Thursday, January 30, 2014

Flash Fiction Friday: Trapped Aboard!

Another Wendig Challenge--a fairy-tale remix.  I had to cheat on this one.  Not only did I pick the fairy tale I wanted (which was within the rules), but I picked the sub-genre I wanted, since I just didn't feel like working with some of them, and had a lot of trouble figuring out how to take the story in other directions.  Then I ran over the 1000-word limit. I managed to cut it back to 1225, but any more and I'll lose the thread of the story.

I don't think the end result needs any explanation as to which tale or what sort of genre I used.

Trapped Aboard

Rapa wandered through the abandoned space station.  Only The Woman, who’d brought her there and hidden her long ago, had known she was there.  Now everyone was gone, and Rapa was trapped aboard.  The Woman had said that she’d come back to take her away.   Rapa didn’t know if she hoped She would come, or not.  She would die if left on the Station, of course.  But.

Rapa had spent a day finding a way out of the hidden room where she’d spent most of her sixteen years.  Then she had explored, as she’d never been able to when she was The Woman’s prisoner.

“You will let me in when I return,” The Woman had commanded before she left.  Rapa wondered if she would.  So many times she had unlocked the storeroom and let her in, these years as a captive.

She had been the tester for all The Woman’s potions and experiments and beauty products, and the only one that had worked was the one that counteracted one odd side-effect of weightlessness, and made her hair grow.  Once, all Spacers were bald, because hair wouldn’t grow in zero G.  Now, most sported close-cropped curls or a modest Mohawk, thanks to The Woman.  Thanks to Rapa. 

Rapa’s own hair dropped to her feet and beyond, or would have if there’d been any gravity to pull it down, rather than floating cloud-like about her.  If there had been gravity, the weight of all that hair might have broken her neck.

Rapa bore the scars of other, less successful efforts to make it big in the beauty industry.  The Woman had grown rich on the one success, and still she kept Rapa.

For years Rapa spoken to no one but The Woman.  When she had escaped her room at night and wandered the station, she had gone in terror of what would happen if she were found.  Now she turned on the comm unit and stared at the newsfeed that came up automatically.  Men and women came and went, talking of worlds unknown to her, but Rapa absorbed it all.

She didn’t know how long she watched, greedily taking in the life she’d never known.  It might have been hours or days.  It stopped because something interrupted the newscast.

The face of a young man came onto the screen, and spoke.  “Space Station Tower 1?  Is someone aboard?”

“Oh!” Rapa gasped.  She knew the man in the box spoke to her.  She was discovered.  The Woman would—

“Someone is there.”  He had heard her gasp.  “Please respond, Tower 1.”

The Woman had taught her to hide, as though it was to make her safe.  Rapa had long known that The Woman was evil and untrustworthy, and she had feared her since she was tiny, but that didn’t make all people evil.  The young man wore a concerned frown, but he looked kind.  “Come in, Tower 1,” he repeated.  “Please turn on the visual?”

“I—I don’t know how,” she said softly.

The man started.  “Who—who are you?”

The Woman had named her Rapunzel after the hair thing worked.  Rapa had shortened the name in her own mind.  “I am Rapa.  Rapunzel,” she added.

He gave a soft whistle.  “Rapunzel. . . and trapped in the Tower.”  He spoke almost as though to himself.  Then, to her, “The switch for Visuals is to the left below the vid screen.  Do you see it?”

She reached out and turned it on.
#
 Aboard the Starship ML King, William Prince drew a sharp breath.  A professional through and through, he schooled himself at once to a calm response and a face that gave nothing away, as he spoke of the need to get a rescue team to her.  But inside, Prince reeled.  So beautiful, and that amazing hair!  But the scars—on her hands, her arms, even her left cheek.  They marred her beauty only to emphasize it.

One thing the girl—Rapa—said jolted him back to full attention.

“She will be back.  The Woman said she would return for me.”

“When?”

“She didn’t say.”  She met his gaze.  “I do not wish to go with her.”

Prince heard himself saying, “I’ll be there first.  I must make preparations.  Leave this channel open, okay?”

She nodded.  “I have to go eat and—and things.”  She crimsoned and he nodded. 

“See the button labeled ‘call’?  If anything happens, press it and call for Starship King.  That’s where I am.”  He touched an emblem on his shirt, which she now understood to be a uniform.  “I’m Lieutenant Prince, William Prince.”

He reached toward the screen, and she could no longer hear him, though she watched him move away, and now she could also see that he was surrounded by other uniformed men and women, all busy.  She left to take care of her needs.
#
“Rapa?  Rapa, please come in.”

“I’m here,” she called eagerly.

“I am aboard the rescue vessel.  We’ll be there in a few hours.”

Tension flowed from the one to the other.  The Tower was scheduled to self-destruct in less than two days.  But Rapa’s mysterious Woman might return even sooner. 

An hour after her last comm with Prince, Rapa found The Woman standing before her.  And she knew that Rapa had revealed herself.  She had overheard the last communication with Prince.

“Come, girl.  We must leave at once.”  Her commands had never been met with anything but instant obedience.

“No.”  Rapa’s refusal stopped The Woman in her tracks.  But Rapa was no match for The Woman, and she knew it.  She turned and fled, but she was far less practiced at propelling herself through the tubes and halls.  Her only hope was to delay long enough for Prince to arrive, and to that end she twisted and dodged.
#
Prince felt a stab of fear when he saw the small vessel docked to the Tower.  The Woman had returned.  Still, she was still aboard.  He wasn’t too late.  Directing his pilot to remain aboard and prevent the other vessel from undocking, Prince left the 3-seater and cycled through the airlock.

He reached the cargo bay in time to see Rapa struggling with a tall, strong woman, who strove to force her into one of the cargo drones.  The long hair that had bound Prince to her from the first glimpse was being used now to imprison her.  She was wound in a cocoon of it.  Prince dove for the pair, tackling The Woman. 

She lashed out at him, slashing his face and his right eye.  Prince screamed in pain and fury, and managed one last, desperate blow that felled The Woman.  Staggering, he caught up Rapa, who shook herself free of her hair.  Together, they reached the cargo bay doors, and passed through.  Rapa closed the doors.  It might gain them a second or two.

“I’m—docked—airlock 2,” Prince managed.  He could see nothing.  His right eye, he was certain, was gone, the left swelling shut.  He let Rapa tow him, and only managed to issue the necessary orders to be readmitted to the rescue shuttle.

He had only one last order to give before he collapsed.  He could feel the soft hair brushing his face as she bent over him, stopping the blood.

“Destroy the other ship.  She must torment Rapa no more.”
###
 
(Just in case anyone wonders: Rapunzel, and Space Opera)

©Rebecca M. Douglass 2014

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

MG Review: Like the Willow Tree, by Lois Lowry

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Title: Like the Willow Tree: The Diary of Lydia Amelia Pierce, Portland, Maine, 1918. Dear America series.
Author: Lois Lowry
Publisher: Scholastic, 2011.  I used the audiobook by Findaway World, read by Elaina Erika Davis, also released in 2011.
Source: (Online) library.

