Wednesday, December 8, 2010


When Saturday morning dawned with two inches of snow on the ground, I set out for a local nature preserve with camera in hand.  (All right, it wasn't exactly dawn; it was rather closer to noon.  But you get the idea.)

I’ve always liked taking pictures in the woods with fresh snow on the ground, and the first week of December is unusually early for snow accumulations in this part of the country.  The sky was completely overcast, and there was almost no wind at all, and it was a wet, clumpy snow, so the tree branches and even some of the trunks were still covered, creating a landscape of grey lines on white.

I would include a photo, only I didn’t take any.  As soon as I got out of my car at the park I spotted a pair of evergreens flanking the trail that led to the nature center, their boughs laden with snow.  Remembering that I had wanted some reference shots of just such a scene for a drawing, I pulled out my camera and turned it on, only to find that the batteries, which I had fully charged right before leaving the house, were already dead.

Fortunately, I had brought along spares, also fully charged.  Unfortunately, these were also dead (apparently they're older than I thought and simply won't take a charge anymore).  On the bright side, since I was still in the parking lot when I discovered this, I was able to leave my camera and Gorillapod in the car, rather than carrying useless equipment a couple of miles through the snow.  And it was a perfect day for a walk in the woods, with or without a camera.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Falling leaves

Yesterday I went to a nearby nature sanctuary that has a few woodland trails. We’ve had a drought here this year, something that seems far more common in recent years than when I was a kid, and so instead of a riot of reds and yellows the trees were various shades of reddish and yellowish brown, or green turning to brown, or already bare.  it was a windy day, and brown and yellow leaves showered down.  As I was watching this at one point I noticed three leaves, connected to each other, that seemed to have achieved some kind of leafy aerodynamic ideal; as other leaves were falling steadily downward this particular trio appeared to hover for a bit, even drifting upwards, before gliding down in lazy swoops and whorls and finally coming to rest.

The place also has a number of meadow trails, which are nice because it’s in the middle of rolling fields and farmland, so that from one hill in particular you can look around and see the surrounding hills, some with a distant house or barn peeking out of some trees, others with fields and fences or little patches of woods, autumnal browns against the blue of the October sky.

Friday, August 27, 2010

It may be time for plan B . . .

I've been working on the new novel for some time now, but hadn't been making much progress because something about the overall plot or setting was bugging me.

I finally worked out, around the end of chapter two, that the problem was with the main character--specifically, he wasn't the main character after all.  He won't do as a supporting character either, so he has to come out of the story entirely.  This, in turn, means the two chapters I've written have to be scrapped because the new main character enters the sequence of events at a different point.  As I started restructuring the plot to accommodate this, it began falling to pieces, so basically I'm back to square one on this story.

This is starting to feel like the sort of problem that is best solved by putting it on the back burner for a while, but I'm going to give it a couple more weeks before going to plan B.

Saturday, May 15, 2010


I joined LibraryThing last year, and finally finished entering books a few months ago.  As I went along, I tagged the ones I haven't yet read, and thus discovered that I have far more of these than I thought. In fact, I've worked out that, if I'm really dedicated, spend lots of time reading, don't read anything I've already read, and don't buy or borrow any more books at all, I could probably get through my "unread" books in, oh, about nine years.

Of course, I'm not about to stop rereading books, or buying new ones.  So it's going to take a little longer than that.

I've always preferred buying books to borrowing them, because it gives me a greater sense of connection to the story: If it's my book, then in a sense it's my story.  What I'm recognizing now, though, is that life is short (and some of these books are quite long), and it's simply not going to be possible for me to reread all, or even most, of the books I currently own.  On the other hand, there are some that I know I'm going to want to read again and again (in An Experiment in Criticism, C. S. Lewis mentions that book lovers will reread their favorites ten, twenty, or more times during the course of their lives).

I'm beginning, therefore, to see a need to distill my collection, and particularly to decide right after reading a book, while it's still fresh in my mind, how likely I am to reread it, and to sell or donate the ones that seem reasonably unlikely.  The thing I hate about this plan is that it will inevitably involve getting rid of a lot of good books.  I've already decided to let one humongous fantasy series go simply because it's so incredibly long that it would take me two or three months to get through it again.

Naturally, I'll also be buying fewer books.  I'd say I'll be visiting the library a lot more, but there's still the matter of all these books I already own but haven't had time to read yet.  (This is what I get for going to library sales on $2-a-bag day.)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

New bookshelf

When I woke up yesterday morning, it was from a dream in which I was browsing in a huge bookshop.  It was like an old house with many rooms, each of which seemed to be a different size and on a different level than all the others, so that the place was full of stairs and halls and corners.  And, of course, books.  Before I'd fully awakened, I found myself thinking of it as an "archetypal bookshop," almost as if it had an existence independent of my dream.  Shortly afterward, though (i.e., when I was more awake) I decided that in an actual archetype of a bookshop, the shelves would probably reach to the ceiling, rather than being only four feet high.

Curiously, I've dreamed of bookstores a couple of times before (that I remember), and for some reason they usually seem to have lots of rooms and stairs and corners.

