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Prueba1675

I have a problem.

I can’t get rid of any books, no matter how crowded and chaotic my shelves have become.

I’m not sure why. Yes, I grew up with thousands of books–as seen here, in this picture of me reading to my daddy in our library, my favorite room in the house.in library with daddy

And yet, my dearest, most simpatico buddy, who has been my best friend since I was four years old and came from a very similar book-oriented family, doesn’t struggle with this. Once I said to her, “Oh, wouldn’t you just love to own all the Jane Austen books in beautiful hardcover editions?” But she simply shook her head. “Not really,” she said calmly. “You can always get those from the library.”

And she’s right, of course. Because of her saner attitude, her house is clean and neat and tidy, and I envy the heck out of it.

Mine is a mess. library bookstore

My office, particularly, is out of control right now, and if I could just free up some space on the shelves to store other things…But I can’t seem to make the tough decisions.

bookcase
Every day, I wake up determined to weed out. Every day, I come in, stare at the shelves, and walk away again, unable to part with any book, no matter how old or new, read or unread, paperback or hard, illustrated or not, classic or quirky.

I know some of you must have conquered this problem! I’d be so grateful if you’d share! What guidelines do you use? Is there some rule I could apply that would make the amputations easier?

I’d truly love to know what the key is to letting go.

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Tiara

Such exciting news! I’ve just been named Queen of the Universe!!! Well, okay, not quite, but it feels that way! As of today, I’m officially the newest member of the fantastic group of writers who blog together as the Jaunty Quills!

I love, love these authors, and I was so proud to be invited to join their site! It’s been so hard not to shout it from the rooftops! happy computer

I am lucky enough to know a few of them personally. Nancy Robards Thompson, who writes such sparkling, sexy stories for Harlequin Special Edition, is one of my critique partners. Katherine Garbera, whose fun, sensual Desire titles you probably already love, is a longtime friend and such a sweetie that I even forgive her for getting to live in England. Cindy Kirk, who also writes fabulous love stories for Special Edition, is a newer friend who feels like an old one.

The six other authors I technically know only by their brilliant reputations–although their warm, wise blog posts make me feel as if I really know them even better.

redman photo 115 fb kids fav scarf vert headshot Of course, I’ll still be blogging here whenever there’s something special to share, but I’ll spend a lot of time over at the Jaunty Quills. I hope you’ll stop by and say hello. It’s a fabulous place to hang out with some of the best names in the industry and make friends with friendly, talented people who love to chat about reading and writing, pets and children, trips and TV, unicorn dreams, pine nuts, Pinterest, and even freaky frogs. It’s more fun than you ought to be able to have online…and you can win give-aways, too! Hope to see you there!

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Prueba1675

I finished my manuscript, and the joy of a little free time is making me giddy! But even though I’ve given myself a full week off, there still aren’t enough hours in the day to read everything on my list and in my stacks. I have books due back at the library any minute. I have new ones, bought with my Mother’s Day gift certificates, gleaming at me from their pile on the desk. I have an Amazon wish list about eight pages long. 😉 Seriously.

K with Age of Innocence 2 So what do I do? I pick up a book I’ve read maybe half a dozen times before. Edith Wharton’s THE AGE OF INNOCENCE is so sad, so beautifully written, so fascinating in its exploration of how savage social expectations can be, that I never, ever tire of it!

The new books will have to wait a little longer.

In fact, I have two writers I re-read frequently. Rex Stout, who wrote the Nero Wolfe mysteries, is the author I choose if I’m unhappy, or lonely, or worried. Nero Wolfe shelfArchie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe are the greatest of all buddy teams, and together there’s nothing they can’t handle. They always inspire me to believe I can handle my problems, too.

Guess that’s why I have a whole shelf of extremely well worn Stout books.

