Thursday, March 27, 2014

Flash Fiction Friday: Under the Oak

This week's Wendig Challenge:  "You still have 1000 words.  But you’re going to break that up into 10 chapters."  No other guidance, except that the idea is "to maintain brevity but increase scope."  I hope I did that.  I know I enjoyed writing the story!

Under the Oak.  A story in 10 very short chapters.

The car coasted to a stop under a big oak that shadowed the pull-out.  The lights went out.  It was invisible from the road, even if there had been any traffic to see it.  At ten on a Tuesday night, no one would drive down that road.

"Is this the place?"

"Close as I can tell.  I wasn't paying as much attention as I might have, last time."

The passenger peered through the window into the darkness outside.  "I can't make it out.  I just can't tell."

"You'll see," said the driver.  "It'll come back to you."  He turned the key, and the motor died.  The sounds and scents of a summer night came in through the open windows in the sudden quiet.   The other time had been autumn.

It was 1959.  In some places, the country was gearing up to the Sixties.  In Boondocks, the Fifties were just getting into full swing.  The girls at Boondocks High were into roller skates, poodle skirts, and saddle shoes.  The boys wore button-down shirts and ties to school.  They smoked behind the bleachers, but only tobacco.  Other things also happened behind the bleachers.  When a girl "went to live with an aunt" far away, everyone knew what had happened, but they pretended they didn't.  They still held sock-hops in the gym on Friday nights.

Calvin Bergen had lived in Chicago until the start of his Senior year.  Then his father took the chance to leave his factory job, which paid well but would never go anywhere, and go run the Boondocks distributorship.  It was a huge advance, even though he took a pay cut to do it.  That didn't matter, because living in Boondocks cost next to nothing.  And he was his own boss.  That made him happy.

Calvin also liked being his own boss, and deeply resented being dragged to Boondocks.

When he was settled at Boondocks High, Calvin changed his mind.  In Chicago he'd been one punk among many, chasing whatever was cool.  In Boondocks he was the master of all things Big City, which was to say, all things Cool.  When he showed up at school in a white t-shirt with a pack of cigarettes rolled up in the sleeve, the next day half the boys copied him.  Mostly they took off their shirts and ties after leaving home, in the hopes that their parents wouldn't find out.

It took two more days for the Principal to announce a rule prohibiting the wearing of t-shirts in school.

Calvin came to school with no shirt at all, and was suspended for three days.

Dottie Calhoun was a straight-A student.  Her father owned the farm supply store, and she had more pocket-money than any other girl.  She was generous, so in spite of being rich, she was popular with the girls as well as the boys.  The teachers called on her first because she always had her work done.

Dottie was a senior, and had never seen the Principal except socially.  In twelve years she had never  been in trouble at school.  Dottie was pretty, smart, and terribly afraid of doing anything wrong.  She dated all the boys--once.  She always turned down a second date.  Midway through her Junior year she'd started to repeat, having run out of boys before she ran out of Friday nights.

Dottie naturally noticed Calvin as soon as he arrived at Boondocks High.  He wasn't especially handsome, but he had the glamor of distant places and the Big City.  Even before the t-shirt episode everyone knew he was a rebel and a born leader.

In History class, when he was tilting his chair against the wall and pretending to ignore the teacher, he caught Dottie looking at him.  She flirted with her eyes and he turned away, looking bored.  She was too inexperienced to know he had done it on purpose.  Calvin had hooked the uncatchable Dottie Calhoun on the first cast.

They started dating after the no-shirt incident.  Calvin was still wearing t-shirts to school and serving detention every day in payment.  Dottie struggled with her conscience.  On the third day she went into the girls' bathroom when she got to school, and rolled her skirt waist until her knees showed.

In Detention, she sat behind Calvin and slid notes between the seats, saying "meet me at the soda fountain after we get out of here."

He sent one note back.  It read, "Forget sodas.  Meet me behind the bleachers."

Dottie had never met a boy behind the bleachers.  That was what girls did who later went to visit far-off aunts.

She went.

They didn't stay behind the bleachers.  It was crowded there, even an hour after school let out.  They walked together to the parking lot and got into his car, a two-year-old Chevrolet.  Dottie could almost hear her mother's outraged gasp when she slid onto the seat, her skirt once again above her knees.  She banished all thoughts of her mother.

They drove randomly until dark, and then Calvin pulled off onto the shoulder under a tree that hid them almost completely from passing cars, if there had been any.

He turned off the motor, rolled down his window to let in the sounds and smells of an autumn night, and reached for her.

"I can't believe you even found a '57 Chevy," Dottie said.  "It's exactly like the one you had then."

"I know."  Calvin looked towards her.  In the dark, she was still the 17-year-old he'd taken parking 55 years ago.  "I wanted it to be just like that night."

"And modern cars are too cramped," Dottie said.  "They don't have these lovely bench seats."  She sighed happily, and he leaned in to kiss her.  Just like that night 55 years before, his hand slipped up her shirt.

