Friday, December 30, 2016

Flashback Friday! Halitor at Midwinter

It's the last Flashback Friday of the year (and a very convenient time to have it, as the author is visiting family and far too focused on over-eating to write a new story this week). Flashback Friday is the brainchild of Michael D'Agostino; to learn more, click on the banner above!

To stick with the spirit of the season, I found the original flash-length version of "Halitor at Midwinter." A longer version appears in the Bookelves Anthology, Vol. 2, along with six other winter tales by authors of wonderful books for middle-grade readers (as we like to say, for 10-year-olds of all ages).

But for now, enjoy a cold night with Halitor.

Halitor at Midwinter

Halitor the Hero stared gloomily into his fire and sighed. He remembered how it had been this time last year. He’d been warm, for one thing. Snow had been falling then, just as it did now, but he’d been in Alcedor Castle, with Melly and the king and all the court, enough people and enough fires to make even a drafty old castle warm.

Now it was Midwinter’s Eve, the time of year when everyone gathered with family and friends and celebrated the return of the sun—or celebrated to ensure the sun would return. Some said the parties determined how the year would come out.

Halitor really hoped that wasn’t true. If it was, he was probably ruining the year for scores of people. And he was supposed to be a Hero, making their lives better! He poked the fire, added another stick, and huddled closer. His horse moved in to enjoy the warmth, too.

“Come on in, Nightwind,” Halitor told the animal. “Maybe if I make your life a little better tonight it will keep the bad luck away. If I’d been smart, I’d have given up my quest and gone back to the castle for Midwinter.” The horse snorted. He knew as well as Halitor that they had traveled much too far to return for the holiday. And, the young Hero reminded himself, along the way he had managed to do some good. He’d rescued a family from ogres, and arrived at an isolated farm in time to help put out a fire that threatened house and barn. He steered his thoughts away from some less heroic events.

Now he was in the sparsely populated lands in the farthest mountains of Kargor, and apparently a lot higher than he’d meant to be. He looked into his saddlebags, extracting a bag of beans and spices, and poured a handful into the pot of water coming to a boil over his fire. He’d had no luck hunting, not for days. Animals had more sense than to be out in this weather. His Midwinter feast would be another pot of watery bean soup.

He’d known worse. And the shallow cave that Nightwind had found offered more shelter than they’d had for days. Halitor smiled in spite of himself. He was cold and wet and hungry, but he was a Hero, by heaven he was! In the morning, if the storm had blown itself out, he’d ride on and find that village he’d heard of, the one with the wyvern problem. That settled, he ate his dinner, wrapped himself in his blanket, and went to sleep.

It wasn’t yet light when something nudged him awake. A foot. An experienced Hero like Halitor knew that it was never good when someone woke you up with a toe. That kind was always an enemy.

In this case, the enemy was a boy about nine years old. Halitor looked from the pale and very young face to the bare foot that had kicked him. A bare foot? In this blizzard? He started to sit up.

“Just you stay put, mister.” The voice was as tough as a treble could be. Halitor would have ignored the command, but the boy looked scared, which meant that he might do something foolish. It also meant that he could use a little encouragement. Halitor knew all too well how it felt to be over his head.

“Right. I’m your prisoner, then. Would you like some breakfast?” Halitor didn’t know what time it was, but when you were a little kid and barefoot in the snow, it was a safe bet that it was mealtime. “If you let me sit up I’ll fix us something.”

The boy hesitated. He edged a bit closer to the fire, and made up his mind. “Very well. But don’t do anything foolish.” Halitor sat up very carefully, happy to see that for once his captor wasn’t pointing his own sword at him. The boy had only a sharp stick. And behind him there were three more children, each younger than the previous.

“Da always said no one but a bandit would be out in the woods on Longnight,” the second child said.

“We are,” pointed out the third child. The fourth just stood there shivering, a finger in his mouth.

“Getting storm-caught can happen to anyone,” Halitor said with the sort of cheer he saved for desperate situations. He no longer worried he was in danger. But as a Hero, he had to find a way to save these waifs from the storm. “Sit up to the fire.” He handed the second child—the only girl—his blanket. “Wrap up together, all of you.” After a second look, he took off his cloak and gave that to her as well, then built the fire back up.

