The Ability to Forge our own Destiny

Elizabeth Camden All about Me!, The Lady of Bolton Hill 1 Comment

I have always loved the theme of people being able to forge their own path in life, especially if it involves defying expectations.  In America we often take this for granted, but I think it was a fairly new concept in the course of human history.  Throughout the ages, most people simply followed in the well-worn paths that had been carved out for them by generations of their forefathers.  If your father was a farmer, you became a farmer.  A blacksmith? A printer?  You began learning the trade as you grew up and worked alongside your father until you were ready to take over the reins. 

I admire people who defy expectations.  In The Lady of Bolton Hill, Daniel was destined to work in a steel mill until he was an old man…..but with an immense amount of work, a bit of ingenuity, and a lot of luck, he broke free of the mold that had been built for him.  Clara also defies expectations.  Despite her father’s determination that she become a world-famous composer, she breaks away to forge her own path as a journalist.   It is not always easy to break out of those expectations, but if a person is true to him or herself….has a level of introspection and faith that they are on the right path….forging your own destiny is not only possible, it is the best way to live.   

We have so much more freedom now.  This can be a mixed blessing, which I see on my college campus every day as young adults struggle to define themselves.  Panic begins to set in during their senior year when they realize that reality is looming just a few short months away and they are still uncertain about what they want to be “when they grow up.”  The temptation to dive into graduate school is intense.  In many cases, it is a mistake.   

I don’t think we can blame young people for struggling with what kind of career they want to pursue.  In the course of history, this is a very new concept.  I tell the my students that there is nothing wrong with “treading water” for a few years while you decide what you want to do.  I certainly did.  After college with a degree in history (and what precisely do you do with that?) I worked in an entry level position as a data entry clerk.   It was during those two years of self-reflection that I determined what I ultimately wanted to do with my life.  To my dismay, I learned that becoming a librarian would require a master’s degree in Library Science.  This was in the early 1990’s, before the era of online education, and since there was no graduate program in Virginia, it required me to move to Indiana for my degree. 

Leaving everything I knew behind to trek out on my own was scary, a financial burden, and a lot of work, but I had the gift of freedom to forge my own destiny. And that turned out to be a very good thing. 

Photo courtesy of James Walsh

Mary and Eve

Elizabeth Camden Musings on Life Leave a Comment

I don’t have anything profound to say about the picture below….it says everything with such beauty and simplicity it would be a shame to weigh it down with my own musings.  I found this picture moving and wanted to share it with you:


Illustration courtesy of Sister Grace Remington, O.C.S.O.

The Prettiest and Ugliest Words of the English Language

Elizabeth Camden Writing Life 2 Comments

Henry James once said the two most beautiful words in the English language are “summer afternoon.”  J.R.R. Tolkein was fond of “cellar door” as an especially evocative combination.  Writers enjoy toying with words they find especially interesting, suggestive, or grating.  Here are a handful of words that writers have often cited as being particularly lovely: 

Gossamer; Wisteria; Wind Chimes; Halcyon; Tranquility; Nevermore; Chalice; Evanescent; Talisman; Ethereal; Oleander

On the flip side, let’s take a look at words cited as the ugliest in the English language.  Thanks to writer William R. Espy for generating these candidates! 

Ugliest Words: Fructify; Kumquat; Crepuscular; Gargoyle; Jukebox; Plutocrat; Phlegmatic; Blog; Ointment; Splurge; Nougat

 If you can think of other particularly ugly or pretty words, let me know!

A Homage to the Ultimate Man of Romance: Cary Grant

Elizabeth Camden Ramblings about Romance Leave a Comment

Was there ever a more thrilling star than Cary Grant?  Not in my book.  I think Cary Grant will always be my mental image of the ultimate leading man.   

Whether he starred in screwball comedies, spy thrillers, or dark romance, Cary Grant possessed an effortless charm that seemed so easy.  A combination of drop-dead gorgeous looks, physical grace, and understated wit made him irresistible.  Movie critic Chris Vognar wrote “You could put this guy in the middle of a hailstorm and he’d act as if he just sauntered into a cocktail party.” 

Grant could even throw an insult well.  He rarely stormed or chewed up the scenery in a movie, he would merely raise an elegant eyebrow and deliver some politely dismissive aside.  Enough said.   

I’ve never been a big fan of his broad comedies (Bringing Up Baby, I was a Male War Bride, Monkey Business), but I like his romantic comedies like Philadelphia Story and His Girl Friday.  In both those movies he plays a less-than-admirable hero, wending his way through a series of rivals to get the girl.  Citing Chris Vognar again, “He had the stuff to make you cheer for a snake and feel good about it.” 

