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Monday, April 30, 2012

Beholding Constant Beauty

  I recently drove to a professional symposium from my home in western Washington state to an area called Tri-cities in central Washington.  In order to do this, I had to drive four hours across some of the most beautiful country you have ever seen.  Thank God for books on tape-or rather-books on iPod!

  The drive called for a journey from the Seattle area where the hills meet Puget Sound to crossing the majesty of the Cascade range.  There, lovely mountain vistas abound with high altitude lakes and their soft caresses of low-hanging mists.  Once past the mountain passes, the topography changes.  Soft rolling hills appear, looking as if God Himself had chiseled their forms and then pulled soft green felt tightly around them.  Fertile valleys below swell with vineyards and fruit orchards in their sunshine.  The drive was seriously zen, and I was grateful for each mile along my way.  

  When I had finally reached my hotel's registration desk in the town of Kennewick, I was told that I had been upgraded to the executive suite.  SWEET!  Although my travels ended when I stepped out of my car, the beauty of the day persisted.  Even then, when I opened the door to my room, this is what greeted me:

  There were flowers, a plate of HUGE chocolate-covered strawberries, a bottle of wine, and a hand-written personal note from the hotel.  Wow, I was totally blown away!  Not only had Beauty persisted, but it took residence right there in my room.

  The one thing that worried me the most about my trip was chairing the upcoming board meeting for the first time as state president.  I didn't feel prepared, and I dreaded appearing stupid.  And wouldn't you know, it was all for nothing.  The board and general membership put me at ease as they always do, and helped me every inch along the way.  This is the beauty in ordinary things to me.  They were my plate of chocolate-covered strawberries. 

  I know that I've mentioned this previously, but I live with a couple of very annoying chronic autoimmune conditions.  Against my will, pain has become a constant companion.  However, the discomfort I live with is a very sage teacher in her own right.  Where others are bored with the dull repetition of life, I am grateful for every "normal" moment I have when I'm not in pain.  To me, this is a huge gift.  As a result, I believe I see more beauty in a day than most do in a week.  What our culture - or heck, the world - considers beautiful is completely laughable to me in many cases. 

  As a medical technologist, I see beauty at the "organismic" level.  When I peer into the microscope I see the beauty in nature, such as the uniformity of normal red blood cells,

the alternating barrel pattern in a fungal arthrospore, 

the military-straight lineup of a columnar epithelial cell layer in the bladder, 

the beautiful array of onion cells appearing as fenestrations  in a layer of its skin,

or in nature at large, the flawless symmetry of a nautilus in cross-section.

  These are prime examples of the beauty in ordinary things to me.  All of them keep me from taking life for granted, and I give thanks for them. 

  I hope that you will always see the unsung beauty in life, and also give thanks for it.  Thank you for sharing my journey.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Beauty is truth...

In the spring of 1819, English Romantic Poet, John Keats wrote his famous, Ode to a Grecian Urn. While the poem is considered one of Keats' lesser works, his line 'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,' - that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know, has become as famous as his line, 'A thing of beauty is a joy forever'.

I first read Keats in college, but I have to say, his 'Ode' still leaves me thinking. If beauty is truth, yet we all agree beauty is subjective, then how can its truth be true? Doesn't the very meaning of subjective hold that the idea of beauty would then change from perspective to perspective and person to person?


Without revisiting Philosophy 101 any further, (my professors at Fordham University would be so proud), I would have to agree...believing that Keats', Beauty is truth, truth beauty, is merely reminding us that whatever we hold beautiful is own own personal truth, and regardless of another's opinion, it's all we need in this world.

As a writer, I have looked to Keats' quote for reassurance and peace of mind many times. Especially when someone else's opinion of "beauty and truth" has bashed my own in a review. It somewhat lessens the sting, comforting in the knowledge that even centuries ago, it was still all about subjective perspectives.

What if we could hold this personal truth of what we value as beautiful close to our hearts, practice it in our daily lives? Imagine the tidal wave of self-confidence that would follow. How much our self-esteem would blossom, and by our example, that of our children.

What if?

What and If are the two most important words in the English language when used together. They have the power to inspire dreams, and through those dreams affect great things. Beauty is truth, truth beauty is by far, for me, more than just an abstract notion. It's almost a battle cry. A call to arms defending that which nature itself deemed beautiful. Each and every one of us.

