27 July 2011

Bossypants (Tina Fey)

Gosh, I have struggled with how to write this review, specifically because I refuse to use the sentences "Tina Fey seems so real!" or "I'll bet we'd be friends!" and those are all I want to say. Even with my natural petulant resistance to things marketed to my demographic (like Obama, or kombucha). So can I just throw my favorite quote at you, and then you will laugh, and then you will go get the book? SUPER.

"In the 'Great American Melting Pot,' rural Ohio may be a lump of white flour that hasn't been stirred properly. Not that New York is any better. New York is that chunk of garlic that you bite into thinking it's potato and you can't get the taste out of your mouth all day."

True that, sister.

Working title: Gold Mountain

Soooooo you guys, I'm writing a book.

A while back Chris floated the following idea for a romance novel: "She's a 19th century schoolmarm whose schoolhouse turns out to be built on top of the mother lode. But which man can she trust with her fortune (and her heart?)? Westley, the local railroad construction foreman, or Chan, the handsome but sensitive railroad worker?" I was really interested in the idea of a historical with an Chinese hero--there don't even seem to be many contemporaries with Asian/Asian-American characters. But the Transcontinental Railroad starting building during the Civil War, and I didn't want to deal with that, so I decided to work with the California Gold Rush, and have settled on 1852. Research ahoy!

The heroine has morphed into Charlotte Gray (née Martin, which didja know is the most common French surname? isn't that weird?), a young widow from St. Louis who lost her husband to cholera along the California Trail; instead of reaching San Francisco to open the dress shop she's always wanted, she is marooned in the mining settlement of Hapless Bar, mending jeans and contemplating the suit of the handsome but vaguely sinister Paul St. Clair. As it turns out, she looks like my sister, down to the sectoral heterochromia in her eyes (look it up, it's pretty).The hero is Lo Jin, scion of a once-wealthy Cantonese merchant who lost his fortune in the Taiping Rebellion, trying to strike it rich in Gum Shan. But when he and the other "celestials" are chased away from the diggings by white miners, Jin takes refuge in the root cellar of the boarding house where Charlotte lives, where she finds him and begins to smuggle him food, books...and companionship. (NUDGE NUDGE WINK WINK)

I can't think of the last time I was so excited about a project. The advantage of historical fiction for plot-challenged me is obvious: the more research I do, the more events are written for me, and I can concentrate on character, dialogue, and prose. I hadn't previously realized how little I knew about the Gold Rush; it's an amazing few years that changed so much, e.g. the population of San Francisco, which went from 1,000 in 1848 to 25,000 in December 1849. The settlements were crazy diverse, as well--for minor characters, I'll be able to choose from German, Irish, French, Mexican, various local Native Americans, Mormons, even Australians. I'm gathering names (Charlotte Gray was the maiden name of my senior seminar tutor, whose married name was Charlotte Martin; my mother's provided ancestors of the appropriate generation: Melchior Sebastian, Cundegunda Quade, Lucinda Weethe), local fruits & vegetables, contemporaneous fashion, and the thousand tiny details that make up a world.

And of course I've checked a quadzillion books out from the library. Three I already know I'll have to buy to keep around: The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in the Wild West, The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in the 1800s , and the incredibly valuable They Saw the Elephant: Women in the California Gold Rush, which I read straight through like a novel, fascinated by the copious journal entries and letters giving the words of some of the bravest women I can imagine. I'm gonna steal so many little things from these lives (like Lodisa Frizzell's badass name, and Mary Ballou's amazing turn of phrase "making coffee for the French people strong enough for any man to walk on that has Faith as Peter did"). And by "steal" I mean "use with modifications and include in an adulatory Further Reading Note," because I am not a jerk.

I'll admit: my word count so far is 773. But that's totes OK, because I'm aiming to have a good shopping-about draft by July 16, 2012 (a year from when I started), and the mad research-y rush I'm in right now is necessary, and fun, and won't last forever. I am grateful to have Theresa Romain to provide been-there encouragement (and I've read her upcoming debut, and it's delightful Austen-y goodness! more closer to the October pub date), and the supportivest boyfriend ever, full stop. I'll share any excerpts I'm particularly proud of, shall I?

13 July 2011

Series reads.

Gadzooks! My apologies. I have been reading at my usually furious pace over the past 19 days, but I find myself less inclined to update when I'm reading books in a series. (As usual) I'm of two minds about this: first, remorseful, since several of my favorite novels are part of a sequence; second, somewhat justified, since much of the strength of a several-book narrative is consistency. Hence if I've said "Soulless is a funny and silly little confection of a book," must I repeat myself when its sequels prove to be of a piece? (That's Changeless and Blameless I've read so far; just-released Heartless is a hold-in-progress at the library.)

Likewise: George R.R. Martin continues to enthrall. My TOTES AWESOME sister got me the box set of the first four paperbacks, so once I got caught up on Brothers Karamazov (capsule review: fistfight fistfight 30-page conversation about God. Am I getting shallow in my old age?), I blazed through the rest of A Clash of Kings and am now embroiled in A Storm of Swords. And I just dropped $35 on the weapon-grade-hefty A Dance With Dragons--at WORD, natch!

And I haven't been blogging about 'em, but my friend Ed at Vertical has kept me up to date on the Chi's Sweet Home kitten adventures manga--up to Volume 6 now! Little Miss Tabbypants is learning and making friends. :3

Finally: finished up Eloisa James's Duchesses series, and I worry that she's just ruined me for all other romances. Her books are so sharp, her heroines so lovable, her heroes' reforms so believable!!! And this sextet, with a couple of overarching narratives, is a masterpiece of small- and large-scale plotting. I kind of hate it when people say of genre books, "They're even for people who don't read X!", as if regular readers of X will just swallow anything, but: pretty much everyone who's ever enjoyed being in love should read these. ESPECIALLY (though you have to read the first four to really get the payoff) the last two, This Duchess of Mine (in which an estranged married couple falls in love again--and for the first time) and A Duke of Her Own (being the story of the sleep-aroundiest duke ever and his joyful conversion to lifelong monogamy).
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