I Can’t Stand the Rain! A Musey Thoughtsy from Marguerite Kaye

I’m happy to welcome Marguerite Kaye back to the blog today. (You know… I had planned to write this magnificent introductory paragraph, but… I got nothin’. Just imagine that I’m super smooth and professional over here, despite the sad reality.) Take it away, Marguerite!

The view at sunrise from Marguerite's window

The view at sunrise from Marguerite’s window

I’m lucky enough to live in Argyll, on the west coast of Scotland. The view from my window is of the Firth of Clyde. Directly across the water, the sun rises over the gently rolling hills of Inverclyde. To the south I can see the Ayrshire coast, the Isles of Cumbrae, Arran and Bute. And to the north the Holy Loch, Loch Long, and the Trossachs, the mountains which form the gateway to the Highlands. All without leaving the house.

My view is stunningly beautiful and it’s endlessly inspiring, but for much of he year it’s also rain-drenched. My particular nook of the Cowal Peninsula boasts the second highest annual rainfall in the whole UK – trust me, that’s a LOT of rain. And though I love my home and adore my view, I can’t stand the rain.

It literally seeps into my stories. Today, right in the middle of writing a Regency sheikh set in the searing desert, I still managed to conjure up a storm. Flick through my various books set in Scotland, or featuring Scottish heroes, and you’ll find our damp, driech climate (we’ve got more words for rain than the eskimos have for snow). Between them, the skies and the sea can be up to fifty shades of grey in the space of a morning.

No conversation is complete without a comment on the weather. Here is Fergus, a Highland veteran of Waterloo, describing his home in Argyll to Katerina, a Russian tightrope walker, from The Officer’s Temptation, my contribution to Scandal at the Midsummer Ball, a duet I’ve written with Bronwyn Scott:

‘I’ve never been to Scotland,’ Katerina said. ‘You make it sound so beautiful.’
‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder. It is lovely, though it is also very wet. We have a hundred different ways of describing rain.’
Fergus rolled onto his side, leaning his head on his hand. Automatically, Katerina did the same. ‘Tell me some of them,’ she said.
‘Well, when the sky’s gunmetal grey, and a constant drizzle of soft rain drifts down in a fine mist like this,’ he said, brushing his fingers lightly along her forearm, ‘we say it’s gie driech.’
‘Guy dreeck.’
He laughed. ‘Not bad. And when it’s that heavy rain, the kind that cascades straight down like stair rods and soaks right into your bones,’ he said, drumming his fingers on her arm, ‘we say it’s pelting.’

The incessant rain can affect our mood and make us Scots seem dour, but our rugged landscape also reflects our rugged personalities. We’re stoic, and we’re stubborn. We’re proud, and we’re hardy. Our oppressive weather is also extremely volatile. Four seasons in one day is commonplace, and as a result, we’re eternally optimistic. But because we know perfectly well that most of the time our optimism is unfounded, we’re good at laughing at ourselves – witness our attitude to our soccer team. Our humour is heavily laced with irony.

Kyles of Bute - Ainsley's view

Kyles of Bute – Ainsley’s view

My Scots heroes are borne of the landscape that surrounds me. Like the rain, Argyll and its isles are scattered through my books, and one of my favourites, Strangers at the Altar, is set near Tighnabruaich (Tie Na Broo Aich), about thirty miles from my home, though only ten as the crow flies. I over-dosed on landscape in this book, invoking all my favourite childhood haunts, unashamedly infusing it with nostalgia. Here is hero Innes describing one of my favourite views to heroine Ainsley:

‘That’s the Kyles of Bute over there, the stretch of water with all the small islands that you sailed yesterday,’ Innes said. ‘And over there, the crescent of sand you can see, that’s Ettrick Bay on Bute, the other side of the island from which we set sail. And that bigger island you can just see in the distance, that’s Arran.’

There are pictures of me as a bairn (child) learning to swim in the shallow waters of Ettrick Bay, and photos of me swimming with my nieces and nephews in the same waters just last year, decades on. My siblings and I swam in Ostell Bay too, as Innes does, though I took the liberty of omitting the flying ants which infested our childhood picnics from my adult romance:

The breeze began to die down as they headed into St Ostell Bay. Directly across, the Isle of Arran lay like a sleeping lion, a bank of low, pinkish cloud that looked more like mist sitting behind it and giving it a mysterious air. In front of them stretched a crescent of beach, the sand turning from golden at the water’s edge, to silver where high dunes covered in rough grass formed the border. Behind, a dark forest made the bay feel completely secluded.

Marguerite's home town, Dunoon, Argyll

Marguerite’s home town, Dunoon, Argyll

I tried to instill not only my love but my affection for these childhood (and adult) haunts in Strangers at the Altar, which comes closer than any of my books to a homage to Argyll. The landscape, like my hero, is stark and stunning. Its beauty hides a dark nature. And the climate, our fickle climate, is reflected in the sweeping changes of poor, tortured Innes’s moods.

