Thursday, September 29, 2016

Friday Flash: Huntress

Warning, arachnophobes! This story is about fighting spiders!

Last Tuesday, in a post about finishing your work, Chuck Wendig wrote "Writing is a journey. Driving is a journey. Sometimes driving means taking the exit — get off the highway, and find the backroads. Drive down the backroads, you might see some unexpected sights. You might see a weird little restaurant, or a pretty bridge, or some guy riding an elk hunting giant spiders with a flaming crossbow." He then went on urge someone to write that story about the guy riding the elk. Well, Chuck, you were wrong on one point--that rider's no guy. But for the's your story.


“They’re back.”
Artima looked up from the weapons she tended with the attention a woman lavishes on that which keeps her alive. “What?”
Herbert of Callia always looked like he’d lost his last friend. His expression now suggested that he’d found that friend rotting behind the castle. “The spiders.”
“I thought they killed all of those while you were still learning arms.”
The little man shrugged. Herbert swore he had no dwarf blood, but he was small, hairy, and mean enough she figured that for a lie. “Looks like they didn’t get them all.”
He was also her armsmaster, and Artima knew what he wanted.
“You never taught me how to fight the spiders.”
Herbert sighed. “I never thought you’d need to. But now…Call everyone to the practice courts.”
The horses were restless. Neither Artima nor her companions in arms could see any spiders, but their mounts knew. They rode into battle anyway, horses trembling.
Twenty-seven young knights fought the huge arachnids, which fired blasts of acidic webbing from spinnerets they directed with uncanny force and precision. The knights fought with spears and arrows. The latter kept them out of range of the webs, but arrows seemed to enrage the creatures more than they disabled them.
Then the webbing hit the horses. The animals screamed with the pain, and every horse bolted for the camp, with or without their riders.
Worse, when the knights regrouped to nurse their wounds and those of their mounts, most of the horses ran again. Several knights went in pursuit, and no one was deluded enough to think they meant to drag the animals back.
Artima looked at the shrunken group of fighters. “We’ll have to fight afoot.”
No one looked pleased, but no one actually said they wouldn’t. The creatures had to be defeated, and they had vowed to defend the nation.
Artima found Herbert of Callia. “Tell me everything you know of fighting the spiders. Our knights defeated them once. There must be something we’re missing.”
He looked up from a huge book. “I have yet to discover how it was done. Only that they, too, found that horses couldn’t be made to fight spiders.”
Horses, thought Artima, have more sense than humans.
She mustered the remaining knights and led the charge into the spiders’ lair. The giant creatures waited in the trees above, firing web at the fighters, then dropping onto them with their venomous fangs. Screams of the wounded—both human and arachnid, for the humans battled ferociously—echoed from the hills. Artima fought with sword in her right hand, dagger in the left. The creatures were too close to make use of spear or bow. Her back against a tree, she swung, lopping the head from a spider even as a hot band of webbing shot from above onto her left hand. She dropped her dagger, leaping from under the tree before another strand could entrap her. Pulling a horn from her belt, she sounded the retreat.
Again the little band of fighters—reduced now to less than a dozen—gathered in the clearing by the large fire Herbert of Callia had kindled.
“I know now what you have to do,” he said.
“Tell us.”
“Not all of you. Just Artima.”
“I say, why?” That was Boris. He nursed a gash on his arm where a web had dragged, searing the flesh as it went, but he was ready to keep fighting. “Tell us what to do, and we’ll all go back.”
Herbert shook his head. “It can only be Artima. You will see.” He looked again at his prize pupil, the only female knight left standing. “You need a mount that has no fear of the spiders.”
“That would help,” she said, not trying to hide the sarcasm. “You have such a horse tied behind a tree?”
Herbert shook his head. “Nor can it fear fire. Flaming arrows will defeat the spiders.”
“Oh, that makes it easier. We’ve dozens of horses that just love fire and spiders.”
“No horse. And only a woman can ride this mount.” Herbert stepped into a thicket and returned, leading a bull elk by the antlers. He seemed to be muttering spells into its ear, which at least made the creature obey.
“Come here, girl!” Herbert of Callia didn’t wait to see if Artima obeyed. He gestured at Boris. “Give her a leg up.”
Artima was glad of Boris’ help. The elk was as tall as her warhorse, and wore no tack. Boris held out laced hands and flung her upward, to land a little too heavily on the bony spine of her new mount.
She muffled a curse as Herbert let go the antler. “He’ll obey your commands,” he told Artima.
She ordered the animal to stand, and it waited calmly while Herbert took a crossbow from one of the other knights, and passed the quiver up to Artimas. She slung it into place while he wrapped the curve of the bow in cloth and dipped it into the fire. When it burst into flames, he handed her the weapon.
“Now go!”
The elk ran toward the heart of the spiders’ lair, as Artima pulled an arrow from the quiver and set it alight as well. The men were running behind her, also armed with torches and bows to fire flaming arrows. It didn’t matter. Her mount bore her straight to the enemy, and her bow sang as it burned, firing arrow after arrow into the ghastly creatures, who screamed and burst into flames themselves as her bolts, each catching fire as it passed through the burning cloth, sank into body after bloated body.
When Herbert sounded the retreat, the forest was ablaze. They had only to shoot any that tried to escape the flames.
Artima let the villagers and soldiers, who appeared only after the spiders were dead, deal with the fire. She dropped the charred remains of her crossbow and slid from the back of the elk, resting a singed hand on its neck.
“Thank you.”
The great beast turned and disappeared into the forest, leaving only a pile of steaming manure to prove it had ever existed.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Mystery Review: The Book Club Murders

