish Her First Novel, then maybe it can help you too.

*Image courtesy of publicdomainpicturesdotnet

26 August 2010

Delusional Thursday- Was Lord Voldemort a Virgin?

You have heard us babbling about HPANA, haven't you? HPANA is where it all happened for us. What we were looking for when we stumbled onto the site, I do not know, but what we found was definitely not what we had been looking for. Because had we been looking for what we eventually found, we would not have been on HPANA in the first place.

Confused you enough? Maybe I should start again, and try and be at least marginally coherent. Unless I am mistaken, all of us joined HPANA either just before the release of Book 6 in the Harry Potter series, or soon after, and when we joined, we were looking for a place where we could read and discuss the latest theories and predictions on how the series would pan out. Pretty soon, however, we ran out of theories to discuss, but since we had made friends, we were reluctant to leave. HPANA then became a popular hang-out for the 'cool Harry Potter crowd'. We sat around sipping butterbeers, reading (and writing) fan-fiction, chatting, socialising, and holding short-story writing contests. Long before social networking became popular, HPANA was just that.

Once in awhile, to amuse ourselves, and to remind ourselves that HPANA was not just 'any site', but one devoted to Harry Potter, we threw out questions like - "Was Lord Voldemort a virgin?" The question could go either way - there is nothing in Harry Potter canon, either to suggest that Lord Voldemort was not a virgin, or to confirm that he was indeed one. Perhaps the only time virginity (or its lack thereof) could have come into focus was when Professor Quirrell sought to catch a unicorn in Book 1. According to unicorn legend, it takes a naked virgin to catch a unicorn. Professor Quirrell managed to catch the unicorn, ergo, he must be a naked virgin. There is, however, no evidence to suggest that he was not fully clothed at that point of time, so even if he was a virgin, he was not a naked virgin. How, then, could he have caught the unicorn? But Quirrell was not the only person around that night. Lord Voldemort was there too, and since he did not even have a corporeal form, it is safe to presume he must have been naked (you cannot put clothes on a body which doesn't exist, can you). Which means, if he was a virgin, he would also have been a naked virgin, and so he could have caught the unicorn.

Reason enough to conclude that Lord Voldemort was a virgin.

But considering I came up with this conclusive proof of Lord Voldemort's virginity only a few minutes back, you can be sure we spent many heated hours arguing about his virginity or lack thereof. Most people seemed to believe that Lord Voldemort must be a virgin, because (a) which woman would have him, (b) it was obvious that he has never known love in his life, and (c) he would not consider any woman a worthy recipient of the life-force of Salazar Slytherin.

While I continued to believe that Lord Voldemort would not want to risk losing control of himself by engaging in an act of sexual intercourse, none of those arguments appealed to me.

Argument (a) did not hold any water - by all accounts, Tom M. Riddle was a handsome youth, and even if he wasn't, he was the Head Boy and an exceptional student - unless the girls at Hogwarts are different from girls in other schools, they would be flinging themselves at Tom M. Riddle.

Argument (b) was the easiest to dismiss - since when has sex had anything to do with love? Lust maybe, but definitely not love.

Argument (c) called for a bit of psychology. While Lord Voldemort would not consider any woman worthy of him, he would have cheerfully procreated if he thought producing an heir would advance his cause. He would never trust any son of his, but producing or not producing a child would depend on the direction his plans for world domination took.

Clearly, though everything pointed towards Lord Voldemort being a virgin, there were no conclusive arguments to support that. But what if you flipped it around and assumed that Lord Voldemort was NOT a virgin. Under what circumstances could he have been enticed to fornicate with a woman? Would he have done so to advance his plans, or could he have been driven by a primal urge even he could not understand? What kind of woman would he have chosen as his sexual partner? A witch as powerful as himself, one with an uncontaminated bloodline, or, would a quirk of nature drive him to copulate with a lowly witch? Would he feel elated after the act, or would he be filled with self loathing? Would he do it once, and never again, or would he be driven to return again and again.

And what if the act resulted in procreation? Would he seek to destroy his young before it became more powerful than him, or would be bend the will of the child to suit his purposes? The questions refused to leave me, and I finally decided to exorcise the question of Lord Voldemort's virginity (or lack thereof) by putting it down as a story. The monthly short story challenge at that point of time required you to incorporate the line "how did you know to set breakfast for two?", a malfunctioning Remembrall, a swarm of ants, and a couple of other items I do not remember, and I chucked them all into the cauldron, and stirred it to come up with the story, 'Lady Roselyn's Riddle'. The story can be found here [the story has adult content, and by clicking on the link you are agreeing to proceed after having read the warning].

Whether you click on to read the story or not, you now know the extent to which our imaginations could stretch to accommodate the requirements of fan-fiction. Aren't you glad we switched to mainstream fiction instead?

