Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Thank You

At the end of Women's History Month, I raise my glass to all the men who have been here, too. Where would we be without you? After all, we're all needed here, eh? Women's History Month isn't about negating men: it's about celebrating women. While the gentlemen who congregate here likely have no difficulty doing just that, they should realise that they are rather exceptional in that regard. Too many men are frightened by strong women. So here's a thank you card for being such lovely gents. We appreciate you!

The Lovely Ladies

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Meme: The Ten Books That Most Influenced Me

Via Patti Abbot's blog (and a bunch of others) AKA a swift post as I rush through last minute things:

Alice in Wonderland: the book of my life, the set me up for a lifetime of absurdity and nonsense -- and wonder;

Mary Poppins: ditto -- the books have little to do with the wretchedly painful Disney version (of COURSE), but I read ALL of them; magic without the twee fluff;

Shrieks at Midnight: gave me a taste for the macabre at a very young age, which has never changed either;

Beowulf: read with Njal's Saga in Stephen Mitchell's course and literally changed my life -- grad school, academia, a whole new level of writing inspired;

The Books of Blood: fearless imagination, bold writing, horror inside out;

Lucky Jim: One of the first books that both touched on my love/hate relationship with academia and made me laugh so hard that I cried;

The Bloody Chamber: Fearless writing, grotesque and beautiful, infinitely inspiring;

Pride and Prejudice: The genius, sheer genius of her observation, the rapier intensity of her wit, the horrible weight of her knowledge;

Waiting for Godot: hilarious and painfully sad, not a wasted word in the text, the ultimate in efficient writing;

The Dagenham Dialogues: funniest damn thing ever; that they live on the page without the impeccable delivery of Cook and Moore is miraculous wonder.

In half an hour, I would give totally different answers, but at this moment, with these things sifting around my brain and writing furiously, these are the ones...

Monday, March 29, 2010

My Fabulous Friends

In the middle of a manic Monday (as usual) -- no, the conference paper isn't done; no, the book proposal isn't ready; no, I haven't done whatever it is I promised you that I would do for sure by today -- so in lieu of the film review I had hoped to write, I'll tell you a few things you ought to go see, like:

BitchBuzz's 20 Brilliant Fictional Women

The Queen of Everything's latest reviews

Miss Wendy's birdwatching

Elena's comics

CMKempe interviewing and being interviewed

Adele's trip to World Horror

The latest chapter of The Mangrove Legacy

And the source of the above photo...

Just look at all those links under "Friends"! I know lots of exciting people doing interesting things. Go see what they're up to -- and feel free to post what you're up to as well. I give you license to share the wealth -- tell us all what fascinating things you're doing!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Punch Magazine predicts Lady Gaga... in 1929!

Yes, now it can be told! My tireless research has turned up a fascinating artifact from the past. Okay, when I say "tireless research," I actually mean "something I stumbled across because I have weird reading habits." Over Xmas break, I wrote a story set in Jazz Age London. I thought I should do a little research on those wild times beyond movies and Waugh, so I got Bright Young People out of the library and read a bit in it. However, I discovered that once the story was finished, I was less engaged with the research and the book languished. Finding it was due back, I hurriedly flipped through to get a sense of what else might be there, should I revisit the period for another story (quite possible).

Imagine my surprise when the name "Lady Gaga" arrested my vision. Tyler refers to a spoof of the wild parties in Punch, called "The Dull Young People" (of course!) where an intrepid journo tries to get the inside story on the fabled bon vivantes. After looking in vain on the web, I managed to get a copy of the April 24, 1929 article via interlibrary loan (I ♥ ILL!):

"It was terribly difficult to get you a card," said Lady Gaga as she steered me dexterously in her pink two-seater through the mazes of the after-theatre traffic; "but, my dear, I got away with it. I told them you write for the papers."

The narrator has been promised the chance to meet up with Bright Young luminaries like "Bobo and Bats" otherwise known as the Honourable Batsine Belfry and her husband. It's a wild night of cross-dressing ("a massive maiden in a cavalry officer's mess-kit, whom everybody addressed as 'Colonel,' and next to her a fresh-faced lad dressed as a bride"), drinking rum and calling everything, "simply super!"

Predictably, the narrator is not impressed by Lady Gaga's demi-monde, which includes the requisite "obese American" as well as a jazz band. He fails to join in with the escapades and the bright young things give him the cold shoulder, which he returns, having "not observed any indication of brilliance or originality" in their "mild dare-devilry and self-conscious dissipation." He last glimpses Lady Gaga "sitting on the floor (strewn with cigarette-ends), her arm round the waist of a young heavy-weight in horn-rims, dressed as a baby...listening to a hollow-eyed girl in a ballet-skirt and a man's opera hat who was singing a mournful song with the refrain, 'It's terribly thrill-ing to be wicked...'"

Sounds like a perfect plan for the next Lady Gaga video!

