Monday, 31 December 2007

Sunday, 30 December 2007

The flibbertigibbet at sea

My niece The Chicken, aka The Flibbertigibbet, is on the Trinidad & Tobago Women's Youth Sailing Team. Here she is with her teammates in a publicity shot before their recent regatta in St. Maarten. She's the one on the extreme right.

You go, Chicken!

Saturday, 29 December 2007

Stop me if you've heard this one...

A linguistics professor was lecturing to his English class one day. “In English,” he said, “a double negative forms a positive. In some languages, though, such as Russian, a double negative is still a negative. However, there is no language wherein a double positive can form a negative.”
A voice from the back of the room piped up, “Yeah, right.”

A writer died and was given the option of going to heaven or hell. She decided to check out each place first. As the writer descended into the fiery pits, she saw row upon row of writers chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they were repeatedly whipped with thorny lashes.
“Oh my,” said the writer. “Let me see heaven now.”
A few moments later, as she ascended into heaven, she saw rows of writers, chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they, too, were whipped with thorny lashes.
“Wait a minute,” said the writer. “This is just as bad as hell!”
“Oh no, it’s not,” replied an unseen voice. “Here, your work gets published.”

A visitor to a certain college paused to admire the new Hemingway Hall that had been built on campus."It's a pleasure to see a building named for Ernest Hemingway," he said.
"Actually," said his guide, "it's named for Joshua Hemingway. No relation."
The visitor was astonished. "Was Joshua Hemingway a writer, also?"
"Yes, indeed," said his guide. "He wrote a check."

A screenwriter comes home to a burned down house. His sobbing and slightly-singed wife is standing outside. “What happened, honey?” the man asks.
“Oh, John, it was terrible,” she weeps. “I was cooking, the phone rang. It was your agent. Because I was on the phone, I didn’t notice the stove was on fire. It went up in second. Everything is gone. I nearly didn’t make it out of the house. Poor Fluffy is--”
“Wait, wait. Back up a minute,” The man says. “My agent called?”

Q. What's the difference between publishers and terrorists?
A. You can negotiate with terrorists.

Close encounters of the bird kind

Last night the electricity went. Again. Over the last three weeks this has been an almost nightly occurence, so I performed the requisite cussing routine then went to bed although it was only about 7 PM. By midnight I was up and on the computer, with the rain falling and the wind gusting. It was altogether quite a cosy setting.

After awhile the rain eased up, the wind died, and something landed on the roof. For the next hour or so, this creature stamped back and forth, creating a rather interesting uproar. I decided it had to be a bird of some sort. From the sounds it was making, I deduced that it must be an albatross.

I went outside, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner echoing in my head, hoping to catch sight of the monstrous presence on the roof and fearing that I would have to defend my life against this humongous bird of prey. I could just see the thing gliding down, grabbing me in its talons and swooping off to some distant aerie to devour me at its leisure. I know what you're thinking, that it would take some bird to even lift the likes of me, far less to swoop away with my poundage dangling from its claws. All I'll say in my defence is that you did not hear this thing. I did. This was a big bird.

Peering up at the roofline revealed nothing, so I briefly toyed with the idea of hurling some stones on to the galvanize to scare the creature away, but my mother was sleeping and would not have taken kindly to rocks crashing on to the roof in the dead of midnight. I went back indoors and after a while, a long while, the stamping and clattering stopped.

My sister scoffed when I mentioned the albatross adventure to her today. Fie, I say to her. Ridicule me all you like. So what if the albatross is native to Antarctica?

I know what I heard. She didn't.

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Tropical Greetings from Wordtryst

Best Wishes to All for a Very Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year!

This blog is celebrating its sixth month, and special thanks go to all who visited: the regulars; the lurkers; those who dropped by once, or twice; the new friends and the old ones. You have made a special contribution to my blog, and my life.

To my old friends Dion and Vaughn: thanks for taking the time out of your busy lives to visit. (Vaughn, what's with the Mr. Anon business? There, you're outed.)

To my new blog buddies: thanks for all the discussion, the feedback, the laughter, the encouragement, the empathy, the stimulation and information I get from your comments and from reading your blogs.

M.G. Tarquini

Here's to 2008!

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Late again...

I went and posted about the BlogCatalog Unite in Acts of Kindness thingummy, but did I post about my own kind deeds on the day itself, as requested? Of course not. I was just too busy. (aka_lol took up the challenge, however, and probably got roundly cussed out for his trouble.) To complicate matters, I have mixed feelings about all this public do-gooding; surely one should do one's good works quietly. I think there's even something to that effect in the Bible.

So, this is late, and it's probably not what BlogCatalog had in mind, but here goes...

Since I generally try to be kind in my everyday dealings on this earth, the promotion served to remind me that it's equally important that I be kind to myself. So here's what I did:
  • I refused to look in the mirror and criticize myself. So what if I don't see the sylph-like figure of my teens and twenties? Hell, I'm old enough to show some wear and tear, and all things considered, I'm not doing too badly.
  • I bought a bottle of Jamaican Rum Cream Liqueur, coconut flavour, for no good reason, and went home and celebrated for no good reason.
  • I counted my blessings.
  • I spent some quality time with my niece The Chicken, aka The Flibbertigibbet. She's thirteen and ditzy, loves to sail her boat, chat on the phone (duh!), and play in my hair. We kind of like each other a lot. I suspect she suspects that I never really grew up.
  • I refused to think of all the things I should be doing for Christmas. Ha.

And that was it for my be-kind-to-me day. Remember, everyone, it's important to show kindness to others, but it's equally important to be kind to oneself. Very often we treat our selves far more harshly than we would dream of treating anyone else.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Join Bloggers Unite on December 17!

From the folks over at BlogCatalog:
Thousands of bloggers from around the world are performing acts of kindness right now so they can post their stories on December 17. Will you be one of them?

BlogCatalog members hope so!

On Monday, December 17th, post about some act of kindness you performed — making a donation, helping someone move, volunteering your time, or even something as simple as paying someone an unexpected compliment — and then share your story with a post, photo, or video on your blog.

