Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Covers and Controversies

Earlier this year I wrote about one of the more controversial aspects of my job. I hear you snickering now. “Maggie works in a high school library. What, did she forget to initial a hall pass? Mis-shelve a book? Eat a banana under the No Food or Drink in the Library sign?” Yes to all of the above, actually, but I’m talking again about discarding books. Every year we select the poor waif-books that will find a home in a dumpster. Last school year we weeded through the social studies section, removing books that were worn beyond repair, hadn’t been checked out in twenty years---or ever---, had inaccurate information. There have been a few more presidents since FDR, for example, so The Complete Book of the American Presidents had to go.

This year, however, we’re discarding fiction, and I trembled to my chubby toes as I stamped “Discard” on Christie, Buck, Austen, Cather. Some of the volumes literally fell apart in my hands, and we do have newer, improved editions to replace the classics. But a great many, mostly paperbacks, had outdated covers, topics, excessive Scotch tape and graffiti. Ironically, those books which were once loved as much as the Velveteen Rabbit are now repulsive, victims of their popularity. Their condition and content no longer appeal to modern teens. It got me thinking.

Every author writes for a scrap of immortality. There’s good reason for “Never put it in writing.” The pen truly is mightier than the sword. Words live forever as long as there are readers to read them. Those of us who aspire to publication hope to move a future audience to tears, laughter and the parting of their $6.99. But someday, even if our talents and luck combine to produce a shiny pink or purple paperback (maybe even with a sexy stepback!), our baby will be tossed away by somebody just like me.

What do you do with your old books? What images do you like on your covers? I rescued this handsome edition of Wuthering Heights (circa 1959, I’m guessing), last checked out in 1995. I think the cover artist had a little “inspiration” from John Singer Sargent’s Madame X. S/he’s changed her dress and given Madame a nose job, but the resemblance is unmistakable. When the original portrait was first exhibited, it was considered so shocking that Sargent was asked to withdraw it. It destroyed Madame Gautreau’s reputation, and Sargent became persona non grata in Paris. For more information, visit

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Girl Power

The Spice Girls are touring again. Their concerts are, unbelievably, selling out. For those of you who don’t know, they were a manufactured band in the nineties, kind of like the female Monkees. Like the Monkees, they managed to rise above their faux origins. Little girls across the world were dancing and singing, “I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna really really really wanna zigazig ha.” Huh?

Here’s a scene from their 1997 movie, Spice World.

Spice Girls: We're the Spice Girls, yes indeed. Just Girl Power is all we need. We know how we got this far... Ginger Spice: Strength and courage and a Wonderbra! Spice Girls: Would this work with only one? Baby: Just with me I have no fun. Spice Girls: Would this work with only two? Scary Spice: We need more for what we do. Spice Girls: Would this work with only three? Sporty: Three's a crowd, bad company. Spice Girls: Would this work with only four? Posh: No way, girl, we need one more! Spice Girls: Listen up, take my advice - we need five for the power of Spice. Give it up, give it out, take a stand, scream and shout! One, two, three, four, five - Spice Girls!

Here’s the Robinson five, taken a month and a half ago on my birthday. Sadie’s a bit young and out-of-it, but her mom and evil aunties will teach her all they know about zigazigging and everything else. They are what I’m thankful for, and what I really really want.

So tell me what you want, what you really really want? Where do you get your Girl Power?

Thanks to everyone who gave thanks, giving and thanksgiving! All your poetry was prize-worthy. Hope you had as much fun writing as I did reading. RevMelinda said “Not only do you have a beautiful blog, but you have the best commenters in the blogosphere!” and I couldn’t agree more. Special thanks to Haven Rich. Terrio, you’re November’s winner! Please send your snailmail address to

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Thanksgiving Acrostic Contest!

I shall leave it to others to be thoughtful about the holiday, although I do know how very lucky I am every day of the year. But I used to teach acrostic poetry as an elementary school teacher, and silliness has soundly trumped seriousness this post. So here is my THANKS for romance.

T empting

H eated

A ching

N aughty

K isses

S atisfy.

Now comes the GIVING part. Your turn. You can pick THANKS, too (GIVING is way harder! Or do the whole THANKSGIVING if you really want to impress. *g*). Enter as many times as you like. It doesn't have to be a sentence, or even make sense. One random poet will get November’s prizes. Winner and new post Sunday, November 25.

Have a wonderful holiday with those you love.

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. ~Thornton Wilder

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Blue Plate Special

I eat off the most popular china pattern in the world: Blue Willow. I’ve always loved the rich color and elaborate design, and knew there was a famous legend depicted. Now that I know exactly what it is, my appetite may never be the same.

There are a couple of versions, but basically, a young noblewoman and her father’s secretary fall in love and run off together. Eventually they are found and roasted alive in a fire. Somehow they get turned into birds, which is supposed to make everything all right. I don’t think so. I’ve always been annoyed with Romeo and Juliet, and this is just more of the same doomed love crap.

When I was younger, I enjoyed star-crossed lovers, Heathcliff pining for Cathy, et al. I carried a torch for a lost love for years until my husband charmed the pants off me. Oh, you know what I mean. Now I want that guaranteed happily-ever-after in my books and movies. No Anna Karenina throwing herself under the train or Edna wading into the water in The Awakening. No suffering. No way.What’s the story on your china? What unhappily-ever-after book has stuck with you?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Perfectly Imperfect

You may not have noticed, but there’s a list to the right called “Books I’ve Loved Lately,” BILL for short. Topping it right now is Slummy Mummy by Fiona Neill, a laugh-out-loud slice of the London life of a thirty-something mother of three boys. Lucy Sweeney is meant to be a very imperfect heroine---and I did find it almost too annoying that she constantly lost credit cards and keys, ran out of gas in a car that should have been condemned as a heath hazard, and more than fantasized about Sexy Domesticated Dad, a parent at her sons’ school. She was a walking disaster. I wanted to scream, “Do some laundry! Make a list! Stop dithering!” But the pros of the book far outweighed the cons. What parent cannot identify with the thrill of finding Luke Skywalker’s inch-long light saber after months of searching? What married couple’s romantic rendezvous hasn’t been interrupted by a terrorizing toddler? The supporting characters in the book each have key roles to play, and I spent much of the night snorting with laughter (and gagging once) as Lucy mismanages her life.