And after reading the delusional ramblings from five years ago, if you want to guess the identity of her grandchildren, you are more than welcome to do so. When I wrote the story, I left enough clues to lead to four equally plausible contenders. I have my pet theory about which of them it actually is, but if you are a Harry Potter buff, I would love to have you guess.
Images - Unicorn, Tom M. Riddle

25 August 2010

Random Access Memory

Okay fine, so that's a computer term, but it's also how I frequently refer to my own bizarre memory bank and its jumbled contents. So I thought I'd turn the strange thing loose this week and see what comes spilling out. I guess that makes this part stream of consciousness, part memoir, part confessional, and part just plain weird. Ready? Yeah, me neither, so here goes:

So I've got these roommates, see, and they're pretty cool and all but sometimes I subject them to the horror that is my brain when the floodgates are open and all the barriers are down (translation: I say weird things when I have a few drinks). This means that I now sullenly bear the nickname "NS", which stands for (what else?) non sequitur, and for those of you who weren't paying attention in Latin 2, that's a passive construction in the third person singular and means "it doesn't follow". Or at least, it doesn't follow logically, which when you think about it is really not all that fun because while logic is terrifically necessary and I for one love logic problems (let me plug Raymond Smullyan here), no one ever came up with things like hand-knitted snails or the lumberjack song by thinking logically. Who says, "Okay, we've got this homicidal barber and we need to get out of it so how 'bout he does a musical number about cross-dressing in the woods?" when they're thinking logically? As a matter of fact, Palin and Jones came up with that one on a self-imposed this-thing-gets-20-more-minutes-and-then-we're-going-to-the-pub deadline (Palin told the story at an event I attended, so this is first-hand dirt!), which is one of the better kinds of deadlines you can have, if you ask me. Now, it was Douglas Adams who said something like "I love deadlines, I love the whooshing sound they make as they fly by", and it was also Adams (and Lloyd, but who's counting?) who came up with a definition for the formerly mostly-useless (if mostly harmless) town name of Shoeburyness that comes in extraordinarily handy when you sit down on the train and eurgh, it's still warm from the previous person's bottom, although honestly that only came up this morning, while the context from the other night's mad rant was in the toilet department. See, I had a couple of male roommates when I first moved to Boston, and we got so sick of one of them having such revolting aim that the other one dragged him off to teach him to pee sitting down. Glad I wasn't a fly on the wall for that one, although we DO have several flies on the wall here, which are stuck to the flystrips we got when the stupid insects decided to launch a field invasion. We also left a spider web alone, as the occupant was doing a lovely job catching the horrible things for us. No words in the web yet, so I suppose we don't have a Charlotte-descendant, which would have been rather nice if highly creepy - I mean, if I came into the dining room and found a web saying "Some Pig" in the corner of the window I'd probably be pretty worried, which the spider should be, actually, considering I have this fuzzy little bug-hunter who seems to take creepy-crawlies' existence as a personal insult, so he stalks and eats them pretty mercilessly. You'd think he'd have learnt his lesson after he ate a hornet a couple of years ago and it stung the inside of his mouth, leaving him all puffed up on one side and pretty darned uncomfortable, but the vet assured me that as long as he wasn't having any trouble breathing that he'd be just fine, so I breathed a great big sigh of relief and biffed off to go meet Jasper Fforde, who was in town promoting First Among Sequels, the Thursday Next novel that came out in 2007. Highly recommend his stuff, it's literary and wacky and alternative history and a tremendous lot of fun; interestingly enough, before he got published he worked as a focus puller (I'm still not totally sure what that is) on a bunch of films, including the excellent but slightly disturbing Quills, which stars Geoffrey Rush as the Marquis de Sade (you can guess where the "disturbing" comes from now). I first saw it in college, at the awesome theatre a few blocks from school that showed more "arty" fare (as a sampler, other films I saw there included Branagh's version of Hamlet, Shine {also starring Rush - he did lots of cool stuff before he hit the high seas as Captain Barbossa, y'know}, and a bunch of films in French that I can't remember the titles of now), though I can't remember with whom I attended that particular showing - those memory mists are flowing in and causing trouble now.

I could, of course, have gone off on a completely Australian tangent instead, since Rush is an Aussie, in fact I do believe he's the first Aussie to win an Oscar for playing an Aussie (that would be David Helfgott in the aforementioned Shine), and I was actually walking with an Aussie (that would be Briony, who has been referenced here before {check the Burrowictionary if you don't believe me}) when I saw the poster for the Fforde reading/signing - but I think I have scared you all enough with what comes boiling up out of the cross-wired collection of cells and synapses I call my brain.

Maybe I need another drink...

24 August 2010

Writers Write Words: Guest Post by Jan Morrison

The Burrow would like to welcome Jan Morrison today, as Chary is at Disney World (lucky her). Jan was one of my early blogging friends and is fabulous for keeping things in perspective. There are a lot of people who know great stuff, but Jan surpasses 'just knowledge' to impart a deeper wisdom. If you would like to hear more from Jan on Writing or Life in General, I invite you to follow her blogs. And now, without further ado, Welcome, Jan!

Writers Write Words

I am thrilled to have been asked to write a piece for Burrowers, Books and Balderdash. I imagine I fall under the Balderdash part of things. I like the word balderdash, which finds a home in my mind next to words like jaboney, nitwit, moolah, copasetic, do (as in an event) and bridge mix. Or phrases like the Queen of Sheba, old as Methuselah, sat below the salt and the bee’s knees.  They are words and phrases that were big in my early youth – the fifties - though they are really words that got going in earlier times. I still use them much to the amusement of my friends. I like ‘em. Feel free to use them if you don’t. You can’t imagine the pleasure of telling some bone-headed nitwit that he’s a jaboney when he cuts you off in traffic. His jaw will drop and your friends will laugh at you. Is that a bad thing?

I understand that it  is Writing Tuesday here at B,B & B. Writing is words, no? In the beginning was the word, according to the Bible. Words are important in all religions – the passing down of sacred texts, of stories, parables, myths, truths and even lineages. In the Middle Ages, poets were called ‘Makers’. We were considered to not only pass on the truth or the tale but create it. 