Okay…..let’s cut to the chase as to why Cary Grant is indelibly carved in my brain as the ultimate romantic hero.  I can sum it up in four words: North by Northwest and Notorious.  Both are Hitchcock movies, both unforgettable.  North by Northwest (1959) had a bit of the screwball comedy in it, but mostly it was a great adventure story mingled with a romantic twist.  I love the way Grant relies on his wit, intelligence, and physical abilities to get himself out of one scrape after another.  In all honesty, it isn’t the greatest love story.  I never really bought that he fell hook, line, and sinker for Eva Marie Saint, but that is the screenwriter’s fault, not Grant’s.   

But Notorious (1946) is his masterpiece.  It is Grant’s darkest role, and he is magnificent.  There is no sign of the suave, debonair Grant in Notorious.  He is curt, cutting, and hard-edged the entire movie as he wrestles with loyalty to his country with his reluctant love for Ingrid Berman. Grant is drawn against his will towards Bergman, and it is a fascinating to watch his portrayal of love warring with mistrust, loyalty, and deception.  Unable to give voice to his feelings, Grant’s tormented face tells it all.   

I’m not sure I would adore Cary Grant so much were it not for Notorious.  Without that movie I think he would have seemed too perfectly suave.  I want to see a hero who has a weakness for a woman, and Notorious delivers it beautifully.


Four Heroines I Never want to see Again in a Romance Novel

Elizabeth Camden Ramblings about Romance Leave a Comment

I love the romance novels and hate to see the genre get trashed, especially by outsiders who do not even read the books.  But we’re all friends here, right?  Somehow I feel it is okay for writers, readers, and lovers of the romance genre to comment in a friendly spirit, even if its not so welcome coming from outsiders. I can say my sister is ugly, but no one else can, right?  

So in that friendly spirit, here are the things I hope never again to see in a romance novel heroine: 

1)   The Too Stupid to Live Heroine.  We have all seen her.  She is the one who hears the mysterious footsteps in the attic.  Her immediate thought is about the villain who is stalking her since page one of the book.  He’s fierce, he’s ruthless, and the reader has just read two-hundred pages of build-up to how mean and nasty he is.  Yet, armed with her trusting rolling-pin, our girl is going to mount those stairs and look into those mysterious footsteps.  I’m rooting for this villain in this case.

2)   A Heroine whose only Redeeming Quality is Beauty.  It didn’t work for Pia Zadora, and it won’t work in a romance novel.  Give me someone I can root for.  Very few of the readers were prom queens in high school.  Now, I’m sure most prom queens are perfectly nice people (although I was never welcomed into the rarified air they breathed!) but if all I know about a heroine is her stunning good looks, I’ll get bored pretty quickly.

3)   Snotty Behavior as an Indication of being “Strong.”  This is the worst crime committed in Romancelandia.  We all know that readers want to get behind a strong heroine, but sometimes authors make the mistake of thinking this means she should mouth off.  Or stand up for herself by being utterly, horribly rude.  The otherwise charming movie Doc Hollywood was spoiled for me by the mouthy, annoying heroine.

4)   Ridiculous Names.  I know we live in the era of Pax, Apple, and Suri…..but please, authors!  Don’t spoil your book by saddling your heroines with names like these.  In recent years I have seen heroines named Scooter, Desari, Tedra, and Raven.  Also steer clear of hard-to-pronounce names like Ishihara and Cryssa.  One book had a heroine named Sileas, and I struggled the entire book.  The author later added in an interview that it was to be pronounced SHEE-las.  Oh well.  Lovely name, but I wish she was just named Sharon. 

If you’ve got any traits you are tired of seeing in romance novel heroines, give me a shout!


How to Talk about Abstinence without Sounding Like a Prude

Elizabeth Camden Videos Worth Watching Leave a Comment

I think most parents would rather face an IRS audit than discuss sex with their teenaged kids.  I always admired the way my husband told my step-daughters what was on the minds of most teen-aged boys, but I think that sort of frankness is rare.  I’ll probably blog about that someday, as Bill’s perspective certainly hits on all the angles of love, lust, infatuation, and what boys will try to get away with if given an opportunity.  Not that teen-aged boys don’t have crushes or care for girls… but if a girl leaves a door open, most boys are going to dash through it.

I think this is a cute video that promotes abstinence without sounding prudish:

What is the Appeal of the Gibson Girl?

Elizabeth Camden Musings on Life 2 Comments

During the Edwardian era, images that appeared in popular magazines and pamphlets influenced opinion much as television and fashion magazines shape attitudes today.  Perhaps no other illustrator of this era had the same influence on the feminine ideals as Charles Dana Gibson (1867-1944), the creator of the Gibson Girl. 

The Gibson Girl possessed a willowy figure with hair piled atop her head.  With her impossibly small waist and perfect posture, she was the embodiment of effortless elegance.  Charles Dana Gibson’s iconic images inspired countless imitators, and soon similar silhouettes appeared on boxes of face powder, souvenir spoons, perfume labels, and even on wallpaper.  

