Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Writer's Wednesday--It's NaNo Time!

Time for another writing update already! I'm happy to say that there has been some action in the last two weeks. That novella I was inspired to write has been drafted and is getting feedback. More on that below.

We've gotten home from our travels, and are settled in enough now that a) I can start to see my way through the chaos to a regular schedule (including writer time) and b) I've started up all my workouts again and I am SORE! Which may actually be good for the writer stuff, because once I sit down at the computer I don't want to move.

As for NaNo (National Novel Writing Month, aka November), yes I'll be participating again this year. To see why, I think I'll refer you to last year's post on the topic. I'm ready for a boost, a deadline, and a bit of writer chatter, and maybe even a chance to connect with some local writers. I've got some work to do still on the outline (somewhere in the next day or two while getting Death By Library organized!), but the book is coming together well in my head, if not yet on paper. I have a lot of confidence now in my ability to write well over the requisite 1642 words/day (or whatever the exact number is to hit 50K in 30 days), so I'm comfortable taking a little extra time to be sure I'm ready before I start writing.
Write where you are.
I have also gotten Death By Library back from the proofreader, made the necessary edits, and formatted the ebook, so I'm right on schedule for my release date, and to get copies of the book to the reviewers on the blog tour! I'm working on guest posts, interviews, and the rest of the fun, and if you want to join the party, drop me a line. The formal tour is being managed by Great Escapes Tours but I'm happy to share cover images and ARCs to anyone willing to give me a review.

Now, about that novella: it's a Christmas story, and Pismawallops PTA #4.5. In other words, it comes after the book that's due out December 6. And, being a holiday story, it needs to come out too. So... I'm going to give it away to everyone on my newsletter list. Which means... I have put out my first newsletter in about 3 years, and I'll do another just before Christmas! If you want a free copy of PPTA #4.5 and all the latest news about each of my books, sign up now.

Meanwhile, coming December 6!
https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/956762

Monday, October 28, 2019

Fiction Review: Home for Erring and Outcast Girls



Title:
Author:
Publication Info:
Source:

Publisher's Blurb:
An emotionally raw and resonant story of love, loss, and the enduring power of friendship, following the lives of two young women connected by a home for “fallen girls,” and inspired by historical events.

In turn-of-the-20th century Texas, the Berachah Home for the Redemption and Protection of Erring Girls is an unprecedented beacon of hope for young women consigned to the dangerous poverty of the streets by birth, circumstance, or personal tragedy. Built in 1903 on the dusty outskirts of Arlington, a remote dot between Dallas and Fort Worth’s red-light districts, the progressive home bucks public opinion by offering faith, training, and rehabilitation to prostitutes, addicts, unwed mothers, and “ruined” girls without forcibly separating mothers from children. When Lizzie Bates and Mattie McBride meet there—one sick and abused, but desperately clinging to her young daughter, the other jilted by the beau who fathered her ailing son—they form a friendship that will see them through unbearable loss, heartbreak, difficult choices, and ultimately, diverging paths.

A century later, Cate Sutton, a reclusive university librarian, uncovers the hidden histories of the two troubled women as she stumbles upon the cemetery on the home’s former grounds and begins to comb through its archives in her library. Pulled by an indescribable connection, what Cate discovers about their stories leads her to confront her own heartbreaking past, and to reclaim the life she thought she'd let go forever. With great pathos and powerful emotional resonance, Home for Erring and Outcast Girls explores the dark roads that lead us to ruin, and the paths we take to return to ourselves.
 

My Review:  

I'm not sure what prompted me to get this book from the library--I can't remember if someone recommended it, or if it was just on the front page at Overdrive and looked interesting. I'm glad I did, though there were times along the way when I wasn't so sure. The historic subject matter--the home for "erring and outcast" girls, who had babies out of wedlock or worked as prostitutes--meant that a significant part of the subject matter of the book was how and why the girls ended up in that condition.

The book has an overall two-part structure. The contemporary story is of the researcher who is delving into the records of the Berachah home, and becomes absorbed in the lives of the girls. The other story, of course, is that of the "erring and outcast" girls. That forms the bulk of the book, and divides into chapters from Lizzie's point of view and chapters from Mattie's. Though it's risky, the multiple points of view worked fine for me, anyway. Since the chapters are marked with the date and the name of the character (not narrator; all are 3rd person), there's no confusion about who and what we are reading about.

What worked a little less well for me--what felt too inevitable--was the way Cate's modern story meshed with the historic stories. I can't give details without giving too much away, but I found it just too much. And when another abused girl comes into her life... definitely too much.

Still, despite the flaws I was quickly drawn into the novel and wanted to keep reading at the end of each chapter. I was fascinated by the bit of history the author shows us--the Berachah home was real, and a rare mix of a compassion that allowed women to keep their babies even if they didn't have a father, and a strict religion that still marked even girls who were raped as "fallen" and in need of redemption. And yes, I wanted to know Cate's story.

The writing is strong and clean (free from awkwardness and editing errors), and the well-constructed story swept me along.

My Recommendation:

A good read. If you like historical fiction, this is a good example. Oddly, though, for a story that in many ways was about the complexity of human beings (see paragraph above about the essential internal conflict of the Berachah home), the author chose to present most of her female characters as having essentially the same struggle.



FTC Disclosure: I checked Home for Erring and Outcast Girls 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 25, 2019

#Fi50: Wolf at the Door

Fiction in 50 is a regular feature in the last week of every month (well, lately I’ve been using it for a Friday Flash near the end of the month as the spirit moves me). I invite any interested composers of mini-narrative to join in! I didn't do a heads-up post this month (again) thanks to our travel and losing track of time, but feel free to jump in at any time.
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.  