Only when the food was ready did the oldest lower his stick and sit in with the others. “Don’t forget, you’re my prisoner,” he told Halitor.

“I won’t,” the Hero promised. “See? I’m doing your bidding, making you something to eat.” When the child’s mouth was full, Halitor asked, “How did you all come to be wandering from home on Longnight, and in such a storm?”

Stick scowled and wouldn’t answer, but Girl spoke up. “We got no home. Not no more. Wyverns come and wrecked it.”

“Your parents?” Halitor didn’t want to ask.

“Dunno,” Girl said. “They wasn’t to home, and we had to run and then we got lost.”

Halitor kept feeding the children, even though he was nearly out of food, and kept them talking until daylight, and until he had a pretty good idea where their village might be. When at last they were warm and well-fed, he stood up. Instantly Stick was on the alert again.

“Let’s get going,” Halitor said, ignoring the bristling child. “We need to get you back to your village before Midwinter is over!”

He loaded the children onto Nightwind, wrapped the blanket around them, and led off through the snow, trying to ignore his own cold feet.

“Mister?” It was the littlest child, finally without the finger in the mouth. “Are you the Longnight Spirit? The one who brings gifts to little boys and girls?”

Halitor shrugged to himself. A Hero was what he needed to be.

“I guess I am.”


Halitor's story.


©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2013
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Monday, December 26, 2016

Middle Grade Review: The Twistrose Key, by Tone Almhjell

The Twistrose Key 

Title: The Twistrose Key
Author: Tone Almhjell
Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2013. 354 pages.
Source: Library

Publisher's Blurb:
When a mysterious parcel arrives at her family’s new home, eleven-year-old Lin Rosenquist has a curious feeling she’s meant to discover what’s inside.

Much to Lin’s surprise, the ornate key contained in the parcel unlocks a spellbinding world called Sylver, hidden behind the cellar door. Sylver is an enchanting land of eternal winter, inhabited by animals that shared a special connection with children in the real world, either as beloved pets or tamed wild animals. In death, they are delivered to Sylver, where they take on a curiously human-like form and still watch over the children they cherish. While Lin is overjoyed to be reunited with her beloved pet, Rufus, she soon learns that the magic of the Petlings and Wilders is failing, and snow trolls want to claim Sylver for themselves. Lin must discover a way to stop them and save this enchanted world.

My Review:
This was a group read from my Goodreads Great Middle Grade Reads group, which is how I learned of it, since I hadn't seen it before. And I admit that though the general premise sounded good, I wasn't totally grabbed by it, nor was I immediately drawn into the book when I started reading. I think I was trying too hard to understand where we were; the "real world" felt just a bit odd even before we entered the fantasy world (I think because that real world is in Norway?). When the story did move into the fantasy realm of Sylver, I got more into it, but I was halfway through before it grabbed me and made me finish the rest in pretty much one sitting (staying up much later than I should have in the process). 

Sylver is well-realized, but I had a little trouble believing in it until the action got well under way. The land of the the Petlings is a little odd to me--frozen in an eternal winter, which unlike the winter in Narnia seems to be a happy thing for the animals. And there seemed to be some things that passed without much explanation, though I'm not sure if that was a flaw or helps the reader to feel with Lin, who has to figure much of it out on the fly. 

It might have been nice to be able to get a little acquainted with Sylver before Lin has to start racing about to avert disaster. It feels like a world that would be nice to see without threats around every corner, as well as making it a bit more plausible. Because Lin's mission is so urgent--it must be completed before that very midnight--and because time in Sylver is a bit elastic, the pace is both (for my taste) a bit too fast and a bit too unbelievable. I kept waiting for the poor girl to get a nap, as the roughly nine hours from her arrival to the moment the task must be completed seem to stretch to something more like a couple of days. I think that time frame weakened a generally solid story.

My Recommendation:
Despite my reservations, this was an enjoyable read, and I think that children 9 and up will enjoy it. Most of them probably won't be worrying about how long Lin can keep going without rest, and will just enjoy her courage, stamina, and ingenuity. And the wintry setting makes it feel like a good holiday book!

