Monday, December 31, 2007

Welcome 2008!

It's the New Year, and we're all full of resolutions.
As usual, mine will start with 'eat less sugar and chocolate'. This is usually because I've OD'd on sugar and chocolate over the holidays.
Carrot sticks next year, not chocolate and candy!
Stop smoking. (I don't smoke, but it's a darn good resolution to have.) In France, there is No more smoking at all in public places. No more smoke-filled nightclubs, bars, or cafés. It will be odd stepping into the local café to fill out my Lotto ticket, and not find myself in a cloud of smoke.
More exercise! I have the gym schedule next to my computer. No more excuses. Off to the gym! Off with the flab!
Finish the 4 books I started in 2007 and start the series I've been dying to work on.
Work with Calderwood Books getting our titles into Fictionwise and in POD.
Get rid of my tendinitis. (I've been resting my elbow and it feels much better! The house, however, is rawther dusty, and my work is Way, Way falling behind.)
Perfect my golf. (One of my favorite resolutions, after 'Get More Sleep', and 'Relax with a Book more Often'.)
Find more ways to protect the planet.
Take down my Christmas tree.

Happy New Year! May it be filled with Peace and Prosperity for all!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

13 things to do with an unwanted gift

After the holidays, we're all faced with a huge problem. What to do with the unwanted gift?
Here are some solutions:

1) The hand-knit sweater. The sleeves are unequal length, the color a sort of 'vomitus green', and the buttons came from the 70's, and haven't aged well at all. It's 100% pure wool. It feels like 100% steel wool. You grit your teeth and smile. "Thank you SO much," you say.
What keeps your smile in place is the knowledge that wool is the best material for buffing wood wax. Woolen sweaters can buff floor wax to a mirror-bright shine.

2) The bracelet. It's plastic. How modern! With large, blue squares held together with black plastic string. The bracelet fits the cat. It hides the flea collar, and makes the mangy cat look almost like a prize feline.
Ugly jewelry can almost always be used for something.

3) The hideous writing paper.
That's a no brainer. Everyone knows paper is fine for starting chimney fires. For those with no chimneys, paper can be used to start the barb-b-cue.

4) The perfume that knocks you out. This is a hard one. Pour it down the drain, and you get whiffs of it for days. Dump it in the toilet, and you feel guilty. There is an answer:
Horrible perfume can be used to freshen the kitchen garbage. Soak a little into a paper towel, and place beneath the plastic bin liner.

5) The book you'll never read.
Put it in your bookcase. It can always be used in a pinch to swat a spider when you don't want to ruin any of your keepers.

6) Chocolates.
After a few days, the sight of the box of chocolates, little nibbles taken out of most of them, is too much to bear. My advice is to never unwrap chocolate boxes. Keep them until your next bridge party and give them to the host/hostess. The round, coconut balls make interesting golf balls after a few years in the back of the closet.

7) The dreadful jacket.
Your mother thinks you're cold and gives you a huge, fireman-red down jacket. It's puffy. It's flashy. It's...just not you.
If you're not allergic to feathers, I suggest taking a pillow case and stuffing it with the jacket. You can also try dying it a different color. Experiment. Tie-dying a down jacket is an excellent rainy day activity. Have fun.

8) The gadget. You have no idea what it is. You read the directions twice, and it still makes no sense. It might be a clock - or a barometer. Check to see if there are batteries you can recuperate. If it's heavy enough, use it as a paperweight until you can't stand the sight of it. Whatever you do, don't put it in a drawer and forget about it.

9) Health-food. Have you ever gotten a bag/box/crate of health food as a gift? A bag of sawdust, you thought at first. Turns out to be the 'Power Drink' of the stars. Tastes like saw dust. Your borders will appreciate it. Also can be used to supplement plant food. Do not feed to the dog.

10) The arts and krafts kit. Oh joy. Oh delight. An arts and krafts kit to make a ____ (fill in the blank). You have to sew (can't sew) or paint (can't paint) or glue together pieces of wood to make something wonderful. But these kits CAN be useful.
A car pulls up, and someone you don't want to see comes to the front door.
Quick! Open the arts and kraft box and strew everything over the table.
"I'm so sorry. I can't talk right now, I'm SO busy," you say, pointing to the pile of ribbons, wood, nails and paint. Saved by the arts and kraft kit.

11) The really ugly shirt. Wear it once and have someone take your picture, as proof you wore it. Then glad rags and more glad rags.