I read a lot, but put very, very few books in the BILL category. Books that land there don’t have to be perfect (see above), but they must have an indescribable something. There. That’s clear as mud. What book is on your BILL list?

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Stud Farm

We’re not talking Irish thoroughbreds. Infamous Hollywood Madam Heidi Fleiss plans to open up a brothel in the Nevada desert catering to a female clientele exclusively. I do not object to the legalization of prostitution and lord knows, with every other romance book having courtesan in the title, even romance novels have come around. Brothels and gaming hells are a staple of Historical Romanceland, but sexual mores were vastly different then, if we are to believe everything we read.

But somehow I am icked out that a woman would pay to have her sexual urges satisfied. Modern-day men who pay for sex are rather pitiable to me. Maybe I’m too unworldly, but sex is inescapably twinned with love, or at least like, in my universe. Sex with strangers is, frankly, scary. And sad.

And then there are the mechanics of it. I know men are reputedly hound-dogs and can get it up for anything that moves, but….

Heidi is experiencing some red tape, and right now she’s operating a business called Dirty Laundry. That’s right. A laundromat. She’s keeping it clean for the time being.
Now, it would be my ultimate fantasy to have someone do my laundry rather than do me. I still have towels in the dryer from last weekend. What would you have your stud do for you?

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Dead Butterflies

Caveat: Reading is a subjective exercise. One woman’s masterpiece is another’s mess. I read a book not long ago, by an established author from a major publishing house, that I thought was pretty awful. It suffered from a ton of Telling, not Showing. The plot had holes you could drive a Hummer through. The heroine was schizophrenically passive/sheltered/feisty/yeah, there’s a strange drunk guy in my bed, let’s get it on ; the hero the usual “I’m not a real rake, but you’ll think I am because the heroine keeps catching me in the arms of my old lover whom I hate but I’m rescuing because I’m rich and a nice guy.”

Here is a sample:

Most of the privileged, rich and well-connected guests had already arrived. Swarms of titled, wealthy and influential people invaded the house, lawns and terraces, their colourful gowns, jackets and painted parasols echoing the bright colours of the flowerbeds and the graceful sculptures.

Lady____, widowed after just five years of marriage, was flitting among them like a butterfly. With her confident manner she presented an imposing figure.

Umm, a confident, flitting, imposing butterfly-widow. Privileged, rich, well-connected, titled, wealthy AND influential guests, in case you missed the implication. House, lawns, terraces, gowns, jackets, parasols, flowerbeds and SCULPTURES, brightly coloured. I’m picturing a giant Bob’s Big Boy or maybe a Ronald McDonald on the widow’s lawn. I know I’m being snarky, but somewhere an editor was asleep, or possibly deceased, at the switch.

I go through long bouts of deadness myself, and when the muse is not flitting like an imposing butterfly, I usually prefer not to write. God help me if I ever have to write to a deadline. I’ll have to invest in a whole lepidoptera house. With my luck, the little buggers will stay caterpillars and never flit at all.

Read any bad stuff lately? No names, please. Has writing spoiled reading for you? If you’d like, please indulge your inner editor and revise the passage above.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Square Peg

Well before Sarah Jessica Parker taught us everything about sex and friendship, she was on a TV show called Square Pegs. It featured geeky kids who didn’t quite fit in but were the better for it. Watching it with my own children reminded me of the pain of adolescence, which somehow revives itself at the worst moments. Who among us feels supremely self-confident 24/7? Not me.

As a kid I was too smart for my own good and skipped two grades. I don’t think this happens anymore, and that’s probably a good thing. While I was physically well-developed, I’m sure emotionally I could have benefited from a more gradual introduction to the teenage years---like when I was actually a teen. I started high school when I was eleven. I graduated at 15, an age when many kids are just finishing their awkward freshman year. I’m not saying the experience made me crazy, but there are times I wonder about the wisdom of the principal, Miss Charlotte Patterson (who looked exactly like the portrait of George Washington in the school hallway---in fact, I thought it was she until I was in second grade).

In college, things really came together for me, both academically and socially, but there was always that hint of uncertainty. Now I want to hang out with the cool writer kids, and it’s just a touch intimidating. I’m not the baby of the class anymore. In fact, I’m the grandma. Hi, Juliette! Hi, Sadie Jane!

But I remind myself we all start out with a blank screen or piece of paper. We all feel like the ugly duckling sometimes. I’ve just got to flap my wings, morph into my swan-self and float away. And no matter what happens, I’m not going to sink.

Geek? Freak? Or Beauty Queen? I think I can claim all three (Remember, I was second runner-up to the May Queen. A couple of well-placed shoves, and that crown would have been mine.) . Do you think writers have to suffer to succeed? Have you given yourself a deadline for publication? What do you do to boost your self-confidence? Learn your craft? Who is your inspiration? Why am I asking so many questions?

Apparently, I can’t stop. Will you pay $ to see the Sex and the City movie? Have you seen SJP in the ghastly get-up that’s Carrie’s wedding dress? Now I’m done.