Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Spotlight: Once, by Ronel Janse van Vuuren

Damsels in distress, curses, echoes of faery tales and tragic love affairs swirl together in sixteen stories found in a dragon’s lair by a curious half-fae.

Unexpected changes to reality causes more than one damsel to turn into a strong, independent woman who takes charge of her own life.

A collection of short stories about Faerie and the fae that live in the human realm. A few of the stories had won competitions and all of them had enchanted readers.
Learn their secrets and enter the realm of the fae…

Title: Once... Tales, Myths and Legends of Faerie
Author: Ronel Janse van Vuuren
ISBN EPUB: 978-0-6399476-2-4
ISBN Paperback: 978-0-6399476-3-1

Out today!
Available on most online retailers.
Also available in Afrikaans as “Eens…”.

Mortals cannot perceive the veil unless they are invited to – or extremely gifted. For centuries, Man and Fae have been kept apart, for nothing good ever comes from them mixing. The collection of The Adventures of Saphira the Faery Dog is proof of this.

Still, there are magical creatures that side neither with Man nor Fae.

Dragons are such creatures. They hold the knowledge of both worlds. Some even collect it in the written word, keeping it safe in their lairs.

An inquisitive half-fae once broke into the lair of a dragon known to hoard books. The knowledge she found was too much to keep to herself…

Here are a few tales, myths and legends from Faerie. Some may sound remarkably similar to legends held by mortals, while others are…  well… as otherworldly as the fae themselves.

About the Author: 
Ronel Janse van Vuuren is the author of New Adult, Young Adult and children’s fiction filled with mythology and folklore. Her dark fantasy stories can be read for free on Wattpad and on her blog Ronel the Mythmaker. She won Fiction Writer of the Year 2016 for her Afrikaans stories on INK: Skryf in Afrikaans. Her published works can be viewed on Goodreads.

Ronel can be found tweeting about writing and other things that interest her, arguing with her characters, researching folklore for her newest story or playing with her Rottweilers when she’s not actually writing.

All of her books are available for purchase on Amazon.

Connect with Ronel on:
Ronel the Mythmaker:

And now... a special interview with the author!

NL: When did you start writing? Did you always know you wanted to be a writer, or did you stumble into it later in life?

Ronel: I’ve always written a couple of stories to entertain myself, but I seriously started writing ten years ago. In that time, I’ve learned how to write properly, created entire worlds, did a lot of research into several folklore creatures, realised in which genre I want to write, and found my voice.

NL: What are your books about and who is the audience?

Ronel: This book, “Once…”, is a collection of short stories about how Faerie changed and the impact on the mortal realm when magic and fae infiltrated it. There are a few original stories steeped in folklore and a couple of fairy tale retellings with a Dark Fantasy twist. My intended audience is New Adult, but I’ve had readers of all ages for the Afrikaans version “Eens…” who bought it for themselves and enjoyed it enough to pass it on to their children and parents.

NL:  Do your stories carry a message?

Ronel: Absolutely. Dark fantasy is all about examining the human condition, looking at the consequences of actions and decisions, and how the beliefs we hold can change the way we see our world. I think “Rumour Has It”, “New Divide” and “Castle of Glass” depict all of this from different points of view about the same moment in Faerie history very well.

NL: Thanks for telling us about your book! Now tell us, what is the best thing about being a writer?

Ronel: Creating worlds, playing “what if?” and talking to my fictional friends.

NL: Yeah, we all like having a good reason to listen to the voices in our heads! Do you draft your books longhand or compose at the keyboard?

Ronel: Longhand. I find that there are fewer distractions when the computer is switched off – no quickly checking emails or updates, no playing around with inspirational images, etc. I then type it and store the original manuscript in a binder…

NL: You talked about doing research for the book. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve had to research for one of your books?

Ronel: I research a lot of folklore, most of it weird, so let me think… Probably the protein value of worms and if they’re a good idea for breakfast. The main character in “The Ashiest Princess” has them for breakfast every morning. Not all that odd: worms are a staple food in many communities.

NL: Well, the birds have worms for breakfast... Do you use a detailed outline before you start writing, or... ?

Ronel: It depends on the story. Some stories insist on being written before I can think about it – it’s like they’re already in my head, just waiting to be written down. Afterwards I do an outline and create a proper plot. Other stories insist on meticulous outlines and research.

NL: You live in South Africa. Since most of my readers are in the US or England, tell us a bit about that!

Ronel: Well, we have sun all year round which means I have to keep the curtains closed in my study or I’ll never get any writing done!

Once everything is dry in the winter months, a few crazies believe that they should burn everything down. It usually starts with a veldfire – and last year it ended with someone setting fire to my property (I live on an agricultural holding with horses, chickens, etc.) that we were lucky enough to stop before it destroyed everything.

