Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Writer's Wednesday--Exciting news!

I composed my IWSG post for last week a bit in advance, since we were out in the wilds of Maine. As a result, I failed to include my writer's news, most of which happened after I queued up the post. I have a couple of things I'm excited about sharing this week instead!

1.  I got a story accepted! My short, "The Revenge of Gorg," a rewriting of the first chapter of Gorg's book was accepted for publication in the November issue of "Frostfire Worlds." I'll share more info about purchasing copies when I have it. I'm extra excited about this, because after trying a couple of years ago to put Gorg's stories into a novel form, I let that project drop in frustration. This sale restores some of my faith in Gorg, and his book is going back into the hopper for more work (as soon as I deal with a few other things).

2. I got inspired, and the outlining process for the Pismawallops PTA #5 is well under way, even while #4, Death By Library, is with the proof-reader (heck, while she has the MS I can't do anything with that one, so...). The new book is tentatively titled Death By Donut.

3. While working on the outline, I stumbled on some notes from last spring for a short story or novella featuring our friends from Pismawallops Island. I got excited, and on Monday drafted over 5000 words of the story, which I plan to finish and release before Christmas (but after Death By Library).

We expect to be back home in about 5 more days, and then I'll have until the end of January to focus on writing (well, aside from that whole bit about hosting the holiday revels).

Some of our time in New England has been this:
Descending the Bridle Trail from Franconia Ridge, NH
And some has been this:
View from the Zealand Hut, White Mountains, NH
Lots more photos to come as I get them sorted. I made my life extra difficult by hitting something early in the trip that caused the camera to take 3 versions of every photo. Extra fun in the editing phase!

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2019
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Monday, October 7, 2019

Non-fiction review: A Woman of No Importance

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Title:  A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II
Author: Sonia Purnell
Publication Info: Viking Press, 2019. 368 pages.
Source: Library digital resources

Publisher's Blurb:
In 1942, the Gestapo sent out an urgent transmission: "She is the most dangerous of all Allied spies. We must find and destroy her."

The target in their sights was Virginia Hall, a Baltimore socialite who talked her way into Special Operations Executive, the spy organization dubbed Winston Churchill's "Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare." She became the first Allied woman deployed behind enemy lines and--despite her prosthetic leg--helped to light the flame of the French Resistance, revolutionizing secret warfare as we know it.

Virginia established vast spy networks throughout France, called weapons and explosives down from the skies, and became a linchpin for the Resistance. Even as her face covered wanted posters and a bounty was placed on her head, Virginia refused order after order to evacuate. She finally escaped through a death-defying hike over the Pyrenees into Spain, her cover blown. But she plunged back in, adamant that she had more lives to save, and led a victorious guerilla campaign, liberating swathes of France from the Nazis after D-Day.

Based on new and extensive research, Sonia Purnell has for the first time uncovered the full secret life of Virginia Hall--an astounding and inspiring story of heroism, spycraft, resistance, and personal triumph over shocking adversity.


My Review:
I’m not sure where I got the tip-off for reading this book—I think it might have been the collection of brief sketches on women heroes of WWII I reviewed here. Whatever the reason, I’m glad I picked it up. The biography is well-written and historically diligent, with no effort to create thoughts and motives where they aren’t known—which is almost everywhere.

Virginia Hall was an exceptionally private person, perhaps because of her work as a spy, perhaps just by nature (which caused which?). In any case, we have to learn to know her primarily through the eyes of the men she worked with, and official documents. The reward for that research effort is a book that combines all the elements of a spy thriller with a strict adherence to fact. You might even call it a slightly dry spy thriller, except I was never bored. 

The other aspect of the book that makes it both a valuable and at times painful read is the history of sexism it exposes. Virginia Hall was acknowledged by the vast majority of those who knew her work as one of, if not the best spy in France during the war. Yet because of her gender, she was consistently passed over for promotion, and for much of the war the SEO (British Intelligence) and later the OSS (US Office of Special Services) routinely tried to put men with less—or no—experience and qualifications in command of her. After the war, it was even worse.

Happily for all of us—because in the end Ms. Hall performed feats of espionage and guerrilla warfare that may have tipped the balance for the Allies after the D-Day landings—she wasn’t particularly inclined to give in and accept her “place” as a woman. I might say she was a woman ahead of her time, but in fact I would argue that she was one of the women who made our time possible.

My Recommendation:
This is a book that helps to explode the myths not only about what women can do, but also about what they *did* do. And I didn’t even mention the fact that she had a disability, having lost one leg below the knee due to a hunting accident and a case of gangrene. Any time I’m feeling sorry for myself because things hurt when I’m hiking, I’ll be remembering Virginia, crossing the Pyrenees on foot, in winter, with a 1930s-technology false leg (named Cuthbert).

FTC Disclosure: I checked A Woman of No Importance 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, October 4, 2019

Photo Friday: Three Hikes, Three States, Three Days

Recently as part of our post-retirement adventures, we drove from California to Colorado, taking time along the way to do some hiking and camping. The result was that we did three hikes in three states in three days (I could claim a fourth back in California, but that was 3 days before we left). Just for fun, here are a few snapshots.

