Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Karma Bites Book Banners

Don't you just love the "Biter Bit" story line? Especially when it involves those who would ban or burn books?

I suspect that for as long as there have been books, there have been small-minded educators, parents, and "concerned citizens" fighting to keep "disturbing" books out of the hands of young people. It almost never ends well for the forces of repression, but rarely with such karmic panache as this past week, in the small town of Meridian, Idaho.

The book in question was Sherman Alexie's  The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which  the intolerant and tyrannical succeeded in striking from the school district's reading lists. Seems the coming-of-age story of a young Native American struggling to fit into an all-white school was just too painful of an expose of modern American race relations, sexuality, and religion (which is presumably why it won a National Book Award). This is a pattern that has been repeated over and over across the country, only, rather than simply accept it, some of the teens in Meridian fought back. They organized a petition to have the book reinstated, which inspired a fundraiser that managed to collect enough money to buy 350 copies of the book. The plan was to distribute the books at the town's World Book Night, an event organized to put good, readable books into the hands of nonreaders. There were lots of takers--until someone called the cops. That's right: some twisted soul called the cops on kids giving away free books at a book giveaway.

 photo by Aja Romano
Fortunately, when the cops arrived, they realized they couldn't actually do anything about it. Not only that, but the resultant publicity drew the attention of  Hachette, Alexie's publisher, which sent the group another 350 copies of the book to give away free. So the town of Meridian is now awash in this scandalous, provocative little book (written, incidentally, by someone who grew up just across the border from Idaho on the Spokane Indian Reservation), and the book is getting lots of publicity nationwide, inspiring even more people to buy it. Like me.

Biter Bit.

Monday, April 28, 2014

When Life Reads Like a Novel

You know how every once in a while you come across someone whose life sounds like something out of an over-the-top movie? Have you ever heard of the novelist F. van Wyck Mason?

Born into an old patrician Boston family, Mason grew up in Berlin and Paris, where his grandfather was in the Foreign Service. At the age of 16, he ran away from home to fight in World War I, somehow managing to enlist in the French Army, where he distinguished himself so well he rose to become an officer and earned the French Legion of Honor. He then went home to prep school (one has to wonder how that worked out) and, while earning his BS from Harvard, was arrested for murder (it was a mistake). He then started an import business and spent years traveling the world, trekking through Russia, Asia, Africa, and the West Indies; he even spent nine weeks on a caravan in the Sahara and rode across South America on a horse. And then, at the ripe old age of 26, he decided he wanted to be a writer.
He first became famous for a series of mystery/espionage novels about a James Bond precursor named Colonel Hugh North, who was basically Mason himself: polished, elegant, sophisticated, cosmopolitan, lethal. He also wrote a number of historical adventure novels and a ton of short stories. Oh, and in between he reenlisted for WWII, became a member of Eisenhower's staff, and was one of the first allied troops into Buchenwald. He died while swimming off the coast of Bermuda at the age of 76.

When I was a teenager, one of my favorite novels was Van Wyck Mason's Rivers of Glory. Then I lent the book to my friend Betty and never saw it again. I can remember desperately trying to get it back before I moved to Australia (the first time), but no luck. Over the years, I forgot about it until, a few weeks ago while cataloging my books for the book sale, I found myself thinking about it. I realized that while I could visualize my old tattered hardcover (my copy didn't have the dust jacket), I could recall neither the title nor the author's name. But then, a couple of days ago, thanks to that marvelous thing called serendipity, I was reading about authors associated with Bermuda and one name, F. Van Wyck Mason, leapt out at me. I stared at it; could that be him? I turned to Le Google, discovered that he had also written historicals, and eventually tracked down my old favorite's title.

While I probably wouldn't like it if I were to encounter it for the first time today (talk about politically incorrect!), there is no denying that Rivers of Glory is one of those books that had a tremendous impact upon my development as a writer. Out of curiosity, I intend to track down some of those old Hugh North books. What's amazing to me is how completely Van Wyck Mason is forgotten today, given how successful he was in his time--probably because Hollywood never translated any of his works to the silver screen. Have you ever heard of him?

Friday, April 25, 2014

Hanging In There

I've been rather distracted this week. Banjo had another scary crisis, but he's pulled through it and is doing pretty good...for Banjo.

I've also been wrestling with Book #11, because I'm still in the beginning stages and the beginnings of these books ALWAYS give me fits.