I don’t turn to Edith Wharton, my other staple, unless I’m feeling strong. Seriously strong–I’m talking about “I am woman. Hear me roar” strong. Her books are gorgeous, but they’ll take out your heart and stomp that sucker flat, as Lewis Grizzard so memorably put it. If I’m already emotionally fragile in any way, I give Wharton a wide berth. Hey–since I have her in hand now, I guess that means finishing a manuscript is empowering, right? 😉

window with booksHow about you? Are you always moving forward, conquering new books, checking them off your to-be-read lists? Or do you sometimes snuggle up with an old favorite, preferring to spend time with old (character) friends?

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redman photo 82 side k pref head vert typaI had a very strict mother. Not about everything, you understand. She was actually quite a free-thinker, an intellectual and a good deal ahead of her time, feministically speaking. 🙂 But she believed in a certain kind of public behavior. Manners. Refinement.

Lucy at typewriterWhatever you call it, she must have made a bigger impression on me than I realized. I like to think of myself as terrifically open-minded, a little avante garde in a very ladylike way, not at all repressed or repressive.

Imagine my shock, then, when my daughter told me that, way back when she was in elementary school and someone did something crazy, her friends would pose the sardonic question, “Irene, would your mother call this vulgar? Or tacky?”

OMG. That is how they saw me? Cool, intellectual, free-thinking me? Apparently.

puzzle monsterSo, just for the record, girls, here’s how you know what’s vulgar, and what’s tacky.

TACKY is just a bit cheap, poorly made, or the etiquette equivalent of poorly made. It hints that you might not have champagne tastes or the Queen’s manners. Nobody gets hurt with tacky. It includes innocent sins, like showing too much cleavage at a funeral, or letting your dog lick your plate when you’re finished.

VULGAR is much, much worse. Vulgar is when you send naked pictures of yourself in a Santa hat as Christmas cards–and you actually believe it’s sexy, not gross. Vulgar is when you make body-function jokes in front of your maiden aunt, or tell strangers too many details about things that should be private.

Tacky makes you look bad. Vulgar makes other people uncomfortable.

Or so my mother taught me.

However, there are quite a few things that the world probably considers tacky (and I *KNOW* my mother did!) that I absolutely adore. Don’t we all have some? Here’s my list of my top five Tacky Treats.

St. Francis corner1) Yard knick-knacks. I know…I really do know…that a dozen cheap little ornaments scattered around your yard don’t look very swanky. But I don’t care. I’m addicted. I do keep my shame in the *back* yard, though, to avoid embarrassing the rest of the family.

beach store mannequin2) Kitschy beach stores. I love the smell of plastic beach toys shaped like alligators, and what we used to call “suntan oil,” but now would undoubtedly call “sunscreen.” I like towels embroidered with the name of my favorite beach: Indian Rocks. I like flip flops and straw hats and yellow plastic buckets with crenelated bottoms for making sand castles. I even like…get ready…little people and creatures made entirely of shells, like these poker players.

puppy in christmas lights

3) Christmas lights hanging crooked, or mismatched. I love the idea that real people who want to twinkle a Merry Christmas to their neighbors actually get on ladders and string these babies up…maybe getting a little cranky, even, while they do it. I like yards that have gone a little too far (not Griswold far), or who clearly let the six-year-old pick out the color scheme. I don’t really like those net strands of lights, because they look too neat, too linear, as if someone professional put them on.swing at christmas I also love lights that stay on all year. I have an outdoor swing that I decorate with fairy lights. I have some in all different colors–pink for Valentine’s Day, red-white-blue for Fourth of July, purple and orange for Halloween. I’m hopeless.

glitter

4) Glitter. This is obviously a hangover from childhood. We had a babysitter once who knew how to draw a ballerina using only a very few lines to make a fluffy tutu skirt. And then she’d let us paste glitter along each ruffle of the skirt. Oh, it was magical, and I never got over it. Also, we used to drive to Indian Rocks Beach on Florida’s Gulf Coast every summer, and somewhere along the way we passed a billboard that had a strip of something metallic that glittered in the noonday sun. I can’t remember what it advertised…if anyone else remembers, please let me know! I see that glittering sign in my dreams!