Words are our raw materials – like wood to a carpenter or clay to a potter. Everyone has access to these raw materials and many people use words in their professions – psychotherapists, lawyers, advertisers, hucksters, clergy and magicians. ‘Abracadabra they say – they put a spell on us with their words. Abracadabra is from the Aramaic phrase avra kehdabra, meaning “I will create as I speak”.  Now, like balderdash, it has come to mean ‘nonsense words’. Jeesh – how did that happen?

But for us writers - words are the ONLY tool. We don't use magic wands or juries or pulpits. We use words to put a spell on our readers and to create as we write.

Lately, a friend told me that her younger son at the age of four told her he was writing his grandma a letter. And that he did – one letter – I think it was ‘O’ – over and over again on a piece of paper.  He understood what he was doing no matter what we might think from our elevated state as adults.

Did you know that prescriptions used to be eaten? That’s right. The healer would write the magic healing words on a thin piece of paper and the sick person would ingest it!

Why am I telling you this? Because I want you to know if you’ve picked up the banner with the word ‘writer’ on it and draped it over yourself you have taken up a VERY important calling.  You have decided to join the legion of people who, with all intention or none at all, are creating the world. We  interpret what we see, tell again or for the first time, the things we think are important and use words which on their own are full of potency and power. We are being ‘makers’. Abracadabra indeed.

23 August 2010

Prophylactic Reading

At the risk of making her blush, I need to give credit to Helen Ginger for inspiring this topic with A Call For Young People to Read. You see, last week she posted this provocative link about READING and BRAIN FUNCTION. Specifically, the inverse relationship between reading and depression. Now if you don't follow Helen, you should. I'm not sure if she just reads all day every day or if she's mastered the search engines, but anything important that is going on in the world of publishing, any new resources for writing, and in this case new news about reading... Helen spots it and brings you the info, so all YOU have to do is follow her. That said... she may have inspired my direction today, but any Bizarro World Misattributing should be credited to yours truly.

So what can reading do for YOU?


The brain, strange as it may seem, is a MUSCLE. To keep our muscles from getting fat—to keep them in PRIME condition, we need to WORK them, yes? We've probably all heard the research on Alzheimer's being held at bay with daily cross-words, yes? This thought is along those lines. So what does reading actually EXERCISE in the brain?

Language skills

Well duh. Language is required to read. But more subtly... people who read have broader vocabularies because they are more regularly exposed to new words (or rarely used words)--we learn this in elementary school—figuring out what words we haven't seen mean by their context... you see a word a few times this way and suddenly it is part of your vocabulary. There is also the variation in cadence, the different ways a thing can be said... the mind stretching from the unexpected.


Reading requires a level of concentration to follow the story through... some books require more than others, but even the simplest tales require you to attend to them. Oh, I know... I am the girl who walks and reads... but walking just doesn't require that much attention.


Hey... THIS was on Oprah! You KNOW anything presented on Oprah is true! But a book requires you to remember what has happened as you follow the story through. It also prompts other memories and pulls them in for you to incorporate other things you know—giving each person a unique, rich experience. Books can provide information, too—give you information about any topic at all, and greater understanding makes things easier to remember.


Unlike television or movies, which provide us with visual, audio, and dramatic presentation of the story, a book provides a portion and requires the reader to provide the rest. It forces us to visualize characters and events ourselves... imagine the tonal quality. We need to draw on our our imaginations to make up the gap between what the author provides and what the story needs. It is an interactive activity.

But here is the Biggie... the one related to Helen's post...


This is totally groovy and was not something I'd ever heard before, but it makes some sense, intuitively. People with a singular focus are much more dependent on that single life domain for their happiness, and when that thing goes WRONG, they have nothing to fall back on. They are less resilient. READERS have an escape. There is a ready made 'somewhere else to go'--a way to get away. No matter how horrible the peers are, or how stressful the job, or how irritating the spouse and childings... the reading can take you away. Having an escape can be a powerful protection from all those things that can bring us down.

So I know I am preaching to the choir here, but get out there and READ!!!! It's good for your BRAIN!

22 August 2010

Drabble Dare #7

Hallo, fine peoples! We have reached Sunday once again, and it is time for another Drabble Dare! And it is Drabble Dare #7 and 7 is the most magical number, right? And because I can't help myself... and it is my turn, the painting is... you've got it... NAKED!!!

Icarus and Daedalus (attend to or ignore this information), painted by Lord Frederick Leighton, 1869 (apt, eh?)

So... (instructions mostly plagiarized from Leanne)

If you've forgotten the way this all works or are new to the challenge, here's a quick recap:

1) Look at the picture
2) Get inspired (for examples, check out some previous winners here and here)
3) Write a drabble (100 words, no more, no fewer - you can count them here)
4)Email it to us at theburrow360 (at) gmail (dot) com before the midnight GMT where Thursday becomes Friday - if your name or pen name isn't obvious from the email, please include it, as well as a link to your blog if you have one.
5)Jitter around like you're potty-dancing until we announce the winner on Saturday at noon GMT!

Come on... I know you want to... There is a NAKED MAN in the painting!!!

21 August 2010

Drabble Dare #6 - Results!

In case anyone forgot how things generally run around here, it's Saturday! And that means we have a new drabble winner! But if I just tell you who it is straight off, that really doesn't do much for the whole building-suspense thing, does it?
So anyway, this week's image was this lovely photo, taken on the Isle of Skye (which hangs out off the west coast of Scotland, for those of you who didn't feel like looking that up). It's a thoroughly beautiful place, it has its own quidditch team (Pride of Portree, for those of you who don't have Quidditch Through the Ages near at hand), and I went to school with a cellist who grew up there (her name was Eilidh, if anyone cares, and I've borrowed the name for a character in the WiP, about which I'm sure nobody cares).

