in which I find I have more ego than I thought

Today, in between packing and running around, I checked over at Wikipedia to see if they had banished me yet, and had a look at the ‘discussion’ page. One king kind person made an argument for my notability; another scolded her soundly. Obviously, she said, finger wagging, you don’t understand the meaning of the word notability. A few publications do not notability make. We need secondary sources.

I mentioned this to a close friend who looked at me as if I’d lost my mind. Secondary sources? Secondary sources? What about the article in People Magazine? What about the mention in Entertainment Weekly? What about the New York Times Book Reviews review, and the Washington Post book review, and the articles in the English papers when you were short listed for the Orange Prize?

For a minute I was very disoriented, and then I did remember those things. But you know what? I never kept records. All I remember about the little article in People is: 1) really awful photo; 2) lukewarm praise; 3) I first saw it on a ferry on my way to Vancouver Island and I laughed out loud, so that everybody moved away from me. All I remember about Entertainment Weekly: they quoted the first sentence of Into the Wilderness, which was nice. I can’t even remember if either of these short pieces mentioned my real name, or if it was just Sara Donati.

But do I have those citations? Clippings? Anything. Nope. I do have the citations for the big book reviews and some of the Orange Prize and PEN/Hemingway award stuff. I put it here for posterity, in case my forgetfulness creeps up and grabs this stuff out of my head sooner than expected:

“Orange Prize special report” Guardian Unlimited (London),
Wednesday June 6, 2001

*this special report was notable for two things: another terrible photo, and the odds against my winning were pretty bad. Like, third from the bottom (of seven finalists). However, somebody with worse odds than me won, so I have no idea what that means. I do know that two of the five judges told me afterwards that I had been a very, very close second, and that they had fought for me and almost won. And that was comfort enough for me. Although the fifty thousand pounds would have been nice, too.

“The Orange Prize Challenge”The Independent (London), May 24, 2001

*I have no distinct memories of this article at all.

The Orange Prize (Britain)
2001 shortlist: Homestead by Rosina Lippi reviewed by Dylan Evans

Homestead (review) by Brigitte Frase The New York Times Book Review May 9, 1999

“PEN/Hemingway Award 1999” The Hemingway Review, Vol. 19, 1999: 155

“Shaped by Time, Place and Family: Fictions About Farthest Austria”
Review of Homestead by Carolyn See. The Washington Post May 29, 1998

So there. Even if Wikipedia doesn’t find me notable, I do have a career.

PS: I have a longer list of book reviews some place, dog knows where; that list includes all the academic stuff as well.

Julia Anne Long, good stuff, sad stuff

Here’s the good news: I just read the four novels Julie Anne Long has out. Historical romance, mostly regency. And she’s good. She can write a sentence, she can tell a story. The first two novels are light(er) reads. With her third one — Beauty and the Spy — she really finds her footing.

There’s an interesting plot here, one that actually had me wondering how things would resolve themselves — and that is unusual. This is not bragging. This is somebody who reads and writes for a living just stating a fact: it’s not unusual for me to get to page three in a book and know pretty much everything that’s going to happen, and how. Within the romance genre, there are some givens. You know who will end up together, but you don’t know how they’ll get there or what the roadblocks will be.

JAL manages to tweak some expectations. That’s an excellent thing. I think that she has a good chance of evolving into a major name in historical romance if she continues along this trajectory.

So it’s with a heavy heart that I have to report this flaw.

Has nobody ever talked to this woman about how she portrays dialect? Because there’s only one word: sloppy. Or maybe two words: sloppy and uninformed. There seems to be a formula:

1. Is this character of a lower or working social class? If your answer is yes, pepper his or her direct dialog liberally with any and all of the following:

  • dropped h
  • replace every instance of ‘you’ with ‘ye’
  • don’t stint on the tortured spellings
  • lots of apostrophes (and don’t forget the exclamation points!!!)
  • sprinkle with an occasional dinna or couldna

2. Is the character Irish or Scots? If so, double up on all the features mentioned. No need to distinguish between them.

For example:

For the love of dog: what the hell? This poor Biggs guy is linguistically schizophrenic. He is possessed by speakers from all over the British Isles. His symptoms:

  • He’s dropping his h-es as though he just escaped from a My Fair Lady Cockney casting call.
  • ‘avena seen you since’ — What is this compulsion to hang Scots verb morphology like a caboose on the back of working class London phonology?
  • Poor Biggs, he’s possessed by a torment of second person pronouns, Yorkshire and Middle English and … what, exactly? Some terrible mixture. Tha and ye and your… put the man out of his misery. Please.

