December 14, 2010

Top 5 Albums to Write To: 2010

As we round the bend to the end of this year, I find myself thinking back to 2010's discoveries of the musical kind. I love finding new music, especially when it's music that finds its way into my writing life. Music helps me get into writing zone, to refine my characters, and to understand the essence of what it is I'm trying to write.

This was what I had on repeat while I wrote my way through 2010:

1. Radiohead - In Rainbows

If I had to pick one album that cut into my soul this year and made a home there, this would be that one. Its sharp, moody tones and intense, haunting lyrics made my work-in-progress possible. Every major character of mine has to have a theme song. Two of my current characters' songs come from this album ('All I Need' and 'Weird Fishes/ Arpeggi')

2. White Rabbits - It's Frightening

Sooo good - fast paced, choppy, but with rich sounds, addictive drum beats, and great vocals. If my current work-in-progress had a theme song, it would be ' The Salesman (Tramp Life)'.

3. Arctic Monkeys - Humbug

These guys have a fantastic, punky sound, that makes me think of chunky platforms and the London Underground. I sometimes like to give moments in scenes I'm writing theme songs that capture the general mood-of-the-moment: 'Potion Approaching' and 'Dangerous Animals' and 'Crying Lightening' all did the job nicely.

4. Florence + the Machine - Lungs

Finally, a female artist to add to the list - one with a kickass voice and a really unique sound. I love the way she mixes the soft plucking on the harp with the booming of the drums. The more haunting songs are my favorite (trend, anyone?), like 'Blinding' and 'Cosmic Love'.

5. Eclipse Movie Soundtrack

Don't judge a CD by its cover! No matter what you might think of the book series, their soundtracks has been amazing, and I think this one has been the best of all. There are so many rich, beautiful tunes to be found here. Some of the ones I've written to on repeat are 'Heavy in Your Arms', 'My Love' (by an Aussie artist, might I add: go Australia go), and 'Jonathan Low'.

November 18, 2010

Book Review: The Forest Of Hands And Teeth

I'm not all that into zombies. Werewolves and shapeshifters, absolutely. Fairies, sign me up. Vampires? As long as they come in the half-dressed-Eric-from-Trueblood variety. These are monsters with varying levels of heart and conscience and personality. Zombies have no conscience. They're the walking dead. They're gross. And, they're kind of boring.

But the Forest of Hands and Teeth might just have changed my mind on this point. Not about zombies being interesting in and of themselves, but about them being fun and fantastically fun to read about. This book is, essentially, a postapocalyptic zombie romance (not something I'd generally get excited about, but trust me as I rave). The book centers around a teenage girl named Mary and her life in a small village surrounded by ominous woods (think The Village). The woods are overrun with zombies kept out by the Sisterhood, the Guardians, and a circle of fences. Mary has always dreamed of a world beyond the fences, a place where the Unconsecrated don't fill life with fear. So when the fences are breached and Mary's world is shattered, she and the people she loves must fight their way towards that hope.

There are so many things to love about this book. It's got mystery, it's got a love triangle, and it's got the perfect amount of creepy. That, plus the fact that it's incredibly suspenceful and fantastically well paced. I couldn't reach the end of one chapter without itching to jump into the next. This was a stay-up-until-3AM-even-though-I-have-to-work-tomorrow read. There was constant danger and building drama, but the author also leaves room for contemplation. She uses the growing zombie nightmare as a means of exploring the fragility of life, of human connection, the resilience of the spirit in the face of true adversity, and the yearnings and feelings that define the human condition. Even with a horde of dripping, moaning flea bags banging at the door, this book offers tender moments and introspection. Not to mention the fact that it's very well written and that the main character's voice never wavers. I didn't always like Mary, but I always believed her and believed in her.

The zombies weren't lovable (I'm waiting for the author who can achieve that feat), but they were lovably creepy. Ryan turns the woods and the zombies that plague it into a chilling, unknown world that was a pleasure to step into. The book is tagged as YA, but I don't think this is a strictly 'teenage' book at all. This is a book that I think a huge range of readers could happily fall into.

