Fire and Ice

opal

                                              — image from Wikimedia Commons

I have always had a passion for learning and the curiosity to match. It’s amazing how little I know about English poetry so this summer I have started on a self-improvement kick, studying one famous poem each month. This month I have chosen “Opal” by poet Amy Lowell:

Opal

You are ice and fire,

The touch of you burns my hands like snow.

You are cold and flame.

You are the crimson of amaryllis,

The silver of moon-touched begonias.

When I am with you,

My heart is a frozen pond

Gleaming with agitated torches.

It’s obvious by the end of this poem that Lowell is talking about more than an opal, she’s writing about love and desire. Her vivid visual images work in opposites–cold and flame, fire and ice, a frozen pond and burning torches. Fire and ice are a simple but powerful contrast and opal, a gemstone with rainbowlike inclusions, fits the poet’s purpose exactly. The frozen pond gleaming with torches evokes the thought of a frozen heart warmed and melted by the lover’s presence and his touch.

A good poem vibrates long after the verses have been read and admired. How much of fire and ice were there in my past relationships? Could there have been more? I wonder what I would want if ever I had another love relationship, and whether my significant other would feel the same.

What poem will I choose next month? I haven’t decided, but you know what? I am really ignorant about famous painters. If I can read a poem a month, surely I could study one painting a month too, or maybe take up a second language, or learn the clarinet…what do you mean it’s time to go to work? I don’t have time to go to work! There’s too much cool stuff waiting for me to learn…

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Perfect Pizza!

PerfectPizza_SM

Available now on Amazon: Perfect Pizza and Other Low Carb Delights

 

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Choices

 

1024px-Toothpaste

— image from Wikimedia Commons

I stood in front of the display, trying to clear my mind. Tartar control? Cavity protection? Whitening formula? Mouthwash crystals? Baking soda? Tea tree oil?

“May I help you?” said a clerk at my elbow.

“I’m looking for toothpaste.”

“We’ve got it.”

“Yes,” I replied uncertainly. “I see that.”

“What are you looking for? Tartar control? Cavity protection? Whitening…”

I zoned out and didn’t follow the rest of her spiel. After her mouth stopped moving I grabbed a red and white box, walked up to the counter, and paid. It was fluoride-fortified whitening gel-striped minty cinnamon organic fresh toothpaste but I no longer cared. All I wanted was toothpaste.

I’m not confused by multitudes of choices in general. Just buying toothpaste, and maybe athletic shoes. Something that doesn’t confuse me, has a million choices, and that I can spend hours or days choosing is character names. Choosing character names for a short story or a book sounds like a trivial detail, but the wrong name choice can grate on a reader’s nerves like a faucet dripping in the middle of the quiet night, or that one mosquito in your bedroom that you can never catch.

I can’t just grab any old name and say, that’s the one. It has to have just the right ring to it, and it has to be a good fit. Does the name sound too much like another character’s name? Three main characters named Nathan, Nathaniel, and Nancy sound potentially confusing and repetitive. Do the names reflect the time period the book or story is set in? Dorcas, Tamsin, and Bildad are good names but also instantly recognizable as from Colonial America, just as Flavius and Domitia are from ancient Roman times. Addison and Jaden would set the stage for modern times, but don’t feel right if the author was writing about the 1970s. Do the first names sound good with the surnames? Does the feeling behind the name fit the character? I take my time and mull over these questions until I find the answers. Just toothpaste, but not just any name. It takes time, and care, and love.

Do other writers go through this process in naming their characters? Probably not all, but I’m sure some do. Are their books or stories any better for agonizing over their name choices? Again, probably not. But that’s how I roll.

PS: Let’s bring back Lavinia. I love that name so much.

 

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My first Goodreads giveaway

fireworks

(fireworks image from Desktop Nexus)

My first Goodreads giveaway is in progress starting today. Stop by Goodreads and get a free copy of my novel Unearthly: Goodreads giveaway for Unearthly

Please leave a review, if you would like to, at Goodreads or on Amazon.  This giveaway will continue until June 22.

I hope you enjoy reading this book as much as I enjoyed writing it.

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I reddit Last Night

robin

— picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

After YouTube, reddit has to be the greatest time waster in the world. Whenever I am trying to fix an awkward place in my first draft, reddit comes to my recue. It’s probably the most effective tool in my box of procrastinators. I love it.

Whenever I get on reddit, there is no such thing as “just five minutes.” I will read thread upon thread until five in the morning and never notice the time until the pure liquid chirping from the robin who lives in the bush below my window tells me that dawn is breaking and my alarm will be going off in half an hour.