Summary: 
This is a series familiar to most middle grade readers by now, I would guess.  The book is set up like a real diary of a girl from some interesting point in history, and like most recounts about a year.  Naturally, it's a pivotal year.  In this case, it is the year in which Lydia Pierce (11) and her brother Daniel (14) find themselves orphaned by the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918.  They must suddenly leave their home in Portalnd, Maine, and go to stay with their Uncle.  But he can't keep them--he has a large family and a poor farm, so he takes them to the Shaker community at Sabbath Day Lake.  Left in the orphanage at this unusual religious enclave, Lydia and Daniel have a lot of adjusting to do and a lot of learning.  

Review:
When I first saw the "Dear America" books, I nearly dismissed them as a gimmick, the sort of poorly written stuff you get in anonymous series like the later Boxcar children or Nancy Drew.  But on closer inspection (the early "Diaries" didn't include the name of the actual author on the cover as I see this one does), I realized that they were written by established writers of children's fiction, and took a closer look.  What I found were good, well-written stories, whose only formula was the diary structure (which admittedly is a bit forced--what kid would ever record such detail and explain so much along the way?).  Each book ends with a section of historical notes and pictures, telling more about the place and time in which the story is set--a history lesson I'll bet many kids are eager to look at after reading the stories.

Like the Willow Tree was a good story, and gave some interesting insights into a bit of history and a culture that not many know much about.  I had a sense of dissatisfaction with it, however.  Some of that was due to my general reaction to the Shaker religion (well, maybe any religion, but these folk had some odd ideas and the approach felt rather cult-like).  Lydia comes too rapidly, in my opinion, to accept this radical change in her life and the beliefs she is being handed.  Maybe that's realistic for an 11-year-old who's been through a lot of trauma, but I would have been happy to see her rebel a little more.  Again, maybe that comes from my belief that it's pretty hard to be happy in a society that completely separates males and females and allows not so much as a word between them.

Another small quibble was that the uncle who brought them--and says he'll try to visit occasionally (and genuinely seems to care and mean it) simply vanishes from the story.  Unless I missed something, he isn't even mentioned in the "Epilogue", a feature of all the Dear America books in which the author summarizes the rest of the characters' lives.  Since I did this as an audio book it's possible I missed something there.

Ms. Davis did a good job reading, but I admit to having found her voice a little grating.  That's a matter of personal taste, however, and the audio edition did offer one thing the printed book can't--the Shaker songs Lydia includes in her diary are actually sung so that one hears the tunes and gets a feel for them.  
#


Full Disclosure: I borrowed Like the Willow Tree  from my (online) library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Monday, January 27, 2014

Book Review: Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls

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Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls, by David Sedaris.
2013, Hachett Audio, read by the author.

Summary: 
A collection of humorous essays on everything from French dentistry to Sedaris' rather bizarre childhood.  Adult content.


Review:
I like to listen to audio books while working out.  This time, I  had to stop running a time or two because I was laughing too hard to keep going.  Do I really need to say more?  No, but of course, I will.  (Note, the only other things that have made me laugh out loud in the middle of a workout have been NPR's quiz shows, Wait Wait Don't Tell Me and Says You).

In point of fact, while much of the book was laugh-out-loud funny, a few of these essays were a little squirmy-uncomfortable to listen to, even while being laugh-out-loud funny, notably the ones about his childhood and his youth.  Well, most of us would probably do well to forget most of our 20s, so I'll give him credit for at least turning them into something to laugh at.  The discomfort with the childhood essays comes from the nature of his family, which to me sounds dysfunctional and even abusive, though Sedaris assures us it wasn't.  Not abusive, anyway.  But from where I stand. . . wow.  I grew up in the same era, though on the other side of the country and in a different socio-economic class, so maybe we saw it a bit differently.  I guess if he can laugh at it, so can I.

Despite a few cringe-worthy moments, though, this goes down as one of the funniest books I've read (or listened to, which admittedly probably made it better, since his delivery is great) in a very long time.  Sedaris has a keen eye for the absurdity of the human condition, and the gift with language to make it all hilariously clear to us.

Plus: he almost makes me want to get that colonoscopy my doctor keeps nagging me about.

Almost.

Read it, or listen, if you are over the age of consent.

You know, I suddenly realize I found the owls, but don't remember diabetes coming up at all.  Did I lose track somewhere?  Or is Sedaris kicking back and enjoying another good laugh?
#

Full Disclosure: I borrowed Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls from my (online) library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Flash Fiction Friday: The Bartender and the Pirate

This week's Wendig Challenge had us rolling dice for three story elements: main character, setting, and conflict.  I rolled a bartender, a pirate ship, and and encounter with a nemesis.  For extra fun, a second roll on the first column gave me a detective.  I had the choice of making the second roll another character or an aspect of the main character, and opted for the latter.

Wendig gave us 2000 words this week.  I used 1804 of them.  I thought it was going to be light, but although there's some humor, it's not a children's story.

The Bartender and the Pirate


Lira stood at ease behind the bar, wiping glasses and listening to the words flowing around her.  No one ever paid attention to the bartender, and you could learn an amazing amount that way.  What Lira was learning tonight was that the pirate ship was back in the local waters, and people were afraid. No one seemed to know who the pirate was, whose ship had been haunting their shores off and on for several months.  When there were no fat merchant vessels to take, the pirates would land and take what they wanted, from livestock to women.

She shrugged to herself.  Pirates had been raiding this coast for years.  Centuries, probably, ever since the first boats sailed in and out of the harbor.  Pirates were a part of life along the coast.  Then a bit of conversation caught her attention.

"Dead, he was, just a-lying in the field with his throat cut, I tell you!"

"Never!  And him saying he could outrun or outfight any man on this coast."

"Looks like he was wrong."

Lira glanced down the bar.  Two grizzled shepherds had their faces buried in their beers, but she was pretty sure they'd been the speakers.  She recognized them, of course.  She knew everyone, even those who never came into a bar, or who would never come into a bar run by a woman.  "Taint decent," was the verdict of most of the women, but the men didn't care.  They came for the best beer and the chance to be waited on by something female.

And they told her things.  Enough that she had a guess, looking around the bar, who might not have been as fast or as fierce as he'd thought.  If she was right, he was no loss to the community.  Basher Gaffen was a bully and a coward, and if the pirates had taken him out, so much the better.

"Funny, though," the older of the two elders said, coming up out of his beer as though he'd heard Lira's thoughts.  "Ol' Basher wasn't killed with a cutlass like the pirates usually do.  His throat was slit as neat as neat, like a butcher with a hog, it was."

Lira grimaced.  That wouldn't be very neat--blood all over, more like.  But throat slitting with a fine knife--it didn't sound like pirates, though they'd likely enough get the blame.  She sighed.  No doubt that was what the killer intended.  The only question was whether she'd put it right.