It is said that Gibson was inspired by his wife, Irene Langhorne and her four beautiful sisters, as the prototype for the original Gibson Girl.  He was hounded mercilessly by other young women who wished to be immortalized by his renditions.  Yes, the women he drew were pretty, but so were thousands of other drawings produced by artists of the day, so what was it about the Gibson Girl that made her so singularly appealing?

I’ll take a stab.  The Gibson Girl appeared to be spirited, athletic, and intelligent, but she never lost her femininity.  You would often see her play tennis, ride a bike, or swing a golf club.  Although she sometimes swanned around ballrooms and allowed tuxedo-wearing men kiss her hand, she could just as easily be seen in a middle class environment, operating a typewriter or smoking a cigarette.  Gibson’s wife was from a family of famously liberated women.  His sister-in-law, Nancy Langhorne Astor, was the first woman to serve in Parliament when she was elected to the House of Commons in 1916, so perhaps it is no surprise that the Gibson Girl projected a progressive air.

Progressive, but non-threatening.  I think it was the Gibson Girl’s fresh-scrubbed, down-to-earth appearance that made her non-threatening.  Undeniably beautiful, she was also the sort of woman who might play a round of poker or cast a fishing rod.  I think it is this combination that made her attractive to both men and women, and the object of the first nationwide fashion frenzy.  

World War I spelled the end of the Gibson Girl.  Long dresses that needed corsets were a thing of the past as women began rolling up their sleeves to do the hard work of keeping the fires on the home front burning. But I always do a double-take whenever I see one of those old Gibson Girl drawings.  I don’t think her appeal will ever fade.

The Difference between Getting Published in Fiction and Nonfiction

Elizabeth Camden Writing Life 1 Comment

I know there are a lot of writers who read this blog, so I thought I would take a short diversion to discuss the rather stark differences between the process of getting a book published in fiction versus nonfiction.  

When I was fresh out of graduate school, I impulsively decided to write a book.  I had a terrific idea about a timely topic, and as a brand new librarian, I researched the process of putting a book proposal together, wrote it up, and submitted it to eight different publishers.  To my delight, I had offers of publication from three of them.  I took the offer from the publisher with the best reputation, and ten months later I submitted my first draft of the manuscript. A year after that the book was on the shelves.

 The above example is true, and illustrates the huge difference between publishing in Fiction and Nonfiction.  Let me count the ways:

 1)   When writing nonfiction, you always write a proposal before you get a contract.  The proposal should be fairly detailed, with a comprehensive outline of the book’s scope, one or two sample chapters, an analysis of competing titles, likely markets, and projected sales.  These proposals typically range from 40-80 pages. 

2)   Because you are only submitting a proposal, rather than a 400 page manuscript, it is acceptable to submit to multiple publishers simultaneously.   Simply state in your cover letter that it is a multiple submission.

3)   An agent is not essential in nonfiction.  In academic publishing, an agent is almost unheard of.  I have written four nonfiction books for the academic market and never had an agent until I began writing fiction.  In fiction, there are very few publishers who will allow submissions from un-agented writers.

4)   For a writer, delving into fiction is a much bigger risk than nonfiction.  A book proposal can take a couple of months to research and put together, but you will not sink two years of your life creating characters you come to love, a plot that you are profoundly committed to, and a manuscript which may never see the light of day.  I’ve had nonfiction book proposals flop and it is a disappointment, but nothing compared to the grinding wall of misery that comes along with getting a novel rejected.

Because of the relative ease I had breaking into the nonfiction market, I thought I would be able to waltz blithely into writing fiction.  Not so!  It took me about five years of writing, learning, and pushing through the misery of rejection before I got my first novel published.  I think that is why I feel much more proud of The Lady of Bolton Hill than my other books (all published under my maiden name.) 

I also hope I have not given the impression that writing nonfiction is a walk in the park.  You must have credentials, a good idea that hits an untapped market, and a professional approach to the business.  I loved writing academic books, but am ready to move on.  My heart is now in fiction.  Writing for the academic market was work, writing novels is something I do for sheer, boundless, and irrational love.

Photo courtesy of Karen Cox

Words of Wisdom from Half a Millenia Ago

Elizabeth Camden Musings on Life, What Inspires You? Leave a Comment

If you have never read Jen Fulwiler’s blog over at The Conversion Diary, you are in for a treat.  Or perhaps her posts just resonate with me because we seem to be very similar in our outlook and situation in life. 

In any event, one of my huge failings is that I tend to let myself get overwhelmed by the little details of life that can sometimes blot out the splendid abundance that I have been blessed with.  A while back Jen wrote on this exact topic, and it was so moving for me that I have that post book-marked on my computer, and I turn to it whenever I feel those daily difficulties starting to overshadow the joy in life.  

Read it here.