Today we are fortunate not only to have a great read to review, but author Leslie Nagel has stopped by with a guest post! Read on for my review and her post.

Title: The Book Club Murders
Author: Leslie Nagel
Publisher: Alibi, 2016. 256 pages.
Source: Great Escapes Tours electronic review copy

Publisher's Summary: 
In a charming cozy mystery series debut, Leslie Nagel’s irrepressible small-town heroine finds that her fellow mystery book club members may be taking their Agatha Christie a bit too literally—and murder a bit too lightly.
Charley Carpenter has poured heart and soul into her clothing store, Old Hat Vintage Fashions. She’ll do anything to make it a success—even join the stuffy Agathas Book Club in order to cultivate customers among the wealthy elite of Oakwood, Ohio.
Although mixing with the most influential women in town has its advantages, Charley finds the endless gossip a high price to pay. But after two women with close ties to the Agathas are brutally murdered, everyone falls under threat—and suspicion. When key evidence indicates that both murders are the work of the same hand, Charley realizes that the killer has arranged each corpse in perfect imitation of crime scenes from the Club’s murder mystery reading list. She uses her membership in the Club to convince Detective Marcus Trenault to use her as an inside informant. Not that he could stop her anyway.
Intelligent, fearless, and every bit as stubborn as Marc is, Charley soon learns the Agathas aren’t the only ones with secrets to protect. Passions explode as she and Marc must race against time to prevent another murder. And if Charley’s not careful, she may find herself becoming the killer’s next plot twist.

My Review:
The Book Club Murders is a good mystery with a solid dose of romance. Charley is an engaging heroine, neither too perfect nor too flawed, and I found myself liking her. I could sympathize with her attempts not only to engage with the "wealthy elite" (which whom she is not comfortable), but actually to like them, not just use them.

The romance element of the book teeters on the brink for me--I'm not a fan of romance-novel predictability, and there is some of that in Charley's relationship with Marc (they start out with an apparent strong dislike of each other, and Charley matches this dislike with a powerful physical attraction, another romance trope that kind of bugs me). In the end, I'm okay with how it plays out, as it works well in the story. Certain moments teeter on the brink of too graphic for a cozy, but again are brought up just in time.

The mystery itself is very well put together. I was aware that Charley and the police were going astray, but didn't figure out whodunnit until too late, being distracted (as no doubt intended) by another good candidate. The most dubious part of the mystery is the way in which Charley is allowed to work with the police. It is made to seem inevitable--she has something to offer that they can't do themselves--but I'm still a little skeptical. [As an aside, why is it easier to believe in a total loose-cannon amateur sleuth than in one who works with the police?]  I do like that this cooperation allows the author to avoid the bumbling-police (or nasty-cop) meme all too common in cozy mysteries. I prefer to treat law-and-order with a bit more respect, and she does.

The book is well-edited, and I was not aware of any issues of proofing or formatting.

Recommend for fans of the not-too-cute cozy mystery. Charley's business (her vintage clothing shop) plays into the mystery, but the book isn't bogged down in cute crafty things. So this reads well even if, like me, you aren't interested much in clothes. The Ninja Librarian says check it out.

About The Author

Leslie Nagel is a writer and teacher of writing at a local community college. Her debut novel, “The Book Club Murders”, is the first in the Oakwood Mystery Series. Leslie lives in the all too real city of Oakwood, Ohio, where murders are rare but great stories lie thick on the ground. After the written word, her passions include her husband, her son and daughter, hiking, tennis and strong black coffee, not necessarily in that order.

And now, here's Leslie Nagel with a discussion of what it takes to bring a book like The Book Club Murders to happy readers like me.

By the Numbers: A Beginner’s Guide to Getting Published 

As a debut author, the question I hear most often is: “How did you get your book published? Is it hard to do?” Great question. With the explosion of digitally downloadable books and the shift away from brick and mortar book stores, getting that first publishing deal is tougher than ever.

No matter how good a writer you are, it’s no longer enough to have an intriguing story, a cast of engaging characters or a unique setting. You’ve also got to have the patience of a saint, the endurance of a long distance runner, and the stubbornness of a wide awake toddler at bedtime. So for those inquiring minds who want to know, here, in brief, is my by-the-numbers journey from that first keystroke to the release of my debut novel, The Book Club Murders.