All right, all right, enough dithering.

And the winner is...

Kassy Sheppard!

Fairy Glen

Peeking out between two blade-trees, I see that the Big Ones are climbing through The City again. Their feet crush my favorite cluster of blade-trees, and they knock away my favorite sitting rock on the highest ledge of The City. Why do they continue to blunder about—their wingless, graceless selves? Why do they insist upon disrupting my peaceful morning with their thunderous uneven steps? What if we erased the Blank Expanse they carved through the blade-trees? Would they leave us then, and never return to ruin our homes and disturb our morning flights? Would they ever leave… in peace?

Congrats! Stay tuned for tomorrow's new image (or really, just hit the reload button sometime after noon GMT, that'll do the trick).

20 August 2010

Motivational Friday: Distinguishing Miracles

"It was a miracle and we have to give thanks to God"

Thus spoke Pedro Gallardo, governor of San Andres, regarding the survival of 130 passengers and crew following the crash of a Boeing 737 on Monday.

To which I say: Dude, seriously? A miracle? From, like, God? Duuuude! The plane was brought down by a thunderstorm! It might have been struck by freaking lightning!

So you reckon God wanted to punish the airplane, but not the people inside? And he couldn't wait until it was on the ground and empty?


Now, before I mete out any more abuse, let me be clear on two things:

First, Gallardo was not speaking as a panic-stricken passenger who'd just survived the crash. He is a political figure. And the power wielded by politicians morally obligates them to use good critical thinking skills, even if some few (I dare say more than a few) fail to display them.

Second, by no means do I wish to denigrate the man's religious beliefs, only the lack of aforementioned critical thinking.

The passengers and crew had a bit of good luck, following on the heels of some very bad luck. But their survival depended on more than that: It was made possible by over a century of aviation technology; by an airplane body that cracked instead of disintegrating on impact; by seats, supports, and restraints that lessened the damage to their bodies; by the skill of the pilot; and by the rapid response of rescue crews who doused a fire, removed the passengers, and provided medical care.

For those who believe in a God (a question outside the scope of this particular blog post), you needn't restrain your gratitude. Thank Him for the bountiful Earth that makes these technologies possible; for the sturdiness of body to survive minor impacts; and, above all, for the powers of sense, reason, intellect, and choice that make such endeavors possible.

Common Amazing Achievements

Why do birds build nests?

I'll take a moment while you think of an answer.


I suspect you said (thought) something like this: "To provide a shelter for incubating eggs, so that chicks can be hatched and raised thus passing on the birds' genes."

Well, that's pretty much right. But now let's ask: Why motivates a bird to build a nest?

The answer to that one is, surprisingly, very different. It starts when a bird has found a mate (or reached a point of maturity combined with a favorable season, if it's the sort that builds a nest to attract one) and suddenly feels dissatisfaction with the general lack of a nest. This makes the bird want to find a good nesting site and put a twig there.

The twig placement produces satisfaction. All by itself. The bird has no idea that this is leading up to a nest, and not a clue in the world as to the function of DNA.

But with one twig in place comes the desire to add another.

And so on.

Okay, so how do I know this? Well, with apologies to any aviaphiles out there, birds aren't nearly as smart as we are, and it's quite evident that humans do the same thing. Our own survival does not depend on heavy long-term planning or an understanding of biology.

We collect stuff (that later becomes useful) because there is an immediate satisfaction to hoarding. We organize and tidy up our own "nest" (improving its long-term value) because it seems so much nicer that way. We store up fat reserves because fat is yummy. We develop social bonds because the process makes us happy. We reproduce because it feels good. We take care of babies because they're so darned cute.

And so on.

After all that, most of us have built up some kind of life that should seem like a miraculous achievement. Set aside the fact that you won't be getting a nobel prize for your DVD collection, or for getting along with your boss, or for potty-training the kid, and focus on the sheer magnitude of it all.

Imagine starting over. Or, better yet, imagine doing all of that without any immediate satisfaction: It's your job to spend 1000 hours playing with plastic dolls, 1000 hours in conversation with mannequins, and you have a list of 1000 (uninteresting) items that you have to purchase and carefully place in an empty apartment.

Impressed with yourself yet?

Extraordinary Amazing Achievements

The purpose of this post is not to help you delay gratification and work harder (but if does that, great). I want to warn you about a mental hurdle.

Or perhaps it's not a hurdle so much as a baby gate. It's something that God and/or nature (again, outside the scope of this post) has put in place to protect you from wasting resources on projects that pure instinct is not adequate to evaluate.

(image permissions)

Then the real mental tom-foolery happens when you consider the creation of a modern jetliner and your brain grasps for a superficial comparison-- like buying a ticket and getting on board. It tries to count the steps involved using short-term memory. After all, this is adequate for the latter action (buying a ticket). But it's completely unsuitable for the former. So it seems like a miracle.

Thankfully, we've also been given (idem/eadem) the cognitive tools to make a critical evaluation and jump the virtual gate. Maybe you can't build a jetliner all by yourself, but you certainly can write a novel, finish medical school, or even become a millionaire. In fact, the magnitude (if not the planned focus) of your life's accomplishments thus far probably exceed the necessary effort several times over. Just don't compare it to doing your laundry.