There are horrible things in my country – like the endless attacks on farmers – but as long as you keep your head, stay alert and don’t act foolishly, there are so many things to enjoy and savour. We have gorgeous botanical gardens that are open year-round, each season brings its own beautiful plants and temperatures. If you’re an ocean person, we have the warm Indian Ocean on one side and the cold Atlantic Ocean on the other, and that wonderful sight where the two oceans meet and clash. We have forests, deserts, nature reserves, different biomes and animals to visit in their – mostly – natural habitat. You can turn every weekend into an adventure.

There’s so much more to say, but that will take an entire post ;-) In one of my stories in “Once…” I used the desert and forest elements, so it can almost feel like you’re in South Africa while reading “The Fae of Bremen”. Or you can run over a veld (field in South African terminology) with “The Field Mouse”.

Thanks for having me, Rebecca.
 Thanks for coming by! Your description of the country does make me want to visit, especially to watch the two oceans come together. 

Once... is available today, so check it out!

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

#Fi50 Heads Up!

Thanks to a lot going on this weekend, we seem to have forgotten to post our usual heads-up for Fi50. So here it is.

Fiction in 50 is a regular feature in the last week of every month and I invite any interested composers of mini-narrative to join in!
fiction in 50   image Fiction in 50 NEW BUTTON

What is #Fi50? In the words of founder Bruce Gargoyle, "Fiction in 50: think of it as the anti-NaNoWriMo experience!" Pack a beginning, middle and end of story into 50 words or less (bonus points for hitting exactly 50 words).

The rules for participation are simple:

1. Create a piece of fictional writing in 50 words or less, ideally using the prompt as title or theme or inspiration. Bonus points for hitting 50 exactly.
That’s it! But for those who wish to challenge themselves further, here’s an additional rule:

2. Post your piece of flash fiction on your blog or (for those poor blog-less souls) add it as a comment on the Ninja Librarian’s post for everyone to enjoy. 
And for those thrill-seekers who really like to go the extra mile (ie: perfectionists):

3. Add the nifty little picture above to your post (credit for which goes entirely to ideflex over at or create your own Fi50 meme pic…
and 4. Link back here so others can jump on the mini-fic bandwagon.
At this time, I haven't been able to find a source for a free linky-list, so it's just comments. I recommend posting your basic blog link below, with the day you post your Fi50 story. You can also add a link in the comments on my story, posted the next-to-last Sunday of the month. Feel free to Tweet using the #Fi50, though I'll not lie: the Ninja Librarian is a lousy tweeter.

The May prompt is: 
"The End is in the Beginning."
You can use the prompt as a title, or not. Really, there aren't many rules, other than 50 words or less. 

Monday, May 21, 2018

Dr. Mom Blog Hop!

Today we're helping promote Elaine Kaye's new picture book by participating in the Dr. Mom blog hop!

Share a favorite memory you have of your mom. Or just share a picture of your mom that you cherish. Or you can do both!

Hey, this is harder than it looks. My mom is 89. I'm... uh, not 20 anymore (notice she's old enough to brag about her age. I'm young enough be trying to forget). That's a lot of amazing memories! I'm tempted to share the wonderful little book I wrote about my mom when I was in the 1st grade or thereabouts, but I don't want to distract from Ms. Kaye's adorable book, so I'll do that another time.

Instead, let me tell you about a favorite family photo (sadly, it seems to have been lost). This was back in the days when cameras not only used film, but if you didn't advance the film yourself, you could take two pictures on top of each other.

One of Dad's favorite possessions was our bright red, 17' canoe. When we kids were little, we could all 5 get it, and we enjoyed family outings on quiet lakes (Dad did some white-water, or at least whitish-water, stuff, but not with us). So Dad takes a photo up the canoe, where Mom is seated in the front. The next photo shot was of a buffalo (I have no idea where). You guessed it: a double-exposure, with the buffalo taking Mom's place in the front of the canoe. Lucky for Dad that Mom has a great sense of humor, and laughed as hard as the rest of us!

Since I don't have that photo, I'll share this one of all 5 of us, with the canoe and our VW bus, sometime in the late 60s.

And now for  the main feature!

Title: Doctor Mom
Author: Elaine Kaye
Genre: Picture Story Book
Ages: 5-8 years

It’s Saturday, and Gregory Green can’t wait to have fun with his dad on the riding lawnmower, but something is wrong. Sammy, his teddy bear and best friend, won’t get out of bed. Gregory is worried when he sees Sammy’s left leg is torn. This is a case for Doctor Mom! Can they fix Sammy? And just how did Sammy get hurt in the first place?


"Doctor Mom is an adorable story that shows how Moms can fix anything—even a torn limb on a beloved teddy bear! Children will enjoy the lovable little bear who needs a stitch or two and his boy who plays dress-up as a doctor." – Wanda Luthman, award-winning author of Little Birdie Grows Up

“A sweet and heartfelt tale kids can easily identify with, and all of that with a wonderful touch of magic.” – Tonja Drecker, reviewer at Bookworm for Kids



Elaine Kaye first created Gregory Green after her son, who loved her homemade pea soup, thus inspiring the story Pea Soup Disaster. Doctor Mom is the second book in A Gregory Green Adventure series and highlights something all moms and children can relate to; a beloved stuffed animal in need of a repair.