12) The awful music. A CD of some sort of ear-splitting cacophony. If you have a cherry tree, tie it in the branches with sting to scare the birds away. Or use it as a frisbee. Put it under your coffee cup so you don't stain your desk. CD's can be very useful. The thank you note is heartfelt.

13) The tie you'll never wear. It's a given that at some point in your life you'll get a hideous tie. They can be used in a pinch to tie up the dog, to close the trunk, or to wipe up a spill. Keep it in the glove compartment in your car. You never klnow when you might need a garrotte.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

There's a story in my head...

I have this story in my head, but I can't let it out until I finish the two projects I'm already working on. A legacy from my childhood - I was taught to finish what I started, be it homework, a drawing, or a fight.

We had a lazy Christmas, but we were all so tired it felt good to spend the day not doing anything at all. My daughter was recuperating from the flu, my son is getting ready for his mid term exams, (in France they are called 'partials', and they count for half of the student's final grades) and my husband was glad to just sit back and relax. I bought an already made couscous for Christmas dinner, and we had that and oranges. (And ice cream for dessert!)

Today son is studying, daughter is going to the pony club, and I will be working on my writing projects so I can finally get to that story that has been inside my head!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Here are some photos from the fields and forest yesterday -
it was all frosty and lovely out.

Here is August in the field!

Sunday, December 23, 2007


Well, I suppose I'm just looking for good news after reading that Texas is considering offering scientific degrees in Creationism - so does this count?
Germany’s interior minister called the Church of Scientology "an unconstitutional organization" and said the nation is seeking to ban the group.

Let's dig around the web and see iwhat we can find...

"...To explain the furious hostility between Germany and the Church of Scientology, German officials might point to the story of a young man from Braunschweig named Juergen Behrndt.
Shortly before his graduation from technical school in 1989, Behrndt received an offer of free career counseling in a brochure from an employment agent in Hamburg. But the man turned out to be a Scientologist recruiter, and instead of employment advice, he gave Behrndt a copy of the Scientologists' Bible, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. Then a woman from the Scientologists' Hamburg office began calling, Behrndt said, and pressuring him to take a 200-question personality test.

He did, beginning a six-year membership with the group, an endless series of "audits" of his mental health and classes to "stabilize" his mind. "When things went well, I paid ever-more money out of my pocket," Behrndt recalled. "When things went poorly, I was insulted and rebuked." In Behrndt's first year of membership, Scientology officials visited his parents with him seeking a DM 75,000 ($50,250) loan toward his activities. By the time he broke from the group in 1995, Behrndt had spent some DM 200,000 ($134,000), was unemployed and emotionally ravaged: "Many days I saw no reason to even get up."

This article from German Life goes on to explain that:

"Scientology sprouted in America in the 1950s. L. Ron Hubbard, a moderately successful science fiction author, founded the group and wrote Dianetics and other books that outline his principles. Scientologists believe that an intergalactic holocaust 75 million years ago caused mankind's spiritual problems. They perform "audits" of their members' mental states and offer expensive remedies in the form of counseling and self-improvement courses."

To me, Scientology has always been a scam sect featuring movie stars like Tom Cruise and John Travolta. Of course, to me, Mormanism is also a sect featuring Donny Osmond and the Morman Tabernacle Choir. A choice between bad movies and even worse music.

And even more interesting is this:

"There are three notable American court cases involving Scientology that illustrate why Germany's concerns about this organization are justified. In the early 1980s, American courts convicted 11 top Scientologists for plotting to plant spies in federal agencies, break into government offices and bug at least one IRS meeting. In 1994, in a case involving Lawrence Wollersheim, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a California court's finding of substantial evidence that Scientology practices took place in a coercive environment and rejected Scientology's claims that the practices were protected under religious freedom guaranties. In September 1997, the Illinois Supreme Court found there was evidence enough to allege that Scientology had driven the Cult Awareness Network into bankruptcy by filing 21 lawsuits in a 17-month period. The court stated that "such a sustained onslaught of litigation can hardly be deemed 'ordinary', if [the Network] can prove that the actions were brought without probable cause and with malice."

In addition, a New York Times article on March 9, 1997, outlined "an extraordinary campaign orchestrated by Scientology against the [IRS] and people who work there. Among the findings were these: Scientology's lawyers hired private investigators to dig into the private lives of IRS officials and to conduct surveillance operations to uncover potential vulnerabilities." A related New York Times article on December 1, 1997, added that earlier IRS refusals to grant tax exemption "had been upheld by every court." (On December 30, 1997, a Wall Street Journal article outlined details of the $12.5 million tax settlement between the IRS and Scientology, including the Scientology agreement to drop thousands of lawsuits against the IRS.)