"From now on we'll live in a world where man has walked on the Moon. It's not a miracle, we just decided to go."
- Apollo Astronaut Jim Lovell

19 August 2010

Delusional Thursdays: A Concise History

I was going to start this post with a shocking revelation: our blog schedule. That’s right. We have a blog schedule. We are not seven authors who just happen to synchronize perfectly, like ants or Apple products.

As exciting as it sounds to start with a shocking revelation, though, I changed my mind halfway through (I’ll give you a hint where I changed my mind, in case you’re interested).

The reason I changed my mind about how to start this post is because a) the revelation is not all that shocking. It has never really been a secret. After all, we do have labels where our schedule is prominently displayed (just check out the label cloud in the sidebar here). We also usually mention the topic of the day in our posts. Also, b), Tara and I had something of a mind melt this week – she posted almost exactly the opening I meant to post in yesterdays (brilliant) post. Oh, well.

Reading Monday and Writing Tuesday are self-explanatory, I think. Tara covered Random Wednesday yesterday. Motivational Friday will have to be experienced (check back in tomorrow to see what Jason has to offer on the subject). Delusional Thursday, however, have a history.

Delusional Thursdays originated in the HPANA era. Several of us were part of a hard core Harry Potter theorizing group where straying was not allowed. A little straying was nonetheless achieved, but the only officially recognized non-canon discussions took place on Thursdays. Thursdays were the days when no theory was too crazy. This was when you could suggest that Harry Potter was not a wizard; he was an alien. Or you could claim that Professor McGonagall was Hermione’s grandmother. Or that Snape once washed with permanent shampoo so that he never really needed a bath ever since. (Actually, that last one was probably too delusional even for a Thursday.)

Anyway, the point is that many of our best theories were born on Thursdays. When we went outside the box, wrung our brains to come up with silly and half crazy ideas based on random details from the books, we formulated the most hilarious (though rarely the most accurate) theories.

I believe this is also often the case with writing. Sometimes it is okay to be delusional because it allows us to put into words ideas that otherwise might be discarded as ridiculous. I’m fairly sure JK Rowling herself more than once wondered if she was being delusional in thinking that she could actually get away with writing seven several hundred page long children’s books about a kid whose dead parents were famous wizards. Similarly, I think many other successful authors have (or should have) felt the same. I have put together a selection of authors I suspect one time or another thought to themselves “Have I lost my marbles or can I really write this?”:

Stephen King. As if high school wasn’t delusional enough without telekinesis…

JRR Tolkien. Inventing a world inhabited by elves, dwarves, and tiny people with hairy feet. Not delusional at all…

Virginia Woolf. Did she know when she started writing about Mrs Dalloway’s efforts to plan a party that it one day would be considered an important work in world literature?

H.G. Wells. Sure. Not only are there aliens out there – they are evil and about to invade the Earth!

Dante. Oh, yes, write a book about travels in Hell. That’s got to be popular!

So yes, sometimes it goes a long way to be a little delusional.

(This is where I changed my mind regarding the beginning of this post. No, I am not delusional. This really is halfway through. Because when I realized I had to change the intro of the post I had to go back all the way to the first paragraph, didn’t I? So the end really is halfway through. So there).

18 August 2010

It's Random, Jim, But Not As We Know It.

One of the best things about writing for this blog is that every day has a specific subject that all contributors have to adhere to. For someone like me, who dithers about everything and everything, including which subject to blog about on her personal blog, this should be perfect, yes?

Sometimes it is, don't get me wrong - Delusional Thursdays could have been invented for me, for example - but sometimes I struggle. I was almost suckered when I was due to write the Reading Monday post last week, but at the last minute I thought of something. Today's 'subject', being a Wednesday, is 'random'. Now this should be perfect for me seeing as every single post on my own blog could probably be termed as 'random' (on a good day, that is, mostly they are generally insane), but I was (and still am, to be truthful) more than a little stumped. I thought I had a brainwave yesterday (which, as you'll be reading this on Wednesday, is technically the day before yesterday, as I am typing this on Tuesday, which is now the real yesterday, as opposed to the yesterday that I first mentioned) afternoon, but instead of getting my butt on the chair and typing, I procrastinated (as per normal) and ended up leaving it. I still had time, after all, seeing as the blog was not due to be posted until Wednesday, right? Only I work every Wednesday and Thursday morning and am out of the house between 5am and 11am, so writing a blog and having it ready to post by noon is just not happening.

Anywho, getting back to the subject (what was it again? Oh yes, random), I had a couple of ideas this morning. Hurrah! First I thought I'd use the subject literally, and write about what random actually means. But then I realised that I would have to take the subject quite seriously if I wanted to explain it properly, and 'me' and 'serious' aren't usually two words you'd find in the same sentence.

Then I thought I'd use my trusty friend Mr. Google, and type 'random' in the search bar. There's bound to be plenty of stuff to blog about after a Google search, yes? *rolls eyes at self* Only I didn't really find anything that caught my eye, and picking a random 'random' was not really, well, random, after all, so it didn't feel right anyway.

And that's when it hit me. Random rarely is random.

Ask someone to say something random, and you'll probably get either a shrug accompanied with a blank stare, or a few seconds of silence while the person in question tries to think of something incredibly witty to say. Neither response is random now, is it? Sure, there might be one or two random responses in every ten, but mostly the answers are about as far from random as you can get.

