Thursday, December 27, 2012

My novel is available on Kindle!

I am super pleased to announce that my historical romance novel, The Viscount and the Vicar's Daughter, is now available for download on Kindle! HERE  It is also available in paperback from Amazon's print-on-demand affiliate, CreateSpace, HERE

This is a project that I wrote several years ago for Harlequin's Steeple Hill Historical line. When they didn't pick it up, I tucked it in archives and forgot about it until I heard about the Kindle Direct Publishing program. After much indecision, procrastination, cold feet, big talk, and some honest-to-goodness hard work, I published it!

It's a sweet and funny story inspired by my dual love of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, set in Regency England. Here's the official blurb:

As the daughter of an impoverished vicar, Sophie Bantling sees nothing in her future but rescuing her twin brothers from their endless scrapes. But her prospects brighten when the dashing Viscount of Wimberton moves into his country estate and literally sweeps Sophie off her feet, nearly running her down on one of his famous horses. Despite her better judgment, Sophie finds herself irresistibly attracted to her new neighbor and dazzled by his fashionable world. But when Wimberton's contempt for the church causes disaster on his estate, Sophie must choose between abandoning the people who desperately need her help and destroying her friendship with the man she loves.

In the following days, I'll be posting some stuff about self publishing, in particular how to format for Kindle and CreateSpace. But for now, SQUEEE!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Mortimer, Who Plagiarized and Was Assassinated: A Cautionary Tale

I dedicate this poem to all great writing teachers everywhere.

Mortimer, Who Plagiarized and Was Assassinated
A Cautionary Tale

Mortimer seemed an innocuous child.
His manners were pleasant, his countenance mild.
You’d never suspect him of harboring lice,
But he had a grim failing—so vile ‘twas a vice.
And to this bad habit his demise can be traced,
For when writing an essay, he’d cut and he’d paste
Whole phrases and sentences, paragraphs, too!
And once he had got them, do you know what he’d do?
He’d forgo quotation marks! Forget citation!
Completely devoid of documentation
He’d turn in that essay and call it his own,
When really he’d got all his wording on loan.
His writing professor, so wise and so good,
Warned Mortimer gravely, she did what she could
To show him his way was pernicious and naughty!
But Mortimer stayed unrepentant and thought he
Could do as he pleased, until to his dismay,
His crimes were reported to the MLA.
Up through the committees the dreadful news spread
Until it had reached the executive head.
To punish this cutting and pasting young thief,
An assassin was sent by the scholar-in-chief.
When she came to the house, she found the young felon
just finishing up with an essay on Helen
of Troy. He was slick with glue spatters,
And beside him the Iliad lay snipped into tatters.
She knew her job well and she got right to work,
With cool eyes, steady hands, just the trace of smirk.
She first secured Mortimer, tied him up tightly
with no chance of escape, as she told him forthrightly.
She cut up the essay on Helen of Troy,
So basely contrived by that horrible boy.
With a touch that was gentle for the Iliad so wronged,
She pasted the pages back where they belonged.
And then with the scissors and bottle of glue,
She cut and she pasted Mortimer, too.
She sliced with precision, packed his joints full of paste,
Then posed him artistically—in very good taste—
To serve as a warning to others who’d cheat.
In concern for the carpet, she tried to be neat
Though glue oozed profusely from the carnage most gory,
Congealing the end of our tragical story.
But a moral is gained! For this lesson it lends:
That plagiarists come to the stickiest ends.

©HD Elliott 2008, 2012

Permission granted to re-post for cautionary purposes if you credit me as the assassin poet.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

How to Cook Crispy Bacon without Burning It

Bacon. What more can I say? The very name is an ode to all that is best about breakfast. Or supper. Or sandwiches. Or those little cocktail wieners at parties.

I'm a lifelong aficionado of crispy bacon. Even as a kid (especially as a kid), I couldn't stand bacon that didn't crumble in my mouth, bacon that was chewy and slimy. Blechewgross! But I've also never had a real craving for charcoal.

When I first started cooking bacon, I managed to make my poor salted pork strips do all of these things--chewy, slimy, AND charcoaly. If you're not at this moment rolling your eyes and thinking, *Good grief, another bacon inept*...if you too have tortured your bacon to the point of inedibility, and wept at the sight (or told your frying pan in no uncertain terms what you think of it) ... if your smoke alarm goes off out of habit when it sees you pull out that package ... then this post is for you. (Yes, In days of yore I did actually set off the smoke detector every time I cooked bacon. And the house would stink for three days.)

I've got three words for you, my fellow bacon inepts:


Medium heat.