Kaye has worked as a library assistant and teacher's assistant in elementary schools in the Sunshine State. She currently lives in Florida, but she has called Michigan; Honolulu, Hawaii; and Okinawa, Japan home.

She is a grandmother of three boys.

Now hop on around and see what other bloggers have to say about their moms!

Friday, May 18, 2018

Photo Friday: Wildflowers, Alpine Edition

A month or so back I did a wildflower post focused on desert wildflowers, and promised to get to the alpine flowers in another post. Then I got distracted... so here is a collection of alpine flowers from the Washington Cascades and a few from the Sierra Nevada mountains of California.

These first 2 are more sub-alpine flowers, found in the forests.
I'm not actually sure what this is.
This is a saprophyte--it gets nutrients from the soil, not photosynthesis.  
This one grows in wet places, both above and below tree line, and in both mountain ranges.
Shooting star.
In fact, most of these flowers grow in both the Cascades and the Sierra, though some show variations between. This one, I think, is Cascades only. At least, I don't think I've seen it in the Sierra. Pasque flower.

The gone-to-seed stage.
 Believe it or not, this is the same flower, in bloom. I wish I had a picture of the in-between stage, because it looks totally different again. Sadly, none of those shots came out.

Assorted lilies and columbines can be found in both ranges. Columbine, despite looking fragile, mostly seems to grow in the shade of rocks on otherwise bare alpine slopes.
Either a tiger lily or a leopard lily. They grow below tree line.
Cascade columbines. The ones in the Sierra seem to be mostly a light, almost cream color. In the Rockies they are more apt to be 2-toned blue flowers.
Some kind of daisy (aster). These seemed to hang out right about treeline on last summer's Glacier Peak trip.

Lupine grow everywhere. Mountains, deserts, seashore. They also come in every size, from tiny things to giant bushes (to really giant flowers in Peru). These were modest, except in their profusion.
Lupine with Glacier Peak
Lupine up close. The leaves are a giveaway, though the flowers tell you it's in the pea family.
Sometimes an alpine meadow is a flower garden with a stunning backdrop.
Daisies, bistort, white and blue lupine, maybe some heather, and a photographer.
Indian paintbrush is another flower that grows everywhere, and in a number of colors, though most are shades of red.
This paintbrush has a penstemon growing with it, each probably offering shade to the other.
Alpine heather I see more in the Sierra, though I think it's everywhere.

The next couple really seem to grow only in the alpine, and in the less promising spots, at that.
Pussytoes sprout up where the granite is only barely turning to soil.
Phlox grows in small, low mats in similarly inhospitable spots. This one is covered with the morning dew still.
The Sierra isn't noted for flowers the way the Rocky Mountains are, but you can still get some amazing displays there. You just have to put yourself out there at the right time--and maybe get a bit lucky, too.

Hope you've enjoyed the eye candy!

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2018
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Writerly Musings: Marketing

Being part of the IWSG anthology (that would be Tick Tock: A Stitch in Crime) has been an education for me. Not only did I pick up a new awareness of some minor writing issues I have (mostly in the area of comma abuse), but the whole marketing process has been educational. Probably not educational enough, but I have picked up a few things to contemplate.

1. Get the word out, early and late. The publisher, Dancing Lemur Press, started early with tweets and FB posts, and got all of us authors to set up a blog and do regular posts about our stories, writing process, whatever. And they started early to set up a blog tour, or at least appearances on a number of blogs, with interviews, reviews, and so on. The book came out May 1, and that publicity push is still going on (including a Rafflecopter giveaway of a cool Tick Tock tote bag running to June 6!).

This one isn't so hard. I'm learning how to get more people involved in a release, and I know that I can arrange a blog tour through Great Escapes. I haven't done that yet for Death By Adverb, but I had a number of very helpful blog posts about it, thanks to my fellow IWSG authors!

2. Don't be timid: the publisher sends announcements to all sorts of bookstores, and we writers are meant to follow up by suggesting we can come and do signings, etc.

This one's hard. I have an almost insurmountable reluctance to put myself forward in that way. It feels pushy, and I've not yet figured out how to cure myself of a well-brought-up modesty.

3. I didn't learn this one from the Tick Tock release, but push the backlist (well, I see them doing that some, mentioning the previous IWSG anthologies along with ours, which is #3--check them all out). I finally saw a benefit from having a series, as I put the first two Pismawallops PTA books on sale during the month following the release of the new book, and included that information in the post on release day. Sales picked up, and I hope some of those will lead to new fans for the series.

I'm planning to work on the backlist this summer, as I'll not be able to do much writing (I am still trying to do some submissions each month, though). I intend to do a special "Hero Month" promotion for Halitor the Hero, so watch this space--and watch for other special offers, as I need to clear out my inventory before we move! The Hero promotion is still in the planning stages, but let me know if you want to be involved--I'll keep it simple.

