Friday, June 11, 2021

Flashback Friday: The Gods' Own Keeper

I'm off celebrating my youngest son's university graduation. While I'm busy, I hope you enjoy this story from 2015!

 

The Gods' Own Keeper

Osbert Godskeeper scurried across the Great Hall of Chaotica. Orgo and Hempto were fighting again, and Osbert had no desire to get caught between those two. Neither had learned the control proper to a god, and Orgo tended to leak lightning when he got mad. Hempto was worse. He smoked. Not his pipe, which was bad enough--the gods’ herb of choice stunk, as far as Osbert was concerned. But when Hempto was upset, smoke came out of every orifice. It stunk even worse than his pipe, or Chacto the Great's cigars, and it burned. Hempto was a fire god, and nothing but trouble.

 

When he had reached the far end of the hall and the safety of his office, Osbert’s manner changed. No longer a frightened, scurrying figure, he stood erect and took firm hold of his microphone, scowling fiercely at the battling behemoths.

 

"Orgo and Hempto! You two will stop that NOW!" His amplified voice boomed across the hall, and the battling gods screeched to an abrupt halt, abashed. “Now, clean up the mess you made, then go to your rooms and behave yourselves,” Osbert continued, and watched, arms crossed, until the blushing gods started to right the overturned furniture, and put out the fires Orgo’s lightning had caused. Someone opened a window high on the wall—one of the bird gods, Osbert thought—and let the smoke out until the air cleared enough to see across the hall.

 

His job done for the moment, Osbert slumped back onto his desk chair, waving away a mosquito that buzzed by his ear. There were insects all over Chaotica, there being so many kinds of them on earth. They drove him mad, as if the larger and more boisterous gods weren’t doing a good enough job of that. Every kind of being on earth had to have its own god here in Chaotica, plus all the extras like Orgo and Hempto. The humans added to the chaos by inventing gods by the dozen, one for every neighborhood, Osbert sometimes thought. Chacto was one of those, god of some little island where they grew a lot of tobacco.

 

Keeping this menagerie of gods in order was tough. When the Church of Eternal Peace had made him their head priest and told him he was the one who would manage the gods, he hadn’t understood that they had meant it literally. For the last century, he’d been stuck here in Chaotica, breaking up fights between gods, keeping the predator gods from eating the prey gods, and always sleeping with a fire extinguisher and a bucket of water by his cot, because Orgo had far too little self-control for a lightning god.

 

When Osbert opened his eyes again, he saw the divine prototype of the gastropods had left a thick slime trail across the great hall. Sna the god of slugs and snails lacked a great deal more than self-control, though he lacked that, too. Like the creatures who worshiped him, he was just a slimy blob, and shed that slime wherever he went, like some kind of drooling infant. By now he was, as usual, somewhere halfway up the far wall. The raccoon god stood below him, a shaker of chocolate sprinkles in paw. Where did the gods get this stuff, anyway? Osbert had a feeling that if he ever got time to return to his kitchen, he’d find he was missing his chocolate sprinkles.

 

Osbert groaned and levered himself to his feet. Back at his microphone, he commanded the masked god to back off.

 

“But slugs are good if you roll them in the dirt to cover the slime,” Forbol protested. “I thought they’d be even better if you rolled them in chocolate sprinkles!”

 

“You will have to find a mortal slug to test that on. Leave Sna alone. And Sna, you will have to clean the floor, because I am NOT going to do it again! Oh, drat it!” Osbert spotted the great cat goddess Fluffy. She had the mouse god Squeak in her mouth again. “Fluffy! Put him down! Now!” The gods’ keeper let his head fall into both of his hands. It was going to be one of those days. The gods were worse than a class of kindergarteners.

 

A lot worse, and he lacked the managerial skills of Miss Cornflower, the woman who had molded Osbert and his classmates into a group of rational beings capable of learning at least a little bit. The gods refused to learn manners or common sense.

 

What would happen if he just let them fight it out? What happened to a god if another god ate it? They were immortal, right? So they’d just come right back, right? But how did that work when a god had been masticated by another and passed through the digestive tract? Osbert moaned again. His head hurt. A lot.

 

Maybe if a god died, nothing would happen. After all, most people got on just fine with no gods, or no gods that they took seriously. And with all the new gods the humans had been producing, Chaotica was getting crowded.

 

That mosquito was back, buzzing around Osbert’s ear. This time, he slapped at the creature, not thinking. The buzzing stopped.

 

Osbert looked at his hand, and froze. The mosquito god was a little smear on his palm, and it didn’t seem to be popping back to life.

 

In a few minutes, the prayers of praise and thanksgiving began to roll in. The mosquitoes that had plagued so many parts of the earth with everything from annoyance to deadly diseases had vanished.

 

Now Osbert knew what would happen if a god died. And he began to look about the great hall of Chaotica, a thoughtful look on his face.

 

The Gods’ own Keeper finally understood what power he had been given. And he never had liked rodents…

 

 ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2021
 As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated.

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Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Writer's Report and Book Review

World-building the next novel

The germ of my next novel has been in my head for well over a year, but forcing it into some kind of shape has been surprisingly hard. I have some ideas for a couple of reasons for this. For one thing, we can fall back on the ways that grief, loss, and trauma have messed with my head. Focus has never been my strong suit, and it's worse now. 

I think that the issues with creating a new world go beyond that, though. I've been writing books in the Pismawallops PTA series for about 7 years, with some ventures back into the world of the Ninja Librarian. In other words, I haven't had to create a story-world from scratch in a very long time. In fact, the last time I did so was the goofy fantasy world of Halitor the Hero--published in 2014 (and I think drafted in 2013 or earlier--probably right after Return to Skunk Corners and while I was working on Death By Trombone). 

