Book Diary

Ever hear of a company called Victorian Trading Co.? Every December it sends me its paper catalog in hopes of enticing me back as a customer, and every December I thoroughly enjoy leafing through its offerings and wishing I could buy a lot. I never do, but the wishing is fun.

This year, I had to laugh when I turned a page and lo and behold, they have a book diary.


The catalogue description reads as follows:

“Includes sections for book lists, record of books read, books wanted and purchased, shared books, book group notes and comments, favorite titles to remember, significant passages, and address of book stores, libraries, and clubs. 144 p. Laminated hardbound gift book. 5 x 7” No. 9977          $14.95

Ph: 800-800-6647

Now, I’m not recommending that anyone purchase this particular diary. All you techies have probably already created a log on your computers. The rest of you may be happy with a $1 composition notebook or the luxury of a little Moleskin book. Whatever.

It’s just that once I focus on a particular topic, I seem to become magnetized and all sorts of  related material gravitates to me. It happens when I research for a book, and it’s happening now. I’m sure this means that I simply become more aware of items or details that I previously ignored.

Am I buying this book diary? Nope. I don’t like to be organized by someone else. But it’s a pretty notion, and I like the intention of it.

Another good source for this kind of thing–especially if you’re seeking a high-end gift for a writer or reader–is Levenger’s.

So browse, seek, fantasize, wish.

Meanwhile, I’m reading READY PLAYER ONE.





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Happy New Year

Greetings, All–

I hope everyone had a good Christmas or is enjoying the holiday season in whatever fashion you choose. Ah, the time of twinkling lights and eggnog.

A power hiccup on Christmas morning crashed Ole Faithful, so I am hoping to resurrect it once more. Just when I think the computer truly has died, it comes back, trembling and coughing a little, but still game. Each time, so far, it’s proven to be mostly dead but not all dead.

Fingers crossed that it revives once more. Rest seems to help, so I am letting it have some peace and quiet offline for the time being, and writing this post via a substitute machine.

Why do I keep Ole Faithful, you ask? Why do we keep old dogs and senile parakeets? Why do we visit our grandparents even when they no longer recognize who we are? (Yeah, I know. A computer is not sentient and needs no such sentimentality, yet I cling to it because change is threatening–as every fictional protagonist knows–and I dread the agony of new equipment, new ways, and confronting whatever tom-fool “improvement” has been made to Word that will make my life as a writer harder.)

But this post is about looking ahead, not grousing, so best wishes to you all for a happy and successful new year. May your writing go smoother, your reading be more pleasurable, and your days filled with joy in whatever you do.



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Crystal Bones Promo

I just found out that my YA book, CRYSTAL BONES, is currently featured in a special promo from Amazon. This novel opens a fantasy trilogy about a pair of half-fae twins, and was published under the pseudonym C. Aubrey Hall.

If you need a gift for a youngster that likes traditional fantasy, then this adventure might be just the ticket.

Here’s the link:


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Never Surrender

Back in the spring of 2015, I announced in a blog post that I was going to attempt the reading of 100 books during that summer. No doubt some of you just rolled your eyes. A few cheered me on. And there were those who thought maybe I should allow myself a year to do it.

Smarties, aren’t you?

It took me a year and three months to fill in my list of 100 titles and authors. I feel a bit chagrined that it took so long.

Well, realistic or not, I prefer to dream big and reach high. And in my enthusiasm for the project, I have to admit that I was recalling those halcyon summers of my childhood when I had nothing to do but read–sometimes one book a day, occasionally two–and the most exercise I got was walking to the public library to check out more. Life is a little busier these days and, despite two summers, I somehow never got around to actually spending a day reading on the sofa now and then, which had been my intention.

I read several books that had long been on my get-to-these pile. Others were old favorites that I reread with pleasure. I did not write down the titles of any I began but didn’t finish. Several duds were chucked aside. And some ghastly nonfiction tome bogged me down for over a week.

But in November when I filled in the title for #100, it was with a feeling of regret that the list was finished. Now I sort of miss the discipline of recording each book, and I wish, too late, that I’d dated each one. I’m thinking about starting another list, just for grins.

People of leisure used to keep what are known as book diaries, where they would enter the title and author of each book they read, along with the date and either a brief synopsis or their opinion of the work. Isn’t that a lovely custom? I am enticed by the romanticism of it. The leather-bound journal and a mother-of-pearl Parker fountain pen lying just so on my antique slant-front desk, ready for me to sit down on gentle afternoons and record my impressions of someone’s toil and effort to bring characters and their troubles alive.

