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"To write a good young picture book ... You have to write with all the skill of an adult who understands words, rhythm, rhyme, character, and story and all the heart and soul of a child who understands joy, anger, sorrow, and wonder in their purest form, says Marilyn Singer. "It’s the wedding of our present and past selves that allows us to write a good young picture book. Then the illustrator completes the picture in every sense of the word."
Bedtime for Chickies is a rollicking fun read aloud that is perfect for young toddlers and preschoolers. It’s a solid board book with padded covers, filled with charming animals all trying to get some sleep. Everyone’s ready for bed except three little chickies who just aren’t quite there yet. They still need a drink, a story, and of course a visit to the potty.
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'Tis summer, and time for a middle aged woman's fancies to turn to thoughts of bad books.

Not only bad books, of course.  I picked up several excellent books at Kalamazoo last week, two of which I've been asked to review, plus three free copies of journals from Oxford University Press.  I'll also be contributing to two books that, based on previous examples, will be very good installments in their respective series.  

I also picked up what promises to be a truly marvelous Book So Bad It's Good, right up (or down, or sideways) there with jewels such as the collected works of Dan Brown, airport books about mysterious conspiracies, and the very best quality anti-Masonic propaganda from the 1840's.  It's absolutely perfect, and yes, I most definitely will be writing a diary about it.

As for diaries...

This weekend is the de facto kickoff of summer here in the land of the free and home of the brave.  Barbecues, lemonade, movies with a huge number of explosions and very little plot, cole slaw and potato salad, sandals instead of shoes, soft serve stands and skinny dipping on a deep dark night...there are but a few of the simple joys of summertime, at least in the vicinity of the Last Homely Shack East of the Manhan. It's a lovely time of the year, with farmstands and pick-your-own produce and thunderstorms that leave the air fresh and clean and crackling with ozone, and as much as I hate a sticky summer heat, I must confess that I do like this precious time quite a bit.

This may be why I've mapped out a particularly ambitious schedule for this summer, as you'll see once you venture past the 0.5 class Orange Kaiju for all the gory, scary, glorious details.

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Thu May 21, 2015 at 05:00 PM PDT

Write On! Pacing

by SensibleShoes

Hello, writers. Last week we talked about making time pass in a narrative. Now I’d like to talk about a related area, pacing.

Pacing a story well means spending as little time as possible over the unimportant or uninteresting parts. Tell, don’t show. Tell in as few words as possible. And if something doesn’t absolutely need to be told, skip it.

In the important scenes, of course, the rule is show, don’t tell. Give these scenes their full due. Milk them for all they’re worth.

Here’s an example of a poorly paced scene:

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Welcome to bookchat where you can talk about anything...books, plays, essays, and books on tape.  You don’t have to be reading a book to come in, sit down, and chat with us.

my books 4-28-11 165

It is necessary in almost every mystery story for the protagonist to follow a suspicious character.  Sometimes it is planned ahead of time, but very often it is a spur of the moment chance so the hero jumps into a taxi and says the famous words, “Driver, follow that car!”  No matter how many times I have read the same thing, it is always a thrill when the chase is on.  Think screeching tires and sudden turns.  Think headlights out on sinister rural roads and hanging back between trucks on the freeway.  

If the car is lost or if the followers are discovered the consequences will be severe.  It is a plot device, but it always draws me in.  

Other favorite devices and settings:

The secret hide out.  The Hole in the Wall, the Bat Cave.  The hidden door behind the mirror.

The spooky, abandoned house with old tapestries and trunks filled with letters.

The treasure map.  

Sinister cats, ghostly dogs, hunting hawks and talking parrots.

House boats tied up under bridges.

Ancient ruins and old cathedrals with bell towers to be climbed

The laboratory, the antique store, the dungeon below the opera house.

The last minute rescue of a person who is hanging off a cliff.  Yes, a cliff hanger.  