They'd made the usual mistakes and lived through the results.  But this part was always good.

©Rebecca M. Douglass 2014



Like this?  Take a look at my newest book, and enter the give-away!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

MG Classics: The Door in the Wall

Given my penchant for reading and re-reading books from my childhood and before, I have decided that I will label books in that category (and the reviews) as "Middle Grade Classics."  I'm rather arbitrarily putting in that category anything written before about 1970 (I could argue that the publication of The Outsiders in 1967 marked a significant change in children's lit, but that's a discussion for another time.  No doubt I'll have it).  The feature will run randomly (whenever I happen to have read a middle grade classic) and will just indicate in the post title that the book is old, dating back at least to my childhood (quiet about what that suggests, you in the back!).


Title: The Door in the Wall, audio edition.
Author: Marguerite de Angeli
Publisher: Original:  Doubleday 1949 (128 pages).  I listened to the Listening Library edition from 2008
Newbery medal, 1949

Set in Medieval England, this is the story of 10-year-old Robin, son of Sir John de Bureford, a knight in the service of the king.  Robin's parents have gone to serve the king and queen, and Robin is meant to go to learn to be a page, squire and knight (to be fostered--a common practice among the nobility in those times).  But plague strikes London, and when Robin becomes sick, even though it is not plague (my interpretation is polio), he finds himself left alone as servants flee or die.  Left unable to walk, he certainly can't go to learn to be a knight.  He is rescued by Brother Luke, who takes him to the monastery, nurses him, and begins to teach him.  Robin gradually regains strength, and eventually is able to go to the family friend who was to foster him.  There, he finds that he can do something heroic, even if he cannot walk well, and he learns the meaning of Luke's claim that "Thou has only to follow the wall far enough and there will be a door in it."

This book is definitely a product of its time.  By today's standards of writing, the story is "told" rather than shown, and the adventures feel calm and distant, even when Robin is undergoing real and present danger.  The writing style mimics something of the "high romance" tone (a 19th-century idea of what medieval writing would sound like; presumably this was developed by people who never read Chaucer), which I find kind of fun but would probably feel alien and static to modern children.

Oddly, despite the fact that so much happens in this book, and even listening to a dramatized version with music added (a nice touch, and the Listening Library audio is really well done), it feels very calm and uneventful.  Yet a number of things happen.  First, in the manner of children's books of the era, Robin goes from being focused on his misery to thinking about what he can do, rather than what he can't.  I am not sure he ever gets beyond thinking of himself, even when he saves the castle--he is thinking as much of how a knight's son ought to act and about making his father proud as he is about saving others--but he does learn to find his own place in the world.  And do any of us really stop thinking about ourselves first?

While the story is clearly dated, I think it still has something to offer, especially to those who don't want edge-of-your-seat suspense the whole way.  This is an adventure story you can read without fear, and a fairly good view into the medieval world, as well as a somewhat transparent lesson about making the best of what you have.


Full Disclosure: I borrowed  The Door in the Wall from my public 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, March 24, 2014

Ice Cream party at the Ninja Librarian's blog!

Death By Ice Cream has gone live!

Dig out the ice cream scoops and chocolate sauce--the long-awaited (by me, anyway) launch of my first cozy mystery has finally happened!

Let's just admire it for a minute.

What do you serve when all you have in the freezer is an ice-cold corpse?
JJ MacGregor and her best friend Kitty Padgett struggle to hold the Pismawallops PTA together, and new volunteer Letitia LeMoine isn’t making it any easier.  But when Letitia’s strangled corpse turns up where the ice cream bars should have been, things get a whole lot worse.  JJ has to shoehorn in a search for the killer along with all her other problems: divorce, a 15-year-old son with his first girlfriend, a desperate race to complete the Yearbook on time, and her own tendency to get all wobbly-kneed around the Chief of Police.  JJ just can’t help asking a few questions.  But a loud mouth and insatiable curiosity can be a dangerous combination.  Especially when someone wants her stopped.

And now. . .

Astonishingly, a blog tour celebrating this fine, fun and funny mystery launched this weekend, complete with giveaway for an ebook (well, five, actually, so you have a pretty good chance of winning).  Here's the blog tour scoop.  I can't tell you exactly when everyone will post, because it's a surprise (okay, I write better than I organize).  But all of these are worth following!  Here's the list of blogs participating in the Tour, with interviews, reviews, and guest posts by yours truly:
Amazon has the Kindle book and the paperback.  Or you can drop me an email and a paypal payment for just $16, and I'll ship you a signed copy anywhere in the US.  Or trot on over to Smashwords for an ebook in any format you can imagine!

At last, here's what you've been waiting for, the Rafflecopter gizmo!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

So let me know what kind of ice cream you'd like, add some chocolate sauce, nuts, and a cherry on top, pull up a chair, and dig in!  I'll be the one in the corner with a giant bowl of double chocolate with chocolate chunks.  And a spoon in each hand.

Friday, March 21, 2014

A to Z Theme Reveal Blog Hop!

