The End of Land’s End

Yes, this is probably a cop-out post, but I thought it was relevant. On today’s Freshly Pressed:

http://czilka.wordpress.com/2011/04/20/lands-end-great-gatsby-mansion-last-moments/

Take a look at this, the end of the house that inspired Daisy’s mansion in The Great Gatsby. It can’t help but  be a cultural landmark.

Advertisements

Mort

I’m excited to continue with the Terry Pratchett tribute. Today, I’m talking about one of my favourites.  Mort depicts the story of  a young boy who becomes Death’s apprentice. No, you read that correctly. Mort attends the huge apprenticeship fair (for lack of a better term) and is chosen by no one. Then, as they consider leaving, Death shows up on his horse and chooses Mort. Mort now must go to Death’s home, where he meets Ysabell, Death’s adopted daughter, and Albert, his assistant. Everything is black. A bit like Batman? I thought so. Mort proceeds to learn Death’s job, and do Death’s job… until, of course, everything goes horribly wrong. Mort takes the wrong life (so now the Universe must correct itself) to save the princes (because that’s always the story), and Death goes on vacation, to find out what mortals do.

I found this absolutely brilliant. I loved it. Terry Pratchett managed to make Death my favourite character. I now look for the books that have him playing large roles, although he almost always has a cameo (any time someone dies or has a near Death experience). Death has some profound wisdom, and really amazing one-liners. If you like dry humor, you’ll find this hilarious. Does it make this post look slightly morbid? Yes. But it’s worth it. Read Mort, and you’ll understand.

Mort is indicative of Pratchett’s humor, notions of logic, and ideas of philosophy.  I love his humor, and I love his themes.

Terry Pratchett Toasting Death... That's just too great.

Life and Death: You probably guessed this one, but he ups the proverbial ante. Mort knows what life is like, but Death doesn’t. Mort isn’t exactly “dead,” though, and the others at Death’s home are in a timelessness that defeats age, and thus dying. Are they alive? You decide.

Inevitability of Truth: Can you change reality? What does it take to alter fate? Is it possible? I won’t tell you how, but the Universe on Discworld must right itself. The true destiny will simply happen… eventually… more or less.

Irrelevant? Probably. Awesome? Yes.

People Operate in Their Own Truths: When Mort “saves” the princess, the kingdom forgets she is there. They can’t believe that the alter to their “truth” is real, even though it is right in front of them. They become confused. Well, in our world, people live on their own truths. From this we see failed solutions continuously used, biases that are defunct, ideas about how the world should operate, resentments, and prejudices. We can’t escape our own perceptions, our own views of “truth.”

Doing Right: “Right” is subjective, and you may have to sacrifice a lot to do what is “right.”

Death, from "The Colour of Magic"

The Wisdom of Death: Death is very zen about things. He has a very hard job, and he has to come to grips with it. We see how he manages this as he teaches Mort about the Duty.

Duty: Sometimes unpleasant, it must be done. When Death’s Duty is not performed, the world doesn’t function. Here, we reiterate accountability and responsibility.

Sense of Self: Mort begins to lose his as he works with Death, after Death leaves, and not just because everyone keeps calling him “boy.”

Yeah, from "Good Omens" and not Discworld, but still...

These are just a few of the themes in Mort. It’s a great book for adults, and also good for ‘tweens and up. Younger children may find the content too advanced, and the split plot confusing. This book works read aloud if done well, but there is a lot to be said for reading it yourself, particularly with the importance of the way words are printed.

Inklings Recommended

Hilarious, quotable, and very, very smart.

Equal Rites

Current edition cover... one of several

This will be Inklings’ first review of Terry Pratchett’s work, with several more to follow. As you can probably guess, I’m a huge fan, and I’m excited to do this series. So, let’s go to it.