Tiara5) Wacky costume jewelry. I don’t wear this, you understand. Not because I’m afraid of offending the memory of my mother. She thought costume jewelry could approach true art. I don’t wear it because I wear four piece of jewelry, the same ones all the time. A necklace, a watch, my wedding rings, and a pair of earrings. I got them all from His Highness on special occasions, and, except for the earrings, I never take change them. The necklace hasn’t come off in twenty-six years…although don’t worry–it does take showers. But in a purely “museum” way, I love a fabulously tacky piece of costume jewelry. The more color and kitch the better! I particularly can’t resist tiaras. 🙂 Pinterest was invented to allow people like me to indulge interests like that. 🙂

Big blue monsterI also love wonderful, horrible tearjerker ballads, like “Shake Me I Rattle, Squeeze Me, I Cry.” But those songs can’t be on this list, because they’re corny, not tacky. Don’t believe me? Ask your mom. 🙂

How about you? What do you insist on loving, in spite of snob pressure to renounce it?

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Prueba1675

Today is the official Day of Joy recognized by every writer on the face of the earth, I would be willing to bet. Today is the day after I finally submitted my overdue manuscript. My book is complete. (Until my brilliant editor finds the goof-ups and guides me toward revisions that will make it GOOD book!).

I am a free woman.

redman photo 82 side k pref head vert typa

But that first day of freedom, after weeks and weeks, sometimes months and months, of enslavement, is always strange. I come creeping out of my deadline cave, hunched and blinking at the daylight, asking everyone, “What year is it?” And then, just when I thought I would run skipping all over my world, screaming, “FREEDOM! BRING ON THE FUN!” I am oddly paralyzed. I’ve forgotten how to do anything but write. I’ve lost the knack of feeling anything but guilty, pressed and terrified that my words won’t be good enough.

That’s when a quiet day of reading can provide the perfect bridge. The quiet place between deadline Hell and (temporary) freedom Heaven.

I’ve got so many books stacked up I hardly know which one to select. Here are the ones I’ve started with:

penelopiad coverTHE PENELOPIAD, by Margaret Atwood.
This one will probably win, because it’s a very cool retelling of the Penelope/Odysseus myth, only this time from Penelope’s POV. I’ve begun it…and Penelope is such a wry, honest voice that I don’t see how I can switch to something else till I’ve heard what she has to say. Plus, this is a library book, and it’s due soon.
🙂

zelda book
Z: A NOVEL OF ZELDA FITZGERALD, by Therese Anne Fowler.
No, wait! This one might win, because I just saw THE GREAT GATSBY, and it put me in the mood!
I loved the Luhrmann version of Gatsby, though I have some great friends who disagree with me…almost violently! 🙂 If you saw it, I’d love to hear what you thought!
Shakespeare and Dickens booksSHAKESPEARE’S TREMOR AND ORWELL’S COUGH, The Medical Lives of Famous Writers, by John J. Ross, M.D.
This is one I can pick at, a chapter at a time, so it’ll probably just wander around with me for a few weeks, filling in odd moments. But doesn’t it sound cool? It explores the “medical mysteries” of some famous and fascinating writers.

DICKENS AND THE DAUGHTER OF THE HOUSE, by Hilary M. Schor.
This one probably appeals only to lit-geeks, because it explores the role of the daughter in Dickens novels. However, because I *am* a lit-geek, it’s made the short list.

babysitting ShoshieOr, I could just go out on the back porch and watch my son’s puppy play in the yard while I get started on my next book. We’re puppy-sitting for a few days, and the little rascal provided a wonderful excuse to write outside as I polished the last few chapters. I love my office setup, but there’s nothing like birdsong and sunshine to provide the inspiration a romance writer needs!

