we interrupt the regularly scheduled program

… to make a public service announcement. This isn’t something I do lightly, please note, but here is a link to materials I have written that might be of use to those persons who are supporting Howard Dean’s bid for the Democratic nomination, or who are thinking of supporting him. Or for anybody else who is interested. An excerpt:

We can focus on the issues, or we can let ourselves be caught up in hype and trivialities. We can let the media tell us who is going to win, or we can choose the next president. We can talk to our neighbors about the things that matter most to us – jobs, health care, education, the environment, Iraq – or we can talk to them about polls. We can take the country back, or we can reap the consequences of another four years of Bush’s destructive policies at home and abroad. The choice is up to us. It’s up to you.

characters (part one)

It’s very nice to hear from people who have read books I’ve mentioned here. Cathy wrote to say how much she enjoyed Diana Norman’s A Catch of Consequence. She’s also having trouble getting hold of The Vizard Mask (which hasn’t been published in this country). My copy was a gift from my English parents-in-law. The only copies I’ve seen on this side of the Atlantic are very expensive. It’s really discouraging when there’s a great book out there to read and you can’t get hold of it for less than $50. Cathy wants to know ifVizard Mask is worth that much; my answer would have to be — it would be to me, but I can’t predict if it will be to her.

Cathy also asked:

I was wondering how the new book was coming, and if you could maybe at some point post another excerpt as well as maybe who the main characters will be. I love Nathaniel Bonner and his “Boots”, but any character you write is great and amazingly interesting.

I can tell you that old characters you haven’t seen for a while come back to hunker down in the new novel (the title of which is still being debated, by the way). Jennet comes from Scotland, and Luke (Nathaniel’s son by his early alliance with Giselle Somerville) has got a large role to play. There’s also Simon Ballentyne. You may remember his father, who took Hannah up on his horse on the journey to Carryckcastle in Dawn on a Distant Shore. Nicholas Wilde, who was so involved in apple husbandry (and who married Dolly Smythe at the end of Lake in the Clouds) is also very much in evidence. Of course various army battalions come tramping through, and you’ll spend some time getting to know them on Nut Island. Oh yes, and Kit Wyndham, who is a major in the King’s Rangers. He’s around a bit in this novel, and a lot in the next one.

Hope that’s enough to keep you happy for the moment.

I also had an interesting question from Cindy by email:

My (compound) question is this: What else can I do to ensure that my characters are not too far off the mark, and how much should I worry about it? As far as possible I’ve based my characters on historical fact, but it looks as though a fair amount of extrapolation will be necessary. It seems to me, at this point in my literary development, at least, that one of the worst things that could happen would be for my work to be dismissed as inaccurate.

That’s an excellent question, but one that needs a longer answer. I’ll start to put one together and post it here.

The Magician's Assistant, Ann Patchett

[asaleft]0156006219[/asa] There’s a book I wanted to say something about when I first started this blog, but I didn’t. I think because I was afraid of somehow trivializing it. But I’m going to try now.

Somebody handed me The Magician’s Assistant, or I probably would never have read it. It was one of those fateful, off hand gestures. She mentioned the book, and left it on my doorstep. I had nothing else to read just then (or nothing I wanted to read, more to the point) so I started it right away.

This novel is a work of art. Like any work of art, not everyone will appreciate it, but to me it is as close to perfect as a novel gets, in its own particular way. It’s about a woman who has lost her husband, and in the process of grieving learns more about him and herself than she ever imagined. Now, if somebody told me that about a novel, I wouldn’t be in a rush to read it. Doesn’t sound like my kind of story. But it is. Might be yours, too.

One word of caution: it probably won’t appeal to people who feel most comfortable defining ‘family’ in traditional terms.

In this short excerpt Kitty, Sabine’s sister-in-law, takes her to Wal-Mart. Sabine is a dyed in the wool Los Angelina, and this is a new experience for her. In this short scene (you only get a little of it here), you come to understand almost everything about Kitty’s life and world.

On the curb was a soda machine, all drinks a quarter. Kitty leaned in towards Sabine as they pushed open the glass-and-metal doors. The warm air smelled like popcorn and Coke. It smelled like a carnival wearing new clothes. An older woman in a blue tunic who seemed to be patterned on Dot, the same plastic glasses and gray curls, the same roundness, pushed out a shopping cart for them to take. She greeted Kitty by name.

“I buy books here,” Kitty said. “I buy my shampoo and underwear and cassette tapes and potato chips, sheeets and towels and motor oil.” There was something in her tone, so low and conspiratorial, that Sabine put her gloved hand over her mouth to keep from laughing out loud.

“Why?” Sabine said. “Why?”