Michi Kaku explains that our brain likes surprises.  We may be bored by a cliché and suddenly it is turned around and we like the twist.  The unreliable narrator is one difference that surprises us.  The unheroic character who suddenly leaps into action is another.  The sinister villain who turns out to be an undercover agent can be cleverly done.  The bumbler who turns out to be valuable is another favorite of mine.  

Famous plot elements that never get old:

A character is framed.  How can she prove her innocence?

An alibi seems foolproof, but is it?

The locked room.

The puppet of a higher criminal is caught.  Can he be used to reach the ring leader?

The watcher.  Who is he and what does he want?

The character that sees something important and doesn’t know it.


Weird dreams that lead to new ideas about the problem/crime.

What is your favorite plot device or setting?  

Which mysteries or detectives are your favorites?  

Do older mysteries still hold up?  


Which plot device or setting is your favorite?

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Wed May 20, 2015 at 02:47 PM PDT

Wonder What Bin Ladin Read in Bed?

by Limelite

Need to know what volumes were on Bin Ladin's bookshelf?  Curious if his reading tastes were close to yours?  Ever consider if what you read makes you who you are, or is who you are dictated by what you read?

Until today when The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) released the heretofore classified compilation of Bin Ladin's legacy library all we book lovers (and terrorist haters) could do was speculate.  Now we know.

Of over 200 items, including his most recently declassified personal correspondence, translated into English from Arabic, there are listed titles of 39 English language books.  Bin Ladin's letters make fascinating reading (advice to cohorts about how to take care of bothersome fillings, tender remembrances to his wife and father should he be killed, etc.).  But messages to his "brothers in Iraq specifically and the Islamic Nation in general" referencing the conduct of jihad make it clear that he regarded Bush's war as one against Islam.  There are lists of lessons learned after the "fall of the Islamic Emirate," which I took to mean the Taliban rule in Afghanistan, and letters from captured and assassinated famous al-Qaeda leaders when they lived.  But most interesting are the books and articles in English that he had in his possession when killed.

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So, here I am, racing another deadline, though I've had a pretty good idea of what I was going to write about for at least a few days. As long as I've admired the work of poets I have the privilege of knowing, I figured it was time to say something about how much their work, and the work of poets generally, means to so many of us who appreciate poetry and find it feeds our souls in a way we would be much the poorer without.

Please respond as you feel moved, and thanks for stopping by!



Means "beautiful voice" from Greek καλλος (kallos) "beauty" and οψ (ops) "voice". In Greek mythology she was a goddess of epic poetry and eloquence, one of the nine Muses.  

 Join us every Tuesday afternoon at the Daily Kos community political poetry club.

                    Your own poetry is always welcome in the comments.

                       Bongos, berets & turtle neck sweaters optional.                                

                            The keyboard is mightier than the sword.    
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South front of the Marshalsea Prison circa 1773, Southwark, London, UK

Marshalsea Prison, 1773
Click to enlarge

On June 1, 1729, William Acton, one-time butcher and deputy warden of Marshalsea Prison was indicted for high crimes and misdemeanors in the murder of four prisoners consigned to his care. The indictment came after General James Oglethorpe (the one who went on to found the New World colony of Georgia), a member of Parliament, demanded and then joined a committee which explored the abuses at the notorious debtors' prisons of Marshalsea and the Fleet.

You see, a young friend of Oglethorpes, sent to the Fleet prison for his debt, died from smallpox when, his funds completely exhausted, he was forced to share quarters with men who were known to be suffering from the disease. Already weakened by his time in prison, he quickly fell ill and died.