Two hours later, Lira knew she would let the pirates take the blame.  That was when she finally met the unknown pirate.  The unknown pirate was all too well known to her.   She would let the bastard hang and dance on his grave.

First she had to escape.

Lira had gone to look at the place where the dead man had been found, after the bar shut down.  It was the middle of the night, but since she didn’t expect to find anything there anyway, she figured a lantern would cast enough light to show her that any evidence had been trampled by those who came to take the corpse away.  She could then agree that whoever had done it, they’d done the village a favor, and could go get some sleep.

The lantern gave away her location to the pirates, who had come back and were in a nasty mood.  Lira knew she was in real trouble, but it might have been worse, at least in the short term, if the Pirate King himself hadn’t been there.  As a result, she was still alive and whole.  She was also bound, gagged, and parked in the bilges awaiting his decision about how to kill her, but that could be overcome.

The pirate king’s real name was Norman, though none of his men knew that.  Or none had known, until they’d taken Lira.  She’d recognized him at once, even though it had been years since they’d been in school together, and he’d grown a lot since then.  He’d been a victim back then, a scrawny kid struggling under the burden of a name that invited teasing.  He’d retaliated with underhanded plots that got other students in trouble for things he did, usually those with no one to defend them.  Just the way these pirates operated.

Now Norman was the fierce and feared Pirate King, and he would not forgive Lira for revealing his true name to the men he led.

She would never forgive him for getting her tossed out of school.

Lira cursed herself for a fool.  She knew better than to go roaming in the night when the pirates were on the loose.  The Pirate King had decided they were his personal supply house, and Lira stood in his way.  She figured she had at most an hour or so before he made up his mind whether to skin her, hang her, or just throw her overboard.  And that would almost certainly be after giving her to his crew for a while.

She had no intention of sticking around for any part of it.  Working off her right shoe, she bent down until she could hook a toe into the gag.  Fortunately it was a warm night, and she wasn’t wearing socks.  The gag wasn’t tight—Norman had only put it on to stop her telling the men about his past; she wouldn’t get anywhere by screaming in any case.  The ship was standing about a half mile off the shore.

With the gag removed, she could use her teeth on the bonds securing her hands.  It took a long time, but Norman had insisted on tying her up himself—probably to keep her from telling his men what he really was like—and he still wasn’t any better with knots than he had been as a boy.  If a real sailor had done it, she’d have been sunk.

Lira dropped the last loop of rope into the stinking bilge water and stood up cautiously.  She felt around for her shoe and slid it back on, unwilling to risk stepping on something nasty in her bare feet.  The only question now was if she would expose Norman to his crew and let them take care of him, kill him herself, or play it safe and just dive overboard and swim for shore. 

The pirates decided it for her.  When she crept to the hatch and peered out, hoping to find the crew asleep and only perhaps a single watchman dozing by the wheel, she found instead that the entire crew was gathered around the Captain’s cabin, where Norman was engaged in a heated argument with someone she couldn’t see.

Lira stepped out of her shoes.  They would make a noise she couldn’t afford.   Moving silently from shadow to shadow, Lira got close enough to hear the discussion, and she smiled.

Norman was in trouble.  His crew wanted to know how a guy named “Norman” could make himself a Pirate King, and why they should follow him.  He was soft—too soft to even kill a troublesome female.

Lira was in trouble, too.  The crew was making it clear that if he wanted to remain a Pirate King, Norman was going to have to prove his bloodthirsty credentials.  On her.  And she had no doubt that he would.  Nothing she’d heard suggested that Norman had learned mercy since leaving school, and she was willing to bet he’d moved on from sneaking to murder.  He wasn’t a scrawny kid any more, and he’d never been soft. 

The knife he wore as his belt, as she’d noted earlier, was sharp and lethal.  Exactly the sort of knife that had ended the life of Basher Gaffen.  And Basher had been one of those who tormented Norman back in their school days.  He’d tormented everyone, right up until Norman had slit his throat in the field on the far side of the harbor.

“An’ let’s see you lead us in and clean out that stinking town once and for all!  We’ve had enough of sneaking.  Burn it, kill ‘em, take all the women.  Unless you’re some kind of sissy!”

Lira had heard enough.  She moved silently back away from the crowd toward the bow.  Shedding overshirt and skirt, she slid through the hole where the anchor chain ran, swung as low as she could over the water, and let go, pointing her toes to enter the water as cleanly as possible.

She wasn’t quite silent enough.  Some keen-eared pirate had heard the splash.  A yell and the sound of many bare feet crossing the deck warned Lira, once she’d resurfaced, that she’d been spotted.  She struck out for shore with a steady stroke, diving once or twice when she heard pistols fire.  The single-shot monsters were not terribly accurate, and she kept her course. 

It took the pirates several minutes to bring the vessel about to follow her.  Even as she swam for her life, Lira thought Norman must not be the seaman he imagined himself, or he’d have lowered a boat, rather than bringing the ship in so close to shore.  The men had their blood up too and no one was thinking.  Raising her head to orient herself, she saw she was directly off the headland to the south of the harbor.  There was enough moonlight to make out the form of the land, but not enough to see what lay in the water.

She glanced back.  The ship was coming after her.   The wind had picked up and the pirates came on at speed.

With a grim smile she set a faster stroke and made for the point.  She would pass over the rocks, mostly.


Lira stood dripping and half-naked on the shore, shivering even on this mild night after twenty minutes in the cold waters.  She was cut and bruised from a landing among the rocks through rough surf.  But she smiled as she watched the pirate ship, sails still set, wallow and break apart against the rocks that had lain hidden just below the waves.

She’d never finished school after he’d gotten her kicked out for lewd behavior.  But she’d done just fine.  Norman had finished school, and it had made him a Pirate King.  But he wouldn’t trouble anyone any longer.  Some of the men might make it to shore.  Norman would not be among them, even if he thought to shed sword, cutlass, knives and pistols before they dragged him to the bottom.

Norman couldn’t swim.  Basher had made sure of that.  It made a nice sort of circular revenge.

The case, thought Lira, was nicely wrapped up.  She turned toward the village, cursing a bit as she realized she had to walk a mile home barefoot.  Still, it was a small price to pay.
#
Image copyright Rebecca M. Douglass

©Rebecca M. Douglass 2014

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Kid Lit Blog Hop: Write On, Callie Jones




http://youthlitreviews.com/2014/01/21/kid-lit-blog-hop-31/



7507911Title: Write On, Callie Jones
Author:  Naomi Zucker
Publisher: Egmont, USA, 2010.  188 pages
Source: Library

Summary:
Callie Jones, hero of Callie's Rules (see review), is back, and she's making more progress towards figuring out the strange beings (i.e. adults) who rule her world.   This time she's writing for the school newspaper and taking on everything from cockroaches to the Principal, with mixed results.

