Sunday, December 16, 2018

#Fi50 heads up!

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!

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.
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.I recommend posting your basic blog link on my Fi50 page, with the day you post your Fi50 story. You can also add a link in the comments on my story, posted the last Sunday (or Saturday) of the month. Feel free to Tweet using the #Fi50, though I'll not lie: the Ninja Librarian is a lousy tweeter.

Posts can go up any time during the last week of the month (or any other time – we’re not fussy! My post will go up next Saturday, so it will be there when you are ready to add your link.

You’re welcome to pick your own topics or go along with the monthly prompt.

The December Prompt is:
The Worst Gift

Note: I had been planning to let this drop entirely after the new year, but since Jemima Pett provided a list of prompts, I will keep it going, though possibly in a rather automated way (I will not be available in January, at least, to respond actively).

Here are the 2019 prompts, courtesy Jemima:

January - Icy Fingers
Feb - No more hearts and flowers
March - Whenever
April - Exactly
May - Sweet home, Alabama
June - Countdown
July - Taking it to the …. (Complete with your own word)
August - One drop too many
September - Taking turns
October - Wolf at the door
November - Forging ahead
December - Behind the curtain 

Friday, December 14, 2018

WEP: Ribbons and Candles


Time for the December WEP/IWSG 'writing together' competition.
 The challenge is Ribbons and Candles. 
Perfect for the festival/festive season. Perfect also for flashes not themed around festivities or holidays. All prompts here work year-round and are pan-global. Genre, themes, settings, mood, no bar. Only the word count counts. And you could ignore that too and come in with a photo-essay or art, minimal words required.

A party. A power-cut. Gift-giving. Hair braids. Ribbons of roads, rivers, paper, love, hope. Candles in the room. Candles in the church. Candles in the wind. And any combo thereof. It could go in a thousand different directions, choose yours and step outside the square!

The WEP admins are asking that we post as soon as we can, so there's more time to read the stories before the holidays hit. So I've managed to get mine up a few days early, anyway. And, since this is clearly the perfect time for a Christmas/winter theme story, I've written a fantasy set in no particular season, with no reference to holidays at all :D

998 words
Critique guidelines: FCA

In the Cave

“We have to go in!” Marcus turned away from his best friends to kick at a rock, so they wouldn’t see the desperation in his face.

“Why?” Jeremy asked. He was the tallest of the three, freckled and red-haired where the others were dark.

“Because that’s where his parents went, you dolt.” Beth liked Jeremy, but that didn’t earn him a pass for being stupid. “Come on.” She tossed her braids over her shoulders, settled her bow and quiver on her back, and prepared to lead the way into the cave.

“Wait, Beth.” Marcus held her back pulling three candles from his belt pouch. “Not much point in going in if we can’t see anything.” He managed a grin that might have convinced Beth he wasn’t worried—if she’d been blind and deaf.

Jeremy was easier to fool. “Oh, good. Say, this will be an adventure.”

Beth rolled her eyes. “The gods protect me from idiot boys.” Marcus and Jeremy made the sign, seconding her prayer before realizing what she’d said.

“Look, I know it’s dangerous. You don’t have to come,” Marcus began.

“Not you, idiot. We have to do this, I know that. But Jeremy—could you for one minute stop thinking about adventures? You know what an adventure is? It’s a plan that’s gone wrong.”

While Beth spoke, Marcus struck flint to steel and lit a candle. Handing it to Beth, he lit the other two from it. Then he stowed the flint and steel back in his pouch, along with three spare candles.

He had come prepared. Beth decided this wasn’t the time to tell him she could conjure a light far faster than he could light a candle, and brighter, though it tired her. She’d save that for an emergency.

“Let’s go, then.” Marcus picked up his spear. “Do you have your sling, Jeremy?”

The taller boy searched his clothes before pulling the sling from the back of his belt. “I’m good,” he announced, stowing it in his belt pouch. “Let’s go!”

Beth looked at Marcus. “Lead on. It’s your quest.” Naming it for a quest seemed to give Marcus courage. He took a deep breath and ducked his head to enter the cave. The entrance wasn’t low enough that he needed to duck, but doing so made him feel larger—and braver.

Last to enter, Beth unwrapped the ribbon on one of her braids, cut off a piece, and tied it tightly again. Then she hung the loose piece from a root at the top of the entrance.

“Just in case,” she said when she saw the boys watching. She didn’t say in case of what, or how it would help.

Marcus stood in the center of the cavern. They couldn’t see to the edges, but moving currents of air suggested several passages opened off the room. He tilted his head back and sniffed, turning and snuffing until his tension melted into triumph. “This way!”

Jeremy hesitated. “Did you just… smell your way?”

Marcus shrugged. “Sure. I can smell Mother and Father down that way.”

Jeremy’s regret was visible even by candle light. “I don’t have the magical gift, you know.”

Beth had to cheer him up. “You have a sling and the skill to use it. If the ogres who took Marcus’s parents know what’s good for them, they’ll turn them loose right now!”

Marcus almost smiled. “Right! Let’s go find them and let the ogres know what they’re up against!”

