It’s October 2 and the NaNoWriMo website has been rebooted for this year’s festivities. If you had a halo from 2012′s event, it’s gone — though I’m sure we’ll see them popping up around the site on a regular basis.
I adore NaNo. This is Year 12 for me and while there have been one or two years when I’ve hesitated about signing up, I’ve never regretted it. And I know it’s crazy to commit to writing 50,000 words during November when you’re just coming off Halloween and there’s Thanksgiving and Christmas prep to begin and everyone needs your attention for something, but that’s the thrill for me. It’s a chance to make certain you do something for yourself, taking that time when it’s all about you.
Besides, the excuse “Haven’t finished today’s words” has allowed us to skip out early from family celebrations that were dragging on way too long more than once over the years. So, bonus there.
There have been years when I wasn’t writing for publication, when I wasn’t writing at all. NaNo has at times proved to be my lifeline to sanity because here’s the thing about people who discover they’re writers: they feel compelled to write. Just because I was on a detour on my writing journey didn’t mean the desire and need wasn’t there. In fact, for all that my husband jokes about girding his loins for the insanity of November, he’s always encouraged me to sign up and dive in whole-heartedly. “You’re happier when you’re writing,” he says.
So if you’re thinking about signing up for this year, wander over to the site. If you’re not but know someone who might enjoy 30 days of literary abandon, point them toward the website. And please consider donating, even if you can only throw $5 or $10 in the kitty. In addition to keeping the website forums going, there’s also the Young Writers Program which provides free material to teachers to encourage students to give writing a try.
Are you NaNoing this year? If you aren’t, what are you going to take time to do for yourself during the insanity of the holidays?
“Blessed are the Pessimists, for they hath made backups.”
— Spotted years ago on the bulletin board of an IT guy at a company I worked for
We hear it all the time: “Back up your data.” It’s not something most folks think about until that fatal moment when you go to find something – and it’s not there. I had that lovely experience recently; I we doing work on the blog after not looking at it for, well, we won’t go into that, and discovered that five years of posts had disappeared.
Now, much of it was recoverable thanks to the Wayback Machine, which crawls the web and takes snapshots of publically accessible sites that allows such robots, but a good deal wasn’t. Nor could I find the backup files I’d made and downloaded to my computer (I moved this summer and many things are not where they should be, including computer files following the set up of the new network). There was a backup file on the host server – but it also omitted the last five years worth of information.
I was lucky; a phone call to my host’s tech support solved the problem. Seems my site was moved to a different server early in August and somehow the database got pointed to the wrong copy of the file. Since I was able to tell them that a week before the move, the site had still been correct (thanks again to the Wayback Machine), they were able to find a correct copy, restore that and point my site there. Yes, I lost the flailing post I made when I discovered the problem, but I can live with that. You’d better believe I made backups and loaded them down to the hard drive (where they’ll be backed up onto my Time Capsule as well). Reminder on the calendar now to make backups, as well as when to delete all but the last one from each month.
Do you have your website backed up?
Murder on Astor Place by Victoria Thompson
(Gaslight Mystery #1)
Published May 1, 1999
(Yes, I realize I originally published this a week early. I blame the cold medicine I was taking.)
This month’s challenge was for a book recommended by a friend. I’ll confess that I did have this series recommended by a friend, though they were recommending the latest book in the series. I, however, usually prefer to start at the beginning, especially with mysteries where the relationship between two characters plays and integral part. My friend promised that I’d find the first book well worth my time. Given I finished 291 pages in two days, I would say I did.
A historical mystery, the story opens in New York at the turn of the 20th Century. Sarah Brandt, a doctor’s widow who married below the social station she was born into, works as a midwife and is called out in the middle of the night to deliver a baby in a boarding house. The call’s not unexpected, but while there, she sees a girl who looks very much like an old schoolfriend of hers. Her attention is quickly diverted back to the work at hand and she doesn’t give the girl more than a passing thought. It is only the next day when she returns for a follow-up visit that she learns the girl has been murdered — and she is indeed a member of her old schoolfriend’s family.
Investigating the crime with not too much enthusiasm is Frank Malloy. This is a NYPD that has filled with corruption, though the current commissioner, one Theodore Roosevelt, has sworn to root it out. Malloy is an honest man as policemen go, though his eye is more on securing a promotion for himself than getting involved in a case that not only doesn’t promise to contribute to that effort, but which could actively hurt him. Sarah, however, won’t let go of the matter and Malloy slowly finds himself drawn in.
I’ll confess to making a guess early on as to the motives behind the murder and finding myself right, but I was fascinated enough with the characters that this didn’t spoil my enjoyment. There’s quite a bit of historic detail in the book, but it’s laid in deftly enough that it doesn’t feel heavy-handed. It wraps itself around the characters, informs their choices and builds the world Sarah and Malloy inhabit quite nicely.
There are currently fourteen books in the Gaslight Mysteries series, with a 15th due in May. This isn’t a series I’m going to swallow whole (like I tend to mainline the J.D. Robb In Death books, usually reading three at a whack before tackling something else), but I definitely have the next in the series, Murder On St. Mark’s Place, queued up in my “to buy” list.
No one had any idea then that this work would echo down two centuries and be hailed as a masterpiece of English literature. Her popularity ebbs and flows, but she has always had a devoted circle of followers, including Rudyard Kipling, who wrote:
Jane lies in Winchester, blessed be her shade!
Praise the Lord for making her, and her for all she made.