Review:
I think this is a stronger book than the first about Callie and her unusual family, in part because it is in some ways less dramatic.  My criticism of Callie's Rules was that it had too many over-the-top characters and situations, and they just didn't fit.  Zucker has tamed that down in this book, though there is still the absurd Chief Bloodworth who is in charge of security for their little town, and the Principal remains pretty clueless.  But most of what goes on is just believable enough, and keeps the reader laughing even while the story delivers some pretty strong messages about freedom of the press, bullying, and narrow-minded idiots.  Though Zucker might not have phrased that last just like that (Callie would, in her thoughts, though).  Zucker clearly enjoys drawing the narrow-minded with a bold pen.
The story develops nicely from Callie's simple desire to be a journalist and to find a place in Middle School where she can fit in.  Her efforts to find and write stories she cares about lead naturally to clashes with the powers that be, but also to a better understanding of friendship and perseverance.  The school year is tied up with a nice triumph for the students and one final great article for Callie.

Callie's still writing down The Rules, too.  Some of her best wisdom: 
"When parents tell you to figure out something for yourself, it's usually because they don't know the answer."  She got that one right.
"Fashion rules don't make any sense.  but you have to act as thought they do."  Well, Callie and I probably have quite a bit in common!

This was a quick, fun read, and I can recommend it for girls especially, from about 8 up.


Full Disclosure: I borrowed Write on, Callie Jones  from my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

###

In other news: I have brought some order to my listings of book reviews for adults and short stories.  Take a look and let me know what you think.  Rational order for the children's book reviews will be coming soon.  Somehow, when I started, I never thought there would be so many I needed to organize.  But I'm looking now and see quite a pile of stories and reviews.  

Monday, January 20, 2014

Mystery Monday: Away With the Fairies, by Kerry Greenwood

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Title: Away With the Fairies, Phryne Fisher mysteries #11, by Kerry Greenwood.  241 pages.
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press, 2001.
Source: Library

Have I ever mentioned how much I love my library?  Books all over the place, and free for the borrowing.  No risk if you don't like it, so try anything that catches your fancy!  And that was how I first read this book, which was the first of the series I read (if you can follow that: this book, which is #11 in the series, was the first of Greenwood's books I read).  I decided to re-read it after having read most of the preceding books, just to see what it felt like to see the story with the backstory in my head.

Summary:
Set in between-the-wars Melbourne, Australia, Phryne's latest adventure starts as a pleasant distraction from missing her lover.  Lin Chung is on a silk-buying trip to China, and investigating the death of a writer and illustrator of cloying fairy stories is a bit of amusement for the wealthy and unusual Phryne.  To learn who might have done the dastardly deed, Phryne takes a job at a women's magazine.  But the fun is taken from her investigations by the growing awareness that something very bad has been happening to Lin Chung.

Review:
This mystery is two mysteries, held together of course by the fact that it is Phryne (whose name is pronounced "Fry-knee") investigating both.  It's a tricky balancing job for an author.  Greenwood resists the temptation to make the two intertwine in any way; instead they continue to run in parallel.  It's up to the reader to track both and care about both.

That, of course, is the hazard: we inevitably care about one more than the other, and, like Phryne, we soon find ourselves more concerned about Lin Chung than about the murder of a woman who doesn't seem to have been as pleasant as her little fairy drawings would suggest.  This also leaves us (or Greenwood) with a problem, as the Lin Chung story is treated as a side story (this is, after all, a murder mystery).  Yet I felt like wrapping up that one was much more of an important denouement than was the unveiling of the murderer.  In all honesty, I just wasn't that concerned with the murder (much as Phryne herself must have felt, though she drags herself out of bed to tie up the loose ends--a real sacrifice, given that her bed is where Lin Chung is by that point).

On a final note, though I definitely count the Phryne Fisher books as cozy mysteries, they do have more sex in them than most cozies (at least one good bedroom scene per).  I'm not sure the scenes add much, though they are fun.  We are very much aware that Phryne is unashamedly a sexual being without ever setting foot in the bedroom--she exudes sexuality, and makes total, unabashed use of it when needed.  The level of detail on the reunion with her lover, while a very long way from erotica, is unnecessary, and some may find it distracts from the generally light nature of the book and the series.

Full Disclosure: I borrowed Away With the Fairies from my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Flash Fiction Friday: The Cartographer's Potion



We're back at last to the Wendig Challenges. This was another random-title generator, and had a great set of words to select from. My offering, at 997 words including title.



The Cartographer’s Potion

The Cartographer gazed at the parchments on the worktable. A frown further creased his age-furrowed forehead. There was something missing, something that would make the maps live. He wanted to make them more than just bits of parchment with lines on them.

“It wouldn’t hurt if they could stand up to being rolled and folded and stuffed into a saddlebag in the rain, and take no hurt,” Lord Alfus suggested.

“You don’t want much,” the Cartographer replied.

“You’re the mage.”

“I am a cartographer.” He rubbed a shaking hand across his aching forehead.

“A cartographer. Yes.” Lord Alfus shifted in his chair, the mail shirt he never removed clinking slightly. “But you were a mage first.”

The Cartographer said nothing. His life was in this man’s hands, and it would be worth little if he did not produce results soon. He smiled grimly, though only in his mind where the lord could not see. His life was worth little in any case. Had the task he’d been set been one less to his taste, he’d have refused and died with a smile.

But to be ordered to produce the best maps ever made! To be given whatever help and resources and time he needed to gather the data and interview travelers and compare every map he could find to expand the limits of knowledge! Only one thing he had not been given. The Cartographer could not himself travel the world and gather that information firsthand. That right, however, was something Lord Alfus could neither grant nor withhold. He glanced down at his legs, withered and useless from a disease no magic could cure. He hadn’t long now. He could feel it.

The Cartographer reopened the long-running debate within himself. Lord Alfus had stolen his freedom for these last years of his life, and set him to serve the very ruler who had conquered and destroyed the Cartographer’s people. For that, he must be hated. The loss of home and freedom could not be forgiven.

And yet.

At home, the Cartographer had had nothing. Crippled by disease, he had been left a beggar. Lord Alfus had somehow learned what he was, learned what his own people had not known or understood, and had brought him here and made him a scholar once again. A captive scholar.

He looked across the room at a small cabinet in the corner. As a scholar, he had done more than make maps, though cartography was his first love. The cabinet held the product of years of study and experimentation. He could make the maps live, but someone must die to do it. Who should die was a decision the Cartographer could not yet make.

Who should die first, he reminded himself. Whatever he did, he would die, and soon. And the maps would live, and the world would know what he had done.

As bargains with demons went, it wasn’t bad.

#

Lord Alfus mingled with the lords and ladies of his realm, goblet in hand. Such parties bored him, but they allowed the nobles to show off to one another, and to demonstrate their loyalty to the crown. That was important.

If the smile he wore could be called supercilious, most saw it as the condescension of great man to his people, and were flattered by his attentions. He made a point of speaking to each person in attendance.

The Cartographer was not present. The strange little man was nearing death, and no doubt did not care to spend what little strength he had left at a party. Alfus could not have said how he knew the man was dying, but he felt it. He thought it, and put the thought aside. It was of little moment, now that he, Lord Alfus, ruled all the civilized lands.

