Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Writer's Update

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 17, 2018

Memoir Review: Lab Girl (audio book)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 16, 2018

#Fi50 Headsup!

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

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

The rules for participation are simple:

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

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

3. Add the nifty little picture above to your post (credit for which goes entirely to ideflex over at or create your own Fi50 meme pic….
and 4. Link back here so others can jump on the mini-fic bandwagon.
At this time, I haven't been able to find a source for a free linky-list, so it's just comments. I recommend posting your basic blog link on my Fi50 page, with the day you post your Fi50 story. You can also add a link in the comments on my story, posted the next-to-last Sunday (or Saturday) of the month. Feel free to Tweet using the #Fi50, though I'll not lie: the Ninja Librarian is a lousy tweeter.

Posts can go up any time during the last week of the month (or any other time – we’re not fussy! My post will go up next Saturday, so it will be there when you are ready to add your link.

You’re welcome to pick your own topics or go along with the monthly prompt.

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

Friday, September 14, 2018

Friday Flash—The Boyfriend of Truth

It's been a long time, so I thought I'd take an hour or so to give you some flash fiction. This one's more like half a flash, or maybe half-flashed, because it's just over 500 words, and I wrote it in a hurry. I went to the random title generators (about 4 of them) and collected a pretty good list of titles that might interest me at some point, but weren't right for a fast and barely-edited flash. This one did it. Enjoy the flash fiction, and enjoy your weekend!

The Boyfriend of Truth

It was all due to a simple misunderstanding. If my ears hadn’t been full of water from swimming, I’d have heard her name correctly, and I’d never have gone near her. 

But my ears were blocked, and when Hilary introduced us I thought the girl’s name was Ruth. That’s what I called her the whole time we were going out, and she never corrected me. Which, when I think about it, is kind of weird, because she wasn’t Ruth, which means sorrow or pity. She was Truth, which can be rather pitiless. 

I don’t mean that was just her name, which would have been an affliction to any girl but not the end of the world for her boyfriend. She WAS Truth, and once we got that straightened out, it explained a lot.

Unfortunately, by that time it was too late. I was fathoms deep, because she was beautiful. Come to think of it, that’s odd, too, because the truth may set you free, as they say, but it isn’t always pretty. It wasn’t in my case.

I fell in love hard and fast. When I told “Ruth” that I loved her and asked if she loved me, she said “no,” but I understood. I was moving too fast. I didn’t ask again. I realize now that things went on so long because I didn’t ask much of anything of her. I was too absorbed in my own feelings and desires, and that was what I talked about. If I’d asked her more about herself things mightn’t have gone on so long.

It was later, when I settled down a little and began to think, that I realized her reactions to me weren’t always what I’d hoped. I began to ask questions.

“Am I coming on too strong?”


“Do you want me to leave you alone?”


“Can I kiss you?”

“Yes.” But she didn’t kiss me back.

I didn’t get that one until Hilary pointed out, later, the difference between “can” and “may.” 

I’d been kissing her for a week when I asked the worst question. “Why won’t you let me do more than kiss you once in a while?”

“Because you do it so poorly, and you smell bad.”

“How can you say that?” That really hurt, because I’d spent a lot on a new cologne when I started seeing her. I wanted to impress her with my sophisticated taste, and she thought I stank?

“What do you mean, how can I say it? You asked a question. You get the true answer, because I am Truth.”

“Wait—what? I thought your name was Ruth. I’ve been calling you Ruth.”

“You can call me anything. I’ve told you what I am. I am Truth. If you want to hear only things you like, you should join all the other men hanging around Flattery.”

“Flattery?” I couldn’t remember any girl by that name. I looked where Truth was pointing, and saw a group of men clustered around a gorgeous blonde, whom I vaguely recognized from the same party where I met Truth. “I thought her name was Hattie.”

“You should get your hearing checked.”

It was the truth. Of course.

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

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings: Author’s update

The Ninja Librarian is back in civilization! Well, more or less. We have arrived in Maine, and I have a reliable internet connection, so I’m expecting to get back to regular posting soon. I haven’t been reading or writing much the last few weeks. That’s no surprise, since we were driving across the country, with various stops for hikes and bike rides. We did listen to a couple of good audio books (those are a life-saver when you are driving across eastern Montana, North Dakota, and Minnesota, though there are parts of all of those that are gorgeous).

During that time, of course, there wasn’t any writing going on, but I have been thinking about the new Pismawallops PTA book, which at this point has a title (Death By Library), a corpse, and a list of suspects. I’m ready to get serious about the plot and outline, and intend to do a draft during the NaNo frenzy in November.