I completed my Masters in Education in May 2010, with an eye to pursuing a long deferred dream of changing careers from marketing to teaching middle school. Unfortunately, the economy was sagging and no one could get a school levy passed. Since I couldn’t find a full time job, I began teaching English part time at a local community college. A couple of sections of Comp II kept me off the streets but didn’t fill my calendar. With time on my hands I began the first draft of a story idea I’d been kicking around for years, a mystery about desperate housewives, a dysfunctional book club, and a stubborn redhead with a flair for detection. I began writing during the Thanksgiving holiday break and completed a first draft in late January of 2011.

The problem? I had no idea what I was doing. Sure, I knew the mechanics of plot arcs, exposition and character development. I’ve read thousands of mysteries and thrillers; certainly I was an expert in what makes a good page turner. What I failed to do was a single jot of market research. What was selling? What were the rules defining genres? Most importantly, what were the guidelines for word count?

Adrift in a happy sea of ignorance, I hammered away. Every imagined encounter between any of my characters went onto the page. Every possible dialog, miles of back story, reams of description, away I churned. It felt so damned good. It had been years since I’d experienced the writing rush.

When I was finished, I had produced an opus of 150,000 words, 85 chapters, and over 40 characters. To put it in perspective, the average cozy mystery comes in at about 75,000 words. Ouch.

I spent the next few months slashing and burning, managing to trim the book down to 110,000 words. Sadder but wiser, I first researched the proper methods for acquiring an agent and then began querying in earnest in March 2011.

Between that first attempt and a joyous day in May 2014, I queried 141 agents. Those were a long 3 years. Most of those letters went unanswered or elicited a form rejection. But lucky for me, a handful of generous spirits responded with reasons why they were rejecting me. I devoured those comments, using every particle of advice to further trim and reorganize my rambling novel. I wish I could buy those lovely people a coffee and tell them how much their few words helped me. After dozens of disappointments, and having found at last the tidy house within my messy mansion, I signed with the amazing Curtis Russell at the even more amazing PS Literary Agency. Success tasted sweet, but my work was just beginning.

My agent took me on with the proviso that I be willing to do yet more revision. Seriously? Bring on the constructive critiques, please. His insights helped me clarify and crystallize all the problems still inherent in my book. Another massive overhaul involving the removal of yet more characters and extraneous crap got me down to 80,000 words and 30 chapters.

Curtis began submitting the manuscript to a handful of publishers in October 2014. These rejections were wonderful, because they nearly all came with loads of specific comments about what wasn’t working. The verdict? My book was still floating between genres, part soft boiled, part cozy, with a smattering of police procedural. The answer? Keep it cozy, of course. Another revision down to 78,000 words, more submissions, and FINALLY an offer! We signed a three-book deal with Random House Alibi in December 2015, with a release date of Book One in September 2016.

It’s all about mobile devices these days. Genre fiction—romance, historical novels, fantasy, thrillers, westerns, the many subsets of the mystery world—we all know they’re more popular today than ever before. But did you know that 95% of all genre fiction is purchased digitally, either in ebook or audio format? That breathtaking statistical reality is driving the creation of digital imprints such as Alibi. New books from new authors like me are almost always published digitally now. If we catch on (fingers crossed!), then we might get a paperback release. Catching on depends heavily on social media, like the blog page you’re reading right now. Without the many lovers of books who write about reading and the people who love to read, new authors wouldn’t stand a chance. Thank you, most humbly.

So, let’s sum up. From the time the first word hit my laptop screen in November 2011 until The Book Club Murders release date of September 27, 2016, that’s—Whoa.
4 years 11 months.

So, what’s the hardest part about getting published? Well, the rejections aren’t much fun. But to quote a famous Heartbreaker, the waiting is the hardest part.

Thanks for coming by and sharing your story, Leslie!

Author Links
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Purchase Links
Amazon – B&N – Kobo –  Ibooks

FTC Disclosure: I was given an electronic review copy of The Book Club Murders as a participant in this tour, and received nothing further 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, September 26, 2016

Middle Grade Monday: Cynthia Voigt and the Tillermans

Sort of a dual review of Homecoming and Dicey's Song,  the first two books of the Tillerman cycle by Cynthia Voigt. A review of #3, A Solitary Blue, will come separately as these two are the books of the cycle that are really about Dicey.

1442628I couldn't find an image of the cover of Homecoming from the hardback I read. I did find it for Dicey's Song, so I'm including it. I think I like it better.

Publisher: Homecoming: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1981. 320 pages.
Dicey's Song: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1982. 204 pages.

