February 11

Retro Recs-All Creatures Great and Small

HERE’S THE PLAN: to pull out a book from my tight-packed bookshelves and share it. Qualifications? It has to be one I’ve read over and over again, one that has inspired my own writing, and one that gave me a lasting experience of some sort. There are so many older books that are just too damned good to be buried in the mosh pit of publishing fashions and frenzies. So I’m going to pull them out and have another dance with them. And hopefully encourage others to do the same.
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James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Smallbegan my love affair with Yorkshire.

All Creatures Great and Small also remains the book that inspired me to NOT become a veterinarian.

It wasn’t the bits one would think, like squelching about in blood and dung, dealing with breech births and uterine prolapses, or sticking your arm up a cow’s arse. I’m not squeamish about such things, and with the vet tech & equine reproductive training I needed in my career, I actually ended up doing a lot of that.

No, it was the lack of sleep.

(Well, okay, there was the realisation of college funds and college math—lots of it—that also nixed the vet career. But when the book first came out, Teenage-Me glommed onto it, read it cover to cover, and said, “No sleep? No way!” And then read it all over again, thinking See, veterinarians can still write books…)

It’s that real, that evocative. When opening All Creatures Great and Small, one is soon immersed in the early-20th-century of a Yorkshire country vet.

Check out the cover: he’s rolling up his sleeve! Because that’s what vets spend a lot of time doing, believe me.

The people are the vehicle for getting to know the animals, and refreshingly, none of them are perfect—quite the contrary! There’s a refreshing acceptance of quirks, both human and animal. Many of the animal cast have recurring roles, and in the doing, define their people’s foibles. In the first book (yes, a whole series, and I’ll detail the titles below) we meet James who, as a young veterinary intern, comes to the Yorkshire Dales. He’s newly-employed at a country practice, and that owned by two brothers who aren’t exactly as he imagined—complete with a spoiled pack of delinquent dogs.

Because it’s all too true: animal practitioners don’t always practice what they preach. 😉

And oh, the countryside! In these books, northeast Yorkshire maintains its own character—and it should. You drive through the heartbreaking beauty of the Dales (sometimes in an old beater with holes in the flooring and less-than-adequate brakes!) and open an endless supply of gates; you lie on frosted cobbles with the wind icing your veins to save the life of a cow and twin calves—and sometimes, receive an invitation to warm yourself by the fire with a fine tea. Moreover, you hear the sometimes-incomprehensible, essentially-beautiful dialect that inspired the language of elder texts like Gawain and the Green Knight or The Tale of Gamelyn.

Immersive and real—if that’s your bag, the entire series is well worth a read. Myself, I really miss books like this. It’s lovely to revisit them and find, not less, but more of a treasure.

All Creatures Great and Small
All Things Bright and Beautiful
All Things Wise and Wonderful
The Lord God Made Them All
Every Living Thing

August 15

Worldcon!

Today on the way to San Jose (cue music) with #RobinHood and the #wodebooks!

I’ll be signing on Monday at 2pm. Bring a book to sign and you’ll receive a special thank you. I’ll also be at the Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading on Saturday at 5pm along with a lovely and lively group of writers. Between times you can find me and the books at the BU table. Stop by and say hullo!

April 20

Retro Recs Redux

For various reasons, I haven’t done any Retro Recs in quite some time. I’d the best of intentions, but life happens. So I’m reinstating it, here and now, with a re-posting of the originals to start it off.

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HERE’S the plan: to pull out a book from my tight-packed bookshelves and share it. Qualifications? It has to be one I’ve read over and over again, one that has inspired my own writing, and one that gave me a lasting experience of some sort. There are so many older books that are just too damned good to be buried in the mosh pit of publishing fashions and frenzies. So I’m going to pull them out and have another dance with them. And hopefully encourage others to do the same.
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To choose Mary Stewart was a no brainer, actually, though it was difficult to pick between what I call ‘my rosary of three Marys’ (Stewart, Mary Renault, and Mary O’Hara). But once I decided which Mary, it was a little easier to pick the book. I’m sure others will come into play at a later date, but this time, it had to be The Ivy Tree.

The cover is from those aforementioned bookshelves, (c)1961, this is the first US printing in 1963. Isn’t this cover just deliciously (and a bit painfully) ’60s gothic? From the sweeping cape and hair to the Barnabas Collins coat and the uphill, defiant pose?

Back cover copy: If Mary Grey looked so much like the missing heiress, why should she not be the heiress? To the lonely young woman–living in a dreary furnished room–the impersonation offered intriguing possibilities… So plain Mary Grey became the glamourous Annabel Winslow. Only someone wanted Annabel Winslow missing… permanently.

I love old gothics. I miss them. Brain candy, of course, but a specific type of tweak and treat for those doomed with a brain that stubbornly refuses to totally check out. Gothics have their own formula, tiresome as any when cranked out with little skill or craft… but the good ones were complex, character driven, and subtle after their own fashion, with the formula in service to the craft, not the other way ’round. The Ivy Tree was a very, very good gothic.

Mary Grey is, like most of Stewart’s heroines, a real person: independent and capable, conflicted… and with a secret that could be the death of her, if she’s not careful. Inheritance of a small estate, a dying, over-controlling grandfather, and a few sociopaths scattered into the mix, turn a chance meeting on Hadrian’s Wall into a madness of plot and counterplot… did I mention I love gothics? A good one has as many twists as a North Country back road. And the language Stewart uses!

“If you stood on the low piece of crumbling wall that enclosed the trunk, you could just reach your hand into the hole. I held on to the writhen stems of the ivy with one hand and felt above my head into the hollow left by some long-decayed and fallen bough. I put my hand in slowly, nervously, almost as I might have done had I known Julie’s owl and seven mythical young were inside, and ready to defend it, or as I might have invaded a private drawer in someone’s desk. The secret tryst; Ninus’ tomb; the lovers’ tree; what right had a ghost there, prying?”

What right indeed? Well, you’ll have to read the book and let me know what you think. You won’t be sorry; it’s a thumping good afternoon’s read.

April 11

Writing Moments

In bed with Amazing Spouse, watching ‘Captain Blood’:
Spouse: This is so CHEESY
Me: But! Basil Rathbone! Fencing! With Errol Flynn!

Spouse: The Robin Hood movie is better.  And they both fence there, too. Robin and Guy
Me:  …
(as a certain Robyn and Guy snort at the idea of… and I quote… ‘poncy’ fencing technique)

Mr. Rathbone: (in uber-French accent, brandishing rope) “You know, you can screw a man’s eyeballs out of his head with one of these…”

Me: Now, my Robyn would appreciate that.
Spouse: More like your Guy would.

And that, my friends, is when you realise that Mr. Rathbone needs to be “cast”, somehow, as one of the Wode villains.

Care to guess who?

August 12

Worldcon Cometh–

To Kansas City and I’ll be there at MidAmericon, hanging with the DSP Publications table in the Dealer’s Room as well as taking in various panels.  Come and say hullo!

Also, if you’re interested in hearing a totally new bit from The Wode, come to the Broad Universe reading on Sunday. I’ll be in some great company; you will definitely hear some great excerpts of the SF/F variety.

BU-RFR-MidAmer2-HalfSheet-pdf