Marshalsea, divided, into a Master's Side, for those who could pay the warden for their upkeep, and the Common Side, for those dependent upon charity, was one of many prisons in London at the time. According to historian Jerry White in his paper, Pain and Degradation in Georgian London: Life in the Marshalsea Prison (subscription required):

Daniel Defoe thought there were more prisons in London "than any City in Europe" in the 1720s. He listed twenty-two “public gaols,” added “Five Night Prisons, called Round Houses” and ended his list “&c.” Around these often ancient institutions clustered a dense penumbra of private prisons where those under arrest were held awaiting bail or commitment to prison proper.
Private prisons, and their depredations, are nothing new. They have been around, greedily feeding on the misfortunes of the poor, for hundreds of years. And not only the poor. People of means could find themselves in the Marshalsea for running afoul of the powers that be, so it was not uncommon for book publishers, writers, and politicians to be living on the Master's Side of the Marshalsea. If they had means, it was a barely tolerable existence.

It they didn't, and if they had no friends or family members willing to help, it was often a death sentence, through starvation or disease.

And this is where Antonia Hodgson set her debut novel, The Devil in the Marshalsea.

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Mon May 18, 2015 at 04:46 PM PDT

Beauteous Maidens

by Karen Hedwig Backman

Reposted from Karen Hedwig Backman by Susan Grigsby Editor's Note: Georgette Heyer -- Susan Grigsby

The mainstay of fairy tales and most romances, feminine beauty in this sort of literature is usually raised to incredible (and incredulous) heights as synonymous with virtue, goodness and truth.

In, however, the England of the 1930s and later, a minor revolution occurs against this sort of pap: Georgette Heyer and Angela Thirkell. More on Heyer later, who particularly had it in for these babes but, starting with Thirkell below:

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Reposted from akadjian by akadjian

For a recent project, I’ve been researching organizations and values within organizations.

I happened to come across On Value and Values by Douglas K. Smith because of the following quote:

For many years now, I have heard people speak about value and values disjointedly, as though the singular, value, and the plural, values, are alienated from one another. Value arises in conversations about economics, finance, shopping, investment, business, and markets. People worry about getting value for their money or shareholder value or market value. They use value to describe business or economic prospects. Value connotes a pointed estimation of current or anticipated worth never too distant from monetary equivalence. There is no value that is not a dollar value.

The plural values, meanwhile, crops up when people talk about beliefs and behaviors regarding how human beings do or do not get along with one another and with gods, spirits, and nature. Values are nouns, but nouns concerned with verbs of attitude and action. Values sort into several categories. People refer to social values and political values; and, to family and religious, and environmental values. Values are estimations not of worth but of worthwhileness. Unlike value, talk of values ignores money; it opines on timeless appraisals instead of transient ones. There is a deep, backward-and-forward-looking quality to values. If value is what makes us wealthy, values, we assume and regularly assert, are what makes us human.

I purchased Smith’s book because this, to me, seems like the defining issue of our times: the erasure of values in a monomaniacal pursuit of value.

 photo On_value_and_values_edit_zpsxgj5mgvu.jpg

I’d never heard of Douglas K. Smith. The paperback version of his book doesn’t have a single review on Amazon. Hard cover copies of this book can be had for a penny. I couldn't even find the book directly through a shortened Amazon search for “On Value and Values”.  

I write this because in Smith’s book I feel like I found a Dutch masterpiece underneath an old garage sale purchased painting.

One of the reviewers of the hardcover book on Amazon wrote:

I have only one concern about "On Value and Values" - that the author is not a famous celebrity. Because if he were, the book would be a #1 bestseller and its ideas and prescriptions would already be guiding us toward a saner future together.
Douglas K. Smith should be up there with Capitalism and Freedom (Friedman). On Value and Values is comparable to Democracy in America and What’s the Matter with Kansas?

Here’s why.

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Sat May 16, 2015 at 09:07 PM PDT

An Approached to E. M. Forster

by se portland

Reposted from se portland by Susan Grigsby Editor's Note: A look at EM Forster and the Bloomsbury Group. -- Susan Grigsby

Or How Classical Liberals Became Socialists

Disclaimer: I am one of those people who knows a little bit about a lot of stuff, but who is not an expert at anything. I hope you forgive me if I and vague and mis-characterize philosophy and history at times, or even perhaps misspell the authors name*, but I do urge you to correct me. In a sense that is what this diary is about.