Source: Library

Homecoming follows the four Tillerman children--Dicey, age 13, James (10), Maybeth (9), and Sammy (6) after their mother walks away from them in a shopping mall parking lot. They find their way, mostly walking, to their great-aunt's house in Bridgeport, but nothing there is what they expected. So the Tillermans set out again, in search of the home they need.

In Dicey's Song, the siblings are settled with their grandmother, but that turns out not to be the end of Dicey's work. There are a number of problems to solve, and Dicey and her grandmother both have a lot to learn about being a family, and about reaching out to a hand that's reaching to them.

My Review:
Because these books date back to my high school college years, they do have a feeling of being of another time (as an aside, it is only when reading books from that era that I believe things were really that different then). I would hope that those differences wouldn't stop a modern child from reading, because I think anyone would admire Dicey and the inner strength that keeps her going when she has no idea what she's doing.

The "Great Middle Grades Reads" Goodreads group has discussing in the past the trope of the dead/absent parent in middle grade books, and the way in which that can be used to set the children free to be independent. In this case, the absent parents force Dicey to grow up--but what she is already mature enough to know is that they most need a parent. She's not looking for adventure, but Dicey is willing to take a lot of chances and tell all the lies she needs to in order to keep the family together and find a home. The lost parents don't feel at all like a trope; they feel like a tragedy.

Dicey is an interesting protagonist. She is often prickly and difficult, and I at times wanted to shake her and insist she let people into her life and pay attention to them. But that was, after all, what she had to learn to do. After being in charge from far too young an age, as the children's mother became more and more mentally ill and incapable, she'd become too self-reliant and untrusting, and very nearly lost her way a few times. In the end, I liked Dicey, prickles and all, and was wholly absorbed in her story. And that, after all, is what books should do.

I was very glad there was a sequel and I could get it quickly, because I did feel that the first book left almost as many things hanging as it tied up. By the end of the second book, I felt better about leaving her. In a lot of ways, the two really should be one fat book, though the first does have enough of an ending to satisfy most kids, anyway.

Both books won multiple awards, and I think they are justified. I even think these are books that might appeal to both adults and the children for whom they were written.

I recommend the series for kids maybe 11 or 12 and up. I can't point to anything that's inappropriate for younger kids, but it just felt a little old for most grade school children. Some of that is due to the situations in which Dicey finds herself, but I think it's mostly just the level of the writing, which is not particularly simplified for young readers. I'll also recommend it for anyone (of any age) who just likes a good story.

FTC Disclosure: I checked these books out of 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."  


Meanwhile, don't miss this month's promotion, in advance of Monday's cover reveal for The Problem of Peggy! (The Ninja Librarian, Book 3)

The price for The Ninja Librarian has dropped to 99 cents for the ebook, at Amazon or Smashwords. So get a copy and discover the world of Skunk Corners for yourself!

Friday, September 23, 2016

Photo Friday: Colorado in the fall

Last weekend I had the pleasure of spending 3 days in Colorado, hanging out with friends of the backpacking persuasion and doing a little hiking. I thought I'd share some photos.

We were camped at about 9500' in the mountains near Golden, CO (home of Coors Beer and the Colorado School of Mines, two facts which I hope are unrelated).
Aspens near camp where just starting to turn.

Food was a central theme of the weekend. That's not surprising--not only is it natural in any gathering of people, but backpackers are particularly obsessed with food.
Something good was heating in the dutch oven.
The member from Louisiana made gumbo.
On Saturday, a few of us went off to try our sea-level lungs against 13,605' Grey Wolf Mountain, from Guanella Pass. This is the same trailhead as for the heavily-traveled Bierstadt Mountain trail, but we quickly left the trail for a cross-country route we had all to ourselves.
Bierstadt on the right, and we are headed left--once we get through the willows and swamps. There were comments from the Louisiana hiker about coming all the way to CO to hike in a swamp. I contended that it was much nicer, because there were no gators nor snakes in this swamp.
Once out of the willows, the climbing began. It was sunny, but breezy and cool, as it is wont to be in late September at 11,000' or so. With the ground cover only ankle high we could pick our route with ease.
Who stole all the oxygen??
Halfway up there was a beautiful tarn.
In the morning.
The afternoon sky and light made it almost perfect. Note the snow on the north face of Bierstadt. There were localized thunderstorms in the area the day before, leaving bits of snow here and there high up.
The only "person" we saw on the climb was a mountain goat. Unlike some, he didn't come mooching, but required a long telephoto.

 Part of the fun of hiking with guys is they can handle the heavy lifting. Big mountains require big cairns.
Not really. That was there when we got there, and no way could they have actually lifted it, nor where they going to try.
 Three of us reached the summit of Grey Wolf Mtn.
I'm on the right in purple, in case you can't tell. It was blowing hard on the summit.
From the summit we could see how wide-spread the aspens are.

On the way back to camp we stopped and got a closer look at some of those aspens.