Innes is an engineer. Iain Hunter, the hero of Unwed an Unrepentant is a ship builder. Boats are another part of my landscape and my heritage that has been creeping ever more into my books. Ferries connect me across the peninsula to the mainland. Liners and tankers and yachts sail past my window every day. My maternal grandfather was a ship’s captain. My paternal grandfather built the things. (His claim to fame was that he made the boilers for the QEII. One of my lasting memories is of him taking a hammer to beat his artificial leg into shape!)

Argyll doesn’t feature in my current book, The Widow and the Sheikh, though my botanist heroine is from Cornwall and has a strong connection to the sea, and my sheikh’s dark broodiness is worthy of the lowering clouds which are scudding over the sky as I write. We’ve officially passed on a summer this year in Scotland, with the wettest, coldest July on record, so it’s probably not surprising that my fantasy desert landscape is all sweltering sands and celestial blue skies. I can take the cold. I can suffer the winds and the snow. But I really, really can’t stand the rain.

The Soldier’s Rebel Lover, the second of my Comrades in Arms duet, is out 1st October in print and digital, UK, US and Canada. The first two books in my Hot Desert Nights quartet, The Widow and the Sheikh, and The (deliberately anachronistic) Sheikh’s Mail Order Bride will be released in March and April 2016. Scandal at the Midsummer Ball, my duet with Bronwyn Scott, will be released in July 2016.
You can read excerpts all my books over on my website: http://www.margueritekaye.com. Or why not just come and chat to me about books and life in general on my Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/margueritekayepage or on Twitter: @margueritekaye

Thank you, Marguerite, for stopping by today (and for sharing the beautiful photos). I’m quite jealous of the view from your window. So for anyone stopping by, let’s chat about climate and its impact on our lives. Marguerite and I represent nearly opposite climates — she’s got all that lovely rain, cold, and changeability, and I’ve got nearly endless cloudless skies, long-ass summers, and 80 degree (F) days throughout winter. Our cultural narratives match our climates. How about yours?

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The relevance of erotica to readers – a guest post by K D Grace

You know how sometimes when you finish a book, you think, my God, I just want to crawl into that person’s brain and hang out for a while?  (It’s not just me, right?)  Well, that’s what I thought when I finished The Initiation of Ms. Holly by K D Grace.  So when an email appeared inviting me to participate in a blog tour promoting the book and offering the opportunity to host a guest post by K D, I was all over it like ants on honey.  Bonus: we all get to crawl into her brain for about 800 words.  Read on, friends.

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First of all, I’d like to say how much I appreciate being invited over to Reading with Analysis to talk about one of my very favorite topics, the relevance of erotica to readers.

Writing about sex is writing about human connectedness on a very visceral level. The need to be intimate with another human being is the driving force behind romance, and sex is the tool that gives the writer, as well as the reader, a point of contact and a level of intimacy and understanding with the character that can be achieved in no other way. Sex in story is always a revelatory act. It exposes the character at his or her most vulnerable, and those vulnerabilities are the places where story is born.

Sex in story is the fictional equivalent of finger-printing the characters. How characters approach sex, how they think about sex, what neuroses they bring into the bedroom with them, all of these elements mark the character as unique. And once the character has had sex, for the rest of the story, that character will always be viewed through the filter of his or her sexuality. If I want to expose the very essence of my characters, I write them having sex, and then I know who they are, and so will my readers.

Good stories involve characters being acted upon by events, situations, circumstances beyond their control and the chaos that results. There are few parts of our human nature we struggle more fiercely to control than sexuality. Ultimately, sex makes people uncomfortable, and anything that makes people uncomfortable is a fabulous tool for fiction. Sex can be the driving force behind a story or it can be the catalyst that breaks through and changes everything. It can be the nagging little push, it can be the shining revelation, it can be the dark hidden secret. But what it will always do is shake things up, even if it’s just a little bit. What it will always do is reveal our characters in ways we’ve never seen them before. What it will always do is give us startling glimpses into the psyche of the human animal, into what drives us, what frightens us, what makes us happy, what makes us love, what makes us hate. It will do all of these things because it’s almost impossible for our characters to keep their defences in place when they’re naked, hormone drunk, and fucking.

It’s not just the sex act itself that helps create the loss of control and gives us intimate insights into characters. A whole new world of chaos and voyeuristic excitement for our reader happens when we writers get inside our characters’ heads and see what they think about sex. Do they feel guilty, do they feel driven, do they feel lust, do they feel romantic, do they feel desperation, do they feel joy, do they feel anger? What does their sexual baggage look like, and what acts does it drive them to?

