Monday, May 31, 2021

Steps #writephoto

It's not my usual time for flash fiction, but the constraints of the #writephoto blog hop don't fit well with the usual, and why not a Monday flash? 

If you’d like a regular flash fiction prompt, consider popping over to KL Caley’s website New2Writing.com, and check out the Writephoto section on the menu. There’s a new prompt every Thursday, with stories due by the following Thursday. KL provides reblogs and a round-up post to give all the entries a chance to shine. 

This week's photo is a guest photo from writer Jemima Pett, and inspired a story I'll be sure to haul back out for National Library Week.

Here's the photo:

 

 

I wasn't sure where I was going when I started with this, but I can't say I'm surprised to find where I ended up.

 About 800 words.

Steps

Myttha paused, her gaze traveling up the stairway, one step at a time. Once she climbed up there and crossed over the bridge, there would be no turning back. Though she wanted and needed what she believed she’d find on the other side, an irrevocable step required at least some recognition of its gravity.

If she ever came back down those steps, she’d be a different person, or so the promise ran.

If.

She ran through her mental checklist. Sword: check. Hidden knives: three, check. Satchel of food: check. Desire: check.

One deep breath. A second. She stepped onto the bottom stair and felt the magic tingling through her feet.

Maybe a sword wasn’t what was called for here. She hesitated long enough to do one more gear check: the amulet, given her by the witch who had told her she would find her heart’s desire and life’s work here. It felt warm where it hung from the leather thong around her neck and rested against her chest. Coiled within the crude bundle lay a single bit of parchment. Myttha knew that, because she’d looked.

The witch said that parchment unlocked her future. That she would know when the time came to use it.

Myttha didn’t know if she believed in the power of lines scribbled on parchment, but she needed all the help she could get. When you signed on to be a warrior no one told you that by thirty you’d be sore, stiff, and on the brink of old age. She needed out of the fighting life before an enemy discovered she wasn’t the invincible swordswoman she’d been half a lifetime ago.

She took the next step, and the next, climbing the span, feeling the troublesome tug in her left hamstring where that poxy ogre had raked her the previous fall.

At the top of the arched bridge, Myttha hesitated again. She’d expected a door at the far end of the stair and the bridge, but the way continued between the crowding buildings, a mere thread of an alley. Was it the wrong place? Should she turn back and try elsewhere?

She turned, raised a foot—and ran into an invisible wall.

Truly, there was no turning back. The witch hadn’t been exaggerating after all. Perhaps the wall was the witch’s doing.

Indecision now useless, Myttha moved ahead more confidently, one hand on her amulet, the other on her sword hilt. Wasn’t that how her whole life had been formed, between sword and sorcery? Fitting now that her quest for a way out should be formed the same way.

There. The door she’d been seeking. It looked plain enough, like any door. Behind it? Myttha only know that it would change her life entirely. The magic might let her walk past, but what was the point? She’d been making her living by the sword long enough to know it was only a matter of time before making a living led to losing her life. The door represented a way out of that inevitability.

Of course, there could be monsters behind the door, or a whole army, or an assassin waiting just for her. All Myttha knew was that the old woman had told her to come here, shown her a vision of the door and promised that behind it she would find her new life. And given her the amulet.

It was an alley entrance, and the door led into—whatever lay beyond—from the back. No address, no labels, nothing to indicate why she had come.

She laid her hand on the door and the latch gave way. No one attempted to spear her or behead her as the door swung open so she stepped inside, sword in hand, prepared for whatever attack might come.

All she saw were walls of books. One room leading on to another, and another... it was immense, and the significance took a moment to strike her.

It was a library.

What had that old witch meant, sending her to a library of all places? How could she find a new life here? She couldn’t even read! She had spent hours studying the slip of parchment in that amulet without making a single hint of sense out of it.

A very large person of some indeterminate species was crossing the room toward her. This was it, then—the moment when someone would point out she didn’t belong here and show her the door. Or clap her in irons for breaking in through the back door.

The voice was low and utterly non-threatening.

“Can I help you? Do you have a library card?”

Myttha found herself handing over the amulet and answering with words that she never would have thought would pass her lips: “I would like to learn to read.”

And so her life changed.

 ###

 ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2021
 As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated.

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Friday, May 28, 2021

Photo Friday: Grand Canyon, Part 3

It was a near thing, but I made it with Photo Friday on Friday! It's long, but to paraphrase Mark Twain and Blaise Pascal, I didn't have time to write a shorter post.