Meanwhile, I'm busy busy busy. Off to St. Louis next week for PCA with Miss Wendy (and a couple of my grad students) and then down to New Mexico to see my folks. Already in planning stages for promoting this summer when the new edition of Pelzmantel comes out from Immanion. Look at the nifty giant cover for Unikirja: it's actually a lawn sign from Vistaprint, home of promo printing materials (thanks, Stella, my genius cheap-PR guru). I can't wait to get one for Pelz -- the first draft of the new cover is gorgeous!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

BitchBuzz: Havin' a Larf

My column this week at BitchBuzz delves into the particularly terrifying notion of... FUNNY WOMEN! Why is it that funny women are so intimidating? [waves hand in the air wildly, waiting to be called upon] Humour is a weapon as well as amusement. Angry women scare people (hence the inevitable "Come on, smile!" if you are not wearing a disarming grin 24/7).

Daisy Goodwin made headlines this past week when she complained, "There's not been much wit and not much joy, there's a lot of grimness out there," when referring to the Orange prize long list.

Apparently the novels submitted contained a lot of misery and rape; Goodwin concluded, "Pleasure seems to have become a rather neglected element in publishing."

Predictably, there was some hand-wringing about the unfunniness of women, which the Guardian quickly addressed via Jean Hannah Edelstein's piece placing the blame squarely on the publishers who do not submit those funny books for prizes. Underneath there is the whole undervaluing of comedy. As tragedian Edmund Kean's dying words supposedly attest, dying is easy but comedy hard. So why don't we value it more?

While it's easy to make people cry -- advertisers seem to be able to manage it constantly via the use of puppies, kittens and old people -- laughter remains a challenge. Sitcoms last long past their expiry dates because people are willing to support shows that were once funny but have since become moribund, tedious and even offensive. Marginally funny programs are hailed as works of genius...

Read the rest at BBHQ -- after all, I quote from Henri Bergson. What more do you need?! I so want to see "Lizzie & Sarah"! Sigh. It looks to be as disturbing as "Nighty Night" which was brilliant. Julia Davis is amazing.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ada Lovelace Day: Sarah Goode

It's Ada Lovelace Day again: time to celebrate women in science and technology. Perhaps influenced by all the historical research going on around me, I wanted to find a woman at least as far back as the 19th century, so I decided to focus on Sarah E. Goode, who was not only an early inventor but one of the first African-American women to secure a patent. Although born a slave in 1850, after the war she went north and became an entrepreneur. While living in Chicago and running her own furniture store, she came up with an idea for the Cabinet Bed, a folding bed that doubled as a writing desk when not in use. Ingenious!

Goode submitted her idea and was granted a patent on July 14, 1885 (Patent #322,177, for a cabinet bed). There are some discrepancies in the records of the times -- was there more than one Sarah Goode? Did the details get mixed up between two different ones? It's difficult to be sure: but one of those Sarahs was the inventor of this inspiring mechanical piece that doubtless sold well in her store to all those city dwellers pressed for space.

Have you got a story about a woman in science and technology to share?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Isabel Roman: Behind the Power

The first fascinating fact is that Isabel Roman is actually two people (but what a lovely portrait!); the second, I suppose is that I've only met one of them, but she's the one who's they have written this piece for today. Isabel writes historical romances and has the background to do so convincingly -- not to mention the skills to also do so entertainingly. If you'd like a steamy romp through history, I recommend you pick up some of her Dark Desires of the Druids series.

Throughout history, very often women have been relegated to second-class status. There was no voice for women in politics and in many instances, not even outside their own house. Even in progressive societies such as Rome, the Greek city-states, and Egypt where a handful of women obtained certain status, for the most part their voice was not official.

The notable exceptions can be easily counted, including but limited to: Cleopatra, Boudicca, Nefertiti, Zenobia of Palmyra, Artemisia of Halicarnassus, Elizabeth I of England, Catherine the Great of Russia, and Catherine de’ Medici of France.

Beyond these notable examples, women have had to, and often successfully, finessed their power behind the scenes. How? Skill, courage, and a touch (or more than) of seduction. Not to mention strategic planning. I’d hazard to say women in history were more skilled because much like Ginger Rogers to Fred Astaire, they had to do it backwards and in heels.

Women used their wits and wiles to obtain what power they could wield. When they did manage to obtain that power, we have examples like Catherine the Great. She was a woman who came from a small German Principality and brilliantly manipulated her way to becoming Empress of all the Russias. Or Catherine de’ Medici. She was the forgotten wife to Henri II of France. His mistress, Diane de Poitiers, held the position Catherine longed for—the true Queen of France and the love of Henri II.

Their story is similar to many women who’ve obtained the status they desired, albeit not quite so grand. And while women are not considered the threat of a similarly placed male rival, they are usually far more formidable.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Had it with you, Simpsons

All right, it's been bugging me for at least this whole season and maybe a little longer: the misogynous thread that's crept into The Simpsons. Yeah, the show that once trumpeted stories like Lisa Lionheart and Marge going round the bend because of the stress of her family's unreasonable demands, has not had a show lately that didn't feature some moment of head-jerking anti-feminism. I've skipped more and more episodes because of it. Like the recently rerun Pranks and Greens episode, where Bart discovers he pales in comparison to a super-pranker in the past. Bart asks who he is and Skinner says, "Who said it's a he?" After Bart's stunned, "Huh?!" Skinner tells him nah, it's a guy, of course, and they both laugh at the absurdity of thinking it might have been a girl.