What separates human sexuality from the sexuality of our animal cousins is that we spend so damn much time thinking about sex. So much of human sexuality takes place in the mind, and so much of a good story comes from knowing what’s going on in the heads of the characters. We think about sex, we reflect on sex, we look forward to sex, we speculate about sex. We repent of sex, we rejoice in sex, we scheme and plan to get sex. For the structure of the story, thoughts of sex, a character’s attitudes toward sex, a character’s responses to sex and the consequences created by sex are like ripples on a pond, having far reaching implications and creating endless opportunities for little whirlpools of chaos to erupt, even in a story that has relatively little sex in it.

That we find it necessary to have a separate genre for stories that we deem too sexual says a lot about the neurotic relationship Western culture has with the human body and with sex. No other human drive in literature is separated out as its own genre nor is any other genre so highly policed. But then again, no other human drive defines humanity quite like sexuality does.

We are sexual animals. There’s no getting round that fact. It’s biology. Therefore to write a story without sex is like writing a story in which people never eat, never sleep, never talk, never interact with each other. Sex is a part of who we are, and if we want our characters to be well-rounded, if we want our readers to have truly intimate views of them, then sex will be there, even if it’s only lurking in the background waiting to sneak out, catch a character with her defences down and cause a little chaos.

Excerpt from The Initiation of Ms. Holly:

In one of the more intimate dining rooms the woman guided Rita to a lushly upholstered booth near the back away from the dance floor and the few other diners who occupied the room.

‘Edward will join you shortly.’ With that, the woman turned on you-could-only-afford-to-fuck-me-in-your-dreams stilettos and retreated back through the maze of rooms.

Before she was out of sight, a server approached Rita’s table with two glasses and a bottle of Moët et Chandon on ice. ‘I’m Aurora.’ She sat her burden down on the table.  ‘Edward has instructed me to apologize for his small delay.’ It was only her name and a slight feminine pout that assured Rita Aurora was actually a woman. Her androgynous features were accentuated by white blond hair cropped short. She was dressed in a black suit, waist coat and tie, completely camouflaging the swell of her small breasts. When she spoke, even her voice was deep, and gravelly. ‘There is one other thing Edward asked me to give you.’ From her pocket, the waitress produced a black velvet blindfold. ‘He asks that you wear this. He said you would understand.’

A frisson of anticipation laced with the tiniest hint of fear ran up Rita’s spine and accumulated at the tips of her nipples as the waitress stepped behind her and secured the blindfold. That done, she filled a glass and placed it in Rita’s hand. ‘Enjoy the fizz,’ she said. Then she left.

The scent of oregano and basil and other more subtle seasonings blended with the smell of expensive perfume. Glasses clinked, people laughed, and somewhere in the background the melodic strains of String of Pearls wafted on the air. She had only just tasted the champagne when a warm body scooted into the booth next to her. She recognize Edward’s scent a split second before his hand cupped her cheek and his mouth covered hers, familiar territory, she thought, as her tongue became reacquainted with his.

‘I hope you don’t mind the blindfold,’ he said when he came up for air. He slid warm fingers under the spaghetti straps and caressing her left shoulder. ‘Being in the dark was so much fun last time.’

She ran a hand over his cheek, raking a thumb lightly over a fluttering eyelid. ‘What about you? You’re not wearing a blindfold. That’s hardly fair.’

He chuckled, and she felt his warm breath against her earlobe. ‘I never said I play fair. I was right though. You are exquisite, but I wouldn’t have imagined your hair to be chestnut’ He caressed her tresses, pushing a strand back behind her shoulders to fondle her nape. ‘For some reason I was certain that cascade of silk would be strawberry blonde.’ He ran his other hand up the outside of her thigh, toying with the exposed edge of her garter belt, making her squirm. ‘Guess in some cases, there’s just no substitute for the sense of sight.’

‘But I want to see you too. I want to know what you look like.’

‘You will in good time. That is if you want to play my little game. Of course you could take off the blindfold. I can’t stop you, but admit it, it’s fun not knowing. A bit of an adventure, an initiation almost.’

‘An initiation?’

‘Yeah, you know, at the beginning, when a man and a woman are just getting to know each other, it’s like an initiation, don’t you think?’

‘I never thought of it like that, kind of like a hazing?’

He chuckled. ‘Can be. Could be, if you want it to be.’ He nipped her earlobe, ‘Or maybe like an induction into some secret cult with secret rituals of wild, kinky sex.’

‘Mmm. Sounds good. Where do I sign up?’

Another chuckle. ‘All you have to do is keep the blindfold on until I say you can take it off. Let your other senses do the work.’ His finger slipped beneath the suspender to stroke her thigh, making concentration next to impossible.

‘I’ve always wanted to be a member of a secret sex cult.’ Breathing was becoming more of an effort as his touch became more insistent. ‘Okay then. I’m in. Have your way with me.’

There was a long moment of silence, and for a split second Rita wondered if she had said something wrong, if she been too forward, too quick with her answer. But just when she was about to back track, he leaned in and kissed her softly on the mouth. She could almost hear his heart beating in his words when at last he spoke. ‘Then welcome to your new playground.’ His hand slipped underneath the spaghetti straps to cup her breast and stroke her engorged areola. ‘Expensive dress?’

