Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Today, you get to hear about my favorite homonyms. Why? Because homonyms don't get enough love in the media. You just don't see feature write-ups of the outstanding homonyms like you should. Has VH1 done a countdown show of the world's best homonyms with commentary provided by B-list celebrities and comedians? No. And why not? Homonyms are fantastic, as I'm sure you'd agree.

I think you'll really enjoy my collection here. They're the most luxurious, goatiest, cultured, rockin'est set of homonyms you could imagine.

Cashmere, Kashmir... Many uses, and all of them awesome. Let's explore!

Cashmere Body Suit, $1500. Available at Nordstrom.
Before Angora came along to nose its way into the spotlight, cashmere was the word synonymous with luxurious winter wear. Cold weather clothes are often more bulky than fashionable, but cashmere lets you be warm and fabulous. I saw a picture of Angelina Jolie in a cashmere sweater dress one winter, and I vowed right then that I will own one someday. Oh, yes, I will. And I'll wear my cashmere sweater dress to do my grocery shopping and carpool and everything else. It will be so amazingly soft and warm that I won't take it off until spring.

The Angora bunny. You KNOW that is a lazy damn rabbit.

Next: Kashmir, a beautiful land with a rich culture, ancient history, and lovely people. Nestled against the Great Himalayas in the northwestern portion of the Indian subcontinent, Kashmir is blessed with fertile soil and a temperate climate, making it ideal for growing sometimes finicky crops like asparagus, artichokes, and cherries. Ironically, though the above-discussed goat fiber does originate from Kashmir, the region no longer exports the material, thanks to competition from China. Of course. Unfortunately, Kashmir has been at the center of military and political conflict between India and Pakistan for many years. At this time, Kashmir is jointly administered by India, Pakistan, and China.

I want to go to there.

Third stop on the Cashmere train is brought to you by John Singer Sargent (1856 - 1925), the American painter renowned for exquisite portraiture and landscapes. While many of Sargent's works are breathtaking, my very favorite is a piece called Cashmere (1908). In it, Sargent presents seven poses of his niece, Reine, wrapped in a lovely shawl made of... you know. Sadly, I will never see this painting in person, unless Bill Gates invites me to his house. Because he owns it.

Some billionaires have all the luck.

Finally, I offer for your consideration the song "Kashmir" by Led Zeppelin. This song is wonderful in its own right, but it holds a special place in my heart. When I dated Mr. Boyce, we once became engrossed in a conversation with this song looping in the background. After hearing it ten times, we either had to declare ourselves totally over it or make it our song. It became our song, though we did not dance to it at our wedding. It doesn't really have a good beat for that. In retrospect, though, that would have been quite the memorable first dance. Opportunity lost. Oh, well. Maybe at our fiftieth anniversary party.

While you're rocking out to the above, tell me about your favorite homonyms! Or your favorite cashmere / Kashmir-related story. Or share a link to the cashmere item you covet most. Whichever.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Speak No Evil, Or: Learning When To Shut Your Mouth

In this, the third and final installment of my just-because series revolving loosely--like Pluto--around the old adage, we turn our attention to the final bit of sage advice, Speak No Evil. While my thoughts are directed toward writing, I believe the following applies to any professional endeavor.

A.K.A. Shut Yo Mouth!

As a writer struggling to break into publishing, one of the traps that's easy to fall into (and of which I have been guilty on many an occasion) is bad talking agents and editors who reject a manuscript. It feels supportive to tell a friend, "That idiot doesn't know what they're talking about!" or "They'll be sorry they rejected you when you hit the NY Times bestseller list!"

But are such remarks really supportive? What about those statements offers comfort to our friends or ourselves? The fact is, those "idiot" agents and editors generally do know what they're talking about. Maybe you haven't actually written a heartbreaking piece of genius. Maybe that manuscript really isn't a good match for that particular agent or publishing house. Maybe, just maybe, those rejections come from a place of professional expertise.

Discretion really is the greater part of
valor. I'm not even kidding, you guys.
It's momentarily satisfying to shove blame for our hurt feelings onto someone else. But that's a passing rush, like the thrill of eating half a birthday cake in one sitting. It might be yummy, but those are empty calories and you'll regret it later [I think this metaphor actually just reveals I'm jonesing for birthday cake. Again. ANYWAY.] Behaving this way doesn't help us grow as writers, either in craft or professionalism. Learning to take rejection gracefully is part of the process.

Just like the occasional piece of birthday cake is fine and dandy (mmmm... cake), it's ok to engage in the occasional vent session when you get a disappointing rejection. What's not ok is ranting every time you're rejected. It's not ok to call everyone in the publishing world an idiot. If you do that, ask yourself why would you even want to become professionally involved with a bunch of idiots?

Also... why would the publishing industry want to involve itself with someone who calls them idiots? Dun, dun, duuuuuuun.

"But, Elizabeth!" you say. "I only ranted about Sally Agent on my writing board! She'll never know!" Oh, won't she? The truth is, anything you put on the Internet may come back around to nibble on your derriere.

WARNING: Cautionary Tale Ahead!

Once upon a time, dear readers, I was a young and foolish novice writer. I had some writing friends, and a great online community of writers I loved. One day, one of my buddies got some nasty commentary on their manuscript from a reader at Big Publishing House. I was shocked and appalled on their behalf. How could my friend be treated so cruelly?

"Hey, isn't that the guy who called you a jerk and said your
turban makes it look like you've always just left
that spa in Fresno?"
"Oh, yeah, it is! I hate this guy! Screw him."
Now, what would you do in that situation? If you're young, foolish me, you'd have run straight to your online writing board and reported the incident there, where you could rock everyone's world with news of Big Publishing House's treatment of your friend.

I bet you wouldn't expect the senior editor of Big Publishing House to post on your thread. I bet you didn't stop to think that someone, ANYONE, associated with Big Publishing House would see your remarks. After all, it's just you and a bunch of other struggling writers on this board, right? Wrong.

You don't know who's lurking on writing boards. You don't suspect that the very first impression you give the senior editor of Big Publishing House would be that you're the kind of person who spreads unfavorable gossip about their highly regarded company when a summer intern does something stupid like let their snide remarks about a manuscript get back to the writer. But that might be exactly what happens.

The moral of the story is to be smart. Think before you open your mouth or let your fingers fly. Don't post anything in a public forum you wouldn't want the object of your remarks to see. Don't say anything in a public venue you don't want passed around.

Believe it or not, the publishing industry is a pretty small world. Don't burn bridges before you've even had the chance to cross them. Keep it professional. Next time you or your friend is rejected, try to find a way to express your feelings without insulting the very people you hope someday to be working with.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

See No Evil, Or: Dressing Like a Lady in the Regency

Part two of my blog series loosely inspired by Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil will relate to ladies' fashion during the Regency. This post is a long time coming, as I touched on Regency menswear quite a while back.

I can't see that drab pelisse!
"See No Evil" is relevant to this topic, as dressing properly was a full-time occupation for the Regency lady. It was of utmost importance that she present herself as fashionable and attractive--after all, the young lady's job was to marry well. How better to present oneself as manbait than with the right attire?

This will be only the briefest bit of information, as a thorough survey of the topic of Regency fashion could (and has) fill a whole book.

The latter part of the eighteenth and the first twenty years of the nineteenth century were an anomaly of fashion, wedged as they were between eras of flamboyant, Gothic styles. Right around 1800, the crack of women's fashion would be best described as pure Classical. The vertical lines of garments were reminiscent of Greek statuary--indeed, white was a popular color as it hearkened to the marble used to depict ancient goddesses. Long lines conveyed pillars of strength, a sign of courage during this time of war and civil unrest. Hairstyles also emulated classic Greek design--curls piled atop the head, held back with bandeaus and turbans, with loose tendrils framing the face.

Miss Dashwood, I think your dress may have
slipped... just a bit... there.

Now, as we all know, the female form is a ghastly thing--particularly the hip region. You think not liking how your butt looks in those jeans is new? Heavens, no. Women have been utilizing textile trickery to conceal and distract the supposed bad parts of their figures for ages. Literally. Like, since the Bronze Age.

The Regency was no different. I'm sure you're all familiar with the typical Regency dress: High waisted, loose skirts that concealed the hips while revealing just about everything else. Materials were thin and clung to the body to emphasize the shapes of the breasts and legs (But not the hips. Gracious.).

Victoria's Secret catalog,
circa 1811.
A lady of the Regency era had it easy in the undergarment department, compared to her Victorian daughters and granddaughters. Drawers were initially menswear. By the early 1800's, women had started to borrow the idea for their own wardrobes, but they weren't in common use until later in the century. At the time of the Regency, many regarded wearing anything masculine as vulgar. Much better to do without anything down there but the breeze. Ahem. So a Regency lady may or may not don drawers. The next layer of clothing would be the chemise or shift (which functioned like a modern slip), topped with a set of short, soft stays and perhaps a single petticoat, depending on the dress she planned to wear. Undergarments were white, to convey the wearer's purity of heart and mind (and body, you naughty rake!).

Muslin was the fabric of choice for the masses. It was inexpensive, and had a marvelous way of displaying a woman's anatomy just so. It was widely used for undergarments and a whole array of dresses used from morning to night. The most daring, fast women might dampen their chemise so the muslin skirt of the dress would cling closely to the legs (and Catholic schoolgirls thought rolling their waistbands was innovative. Pfft.).

You know you want to wear that turban.
Even though the Regency lady was happy to show off her curves (except the hips--puke), do not think she had no standards of modesty. A proper lady always covered her head when she left the house, and took a covering like a shawl, pelisse, or spencer along. The bosom only came out to play at night, although day dresses still emphasized shape. Gloves were absolutely de rigeur, both inside and out. A lady took her gloves off to eat, then put them on again when the meal was over. Can't go about with our fingers dangling loose like a common hussy now, can we?

If the form of the Regency woman's dress was rather simple, they found a lot of room for fun in the color department. Especially when it came to evening wear, the brighter, the better! Jewel tones and primary colors were popular, and there's good reasoning behind this. The Regency ballroom or dining room was illuminated only by candlelight, with the occasional oil lamp tossed in for variety. The dim, yellow light washed out pale colors. Only the boldest shades stood up to contemporary luminary shortcomings. White was a popular choice for gowns, too, and was mandatory for a young lady's debut ball. Satins and silks reflected light nicely. Metal adornments like spangles sewed onto skirts and turbans, silver and gold thread worked into lace, and jewelry added sparkle to catch a gentleman's eye and show your rivals you mean business.

I hope you've enjoyed this very brief foray into Regency women's fashion! There is so much more to explore. Maybe we'll revisit the topic again in a future post.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Hear No Evil, Or: When to Ignore Advice

For no reason in particular, I've taken a fancy to the idea of writing a series of three posts loosely inspired by the old Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil proverbial principle. This should be an interesting exercise, as I have no idea what the other two posts will be about. Adventure!

None of that!

Hear No Evil... when is it time to plug your ears against writing critique or advice?

To begin, I believe writers should be open-minded and welcoming of critique. It's so much easier to find the flaws in someone else's work, because you're simply too close to your own. You know what you mean to say, so that's what you see on the page. A reader will offer fresh perspective and let you know if you actually succeeded in your intentions. By the same token, you can offer valuable critique to another writer. I can't stress enough how important it is to have, at the very least, a critique partner. Critique groups are great, too. The more eyes raking over your work, the bigger the net that's catching your slip-ups.

However, when you're on the receiving end of critique, you must judge the merit of the advice you're given and determine whether to make changes based on that advice. Sometimes you should; sometimes you shouldn't.

That ant on the grass is far more compelling than
the tripe falling from your lips, sir.
Consider the critic's reading history. In a post I wrote a while back about how to critique a manuscript, I suggested not venturing too far beyond your own reading comfort zone. The flip side of that is: Is the person critiquing your writing familiar enough with the genre to offer sound advice? If you're looking for a critique partner to team up with, it's imperative to find someone who writes in the same or a closely-related genre as yourself. You don't want to work with a writer who's always suggesting you kill off the heroine of your romance novel for dramatic impact, when you know the industry standard requires Happily Ever After.

In a group setting, you might have a variety of writing and reading backgrounds all mixed together. This kind of dynamic can be great for generating ideas, or getting a feel for how a first-time reader of the genre reacts, but again, bear in mind whether or not the critic knows what they're talking about in regards to your genre. If they don't, then by all means, ignore their genre-conflicting advice.

The same goes for a topic you have thoroughly researched. If you know you know your material, then don't let someone talk you out of your facts. I often hear, "Did people really do / wear / say that?" in relation to my Regency-set writing. Sometimes members of my critique group have asked me about a detail in my work to which I reply: "I don't know! I'll check on that." Mostly, I'm able to say, yes, I have my facts straight. Don't think you're infallible in your knowledge, but be confident enough to assure readers that you've done your homework.

What is the goal of the person reading your material? Is she trying to make you feel good about your writing, or is she trying to help you become a better writer? If the person reading your manuscript is your mother, you should ignore 95% of what comes from her mouth (Love you, Mom!). Pay most attention to the people who have the ability to help you grow as a writer.

If a person's critique makes you feel like any of this, tell
that person to descend a ladder into a lake of fire.
Know your writing partners. Learn their strengths and weaknesses as critics, and filter accordingly. I know who gives great grammatical advice, and who to listen to for pointers on action. One friend is the best at judging the overall feel of a piece, while another zeroes in on the nuances of setting and dialogue. This isn't to say they don't all offer good general guidance, but I know I can count on each individual's take in their specialty zones.

Finally, criticism shouldn't all be gumdrops and rainbows and ego strokes. You should come away with an idea of both the highlights of your writing, as well as areas that need work. You should be challenged to improve, but never verbally cut down. If a critique partner makes personal attacks or suggests you quit writing, cover your ears and walk away. Sadly, there is such a thing as a toxic critique partner. Don't let anyone drag you down and tell you you can't do this. You can! Following good advice helps you grow; following bad advice holds you back. Learning to separate the worthwhile criticism from the worthless is an important writing skill worth cultivating.