On December 1, 1997, a New York Times article described Scientology records seized in an FBI raid on church offices that prove "that Scientology had come to Clearwater with a written plan to take control of the city. Government and community organizations were infiltrated by Scientology members. Plans were undertaken to discredit and silence critics. A fake hit-and-run accident was staged in 1976 to try to ruin the political career of the mayor. A Scientologist infiltrated the local newspaper and reported on the paper's plans to her handlers." A related Times article also on Dec. 1, 1997, reported on a criminal investigation into Scientology's role in a member's death in Clearwater, Florida. In November 1998, the responsible State Attorney charged Scientology's Flag Service Organization with abuse or neglect of a disabled adult and practicing medicine without a license.

Given this background, Germany, as well as Belgium, France, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Spain, Israel and Mexico, remain unconvinced that Scientology is a religion. "
(The above lifted from here)

Now, ever since a Hari Krishna stuck a pin in my back because I kicked her out of the store where I was working, I've been against any sort of sect. I also chased the Hari Krishna down the street and would have pounded her if I hadn't been hampered by my sarong falling down.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Deck the Halls!

The tree glitters, the house is decked with boughs of pine and swaths of ribbon, and there are oranges in the bowl on the table.
My daughter is feeling much better today - - thanks so much for the well wishes.
I have finished the shopping, the cards are sent, the house is fairly clean, the stockings are hung, and it's still icy, cold, and clear outside. White frost is sparkling on the trees and ground, beckoning Auguste to escape and go for a dash through the woods.
A couple days ago I got a letter from someone who read my book 'Time for Alexander'. He was quite indignant at the liberties I took with the historical part of the story. I wondered how to reply. (And if I should reply) Finally I sent a note saying that it was a fiction book, and should be taken as thus. (After all, there's a modern woman zipping through time to interview Alexander the Great and getting mistaken for Persephone - I'd have thought that the fiction part was pretty well established...) I wonder if I did the right thing though. I suppose this means he won't be reading the rest of the series.
But I did get great news - Zombie Jack was chosen by one of JERR's reviewers as her 'read of the year'! Hurrah for Zombie Jack!

Friday, December 21, 2007

My daughter just looked at me and said, "John Lennon is the only member of the Beatles that's still alive, right mom?"

So far, my holidays have been surreal.
Today we woke up and the water pipes were frozen. I went into the shed and sure enough, the workers had forgotten to put the insulation back on the pipes. So, several hot towels and newspaper and a hair dryer later, we have water again. I have to go find where the workers put the insulation and tuck it all back in, but it's cold out there.
The temperatures will rise a little this week, but will plunge again next week. I love the cold when it's sunny out, and so far we've had glorious weather - bright, sunny, and cold.

My daughter is sick - the school called yesterday and sent us into a panic. The school nurse thought she might have menigitis.
So yesterday I'm in church listening to the children's choir for the private school in Montfort (Gorgeous church, Unesco site) and the cell phone rings, and it's my husband with the news about my daughter. I leave right in the middle of 'Angels We Have Heard on High' and sprint for the car. I was with my friend Andrea, so she had to drop me off. We rushed her to the doctor, who reassured me. It's just a gastirc flu. Causes headaches, muscle aches, and nausea. Poor kid is once again in bed (well, with the TV on, big fluffy pillows, and room service...) I do hate getting scared like that though.

Auguste is escaping again. (he goes through stages) Now he's learned to climb the stone wall on the right side of our garden. (Strange sight, a dachshund taking a flying leap at the wall, then gripping and scrabbling over it.) It would be funnier if I weren't so worried he'd get hit by a car once outside the garden. Silly dog.

Gabriele, I got the French version of the Deryni series, I didn't even check to see if it was in English. It's by Pocket books, so maybe they have a series in German? I know most of my German friends prefer to read books that are written in English in English. I'm always amazed at how well my German friends speak English.
I wish I came from a country with an educational system that thought learning a foreign language was important...

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Twilight of the Books

According to the New Yorker - it is the "Twilight of the Books" time, supported by statistics from the National Endowment for the Arts.