‘What?’ Intimidation knotted her stomach. ‘Does it matter?’

‘Not really.’ She could hear him filling the champagne flute. ‘I’ll buy you a new one.’ He lifted the glass to her lips. Just as the taste hit her tongue he pulled it away and she felt a cold wet splash over her left breast. She stifled a yelp, but not before his lips clamped down tight on her drenched nipple, and the friction of tongue and teeth on wet silk caused delicious shock waves down her belly and below.

‘You know,’ he said between sucklings, ‘at the command of Louis 15th, the original champagne glass was said to have been shaped like the breasts of his mistress, Madame Pompadour. I can understand why. Once you’ve suckled champagne from a beautiful breast champagne alone, no matter how expensive, isn’t nearly as nice.’

Another cold splash across both breasts and down her cleavage. She gasped and held him to her as he shoved down the spaghetti straps and freed her into his hungry mouth. ‘What if people are watching?’ she whispered.

‘Don’t worry. I know the owner,’ he whispered. ‘There’s one cup even more perfect than Louis’s design.’

About K D Grace:

K D Grace believes Freud was right. In the end, it really IS all about sex, well sex and love. And nobody’s happier about that than she is, otherwise, what would she write about?

When she’s not writing, K D is veg gardening. When she’s not gardening, she’s walking. She walks her stories, and she’s serious about it. She and her husband have walked Coast to Coast across England, along with several other long-distance routes. For her, inspiration is directly proportionate to how quickly she wears out a pair of walking boots. She also enjoys martial arts, reading, watching the birds and anything that gets her outdoors.

K D has erotica published with SourceBooks, Xcite Books, Harper Collins Mischief Books, Mammoth, Cleis Press, Black Lace, Erotic Review, Ravenous Romance, Sweetmeats Press and others.

K D’s critically acclaimed erotic romance novels include, The Initiation of Ms Holly, The Pet Shop. Her paranormal erotic novel, Body Temperature and Rising, the first book of her Lakeland Heatwave trilogy, was listed as honorable mention on Violet Blue’s Top 12 Sex Books for 2011. Books two and three, Riding the Ether, and Elemental Fire, are now also available. She was nominated for ETO’s Best Erotic Author 2013.

K D Grace also writes hot romance as Grace Marshall. An Executive Decision, Identity Crisis, The Exhibition are all available.

Find K D Here:                                                                  

Websites: http://kdgrace.co.uk/ and http://gracemarshallromance.co.uk/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/KDGraceAuthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/KD_Grace and http://twitter.com/GM_Romance

Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/kdgraceauthor/

untitled (flash fiction from 2006) – second in an unrelated series of fails

I’ve been trying to find all the scattered bits of writing I’ve done (as an adult), and I located this fragment buried in an email exchange.  A friend of mine was bored and asked me to write her a quick story to enliven her afternoon…. I’m not quite sure that I succeeded, but I rather like the result nonetheless.

The girl sat at her desk, her computer up and running, papers and notebooks spread about giving her the appearance of busy-ness.  Actually, the girl really should be called the woman, but she would object to such terminology.  With a customary blend of self-awareness and self-deceit, the girl felt neither old enough nor mature enough to refer to herself in such adult terms.

The girl sat at her desk at work, for reasons she chose not to examine; most likely, she sat at her desk because countless adults from countless sectors of society sat at their desks on weekdays between eight in the morning and five in the afternoon.   Of course, there was more to it than that, than society pressure and conformity, but this particular girl chose not to think about it at all, ignored completely this opportunity for analysis.   She sat, simply, because she did.

Another person walking by the desk, transformed while walking past the desk into an observer of our girl, whether passively or actively, might be struck by a few seemingly incongruous objects present there.  (It is equally possible that this momentary observer would notice nothing at all.)  The observer might notice: the girl was dancing from her neck up to music that blared into her ears from a pair of headphones; despite the head dancing, the girl was reading from a large binder, taking notes with an air of intense concentration; there was a preponderance of shoes in various stages of disrepair strewn under the girl’s desk, in plain view of any observer who happened to fulfill his role.  If inclined, the observer could then glance around the rest of the girl’s work area and notice a few other surprising objects: a mismatched pair of latex gloves pinned to the clothboard, a bookshelf straining under the weight of too many large binders, each labeled according to a uniform system, an unbent paperclip next to a very large manual hole punch.

The entire area seemed full of contrariness—the industrious-looking female dancing while she worked, the uniform binders next to mismatched and unexplained latex gloves, the above-desk reason and order juxtaposed with the tangle of well-worn heels beneath the desk.