Recently I have been immersed in the writings of E. M. Forster. It was by accident really. Being by nature a cheapskate, I used by $.0.75 credit at Amazon on a complete works of E. M. Forster. When I reached the end of one of his novels, I simply swiped the page on my Kindle and started the next. At first what struck me was just how much of an Edwardian writer he was. In many ways he has more in common with Hardy than he does with Virginia Wolf. His novels seem to be about a society that is long since gone and foreign to me to begin with. My manners are atrocious and I don't drink tea. But there is something in his novels that still attracted me. So I decided to step back and examine what that attraction is.

What I arrived at is more philosophical than social, but it helps explain how Classic Liberalism in England came to embrace socialism.

If you have read this far, you might as well follow me below the fold...

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Tonight, I come to you from the past.

Partially this is due to where I am:  the Kalamazoo Medieval Studies Congress at Western Michigan University.  This annual conference, which brings together several academics, graduate students, reenactors, and enthusiasts of all stripes, is truly a Conference So Good It's Mandatory, at least if you're someone like me.  This is my tenth pilgrimage to scenic WMU, home of the Broncos, and I assure you, it will not be my last.  I learn too much, network too much, and receive way too much encouragement for my academic work to give this up, even if doing so is sometimes a financial hardship.

This year I went, delivered a paper on female collecting, attended several panels, exhibited my attempts at medieval-style quilting, and generally had a good time.  I also was officially anointed as one of the troika that will be taking over the Pseudo Society, the annual Saturday night session devoted to esoteric topics like St. Guthlac's mortgage-derived martyrdom, Bruce Springsteen's surprising relationship to Geoffrey Chaucer, or desperate graduate students offering to marry prominent academics (gender unimportant) and/or dance for their funding.  I revealed the existence of Jean Louis de Pouffe to the world there three years ago, and when I tell you simply that next year will be EPIC, well, you ain't seen nothing yet.

All this fun and academia and de Pouffeishness has meant that alas, alack, and well-a-day! once again I must present you with a diary from past times.  Next week will be fresh material, dredged from the part of Badbookistan I like to call the Swamp So Yucky It Makes the Gowanus Canal Look Like a Vernal Pool, but tonight is a Medieval Studies Rewind.  Originally published a few years ago, this little foray into Historical Writing So Bad It Makes Herodotus Bawl Like A Newborn profiles four rotten books in an effort I like to call:

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Fri May 15, 2015 at 08:23 PM PDT

The Great Symmetry

by James Wells

Reposted from James Wells by Susan Grigsby Editor's Note: New novel by a member of R&BLers! -- Susan Grigsby
My science fiction novel The Great Symmetry is now out in the world.

The intro has a brief description of the book, while the main diary has some philosophy and personal observations.

In the year 2304, seven great families of companies dominate commerce through all of known space.  The Seven Sisters compete fiercely for market position, while at the same time working together to maintain the True Story, a set of agreed facts and ideas that create the best environment for mutual prosperity.

When exoarcheologist Evan McElroy makes a discovery about the long-departed Versari race, he thinks he has found some great material to present at upcoming scientific conferences. But his sponsor, the Affirmatix Family of companies realizes that they can make tremendous gains if Evan's findings are kept completely secret. Step one of their plan is to kill Evan and the entire research team.

As Evan flees for his life, his trajectory awakens a long buried struggle. The Infoterrorists, who believe that all information and ideas are screaming to be free, have observed an uneasy truce with the Seven Sisters for decades. In a few places, such as the Untrusted Zone on the planet Kelter Four, the Infoterrorists have been allowed to live in accordance with their heretical beliefs, even while the Pax Commercia has tightened its grip on the rest of civilization.

Suddenly, the truce is over.

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