Write Club!

writeclub

I’m excited! Whoo, writing!

I was asked to adjudicate a writing group’s casual bimonthly writing contest a few weeks ago, and it inspired me to try something similar with my colleagues. We’d talked about how we wanted to make a writing group or something, and this seemed to me to be a good way to go about it.

So now eleven of the faculty members from Columbia are all signed up, and we’ve got some goofy rules, and the first deadline is coming up in two days. I’m getting close to finishing my story, and three other people have submitted their stories so far, and I figure maybe another story or so will come in by the 1st. There’s several people with very significant excuses this month, but one of the founding tenets of our group is that it’s okay if you don’t write every time.

I’m also excited about the prize, which is better than a donut but perhaps not quite as wonderful as the keg of glory and the finest muffins and bagels in all the land. Not sure. At the very least, it requires less refrigeration. And NO, I’m not going to tell you what the prize is! Not yet, anyway. Once it’s awarded to someone, I’ll reveal its awesomeness.

I’ve also really enjoyed making a website for the group. All of this organize-y stuff is fun for me; I love the sheer joy of creating something, especially if that something is a secret club. 🙂 Hi, Brothers.

Anyway, when all is said and done, and entries needn’t be blind any longer, maybe I’ll share my story here. Who knows.

Bedside Table

I have the sneaking suspicion that my book-related posts do nothing but bore people to tears, but I like books, so I’m a-gonna write about books. Actually, I’m super boring, so what I’m going to do is share the titles on my ever-growing “to-read” shelf on my bedside table. Two qualifiers to that statement: 1) It’s a bookcase, not a bedside table, and 2) I only wish the shelf grew, that would make life MUCH easier.

So here you go – the books I haven’t read yet but would like to read before I let myself buy any more books (ha ha). Have you read any of these? Are any of them not worth my time? Which do you think I ought to read next?

Buffalo Lockjaw by Greg Ames

Vinegar Hill by A. Manette Ansay

The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker

Midwives by Chris Bohjalia

The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity by Cynthia Bourgeault

The Inheritor by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Turn Coat by Jim Butcher

The Gates by John Connolly

The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant

Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make It into the New Testament by Bart D. Ehrman

The Chalice and the Blade by Riane Eisler

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safram Foer

Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and Their Journey by Isabel Fonseca

Happy Are the Meek by Andrew M. Greeley

A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Tinkers by Paul Harding

The Girl with No Shadow by Joanne Harris

Hummingbird House by Patricia Henley

Misogyny by Jack Holland

The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis

Velva Jean Learns to Drive by Jennifer Niven

The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett

Idlewild by Nick Sagan

When God Was a Woman by Merlin Stone

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

Not Quite Deuteronomy, But Close

Maybe there’s a very good cosmic reason that Ryan and I aren’t parents yet.

Ryan sent me this picture:

sherman

At which point, the following conversation transpired.

ME: His middle name was Tecumseh?

HIM: William Tecumseh Sherman!

ME: What kind of name is Tecumseh?

HIM: THE NAME OF OUR FIRSTBORN. How can you argue with a name like Tecumseh?

ME: [silence]

HIM: The correct answer is: YOU CAN’T.

Review: Dreadnought

Dreadnought (The Clockwork Century, #3)Dreadnought by Cherie Priest

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dreadnought is, to a certain degree, a book about the Civil War. Mercy Lynch is a Confederate nurse working in a Virginia war hospital when she learns that her husband – who happens to have been a Union soldier – has died in a prison camp. Almost immediately after receiving this news, she receives a telegram from her long-estranged father; he’s dying in Seattle and wants to see his little girl before he dies. Concluding that she has no real reason to stay put, Mercy heads west – a woman alone on a long journey across a wartorn land.

Except, as it turns out, the Civil War’s been going on for over twenty years, with no real sign of stopping. Part of the problem is that the Union and Confederacy are engaged in an arms race, fueled in no small part by Texas and its diesel resources. Both sides have developed “walkers” (think Avatar or Return of the Jedi) and use dirigibles for air travel. Moreover, the Union has the Dreadnought – a terrifying locomotive such as has never been seen before (except perhaps in the classic slapstick western-steampunk movie venture, Wild Wild West). In her efforts to get to Washington as rapidly as possible, Mercy finds herself a passenger on the Dreadnought as it makes a mysterious trip west with a very peculiar cargo.

Oh, and it turns out that there are zombies.

So… yeah.

The thing about Dreadnought is that it’s really very good – so good, in fact, that I’ve already recommended it to two not-at-all-interested-in-unrealistic-fiction readers.

Mercy’s character rings true, sympathetic, and appropriate both to historic sensibilities and to the quasi kickass-in-corsets ideal of steampunk. Many books in this subgenre go overboard with trying to replicate a Victorian style in their writing, but Dreadnought leans more toward the straightforward Western style and benefits from it. That plainspoken prose adds considerable versimilitude to a story that might otherwise collapse under the weight of its ridiculousness; up until the last fifty pages or so, a reader could easily forget that they weren’t reading a historically accurate tale.