Last night's episode capped it for me. While the B story about Lisa getting popular when she receives an F and featuring Angela Bassett as Michele Obama made a feeble attempt to prop up the "girls can do anything!" message that was once key to the series, the main story had to do with a poorly written cameo by Sarah Silverman as a girl Bart kisses and whose parents threaten to sue the school. The "character" is simply defined by the way she capriciously jerks Bart back and forth between affection and scorn. But as the final lines of the show proclaim, that's just the way women are.

It's sad to see this happen to a show that was once groundbreaking. Enjoy your "poor men are just victims of wily women" scripts, guys. Seems I'm not the only one giving up on the show (even though it's miles better at its worst than anything from craptacular Seth McFarlane).

Why can't I be seeing Lizzie & Sarah?!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Alessandra Bava: In Quest of Poetry

I want to introduce you all to a very special friend, my jester nonpareil, Alessandra: Translator, scholar, poet, insightful reader, bon vivant, fount of sprezzatura. I can't wait until we meet face to face at last when I visit Rome this summer (all too briefly!). She tells us about one of her favourite spots in her city, one I'm sure a lot of you will love, too.

In quest of poetry...
...when in Rome.

Those who have been fortunate enough to visit the Eternal city have certainly found themselves reading , deciphering, questioning, interpreting , admiring and eventually falling under the spell of its breathtaking beauties. As no other city in the world, Rome may be compared to an immortal poet who -- over the course of the millennia -- has been very busy penning probably the most spectacular of all poems on its unparalleled monuments and dipping the nib in deep, rich hues, such as pink and ochre. A native to this spectacular city, I myself cannot help being seduced on a daily basis by the ethereal grace and the poetical nature of the places that surround me.

Given my love for poetry, I would like to introduce you to one of the most poetical places that this city holds in her very heart. A place full of wonders. A sort of secret garden which invites people to spend one's time absorbed in deep contemplation and reveries. Many will probably fret at my choice, since it is the least roman -- not to mention the fact that it is also the least catholic -- of all the monuments. Some would probably not even consider it as a monument in its own right. But, despite all, this cannot be helped: the Protestant Cemetery of Rome is the one that holds such a special place in my heart, so much so as to make it my absolute favourite spot.

You may wonder why a cemetery could be deemed by any roman as the very epitome of charm and poetry. Well then, you will have to allow me to be your guide to this place, so that you may be able to see it -- albeit fleetingly -- through my very eyes.

No other cemetery in the world that I have ever visited inspires such a sense of infinite peace, hope and awe. In the august shade of the Pyramid of Cestius, amidst cypress pines, myrtle and laurel, wild roses and flaming camellias, 4,000 men and women of all races and nations, languages and ages sleep their final sleep here together. And among them, two of the most gifted English Romantic poets, John Keats and Percy B. Shelley.

The very spot where John Keats rests is perhaps the most beautiful of the whole cemetery. The rich meadow that surrounds it is dotted by very few tombs and roman ruins. At the backdrop, the shape of the pyramid lies still as if guarding it. The 27-year-old poet, as he was dying of consumption, in the small palazzo close to the Spanish Steps, would question his dear painter friend Severn as to how the place where he was to be buried looked like. The answer had seemed most appealing to his ears, upon learning that the very place was rich with grass and flowers, including innumerable violets. Approaching his tomb, we can now rest our eyes on the engraved epitaph: "This grave contains all that was mortal of a young English poet, who, on his death-bed, in the bitterness of his heart at the malicious power of his enemies, desired these words to be engraved on his tombstone : ‘Here lies one whose name was writ in water.’" Fame and life are fleeting like the powerful words that Keats himself chose. This might explain the reason why he did not want his name to leave a trace anywhere including his own gravestone.

Following the path that leads back to the monumental area of the cemetery and skirting the pyramid, one is greeted by the merry presence of the many roman felines that have chosen this place as their abode. As we walk uphill, along the walls through a narrow passageway, our eyes will remain bedazzled by the impressive weeping angel carved by sculptor William Wetmore for his own and his beloved wife's tomb. A few steps further still and on the left , we won't fail to notice a white tombstone shaded by a giant statuesque pine tree which reads "Percy Bysshe Shelley COR CORDIUM" followed by a Shakespearean quote from The Tempest: "Nothing of him that doth fade/But doth suffer a sea-change/Into something rich and strange.” The ashes of the "heart of hearts,” drowned in the Gulf of La Spezia at the age of thirty, rest here. The poetical words pronounced by Ariel do touch the heart. Shelley's fame and fate resound like an echo in those words.

Just in front of Shelley's grave is the tomb of another poet so deeply in love with Shelley's work as to desire to be buried close to him. Gregory Corso -- the American Beat poet -- sleeps his final sleep beneath a tombstone bearing a most moving epitaph: "Spirit is Life it flows thru the death of me endlessly like a river unafraid of becoming the sea.”