What’s so special about reddit, you ask. It’s true that most of the posts are about pretty ordinary stuff: “Look at my cute baby/puppy or kitten/what I knitted today/my co-worker’s screwup/the weird insect I found at the park.” Sometimes, though, a post can be deep or profound, revealing some serious personal issue or an observation on people and life. A few areas of reddit I stay away from because they show a dark side of human nature I’d just as soon not know more about. And sometimes a random post will be so abysmally dumb that the scathing replies it generates are really amusing. But the best part of reddit, the place I love to hang out at, is Ask Reddit.

Ask Reddit is the place where people can openly ask, well, literally almost anything, and anybody can post an answer. As with reddit generally, Ask Reddit is a mixed bag. Some questions are ordinary, some are offbeat, sexually oriented or even socially unacceptable, some are fascinating and insightful, and some are just…really, really stupid. All those questions are interesting to read, but what I find the most entertaining is when redditors start riffing off each other’s replies. When posters build upon and add to each others’ posts a thread can soon become hysterically funny, and it just keeps on going.

Here is an example of a profound thread:

What fact did you learn too late in life?

This is an offbeat thread (warning, disgusting content):

What is the worst smell you’ve ever encountered?

Another fascinating thread (warning, graphic content):

What is an animal that is not more afraid of you than you are of it?

And here are two threads that got funny quickly (warming, inappropriate content):

When was a time when you had to hold in laughter, and failed?

Reddit, which word(s) do you always struggle to pronounce correctly?

(Seriously, I live for threads like these!)

I don’t post in reddit myself. I don’t even have an account there, because I couldn’t possibly compete with the quick wit of many of the redditors there. But is reading funny stories about people’s worst bosses worth losing a good night’s sleep over? To me, yes. Yes it is. So I merrily read my threads, muffle my laughter in a pillow so as not to wake anyone else, and slide into bed guiltily as I hit the snooze button on my alarm.

 

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Spring Break

No, not an enthusiastic post about the excitement of spring break in general, but an announcement about a spring break of my own. Due to various writing-related activities I will be taking a short break from posting in here, and will return in May.  For this month’s entry, here is an image I found on Desktop Nexus of a wonderful jumble of spring flowers. Enjoy!

daisies and mums

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Falling to Pieces

Old_book_bindings Wikimedia Commons

–photograph taken from Wikimedia Commons

One recent Saturday afternoon I settled down in an easy chair with a stack of saltine crackers, a glass of orange juice, and an old friend, the friend being one of my favorite novels. When I opened it, however, the binding cracked like stale peanut brittle. Pages sailed out and hit the floor like giant flakes in a literary snowstorm. Horrified, I reached for another novel and found that it, too, was on the verge of giving up the ghost. At that point I put my crackers aside, checked my bookshelves, and found several more favorites that were barely clinging to life. I had literally read these books to pieces.

A (partial) roll call of the dead:

Not Without My Daughter by Betty Mahmoody, the true story of a woman and her daughter forced by her then-husband to live in his native Iran, where her rights as a woman became basically non-existent. Her efforts to survive and her dash for freedom with her young daughter make for a very exciting read.

The Wanderer by Fanny Burney, an oldie but goodie, as I dearly love 18th century melodrama. I sympathize with the heroine’s struggles, and I also find it an interesting study of the confining gender roles prevalent in English society at that time.

The Dark Descent edited by David Hartwell, one of the finest horror anthologies I’ve ever read. Many of the greatest names in horror fiction have stories in there including Michael Shea’s “The Autopsy”,  Karl Edward Wagner’s “Sticks”, and “How Love Came to Professor Guildea” by Robert Hichens, to name just a couple. I am very sorry to lose this book, and this is probably the first book that I will replace when my book-buying budget permits.

Sometimes I go into denial about what I want to preserve. Among the books that have traveled at my side since my girlhood is one box of original Weird Tales magazines. I have read them in the past, but I don’t dare even open that box any more because those ancient and eldritch mags will disintegrate at the first touch of fresh air, so those precious issues remain safely tucked in their box, where they are of no use to anyone at all.

I will buy replacements for my much-loved books. Used copies for sale are often as fragile as my originals, so I will buy modern reprints where I can find them. I know it’s what’s inside that counts the most, but I will miss the old covers anyway. Some people will tell me, why don’t you get the digital editions? I could, but I won’t. I want the smell, the feel, the look of that book when first I discovered it and added it to my collection of old friends.

Remember that old Irish blessing, “May the road rise up to meet you, may wind be always at your back…?” Well, I have come up with a blessing for the book fiends among us: May the bindings on all your books remain intact and flexible, may your pages never splinter and your covers stay strong. May all our favorite books live forever!

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