My 2015 Bookshelf

You're acquainted with that gig we do each December/January, when we all post lists of the books we've read during the last year.  It's tradition.  I walked into the sunroom to pick up my book-log moleskin notebook and jot down the latest book I finished, and the tradition came back to me.  So here I am, writing up a post of the books I've read this past year.
the purge
Before I get into that, I have to admit I did a thing recently that I never thought I would do, that most book bloggers will instinctively consider anathema.  I got rid of books.  Lots and lots of books.  I sorted and cleaned my shelves.  I still have quite a chunk of books left, but an even larger mountain of books are sitting in my garage in boxes, waiting to be carted off to Goodwill.  I had so many books, it was pinching my nerves.  They were ugly and messy and made me feel guilty when I looked at them.  I hadn't read most of them - many of them, I honestly didn't feel like reading at all.  So I pulled them all off the shelves, I sorted through them, and I kept only the ones that I loved, only the ones I actually, seriously wanted to read (not the ones I had told myself, "well...I'll read it some day"), and the books I knew I wanted my children to read.  That was it.  That constitutes a large collection still, but much slimmer and more manageable than the zoo I had before.  Phew.
the list
The Tulip by Pavord (1/3/15) - a massive, beautiful book on the history of the tulip. yes, I read a gigantic book on a flower.

Assurance by J.C. Ryle (1/7/15) - a little booklet on just that, the assurance of salvation. I love J.C. Ryle's work.

50 Things Every Young Lady Should Know by West  (1/7/15) - a little book on feminine etiquette. got this as a Christmas present from my parents last year.

A Year In Provence by Mayle (1/20/15) - a funny culinary journey through 365 English days in a French land.

First Principles of Verse by Hillyer (2/12/15) - a small book I picked up at random, but which proved to be a gem of instruction.

Jane Eyre by C. Bronte (3/-/15) - this doesn't need any introduction.

Villette by C. Bronte (7/-/15) - another of Charlotte's, a beautiful, personal fiction of an English girl in France. Ask Katie for details. XD

Wuthering Heights by E. Bronte (7/-/15) - I read a lot of Bronte this year.

Rebecca by du Maurier (8/3/15) - phew! what a tense, tense read.

For All the Tea in China by Rose (9/12/15) - an account of Robert Fortune, the man who stole tea plants from the insular world of China and broke the Oriental monopoly on the world's favourite drink.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by A. Bronte (??) - arguably my favourite Bronte novel thus far, with Jane Eyre being close.

Agnes Grey by A. Bronte (10/3/15) - not as strong a novel as Anne's latter work, but that's understandable. still, enjoyable!

Face Paint by Eldridge (10/22/15) - ever since hearing that my favourite makeup artist was publishing a book on the history of makeup, I was on pins and needles to get it. it did not disappoint! what a lovely, insightful, inspiring read it turned out to be!

Black Spring by Croogan* my bad, it's Crogan, I just miswrote it (11/17/15) - this novel was recommended to me by Mirriam; it's a fantastical twist on Wuthering Heights, and I hate to admit it, but I enjoyed it more than the original. I felt that Croogan took some of the holes or poorly answered aspects of Emily's work, and fleshed them out, made them even more poignant, or put them in a garb they should have had. perhaps Emily should have written fantasy instead. it might have suited her tastes better.

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Kondo (11/25/15) - one of the most delightful, inspiring books I've read this year, this simple, drastic approach to decluttering (and staying decluttered!) has helped me shift loads off my life.

The Little Book of Skincare by Cho (12/28/15) - yes, more Asians! I absolutely love Korean skincare and if you let me loose in one of their department stores, I would be happily lost forever. their fabled ten-step routine is legendary and I thoroughly enjoyed getting a front-row seat via this book, getting to know the Korean way of skincare in wonderful, accessible detail.
the current
The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Schiff. I saw this endorsed by historian/author Robert K. Massie, whose books my father owns many if not all of, so I grabbed this book off the B&N shelf without a second thought.  so far, so good!

how about you? what did you read this year?

The Point Is To Avoid Them

I saw a list of romance tropes on a popular, otherwise reputable blog the other day.  At first my thought was that the author/blogger was warning young writers against these tropes.  Disappointment: she was not.  Some of them were so-so, many of them were regrettable, some of them were downright awful.  I had to laugh to keep from crying.