Beauty is truth, truth beauty? You bet. So find yours, and own it...
Whatever that truth may be.

Marianne Morea

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Beauty And Romance Writing With A Twist!

BEAUTY is All Day and All Night Writing Divas theme for April. My contribution will be about the goddess of Beauty, Aphrodite (Greek) or Venus (Roman).

I thought I’d look over my books to see how often Aphrodite/Venus, as the goddess of Beauty, appeared in my writing.

Here’s a snippet from my Regency romance, PAGING MISS GALLOWAY.

Lady Yancy turned her attention to her daughter. “Millicent, in that blue gown, you look as fresh as Aphrodite rising from the sea.”

As the figure sited in Botticelli’s masterpiece was notoriously undressed, Millicent blushed. “Mother, that was Venus.”

Waving the ever-present handkerchief, Lady Yancy shook her head. The large feather plume from her turban fluttered in the wake of her movements. “Venus, Aphrodite. Roman, Greek, what is the difference?...”

The Birth of Venus, Sandro Botticelli, 1484.

Evidently, I like this image because I used it again in my paranormal romantic suspense, GRAVE FUTURE.

Slamming his eyes shut to cut off the tantalizing sight of exposed, silky skin and white, soapy bubbles, Dan clenched his fists hard—to drive away his inner pain.
But he couldn’t keep his eyes shut all night. He permitted himself another glimpse. Jocelyn looked as lovely as Botticelli’s Venus on a half-shell—all innocence and femininity.

The Birth of Venus, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1879

Beauty goes hand-in-hand with longing. Try this snippet from my Regency time-travel, TIMELESS DECEPTION.

For his own sake and for his son’s, Richard could not allow himself to be fooled by the aristocratic, appealing,... and adulterous Aphrodite whose bedchamber adjoined his.

Alicia did not keep him waiting long. Good. He was in no mood to enact a scene so she would dance attendance on him. Entering the room, she glided as Aphrodite might, poised and confident in her beauty. She wore a simple gown with ivory ruffles high on the neck. Matching ruffles encased her slim wrists. As always, she looked exceedingly lovely and feminine. Indeed, she appeared as if she passed a restful night. Would that she had passed it with him.

Sometimes, because the goddess Venus is also connected with sexual pleasure, her name is used as a synonym for a house of ill-repute.

From my time-travel Regency, LORD DARVER’S MATCH.

Simon slammed the door shut. Rosebud Tavern--a notorious temple of Venus. A place so vile by reputation that he had never felt the urge to visit inside its walls.

He shrugged, then explained, “By the bye, any establishment with the sign of a woman’s hand pouring coffee means that inside rests a temple of Venus.”

An Allegory with Venus and Cupid, Agnolo Bronzino, 1550

Venus/Aphrodite is an archetype--the epitome of Beauty. To be compared to Venus is an honor, indeed.

SOJOURN THROUGH TIME, time-travel Regency romance.

“True, but just look around you, everything is perfect. The spherical hedges, the winding stone pathways, the budding roses, the-- I say, who’s that picture of Venus?”

From my paranormal romantic suspense, PAST INDISCRETIONS.

“Oh, Ah dunno, ol’ buddy. Breeding tells, Ah always say. Why would a veritable Venus among women want to tether herself to someone who has tainted blood?”


The woman’s midnight hair was piled gloriously high on her head, and one lone ringlet curled over her bare shoulder. She might have given the Greek goddess Aphrodite cause for envy.

FOREVVER, science fiction futuristic romance

His thoughts turned to a story he’d learned about in childhood. A Greek or Roman tale where a man, Pygmalion, breathed life into an ivory statue. Or requested a goddess, Aphrodite/Venus, to make the statue live. Pygmalion then married his creation, and had a happily ever after ending, an ending that was unusual in mythology.

Jason had saved Flavia; he’d breathed life into her. Maybe their destinies were intertwined--

Regency romance, THE MAGIC TOKEN

In his enthusiasm, Pritchard dug his stirrups into his horse’s ribs and leaped forward. As eager as Marcus was to meet this diminutive Venus, he had to wince. One did not mistreat good horseflesh.

