Saturday, February 28, 2009

Loyalty's Web-site Drawing: Winner!

Congratulations to Debra Guyette of Connecticut! Debra has won the 5" X 5" scented medieval pillow sachet. She has apparently also been very, very good, because she also won a box of Dove Hazelnut Chocolate Silky Smooth Milk Chocolate Promises. Way to go, Debra! (And it isn't even Christmas!)

Thank you to all who entered my latest Loyalty's Web-site drawing!

Correction to My Review on The Count of Monte Cristo

My apologies to Luc Sante, referred to as the translator/abridger of the B&N version of the Count of Monte Cristo in my last blog post. I have since been informed that, while he was commissioned by B&N to write the foreward and introductory notes to their edition, he was not, in fact, the translator or the abridger. After being informed of my mistake, I searched my B&N edition in vain for the translator/abridger's name, but came up empty. So please plug in the word "anonymous" for wherever I refer to Mr Sante in my review in my prior post.

While I stand by my remarks concerning the B&N edition in my previous post, I would like to state here that Mr Sante's notes were highly enlightening, and one area in which my introduction-free edition of Bair's translation/abridgment fell down. Bair's edition occurred in an historical and literary vacuum, as far as informing the reader of the context in which Alexandre Dumas wrote The Count of Monte Cristo. (Though that may have changed in more recent printings of the volume. I can't tell without holding a current copy in my hand to see for myself.) Mr Sante also included a number of helpful footnotes and extremely interesting after notes, including the startling revelation that Dumas originally intended to begin his novel at page 153 (in this abridgment) at "The Pont du Gard Inn," dealing with prior events in flashbacks, rather than in "real time" as is the case in the novel that we know and love today. One can only try to imagine how differently the book might have read had Dumas ultimately chosen to follow this path.

So while the B&N edition is not my favorite version to read, the notes by Mr Sante are well worth pursuing for a deeper understanding of this truly Classic novel.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Book Review of The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas (or All Translations and Abridgements Are Not Created Equal)

For my most recent Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2009 for GoodReads, I chose a book I read many years ago and wanted to read again: The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas. Being initially unable to find the old “family paperback version” I’d grown up with, I jaunted off to Barnes & Noble, where I picked up an inexpensive B&N edition that, even as an abridgement, was easily at least three times the length of the version that I had grown up with.

As a great lover of Dumas’ The Three Musketeers and its sequel, Twenty Years After, both of which I have read multiple times between high school and most recently, 2007, I was anticipating another charmer of a swashbuckling story as only the great Dumas pére could tell it. Though so many years had passed since my first and last reading of The Count of Monte Cristo, I recalled that the theme of the book was very different from The Three Musketeers, dealing with questions of betrayal, vengeance and justice, rather than friendship, loyalty and adventure.

At first, I was charmed by the opening pages of The Count of Monte Cristo, being quickly swept into the tragedy that befell the hero, Edmond Dantés, on the eve of his greatest happiness. As I read, I recalled how my sister had recently remarked that she read The Count of Monte Cristo so many times in her youth, that she still practically had the book memorized. In spite of such a promising beginning, to my bafflement, the more I read the events that followed Dantés escape from the Chateau D’If, the more I found myself wondering what my sister could possibly have found to so captivate her in this book. Once free of his prison, Dantés became a remote character, capable of both the greatest kindness and the most diabolical cruelty. I found it increasingly difficult to reconcile the two in my mind, and frequently found myself on the verge of hating Dantés for his cold, relentless quest for vengeance, regardless of the sufferings he had unjustly endured earlier in the book. Only twice near the end did I have a glimmer of hope that he had at last received a flash of insight into what his quest had wrought:

“Alas! By what means can I restore to these two innocent beings the happiness I have snatched from them?”

And later:

“Have you nothing more to do here?” asked Morrel.
“No,” replied Monte Cristo, “and God grant that I have not already done too much.”