It's almost here--the crazy exercise known as the A to Z Challenge.  Hundreds of bloggers sign on each year to blog almost daily through April (we get Sundays off.  Isn't that generous?) in a big blogging party.  Why?  There are several reasons.  One is to increase traffic and (hopefully) active followers for our blogs, because a huge part of the Hop is going about and reading the blogs of others, and following those that you like.  For some of us (okay, for me), another reason is one similar to the reason for doing NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month): it creates a focus on my writing in my own head and life.

Last year, doing the Hop for the first time (having jumped in at rather the last minute on an impulse), I met a number of great bloggers, and also figured out what I really wanted to do with this blog.  Not bad, for something just tossed into the hopper without much thought.

This year, with my blog chugging along pretty well (as you know, I've settled into a pattern of two reviews and a Flash Fiction each week, and yes, it does encroach on my novel-writing time, but probably in a good way, since it keeps me reading and keeps me writing fiction even when all about me is editing and formatting and marketing, oh my!) (I apologize for an inexcusably long parenthetical digression. .  . now where was I?), I am a little more conscious of what I'm doing and why.  And I have a THEME.

Yeah, yeah, you say.  Get to the point already.  What is that glorious theme?

First, I'm going to tell you what it's not.  I was sorely tempted, but my theme is NOT Ice Cream (it would have been a nice marketing ploy as my new mystery, Death By Ice Cream is launching in just a few days.  But just a little too much.  And the research would probably cause serious weight gain).

Nor is my theme haiku, though the brevity of that form made it tempting.
You could write a haiku about these almond blossoms.

I toyed with the idea of world travel.
Okay, I cheated.  This isn't in Holland.  It's a few miles from home, in Golden Gate Park.  But it originally came from Holland.

And in the end, I went with my great passion: Wilderness.
Weminuche Wilderness, Colorado

Here's what the month will look like:
Mondays: Reviews of adult books on wilderness/wilderness travel/backpacking.
Tuesdays: Original fiction and non-fiction pieces on wilderness travel.
Wednesdays: Reviews of children's books on wilderness, wilderness adventures, and settling the Wild West.
Thursdays: Photos.  I do a LOT of backpacking (the US style, i.e., wilderness travel with everything I will need on my back, sleeping in tents and cooking on a dinky alcohol-burning stove).  I will be highlighting some of my best photos from around the West (US and Canadian Rockies).
Fridays: Flash Fiction.  If possible, I will do these from the Chuck Wendig prompts, and force them to fit the letters of the day.  Should be interesting.
Saturdays: a return to something I've not done much recently: posts on writing.  I'm not sure how that will relate to the wilderness theme, except writing is all about the inside of my head, which is pretty much an untamed wilderness.  We might call it the writer's journey, too.

And, of course, as often as possible, I will mention ice cream.  Because. . . you know why!

So check out the list and hop around to see what some of the exciting themes of A to Z 2014 will be!

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In related news: only three days left to enter to win a paperback copy of Death By Ice Cream.

Click the link above or in the side-bar!  Do it by Monday or lose your chance!

Okay, I lied about that.  Because tomorrow kicks off the Death By Ice Cream blog tour and e-book give-away.  Visit on March 22 for a review and a chance to enter to win!

The other participating blogs are:
Gus Sanchez
Will MacMillan Jones
Storybook Reviews
Rosalee Richland
Lisa Frieden
Finishing with Carla Sarett on April 2

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Progressive Book Club: Writing Short

 Time once again for the Progressive Book Club!  I thought I was going to have to punt on my writing-related posts, but thanks to a lot of time sitting in airports, I not only finished reading


 but I even got a response written and--this is important, as you'll see in a moment--edited.

Title: How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times
Author: Roy Peter Clark
Publisher: Little, Brown, 2013.  272 pages.
Source: Library (ebook)

This thought-provoking little book should be discussed in tweets and haikus.  If I had more time,I would.  Being short of time, I shall pick out a few key ideas and riff on them.  Clark has made this easy by dividing his book into very short chapters, each followed by a set of assignments for the writer to practice brevity.

Clark first really got my attention with Chapter 8, "No Dumping." (Given the brevity of the chapters, this was only minutes into the book.)  The chapter appeals to my possibly somewhat anal conviction that no piece of writing should go out into the world without edits (no, I don't edit my diary.  I don't share it, either).  The rule applies all the more, Clark makes clear, to short writing.  If a piece of writing is both short and unedited, odds are it doesn't make much sense. The goal is to use the fewest possible words to do the job.

Assignment #1 from Clark to me and my readers: "Make a list of the informal texts you would be least likely to revise: emails, tweets, status updates, website feedback, instant messages.  Resolve that for one week you will refrain from dumping these on your readers and will take a few seconds to correct and improve."  Take the vow along with me.

In Chapter 18 Clark discussed the 6-word memoir project*. The obvious assignment #2: write your own.  One of my efforts: "Always wanted to write.  I do."