I'm going to give the author the benefit of the doubt and assume she just found this list, alphabetized it, and posted it, because I certainly hope no established author in her right mind would willingly recommend young writers use tropes as a crutch.  We've all used tropes before, okay?  We all start there.  Then we look back and blush and try to hurry on as quickly as possible.  But please, don't recommend to people that these tropes are actually good things.  We're supposed to move on from them, not carry them with us.

Okay, I'm going to hit the highlights here.  You ready?  Be prepared to blush and laugh and cry and tear your hair out.  It gets good.

abduction to love: I think this is called Stockholm syndrome, and isn't it considered a bad thing?  Yo, Phantom of the Opera - what do you think?
accidental pregnancy: Somebody please explain to me (I am otherwise experienced in this) how you can have an "accidental" pregnancy. 
amnesia:  Ah ha ha, "50 First Dates," anyone?  How depressing is that...
antihero romance:  Unless you really know what you're doing, this is going to be lame.  Just because he/she is the antihero does not mean he/she is automatically hot/brooding/mysterious.  
arranged marriage:  Because we are so enlightened now and arranged marriages are a freak-show of the past. 
bait and switch: Yeah, that worked out well for Jacob.
beauty and the beast:  Again?
best friend’s lover:  Blurred morality.
best friend’s sibling:  Why is this a big deal?
best friends/ friends first:  Finally, someone is making sense here.
blackmail:  How does blackmail produce romance?
bodyguard crush:  Oh, grow up.
boy hates girl:  Yes, yes, I know, but try not to disguise the fact that they are going to get together because, let's face it, we all know they're going to get together.  That's how the stories work. 
boy meets ghoul:  Say what, now?  
boy meets girl:  Really.  Tell me something I don't know.  The book was listed under "romance," after all.
break his heart to save him:  Go ahead and try this one, it could be good.  There is immediate character interplay just in this one line.  This is the kind of love which has true grit: it's going to save him, even if it means he can't have what he thought he wanted.  It could be good.
bully turned puppy lover:  Because this is obviously what we should all strive for.

celibate hero:  What.
consanguinity: At first I thought we were talking about incest, but no, it's not that bad.
crazy love: What.
damaged lead finds happily ever after:  Because no one has ever written that before.
dark secret keeps them apart:  Or this one.
different worlds:  Or this one.
fling:  Oh yes, this is the best idea yet.  Shallow, biological attraction.  That's the heart of romance right there.
forbidden love/Romeo and Juliet:  I'm still convinced that "Romeo & Juliet" was meant to be a comedic satire on EVERYONE WHO WOULD WRITE THAT KIND OF STORY.
girl wants bad boy: Girl, go home.  You're too stupid to know what is good for you.
guardian/ward:  Everyone sees that coming.
guy wants cheerleader:  The hell why?
if I can’t have you, no one will!:  May or may not have used this one to some extent in "Plenilune."
imaginary love triangle:  I tried to use imaginary shapes in geometry class.  It didn't work.
impotent love:  Exactly why are we using the word "impotent" alongside "love"?
innocent cohabitation:  Yes, this is what naive young girls fantasize about, but real life does not work that way. 
instant/false sweethearts:  I - what? I don't actually know what to make of this one.
it happened in Vegas: Because that is always the precursor to a healthy romance.

long-term lovers: I know, they're such exotic creatures these days.
love reforms villain: Usually lame and frequently unrealistic.
love triangle:  I think most readers actually hate love triangles.
mad love:  How is this different from "crazy love"?  Is it actually mad?  Is it angry or insane?  I don't have enough to work with here.

men in uniform:  I'm sorry to disappoint you, but the militia has already left for Brighton.
mistaken declaration of love leads to love:  I actually sat here for several minutes trying to work this one out.  I've got nothing.
one night stand:  Are you serious right now?
one wants true love/other wants a fling:  Seriously?
oops! fall in love with the wrong person (which could ruin everything!):  Okay, wow, love is not a contagion that you can't avoid despite taking women's supplements and drinking orange juice every morning.  It's not something that "accidentally" happens to you.  Sheesh, I am so ticked off right now.
partners in crime:  Literally or figuratively?  Because crime is still crime, whether you love your accomplice or not.
passionate lovers:  As opposed to dispassionate lovers.
Plain Jane get the hottie:  Yay, Jane!  You go, girl!
playboy:  Encouraging the erroneous view that rich, profligate guys are totally hot and if you can just reform them of their ways, they will still remain mysterious, suave, and filthy-money-loaded.  
politics:  There is little romance in politics.  You are either a pawn or a prostitute or both.  