4. Finally, just from following so many other writers, I realize that I've been remiss about my newsletter. In fact, I can't remember when I did the last one, and I'm overdue. I also apparently need to update my sign-up to meet new regulations. I'll have to get on that, and encourage everyone to sign up once I do. But in any case, I need to send out a newsletter, and soon. You can bet that newsletter will have some special offers in it!

Oh, and I need to do some blog maintenance, because my sidebar is now 2 books behind! I never was good at housekeeping...

For the moment, that's about it for what I know about marketing. It's no place for an introvert, yet we writers have to overcome our natural tendencies and do it somehow!

Tick Tock: A Stitch in Crime
Can a dead child’s cross-stitch pendant find a missing nun? 
Is revenge possible in just 48 minutes? 
Can a killer be stopped before the rescuers are engulfed by a city ablaze? 
Who killed what the tide brought in? 
Can a soliloquizing gumshoe stay out of jail?
Exploring the facets of time, eleven authors delve into mysteries and crimes that linger in both dark corners and plain sight. Featuring the talents of Gwen Gardner, Rebecca M. Douglass, Tara Tyler, S. R. Betler, C.D. Gallant-King, Jemi Fraser, J. R. Ferguson, Yolanda Renée, C. Lee McKenzie, Christine Clemetson, and Mary Aalgaard.
Hand-picked by a panel of agents and authors, these eleven tales will take you on a thrilling ride into jeopardy and secrecy. Trail along, find the clues, and stay out of danger. Time is wasting…
Release date - TODAY!
Mystery & Detective/Crime/Thrillers
Print ISBN 9781939844545 eBook ISBN 9781939844552
Get your copy today!


Death By Adverb

  Available today.

 Genre: Cozy mystery
Ebook: 85,000 words
Paperback:   approx. 285 pages
He murdered the language, but who murdered him?  

JJ McGregor’s not having her best summer. Her arm’s in a cast, her jeans are too tight, and her son’s in Texas with his dad. To make matters worse, she hasn’t spoken to Police Chief Ron Karlson since June. What’s more, she’s gotten fired by the biggest bully on Pismawallops Island. 

JJ thinks her boss's vile prose and grammar are poisonous, but he's the one who turns up dead, and against all odds her summer gets worse. Now there’s a killer on the loose, JJ's on the suspect list, and she'd better make her peace with Ron before someone decides she's gone too far in the defense of good writing!
Purhase Links:

Monday, May 14, 2018

Mystery review: The Grave's a Fine and Private Place


Title: The Grave's a Fine and Private Place
Author: Alan Bradley
Publisher: Delacorte Press, 2018 (US edition). 363 pages
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary:
Flavia is enjoying the summer, spending her days punting along the river with her reluctant family. Languishing in boredom, she drags a slack hand in the water, and catches her fingers in the open mouth of a drowned corpse.

Brought to shore, the dead man is found to be dressed in blue silk with ribbons at the knee, and wearing a single red ballet slipper.

Flavia needs to put her super-sleuthing skills to the test to investigate the murder of three gossips in the local church, and to keep her sisters out of danger. But what could possibly connect the son of an executed killer, a far too canny police constable, a travelling circus, and the publican's mysteriously talented wife?

My Review:  
Okay, Flavia is not enjoying the summer. She hasn't been enjoying anything for about 6 months (I won't go into details that would be spoilers for the previous book). But the discovery of a corpse is just the tonic she needs, because Flavia is delightfully unlike most of us, and considers nothing so uplifting as a corpse. Better still if she thinks that corpse got that way with help.

Flavia has been doing some growing up in the past 6 months, I think, as is mostly betokened by the fact that she seems rather less of a know-it-all and more appreciative of her confederates. But her quick wit and knowledge of chemistry help fill in the gaps left by her lack of understanding of poetry or love, and as a narrator she is a delight. I like the new, less brash version of Flavia. She's not tamed; she's just gained some humanity. Relationships that have been left pretty undeveloped through the series are suddenly becoming important, and more nuanced.

The mystery is good fun this time, too. It's not completely certain that Flavia's corpse was murdered, but there is a history of murder in the town, and that provides lots for her to investigate. I was also very interested in how Bradley managed her researches in a place not her own home town, where the players aren't so well known to her. She does seem to have a grip on how to get information where she needs it, and uses well the reality that no one pays much attention to children.

My Recommendation:
I call this a solid addition to the series, and goes a ways toward making me forgive the author for the heartbreak of the last book. There is some debate whether the series is for middle grades or adults; my library classifies it with adult mysteries, and I agree. Flavia may be 11, but the things she's investigating aren't for kids. Your child may disagree.

FTC Disclosure: I checked The Grave's a Fine and Private Place out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher 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."  

Friday, May 11, 2018

Friday Flash: Space Opera time!

Chuck Wendig is back on the job with our Friday flash fiction challenges, and in honor of May the Fourth commanded us to write a space opera, in 1500 words or less. So, more like a single aria from the opera, but I went for the melodrama of an early Star Trek episode. It's just under 1200 words.