In Chapter 19, Clark asks us to consider if we are putter-innerspring or a taker-outers.  Do you put in everything including the kitchen sink and then edit out the unnecessary bits, or frame the bare bones and expand?  I vote for both: my stories often draft as bare bones, my sentences have the kitchen sink.  When I rewrite, I often shrink the sentences and expand the stories.  Which are you (or what combo)?

A final assignment: write aphorisms, adages, and epigrams.  Those are among the classic very short forms of writing.  They also strike me as a great use of twitter for an author.  Have fun with it: "I fought the slaw, and the slaw won.  #needcleanshirt"

Oh, yeah: write t-shirt mottos, too.  I almost bought one this weekend at the Book Festival: "Oops.  I accidentally bought another pile of books."

Shakespeare said it best: brevity is the soul of wit. I believe that's wit as in intelligence, as well as humor. Funny that I think of Shakespeare as using a lot of words because really, writing in iambic pentameter constrained him far more than I constrain myself!  And every word he used had to be chosen for meaning and meter.

So there are your PBC assignments.  Feel free to share the results in the comments!

Oh, and since I ended up with some spare time, the haiku review:

Fewer words may serve
Vital communications
Better than you think.

*If you haven't heard of this, Google it.  Check out the NPR Race Card project while you're at it.

Full Disclosure: I borrowed Writing Short: Word Craft for Fast Times  from my (digital) 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 related news: only six days left to enter to win a paperback copy of Death By Ice Cream.

Click the link above or in the side-bar!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Kid Lit Blog Hop! Ghosts of Tupelo Landing


Title: The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing, 352 pp.
Author: Sheila Turnage
Publisher: Kathy Dawson Books (Penguin), 2014

Mo LoBeau and her partner Dale are back and their Desperado Detective Agency is taking on their toughest challenge yet: they need to interview a ghost and save the worn-out old Tupelo Inn for Miss Lana and Grandmother Miss Lacy.  They have a lot of motivation: not only will the whole town suffer if someone nasty ends up with the Inn, Mo and Dale need that interview to pass their 6th grade History class.  All our old friends from Three Times Lucky are back, and a few new ones.

I have to get something off my chest right from the start: I read (and reviewed a couple of weeks ago) another book with a ghost, and I dinged it pretty hard for having a ghost, taken at face value (i.e., presented as a real ghost, seen and believed in by a number of people and no other explanation available).  Well, The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing has just that sort of ghost, and it didn't bother me (very much--I'm a little too rationalistic to be completely happy with it).  This has led me to think a lot about ghosts and how they can or can't fit into stories.  Two things about this book make the ghost work for me: for one, it's set in the South.  That's a place for ghosts, almost as good as ancient castles and baronial piles on the other side of the Atlantic.  And, maybe more important, the whole book is just a shade (uh, no pun intended!) removed from realism in any case--there's a certain over-the-top fun attitude that allows me to accept the unbelievable.

So, the ghost dealt with, did I like the story?  You bet I did!  Almost as much as I liked Three Times Lucky.  The story is fun, the narrator (Mo herself) is witty and as insightful as a 6th grader should be, and the plot is (once ghosts are accepted) logical enough to be convincing.  It zipped along, a fast read that pulled me in and kept me turning pages.  It also had a line that for some reason just doubled me up with giggles, when Miss Lana advises, with regard to ghosts, that Mo and Dale just "live and let. . . whatever."

As with Three Times Lucky, themes of family and familial love run strong in the book, and Mo is gradually settling into an acceptance of the family she has, which really works pretty well, as families go.

Highly recommended, but read the books in order, or you'll spoil the surprises in the first book.

Full Disclosure: I borrowed The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing  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."

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Tucson Festival of Books!

I wore myself out today at the Tucson Festival of Books (that's Tucson, Arizona, in case there's another one somewhere out there).  I absorbed great blogging advice from Chuck Wendig, who is responsible for so many of the flash fiction challenges I write to, and heard a great talk on the effects of World War I on society, particularly British society. That one featured two of my favorite mystery writers, Jacqueline Winspeare and Rhys Bowen, both of whom have mystery series set in that period.

And I spent two hours in the Children's Author Tent selling and signing books.
Yeah, that young man is carrying a parasol.  I wished I'd had one!  Tucson in March is no place for a fair-skinned redhead from San Francisco.
I brought my Mom with me for moral support, and a good friend from back in our school days to help out (SHE is actually good at marketing and reaching out to people.  My sales were not brisk, but I'm pretty sure most of what I did sell was due to her!  Thanks, Laura!).
I'll go back tomorrow for more author talks and workshops.  Then we'll go for a hike.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Flash Fiction Friday: ". . . And His Dog"

This weeks' Wendig Challenge was a "must contain" challenge, with two lists of story elements from which the random number generator gave me two: an escaped prisoner and a faithful hound.  I chose to interpret that a bit loosely, of course.  As a bonus, it happened in Skunk Corners.

