Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Writer's Update: How's Your NaNo?

It's almost the halfway point in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and I'm well past the 25,000-word midpoint of the standard NaNo target. I'm hoping to have 34,000 or even 35,000 by the time you are reading this, and to hit the actual midpoint of my draft by the end of tomorrow (the middle of the month). Death By Library is growing fast, and I'm having fun tormenting JJ, especially with teen drama.

I think I hit a good balance between planning and letting things develop as they will, and I'm having fun with my characters. I know I'm writing too much daily detail, but I've made my peace with that: I seem to need to write those details to get to what's important. I just have to be ready to deal with the mess of deleting them when the time comes (I think that also means I should probably aim for closer to 90K words than 80K for a full draft, but I'll just see how the story arcs).

November can be a difficult month for the NaNo project (I have wondered if that's why they chose it: if you can write every day through the holiday season, you can do it absolutely any time). But for me this year, it's actually working well. The New England weather is closing in, with more rain and cold weather, curbing our tendency to travel. And we are far from family, so there won't be an extended Thanksgiving gathering to distract me (I'm not totally happy about that, but if we have to be away from the family, I'm willing to find the good in it).

The main thing my writing is missing this month is regular contact with my California writing pals. I keep feeling like I want to bounce ideas off someone, to have them check me if I'm going the wrong way. I'm not sure if anyone can do that, but it's what I want, and Lisa's usually my favorite victim. I'll just have to do it later, when there's time to slow down and take a look at what I've done.

How about you? If you are doing NaNo, are you hanging on? Writing every day, or nearly so? Or are you up to something else this month?

And which do you prefer: Thanksgiving dinner, or the leftovers?

LATE ADDITION: If you are having trouble with comment and use Safari, please read Jemima Pett's post on how to fix your privacy settings! It works for Blogger though I am still having trouble with her blog (which is Word Press based).

Monday, November 12, 2018

Cozy Mystery Review &Tour: Thread Herrings, by Lea Wait 

Title: Thread Herrings
Author: Lea Wait
Cozy Mystery, 7th in Series 
Kensington (October 30, 2018) Mass Market Paperback: 304 pages  
ISBN-10: 149671671X 
ISBN-13: 978-1496716712  
Digital ASIN: B079KSZ92D
Publisher's Blurb: 
Angie's first auction may turn out to be her last—when she bids on a coat of arms that someone would literally kill to possess . . .

Tagging along to an estate sale with her fellow Needlepointer, antiques shop owner Sarah Byrne, Angie Curtis impulsively bids on a tattered embroidery of a coat of arms. When she gets her prize back home to Haven Harbor, she discovers a document from 1757 behind the framed needlework—a claim for a child from a foundling hospital. Intrigued, Angie is determined to find the common thread between the child and the coat of arms.

Accepting her reporter friend Clem Walker's invitation to talk about her find on the local TV news, Angie makes an appeal to anyone who might have information. Instead, both women receive death threats. When Clem is found shot to death in a parking lot, Angie fears her own life may be in jeopardy. She has to unravel this historical mystery—or she may be the next one going, going . . . gone . . .

My Review: 
I was attracted to this mystery because it's set in Maine, where we are currently living. I was entertained to find the characters visiting our town in the first chapter, and dining at an establishment just down the street! (Note: this is a small town in Maine. *Everything* is just down the street). As usual with themed cozies, I wasn't much interested in the featured craft (needlepoint), but that doesn't really matter. No knowledge of needlepoint is needed to enjoy this mystery.

As a story, this is engaging, though I definitely felt the lack of back-story as I was jumping into the series at #7. Still, I cared about the characters and wanted to know what happens to them (and the author's carefully dropped hints about past adventures made me want to go back and start from the beginning). I very much enjoyed the setting, including the comments about how little is open in town during the winter--we have already encountered that reality on some of our excursions out and about! 

I felt that the mystery was only adequately developed and challenging. I could guess fairly early who might have done the crime, in part because there were so few suspects. What I did appreciate was the far more realistic than usual degree to which Angie cooperates with the police. She's trying to figure things out, but she doesn't go off on a lone-wolf search or deliberately put herself in danger. Kudos to the author for finding a good balance on the amateur detective vs. police scale! 

One grammatical niggle annoyed me, and I can't decide if it's an editorial failure or a deliberate move to make the first person narrator sound more natural. She consistently uses "I" instead of "me" where it should be the other way ("He'll meet Sarah and I at the shop..."), an error that I admit is common but which bothers me. Aside from that, the book is well-edited, and well-written.

My Recommendation:
This is a good read for a winter's day by the fire, I think--engaging enough to keep you turning the pages, and light enough to combat the winter darkness. I think it would be even better to start at the beginning of the series and see how Angie got to this point!