He smiled again, and turned to the man next to him. “And have you repaired the damages to your roads from the spring flooding, Sir Garreg?”

#

In his chambers in a distant part of the castle, the Cartographer laid a shaking hand on the pile of maps. He could do no more. His fingers would not hold the quill. He could barely raise a goblet to his lips without spilling the contents.

Two goblets stood on his table. One held watered wine, laced with something he had concocted to ease his pain. From time to time he took a sip, though never enough to prevent clear thought. He gripped the goblet with both hands to quell the shaking. Between drinks, he sat as though sleeping.

He did not sleep.

#

In the immense Royal Gallery, Lord Alfus patted his stammering noble on the shoulder. “Well done, Sir Garreg. Your tenants must be grateful to have such a lord.”

As you must also be, he had no need of saying.

The knight moved hastily away, dismissed and relieved to so be. Lord Alfus looked about to see who else needed his attention. His eye fell on the one man who failed to fear him, and he frowned. That must change, and soon.

Thinking of his plans, he raised the goblet to his lips and drank deeply.

#

The Cartographer felt the change, and reached for his own goblet. Not the wine this time, but the plain stone cup that smoked a bit as it stood, though the contents were not hot. By force of will he brought it to his lips with his left hand, the right still resting on the maps. He felt the changes begin, and drank deeply.

A surge of power burned the last life from the Cartographer at the same moment that Lord Alfus collapsed. Under the now lifeless right hand, the maps shifted and changed.

When, two days later, someone remembered the Cartographer in the chaos of a realm without a ruler, they found his lifeless body lying beside a set of maps. Maps which crawled with the movements of every living creature in the realm.

###

©Rebecca M. Douglass 2014

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Progressive Book Club: Back at last!



http://mlswift.me/progressive-book-club-2/pbc-information-and-guidelines/
Our Progressive Book Club has been on hiatus since summer while our fearless leader, M. L. Swift, dealt with life.  Now we're back, with a new format!


I have chosen to continue to use the PBC as a place to talk about writing books, and this month I'm featuring the book I'm currently reading (I"m not done with it, and indeed it's the sort of book you mark and return to while writing and editing).  With a warning that this one's for the adult writers, I present:
The Kick-Ass Writer: 1001 Ways to Write Great Fiction, Get Published, and Earn Your Audience, by Chuck Wendig.
Published by Writers Digest books, 2013.  278 pages.

Note: this is a discussion, not a review.  I may review the book when I finish it, but for now, I'm just going to talk about it.  Though that may be a distinction without a difference.

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Half instruction manual and half inspiration, the book follows Wendig's famous (well, to those of us who follow his blog) model of lists of 25.  There are 32 lists of 25 things you should know about different aspects of writing, which by the way is only 800 tips, plus one in the intro.  I am not sure if there are another 200 tips in the Coda, or if Wendig cheated us.  I'll be taking that up with him.

Wendig divides the book into three larger parts: The Fundamentals, The Craft, and Publishing & Earning Your Audience.   I've been working my way through the first two, reading bits, marking them, and running back to my MS to put them into action.  I'm going to give you a few of my favorite bits, sort of randomly and with my own comments when I feel like it (reading Wendig can cause randomness.  Also potty-mouth).

Quit quitting.  That one doesn't need any discussion.  As he says elsewhere, writers write.

Nobody sees themselves as a supporting character.  I liked this, because it was a reminder that even the minor characters are still people.  Keep in mind that they have a story and a life, even when it doesn't enter into the story you're telling.  Keeping this in mind might help me make all my characters more real.

The worst crime you can commit is to create a boring protagonist.   Wendig follows that one up a few paragraphs later with, "I don't care if he's a ninja, a lawyer, a detective, a doctor, a boat captain, or Captain Doctor Detective Stormshadow, Esquire--I want to know he is in some way capable."  Then he reminds us that "capable" and even "remarkable" aren't the same as "perfect."  Okay, I especially like this one because I suddenly really want to write a story about Captain Doctor Detective Stormshadow, Esquire.

And a final bit, that makes a lot of sense to me where I am in my editing right now, about scenes:
Every scene's existence must be justified.

On the one hand, this list approach (each header gets one 5-10 line paragraph to explicate it) is limited.  But for me, quite frankly, that's part of what makes it work.  Little, highly concentrated, bits of advice that I can take in and cope with and mark and come back to.  I have a short attention span these days.  Or a limited memory. Whatever; it works for me.

Oh, and the thing's funny.  I keep reading bits to my boys, just because I want to share the laugh.

Is that a review after all?  I can't do that!  I haven't finished the book!

###
Just in case this really was a review:
Full Disclosure: I purchased The Kick-Ass Writer at my own expense, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Monday, January 13, 2014

Middle Grade Monday: Shirley Link & The Safe Case





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Title: Shirley Link & The Safe Case, by Ben Zackheim, 39 pages (there is some confusion; the paperback may be 102 pages?  The book is short, however, at under 10,000 words).
Publisher: Smashwords edition, orig. publication 2012.
Source: Smashwords free book

Summary:
Shirley Link is an 8th grader with an unusual talent: she can solve mysteries the way other kids decode text messages.  Shirley reminds me a bit of Sherlock Holmes, or Hecule Poirot, because she definitely uses the little grey cells, solving the case through careful observation (a la Holmes) and deep thought.  In this debut novel, Shirley takes on the problem of a large sum of money that has gone missing from the school safe.  Actually, the whole safe has gone missing, which is a mystery in itself, as it is larger than any of the doors or windows. But have no fear: Shirley is on the job, and the mystery doesn't stand a chance.

Review:
I liked Shirley from the moment she turned in her "What I did with my summer vacation" paper and got a D for writing fiction (okay, she was telling the truth, but still. . . ).  She's an insightful narrator with a touch of cynicism and just enough hubris to make it clear she's human.  She reveals herself well in her narration, and describes other characters, inside and out, with a few well-chosen words.  An example I liked was when she notes that the principal looks especially harried because "his eyeglasses sit on his nose like they want to escape his face." 

One quibble: Shirley herself is 14 (according to the blurb), and although the opening line speaks of her 8th grade English class, she apparently attends a high school.  At 14 my sons started 9th grade (which unlike 8th is commonly in a high school), so I did wonder if this was an error.  

The story is well-written and fast-paced, the language is imaginative, and the denouement is reasonably surprising.  A dry sense of humor kept me smiling, and I think this will work very well for the kids, too. 

My biggest issue is that the book is just too short!  I'm just starting the next book, but it, too, clocks in about 10,000 words.  Since the writing style of the books is firmly middle-grade (and an 8th-grade protagonist fits that very well, along with the minimal violence and clean relationships), that seems pretty short--more novella than novel.  The writing should match kids at a pretty high reading level, so I hope that future books in the series are longer and more complex to challenge them more.  Though Mr. Zackheim might be onto something, with some kids these days being too used to tweets to have patience for a longer story.

