Book Review

Book Review: The Bear and the Nightingale

If you hate spoilers, don’t look at the picture of the horses. Oh. Too late. Now you’re stuck reading a book review.

I suppose if I were a truly omnivorous reader, I would value every reading experience equally. But I don’t. For instance, I avoid reading those small print multi-page mailings I occasionally receive from a credit card company delineating some minor change in its relationship with me, even though I know a tiny person hunched over a wee typewriter spent hours typing it with her miniscule fingers.

Furthermore, I am instantly suspicious of a person who writes a book review. Recommending books is a bit like recommending a sex partner. Just because the reviewer liked the way he made her feel doesn’t mean I will. Which sounds pretty hostile, especially for someone who is about to present you with a book review.

I’ve become choosy. Life’s too short to read books you don’t enjoy. I’ve found that like cooking dinner, the more work a book takes to complete, the less likely it is to be enjoyable.

Which is a long way of saying if I finish a book, I know I liked it. And I did like The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden.

I had forgotten how much I enjoyed fairy tales although I do think writing fairy tales for adults is risky business. Successful fairy tales for children, the stories which have survived over time, are not preachy. They are gory and harsh, with no perceptible political message. Maybe they had one once, but we don’t remember it now.

It’s harder for adults writing for an adult audience to resist the siren call of moralizing, especially since adult readers are prone to looking for secondary meanings. But Arden mostly avoids that, which is impressive because it is her first novel. Instead she kept me focused on a fascinating time in Russian history about which I knew nothing. And now can say I know a little bit.

If you decide to read The Bear and the Nightingale, be aware there is a useful glossary of terms in the back I wish I had known about to begin with. But because Arden writes so well, I didn’t really need it.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.

indie publishing

Indie Publishing and the Cursing which Accompanies It

I wonder sometimes, where you are. That’s right. You.

Right now, I mean, as you read this blog entry. It is mid afternoon on a sunny winter day where I am and my office, the one remaining room in my apartment which needs painting is looking unusually cheerful. Primarily because I have reached a milestone in indie publishing.

Are you at a desk in your workplace, surreptitiously giving yourself a break? I hope so. Actually, I hope you are snickering to yourself and trying to hide it so none of your coworkers will notice.

Or maybe you are reading this on your phone as you wait for your children to be released from school. Are you sitting in your car, the sun creating a false sense of warmth as it beams in your windshield?

Or are you, like me, sitting in your home office and wondering how many ball point pens will fit in your tea mug? Twenty three. I tried more but then you can’t pull one out easily which defeats the whole purpose, I find.

I’m not always indolent but this afternoon I feel I deserve a bit of leeway when it comes to mug stuffing. I hadn’t realized when I began the process of morphing into a novelist how much time I would need to devote to learning the mechanics of indie publishing.

But today, I finally completed uploading both Not As Advertised and Hot Pursuit to – wait for it – Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and through Draft2Digital a whole bunch of other sites.

This major step in indie publishing required a great deal more cursing than I expected.

However, the potential cursing was infinitely reduced by the resources in David Gaughran’s book Let’s Get Digital. He recommends Guido Henkel’s awesome online guide to formatting for e-publication.  It turns out, mucking around with HTML is liberating. When things go wrong with the process, you have absolutely no doubt it is your own fault, which oddly is a relief. At least you know who to yell at.

Formatting for paperback is another matter entirely. I’m still proofing like crazy, but I can see the end of the tunnel there too. One would think paperback was less significant these days – lots of people get their reading matter electronically. But I can’t describe the lightning bolt of joy which ran through me when I first opened the box from Createspace with proofs of my books.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.

index cards

Index Cards: Best. Office. Supply. Ever.

3 X 5 index cards are one of the best inventions of mankind, right up there with fire and ice cream sundaes.

Index cards are the perfect size for writing down one thought. Or for listing tiny quantities, like five things to pick up at the store. Or for tucking blank in my pocket for sudden brainstorms which might be forgotten if not written down immediately.

Index cards create the impression of organized thinking, a perception I appreciate even though I can’t always convince myself I am living up to it.