About the Author
Lea Wait lives on the coast of Maine. A fourth-generation antique dealer and the author of the Agatha-nominated Antique Print Mystery series, she loves all things antiques and Maine. She also writes historical novels for young people set in (where else?) nineteenth-century Maine. Visit her at
Follow Lea on Facebook and GoodReads Purchase Links - Amazon - B&N - Kobo

 And... we have a giveaway!
 a Rafflecopter giveaway

Full Disclosure: I was given an electronic review copy of  Thread Herrings as part of a Great Escapes free blog tour, in exchange for my honest review, not for a positive review. I also purchased a copy when I had issues with my ereader. 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, November 9, 2018

Photo Friday: Baldface Mountain, New Hampshire

As we move into November, it's hard to cast my mind back to mid-September, when it was still quite warm, and the trees were mostly still green. It's nice to think about being warm, anyway, as I'm trying now to hone my cycling wardrobe to allow for at least short rides in temperatures down into the 30s!

We spent the night of Sept. 14 at the Basin Pond campground in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, in order to make a very early start on the Bald Mountain Loop, since all the accounts we'd read suggested it was a long and strenuous--and the weather forecast said there'd be rain before the end of the afternoon.

We drove past the trailhead on our way to camp Sunday afternoon, and the cars were parked for quite a ways either side of the lot. But at 7 on Monday morning, we had the place to ourselves.

The sun was up--somewhere. We started our hike under a low layer of clouds.
It took a little looking to find the trail, but we eventually got started in the right direction.

Just over an hour of hiking took us up past the South Baldface hut, and at last to some open views. That also marked the beginning of "the slabs," which reports warned were a fun scramble.
We had hoped to climb above the clouds--and we did.
Turning around revealed the cloud shield below us.
Looking more or less towards Maine, which isn't far off--the hike is very near the border.
I wouldn't much want to do this in the rain, let alone the snow, but on a sunny dry day, the slabs were a lot of fun.
The route was well marked, for the most part, with blue blazes painted on rocks and trees.
As we neared the top, a long line of truly massive cairns over the bald shoulder of the mountain suggested the possibility of white-out conditions where you might need a giant guidepost every 50 feet.
Still going up.
Nearly three hours in, we hit the first, and highest, summit, South Baldface. We had a modest drop and climb to North Baldface, then a descending traverse to the point, behind and to the left of my husband, where we would descend the Bicknell Ridge trail back toward our starting point.
Still enjoying being above the clouds.
We took time for lunch--and to dry our sweat-soaked shirts--atop North Baldface. Even as we enjoyed the sun and food, we kept an eye on the gathering clouds, which never stopped swirling around the summit of Mt. Washington, a ridge to our west.
I don't have a lot to say about the descent. As advertised, it was steep and rough, and exactly the sort of conditions to make my knees very unhappy. But we enjoyed what we saw along the way.
Lichen growing in rings on the rock. In some places, the "colonies" of lichen had covered a dozen square feet or more in these geometric patterns.
This one looked to me like a miniature zen garden.
Leaves had begun turning here and there, and were still a novelty.
I hadn't known that turning color could be so... splotchy.

Halfway down we stopped to enjoy the Eagle Creek Cascades, in a green world.

By the time we reached the Emerald Pool, less than a mile from the trailhead, we'd been on the go for over 7 hours. It took some strength of will to detour a quarter mile or so each way, but it was worth it, for a pool that really was as emerald green as I could imagine.
If anything, it was greener than this.

In case anyone's reading this with a thought to doing the hike (in another season--I wouldn't recommend it at this time of year, though some do manage winter ascents), our stats were about 7.5 hours for the loop, which is about 9 3/4 miles. We are reasonably strong, but not so young any more, and as you can see, easily distracted by photography, so we are on the slower end of times reported by other hikers. On our day, we saw only one, possibly two other parties doing the full loop, and they might have caught us had we not taken the less-used option on the descent (Bicknell Ridge, rather than Eagle Crag and the north side of the loop). We saw two other parties near the end doing short hikes; obviously a weekday after Labor Day turns this often-crowded hike into a chance for some solitude!

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

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

IWSG: Writing and a creative life

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds! Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments. This group is all about connecting! Be sure to link to the IWSG page and display the badge in your post. And please be sure your avatar links back to your blog! If it links to Google+, be sure your blog is listed there. Otherwise, when you leave a comment, people can't find you to comment back.

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!
November's awesome co-hosts:   Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor, Ann V. Friend, JQ Rose, and Elizabeth Seckman

And this month's optional question: How has your creativity in life evolved since you began writing?

I like the question, so here goes a shot at an answer.

First off, I have been writing off and on all my life, so in some ways there is no "before." But for far too many years it was more "off" than "on," and the periods between bouts of working on a project were far too long; I'll count those years as "before." 

My more serious writing goes back far enough that it's hard to remember what life was like before. A little research on my computer suggests I wrote the first Ninja Librarian story about March of 2010. I published the book at the end of 2011 or January 2012, IIRC, and some point in between is where I started writing seriously and doing it regularly. 