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 acrossthebored.com) or create your own Fi50 meme pic….
and 

4. Link back here so others can jump on the mini-fic bandwagon.

Here's the Linky List so you can add your post!
This is a Blog Hop!


You are next... Click here to enter
Or just add your link in the comments below!  


The October prompt is...

Wolf at the Door


I think that this month I'm trying to make a serious statement, more than a story. More on that below. First, here's my story.

Wolf at the Door
It’s out there. I keep the doors and windows locked, chase it off with light and music and company, but it stays near.

It draws ever closer as we near the solstice; I can hear its alluring howl.

One day I shall open the door and let the wolf in.


###

I hope it's obvious that the story is about depression, especially of the seasonal variety. In fact, it's how it feels at any time: like an evil hunting beast (my apologies to wolves, which are not at all evil and I in fact love) circling, waiting for the opportunity to leap on the victim. You can do all sorts of things to keep it at bay, but it's always out there.

Depression can play odd tricks on the mind, too, including trying to convince us that's not what it is. "How can I be depressed? I have a great life?" or even, "This isn't depression. Look, it's nothing like what she suffers from. I should just get over it." Or most insidious, "You're just weak." So for anyone who's had those thoughts, here's my completely unscientific, un-expert thought: if you feel depressed, that's depression. It's not a contest where only the worst case actually gets the label. Even a mild case can suck the life out of you. And it's not your fault.

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

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

#Fi50 is coming!

Fiction in 50 is a regular feature in the last week of every month (well, lately I’ve been using it for a Friday Flash near the end of the month as the spirit moves me). I invite any interested composers of mini-narrative to join in! I didn't do a heads-up post this month (again) thanks to our travel and losing track of time, but feel free to jump in at any time.
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 acrossthebored.com) or create your own Fi50 meme pic….
and 4. Link back here so others can jump on the mini-fic bandwagon.

And here's the Linky List so you can add your post!
This is a Blog Hop!


You are next... Click here to enter
This list will close in 2030 days, 23 hrs, 43 min (1/26/2025 11:59 PM GMT)

What is a blog hop?
Get the code here...

Or just add your link in the comments below!  Feel free to Tweet using the #Fi50, though I'll not lie: the Ninja Librarian is a lousy tweeter.

The October prompt is...
Wolf at the Door

Is it horror? Natural history? Or something else? Only you know--until you write it and share it!

Friday, October 18, 2019

Photo Friday: Hitting the High Points

At some point in our recent wanderings I realized we'd hit the high points in three states--the literal high points, as in the highest peaks.

I wrote about climbing Wheeler Peak in Great Basin National Park a couple of weeks ago. It's not absolutely the highest point in Nevada, but it is the highest peak entirely within the state (the high point of Nevada is Boundary Peak, and the border with California runs right over the summit of that one). So I'm calling that my first state high point.

A week or so later, we were backpacking in the Presidential Range in New Hampshire and I had the realization that it would be only a little farther, and a lot less descending (though it would be a bunch more climbing, that was less daunting to either of us than climbing back down the very steep and rough trails we'd climbed to our hut) to go to the summit of Mt. Washington. Since only one of us could do that, I descended to the car and drove up Mt. Washington to pick up my husband. As a veteran mountain driver, I wasn't all that impressed with the hype about the scary road, but the views from the summit were great.
 
On the summit of Mt. Adams, with Mt. Washington behind my husband.
From the summit of Mt. Washington I could see back to Mts. Adams (left) and Madison where we'd been the day before. You could also see the two easy ways to get to the summit--the road and the cog railway.

I like trains, and the cog rail is pretty cool. Each car has an engine that pushes it up the mountain, literally on a cogged track to keep it from slipping backwards (or from running out of control when descending). Tourists were pouring off the train cars to stand in line to take their pictures with the summit sign. We passed on that rite.

Another week later, we hit our third and most challenging high point: Mt. Katahdin in Maine. We started from the Roaring Brook campground at first light, pretty much (6:30 a.m.), and took on arguably the most challenging route: the Helon Taylor trail to the "Knife edge" with a return via the Cathedral Trail to Chimney Pond (more on that later).
Starting out early but with good weather--blue skies reflected in a stream crossing a mile up the mountain.
 A light overcast came and went, muting the fall colors (which were a bit short of their peak in any case). In the distance is Traveler Mountain, which we climbed last year.
Our route will follow the ridge on the left and up. The actual summit is one of the lower-looking bumps to the right, I think.
Doesn't look too bad
I find I didn't take many photos of the "interesting" bits. My husband got a few of me scaling things that made me a bit uncomfortable, but for the most part, despite the intimidating looks, the knife edge wasn't bad.  
Just follow the blue blazes. You can see that it's not that narrow, and it's not vertical on either side. The hard part was just getting over some of the big rock blocks.
Katahdin is a popular climb. It is also the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, and with the park closing in 2 weeks from our visit, people were pushing to finish during any window of good weather (like the day we climbed, as opposed to the next day which was cold and wet). They have more cause to celebrate the summit than we do--or to regret the end of a 6-month's journey.
Through-hiker finishing up.
As they say, it ain't over until it's over. We had to get down, and our trail wen right down that middle ridge, mostly over the bump at the end and off the other side. The descent was brutal, and occasionally terrifying. It was fun at first, but before we hit flat(ish) ground and a real trail it had definitely stopped being fun.
Pretty much the universal reaction to our choice of trail down, both by those we met who were going up and by some we spoke to after was, "You came DOWN the Cathedral trail???! No one goes down that." We understood why. 

I don't think we'll be launching a "50 summits" venture anytime soon. But it was fun to check out the high points in a few states, and I'm glad to have climbed Katahdin.

And now... back to writing!

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


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

https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1539165474l/40595446.jpg


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



Picture
 
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!

*** 

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!