Friday, July 2, 2010

Where I write

Inspired by the divine, charming, elegantly foul-mouthed Rejectionist, whose industry blog I read religiously, today I describe for you my writing space, where I toil day after day breaking records in Bejeweled Blitz writing for your education and entertainment. This is my main desk area, which I present to you in its cleanest, most organized state. I must admit it only looks this pristine maybe two weeks out of the year:

It's very nice: printer and supplies to my right, along with a window to the outside world where I can watch birdies on my finch feeder (or even better, watch my kitties watch the birdies). File cabinet, cameras, and media supplies to my left, and plenty of room to spread out research folders, books, and miscellaneous scraps of paper listing other things to be done. [edited to add: I am a bad daughter. Please note the very nice "I Heart CATS" cross-stitch my mom slaved over. See it above the desk, where Hearted Cats usually knock it out of alignment?] Plus, I have books!
The short bookshelf is Boy's (he reads!), while the tall one is for the grownups. The bottom shelves contain many of the reference books I've edited, along with reference books I use. The middle shelf has oversize map books (my husband's), while the middle shelves hold frequently-read or on-my-list-to-read-next-no-really books. Oh, plus stuff that accumulates on the floor in the endless cycle of "I'll clean it up and put it away later." I don't mind the floor clutter, it makes my mind clutter less alarming. You might have noticed the cat artwork:

The tiger on the left is by the fabulously talented Heidi Woodward Sheffield, a Michigan artist I met through SCBWI. I acquired this print at a conference by hovering over the silent auction table, staring daggers at anyone who got too close to the auction paper. The acrylic painting on the right is from San Francisco-area artist Mary Delave. I found this little gem ("Mouse Dreams") on a trip to the area in 2000. I was enchanted with it and hemmed and hawed and finally splurged. (It wasn't horribly expensive, but since I already had plenty of feline art it felt indulgent.) I never get tired of the bright colors and wild images, even when revision gets me down. Take a closer look:
Oh, the "plenty of feline art"? On the wall next to my desk. Clockwise from the top we have a Steinlen print from a museum, a E. N. Downard print acquired at an antiquarian bookshop in Canterbury, a Foujita print (also from a museum), and a lithograph by an artist named Carl Hoffner that I got at the Ann Arbor Art Fair probably 20 years ago.
And the final, most recently added element of my workspace? This essential item, a kitty condo that makes my workspace more efficient, for instead of leaning over and falling out of my chair to pet Clio or Gigi (this is, after all, my primary function, just ask them), I need only stretch out my hand:
[Edited to add once more: I am a horrible, horrible daughter. See the other lovely cat cross-stitch above the lamp? Isn't it nice my mom made it for me even though I'm so ungrateful?] So there you have it, everything my little writer's mind needs to work, think about working, or avoid working.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

2010 Book Report: Second Quarter

It's been a busy year, with lots of writing assignments. Will I be able to hit the magic 100-book mark this year? I need to read an average of two books a week, and fell a week behind last quarter. Let's see if I managed to make it up during the second quarter.

Key: C: Children's; F: Fantasy; H: Historical; Hr: Horror; M: Mystery; MG: Middle Grade (ages 8-12); NF: Nonfiction; P: Poetry; SF: Science Fiction; SS: Short Stories; V: Verse novel; YA: Young Adult (age 13+); *not in the last ten years at least; ^read for work.

04/09/10: Jane Austen, Mansfield Park (classic, 3 or 4)
04/10/10: Joan Aiken, Mansfield Revisited (H, 1)
04/12/10: Caroll Spinney, The Wisdom of Big Bird^ (memoir, 1)
04/19/10: Joan Aiken, The Youngest Miss Ward (H, 1)
04/24/10: Naomi Novik, Victory of Eagles (F, 1)
04/24/10: Cory Doctorow, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (SF, 1)
04/25/10: Walter Dean Myers, Scorpions (MG, 1)
04/26/10: Orson Scott Card, Ender's Game (SF, 10+)
04/29/10: Card, Ender in Exile (SF, 1)
04/30/10: Jane Gillespie, Ladysmead (H, 1)
05/02/10: Jacqueline Woodson, Hush (MG, 1)
05/03/10: Card, Speaker for the Dead (SF, 10+)
05/03/10: Woodson, After Tupac and D Foster (MG, 1)
05/08/10: Victor Gordon, Mrs. Rushworth (H, 1)
05/11/10: Woodson, The House You Pass on the Way (YA, 1)
05/13/10: Robert Cormier, The Rag and Bone Shop (YA, 1)
05/17/10: Alison Bechdel, Fun Home (graphic memoir, 1)
05/29/10: Judith Terry, Version and Diversion (H, 1)
05/30/10: Michael Grant, Gone (YA, SF, 1)
06/10/10: Jennifer Donnelly, Revolution (YA, 1)
06/13/10: Laurie Halse Anderson, Wintergirls (YA, 1)
06/18/10: Cory Doctorow, Little Brother (YA, SF, 1)
06/23/10: J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye (classic, 1)
06/26/10: Frank Portman, King Dork (YA, 1)
06/27/10: Carrie Bebris, The Matters at Mansfield (H, M, 1)
06/30/10: Melina Marchetta, Finnikin of the Rock (YA, F, 1)

Whew! I made up a little bit of ground, reading 26 books this quarter, making a total of 49 for the year. Of those 26:

23 I read for the first time
11 were middle-grade or young adult
8 were sci fi or fantasy
7 were Austen or Austen-related

And what was my favorite new read of the quarter? Well, I found Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir Fun Home fascinating and haunting, and Laurie Halse Anderson's Wintergirls confirmed to me what an astounding writer she is ... but I think my favorite book these past three months was Jennifer Donelly's Revolution, a young adult novel that somehow mixes a modern girl's angsty issues with the French Revolution and totally rocks it. When you read a book and you finish it with utter satisfaction and yet a bit of surprise, you keep thinking about it for days afterward, and you pick up one of the author's other books next time you're at the bookstore, then you know you really liked it. I'd recommend it to you, but unfortunately you won't be able to read it until this fall; I am special and got an advanced readers' copy from the publisher, because I'm attending a seminar conducted by the book's editor.