This evolution into being a writer came at the end of the period when raising my boys was a 100% sort of job. They were both out of grade school, and suddenly I had a lot more time for myself. So in some ways, I don't know if the changes were as much about writing as about shifts in other parts of my life. But this I know: I became a lot happier and more focused when I finally became what I'd always wanted to be. 

I think that during those years with two little kids at home I had pretty much quit everything creative in my life. I stopped doing much music--my oldest son, especially, didn't like me to play the piano, and I had no time to join any musical groups, as I had done before the boys were born. So music fell out of my life (and, sadly, has mostly stayed that way, though I occasionally turn to the piano for fun). I was learning photography, but doing it with the kids along played into my own lack of patience so nothing amazing was happening there. Somewhere in there I starting putzing around with watercolors, too. That has remained a happy outlet for creativity without judgement, since my paintings are, in a word, crappy, and show little sign of ever being anything else. Sometimes it's good to have no expectations.

But writing... a story turns out to be a great retreat, and the more I wrote, the more ideas came pouring in. I tell kids when I talk at schools that I think the imagination is a muscle, and like all muscles, the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets. I firmly believe that. That's why it's harder to get going after a long period of not-writing, as I've had this year. Ignoring the ideas and sparks discourages them and they go away until you work out the muscle (the imagination muscle? surely not the imaginary muscle!) and it starts firing again. 

So, the short answer:  writing makes me a more creative person, and that makes me a happier person.

Can you remember a time before you were a writer? Do you think being creative makes you more creative? Leave a comment and let me know!

Hey! I'm also posting today on the IWSG Anthologies blog, so drop over there and say hi! 

Monday, November 5, 2018

Non-fiction review: The Glass Universe, by Dava Sobel

It's happened again! Lost track of the days of the week, but there is a review for you today, and my clock says it's still Monday :)

Title: The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars
Author: Dava Sobel
Publication Info: Viking, 2016, 336 pages
Source: Library Digital Resources 

Publisher's Blurb:
In the mid-nineteenth century, the Harvard College Observatory began employing women as calculators, or “human computers,” to interpret the observations made via telescope by their male counterparts each night. At the outset this group included the wives, sisters, and daughters of the resident astronomers, but by the 1880s the female corps included graduates of the new women's colleges—Vassar, Wellesley, and Smith. As photography transformed the practice of astronomy, the ladies turned to studying the stars captured nightly on glass photographic plates. The “glass universe” of half a million plates that Harvard amassed in this period—thanks in part to the early financial support of another woman, Mrs. Anna Draper, whose late husband pioneered the technique of stellar photography—enabled the women to make extraordinary discoveries that attracted worldwide acclaim. They helped discern what stars were made of, divided the stars into meaningful categories for further research, and found a way to measure distances across space by starlight.

Their ranks included Williamina Fleming, a Scottish woman originally hired as a maid who went on to identify ten novae and more than three hundred variable stars, Annie Jump Cannon, who designed a stellar classification system that was adopted by astronomers the world over and is still in use, and Dr. Cecilia Helena Payne-Gaposchkin, who in 1956 became the first ever woman professor of astronomy at Harvard—and Harvard’s first female department chair.

My Review:
Over the last couple of years, I have read a number of books about the contributions of women to significant scientific and mathematical accomplishments. The Rise of the Rocket Girls (the Jet Propulsion Lab), Hidden Figures (NASA), The Girls of Atomic City (the development of the atomic bomb), and Code Girls (WWII code breakers) have all worked hard to dispel the myth that women can't do math and science, and were never able to even try until very recently (well, that latter is true for the most part, especially depending on how you define 'recent'). Most, however, also show us a limited scope that the women were given for their intelligence and talent (Code Girls seems to be an exception, as the necessities of war led eventually to allowing the women to truly run things, as long as they didn't want equal standing with the men). 

Sobel's Glass Universe fits this category of book, but stands out: she highlights a rare case where women were early and genuinely granted the right to be scientists in their own rights. They were not without their (largely externally-imposed) limitations, of course. The first generation or two of female astronomers at the Harvard Observatory couldn't hold academic posts (unsurprising: they couldn't attend Harvard as students, so why would the institution grant them an official title?). And in general, they were passed over when awards were being handed out. Only a few asserted themselves to the extent of actually operating the telescopes, which at the time involved climbing up and down ladders to make manual adjustments (work generally considered too hard for women to do; we won't go into the irony that many women did similar and harder work, known as "housework," on a regular basis).