I haven't seen very many aspens that turn red, but there were patches of them, some much redder than these.
Just to cap it all off, while flying home on Monday, I got to look down on the area we hiked. The tallest thing with the long face pointing toward us is Mt. Evans, which has a road pretty much to the top for easy 14er-bagging. Just to its right is Bierstadt, and Grey Wolf Mountain is just in front of it.
Not a great photo because of shooting out the window of the plane.

Happy autumn equinox (only a day or two late)!

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2016
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Wednesday Update

Work slowed down over the weekend as the Ninja Librarian was checking out the fall color in Colorado and finishing an editing project for writer Lisa Frieden. But The Problem of Peggy is entering the final editing stages (we hope!), and the cover should be ready for release next week.

In other book news, the price for The Ninja Librarian has dropped to 99 cents for the ebook, at Amazon or Smashwords. So get a copy and discover the world of Skunk Corners for yourself!

Don't forget to take a look at Book 2, Return to Skunk Corners!

And now, just for fun, a glimpse of the golden aspens in Colorado. It was just a little early for the best color, but the weather was beautiful and so were the trees.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Middle Grade Monday: White Sands, Red Menace


Title: White Sands, Red Menace
Author: Ellen Klages
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers, 2008. 344 pages.
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary:
It is 1946. World War II is over--ended by the atomic bomb that Dewey Kerrigan's and Suze Gordon's scientist parents helped build. Dewey's been living with the Gordons since before the war's end, before her father died, moving south with them to Alamogordo, New Mexico. At the White Sands Missile Range, Phil Gordon is working on rockets that will someday go to the moon; at home, Terry Gordon is part of the scientists' movement against the Bomb. Dewey and Suze have conflicts of their own. Where does a girl who likes physics and math fit in? How do you know the right time to speak up and the right time to keep your head down? And, most important of all: What defines a family? 

My Review: 
I read and reviewed The Green Glass Sea a few weeks ago, and liked it enough that I hunted up the sequel to follow up on what became of Dewey and Suzy. The book is different from the first, but did not disappoint.

Despite being set in the heart of world-changing events, these books aren't about the big picture. They are about the lives of a couple of 12 or 13-year-old girls working out their own places in the world. Even more than The Green Glass Sea, I found White Sands, Red Menace to be about both girls, switching from Dewey's perspective to Suzy's in an easy-to-follow way (chapter by chapter), but not in a set pattern as far as I could tell. The author simply brings us into each girl's life when circumstances call for it.

On the surface, it is Dewey who has the most to deal with: her mother vanished when Dewey was a baby, so with her father dead she's pretty much an orphan, but not quite legally available for adoption, either. So she carries around a fear that the Gordons won't want or be able to keep her, and occasional battles with Suzy don't help.

But Suzy's life isn't easy either. She struggles with jealousy as her mother and Dewey share their love of science, leaving out the artistic Suzy. She just wants to go home to Berkeley and have everything like it was before the war. Instead, her father keeps wanting to stay on, enthralled by the excitement of what they are doing at Almagordo. It's pulling her family apart, and sometimes Suzy blames Dewey. And, for the first time, both girls make new friends, apart from each other, as they follow their own interests. We see them gradually working out how to be siblings without being in each other's faces all the time.

Once again the author brings meticulous research to the job to make 1940s Almagordo come to life, and modern children may be shocked to find that Dewey isn't allowed to take shop, and the Hispanic families aren't allowed to live in most neighborhoods of the town (even though, in fact, they were there first). For me, I'm old enough to remember when the curricular divide between boys and girls was still a de facto one, if not a matter of regulation, and I feel with Dewey's deep resentment of this! The growing concern about nuclear weapons and the divide between the scientists in the Gordons' own household is also well presented.

Definitely a sequel worth reading. I recommend starting with The Green Glass Sea, as things will make a great deal more sense and that was a great read. Ages 11 up, or thereabouts. There aren't exactly "adult" issues, but but definitely some adolescent issues come up.

Note: We visited White Sands National Monument (kind of on the opposite side from where the test site was) in, I think, 1968. Wish I had some photos to share, because the white sand is an amazing sight!

And my brother sent me some pictures! Color is a little weird because they are scanned from slides taken in the 1960s. So this isn't all that long after Suzy was there.
Like snow, only warm!

The campground (or picnic area?)

FTC Disclosure: I checked White Sands, Red Menace out of 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." 

Friday, September 16, 2016

Writing news and a short story

I'm pleased to share that The Problem of Peggy: The Ninja Librarian Book 3 has come back from all the editors and beta-readers, and progress is happening once again. I expect to complete edits--mostly minor--in the next few weeks, before sending it out for a final edit and proof-read.

The cover is also nearly done--except that part where I remembered I needed a blurb for the back cover, for advertising, etc. I've obviously waited too long between books, to be forgetting that sort of thing!