"...In 1982, 56.9 per cent of Americans had read a work of creative literature in the previous twelve months. The proportion fell to fifty-four per cent in 1992, and to 46.7 per cent in 2002. Last month, the N.E.A. released a follow-up report, “To Read or Not to Read,” which showed correlations between the decline of reading and social phenomena as diverse as income disparity, exercise, and voting. In his introduction, the N.E.A. chairman, Dana Gioia, wrote, “Poor reading skills correlate heavily with lack of employment, lower wages, and fewer opportunities for advancement.”"

Book sales have stagnated, even fallen, in the past few years, dropping from "8.27 books per person in 2001 to 7.93 in 2006."

As a reader, I'm stunned to learn that only 46.7 per cent of Americans have read a work of creative literature (poem, short story, novel) in 2002. (N.E.A. statistics). But the average American's household budget for books was 126$ in 2005, and the price of books as well as the cost of living having risen, I imagine that the number is even lower today.

What can be done about the death of reading? It's true that TV and computer games have pushed books aside, but we shouldn't let this happen without a struggle. What good can come of letting reading be phased out? The army general in me has already made up plans to ban televisision after 8pm, and install reading time instead "Unless there's a really good film or documentary on," says the hedonist in me. The army general huffs but usually looses to the hedonist. :-)

Last week I finished reading the Pullman trilogy (I'd only read the first book - seeing the film made me want to finish the series, and I really enjoyed it.)
Now I'm back in Katherine Kurtz' Deryni books, because I bought them for my neice, and I thought I'd quick read them before I wrapped them up. (Is this a Christmas faux pas, I wonder? It is, however, a family tradiction...) I am very careful not to fold the pages or crease the
My daughter is actually looking forward to reading Moliere's "Le Malade Imaginaire" over the holidays. I'm going to read two new mystery books I bought, plus the book I won from Linda Winfree and that I'm looking forward to reading as well.

Back to the article, it says that "Taking the long view, it’s not the neglect of reading that has to be explained but the fact that we read at all. “The act of reading is not natural,” Maryanne Wolf writes in “Proust and the Squid”" Which is interesting.
It also states that, "There’s no reason to think that reading and writing are about to become extinct, but some sociologists speculate that reading books for pleasure will one day be the province of a special “reading class,” much as it was before the arrival of mass literacy, in the second half of the nineteenth century."
Anyhow, reading the article in the New Yorker was interesting, here's a link if you'd like to take a look. I especially liked the replies of the illiterate peasants in a 1930's study.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Still begging for a pony

My daughter (despite being told that NO she cannot have a horse) is still begging me.

Here are 3 things my kids have asked me for Christmas that they never got:

A flying carpet.

"But Mom, it does so exist! We saw it in that film - Aladin! Don't you remember?"

Sebastian, 7 yrs. old. Absolutely convinced that there were magic carpets, and that I didn't want to give him one because I was afraid he'd fall off.
"I promise, I'll hold on tight! I won't go too far!"
He kept this up for THREE weeks. I finally gave him the prayer rug my uncle had brought me back from the first Gulf war from Kuwait. Sebi sat on the rug and tried to make it fly for hours. Anyone catching sight of him would have been amazed at how devout this little boy was, kneeling on his prayer rug, facing the open window.

An equine.
A little shetland pony.
A pony.
A donkey.
A small horse.
A horse.
My daughter has grown from pony to horse, but she still begs. The answer is still

A cell phone.

"But Mom, I can't keep using the pay phone at the school. There's always a long line of kids there, and I have to wait to call you. If I don't have to wait, I can call you sooner, and you won't have to spend as much time in the car." (Yes Alex, this was you, darling. You're in college now, so you can probably catch the mistake.)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Calderwood's EPPIE Finalists!

I'm so proud of Calderwood Books' EPPIE finalists!!

There is even a mention of us in this industry blog:

"...Hundreds of e-writers must have been cheering or groaning as the news filtered into the inboxes of their PCs throughout the world. E-mails Thursday were telling them whether they were finalists in the e-bookdom’s high-stakes contest, the Eppie awards. Just who among the six-hundred contestants–anyone can enter–had survived the first cut?

As I scanned down the finalist lists, I saw a lot of heavy hitters in the e-biz (Ellora’s Cave, Samhain Publishing, Loose Id), but also smaller new houses, like Calderwood Books–which, strengthened by gifted new authors, had made strong showings. I also saw big New York houses in the ranks, such as Harlequin and Silhouette. Sylvia Day at Kensington Books made the finals last year. "

Congratulations to:
Attack of the Killer Prom Dresses (YA)
North Star (Fantasy)
The Falling Down Man (Mystery)

If you haven't read them, go grab a copy from Calderwood Books!