FTC Disclosure: I checked The Twistrose Key out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher 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."   

Didn't get any good books for Christmas? Have some gift cards to use up? Consider picking up a copy of one of my books as a New Year's Treat!  

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Happy Solstice! ...and my year in books

The longest night of the year, and the turn to more light. I can't wait. Even living as far south as I do, the winter days are too dark and too short!
Though the last lights off the black west went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs.

(Those captions are from Gerard Manley Hopkins, "God's Grandeur").

And with that for the nod to the solstice, a little year-end fun. This blob will be a bit spotty in the next week or two, so this is my reading round-up, with a little help from Bruce's Shelfies at The Bookshelf Gargoyle: My year in books. Take these answers in the spirit intended, and check out Bruce's year!  If you want to join the fun, just be sure to give the Gargoyle due credit. I'll give a nod as well to Jemima Pett who called my attention to it!

So far, I would describe this year as being: Between Planets
I’m tipping that the next big thing in Reality TV shows will be: The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu
I could have cried when: Summerlost
I would love to have some respite from: The Black Thumb
The most unexpected thing that happened this year involved: Dragons at Crumbling Castle
My non-bookish friends would say I: Dare to Disappoint
My motto for 2017 will be: One Perfect Shot
I am most looking forward to: The Turn of the Tide
A recurring dream I’ve had this year features: Murder Most Malicious
If you looked under my couch you would see: The Vampire Mechanic
If I could no longer blog, I would probably pursue a career in: Finding Clarity
Something most people don’t know about me is: R...My Name is Rachel
Titles link either to my review or to the book's Goodreads page if I haven't posted a review. There are a number here that I assumed I had reviewed, but apparently just read and enjoyed!

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

Monday, December 19, 2016

Audio Review: Dragons at Crumbling Castle


Title: Dragons at Crumbling Castle and Other Tales
Author: Terry Pratchett, read by Julian Rhind-Tutt
Publisher: Listening Library 2015. Hardcover by Clarion, 2014 (337 pages).
Source: Library digital resources

Publisher's Blurb:
Dragons have invaded Crumbling Castle, and all of King Arthur's knights are either on holiday or visiting their grannies. It's a disaster!

Luckily, there's a spare suit of armour and a very small boy called Ralph who's willing to fill it. Together with Fortnight the Friday knight and Fossfiddle the wizard, Ralph sets out to defeat the fearsome fire-breathers.

But there's a teeny weeny surprise in store...

Fourteen fantastically funny stories from master storyteller Sir Terry Pratchett, full of time travel and tortoises, monsters and mayhem! 

My Review:
I wasn't quite sure if I was going to be disappointed, because these were among Pratchett's earliest published stories, and you know how that can go. I needn't have worried: they were great. Witty, insightful, well-written and also well-read, they were everything I love about Terry Pratchett. The title story is a delightful bit of nonsense...and so are the rest. The Carpet People make their first appearance in these stories, and I'll have to see what he did with them later, because they are wonderful, and their world is beautifully realized.

The stories, especially "The Speck" and some others show an early tendency to the political satire that became Pratchett's hallmark. In these stories it's mild, in part because they were written for a juvenile audience and in part (no doubt) because the writer was himself about 19 at the time. Adults will be entertained by the multiple levels of satire, but children will love the goofiness of many of the stories, so it's good for the family.

Julian Rhind-Tutt does a fantastic job of reading the stories, and his timing as well as his lovely British accent add a lot. I am tempted to say that everyone should listen to the audio version, but then I saw that the print version is illustrated, and if the illustrations are anything like the cover picture, I want to see them, too. So I guess one has to get both. 

My Recommendation:
It occurs to me that this book would be a great family read-aloud, or use the audio book for the long drive to Grandma's for Christmas. You won't be sorry.

FTC Disclosure: I checked Dragons at Crumbling Castle and Other Tales out of my (digital) library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher 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 if goofiness is something you enjoy, be sure to check out our Ninja Librarian series, including the latest, now available from Amazon and Smashwords, as well as other on-line bookstores. Or order signed copies direct from the author!