Will that seminar (at the end of this month) keep me from catching up on my reading allotment next quarter? Or will my well-deserved, long-delayed break from writing assignments give me a chance to speed ahead? Check back in three months to find out.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Janespotting: Mansfield Park (2007 TV film)

So after a dull, overly faithful miniseries and a wild, horribly adapted feature film, how would PBS's recent "Masterpiece" adaptation of Mansfield Park perform? I was intrigued when I saw that it featured Billie Piper as Fanny Price, and not necessarily in a good way: I first knew of her as a manufactured teenybopper singer who was popular while we were living in London from 1998-2002; later, however, she did a great job as Companion Rose Tyler in the new Doctor Who's early seasons, although since the character had a broad working-class London accent I wondered how well she would portray a lady of the early 19th century. I also wondered how the film would condense the novel into a mere 90 minutes.

Turns out, pretty well. The film got straight to the point, having Fanny narrate the story of how she arrived at Mansfield Park (and fell in love with Edmund) during the first 2 minutes of opening credits. By 6 minutes in we were introduced to the Crawfords, and by 15 minutes in we were in the midst of the play. The first half hour wasn't even over and Maria was married and sent away on her honeymoon with Julia. While this might seem overly speedy, the first half hour hits all the essential points: Fanny is underappreciated, Edmund is her friend, Maria is a flirt, the Crawfords are intriguing, the play is naughty. (And this version, unlike the miniseries at 3½ times the length, took a few seconds to explain exactly why.)

As a reward for this rushed setup, we get a half hour devoted to Henry Crawford's pursuit of Fanny (including a picnic in place of the ball), and her steadfast refusals. In a major change from the original novel, this film doesn't send Fanny back to her family in Portsmouth; instead, she is left alone at Mansfield while the Bertrams and Mrs. Norris visit a distant relative. I've read some reviewers cavil about this change, claiming that it doesn't give Fanny a chance to consider how her refusal of Crawford may consign her to a life of relative poverty. But I think that's a minor quibble; the whole point of Fanny's character is not that she is swayed by financial concerns—the trip to Portsmouth doesn't change her mind, after all—but that she has come to consider Mansfield Park her home and its inhabitants her real family. Absenting everyone from the Park serves that purpose just as well, and it saves the time (and expense) of introducing a new setting and characters.

So if we have half an hour for the initial setup and half an hour for Crawford's pursuit, what's in the last half hour? As it turns out, a really nice romantic payoff. Tom is returned home in dire straits, the rest of the family becomes appreciative of Fanny, Mary Crawford makes a crass remark about Edmund inheriting, Maria runs away with Henry, and then we get 15 wonderfully romantic minutes of Edmund realizing he is in love with Fanny and finally declaring himself. Edmund, being a bit more shy than the average Austen hero, needs a little nudge to assist him; in this case it is supplied by Lady Bertram, who encourages them to spend a little time alone together, walking the Park grounds. (Jemma Redgrave—yes, one of those Redgraves, Colin's daughter—presents Lady Bertram as somewhat on the ball, a welcome change from the usual ditzy portrayals.) Words of love are exchanged, a wedding ensues; finally, a filmmaker who takes advantage of Austen's reticence to give us something that approaches a classic Austenish romantic denouement.

That's not to say there weren't some flaws; it did skim a lot of the events in the novel (no trip to Sotherton, no trip to Portsmouth) and gave short shrift to Mrs. Norris, one of Austen's nastiest villains. Fanny Price was styled like a country girl, with her hair loose, which wouldn't have been proper for the time period even if she was a poor relation. However, the cast was uniformly excellent: Blake Ritson (later to play Mr. Elton in the 2009 Emma) made an appropriately reticent Edmund; Michelle Ryan (star of the brief Bionic Woman remake) is the first Maria I've seen who really looked as well as acted the part of a sexy flirt; and Hailey Atwell is the best Mary Crawford I've seen yet, at first charming and flirtatious with just a hint of unsavory character, later gradually revealed. And Billie Piper? Although she may be a little too beautiful to play Fanny Price, even with the country styling making her more unfashionable than her cousins, she hit the right notes of steadfastness and shyness, and successfully allowed us to see Fanny's inner turmoil. All in all, although purists might quibble, I found this a good film adaptation that got to the heart of the story despite its shorter length. I'd recommend it to anyone looking for a decent historical romance.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Photo of the Week--6/28/10

No pigeons in the South of France, either, although you do find the occasional castle in a really strange place. This is Montségur, a lovely ruined fortress atop a 3000-foot hill in Langedoc, north of the Pyrenees Mountains. And yes, we did walk up to the castle atop the hill, where we found not pigeons (they are too lazy), but lots of little lizards, sunning themselves on the rock. You can tell this picture was taken before we went up the hill, because we are still smiling. Although Montségur is mentioned as a candidate for the Holy Grail castle, we were not assaulted by flying cows and poultry as we made the ascent; however, it was a long and tiring walk and we were not able to smile again until several lizards made an appearance.