Highly recommended, for mystery fans of all ages from 9 or so up.

Full disclosure: I picked this book up as a free promotional copy, because the author was participating in a publicity campaign in which I was also involved.  Nonetheless, there is no expectation of a positive review, or indeed any review, and the opinion expressed herein is my own honest opinion.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Flash Fiction Friday: The Forgotten Library

I went back this week to and old Wendig challenge, a random title generator.  This time, instead of randomness, however, I read the list and picked the combination that leapt out at me.  Thus, I give you, 

The Forgotten Library



A lone rider advanced wearily up the long, winding road toward the city that rose from the summit.  The horse drooped with heat, dust, and fatigue, and the rider slumped in the saddle as though the effort of remaining upright were nearly too much.

For long months and years the pair had sought this place, riding over much of the known world, following rumor and ancient tale, ignoring those who said it had never existed.  Now from time to time, as the rider drew up to allow the beast to rest, the cloaked figure ran eager eyes over the walls ahead, and a gleam of life sparked under the dust and exhaustion.

Little about the place would seem to call forth such interest, or explain the life-long quest.  No flags or banners flew from the walls.  No bright-mailed guards watched from gate or tower.  Only birds flew overhead, offering the semblance of life in a place that had been dead for years beyond all accounting.

The dusty travelers topped the last rise and halted at last before the gates.  This was the last barrier, the final puzzle to be solved before reaching the long-sought goal.  For despite the passage of many lifetimes since the walls were manned, the gates still stood intact, an immovable barricade between the rider and the long-sought destination.

“’No man can breach the gates,’” the rider murmured, as though quoting something learned long ago.  “There is no spell, they say, and yet people have entered.  There will be a way.”  The horse twitched an ear, gazing dispiritedly about.  A forecourt so long abandoned should have been overgrown with grass and weeds, but nothing showed green here, no mouthful offered itself for a weary mount’s refreshment.

Dismounting stiffly, as one who has been too long in the saddle, too many days together, the rider scouted in either direction.  Perhaps the wall had crumbled elsewhere, that folk might enter without breaching the gates.  But the wall fitted too well to the top of the hill, and there was no path to trace to either side.  The city wall merged seamlessly with the cliffs below.  Only at the road and the gate could one approach the city at all.

Frowning with the frustration of the thing, the rider reached out and touched the gate.  There was no movement of the immense panels.  Suddenly, however, the rider laughed, and spoke.  A single word in a strange tongue echoed from the walls.  The gates still did not budge, and the rider frowned once more.  After a moment’s thought, the cloaked figure tried another phrase, first in the long-dead alien tongue, then in Common.

“I come seeking knowledge.”

No living creature moved, but the gate swung aside, just enough to admit horse and rider.  “No Man may enter indeed,” she said to herself with a smile.  “But yet it seems that Woman is not barred.”  Behind her, the gate silently swung shut again.  They made a solid sound that made her frown as she looked around.  A shudder passed over the cloaked body, ravaged and lean from a hundred months of ceaseless journeying.  Would the gates that so easily admitted one seeking knowledge let her out again when curiosity was satisfied?

Would she even want to go? 

Too late to turn back.  With a shrug, the rider led her mount over the cobbles.  A trickle of water ran ever into and out of a trough across the courtyard, out of a stone pipe and into a hole in the cobbles to vanish beneath the city.  The rider spread a hand over the pool, and finding no sign of magic or disease, knelt and drank deeply before allowing the horse to sate its thirst.

“Easy, girl.  Not too fast.”  She pulled the animal away, and filled a waterskin from the trickle.  She should leave the horse there while she searched, she thought, though a look about revealed no more grass grew here within than without.  But the silent, empty city filled her with a chill she could not shake, and she would not lightly part from the only living creature within the walls.  Even the birds did not land or nest here.  She took up the reins and led her mare deeper into the maze of streets.

Led by who knew what instinct, she followed street after street, turning right and left as though she knew where she went.  At last she stopped before a grey stone building.  The houses on either side had broken and fallen, but the grey stone looked untouched by time.  She looped the mare’s reins over a broken timber from the next building and approached the immense timber door.  Hand shaking with anticipation, she reached for the latch.

Silently, the door swung open, and she stepped inside, halting to gaze about in awe and wonder.  It was real.  She had found it.

Row after row of shelves led away into the dim recesses of the single, huge room.  Every shelf was filled—jammed—with books.  Reverently, she stepped forward along the first row, reaching a shaking hand to touch a spine here, a scroll-end there.

They should have been covered with dust.  They should have decayed into dust themselves long since.  But this long-forgotten library showed signs of neither age nor neglect nor use.  Magic crackled in the very air, but she ignored it.  With a happy sigh, the scholar pulled a volume from a shelf, read the title with a smile, and settled into a chair at the single long table and began to read.

Outside, the horse gave a toss of her head.  The bridle slipped over her ears and dropped to the ground.  Turning, she went in search of grass and water. 

She’d not be needed any time soon.
 

###

Copyright Rebecca M. Douglass 2014

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Kid Lit Blog Hop: North of Nowhere, by Liz Kessler




http://youthlitreviews.com/2014/01/07/kid-lit-blog-hop-30/


Title: North of Nowhere, by Liz Kessler, 264 pages.
Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2013
Source: Library

Summary:
Mia and her mother rush to the tiny fishing village of Porthaven when word comes that her Grandad has disappeared.  Mia has double reason to be unhappy: not only is she worried about Grandad, but she's missing spring break with her friends back home.  And when she "meets" a girl her own age who seems so much like her, they can't seem to actually meet up.  But Mia's self-pity starts to fall away when things get really weird, and she has to risk everything to save everything.

Review:

It is a tiny bit of a spoiler to say what I'm about to say, so I'm putting the cover image here to keep you from looking if you don't want to.  But I can't review this without talking about it.


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Okay, what I want to say is that this is one of the more interesting and twisted time-travel books I've read, and the author makes great use of the paradoxes of the genre.  The nature of the mystery is only slowly revealed, though this reader had no trouble seeing that time travel is involved, even from the blurb (which is why I'm not too concerned about this being a spoiler).  That's okay, because it's what is done with the time travel that is so gripping.  [Though I believe that the author makes one small anachronistic error, introducing a plastic bag in an era when they were not in common use (I know.  I was alive then.  I remember when plastic shopping bags became common, and I was old enough to make fun of the ridiculous things), the time differences are otherwise handled well and convincingly, and that was the only editorial lapse I noticed.]

The characters are well-drawn, and believable, with 13-year-old Mia displaying a convincing tendency to shift between her own selfish interests and disappointments and a mature desire to help her mother and grandmother however she can.  She mopes over the movies she misses, checks every few minutes to see if a miracle has occurred and she has cell reception after all--but manages to put all that aside when she really has to.  Other characters are less complete, but this is Mia's story, and they feel real enough to be her world.  The story is compelling, moves swiftly, and kept me reading right through to the end.