It's easy to do good so please join us. This is our chance to show the world that bloggers have heart online and off. Perform just a single act of kindness and then share your Bloggers Unite "Acts of Kindness" story on December 17. Every post will count!

Saturday, 15 December 2007

The Best Medicine - 7 things that made me laugh out loud this week

1. "My name is Pussy. Pussy Galore." - a character in the Goldfinger movie I just watched for the first time.

2. Matt's post on Santa Claus' existential crisis.

3. Lane brainstorming for words that describe her and coming up with 'incontinent'.

4. Kevin's comment (on my Coast to Coast post) re keeping my son and his daughters far away from each other.

5. Local TV presenter Paolo Kernahan's suggestion that women could use a guillotine-like device in their underwear to deter rapists. The device, he claims, would provide them with evidence that will stand up in court.

6. Kevin's description of an encounter with a snake inside his car while he was driving: "Much merriment ensued."

7. My sister's suggestion that certain DVDs (like No Country for Old Men) should come with a warning sticker something like the one above to let women know that we view them at our peril. What a horrible movie. And they killed Woody Harrelson in it. Hello, you movie people out there. You don't kill off Woody! What you ought to do is show some shower scenes of the guy, like the ones of nekkid women that you force down our throats at every opportunity. When are the PTBs in Hollywood going to figure out that women like to see sexy guys in the buff too?

Oops. #7 became a bit of a rant there, didn't it... Thanks for the humour, everyone.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Thursday thirteen: UK vs. US

My friend Darlene in San Diego was puzzled when I mentioned that one of the final checks I give a manuscript before it goes out is to ensure that I have conformed to American spelling, since the markets I submit to are American. She was not aware that the English spoken in the UK and many of its former colonies - like those here in the Caribbean - is not identical to American English.

C'mon, folks. It's not just the accents that diverge. It's also the spelling, grammar, vocabulary, idiom, formatting of dates and numbers et al. There are even differences in the approach to punctuation. To quote George Bernard Shaw, the United States and United Kingdom are "two countries divided by a common language".

Here are thirteen examples of these differences:

1. The ise (UK) vs. ize (US) divide: realise/realize, recognise/recognize, specialise/specialize...

2. The our (UK) vs. or (US) divide: labour/labor, favour/favor, harbour/harbor, neighbour/neighbor...

3. UK: post, postman, postbox. US: mail,mailman, mailbox.

4. UK: Primary school. US: Elementary school.

5. UK: Secondary school. US: High school.

6. UK: pavement. US: sidewalk. (In the US I believe the pavement refers to the paved surface of the road, so you don't caution your children like we do to walk on the pavement.)

7. UK: Bank holiday. US: Public holiday.

8. UK: A public school is an elite private school. (Don't ask) US: A public school is a state-run school.

9. UK: The past participle of some verbs can be either regular or irregular, for example learned/learnt, burned/burnt, leaped/leapt, dreamed/dreamt, spilled/spilt. US: The irregular form of these verbs is never or rarely used.

10. UK: Athletes play in a team. US: Athletes play on a team.

11. UK: The last letter of the alphabet is pronounced zed. US: It's pronounced zee.

12. UK: 'First floor' is the one above the entrance level while the entrance level is the 'ground floor'. US: 'First floor' is the ground level, and the one above is the 'second floor'.

13. UK: Digital time is written with a point, for example, 6.00 US: Digital time is always written with a colon: 6:00

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Trinidad Coast to Coast

The Tropical Power Coast to Coast race took place here a few weeks ago. It's a two-day stage race traversing the island from the east coast, along the north coast, and ending on the western peninsula. The participants used three core disciplines: road cycling, trail running, and paddling. The athletes came from all over the world; the winner was multi-sport world champion Richard Ussher, a New Zealander who dominated the race despite the heavy rains on Day 2 of the event.

My son Richard was on one of the photographic teams. Here are some of his shots; the final shot was taken by Jim O'Connor. For more shots of the race and photography discussion, hop over to Jim's blog at jtography.

Part of the scenic north coast

Jim finds a perch to shoot a cyclist

A runner splashes through surf

Paddler's view of marina on west peninsula

...and here's Richard waiting for that great shot!

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Edits, edits...

I'm in the middle of the editing process with my editor from Dorchester. The deadline is November 30, and I've still got lots to do. The editor was supposed to mail me the manuscript with her markings since the start of the month, but I didn't get it. I gave her a street address two weeks ago in case the PO box number was the problem, and she was supposed to send me another copy. I haven't received that yet either. I hope it's not my courier in Miami messing up again...

The editorial letter was very detailed, and we discussed the revisions by phone, so I'm forging ahead, package or no package. There's no way I'm going to miss that deadline on Friday. Absolutely no effing way!

The day job that's been looming is supposed to start next week, once this editing business is out of the way. Hm. I'll be keeping regular hours, I suppose. No more staying up all night reading blogs, editing novel #2, and farting around with novel #3. Damn. I hate being all normal and everything; I like going to bed at dawn. The upside of this change, of course, is that I'll be [insert drumroll] getting paid! Buying groceries! And stuff like that.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Narcissistic meme

I saw this meme over at Kim's, I think. All you have to do is list random things about yourself, so here I go. It's all about me, Me, ME!
Update: I must be more of a narcissist than I thought - just realized I was supposed to list only 7 things...

1. I love rain, and the misty cool freshness it brings.
2. I'm loony about the moon, and I've passed this obsession on to my son.
3. Give me a phone, Internet access, and a credit card with no limit, and I'd probably never leave the house again.
4. I no longer keep a credit card.
5. At 5' 10", I'm the shortest in my family. My brother is the tallest at 6' 6".
6. My shoe size is 9 1/2, and everyone in the family admires my 'little' feet. That's because they all wear 12s, 13s and 14s.
7. I hate that I didn't inherit my mothers hazel-grey eyes that turn green when she is really angry.
8. My ex-husband insists that my legs were what caught him. :)
9. My oldest writing dream is - [drumroll] - an assignment for National Geographic Magazine!
10. For most of my life I thought money wasn't important. Not having any cured me of that folly.
11. Every bit of trauma and anguish I've suffered in this life has been on account of males. I sometimes wish I were lesbian, but women just don't do it for me. In spite of all, I love men. Kind ones. Sexy ones. Good-hearted ones. Cute ones...
12. That said, my female friends, and I include my mom and sis among them, are the people I value most. They are the true soldiers, the ones who are there no matter what, and who never let me down. I suppose I can live without men, but I don't know how I'd cope without the friendship, support and empathy of the women in my life.
13. I'm not into nationalism, but I'm patriotic about the planet.
14. I love blogging. I love the new people I've met, the things I've learned, the expanded awareness of individuals and communities who are passionate about the things I love. Books! Language! Life!