Saturday, December 17, 2016

Deja Vu Blogfest!

This is a bonus post, because it's time for blogger D. L. Hammons' Deja Vu Blogfest--a day to share a favorite post from the year for a second time. Since this is all about seeing some great posts we've perhaps missed during the year, I'm going to put the linky-list first, and then share my post.

And now for my post. It wasn't easy to pick one, but I decided to share one of my photo pages, even though I'm a writer and it should be all about my writing.

After a bit of looking, I choose...Night Hike to the Panamint Dunes. If you like it, you can see more from the same trip here.

Back in March we visited Death Valley and the environs in search of stunning desert landscapes and spring wildflowers. We found both. The Panamint Dunes are located in the far north end of the Panamint Valley, which is the next valley west of Death Valley proper and part of the National Park.

Night Hike to the Panamint Dunes

Six miles of rough dirt road behind us, and a hasty dinner prepared and eaten, we hoist loaded packs as the last of the evening light fades away. The sun set early behind the Inyo Mountains, and at 8 p.m. the full moon isn't up. Even so, we can see our goal: the Panamint Dunes are pale in contrast to the surrounding mountains and the scrub-covered alluvial fans that surrounded them. Headlamps, even though I forgot to replace the dying batteries, are enough to show us the footing and avoid injuries as we pick our way over rocky ground near the parking area. Bits of the mountains  have washed down the slope toward the dry lake bed in the bottom of the valley. The poor footing for the first quarter mile worries me. If it's like this all the way, it will be a very long hike indeed.

Happily, we soon pass the rocky portion of the fan, and the rest of the 3-mile approach provides fairly smooth footing. We pick up the pace, dodging around bushes and following sandy washes where they angle off in more or less the right direction, abandoning them when they move too far upslope. There are footprints in places, telling us less that we are on the right route than that pretty much any route will do, as long as we keep pointing at the dunes.

The full moon should have risen as the sun set, but the ring of mountains means that the early sunset is followed by a delayed moonrise. We hike for 20 or 30 minutes before it tops the ridge to the east. Light hits the dunes first, giving them a ghostly beauty. When it reaches us, headlamps become a silly waste. The moon is brighter. We turn our lamps off and let our eyes adapt to the night. A deep shadow lies between us and the dunes, but though our pace is fast, the moon rises faster. We never catch the darkness, and move with greater confidence.

Just over an hour sees us over three miles in, 700-odd feet higher, and starting to sink into the sand. Vegetation is thinning and it's time to make camp. The moon allows us to do that still without lights, so that though we realize that others are camped a few hundred yards off (mysteriously, they keep their lights on, even while sitting and presumably enjoying the night) they probably don't know we are there. The night is calm, and the view well worth savoring. When it grows too chilly for comfort, we crawl into our bags, knowing we'll be up well before sunrise.

Morning on the Dunes
Our early start means that we have eaten breakfast and are well up the dunes (which rise only a couple of hundred feet beyond our camp) before the sun hits. The morning is best told in photos.

 Dawn breaks on the Panamint Valley.

Desert mornings can be chilly. We are well-bundled to eat our cold cereal.
 As the sun rises, the moon sets over the Inyo Mountains (we really only see the foothills here).

 Dune fields yield endless patterns of light and shadow and texture.
Curves and shadows and contrast with the eroded hills beyond.

 Even footprints add to the textures.

 Low sun turns footprints along the ridge into a braided piping for the edge of a dune.

If you think a dune is a dead place, look more closely. More like Grand Central Station!
Beetle tracks
There were also some kind of ground-dwelling bees, busily digging their holes.
Not the best photo. The bees wouldn't hold still.

Seems like every dune field we visit has a characteristic species. In this case, it was the prickly poppy.

When the sun grew hot, we returned to our tent, broke camp, and hiked the hour back to the car. Just for fun, here's our rather low-clearance Prius trying to cope with one of dozens of small gullies/washes that crossed the road. You can drive a lot of "4wheel drive" roads in a small sedan, if you go very slowly...and can muster a certain indifference to the sounds of the car depreciating beneath you.