. . . And His Dog

I never liked being shut in a schoolroom all day.  Way I saw it, whoever thought of locking kids up most of the daylight hours had a mean streak a mile wide and a mile deep.  Early on, I took to dodging school as much as I could.

I’d start out toward the school in the morning—Ma was a stickler for that—then whistle up old Stinkpot and go off wherever.  Everyone called my dog Stinkpot because he liked smelly stuff way too much.  Ma’d make me wash him, and then he’d go and tangle with a skunk.  When that wore off, he’d roll in something dead.  He was that sort of dog.  You’d never say he was a dog who had much use for school.

Some days, when I would go to school, ol Stinkpot, he’d come and sit outside, like he was scouting a way to bust me out.  See, he knew as well as me that school was a sort of jail, mean to keep us kids locked up on account of the grownups don’t want us to have fun.  Mebbe on account of grownups never seemed to have much fun, most days.

Anyhow, when Stinkpot’d come to school, I’d say I had to take him home, else the dogcatcher would haul him off and eat him.  I’d cry about it if I had to.  That was when we lived in Lupine, and the dogcatcher was an old fellow we boys figured ate dogs and cats.  So teacher’d let me go, and I’d give Stinkpot a biscuit for busting me out of the jailhouse.
Everything got different when we moved to Skunk Corners.  I never knew why Pa took us off up there.  It was awful close to the edge of everything, and made Lupine look pretty good.  Anyway, though, we moved up there and Ma was so busy, she told me to just go up to the school and register myself.

“Or whatever they do in this two-bit town,” I heard her mutter when she thought I’d gone out.  Now, that wasn’t right.  Two-Bit was two stops down the train line closer to Lupine.   Skunk Corners was beyond Two-Bit and just one stop short of Endoline.

Ma’s instructions looked to me like my perfect chance.  No one around there knew I was even there, let alone that I was supposed to be in school.  I was twelve years old, and could read and figure, which seemed good enough to me.  How much learning did a boy need in those mountains, was how I argued it.  And Pa kept moving us farther back into the hills, so it looked to me like I’d had plenty of school for where we were heading.

Of course, I didn't make that argument to Ma and Pa.  Ma’d say to get my backside to the school if I didn’t want her to tan my hide.  And Pa would say that if I didn’t want an education I could start working on the farm for real.  I already did plenty of work, feeding the animals and grubbing out stumps.  So I just started up the trail to town, meek as could be.

Once out of sight of the cabin, I slung my books under a bush and whistled.  Stinkpot came trotting up, smelling more like skunk than ever.  Figured, now we lived in Skunk Corners.

“C’mon, boy, we’re going exploring.”

We went on that way for a week.  I left home every morning, and wandered off wherever we chose to go.  Stinkpot could always find his way home, so I didn’t worry none about getting lost.
But come Saturday, I wanted to see the town, such as it was.  We’d got off the train and gone right through to the farm, no time to explore nothing.  Ma’d been careful to point out the schoolhouse, but that wasn’t what I wanted to see.  I made a note of it all the same, to know what to avoid.

I’d stayed away all week so no one would send me to the school.  But Saturday would be safe, surely, so we started off early.  Ma wanted some flour and cornmeal from whatever they had for a store, so I even had an excuse.  I wasn’t in any hurry to do the shopping, though.  I just poked along the dusty street, checking things out.  I still avoided that school, but took a good look in at Two-Timin’ Tess’s Tavern.

All on a sudden, someone in dungarees, a big flannel shirt, and a pair of moccasins blocked my path.
“You’re new in town.”  I was surprised to hear a girl’s voice coming from the mass of denim and flannel.  I risked a look, and I guessed she was a girl, though her hair was cropped short and her hands were in her pockets, just the way mine were.

“Yeah,” I said, cautious-like.

“You got a name?”

“Lije.  Elijah Monroe.  Ma’am,” I added uncertainly.

She shook her head.  “I’m just Big Al.”  She studied me some more.  “On second thoughts, that’ll be ‘Teacher’ to you.  I’ll see you in class Monday.” It wasn’t a question.  Then she gave Stinkpot a chunk of jerky, petted his big silky ears, and was gone into the big brick building that claimed it was a library.

I shrugged and finished my exploring, and bought Ma’s supplies.  By the time I was home, I’d forgotten all about Big Al.
Come Monday, I did what I always did.  I headed for the creek, Stinkpot at my heels, and went to fishing.  It was a perfect day for it, and I had a great time in the creek, even if I didn’t catch no fish.
Along about mid-morning, Stinkpot disappeared, but I didn’t pay that no mind.  Stink, he’s always haring off after something or other, and he always comes back when he’s ready, or when he’s hungry.

Just when I was starting to think about eating the bread and butter Ma’d put up for my lunch, up bounded Stinkpot.  I took it for granted he’d come back for lunch, until a noise made me look beyond at the bushes.  There stood that Big Al person.  I looked from her to Stink and back, and she nodded.