If you missed them, click here for Parts One and Two of my Grand Canyon rafting adventure. I'm covering two days per post so far, though with some major hikes coming up as well as some days when we didn't do much, that may vary.


Day 5

On day three or four I had wondered if 16 days would feel like a rather long trip. A couple of days of wind-blown sand made it clear that there could be conditions that would make it feel that way. But on the whole, it was starting to feel right, being on the river, and a realization was dawning that 16 days might not be enough.

Excitement mounted in the morning as we took a little extra time to pack bag lunches in preparation for our first substantial hike.

Morning preparations
 
Readying the dory for the day's row

Ten miles down the river we pulled in to camp by Escalante rapid and did a quick set-up before heading up into the tangle of ridges and hills above our camp. For those who imagine that that Canyon is a single monolithic hole in the ground, an area like this is a corrective. Our destination: the Tabernacle.

The top of the Tabernacle

At 2200' above the river, the summit of the Tabernacle provided fantastic views, but the climb was grueling. Between the river distance we had to cover and making camp, we started up after 11 a.m. I make a point of never hiking in the middle of the day in the desert, for good reason. But the river trip forced a different reality. We soaked our clothes and headed up (at least, the core of crazy hikers went for the top).

Even a short way up from the shore, camp looks small and unlikely.

The trail followed a knife-edge ridge above the camp for a time, wide enough to be comfortable but requiring attention.

A willingness to climb brings the reward of ever-widening views.

Looking back upstream, over the route we've hiked to the route we rowed.


Examining the flora, fauna, and geology makes a time-honored excuse to stop, as does photography.

Fossilized worm tracks.

Bright Angel Shale again, now a thousand feet and more above the river.

The overhanging cliffs below the summit gave us our only shade.

The view from the summit.


Relaxing gratefully in the cool after the sun went off.

We shoved off in the morning under almost the most cloud we had the whole trip. Weather can be dodgy in April, but though we roasted a bit in the midday heat, we had no rain, well under the average wind, and nothing to complain of.


The sixth morning took care of the photographer's gripe about boring empty blue skies.

 Scouting the rapids (Hance rapid, I think).

Regrouping after the rapids

To avoid getting caught in the congestion around Phantom Ranch, we took an early lunch (our Trip Leader, Lorna Corson, is as willing as I am to eat lunch early and often) on one of the best rock shores we encountered (I might have said that about several of them...).

Note the all-important umbrella shading the lunch table


By now we have entered the Vishnu schist, the fine-grained black rock, with pink Zoroastrian granite intrusions, both here polished by the river to a high gloss.

Soon after lunch we reached the first foot bridge, for the Kaibab trail.

It was kind of a mule train to come along just as we crossed under the bridge.

A half a mile later, we crossed under the Bright Angel bridge, the last vestige of civilization for 100 miles or more.

No hiking today, so we continued downstream for a 21-mile day.

 

Made camp in a spot that seemed so benign, but the wind came up and we realized why so much sad was piled up the hills against the rocks where we were camped. The wind and grit made this probably the least comfortable night, but also the last one I bothered with a tent, since the tent did little to keep out the grit!

For those who wondered... there are strict rules about human waste in the canyon. We were able to manage that in comfort. The yellow bucket is for pee, to be emptied into the river. Beneath the white lid is the "groover," for solid waste. By the end of the trip we had 8 sealed vaults full of that.

It isn't genteel, but you have to admit that it was a loo with a view!

Just to leave you with a more aesthetic shot!

 ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2021
 As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Writer's Wednesday: Struggles

Death By Donut has launched! The Pismawallops PTA series is, at least for the moment, at rest. I am free at last to follow up with the new sleuth who took up residence in my brain over a year ago.

Or am I? It feels like everywhere I turn with my new characters I come crashing up against something that feels too personal, or too disturbing. I could try to write a mystery without a murder, but it's not just the primary death--it's people's backstories with their losses and traumas, all sorts of things. I'm a little scared to move forward. Am I afraid of my own feelings, or of what others will think if I write something that few people will actually know resonates with my own experience? And isn't writing about our own pain part of what we do?

I could shift from mystery to other genres, but for one thing, mysteries are what I write, what I know how to write and what my readers are coming to expect. For another, I think the basic problem will always be there: I now know what a big life-changing, traumatic event feels like. I have to acknowledge that in my writing. Maybe it means I have to take my writing to another level, not away from the humorous, but maybe towards something with more substance?

This is hard.

But bit by bit I'm finding my way into the story, working through or around the things that are too difficult. One thing I've come out of this year knowing: I'm a writer.

 


 

 ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2021
 As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated.