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

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Non-fiction Review: Indian Creek Chronicles


Title: Indian Creek Chronicles: A Winter in the Bitterroot Wilderness
Author: Pete Fromm
Publisher: Lyons & Burford, 1993. 184 pages
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary:
Winner of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Book Award, Indian Creek Chronicles is Pete Fromm's account of seven winter months spent alone in a tent in Idaho guarding salmon eggs and coming face to face with the blunt realities of life as a contemporary mountain man. A gripping story of adventure and a modern-day Walden, this contemporary classic established Fromm as one of the West's premier voices.

My Review:
I wish I could recall who gave me the recommendation to read this one, because it was a real pleasure. Fromm's account of his winter alone (mostly) in the Bitterroot Mountains wraps up a whole lot in one package--everything from an environmental message to a coming-of-age tale to a young man's simple delight in pushing his limits.

Many young people come to a love of wilderness through a summer spent working in a park or at a camp. Pete Fromm got there by spending a winter snowed in along a creek in the mountains of northern Idaho. He dropped out of school to babysit a creek full of salmon eggs, not because he had any particular environmentalist leanings, but so he could "have a story." His sole knowledge of the wilderness at that point appears to have come from reading a lot of books about mountain men, and he takes the job out of a romantic desire to emulate them. It's a desire that directly contributes to his misery in the first months in his tent.

Fromm has to learn everything he needs to know on the fly (and much of what he needed to know about food, he would have done better to have learned before he went, as he was pretty much stuck with what he bought). Having gone with the intention of being a "mountain man" and making his way by hunting, he finds that he not only has to learn to hunt, but then has to learn to deal with the conflicting feelings he gets from acts of mountain-man derring-do that result--he realizes abruptly one day--in the death of an actual living thing. He manages to balance that for the creatures he eats, but his trap line doesn't last past his first kill.

I laughed at some of his ignorance going into the job, but I admired the young man who hung on, who learned from his mistakes and from anyone he could find to observe, and learned to love the wilderness. He struggled through that winter, with its isolation and privation, but I think that he was privileged to discover that he was, indeed, one of the people who are at home in the wilderness. (Plus, he learned to love books.)

My Recommendation:
This is a quick and easy read that is good for anyone who loves the wilderness--or thinks s/he might. Some events in the book may be a little disconcerting to our 21st-Century ideals of wilderness travel, but bearing in mind that it was 1977 and Pete was only 19, he actually did amazingly well at developing a wilderness ethic.

FTC Disclosure: I checked Indian Creek Chronicles out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher 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, December 12, 2016

Middle Grade Review: Just Like Me


Title: Just Like Me
Author: Nancy J. Cavanaugh
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2016. 256 pages
Source: Library

Publisher's Blurb:
Who eats Cheetos with chopsticks?! Avery and Becca, my “Chinese Sisters,” that’s who. We’re not really sisters—we were just adopted from the same orphanage. And we’re nothing alike. They sing Chinese love songs on the bus to summer camp, and I pretend like I don’t know them.

To make everything worse, we have to journal about our time at camp so the adoption agency can do some kind of “where are they now” newsletter. I’ll tell you where I am: At Camp Little Big Woods in a cabin with five other girls who aren’t getting along, competing for a campout and losing (badly), wondering how I got here…and where I belong.

My Review:

Julia was adopted from a Chinese orphanage when she was a toddler, and as far as she is concerned, she is a lot more Irish and Italian than Chinese. So being pushed to embrace her "Chinese sisters" and her whole Chinese heritage brings out, well, the worst in her. In fact, she's become embarrassed by all things Chinese, so her sisters have a point when they say that she's ashamed to be Chinese.

In this quick read, Julia and her sisters (and the other three girls in their cabin) have a lot to learn about themselves, each other, and getting along. The process isn't pretty. I appreciated, though, that they *all* get to learn, and to understand their own flaws as well as what makes the others tick. It would have been easy for the author to do what I thought at first she was going to do: set up an enemy against whom Julia, Avery, and Becca would be forced to become a team. It doesn't quite work that way, to my delight. As we work through a mix of standard 1st-person narration, Julia's journal, and a letter to the woman from the adoption agency, we get a front-row seat at the transformation.

