Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Writer's Update

Another week has gone by! I am ever so gradually finding a routine (sort of), and getting back to writing. You may have noticed I managed a bit of flash fiction for Friday's post last week, a triumph in itself. Work on the next WEP story has begun as well, though I've mostly been making words without a clear idea where they are going. I'm waffling about a story for the new IWSG  anthology contest, since the theme is YA romance--not something I either read or write. I might experiment, but I'm putting some other things first.

Number one on the things I'm putting first is preparing to draft the Pismawallops PTA Mystery #4. Death By Library is up to several pages of notes and thoughts, and I'm aiming for a draft during November, taking advantage of the extra momentum provided by NaNo. I'm also prioritizing blog work (getting back to regular posting and visiting), and that WEP story.

A word on my process. When I'm planning a mystery, I start by asking myself the key questions: who's dead, why, how, by whom? I'm learning to also ask "who else might JJ think is guilty?" I keep asking until things start to work out in my head, and I can see the way forward (each question tends to lead to more questions, which is a great way to grow a story). When I drafted Death By Adverb, I didn't give that process enough time, and started writing before I was really ready. As a result, I made a mess. That took an extra half a year to straighten out, so I'd like to avoid a repeat. The thing is, there's no hurrying this process. I can speed it up some by making a point of sitting down regularly and going over what I have, tinkering, playing with new ideas. But I can't guarantee I'll be able to make any real progress on any given day, so I need to maximize the number of days I'm thinking between now and November 1!

Of course, a bit of rain would help. That would keep me from doing things like what we did Sunday and Monday:
Baldface Mountain Loop, White Mountains National Forest, New Hampshire
 Hiking out above the morning valley fog was a great feeling, though descending kind of hurt  :)
We hiked over that summit and down that ridge, for a total of 9.7 miles
Spent Sunday night in a campground nearby so we could make an early start, and were home by dinnertime Monday. I even managed a little work on my photos, if not my writing! Because yeah, the drive across the country means a lot of photos--I still have 650 even after a first cut, and need to reduce that by about 1/3 as I process the pictures. #keepingbusyinretirement :D

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

Monday, September 17, 2018

Memoir Review: Lab Girl (audio book)


Title: Lab Girl
Author: Hope Jahren (Audio read by the author)
Publication Info: Random House Audio, 2016. Hardcover by Knopf, 2016 (290 pages)
Source: Library digital resources

Publisher's Blurb:
Acclaimed scientist Hope Jahren has built three laboratories in which she’s studied trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. Her first book is a revelatory treatise on plant life—but it is also so much more.

Lab Girl
is a book about work, love, and the mountains that can be moved when those two things come together. It is told through Jahren’s stories: about her childhood in rural Minnesota with an uncompromising mother and a father who encouraged hours of play in his classroom’s labs; about how she found a sanctuary in science, and learned to perform lab work done “with both the heart and the hands”; and about the inevitable disappointments, but also the triumphs and exhilarating discoveries, of scientific work.

Yet at the core of this book is the story of a relationship Jahren forged with a brilliant, wounded man named Bill, who becomes her lab partner and best friend. Their sometimes rogue adventures in science take them from the Midwest across the United States and back again, over the Atlantic to the ever-light skies of the North Pole and to tropical Hawaii, where she and her lab currently make their home.

My Review:
I'm not always a fan of authors reading their own works. Most aren't professional readers, and all too often it shows. Hope Jahren isn't a professional reader, but she does a beautiful job with her book, and  by reading it herself she is able to bring a depth to the story that I don't think can be found any other way. Although I haven't read the print version of the book, I listened to this with my husband while we drove across the country. He did read the book last year, and I think was more impressed with the quality of the writing after hearing her read it (he had made some criticisms about her style that he recanted to a large extent). I recommend listening to the book, and possibly reading it as well (I will probably do both, as the ebook is sitting on my e-reader).

The book itself has a structure that was at first disconcerting. Chapters of natural history (primarily regarding the trees that are the main object of her study) alternate with the longer chapters that form the memoir. Once I figured out what was going on, though, I enjoyed the natural history for its own sake, as well as contemplating how it fit with the personal story she was telling. People with no interest in what makes trees tick might find it off-putting, but I think most readers can enjoy it. Jahren's training in writing academic prose is in most danger of showing up in these sections, but she controls it well.

The author's personal story is powerful and at times painful. Jahren's struggle for acceptance in the scientific and academic world is all too familiar, though as she went through graduate school in the 1990s one might have hoped matters had improved over the days when women had to sue to be given tenure. The story of her lab tech, who remains both a mystery and a fascinating character, as well as the author's best friend in a weird kind of way (I think that when she sees the pair of them as siblings--maybe twins--she might come the closest), is equally important and equally interesting. I never quite got a grip on Bill's character, and I think that Jahren never does, either--which is part of why she is writing the book.

There is another side to the book as well. Jahren suffered from bi-polar disorder, and for many years "suffered" is the right word. She was far older than she should have been before she was diagnosed correctly and got the help she needed. That, however, led to the most painful part of the story for me to listen to, which was the account of her pregnancy, which had to be endured without her medications--and she had to quit them cold turkey. The result was ugly, and culminated in a delivery, described with a little too much detail, that was all too much like my own first baby (though thank goodness I didn't share her other issues). I think both of us can only be grateful for modern obstetric science.

The book felt to me like it lost a little bit of it's direction when things finally began to go well for the author. The real story was how she (and Bill) got to that point, and that was a story worth contemplating.

My Recommendation:
Read it. If you have any interest in science, or in what it's like to be a woman in science, or for that matter in what makes oddball scientific characters tick, read it. Also, read it if you like trees. If possible, listen to the audio version.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

#Fi50 Headsup!

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.
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 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 next-to-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 September Prompt is:
Empty Nest 
Interpret it however you want--the more creative the better! I look forward to seeing your stories next week.