And yet, have any of us time for such an indulgence? In today’s harum-scarum world of texting, multi-tasking, racing crosstown on interstates, too many appointments and a phone chiming to remind us of them all while juggling jobs, soccer games, grocery shopping, online banking, pinterest boards, tweeting, and walking our dogs–how can we fit in a book diary? Is there an app for that?

We know, however, that we will always make time somehow to do the things we really want to do.

I suppose the question then boils down to whether I really want to devote the time an actual book diary would take, or do I just want an excuse to shop for a blank journal in pretty binding? In looking over my list of completed titles, I must admit that few of them are worthy of an essay opinion expressed via bottled ink on fine paper. And the OCD in me worries about the following:  how long a journal should I buy? What if I write several pages about a book and eat up the journal and then it’s not long enough to complete the year’s reading list? What if I need two journals? What if they don’t match? Should I buy two to start with? But wouldn’t it be neater if everything was contained in one?

(And people wonder why writers sometimes never get around to actually typing manuscripts.)

Just think, I’m contemplating a new way to procrastinate away from my keyboard. Because if I vent my writing steam on the book diary, will I have any energy or will or creative juice left to actually produce the day’s writing quota?

Whatever I decide, I have until January 1, 2017, because that is when I want to start my new reading project. Maybe I’ll face reality this time and forget the book diary. I can print out another numbered list to fill in. It’s easy and quick–as long as I don’t misplace the list–and can be done on paper or on my phone while on the run. It’s less expensive than a fancy journal, and I won’t have to hunt my elegant Parker pen, much less clean it or locate that dried-up bottle of ink.

Alas, modern-day life is so practical … so dull.

Meanwhile, I’m still reading sans list. And so my discovery of author Kate Saunders will not be noted in any official capacity. It makes me twitch, but that’s good practice for fending off OCD tendencies.

And I could always aim for a 200-book goal next time!


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Kindle at Last!

I’m pleased to report that my editors at Manchester University Press have–after much persistence–come through. The mysterious and perplexing glitch that’s been delaying the ebook publication of THE FANTASY FICTION FORMULA is now “un-glitched.” TFFF is finally available on Kindle. Woo-hoo!

Some of you have been waiting quite a while for the ebook version. I’m sorry about the long delay, and thank you for your patience.

Sometimes there are gremlins in the house, but at last they seem to have gone away.

The Fantasy Fiction Formula Final

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From My Bookshelf: Victoria Holt

At the peak of her career, author Victoria Holt was the queen of the gothic suspense novel. I read her books as a teenager, but then moved on to discover Georgette Heyer, and never looked back.

Until this year. As I’ve already recounted in a previous post, I came across a small treasure trove of romantic suspense novels at an estate sale and plunked down my cash. Among them were a few Victoria Holt novels, including The Shivering Sands from 1969.

Smooth as chocolate, serene as a sunrise, beautifully written.

The Shivering Sands draws obviously upon Bronte’s Jane Eyre, but that is typical of the genre. It’s a pleasant read, what I like to call comfort reading. It’s easy to follow the story. The characters are vivid and complex, usually hiding secrets. The setting is a big old forbidding house in the English countryside. The heroine’s danger grows to the final confrontation with menace from an unexpected source.

These are common tropes of the gothic romantic suspense story.

Yes indeed, I remember gothic mania in the 1970s. And “mania” is the correct word for it. Women readers were crazy for gothics. Every paperback rack in every grocery and drugstore held novels covered by gray-toned, shadowy images of a girl fleeing a dark, brooding house in the background with perhaps one lighted window.

Victoria Holt’s first novel, The Mistress of Mellyn, appeared in 1960 and it became an instant bestseller. It revived the gothic genre, and by 1970 gothics outsold all other genres in paperback fiction. In 1975, a Holt paperback first printing was 800,000 copies, which is a pretty darned good print run, even by today’s standards.

I also remember when gothics died by 1980, supplanted by the bodice rippers, a less-than-kind term for historical romances featuring explicit sex scenes instead of the clean romantic yearnings within gothic drawing rooms.

I used to attend a writer’s conference held annually at the University of Oklahoma, and during the ’80s when an editor or literary agent would finish speaking and open the session for questions, the same elderly woman–clutching her cane in one hand and a manuscript box in the other–would rise shakily to her feet and ask, “Are gothics being published again?”

The crowd would groan, the conference promoters would smile behind their hands, and the editor or agent would courteously reply, “No.”

The world moved on. The bedroom door was flung open. Gothics were left behind in the dust of near-forgotten fiction.