I can spread the cards out in mandala-like patterns and then line them up and compile them into a semblance of order, much like a Las Vegas pit boss. Wrapping the pack with a rubber band adds a homespun look. But like any important item in one’s home index cards come with their own set of accessories.

There are boxes of plastic or wood, decorative tins and even tiny little two ring binders for them. Not to mention the clever envelope style packet type index card holder.

There are miniature ring binder notebooks composed of index cards, neatly perforated on the top of each card for easy removal. One can find dividers for different categories , or even little tabs which stick directly onto the cards. Oh, and cute little pens with which to write on the cards.

And index cards come in different colors.

I’ve bought neon packs, pastel packs and even rainbow versions. But nothing beats tearing the cellophane wrapping off the traditional package of crisp, white index cards, their straight blue lines topped with a saucy red strip.

Also, one cannot underestimate the value of the blank back side. It is true one can buy index cards which are blank on both sides. But I feel the kind with lined front and blank back are the best of both worlds. Or is it blank front and lined back?

I can write my friend’s address on the blank side of a card and tape it to a box of three by five index cards I am mailing. Or, if I already have a label on the outside of the package, I can stick the card inside the box. This will come in handy in case the recipient is so excited by the index cards she forgets who she is and where she lives. It could happen.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.


Re-purpose Your Household Items

Reduce, reuse, recycle, re-purpose.

It seems to be a requirement for human beings that we re-purpose things. For instance, my paper clip jar is a re-purposed orange blossom honey jar. I like it because even though I washed the jar out thoroughly before I filled it with paperclips, for years the lid gave off the faint smell of orange blossom honey every time I reached for a paperclip. Now, even though the scent is gone, I have a pleasant sense of anticipation every time I fumble for a paperclip.

The solution works well, I think. My paperclips are prevented from scrabbling around my desk at night. They can’t poke fun at the pencils or form extensive chains. Nor can they escape onto the carpet to lie in wait for unsuspecting bare feet. Paperclips can get in all sorts of trouble if they aren’t properly stored. Plus the label on the jar is cute.

You can re-purpose plastic quart size yogurt containers.

These containers are incredibly useful, and not just for holding yogurt. They are my go-to container for small amounts of paint. I’ve used them as flower pots in a pinch.

But best of all is making magic with them. First, find a box cutter and slice off the bottom forming a saucer with an inch high rim. Then, fill it with water and stick a leftover inch long lettuce stump in it. A few days later, a miracle will happen. Spoiler alert: It involves lettuce.

Using items in ways they were never intended for can be unexpectedly satisfying, primarily because it makes you feel both clever and inventive. Then, you can post an account of your project on HomeTalk, a website with which I have developed an unhealthy fascination. Although I have never actually posted anything to the site myself, I stand in awe of some of the folks who have. I had no idea you could do so many things with plastic cups and paper towel tubes.

Reusing items one might ordinarily throw out is not only ecologically sound it’s good for the ego.

So I am considering what else in my life might be re-purposed. Oh, dear. That sounds dark.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.


Formatting Your E-Book Requires Wine

Indie publishing involves formatting. Ugh.

I was planning to write an erudite assessment of Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl, because I have always disliked The Taming of the Shrew. Tyler came up with a charming “doesn’t make you want to throw up” version. But I am not feeling intellectual today. Because I spent the day formatting.

No. Today is a day for glorying in having uploaded three short stories and a revision onto Amazon. While not exactly a philosophical challenge, the process has certainly tested my ability to not hit the laptop with the printer. Until now, I always considered patience one of my strong suits. That was before I met e-book formatting.

If e-book formatting were a man, he would never have a second date with the same woman.

Even the first date would be horrible since he would insist on restarting every five minutes.

“No, no,” he would scold. “Go back to the door and try entering again. This time, swirl your skirt clockwise and try to smile in twelve point font. And for heaven’s sake, make sure you don’t bleed into the gutter.”