But Sobel also shows us a rare case of a leader in an institution who started out seeing women as a type of machine ("calculators," as those who did the complex calculations needed for many aspect of science were called in the years before the invention of the electronic calculator), but quickly came to recognize that they could and did make genuine discoveries. Edward Pickering was looking for careful, cheap workers (at that time women were never paid the same amount as men for equal work, as though, one of his employees pointed out, they didn't need to eat) in the late 1800s when he began to hire women. When they began to make discoveries on the glass photographic plates taken through the telescopes, he almost unbelievably recognized their abilities and allowed many of the women to work directly on the research, and.

The story is both heartening and frustrating--as usual, the women met with far more obstacles to success and advancement than the men did, but it was nice to see that Pickering recognized their work and insisted on having it published and shared under their names. It is also in some ways an awkward story to tell. There is no single subject (though for much of the book I felt like it was as much about Pickering as about the women he mentored), and for that reason I think it at times lacks a good forward momentum as a story. At other times I got lost in the details of the science, which were often obscure to me (I don't necessarily consider that a bad thing. I learned things, and laid the groundwork to understand more in the future). I will admit I gave the lengthy appendices a quick skimming, but if one were reading the paper form of the book I think you could make better use of them as you go (reading the ebook, I didn't even realize they were there until I got there, thus once again confirming my sense that an e-reader is just not as good for non-fiction as paper is).

My Recommendation:
Sobel is a good writer, and this was worth the effort I put into reading it. If you want to know that there was at least one scientist in the late 19th Century who recognized women as (almost) the intellectual equals of men, take a look.

Full Disclosure: I borrowed an electronic copy of The Glass Universe from my library, and received nothing from the author or the publisher in exchange for my honest review. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."  

Friday, November 2, 2018

Photo Friday: Acadia National Park

Way back in September, when we first arrived in Maine, we headed straight over to Acadia National Park so that we could attend the Night Sky Festival--a celebration of Acadia as one of the few "dark sky" places in the NE, and a chance to learn some more about astronomy, etc. We didn't fail to take advantage of being in the park, though, and we hiked and biked a lot of miles of trail in 3 days.

Lots of parts of the community of Bar Harbor come together to make the Night Sky Festival happen. The classic Criterion Theater was the site of a fantastic performance by Galileo's Daughters, with readings by Dava Sobol (author of The Glass Universe).
We followed that up with some star-gazing through telescopes hosted by about 30 volunteer amateur astronomers. Seeing the rings of Saturn was definitely a treat! I don't have photos of that, of course, nor of the lectures/presentations we attended on things like Mars and the sun. We also took a "night sky" cruise on the bay, which was both kind of fun, and partly just cold and a little stinky (from the diesel fumes). But the sunset was beautiful.
Ready to board for an evening of story-telling (by a local Native American professor) and star-gazing (a refresher in all the constellations, which I regularly learn and forget).
The sun was setting as we pulled out of the harbor.
 During the days, we engaged with the beautiful landscapes of Acadia. There are 45 miles of carriage roads in the park, open to bikes. They aren't paved, but the crushed gravel and hard-packed dirt are smooth enough even for our road bikes, though in a few places deeper gravel made for some interesting riding. We didn't ride all 45 miles, but we did cover about 20 miles.
Trees were just beginning to show color, and being fresh from the West, we enjoyed every hint of it.
 The carriage roads aren't all flat, though the grades are pretty easy. The carriage road system was built from the 1920s to the 40s, financed by John D. Rockefeller, to allow early visitors to see the park peacefully--by foot, horse, carriage or bicycle, but never by motorized vehicle. They are distinct from the trails, as we will see!
You can still see the island by wagon, if you want to pay for the opportunity. We stuck to our "iron steeds."
The horses were beautiful. We did have to occasionally dodge evidence of their passage while biking.
 We would have liked to bike up Cadillac Mountain, but time and good sense argued against it. We drove up for a quick dinner before our cruise.
Cadillac Mountains offers expansive views over the whole region. The Maine coast is an endless series of fjords and islands left behind when the glaciers passed through.
As said, we also hiked some trails that bore little resemblance to the carriage roads. Being adventurous, we just *had* to tackle the one labelled "Precipice Trail." Warning signs, in our experience, are always exaggerated, as the parks work hard to protect themselves and their visitors.

We soon found that this might be one time when the signs spoke the absolute truth.
Yes, it was that much of a cliff. As advertised.

It did occur to me to wonder how many years those rails had been there, rusting away...
By the time we got to this part, it looked like a super-highway. Happily, though I don't like edges, I was fine with all the rails and rungs to hold onto. I consider the trail something like a jungle-gym for grown-ups, though I certainly agreed with the recommendation not to try to climb down!
 We made a nice loop over the mountain.
Walking off the edge of the world.
And down into the forest, with the hints of fall color tantalizing us at every vista!
The best part about our visit? Despite the Festival bringing a few extra people to the area, perhaps, the crowds of summer were gone--and so were the infamous black flies! No bugs, no crowds, though there were also no last-minute sites available in the Park campground. We found a place just outside Bar Harbor, though, which was actually more convenient to the Festival events, which mostly took place in town. The park doesn't quite feel like our large western wilderness parks, but it's worth a visit--and the Precipice Trail is worthy of any park!