Long Odds

“There’s no way we can win, on the face of it.” Captain Kira Andashar of the Earth Federation Starship Endurance didn’t believe in sugar-coating matters to her officers. “The invaders outnumber us three to one, and based on what they did to EFS Consequence they outgun us by far as well.”

“Should we surrender, then? Or run?” Lieutenant Albert Percival knew better. His captain wasn’t the surrendering sort, and they’d already proved they couldn’t outrun the aliens. When he asked his question he heard a few gasps, and at least one snort of derision. He ignored them and waited for the answer.

“We fight. And dammit,” Captain Andashar raised her voice, “we will win!”

A few young officers cheered, but Percival and his fellow lieutenant, Sharra Stonebrook, exchanged glances. How the devil were they going to do that?

“I hope she has a plan,” Sharra muttered to Albert. “Because I sure as hell don’t see any way.” Knowing what was coming next, the two remained as the other officers followed orders to return to their stations and prepare for battle.

Captain Andashar looked at her lieutenants. “Well? Any ideas?”

Despite the grim circumstances, Albert laughed. “I had a feeling you were going to ask that. To summarize, do I have any ideas how a single starship with suddenly obsolete weapons can defeat three alien ships with weapons we don’t even understand? Short answer: no. Not a clue.”

“Me, neither,” Kara Andashar replied. “But we’re going to need an answer in about 30 minutes, so we’d better start thinking.”

Twenty minutes later, the captain was at the con, her officers in place, and all prepared to sell their lives as dearly as possible in the defense of their planetary system. The patrol had a simple sweep of the outer limits of human space. Endeavor and Consequence had expected to turn up nothing, as the sweeps had for three centuries.

There always had to be a first time, Kara thought. She didn’t know she’d said it out loud until Albert answered.

“And unless we get very lucky, it’ll be the last, too.”

“Shut up and prepare for battle.”

Lieutenant Percival considered the controls under his hands. Sharra had the conventional weapons. What he had was the comms unit and control of the thrusters used for take-off and landing. Under his captain’s orders, he was going to turn the latter into a weapon, though if he handled the former right, perhaps they’d not need them.

The alien ships drew closer, and they were truly alien. They looked like a drug-induced hallucination of an octopus. These ships stayed in vacuum. They would be torn apart trying to enter the atmosphere of any planet that could support life.

Sharra said it aloud. “Damnation. If the ships look like that, what do you suppose the aliens look like?”

“The kraken,” Captain Andashar answered. “I don’t want to find out.” She was the only one who had seen the message sent from their sister ship seconds before it was destroyed by the aliens. Now, her face set and grim, she prepared to exact what revenge she could.

She hesitated, then ordered, “Send the message.”

Albert hit the button to send the pre-recorded message. They’d argued a bit over the wording, settling on the straightforward, “You are violating Human Space. Surrender to inspection and penalties for destroying EFS Consequence, or we will be forced to destroy you.” He wondered how they'd respond to that.

His translator flashed almost at once. He flipped a switch, looked at the message—they had decided not to broadcast into the bridge without checking first—and flipped a switch so everyone could hear.

The aliens had responded with a suggestion that was anatomically impossible, at least for humans.

“I don’t think that’s friendly,” was the captain’s comment. “Shields up. Fire photon torpedo across their bows, and send the second warning.” Behind her back she crossed her fingers. Their shields had never been tested. Until now there had been no enemies in space save a few pirates whose limited armament required no special defenses.

The second hail produced a repetition of the middle-finger message. A moment later Endurance shuddered as the photon torpedo launched. They all watched the viewer to see the results. Nothing. The alien ship didn't hesitate. Then a flare of light, and the bridge shook, knocking Lt. Stonebrook from her seat. She gave a yell of pain, but dragged herself back to her seat, fastened the landing straps, and grabbed the weapons controls. Chaos swarmed around her, but she focused her attention on aiming and firing a succession of torpedoes at the same spot on the lead ship.

"Damage report?" Captain Andashar demanded. Reports came in from all over the ship. Damage, but nothing fatal. The chief engineer suggested they could handle a half a dozen strikes before hull breach or loss of controls.

“We’ll never make it!” Captain Andashar couldn’t tell which of her officers yelled it, but she shared the feeling. Nonetheless she commanded, “Silence, there! And stay on your station!”

Now that she could see what the enemy weapons looked like, she began taking evasive action.

“Dammit, Captain!” This time it was Lt. Stonebrook. “How’m I supposed to aim when you do that?”

“Unerringly,” the captain shot back before the next swoop.

Sharra Stonebrook landed two more hits on the prow of the alien ship before the next shot struck Endurance. This one damaged their left thruster. Captain Andashar smiled grimly, and compensated in her next swerve. So did Lt. Stonebrook. Her fourth hit on the alien ship took spectacular effect. The empty space left behind revealed the second vessel.