The girls, in fact, have several things to work out. Julia needs to come to grips with her own past, including a niggling worry that I'm guessing must be pretty common to adopted kids: didn't her birth mother love her? And all five of the girls need to learn what it takes to be friends and to be a team, and how to cope with their own private struggles. The summer church-camp setting works very well for this, as the theme of the camp session is peace and  cooperation. As an adult who has wrangled a cabin full of girls about this age, I spared more than one moment of sympathy for their counselor (and, in fact, Julia does likewise, which seemed a promising sign of possible maturity). I was glad to see the counselor develop a spine and maybe even a plan to help the girls help themselves.

At first I didn't think there was much to this book. But the author didn't take the easy way out, and by the end I thought that she did a great job with all the themes. I'll recommend for kids maybe 9 and up, and especially for adopted kids--or anyone who knows and loves an adopted kid.

FTC Disclosure: I checked Just Like Me out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher 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." 

For a whole different take on growing up, check out The Problem With Peggy, now available from Amazon and Smashwords, as well as other on-line bookstores.Or order signed copies direct from the author!

Friday, December 9, 2016

Friday Flash Fiction: The Fourth Awakening

Another week without a prompt from Chuck Wendig, but I had it covered, thanks to the story I couldn't finish in time last week. I used a random title generator, and got "The Four Awakenings," which I changed a little after I finished the story because I felt like it. The setting must have been inspired by how cold me feet have been lately!

The Fourth Awakening

My first awakening was simple, and normal. When the sun came up, I opened my eyes, same as any day. Sleeping, then not sleeping, just as usual, and really only about three-quarters awake. That morning, opening my eyes was about the last normal thing that happened. I rolled out of the sack, and instead of my bare feet hitting the fuzzy rug that’s been by my bed since I was ten—that’s 15 years, for those of you wondering—they hit sand. Mom bought that rug at a rummage sale, and when she brought it home I hated it. It was tacky, and pinkish, and dated even though it was brand new. But I kept it anyway, because it was fuzzy and warm on my toes. None of which mattered now, because the rug was gone.

That was my second awakening, you might say. When the ground under your feet has literally moved, or at least changed completely, you tend to pay attention. My eyes snapped open the rest of the way, and I noticed that the sun was a lot brighter than it should have been. It was hot, bright, and my rug was gone.

So was my room. I was standing in a desert, nothing but sand anywhere, and wearing nothing but my skivvies because I was too cool for PJs. I was now very awake indeed.

I didn’t know if I should stay put and hope my bedroom reappeared, or start looking for shelter and water, because I was definitely not equipped for desert survival. I could feel my skin burning already, after five minutes in the place.

That made my mind up for me. I would have to find shelter and water. If there wasn’t any to be found—the very uniform nature of the sand worried me—then I was toast. Take either meaning of that; both work.

So much for the first two awakenings. The third awakening took longer, because I thought I was about as awake as I could get.

I walked for a long time. Nothing changed, except that I grew hot, tired, and thirsty, and my skin continued to burn. Also, my feet began to feel raw. The sand was smooth and free of burrs and stones, but my 21st-Century office-worker feet were tender, and the sand began to feel like, well, sandpaper. Coarse grit.

I swore a lot, but I didn’t stop moving. After a while, I had to stop swearing aloud. My mouth was too dry. I was in a sticky spot and no mistake.

I didn’t so much resent that I was about to die, as I resented that I hadn’t put myself in this position. It just…happened. If I’m going to die a stupid and senseless death, I want to have had fun getting there. I want to get the chance to say, “hold my beer.”

You might way that was my third awakening, though it was more of a gradual thing than the others, and like I say, not a physical waking up. I realized that I was going to die, and not in the abstract “we all have to die someday” sense. This was concrete and personal, and when it sank in I got mad.

When I got mad, I took action.

In one sense, of course, I’d been taking action from the start, as best I could, looking for water and shelter from the sun. I was starting to second-guess that decision: maybe I should have stayed put until the sun went down, instead of walking through the heat of the day. Maybe not, with no way to shade myself from the sun at all. Maybe it didn’t matter.