Many lovely afternoons have I spent here wandering in the sun, in the shade, or simply sitting on a bench reading verses. The grace of this place, with its austere or beautifully decorated tombs bearing angels and statues of all kinds and shapes, brightened by the singing birds, the flutter of butterflies, the intense hyacinths or the dozing cats, is unique. Many a time have I whispered here John Donne's powerful words: "Death thou shalt die.” Indeed so. Because poetry will live eternally, carved on the tombstones and in the hearts -- now ashes -- of the poets that rest in this place forever and ever.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

BitchBuzz: The Girls' Guide to Rocking

My latest column for BitchBuzz is a review of a book that I sooooooo wish I had when I was a teen, though it's incredibly useful even now. I just want to see an explosion of girl bands after The Runaways movie opens tomorrow (oh yes, I am so going to be in the audience at the first show!). Buy this book for a girl you know!

When The Runaways movie opens this Friday, girls across the globe will doubtless be inspired to start their own bands like those plucky gals back in the 1970s (oh god, let's hope they don't bring back the fashions).

Fortunately, those girls have an excellent guide to make that impulse a reality. With a pull quote from Joan Jett on its cover, The Girls' Guide to Rocking asserts its authenticity, which it lives up to in the accessible yet detailed information inside.

Where was this book when I was a teen?! Jessica Hopper knows of what she speaks and has assembled an astute guide to everything you need to know in order to make the dream of being a rock-n-roll star real. The book is gorgeously designed with (green not pink, hurrah!) sidebars with photos of rock stars (many, but not all of them, women) and inspiring pull quotes as well as checklists for the various topics. It's written in lively and direct prose that will engage a young reader, though she'll probably flip around a lot to find what she needs at any given moment...

Read the rest at BBHQ and really, buy a copy!

I'm in the midst of a non-stop week of events and tasks: the days are just packed. Much writing to do, more mundane work as well, and only the same amount of time in which to do it. On the plus side, I saw a draft of the new cover for Pelzmantel by artist Ruby that just made me swoon with delight. Ruby designs the most of the covers for Storm's books, so she was my first choice. Hurrah! I'm so excited for the June release, but there is much to get done before then, including the essay on medieval magic. It's coming along, but I've been working on it piecemeal, so I need to sit down with it and make sure it's actually coherent.

It takes all the running I can do just to stay in the same place these days...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Old Boys Club

We had a panel discussion on campus last night about negotiating the Catholic heritage of the institution, founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondolet as a college for women (who still make up the majority of the student body). Most of the audience last night, too, were women. The panel, however, was entirely made up of men. My department chair, Kate, was the first to bring this up at the end, which I applauded. But I was struck by the comment one of the panelists made that, "It's just part of a conversation we [a fellow panelist] have been having for years."

I used to think the "old boy's network" was insidious and deliberate. Some may be, but I learned over the years that largely they're just like that: friendships. At heart it's a good thing: you help out your friends, you work with your friends, you share with your friends. It's a natural enough impulse. That's the way that this kind of thing gets going, for example on Twitter where people like @Glinner and @serafinowicz and @edgarwright all help publicize each other not as a deliberate marketing ploy, but simply because they're pals.

The problem, of course, is that few men are friends with women in the same way. I think it's changing (I hope it is!) and there are always exceptions (I have a lot of male friends), but certainly in the past men were often not comfortable being friends with women because of the potential problem of sex (if he wanted it and she didn't, or he didn't and she did, etc.). In the past -- and in current films -- women existed only as sex and not as people (<-- feminism: the radical notion that women are people). I kind of hope that the very boring trend of "father" centered films is a last gasp of that mind set. Maybe we can move beyond the pervasiveness of the old boy network.

But even if they're not deliberate or insidious, the effects are. I often tell people about my moment at a meeting of the Joint Committee on the Status of Women at the Harvard Medical and Dental Schools, seated at a conference table in Countway Library when our chair asked, "How can we make the atmosphere more welcoming to women?" I looked around the dark paneled room, where we were surrounded by oil paintings of the old patriarchs of the medical school and I just laughed.

What starts as friendship often ends in compromise: as a writer I'm thinking of anthologies filled with stories from drinking buddies even if they're not particularly good. I also think of Comedy Central, where the old boy network reigns supreme, even with very untalented people -- girls are okay if they're pretty. It's difficult to dismantle the system, because it springs from a good thing, friendship. But dismantle it, we must.

C'mon -- let's all be friends!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Happy St. Urho Day!

As the delightful flaming grasshopper (courtesy of the fabulous Stephanie Johnson AKA The Queen of Everything) indicates, today is St. Urho Day when we commemorate the famous Finnish leader who chased the grasshoppers from the vineyards with the cry,

“Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen!”

[Roughly, "Grasshopper, grasshopper, hie thee to hell!"]

Don't forget to load up on Grasshopper Hellfire merchandise from the Raven and Wombat Tea Party! And let's not hear any murmurings about the authenticity of this saint or his holiday -- take my word as a Finn and wear your purple and green proudly!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Todd Mason: Bandits

My buddy Todd has this fabulous write up on the girl rock band movie Bandits which made me order it from a certain river-named on-line vendor immediately (you can, too!).

If the Go-Go's were the Beach Boys of post/punk all-women rock bands of the early '80s, and the Bangs/Bangles were the Byrds, it took a while for the Monkees correspondent to come along...but they did, with Katja von Garnier's 1997 film Bandits (not to be confused with the later, somewhat less good Bruce Willis vehicle). A German film, ineptly promoted upon its 1999 US release despite a glowing New York Times review by Lawrence Van Gelder and apparently grossing something like $25,000 nationally here, it was a smash in Europe, where the soundtrack album reportedly became the bestselling in European history, ahead of the Beatles' albums, or anyone else's, in that market (the first-year figure is usually given as 750,000 copies).