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Monday, May 24, 2021

Nonfiction Audiobook Review: The Pioneers

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Title: The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West
Author: David McCullough. Read by John Bedford Lloyd
Publication Info: Simon & Schuster Audio, 2019. 10hrs 23 min.
Source: Library digital resources
 
Publisher’s Blurb:
As part of the Treaty of Paris, in which Great Britain recognized the new United States of America, Britain ceded the land that comprised the immense Northwest Territory, a wilderness empire northwest of the Ohio River containing the future states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. A Massachusetts minister named Manasseh Cutler was instrumental in opening this vast territory to veterans of the Revolutionary War and their families for settlement. Included in the Northwest Ordinance were three remarkable conditions: freedom of religion, free universal education, and most importantly, the prohibition of slavery. In 1788 the first band of pioneers set out from New England for the Northwest Territory under the leadership of Revolutionary War veteran General Rufus Putnam. They settled in what is now Marietta on the banks of the Ohio River.

McCullough tells the story through five major characters: Cutler and Putnam; Cutler’s son Ephraim; and two other men, one a carpenter turned architect, and the other a physician who became a prominent pioneer in American science. “With clarity and incisiveness, [McCullough] details the experience of a brave and broad-minded band of people who crossed raging rivers, chopped down forests, plowed miles of land, suffered incalculable hardships, and braved a lonely frontier to forge a new American ideal” (The Providence Journal).

Drawn in great part from a rare and all-but-unknown collection of diaries and letters by the key figures, The Pioneers is a uniquely American story of people whose ambition and courage led them to remarkable accomplishments. “A tale of uplift” (The New York Times Book Review), this is a quintessentially American story, written with David McCullough’s signature narrative energy.
 
My Review:
To get the basics out of the way right off: this book is, as you would expect, well researched, well written, and well read. It is also an interesting look at a time and place I never thought much about--the first "westward expansion" following the Revolutionary War, into a part of the continent that I (west-coaster that I am) tend to think of as part of the East.

That said, the book's subtitle had me on guard from the start, on the watch for a kind of inherent racism that seems almost inevitable when writing about the "settlement" of places considered empty by Europeans, but which in fact are full of people. McCullough navigates that minefield reasonably well, though I think he could have been a little blunter about the ambiguity of the "American ideal." There is no doubt that the anti-slavery stance of the first settlers is laudable, along with the fierce determination and stamina with which they managed to get it written into law (as well as free public education, which is no small thing, though it's never clear to me if that education was extended to people of color). But.
 
While McCullough does delve into the ways that relations between the settlers and the Native Americans deteriorated--largely ruined by an idiot of a military man--he tends to gloss over the removal of the native inhabitants of the region to make room for that American ideal. While noting the irony that by the time the first settlers were dying of old age, the only thing left of the Indians was a fine collection of names for their former places, the author stops short of wondering how much that tarnished the nobility of the settlers. He mentions, but doesn't dwell on, the fact that the Indians were forcibly removed from their homelands. When we read of the slaughter of settlers and soldiers by Indians, the dead have names and histories. When the slaughter ran the other way, not much is said of the humanity of the dead.

My Recommendation:
The book is worth reading. The imbalance that I have pointed out is, I think, compensated by the glimpse into the changes that have rolled over this continent in the last 500 years. Still, I await the day when I don't have to go find a separate book to get the perspective of the non-whites in our history.

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed an electronic copy of The Pioneers 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."  

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Friday, May 21, 2021

Friday Flash: A Dangerous Thirst

 We have an all-new story for you! As a way of warming up for work on the next novel, I hunted up some random story prompts, and found an opening paragraph in my files. That paragraph is pretty much all gone, but it gave me the following story. I would categorize this as comic horror.

 

A Dangerous Thirst

Half mad with the shaking, whimpering, head-throbbing withdrawal, I charged across the room. I would have that drink. I must have that drink, and damn the cost.

I could not give up the cup of coffee the bookshelf had taken prisoner.

A direct charge at the line of leering, jeering knick-knacks did no good. They closed ranks around the steaming paper cup with its stylized and sanitized green mermaid, and I dared not reach between their ranks to claim my prize. After all, it seemed, my addiction hadn’t yet driven me to utter madness. I deeply regretted buying that bronze statuette of an ancient Greek warrior—he was small, but looked more than capable of using the sword to whack off some fingers, if not my whole hand.

The china shepherdesses cowered away from him and from me, but they kept the coffee out of reach behind them, nonetheless.