And yet … last week, I enjoyed The Shivering Sands. Its stately pacing did not make me impatient. The heroine and hero seemed quaintly old-fashioned, but the setting is not modern-day so I didn’t mind. It was a relief not to have to skip over lurid anatomical grapplings. And if the heroine’s “investigation” of her sister’s disappearance was more passive and ineffective than modern taste might prefer, well, who cares?

I’ve read plenty of the modern heroines who stride into the world, kicking butt and getting things done. I’m not opposed to them–mind you–but sometimes they seem too strident, too shrill, too . . . unfeminine.

As for Ms. Holt, let’s unmask her.

According to Wikipedia, her real name was Eleanor Hibbert, an Englishwoman born in 1906 who died in 1993. She began writing in the 1930s after her marriage enabled her to stop working, and her first novel was published in 1941. Altogether, she wrote under eight names, and by the end of her career she’d published 191 books, including 100-million copies sold worldwide in 20 languages.

Her work was praised by critics for its accuracy, quality of writing, and attention to detail.

Here are her pseudonyms. See if you recognize any of them:

Jean Plaidy–fictionalized novels about European royalty

Victoria Holt–gothic romantic suspense

Phillippa Carr–multi-generational family sagas

Eleanor Burford, Elbur Ford, Kathleen Kellow, Anna Percival, and Ellalice Tate.

Mrs. Hibbert got things done by writing seven days a week, and she usually completed 5,000 words by lunchtime.

Then she filled the rest of her day by researching, going over her manuscript, and answering fan mail. In the evenings she played chess.

When she grew older, she escaped the cold, damp English winters by going on worldwide cruises to all sorts of exotic ports. And she kept to her writing routine while aboard.

She died at sea at the age of 86, enroute between Greece and Egypt, and she was buried at sea.

In 2006, her publisher reprinted four Victoria Holt novels, including The Shivering Sands. Holt said that she preferred to write about “women of integrity and strong character” who were “struggling for liberation, fighting for survival.”

That kind of theme doesn’t go out of fashion, does it? Change the setting, and modernize the characters, and you still have a gripping story readers can relate to.

Her reputation and written legacy remain well deserved.


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Thank You, Veterans!

Happy Veterans Day! We are so blessed to live in America, and to have brave military men and women who risk their lives to preserve our precious freedoms.

Remember that we also have the freedom to read what we want, to write as we please, to complain, to criticize leaders when they fail us, to cheer for underdogs, to enjoy a safe, civil, peaceful transition of power, and to vote as our intelligence, personal choice, and conscience directs.

Not everyone in the world can do that. We live in a big, wonderful country. It has flaws, of course. It is far from perfect. I am saddened by the divisions rocking our nation, but even when our citizens are stressed, out of work, burdened, and unsure of what to do there is always a chance, always the potential to change, always a new path to seek.

I have seen divisions before and I have seen riots before and I have seen racial discord before. But despite them, Americans have held together. I hope we’ll continue to do so, recognizing that we have the hard-won right and privilege to change what we don’t like and to always dream as big as we dare.

Let us keep our common sense and beware of anyone–rich or poor, celebrity, politician, civic leader, or little guy–seeking to diminish America, to make it small, to persuade us that democracy is wrong, to tell us what to think, to muzzle our opinions, to force us to conform to a small, gray, vision of less, to shame us into feeling guilty for the privileges we enjoy, or–worse–to throw them away without understanding the consequences of doing so.

And those freedoms are due to our founding fathers, who risked their lives to create America, a nation like no other. Our freedoms did not come without a heavy price, and we should never hold them cheap. When Patrick Henry proclaimed, “Give me liberty or give me death,” he wasn’t just spouting political rhetoric like some bombastic modern-day congressman. Henry knew if the American Revolution failed, he would be executed for treason along with men such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington. Every member of the Continental Congress that voted to rebel against King George III knew his vote would put a price on his head.

Today we vote, knowing that we can do so without fear of reprisal, without fear of being executed by a tyrant. Thanks to the first American army and the courage of so many, we vote freely today–unless we cow to anyone who dares to dictate otherwise. And if our choice does not win, we should remember we will have another chance, another election in the future.

We do not listen to propaganda that makes us fearful and timid. We do not throw away our judgment and common sense to blindly follow a celebrity’s personal views. We do not bow to tyranny. We do not set some individuals above the law while punishing others. We do not live by mob rule or damage our neighbors and fellow Americans that disagree with us.

And we do not forget our veterans and what each of us owes them for their brave service that keeps us free.


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