Meanwhile, I’ll have more photos soon, with highlights from Teddy Roosevelt National Park, places along Lake Superior, and Acadia National Park. For now, here are just a few from my phone (I need to get the computer set up so I can download and edit the real photos).

Theodore Roosevelt National Park has official greeters near the entrance. This one looked good, but he couldn't answer any of our questions.
Theodore Roosevelt NP
We carry our camp kit wherever we go, so we can fix dinner whenever it's convenient. You don't often get a kitchen stove with a view like this.
Roadside meal while waiting for the light to get perfect.
Somewhere out in eastern North Dakota we realized that the overcast wasn't solid. These are "cloud streets," properly called horizontal convective rolls. They form from just the right combination of convection and wind, but more than that I can't say :)

 On to Minnesota, where we encountered Paul Bunyan on the side of the road.
Paul appears to be soliciting donations.
On to Michigan and Lake Superior! I did take a dip in the lake, which wasn't a bad temperature close in to shore, though I gather the overall average temp is colder than Puget Sound, so I wouldn't want to swim far!
Sunset on the shore of the world's largest body of fresh water.
After some time in Algonquin Provencial Park and a night with friends in Montreal, we finally reached Maine, some 18 days after leaving our home in California for the last time.
Maine sunset
We spent our first weekend in Maine at Acadia National Park (and I hope that may be about the last time we go out on a weekend) to take in the Acadia Night Sky Festival #AcadiaNightSky. We mixed hiking, biking, and educational events, but the phone didn't go on that many of the outings.

Our first night there we saw an amazing live music/multi-media show with Dava Sobel and Galileo's Daughters, "Perpetual Motion: Galileo and his Revolutions."
#acadianightsky #galileosdaughters
We followed the performance with star viewing through telescopes (Acadia is celebrating being one of the few dark places on the eastern seaboard, so on a moonless night the viewing is very good, though I've seen much clearer and darker skies out west), scopes and assistance provided by about 30 amateur astronomers. I was delighted to find that someone had donated a good scope to the local high school, and a couple of enthusiastic and competent young women were running it. Seeing the rings of Saturn with my own eyes was pretty special.

Our second night we took a star-gazing cruise. That was kind of fun, and we learned some, but it wasn't as worthwhile as the previous night's combo, though the sunset was beautiful. We did a fantastic hike on Sunday morning, climbing the aptly named Precipice Trail, before heading back to our Maine home.
Ready to go on board. Music, lectures, and serious stars.
That's all I have for you today! I'd like to think I'll manage some very short fiction for Friday. We'll see!

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

Monday, September 10, 2018

Middle Grade Monday: The Tail of Emily Windsnap


Title: The Tail of Emily Windsnap
Author: Liz Kessler
Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2003. 211 pages.
Source: Library

Publisher's Blurb:
For as long as she can remember, twelve-year-old Emily Windsnap has lived on a boat. And, oddly enough, for just as long, her mother has seemed anxious to keep Emily away from the water. But when Mom finally agrees to let her take swimming lessons, Emily makes a startling discovery — about her own identity, the mysterious father she’s never met, and the thrilling possibilities and perils shimmering deep below the water’s surface. With a sure sense of suspense and richly imaginative details, first-time author Liz Kessler lures us into a glorious undersea world where mermaids study shipwrecks at school and Neptune rules with an iron trident — an enchanting fantasy about family secrets, loyal friendship, and the convention-defying power of love.  

My Review:
I just learned from the blurb that this was Liz Kessler's first book. I have reviewed North of Nowhere and Has Anyone Seen Jessica Jenkins?, both of which I enjoyed. I can see that she started right off with her love of blending the real and the almost-real, or magical elements. I think I can also see that she honed her skills with the Emily Windsnap books, and I think it shows in a higher quality in the later books.

Not that this was bad. Kessler did a nice job of capturing Emily's panic over the change that happens when she gets in the water, as well as the joy that she is able to experience. Some other elements of the story, including Neptune and his court, I found a bit over the top. I got the feeling, as well, that the author periodically forgot that the merfolk world is under water, and some elements she describes just wouldn't work (including the conversations. Ever try to talk under water?).

I read the book because the second in the series was one of our summer reads for the GMGR Goodreads group, but I wasn't excited enough to bother with that second book. This one just didn't cut it for the adult audience, though I think it might hit the target audience quite well. 

My Recommendation:

This would be a good read (beach read?) for the 8-11 set, I think. It's going to appeal primarily to girls, though in fact it's a good adventure story.

FTC Disclosure: I checked The Tail of Emily Windsnap 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."  

Wednesday, September 5, 2018


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!

September 5 question - What publishing path are you considering/did you take, and why?

The awesome co-hosts for the September 5 posting of the IWSG are Toi Thomas, T. Powell Coltrin, M.J. Fifield, and Tara Tyler!