Most observers, if they happened to notice all these things, would shake their heads in confusion, perhaps in disapproval, and would move on.   Some observers would ask the reason for the gloves and the shoes and would receive the answers, “Just in case,” and, “I like variety,” respectively.   On this particular occasion, with this particular observer, the response to the desk and its contents was different.

When he was a boy, he was captivated by nature, by the capriciousness of plants and flowers and trees.  He found magic in the sound of wind teasing and tousling leaves and branches, in the sight of luxuriant, wild grasses swaying under the ministrations of that wind.  In short, he was an inquisitive child, easily amused by what he saw around him.

As he grew into manhood, his natural curiosity was dampened by the responsibility of life, by the life he did not choose but continued to pursue, thoughtlessly existing each day, no longer in tune to the magical, the miraculous.

But this day would be different, for, as he walked past the cubicle on his way to the copy machine, he happened to be struck by a feeling he hardly recognized: magic.   It was the pile of shoes he noticed first, his eyes moving from that evidence of carelessness to the currently bare feet, crossed at the ankles, of the girl who sat at her desk, dancing from the neck up.   A smile began to form on his face, tentative at first, then broad, finally showing a glimpse of teeth and lower gums.

He stopped in his tracks, openly staring at the work area and its inhabitant, who, completely unaware of his scrutiny, had begun mouthing the words to some song, intermittently giggling for a reason that was not outwardly apparent.   The gloves elicited from the man a chuckle, almost a giggle, except that men do not, as a rule, giggle.

The girl threw her head to one side and exclaimed, “Word to your mother!” and laughed; it was a deep, throaty laugh, full of secret knowledge and delight.   The girl’s laugh reverberated through the man like something slow and slimy, tickling, working its way across his skin, tantalizing him with its unreserve; it was oddly familiar, this laugh, at once shunning him and welcoming him home.

The man walked away from the girl’s cubicle; he did not continue on to the copy machine as had been his original intent.   Driven by a need he could not explain, he walked outside.

Outside the artificial environment of the office building, the wind blew intermittently, rustling the leaves of the non-native, pruned trees located throughout the parking lot.

The man took a deep breath, held it in his lungs for a few seconds, and exhaled loudly; it was almost a sigh.   As he drew air in through his nose, he allowed himself to focus on the feeling of the air filling and expanding his lungs, energizing his cells.  With that breath he drew into his body the magic in the air, the music of the wind.

With the simplicity of his childhood he reaccepted the miraculous into his life.   He realized he was smiling.  A rumble, low, like distant thunder, began deep in his chest.  It bubbled to the surface in an explosive expression of mirth, joy and delight.   He was made new.

If my sister were writing that story, the man would, immediately after this renaissance, fall into a ditch and die instantly.  I learned how to write from my sister, the same way that someone could learn how to act (or, God help us all, dance) from watching Waiting for Guffman (and I do actually mean that as a compliment).  Her stories are brilliant.  They are always short, usually no longer than one page; feature instant, unexplained connections between people; offer plenty of outrageously unnecessary detail (and very little necessary detail); and spend a huge amount of time building up the story only to close with a phenomenally unsatisfying ending.

Have you ever heard of The Shaggs?  They are either an abomination to the name of music, or the most brilliant music theorists ever to exist.  I think they are brilliant and subversive, and that’s how I feel about my sister’s writing.  It’s what I’m always tempted to emulate in my own writing.  It’s easy to be mediocre, it’s hard to be truly good, but to be powerfully awful is also a bit of a triumph, right?

My big fail (one of an unrelated series of fails)

I don’t write stories very often.  Actually, it’s more accurate to say that I almost never write stories, and I don’t very often engage in creative writing.  Occasionally, I write ridiculous story fragments whose purpose is to confuse and annoy the poor souls who get guilted into reading them.

While cleaning out my junk room on Labor Day (3rd mostly-annual Labor Day of Labor), I found a story fragment that I wrote four years ago as a secret santa gift for a fifteen year old boy whom I did not know.  I usually figure that if you’re going to fail at something (in this case fail at getting a gift the receiver will appreciate and enjoy), you might as well fail big.

I think I nailed it.

The Importance of a Greeting, Or Why French People Hate Americans

Once upon a time, there was a young man named John.  John was a very handsome man, and many of the young ladies of his day were wont to sigh and swoon as he walked past.  Despite such accomplishments, life was not entirely without difficulty for the young man, for he had an unfortunate problem: John was deathly afraid of salutations.

Though John had exhibited the fear since he was a young lad, everyone around him figured he would eventually resolve to put such childish stuff behind him, to enter into conversations with equanimity, but he did not.  Instead, John’s fear grew more pronounced with each passing year.

When John was young, the folk of his town humored him and entered into conversation with him without preamble.  But as John grew older, folk began to expect him to behave normally.  People started to find it more rude than amusing that John never said “hello” or “good day to you.”  Some people went out of their way to salute young John, and this story is chiefly concerned with these exploits, with the day the baker said, “Good morning, and isn’t it a fine day?” to our young hero.