reluctant sex worker:  As opposed to an enthusiastic one?  Guess she won't get a good tip.
removing the rival:  But what if the rival was "the one"? What if they were both walking side by side and one of them gets struck by lightning?  What then?
rescue romance:  This has been done.
return to hometown:  This has also been done.
revenge:  Because that worked out so well for the Count of Monte Cristo.
road trip romance:  There's nothing more romantic than having to put up with the woman's tiny bladder on a long car ride.
rock star hero:  Money? Check.  Fame?  Check.  Good looks? Check.  Got yourself a perfect recipe for a cheap romance right there.
royalty:  Yes, just so long as you give me a male heir, otherwise we're through.
scars from the past:  Done.

secret baby- he doesn’t know she’s PG:  I literally do not know how to handle this.  Does "PG" mean "pregnant?"  Or does she need parental guidance?  And, you know, if she is pregnant, he's going to get wise to the situation sooner or later.
secret that can end everything:  I may or may not have testified against those French nobility.  You may or may not be an Englishman in disguise.
sibling triangle:  I was also afraid this was incest, but I think it's just that two siblings are crushing on some one other unrelated person.  This actually happened to someone I know and, trust me, it turns out super horribly for everyone.
sibling’s ex-spouse:  I'm going to be downright honest here and say that, since I do subscribed to what God has said, this is not an acceptable situation unless the spouse has died.
sleeps with everyone but you:  Then maybe there is something wrong with you.
sudden parent:  What the hell even?  Generally you get some warning, so, no excuse.
the one that got away:  Then obviously she has good taste.
time travel:  Super, super difficult.  Do not attempt unless you know what you are doing.  A good romance is hard enough to pull off without throwing time-travel into the mix.
tortured hero(ine):  Wow, that's a novel idea.  I've never heard that one before.
tragic love affair:  All affairs are, by nature, tragic.
tragic past:  Yes, by all means, let's cheapen real tragedy.

unrequited-love-switcheroo love triangle:  I cannot take you seriously if you use the word "switcheroo."
unwanted harem:  Now, this is just hilarious.  
virginal/innocent:  I know, right?  It's so rare these days.
wallflower noticed by the rakeYes, but did you remember to pick up the leaves?
In case you were wondering, yes, I really love romance.  Right off the top of my head, I can think of only two pending stories which do not include romance.  Romance is great!  Romance is sweet.  Romance touches us.  Romance is what we all long for.  So yes, I am making fun of most of these tropes - because tropes are generally stupid.  But also yes, I am completely in favour of romance.
Just not these.

What I Owe You

Back when I was working on publishing Plenilune all on my own - no, let's backtrack over that.  To say I published Plenilune "all on my own" is a misstatement.  I had lots and lots and lots of help.  Seriously, it would never have been possible if not for the many, many people who responded when I reached out to them.  I am so thankful for that.

It was not an easy road, and some people made it even harder.  In my stumbling attempts to figure out what to do and where to go, someone took personal offense at my difficulties.  Upon contacting this author in the hopes of receiving a shout-out on her blog for my book, I received the coldest, most crushing email I have ever got from anyone ever.  It was made very clear to me that I was considered no more than an up-start, an amateur, a poor writer, unworthy of regard.  I was so stunned by the tone of the email that I sobbed.  Needless to say, I'm full of self-doubt and esteem issues.  I wonder if I am any good every day of my writing career.  It didn't help to have someone so viciously add fuel to the flames. 

I deleted that email, but I haven't forgotten it.  I've never contacted that author again, but the wound she served me is still sore.  But it did highlight one thing for me today as its memory resurrected in my mind - as it sometimes does.  It showed me how much I owe to you people who still believe in me, who love Plenilune, who anxiously and patiently await my subsequent books.   

Thank you.  Thank you, everyone who loves my work, who cares for me, who supports me, who cheers me when you read my snippets, who stick around The Penslayer even though you know I'm quietly working away and have nothing to update.   

