Saturday, September 27, 2008


All my blogging is now being done at, except for the book reviews, which will remain at The former is also the home of my new online serial novel, Chatoyant College!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Editing a Novel

I'm working on editing a novel (the one I wrote during NaNo 2006) and I've been considering changing the beginning drastically. As it stands, the main character is from our world and is magically transported into the world of the novel--though it turns out she was actually born in that world. I'm thinking of changing it to having her grown up in the world of the novel, with no connection to our world at all, but having been raised by people who are not her parents. I first started thinking of the change as a way to avoid the cliche "heroine-moves-through-magical-portal" beginning, but then I realized that I had originally thought of that beginning as a way to avoid the cliche "heroine-grows-up-in-obscurity-with-no-idea-of-her-true-heritage" beginning. So I thought I'd make some lists.

Reasons to change
1. No "heroine-moves-through-magical-portal" beginning
2. Makes more sense for the bad guys
3. Heroine is already familiar with the world, can be described in narration
4. Could start novel with stuff about moon
5. More potential for sequels

Reasons not to
1. No "heroine-grows-up-in-obscurity-with-no-idea-of-her-true-heritage" beginning
2. Have to take out all the comparisons to our world
3. Heroine already knows about moon--no element of surprise
4. How do the magician and his apprentice find her without further cliche?
5. Without a totally different cultural context, what makes her special?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Crossroads and Other Tales of Valdemar, edited by Mercedes Lackey

I would have to say that this is my least favorite of the Valdemar short story anthologies. For one thing, I have a serious issue with the title--there is no story called "Crossroads" in the book! Then there's the fact that three of the stories had no reason to be set in the world of Valdemar at all They were interesting stories, but they didn't have to be in this anthology.

Other stories were really enjoyable, though. I think my favorite was the one set in Karse's distant past--right when the corruption was just beginning. And it was fun to revisit a beloved fantasy world. Actually, it's made me want to reread the books--I haven't touched some of them in years, despite owning most of them. In fact, I only read this one because I was on vacation. The Forest House was depressing me, and the only other books I'd brought were its sequels! Of the books my mom had brought, Crossroads was the most appealing.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Forest House by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Since The Mists of Avalon holds a special place in my Top 5 Favorite Books Ever, I had little doubt but that I would enjoy the first of its prequels, and I was not disappointed. This is another feminist novel, set many years in Avalon's past--so far back, in fact, that there are yet no priestesses on Avalon, and the women instead live in a place called Vernemeton, or the Forest House, established by the Romans to isolate and protect the priestesses after their sanctuary at Mona was cruelly invaded (by the Romans themselves, of course). The main character, Eilan, dreams of being a priestess one day, then falls in love. I really admire the way MZB made the men's control of the women, especially their sexuality, not just an inconvenience or a metaphor but a central part of the plot. The priestesses of the Forest House are only permitted sexual contact with a man if that man is the chosen Year-King, symbolic sacrifice for his people. Eilan must struggle with her choices and few around her believe that she has made the right ones.

Unlike Mists, The Forest House has a male POV character. At the beginning he is rather heroic and quite likable. However, as the novel progresses, he is shown to be more and more flawed and toward the end he really becomes a big jerk. He is redeemed somewhat, and manages to remain sympathetic for a time, but it would be nice to see a more relatable male character. (I do think we get that in the next book.) Besides that and some repetitiveness, though, I have nothing to complain about in this book.

My favorite character is Caillean, the Assistant to the High Priestess who is later sent to establish a house of priestesses on Avalon. I see in her Raven, Morgaine, Niniane, and especially Viviane--it's easy to find the beginning of a long legacy of manipulative High Priestesses of Avalon. The Merlin also makes an appearance, though not in the guise you might expect, and I'm intrigued to see how the perception of that role changes.

I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone who didn't like The Mists of Avalon, and probably not to anyone who hasn't read it--it's a decent stand-alone novel, I think, but gains more depth if you know its future. To anyone who loved Mists as much as I did, though, I definitely recommend The Forest House!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

What's in a name?

Yeah, sorry for the cliche title... but can you really expect me to resist Shakespeare when the opportunity arises?

I've been reading a lot lately about blogging, writing in general, and marketing, and that has led me to a lot of thinking about the name I use. Right now, everywhere on the Internet (except Facebook) I go by Clare-Dragonfly. Sometimes it is punctuated or capitalized differently, but that's the ideal form of the name. But if I want to promote myself as an author, is this the name I want to be using? I decided some time ago that to publish I would use my first initial, middle name, and last name. I really dislike my full first name, and though I'm okay with going by a nickname for it, I don't want to use the shortened version of it for publishing. It seems unprofessional. Just using a nickname would be bad enough, but I spell it in an unusual way, which would be worse. So my solution is to hide it mostly away. I'm also less than fond of my uncomfortably common last name, but I don't see a way to get around that without using an entirely different pen name, which doesn't appeal to me.