Equal Rites is book 3 in the Discworld canon. These books need not necessarily be read in order. I picked it up because I wanted to read some of the earlier pieces and had read The Colour of Magic (1) and The Light Fantastic (2) – these two have also been made into a film/miniseries, available on Netflix, casting Sean Astin and Tim Curry, and it portrays the two books impressively. The film and/or the books are a great introduction to Discworld, but not necessary to follow and thoroughly enjoy Equal Rites.

In Equal Rites, we meet the world’s first female wizard. Not a witch: a wizard. You see, in Discworld, they are very different. When a wizard chooses her father’s eighth child to inherit his staff, he assumed the eighth is a son, but Esk is a girl. Still, the staff and wizarding power are hers. She spends a great deal of time (not knowing she is a wizard) with Granny Weatherwax, the local witch. Granny is not a particular fan of wizards, but thinks Esk could make a decent witch. However, it becomes apparent that Esk must become a wizard, so they embark on a journey to Ankh-Morpork to Unseen University, where wizards study and train new wizards.

But Esk cannot be a wizard… women simply aren’t wizards. But there are dark, evil magic forces bearing down on Unseen University, and Esk may be the only person (ahem… wizard) that sees them.

I loved this novel. It is a master of character. Each character is set deeply in his/her own dialect, thought structure, set of mannerisms, and belief system. It makes each one very distinctive- one of Sir Terry Pratchett’s most notable strengths. We quickly begin to identify each character by their speech and behaviors as naturally as people we know.

Thematically, Sir Terry Pratchett’s work is always interesting and involved.

Feminism: He has an interesting approach to feminism. It’s generally pro-feminist with the simple assertion that women will be what they will be, just like men, and it’s silly to force them to be what they are not or refuse to “allow” them to be what they are. The stronger power that makes us who we are will prevail, no matter what you do. Besides, you might need them. Women aren’t so bad after all.

Education: There are so many kinds of education, just as there are multiple intelligences. People may have different uses for it, but you’d probably just as well make it available so everyone can get the education they need. Otherwise, you may have problems.

The Universe: I’ll let you see this theory yourself. Suffice it to say, there are numerous potential universe structures. He resolves them most creatively.

Knowledge: Never, ever assume you know everything. Better yet, never assume anything, either.

Semantics and Society: Be careful with them. We do odd things that may limit our understanding of the world and of people. For example, women become witches and men wizards. But a witch is not a female wizard. They do different things and have completely different worldviews. What if a woman actually is a wizard? Now, you’re stuck. We create “feminine” terms, but then we get confused and change the actual definition, so that if you’re a woman you’re also something completely unrelated to whatever the masculine “equivalent” might be. Moreover, the same behavior in a man vs. a woman is often interpreted differently. Men and women express themselves differently. They are raised differently. This may not be as practical as we thought.

Discworld is great for students (high school, perhaps junior high), because he has numerous opportunities for class in each book. Equal Rites could open debates on feminism, the notion of destiny and free will, identity, logic, physics (thinly veiled- they don’t study “physics” in Discworld, but magic), psychology, and philosophy. Equal Rites even debates the nature and requirements of education: whom should receive it? What kind? How long?

Inklings highly recommends Equal Rites. It’s hilarious. It’s brilliant. It’ll make you think, but only as hard as you want to. Because much of his work is catered to (and marketed to) adults, this is a great choice for “grown-ups.” The writing is hardly juvenile, but advanced and clever with dry humour.  He delivers absurdity with deadpan logic that can’t fail to please.

Inklings Recommended

Ages 13(ish) and up

Congratulations, Sir Terry Pratchett!

About a month ago (I really am that behind), I received an email that revealed that author Terry Pratchett had won the Margaret A. Edwards Award “for a significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature.” I was excited for several reasons:

A disc, atop four elephants, on the shell of a giant turtle- the Great A'Tuin.

1) I adore Terry Pratchett. He’s a genius.

2) I had decided a few weeks before that I was going to bring his works to the blog and justify them as young adult. He has a few books in that section of the bookstore, but I was going to make the case for his canon.