What about you? When you finish a long and difficult task, what do you do to celebrate?

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So many books…

Prueba1675This week, I’m still on deadline. In fact, the deadline has become a kind of looming nightmare. I pretty much sleep and dream and eat and breathe the book I’m finishing up.

But even in such a state, I must read. My one concession to the Big Truth of the deadline is that I’m turning to short stories. Just quick palate cleansers to take me out of my own hamster wheel of a brain for a few minutes.

Daddy's bookplateTurns out, I have a really nice collection of short stories, many of which bear my father’s bookplate or my mother’s annotations. handwritten notes on short stories

Obviously, I come from a family of short-story fans. I have several life-long favorites, about which I’m absolutely passionate. I thought I’d share some with you, in the hopes that you might turn me on to some I might have missed. Here are a few of the ones I think are magnificent:

If you’re looking for funny:

WHY I LIVE AT THE P.O., by Eudora Welty. OMG, when I first read this one I laughed until my stomach ached.

MY FIRST CONFESSION, by Frank O’Connor. Ditto. You’ll never look at a butter knife, or a confessional, the same way again.

JUNIOR MISS, by Sally Benson. As every parent knows, the teenager can deliver a put-down like no one else. Sally Benson captures this complicated sibling relationship perfectly!

If you’re looking for great twists:

I’m assuming you’ve read Guy de Maupassant’s THE NECKLACE, but if you haven’t, do that today! 🙂 Otherwise, here are some really fun ones…

BERNICE BOBS HER HAIR, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Don’t judge Fitzgerald by the bloated silliness of the Benjamin Button film, or even by Gatsby, if you were forced to read him in high school. Bernice is fabulous–she stands for the mistreated ugly duckling in all of us. And, even better, she’s the perfect illustration of the expression “even a worm will turn.” 🙂 Bernice has been one of my best fictional friends since I was a teenager, and I promise you’ll be standing on your chair and cheering for her at the end!

FORBIDDEN BRIDES OF THE FACELESS SLAVES IN THE SECRET HOUSE OF THE NIGHT OF DREAD DESIRE, by Neil Gaiman. What fun he has with all our cliches and expectations! If you’re a writer, don’t miss this one!

WAS IT A DREAM? by Guy de Maupassant. I just discovered this short story this week! My daughter recommended it, and boy was she right! It’s short, and packs a quick, nasty punch. De Maupassant really knows how to build tension. You know what’s coming, but that doesn’t spoil the effect. All you can do is wring your hands and dread the moment the anvil falls!

ROMAN FEVER, by Edith Wharton. Maybe I really like Turning-Worm stories. This is another, with the bonus of Wharton’s magnificent descriptions and razor-sharp characterizations. Ah, Mrs. Ansley. You wonderful, terrible woman!

If you want to think while reading lovely, lovely prose:

DANCE OF THE HAPPY SHADES, by Alice Munro. If you ever took music lessons, you’ll recognize so much here. Even if you didn’t, I doubt that you’ll forget Miss Marsalles and her pupils.

RUNAWAY, by Alice Munro. Beautiful, sad, creepy, layered and textured and just plain wonderful. Read it before you get married. 😉

BLISS, Katherine Mansfield. This is as light and shimmering as sun on water, but the melancholy it creates will linger in your heart for…well, maybe forever.

HILLS LIKE ELEPHANTS, Ernest Hemingway. If you haven’t re-read this since it was assigned in English class, give it another try. Once it’s released from the chains of compulsion, it comes perfectly to life. Even those of us who far, far prefer Fitzgerald’s lush prose to Hemingway’s lean muscle can finally see why he’s so widely revered. So real, so understated, and so tragic.