I'll be doing a cover reveal in a couple of weeks, and if you'd like to participate, drop me a PM. By then I should have all the pre-order stuff set up, and have polished that all-important blurb. The cover was a struggle this time, but I think among us (that would be my cover artist, Danielle English, my co-worker Laurie, and yours truly) we came up with a good one. It will be a match for the first two, so that the trio (oh no! have I written a trilogy? I might have to write a fourth book after all, just to avoid the trilogy thing) will look great on your shelf.
In case you've forgotten, Stinky and Stinklet show off books 1 & 2

Now, since it is Friday and I promised you a story on Fridays, I'm going to share an all-new story from Skunk Corners--told by Crazy Jake Jenkins. This one isn't part of any of the books, though it maybe fits in around the time of Return to Skunk Corners. It's just under 2000 words, so settle down with your coffee and enjoy!

Crazy Jake and the Boy from the Train

When Big Al set out to teach me and Wild Harry Colson to read, I thought she was wastin’ her time.  Yeah, we’d been tryin’ to learn, and we’d even got our strange Librarian to help us out, but much as we hankered to learn, I figgered it was way too late for the likes of us.

And I admit I never really figured some female could teach us, especially not some crazy female who dressed and acted like a boy.  Truth was, when Al come to town, she never let on she was a girl, and folk got to thinking of her as a boy and didn’t much heed her ways.  But that’s neither here nor there to our story.

But Al not only taught us to read, she fooled us into learning to figure, too.  Next thing you know, we was hankering for a job on the trains.  And we got that job, though I’ve always suspected the Librarian of pulling some kind of magic to do it.  Or  Tess.  She wanted us out of town bad enough to call in a favor or two, I reckon.

Well, we’d thought to ride the trains and see the world, but we ended up on the run up and down our own Skunk Mountain, and didn’t never see much else.  Thing is, there was a lot to see on that run.  Gold Camp, Carter’s Mill, Lupine, Pine Knot, Two-Bit, Skunk Corners, and Endoline.  That gave us maybe enough look at the world for now, and plenty of tales we ain’t told no one, least of all Harry’s scamp of a brother, Tommy.

Things just seem to happen around me and Harry.  It’s a gift, I reckon.  Take the time we were on the hill between Lupine and Pine Knot.  There’s a real steep bit there, and Engineer encourages the young and energetic to get down and walk.  We allus say it’s so’s they can stretch their legs, but really it’s on account of the railroad’s too cheap to give a second engine so’s the train can climb the hill fully loaded.

Harry and me, we was sort of junior conductors, taking out the trash and sweeping the cars, and one of our jobs was to make sure folks didn’t lose themselves on the walk, and everyone was back aboard and accounted for at the top.

This time I’m thinking of, folks piled off, happy enough, near the bottom when the train slowed to a crawl.  There was a whole party of boys from someplace down in the Valley, coming up for fresh mountain air.  Maybe they’d find some when the train was gone, but I have to say that there were clouds of smoke from the engine choking us all the while we climbed.  A train is a powerful thing, but it makes an awful smoke.

We’d not been afoot long when one of the ladies who escorted those boys scurried up to me.
“Oh, Mr. Conductor!”

That was a promotion for me, but I let it pass.  It felt kind of good, truth to tell.

“Mr. Conductor, that bad boy Frankie Murphy has disappeared again!  Can’t you find him?”

Well, I looked at Harry, and he looked at me.  I didn’t like the sound of that there “again.”  And we already knew Frankie.  Twice we’d caught him exploring the brake van, and just the other side of Lupine he’d pulled the emergency stop. I’d threatened then to string him up by his heels, but some boys just can’t be held down.

Sorta like Tommy, come to think.  I dunno, maybe Harry and me made folk feel that way, too.  Tess has threatened us within an inch of our lives, more’n once.  So I had some sympathy for the scamp.  But I also kinda sorter wanted to let him stay lost.  Either way, the little rascal was like to cost me my job.

Any road, Harry and I stuck our heads together and, upshot was, he kept on with the rest of the passengers and I went off after our one strayed lamb, as Preacher Dawson would have said.  He never did have a very clear view of how folks is. Not much like lambs, if you ask me.

So off I went, trying to figure what a boy like Frankie would do.  I stopped and listened, now the train was pulling enough ahead to hear something besides that.  Off to the right I heard Skunk Creek.  The tracks follow the creek right up the mountain, and if I knew boys, water would draw this one like wasps to rotten apples.  I headed for the creek.  Back down the line just a little, a sort of path led over there, and I trotted back, guessing he’d been tempted to check it out “just for a minute.”

That’s how it always is with boys like Frankie, see.  They don’t mean to be bad, but stuff interests them, and off they go to see what they can see.  I reckon a boy like that needs someone like our Ninja Librarian to teach him stuff, and keep his brain busy.  This fellow, as near as I could make out, lived in some sort of orphanage down in the valley, where they probably made them all go everywhere in lines and do the same stuff every day.

