Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Literary Ladies Guide to the Writing Life and Two More

If you're a professional, skilled, talented writer, you know the dread and desperation you can sometimes face when looking at that blank page in Microsoft Word, or the blank screen of your blog, or even the white page in your typewriter, or legal pad, if you're a luddite.
Fortunately, author Nava Atlas has created a gorgeous book of inspiration, guidance and insight, called "The Literary Ladies'Guide to the Writing Life" Inspiration and Advice from Celebrated Women Authors Who Paved the Way" available from Seller's Publishing.
Atlas has gathered excerpts from diaries, journals, letters, memoirs and interviews with twelve famous female writers, from the wit of George Sand to the wisdom of Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Willa Cather and Edith Wharton.
There is reassurance from Virginia Woolf, who says in a letter "I hate safety, and would rather fail gloriously than dingily succeed!" And "Outwardly, what is simpler than to write books? Outwardly, what obstacles are there for women rather than for a man? Inwardly, I think, the case is very different. She still has many ghosts to fight, many prejudices to overcome. Indeed, it will be a long time, I think, before a woman can sit down to write a book without finding a phantom to be slain, a rock to be dashed against." Yet we know that Woolf conquered her inner phantoms long enough to write several wonderful novels.
Willa Cather offers advice on balance, relating that she worked only two and a half to three hours a day, because "if I made a chore of it, my enthusiasm would die. I make it an adventure every day...I attend to my housekeeping, take walks in Central Park, go to concerts and see something of my friends. I try to keep myself fit, fresh; one has to be in as good a form to write as to sing." Louisa May Alcott echoes these sentiments by stating that she also writes for only two hours a day, as otherwise she suffers from writer's cramp, or what one suspects was carpal tunnel/repetitive stress injury from long writing marathons when she was younger.
Pulitzer-prize winning author Edna Ferber speaks of her fantastic inner life, "Writing is lonely, but the creative writer is rarely alone. The room in which one works is peopled with the men and women and children of the writer's imagination. Often they are difficult, but rarely boring, company."
Yet the each authors work is so necessary, so vital in its unique voice, that writers like Harriet Beecher Stowe believed that the pen would prove mightier than the sword in future battles for equality. "The way to be great lies through books, now and not through battles."
This book provides 192 pages, gorgeously illustrated with photos, drawings and pull-quotes, allowing writers of all stripe to read, reflect and absorb the wisdom and enlightenment of the female authors who have gone before us. Truly a great gift or a present for oneself, "The Literary Ladies" is a feast for scribes and scribblers everywhere. Highly recommended!

I've also just read "The Winter Sea" by Susanna Kearsley, the second of her works I've read, after "The Rose Garden" which I enjoyed, and before "Mariana" which is waiting patiently in my TBR stack.
The Winter Sea was engrossing and fascinating, as it had to do with Scotland, a part of the world that I long to visit, and it was about a novelist, Carrie McClelland, who writes historical fiction, and comes across an ancestor during her research, Sophia, who was involved in the Jacobite invasion of exiled James Stewart in 1708 off the coast of Scotland. Carrie rents a cottage from a lovely old Scotsman who just happens to have two handsome sons, and as Carrie becomes more involved with Graham, the eldest son, she also seems to have more dreams and trances in which she sees and hears what happened to Sophia at nearby Slains Castle before, during and after the attempted invasion. As each fact of what happened proves to be true, Carrie realizes that she's dealing with not just a case of deja vu, but ancestral memory, perhaps gotten through reincarnation, though that option is never fully explored in this book. Still, the way Kearsley mingles the past and the present, and weaves in historical fact and real figures with fictional characters is seamless and hypnotic. The reader pulls for Sophia to be with her Moray, and agonizes over his apparent demise. The prose is robust and the plot, though adventurous, is somewhat measured in pace, slowed by necessary historical explanations that are important as set up for the denoument. I would recommend this book to those who like gothic fiction and historical romance, and give it a solid B+.
Finally, I read the last book in Kristin Landon's "Hidden Worlds" series, "The Dark Reaches" today.After reading "The Hidden Worlds" and "The Cold Minds" in reverse order, I wasn't sure what to expect from The Dark Reaches, so I was pleasantly surprised when it proved to be a fine read. Linnea, the protagonist, and her dynastic pilot lover Iain, set off for earth to try and rescue the last remaining people who've not been taken over by sentient nanobots known as the Cold Minds. Linnea gets something of a distress signal from the "deepsiders" a group of space hippies, for lack of a better term, who have managed to survive being taken over by the Cold Mind nanobots by a kind of vaccination. Meanwhile on Triton, a moon of Neptune, an evil pilot-consort of that civilization's president (whom he's managed to beat into submission) has made a deal with the Cold Minds to let them regularly raid and steal the children of the deepsiders for use as pilots to their spaceships, because pilots can't be subsumed by nanobots and still navigate "Otherspace," which is the wormholes between solar systems. Linnea's noble insistence on saving as many people as possible from the Cold Minds serves her in good stead in this novel, but her insistence on keeping Iain alive, even after he's been infected with Cold Mind nanobots really makes her seem almost too noble and too unwilling to believe that sacrifices are inevitable during war with an implacable enemy. Still, because this is an SF/Romance hybrid, there is an HEA and some satisfying removal of the bad element toward the end of the book. I'd give it a B, and recommend it to my friends who have enjoyed Ann Aguirre's Jax books, or Linnea Sinclair's Dock Five series.

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