Thank you.  You are why I am here today.  You are why I look forward to publishing another novel.  You, my "blogging friends," as you were scathingly referred to, are my support, my network, my grape-vine.  You care and you are awesome.  Anyone who has ever had a career serving art to people will tell you - the people are your friends. 

so thank you. thank you so, so much.
xoxo, the penslayer

Drakeshelm & Adamantine Updates

Does anybody really care?  Does anybody really care?  Do I care?  Yes, I think I care.

I am three parts lazy, two parts bereft of ideas, and six parts bad at math.  And that is why The Penslayer has been so quiet lately.  But I think you do care about my writing and I like to tell you how things are going, I just don't always have a meaningful update to give.  "I'm writing.  I'm still writing.  I've petered off for now.  Okay, I'm writing again," is an accurate but dull description of my progress.
current work
My "current work-in-progress" is Drakeshelm, one of my Plenilunar novels.  It's pretty far down the chronological line, but I don't like putting novels on hold which are bursting to be written, because then I lose the inspiration and the story isn't as good when I go to write it later.  So I'm working on that now.  At the risk of jinxing myself, the storyline is coming along nicely.  This is the first time I am writing in the third person from two separate characters' points of view, and the trick is to make sure my readers don't feel sorry to leave one character behind and try to rush through the next character to get back to the first.  Because, let's face it, we've all read those books.  Both characters need to be equally engaging.  And it is not easy.
Alongside Drakeshelm, I am also allowing my rewrite for Adamantine to bob up now and then whenever I get the inspiration for a scene.  I am intensely excited for this novel.  I have almost completely divorced myself from the original draft, and very nearly cut myself free of the nagging terror that this draft won't be as good as the first.  Mirriam said "It's more like the dreams other books have when they go to sleep," and I think that is pretty much accurate.  And just in case anyone still needs a little more convincing that this draft is going to be in lockstep with what you have come to expect from the Penslayer (yours truly, not the blog), allow me to favour you with one of my current favourite clips.  Enjoy!

I could smell the electric spirit reaching fever pitch and I knew it was too strong. In a panic I leapt forward, my staff crosswise over my body, and screamed into the gale, “Fall back! fall back to me!” with every nerve straining to make my voice heard through the tempest.
They heard me. The roaring turned on its heel and seemed to rear up into a howling shriek which rattled my bones. Out of the fireshot darkness came first one streaking white weasel, then another—then they were fleeing past me like a comet storm while the Good Dog filled the void behind me and made for them a bulwark against the onslaught. My skin felt raw with their light, my nerves were breaking with blast and surge and thunder and the effort to hold it all together. The last little spirit shot behind me and something in me almost had time to whisper, It is over, get gone at once! but then I sobbed with heartbreak for at the same moment I saw it was not.
The storm came at me out of the vale, hurling aside the trees, burning sky and landscape in a titanic lightning battle that shivered and sheared and turned the marrow in my bones to vapour. I could not move. It rushed up the hillside at me in a manic wall of fire, cracking off thunderbolts from a dozen places at once so that the air bled with energy. Every hair on my body rose on end as the electricity coursed in blue streaks across my flesh. It roared up to me—
And stopped. Out of the wall but inches from my blood-drained face shivered a crack and materialized a mask of ivory and scarlet geometrics, caught in a mimicry of a snarl, and I came face to face with the Weapon. 

Another Year Under Wraps (And Snippets)

The first day of December!  Christmas is around the corner! (In twenty-five days which never sounds like a long time but then seems like eternity.)  I am now twenty-five years old, and my baby is about to be one!  Oshkoshbagosh!  I cannot believe it has been a whole year; looking back, I'm not sure how I survived.  It has been both more rewarding and more grueling than I imagined it would be.  Just today I was tickling and twirling my 20+ pound baby over in my arms and realized that I never would have been able to do that a year ago: simply caring for her has made me stronger physically, and it has made me more selfless as an individual.