I oversee a fanfiction awards thread on a Harry Potter fansite, and every month there is a 'Random Pick of the Month', but strictly speaking, the pick isn't random at all. I have a system of sorts that I use when choosing the 'random' pick; I make sure I pick something from the back pages of the forum that perhaps hasn't been read for a while and needs the advertising, then I make sure that the story hasn't been voted for that month (again because I like to use the random pick to highlight something that needs the spotlight), then I check previous listings to make sure that the story hasn't been a random pick too recently, and lastly I make sure that the story is in fact a story, and not a collection of short fictions/one shots. By the time I've done all this, I'm not left with many stories to choose from, so while I try to be as random as possible (I close my eyes and hover the cursor up and down a page and stop when I feel like it), I end up discarding a few choices every month because they don't fit my system.  So the 'Random Pick' is really the 'The Story That Is Really Good That Hasn't Been Voted For This Month And Fits Tara's Wonky System Pick Of The Month', but that's not as spiffy sounding as 'Random Pick' now, is it?

Random just doesn't really work for me, I guess. It's exactly the same as when someone says 'don't think of an elephant', and immediately you of course think of an elephant. It's just not happening. Random will never be random when you are given time to think. I could have blogged about any subject in the world, but it wouldn't have been random because I would have consciously chosen the topic.

Instead I chose to ramble, which, if you stretched it a little, could be termed as random anyway. And in the interests of trying to stay on the subject of randomness, I propose a little challenge. When you get to the end of this post (if my blathering hasn't completely scared you off, that is), go to the comments section and type the first thing that comes into you head. The very first thing, mind you, so no trying to think of something awe-inspiring or hysterically funny. The very first thing.

Go on, I dare you.

Image courtesy of public-domain-imagesdotcom

17 August 2010

Nowhere Man

When I was young, I had a ruler which had the image of a hilly landscape in broad daylight. If you tilted the ruler slightly, the image was replaced by another of the same landscape at night. I still do not know what those multiple images are called, but I remember spending many hours holding the card up at various angles to determine if I could find a third image hidden somewhere.

When I grew a little older, I overheard Atticus Finch tell his kids- "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view - until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." After I digested that, things were never the same again. Trying to see things from the point of view of the other person helped me understand why they did what they did- I may not have found it in me to love them despite what they did, but it definitely helped me accept things.

Naturally, therefore, when I started writing, and discovered my fondness for the short story, I automatically gravitated towards multiple PoVs (Points of View).

"Taxi!" I yelled with my arm raised high. Hailing a cab in Midtown during rush hour is definitely ill-advised. I walked to the next corner. It begins to rain. I mumble about meteorologists and faulty forecasts and it dawned on me that I forgot the holy grail in business- my flashdrive with the PowerPoint presentation needed for the meeting. Thank God for cell phones.
"Mandy, bring my flash drive to 39th and Park. I don't care how you do it. . . Yes, I know the meeting is in fifteen minutes. Just get it to me. Now!" Time for a new assistant.

I should have been indulging in some retail therapy at Barneys. Instead I am stuck in this stupid midtown rush.
I deserved the morning off. Was in office till midnight formatting graphs, standardising the presentation. "See you in office at eight", she said stepping into her cab as I legged it to the subway station.
Couldn't she have gone directly to the client's office? Can't she forgo the coffee from the office vending machine even once?
"Bring my flash drive to...", she trilled just as I was stepping out. Inconsiderate, forgetful bitch.
Time to look for a new job.

With two people, the equation was simple -
2 people x 1 incident = 2 stories

It was when you increased the number of characters that the equations started to get more complicated -
3 people x 1 incident = 6 stories
4 people x 1 incident - 12 stories
n people x 1 incident = n x (n-1) stories

A loves B, B loves C, A and C are friends.
Regardless of the ultimate conclusion, this, the most formulaistic story ever written, would be totally different depending on whether it was told from the PoV of A, B, C, or a fourth character outside the main triangle.

Iain Pears used multiple PoVs to good effect in his 1998 historical mystery, An Instance of the Fingerpost, where the story unfolds through the contradictory narrative of four unreliable witnesses.

Would To Kill a Mockingbird have been as effective a story, had Harper Lee chosen not to tell the story from the PoV of a child?

To me, one of the most fun parts of planning a story is deciding which PoV to use. What about you- which PoV do you use? To you tell a story from the PoV of any of the protagonists, or do you choose someone watching from the fringes?

Painting - Midtown Rush, Paul Kenton- courtesy Washington Green

Title taken from the song of the same name by The Beatles- "...doesn't have a point of view, knows not where he's going to..."

Both stories are drabbles - an extremely short story told in exactly 100 words.

16 August 2010


There are many things in this world that I enjoy doing - climbing trees, for example, or sleeping late or drinking raspberry hot chocolate. But, like many other people (I'd assume), when I can combine a few of my favourite activities, that's one of the things I find to be best of all. So since two of the items that take up sizable slices on the pie graph of how-I-spend-my-time are "reading" and "knitting", that little subgenre sometimes called KnitLit is one I visit over and over again. This list is by no means an exhaustive one (I've got at least seven more titles on my shelves that I haven't gotten to yet...), but it's enough to give you an idea of what's lurking out there in the overlap between books and yarn!

There has been a veritable explosion of crafty topics in the cozy mystery genre in recent years, some of which have staying power (knitting!) and some that just make you go "Huh?!?" (gourd crafting {I only wish I were joking}). My favourite series of knitting mysteries is by Maggie Sefton (who blogs over at Cozy Chicks) and is set in the Colorado Rockies. Kelly is an accountant who lands back in CO after time spent in DC when she inherits a house from her aunt. She soon becomes a regular at the yarn shop across the street, and over the course of the series (so far) she's tackled investigations as varied as a dye-vat drowning and shenanigans on alpaca farms. The characters are fun, ranging from a lawyer with a bottomless pit for a stomach to a retired cop who loves to spin on the men's side, while the women cover the ground from grandmotherly to party girl and hit just about everything else in between; the knitting details are accurate (oh, and there are patterns and recipes at the end!); and as usual with cozies, there's a notable absence of strong language and on-stage sex. As an indication of the popularity of this series, its last few entries have arrived in hardcover prior to their release in mass market paperback, not always a given with this genre.

