11/20/15

November Reads – Dragon books!

His Majesty’s Dragon (Temeraire, Book 1) by Naomi Novik (Author)

Some people bird-watch, others collect stuffed penguins, or love cats beyond all reason. I adore dragons. While I’m picky about it – I need four limbs and wings – my obsession is fairly boundless. When I renovated my bathroom, I commissioned an artist to etch a dragon on the shower door.  I regularly get myself hennaed with different dragon images, because I can’t choose a single dragon for a tattoo. So this month’s reads are… dragon books!

Naomi Novak’s Temeraire series
Alt-history or maybe just really good fantasy, these stories focus on Temeraire, a dragon in the service of the British Empire during the Napoleonic wars. Taken as a spoil of war, Temeraire is paired with British naval commander, Will Laurence,  instead of the usual dragonrider. Thanks to Will’s influence the books feel like Patrick O’Brian’s “Jack Aubrey novels or maybe the Sharpe books. With a fun dragon twist, of course. Temeraire is wonderfully innocent. He doesn’t understand how slavery works and won’t accept the way dragons are treated. I admit that I skimmed the battle scenes, there’s only so much ship-vs-ship and dragon-vs-dragon action I can take, but Temeraire skewing social mores never got old.

The series continues for eight books. I’ve read the first three and haven’t had a complaint yet. Thankfully only the first one made me cry (Levitas’ story is heartbreaking).

Wildfire: A Paranormal Mystery with Cowboys & Dragons by Mina Khan

I’ve talked about Mina Khan’s Wildfire before and I’m likely to talk about it again. Not only is the dragon a girl, Lynn is also mixed race and a cool ‘real’ person. Her relationships with her hero, her best friend, and her family are all complicated and messy. She’s battling depression, and Khan’s writing shows the ups and downs of that disease in wonderfully non-clinical, non-stereotypical way. Also there are cowboys. Cowboys and dragons. It’s like sea salt and chocolate – I never knew they were meant to be together, but now I can’t imagine them apart.

Lynn rushes to the aid her best friend after Jen’s home is almost lost in a fire. Soon she finds herself embroiled in a mystery. A cute cowboy (Jack) and more worldly real estate developer (Henry) compete for her affections. One of them is more than he seems, and either of them could be behind the increasingly dangerous fires. Lynn struggles to control her emotions, not to mention her dragon hormones, while trying to stop the crimes. The pacing, plot, and small town setting make this book a can’t-put-it-down dragon-shifter story. I’m still waiting hopefully for the next story about these characters.

Treasured Claim: A Mythos Legacy Novel by Jami Gold

Another great dragon-shifter is Elaina Drake, the heroine from Jami Gold’s Treasured Claim. I was lucky enough to read this story back when it was in beta form years ago. It was great fun then, and has only gotten better. Elaina’s story is a romance and her hero, Alex, turns the billionaire playboy stereotype on its head. Alex insists on doing the right thing. He defines himself as the opposite of his amoral, mostly horrible father. Elaina also has daddy issues, except in her case her father might actually kill her.

Gold does a lot of fun non-traditional dragon things. For example, Elaina doesn’t just like treasure, she needs it to survive. Elaina is the physically stronger partner in the relationship, but (this novel gets pretty close to erotica) is sexually submissive. The combination of unexpected twists and multi-faceted characters makes this one of my favorite paranormal romance dragon-shifter stories.

 

03/15/15

Writing and Quilting: Editing my Stash

The odd thing about writing is that it spreads to take over your life. You find yourself in meetings thinking about characters or editing for other people when you should be talking. In my case, writing is oozing into my two hobbies, running and quilting. My running is getting the same treatment as Under A Blood Moon, where I’m adding quality words, or runs, to make the overall product better. My quilting suffers from the opposite problem – I’m cutting out yards of fabric as if they were wordy paragraphs of purple prose.

I’m willing to bet that most of you aren’t quilters, and you probably aren’t familiar with the concept of a stash. It’s exactly like hoarding fabric, except that no quilter admits that. T-shirts proclaim “whoever dies with the most fabric wins.” There are “Fabric Acquisition Road Trips” cleverly called FARTs and fabric swaps. The goal is always to have more fabric. One of my quilting friends has proudly filled an eight ft. by ten ft. shed. Since quilting fabric is meant to last for a hundred years, the amount of a quilter’s “stash” can easily grow to surpass a thousand yards.