November 14, 2010


I don't get many visitors in Brisbane - I'm don't know why. Australia is spectacular. I know there are poisonous things here and there, but there are also large lizards and cute bats and stunning sunsets and the most amazing tropical breezes. There are clear, warm beaches, funny accents and wedges with sweet chili sauce. Plus, I make a pretty good hostess. I may not have a bed for visitors to crash on, but I do have these.

Because I made them.

They are called Buckeyes. I found them here.

They involve peanut butter, cream cheese, and graham crackers. They also involve a heap ton of sugar.

You don't even need to bake them. You roll them into balls and dip them in chocolate.

They are by far one of the best things I've ever put in my mouth. Like Reese's except eighteen times better. And homemade, so you know they're made with love.

So come on over to my place. I'll keep some Buckeyes in the freezer for you. Though I don't guarantee how long they'll last.

November 3, 2010

Nanowrimo 2010

I had mixed feelings about Nanowrimo last year. Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month, wherethe goal is to write a 50,000 word novel in a month) is all about amassing what seems to me to be a coma-inducing, sanity-quashing daily word count. It seems to be more about putting random words on a page than striving for thoughtful writing. I don't like writing a really crappy first draft, because that means having to go back and rewrite most of it. Editing is hard enough without having to work with half-ass material that wasn't well thought out.

That said, Nanowrimo DOES present an ambitious deadline and an infectious collective writing spirit. So I'm doing it again. Except this time (wait, I did this last year, too) I'm working on a manuscript I'm already 20,000 words into AND I'm not aiming for 50,000 words. I just want to double my word count by the end of the month. That means I'll have reached 40,000 words by November 30th. So there, I've said it. Work and social life be damned, I'm going to get to 40,000. That means about 660 words a day.

... I guess I should probably get going on that.

Linocut Printmaking

So I went to a beginner's linocut class this past weekend as an early birthday present to myself. I've always had a thing about black and white prints, the simple beauty and intricacy of them, the contrast of a black silhouette against a white page. It was a lot of fun and not nearly as hard as I thought it would be. I took a sketch I'd drawn of what I wanted to try and create: a silhouette of a bird sitting on snow-covered branches.

We started with a plain piece of linoleum. We traced and outlined our design onto the linoleum with a Sharpee. Then we used little shovel-like tools with different heads to carve out our design. The tricky part was wrapping my head around the black/white concept: whatever I carved out would end up white, while whatever I left behind would end up black on the page. How much ink showed on the page depended on how deeply you cut into the linoleum. This is the part that took me the best part of FOREVER: the artsy illustrator guy to the left of me had carved out two designs in the time it took me to do this puppy. And I'm pretty sure I injured my neck while I was at it.

Then it was time to try printing. I rolled my lino with black ink and lined it up on a giant press. Then I turned the big captain's wheel and pressed the wet inked lino under my chosen decorative paper. And out came several of these:

I had a lot of fun printing my design on different kinds of paper that I plan on turning into this year's Christmas cards. This is such a fun art form and something I plan to play with in future, although I'll have to figure out how to do it without a giant press.

October 28, 2010

Editorial Domination: Book 2

I am VERY proud to introduce:

(c) HEMA Maps Pty Ltd

This is the first book in Hema's Atlas & Guide series that I saw through from initial draft to finished product. I wrote several sections, including the intro and the back cover blurb, selected and edited all of the photos, and checked the research provided by our lovely head of research (and did a whole lot of my own - who knew how hard it would be to find a good picture of a mountain pygmy possum? Who, by the way, is the only marsupial that hibernates? Ah, sweet useless knowledge). I shaped 4WD track descriptions and checked them against many, many maps. I compiled both the index and the contents page (manually. That's right.) I got to spend long hours reading about bushrangers with wily beards, wildflowers and mountain wines. I lived and breathed this sucker for about three months. It is in many ways my first editorial baby - I love it no matter what others think of it (and pushing it out... well, there were times when it hurt like hell). Here are a few pages for your viewing pleasure:

(c) HEMA Maps Pty Ltd

(c) HEMA Maps Pty Ltd

(c) HEMA Maps Pty Ltd

(c) HEMA Maps Pty Ltd

I'm pretty proud of how it turned out, I have to tell you. This thing is pretty AND useful. And I'm grateful to it, because it taught me an amazing amount about the editorial process. I have the feeling I'll be carrying this around in my purse for the next few weeks and showing it to strangers: "Look! A book! I helped make it!"

October 14, 2010

The Ugly Cry

We had an interesting discussion at my Write Club the other night about books that had made us cry. I'm fascinated by which books seemed universally weep-worthy and which were very specific to one person's tastes and experiences. I'm developing a theory that which books make a person cry says a lot about that person, or that person's state of mind. It's not (that) often that I cry over my reading, and I've had fun looking through my memory for them.

1. The most recent would be Eat Pray Love, a book that took me totally by surprise by how much it affected me. I don't know if it was the honesty in the writing or the fact that I was going through a tough time when I read it, but that book made me all sorts of snotty. The author lays out her flaws and her failures with such heartbreaking detail. Who couldn't help but cry in her moments of sublime transcendence? I also think that a lot of her character traits and emotional longings mirrored my own so distinctly as to be almost eerie. When she sits on a bench in Italy, cracks her book open, and reads "and from my life there sprang a great fountain", I cried with her because I felt, in that moment, as if I was her.

2. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe. This book made me howl in the last few pages.

3 Othello. This was the only play of Shakespeare's that brought me to tears, and to this day I'm not sure why.

4. The first book to ever make me cry was Hemingway's For Whom The Bell Tolls. I'm not a Hemingway fan, generally, but I have a deep love for this book. I love that he captures a man's whole life in three days and shows us that when one person dies, it ripples outwards through all of us. Or, more accurately, showed us how it should.

I've just realized that all of these books made me cry for a common reason: they all have to do with tragic separation and bone-crushing loss. I wonder if that's at the root of what makes all of us cry over our books: that most universal fear of losing someone well loved.

Better Late Than Never

So I heard about something pretty funny last night at dinner. I'm not much of a YouTube girl, so I'm always hearing about gems like this way late. But I thought I'd post it anyway in case I'm not really the last person in the world to hear about it. Also: as I watched this ad, all I could think about was the fact that it's like an autobiography of my brother. I'm not sure how I feel about this.

October 10, 2010

Pumpkin Spice Cake

It has been raining non-stop for about a week now. My neighbor's backyard is looking lake like. I can't go for a run without risking eyeball lacerations and wet socks (what's worse than wet socks?). This is sit-inside-and-pout weather; I need get-outside-and-perk-the-hell-up weather, Brisbane! So what do you do when you're sad and the rain in coming down in apocalyptic bucketfuls? I like to bake.

I'm an unabashed emotional baker, which works out well for my coworkers and for my inner peace. I don't know what it is about baking that soothes me: the gratification of making the people around me happy, the process of creation, or maybe all the memories of Mom and I making sugary treats at ungodly hours just because we felt like it.

My desperate love of fall flavours led me to try my hand at a pumpkin spice loaf. I can't get pumpkin puree down here, so I had to improvise. I found an American-esque pumpkin at the farmer's market that I was promised would be sweeter and more delicate than Australian savoury pumpkins. I cooked and boiled half of it up and used that in place of the puree. I'm pretty proud of the fact that I strayed away from the recipe's proportions and still ended up with something edible. Not just edible: delicious. This cake/loaf filled my house with the smells of Fall.