This would not be a problem, of course, if I could and wanted to keep the world of the Internet and the world of publishing separate. But I don't, and it doesn't seem like a good idea. I've been reading so much about how your blog is an essential marketing tool, and your name is your brand, which makes perfect sense to me. So I have to reconcile being Clare-Dragonfly and being my given name.

This would be easier to do, I think, if I were just starting out in the blogiverse. I could just start using my given name and make people who already know me as Clare-Dragonfly aware of it. But while I haven't really done much of what I'd call blogging (though I've been using LiveJournal, and now InsaneJournal, for years), I do a fair amount of commenting on other blogs. I usually do that as Clare or Clare-Dragonfly. If I suddenly switched to the other name, I would seem like an entirely different person starting to post on those blogs. The relationship, slight as it may be, with those bloggers would be gone. I've had some interesting conversations, and I wouldn't be associated with them in the same way anymore.

It gets even more complicated. I go by Clare in real life, too. My family calls me by my given name, and some of my friends do, but almost all of my friends from college know me as Clare. Of course, they know my real name as well since they're friends with me on Facebook, but I am associated with the name Clare to them.

Then there's the fact that if I went with first-initial-middle-name, people would assume I wanted to be called by my middle name, and I don't. That's kind of weird, as I love my middle name and always have, but I've never actually used it. It would be uncomfortable to have people suddenly start calling me by it. Plus, then I would have three names...

The above issues could potentially be solved by deciding to publish under the name Clare-Dragonfly. But that seems even less professional than using my nickname! The only author I know of who has successfully used an obviously created name to publish under is Lupa, and she's not publishing novels--she's publishing nonfiction otherkin and pagan books. If I were doing the same, or even publishing books on other aspects of spirituality, I would be perfectly comfortable with using Clare-Dragonfly. I could make it appear less made-up and replace the hyphen with a space, so it would appear that my first name is Clare and my last name is Dragonfly, but something about that makes me itch. I'd rather make them one hyphenless word than two. Two words makes it "Clare, a member of the Dragonfly family." But that's not right: Clare is Dragonfly. With a space in between, it's just not my name any more.

So yeah, long post. And I'll probably think about it more. But for now, feedback from anyone who happens to be reading this blog is welcome.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero

This book is physically tiny, but packed with fun and information! All of the facts and tips about baking vegan cupcakes are interspersed with bits of whimsy--sometimes even educational whimsy. There's an A to Z list of why vegan cupcakes are awesome. Then there's a list of all the ingredients and tools you'll want for your adventures in vegan cupcake baking with explanations as to why. Even if you're fairly new to veganism or to baking, this book will be useful; everything is explained in great, but not boring, detail, and there's even a few pages of troubleshooting tips for specific problems with your cupcakes. Then there's the recipes! Plain vanilla, plain chocolate, gluten-free, and even diabetic-friendly cupcakes are included as the basic recipes. Then they get creative. There are so many different recipes it's hard to imagine having time to bake them all. And that's just the cupcakes. The book includes a multitude of different icing recipes (and tips for applying the icing to the cupcakes) as well. I imagine if you tried a different cupcake-and-icing combination every day, you wouldn't run out for a year.

And the cupcakes aren't hurt by the lack of dairy and eggs. Not at all. Assuming you follow the recipes and instructions carefully, the cupcakes are light, sweet, spongy, and just plain delicious. When I baked a batch of the plain vanilla cupcakes with vegan buttercream frosting, they were devoured within days by my suitemates. The buttercream frosting recipe probably made three times as much as was required to frost the cupcakes, but that's okay--it was devoured as well. Yum!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting from this book. Whatever it was, I didn't get it--but I did get something wonderful. According to the introduction, it is a reconstruction (from notes) of a forged translation of a 14th-century manuscript by a Benedictine monk. Of course, it is actually a novel written by the talented Umberto Eco, and a mystery along the lines of Arthur Conan Doyle or Edgar Allan Poe--that is to say, the detective is a logician along the lines of Sherlock Holmes or C. Auguste Dupin. It is narrated by the supposed author of the manuscript, Adso of Melk, a German novice who is traveling with the detective, William of Baskerville, to learn from and assist him. It took me until about halfway through the book to accept that the novel was probably not fantasy--fantastical elements were certainly hinted at, but the style of such a logician does not lend itself to that genre!

William has been asked to an Italian abbey to help mediate a discussion between two opposing Catholic sects, but when he arrives, he has another task: solve a series of unlikely and possibly mystical murders. This task is made more complicated by the fact that the one place that seems to hold the most answers, the abbey's famous library, is the one place he is not permitted. Like any good detective, he gets his answers anyway. The main mystery plot is intertwined with monastic politics, political intrigues, and intriguing personal relationships. Sometimes the discourses on logic or heresy, which can get quite long, distract from the plot, but they are interesting and the only thing I have to complain about, with the exception of Adso's sometimes irritating lack of judgment, which can easily be excused by his youth. The novel is even, as far as I can tell, quite historically accurate. The monastery itself and most of the characters are fictional, but the politics and the heresies are real, which is quite impressive.