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

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Writer's Wednesday: Are You Doing NaNo?

(Hey, I might finally have found an alliterative name for my writing posts that actually makes sense!)

Before I talk about NaNo (National Novel Writing Month), I want to share a blog post I found helpful and inspiring. Aliette de Bodard wrote this as a guest post on Chuck  Wendig's "Terrible Minds" blog: Cannibalizing a Draft. Take a look.

Okay, now that we have a link to something to help us when we finish that crappy NaNo draft, are you participating? Tell me why or why not!

I'm doing it again this year. I'd like to think that I'm fully capable of preparing and writing a draft in a month or 6 weeks without any outside motivators... but the truth is, that community of writers, the little word-count ticker, and just the idea that there's a deadline does a lot for my ability to prepare well and write hard.

It's all about deadlines, I think. I am motivated to work on my outline/writing plan for Death By Library because I know I want to start writing on November 1, and that I don't want to spend my writing time floundering around trying to figure out where to go next. Nor do I want to end up like my last NaNo novel: getting to the end, and finding that I don't really know who the killer is, haven't been writing with a clear direction in mind, and have a mess on my hands.

Once November starts, there's something about that graph of my daily words that pushes me to write like I mean it. It's not really competition, except against myself, but I like seeing a steady climb in the word count! Since I don't have an editor, agent, or publisher breathing down my neck (though my brother is harassing me about the next book, which is something!), I'll take whatever push I can get.

So, as of yesterday, my outline (which is more of a conversation than a bullet list) is 8 pages long (3800 words), and I have a firm grip on the beginning and end, as well as a good list of red herrings. I'm still working on motives, lies, alibis, and opportunities for all of those. Then there's the subplots about JJ's life... I know what the main issues are, but just how they unfurl will be a matter of pantsing!

Finally, on Monday I was feeling the need to work on my writing a bit, just something to get my creative juices flowing... so I drafted 3700 words of a story for the IWSG anthology (I have until November 4 to get that polished enough to submit). YA romance isn't exactly my genre, but I put my own twist on it and got something I think I like.
Outlining. It may make your hair stand on end.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Bonus Story!

It's Monday, not Friday, and I just did Flashback Friday, but I had to do this. You see, we were traveling, and I ran into a bunch of relatives of Gorg the Troll. More on those later, but for today, just note that these guys aren't quite the same sort as Gorg, but they are clearly similar.
... and I'll have more on our trip later!
Actually, these are sea stacks on the Bay of Fundy...

For now, I'm going to share the original Gorg the Troll story. I began last fall to work on turning Gorg's stories into a book, but the work stalled, partly because I spent all year working on Death By Adverb, and partly because it wasn't working as well as I'd like. It's hard to turn a bunch of goofy flash fiction into a novel.


The Revenge of Gorg

Gorg the Troll stared at the writing on the ragged bit of wood alongside the road, his lips moving more than his brain.  "Moss-ter-nest-een cit-ee". He sounded it out a few times, studied it a bit more, then his stony face split into a smile.  A few chips fell off, and he repeated, "Mosternestine City!"  He considered the arrow next to the letters.  Gorg was pretty sure it was meant to direct travelers to the city, but he wasn't sure which end of the arrow to follow.

After a few minutes thought, indulged at the risk of becoming a rock once again, he turned toward the pointy end of the arrow and stomped off down the road.  Gorg never noticed the small stone carving of a mounted knight now embedded in his heavy leather boot sole.

Two miles away Snella Swordsinger led her limping mount toward the same intersection.  She cursed the smith who'd shod the horse three days back, in a town so backwards that the iron shoe had no magic in it whatsoever.  The brittle metal had snapped while they were crossing the Plain of Exquisite Distress, and for the last several hours they had been slowed to a crawl.  Meanwhile, the trail grew cold.

Snella sought a sorcerer, revenge burning in her heart.  But the cursed man knew she was coming, and left a taunting trail of chess pieces, each with just enough magic to lead her to the next.  And behind him he left a world sapped clean, for the time being, of all magic.  Which was no doubt why the horseshoe was broken and her mount limping.

An hour after Gorg, Snella and her unhappy equine reached the crossroads.  Unlike Gorg, she had no difficulty reading the sign.  Unfortunately, also unlike Gorg, she didn't know where she needed to go.  There should have been a chessman there, marking the junction and drawing her on.  Instead, there was nothing but a bare stone road surrounded by bare stone ground, and the tiny trace of magic Snella possessed wasn't enough to tell her which way to go.

The sorcerer would go to the city, would he not?  Mergle liked bright lights, or at least some kind of lights, and he liked a tavern at night with a drink and a bed.  But of course that was the way he'd expect her to think.  And she liked a drink and a bed, too.  All the more reason he'd probably gone the other way, off into the desert, just to spite her.  Snella looked from her mount to the stoney ground, and sighed.  She would have to do it.  But not with her horse in this condition.