3) Now I can do the second without worrying about making a case. It’s already made.

 

This is exciting stuff. For those of you unfamiliar with his work, Terry Pratchett is the creator of Discworld, among many other works. His Discworld series is what I will primarily review in upcoming posts. He’s a British author with dozens of books published, numerous awards (including being knighted) and honorary doctorates. He’s something of a national treasure and a literary treasure. His books are hysterical satires that play with everything=- and I mean everything. Philosophy, religion, logic, social structures, psychology, sociology, quirks of people, existentialism, individualism, feminism, and any other “ism” you may like. He comments on them quickly and moves on in many cases, while working out others a bit more thoroughly. They’re brilliant for classes or just for amusement.

I was especially pleased to find out that they singled out two of my favourite Pratchetts: Equal Rites and Mort. These I will review very soon, in addition to one of the other singled-out works: Going Postal. I listened to this on audio after my recent eye surgery (couldn’t actually read), and found it very interesting. There is a lot going on with this work as well.


But for now, Inklings would like to emphasize it’s congratulations to Sir Terry Pratchett for his new recognition. I’m so pleased to have so  many reasons to talk about his work on upcoming posts.

Lessons Learned

I had eye surgery about a month ago, and I haven’t been able to do as much computer work. This killed me, because I had a few things to blog about and lost the ability. How frustrating!

That said, my first post-op blog is going to be about lessons in writing. I recently finished a short piece (not my usual) in a fanfic (not my usual) chicklit (still, not my usual, but might become more usual before long) and submitted it for a contest (now it’s time to star the calendar). I haven’t gotten a reply yet (obviously), but I already have learned lessons.

They’re pretty obvious: First, don’t write on the fly. Sometimes this works. Deadlines can help (I rejected them before, but the pressure can help), but waiting until the pressure is too “on” may not be wise.

Second, and much more importantly, don’t skip your proofreaders. I didn’t skip proofreading… I read it over and over and over and over like everyone does. I found a lot of things and fixed them. I’m talking about your proofreaders. If you don’t have one or two, get them. I have two very regular and several semi-regular. Because of the deadline (see Lesson 1), I just proofed it myself. Then they read it. They both found (different) large errors. Clear desk, apply head. Repeat step 2. Do I still foolishly hope? Naturally. It wouldn’t be the writing world if we didn’t foolishly hope against hope.

Thirdly, don’t write when you’re blind or having trouble seeing (unless you dictate). If you are having trouble with your vision, whether you dictate or not, emphasize Lesson 2.

So, back to the computer, the notebook, and the magic pen.

The Effects of Multitasking on the Amateur Writer

It’s been a bit of a writing adventure lately. I have one very long (okay, massive) fiction piece that I’ve been working (and reworking) on for a long, long time. It occurred to me that this may not be the best ever first pitch to a publishing company. I mean, that’s a huge commitment for a company to make on someone who isn’t brilliantly established. Naturally, we all dream of being J.K. Rowling, but let’s get real here.

So I pondered….

and I pondered…

and pondered some more…

 

 

 

and I came up with a possible solution: I’ll do a different novel to start. One that’s stand alone for one, and “chick lit” (to be crass) for another. It’s a much larger industry, which doesn’t make it easier to get published, exactly (if only), but in theory it might be easier to pick out the market and sell myself. Besides, it could be fun. So, I got started. To make myself happy, I’m playing with classic literature, classic films, and outright snarkiness. Write the books you’d like to read, they always say, so I’m going to try. The challenge: I read suspense and mysteries. People die. They seldom marry. Men may or may not be debonair. So, I’ve been reading more in the genre, to get a feel for it, and that helps, some.

Beware women who read- they may also think.

In the middle of that process, I found, courtesy of a dear friend, a contest that could be an awesome opportunity. It’s for shorter pieces than I’m used to, but it’s worth a try. The worst thing that can happen is it doesn’t get published and I have something I can expand and try to publish myself. It’s in a booming section of the publishing industry, so maybe I’ll have a little luck.