The baker was not a nice man.  There were surely as many reasons for his crotchety behavior as there were people who disapproved of his manner, but whatever the provocation, his antics were such that, after passing several years in the village, the baker ceased to be known by his given name (Charlie) and was known merely by his occupation and any adjectives attendant on his behavior.  If a person held him in neutral regard, he would be Baker, but if a person held him in contempt, he would be “that bastard, the baker,” or “that miserable old buffoon, the baker.”

On a particular morning in May, the sun dawned bright and warm, its rays stretching into the sleepy village, awakening the inhabitants in that natural way to be found only in country villages.  John bathed and readied himself for the day without any of the trepidation that would surely have settled on him had he known what the day had in store; he left the friendly shelter of his family home and struck out on a well-worn path, his errand on this fine morning being to purchase some baked goods for his family.  As he walked to the baker’s shop, John whistled a jaunty tune, and he reached his destination with such alacrity as is found only among the able-bodied.

Having fortified himself with a deep breath, John pushed open the door to the baker’s shop and proceeded, almost immediately, to express his reason for having come.  “Baker,” he began, “my mother needs two loaves of your finest bread.”  But that Mephistophelean miscreant, that nefarious ne’er-do-well, that baneful bully of a baker leveled his leering eye towards our hero and, in a loud voice, exclaimed, “Good morning, John! And isn’t it a fine day?”

Can one find fault with John for the actions which followed this attack?  He gasped, staggering back against the door, clutching his heart and fixing upon the baker a look so full of terror as would have melted the heart of any good man.  After fumbling briefly with the door handle, he flung wide the portal and ran into the streets of the village sobbing insensibly.

The end.

If that bit of nonsense made you laugh, chances are fairly good you’d like me, personally.  If you now want to smash every tooth in my head, it probably wouldn’t work out between us.

The Exclamation Point – a discussion and guide to usage

I’ve always been a bit exuberant.  I just have so much to say, and there never seems to be enough time or space to say it all.  I talk quickly, and I tend to be parenthetical.  I write quickly, and I am tangential.  I have this horror of being misunderstood, and I somehow think that tangents and parenthetical thoughts will help me to communicate exactly what I mean (will provide the context of my thoughts) in the least amount of time (if I’m speaking) or the fewest number of words (if I’m writing).  In my early school years, my teachers always had the same thing to say: “Kelly, you write well and with great enthusiasm, but you must limit the number of parenthetical references you include.”  When writing, I have to constantly battle my impulse to include a parenthetical thought (or two) in every damn sentence.  So if, while you read my blog, you think that there are perhaps a few too many tangents or parenthetical comments, you have no idea what I’m capable of bringing to the party.  This is me being restrained.

One could not be as exuberant as I without occasionally overusing that strange punctuation mark: the exclamation point.  I used to wonder why it even exists if there are such stringent rules limiting its use.  To me, the exclamation point (and all of the rules that attend/restrict it) is rather like a wooden spoon and a giant pot that one would hand to a toddler.  They’re obviously meant to be used as instruments of joy, to be banged upon in an explosion of obnoxious, creative energy, but the adults never like it when the children are so unconstrained, do they?  Instead that pot and spoon just sit there, taunting the child with their unusable potential.  That’s how I feel about exclamation points.  As a serious adult, I’m not supposed to use them, but, oh, how I want to!

Well… I don’t think anyone could confuse me with a serious adult.  I self-identify with toddlers…

Anyway, for all my enthusiasm for the dear exclamation point, I do think it’s possible to use it in ridiculous ways, and it really annoys me when my favorite punctuation mark is so misused.  To be honest, the main reason I haven’t bothered to read the 50 Shades of Grey series is that several book review blogs mentioned the author’s outrageous exclamation point use.  Ana entered the elevator and pushed the button for the fourth floor!   Sebastian was so angry!  (not actual quotes from the book(s).)

So I decided to write a quirky little guide to the exclamation point, and I’d love to hear/read feedback on whether I’m right or cracked in the head (could be both, honestly).

The Exclamation Point – A Guide to Usage

Correct usage:  to punctuate an exclamation, to denote enthusiasm, to provide commentary on questionable behavior, to convey silliness, to creep people out with inappropriate enthusiasm (workplace use).

Incorrect usage: to punctuate statements that are neither enthusiastic, ironic, nor silly.

Examples of Proper Usage

Look out!  There’s a bear coming right for you!
I can’t wait for dinner tonight; I’m going to eat a steak the size of my head!
While I was out on my walk last night, I saw a dude who was out jogging wearing nothing but his running shoes and a sweater (because it’s cold)… !!?!!
And then they fell in a ditch and died!
Thanks for responding so quickly and helping to coordinate this visit!!