“Captain! Third ship is at our rear!” The warning startled most of the crew, but Lt. Percival heard it as his signal. Flipping his screen to the rear view, he watched as the alien ship drew closer, ignoring the shouts and alarm bells, and the shudder of another hit on their shields. Through it all, he heard the captain’s quiet voice.

“Let it get close enough, Percival. Don’t panic.”

He let it get so close it almost had its nose up the thrusters, the whole ship shuddering from the repeated attacks on their shields. When he ignited the thrusters, the enemy ship vaporized as Endurance shot forward.

“Brace for impact!”

Sharra Stonebrook was already braced. Ignoring the pain from her injured shoulder, she maintained a steady fire with her torpedoes and blasters as the ships careened toward each other.

The third torpedo took effect. The impact of another enemy shot was followed immediately by the impact of the explosion of the alien ship.

Damage reports flooded in. Kira Andashar picked herself up from where the impacts had flung her, ignoring blood running down her face from a cut on her head.

“Navs! Map a course for the nearest base. Have we power?” The string of reports and commands seemed to last forever. Someone strapped a bandage on her head, but no one left stations except feet first until the ship nosed into the docking station, like her captain bloodied, but unbowed.


©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2018
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Non-fiction review: The Meaning of Everything


Title: The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary
Author: Simon Winchester
Publisher: Oxford University Press, 2003. 288 pages.
Source: Library used book sale

Publisher's Summary:
From the best-selling author of The Professor and the Madman, The Map That Changed the World, and Krakatoa comes a truly wonderful celebration of the English language and of its unrivaled treasure house, the Oxford English Dictionary.

Writing with marvelous brio, Winchester first serves up a lightning history of the English language--"so vast, so sprawling, so wonderfully unwieldy"--and pays homage to the great dictionary makers, from "the irredeemably famous" Samuel Johnson to the "short, pale, smug and boastful" schoolmaster from New Hartford, Noah Webster. He then turns his unmatched talent for story-telling to the making of this most venerable of dictionaries.

In this fast-paced narrative, the reader will discover lively portraits of such key figures as the brilliant but tubercular first editor Herbert Coleridge (grandson of the poet), the colorful, boisterous Frederick Furnivall (who left the project in a shambles), and James Augustus Henry Murray, who spent a half-century bringing the project to fruition. Winchester lovingly describes the nuts-and-bolts of dictionary making--how unexpectedly tricky the dictionary entry for marzipan was, or how fraternity turned out so much longer and monkey so much more ancient than anticipated--and how bondmaid was left out completely, its slips found lurking under a pile of books long after the B-volume had gone to press.

We visit the ugly corrugated iron structure that Murray grandly dubbed the Scriptorium--the Scrippy or the Shed, as locals called it--and meet some of the legion of volunteers, from Fitzedward Hall, a bitter hermit obsessively devoted to the OED, to W. C. Minor, whose story is one of dangerous madness, ineluctable sadness, and ultimate redemption.

The Meaning of Everything
is a scintillating account of the creation of the greatest monument ever erected to a living language. Simon Winchester's supple, vigorous prose illuminates this dauntingly ambitious project--a seventy-year odyssey to create the grandfather of all word-books, the world's unrivalled uber-dictionary.

My Review:  

After that unmercifully long blurb, what's left for me to say? Not to worry: I'll find something, and say it regardless.

I picked this book up at the library book sale because I'm a word nerd and a lover of the OED. I have my own copy of the 2-volume "compact edition," whereby hangs a tale. When I started graduate school and moved in to a shared house in Seattle, one of my housemates saw the massive 2-volume set and laughed at the idea of it being in any way compact. That lasted until I showed her the interior, each page of which contains 4 pages shrunken of the original. (Happily, it came with a magnifying glass). I still love to consult the OED for origins and history of words.

That being said, I was fascinated by the insights into the way my favorite reference work was constructed. I'm not sure anyone by a word nerd would find the book as interesting, though, and the minutiae about the lives of the people involved wore on me as well. The problem here, I think, is that there really wasn't a book's worth of story in the 80-year undertaking. So, while parts of the book were absorbing as Winchester recounted how certain words were tracked down and captured, other parts went on too long (in my opinion) about how certain people fell out over this and that issue.

I will, however, give Winchester credit for making note of the women and people of lower rank who participated in the project, often with little credit, as well as of the sexist assumptions that kept women out of the heart of the book. But the OED did one thing: it moved the making of dictionaries from a sort of gentlemanly pursuit (think Samuel Johnson) into the world of paying jobs, which it needed to be as it absorbed at least one editor for nearly his entire adult life.

My Recommendation:
Read this if you are curious about the way a dictionary is made, or if you are a bit obsessed with words, their meanings, and their histories. Winchester tells a pretty good tale, but this one isn't as readable as some of his other books.

FTC Disclosure: I bought a second-hand copy of this book, and received nothing from the writer or publisher 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, May 7, 2018

Middle Grade Review: The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani


Title: The Night Diary
Author: Veera Hiranandani
Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2018. 264 pages
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary:

It's 1947, and India, newly independent of British rule, has been separated into two countries: Pakistan and India. The divide has created much tension between Hindus and Muslims, and hundreds of thousands are killed crossing borders.

