Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Why am I not an engineer or a computer scientist?

Who says the sciences and technology are not creative? I've had this argument with my students often. Science and math can be very creative--it's just a matter of understanding the language well enough to create in.
Want proof? Watch this. (And yes, I know it's an advertisement, but who cares. It's awesome.)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Gaps in my Education

As we travel through life, grow up and get out of school, we realize there are some things we just never studied that perhaps might shock others. I can give you a couple of examples in my own education. I have never read Hemmingway, I didn't read The Great Gatsby until last year, and I first read Huckleberry Finn the summer before I knew I was going to teach it. Now I truly believe I had a great education. I had classses in high school in subjects that many students are never exposed to: an American West history class, an English class on science fiction (which was truly marvelous), a class called Ripping off Shakespeare, and in my Latin class we read Roman poetry, plays, and Winnie the Pooh. As a German major in college, I read a lot of books English majors have never heard of and Goethe's Faust in the original German, but that also meant I missed out on some English language books. I didn't read Frankenstein until a couple of years ago,  never read A Tale of Two Cities, and still haven't read Hemmingway.

As a romance novelist, I believe it's important to understand my genre. So when people rave about a book, I know I should read it just to see what others are raving about. But that doesn't mean I don't have gaps in romance too.  I am currently reading Outlander for the first time. Yup. I'd never read it before. I didn't pick up Lord of Scoundrels (widely regarded as the best romance novel written) until a year ago. I was late to Nora Roberts, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and Jayne Ann Krentz, but I've since caught up. There are still some big name authors I haven't read, but who shall remain nameless because I really don't want to hurt feelings (though why they should care if I've read them gives me way more importance than I'm warranted).

I really don't understand people (especially writers) who say they never read historical, or romantic suspense, or paranormal, or whatever. Limiting yourself creates gaps in your education (and yes, romance novels are a part of your worldview and therefore educating). So I'm challenging you to broaden your scope. Read something you wouldn't normally read, even if that means reading out of genre. There are some terrific horror novels out there, or mysteries, or even the occasional literary novel. Or pick up a historical if you don't read those, or a YA, or a category.

The bottom line is the story. The type is just the vehicle to tell it.


Books I'm reading now:
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Just Like Heaven by Julia Quinn
The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

In Defense of the Wallpaper Historical

I love the wallpaper historical. Don't get me wrong. I love history. I love the details, seeing the the patterns, understanding the flow, recognizing modern repetitions (actually, that last one not so much). But when I'm reading a historical romance, one where I want to be taken to another world, I understand that world is a fantasy. A FANTASY. It never existed. I know most women of those days (whenever those days may be) didn't have rights and that society had different expectations for them, and yet it doesn't bother me to find women with modern sensibilities and attitudes in the historical romance. I think that juxtaposition makes for interesting plots. It's the ultimate "what if".

If I wanted to read history, I would pick up a history book. I know the difference. It doesn't bother me if a heroine from the middle ages uses words that didn't exist until the 1800s. Let's face it; if the author wrote a linguistically accurate novel, you wouldn't be able to understand it unless you knew middle English. Do you find it easy to read Shakespeare? He wrote in modern English.That doesn't mean I expect the heroine to say "dude" or "chillax" (Am I dating myself?), but honestly, I'm reading a fantasy even if it is a historical novel.

Mind you, I also enjoy the rich, detailed historical. I enjoy the density, the obvious knowledge of the author, but I would say the majority of the "wallpaper" authors do their research too. It just doesn't hit you over the head. I have read wildly inaccurate historicals and I will knock those as much as the next person. I read one once that took place in Venice and the author had the characters traveling around the city in carriages and even a coach and four! Ouch. That kind of inaccuracy is inexcusable, but I hold that the majority of authors don't make such errors. But I've read errors in contemporaries as well.

I used to write historicals and I can tell you that I did copious amounts of research, but the bottom line was the story. Yes, my historicals tended to gloss over the bad teeth, open sewers, and body odor of the past. Those are still the historicals I like to read; the ones with the endless number of dukes in England; with the governess who can end up married to the earl; the ones where they can have sex in a carriage because her clothes come off rather than being stuck in the accurate stiff and unyielding corsets and crinoline. Give me the Robin Hood where Errol Flynn can best real life swordsman Basil Rathbone.

Give me the fantasy.

Books I'm reading now: A Regimental Murder by Ashley Gardner

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Critical Thinking

It's a catch phrase in education. It's what supposed to be taught to students. It's what intelligent, thinking adults should possess. Yet often I believe it is the aspect that is most missing in our society. Critical thinking. It is the ability to come to conclusion based on evidence, logic, thought, observation, analysis, and experience. Unfortunately, it requires some work, and that's why I believe so many people opt out of critical thinking and prefer to be told what to think.

I'm on this rant because an acquaintance posted an inflammatory, "cutesy" political remark, and I called her on it. It wasn't logical, and I pointed out the flaw in the reasoning. Now granted, it was smart-ass of me, but it pissed me off. She proceeded to throw more sound bites at me that wandered further from the original topic of the post, and then her friend joined in, calling me a patronizing name (which made me just laugh-- that's how to win a debate--by resorting to name calling) and waving the patriotism flag, which of course is often the last resort when no valid arguments can be made.

Don't talk to me about patriotism. My parents escaped an oppressive, totalitarian regime by crawling through miles of mud and snow with nothing but the clothes on their backs. My mom had a new coat for the first time in her life, and her heart broke that she had to ruin it in the dirt by escaping. My parents lived in a refugee camp for two years after escaping. They had the chance to move to three other countries, but they held out for the chance to come to the United States. (These were my bedtime stories growing up--what their life was like, what they went through to come here, and what life was like when they started here.)

But that doesn't mean I accept what is told to me without evidence or proof. The political pundits on the radio and TV for the most part like to hear themselves talk, and several have been shown to stretch the truth so many times that it's a wonder they still have a job. But of course they do, because people would rather believe what is told to them than learn about an issue and think it through for themselves. It's easier.

Incredibly, thinking for yourself was a theme in so many of the novels I taught my students: And Then There Were None; The Crucible; Huckleberry Finn; I, Robot. Unfortunately too many people are willing to be led instead of questioning why they follow.
Sorry about the rant, but it's really a shame.

Books I am Reading now:
Seduce me in Dreams by Jacquelyn Frank
Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen by JK Rowling