Short story fantasy romance, “Special Delivery

She drifted toward me, uncertain, as if a sudden gust might blow her away. I figured this was a dream... and she was my dream woman--plucked from the innermost recesses of my mind.

Draped in a dress of filmy chiffon, my dear Ms. Venus sashayed across the street. The sheer fabric was unlike anything I’d ever seen, and boy, did it do justice to her figure. Every curve was enticingly displayed. I’ll make no bones about it;I lusted for her.

Short story fantasy romance, “Zeus And The Single Teacher” (in my anthology LUCKY THIRTEEN)

If anyone knew about attractive guys, it was Venus. Maybe it was because of her name, but her growing list of boyfriends was the talk of the entire school.

Cupid Complaining To Venus, Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1530s

Hope you enjoyed this foray into my Romance Writing with a Twist!

Susanne Marie Knight
Read outside the box: award-winning Romance Writing With A Twist!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Beauty of Earning A Spot On The Keeper Shelf

Things are beautiful if you love them.
- Jean Anouilh -

My keeper shelves for books have always been virtual because I keep too many books to restrict them to a "keeper shelf." In fact, I've kept just about every single one of the paperback romance novels I've ever bought. And since I devoured the books ravenously for more years than I'm willing to confess, you can guess that I have a massive quantity of the things.

I have shelves of romances surrounding the television in my den and more shelves hidden away in the cabinet where my landline phone sits. I have boxes and boxes of books in my youngest's walk in closet because he's a 14-year-old boy and will wear anything he grabs - it doesn't have to fit or match. I have a long shelf in the garage that my father-in-law kindly built for me one year. The hope was that other shelves would be built and eventually my whole book collection would have a home that didn't take up so much room inside the house. The garage bookcase never came to be but the one long shelf is so full that books are double-stacked and fall off the ends.

If paperbacks ever qualify as antiques, then I'm set for life.

So, I've never had an actual physical keeper shelf - I've kept all of my books. My keeper shelf has always been virtual and it always, always existed in my mind. Woodiwisses' books are there along with some of Johanna Lindsey's Malory novels, Julia Quinn's Bridgerton series, several of Julia Garwood's (Secret and Ransom are real faves), some of Linda Howard's early work, a number of Diana Palmer's, and Elizabeth Lowell's Only series. Susan Elizabeth Phillips' Chicago Stars Football novels are there too, even though I've only started watching some football lately and then only my law school alma mater, the University of South Carolina Gamecocks. (Even though I wasn't a football fan I loved Phillips' Stars books.) Because my keeper shelf was virtual, and because I have books in so many spots around the house, finding one of the books could be like a scavenger hunt. My hubby will tell you that he's often walked the distance of our small house, calling me, until Sam would shout, "She's in here Dad." Then my hubby would locate me bent over and tossing books all around the youngest's closet until I found it. You know it. The exact "keeper shelf" book I was looking for.

Likely, no people on earth were happier to see the ebook revolution than my family. Eventually, the books would have run 'em clean out of room to live indoors. Heck, I was already eyeballing my oldest's closet....

Even though it was always virtual, my keeper shelf has always been a very important place. It contains the books I've re-read, and re-read. You know - those books? The ones that take me somewhere special. Sometimes, I'll be depressed or sad or I've been moody and a real Queen B for several days and it'll hit me - I need to read that book. Yes, each book on my virtual keeper shelf serves a purpose. They lift my spirits. They soothe my turmoil. Visiting those characters is like visiting friends that will always, always be there for me. Books only earn a spot if I know, right from the first read, that I'll read them again. Every book on my keeper shelf -without exception - I re-read within days of finishing it the first time.

I consider keeper shelves - real or virtual - to be a mighty special, nearly magical place. And I've told you all of this - all about how much the books I re-read and treasure mean to me - to say this: I recently got a couple of reviews and a message from different readers all saying the same thing: I loved your book so much that I've already re-read it. The readers were all talking about the same book -- A Faerie Fated Forever which is still available free everywhere.