Snake elegy

I killed another snake in the yard a few days ago. I know, naturalists don't kill snakes, blah, blah blah. This naturalist does, if said snake is a deadly mapepire (fer de lance) that comes into the yard, snuggles up at the foot of an innocent little marigold plant, and lies there contemplating mayhem.

On a rational level, I approve of snakes. Some of them are truly beautiful, and I even met one - a huge albino python draped around a guy on South Beach, Florida - which exuded such bonhomie that I wanted to pat it and scratch behind its ears. Apart from their aesthetic appeal, snakes eat rats and mice, and that alone should win my eternal affection and protection. I think the little mapepire I killed is even protected by law - not that my countrymen observe these laws any more than they do the ones about killing people.

When it comes to snakes, something overrides the rational, learned response. The universal aversion to these creatures seems to indicate a deeper, primal, self-protective instinct. I've read that monkeys react the same way we do, exhibiting extreme fear and hysteria at the sight of anything snake-like.

Regrettably, snakes will continue to be murdered around this yard. When I used to hike in the forest I accorded my slithering friends the utmost respect, giving them right of way on trails, photographing them draped in trees, acknowledging their right to life. In our yard, I acknowledge only my own right to life. So be warned, you defiant, venomous serpents. If you crawl into this yard, then pray that I don't see you first.

Evolution of a friendship?

Heather Sellers, in Page After Page, writes that sometimes when you move from unpublished to published, when your writing ambitions begin to come to fruition, you lose some friends. I'm still very much a neophyte in this business, but I'm beginning to wonder if she's on to something there.

I just told an old friend that my first novel has sold. We've been friends for more than 25 years, and he knew about this book, this writing dream, from the start - which is saying a lot. Well, I told him, happy that at last I had good news to share, and I waited for the congratulations. They never came. No, "Good for you!" No "I'm so happy!" Nothing of the sort.

What he did was launch immediately, immediately, into an impassioned rant about all these 'big companies' that feel they have the right to pass judgement on what is good and what isn't, who's beautiful and who's not, who should be a top model and who should be kicked off the show. He didn't say "who should be published and who shouldn't," but I sort of guessed that was his point.

Huh? What does that have to do with my little bit of good news? I listened, dumbfounded, waited for him to get to the point of his diatribe, to say something nice to his oldest, truest friend (so he says). He never explained the point of that outburst, and the nice words never came.

I must be missing something here.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Trading Spaces

There's an article about writers' spaces in the August issue of Writer's Digest that got me thinking. The spaces shown are those of established, highly successful writers. What I'd really like to see are the spaces of struggling, beginning writers.

It's not that I wouldn't trade with some of the writers featured - it must be wonderfulto have a comfortable space dedicated to your writing, every convenience at hand. That's not my present reality.

My computer sits at one end of my mother's dining table. The TV is a few feet away in one direction, the kitchen a few feet away in the other. Although I've sometimes persevered and produced good work with the TV blaring and my mother constantly interrupting my flow, I prefer to write late at night when there are no distractions.

I wrote the first draft of that first novel in bed. I was not camping out at my mother's house then, but I was teaching high school, coming home to cook and supervise my son's homework etc. etc., then retiring to my room to scribble when the household was asleep. I still write in bed sometimes when I feel the need for pen and paper rather than keyboard and bytes...

The dream is always there, though: my own writing space with a big desk and comfy, ergonomic chair; cabinets for all my papers, manuscripts, and correspondence; shelves for all the books now languishing in cardboard boxes; a couple lush plants; some photos scattered around; a painting or two.

When I'm feeling frustrated about the lack of perfection in my space, I remind myself that Stephen King used to bang away on his wife's old typewriter in the laundry-closet of their rented trailer, a child's desk balanced on his knees. We all gotta start somewhere!

So where do you write? If you send me a photo of your space (lianespicer at gmail dot com) I'll feature it on the blog. The weirder the better! Any takers? :)

Friday, 2 November 2007

Off and running

Thanks to all who've visited the blog and commented over the last two weeks, and who are probably wondering where I got to. Well, my computer problem has become more convoluted; since two computers got blown, as well as one ac/dc adapter and the battery to a laptop (all within a relatively short time), they're telling me that there is either a problem with the supply of electricity to the house, or with the internal wiring. So I'm making do with library visits, internet cafes and such. Hopefully things will be back to what passes for normal around here pretty soon.

Yesterday I got the first call from my editor at Dorchester. Hurrah! Onward Ho! And such. Surprise! There are going to be edits. The agent didn't think that any revisions would be necessary, but thankfully I'd read that editors always want changes, so I was prepared.

Here's the thing: I'm eager to start those edits because everything the lady said made perfect sense. Okay, maybe I'll want to fight with her over some stuff when this cloud I'm floating on lets me off and I can think straight, but right now I can see the reasoning behind her comments, and I truly believe that going through this process with her will make for a better novel, and a better writer.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Okay, where's my rush?

I've read the contract and mailed off my comments/queries/concerns to the agent in the small hours. Now I await her response. I should have the signature copies of the contract in my hands some time next week.

After all the waiting and all the angst, I should be ecstatic. When I went to bed last night - actually around three this morning - I had to remind myself to say a prayer, and to mention therein that even though I didn't feel ecstatic, I was extremely thankful that the long awaited event had arrived.

