Bitchin' Blog Posts
After reading two romances, one historical and one category, DocTurtle, it seems, has fallen and fallen hard… for you guys. He had such a great time reading and blog-reviewing Sex Straight Up and An Infamous Army that he asked for more romances to read and review for the awesomeness that is the Bitchery audience. As he wrote to me:
I can’t tell you how much fun I’ve had reading these books and writing these reviews, and how much I will be delighted to continue my association with your blog in whatever way you’d like me to…. I’ll leave it to you and your readers to decide just what it is you’d like from me in the future. There seemed to be support for continuing a similar style of multi-part review…. In any case, I have to admit that I’m (gasp!) excited about reading more.
I’m sure you’re aware that I’ve learned a lot about your and your readers’ passion…and I’ve learned to measure my words more carefully, after my oversimplistic snarking that caused this whole wonderful kerfuffle in the first place! Until I hear from you again, please know that I await your orders and am at your service.
Since there is little doubt that DocTurtle is a man of much brainly brainness, so the “Smart” half is not in question. But why not see if we can make him into a well-read connoisseur of romance, a Smart Bitch in Training, as it were. So behold, and welcome DocTurtle - or, as he would prefer to be known: Patrick. And what better way to introduce him to y’all than to interview Patrick with Smart Bitch style nosy ass questions.
Why math? What’s your specialty - what’s your PhD in?
Patrick:Unlike the majority of my students (who often come to college with no particular field of study in mind, stumble upon math when they do well in Calculus, and think “what the hell, why not?”) I’ve wanted to go into math or some related field for as long as I can remember. (At one point I thought being the team statistician for the Atlanta Braves would have been the coolest career to which one could possible aspire.) I can’t really say “why” since I never made a conscious decision to go into math. I guess the closest thing I can offer to a “why” is that I like patterns and pattern-matching, and at the end of the day math is really not much more than the search for order and patterns.
My Ph.D. is just in “Mathematics.” Nothin’ fancy there. I have two specialties within that sprawling field of study: combinatorial and geometric group theory, and graph theory. The second is easier to describe: it’s essentially the study of the structure and properties of networks made up of “nodes” and “edges” connecting them (think of a computer network, for example). Meanwhile group theory is in a sense a generalization of the rules and structures of algebra that one would do in high school: how does one “add” and “multiply” and “divide” in a more general setting? The kind of group theory I do most often arises in particle physics and theoretical computer science.
How much of a problem is Isomorphism within Coexeter Groups? Are they exclusive and snobby, or are they profligate slut integers who love ‘em and leave ‘em without thought to reputation?
Patrick: Thanks to widespread attention from the international community and significant funding from various philanthropic agencies, we’re happy to say that isomorphism is no longer a problem for most of the world’s Coxeter groups. The vast majority of Coxeter groups are now free to live an isomorphism-free life, growing to ripe old age and raising many healthy grouplets who will never know the horrors of isomorphism.
My 2005 book chronicles the plight of those sad creatures who are afflicted with isomorphism. I’ll thank SB Sarah never again to mock those poor souls, and I’m sure she’ll be decent enough to oblige.
How did you meet Maughta? And how the CRAP do you pronounce that? Why did you get married in Lynchburg? Isn’t that a dry county?!
Parick: “Maughta” (my wife, of Judge a Book by its Cover fame) is pronounced “MAW-ta.” There’s a long story behind the word “maughta”; suffice it to say that it’s a made-up word meaning “lizard.” It’s the basis of about half of our inside jokes and most of our terms of endearment for each other.
As we love, titilliatingly, to tell the story, Maughta and I met when she was introduced to me as the childhood best friend of my then-girlfriend, soon-to-be-fiancee. (Gasping horror!)
We were in fact introduced by my GF at the time, but no relationship-wrecking ensued: we didn’t really MEET meet for a couple more years, by which time the old relationship was long gone. I was in my first year of my masters study and Maughta was in her junior year of college, both at the University of Denver. (She grew up in Denver, I grew up in Montana and moved to Denver for college.)
We moved away to go to grad school together at Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tennessee, me in math and Maughta in the history of religion. Nashville was an awesome place to live during grad school: it’s a beautiful city with lots of stuff to do and, of course, a stellar music scene. We got married by a judge in the presence of a couple dozen of our friends at Sunset Grille, a restaurant in an “historic” shopping/dining district called Hillsboro Village, just south of Vanderbilt’s campus. (The Village is filled mostly with Ye Olde Touriste Trappes, but there’s some goooood eats there, too.)