Now that you know how important my virtual, keeper shelf has always been to me, and how very special a book has to be to earn a spot, perhaps you can understand how very, very much those recent reader reviews and messages have meant to me. I wrote something that meant enough to earn a spot on keeper shelves. I wrote something that created such an impression that readers had to re-read it right away.

Wow. Just, Wow.

I know that having Shonda "Sunshine" Rhimes, Penny Marshall, Ron Howard or most anyone call with a movie deal for one of my books would be an amazing thing. I know that making the bestseller list would leave me woozy. I know that having retails have to back up Brinks trucks to unload money into my bank account would make life much more comfortable. But I know something else even more important - there are some things that you just can't buy and earning space on a keeper shelf is definitely one of those things.

Writer Jean Anouilh said, "Things are beautiful if you love them." I agree and I would add - "and things matter if you love them." By those standards, I love my readers and I adore those who get my work, those who can open themselves and just experience what a ride over the top feels like and enjoy it enough to line up again as soon as the ride ends.

Having my work earn space on some readers' keeper shelves is a beautiful experience. It's a defining moment to me as a writer because I really understand how special a book is if it's one that gets re-read. BUT NOW IT'S YOUR TURN - What does it takes to get you to re-read a book right away? And what stuff is on your - real or virtual - keeper shelf?

Mary Anne Graham
Quacking Alone Romances
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Photo credits:

Messy bookshelf #1

Messy bookshelf #2

Messy bookshelf #3

Digital bookshelf

Bookshelf ducks

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Beauty: Around Us And In Our Books

Definition of beauty:
  1. The quality that gives pleasure to the mind or senses and is associated with such properties as harmony of form or color, excellence of artistry, truthfulness, and originality.
  2. One that is beautiful, especially a beautiful woman.
  3. A quality or feature that is most effective, gratifying, or telling.
Beauty surrounds us in all forms; landscape, paintings, people. What may seem beautiful to one person may not have the same effect on someone else. 

As the saying goes, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder". 

Beauty on the outside doesn't mean or guarantee a beautiful person or thing on the inside. 

Beauty fades; personality or  elements may not retain outward appearance, but inner beauty can remain. This includes people, places, things. 

What's more important? Outward beauty or beauty inside? I'd choose inner beauty.

In romance books, covers portray pleasing, sexy images of heroines/women. But do books always describe characters as beautiful? 

In "Gone to the Dogs", Katie talks about needing to lose weight; those extra pounds that always creep up when you're not looking. Mike's attracted to her; he likes her looks and spunky attitude. Would he call her beautiful? Maybe. Would others agree? Maybe not.

I didn't "write" Katie to be a beauty queen. I wanted her to be attractive, normal, and a tad low on self-esteem. Aren't we all like that? Can't we relate to Katie as if she were a friend, someone just like us?

In "Anything You Can Do" (ebook and coming in print this month!), Allison sparks Jeff's interest. Again, he's attracted to her good looks, but her challenge keeps him intrigued. Is she beautiful? Maybe to him, but not as a beauty queen. 

Again, I didn't "write" Allison to be anything but "the girl next door". An average, hard-working woman who entices and interests Jeff without being a size two model or celebrity. (Cover is for new print version)

When you read, do you envision the heroine as a beautiful woman? Does a Hollywood image of what beauty looks like plant itself in your head? 

Sex appeal comes in many features; eyes, lips, smile, etc. But overall beauty does not necessarily need be the image portrayed in a romance book. The more appealing, day-to-day heroine, attractive but flawed like the rest of us, captures our attention. 

Beauty is's what's inside our heroines that keeps a romance book desirable and read.

Can you describe beauty? As a reader, do you want beautiful heroines? As a writer, are your heroines beautiful?

Photo: Flickr: Kevin H. photostream 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

What does beauty mean to you?