Half-Muslim, half-Hindu twelve-year-old Nisha doesn't know where she belongs, or what her country is anymore. When Papa decides it's too dangerous to stay in what is now Pakistan, Nisha and her family become refugees and embark first by train but later on foot to reach her new home. The journey is long, difficult, and dangerous, and after losing her mother as a baby, Nisha can't imagine losing her homeland, too. But even if her country has been ripped apart, Nisha still believes in the possibility of putting herself back together.

My Review: 
As is so often the case, I don't think much of the blurb for this one, compared to the actual story. That's neither here nor there, as the blurb was enough to get me interested, and the story was better and more interesting than it suggested.

Nisha's diary is her main voice. She's not physically unable to talk, but as I read it, so introverted that talking to much of anyone besides her twin brother is almost impossible for her. So a part of the story here is Nisha coming to grips with speech and silence--in a time when speech may be the far more dangerous choice. The book, realistically, doesn't give her a miracle cure. It just gives her a voice in the form of her diary.

The story, like many middle grade books, is at base about family. That's not to diminish the way in which it sheds light on a pretty awful moment in history (could the independence of India and the partition have been handled better? It certainly seems like it). It's a window for younger readers into an historical moment they may know little about. But in the end, the real question is who is family, and what constitutes family in a time when the government and many violent people are all saying that the answer to that question revolves around religion.

Nisha's family is transgressive from the beginning, because her parents married across religious lines, angering many on both sides of the family as well as creating a built-in danger in a time of growing intolerance. The creation of Pakistan made that worse, as it did for millions across what once was a single India. The journey Nisha and her family take is in search of safety, but each step is also a search for family, and in the end, that pull seems to be stronger than any lasting resentment for the marriage that crossed lines most thought should never be crossed.

Nisha may not find her voice by the end of the book, but she does find peace, and a sense that life can go on.

My Recommendation:
This is suitable for kids from about 10 or 11 up, as some of the scenes of violence might be disturbing to younger kids (and whatever age reads it, it would be worth having a conversation about what led to so much violence). Any reader will get a stronger sense of what those chaotic days were like, and the disruption to the country that followed independence.

FTC Disclosure: I checked The Night Diary out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher 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." 

Friday, May 4, 2018

Photo Friday--Backpacking Haleakala

May the Fourth be with you!

It's time for the final installment of photos from our recent trip to Maui (see here and here for the earlier posts). The "we" of the trip is the author, my husband, and our 20-year-old son. Sorry for the unmercifully long post!

The primary objective of our Maui trip was a 3-night, 4-day backpacking trip into and across the Haleakala crater. Lots of people dayhike from the rim down to the crater (though we didn't see all that many--it's not a trivial hike, involving typically about 11 miles and a 1000' climb back out of the crater). A few people each night use the 3 huts scattered around the crater, allowing them to eat and sleep indoors (and to carry less gear). Those of us who don't plan 6 months out get to carry our tents and do it the hard way.

We started by picking up our permit (free, but required) at the ranger station near the Park entrance, then driving all the way to the summit. That was well past our trailhead, but we wanted to see the view, if any. At the summit, we got none, but just below the clouds opened up to give us a glimpse of where we were headed.
Looking down into the west end of the crater
The weather cooperated reasonably well, and when we started our hike we could see what we faced.
We have to go down there. 1000' down, in about 17 switchbacks.
We made it down and across--and even back up a little!--to our campsite near the Holua hut. On this night, we shared the camping area with 2 other parties, but the remaining nights we were the only tenters. We set up camp, ate dinner, and enjoyed a subtle sunset before calling it a night.

In the morning, the sunrise was as advertised--spectacular.
Looking out through a gap in the rim toward the rising sun.
We eventually turfed Eldest Son out of bed, and got back on the trail. It was about 6 1/2 miles across the crater to our next camp, and since we'd mostly been biking, not backpacking, we wanted an early start and plenty of water in case it got hot (spoiler: it didn't. We carried way too much water).

The trail climbed through a band of very broken aa lava, and we detoured a bit to check out the silverswords, an endemic plant (and different from the equally endemic and endangered silversword on Mauna Kea). It was the wrong time of year to see them in bloom, but the drought-resistant hairy leaves make them a striking sight regardless.
Tiny hairs on the leaves reflect sunlight to conserve water, and give the plants their "silvery" look.
We gradually climbed up into an area of more cinders, making for a little smoother walking but also a little more work as the soft surface worked like sand.
Eldest Son (in red) and the author head off up the trail. And I thought the bottom of the crater would be flat!).
The terrain kept changing as we went, crossing endless cinder fields or lava flows from different times. The climate changed, as well, from the west end to the east.
Easy to tell the old from the new.
 Finally approaching the east wall, and it looked like the misty mountains in a Chinese painting.
The crater was a lesson in microclimates, since it was only 6 or 8 miles across the whole thing, but the weather could be very different one end to the other!
The Paliku hut was nestled under the rim, and surrounded by tall, wet grass (I'm pretty sure the grasses are invasive, but the rain is wholly native!). We got there in time for lunch, and selected a site near the hut and the trail to the outhouse, with a view out the Kaupo Gap. The sun eventually dried everything, until the evening dew soaked us all over again.