Friday, December 14, 2007

I have to stop...

...Reading the news in the morning. It ruins my entire day sometimes.

Decided to clean house and finish wrapping presents. My daughter counted the presents under the tree. Wanted to know why she only had 1.
(I've hidden the rest. This is called torturing your child.)
"Because we're only giving you one present this year. But don't worry. You'll love the book..I mean present."

"One book?" (Outraged tone of voice.)

"Did I say book? Ignore it. Forget what I said. Christmas is all about the birth of Christ, not presents. In order to become more Christian this year, I've decided to forego presents. Too commercial."

"What?! What about the presents the three kings gave to Jesus. Shouldn't I get at least three presents?"

"Well, if you insist. I don't know where I'll get the myrhh though. Insense is easy, and I suppose I have an old gold ring somewhere I can wrap up."

Daughter narrows eyes. "I was thinking more along the lines of a pony, and a new saddle blanket."

"Forget it. Gold, insense, and mryhh."

"I've decided to become Jewish. That way I get eight presents."

"You have to know how to speak Hebrew. Can you speak Hebrew? No? Well, no Hannukka presents. Sorry."

"How about we become Muslims and celebrate Eid ul-Adha? OK?"

"You know that calls for sacrificing the family's best domestic animal. Do you want us to have to kill Auguste?"

"That's not for dogs! It's for sheep, goats, or cows!"

"Or ponies. Maybe you can get a pony for Christmas and we can sacrifice it for Eid ul-Adha?"

"Stop teasing me!" (howls)

(Kids have no sense of humor.)
Actually, neither do religeous fanatics so I'd better stop here. Never fear, we won't sacrifice Auguste - he's too young and too small, for one thing. Hannukka is already over (I hope my Jewish friends had a happy Hannukka) and so we'll just have to stick with celebrating Christmas. Somehow I have to convince my daughter that the poor and meek will inherit the earth, and when that happens, we'll have all the ponies and horses she'll need.

And for all my friends for this holiday season:

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Staying in touch

I love the progress we've made in communication. When I first moved to France, the fax was the BIG THING. You could send a letter and it arrived Instantly! Everyone had to have a fax!

Well, we've made progress since then. Now I keep in touch with e-mail, Skype, IMS, yahoo chat, and there are films to send, notes, little 'hello's' that you couldn't send before. Notes with pictures. I just got pictures from my cousin's wedding. Everyone can stay in touch.

And that's part of the reason I have my blog. Being the only Berroyer/Betrus over here in France, it's nice to keep in touch with family. So I use my blog as a sort of stepping stone. My family can pop over and see what I'm up to - what the weather is like, and how my Christmas tree looks!


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

My son, the Fireman!

The fireman's calendar has arrived! I got a preview copy - but I plan to get a bunch more.
Here's the cover picture. Son Sebi is in the front row, second from the left looking at the photo.

My husband and I were looking at the picture today, and he said, "Kids can really surprise you, don't they?"

And it's true. I never imagined Sebi as a fireman (he's also a full time psychology student!) but it's nice when kids surprise you (most of the time, lol.) We never pushed our kids in any particular direction, except to get their diplomas. Maybe I pushed my other son, Alex, towards veterinary medicine, but right now he's studying microbiology and loving it, so maybe he'll change direction as well. My daughter has announced she wants to be a mounted policewoman. I love when kids look toward the future and see wonderful, intersting choices ahead of them. That's when I think that I've done a good job as a mother.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Bernita's Contest!

Kate R. is not the only one holding contests.
There is one over on the incomparable Bernita's blog as well - and the prize is a paperback copy of "Weirdly: A Collection of Strange Tales". So sharpen your pens and write a story in less than 250 words. Get your inspiration from a hauntingly lovely picture.
Here is my entry - read it, then go to Bernita's blog and see if you imagined the picture!

The Lightning Rod

They say there is a place where lightning doesn't strike twice - but three times, four time, over and over.They say the trees can't grow there. When one gets too tall, it's struck down.They say there's a place where the air vibrates with electrons, calling the bolts of lightning down flicker-quick and hot fingered, singing the trees that dare raise their heads too high so they grow sideways to defeat the electric enemy.