And, while the stones of Winchester – or Milsom Street – remain,
Glory, Love, and Honour unto England’s Jane!
Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.
— Henry David Thoreau
One of the joys of the rise of eBooks is being able to get hold of books I’ve read before but aren’t on my bookshelf for one reason or another. Most of the times these are wonderful trips back to familiar territory and rediscovering a story you’ve enjoyed before.
Then, there are others — and I’m enduring one of those right now. Oh, the story is still fine, even if it’s more episodice than I remember, but the format of the Kindle edition? Not happy. At this point, I can create a basic, working Table of Contents with my Scrivener software; why can’t folks who are (in theory) doing this professionally manage the same? Finding myself putting bookmarks in for chapter beginnings so I can find my way back again if necessary is not particularly appealing. To quote from A Chorus Line: “Dance – Ten. Looks – Three.”
If you’re publishing or re-publishing a book digitally, please check the copy before you release it into the wild. It just makes sense. Thank you.
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On a more pleasant note, today is the birthday of A.A. Milne, born January 18, 1882. I still have the hardback of The World of Pooh and Now We Are Six by A.A. Milne my parents gave me for my sixth birthday, and it is one of my most treasured possessions. There are times when the world is too much and I am happy to retire to the peace of the Thousand Acres Wood and pass an hour or two with Pooh, Owl, Rabbit, Piglet, and, of course, Eeyore. Thank you, sir, for all those lovely words.
The challenge this month was for a short read. To be honest, I haven’t had this in my TBR pile long (I bought it the day after Christmas), but this novella highlights many things I enjoy about short form writing: it was fast-paced, it was focused on the main characters, and the length felt just about right. It proved a nice relief at a moment when my day job proved totally insane (don’t ask), and I walked away satisfied. Right there, any artistic merits aside, is a sign the story did exactly what it should: made the reader feel like they hadn’t wasted their time reading it.
Before I go any further, let me say that I have not read The Duchess War, the book this novella is connected to, so the story rose and fell entirely on its own merits without any pre-existing opinions about the characters. The plot in brief: We meet Jonas Grantham is a young man of twenty-one shadowing an older doctor prior to beginning his own medical studies. As the book opens, they are visiting a family whose young daughter is pregnant, and the doctor offers up a boatload of judgements and precious little medical advice: the young woman clearly suffers from a moral defect, and her parents should expect she will die an early, tragic death and the girl is already lost to them. Jonas thinks the doctor is wrong, but he stays silent because that’s what he’s been told to do.
Cut to five years later. Jonas is now a doctor and establishing himself in his practice in Leicester. He’s also decided to marry, so compiles a list of what he considers the ten prettiest women in town. After seeing Lydia Charingford, he considers adding an eleventh to the list. Then he learns that this lovely and poised young woman is the same girl he saw five years before.
This is a story of consequences. Lydia lives with the consequences of having been seduced when she was fifteen, something she and her family must forever keep a secret or there will be social ruin. Jonas lives with the consequences of his silence on the night he met Lydia, when he knows he should have said something as the old doctor he was shadowing dispensed moral judgements and a potentially dangerous prescription. These incidents have shaped who they are now and cause much of the conflict between them.
There are two time jumps in this novella; the first is a jump of five years between Lydia and Jonas’ first meeting and the second of sixteen months which covers the time period of The Duchess War — and those two time jumps are, I feel a big key as to why this story works. We see the trouble begin with Jonas and Lydia’s first meeting because his inaction that night shapes who he is as a doctor. When they meet again, Lydia mistakes his intentions and believe that because Jonas knows her history, his attentions have a less honorable bent. It is when she speaks frankly to him that she will not be ruined and if he tries anything, he’ll be sorry, that Jonas finds himself taken with her and his potential list of brides has shrunk to one.
The second time jump now happens and we’re sixteen months later, shortly before Christmas and the main body of the story. Lydia has been engaged and had it fall through rather disastrously, convincing her that she isn’t a particularly good judge of the male character as husband potential. Jonas’ father, who suffers from dementia, is starting to fail and his condition leads to the injury of a young boy Jonas had hired to help look after him. Neither is in a particularly good place emotionally, which is perhaps why things come to a head. Where he only sees tragedy, she helps him see hope and joy, while he helps her to face the fears and doubts that sprang from her seduction and subsequent pregnancy.
And here is where the short form shines. In a longer book, Jonas and Lydia would have been kept apart longer, which would have likely lead to frustration that Lydia needed to “just get over it” since her her fears were what was holding her back. And Jonas’ insistence on simply not going away when she tells him to would start to seem a bit stalkery if things were dragged out. There was a point where my Goodreads update read “The hero just behaved like a Class A jerk. That he might have done so deliberately to provoke a reaction from the heroine provides some saving grace, but I found myself questioning their relationship.” Jonas quickly redeemed himself, though, and with the focus on the two of them, I found the rest of the story a delight. My main quibble with short romances is that things often feel rushed and I’m left wanting. This, however, felt the right length and I think the structure, that we have the time jumps helped.
Novellas are seeing a resurgence these days, a way for authors to promote a series or lure new readers in with a story that wouldn’t work in the longer form, but that the author wants to tell. It’s a great way for readers to discover new authors or try something different if they’re not ready to dive into longer works. This is one I’d definitely recommend to someone who hasn’t reach Courtney Milan’s work before. It’s a quick, satisfying read and I definitely will be reading more from her.