No One Noticed the Cat

Friday, February 19, 2010

Here's a cute little book for you. Yes, it's actually a little book, about 5 or 6 inches nearly square, 124 pages long. A quick read. Anne McCaffrey's No One Noticed the Cat is a whimsical fantasy, perfect for when you want a bit of light reading.

If you are regent to an adventurous prince with ambitious neighbors, what are you going to do when you know your death is approaching? Why, surround him with the perfect advisers, of course. Ones who will guide him without taking away his authority. However, Mangan Tighe's cleverest adviser he leaves for his nephew is no courtier, but a most extraordinary cat.

Niffy the cat follows Jamas everywhere, peruses every document, and somehow eases the burden of leadership. Jamas treats her with the same respect he gives to his human advisers, though most of the people around him think of her as simply his uncle's cat. Sometimes the perfect guardian is the one no one notices. Which comes in handy when a greedy king and queen in the neighboring kingdom decide they wish to annex Esphania. Niffy may be the only one who can keep her prince and kingdom safe.

This book is a charming story for young and old alike. It's well worth checking out.

Two awards already!

Monday, February 15, 2010


Not sure I deserve any awards just yet. I haven't settled into any posting schedule yet, and I'm mostly a lurker on my friends blogs. But I'm honored all the same.

The Honest Scrap Award came from Emily at Stepping Into Fantasy and the Sugar Doll Award just a day later from Jai at Jai Joshi's Tulsi Tree. Hmm, similar type lists: ten things about myself that might be considered unusual, a bit hard when "unusual" depends on the viewer, and ten things about myself. How about one detailed list of ten?

10. I love to dance, but I'm self-conscious in front of other people, except in a class setting when we're all equally goofy looking.

9. I'm serious about that self-conscious thing with my dancing. I'm embarrassed to let even my hubby watch. Maybe I need more classes.

8. Styles of dancing I especially want to learn: belly dance, bollywood style dancing, American pop dance, hip hop, Asian pop... I guess I just like to groove it, groove it; I like to move it, move it--when nobody's watching. Except my son, but then I dance goofy on purpose to get him dancing with me. I love to see that little boy dance.

7. I love roleplaying games. Dungeons & Dragons, Star Wars, Babylon 5, and Savage Worlds for table-top games. For MMORPGS, I did Guild Wars for awhile, until I got sucked into World of Warcraft. (Yes, I still play.) And can't forget the live-action variety, mainly Circle of Swords (only went once, but I loved it) and NERO.

6. I met my husband at my first NERO event, though we didn't start dating until over a year later. I was a gypsy, a rather quiet one, as I didn't know what to do or say yet, and didn't know anyone but my roommate who was on the plot team. He was a seelie fae lord getting married to his human-turned-fae bride. Two years after that event, almost to the day, I was the one who married him, for real that time. Several of our friends skipped part of an event to come, still dressed in their costuming. It was great.

5. Roleplaying games sparked my drive to write. It all started with making one character, then another, and another. Figuring out different personalities, their backgrounds, their motivations. Put them into a setting with other characters, and stories will form around them. It's the writing them down that is the hard part. That and deciding which path of what-ifs to take the characters.

4. I love my in-laws. I am a lucky, lucky girl.

3. I am not a J. D. Salinger fan. Sorry. Catcher In the Rye bored me. So did John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath. And I can't stand Lord of the Flies by William Golding. I had to read all three in high school, yet we never covered any of Louisa May Alcott's books. Or those of Madeleine L'Engle, Cynthia Voigt, or Lucy Maud Montgomery. (Can you guess what I was reading on my own time back then?)

2. Textiles thrill me. I have at least four totes of fabric waiting to be turned into clothing, costuming, and miscellaneous craft projects. My husband gets annoyed when I buy even more. I made my own wedding dress and have a standing offer to my sister to make her wedding dress when the time comes, if she wants a handmade dress. I also crochet and embroider, and have started to learn tablet weaving. If I ever have the space and money, I would buy a loom and try my hand with that kind of weaving as well. Spinning, however, is an arcane art that fumbles my fingers. I'll leave that part to those with better coordination. I still have to fit in writing time, you know.

1. I am a one-woman campaign to spread awareness of the awesomeness that is filk music. What is that, you say? The simplest answer is that it is SF folk music, but that barely scratches the surface of the diversity found in this category of music. It encompasses many styles of music and many topics. Not all filk is based on stories. Some stories derived from the songs. Some songs are about writing, science, and filk fandom in general.