“Yup.  He brought me, just like I asked him to.  And now he’s going home, and you are coming to school.”  Then she stood there with her arms crossed, and glared at me until I packed up my fishing stuff and came up to her.  I stood there waiting for the roof to come in on me, because she was big, and she looked mean.

But Big Al—Teacher—just laughed and petted Stinkpot.  She gave him another bit of jerky.  “Good boy.  You run along home now.”

And that lousy traitor dog panted a smile, wagged his tail, and trotted off.  And Teacher took me by the arm and hauled me back to prison.

Which is how I came to learn there’s more to school than ABC and more to ‘Rithmatic than two plus two.  I’m still not sure I like it, but Stinkpot won’t come bust me out anymore, so I guess I’ll have to stick around and learn something.

©Rebecca M. Douglass 2014


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Middle Grade: The Orphan and the Thief Blog Tour!

orphan tour

The Orphan and the Thief.  An adventure that will keep you and your kids spellbound.
orphan thiefToad thought it’d be easy to steal from Mr. Edward P. Owl. Unfortunately for Toad, he isn’t the best of thieves. Caught in the act, he’s in more trouble than ever before. Now to save his hide, Toad must track down five rare potion ingredients for Mr. Owl. Or else. All Melena Snead wants is her family back, but after the Miggens Street Fire, that isn’t very likely. Orphaned and miserable, forced to work in an apothecary, she’s determined to find Milo, her missing brother. No matter what. When Melena finds Toad ransacking her apothecary, Toad gets a nasty shock: apothecaries don’t carry Mr. Owl’s ingredients. Luckily, Melena’s willing to help, for a price. With Melena’s pet Spit-Fire dragon and Toad’s enchanted talking beer mug, they embark on a fantastical journey, traveling the country in search of the potion ingredients. But can they gather all of them in time, what with monsters, pirates, and axe-wielding thieves? And if they do, is there an even greater danger waiting for them at the end?

This is a fast-paced, well-written adventure that I had trouble engaging with (until the last few chapters, when things began moving very fast).  I enjoyed it; I just found it too easy to put down.  As I can't find any good reason I wasn't caught in the book, I am going to put that down to personal taste and let it go.  By the second half the story had largely picked up and I did better, but I was not grabbed from the beginning and that is a count against it.

Toad and Melena are well-drawn characters, though they could, perhaps, have a little more depth to them.  But despite their limitations, they have a good story to tell, even though I wasn't drawn to race through the book with them.  Each has a mission that matters the world to them, and when they band together they leap from adventure to adventure.  In fact, I would say that one criticism I had while reading the book was that too many of their adventures went by too fast--and with too little development (not to say real sense of peril).  They did tend to escape things too easily, even the final tight spot which ties everything up.  But in the end, The Orphan and the Thief is a rollicking adventure with a touch of magic and a nice twist to the end (one I probably should have seen coming, but I'm not very good at seeing those things).

Recommended for kids who like fantasy and adventure (this is are sort of 18th-century setting for fantasy and adventure with a touch of magic).

Full Disclosure: I received an ebook of The Orphan and the Thief  from the author in exchange for not a positive review but  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."

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAM.L LeGette: Melissa Lee LeGette has been writing seriously since she was a teen. She loves an old world vibe with a magical twist, and she puts her full focus on creating believable characters--even if they happen to be a talking beer mug. Her books are targeted for children and teens, but have been enjoyed by adults of all ages. She lives in Georgia where she helps run a family farm, so her nails are a fright.
Praise: [LeGette is] able to twist her unique fairy-tales to fit the imagination of children and the attention of adults. Five stars ... The Orphan and the Thief is definitely worth reading! -- Abigail / Goodreads Review M.L. Legette conjures up a captivating magical tale in The Orphan and the Thief. I loved this story and I could not put my Kindle down until I finished the last page. This charming story is so good that it may very well become a classic. -- Karen Dowdall, Author of Delphi Altair: Strange Beginnings

Blast Giveaway $50 Amazon Gift Card or Paypal Cash Ends 3/23/14 Open only to those who can legally enter, receive and use an Gift Code or Paypal Cash. Winning Entry will be verified prior to prize being awarded. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 or older to enter or have your parent enter for you. The winner will be chosen by rafflecopter and announced here as well as emailed and will have 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way associated with Facebook, Twitter, Rafflecopter or any other entity unless otherwise specified. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Giveaway was organized by Kathy from I Am A Reader, Not A Writer and sponsored by the author. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW. a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, March 10, 2014

Book Review: Alone on the Ice


Title: Alone on the Ice: The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration
Author: David Roberts
Publication info: 2013 WW Norton.  Blackstone Audio 2013  (Interesting note: this book was published as both ebook and audio book several weeks before the hardback, if pub dates on Goodreads are to be believed).
Source:  Library audio e-book

This is the story of the 1912-13 (1914 by the time they finished, in fact) Australasian Antarctic Expedition, which in fact took place at the same time as Amundsen and Scott were racing for the South Pole.   Though the ad copy and title focus on the amazing journey made by expedition leader Douglas Mawson over several hundred miles alone after his two companions die, it is in fact the story of the entire expedition, and, by extension, the "golden years" of Antarctic exploration.