Consequently, I think this book could appeal to readers even if they weren’t a fan of fantastical fiction; you don’t have to love steampunk or alternative history to get wrapped up in Mercy’s story. Although Priest’s wild West is, apparently, infested with zombies, this isn’t a “zombie book” (which is good, because I am not interested in zombie books) and you can read it without too much fear of being grossed out or horrified by the undead. I mean, they’re there, but only really in the last fifty pages, and it’s not too graphic. It’s also interesting and well-written enough to, in my opinion, bridge the genre gulf for people who might not be terribly interested in Civil War-era America. This book is many things, all of which are satisfying.

The only thing that I felt was absent – and I’m not at all sure that the story needed it – was a little bit of romantic interest. Priest kept hinting at the possibility of chemistry, but Mercy never takes the bait. Maybe that’s only appropriate, given her recent widowing. I also kept expecting a dramatic development about another female traveler on the Dreadnought, but if that development is coming, it must be coming in another book.

Two more things I liked about this book: Although it is the third in a series, it works as a standalone novel (obviously, since I got halfway through the book before realizing that it was in a series at all). And it’s printed in brown ink on creamy paper. How cool is that?

Overall, as long as the zombies don’t take too much of a central role, I’m excited to read more of the books in this series and would recommend Dreadnought in particular to anyone who likes Civil War fiction, steampunk, adventure, interesting female protagonists, or good literary diversions.

View all my reviews

Names

No, I don’t have any good reason to be writing about this.

I like names. I have always liked names; just ask my fourth grade TAG teacher. I’ve owned a baby name book since I was six. Names are easily one of my favorite things.

Today at church, two sisters were baptized: Sydney and Ally. Sydney is one of Ryan’s favorite names-for-future-offspring; it used to be one of mine, but has slipped in the ranks somewhat. I can’t get past the “Sid” thing. Ally’s middle name is Madeleine, which is my current top (or maybe second-choice; I’m also big into “Penelope” right now) name-for-future-offspring. But I’m stuck on the “Ally” thing; I mean, in print, that looks like “person on your side in a fight,” but as a name, it’s like Ally McBeal. Am I wrong about that? What happened linguistically between the noun ally and the name Ally? And shouldn’t Ally be short for something?

Saw a movie lately, and read an unrelated book, in which a dog was named Pilot. That’s kind of a cute name for a kid, if you’re into that “naming children after objects” thing.

I  bring up Pilot because Hank Green has a few thoughts about naming babies, and Pilot is one of the names he picks on (along with Quathyryn and Jaucshuwa). Overall, he makes some excellent points:

I for one think he should DEFINITELY name a daughter Olive. Don’t you? I don’t see a problem with that… it’s nowhere near as bad as Drew Peacock.

My biggest naming pet peeve? People with large families who give all of their children the same initial. I’m looking at you, Duggars. Joshua, Jana, John-David, Jill, Jessa, Jinger, Joseph, Josiah, Joy-Anna, Jedidiah, Jeremiah, Jason, James, Justin, Jackson, Johannah, Jennifer, Jordyn-Grace, and Josie? Seriously? And Jinger? It’s not as if there weren’t (obviously!) plenty of perfectly acceptable J-names out there without resorting to jayification of G-names.

When Ryan and I do have a need to pick baby names, we do have a few names that we find that we can easily agree on. We’re pretty solid on the idea of giving a child the middle name “Peril”; anyone can have “Danger” for a middle name, so we’re celebrating our superior vocabulary there. We figure that with our last name, “Butcher” is a good choice – especially if we can convince said child to go into the candle-making industry. I particularly like the idea of a girl named Butcher Baker.

SotD: Friday, March 18

So, J Lo has released a new song that is burning up the airwaves. It’s intended as a dance song, the sort of song that doesn’t bear lyric analysis, because the lyrics are seriously inane – but I can see dancing to the chart, definitely. It’s got a good beat.

The thing is, the best part of the song is this haunting, exotic-sounding little two-bar refrain throughout. The rest is just rhythm and generic “hey look at me, I’m in a club dancing and getting drunk” lyrics, but that phrase is catchy and (I daresay) music. Here – take a listen and you’ll see what I mean.

Why is that a problem? Well, if you listen to the same radio stations I listen to, you’ll realize that the refrain in question is not exactly original:

Don’t get me wrong; I’m sure that J Lo and Pitbull paid for the rights to sample Edward Maya & Vika Jigulina’s “Stereo Love” in “On the Floor.” It’s hardly a novel concept in the music industry. It just seems to me that it was rather unnecessary. “Stereo Love” (which comes from Romania, incidentally – hence the exotic flavor?) is a #1 hit abroad and could have been here, too (it’s peaked at #11) if it hadn’t been co-opted by J Lo’s name recognition and Idol platform.

But wait! It turns out that “Stereo Love” isn’t original, either! It was inspired by an 1989 song, “Bayatilar” – from Azerbaijan!

So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. It’s true after all – there’s no such thing as an original thought, at least when it comes to popular music.