Two hours later, Snella put out the last of her fire.  The shoe her horse now wore was far from perfect, but it would protect the beast from the desert.  And she could ride again.  Swinging into the saddle, the swordswoman pointed her mount toward the empty lands.

Gorg stomped his way happily toward Mosternestine City, singing a bit of a troll song as he went.  Most hearers would have thought it was the noise of a rockslide or a bison with gas, but Gorg was pleased.  He reached the city just at dusk, and without knowing why, followed assorted twists and alleys to a street where, by its look, any deed could pass unnoticed, and often did.

Pausing, he looked up at a sign over a door.  The tavern was called the Corpse and Coffin.  That would put off most people, but Gorg was no human, and, sniffing the succulent odors of stale beer and slightly spoiled meat, he pushed open the door and entered.

The room was nearly dark, its windows being unwashed since the reign of King Celery the Halfwit--the first of that name, not the current version.  So Gorg didn't see the man sitting at the table in the corner, and didn't see his start of surprise.  Gorg was not who he had expected.

"You!"  The sorcerer sounded slightly strangled.  "How did you get the chessman?"

Gorg scratched his head, raising a small cloud of rock dust.  "Chessman?"

"You must have it.  I can feel its presence, and it would have led you here."

Gorg thought about this a bit longer.  While thinking, he lifted a massive foot to examine it the irritating lump it had developed.  Thoughtfully--for a troll--he picked the scarred bit of carved stone from the boot sole and examined it.  "This?"

"Yes, that!  You idiot of a lump of rock!"  Mergle was nearly screaming now, and with this change in his voice, Gorg suddenly recognized the magician who had returned three of his relations to the stone from which all Trolls are born.  He clenched his fist and the scuffed knight crumbled to dust.

Then he did the same thing to Mergle, before sitting down to a cup of the best stale beer he'd drunk in a long time, with the satisfaction of a job well done.

Three months later, crossing the desert south of the city, Gorg came across two piles of bones.  The smaller was human, and a sword lay among the bones.  Gorg gave it scarcely a glance.  Turning to the larger, he picked up the skull of the unfortunate horse.
"Poor old thing," he said.  "I told you to come with me instead.


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

Saturday, October 27, 2018

#Fi50: River Mist

iction in 50 is a regular feature in the last week of every month and I invite any interested composers of mini-narrative to join in!

What is #Fi50? In the words of founder Bruce Gargoyle, "Fiction in 50: think of it as the anti-NaNoWriMo experience!" Pack a beginning, middle and end of story into 50 words or less (bonus points for hitting exactly 50 words).

The rules for participation are simple:

1. Create a piece of fictional writing in 50 words or less, ideally using the prompt as title or theme or inspiration.
That’s it!  But for those who wish to challenge themselves further, here’s an additional rule:

2. Post your piece of flash fiction on your blog or (for those poor blog-less souls) add it as a comment on the Ninja Librarian’s post for everyone to enjoy. 
And for those thrill-seekers who really like to go the extra mile (ie: perfectionists):

3. Add the nifty little picture above to your post (credit for which goes entirely to ideflex over at or create your own Fi50 meme pic….
and 4. Link back here so others can jump on the mini-fic bandwagon.

This month's prompt is Horror
At this time, I'm only planning to continue the hop through the end of the year, as it doesn't seem to have gotten any momentum.  


And now, my story: 

River Mist

The house, unsold for years, was occupied the last of October. The new owners were delighted until nightfall.

Doors and windows closed against the night did nothing to stop the mist that crept up from the river and passed through the graveyard.

Nothing could stop the fingers of the dead.

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

Friday, October 26, 2018

Flashback Friday: Enchanted Blasted Forest

 Flashback Friday is a monthly meme that takes place on the last Friday of the month.
The idea is to give a little more love to a post you’ve published on your blog before.  Maybe you just love it, maybe it’s appropriate for now, or maybe it just didn’t get the attention it deserved when you first published it.

Thanks to Michael d’Agostino, who started it all, there is a solution – join Flashback Friday! And thanks to Jemima Pett, who has kept it going--visit her blog to add your name to the list!

Just join in whenever you like, repost one of your own blog posts, including any copyright notices on text or media, on the last Friday of the month.


I dug into the archives in search of something appropriate to the season and found this story. Not exactly a Halloween story, but there are monsters enough to satisfy, I hope. This one appears to have clocked in at exactly 1000 words, and I said this about it when I first published it in May of 2016:
Chuck Wendig gave us a new challenge this week: a series utterances from his preschooler, to be used somewhere in a story. As one might expect from Chuck's progeny, they were... interesting. I selected "there's a 3-headed flying werewolf in that tree," and the rest of the Enchanted Forest came into being.