First, to get my kvetches out of the way: this book takes on too much.  There is too much backstory (as we fiction types say), and far too much of the book goes into too much detail about other expeditions.  Some of this is necessary--showing how Mawson got where he did, as leader of the AAE, through other expeditions.  The narrative arc (again, thinking like a fiction writer) runs too far on both sides of the advertised purpose of the book.  The book is much stronger when seen as the story of the AAE, rather than being judged as an adventure tale about that one survival situation.  I'm not downplaying that story--it truly is a mind-boggling feat of endurance and strength of body and will, probably never matched.  But the whole expedition is the focus of the book and is a tale worth the telling as well.

I found the initial chapters slow going as we waded through biographies and accounts of other expeditions.  This was made the harder because I was listening to the book, and that made it tough to keep track of who was who and why (I also missed some good pictures that way--original photos by Frank Hurley, expedition photographer, who was also the photographer on the famous Shackleton expedition--in itself an argument for hunting up the hardback).

But I'm a sucker for this kind of thing--both the survival story and the accounts of explorations such as the AAE.  So I hung on, and the book became gripping.  I did feel that Roberts was at times working too hard to make us recognize Mawson's greatness (due to his historic neglect, being overshadowed by Scott and Shackleton who were British rather than Aussie, and had better publicists), but overall it is a well-written account of an expedition of which I had heard very little, though both in terms of personal adventures and scientific value, it may have been one of the best from those early years (Mawson was a scientist first and foremost, unlike most such explorers.  It didn't always make him popular with his men, but it did lead to some excellent data, which he spent his life working to publish and make useful to science).

Recommendation:  As the saying goes (Yogi Berra?  Why not?), if this is the sort of thing you like, you'll like this.  I recommend it for people like me who like tales of exploration, especially from the years before modern equipment and communications took some of the edge off.

Full Disclosure: I borrowed Alone on the Ice from my (digital)  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."
And while we're on the subject of ice and freezing and all--don't forget to click through and enter the Death By Ice Cream giveaway!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Guest post today with the Storyreading Ape

Drop by Chris the Storyreading Ape and see my guest post here!   And many thanks to Chris for letting me post in his space.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Friday Challenge: Ten ways of looking at. . .

This week, Chuck Wendig set us all an exercise: to describe something in ten different ways.  Anything.  I was going to punt and skip this one, but then Jemima Pett posted ten ways of looking at the A to Z Challenge.  That set me to thinking, and I ended up with . . . Ten Ways of Looking at a Book Launch.

Here's how he put it:

“I want you to take one thing and describe it ten different ways. That thing can be… anything. An object. A person. A sensation. A place. An experience. But I want you to focus on it and describe it multiple ways. Ten, as noted. Each no more than a sentence of description.”

Here are my ten sentences, describing an approaching book launch:

1.  A blast of excitement.
2.  A coiling snake-pit of stress.
3.  A mind-killing trail of minutia.
4.  A warm glow of pleasure and happiness.
5.  Burning eyeballs scorched by the search for typos.
6.  A love affair with my beautiful book.
7.  A deep soul-weariness with the project overwhelms me.
8.  A smell of clean paper and fresh ink.
9.  A torrent of tasks, which shatter and scatter my mind in a million directions.
10. The kind of goal that makes you forget that it's not a destination, but a step on the way.

Okay, I had a little trouble moving out of my mind (and my gut) and into all my senses.  But at least the exercise did capture some of the jumble of feelings the approaching event calls up!

 Here's to death by ice cream, and to Death By Ice Cream.

And I really am writing a story this week. But I'm first of all writing it for a group of students I'll be reading to on Saturday--I want to let them be the very first to hear it.  So all my blog fans will have to wait!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Kid Lit Blog Hop: Behind the Masks, by Susan Patron 


Title: Behind the Masks: The Diary of Angeline Reddy, Bodie, California, 1880.  "Dear America" series.
Author: Susan Patron, narrated by Cassandra Campbell.
Publisher: Scholastic, 2012 (hardcover and audio).
Source:  Library (on-line resources)

The story opens with news that Patrick Reddy, Angeline's father, has been killed, but neither the girl nor her mother believe this for a moment.  Angeline concludes that, with her mother ill, it is her job to figure out what her father is up to.  The plot thickens with a vigilante group, a group of anonymous actors, a Chinese girl, and a new friend who has problems of her own, until everything comes out in the end.

I'm not sure if my review on this is going to be fair or not.  I'll be up-front: though I enjoyed much of the story, as far as I'm concerned the author ruined it with a ghost story that is taken completely at face-value.  Since these books are supposed to be completely realistic fiction (Dear America is a series of fictional "diaries" of girls, usually just entering their teens), I found it jarring and off-putting.  Let's just get that out of the way up front.  I get that a girl of her age and time and place would believe she sees a ghost.  But the story leaves no option except to believe that the ghost is real, and has been seen and believed in by at least two other people.  That I can't buy.  It kept jarring me out of what could have been a fine adventure story.