I assume the euphoria will come, maybe when I see my signature on the thing in indelible ink. After all, this is a major benchmark on this road that I've chosen: my first publishing contract. I'm supposed to feel euphoric. The slight letdown that I'm experiencing must be the normal response to having the tension removed, of having overdone the anticipation and overestimated the joy I'd feel. The joy is there, somewhere; I know it is. So why don't I feel it?

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Quote of the Day

"Hypothetical numbers are great to send into rhetorical battle."

Jim McCulloch, on his blog Stone Bridge, in the post Ken Burns's War which, among other things, takes issue with Burns's estimates of the great numbers of lives that would have been lost if the atomic bombs had not been deployed at the end of World War II.

Finally... FINALLY!

I've bitched and moaned ad nauseum on this blog about the (to me) interminable wait for the contract for my first novel to arrive. Moments ago I checked mail and found that my agent has forwarded the draft.

It hasn't even registered yet. I've had a strong feeling all week that the time was at hand, but since I've been struggling and floundering around in a state of emotional soup since the offer six months ago, my premonitions probably count for naught.

Now I've got to read it, all seven pages of it, and send the agent my comments. I should receive the signature copies within the week, she says.

Man. Finally.

Reading right now...

I've only just started this novel, just two chapters in, actually, and I'm hooked. I mean, hooked in the gut. This writing is powerful, unsentimental, unflinching. I'd like to write like that, but I'm too squeamish. Apart from the compelling writing, I'm partial to exotic settings. Here's the premise, right off the back cover:

"Set in Emperor Haile Selassie's Ethiopia and the racially charged world of Thatcher's London, Sweetness in the Belly is a richly detailed portrayal of one woman's search for love and belonging. Lilly, born to British parents, eventually finds herself living as a devout, young, white Muslim woman in the ancient walled city of Harar in the years leading up to the deposition of the emperor. She is drawn to an idealistic young doctor, Aziz, but their love has only just begun to fulfil its promise when the convulsions of a new order wrench them apart, sending Lilly to an England she has never seen, and Aziz into the darkness of a radical revolution..."

The novel by Canadian Camilla Gibb is a National Bestseller and Giller Prize finalist.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Hunk of the month: Jamie Bamber

I didn't post a hot guy last month. That's simply unforgivable.

So here's Jamie Bamber. He stars as Major Lee "Apollo" Adama on SCI FI Channel's Battlestar Galactica - a show I've never seen, but when I stumbled across this photo I became a fan. No, not of BG. Of Bamber.

The numbers game

Since I put the ClustrMap on the blog two months ago I've been fascinated by the unfolding of the story that it tells. Back then I was averaging about four posts a week, and the map showed fifty to sixty hits a day - which included those racked up by my own compulsive checking of the blog, of course. Then I had problems with my computer, began posting less frequently, and hits dropped to under ten some days.

Overall (of the times that I checked) the highest number of hits in any one day was in the high seventies. The last time I checked the stats was almost a week ago. Tonight I checked again and my eyes bugged: Visits on previous day = 309.

Huh? Wha... When I glanced at the map itself I noticed little red dots in quite a few new locations.

This is an anomaly, I'm sure. Maybe the map - um - malfunctions at times? I'd really like some blog-canny person to explain this inexplicable surge in visits on a particular day. I've done nothing out of the ordinary, haven't visited the blog in six days, and I can't begin to come up with an explanation.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Rockin' Blogger

Lane has just presented me with an award. It's that bright pink one over there on the right -> -> ->

Heh, heh. I love these things. Thank you, Lane.

I now pass on the Rockin' Blogger award to Kevin, Kim, aka_lol, and Matt.

Just soupy

My mother makes a huge pot of soup every Saturday. My sister drops by around lunchtime and we three eat and hang out until she leaves a few hours later. Around dusk, my mother goes over to my brother's to drop off a smaller pot of the soup for him and family. Yesterday she asked me to go with her because she doesn't like driving alone at night, and it's getting dark much earlier now. I agreed, but told her I would not get out of the car because I wanted to come right back home. That was on account of a slight headache, a book I wanted to finish reading, and my usual hermit-like tendencies.

So off we went, and my brother came to the gate for his pot.

"Who's that in the car?" I hear him asking my mom.

"It's your sister."

"Tell her to come in. We just put some stuff on the grill."

"I'm coming," I shout, almost before the word "grill" is out of his mouth.

Like most impromptu gatherings, it turned out to be great fun. My mother and I left long after midnight, stuffed to the gills with chicken, fish, chips, and the contents of a bottle of Riccadonna Asti Spumante (just a sip for my mother who, apart from having to drive, cannot hold her liquor). We also left with that relaxed, mellow feeling that comes from the sharing of food, drink, talk and laughter with people we love and trust.

So much for my resolve to not get out of the car.

Limping along

The fate of my computer is still in limbo, so I'm still using my son's on weekends when he can spare it. This means that there are gaps in my posting, and I'm not getting around to all my favourite blogs as regularly as I'd like, but in case anyone is wondering, I'm still here. Not going anyplace if I can help it.

"Our technicians are working on the problem, and we regret this temporary inconvenience. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming..."


Sunday, 7 October 2007

I should be in bed, really...

I can't believe I'm doing this at 3.13 in the morning with my eyelids falling down on me and my eyes glassy from too many hours staring at this screen, but I just checked Kevin's blog and clicked on, of all things, a tarot card quiz.

I'm the moon, it seems. I know nothing about tarot, and I don't like the aspersions about my mental health, (hello!) but some of it seems to fit, and other parts I like to believe. I'd rate it 7/10. Here are my results, if anyone wants to kill some time. If you really want to kill it dead, click here and do your own quiz.

Tagged by Lane

I've been memed by Lane. (I hear gnashing of teeth and screams of outrage: "Memed? MEMED? Why must people mangle the language?") So I'll just stuff some cotton in my ears and proceed:

Total number of books...
I've been cataloging my books on LibraryThing, and I'm somewhere around 150. There are several boxes that I haven't yet opened, so I'll say 300 is a fair guesstimate.