Oh yes, there is a fandom. People get together for filk-sings. Some of these are so well known and done so regularly, they have practically become annual conferences. I haven't been to one yet, but it's on my list of things I want to do. For more information on filk in general, check out You can also check out the filk radio station from there. Now some songs can be so-so, but the gems mixed in make it well worth the listening time. There are some amazing filkers out there.

And personally, I think all spec fic writers should take note of how they can utilize filk music. It's advertising! Write a song about your story or have a musical acquaintance write one for you. Then share it at a filk sing, post it on Youtube, Facebook, your social network of choice, and it will build awareness. I have tracked down a number of stories from filk songs I've heard since I first discovered this musical subset. Stories I might still have never heard of. Filk music is also a great way to enrich the worlds of spec fic creations. Mercedes Lackey wrote a number of songs that her characters refer to in her books, songs such as "Sun and Shadow" and "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night." My favored choice for purchasing filk is at Firebirds Arts. Wonderful stuff there, and not just music either.

Nomination Time!
I pass on the Honest Scrap Award to Brad at Bradley's Brain. He may be even newer to blogging than I am, but I like his humorous take on parenting. Funny, yet insightful at the same time. And the Sugar Doll Award goes to Juliette Wade at TalkToYoUniverse and Janice Hardy at The Other Side of the Story for their wonderful insights into writing. Juliette's specialty is linguistics, and Janice covers story composition.

The Search for Delicious

Sunday, February 7, 2010

When Prime Minister Decree is told to write up a proper dictionary for the kingdom, he has to come up with ways to describe each word. All goes well until he reaches the D's. Civil war threatens to break out over the definition for "Delicious." The king sends Gaylan, Decree's foster son and Special Assistant, on a kingdom-wide poll. The Search for Delicious is on!

Natalie Babbitt takes us through this imaginative fantasy. No matter what obstacles Gaylan faces, he is determined to complete his task in order to save his kingdom. He meets a woldweller, a mermaid, and many of the ordinary folk and writes down each person's choice for the definition. The result may surprise everyone but Gaylan himself.

Character Spotlight: Alberich

Thursday, February 4, 2010

If ever there was a character I wanted to meet, Alberich, current Weaponsmaster to the Herald's Collegium of Valdemar, would surely be among the top five.

I just finished rereading Exile's Honor, a book in the expansive Valdemar series. Alberich's depth of character grips me every time I read one of the books, even the ones where he's not the primary focus.

In the Arrows trilogy (Arrows of the Queen, Arrow's Flight, Arrow's Fall), the focus is on Talia, a Holderkin girl Chosen on her fourteenth birthday. When she first meets Alberich, she's terrified. One: he's man, particularly, one in authority (the Holderkin were very restrictive and harsh, men held ultimate power). Two: he carries himself like a predator, which comes from being a highly skilled warrior, and his face is seamed with scars. And three: he has to be hard on his students, because softness will only get them killed by their enemies.

And every Herald who does die, despite the training he gives them, wounds him. Guilt that perhaps he had not pushed them hard enough, or taught them some small maneuver that might have saved their lives. Guilt that he keeps buried. Old Ironface some call him, or the Great Stoneheart. Only a few (Talia among them) see below the surface to the man whose honor means everything to him, who cares more deeply than most realize, and who is ever watchful for danger to the land and people of his transplanted home.

For Valdemar is not the home of his birth. He comes from Karse, the longstanding enemy of Valdemar. As the saying goes, "Only brigands and bad weather come from Karse." Not so any more. Exile's Honor shows how Alberich came to be the Weaponsmaster. I was ecstatic when this book came out in 2002. Finally, an inside look into a character I already admired. I'd read the prologue before; it came out as a short story originally, just to show how he'd been Chosen.

Here is a man who was born as a commoner, out of wedlock no less, brought into the army, and trained as an officer. For the Sunsguard had a policy that half its officers must come from the common stock as they would have gratitude to motivate them. But politics in Karse is a cutthroat business, and men may move up in rank by undermining their peers. Alberich was not one to do so, but he had to be wary of those who would.

He also had a secret: the witchgift of foresight. Those exposed for having one of the witchgifts were burned in the Fires of Cleansing. He fought his gift, for if he went to the Fires, who would protect his people, those without the ability to defend themselves? He was one of the rare few who cared more about duty than power. Yet, his gift helped him to save his people, by showing him when and where brigands were going to strike.

After being rescued from the Fires by one of the feared Hell Horses of Karse legend, former Captain Alberich must learn what it means to be a Herald of Valdemar. He feels betrayed by the Sunpriests and yet still dutybound to the people of Karse. He is also now bound to Valdemar because of being Chosen by the very Companion who carried him away to this new land. The same Companion who now speaks in his heart and mind, filling a void he hadn't known existed. Never more alone.