The history part is fine, though at times a bit heavy-handed with sharing the author's research (do we really need to know how to make a cream to keep hair from turning gray?  The incident adds nothing to the story).  I was excited to read about Bodie, which I have visited (it is a 'ghost town' east of the Sierra on the border between California and Nevada, managed now by the National Park Service), and I enjoy that period of history and reading about the area, but I can't say the story was super well-written.

The plot doesn't seem to quite hang together.  Angeline has to go to school each day, except that after the first day (when she shocks her teacher by showing up on the day after her father has supposedly been killed, and is cruelly punished for refusing to acknowledge he is dead), school sort of fades out of the picture.  She is worried about going back and being punished again, but we never hear more about it.   Further, the teacher who is so irrational and brutal in that instance is shown later to be actually a good and caring person, without ever dealing with her cruelty (after all, a bit of compassion for a child who is clearly in denial about her situation would make more sense even for a very strict, old-school teacher, than beating her for it--the punishment only rings true if Miss Williams is really a sadist).

These inconsistencies, compounded with the ghost story issue and too much focus on Angeline's crush on Antione Duval, left me feeling again and again while listening that the story just wasn't working well.  I have generally been impressed with the quality of the Dear America books.  This one doesn't seem to me to live up to the standard, though I was interested enough to listen through to the end.

Not recommended unless you really like ghost stories and are desperate to read about Bodie (which is undeniably a really cool place).

Full Disclosure: I borrowed Behind the Masks  from my (digital)  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, March 3, 2014

Book Review: Caleb's Crossing, by Geraldine Brooks


Title: Caleb's Crossing
Author: Geraldine Brooks
Publisher: Viking, 2011.  I listened to the Blackstone Audio version, narrated by Jennifer Ehle.

Summary (From Goodreads--I found this one too complex to neatly summarize.  I would have to say that the publisher did, too): 
The narrator of Caleb's Crossing is Bethia Mayfield, growing up in the tiny settlement of Great Harbor amid a small band of pioneers and Puritans. Restless and curious, she yearns after an education that is closed to her by her sex. As often as she can, she slips away to explore the island's glistening beaches and observe its native Wampanoag inhabitants. At twelve, she encounters Caleb, the young son of a chieftain, and the two forge a tentative secret friendship that draws each into the alien world of the other. Bethia's minister father tries to convert the Wampanoag, awakening the wrath of the tribe's shaman, against whose magic he must test his own beliefs. One of his projects becomes the education of Caleb, and a year later, Caleb is in Cambridge, studying Latin and Greek among the colonial elite. There, Bethia finds herself reluctantly indentured as a housekeeper and can closely observe Caleb's crossing of cultures.

As is often the case with audio books, I was somewhat slow to warm to this.  I don't think that reflects on the books, as it happens almost every time (it's probably because the narration is perforce slower than reading, so it take longer to develop a sense of the book).  But this is a fascinating and complex story, and I was soon fully engaged with it.  For me, although the title suggests that the story is about the Wampanoag boy Caleb making the crossing between cultures, it was really about Bethia struggling with issues of faith and the ways faith was presented in her society.

That did set up a conflict for me, as I was continually put off by the restrictions of her society and of her religion, and wanted Bethia to rebel more completely.  Yet I think part of the brilliance of the story is that she does not act as we 21st-Century women want her to, but in keeping with her own time and self.  She can't quite make herself conform, but neither can she reject her God and run off to join the Wampanoag.

An additional narrative device that gave me pause, but in the end worked well (and I think might have been less confusing on paper than in the audio book) was the way in which the narrative is constructed as an account written out by Bethia at various stages of her life, so that her understanding of herself, Caleb, and their world changes through the story--that is, the narrator's understanding, not just that of the girl being narrated.  So the childhood parts are told from the view of the young teen, and later parts are narrated from greater and greater distances and more maturity.  I found myself set up time and again for the story to take a direction that it turned away from when the story was resumed often years later.

Caleb's Crossing is an impressive work of fiction which richly rewards the time spent immersing oneself in it.

Full Disclosure: I borrowed Caleb's Crossing  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."

Sunday, March 2, 2014

It's Read an eBook Week 2014!

March 2nd to 8th is Read an EBook Week, something I only just learned about--but my books are on board.  It's a big promotion, and a chance to find lots of books free or cheap, but it's much more.  I'm going to send you to the wonderful blogger and writer who tipped me off on this: Jemima Pett.

Go ahead.  Go read her post on ereaders, literacy, and making books (and ereaders) available in poor communities.  She even has links showing how to donate your old kindle or whatever to the non-profit organization Worldreader.

And if you want to get my books, visit my Smashwords page to find them either free or 75% off.  Click through to the individual book to see the coupon code.  And while you're there, pick up Jemima's delightful Princelings of the East series at an equally deep discount!