1. Wednesday. Wheeler Peak, Great Basin National Park, Nevada.
This was a roughly 8-mile RT, with close to 3000’ of climbing (and descending). This was not a smart move with my foot only half recovered from a very bad episode of plantar fasciitis, but I did it anyway. I never said I was smart :)
Not long after we started, we could look up to see the summit, a ridiculously long way above us. It’s hard to see but there was also a light coating of fresh snow or hail from a storm the evening before.


After a long time, the summit looked closer.


By the time we got up there, most of the snow was gone. We found a bit of it hidden here and there.


It was breezy on the summit, but the views were great. It was also nearly lunchtime, so we had a good snack before heading back down, as our lunch was actually back at the car.



2. Thursday. A pair of canyons in Utah. I’m not naming them, because they are getting too many visitors as it is, and I don’t need to add to the info out there. The hike was, again, 8 miles, but with limited climbing aside from the occasional scramble over pour-offs a few feet high. About a 5 hour drive from Wheeler Peak.
Heading into the canyon, after a half-mile approach.




One of the climb-y bits. Nothing very challenging, but it added fun and interest.



The sandstone is subject to erosion into holes and cubbies as well as waves. You can also see the layering of different types of sand here.


A third of the way through the hike we topped out the first canyon, and had a 1.5 mile walk along a jeep trail to the head of the second canyon. We had climbed enough for the breeze to be pleasant and the juniper trees to cast some shade.


Soon our second canyon began to narrow, and the wall show the evidence of the occasional flash floods that carve and smooth such slot canyons. An occasional log jammed high up reminded us why you want to know the weather all around the region before entering a canyon.


In another place, we had to duck under a jammed boulder, another bit of food for thought.


A few passages were just magical classic slot canyon.


Too soon the canyon began to widen and the cliffs grew lower, signalling the beginning of the end.



3.  Friday, Colorado National Monument. Only about 2.5 hours from the canyons, and still sharing some of the same red rock, Colorado National Monument rises right out of the city of Grand Junction. We’ve hiked down into the red rock before, so this time we decided to hike the Black Ridge trail, up in the piƱon/juniper forest. My hike, combined with a mile of nature trail, was about 4 1/4 miles--a nice rest!

Before starting the real trail, we walked a mile RT on a nature trail that came to a convincing dead-end.


Same scene looking down--into the puddle.


Starting up the trail, I could still look back on the eroded features of the Monument.



A less dramatic landscape than the canyon, but the long views of the Book Cliffs were rewarding, as was a tour of the geology--what's above the sandstone?

As a final reward for patience and return visits, the Monument finally showed us one of the bighorn sheep we knew lived there. Would have been nice to see it on the trail, not the road, but we enjoyed this all-too-unafraid ewe.



To complete the four states, here's a glimpse of my hike near Mt. Lassen on Saturday, before our departure for points east.
I hiked to Ridge Lakes. I thought it was 2 miles each way, but that turned out to be a RT distance.
So I continued on to the ridge.

Topped out closer to my 2-mile target, and was rewarded with views of both Lassen and Brokeoff. The latter is lower, but was much more interesting to look at and photograph. In the distance what looks like fog in the valley is smoke from the wildfire du jour.


©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2019
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

IWSG: On Reading and Writing



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The first Wednesday of every month is the Insecure Writer's Support Group posting day, where writers can express their 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! Check it out here and join if you want support with your writing. 
Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.


Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say. 
Remember, the question is optional!
October 2 question - It's been said that the benefits of becoming a writer who does not read is that all your ideas are new and original. Everything you do is an extension of yourself, instead of a mixture of you and another author. On the other hand, how can you expect other people to want your writing, if you don't enjoy reading? What are your thoughts?


The awesome co-hosts for the October 2 posting of the IWSG are Ronel Janse van Vuuren, Mary Aalgaard, Madeline Mora-Summonte, and Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor!



***
I have to admit that I'm a bit shocked by writers who don't read. For one thing, why do you even want to write if you don't like to read? But it goes deeper than that. I learned what a good story looks like by reading stories, good and bad. I learned what good writing was by reading writing good, bad, and indifferent. As a child, I didn't distinguish and didn't even find many books I didn't like, but as I matured, I began to look at what I read and to understand why this book was a truly moving book, that one thought-provoking, this one an engaging bit of brain candy and that one really not worth reading even on the beach.

I also learned good grammar and sentence structure by exposure, which is not 100% reliable but is perhaps more reliable than trying to memorize a bunch of rules.

As for the worry about influences and mixing ourselves with the writers we read, any student of literature knows that influences can be traced to and from the greatest writers: Geoffrey Chaucer and William Shakespeare both cribbed tales from Virgil and Ovid, and endless writers have borrowed from those two. I have learned not to worry about undue influences on my writing: as I have learned to be a writer, my own voice has become strong enough to grow and improve as I read and think about other books, without being overwritten.

To me, that is the essence of reading as a writer.

Now, then, there's also just reading for fun. Turn off the author brain and enjoy a book for it's own sake, too!

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This post has gone up automatically. I am currently away from cell coverage, but will return all visits as soon as I can, and hope to visit a few more besides, before next month's post comes around!