Last book read...
Letters to a Young Artist by Julia Cameron. A gift from my mother, who thought she was picking up Cameron's The Artist's Way in the store. While I don't think 'young' can truthfully describe me any more, I do have an elderly friend who addresses me as 'young lady'. Letters was worthwhile reading, since it reinforces truths about living the writing life.

Last book bought.....
A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson.

5 Meaningful books...

I don't want to repeat any of the books I mentioned in the Thursday Thirteen post, so I'll name five other books I found meaningful:

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand - I found this book meaningful because of the emphasis on the strength of the individual, the scorn for people who batten off of other people (the 'second-handers'), and for the sheer doggedness of the protagonist Howard Roark who refused to compromise his artistic vision. I also could relate to the architectural themes. My main criticisms are: the rape scene and its premise are repugnant; the characters, especially Dominique, are not 'sympathetic', and Rand's philosophy is not entirely applicable to real life. Despite what I consider its flaws, the book is extremely well written and provides lots of food for thought.

I Heard the Owl Call My Name by Margaret Craven - A young priest is sent to a remote Kwakiutl village in the Pacific Northwest. He is dying but does not know it yet. In the village, he becomes a part of the Native American world, learns the Kwakiutl language and ways, and sees how their traditions are being destroyed through the influence of white men. This book is quietly profound, sad yet exhilarating, and utterly unforgettable.

One Child by Torey Hayden - Wrenching, true story of a teacher's discovery that one of her charges, a six year old, was being sexually abused by a relative. Not just another chronicle of heinous abuse, it's also the story of the miraculous flowering of a gifted child in the most unlikely of places.

The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson - This is one of those watershed works by the author of Silent Spring, the book that sounded the first warnings about the dangers of pesticides such as DDT to man and the natural world. The Sea Around Us is deservedly a classic, with its stunning insights into the workings of the oceans, the moving, lyrical prose, and the prophesies that have become a frightening reality as man continues to abuse this majestic yet fragile ecosystem.

Serengeti Shall Not Die by Bernhard Grzimek - The story of a German father and son who worked toward saving the great migratory herds of the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. In order to determine the status of the herds they decided to take a census of the animals in the savannah, braving confrontations with wild animals and ruthless poachers, and, for one member of the team, (spoiler alert!) paying the ultimate price.

I'll tag a couple people I spared the last time around:
The Urban Recluse
Cheryl St John
Kanani, the Easy-Writer

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Dolphin babies

Kaylee, an 8-year-old Atlantic bottlenose dolphin at Brookfield Zoo with her baby, a male calf.

From the Dolphin Watch website, Nicky and her baby girl Flossy.

So beautiful. Thanks for the links, D.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Thursday Thirteen

Thirteen writers I adore:

Someone described his work as "philosophy lite". Call it what you will, his books captivated me decades ago, and his adventures in living his beliefs have helped to form - or at least validate - some of my own beliefs.

I was fascinated by the legend of this Indian writer who submitted the manuscript for The God of Small Things to a London agent who, not long after, found himself on a plane to India, contract and six-figure advance in hand. When I read the book I understood. It's the writing.

I read My Family and Other Animals when I was a child, and I was hooked for life. Durrell's accounts of his childhood in Greece, along with his adventures as an animal collector, zookeeper and conservationist, not only provided me with innumerable hours of high entertainment but also contributed to my development as a naturalist - and writer.

During my stays in Florida the highpoint of my weekend was buying the Miami Herald and reading Barry's column. The quintessential humorist and satirist, Barry is unsurpassed, imho, at exposing the hysterical insanities in everyday life.

During a short teaching stint earlier this year, I met a fifteen year old boy who shared my passion for The Bard. I wanted to hug him. When I left, he hugged me. After all, how often do you meet someone else who gets goosebumps every me s/he reads:
Come, thick night,
And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,
That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,
Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark,
To cry "Hold, hold!"

I've lost count of the number of times I've read To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee captures the essence of childhood while at the same time exploring very adult themes and telling a damned good story.

I read Life of Pi last year and could not put down this improbable tale of a boy and a tiger. Why? Martel weaves magic with his words and his wisdom, holds you in absolute thrall from cover to cover. I think I want to marry him.

Her memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is the story of her childhood and it goes straight to the heart. It made me cry, rage, and laugh out loud. No one who has read this book will ever forget "Preach it, I say!" A marvelous storyteller.

What's funny about a housewife living in the suburbs, battling with spouse, spawn, cooking, laundry, crab grass, weight gain and her own expectations of domestic bliss? Ask Erma. If you're a wife and mother who's about to lose her sanity, forget Xanax. Erma is the remedy.

I've read her children's books, her young adult books, her adult books, and loved every one, from Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing to Forever to Wifey... Whatever the genre, Blume delivers.

After reading A Walk in the Woods I knew I had to get my hands on his other books. Bryson combines several of my reading fetishes: humour, the natural world, travel, and social satire. A winning combination.

I was young and impressionable when I read Fear of Flying. I found it decadent and shocking. I was older when I read How To Save Your Own Life. I found it decadent and shocking, yes, but also delicious and empowering with its siren call to Live! Love! Cast away the dross!

Here is another writer who speaks to the things I hold dear: conservation of the natural world, solitude, rejection of worldly values, the beauty and mystery of existence in all its manifestations. My tattered copy of Desert Solitaire is one of my prized possessions.

October poet: Sylvia Plath (1932-1963)


I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful-
The eye of the little god, four cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
I think it is a part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.
Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.
She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
I am important to her. She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.

I'll admit up front that I have a morbid fascination with both Plath's tragic personal story and her poetry. There's something about suicides: you know these guys were in deadly earnest. The darkness in their work is real.

Plath had a way of delving into the recesses of the psyche and bringing what she found there to the light: Here. Look at it. Mirror does that. Here is every woman's secret dread, secret horror.

She was married to the English poet Ted Hughes, and took her life after finding out about his affair with Assia Wevill, who was pregnant with Hughes' child at the time of Plath's death. Wevill moved in with Hughes and took care of his and Plath's two children and the daughter she had by him. She later killed herself and her daughter in a bizarre reenactment of Plath's suicide.

Adorers of Plath repeatedly vandalize her gravestone by chiselling off the name 'Hughes'.