I had determined, by now, that Monte Cristo had indeed done “too much” harm to innocent people in his quest for justice (or was it vengeance?). Sadly, as these seeming flashes of insight were never further pursued, by the time the book drew to a close, I had no sympathy left in my heart for him, although Dumas apparently did. Which left me wondering how Dumas, who had drawn such beloved, heartfelt, sympathetic characters in The Three Musketeers, had fallen down so badly in his character development in The Count of Monte Cristo.

Then, by a curious quirk of fate, while wandering through my house, still reflecting on the novel I had just finished reading, I came across that old “family paperback version” tucked away on a forgotten shelf. Out of curiosity, I decided to browse through it and compare a few passages from the two different editions, each translated from the French by a different translator, and then abridged from its almost overwhelmingly long original form. (I had been unable to find an unabridged version in the bookstores I visited.)

To my surprise, dismay, and delight as I browsed the old “family paperback” (originally published in 1956), I discovered that the translator/abridger, Lowell Bair, had in many significant instances selected entirely different passages from the original to include, which Luc Sante, the translator/abridger of the B&N edition, had chosen to leave out. Sante had apparently chosen to include those passages from the original which added to Monte Cristo’s aura of “mystery” for the reader as well as for the other characters in the book. For the most part, Monte Cristo stood as a cold, avenging angel, bent on dealing out an implacable “justice” I, personally, found myself questioning and recoiling from. Bair, on the other hand, had included passages from the original that emphasized the “human” side of Edmond Dantés, passages that, towards the end of the novel, reminded the reader in the most eloquent way of all that Dantés had suffered, that he had not enacted his vengeance without self-doubts of the mission he had set for himself, and that considerably softened the reader towards his character. In short, drawing on the same work of Alexandre Dumas but differing in their choices of passages to include in their abridgments, Sante drew us an avenging angel. Bair drew us a man capable of breaking a reader’s heart.

The lesson I learned from this reading exercise? All abridgments are not created equal! If you are have not read The Count of Monte Cristo, or if you have tried to read it and been put off by its length or tone, perhaps it is not the fault of the author (Dumas), but of the particular abridged version you happened to pick up in the bookstore or library. Bair’s slimmed down but more “human” version is listed as available on Amazon, though currently out of stock. (See NOTE below) But if you prefer to go in search of a more modern translation that will tell you the story of the “human” Dantés clear through the end of the book, I will give you one hint of what to look for: Browse through chapters near the end of the book. If they include a re-visit by the Count of Monte Cristo to the dungeon in which he had suffered as the unfortunate Edmond Dantés (which Sante’s version completely dispensed with), you will likely have discovered an abridgment that reveals the “man” behind the “avenging angel”.

NOTE: There is an unabridged version on which I might buy and read one day. But if 1000 pages sounds overwhelming to you, and you’d really like to sample the “essence” of the story before you commit yourself to a more extensive version, you could do worse than to buy a copy of Lowell Bair’s translation. lists the Lowell Bair edition as available for $6.95, with used copies available for as low as $1.99.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Drawing Soon Drawing To A Close

Just a final reminder, for all who are interested! February 27th is the last day to enter my latest Loyalty's Web-site drawing to win 5" X 5" scented medieval pillow sachet. Details on the News & Contests page of my website. And yes, there will be chocolate!

The winner will be announced both on my website and here at JDP NEWS on February 28th.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

I've Been Tagged!

I've been tagged by Hazel Jensen to share 25 random things about me. Always up for a challenge (well, sometimes, anyway), here we go. Now you'll know more about me than you ever wanted to know!