A newer series, but one that I'm enjoying so far, is the Seaside Knitters by Sally Goldenbaum, which is set on the North Shore of Massachusetts. The knitting crew here is the usual cross-generational mix, the small-town setting and feel are quite cozy indeed, and they're good whodunnits, too. Definitely a quick read (I flew through nearly the entire second book while killing time at the luthier's {hey, I am the ViolaNut, after all...}), and something I would enthusiastically recommend for those summer days when it's just too darn hot to be playing with wool but you're okay reading about it - in fact, I hand-sold a copy to someone when I was at a bookstore I don't even work at!

The third entry on the list is, I'm afraid, a negative one. Anne Canadeo's two mysteries (While My Pretty One Knits and Knit, Purl, Die) fail on nearly all fronts - knitting details are inaccurate (i.e. you don't "roll" yarn, you wind it), it's set in a fictional Cape Cod town that does not ring true to this fourth-generation native, and (the real death-knell) both were far too easy to solve - I had the first one worked out with 150 pages to go, while with the second I not only pegged the killer prior to the murder, but the revelation of the true identity of another character, meant to be a major twist, I'd twigged to the moment she appeared on the page. No fun at all. Skip these.

Moving into mainstream fiction, a major hit in paperback for the last few years has been Kate Jacobs' The Friday Night Knitting Club. I was a bit surprised when not one, but two sequels appeared, due to the ending of the original (which I'm not about to tell you, since I'm vehemently anti-spoiler!), but it was very nice to get to visit with these knitters again. Set mainly in New York City (though with several side-trips, including Scotland {woo hoo!} and Italy), you get to know a very diverse bunch of ladies (and a guy or two) and actually care about what happens to this one's marriage, that one's baby quest, the other one's business venture... I'm glad I read it before it got "big", as I usually skip those out of sheer cussedness, since it's thoroughly enjoyable despite the fact that it's not always upbeat.

Knitting Under the Influence by Claire LaZebnick is less well-known, but rather a lot of fun nonetheless. Three women bond over knitting while dealing with such diverse personal issues as celebrity-starlet twin sisters or a severely autistic brother; it's definitely "chick lit", but so what? There are the usual romantic entanglements, some highly amusing doses of California culture, and plenty of the title activity (which I don't always recommend, since you can end up frogging everything the next day when you look at your work sober {frogging, by the way, is knit-speak for pulling out your work - because you "rip it, rip it, rip it"}).

Hopping sideways into non-fiction, we find gems like Sweater Quest by Adrienne Martini. In one fell swoop of knitting chutzpah, Martini decided to knit a Starmore pattern. Not just any Starmore, but Mary Tudor. Here's the deal with Starmore - she's a Scot, she's a genius, and she's notorious for being very, very, VERY protective of her designs. Fair enough, but it's awfully hard to see a stunningly gorgeous photograph of a sweater that is an absolute work of art and fall in love with it and just HAVE to knit one - only to discover that the pattern book is out of print and, oh yeah, all the yarn is discontinued too. So Martini's quest begins with tracking down those important ingredients (gotta love eBay), and the tale continues through her year of working this amazingly intricate design while still attempting to have a life (with kids and cats and husband and things like that). It's a testament to perseverance, and well-written, too. (And I own two copies of Starmore's Fisherman Sweaters, so if you want to buy one off me, leave a comment. ;-) )

And then there is Stephanie Pearl-McPhee (a.k.a. the Yarn Harlot), who rules supreme over the world of knitting humour. Don't you dare say, "No such thing," 'cause believe me, anyone who's ever been lied to by the Gauge Goddess, attempted the above-mentioned knitting under the influence, or slaved over a baby sweater that's four sizes too small by the time you finish it, not because you goofed up but because the "infant" is now in preschool because you took so long - you will laugh until the guy across from you on the train gets up and moves (errrrm... or maybe that's just me). Some things are more Knitter-specific (the frustration of trying to get matching socks from self-striping yarn, needing just a few more yards to finish a bind-off), while some are just as relevant to a non-yarn-addicted audience (racing to finish presents before Xmas, trying to find something, anything, that will appeal to a 14-year-old girl who's too cool for everything). The link is to her long-running blog, and if you don't check it out, you'll miss a big laugh. Trust me.

I would be seriously remiss if I left out Elizabeth Zimmerman, the Grande Dame of all things knitterly and creator of such classic weirdness as the Baby Surprise Jacket. Her books (though instructional), especially Knitting Without Tears, are not so much patterns as narratives; rarely do you find the dry "K2, K2tog, YO" kinds of directions here (for any non-knitters who have made it this far, that translates to "Knit 2, knit 2 together, yarn over"), and though you may have started reading intending only to discover the secret to knitting a seamless bottom-up raglan, by the end you will have learned about her English childhood, her German motorcycle-riding husband, her children (daughter Meg is carrying on where her mother left off) and grandchildren and a funny little converted schoolhouse. She's the grandma we all want around when we've just miscounted a lace pattern 3 times in a row or the dog runs off with the sleeve you were about to join onto the body of your sweater.