Three and counting...

This blog is now three months old, and I'm celebrating! It's been a great run.

What made it really special is knowing that I'm not blogging in a vacuum, that people, both friends and strangers, take time out of their busy lives to come here, read, comment, and offer encouragement. Thank you all! I'm constantly amazed by the kindness of total strangers. You'd never think it from watching the news, but the world is just full of goodness.

When I click on the little visitor map on the right I get a warm feeling of connectedness to people all over the world, people who have one thing (at least) in common: love for the written word. No wonder I'm hooked on this blogging thing...

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Novel Racers

I'm not a 'joiner' usually, but this is the exception to that rule. I've just been accepted as a member of a really cool group of writers based in England, the Novel Racers. You can read my introductory post here.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Food from the yard

A couple months ago I posted about my mother's garden when she went off on vacation and left me in charge of it. Here are some pictures taken by my son earlier this year. We refer to these, the results of my mother's agricultural forays, as her 'crops'.

The tomatoes, grown in her 'grow box', were beautiful and bountiful.

So were the patchoi, a kind of Asian greens similar to the bok choy. It's great fresh from the garden, sauted in some oil with garlic and a dash of salt and pepper, or mixed with other vegetables.

These flowers are from the pigeon peas trees. The peas have been picked and eaten, and the last of the trees were consigned to the fire weeks ago. We picked bushels of those things.

She also has bananas, two kinds of mangoes, five kinds of peppers, plantains, a tiny breadfruit tree, a dwarf golden apple, a young avocado tree, a plum tree, ochroes (okra), coconuts, dasheen and eddoes (root vegetables), and lots of herbs: parsley, basil, celery, rosemary, mint, thyme, chive, chadon bene (Mexican cilantro) and oregano. She's got ginger, too, and sorrel. Also pineapples that have never borne fruit, thus far.

The cabbages have been eaten, and she's about to plant another set. We tease her about her affinity for the soil, but we're actually proud of her produce when it reaches the kitchen - healthful, organically grown food with no toxic compounds. And as I've mentioned before, things grow in this valley with an almost frightening zeal.

Writer of the month: Jamaica Kincaid

Jamaica Kincaid asserts that "I was always being told I should be something, and then my whole upbringing was something I was not: it was English." Our education system here in the English-speaking Caribbean is based on the English system, and many of our sensibilities are linked to that culture. As a child I was more familiar with imaginary crows and jackdaws than with the local bananaquits and kiskadees; my mental landscape consisted of bogs, heaths, and the grimy streets of Victorian London; tulips, daffodils and primroses populated the gardens of my imagination, rather than the heliconias and hibiscus in the hedges all around me.

I fully understand Ms. Kincaid's ideological dilemma.

Jamaica Kincaid was born in 1949 as Elaine Potter Richardson on the island of Antigua. In 1965 she migrated to New York, and attended Franconia College in New Hampshire for a year. Her first writing was a series of articles for Ingenue magazine. In 1973, she changed her name to Jamaica Kincaid because her family disapproved of her writing. For twenty years (1976 - 1995) she was a regular contributor to the New Yorker magazine.

In the novel A Small Place Kincaid expresses her anger both at the colonists (England) and at the Antiguans for failing to fully achieve their independence. In many ways, the identity Kincaid has developed is a result of English upbringing and the lack of a native culture due to colonialism.

In her other novels, Kincaid explores the mother-daughter relationship and the phenomenon of female bonding. Annie John, Autobiography of My Mother, and At the Bottom of the River provide the opportunity to explore Kincaid's relationship with her own mother as well as her development of identity.

A visiting professor and teacher of creative writing at Harvard University, Jamaica Kincaid has this to say about writing: "I'm someone who writes to save her life. I mean, I can't imagine what I would do if I didn't write. I would be dead or I would be in jail because - what else could I do? I can't really do anything but write. All the things that were available to someone in my position involved being a subject person. And I'm very bad at being a subject person."

What I'm reading right now...

My sister brought Angela's Ashes home some time last year but I did not read it for one very good reason: I wasn't in the mood to read about anyone's miserable childhood in Ireland. At the time I did not know several important things, such as that the author had written the book in his sixties after teaching high school in New York for 30 years, nor that he had won both the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award for the book, his first. I also haven't read 'Tis, Frank McCourt's account of his early years in the USA. Now that I'm reading Teacher Man, however, I can't wait to get my hands on everything he has written, to fill in the rest of this remarkable man's life - or rather, to enjoy his masterful recounting of it.

I know that Teacher Man will remain my favourite, though. Having taught high school English for twenty-two years, there isn't a single character, situation or emotion with which I cannot identify. This book should be essential reading for every teacher - maybe for everyone. I think it's the most honest and penetrating, unsentimental and profound analysis of the teaching life that I've ever read.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

September 11 - Belated observance

My computer was down and I was sick, so I'm late with this. But I'm going to do it anyway. I just left a comment on anti-wife's blog in response to her post on 911, and I'll repeat it here.

I was in Miami when it happened, visiting a friend at his office. A patient called, and I could hear my friend going, "What? What? Really!" I realized he was trying to calm the caller. Then he put down the phone and laughed - an uncertain laugh. It was one of his patients, he said, ranting about planes crashing into buildings all over the country. He'd have to check the old man's meds. Then another call came, from someone sane and reliable, and when he put down the phone and told me what was going on, there was just shock. Disbelief.

Well, the phone began to go crazy. By midday the Florida authorities were telling everyone to get home, that the turnpikes were open, just get home. My friend closed up his office and took me home. When I got in and turned on the TV I saw my first images, and I sat there, tears pouring down my face, until the small hours of the morning. I've seen those images hundreds of times, and they are still so incredible that I doubt my eyes.

Over the next days, I would go outside at night and stare at the sky. The long string of aircraft on the flight path to Fort Lauderdale Airport had disappeared. The sky was empty. It was very uncanny.

I didn't suffer a personal loss, or a connection to a personal loss like you did, but I know what you feel. I remember. I was there. Fourteen Trinidadians died in those towers. The tragedy of those days reached everywhere, and touched everyone.