Later in the day, at work, my boss was talking about how much he loved shopping at Goodwill (he had found a high-end audio receiver there over the weekend).  Inspired by this, I stopped in on the way home, and found a cheap bookshelf--the first one I've seen there in ages that had all the shelves and wasn't falling apart.  And so yesterday I shuffled furniture around until I found a place to put the shelf, and immediately loaded it up, and now for the first time in a year or more I don't have stacks of books piled up on my floor.  (Oh, all right, there's still a stack or two, but they're books I'm planning to sell.)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Archangel loved heights

I'm not quite sure why, but lately I haven't been able to get the idea of the book Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres, by Henry Adams, out of my head.  Only the idea of the book, mind you, which is to say its title and opening line, not the actual contents of the book--for I have never read it.

One of my college history professors, Dr. John Carrigg, used to talk about the book in class.  He must have mentioned it a number of times, because I've never forgotten the title or the opening line, "The Archangel loved heights," which Dr. Carrigg liked to quote.

A personally interesting side-note about Dr. Carrigg is that it was a comment from him on an exam paper, written in red pen at the end of one of my hastily scrawled, barely legible essays, that helped me start considering writing as a career.  The comment was something short and simple, saying in essence that I had a good writing style and perhaps I should consider a career in writing.  Several years after graduation, while questing about for a new career direction, I happened to find that blue-book, and soon found myself (to my dismay) back at college for a year studying creative writing.
Perhaps it's that I've been listening to a CD of music by Philip Glass recently (the soundtrack to The Hours) which reminds me of the soundtrack (also by Philip Glass) of the film Mindwalk, which is set in and around Mont-Saint-Michel, that has led to the idea of the place, and thus the idea of the book, being lodged so firmly in my noggin of late.  Whatever the cause, I looked up the book on the internet and found that it's apparently a study of the medieval worldview, and thus fits in well with some of my recent reading, so I decided to track down a copy.

Several years ago I happened to see the out-of-print hardcover edition in a little booth at an antique mall, but didn't buy it at the time.  I went back to that same antique mall Wednesday, where I found the same booth and the same book (or, rather improbably, a different copy of the same book, which I've never run across in any other store), which I bought.

Alas, I'm unusually busy right now and won't be able to read it till next week.  Until I do (and probably long afterwards) I'll have those words echoing in my head:

"The Archangel loved heights."

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Five A.M.?

I am decidedly not a morning person, so it was with some dismay that I found myself wide awake sometime before 5:00 this morning and unable to go back to sleep.  After a while I gave up, got up, and started up my computer to do some more work on the last round of edits for my novel.

In my CD player: Aarktica's No Solace in Sleep.

Monday, February 1, 2010


I was sitting at my PC, doing not much of anything since I've got a headache, when I suddenly heard an owl hooting. Since I live in the suburbs, this isn't exactly an everyday occurrence, and since I love the sound of owls hooting I stepped out the back door to hear it better. While I was looking for the owl (a great horned owl, by the sound of it), I saw a large, bright falling star, which streaked due west from almost directly overhead. I love shooting stars, too, and this one would have been worth sitting outside and waiting for, but there it was, right when I stepped out of my door. Then the owl took off from its perch in a nearby tree and flew nearly overhead, an indistinct shadow against the dark blue sky, on its way to the neighbors' yard and beyond.

Tomorrow is Monday, and I'll be getting up early and trudging out to my day job, with the whole work-week ahead of me. But tonight is a night of stars and owls.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Surprised by sehnsucht

Yesterday I surprised myself by ordering the two Narnia movies on disc. This was something that, before yesterday, I had been quite sure I would never do, because the Narnia books have been my favorites since I first read them at age seven. I wasn’t sure I wanted the movies’ vision of Narnia to displace the one in my head, so I’d decided to limit my exposure to them.

As it turns out, it took only the tiniest of things to change my mind on this. Friday night (well, Saturday morning, actually, just before I awoke), I had a dream in which I saw part of one of the movies and, in the dream, changed my mind and decided to buy them. Later in the day I remembered the dream, and suddenly realized that, despite the films' shortcomings, I receive from them the same overall feeling that I get from the books--the feeling C. S. Lewis refers to as "joy" in Surprised by Joy.

While looking at a couple of reviews of Prince Caspian (trying to figure out whether the three-disc version had anything to recommend it over the two-disc version), I saw one that mentioned Lewis’s use of the German word sehnsucht for that same feeling. Apparently it has a significantly deeper meaning than the usual translation of “longing”; but I’ll let you check out its wikipedia page for more details on that. It’s probably the best reason I can think of for buying a movie (or a book, or an album, or whatever).

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Where does the time go?

I just now realized that I haven't posted since November. Sorry 'bout that. I was quite sure I'd written at least one post sometime around Christmas, but apparently what happened was I started writing a post in Word, offline, and then forgot to finish and/or publish it.

So, here's what I've been up to:

While plotting out my next novel (the one I was expanding from a novella-length rough draft), I kept thinking about a different story idea. It's an idea that's been in my head for at least ten years, and which I've been putting off working on till I was a better writer since of the many ideas I have waiting in the wings, this one's my favorite.

As I thought about it, though, I realized that if it's my favorite, then it's the idea I should be working on right now, especially if I would like to be a better writer--because the best way to get better at this sort of thing is to take the idea you like the best and put everything you've got into it. The more you care about the idea, the less chance there is that you'll settle for second-best from yourself, right?

So what I'm working on now is preparatory research, reading books about folklore and the Middle Ages (among other things); this is all stuff I should have been already studying, since I knew I'd be writing this book someday, but I'm a natural procrastinator (as you can see by a quick glance at my posting frequency).