AUTRES TEMPS, by Edith Wharton. This lovely Wharton story makes us take a look at how defined we are by our times, how many of our ideas of right and wrong come from outside us, not from some deep moral place, as we like to imagine. It feeds a true understanding of “situational ethics” in the most delicious fictional serving.

women of weird coverIf you’re in the mood for creepy:

A ROSE FOR EMILY, by William Faulkner. As a Southerner, I found this particularly believable. But even if you didn’t grow up surrounded by picturesque eccentrics with the occasional True Crazy thrown in, you’ll love the broody, creepy tone of this lovely piece of writing.

RAPPACCINI’S DAUGHTER, by Nathaniel Hawthorne. His prose is a little turgid, but the image of Beatrice moving about her beautiful, doomed garden is…though I know I’m overusing the word…unforgettable.

THE ONES WHO WALK AWAY FROM OMELAS, by Ursula Le Guin. Beautifully imagined…haunting. This story lies heavily on your spirits for a while, and then it becomes one of the Terrible Truths you accept about life. What an extraordinary tale!

Okay…those are mine! At least for today…this list might be quite different tomorrow. And already I’m thinking of some great ones I didn’t mention. A SUNRISE ON THE VELDT,

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Prueba1675

I haven’t come even close to reading what was on my TBR pile this week. (I didn’t need those last two words. This is the case EVERY week! 🙂 )

In fact, all I ever do, it seems, is ADD TO the pile. Here’s how it happened…tell me if any of this sounds familiar! 🙂

His Highness and I rearranged some furniture in various rooms, which meant moving some books, which meant I actually browsed one of the bookcases I don’t usually get to. Oh, dear. LOOK at all these wonderful books! I pulled out Truman Capote’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” Northrop Frye’s “Anatomy of Criticism,” and Mary Stewart’s “This Rough Magic.” I felt quite proud of my restraint. It could have been 30 instead of three!

Then, my daughter and I walked to Barnes and Noble, to be virtuous and get some exercise. B&N was the reward for the virtue. But would it have been much of a reward if we hadn’t bought anything? So I got one of the Kate Atkinson books I’d missed. I loved her “Case Histories,” and I was thrilled to see these newer ones. Again, I was proud of myself. It could have been a hundred.

DSC02741 Another thing…the RITA award finalists were announced, this past Tuesday. Some of the books looked soooo good, but I hadn’t ever read them! Well, I’m a writer. I’m supposed to be studying the best in my craft, always growing, always improving. So I had to buy a few and download them to my Kindle. So proud of myself…didn’t buy ALL the ones I wanted. Just about four.

Later that night, in another fit of virtue, I realized that I’m not using my Audible account as much as I should. I got it so that I’d have plenty of books on tape to amuse me while I take my daily walks. But I’ve found that my favorite diversion is corny oldies, which sweep me along to their beats, and remind me of how much fun it was to be young and fit. So…needed to put the Audible account on hold, be virtuous, save a few pennies, right? Except that I had some credits there that I must use before I initiated the hold. So I picked up “The Queen of Bedlam” by Robert McCammon and Phillip Pullman’s “Grimm Tales for Young and Old.” Just the two. Just to save a few pennies.

Then, while I was researching a lecture for one of my Brit Lit classes, I got an itch to read a new biography of Zelda Fitzgerald, “Z” by Terese Anne Fowler. (I know…not Brit lit, but still…one thing leads to another…)

Photo by Chris Chan

Photo by Chris Chan

My book budget being totally blown, I decided to try the library. Oops! Remember those books I checked out in a dazed semi-orgy a few weeks ago…but haven’t read? OVERDUE. When I signed in online, I discovered that once again I’m featured on a big, shameful WANTED poster in the library lobby.

WANTED: Bookaholic With Absolutely No Restraint. Ten books overdue. Fines in double digits. Approach With Caution! Considered impractical, absent-minded, dreamy and very dangerous.

So…yeah. Ten added to the pile, ten overdue and costing me big bucks, all while honestly trying to be so, so good.

See what I mean? There are just too many books.

Sound familiar?

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