Imagine open mike night in front of a sparse crowd of dejected ebook formatters. The bar is dingy, the floor sticky with spilled drinks. Fly paper hangs from the eaves and the glasses of beer are cloudy because the dishwasher is too depressed to rinse thoroughly. And in front, a comedian in stained khaki trousers which reach halfway up his fraying plaid shirt spits out one joke after another.

“Knock, knock. Who’s there? Times. Times who? Times New. Roman.”

“Where’s the best place to find widows and orphans? At the ends of paragraphs.”

“I’ve got a million of them. A million of them, I tell you.”

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.

self employment

Self Employment Perks and Negatives

Collecting Benefits from Self Employment.

I bet you woke up this morning thinking, “What exactly is the difference between an axiom and an idiom?” I know I did. Being able to take time to explore questions like this is one of the benefits of self employment.

Actually, I was wondering specifically whether “a day late and a dollar short” is an axiom, an idiom or simply an excellent description of me.

Some days feel behind from the moment they begin, and today is one of those. The pile of papers on my desk, although exactly the same height as it was when I said goodnight to it, has burrowed into what it clearly believes is a tenured position.

The worst offender is the punch list, neatly categorized by topic, which I made the mistake of printing out yesterday so I could feel virtuous when I checked items off. Never do this. Or if you do print it out, shred it before going to bed. That will take the smug look off its face.

The thing is, I should be feeling pretty self righteous because I sent out a dozen queries yesterday – a personal record. But this is the problem when you are the boss as well as the sole employee.

My self employment employee incentive system leaves something to be desired.

No one writes up a commendation when I finish one thousand words. On the upside, no one writes up complaints to put in my permanent file if I am late to work or fail to provide the boss with a cup of coffee. Tea, in my case.

Maybe I should plan an employee retreat with team building exercises and fun activities. I could schedule an office party replete with loud music, wine spritzers and embarrassing photocopies done on my printer. I could even institute casual Fridays which would allow me to wear less formal clothing to work. Oh. Wait.

*Apparently it is an idiom. An axiom is something entirely different involving math, philosophy and basic truths. Clearly not appropriate to this blog.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.


Fiction and Truth; Non-Fiction and Your Imagination

“Fiction is a story someone made up.” Miss Wood tapped her desk for emphasis.

“Non-fiction is fact. You find non-fiction in an encyclopedia or in a newspaper so you know it is true.”

This is how my sixth grade teacher Miss Wood once explained the difference between fiction and non-fiction.

I’m going to pause now until you stop laughing (or crying). Nowadays the line between truth and untruth is painfully blurred. But when you are in sixth grade, you don’t feel that way.

To be fair, I should explain the context. The class was assigned to write reports about animals for science class. I’m sure Miss Wood didn’t want me using Wind in the Willows as a resource.

But now I am about the age Miss Wood was when she made this pronouncement, so I feel justified in my rebuttal.

Encyclopedias and newspapers may or may not be factual, but good fiction is true.

Non-fiction writers generally try to preserve the illusion of detached reasoning. But no fact operates in a vacuum and authors of non-fiction often get away with ignoring inconvenient aspects of their theories. They have to do this because the world is full of unexpected quirky facts which get in the way of theories.

A writer of romance novels, cannot afford to be as random as real life. In a sense, the whole point of a good story is its reassuring predictability. Because when fiction begins with fully fleshed out internally consistent characters, the paths of those characters and their interactions must be, if not predictable, at least inevitable.

The result of that inevitability is a kind of truth. Maybe the closest we get to it.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.


Finishing a Novel and Letting It Go

Finishing and Letting Go are Not the Same Things.

So much of writing a novel is about beginning it – plotting, character exploration. Beginnings are optimism incarnate. But finishing has a distinct flavor too, a bittersweet tang.

Today I finished novel number three. Really finished. Drafting, spelling and grammar checking, fixing sequence errors, sending it to the editor, fixing all the sequence, grammar and spelling errors I missed the first time, the second time, the third time.

I knew I needed an editor but until I worked with one, I had no idea how sharp eyed and persistent editors have to be. Or maybe they aren’t all sharp eyed, but mine is.