The train was making pretty good time up the hill, and I picked up my speed a bit, slithering the last few yards down the bank to the creek.

I didn’t see hide nor hair of any boy, but there was plenty of sign.  He’d been there, alright.  He’d stood by the water and thrown rocks at a log for a bit, then—you didn’t have to be a good tracker to see this—he’d turned and started following the water up the hill.  At least he’d had the brains to go up, I thought.

Trouble was, there’s no path or nothing along the creek.  I could see here and there where he’d pushed through the bushes, and prints when he’d come to the wet banks to throw more rocks.  But it was a chore to follow him, and I was taking too long.  That train wasn’t even close enough to hear now, not over the sound of the waterfall ahead.

Maybe he’d be at the fall.  That ought to keep a boy, right?  I pushed ahead faster.

Frankie was at the falls, sure enough.  He was standing right under the fairly gentle stream—it was summer, and our creek gets pretty small in the dry season, once the snow’s all gone from up high.  And he was nekkid as the day he was born.

I almost hated to do it.  He was laughing and having a great time, and probably getting the best bath he’d had in a long time, with no other boys around to make fun and maybe pick on him, since he was smarter than they were.

But I had no choice.  I scooped up his clothes, and shouted at him, “You come along fast, or you’re walking the whole way.  That train won’t wait!”

He hadn’t seen me arrive, nor heard me of course.  I took a bit of satisfaction from making him jump, and turned back toward the tracks.  There wasn’t any path here, save a bit of a deer trail, where they’d come down to drink from the pool.  I noticed there were shoes in the mess of stuff I was carrying, and I grinned to myself.  That would teach the squirt to run off—he could run on up to the train barefoot.

“Hey!” I heard him shout, but when I didn’t turn around I heard a bunch of splashing and pretty soon he was panting along behind me.  “Give me my shoes, anyhow!”

“Nothin’ doing,” I puffed back.  I was pushing the pace, both to make sure we caught that train and because I wanted him to suffer a bit.  “We’ve no time.  I’m sure not walking all the way to Pine Knot, and maybe beyond.”

“My shorts, then,” he wailed.

I chanced a glance back, and he was running well for someone in bare feet.  I guessed he’d not worn shoes all that much anyway.  But he was red all over, and I thought maybe it wasn’t from running.  Now he was out of the water and out of the woods, I guessed maybe he’d had second thoughts about getting naked.  I glanced ahead.  The train was nearing the top of the hill, and people were clustering there.

It was one of the hardest decisions I’d made.  If we stopped for him to put his shorts on, we’d surely make everyone wait—if Engineer would wait, which he might not.  But if we didn’t, well, Frankie would have to run up and get on the train in front of everyone, wearing nothin’ but a smile, as Pa used to say.

I compromised.  I dropped the shorts, calling, “you get those one and run like crazy to catch up, because I’m not waiting!”

I didn’t even look back to see what he did, though I didn’t expect him to catch me, and I didn’t really expect the train to leave without him.

Nor did I expect what happened.

I was sorta jogging up the hill, giving him a chance as you might say, when that boy, shorts now mostly in place, came speeding up behind me.  Frankie could run!  And what’s more, he could run farther and faster than I could.  He’d been holding out on me!  I looked ahead.  Folks were mostly loaded back onto the train, and Frankie was well ahead of me.  I could see the engine was getting up a good head of steam, ready to continue on, and I tried to run a bit faster.  It looked like maybe Engineer would leave us after all.

The cars began to move, and I knew we were doomed.

Only Frankie, he put on a bit more speed, and managed to catch the back rail of the brake van as it pulled away.  Like a squirrel he just sorta jumped up on that platform, and waved to me as the train picked up speed.  I stopped running and threw my hat on the ground in disgust.  Looked like I was in for a long walk, and maybe I’d lose my job, too.

Then, hanged if that little rascal didn’t go inside the van and pull the emergency brake.  The train squealed to a stop again, I staggered the last few yards up to the back of the van and swung aboard, and Frankie met me with the sort of grin that makes you want to slap a boy silly, or else elect him president.

I handed him the rest of his clothes, and went to check the connections, pretending there really had been a problem.  I met Harry coming back the other way.

He tipped me a wink, and said, “the rotten kid beat me to it!  I was gonna pull the brake for you, and he got there first!  Man, that kid can run!  Left you in the dust, sure enough.  Reckon he’ll go far.”
I didn’t comment.  Frankie might well go far, if he didn’t get killed first.

Maybe we should keep him in Skunk Corners.  Seems like he might fit right in.  But I wouldn’t want him and Tommy getting together.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2016
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Wednesday Wanderings: Ansel Adams Wilderness

It's photo time again! Back in July my husband, Eldest Son, and I spent a week backpacking in the Ansel Adams Wilderness (in the Sierra Nevada mountains just south of Yosemite). Here are some highlights.