The action I now took was to think about how I got there in the first place. I don’t know too many people who could make me wake up somewhere other than where I went to sleep. And there was something not quite right about this. No desert I ever saw was so smooth and purely sandy, for such a long way. Maybe some parts of the Sahara were; I hadn’t been there. But I knew no desert in North America looked like this. Probably none on Earth.

Once I’d figured that out, I thought of Sarah, who’d long since promised to send me to hell. This looked like a good approximation. Knowing who was behind my troubles gave me something to work with.

I hoped.

I didn’t have any magic to counter whatever she’d done. I didn’t even know how to make her hear me protest.

All I could do was to refuse to believe. See, I’d learned a long time back that magic can’t affect you if you don’t believe it can.* It’s the best protection you can have. The challenge is not believing. It’s hard to generate genuine unbelief when your whole body knows you are barefoot in Hell.

I mean, my feet hurt. I had to overcome abraded feet and burned skin and sand in my skivvies and a mouth so dry I couldn’t speak, and make myself believe I was still at home in bed.

That might have been the hardest thing I ever did. I stopped walking, lay down, closed my eyes, and told myself that I was in bed, it was a little chilly in the room, and I needed to get up and go pee. I figured if I could believe that last, desiccated as I was, I had the thing in the bag.

After a long time, I swung my feet over the side of the bed, curled my toes in the fuzzy rug that covered the cold hardwood floor, and enjoyed my fourth awakening.

Then I went in search of Sarah. I had a score to settle.

*This is clearly related to the power of belief to create magic, as practiced in every production of Peter Pan, where the applause and belief of a room full of little kids keeps Tinkerbell alive.

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

Like what you read? Consider buying my books, including the latest, now available from Amazon and Smashwords, as well as other on-line bookstores.Or order signed copies direct from the author!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

IWSG: Whew!

Time for a huge sigh of relief: I survived the insanity of NaNo! Time for a sigh of another sort: I'm not done with the book, and I had to take several days off from writing as soon as the month ended, to attend a conference. Now that's done and I'm digging out from under the home chores I neglected. Renewed respect for those who have full-time jobs and families and still manage to write even 100 words a day. You rock.

As for how NaNo went: I hit and passed the 50K mark (ended the month at 52,196), and have at least a partial image in my mind of how the rest of the book goes. I'm still hopeful that I can keep up the pace and finish before Xmas. Of course, I'm also at that point in the book where I am suffering serious doubts about what I'm doing and if I've really muffed it this time. It always seems to hit me about this point in a book (somewhere around 2/3). Last year, I made it to about 7/8, and then, lost and confused, let it slip away from me. That's not happening this time (and last year's book is next up, for a fresh take with me ready to do the work it needs to get finished).

Now on to this month's IWSG question of the month, which is a good one. As in, one I haven't really given any thought, even though when I see it it's obvious I *should* be thinking about it!

DECEMBER'S QUESTION: In terms of your writing career, where do you see yourself five years from now, and what’s your plan to get there?

I suppose if pushed, I'd just say that I expect to be doing about what I am now: writing books and publishing them at whatever pace I manage. But that's not exactly a career plan. It's probably realistic enough: it means just continuing to do what I'm doing, which is taking myself as a writer about 75% seriously. That might be okay. But a part of me would like to finally start taking the risks I need to step it up a notch: writing and submitting short stories, maybe even shopping Gorg around to the publishers instead of doing it myself. So for a happy vision of five years from now, I see myself with a bunch of refereed publishing credits under my belt.

(Note: I also see myself spending a lot of time traveling, and the two may not be 100% compatible. So what I may need to do to get to that point is to learn to both write AND edit in less optimal conditions. We'll see.)

Okay, your turn. What's your plan? Or if you don't want to go there, how did your NaNo go?