I adapted this recipe from this one I found on Smitten Kitchen, a site which has changed my cooking life forevermore. I didn't have muffin tins or a loaf pan (what is wrong with this picture?), so I increased the amount of flour and baking soda and cooked it for five minutes longer. I am a really big fan of these squares - they get better with each one you have (and since I decided that dinner on the night I made these should be three squares eaten consecutively, I know this for a fact). I'm a big fan of the crunchy sugar topping, which gives it an extra kick of cinnamon that lingers in the back of your throat. Next time, I think I'll throw in more chocolate chips and experiment with some orange zest.

Go. Bake. Be happy.

Pumpkin Spice Cake
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (wheat would be nice, too)
1 cup mashed fresh pumpkin, strained of excess juice (some would puree this in a blender: I didn't and it worked out fine)
1/3 cup grapeseed (or vegetable) oil
2 large eggs
1 tbsp pumpkin pie spice
1 1/4 cups brown sugar plus 1 tbsp white sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup of chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter an 8x8 cake pan (you can use a loaf pan or muffin tins, as well - see original recipe).

Whisk together pumpkin, eggs, oil, pumpkin pie spice, 1 1/4 cups sugar, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl until well mixed. Stir in the flour until just combined. Stir together cinnamon and remaining 1 tbsp sugar in another bowl. Put the batter in your cake tin and sprinkle over with chocolate chips and cinnamon-sugar mixture. Bake until puffed and golden brown and until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool on a rack and cool to warm or room temperature.

October 8, 2010

24 hours in Sydney

Ah, traveling. How I've missed you.

I recently had the opportunity to hop down to Sydney for a day and night. Sydney's pretty close to Brisbane - I think the flight is an hour and a bit - but you can taste the difference in the air. And feel it (I actually got to wear a light jacket! Glorious!).

I've been to Sydney before and have to say that, while I enjoyed it, I found the atmosphere a little... dare I say it... snooty. OK Sydney, we get it - you're fabulous. No need to get all pretentious about it. So it was nice to have another pass at this sunny, beautiful city and come away with a better impression.

I went to a restaurant called Bodega, a tapas bar tucked away from the water. When the cabbie pulled into a dark, pedestrian-looking street I was a little concerned about this restaurant's dodgy-factor, but I needn't have been. The place was high quality without that 'look at me I'm so pretty' vibe I've come to associate with stylish Sydney restaurants. The place was tiny, vibrant, full of colour and laughter. We sat at the bar and had the best Spanish wine I've ever tasted (and that now I can't remember the name of, damn me). We watched the pierced, waxed and tattooed staff do things to fish and chicken I've never seen done before in giant cast iron pans. We ate massive oysters, fancy fish fingers, and succulent spatchcock that fell off the bone. For dessert, we had affogatos. I can't emphasize how in love with this dessert I am. Creamy vanilla ice cream smothered with a shot of espresso and another of port? I'm appalled that I haven't discovered this before.

The next day I wandered the city on foot, visiting all those very Sydney icons and watching people go about their business. I braved the steely skies and took a walk through St James Park, where a man was making massive bubbles big enough to fit a group of schoolchildren in.

I walked through the Botanic Gardens, which are extensive and lovely and filled with funny-looking birds and bats that hang from tree limbs like giant seed pods.

(Batlets!) -->

I laughed when I saw an actual sign that read: 'Don't feed the birds, they bite' as it exactly described my Dad's very first day in Sydney. Yes, Dad. The signs ARE there for a reason.
I walked Sydney Harbour and around the base of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I took a stroll around The Rocks, a historic town section around the harbour, which had a farmer's market on. I treated myself to a fancy lunch at a wine bar.
I had another affogato and I did not regret it.

(Historic Governor's House)

(Sydney Harbour Bridge from the Opera House)

(SHB from the edge of The Rocks)

(The Opera House)

(Me, happy)

There's nothing like a day away to brighten the spirits and make you feel like you're actually living. Thanks, Sydney - I needed that.

October 2, 2010

A Tribute to Fall

I'm really missing the good old USA, as I do every year around this time.