There are places like that where I have lived. Don't raise your head too high. Don't act too proud. Don't show off. Don't show at all. Hide your body and your mind. Hide behind mediocraty. Because if you don't, then someone will be quick to knock you down - make sure you realize that you better toe the line, stay in line, keep your head down. And if, by some quirk of talent or fate you stand out, you're the lightning rod.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Golf in the Pouring Rain

I was out playing golf today. I called up the club to make sure the golf competition was still on, and it was, so off I went because I'd signed up, and I didn't want to be a wuss.
So there I was - wearing my daughter's waterproof winter coat, my husband's Australian cowboy hat, and my yellow rubber the pouring rain. Hands wet, clubs wet - sloshing through puddles with my two partners in the scramble. We had a wonderful time. Laughed our heads off - and won the tournament by six strokes; yes folks, I am definitely not a fair weather friend, but a foul weather golfer.
We nearly lost a club (slipped out of the guy's hands at the tee and flew into a huge puddle in a sand trap) we lost an umbrella -( turned inside out in the wind and broke) We had wind, rain, sleet and hail. We arrived soaked. My jeans were dripping into my boots and my feet were soaked. My hair was tangled and sopping wet.. But we won!!!
And I got a new pink woman's golf glove as first prize.

Friday, December 07, 2007

My camera is better

I had been having problems with my camera. I thought it was broken, but it turned out to be a problem with the batteries. Nothing serious. Easily fixed. So I thought I'd start my photo journal again.

Here's one of the first pics I took after my camera got better. It's of the church in front of our house. You can see the war monument and the old chestnut tree (planted during Napoleon's reign) that shades the village square.

You can also see the original front door, (restored last year) which dates from the 9th century, and the original body of the church which also dates from that period. The transept and apse is all that is left. The nave and the rest of the curch was destroyed a hundred years ago after a huge storm knocked over a bell tower opposite the one standing, and the French army decided to use dynamite to take it down. They over estimated the amount they needed and blew up most of the church. Funnily enough, only the added-on parts were destroyed. The original door and old apse were intact.

They've made the transept into the nave now, so the chairs are arranged in a coptic cross shape facing the altar. Here is another picture looking through the ruined nave towards the new doorway (it used to be that the arches were not walled up - that and the doors were added after the explosion.

Yes, I know it's a tippy picture. But I had to stick my hands in through the gate to get a shot without iron bars, and I guess I didn't hold the camera very straight! (The church does have some slanted walls, but you can't tell until you're inside, actually.)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

What side are you on? (If any...)

This article, lifted from the Guardian UK, is about women's romance novels. What follows is a for and against argument. Personally, I have no problem sitting on the fence with this one. In my opinion, both women make valid points. I do give more points to Julie Bindel, only because I'm a firm feminist myself. And although in a couple of my books, the hero was an alpha male, most feature men-types I consider more acceptable for our society and times.

"Mills & Boon: 100 years of heaven or hell?

Mills & Boon enjoys a huge readership, but has attracted furious critics during its 10 decades in business. Daisy Cummins explains why she is proud to write for the company, while Julie Bindel just wishes the books would go away.
Daisy Cummins and Julie Bindel
Wednesday December 5, 2007The Guardian

Love and hate: Modern Mills & Boon books.

A fine romance

Mills & Boon books have long been an easy flogging horse. Many assume they are only read by the hopelessly unfashionable and out of touch, desperate for tales of helpless heroines swept off their feet by dashing, mildly brutish heroes.
In fact, though, the person reading an M&B is far more likely to be a successful, highly intelligent woman in her 20s or 30s. And neither these women nor the heroines they love are waiting for a man to come and rescue them. M&B has moved on and sexed up.
Next year sees the firm celebrate its centenary and high sales figures continue to speak for its success. Two hundred million books sold worldwide per annum; 13m shifted each year in the UK.

As the daughter of a single-parent feminist, I was hard-wired from an early age to balk at the merest whiff of sexism. Yet, after finding a M&B in my Irish Catholic grandmother's room one summer, I was hooked. I had discovered an exciting world of feisty heroines and hard-muscled heroes. Sexual tension simmered and exploded. And there was always a happy ending. The hero and heroine were equal partners and every conflict was happily resolved, not necessarily in a marriage but with a firm commitment for the future. For me, the child of a revolutionary and somewhat bohemian background, it was a welcome - albeit, at first, slightly guilt-inducing - contrast to the anger at men I had witnessed growing up.

My mother knew I read them and said nothing, giving her tacit permission. She understood the need to balance things out. I now write for M&B myself, and am supremely proud to do so. My last book, The Kouros Marriage Revenge, was about a devastatingly gorgeous Greek. I write under the name Abby Green purely for the thrill of having a pseudonym.