Oh, and just for kicks, check out my new book:

Monday, December 5, 2016

Mystery Monday: Death Comes to Pemberly


Title: Death Comes to Pemberley
Author: P.D. James; read by Rosalyn Landor
Publisher: Books on Tape (original: Alfred Knopf, 2011, 291 pages).
Source: Library digital services

Publisher's Summary:
It is 1803, six years since Elizabeth and Darcy embarked on their life together at Pemberley, Darcy’s magnificent estate. Their peaceful, orderly world seems almost unassailable. Elizabeth has found her footing as the chatelaine of the great house. They have two fine sons, Fitzwilliam and Charles. Elizabeth’s sister Jane and her husband, Bingley, live nearby; her father visits often; there is optimistic talk about the prospects of marriage for Darcy’s sister Georgiana. And preparations are under way for their much-anticipated annual autumn ball.

Then, on the eve of the ball, the patrician idyll is shattered. A coach careens up the drive carrying Lydia, Elizabeth’s disgraced sister, who with her husband, the very dubious Wickham, has been banned from Pemberley. She stumbles out of the carriage, hysterical, shrieking that Wickham has been murdered. With shocking suddenness, Pemberley is plunged into a frightening mystery.

Inspired by a lifelong passion for Austen, P.D. James masterfully re-creates the world of Pride and Prejudice, electrifying it with the excitement and suspense of a brilliantly crafted crime story, as only she can write it.

My Review:
I suppose this is fan fiction, only that sounds absurd when the writer is one of as much stature as P. D. James! Still, the book seems to stand in an in-between space between James' own work and an effort to sound like Jane Austen. And the book sits somewhere between a mystery and an Austen novel. There is a murder, but Darcy and Elizabeth are not sleuths, even amateur ones. The mystery unfolds on its own, in fact, without any sleuth at all, and in the end I felt...cheated.

That's not to say I didn't enjoy the book, because I did. I love Jane Austen, and it was fun to dive back into her world. It was also a pleasure, if a somewhat guilty one, to see how that match between Darcy and Elizabeth works out. The prose is a good match though at some points it feels like it's working too hard to match, and the narrator is excellent. It's just that in the end, it isn't Jane Austen. And it didn't feel like it was PD James, either, because the book doesn't really do what James did best, either: it didn't present a complex and satisfying mystery.

It's a bit of a tricky call. It's a pretty good story, so if you are a fan of either Austen or James, and open to having them both a bit shifted from their usual natures, it might be a go. But if you are like me, you might want to go on imagining your own future for Darcy & Elizabeth.

FTC Disclosure: I checked Death Comes to Pemberley out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher 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, December 2, 2016

Photo Friday and other fun stuff

Okay, the first order of business is congratulations to Jacky and Shelli, winners of the giveaway for e-copies of The Problem With Peggy. Happy reading!

Next, we have one more week without a new story, because I'm attending the California School Board Assoc. annual conference this week, and haven't had time to write a story (I made a start, but have only about 1/3 of a story, about 30 minutes to bedtime Thursday night. Not happening. I'll finish it and use it next week!). Meanwhile, I'm learning lots to help me lead our school district, which is a pretty amazing thing to be able to do.

So, as so often when I've no stories for you, I've gone into the archives for some photos to serve as a Friday distraction. And since a lot of us have been feeling like things are kind of tough the last few weeks, I picked out photos of things growing where you wouldn't think they could.

Pioneers among the lava (Hawaii Volcanoes NP)

Never underestimate the power of a plant! (Hawaii Volcanoes NP)

Datura grows lavishly in desert corners (Canyon de Chelly Nat. Monument, AZ)

I am always amazed at what grows in the desert, though of course the canyons are where the water is. Cottonwoods in the Narrows, Zion National Park.
Even where the sun hardly shines, plant grow on every ledge in the canyons (Zion NP)
What grows after the fire? Flowers! Beautiful, delicate flowers. (Sequoia NP)
Of course, the alpine flowers are a bit mind-boggling. How do they find every tiny pocket of dirt at 10 or 12,000 feet? (Sequoia NP)
Columbine are among the most amazing (to me), as they look so delicate, and grow in nearly dirtless cracks in the rocks at high elevation (Sequoia NP)
Okay, this one's a cheat. It's actually growing in a pretty decent spot, in a moderate-elevation forest. I just think they look so unlikely--some kind of saprophyte, which live on decaying matter rather than photosynthesizing (thus the lack of green bits).
I hope the photos gave you something to smile at, and a bit of hope!

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