The Enchanted Blasted Forest

The Enchanted Forest is a punishment post, but never mind what we did to get sent there. They have to man the post, and soldiers don’t last long there, so you don’t have to do much to end up there. About half of those sent never even arrive.

There were six of us, and when the road entered the blasted Forest we divided up the watch. Tomo watched left, Martin right, Jock ahead, Kora behind, Shea overhead, and I was back-up to them all, scanning every direction as thoroughly as I could.

The monsters weren’t bold. If Shea called out “harpy overhead!” we’d all raise our spears and the monster would sheer off. Or Tomo would yell, “there’s a 3-headed flying werewolf in that tree!” and we’d aim our bows that way and the thing would fly away.

We only had to fire once, when a flying monkey swooped in low and tried to grab Kora. She’s not very big, but tough as nails. Martin and I both loosed arrows, but they stuck in a dead monkey. Kora had already beheaded it. She’s fast with her sword.

We were still several hours distant from the outpost when we began to wonder something. In short, we started to ask ourselves if everyone who vanished on the way to Fort End had been carried off by monsters. Maybe there was a way to get out of a long hitch in the army. Joining up had seemed like a good idea when I first went in, but it didn’t take long to knock the stars from my eyes, and if a single night out on the town could get you in this much trouble, I wanted out.

There was a guard hut halfway, and we holed up there to enjoy our lunch without having to swat away monsters. That’s when Martin asked, “Why are we here, anyway?”

“We got taken up for drunk and disorderly on our last leave.” Dumb question.

“Yeah, but…”

“Martin’s right.” I looked at each of them. “We acted like soldiers on leave and for that they sent us where only half the troops survive to even reach the post? But maybe we don’t have to get hauled off by harpies to disappear.”

“Yeah,” Jock said. “We can get eaten by 3-headed werewolves instead.”

“Or,” I said, looking from one to another, “we can appear to have been eaten by 3-headed werewolves.”

Jock was the last to get it.  “You’re saying we could run off,” he said after we all looked at him for several minutes. “Desert.” We all turned that word over in our minds as he went on. “You know what they do to deserters.”

We knew. It was a great deal faster and more sure than a posting in the Enchanted blasted Forest, but they said it was painless, which this posting wasn’t likely to be.

We finished our lunch in silence, but when we left the hut, we took the wrong turning.

“That’s our story if anyone catches us up,” I said. “Just a bit of trouble navigating.” We were still nervous at the thought of being caught by a patrol, which was the wrong worry.

Our nerves lasted until the first harpy attack. After that we were too busy to worry about the army. It seemed the creatures of the forest were a lot less bashful about attacking travelers who strayed from the military road. I began to wonder how many of the disappeared had started as deserters, and ended as dead as they’d pretended to be.

It was farther to the edge of the forest this way than the way we’d come in, so we’d have to hurry. Trouble was, we were under such constant attack that we couldn’t hurry. By an hour or two after lunch, it was plain to all of us—even Jock—that we weren’t going to make the edge of the Forest before night.

“Now what?” Shea asked.  She would. Always expecting someone else to fix her problems, that one. We couldn’t take care of that right then. We were a team and we’d only make it if we stuck together.

“We find a place to hole up,” I said, just as Kora said, “We fight on through the night until we get out.”

Martin protested. “I heard there’s things out at night here that you really don’t want to me. Things that make harpies look like pet kittens.”

We thought about that. It might be lies told to keep soldiers from deserting the fort.

It might all be true.

We had no choice but to find out. There was no safe place to hole up for the night. No more huts, and any natural hole would surely be inhabited by orcs or dragons or ten-headed hydras.

It was nearly dark before we knew the extent of our folly.

“Keep fighting, move as fast as we can, and stick together.” It wasn’t a good plan, but it was the only thing we could do, and we all knew it, so I got no argument. We were too busy.

By dark every one of us was bleeding somewhere, and the attacks picked up. I put our chances of survival at less than 50%. Meaning I didn’t expect more than three of us to live, and I’d already picked out which three.

One of the flying werewolves got Shea before midnight. There was nothing we could do. We kept moving, and enjoyed the respite the feasting gave us.

The forest started thinning about the second hour after midnight, and I thought the rest of us might make it.

The harpies had other ideas. They attacked in force, with the flying monkeys darting between them wherever our guard was incomplete.

Martin went down under the assault, but he wasn’t enough. We broke into a full run, speed more important than battle.

We’d none of us have made it if I hadn’t tripped Tomo.