Day One:
We drove from SF to LeeVining on Day Zero, so that the first day of our hike we had only to pick up our permit at the Mono Lake ranger station/Visitor's Center and drive a short distance to the trailhead. By 10ish, we were on our way, climbing the rather formidable rampart into the wilderness.
You can see the tramway in this photo. A series of lakes, dammed in the 1930s, plagued this approach to the wilderness.
Finally getting above the lakes, we encountered the idyllic waters of Rush Creek. Having hiked far enough and climbed more than enough, we found a camp and settled in, with plenty of afternoon left for exploring, bathing, and sitting around camp reading.

Day Two: Leaving civilization behind. We woke early, and after breakfast hit the trail, eager to get into the high country. We were dismayed to find that Waugh Lake, the 3rd in the series and well inside the Wilderness Area, was also dammed. But there were great views from along the shores.
Eldest Son has always been fond of high perches.
Our route took us through subalpine forest and up past alpine meadows.
Some kind of fungus on the forest floor.
The first alpine meadow gave us a look at the iconic flower for the trip, the Indian Paintbrush.
An impressive final climb took us to Marie Lake at over 10,000', where the breezes blew a little briskly, but the view from our room was top-notch.

Day Three: A short cross-country ramble. We could have done it all by trail, but chose instead to walk cross-country from Marie Lake, past Rogers Lakes, and over a low ridge to the Davis Lakes. The route proved easy, with only one spot that required a little route-finding, and the meadows were idyllic (with a few mosquitoes).
Crossing a meadow near Rogers Lakes.
Tadpoles were growing as fast as they could, to reach maturity in the short alpine summer.
The Davis Lakes brought more fields of paintbrush and stunning alpine backdrops.

The short mileage gave us extra time for photos, more reading, and some time to sit in camp and talk with our son. We did an after-dinner ramble to see what the evening light would give us, as well.
Davis Lake and Mt. Davis
White bark pine? Gnarled branches warmed by the evening sun.
Low light and a good spot to brace the camera (or a tripod, which I didn't have), allow for slow-shutter smooth-water photos.
Day Four.
We touched the trail this time for only a mile or so, but the trail was the PCT/John Muir Trail, and we saw a number of parties. Though predictable, the crowds came as a bit of a shock, as until then we'd seen only a handful of people the whole trip, and none for two days. We stopped on the trail for the iconic views of Banner Peak from Islands Pass.

We weren't the only ones enjoying the setting.
Marmot. I have no doubt he was hoping for a chance to eat my salty pack straps or boots.
We left the trail at Islands Pass, heading in a more direct line for North Glacier Pass, the access to climbing routes on Banner and Ritter Peaks. For a time, the walking was easy.
Eldest Son and the Spouse head toward the pass.
Later, the going got a great deal more challenging, and over the next two days we spent far too much time among boulders like these.
Actually, most of the boulders were bigger, and often less stable than I like.
Despite everything, we found a place to camp, and settled in for two nights, to allow for a climb.
Not even a few icebergs will keep us from our afternoon baths!
Our camp spot, just below the outlet from Lake Catherine, gave us beautiful evenings.
Sunset on Banner Peak
Evening at the edge of the world
Day 5. Next morning saw us heading off early up the peak of our choice. We'd had thoughts of climbing Banner, but the approach was awkward from where we'd camped, and Mt. Davis was closer and lower. We opted for the easier climb.

Late snowfields melt into "sun cups" and make for tricky walking
Banner and Ritter from the summit of Mt. Davis, 12,303'
Day 6: Down again.
Our 6th morning saw us retracing our painful scrambling steps around Lake Catherine and over North Glacier Pass, but the descent from there was better than our climb, as we found and stuck with the well-worn use trail we had missed on the way up. This was a very short day, as we only dropped to 1000 Island Lake, and located a campsite along the south shore, well away from the other campers.
Approaching 1000 Island Lake from above. Eldest Son did some counting from the summit of Davis, and spotted at least 60 "islands"--many of them just hunks of rock.

Our camp above the lake shore was chosen for this view of Banner Peak--and proximity to a beautiful cove with a beach of coarse sand, where we were able to take a real swim.
The reflective blanket on the tent is helping to keep it cool inside during the mid-day sun and heat.
A lack of clouds had dashed most sunset hopes, but this final night we had a bit of cirrus cloud--and more smoke, from the large fire that broke out near Big Sur that morning.
Day 7.  Hiking out. We had sort of expected the final day to be nothing but a slog, but we took a different route than the way in, and found that we kept getting stunning views of the high peaks even as we left. That gave us lots of excuses to stop, turn around, and take photos.

Eventually, however, there was nothing left but the 3000' drop to the car, down a canyon too steep and abrupt to photograph.
That's Mono Lake you can see in the flats.
Only one vital stop left:
At the Mono Cone in Lee Vining. Cash only, but good shakes, burgers, and fries.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2016
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!