Let's start with the first old chestnut that's used against these books: that they are pulp fiction written in purple prose. Well, they have never been presented as contenders for literary prizes and therefore need not offend anyone who would denigrate them on this basis. These books started out as serials, novellas written to appeal to women who would pick them up for an exotic, escapist treat. And, as with any successful business venture, the original formula has stayed largely the same. Man meets woman, they fall in love, there is a conflict and, ultimately, a happy ending. It is the paradigm behind every great literary romantic work.

Detractors believe that these books perpetuate the stereotype of the doormat woman, taken by a boorish hero, crushed in his arms and transformed into a newer, different type of doormat. They suggest that this fiction encourages women to subscribe to a mythical fairytale, in which men are always the saviour. What drivel. The women who populate these books come from as disparate and wide-ranging economic situations as the women who read them. To say they are all mindless romantic illiterates yearning to be saved is lazy ignorance.

I consider myself a feminist. Not perhaps in the sense that my mother would have called herself a feminist. That fight was fought, and necessarily. For me, feminism means being economically independent; able to pursue the career of my choice without being thwarted; free to make decisions concerning my body, or my vote. I have never struggled with sexual discrimination.
Lovers of romantic fiction, of M&B, know our own minds, we know our own expectations of love and romance. We can separate fantasy and reality. We are not stupid. So go forth in public, ladies - and gents, if you like - take your copy of Bought for the Frenchman's Pleasure or The Italian's Captive Virgin and read it with a smile on your face, cover held high, proud in the knowledge that you are sticking two fingers up to the begrudgers of romance.
* Daisy Cummins

Detestable trash

Fifteen years ago, I read 20 Mills & Boon novels as research for a dissertation on "romantic fiction and the rape myth". It was the easiest piece of research I have ever done. In every book, there was a scene where the heroine is "broken in", both emotionally and physically, by the hero. Having fallen for this tall, brooding figure of masculinity, the heroine becomes consumed with capturing him. The hero is behaving in a way that, in real life, causes many women to develop low self-esteem, depression and self-harming behaviour - blowing hot and cold, and treating her like dirt. But all comes right in the end. After the heroine displays extraordinary vulnerability during a crisis, Mr Macho saves the day and shows her he cares.

By this time (you know how uppity women can be), our heroine is so fed up that she does not comply when he grabs her inevitably small frame in his huge arms, and attempts to take her to bed. And so begins the "gender dance" - man chases woman, woman resists, and, finally, woman submits in a blaze of passion.

My loathing of M&B novels has nothing to do with snobbery. I could not care less if the books are trashy, formulaic or pulp fiction - Martina Cole novels, which I love, are also formulaic. But I do care about the type of propaganda perpetuated by M&B. I would go so far as to say it is misogynistic hate speech.

Why do I care so much about books that few take seriously? Are there not more important battles to fight? Challenging the low conviction rate for rape certainly seems more urgent than trashing novels that perpetuate gender stereotypes, but there is no doubt that such novels feed directly into some women's sense of themselves as lesser beings, as creatures desperate to be dominated.

One argument from M&B apologists is that the heroine has moved with the times. True, she is now more physically active and sexually imaginative. The modern-day character often dares to have sex before marriage, knows what she wants in terms of her career and personal life, and even has a sense of humour.

As a result of the changing heroine, the hero has been required to catch up. But rather than becoming a "new man", it seems he has become even more masculine and domineering in order to keep the heroine in line. This is how the rape fantasies so integral to the plot have been able to persist.

Take this description of a recent M&B novel, The Desert Sheikh's Captive Wife: "Tilda was regretting her short-lived romance with Rashad, the Crown Prince of Bakhar. Now, with her impoverished family indebted to him, Rashad was blackmailing her by insisting she pay up ... as his concubine! Soon Tilda was the arrogant Sheikh's captive, ready to be ravished in his far-away desert kingdom."

Or Bought: One Island, One Bride: "Self-made billionaire Alexander Kosta has come to the island of Lefkis for revenge ... He doesn't count on feisty pint-sized beauty Ellie Mendoras to be the thorn in his side! ... There's a dangerous smile on Alexander's lips ... As far as he's concerned Ellie's a little firecracker who needs to be tamed. He'll seduce her into compliance, then buy her body and soul!!"

Or Virgin Slave, Barbarian King: "Julia Livia Rufa is horrified when barbarians invade Rome and steal everything in sight. But she doesn't expect to be among the taken! As Wulfric's woman, she's ordered to keep house for the uncivilised marauders. Soon, though, Julia realises that she's more free as a slave than she ever was as a sheltered Roman virgin."

The first two were published this year, the third comes out in January.

In 1970, one of M&B's regular writers, Violet Winspear, claimed that her heroes had to be "capable of rape". Another, Hilary Wilde, said in 1966, "The odd thing is that if I met one of my heroes, I would probably bash him over the head with an empty whisky bottle. It is a type I loathe and detest. I imagine in all women, deep down inside us, is a primitive desire to be arrogantly bullied." These comments may have been made some time ago, but the tradition seems to continue in the many M&B novels that depict female submission to dominant heroes.
My horror at the genre is not directed towards either the women who write or, indeed, read them. I do not believe in blaming women for our own oppression. Women are the only oppressed group required not only to submit to our oppressors, but to love and sexually desire them at the same time. This is what heterosexual romantic fiction promotes - the sexual submission of women to men. M&B novels are full of patriarchal propaganda.

I can say it no better than the late, great Andrea Dworkin. This classic depiction of romance is simply "rape embellished with meaningful looks".
*Julie Bindel "

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

I forgot what I was going to say

Don't you hate that?
I was lying in bed last night, and I was thinking of blogging subjects (I rarely do this, so you'd think I'd remember what I was thinking about) and I thought of something interesting...and I forgot what it was about.
As my husband would say "It must not have been that interesting." Which he always says when I tell him I've forgotten what I was about to say.
My train of thought is easily derailed.

I'm in deadline Hell, so forgive me if I don't blog hop as much as I'd like to.
And I'll try to remember what it was I was about to say.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

rainy day ramblings

It's rainy and warm today - and another wind storm is on its way. Batten down the hatches and close the shutters time.

Yesterday I kicked some elf butt with my barbarians. Yes, I got an early Christmas present from my son. We're Heroes of Might and Magic players (well, I am. My sons play everything). And I got the last game in the series - the barbarian hordes. Lots of fun. I built up a mighty army and stomped all over those pretty elf warriors.
In game one, (if you've played Heroes you'll know what I mean) the action was very stilted. Sort of like the ancient pakman games. Or Mario Brothers one! I remember the day my husband Finally saved the princess. He'd been playing for weeks (months!) and he finally got to the end! (I still hadn't quite managed to perfect the 'B' jump). Then Mario morphed and became more complex. I still held onto game one, along with the old Nintendo unit until it finally blew a fuse and died. Well, Heroes evolved the same way. From two dimensional clonking figures to amazing three dimensional life-like artforms. Gorgeous backgrounds. Amazing effects.
And I was thinking - During my lifetime we went from table-tennis games (the famous ping-pong TV game set in a huge table) to packman, to space invadors (You remember them?) to more complex games that were total busts (We had the first Star Trek game. My kids would make Captain Kurt shoot at Spock, and Spock would say, "Jim! Point that gun somewhere else!")
And then the games evolved and got even more amazing (Rama). And then we discovered Mario, Heroes, and the rest is...progress.
So that was the progress in my life. And telephones too. That's what I remember most about the progress made during my life so far. Communication and video games.
My great-grandmother was born in the late 1800's - she remembers the advent of electricity, cars, and space travel.
Now, who has more impressive memories? Is it just me, or is mankind getting bogged down in the gaming thing?

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Teddy bear's name

December 1st is AIDS Day.

Be careful what you name your teddy bear. An elementary school teacher in Sudan let her pupils name a teddy bear Muhammad and she was arrested. The Sudanese government stepped in and sentenced her to prison. Thousands of Sudanese marched in a protest - not to protest against her prison sentence, but to ask for her death. Death - for letting children name a teddy bear Muhammad.
So, if you were thinking about naming your teddy Muhammad, think again.

In other news, Timothy Garton Ash writes a thought-provoking article and calls for comments at the end. Most people just like to comment and I wonder how many actually Read the article.

And there is a hysterically funny article here. But again, the comment section almost makes me laugh harder as Most people have not read carefully and have taken it at face value.

Oh, and if you really want to read funny, you have to see this. It is Hysterical. Unless, of course, you're a Republican. Then, well, you may be gnashing your teeth a bit.

As you can see, I've been reading the news this morning.
I'll try to think of something more blog worthy this afternoon. Until then, spread the news!