Here's the thing: you cannot cook crispy bacon quickly. I know it's hard to deal with this idea. When that craving hits, we want our bacon five minutes ago. But it takes time for all that fat to melt out all along the strip, leaving nothing but salty crisp goodness behind.

I used to cook my bacon on high heat exclusively. Why did it take me so long to figure out that all I had to do to get the perfect crispness I craved, especially when that information was probably printed on the back of the package? I don't know. I tried some complicated solutions, including baking it in a roasting pan. But nothing works as well as just turning down the heat. So here's what you do.

1. Heat frying pan over medium heat. Make sure pan is hot before putting bacon in. 
2. Put bacon in, make sure each slice lies flat, and leave it alone for a few minutes. I can't be more specific than that--exact number of minutes will vary depending on thickness of bacon, your pan, your stove, and your exact level of desired crispness. I usually cook mine about five minutes on that first side--enough time to unload half the dishwasher. The important thing is to leave it alone--don't flip, poke, or shove. Do something else for those few minutes. The bacon needs to heat all the way through and then lie still while the chewy slimy bits melt away. 
3. Flip bacon and cook for slightly less time on the second side. You may need to use a spatula to push down any fatty ends that have curled up in the heat. Hold them down until they flatten out.
4. Drain and enjoy.

May your bacon be ever crisp this holiday season!

Friday, December 7, 2012

What is magical realism? Part 2: Magical Realism (finally)

As for the radio silence of the last few months, let’s just blame it on falling in love. (:D HAPPY DANCE)

I concluded my last post by saying that science fiction succeeds because we believe in the possibilities of science. I’m now going to argue that magical realism works because we believe in the possibilities of magic. Or the supernatural. Or the paranormal. Whatever you want to call it—magical realism works because many (probably most) of us believe in the existence and interference of power that cannot be explained by our science.

Magical realism works in a way that is very similar to science fiction. By inserting an element of magic into the story and then treating that magic as having a reality that is just as legitimate as everything else in the story, it magnifies the meaning of the story, using the power of the strange to drive home its point.
Because of the functional similarities between these two genres, we could perhaps call magical realism the science fiction of the non-Western world. Here’s how I put it on my class PowerPoint (adapted from the Bedford Glossary’s definition of magical realism):
  • It is important to note that the best known magical realism literature has come out of countries once colonized by European powers (particularly in Latin America). Magical realism is a genre often concerned with finding a national literature for a country/peoples often perceived by the Western world to be without a voice. The “magical” parts aren’t simply invented, but have their roots in existing cultural beliefs.
This explains why magical realism isn’t a genre that really flourishes in the United States. We have lots of fantasy, but fantasy is a genre that acknowledges strong lines between the “real” and the “fantasy.” Our prevailing cultural narrative tends to be the scientific one—magic (or the supernatural or the paranormal) is not a part of daily life (of course, there are many individual exceptions to this). When someone claims to experience “magic” as part of their reality, the claim is usually greeted with incredulity and/or hysteria. This stands in stark contrast to large parts of the world where magic is, if not exactly taken for granted, at least accepted as part of the given reality.

A story that a pastor of mine likes to tell is useful in illustrating this point.
John (name changed) was teaching a class on Christianity in an African country. In describing the resurrection of Jesus Christ to his elderly students, he said that it was a unique event, that had opened only once in all of history. The elders gathered together in private conference, then reported back to John. “We agree with you that resurrection is a very rare event. Between us we have over two hundred years of experience, and we have witnessed only four resurrections.”

My pastor always concludes his story by saying that he had no idea how to respond. It’s a radical difference in world view, and it explains why magical realism flourishes in countries that retain cultural beliefs that involve the pervasive existence of “magic,” and also why it is very hard to write true American magical realism.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

What is magical realism? Part 1: Science Fiction

I'm teaching an introductory literature course this semester, and on Wednesday, we began our unit on magical realism. I thought it might be interesting to discuss the topic here since magical (or magic) realism is one of those terms whose definition is constantly disputed. We usually know it when we see it, but explaining it is about as easy as saddling an ostrich.

Although originally a painting term applied to a group of German surrealists, "magical realism" came to be associated with literature in the 1940s. The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms (my go-to for quick and dirty literary definitions) offers the following: "the term came to be applied to fictional prose works that are characterized by a mixture of realistic and fantastic elements." That seems straightforward enough--magical realism is a genre where daily life and fantastic/magical events are treated as part of the same reality.

The problem with this definition is that it ignores what I believe is the heart of magical realism. It describes what magical realism does, but not what it is.