In the morning, we packed up the wet tents and headed back out, to return to Holua via the Kapalaoa hut, which I think has the best views of the three, but doesn't have a tenting area. If I were to do the hike again, I'd try to plan far enough ahead to spend a night in that hut.
A dry-looking morning. Heading back to the left of the small hills (we came in on the right).
The trail was a lesson in the different kinds of lava.
Ropy pahoihoi.
More pahoihoi. This might have been a lava dome.
Aa--the rough and broken stuff.
 It was also along in this stretch that we realized that we could see the summits on the Big Island (which isn't really very far away--30 miles across the channel, though it's farther to the peaks), though not very clearly--the islands do attract clouds.

We crossed a divide, and were looking back at the colorful end of the crater.  The contrasts of the red and dark cinders/lava made it a painted landscape.
All these cinder cones have names.
We lunched at the Kapalaoa hut, or at least snacked there. Every move was closely watched by one or more of the resident nenes. The nene (Hawaiian goose) is rare and endangered, with only a few hundred left, but you'd never know it around the Haleakala camps, as they have clearly learned that humans drop crumbs. Every one we saw was banded and well studied, I'm sure.
Nene pair for life, and most we saw were paired up. This one was either still single, or had lost his/her mate, because it was alone and thus all the more interested in us and our food.
Back at Holua, we got a prime campsite, and settled in before it started to rain. We even got our hiking clothes mostly dry. Despite the desert-like vegetation, the crater is a pretty wet place.

Tents make good drying racks, and clothes on top keep the sun from heating the tent so much.
By midnight it had settled in to rain, and it didn't stop. In the morning we took shelter in the rangers' stable (they weren't using it, and there was an area open to entry) to cook and eat breakfast out of the wet. That was a nice luxury! The temperatures were pretty mild, so it was a toss-up whether to wear rain gear or not. But the rain did offer a few nice touches. The rocks were extra dark, and the ferns extra green.

Final shot, climbing the 1000' crater rim in the rain. I did find that when we reached the rim, the higher altitude combined with exposure to the wind to make me wish I'd worn my rain gear. Live and learn!
Happily, the trial is wide and well made, to accommodate mules, so it wasn't scary even when wet.
That was about it! We got out in time to get lunch and showers (at the beach) before Eldest Son had to catch his flight home (we got an extra day, not having as far to go, and used it to drive back to Kipahulu from the south--so maybe there's one more set of photos to be had from this trip).

I'll leave you with one last picture, which I'm pretty sure is of a troll egg. Maybe this is where Gorg the Troll was born.

Okay, actually that would be a lava bomb.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2018
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

IWSG: Writing Season?

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds! Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments. This group is all about connecting! Be sure to link to the IWSG page and display the badge in your post. And please be sure your avatar links back to your blog! If it links to Google+, be sure your blog is listed there. Otherwise, when you leave a comment, people can't find you to comment back.

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG
Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.


OPTIONAL IWSG Day Question: It's spring! Does this season inspire you to write more than others, or not?
Fanstastic Co-Hosts:
JQ Rose, C. Lee McKenzie, Raimey Gallant, & E.M.A Timar!

It's that time--how's the writing going? Can I just say here that I really like the monthly IWSG check-in, and I find everyone's posts inspirational? 

My own writing is having a bit of a vacation. Despite the question of the day, though, I don't think it's the season--some years I do a lot in the spring (summer, however, is pretty consistently bad, as we usually travel, have our kids home, have guests, and the garden needs to be weeded when I am home). No, this time I'm just having to scale back the writing in order to deal with life, as we prepare our home of 20 years for sale! You start looking around your house with the eyes of a potential buyer--and suddenly you realize you need to hang up the word processor and get out the paintbrush!

Due to this infusion of reality I've not really tried to do anything big in the way of writing since my book came out March 28. I've managed to pull off a couple of pieces of flash fiction, and I'm shifting my attention to short stories, with a resolution to make at least some submissions each month (I'd like to say "4" or something, but that would probably be unrealistic). Those of you who follow this blog know I've been saying that for a while, and I do struggle with matching up my stories with the calls for submission, and in a timely fashion.

So: my good news for this month is that I succeeded in making three submissions!

Of course, those were followed by three rejections, but that's not the point. The point is that this insecure writer managed to complete a story and send it out three times! I also got some feedback that I may be able to use to make the story stronger. A second story that I think might have more potential *if* I can finish it is giving me trouble, but I'm hoping maybe inspiration will come while I'm pulling weeds and slopping paint around. Wish me luck, because I think I should manage a couple of submissions each month. 

So tell me how the seasons affect your writing, or if you've managed to meet any resolutions this month!