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Things that creep and things that crawl

Trust me, the photo does not do it justice. You really need to meet a centipede face to face to understand the eww factor involved.

A few nights ago I was lying across my bed copying out a recipe on an index card when I noticed movement at the edge of my range of vision. I looked down and there it was, a centipede, coolly scuttling across the floor. Of my bedroom.

I'd be the first to admit I'm not good with these things. Innocent earthworms elicit an extreme revulsion reflex in me. It's something about that awful wriggling. The centipede is different, and worse, its movement a cross between a glide and a scuttle, with all those legs moving in waves, and the antennae swinging from side to side... Resisting the impulse to take to the hills, where in T&T these days I'm sure to stumble across much more dangerous creatures of the two-footed variety, I grabbed a slipper and squashed the thing flat.

I've seen them in the house before, but not for a long while, and never further inside than the living room - there's a small gap under the front door that's probably the entry point.

The raging fecundity of this place is not restricted to the flora but extends to the fauna as well. When we first moved to another house in this valley thirteen years ago we were taken aback at the sheer numbers and variety of birds - birds which were fatter and far more raucous than their suburban cousins. Then there were the frogs, especially at this time of year when the rains are here. The centipedes appear at this time as well as the ground becomes saturated. They start looking for higher ground, higher ground being the house.

The pale whitish house lizards are more numerous than ever, gulping happily at the rainflies and conducting their strange tail-grabbing and quickly-consummated courtship rituals on the kitchen walls, or falling off the rafters with an unnerving SPLAT! then running off none the worse for wear.

There's a bumper crop of slugs in the dead, sodden leaves under the julie mango tree, and the manicou (opossum) family in the empty lot next door seems to be thriving, despite what I imagine to be their frequent violent family disputes. (Our common types are not grey like in the shot above, but brown.) The bats are in their glory, and the snakes... well, to be honest I haven't seen any in the yard this year, but the valley teems with them. I'll recount my snake encounters in another post. Right now I'm too busy shuddering at the mere recall of my battle to the death with that [ugh] centipede.

Pass the bottle

I'm sitting here spooning this cough medicine into my face when my eyes alight on these words on the bottle, right up there in front, in big red letters: Alcohol free. I do a double take and almost spill the sticky stuff. No alcohol? What kind of sick, sadistic sod would take the alcohol out of cough medicine?

I don't need this. When I'm feeling like I've been run over several times by a truck, I need to see stuff like: "50% more alcohol than the other leading brand!" and "More alcohol added!" Given the choice between suffering with a little buzz on and suffering stone cold sober, I'd take the buzz any day. A hangover might actually be an improvement on the general state of things.

Pharmaceutical companies, don't make me start a campaign. Put the damned alcohol back in the cough medicine where it belongs, please. Put the fun back into having a cold, for the love of Mike, whoever he is.

Friday, 14 September 2007

It never rains but it pours...

It's almost two weeks since the last storm pounced on us in the small hours of the morning. The thunder was so close that I cowered under the sheets, waiting for the next deafening clap, while the lightning blazed even through my tightly closed lids and the rain pelted on to the roof like rockfalls. As the storm moved away I drifted back to sleep.

By daylight there was no sign of the bad weather. The sun shone and the earth steamed. The mountains were clear and the valley cool and fresh.

I walked across to the computer and switched it on. The power was there, all right, but the thing refused to start, although I could hear the disk whirring in the drive. The light, normally a friendly green, remained a stubborn amber.

So, that storm did not just blast me out of sleep with its violence - it ruined my brand new (well, three month old) computer. I always turn off the power from the strip when I shut down, but now I'm hearing that lightning can damage the system through the modem. I never disconnect the phone line.

I trot my ole self down to the library to check mail and the blog, and the attendant tells me the Internet is down. Shuffle upstairs to the Internet cafe, check mail... No word re contract, grit teeth, move to the blog... Can't sign in. Google mail checks out as usual, but the Blogger sign-in page won't even load. Attendant scratches head, as mystified as I am. Trudge home wearily - and proceed to come down with the worst bug I've had in seven years.

I'm back on my feet, barely. Shaky but alive, pecking away at my son's laptop. He's surfing (waves, not the 'net) all weekend, so he won't need it, right? That was an easy sell.

I missed you guys. Terribly. Now I have something else to worry about: Am I a fanatic about this blogging business, perchance? Whatever. I'm just so !@#$%-ing happy to be back. Well, sort of back. I await the diagnosis re my own computer.

Thursday, 30 August 2007

Those camel couriers!

According to my admittedly iffy calculations, in a week or so I'll have an anniversary to celebrate. Yup, it'll be five months since the news that my novel sold, five months of waiting for the contract from the publisher, five months of living in no-man's-land. Feels more like five years. To understate it as best I can, I've been going totally nuts waiting. I spend the time constructively, imagining the following possible scenarios:

  • The editor at Dorchester had a change of heart and will get around to letting me know this, oh, whenever she gets around to it. (Sorry, Monica. It's not you. It's me.)
  • The editor just got a new job at a different publisher, and her pending deals have fallen by the wayside.
  • My agent invented the whole story about getting an offer. (Sorry, Sue. I only imagine this in my most schizzed out/unhinged/lunatic moments. No, don't ask me about the frequency of these 'moments'.)
  • I've been going through some sort of psychotic episode and will wake up and find that I'm actually still working at my teaching job, my son is still in high school, and I've never written anything, far less submitted a novel to anyone, anywhere.
  • I'm being punished by the Almighty for my sins. Like that one where... Oh, never mind that.
  • It's a conspiracy. Some evil entity is using all the players in this deal to carve out an individually-tailored version of hell for me. This is the trial run.

The problem is, basically, that I knew nothing about what is normal in this situation. Then Kevin came to my rescue in the comments section after I had been bitching about the contract yet again, and he explained the whole thing.