I don't have much to report about my own writing. I've been on the road for the last couple of weeks, so my writing (as it has been for most of the summer) has mostly been my journal. At least when we are traveling I write more regularly and more extensively than at home, so I hope at least I get some good exercise out of it.

Moving on to the question of the month... My publishing path and why I chose it.

I have been self-publishing my books since the first book in 2012 (though I kind of prefer the "author-publisher" designation). At that time, I had (over the course of a couple of decades) completed and shopped around 3 different MSS, with limited success. That is, I never got an agent, but each one did garner more personalize responses and requests for larger samples. That being the case, I could have concluded I was making progress, and gone on shopping books to agents. Two things changed my mind (or maybe 3). For one thing, I was losing patience with a very slow process that I didn't know how to manage emotionally.

A second, and larger, reason for the move was the state of self-publishing in 2012. It really was at the perfect point: there was a degree of respectability that the vanity presses never had (and, of course, it was fiscally plausible, unlike vanity presses),  but the market was not then so saturated with self-published books of dubious quality that it was as hard to get seen. A friend had recently published that way, and encouraged me to consider it.

I think that the thing that pushed me over the line to try self-publishing was that although I knew The Ninja Librarian was a good book, I also knew it didn't fit categories well. I market it as a children's book, and kids like it, but the writing is not simple, and adults may find even more to like in the book and the sequels. It's historical fiction and humor and tall tales and adventure. I might have been wrong--an agent might have seen something and figured out how to help me make it marketable (I know--now--that it would have benefited from some editorial advice). But I didn't really believe I'd even find a publisher willing to take a chance on it, and I wanted to share it with the world.

Of course, I made all the usual rookie mistakes, from not using an editor (at least I knew enough to have it proof-read) to making my own cover (I got a professional cover a year or two later when I wrote the second book, Return to Skunk Corners). I would like to think that I've learned enough to start really considering myself a publisher as well as an author. I just need to make one more leap, to buying my own ISBNs and removing the CreateSpace label. On the other hand, since I don't expect to ever make a fortune at this, I may never bother to do that.

How about you? What's your path, and do you think you made the right choice?

Monday, September 3, 2018

Mystery Monday: An Impartial Witness


Title: An Impartial Witness  (Bess Crawford Mysteries #2)
Author: Charles Todd. Read by Rosalyn Landor

Publisher: BBC Audiobooks America, 2010. Hardback published by William Morrow, 2010, 352 pages.

Source: Library digital resources

Publisher's Blurb:
It is early summer 1917. Bess Crawford has returned to England from the trenches of France with a convoy of severely wounded men. One of her patients is a young pilot who has been burned beyond recognition, and who clings to life and the photo of his wife pinned to his tunic.

While passing through a London train station, Bess notices a woman bidding an emotional farewell to an officer, her grief heart-wrenching. And then Bess realizes that she seems familiar. In fact, she's the woman in the pilot's photo, but the man she is seeing off is not her husband.

Back on duty in France, Bess discovers a newspaper with a drawing of the woman's face on the front page. Accompanying the drawing is a plea from Scotland Yard seeking information from anyone who has seen her. For it appears that the woman was murdered on the very day Bess encountered her at the station.

Granted leave to speak with Scotland Yard, Bess becomes entangled in the case. Though an arrest is made, she must delve into the depths of her very soul to decide if the police will hang an innocent man or a vicious killer. Exposing the truth is dangerous—and will put her own life on the line.

My Review:  
This is a good series I discovered last year and meant to get back to sooner. The WWI setting is one that particularly interests me, and the author does a good job of evoking it realistically. That realism includes striking a delicate balance between Bess's independence of thought and action and the realities of her life as a woman and nurse in that era. The writing is strong and characters well-drawn.

The mystery is well-plotted. I ran through several perps before lighting on the correct one about the same time Bess did. I thought it was particularly good that although she is determined to find the "real killer," she never lets go of the recognition that the man arrested might, in fact, be a killer. She just isn't quite sure enough to let matters rest. I appreciated that she is neither blindly believing nor feeling psychic. She's mostly being rational, and determined to see justice done, and not blind to the influence of her own feelings in that determination. I think Bess is a strong sleuth, with a good supporting cast who may have a tendency to step in a little too often. I kind of want her to do it all herself, but the author has been more realistic.

My Recommendation:
A series and a writer well worth checking out (I'm currently reading the first book in Charles Todd's other series from roughly the same era, the Inspector Ian Rutledge books. I'll report out on that when I finish). This isn't exactly a cozy mystery, but it's not hard-boiled, either. If you like Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs, this is almost sure to be a hit.

FTC Disclosure: I checked An Impartial Witness 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."