My own meager stash reads like a history of my life. I found quilting when I was 17. Here was a room full of caring, open women, the wise Aunts and Great-Aunts I never had. They talked about everything, helpfully corrected my mistakes, and were genuinely interested in sharing their craft with me. My mother and I were never close. I had no girlfriends. The camaraderie of women was a new and wonderful discovery. All of my fabric from those years is feminine – tiny calico prints, big flowers, pastel pinks, and purples.

A square from my first quilt, tiny light blue, purple, and pink flowers mixed with a pink-purple. I loathe calicoes now.

A square from my first quilt, tiny light blue, purple, and pink flowers mixed with a pink-purple. I loathe calicoes now.

Fast-forward a decade, and I was working in Washington DC, one of a million drones for the federal government. My greatest fear was that I would wake up forty years later, having wasted my life in the same building, at the same job. My fabric: skulls, screaming ghosts, bats, and spiders; a not-so-subtle expression of rebellion sewn into traditional patterns.

I liked this fabric so much I had it made into a dress. The skulls glow in the dark!

I liked this fabric so much I had it made into a dress. The skulls glow in the dark!

And now? Now I’m buying batiks, saturated color that doesn’t have a wrong side. Some quilters frown on bold colors, saying they take over a quilt. That’s what I love. I like creating a pattern of lines and geometric shapes, creating order with color. Modern style quilts, with their hard lines and 1960s feel have become my new favorite.

Back to the editing: I’m getting rid of fabric. That’s a shocking confession for a quilter, but there are things I’m ready to let go. Editing my writing has taught me that less is more and it that applies to my fabric. When I got rid of 22 yards this week I realized that every yard felt like a burden. I felt a pressure to use that fabric as soon as I could, and guilt over the way I carried it with me over various moves and over the years. Getting rid of it took an item off my to-do list and freed me up to take on other things.

I don’t know what those other things are. Right now, writing is the focus of my life, quilting doesn’t seem as important. I’m pretty happy about that, and I’m excited about the future. But while I’m looking forward to road tripping to Bouchercon (a conference for mystery writers) this fall, I still might stop at fabric store along the way.

05/15/14

Steampunk is my type

Not long after I got married my two best friends joined my husband and I for a drink at DragonCon. Some how the conversation twisted its way to ‘types’ and I admitted I was glad I didn’t have one.  At which point my loving friends began to list off names and attributes: Dana, with his tall lanky body and freckles, Dean, who could barely find a pair of pants small enough and wore his blond hair down to his waist. Two boyfriends didn’t make a type, I insisted. They added more names and finally turned to my husband – tall, thin, and very fair skinned.

There was no way to argue with that.

Years later the same friends teased me that I have a ‘type’ when it comes to time periods as well. It seems that while I’ve recommend many books, the only ones I buy for them are from the Victorian Era, usually the late 1870s. Again, I tried to fight it, but the more I thought about it the more I realized, I really do like that era. I like the manners, the civilization, the respect for science as a powerful force for social change. Contrast that against the deplorable class system that was in place, the way people starved in the streets and were treated like dogs. Add a hint of the paranormal and I’m in heaven, because something about the foggy streets of London just calls out for ghosts and ghoulies. It’s why steampunk makes me so happy.

And so, as a rather self-serving blog post (aren’t they all?)  here’s my list of ‘must reads’ from my favorite time period:

  • Gods of Gotham and Seven for a Secret  by Lyndsay Faye
  • Murder in Murray Hill and all of the Gaslight mysteries by Victoria Thompson
  • The Parasol Protectorate Series & The Finishing School series by Gail Carriger
  • The Native Star (Veneficas Americana #1) by M.K. Hobson

And on TV  or in the movies:

  • Ripper Street
  • League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
  • Pennydreadful (hopefully)

But what I really want is a novelization of Disney’s Haunted Mansion, something with a sea captain building a lovely mansion that turns into a pretty cage for his young wife. I imagine lots of murder and intrigue, thwarted loves, and at least 999 not-always happy haunts. If I can’t find it, I’m going to have to write it.