Beauty means many things to many people: a soft, pink morning sky tinged by the rising sun, a rugged man holding his tiny daughter in his arms as he looks down at her with love in his expression…a perfect flower whose fragrance entrances.
One definition of beauty is “the combination of qualities that make something pleasing and impressive to look at, listen to, touch, smell, or taste.”
Another definition of beauty is “an advantage, attraction, benefit, asset…”
But is it? We all love to look at beauty by whatever definition, but not all beauty is good. There’s a wild beauty in a deadly hurricane, and in a rattlesnake poised to strike. There’s treacherous beauty in a physically perfect human whose soul is more villainous than heroic, and sometimes fatally attractive beauty in a poisonous flower. “Gorgeous to look at, deadly to touch” can apply in many cases.
I see the greatest beauty, though, in a man whose love for his woman or his child shines through, or in a mother’s love for her newborn baby. Beauty also shows itself to me in a fragrant orchid or brilliant amaryllis, a beloved pet or an interesting plant or animal.
What represents beauty to you? Tell me, and I’ll pick a winner from those who comment. The prize is a download of my bestselling-ever contemporary erotic romance, A MUTUAL FAVOR, where I hope you’ll discover real beauty comes from love.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Eye of the Beholder

Isn't it both amazing and wonderful that each person sees things differently than another? Most of us would think these things are lovely:

However, many of us may find these creatures revolting, while others see nothing but beauty:

The same is true for all facets of life from movies, to TV to fiction.

It's true! I may love a book that you hate, and vice versa. I remind myself of this when I see snarky or negative reviews (not just of my work, but of other author's work as well).

As an author, when negative reviews hit, I shrug off the sting. I'm a rat lover (I've had them as pets in the past and they're truly amazing). I'm not spider phobic and I really don't fear snakes either. But I know those who don't feel the same way.

And as a reader, when I read a story that just doesn't resonate with me, I simply close it and move on. I seldom bash a book, even to friends, when I don't enjoy it (I admit to one exception -- when the author killed off the protagonist's romantic interest at the end of a book in a series I was reading ... I not only complained bitterly to all who would listen, but I've never picked up a book by that author again).

So, no matter what you're doing, it's always good to remember that one man's sunset is another man's corn snake.

Find Marianne Arkins at her website and blog.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Early Spring Beauty

I glance out my window and purple lilac blossoms wave into view as the gentle spring breezes make the boughs dance and weave on my bushes. Stepping out onto my deck, I see the last of the daffodils, and the bright yellow dandelions. The catnip is up, as is the lemon balm, mums, and the yarrow. My lavender is coming back to life with fragrant stalks. My horse is shedding enough winter hair to make an entirely new horse, and everywhere I look it's green.

The beautiful colors of spring came quite early this year. Usually it's May, not April, when my lilacs bloom, and the daffodils are early in April, not March. In fact, for a tulip festival not far from where I live, they've been piling mulch on their tulip beads; you have six weeks from when they first appear to first blooms and the festival isn't until May.

I find the beauty relaxing, a reminder that after the rain or the winter come the flowers we so long to see. It's a spiritual reminder that not everything is dark, drab, and dreary all the time, and even though we might struggle through winter (not this year), it's worth it when the flowers come out.

Personally, it's a reminder to find some beauty in our lives. It doesn't matter how stressed out we get, looking at a cat snoozing in the sun, or the lilacs outside puts smiles on our faces and we see the beauty all around us.

What beauty do you see? And as I snip a lilac branch to take to my mother today, what beauty do you share?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

No April Fools

This month our theme is beauty. The old saying, of course, is it’s in the eye of the beholder. Still there are many things no one can deny the beauty of: a flower, a sunset, a grand vista, a butterfly, the sound of laughter. This time of year, nature provides us a grand show of beauty. Trees buds unfurling the leaves changing bare branches to a profusion of blossoms and leaves, early flowers popping open their blooms in vibrant colors, and hillsides  covering themselves in a coat of grasses and wildflowers. When thinking of beauty, first to come to mind is what the eyes see, not so much as what the mind perceives in the beholder. My husband tells me I’m beautiful. I look into the mirror. I know I’m not, but to his eyes, mind, and heart, I am. To me his words are. Our words, the pictures we paint on the mind with them, the emotions which generate them or that they create produce beauty. I love you the ultimate in words of beautiful emotion. A thank you given for something done without thought of the act having any significance value. A compliment, giving recognition of a job well done, an expression of compassion or sympathy, or a few words of encouragement when things are going bad, simply beautiful words we so many times forget to say.

Take the time to see and hear the beauty that surrounds us. No matter how bad things get in other ways, beauty is there for us to see and warm our hearts, beauty in the eyes of the beholder or mind. No April fool.