Thus, I have stories stacked to the ceiling in my head. Characters floating around, arguing for attention. Having a new story (not to mention a deadline) gives me great ideas for the other pieces. No doubt when I finish this and submit it, then move on to one of the others, I will have brilliant ideas for this piece.

A friend and excellent (not to mention successfully published) writer has advised that writing two books at the same time can be helpful, especially if one is darker and the other lighter. It’s a good theory, because it does block full writer’s block. But the focus issue… and that deadline.

So, I continue, trying to piece together the shorter story, desperately trying to get it completed under the deadline and praying something amazing happens.

Finding a Christmas Story

Last year at Christmas, I went through some of my favorite children’s stories for Christmas. These were mostly the traditional ones, and most them have movies (or I talked about the movies…). For good Christmas movies, please visit my friends at ABCs of Classic Film, where there will be a series of holiday recommendations coming soon. It promises to be a good read.

Meet Molly: An American Girl cir. WWII

That said, I was pondering a good Christmas post, and I remembered the Christmas I got my American Girl doll. Now, I wasn’t really the “doll” kind of girl. I preferred other play. However, I desperately wanted an American Girl doll, and settled on Molly. This was a long process with lots of childhood and sentimental reasons, which I will skip. But, suffice it to say, I was thrilled. In fact, I still have her. She’s in storage, but still mine.

This made me think of those American Girl books. They have many more than they did at the time, and truth be told, I have not read the new ones, so this review reflects the girls dating through Addy.  To cut to the chase, I recommend the entire series. They’re wonderful, particularly for girls from about 7 or 8 through about 11 or so. They follow strong girls through real issues that girls can relate to- and they do it at a point in history. Not only do young readers see how these girls handle familiar issues, they see a snapshot of U.S. history, and I’m all for that. Even better, they were popular. They were insanely popular when I was in school. They actually encouraged children to read. So, for that, I just have to be rather over the moon about them.

 

 

 

But really,  what has this to do with Christmas? Well, each series has a book that covers Christmas time, which could be very fun to do at Christmas- comparing how each girl celebrates it and how they are the same and different for the reader. More specifically, though, I want to go back to Molly.

Molly’s Christmas story, Molly’s Surprise, takes place, as they all do, while her father is off fighting in WWII. Throughout the series, Molly lives with her family, missing her father. And he is a wonderful father, very devoted and loving. Through the conversations they have, it is very clear that they love him dearly and are really feeling his absence.

To this day, several scenes stick out for me, and I can remember them almost verbatim. Molly is compared to her father, having all of her Christmas gifts wrapped and hidden well before Christmas time is one of the most notable. Looking at it now, from a different perspective, I see a family feeling a void and each person stepping in to somehow fill it. Molly misses her father and steps in to do some things like he did. Her mother (who makes the comment about her gift-wrapping efficiency), recognizes this. It’s natural. It’s how families often operate.

I also came to a second conclusion: This book, the whole series in fact, is a perfect selection for children, particularly girls, who have a parent deployed, whether it’s long deployments or sporadic ones. Molly expresses the difficulty children face when a parent may be deployed.  Although the current war (avoiding all political commentary- that is not the purpose of this blog) is different from WWII in many ways, the fact that children miss their parent(s) during deployment hasn’t changed. Children may relate well to Molly, and they can see how she handles life well, and when she doesn’t. The books, though upbeat and inclined toward happy endings, tell the truth and continue to be lovely stories with a few beautiful illustrations.

So, my Christmas story of choice this year is Molly’s Surprise, for it’s endearing protagonist, accessible and currently relevant theme, charming story, and, of course, nostalgia. It’s an unusual pick for a Christmas story- not one everyone mentions, but give it a try. Give each girl a try. I won’t give away the ending on this blog, so go read and enjoy.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy New Year, etc. etc. Whether you celebrate or not, take a little time out for rest, warmth, and cookies, because, baby, it’s cold outside.