In order to get at the elusive heart of magical realism, I started off the class with a look at another genre: science fiction. Bedford defines science fiction as "a type of narrative fiction that is grounded in scientific ... concepts and that ... employs both realist and fantastic elements in exploring the question 'What if?'" In other words, sci-fi speculates about the future using a mixture of the realistic and fantastic. The similarity to magical realism is obvious.

As with its definition for magical realism, I feel the Bedford falls short in defining sci-fi. So I supplemented its definition with a quote from author Ursula K. LeGuin, from the introduction to her book The Left Hand of Darkness, a sci-novel about a planet whose people are androgynous. LeGuin writes, "This book is not about the future … Yes, indeed the people in it are androgynous, but that doesn’t mean that I’m predicting that in a millennium or so we will all be androgynous ... I’m merely observing … that if you look at us at certain odd times of day in certain weathers, we already are. I am not predicting … I am describing." LeGuin argues that sci-fi is not actually about the future. Rather, it uses speculation about the future to describe the world as it already is.

I'm not denying that sci-fi speculates about what our future might be like. Obviously, it does. But I do agree with LeGuin that on a fundamental level, sci-fi must be about us-as-we-already-are; otherwise, we wouldn't find it interesting. Take Star Trek. If we didn't already think that the human race as a whole is curious, that we desire to explore our universe, then the point of the show would be lost. We won't care about starships and Vulcans unless we already suspect that human beings are curious and inventive enough to want to discover these things.

And this raises a question: If sci-fi is about us as we already are, then why bother making up the fantastic parts? Why not just stick to realistic stories?

BECAUSE, as all sci-fi lovers know, science fiction has a peculiar power, a way of driving home its points that realistic fiction lacks. At some level, more or less conscious, we believe that the events depicted in a sci-fi story could happen. Not that they'll necessarily happen, or even that they're likely to happen. But they could

Thus, the impact of whatever point about ourselves-as-we-already-are (that we are androgynous, or curious and inventive, or corrupted by power) that a sci-fi story makes is made more powerful by a prediction about the future that just might come true. Our belief in humankind's inventiveness is strengthened by a story that presents the possibility we might someday travel through the universe faster than the speed of light. Our belief in humankind's capacity for evil is strengthened by a story that presents the possibility that someone could unleash a biochemical weapon to destroy an entire population.

And why do we believe that these predictions could come true? Because, as a culture, we have an almost blind faith in the power of science. Given enough time, enough geniuses, enough resources, science can do anything, from discovering aliens to recreating dinosaurs.

Science fiction has power because we believe in the possibilities of science.

Friday, February 17, 2012

How to Read Your Kindle Touch in the Bathtub

I love to read. I love to take bubble baths. It's not going to surprise anybody to learn that I love to read while taking a bubble bath.

However, my habit suffered a hitch when I acquired my Kindle. I fretted about how to protect the device from the water: from steam, from splashes, and from the catastrophe of total submersion.

My father, neither a bath lover nor a novel addict, told me I would have to stick to reading hard copy books in the bath. The problems with this solution will be evident to all novel-loving bath addicts.

Everybody else said, "Stick it in a Ziplock bag."

I tried that. I used a gallon sized, freezer strength Ziplock (well, Target brand), and almost experienced Kindle meltdown. Every time I tried to turn the page the plastic hit the sensitive touch screen in multiple places, causing it either to turn too many pages or freeze up.

But tonight, I HAD to read Cybele's Secret (review coming in a future post), and I HAD to read it while immersed in hot water. I went online to see if anybody had solved the Ziplock bag problem. Apparently some had, but all they would say (in taunting cyber voices) was, "I had no trouble using my Kindle Touch inside a Ziplock baggie." The selfish, misanthropic cretins!

I looked at a waterproof case available on Amazon (for $19.99) and watched a demo about how to use it. I contemplated building my own waterproof case out of a discarded bedding bag, duct tape, and those foam thingies you put on cupboard doors. And then it hit me. The way to solve the Ziplock baggie problem. I can't decide if I'm an idiot or a genius.

What I am NOT is a cretin, so here's how to do it. You too can enjoy the pleasure of e-novels via touch screen in the bubbly!

You will need
1 quart-sized Ziplock bag, freezer strength with double seal
2 minutes

  1. Put your Kindle Touch in the bag.
  2. Seal the bag, leaving a little air inside.
  3. Slide the Kindle to the corner of the bag.
  4. Bracing the Kindle against the side of the bag, pull the plastic tight over the screen. Fold the excess around the back of the Kindle and tape it.
  5. Repeat step 4 for the top of the bag.
  6. Run your bath water. Use extra bubbles.

You're welcome. Donations of cash and chocolate will be accepted.