Waiting For You is the best writing I have done so far. And now that the story is complete, I feel like I should be celebrating but somehow I’m not there yet.

Because part of finishing a manuscript is saying goodbye to your characters – letting them go.

It’s true Aidy and Max may return as side characters in a subsequent novel, but the part of their journey which I was the first to witness is concluded. Which leaves a kind of emptiness in a place they filled. As though one heard a voice, turned around, and found no one there.

I feel this same sense of wistfulness, sometimes, when I finish reading someone else’s writing. And if I do, I know those characters will stay with me, will speak their minds when I least expect it, not so much a haunting as a comfortable inner presence. I think that defines good writing.

So as I set my own characters free to roam about the world of fiction, I wish the same for them – that they should live on in the hearts and minds of their readers, distinct voices and distinct personas. I’m not sure an author can ask for more or better than that.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.


Molasses Cookies From Not As Advertised

Ernestine had lifted the covered platter from the counter and held it closely once more before proffering it to Mel. It smelled like molasses.

“My Momma says to give you the cookies.”

“Thank you.” Mel accepted the platter gravely. She lifted the cover and smiled. “These cookies are lovely. Did you make them?”

“Yes.” There was no pride in Ernestine’s thick voice, only a dull acceptance.

“Well, I expect they are delicious. They certainly look good.” Mel winced at the false cheer in her voice, but Ernestine seemed oblivious. They sat at the kitchen table, Ernestine with her hands clasped tightly, Mel pouring tea and doling out the enormous cookies.

With the lemonade experience firmly in mind, Mel nibbled the edge of the cookie, her other hand poised over her cup of tea. But the cookie was delicious, chewy and fragrant with cloves and nutmeg. Mel’s eyes widened appreciatively.

“Ernestine.” She addressed the young woman who was stolidly working away at her own cookie. “This may be the best cookie I have ever had in my life. Did you actually make this?”

“Uh, huh,” Ernestine stopped chewing and looked at Mel questioningly.

I bet you wondered why everyone in Blue Hill wants one of these molasses cookies.

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup shortening

1/2 cup dark molasses

1 egg

2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1/8 teaspoon ginger

1/8 teaspoon cloves

Extra sugar in a small bowl.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a cookie sheet.

Cream sugar and shortening until fluffy. Add molasses and eggs and mix well. In a second bowl, sift and combine flour, baking soda, salt and spices. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir well to combine. Pinch off walnut sized lumps of dough with sugared fingers and roll in the sugar bowl to coat. Place on greased cookie sheet, three inches apart (dough will spread). Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.


Woodchuck, Gopher, Groundhog. Aliases all.

A Royal Visit from a Woodchuck is an honor. Although maybe a painful one.

There is no animal quite as full of himself as a woodchuck when he is sauntering into your garden to pillage. He carries himself with the bearing of a duke coming to check out his feudal holdings. Even when he climbs over the fence you have so carefully constructed, he does so with a regal air.

But apparently, when it comes to hibernation, Mr. Woodchuck is king. Once the air temperature hits forty degrees, he’s out for the count until March or April and during that time he loses half his body weight. Then, I guess, he has to buy a whole second wardrobe to complement his new physique, because he must look pretty svelte.

Of course, hibernation is not only a great weight loss idea. It’s also an effective way to hide from criminal prosecution since a woodchuck is out of sight for about six months and when he reappears he looks like a totally different guy.

Of course, woodchucks aren’t usually identified as criminals in the first place because they wear beaver masks when they rob food banks. And, obviously, there are the aliases. Groundhog. Gopher. Whistle Pig. Toothy Malone. Everyone knows beavers are trouble.

This explains why one rarely sees a wanted poster for a woodchuck at the local post office.

However, if you should happen to see a woodchuck in person, exercise caution. And courtesy. Consider how best one might approach a gangland Mob boss. Well, probably one should avoid approaching one at all, But if you should have to do so, here is the etiquette.

Be polite. Keep a reasonable distance. And bring an offering of uprooted plants from your garden. He’ll like that.

It won’t stop him from eating everything else you planted, but that doesn’t mean you should be rude.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.