Examples of Improper Usage

Jonathan was wearing jeans! (exception: if it’s completely bizarre that Jonathan would wear jeans, that exclamation point could justly indicate the writer’s surprise at encountering denim in connection with Jonathan.)
Betty made a stop on the way home to get some coffee. She added two sugar packets and some cream! Armed with her coffee, she headed home and planned to spend the evening watching Dancing with the Stars.
I went to a funeral yesterday! (This one is just a socially unacceptable usage… we aren’t supposed to be excited about death and its various celebrations.)

Exception

An exclamation point is an appropriate terminal mark to any sentence that references bacon (e.g. I ordered a BLT! or That macaroni and cheese has bacon in it!).  Bacon is always a reason to celebrate(!).

This week in reading

Cover image, To Seduce a Sinner by Elizabeth Hoyt

I mentioned in my last reading post that I have been somewhat obsessed with Elizabeth Hoyt of late.  After finishing the Prince series, I snatched up books 2-4 (not sure why I didn’t grab book 1… perhaps the blurb didn’t quite capture my attention) of the Legend of the Four Soldiers series to read on my road trip (I didn’t drive, somewhat obviously).  Unlike the Prince books, these four books are closely knit together by the harrowing event that connects all four of the male characters and by the reading, translating, transcribing, and binding of a book of fairy tales (the Legend of the Four Soldiers), all of which connects each of the female characters.  In addition, each book weaves the story of its hero and heroine with one of the legends from the book of fairy tales.  The result is an interesting, multifaceted series that is superbly constructed.  Elizabeth Hoyt could write anything, I’m convinced, but I’m so glad that she devotes her considerable skills to the romance genre.  There are so many terrible romance novels out there in the world, and it’s fantastic to be able to read a book from my favorite (definitely guilty pleasure) genre and know that I’m actually reading a genuinely good book.  At some point, I’ll pick up the first book in the series so I can have a better understanding of how it all begins, but these books really do stand alone quite well, despite all the interweaving legends and the overarching plot line.

To Seduce a Sinner tells the story of two believable, messed-up people who marry fairly early in the book and then muddle through their relationship.  There is a whole sub-genre of romance novels devoted to the notion of marrying a stranger (not sure what that says about the women who read them, but I can’t judge: I have some of those books myself), and most of them are either creepy or lame.  This book manages to be neither because it relies on the strength of its characters.  What does it mean to trust someone (or, more importantly, to trust yourself)?  How do you build trust?  What is the difference between a person’s true self and the self he/she presents to the world?  These are not the sorts of questions one would expect to encounter in a romance novel, but this one is full of the meat of interpersonal relationships and all their messy glory.  As an added bonus, the secondary characters are fabulous as well.

Cover image, To Beguile a Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt

This book, already rich with interesting characters, clever plot points, well-written children, and POV from multiple characters and bolstered by a fascinating legend, draws upon the familiar beauty and the beast story to great effect.  I’ve always had a soft spot for beauty and the beast stories.  They represent women rather well, right?  The beauty, far from being repulsed by the beast, nurtures and heals him, restoring him to his proper self.  That is a very positive representation of the feminine.  This book merges certain qualities of the beauty and the beast archetypes into fully fleshed characters whose backgrounds and motivations go far beyond what one would expect from a retelling of a popular fairy tale.

Cover image, To Desire a Devil by Elizabeth Hoyt

Back story… it can be necessary to a book, especially one that references a past event in its major plot, but it’s very difficult to manage.  Isn’t it annoying to read a book that spends more time catching you up to the characters than it does advancing their story (the one you’re actually interested in reading)?  My favorite thing about To Desire a Devil is that the back story is delivered in such a clever way.  The other two books in the series delve a bit into the past – that harrowing event that I mentioned in my discussion of To Seduce a Sinner – but the events of the past are more important to the development of the hero’s character in To Desire a Devil, so there’s even more of a need to share the events that helped shape him into the man he is when the heroine meets him.  Hoyt manages it in a truly lovely way through believable dialogue delivered here and there throughout the book.  Think how lame it could have been: Reynaud thought back to his time as a captive – how horrifying it was.  He shuddered, thinking about the frigid winter, the lack of food, the fear of imminent and ignoble death.  That’s how most romance authors would have handled that bit of exposition, but Hoyt lets Reynaud tell Beatrice, the heroine, and you the reader what he experienced during his seven years of captivity.  What is particularly interesting is that his telling of the tale is absolutely believable coming from a male.  There’s no mention of feelings, no shuddering in horror, no dwelling on how awful it was.  Instead, he tells just the facts and leaves it to Beatrice and the reader to figure out (because women must) what the emotional cost of all of that horror must have been.  Brilliant.

 So… have I convinced anyone to check out any of these books?