And, finally, I've been working in my garden, trying to get it in shape before our weather gets too hot. It looks as if this is going to be one of those years when a long, cold winter hangs around so late we go straight into summer and miss spring. Here's a corner with some of my favorite spring plants:  a tiny native iris, with a yellow columbine behind it; the heat is already getting to them both.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Books, Books, and More Books!

The Friends of the Jefferson Parish Library had their Giant Spring Book Sale this past weekend. This is a Big Event around our house. We prepare for it in advance by combing through our shelves and making lists of what we already have (in an effort to reduce duplicates) and what we want to look for. When the first day of the sale dawns, we gather boxes and bags and a trolly, and set forth on the Great Book Hunt.
I don't need any more books. I already have more books than I could ever read before I die (it seriously saddens me to realize this). But I can't resist these book sales. What do I look for? Leather bound copies of classics, so that I can throw out my ratty old paperbacks.
I also look for hardcover editions of favorite novels--the ones I once read from the library or bought in paperback before I realized they were keepers. This year I was thrilled to find hardcover editions of both my favorite Mary Stewart romantic suspense from when I was a teenager and the Kathleen Woodiwiss that first made me fall in love with sexy historical romances. And I also snagged a Wynwood Press  first bookclub edition of Grisham's A Time To Kill. If it were a regular first edition, it would be worth $5,000, but the bookclub edition is still worth $3-400. Not that I have any intention of selling it, of course. It's all part of the fun.

What else did I get? A book of eighteenth century English poetry. Virginia Woolf's diary. A collection of Dorothy Sayers short stories. A hardcover of James Lee Burke's A Stained White Radiance. A lovely leather bound edition of The Education of Henry Adams (I'll probably start with this one, since I loved his Mont Saint Michel and Chartres; this is his autobiography). Two big boxes full, in all (counting Steve's additions). Now I need to comb through my shelves in an effort to make room for them, because new bookcases are out of the question: we have run out of walls.

There really is such a thing as too many books.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

RT Booklovers Convention in New Orleans

Planning to attend the RT Booklovers Convention in New Orleans in May? If so, I might see you there because I will be present at several of the events. I didn't get organized in time for the "Giant Book Fair"--it was already full when I tried to sign up months ago. But I will be at the Penguin Lemonade Social, which will be taking place from 2:30 to 3:30 pm on Saturday, May 17, at the convention hotel.

I should also be at the Berkley/NAL sponsored stop on the RT Pub Crawl on Bourbon Street, from 6:30 to 8:30 on Thursday night, May 15. I'm told we will be at the bar at The Beach. Anyone familiar with Bourbon Street at night is probably thinking, "That sounds like a really bad idea." Frankly, I couldn't agree more! But barring any unforeseen catastrophes, I'll be there. So be sure to tell me if I should look for you!

Sunday, April 06, 2014

The Original Morey

Everyone familiar with the Sebastian St. Cyr series knows that Sebastian has a majordomo named Morey. But I'm not sure anyone knows where that name came from. The truth is, he's named after this lady:

That's right; Morey is named in honor of my friend Trish Morey, a Harlequin/Mills and Boon author who was a member of my writers' group when I lived in Adelaide. Don't get me wrong; I don't envision Sebastian's Morey as looking anything like Trish! But when I started the first Sebastian book all those many years ago, I had to give the majordomo a name I'd remember easily and "Morey" leapt to mind and sounded right. So Morey he became. And since the original Morey has a book out today/tomorrow, it seemed like an appropriate time to confess.

If you enjoy contemporary romances and you've never read one of Trish's books,  you're in for a treat because she's a seriously funny writer.

And can I just say, I love that cover!

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Happy Birthday, Scout and Banjo!

Okay, so it probably isn't really their birthday. But when we took them to our vet at the beginning of October, she said they were at least six months old, so we decided to make 1 April their birthday. It seemed appropriate, since Mother Nature played a rather nasty trick on these two little sweethearts.

Reaching today with both kittens alive and (relatively) well feels like a grand achievement. When we first rescued them, I was determined to give them at least six months of being warm, dry, well-fed, and safe, to make up for the first six months of their lives, which were pretty wretched. I don't think I ever showed this to you, but this is the photo my daughter sent of the two kittens on the patio outside her apartment that made me decide I had to do SOMETHING:

At the time of their rescue, they weighed barely a pound each. Banjo is now five pounds, and Scout isn't far behind him. And since the above image is too awful to leave you with, here's a picture of Banjo getting his neck massaged, which he dearly loves: