Tag Archive: classics

My mom has always liked ghost stories (though my dad can’t suspend his disbelief), so as a kid I saw my share of scary movies. One old black-and-white one gave me recurring nightmares, though for years afterward I had no idea what film it was. In the scene that stuck with me (as I recall), a woman is lying in bed in a spooky house. Her friend, also scared, gets in bed with her, and they hold hands to comfort each other. Then … she hears her friend call her from the other room. She’s been holding hands with a ghost!

Ugh. After seeing that, I spent my whole childhood with fists clenched at bedtime.

When the book group I was in a few years back read The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, I recognized the scene that had haunted me as a child. Hubby and I discovered that there was a newer 1999 version of the film starring Lili Taylor and Owen Wilson (a fave of ours), so we rented it. Unfortunately, it wasn’t very scary or very good. I should try to watch the old one from 1963 for this Halloween (if I dare) and see how it holds up. Wikipedia tells me that the director, Robert Wise, is the same guy who directed The Sound of Music. In any case, the book is good! In the story, you’re not sure whether the house is really haunted or the main character is crazy. 🙂

In my own ghost story, Eternally Yours, the ghost — late Victorian poet and womanizer, Geoff Vereker — isn’t very scary (I think!). In fact, he’s my favorite character in the book. The main romance plot revolves around an artist who wants to renovate her Victorian house and a local historian who wants to keep her from “ruining” it. For the blurb and same chapters, please click through to the book page here. Happy haunting!

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Working Against Time

The concept of time travel is a surprisingly recent thing. Only a handful of old stories (and no ancient ones) feature characters who maybe slept for years or visited a strange place, then learned afterwards that while they were out, years had passed. As for traveling backward in time, that’s an even newer concept. I guess going forward is less of stretch since we’ve all traveled from the past to the present, but no one known has traveled back in time.

One of the first stories that describes a character traveling to the past (as well as the present and future) is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, published in 1843. Interestingly, only Ebenezer Scrooge’s soul, not his body, seems to travel back, since he remains invisible to other characters during his visits.

In 1889, Mark Twain published A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, in which a man gets knocked unconscious and wakes up, body and all, in the past. A few years after that, in 1895, H.G. Wells introduced the idea of The Time Machine and purposeful time travel.

It’s interesting to me that my only time-travel book, As You Wish, was the first manuscript I sold (though the third or fourth one I wrote) and that year after year, it continues to sell better than my other books. Why? Is it because of the setting? (The heroine travels to Regency England, and maybe people find that elegant or romantic?) Or is it the past in general that appeals to readers — a simpler, more natural lifestyle than ours? Of course, maybe it’s just the title of the book that grabs attention somehow.

I’m fascinated with the past, which is why I love reading classic literature, from Austen to Shakespeare, from Apuleius to Herodotus. I’m working on some ideas for a story about a contemporary heroine who winds up in an ancient Roman town. Anyone want to go there?

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In The Five-Day Dig, TV host Dunk Mortill, determined to save his archaeology show from being cancelled, hopes to find ancient scrolls during an excavation outside Pompeii. At the same time, he suspects a local priest of trying to get to the texts first and suppress them.

In reality, the only ancient library known to have survived the millennia and the anti-intellectual climate of the Dark Ages is one found at Herculaneum, a town destroyed in the same eruption that buried Pompeii. The story goes that the men who found the charred scrolls in 1753 initially took them for logs and burned some before realizing what they had. Once identified, the scrolls proved almost impossible to unravel without destroying them. In recent years, multi-spectral imaging and CT scans have been used to read them without unrolling the delicate papyrus.

To this day, not all of the texts have been transcribed, but most appear to be Greek writings on Epicurean philosophy. The question is whether a Latin section of the library is still buried in the so-called Villa of the Papyri, which has never been fully excavated. Classicists wonder whether lost works from Roman antiquity might still be found there. Biblical scholars would love to dig up documentation of early Christianity. Unfortunately, problems with groundwater and other preservation issues are preventing further excavation.

For more info on the scrolls from the Villa of the Papyri, hop over to UCLA’s Philodemus Project website here or see this article in The Australian.

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The Die Is Cast

Do you ever notice a motif running through your life? A few years ago, Hubby had to work a trade show in Las Vegas. Around the same time, we saw the remake of Casino Royale, set partly in Monte Carlo. And I read George Eliot’s book, Daniel Deronda.

Now, I’m not a gambler. There are a few things I’ll take a leap of faith for — love is one — but very few. Daniel Deronda opens in a casino, where Daniel watches a beautiful young woman playing deep and winning. She’s a gambler. Is he?

The other rival for his heart is very different. She has an unwavering course laid out for her life. Which one of them will Daniel end up with? My hopes for him varied as I read the book, as if I were living his dilemma.

Of course, I’m not going to spoil the ending for you. I’ll just say that in the end, I felt that Daniel deserved something more.

Fascinating book, though, and I really enjoyed it. For a discussion about Judaism and Zionism in the story, see this Guardian books blog post.

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A couple of interview questions that a book blogger sent me got me thinking about how I write. An inspirational quote that comes to mind is something I jotted down way back in high school while reading JD Salinger’s “Seymour: An Introduction.”

In the story, Buddy Glass has expressed concerns to his brother Seymour about writer’s block. Seymour gives him this advice:

… remember before ever you sit down to write that you’ve been a reader long before you were ever a writer. You simply fix that fact in your mind, then sit very still and ask yourself, as a reader, what piece of writing in all the world Buddy Glass would most want to read if he had his heart’s choice. The next step is terrible, but so simple I can hardly believe it as I write it. You just sit down shamelessly and write the thing yourself.

That’s basically what I’ve done with my fiction-writing — though getting a book to the point where you’re happy with it is actually not so simple. Following Seymour’s advice may also not be the best plan marketing-wise, unless you have tastes that are dead-center down the mainstream (though, it worked — too well — for Salinger). But if your concern is staying inspired or writing from the heart, then … there it is.

“Seymour: An Introduction” is on my to-be-reread list of classic works that I can’t recall in detail but that I suspect still have a big influence on me subconsciously. (To buy the book on Amazon yourself, click Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction.)

I’m also looking forward to the upcoming Shane Salerno documentary on Salinger’s life, supposedly out sometime this year.

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