Finding time to write is actually not that hard.  Filigree has a decent schedule and, if I like, I can write whenever she is taking a nap.  I don't always, but for all you who consider having babies and writing, and despair, take it from me: it's not as impossible as you think.  Okay, but seriously, I want to give you a snippets post and go take a nap because I am falling asleep as I write this, so let's get this post written here before I lose your patience.
She drew up suddenly with clustering images crowding between her eyes and the bleak world around her, pictures of the bird’s-head on the pike and the bird’s-head on the man, pictures of the great tent into which she had gone, heart in her throat and a fanged smile on her lips, like the fox trotting into the wolf’s den. Candlelight had but barely dispelled the holy gloom: on low tables, denuded of all but spatters of blood, she had been brought into the presence of the gilt deities of the Higu. The bird’s head had looked upon them with reverence and reflection, but [she] had noted them at only a glance, bird-shaped, dog-shaped, flame-shaped, woman-shaped…then her eyes had run on round the perimeter of the enclosure, her skin prickling with the nearness of other things, things which the eyes could not see and the soul shrank from in fear.

Either thou art a great liar,” said Touchlight, the soil and the roots of his parentage breaking through his cobbled tones, “or thou art an exceptionable woman.”
“For the sake of Hunlaw-gang,” she remarked glibly, “I hope I am the latter.”

With one man coughing his death-blood on the back of her neck, the other supporting himself on one good leg, [she] dragged herself clear of the mess. Her free hand found the head of the lamed soldier, bare, and she dug in her fingers to get purchase on his hair. She was rewarded with a bolstering earful of swearing as she hauled herself to her feet. Unexpectedly out of breath, she dropped her sword, took the man’s head in both hands, bent over it while he struggled in her grasp…
Don’t kill him, she thought wearily. One…two…three…
She brought her knee up into his face. With a grunt, the body jerked and slumped out of her hands.

Thank you, Philip,” she gasped. Fumbling at her middle, she unlatched her sword-belt and let it slide, unheeded, to the floor. “Thank you. Thank you.” Her voice kept coming. In detached horror, she could not make it stop. Her hands were shaking. Her hands were bloody and shaking.

It might have been enchantment—it was uncanny. Of a sudden a wind came with a noise and rush through the place, hard enough to shake the trees into a tempest over the walls and whirl the fresh leaves over the seats and across the pavement. Akilina felt the hair on her body rise on end with a sensation of excitement and horror. There was a dual sound of whispering, rising silks as gentlemen on every hand rose up from the benches, their faces turned toward the doors. Her heartbeat slowed, stilled, drubbed rhythmically through her body like the beating of the waves on the shore.
Good Lord of all and God my God, protect me.
The doors were heaved aside: the fullness of the wind banked down the rostrum, pivoting on its invisible wings and clipping, lifting the mailed coins of Akilina’s veil. Their ringing was a small, hollow sound under the wind. She felt her eyes widen as if to swallow up the sight of the two figures in the doorway—and almost at once she felt a stab of disappointed rage when she saw the man was not the Devil for whom she waited. Who he was, she did not know. She did not recognize him. He was tall and finely built, lean yet broader at the shoulders than he was at the hip, fair-haired and of the arrogant, noble countenance known to the people of the Honours. He was not one of the Cubs, of that she was certain at a glance: he had not the colourless eye, that sneer which was of second nature, that lightness of limb and aura which tread down the solid matter of nature like beetles underfoot. Yet he was of importance, for upon his arm he bore none other than the She-Wolf.
Her, Akilina would have known the whole moon over, though she had never seen her before. Rumour fell short and upon its face before the woman’s feet. In the sweltering air of summer she wore a billowing, unkilted gown of white silk, weightily trimmed in flashing samite, which the wind made sport with and frothed round her frame like the breakers of the sea. That frame, for all that she had borne, was undiminished in its splendour, quite as tall and straight as the gentleman beside her, both graceful and fertile in shape. Her hair was unadorned, long and loose and loam-coloured, weaving round and framing a face which hurt with its beauty and made one hate it with a passion. She walked with the gentle swing of one accustomed to horseback, she looked round on the homage of the lords of the Honours as one accustomed to their praise.
Akilina leaned back in her chair and folded one leg over the other. Albeit beautiful, what was the She-Wolf to her? It was not the Devil’s paramour she had come to duel with, but the Devil himself. Her heart beat quickly again, and now it was flooded with an angry heat. Had he come? If she found he had sent the She-Wolf in his place, not deeming her worthy of his notice, she would teach him she was such a foe with which to reckon.
Suddenly the woman stopped, throwing up one hand; the gentleman beside her halted mid-step. They were half the rostrum from Akilina. The wind had dropped. The heavy silence was profound. Had they felt her rage?
“Well?” said the voice of the Devil at her elbow. “You have called us. We have come.”