He led them down the passage, stumbling some in the flickering candle-light. Still Beth didn’t make a magical light. It was enough to have Marcus using his gift to follow the way. She had a feeling that too much magic was a bad idea. Ogres were said to be sensitive to it. She trailed behind the boys, slicing bits off her hair ribbons and sticking them up wherever she could.

Marcus stopped. “They’re close. I can smell them,” he whispered.

Beth strung her bow. Jeremy pulled out his sling and picked a few good stones out of the wall of the cave. Marcus looked sick.

“Dead quiet now,” Beth whispered, then wished she’d not said that. Marcus looked sicker.

Approaching a corner, they heard noises and saw a light. Peering around the edge of an opening, they saw Marcus’s mother and father, backs against the wall, throwing globs of light at a group of angry-looking ogres. As if there were any other kind, Beth thought before she heard the man shout, “More light, Lena!”

“I—I don’t think I can, Owen,” Lena gasped.

“Light or fire or be eaten for dinner,” he answered, voice ragged.

Marcus jabbed the end of his spear into his candle and held it aloft. “Burn, you rotten ogres!” His feeble flame distracted only a few of the monsters.

Jeremy’s stones and Beth’s arrows did more, but they had too few. The ogres kept coming.

Beth took a deep breath, held up the raveled ends of her ribbons, and willed the light into being.

The ribbon shone with an intense, white light. Marcus’s parents broke into a run as the ogres cowered away from the lights. Reaching the children, they swept Marcus and Jeremy along with them.

“Hurry, before they recover!” Lena cried, stumbling in her exhaustion. She and Owen leaned on Marcus as they staggered up the passage.

Beth’s bits of ribbon glowed and burned on the walls, lighting their way, and building a wall of light behind them.

Beth turned and followed the others, her knees wobbly. Jeremy looked back, saw her falter, and turned to grab her hand. “Don’t stop now!”

 “I don’t know how long I can—” she gasped.

Jeremy crouched. “On my back,” he ordered.

Moments later they burst from the cave into the afternoon sunlight.

Beth could feel the last of her magic draining from her as she set the light as firmly as she could into the ribbon at the entrance. That would hold them a good long time.

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

Check out all the stories--they usually make for some great reading!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Non-fiction Review: The Egg and I, by Betty MacDonald 

Title: The Egg and I
Author: Betty MacDonald. Read by Heather Henderson
Publication Info: Audio book 2015 by Post Hypnotic Press, Inc. Originally published 1945
Source: Library digital resources
Publisher’s Blurb:
When Betty MacDonald married a marine and moved to a small chicken farm on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, she was largely unprepared for the rigors of life in the wild. With no running water, no electricity, a house in need of constant repair, and days that ran from four in the morning to nine at night, the MacDonalds had barely a moment to put their feet up and relax. And then came the children. Yet through every trial and pitfall—through chaos and catastrophe—this indomitable family somehow, mercifully, never lost its sense of humor.

An immortal, hilarious and heartwarming classic about working a chicken farm in the Northwest, a part of which first appeared in a condensed serialization in the Atlantic monthly.

My Review:
Following their time on the chicken farm, Betty MacDonald and her family moved to Vashon Island, in Washington state. I therefore knew about her most of my life, being a Vashon kid myself (my mother in fact went to school with Betty's kids). I never much cared for her Mrs. Pigglewiggle books, but I admit to a deep and lasting fondness for Nancy and Plum, despite the fact that it's really a rather dreadful book from a literary perspective. For one reason and another, though, I'd never read The Egg and I. When I came across it while looking for something light to listen to, I decided it was time.
MacDonald's book reads as a deliberately, and at times desperately, light-hearted account of a difficult time. On the one hand, I was interested in her upbringing and the ways in which it didn't prepare her for the frontier life (she seems often rather incapable in ways that astonish me). On the other, I was at times aggravated by her exaggerated tone, as I felt that her humor sometimes degenerated into something remarkably close to whining. After all, she wasn't the only woman working on a hard-scrabble farm in the 1920s, and not everything that terrified her in the "wilderness" was all that big a deal. It felt to me like she was trying too hard both to be funny and to prove that the farm was an exceptional undertaking.
I won't go into her rather racist comments on the local Native Americans near the farm. For that, I can only say that she was a product of her time, and probably couldn't help it. Her commentary on the other local farmers was both more entertaining and less justifiable. That is, her humor sometimes slipped over the edge to become not a gentle laugh along with people, but a jabbing laugh at them (granted, some of her neighbors might have deserved it, or maybe they were just low-hanging fruit). I wonder if any of those people would have recognized themselves in her descriptions.
All in all, it was an entertaining read (listen), but, knowing some of the ways she played fast and loose with reality in her book about life on Vashon (Onions in the Stew), I won't take this as a terribly accurate historical rendering of life in Chimacum in the 20s. 
The narrator is good, and there is an introduction written by the author's daughters that might be as interesting as the book itself.

My Recommendation:
Entertaining, and well-read, but it only gets a so-so recommendation from me. I did appreciate her evocation of the PNW winters, which are dark and wet and wet and dark, and are most of why I don't live there any more.

Full Disclosure: I borrowed an electronic copy of The Egg and I 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."