(Burnside Bridge, Antietam, 2008)

(Antietam Battlefield, 2008)

It's funny how nostalgic we get about our place of origin when we are no longer there to hate on it and tell it it's boring. And oh, how nostalgic I get. About the riot of color as leaves start to die, the pervasive smell of burning wood, new school supplies, pumpkin-flavored things. Leaf crunching opportunities. It's almost too much.

... which is why, when a fantastically glorious friend sends me a VAT of Starbucks pumpkin spice syrup (definitely not meant to be sold as retail, but my little Brown beauty has tricks up her sleeve), I get a little overwhelmed. See?

So here's a little something I wrote after my travels in Europe about leaves and change and... well, coming home. Happy Fall, everybody. I'll be home soon.

A Dying Season

Most of my childhood travel memories are overcast by nausea. It always rose quickly during my family’s drives through the Blue Ridge Mountains. I'd ride the s-bends with my fingers stuck out the window, green face reflected in the bug-smeared glass. But even between bouts of Dramamine-induced coma, I remember the scenery clearly. As we wound through the mountains, past the multi-layered rock shelves speckled with moss, we would all grow quiet, captured by Virginia's autumn foliage. Nature's dying season would sneak up on us when we weren't paying attention - first in yellow hazard yellow bursts between boughs, then a sprinkling of pale pink and ochre. Then Fall would smother us in one fluid motion, trees exploding as if on fire. The leaves shouted through the silence, cut only by Lyle Lovett crooning through our car's speakers.

Being a child of the temperate world, I was used to the wonders of seasonal changes: the smell of snow approaching, the feel of new leaves between fingertips. Even so, every year at my great uncle's farm in the mountains, I would lie beneath the trees staring up in eternal awe at sharp outlines of yellow leaves against blue sky. Fall's colors captured me in a way the other seasons didn't. When I went to college on Virginia's coast, good autumn foliage seemed to get harder to find. The season seemed to have grown inexpressive with the passing of time, which made me sad, because I needed the season. Adult cares were heaping themselves upon me, and change was becoming a frightening thing. I started to wonder if I'd dreamed those brilliant farmhouse days. My Fall exhilaration was fading as the leaves did: quickly and dispassionately along the overpopulated highways.

It was October 2006 when I arrived in Switzerland seeking refuge. It was my first trip to Europe, to which I fled to escape the change that had been ravaging my life. Interlaken may be a small town, but it boasts a long and impressive list of death-defying activities. I was happy to stick to the dangerous realm of Scootering, which was daring enough to satisfy me. But when a good-looking Australian offer to take you paragliding, it's kind of impossible to say no. Compared to canyon jumping, it seemed like a safe bet. Our van ride up the mountain was like one of my family's Blue Ridge trip on amphetamines. As we screeched around our sixth or seventh blind curve somewhere near the speed of sound, I began to wonder what I'd gotten myself into. And if I was destined to puke in the good-looking Australian's lap. Once we'd reached our destination, though, I was ready to soak in the scenery. So when Andy, the overexcited Swede strapped to my back, told me to run down the very steep hill towards the tree line, it seemed like the right thing to do. That was before I felt our collective weight being bounced around as our parachute opened and my legs barely missed the tops of the pine trees. I am no fan of heights, a fact I only remembered once my feet were thirty feet above the ground. The cold air pressed against my fearful heart.

Then, it happened: suddenly I was flying over the foliage of my childhood. Lake Brienz, a cerulean blue diamond glistening before us, was crested by a world set on fire. There were the waves of yellow, spotted and flecked with russet and burnt orange and flushed pink. Each leaf was its own revolution, rioting alongside its compatriots, streaming together while standing alone. Up there, surrounded by the most significant of nature's changes, it hit me: that thing that had always captured me about Fall's changes. Autumn always showed me that life's transitions shouldn't be a source of fear. Times of change hold a beauty all their own, filled with untrodden pathways, chances for us to grow and explore. Change allows us to open our eyes, stop looking ahead or behind, and enjoy the thrill and novelty of simply being alive.