A man of deep honor, he does not lightly make the transition, for he still worries for his people of Karse. Why should he have been granted a witchgift if it was considered heresy and why should he be here now among his people's enemies? People who perhaps should not be enemies after all. Perhaps it's fate, perhaps mere chance, or perhaps it was by the hand of the Sunlord Himself. Who is a common man such as himself to question the will of his God?

The rare glimpses of humor, his honor and ethics, and his faith are all part of what make him such a powerful character. Despite the number of times I read Exile's Honor or its sequel, Exile's Valor, Alberich still has the power to make me weep for his anguish and his hopes for the future, a man torn by love for two peoples at war with each other. Though an exile, he still believes in his God and prays that one day his people of Karse will share the freedom and happiness of those in his new home, that one day the corrupt will fall and the true meaning of the Writ be restored. Perhaps one day it will, for even an exile's prayers may be heard.

In addition to the spotlight on Alberich, I also want to mention something about how Lackey wraps up the end of Exile's Honor without spoiling it for those of you who will actually go read the book (which I highly recommend, it's a fantastic story and setting). Though the last couple chapters had several spots that could have been the conclusion, she kept going. And for good reason. None of them completed the internal arc of Alberich's divided loyalties, which was really the driving point to the book, external conflicts aside. The actual resolution radiates with a sense of rightness and hope.

Hope is optional for a strong ending, but that sense of rightness, ah, that is the magic of a talented writer. The magic that I strive to someday achieve in my own writing.

Book of Enchantments

Monday, February 1, 2010

A blue chipmunk, magical roses, a sword-seller, the Frying Pan of Doom, and more can all be found within the pages of this collection of short stories by Patricia Wrede. Book of Enchantments even includes a barbarian swordsman's recipe for Quick After-Battle Triple Chocolate Cake. So make yourself some cake and sit down in front of a roaring fire with this diverse collection of fantasy stories.

Begin your reading with "Rikiki and the Wizard." Watch how a greedy wizard gets his just desserts--or should I say nuts?--from the hands of the blue chipmunk god.

Next up is "The Princess, the Cat, and the Unicorn." This story takes you the world of Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles. Princess Elyssa, though the middle daughter, goes to seek her fortune with a talking cat and has to get away from an vain unicorn.

For a serious tone, "Roses by Moonlight" takes you to the modern world. Adrian is given the chance to change her life, but choosing one rose would mean an end to other dreams. Is she wise enough for the choice?

When your leader is both a wizard and hot-headed, you get "The Sixty-two Curses of Caliph Arenschadd." Imani's father and her family have just been struck with curse Forty-Eight, the first time anyone has ever managed to get that far on the list. Unfortunately, it's lycanthropy. Imani has to figure out how to get rid of the curse before someone gets hurt.

In the "Earthwitch," Mariel, the current holder of that position, faces the past when her former love seeks the earth's magic to end the atrocities against his people by an invading horde. But no one knows how the earth will answer the request, not even the Earthwitch herself.

Auridan is a blank-shield mercenary, available for hire. He finds himself drawn into an old conflict when he accepts a sword from "The Sword-seller." A job to escort a noblewoman leads to serving as champion with the woman's life in the balance.

"The Lorelei" returns the reader to the modern world. When Janet's school group, on tour in Germany, stops by the Lorelei cliffs, she discovers the truth behind the legend and faces off with the siren to save her classmate.

"Stronger Than Time" is a tale of a crumbling keep and a girl held in cursed sleep. A young man seeks the help of an old woodcutter to break a curse that will otherwise never end.

For a retelling of an old story, "Cruel Sisters" tells of the rivalry between two sisters begun long before the arrival of "bonny, sweet William" from the viewpoint of their middle sister, not usually mentioned in the songs. Meg speaks of the bitterness her sisters had for each other and of her grief in being unable prevent the tragedy.

Returning to the Enchanted Forest in "Utensile Strength", their Majesties Cimorene and Mendanbar hold a tourney, including a bake-off, to help find the proper person meant to wield the Frying Pan of Doom. The wielder turns out to be someone unexpected. Not to mention what happens when it is used.

Then comes the recipe for the cake mentioned as the winning entry of the bake-off in "Utensile Strength," written in both barbarian speak and modern day conventions. (My batch of Quick After-Battle Triple Chocolate Cake turned out yummy and got the Kid Stamp of Approval.)

For those who are interested in such things, Patricia Wrede includes Notes from the Author. She tells where and how she got the ideas for each story. The sources are as varied as the stories. As she concludes, "Ideas are the easy part. The hard part is getting the words down on paper that convey the ideas, and getting the words right."