SB Sarah’s reference is to a photo posted on my website and taken the day before the wedding. We’d taken a trip down to Lynchburg (which is indeed located in a dry county) to show Maughta’s parents the Jack Daniels Distillery. If you ever have a chance to go, definitely do: it’s a fun free tour run by the locals, and the countryside around the distillery is gorgeous. It’s a great way to spend a half-day.
Besides reading Heyer, what else do you like to do? Crush integers? Calculate pi? Eat pie?
I love (in no particular order) running, reading, writing, and vegetarian cooking. Most of my free time is spent on one of those activities, with or without Maughta.
Oh, and bowling. I just got back into that a year or so ago, and I’ve got a nice team put together with me and three English professors from another nearby university. We kick ASS.
I think you already introduced your readers to some of my reading tastes at the outset of The Challenge, but I might say that my tastes tend towards realism. I prefer non-fiction to fiction, generally, and shy away from most speculative fiction, but I’m open to anything. I love 19th and 20th century British literature, early Soviet literature, and Jewish- and Jewish-American literature (especially I.B. Singer and Chaim Potok).
What have you learned about the romance genre? What do you enjoy about it? What would you change? Obviously you’ve had a limited experience reading it, but first impressions definitely count.
Patrick: Wow. I think the answer to that first question might paradoxically be “not much” and “shitloads,” all at once.
“Not much”: I’ve not yet read enough to suss out many of the genre’s conventions, standards, cliches, and expectations. Maybe this is a good thing, since I’m therefore likely to read each of the next many books without any expectations in advance.
“Shitloads”: well, I’ve learned that it’s not a monolith. While I knew before that there were many different sub-genres, I’m sure that I wasn’t aware of just what allowed one to distinguish between examples from those various sub-genres. Of course, I’m still not aware of many of those distinctions (see “Not much”), but from reading the books I have read and from keeping regular tabs on SBTB’s posters and commenters I feel as though I’ve got a better sense of the many facets of romantic fiction.
I think it’s too early for me to be able to say what I enjoy about reading it…except to say that, as is the case in reading any genre, I’m sure I’ll find different things to enjoy about different authors’ works. Let’s take the only two examples I can at this point:
I enjoyed O’Reilly’s ability to keep the pages turning, which stemmed in part from her ability to condense a tight plot and a believable romance (even if I wanted to smack the two protagonists upside the head several times) into a short short format. Even though I mocked it at the time, I enjoyed her sometimes silly choice of words (“man-man” and “hoo-haw busting sex” first come to mind): she kept it fun.
I enjoyed Heyer’s gentility and concise choice of words. As I said above, I’m a big fan of 19th/20th century British literature in general, and sly sardonic satire in particular, and Heyer’s best chapters had the latter in abundance. I also enjoyed the richness of her language, and her attention to detail.
“What would I change?” I really have no idea what to say to that. It’s certainly not fair of me to change anything that would obscure or pervert a particular author’s intentions, so I don’t think I’d change a thing about the books I’ve so far read…if I were to interpret the question along the lines of “How would you write your own romance novel?” I might have more to say. For instance, my own retelling of the Battle of Waterloo would have less blood and guts. And I would have focused more on the inner workings of the relationship between Lucy Devenish and George Alastair, and maybe even between the Worths and the Fishers as more well-established couples: just because a romance is longstanding and stable, that doesn’t mean that it’s free of interest and intrigue worthy of chronicling.
Okay, so I guess I would change something about Heyer!
A final note: My thanks go out to SB Sarah for giving me this chance to introduce myself to the SBTB community more fully! Thank you all for all of your support; I look forward to reading and learning with you all in the coming days!
Another cool thing about Patrick? Four words: teaching math through poetry.
Patrick: [At a recent conference] I was giving a talk on math poetry: I’ve invented new mathematical means for creating poetry. Here’s a sample; it’s got pretty deep mathematical structure, and though it’s not obvious on the face of it, the theme of the poem is deeply related to its construction as well:
Are we so free that we must build
tight cages out of self-wrought bars?,
that, every barrier of old o’erperched,
bold walls we must before us raise
to repress our over-anxious powers?
Dreary now is Spenser’s sonnetry,
and empty are Keats’s odes:
a drove of words must measure more
than the essence it encodes.
So vowing, to this priesthood
I, in metered ciphered characters,
make an offer of my novice oath,
though a cheap and clumsy canticle,
in a passionately davened prayer.
You can read more about this poem and how I use poetry to teach lower-level math classes at my blog, plus more examples in the poetry section.
So what is SBiT Patrick reading next? Chase. Loretta Chase. To quote his email to me: “The Lord has arrived!” Stay tuned for more from SBiT Patrick in the coming weeks.