The film involves a prison band, in a women's facility rife with casual brutality from some of the staff, while some (with some overlap) pride themselves on their progressive attitudes toward reform. The quartet, with a new drummer whose first days at the prison we follow, are trotted out to a Policeman's Ball as show ponies, but they are harassed beyond tolerance by the guards on the way over, and they manage to steal the police van before they are delivered to the ball. Meanwhile, Luna, the somewhat bullying primary songwriter and guitarist of the band (played by Jasmin Tabatabai, who here is almost a dead ringer for Selma Blair, perhaps a bit more muscular), has submitted demos of their songs to various record companies, and while they are on the lam, one of the companies releases their demo recordings as an album, which does very well with the attendant publicity. Von Garnier and Uwe Wilhelm's script resembles both Thelma and Louise and The Monkees' various productions (and, of course, the Beatles' before them) in being comic with both surreal and somewhat seriously desperate edges, and the songs the band performs, or can be heard having performed at various points in the film, reflect this admirably.

Tabatabai, who would go on to collaborate musically with von Garnier on her next project, HBO's English-language feminist historical drama Iron Jawed Angels, and star in such notable productions as Unveiled, was well established as both musician and actor before coming to Bandits, as were two of the other principals, Katja Riemann (who plays the taciturn, sharp-witted Emma) and Nicolette Krebitz (who plays the essentially sweet-natured, rather insecure Angel). All three women sing on the recordings of songs they in various combinations wrote (along with a number of cover versions), but only Tabatabai plays her instrument (rather as with guitarist Roger McGuinn on the earliest Byrds' releases, or the early Monkees releases) for the soundtrack recording. However, Riemann and Krebitz were competent enough on drums and bass respectively to tour in support of the soundtrack album as Bandits.

Read the rest at his fabulously detailed book/film/music review blog, Sweet Freedom.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


Lovely Ganesh, remover of obstacles (and wearer of leis and Mardi Gras beads).

Sorry! Busy busy busy -- last night was the Women's History Month concert put together by my fabulous colleague Yvonne Hansbrough and featuring colleagues Young Kim and David Bebe as well as Jamecyn Morey, who all played music by women composers, including Éizabeth Claude-Jacquet de la Guerre, Hilary Tann, Clara Schumann, Rebecca Clarke and Cécile Chaminade. It was magical! Thanks to everyone who turned out, especially Jenise and Cate and my students.

It's hectic this month (when is it not, I know I know) and I have a conference at the end of it. Somehow it will all come together, right?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Adele AKA Hagelrat: Why People Don't Read

Adele is the fabulous hostess of Unbound, a lively book blog that covers a broad swath of authors (yes, I was recently a guest there myself!). She's also pretty darn funny and an astute reviewer. As her post shows, she's passionate about sharing the flame of reading.

Our awesome hostess has invited me to come and talk about something that matters to me about books. So that was easy really, it matters to me that people read. So I thought I'd take a quick look at some of the barriers to reading generally.

First and foremost the simple ability to read. I worked in young offender institutes briefly when I first left uni and the psychologist in one of those YOI's told me that in that particular one only 19% of the kids were educated to primary level or above. These are 16 - 18 year olds who cannot read or write to the same level as six year old. Add to that that in the UK when I was small dyslexia was a middle class excuse for stupid and few people could afford to get their dyslexic kids an appropriate education. The attitude to learning difficulties has improved massively over the last 30 years but there are plenty of people in the UK right now of every age who simply cannot read. They therefore do not have access to the quiet pleasure of written stories. Many of them have never had the joy of being read to either so the whole world of non visual story telling is lost to them. When you think of how fundamental story telling is to us as a species, part of our identity, our moral code, the offer of adventure and experience beyond what we can hope to actually have for ourselves and illiteracy is a huge tragedy and the loss of part of our social identity.

Perhaps the power of social media should be harnessed for the forces of good, to raise awareness and push this massive problem into the public consciousness so that in another 30 years time we won't be having this conversation again?

Another thing that is becoming a cause for concern is access to books. For those of us who already have a passion for reading it sounds silly, there are libraries and bookstores and the internet and frankly the hundreds of books in our homes already. There are friends to borrow from and paperback exchanges and the charity shops. But many of these things are disappearing.

Waterstones is the last big bookstore throughout the UK, there are a few smaller specialist chains like Forbidden Planet, but the high street bookstores are gradually disapearing. What happened to Dillons, Ottakers, Blackwells? Are they still around at all? Borders UK has gone, Blackwells I think is just a campus store now. WHSmith spreads itself too thin and is hardly a soothing browsing experience now, especially in Leicester where book browsers are bumped aside by the billions of visitors to the post office that is now situated there.

Libraries in schools are already becoming digital centres and city libraries are being chipped away at bit by bit serving community functions in priority to actually providing books and knowledge. I think there is room for libraries to do both, but to do both well requires money and commitment.