Social Lessons – an excerpt

I started writing this story a while ago, and I think it might be time for me to get back to it.  Here is an excerpt from the very beginning of this very unpolished writing fragment.  To explain: I tend to write stories from the middle out.  That habit makes for a terrible editing process, but I generally find it easier to write whatever I feel like writing at a given time.    You may have noticed in reading this blog that I skip around a fair amount and don’t ascribe to any coherent theme.  Anyway, that disorganization is inherent in me and in everything that I do.  So get ready for an extremely abrupt beginning (and the ending is quite abrupt, too, because I didn’t feel like posting the entire thing today).

In fifth grade, I switched from private to public school.  It was September of 1990, and my world completely changed.  At the private school, we had uniforms and there were a lot of rules governing our behavior.  To enforce those rules, our teachers were permitted to use corporal punishment.  I had gotten in trouble a few times and was considered something of a trouble maker—in third grade, a boy who sat next to me got upset and said, “Shit!”  The teacher took him outside to spank him, and those of the class who hadn’t witnessed the drama first-hand surrounded me to find out what was going on.  I said, “Kenny said a bad word,” just as the teacher was coming in.  She hauled me right outside and I got spanked for gossiping.  Also in third grade, I got in trouble (by the same teacher, although this time I deserved it) for starting up a business with my best friend; this business consisted of us purchasing large quantities of pixie stix at a very low price from the drive-through dairy by her house and selling them at a considerable markup to the other students in our class.  At any rate, if it’s true that we learn to view ourselves through the perspective of the adults around us, I really thought I was a hard-core trouble maker… until I went to public school.

At the public school, it was ok to use curse words.  It was ok to talk back to the teachers.  It was ok to terrorize your fellow students.  It was awful.  As an adult, now, I can look back on it with a chuckle and tell myself dispassionately that it really was quite a paradigm shift.  But if I stretch my memory back and try to recall my feelings at the time, I become swamped by the terror that accompanies an individual being thrown into a completely new set of circumstances without the least bit of warning.  Every single rule had changed, and I didn’t know what the new ones were.  At the private school, which was associated with a large church, the coolest kids were the PKs, the ministers’ sons and daughters.  The hierarchy went down from there based on the relative position of one’s parents—my dad was a deacon in the church, so I ranked below the ministers’ kids and above the kids whose dads were merely church members.  At the public school, the hierarchy of relative coolness was based first on the socioeconomic status of one’s parents and second on how adept one was at making other children feel small and worthless.

My parents weren’t poor, but they didn’t think about status or the communication of relative wealth when we did back to school shopping.  I remember that pre-fifth grade shopping trip, because we had never done back-to-school shopping before.  My mother and my aunt talked strategy weeks in advance—jeans and t-shirts were cool as were tennis shoes (never called sneakers).  Then we went to Target or K-Mart and bought a few pairs of jeans, a few pairs of shorts, and a bunch of solid-color t-shirts and got some white tennis shoes from Payless.  To my mind then (and now, frankly) jeans are jeans—if they fit properly and are comfortable, what does it matter what brand they are?—but it did matter whether you wore Jordache or Guess vs. Wrangler, Lee, or Chic (Target’s brand).  Those kids could tell at a glance whether or not your clothes had the right label, and mine did not.  To make matters worse,  I had the habit of wearing the clothes I liked regardless of how many times I had worn any particular item in that week or in that month.  I had this neon-green zip-up sweat shirt with a screen-printed stegosaurus on it that I loved immoderately, and my insistence on wearing it nearly every day did not help my social status.

There were other, behind-the-scenes factors that contributed to my total uncoolness that I didn’t discover until it was far too late to do anything about it.  The public school had a program for its smart kids called Gifted and Talented Education (GATE).  Students had to test to qualify to participate in GATE, and, at the public school, there were budget limits on the number of students from each grade who could participate in the program.  Before I attended my first day of class at the public school, I had already alienated a rather large contingent of kids; my test scores forced out one of the more popular girls from participating in the GATE program.  Being ten years old, she vowed a vendetta against me and all her friends followed her lead.  I started my first day of school with fifteen female enemies I had never met before, and not a one of them would tell me why I was so uniformly hated.  It was very confusing.

I had better luck than I deserved, and I was able to make the acquaintance of three very friendly girls who walked the same route I did to and from school.  They couldn’t make me cool, but at least they helped me to avoid getting beat up every day.

My private school offered a much more advanced education than was available at the public school.  In fifth grade, I didn’t learn new math skills; I didn’t, as a result of the curriculum, increase my reading level (it was already at the high school level anyway).  In fifth grade, I learned the meaning of the words asshole, fuck, and the completely confusing mother-fucker.  I learned that people make assumptions about you based on your appearance, and there is nothing you can do to change their minds.  I learned that friends don’t keep your secrets if your secrets are funny.  I learned that money, the smell of money, the façade of money, is more important to other people than the genuine intentions of your heart.  In short, I learned that you usually can’t trust other people and that most of them aren’t worth knowing.  I am extremely glad that I learned these lessons before I got to junior high, but sometimes I wish I could unlearn them.