I was dubious at first (because weird time travel isn't wholly my thing), but Kessler won me over, and I give this one a strong recommendation to anyone who likes slightly off-beat novels with a touch of the fantastic.  Oh, and I love the cover.  Those blues and greens really are my favorites!

Full Disclosure: I checked North of Nowhere out of my library, and received nothing from the author or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed herein are my own and no one else's.


Monday, January 6, 2014

Book Review: Whatever You Do, Don't Run

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Title: Whatever You Do, Don't Run: True Tales of a Botswana Safari Guide, by Peter Allison.
Publisher: Lyons Press, 2007.  200 pages.
Source: Library (ebook)

Summary:
This memoir is a collection of tales from Peter Allison's 12 years as a safari guide, mostly in Botswana.  Each chapter is a free-standing tale of a single adventure, some mere vignettes, some lengthy.  One chapter is a narration of the story of Sir Seretse Khama, the first president of Botswana and the man largely responsible for making the country what it is.  The title is taken from the sound advice on what to do when faced with a predator, because "food runs."

Review:
My Mom recommended this book, and she was spot on.  As a fan of Alistair McCall Smith's "#1 Ladies Detective Agency" books, it was fun to see another view of Botswana.  And though I'm not 100% sure why, this book caught my fancy and tickled my funny bone, and I zipped through it almost non-stop.  Allison has a dry sense of humor, usually deployed at his own expense (though he doesn't spare the idiosyncrasies--or the idiocies--of the tourists he guided).  The tone of the book is generally humorous, though there are poignant moments that help keep it from feeling too superficial.

Allison was a very young man when he started guiding (about 19), and most of the guides were young men (and a few women).  Behavior off-duty often reflected that status, but these were also professionals, so Allison and his co-workers were always up and always "on" when the clients were present.

For a light, fun, and occasionally laugh-out-loud glimpse into another life in another place, Whatever You Do, Don't Run is a good bet.  I might have liked a little more sense of time and narrative line (I was never sure if the stories were more or less in chronological order, or just arranged to make for a decent narrative structure, or hap-hazard), but I smiled, chucked, and occasionally snorted my way through them all regardless.  Highly recommended for some light reading on a rainy afternoon or two.

Not suitable for young children, but I would guess that animal lovers from maybe 12 or so up would encounter nothing they haven't heard at school (mild profanity and occasional discussions of the reproductive activities of the animals), and would have a fun time with it.  They might also be inspired to run away to Africa to be safari guides.  Depending on how you are feeling about your teen, this could be a good thing.


Disclaimer: I borrowed Whatever You Do, Don't Run from my (digital) library and received nothing from the author or the publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed herein are my own and those of no one else.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Friday (just barely!) Flash Fiction: Millions of Cats

I wrote the first 200 words of this story for the 200 word challenge back in November.  But even though the story got carried on and finished, I kept wanting to write the story I'd had in my mind when I started.  So here it is.  It's a little long, at 1169 words, but I couldn't cut any more.

 

Millions of Cats


Things never work out according to plan when there are cats involved.  I knew that, and I should have known better than to take the job.  But Keelan made it all sound so easy: we just had to pick up the consignment from Alpha-Centauri 4 and take them to Exilion 17.  Four days, max, and two of them in hyperspace.

“What could go wrong?”  I should really have run when Keelan said that, because I know darned well that anytime those words are uttered a disaster is sure to follow.

Unfortunately, we needed cash, and the cat people had it.  So we went and picked up the load of cats.

That was where the trouble began.  They were supposed to be crated, sedated, and ready to be stowed in the cargo hold.  But when we arrived, a team of cat-wranglers was still chasing them around a pen.  We had to wait an extra three days for all of them to be properly prepared for flight.

Once they had them ready, things seemed to look up.  The crates were loaded, and all was quiet.  The cat people promised that they would not wake up before delivery, as long as we made delivery inside four days.  They gave us the base payment, and assured us that the farmers of Exilion 17 were desperate for rodent-control mechanisms, and would pay a bonus for prompt delivery.

The trouble began almost as soon as we left orbit.  Not only did an odor start to permeate the atmosphere, but I began sneezing.  We’d never smelled that odor before, but we knew what it had to be.  I contacted Feline Solutions and asked about it.

“Oh, yes, they do excrete some while in the sedated state.  It’s at a much-reduced level and should not be any problem in the short time you will have them aboard.”

“Why am I sneezing?”

“Some people do suffer allergic reactions to cats.  If your ship air system is working properly, this should not be a problem.”

I wanted to argue.  Our ship’s systems worked just fine, and not only was I still sneezing, but my nose was running.  My eyes itched, too.  Further, we had only just left Alpha-Centauri 4 and already the cats were “excreting” in quantities that made the whole ship smell.  There was something fishy about this deal.  At least we’d checked the crates; they really were full of sedated cats.

Keelan and I talked it over.  All we could think to do was to make the delivery as fast as possible, and hope the bonus would be enough to pay for a thorough cleaning of the ship.  The base payment wouldn’t cover much more than costs.

We spent the next day getting clear of the Alpha-Centauri system.  I spent half the day in the auto-doc, getting allergy treatments.  If you think that’s fun, you’ve never met our ’doc.  By evening, I was full of meds and we were ready to make the jump to hyperspace.  That was when the next problem hit. 

Keelan found anomalies in the booster tests, and we ended up spending the next four hours running diagnostics.  The smell from the cargo bay was making both our noses twitch, and every hour’s delay reduced the chances we’d nail the bonus.  When we finally got it all fixed up, it was nearly midnight, and we had to check the programming three times, we were so tired.   The allergy meds didn’t help.

I suppose that was why I didn’t catch my error.  Everything checked out okay, and with a sense of relief, we hit the hyperspace button.

For the next two days, I alternated spending time in the ’doc and trying to adjust the filtration and air recycling system to get rid of the cat smell, as well as whatever it was about cats that I was allergic to.  The only thing we didn’t do was enter the cargo bay and check on the crates ourselves.  We’d been assured that there was no need for us to do anything; the crates would keep the cats sedated—in something like suspended animation, really—until arrival.  There were no user-serviceable parts.

Just when we were due to drop out of hyperspace, leaving us just a day of impulse drive to approach the planet, we made two discoveries.

I made the first one, which was nice, since I’d made the mistake in the first place.  Fortunately, my miscalculation was only in a single digit five spaces to the right of the decimal point, so it just meant we’d be spending an extra six hours in impulse drive.  That was bad enough news, of course, since we’d lost a similar amount of time on the other end.  We could certainly kiss the bonus goodbye, and the four-day sedation window was closing fast.

Keelan and I exchanged looks, but neither of us dared to say anything.  I’d made the mistake, but he’d uttered the fatal words, “what could go wrong?”  Maybe just to keep himself from making any comments about my work, Keelan took himself off to look into the cargo bay.  He came back at top speed.

“The cats!  They’re awake, and they, they,” he stuttered over the words, “they’re making kittens!”

“You mean there are cats mating in our cargo bay?”  It was a bit much, but no reason to get hysterical.