Gradually the processes by which we push the first paperbacks into people's hands and let them discover the worlds within, get Kidnapped or seach for Treasure Island are being eroded. We have initiatives to fight back, World Book Day for one, BookDoctors (and ours here is both lovely and wonderful) but it's not enough.

I am not considering ebooks here for a simple reason, browsing. In order to seek out, purchase and read and ebook you have to know you want to read, the discovery of reading comes from other sources than the computer. That of course segue's me nicely into where the love of reading comes from. Grasping for the Wind recently did an around the blogosphere on this and I didn't get my answer in on time, so you get my personal answer and my views generally now.

Love of reading for many of us comes from people who love to read. It's simple but it's true. My mother loved to read and won prizes for her poetry readings as a child so watching her stalk around the room reading Tennyson was enchanting. In the great tradition of our species my mother passed on her passion to me through oral storytelling, like a greek bard bringing stories to life in my mind while I listened. In order to get more stories than she had time for reading became my priority for myself.

At the points in my life where my reading habit has waned it has been friends lending me something that really captured my imagination that drew me back in: Tigs lending me a Clive Barker book when we were fourteen, Mandy lending me a selection of horror a couple of years ago when I was stuck for something new. Just being around other people who read has made a huge difference all through my life. One friend and I used to sneak out of school at lunch time to go to the local library because we'd exhausted the school one and when I left the area I gave her my library card because the six book limit was causing her problems. Now I am a book blogger and amateur reviewer, surrounded by people from all over the world that share this all consuming passion and I have realised two things: How many other people there are for me to share this with and how small the literary world really is.

One of the top sites for book reviews in the Booksmugglers blog, I believe they get about 26,000 visitors a month. In book blogging terms that's huge, the publishers who specify usually state between 1,000 - 3,000 before they will put you on their lists.

Compare it to You Tube, one of the leading video sites available a quick search produced this from yahoo answers "In January 2008 alone, nearly 79 million users had made over 3 billion video views". So in one month 26,000 want to look at one of the most popular book review sites as opposed to 70 million wanting to look at short videos of cats falling off stuff and clips from old tv shows.

It seems sometimes that everyone reads, because we surround ourselves with people like us, but in the grand scheme of things regular readers are a minority group. Perhaps we should register ourselves as a charity and start a programme of aid work, doing live readings in school playgrounds at breaktime.

If people who love reading are the way in for new readers, then perhaps we have a civic duty to tout that love everywhere we go and at least try and provoke the question why.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

BitchBuzz: Mashing Jane

My latest column for BitchBuzz is actually a book review. I must say I had fun writing it. More fun than the book. Even better, BitchBuzz is now part of the Glam Media network, so there's hope this leads to bigger and better things for the whole BB crew:

There's something to be said for injecting new life into a mouldering corpse, as both Mary Shelley and Herbert West knew. However, it is usually best to wait until the body actually dies. While Jane Austen may not be dancing a hornpipe these days, her legacy is as sprightly as ever.

I know this book, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters -- and the one that preceded it and the ones that will inevitably follow it like mutant spawn or enchanted brooms -- is really at heart just a mash note of fondness for everyone's favourite Regency babe, but like the tentacled Colonel Brandon the Dashwoods first meet in its pages, it is difficult not to look away with a grimace.

Remember when mash-ups first hit? Wasn't it cool to hear "Paperback Believer" and "Smells Like Booty" or um, that one with Cher? Well, for about five minutes or so, it was cool. Video mash-ups, too -- they were popular for a while....

As always, peruse the rest over at BBHQ.

I should also mention my other publication this week, also a review, of Faust: My Soul Be Damned for the World by E. A. Bucchianeri in the Journal of Folklore Research. It's a two volume set all about Faust (for those of you who can't get enough of the mad necromancer).

I've got more guest bloggers coming up; hope you're enjoying the special Women's History Month celebration. It's wonderful to be able to celebrate the multi-talented women I know -- and the women they admire and find inspiring. Men like 'em, too!

Susan Hanniford Crowley: Great Heroines

I met Susan at Albacon last year, where we had a lot of laughs. She has a wide variety of skills and an enviable head of hair, too!

Why I Must Have Great Heroines in My Romances!
Susan Hanniford Crowley

I remember when I was a child, my teacher asking the class to write about a hero. In participating in the class discussion, everyone talked about great men -- past presidents, athletes, and soldiers. Something was missing for me. Where were the great women? When I brought this up, my teacher challenged me to find them.

It was difficult, as my resources at the time were limited, but I managed. I found Clara Barton, who founded the American Red Cross. I found Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. 

It would be years before I added to my list Lucretia Mott, Mary Ann M'Clintock and Elizabeth Cady Stanton who hosted the women's rights convention in Seneca Falls, NY in 1848. I also added Mae West because I liked a woman who was in charge of her career, her life, and her sexuality.

All of them influence me every day as a writer when I dream up characters. Laura Cordelais, my heroine from The Stormy Love Life of Laura Cordelais, starts out with her life in shambles. She takes drastic action, not necessarily a good action. When she meets vampire David Hilliard, everything changes. Love changes all of us. 