I think the peace I found in those farmhouse days, and that moment in the Swiss Alps, had to do with much more than the beauty of the seasons. Though they were temporary, and always will be, they held a hint of the eternal. They helped to make my childhood feel unhurried. They allow me to return to it still, to rest in the understanding that the process of changing, in nature and in life, is a beautiful thing with the potential to reveal to us the most beautiful parts of ourselves. How strange to stumble back onto that knowledge so far from the mountains of my youth. How lucky.

September 28, 2010

Editorial Domination: Book 1

The month of October will see my name in commercial print for the very first time. Here's a quick peek at the Queensland Food & Wine Touring Atlas, the product that I got to cut my editorial teeth on. Check it out:

And, just because I'm a nerd like that:

I came to Hema when this book was being laid up by design, so much of my contribution was that of a proofreading/fact checking nature. I learned a lot of editorial lessons while doing this.

1. Consistency is key: knowledge of house style is pretty crucial in creating a readable product that jumps out at a reader in the right way. So my strong feelings concerning issues such as 'and vs &' and whether or not long numbers should have commas in them have all FINALLY been validated.
2. Never leave multiple book proofs lying scattered willy nilly on your desk: you will get SUPER confused about what changes have been made and which haven't. And a confused editor is not a happy editor.
3. Chocolate is truly the best work incentive.
4. Editing a book with lots of little pictures and maps is a great way to develop chronic neck cramps, but it's all worth it when you have the final product sitting on top of your desk.

September 11, 2010

Book Review: Linger

Linger by Maggie Stiefvater
YA Urban Fantasy

It's been a loooong time since I blogged. It's been a rough couple of months. And when times get rough, I get reading. And watching period films. And, recently, Buffy the Vampire Slayer seasons 1 - 3 (something about 90s fashion and bad vampire makeup seems to sooth me).

I'm going to be upfront and say that when I eagerly picked up Linger I was already in love it. I had already read Shiver, the first book in this series, and am a regular reader of Maggie's blog. I have a huge aspiring writer's crush on her. But still: this book lived up to all of my expectations.

I loved this book for the same reasons I loved Shiver.

First, because of the strength of the story's tone. The book oozes longing - the longing for connection, for permanence in a crazy world, for escape - it pervades every sentence, every beautifully constructive phrase, hanging over the story like a good soundtrack. The mood is satisfyingly palpable, and you can see how the four POV characters mirror that longing in different ways.

I was captivated by the strength of each characters' individual voice. All four character's voices are very distinct: you could crack open the book to any page and know who is narrating. Because of this, you get a story made richer for experiencing it through very different sets of eyes. These characters become mirrors for each other, reflecting a new and surprising truth with every change in point of view. I love that the same scene would sometimes be narrated by more than one character and would bounce back and forth between two perspectives. This book is a good example of how the 'always keep us in one character's head' rule can (and sometimes should) be ignored.

Third, the unabashed grit in the story. This is not just a 'boy and girl in love vs the world' YA story. It contains emotionally ugly, raw, and sometimes uncomfortable truths. I love that these four characters all said and did things that made me feel frustrated and disappointed. I like that Grace's parents were horrid in such a believable and unsightly way. I like that this book leaves frayed edges exposed, refusing, as many other YA books like to do, to tie up all the loose ends and make everything neat and tidy by The End. This story is emotionally jagged, and all the more enjoyable for being so.

June 16, 2010

Squirrel Love (aka Me + Manfriend)

You know that thing that encapsulates your relationship so perfectly that you feel like it was made about you?

This would be that.

OK, not exactly (close). But it makes me really happy. And want my own tail to wrap Manfriend up in. (And my own kangaroo pouch, too, while we're at it. But that's a subject for another post.)