Unfortunately, I never figured out the import of the title. The last line of the book has the words "name" and "rose" in it, but as it's Latin (which is peppered throughout the monks' speech) I couldn't understand the rest. I naturally think of Shakespeare, but as he writes several centuries after The Name of the Rose is set and the only meaning I can think of is fairly weak, such a connection seems unlikely.

Restoring the Goddess: Equal Rites for Modern Women by Barbara G. Walker

I'll be honest: I did not read this entire book. I couldn't stand it. I tried to read as much as I could manage, but eventually had to give up.

This book is pretty much entirely a polemic against Christianity. I think it mentions the patriarchy of Judaism and also Buddhism a little, but it's mostly about how the Christian Church has been, and still is, keeping women down. Every chapter, from "What's Wrong with Patriarchy?" to "The New Age," focuses on that. There's also a strong veneration of science, which Walker seems to believe is never biased, and always prepared to change. Further, there is a great emphasis on how illogical Christianity is, with no satisfactory explanation as to why believing in the Goddess is any more logical. Such belief may certainly be beneficial, but you should be fair: apply logic equally or don't apply it at all.

Each chapter is comprised of several pages written by Walker, mostly poorly researched history, and then a number of pages containing anecdotes from women loosely relating to the chapter's topic. I didn't read too many of those. I'm not sure why one would need a book to showcase these things. It doesn't seem to include any women with slightly different perspectives, either.

If you want to read something by Barbara G. Walker, go for her knitting books. If you want to read about the Goddess, go for The Spiral Dance. However, if you are a woman who has been knocked about by patriarchal Christianity all her life and want reassurance that you're not alone and there is more out there, I would recommend this book.

(Oh, and there were no "equal rites" listed. I feel cheated.)

The Welsh Fairy book by W. Jenkyn Thomas

Exhibit A: My love of all things Welsh.

Exhibit B: My obsession with faeries, fairy tales, and folklore in general.

Exhibit C: The title of this book.

The defense rests.

More seriously, this is a fantastic collection. There's a wide variety of fairy tales in it--mostly featuring actual faeries--and I felt that it gave me a really good feeling for Welsh folklore in 1907 (when the book was first compiled). One can't really judge on the literary merit of folktales, but they're well-told, and most are entertaining and intriguing. A few had unexpected similarities to folktales of other cultures that I've encountered, and I would be interested to find out where these tropes originated (if it can be pinned down) and how they passed from one to the other.

The Spiral Dance by Starhawk

This book is a classic of paganism and the Goddess movement for a reason, and the twentieth-anniversary edition, which is what I have, is an improvement on the original. I can tell because, except for a few minor things that Starhawk herself was extremely uncomfortable with, the text of the book is the same. The changes, made in both the tenth and twentieth anniversary editions, take the form of endnotes. Most of the problems I had with the text on my first reading were soothed by those notes. Basically, the book is a primer on the form of Feri witchcraft that Starhawk followed/follows. It includes chapters on the God and Goddess, Sabbats, spells, and initiation, among other things. While I do not follow Feri myself, I did agree with many of the beliefs in this book, and found a few that had never occurred to me but that I would like to incorporate into my own faith.

There were a number of things in the book that I did not agree with, of course. I think the biggest one is Starhawk's constant assertions that witchcraft is a religion. I do not have that view at all. I see witchcraft as a craft, separate from religion. True, the majority of its practitioners are pagan, but one need not be pagan to be a witch, just as one need not be a witch to be pagan. It was also a little disappointing to find that the book mainly focuses on coven work; I'd love to have a coven, but because I don't follow any path that's established outside myself, that's not likely to happen anytime soon.

I would also like to address the concerns mentioned in other reviews I have read. I have seen many complaints that Starhawk's witchcraft is not Wicca. This is a problem with the reviewers, not the book--she never claims that it is! I have also seen that ubiquitous complaint about anything relating to Goddess worship--that it focuses on women and the Goddess to the exclusion of men and the God. At times this can be a legitimate problem, but it is not so with The Spiral Dance. I may be somewhat biased as a Goddess worshiper myself, but Starhawk gives equal time to the Goddess and the God. If she focuses on women, it is because there are more women than men involved in feminism and the Goddess movement. She never denigrates men or masculinity. She does focus a big strongly on the heterosexual paradigm and on gender essentialism, but these are corrected in the notes.

The third complaint I wish to refute concerns history. I saw at least two reviews on Amazon that complained in their titles of the poor history in The Spiral Dance. Firstly, I do not feel that this is a legitimate complaint to focus on. There is only one chapter that includes history, and it is hardly the main thrust of the book. Secondly, this book was written when both Starhawk and the Goddess movement were quite young. She used the resources available to her. In the endnotes, she readily points out that it is not fully historically accurate, but that it still makes a good myth.

To sum up: The Spiral Dance is a good book, well worth reading, especially for Goddess worshipers. Don't be put off by the skeptics--but make sure to read the twentieth anniversary edition, or even wait a year or two, and if we're lucky there will be a thirtieth!