Once you become a Knitter (note the capital "K" there), you start noticing it everywhere (especially on 12 June, Worldwide Knit in Public Day! Consider yourselves warned) - for example, there are heaps of knitters in the Harry Potter series, including Mrs. Weasley, Hermione, Dobby, and Hagrid (and who could forget Dumbledore's offhand "I do love knitting patterns" {which quote is on the cover of my pattern binder}). Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson very quickly meets "Three Old Ladies [who] Knit the Socks of Death", while where would good old Miss Marple be without her knitting, contemplating the most brutal and horrific violence while placidly clicking away at a bonnet for her latest godchild. Madame Lafarge and her secret messages, Claire Fraser reinventing circular knitting needles pre-American Revolution, and the multitudes of women and girls churning out socks during the World Wars - really, it's no surprise that knitting and writing go together so well, as both build up a greater work from small repetitive units (stitches and letters, respectively). So grab a book and cast on - though you may want the audio version in order to keep your hands free!

15 August 2010

Drabble Dare #6

It's Sunday again, so you know what that means! Time for our new Drabble Dare image!

Climbing the Glen Stone (Fairy Glen, Isle of Skye, Scotland)

Photo: Emily Gaudier (a.k.a. my similiarly Scot-obsessed roommate here in Boston, who's also really good at this whole taking-pictures thing)

If you've forgotten the way this all works or are new to the challenge, here's a quick recap:
1) Look at the picture
2) Get inspired (for examples, check out some previous winners here and here)
3) Write a drabble (100 words, no more, no fewer - you can count them here)
4) Email it to us at theburrow360 (at) gmail dot com before Thursday at midnight GMT (you know, we've been saying that but I think it's really Friday... hmm...) - if your name or pen name isn't obvious from the email, please include it, as well as a link to your blog if you have one.
5) Jitter around like you're potty-dancing until we announce the winner on Saturday at noon GMT!

Good luck everyone! We're looking forward to seeing what you lovely creative people have to share this week! Oh, and by the way, just because you've won in the past doesn't mean you can't win again, so all former winners are hereby formally invited to have another go at it.

What, you're still reading? Go write!

14 August 2010

Drabble Dare #5 - results.

Hello everyone! It’s Saturday again (I know, they come around really quick, don’t they?), and that means it’s time for the results of this week’s Drabble Dare. This week’s image was a scene depicting a noted Briton called Samuel Pepys. Pepys is famous for the diaries that he kept for around ten years in the second half of the seventeenth century. A member of parliament, his recollections are an important source of information for that period in British history. He not only covered his personal life, but gave details on several key events including the Great Plague of London and the Great Fire of London. It was his connection with the written word that helped me to decide which image to use for the challenge.

Anywho, enough rambling, it’s time to announce the winner of this week’s Drabble Dare! Capturing the historical mood beautifully, and giving us a detailed (if brief) history of the depicted characters, this week’s winning drabble is a perfect little ditty of one hundred words. Without further ado, here is the drabble:

Image: Pepys and Lady Batten
Artist: John Digman Wingfield
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Hoping her own wasn’t trembling, she took the man’s hand. Gentlemanly he was, or so he carried himself before her father. His chivalrous demeanor impressed her, but his personality remained a mystery. The unknown waited for her at the end of the journey to her gentleman’s land.

Her recent marriage to this mysterious foreigner brought vast wealth to her family, allowing her father to travel, increasing his clients, and her sister to receive the medical treatment she needed. The benefits far outweighed her fears. For the love of her family, she continued on her journey.

She didn’t once look back.

Congratulations to Rosemarie Connolly! If you would like to read more from Rosemarie’s hand, you can find her blog here. And don’t forget to tune in tomorrow for the next Drabble Dare!

13 August 2010

Motivational Friday: What's my motivation?

When designated to write about this topic, I could only think of the Pepsi commercial where a group of individuals are acting out a sketch. At the end of the ad, one actor stops, comes out of character and looks to the others saying, "What's my motivation?" Although the ad is hilarious, it brings up a very real issue that is prevalent throughout every creative professional's career. What is my motivation? Some techniques that help me get motivated are as follows:
  1. Set some goals and stick to them. The best way to motivate oneself is to be consistent and determined to write.
  2. Designate a time of day that is set aside for writing. For Hart, it is the bath in the evening. For myself, it is after 9:00 pm as my children are in bed and am less likely to be interrupted with the incessant "Mom, Mommy, Mami, etc."
  3. An easy way to set aside a block of time for writing is by using a timer, set for an hour and then take a break when the hour is done (get a snack, stretch, walk around, etc.). Once break time is over, get back to writing.
  4. Read magazines, news articles or blogs on writing. These often will give very useful tips on how to not only motivate yourself but your peers as well.
  5. If monotony is the problem, change something. Change location, writing habits, switch to a different pen or try writing in a notebook instead of a computer or laptop.
  6. Try to remove all distractions. My bane is Facebook Bejeweled Blitz. For you it may be the phone or any site on the internet (the omnipresent procrastinating tool).
  7. Make outlines and create deadlines for the project. This will keep you on track and the outlines are especially useful during those times of writer's block.
  8. When all else fails, be like the Nike ad: JUST DO IT! Take a couple of deep breaths and just write. Do a free write (in the classroom we call this a quick write) where you jot down anything that comes to mind, whether it has to do with your work in progress or not. Just write.

What are some techniques that work for you? We, at the Burrow, definitely want to know "What's your motivation?"

First Image courtesy of : Teacher's Education

Second Image courtesy of: Sticking the Boot In