Characters That Bite

This lovely post by my best friend Eve got me all kinds of excited about TrueBlood. Not that it's out in Australia or anything: no, we're the last kid picked for the HBO series team. I love what Alan Ball has done with the Sookie Stackhouse series; the show, and the novels that inspired them, were the fantastical fluff that got me through my last semester of grad school. I just finished book #10 in the series and was struck, once again, by the kind of loyalty certain characters can inspire. It fascinates me that you can actually say to someone "Team Bill or Eric?" and have them nod sagely and give you an actual answer.

Say what you will about Charlaine Harris or Stephanie Meyer, you can't deny that they've created characters that almost literally jump from the page and into the waiting arms of their many many fans.

So what it is about these characters (OK, besides the blatantly obvious) that inspires so much fervor? What is it about any fictional character that makes them feel tangible, even lovable? What makes us cry for them, laugh with them, want to throw food at them (or eat it off of them)? For me, it's always about their voice. I'm nothing like Harris's Sookie - in fact, she drives me crazy half of the time - but I love experiencing the world through her particular voice. I can feel her attitude in every word she says, so much so that it makes her feel familiar. I'd love to create characters like that, ones that make you want to reach out and touch them.

Until then, I'll borrow this one.

June 6, 2010

Going To Rainbow

I had the chance to go to Rainbow Beach last weekend, a beautiful, quiet beach lined by huge sand blows. I stayed there with a girlfriend, Misty, which was a welcome infusion of estrogen. It's been so long since I enjoyed a girls weekend. We ate and drank (well, she's pregnant - I drank) and talked, talked, talked. It gave me a chance to think about what I want to accomplish in the remainder of the year. So I'm saying it here (thus making it more likely that I'll actually do it): I'm going to finish editing Spellbound by my birthday and novel #2 by Christmas. Take that, full-time employment.

Now, on to some pictures. I've been having a lot of fun playing with my new camera. Misty is an awesome photographer, so I got to pick her brain and learn about depth of field and manual shooting.

Attempting to play with depth of field. (I call it my 'go balls deep' picture.)

Storm clouds over the sand blow. We climbed one of these and the view was spectacular.

One of the most beautiful pregnant women ever.

May 24, 2010

Someone Ate My May

... it's been three weeks since I last blogged?.... really? My calendar must be lying to me. I'm almost three months into my first big-girl editing gig and I'm STILL struggling to 'find the time'. Granted, my editor decided to go and have babies a week and a half ago, leaving me to pretend to know what I'm doing at her desk. But I mean really- where are all of these days going? I'm feeling slightly swallowed alive. (I am alive, by the way, dear friends whom I haven't spoken to in many weeks but that I love deeply.)

I could bore you with more complaints about full-time employ, but I think I'll tell you about my new camera instead.

I bought my first SLR yesterday! It's a Canon Rebel T1i 500d, the first digital camera I've invested in that hasn't just been point-and-shoot. I've always loved taking pictures. I took a photography class in high school that has always stayed with me. I loved going out and exploring through a lens, then watching the photos take shape beneath my hands. My teacher was a little old lady who really liked photos of puppies. Most of my pictures were of old headstones. She wasn't a fan.

Since I started traveling, I've found myself wanting a camera that could do... well, more. I can't tell you how many times in the past few years I've taken a picture of a breathtaking vista, looked at my camera's screen and gone, "You just don't quite get it." I'm working my way through the manual (Moby Dick, anyone?) and am looking forward to learning the manual settings as I go. Here are a couple of the practice shots I've taken:

Brisbane as seen from the Cliffs at Kangaroo Point.

Manfriend looking model-y.

Lilies from Manfriend in dim lighting.

I'm AMAZED by the difference in quality. These were photos I shot on automatic settings without knowing what I was doing, and I still think they turned out pretty OK. The camera shoots hi-res video, too, so maybe you'll even get to suffer through a video montage of me doing something silly in the not-far-distant future. Who knows? More to come!