©Rebecca M. Douglass 2016

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Cozy Review: Drop Dead Ornaments

Great Escapes Blog Tours

Drop Dead Ornaments (An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery)
Cozy Mystery
7th in Series
Self Published
Print Length: 209 pages
Anastasia Pollack’s son Alex is dating Sophie Lambert, the new kid in town. For their community service project, the high school seniors have chosen to raise money for the county food bank. Anastasia taps her craft industry contacts to donate materials for the students to make Christmas ornaments they’ll sell at the town’s annual Holiday Crafts Fair.
At the fair Anastasia meets Sophie’s father, Shane Lambert, who strikes her as a man with secrets. She also notices a woman eavesdropping on their conversation. Later that evening when the woman turns up dead, Sophie’s father is arrested for her murder.
Alex and Sophie beg Anastasia to find the real killer, but Anastasia has had her fill of dead bodies. She’s also not convinced of Shane’s innocence. Besides, she’s promised younger son Nick she’ll stop risking her life. But how can she say no to Alex?
My Review:
I'll admit it: I wasn't sure about this book when I started. I definitely felt like I was jumping into the middle of something (it is, after all, the 7th in the series, and appears to start about half a day after the last book ended).  I was a little at sea... for about the first 20 pages or less. Somewhere in there, I found myself fully engaged, and zipped through the book in 2 days.

Anastasia certainly has a lot of back story that I had to pick up piecemeal (but the author provides enough of it along the way that I didn't feel hopelessly left out), and she has clearly had a hard time of it! Part of the appeal of the book is to see what horrors her mother and ex-mother-in-law will inflict on her next, and they are definitely good for some laughs even while the very serious search for a killer goes on.

The mystery was decently put together (not the best I've seen, but it works), but in many ways the corpse is an afterthought to the story about some entertaining people and their lives. That's not a criticism, by the way--that is largely as it should be in a cozy mystery. The important thing is that the author makes us care about Anastasia and her slightly crazy family.

Oh, and the "recipes" for ornaments look like they really live up to the claim that anyone can make them and make them look great. I think even I could.

My Recommendation:
A series worth checking out. I'd suggest starting at the beginning, since I did feel like I was missing some key links, but the author makes it possible to jump in anywhere.

And now--we are happy to welcome Lois Winston to The Ninja Librarian blog for a fun interview!

I like to start off talking about writing with visiting authors, since many of my readers are, like me, writers as well.

1. When did you start writing? Did you always know you wanted to be a writer, or did you stumble into it later in life?
I stumbled into writing about twenty-three years ago after having a very vivid dream. After deciding to write the dream down, the next thing I knew, I’d written 50,000 words and been permanently infected by the writing bug. Those 50,000 words, after several years and many revisions, became the basis of the second book I sold, the romantic suspense Love, Lies and a Double Shot of Deception.

2. Cozy mystery characters do some interesting things to make a living, which is part of what makes them so much fun, and leads us to learn about all sorts of things while reading them—and writing them. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve had to research for one of your books?

Because Anastasia and I have a similar professional background, it hasn’t been necessary for me to research anything in regards to her career. Most of my research has centered round police procedures, dead bodies, and ways to kill people, one of the weirder being through salt poisoning.
Researching interesting ways to kill people is definitely part of the fun!
3. What is the best thing about being a writer?
 Every so often I’ll receive an email from a reader who tells me how one of my books gave her a brief, much needed escape from something going on in her life. I never expected writing a humorous cozy mystery series would impact anyone in that way. I now have a much better understanding of the power of laughter, and I’m so blessed that I’ve been able to help people through my writing.

I think we often undervalue "escape literature," as though we didn't all need to escape at times. Even light-hearted books can have a serious impact.

4. Do you draft your books longhand or compose at the keyboard?
I find the words flow better when I type them.

5. Do you use a detailed outline before you start writing, or…?

I start with just a brief idea of the story, similar to a back cover blurb. I know how the story will start and how it will end. The rest unfolds as I go along. Sometimes the plot changes if my characters refuse to listen to me and take matters into their own hands. A few of them can be very stubborn.

Thanks for sharing some about how you write. Now I'm sure my readers want to learn more about you as a person, so just a few more questions on a lighter note.

6.  If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
I’ve always wanted to live in Manhattan, but given the price of real estate in New York, I’d have to win the lottery to make that dream come true.

7. What super-power would you like to have?

 I’ve always wanted to fly like Supergirl.

That would be so much fun! Maybe if I could do that, I wouldn't be scared of heights anymore!

8. If there’s a spider in the corner of the room, do you a) panic, b) have to drop everything until it is removed, or c) hope it’s planning on eating the more annoying bugs that get in?
Creepy crawly things creep me out. I’d definitely drop everything to trap and dispose of that little bugger. (And I definitely hope he’d fall into the Little Bugger category and not the Big Hairy Bugger category!)

Thanks so much for coming by and answering a few questions for our readers!

About the Author:
USA Today bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry.
Author Links:
Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog:
Purchase Links 
Amazon   B&N   Kobo   iTunes
And, last but not least--we have a giveaway! Enter to win a free e-book of Drop Dead Ornaments and enjoy your own holiday crafts, with a side of mystery!

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