Let me give you a taste of that first meeting:

[Excerpt from The Stormy Love Life of Laura Cordelais]

Laura struggled through the dark and burst through a great light. She gasped for breath and it filled her. Warmth spread through her every part, then a surge of energy she didn’t understand. Her heart beat. Differently. Odd. Different from any feeling she’d ever had. Her eyelashes fluttered and then in the dim light of a strange windowless room, she saw a man’s face.

His dark, curly hair framed his chiseled features. What struck her most were his dark, fathomless eyes. I can get lost in those eyes and never want to leave.

He smiled.

She flushed. I hope he can’t hear what I’m thinking.

I can.

She sat up, smiling with embarrassment. “You pulled me out of the river?”


“Thank you.” Laura trembled. “I don’t understand. I was dying.”

“You were very badly injured in the fall. I was going to take you to the hospital, but you said, ‘No hospital.’ That you’d keep trying to kill yourself.” His jaw tightened. “I couldn’t bear the idea of your death. Please, forgive me, but I couldn’t let you die.” He gazed deeply into her eyes.

Laura moved her tongue inside her mouth and came across the fangs.

“Oh, my God!” She tried to sit up, but he pushed her gently down.

“Don’t get up just yet. You’re still healing.”

“You made me a vampire?” Every tale she’d heard as a child in New Orleans rushed back to her. Vampires were monsters. “Now I’m a monster!” Anger flushed through her. How dare he make her this! He had no right. She seethed.

“No. You are not a monster. Neither am I. I gave you a life. It’s your choice how you live it.”

Then another emotion unexpectedly filled her, when she gazed up into his eyes. I couldn’t bear the idea of your death. His tender words echoed in her entire being and soothed her broken heart, as if he’d kissed her lips without touching her. She looked at him with wonder, reached up and caressed the young beard on his chin. He smiled and she could see his fangs now. Strangely, she wasn’t frightened.

“We must do the last part.” He bit into his arm just inside the elbow and put it against her mouth.

“No.” She pushed his arm away.

“You need it to stop the hunger from possessing you. Just close your eyes and drink.”

The blood oozed into her mouth, as he pressed his arm against her lips. At first, she choked and sputtered but then finally accepted it. Laura tried not to think about what it really was. The warmth reminded her of ginger tea with a citrus tang.

“Since I am your sire, my blood will give you a balanced mind. You will not need to feed again until tonight.”

After a few more minutes, she pushed him away. The wound on his arm healed before her eyes. Wide-eyed, she smiled. “I feel so strong and well. I don’t ache or hurt anywhere.” Then his reference to being her sire struck her. “So you own me now!”

Her anger flared again along with her strength. She slapped him.

“What was that for?” He held his hand to his cheek.

“Oh, I don’t know. You made me a vampire and now you own me. Take your pick.”

David gazed upward. “This isn’t going well.”

“Who are you talking to?”


Laura scoffed. “A vampire talks to God? Does God answer you?”

David frowned at her and sighed. ”God apparently has one hell of a sense of humor.”

“What does that mean?”

“Never mind. Let’s get back to the subject at hand. No, I do not own you. I have no claim on you whatsoever. You are free to decide where you want to be and with whom. I’ll help you get started, that’s all.” With every word, he seemed more uncomfortable. “We do have a blood tie though, so if you ever need my help, just think of me and I’ll come. I’ll find you.”

Her anger dissipated. Laura enjoyed seeing him vulnerable. And he didn’t hit her back. She smiled. “I don’t know your name.”

“I’m David Hilliard.”

This time she gently touched his face. “I’m Laura Cordelais.”

He held her hand to his cheek and closed his eyes.

Laura gasped as she realized her surroundings. “Do you live here?”

“No.” He chuckled. “I just needed to get you out of the sun. I have an apartment.”

“Well, that’s a relief. I thought I’d have to live in a cemetery.”

They both laughed.

Laura looked around at the grim tomb. A spider crawled up the stone wall nearest her, and she trembled. “I’m afraid of small, closed spaces. And bugs.”

He enclosed her in his arms. “Don’t be afraid. As soon as it’s dark, we’ll leave.”

Her mouth was so close to his, she could almost taste him. Then he pressed his firm lips against hers.

Hmm. He tastes of honey. I love honey.

Their fangs knocked together. Laura giggled nervously.

“Shall we try that again?” he suggested.

She nodded.

David gently took her chin and tilted her head slightly. Then his lips possessed hers again. Laura tingled from head to toe and wondered if a vampire was capable of love. She hoped David was.

When their lips parted, Laura frowned.

“I’m still angry with you.”

“Really? You don’t sound that angry.”

“I’m furious with you. I mean you made me a vampire.”

“Are you furious?” He carefully pushed a hair off her face and kissed her forehead.

“Now that’s not fair. Are you using your hypnotic powers on me?”

“No. I want everything between us to be real.” He kissed her left temple and moved down her jaw line. His mouth caressed her lips. His tongue rubbed her fangs...

The Stormy Love Life of Laura Cordelais is available as an ebook and will be coming out in print in next month from Tease Publishing LLC. 

I love the unexpected, and enjoy giving those challenges to my heroines. In When Love Survives, Regina O'Malley discovers she's half leprechaun and half elf on the darkest day in New York City. Learning you're magic while helping others and finding love staring you in the face is more than a full plate.