I will admit this was a particularly bad bit of dialog, but all JAL’s novels have this sad problem. Looking at this example, I’m wondering how I managed to get through at all. And so here’s the compliment: the stories were compelling enough to keep me going. Though I winced. Winced, I tell you, every time I saw an apostrophe coming.

You might think this is nitpicking. Unimportant to the story. But when you’ve got a duke’s eldest son posing as an Irish groom, it would really help this rather standard plot device if the duke could actually sound Irish. Because it’s likely that the upper class English household that employs him would notice right away if he claimed to be Irish but instead sounded…. confused. The way to do that is not with ye, and absolutely not with dinna, but with lexical choice and syntax. If you really want to pursue writing dialog so it evokes English as it is spoken in Ireland, there are places to go for that information. There’s a great list of features on Wikipedia, which includes lots of examples of regional phonology (you’ll note — the Irish do not drop initial h), as well as word choice and syntax. for example, you might hear:

“Why did you hit him?” “He was after insulting me.”

The Wikipedia article has a nice, concise explanation of the origin of that usage.

Ms. Long will likely never see this post, but if she does I hope she will take this in the spirit it is meant. Such promising work deserves more attention to detail.

So I’ll put down here my rule of thumb, which I have talked about before (but not recently): don’t mess with spelling. Do. Not. Mess with Spelling. Do some basic research about differences between various dialects. Don’t confuse the Irish with the Scots — it will make them cranky.

a little perspective would be nice

I like most of Margaret Atwood’s work; The Handmaid’s Tale is on my list of 100 favorite novels. When I met her a few years ago (backstage at the Orange Prize ceremony in London) I liked her too. She was funny and engaging. So I’m wondering why this bit of news about her is so irritating to me.


The Raw Feed reports
that Atwood has invented a robotic hand called the Long Arm. This invention will sign her name. So imagine this: you get in the car, on a train or bus and travel to some bookstore or event specifically because you’d like to get your copy of [insert title] signed. You wait in line. When you reach the front of the line you find a mechanical hand, and a video screen. She’s sitting at home in Canada watching her Long Arm sign her name for you. A face in a box, a mechanical hand.

I know the woman writes sci-fi, but this just strikes me as silly. I do like to get my books signed by the author when possible, sure. Having a book signed by a hunk of metal just isn’t the same thing. And why go to all this trouble? The reasons to do this that come to mind are not complimentary.

books — by other people, too

I’ve posted some questions in the discussion forum about Fire Along the Sky, in case anybody would like to get involved in a more detailed discussion. These are just a few issues that interest me, for anybody who has the time and energy.

While I was in London I went into Foyle’s on Charing Cross Road. Foyle’s is one of the last big independent bookstores on Charing Cross — I’m sorry to say that Border’s has been on the rampage over there, too, eating up independents like so many bonbons. My great fear is that Border’s will insinuate itself into the lovely space across from Trinity College, Cambridge, where there is now a great bookstore called Heffer’s. The Mathematician was a fellow at Trinity, so we could have got married in the chapel if I hadn’t been too shy (which in retrospect I regret).

At Foyle’s (and Heffer’s) I spent a lot of time looking for historical fiction. For some reason the Brits like it more than Americans do, and I have never come home without a half dozen novels that look interesting, but are unlikely to be published over here. This time I got the sequel to Diana Norman’s A Catch of Consequence (which I reviewed ast year). The sequel is called Taking Liberties and it’s very good, but then everything of hers that I’ve come across really is worth reading.

[asa left]1410401731[/asa] I also got (but have barely started) a novel called Voyageurs by Margaret Elphinstone, which is about a young man who comes from England in the early 1800s to search for his sister who has been lost, and is now living among the Ottawa. While I was gone I also read James Lee Burke’s White Doves at Morning, which I liked tremendously. Burke normally writes contemporary mysteries (his Dave Robichoux series is highly regarded by critics and readers both), so this historical novel about the Civil War in Louisiana was a departure from him. It’s based in part on his own family story, and it’s extremely compelling. I’ll be posting a full review sometime soon. I hope.