1. I love cats. I wanted to be born with one in my arms, but my mom must have vetoed that idea. I wonder why?
2. My printer is broken just now, and I'm really irritated.
3. I like to play the piano, though I've let myself get rusty lately, even though I'm a piano teacher. I'm trying to sit down and practice more again.
4. I like to write, but I like to write what I like to write and not what other people think I ought to write.
5. I have one brother and one sister, both older than me, but not necessarily smarter.
6. As a kid, I used to pretend that I was Saturn Girl in the Legion of Super-heroes. (DC comics, for the uninformed)
7. I later switched my allegiance to Marvel comics. The two worst things Marvel ever did was kill off Gwen Stacy and split up Johnny Storm and Crystal!
8. I love the Middle Ages. Henry II of England is my hero!
9. I always thought the name "Pericles” was very cool!
10. Jeremiah is my favorite book in the Old Testament.
11. I think nuts in chocolate chip cookies is WRONG, but I also think brownies without nuts is WRONG.
12. I played the saxophone in grade and high school, but I’ve long since lost my pucker muscles to keep it up.
13. Did I mention that I love cats?
14. I often wonder what happened to all the characters on Star Trek: Deep Space 9 after the end of the show. I still want a follow up!
15. My favorite book I ever wrote is the only one that no one has ever read but me.
16. I HATE BUGS!!!
17. Give me a story with a fun plot over a literary novel any day.
18. I love Primary.
19. I hate putting up Christmas decorations, but I love looking at them once they’re up.
20. Did I mention…cats?
21. Sunday nights are popcorn nights. Don’t try to tell me otherwise!
22. History of the English Language was one of my top all-time favorite courses in college. The Great Vowel Shift was cool! But I’ve forgotten all my phonemes.
23. I love Greek mythology.
24. Okay, I admit it…I used to be a Dark Shadows fan.
25. Cats anyone?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Free Giveaway from Walnut Springs Press

Let me begin with a disclaimer: Walnut Springs Press is a new imprint of Leatherwood Press, the company that published my medieval novel, Loyalty’s Web. This fact, however, is not the reason I’m sharing news about this giveaway with you. February, with Valentine’s Day literally at its heart, is uniquely a month of love, and in the spirit of that beautiful virtue (which the world surely needs more than ever just now), Walnut Springs Press is offering 3 free copies of Love: The Greatest Gift of All: Reflections to Inspire.

Love: The Greatest Gift of All “explores the renewing and strengthening power of love.” Here is but one example of the kind of advice and inspiration you will find in this book: “Let us see the virtues of our neighbors and our friends, and speak of those virtues, not find fault and criticize. If we will do that we will radiate sunshine, and those who know us best will love us.” (President George Albert Smith)

In a world where criticism and fault finding is more the norm than the exception, surely such wise counsel as this is sorely needed. Love: The Greatest Gift of All will inspire each of us to strive to soften by our actions our own little corner of a too often very harsh world.

How can you enter to win a copy of this beautifully uplifting book? Just visit Walnut Springs Press, read the post under February 4, and follow the instructions. You have nothing to lose, and just maybe a real jewel of a book to win!

Saturday, February 7, 2009


Some days when I write, I feel like I’m back to finger painting in kindergarten. Sticking my hands in a bowl of paint—or in this case, words, and aimlessly smushing them around on the page. The whole process just feels downright messy. No matter how I try, I can’t manage to stay within the lines or draw forth any sense or shape from my efforts.

Other days, I pick up a wide bristled brush and succeed in painting a few broad strokes to a scene. On these days, a form begins to emerge, blurry around the edges, lacking anything remotely resembling style or elegance, but if the lines are smudged, at least on such days as this, there are lines.

On a really good day, a fine bristled brush appears in my hand. I dip the delicate, tapered tip into my bowl of words and dart clear, sharp images onto the page. This is better than staying within the lines. This is creating the lines…the fine threads of a woman’s hair, the scrolling pattern etched into the hearthstones of the fireplace, the shattering discovery of the true reason one’s fiancé inexplicably abandoned one at the church door. This is a scene so keenly focused in my mind, that every dart of my brush’s point leaves in its wake a finely honed detail.

Last week was a messy, smushing kind of week for me. The kind of week that makes me question whether I still have a single drop of writing talent left in my veins. I find myself facing a new week with considerable trepidation. Will it be another finger painting week, a broad stroke week, or a focused, detailed week? I’d be encouraged just to have some combination of the three. Because as fun as finger painting might have been in kindergarten, I’ll never translate the story in my head by smushing words around forever.

(Originally posted on ANWA Founder & Friends)