“No!  They’re having kittens!  All of them!  The blasted fools at Feline Solutions gave us a load of pregnant cats all due to give birth!”

My first reaction was panic.  My second was to read the cargo invoice very carefully.  When I’d finished, I looked up with the first smile since the fiasco began.  It would also be the last until it was over.

“We are contracted to deliver 325 female cats and 50 males.  It says nothing here about kittens or a state of pregnancy.  I think we might make a profit after all.”  Even after the deep cleaning.

“We sell the extra kittens on our own account?” he asked.  “Is that legal?” 

“As far as I can tell.”

“Then those cats need a midwife, to make sure they all survive.”  We exchanged a long look.

“I’m allergic,” I pointed out.

“I know nothing about childbirth,” he pointed out.

I would have given anything to be able to say I didn’t either, but I’m his mother.  “Program the kitchen to make chopped tuna.”  I took down my emergency respirator and positioned it carefully on my face.  “I’m going in.”

That’s how I came to spend the last day of the trip running a maternity ward for felines while Keelan handled the docking.  By the time we were done, we had three times the cats we started out with, I had a rash that itched for a week, and we ended with a substantial profit even after the deep cleaning.

Even so, I will never, ever, take cats on board again.  Despite the cleaning, the smell lingers.  And every now and then I break out sneezing.

###

Author's note: I must state that I love cats.  I am also as allergic as the narrator of the story, and will never take cats on board my space craft.  But I don't think they are bad luck nor are they a curse on a ship.

Gratuitous cute kitten/cat photos!
Snagged from free photo site with no attribution that I could find.
photo copyright Rebecca Douglass

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Classic Kids review: Kitty's Class Day by Louisa May Alcott


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Title: Kitty's Class Day and Other Proverb Stories, by Louisa May Alcott, 189 pages
Publisher: Duke Classics, Open Library edition.  Orig. publication 1882.
Source: Library, on-line ebook collection

Note: The edition I read retained the original title, unlike the cover I'm showing here (i.e., included the "proverb stories" part).

Summary: Contains eight stories of various lengths, but most if not all with pretty transparent "lessons" for the young reader.  Stories are:
Kitty's Class Day
Aunt Kipp
Psyche's Art
A Country Christmas
On Picket Duty
The Baron's Gloves; or, Amy's Romance
My Red Cap
What the Bells Saw and Said

Review:
It is always challenging to review books from another age.  My reaction to the moralizing tone of these stories is not the same, I'm sure, as the reaction of the young reading of 1882.  But for my readers, who are more modern, be warned: these are, indeed, "proverb" stories, and the lessons range from well-mixed in the story to hit-you-over-the-head (see final story, "What the Bells Saw and Said," which is pretty much a critique of a self-centered and materialistic society.  If it hadn't been interesting from a "plus ca change" perspective, it would have been unreadable).

My favorite story was probably "Psyche's Art," wherein the girl learns that she is only able to be the artist she feels herself to be after taking care of home responsibilities (not a lesson I'm completely comfortable with as she set it, but the point is largely valid, I think).  Best, at the end, Alcott's own carefully hidden feminism comes to the fore, and she ends by leaving it to the reader to choose if she and the hero fell in love, married, and lived happily ever after or, if "those who can conceive of a world outside of a wedding-ring may believe that the friends remained faithful friends all their lives" and Psyche was quite happy with her art and her home, no man apparently necessary.

I don't think I would particularly recommend this book for children (I am frankly unsure if I recommend any of Alcott for young girls; there is an awfully strong sense that marriage and family are the highest goal for the female of the species, only occasionally challenged by a character who proves otherwise.  I think from Alcott's biography that she was a little afraid to be as feminist as she felt).  But like many books from the period, which was near the beginning of the creation of books purely for children, it is interesting and educational for the student of history and culture.

Disclaimer: I checked Kitty's Class Day out from my public (digital) library, and received nothing from the publisher or author in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed herein are my own and those of no one else. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year!

Okay, the obligatory salutation out of the way, let's move on to the obligatory reflections and resolutions, as they relate to me the writer, not me the person (I'll keep the rest of my imperfections private, thanks all the same!)

Reflections on 2013
I'd have to say that 2013 was a learning year.  Much like 2012, as I think on it.  I published my first book in Feb. of 2012, and was sure that I'd be bringing out the second by February of 2013.  So the first lesson was that everything takes longer than you think.  Covers, editing, whatever.  I also had vowed to do a much better job of preparing the way for Return to Skunk Corners (which in fact finally came out in August) with advance publicity.  The hitch is, it's one thing to say that, another to do it effectively.  Let's just say I need practice.  I'll be getting it.

From a writing perspective, however, 2013 was great.  I finished Return to Skunk Corners, drafted Halitor the Hero (due out around the time school lets out, or maybe when it starts up again), and revived and re-edited my first mystery, Death By Ice Cream, which has a tentative launch date of April 1 (a good day for a humorous cozy mystery, I think).  Then I really hit my stride, jumped into National Novel Writing month with not quite enough preparation, and emerged in early December with a 72,000 word very very rough draft of the second mystery in the series, Death By Trombone.  As I am finishing the edits on DBIC and letting DBT stew for a few weeks or months before revisions begin, I'm thinking more about the next Ninja Librarian book, and starting to pencil notes.


So I would say that as a writer, I had a very good year, learned a lot, and made an important shift into making writing my day job.  As a publisher and publicist, however, I came up short.  At this point, there are two ways to go with that: I can either try to shift into the traditional publishing market. . . or I can start educating myself, crack my shell, and learn to do better at the business end.  Since I'd need to learn most of that either way, at this point my plan is to stick with being an author-publisher and just try to be a better one.

Resolutions:
Okay, if you just read the section above, you know where this will go. I think I can break it down into two resolutions:
1.  Be a writer: write/edit every day
2.  Learn to market.

I will just toss in that I've made one new step toward #2 already.  I have signed up to take a table in the Children's pavilion at the Tucson Festival of Books on March 15 in Tucson (duh!), Arizona.  I'll share more information when I know exactly where to find me, and hope maybe some of you can stop by and say hello!  This is a big step for me, and I admit it wouldn't have happened if I didn't have a good friend in Tucson who's been nagging me for several years to come and enjoy the festival.  Thanks, Laura!

I could break the second resolution down into steps, and of course will have to do so in order to achieve it.  I know what some of those steps are; others I will have to learn about first.  So steps come later.

I think I'll throw in one more, which is in a sense part of #2 but deserves its own line:
3.  I will submit short stories to paying markets.  No commitment about how many or how much pay, but I will work on building my portfolio by at least trying to do something besides give away my short works.

Notice that one thing I'm not doing is setting a goal or target for sales.  I just don't want to go there.  Either I'll set an absurdly low target that I know I can achieve but which means little ("two more sales than this year!"), or I'll set myself up for failure.  If I succeed even a little with #2 above, I'll improve sales.  And I'll thank you, my loyal readers, for the success.