All of which is to say: the last time I created a new world, I was a different writer, and a lot more haphazard about such things. In the meantime, I've transitioned from a pantser to a plotter, at least when it comes to mysteries. So while I launched naively into the writing of Death By Ice Cream with little beyond an idea about a body in the PTA's ice cream freezer and trusted the island community to come to life as I went, I can't be so cavalier now.

For a while I didn't know if I could do it at all, but I'm happy to say that the new book is starting to come together in my mind, and I think I'll be able to start writing it perhaps as early as next month.

That brings me to....

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Title: Preparing to Write Settings That Feel Like Characters
Author: J Lenni Dorner
Publication Info: Published March 2015.
Source: Purchased from Amazon

Publisher’s Blurb (Goodreads):
This reference guide is a tool to help you organize your thoughts and ideas to obtain the goal of making a setting that feels like a character. This valuable reference guide is useful in revealing a simplified way to create settings that feel like characters by using an organized sketch sheet. This practical approach will help focus your writing. The challenge of making a setting into a character is easily conquered with this informative guide. Make your story more interesting in today's competitive fiction market by giving your writing this edge.

The Setting Character Sketch (to copy and use with the book) is on the blog of J Lenni Dorner.

My Review:
Just when I was struggling with what I needed to know about the village where my new sleuth, Seffi Wardwell, lives, I remembered this little book. I started it in March right after I bought it, but set it aside because at that point I was absorbed in revisions on Death By Donut. It occurred to me that it might help me out, so I finished reading it, and returned to the outline tool at the beginning.

I'm not saying that this is a miracle cure, because I still have to think about what's in the village and how it all fits together, not to mention designing a murder, a motive, and a whole slew of red herrings. At the least, however, reading the book gave me a set of things to think about regarding the village and peoples' homes, businesses, etc.

Since posing questions about the story and answering them (sometimes over and over in different ways) is pretty much how I get to an outline, this new set of things to think about is a good fit for me. I hope that I can also keep J Lenni Dorner's tips and ideas in mind as I write, to help Seffi's world come to life.

Dorner gives suggestions and illustrations about the small things in a variety of settings, from the big-picture political world to the details of a single room, that can help it to communicate more about the characters and story that inhabit it.

My Recommendation:
The ideas and suggestions in this book, while often simple, can definitely help if you are a writer and want to bring your settings to life in new ways. It's a quick read and you can pull out of it whatever will help you. I did notice that the illustrations often pulled from stereotypes, and while that makes it easier to see how this can work, you might want to think hard about using stereotypes to communicate too much about people and places.

FTC Disclosure: I purchased a copy of Preparing to Write Settings that Feel Like Characters, and received nothing from the author or the 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.”   

 ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2021
 As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated.

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Monday, June 7, 2021

Non-fiction Audiobook Review: Raven's Witness

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Title: Raven's Witness: The Alaska Life of Richard K. Nelson
Author: Hank Lentfer. Read by Basil Sands
Publication Info: 2020 Tantor Audio. 8:29. Original 2020 by Mountaineers Books. 256 pages.
Source: Library digital resources
Publisher’s Blurb:
Before his death in 2019, cultural anthropologist, author, and radio producer Richard K. Nelson's work focused primarily on the indigenous cultures of Alaska and, more generally, on the relationships between people and nature. Nelson lived for extended periods in Athabaskan and Alaskan Eskimo villages, experiences which inspired his earliest written works, including Hunters of the Northern Ice.  
 
In Raven's Witness, Lentfer tells Nelson's story--from his midwestern childhood to his first experiences with Native culture in Alaska through his own lifelong passion for the land where he so belonged. Nelson was the author of the bestselling The Island Within and Heart and Blood. The recipient of multiple honorary degrees and numerous literary awards, he regularly packed auditoriums when he spoke. His depth of experience allowed him to become an intermediary between worlds. This is his story. 

My Review:
I picked this book up from the library because it won kudos at the Banff Film festival, and it was at least an interesting read. First, the bad news: I hated the narrator. His delivery uses over-meaningful pauses and emphases that seem to imply significance and drama in every sentence, and it drove me nuts. I would have dumped the audiobook and gotten a text version, but the library only had the audio.
 
Once I got past the narration, however, the story is engaging and well-written. The narrator made me feel at first that it leaned toward purple prose, but in the end I decided that most of that was on Sands, and if read in a normal way it would be pretty decent. 

I came away with a feeling that though Nelson wasn't one of those people whose life you feel everyone ought to know about, he was worth learning about anyway. His work in his later years to help slow the logging in the Tongas National Forest is laudable, but I particularly liked his insights into the lives of the native people among whom he lived for several years, and appreciated his evolution away from anthropology--which always implies a certain superiority--to an openness to simply learn from them.

Lentfer became friends with Nelson in his final years, and the friendship and respect of a younger man for an elder informs the book all through. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but consider it a warning that there isn't a very strong critical thread in this presentation of Nelson's life.

My Recommendation:
Worth reading for insights into Alaskan history and culture, and as a reminder of what has been lost to the "march of progress." But get the print book and spare yourself the audio.


FTC Disclosure: I borrowed an electronic copy of Raven's Witness from my library, and received nothing from the author or the 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.”   


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Meanwhile... Please consider pre-ordering your copy of my new short-story collection, Clues, Cops, & Corpses!

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 ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2021
 As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated.

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