It's the camels! Yup, you read that correctly. Taking six months, seven, or even longer to get the contract out is normal in publishing. And it's all because of the camels. Jeez, why didn't I think of this? It makes so much sense now - more sense, in fact, than many other aspects of the business of publishing. Here's Kevin's exposé of a previously well-guarded secret:

"Only four months on the contract? A rule of publishing is contracts can only be transported on arthritic camels. No doubt with you being on an island this involves a lot of drowned dromedaries. My personal record is seven months, but I've heard longer."

Ya publishers out there, you've been outed. And I hope you don't try to hold me liable for all the camel corpses floating around the Caribbean Sea.

Hunk of the month: Tyson Beckford

Sorry, guys. This one's strictly for the girls. My hunk of the month is the part Jamaican, part Chinese, part Panamanian model and actor Tyson Beckford. A bit young for me, but I can look, can't I? Just call him one of my muses...

Monday, 27 August 2007

Stuff I hate

I hate it when I love a book and I enthuse about it to someone else - then find the person just doesn't feel the same way.

I hate when I love a movie and people complain that it did nothing for them. The English Patient, for example. People always complain about the length. To me, every moment was exquisite. Pavilion of Women was another. None of my cyber-pals liked it. My mother and sister did, and a couple friends here, but none of my distant friends. Must be a cultural thing.

I hate when all my plans to follow good advice come to naught. Write every day, they say. So I sit there with the edits and nothing clicks. My mind is a blank. I go to another project. Same thing. I give up and surf the net, or play Solitaire and Freecell. Then another day when I have no intention of doing any writing or edits I open the files and the work just flows. Going with my feelings seems to work for me, but I've read time and again that I'll never be a writer that way. Maybe I need to try harder.

I hate my habit of beating myself up for past mistakes.

I hate not having money to do the things I want to do RIGHT NOW. But then, no one told me to give up my day job... Not that I had the money to do whatever I wanted on a teacher's salary.

I hate the shrill peeping of the frogs around here sometimes. They just sound inane and too damned close for comfort. They're driving me nuts tonight.

I hate that I've been waiting four months for the contract from the publisher to arrive. Is this !@#$% normal?

I hate struggling with my weight. It's gone on too damn long.

I hate the vulgarity that passes for popular entertainment.

I hate looking back and remembering all the times I let the men in my life get away with a lot of crap because it never even entered my stupid, naive head that they would or could do the things they did.

I hate that people still throw garbage out of their cars here. Our normally quiet street has become a thoroughfare because of work on the main road. I just went outside and the grass verge is littered with beer bottles, plastic wrappers, juice boxes etc. To add insult to injury, some !@#$% dumped three bags of stinking garbage right at the end of our wall. A couple itinerant dogs materialized and they're having a field day. Who gets to clean up the mess? Moi!

I hate the way so many drivers here behave like maniacs on the road, exhibiting total disregard for other people's lives or their own.

I hate politicians. Hard to understand how these smug !@#$%s end up running the world.

Okay. My childish tantrum is over. Hope I got it all out of my system.

Sunday, 26 August 2007

Thank you, Cheryl

I seem to be on a roll - two blog award nominations and now an autographed, advance copy of the Christmas anthology Christmas Gold by Cheryl St. John, Elizabeth Lane and Mary Burton. I entered my name for the draw on Cheryl's blog and forgot all about it. I just got the news that I won.

Tomorrow I'm gonna buy a coupla Lotto tickets, I swear.

Friday, 24 August 2007

August poet: Wilfred Owen

Greater Love

Red lips are not so red
As the stained stones kissed by the English dead.
Kindness of wooed and wooer
Seems shame to their love pure.
O Love, your eyes lose lure
When I behold eyes blinded in my stead!

Your slender attitude
Trembles not exquisite like limbs knife-skewed,
Rolling and rolling there
Where God seems not to care;
Till the fierce Love they bear
Cramps them in death's extreme decrepitude.

Your voice sings not so soft, --
Though even as wind murmuring through raftered loft, --
Your dear voice is not dear,
Gentle, and evening clear,
As theirs whom none now hear
Now earth has stopped their piteous mouths that coughed.

Heart, you were never hot,
Nor large, nor full like hearts made great with shot;
And though your hand be pale,
Paler are all which trail
Your cross through flame and hail:
Weep, you may weep, for you may touch them not.

When I started this blog two months ago my intended focus was writing, books, publication, and random subjects that impact my life. I rarely discuss religion or politics in my daily transactions, and I have no intention of discussing these on this blog. Sometimes, however, there is no way of separating politics or religion from life, or from literature. And lately, especially after I watch the news every night and am sickened anew, I'm haunted by Wilfred Owen's poems on the horrors of war.

The poems speak for themselves, with piercing irony. Most were published posthumously - he was killed in action in 1918, a week before the end of the First World War. He was 25.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Meme of Four

PJ has tagged me for this meme. It involves answering questions then adding your own question at the end.

Four jobs I've had or currently have in my life:
1. Accounting assistant
2. High school teacher
3. Human resource manager
4. Newspaper editor

Four countries I've been to:
1. USA
2. Venezuela
3. Barbados
4. Grenada

Four places I'd rather be right now:
1. Salybia Nature Resort & Spa
2. Tuscany, Italy
3. Vancouver, Canada
4. Pink Sands, Harbour Island, Bahamas

Four foods I like to eat:
1. Pelau (rice, meat & peas cooked in coconut milk)
2. Coconut mousse
3. Fresh fish in lemon butter sauce
4. Is chocolate food?

Four personal heroes, past or present:
1. My sister
2. My mother
3. Maya Angelou
4. Gerald Durrell

Four books you've just read or are currently reading:
1. The Partner by John Grisham
2. Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith
3. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
4. The Flood by Ian Rankin

Four words or phrases you would like to see used more often:
1. I disagree, but I respect your opinion
2. pissant
3. zaftig
4. lugubrious

My question: Four reasons for ending a friendship:
1. Friend doesn't respect my boundaries
2. Friend tries to manipulate me
3. Friend pries into what doesn't concern him
4. Friend refuses to accept platonic nature of relationship

I shall tag nyc/caribbean ragazza, anti-wife, kim and kaz, but only if you want to, guys. It's just for fun, no obligation. And kevin too, if he has the time - which I doubt.