May 6, 2010

Reverence, Respect & Mauling

In Anne Fadiman's book Ex Libris, a fabulous ode to book nerds the world over, she discusses the different ways in which we treat our books. Fadiman wisely surmises that "... just as there is more than one way to love a person, so there is more than one way to love a book". The way she sees it, there's 'courtly love' and 'carnal love'- and which the book lover practices can say more than one thing about them.

I found myself fascinated by her articulation of a thing I've thought about for years. It's interesting to me how people treat their books and how adamant they are about the right way to love literature. One of the authors at work- definitely a courtly lover- admitted to me that she hates writing in books, so much so that she didn't want to mark in a copy of her own book. I'd say that's an old-fashioned feeling- books are hallowed, keep them clean- but I've known many an older reader who beat their most loved books into submission. My grandfather lived by his books, and he wrote in his (with a pencil). Granted, he only put tiny tick marks next to paragraphs, a pretty minimalist legacy to leave behind. Reading past his tick marks is like becoming a detective: why did he mark that part? What was it that made him slow down and make note?

It seems to me like every reader has their own cringe-worthy feelings about a certain book marking vice. There are those who think writing in a book is a huge bookkeeping sin.
Then there are those people who want to cry when they see a book laid open and face down instead of using a book mark. I've never much cared about leaving books laid open, but a broken spine is a tough pill for me to swallow.

Then there are those people (I'll say right now that I DO NOT get you) that won't buy second-hand books because they are 'dirty'. You know what else is dirty? Money. Treadmills. Door knobs. Your car seat probably has a higher probability of giving you somebody's cooties. And isn't there something great about a book with a history? One that you know has been in someone else's hands, has passed through somebody else's life? Plus they are savers of trees. So get over yourself.

I'm a carnal lover of books (shocking, I know). I tend to devour them, underline them, sometimes (often) stain them. That, plus my frighteningly acute power of losing book marks (even while lying supine and still), means that dog-earring is sometimes a necessity. But ever since I watched Finding Forester, I've had conflicted feelings about dog-earring a page. I can understand why someone would find dog earring offensive... but isn't it better to see that a book has been consumed?

All of this nerdy musing leaves me wondering: can you tell the level of love a book has experienced by its condition? By looking at how someone treats their books, can you learn anything interesting about them that you wouldn't have known otherwise?

I went to my own bookshelf to investigate.

Most of my books are still State side, so I've got a limited sample size. That said, here are some of my findings from books I picked (somewhat) at random:

St Lucy's Home For Girls Raised by Wolves (loved it): browned, water wrinkled, and written in. Still has the price tag on from Politics & Prose (bought 12/7 of an unknown year), which makes my heart squeeze.

Confederates in the Attic (loved it): Holding up well, but a little dirty around the edges. It still smells like the bookstore at the Antietam battlefield. Makes me think of fall and of my Dad.

Down Under (loved it): Wow. I just found my ticket stub from my flight from Paris to Dubai in this book- one of the flights on my first long journey to Australia. I can tell I had this book while in 'Europe' mode- it is yellow, beaten, tired-looking and proud of it.

Watership Down (loved it): scratched and a bit weather beaten, but still in pretty good shape. I found a bus slip in it from grad school days. Spine still very much unbroken.

Mudbound (loved it): spine broken (damn), and bottom corner stained, probably because I loved it so much I loaned it to three people and keep on my desk (where I often eat [spill] breakfast and writing snacks).


1. I have not made a habit of keeping books I've only sorta liked since coming to Australia.
2. I can tell which books are from which eras of my life. Dog eared and written in profusely= high school falling-in-love-with-literature era. Sun damaged from sitting on a windowsill/dented from holding up a bed= frantic, boisterous college era. Filled with memorabilia but otherwise treated with some semblance of respect= big girl era. All have been ravaged. Just in different ways.
3. My books are a time machine through which I can revisit the time when I bought them and read them. That's pretty nice.
4. The only books of mine that look pristine are the ones I haven't read yet.

Inconclusive findings, but interesting (to me, anyway). So what's your book handling philosophy?