In A Vampire for Christmas, Georgia Blake has a rare gift. When the same man is staring at her in the storefront window day after day, she thinks he's a stalker and if that isn't enough to deal with, she's unemployed and soon-to-be homeless. But hardship doesn't slow our heroine down, and love finds her in a very surprising way. 

Both When Love Survives and A Vampire for Christmas are published by Tease Publishing LLC and are available at All Romance E-Books.

As we celebrate Women's History Month, I will continue to write and to research. One can never have too many heroines.

For more information about Susan, you can visit:
Romance Blog:
And she is onlyladyknight on Twitter.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Stephanie Johnson: The Creative Process

Kicking off our Women's History Month celebration with a bang! Yes, folks -- it's the fabulous Queen of Everything, the corvid monarch herself today. She's a fantastic artist, creator of the wonderful Raven & Wombat Tea Party merch (see our St Urho design!), co-conspirator of the Women's League of Ale Drinkers, a printmaker, logo artiste, designer and of course, proprietor of the Aloha Alcohula [best damn tiki bar in Connecticut!].

The lovely, talented and prolific Kate asked me to blog about the creative process -- specifically, my creative process. I don't believe I consciously have one.

The process has to start with inspiration: I am fortunate and blessed to know so many writers, musicians and artists, all of whom inspire me constantly. I also have a mental repository of visuals ranging from Looney Tunes to Art Chantry, Art Nouveau posters to Inuit prints, prehistoric art to Hatch Show prints; movies, photography, music, books - there is so much out there to inspire everyone. I just acquired a  coffee-table book on Circuses - and I don't doubt the awesome visual impact of the pages will figure in somewhere, sometime into a new project.  A mere Facebook conversation has produced some wonderful images in my mind. 

The creative process, as it works in me: an image pops in my head, it's usually a challenge, and I think it's cool. If it has humor, even better. If it's inspired by a friend, total bliss. 

Monday, March 08, 2010

International Women's Day

Celebrate any way you think best: but honor the women of the world! In recognition of Women's History Month, I'll be featuring guest bloggers throughout March, fantastic women I think you should get to know as well as posts about women's history, art and more. Be sure to drop by for the special Ada Lovelace Day post on March 24th honoring women in technology.

It's not too late to schedule a guest post: if you've been meaning to get blogging, here's your chance!

Sunday, March 07, 2010

London, Books and Catching Up

After all the stress of getting away from the snow, it was a relief to get to London and sigh with happiness. My favorite place in the world. So much to see and do: unfortunately, almost all of the pictures I took were for my friend Darlene's second grade class, who gave me a Flat Stanley and a disposable camera. Stan had fun in Kensington Park and at the usual tourist destinations, where he ran into an Irish Stan near Trafalgar Square, so they got their pictures together. Consequently, here I offer you a picture from last year (still lovely).

I'll do a proper round up (I hope) once I'm caught up: Van Gogh, the V&A's new medieval wing, Richard Hamilton, JG Ballard inspired CRASH exhibit at the Gagosian, Sir Ian in Beckett's Waiting for Godot, Jane Bown at the National Portrait Gallery, the Argentinian film, La mujer sin cabeza and comedian/magician Jerry Sadowitz. In between was a lot of pub food, beer and idling -- well, a lot of it was work-related, like meeting with my editor and brainstorming. Also I was planning for the student trip in May, so while I'm in the habit of always making myself sound like a loafer, I did accomplish things.

Lost in the shuffle -- I was guest blogger over at Unbound, where I wrote about bibliomania and my plans to cure it. Please drop by and leave comments! Also see Adele's terrific write up of the Writing Industries Conference.

While frustrating at the start -- and a little bit at the end (those three dread words, "rail replacement service", meant a bus between Hammersmith and Osterley; status computers going down meant that the employees were bored, so gave a lot of complete searches at the gate; and seated with a gaggle of teens for a seven hour flight is always lovely), it's always worth it.

I love London.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

London Update

Well, I have been a poor correspondent, no doubt -- on the plus side, it's because I'm having too good a time. For some alternate updates of a brief nature, check the Twitter stream in the right hand column of this blog, but even that only happens when I hit some free wifi as I'm out and about.

Godot was amazing; the Hamilton exhibit at the Serpentine yesterday, very chilly day for Hyde Park -- too cold to be tempted to see the MR James production in the tombs at St Pancras. Supposed to be warmer today -- off to see the JG Ballard-inspired exhibit at the Gagosian then there's the BBC Writers Room Q&A event.

Hope you're all well. Remembered to send a couple of postcards... :-D

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

London so far

Lets see: after the stress of trying to get here, it was a welcome sight even in pouring rain. Have seen pubs (of course!), V&A's new medieval/renaissance wing, a brief stop at the National Gallery, the Argentinian film La mujer sin cabeza, the Van Gogh letters exhibit at the Royal Academy and a little shopping (well, not so much purchasing as looking at lots of books that I can think how much I really need them and whether I might get them at the library instead, although the bio of Grimaldi looks quite interesting). Tonight Waiting for Godot with Sir Ian. Have to see if I can figure out a time to meet up with my editor!

In haste -- more when I have a moment.