They were trying to break my addiction, and I wasn’t having it. Or perhaps they merely wished to torment me. I couldn't say.

I’m not crazy. It’s not like I thought they were talking to me. They didn’t move, either. At least, not so I could see it. But there was no denying that the coffee cup I’d set down for a moment on the edge of the shelf was now walled in by a phalanx of decorative items. Items that, until a minute ago, I’d rather liked, with all their kitschy appeal.

In any case, I’d needed something to fill the bookshelves after I’d gotten rid of the books. Who needed all that paper, when I could put anything I wanted to read onto my Kindle and save space? Books were such awful dust-catchers, too. The doctor said it would be better for my allergies to go all-digital.

Never mind that the trinkets I’d picked up at thrift stores and antique shops had to be dusted daily, something that I suppose might have saved the books.

Now I wondered. I still called that bit of furniture a bookshelf. Did it resent being demoted to a holder for china shepherdesses and pseudo-bronze statues? All those deep-down tacky things I liked in a cynical, ironic way.

I shook my head. Caffeine withdrawal was making me think ridiculous things, borderline hallucinations. A piece of furniture couldn’t have opinions about the uses to which it was put, and knick-knacks couldn’t keep a cup of coffee from me.

But there was that sword…

Maybe I’d just go get another cup of coffee. Starbucks was only half a block away.

That coffee cost me four-fifty. That was already a dollar over my budget, all because I’d run out of fresh beans and couldn’t make my own latte.

I’d go to the grocery store. Get more beans.

I had a deadline to meet, and no time for a trip that never took less than an hour. My neighborhood had convenience stores and Starbucks and a McDonalds on the corner, but you had to travel for good food or coffee beans. It was why I’d gotten Starbucks in the first place, instead of visiting a real coffee shop.

No, I’d have my coffee, and get that article written. If speed couldn’t do it, perhaps stealth would work.

#

No amount of sneaking up on the shelf freed my coffee. No matter what I did there seemed to be sharp edges around the cup, the warrior’s sword, a shepherd’s crook, a farmer with a sickle. I was desperate, the heat seeping from my coffee as I failed over and over to rescue the paper cup.

In the end, I gave in.

I went to the closet for that last box of books, the ones I hadn’t been able to bring myself to give away. Dragging the box into my office, I opened it and made a stack next to the shelves.

No change in the coffee situation.

Resolutely, I took up a long wooden bookend.

One by one, I knocked the guardian knick-knacks to the floor. They bounced or broke as their natures dictated. It didn’t matter. They were all headed to the dumpster, or maybe the thrift shop.

Maybe not. What if they really were possessed, and this wasn’t all just the result of my withdrawal symptoms? My swings grew faster, wilder, sending my enemies flying, scattering shards of gaudy ceramic across the floor.

The way clear, I snatched the still-warm cup, sucked down great gulps of life-giving fluid. The cup drained to the dregs, I tossed it aside with a triumphant laugh.

When my vision cleared, I gulped at the mess. Shattered china figurines, chipped wood, even the ancient warrior lay on the floor, his sword bent in the fall.

A little horrified by what I’d done, I swept up the shards, and boxed up anything worth saving. I hesitated over a couple of things. I liked that wooden cat, rendered with just enough lines and curves that there was no doubt what it was. I looked at the bookshelf and put the cat in the box. I couldn’t afford the risk.

The mess cleared, I began to file my old books on the shelves. I might have gone mad, but I wasn’t taking any more chances with my coffee.

###

Don't forget--the Pismawallops PTA Mysteries #5 is now available in all formats!

 

 ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2021
 As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated.

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Sunday, May 16, 2021

It's a Release Day Party!

Grab some donuts and coffee and join the party... it's Release Day!

Nothing ruins your day like a fresh corpse with your coffee

Election day’s almost here, and the island’s new pool is on the line. JJ should be all in with the campaign, but when a prominent Island businessman drops dead at her feet in the Have-A-Bite Bakery, someone has a mystery to solve. JJ’s fiancĂ©—police chief Ron Karlson—is out of town. Who else is there?

JJ is missing her sweetheart, tired of the winter rains, and distracted by everybody’s questions about when the wedding’s happening. Even more worrying, her foster-daughter’s father has failed to show up on schedule. No wonder JJ’s struggling to wrap this one up before someone else bites into the wrong donut. There’s no time to lose, because something truly essential is on the line: saving the bakery—and JJ’s favorite espresso brownies!


Death By Donut 

Pismawallops PTA Book #5

 
Regular and Large Type paperbacks, too!  
 
Introductory pricing at all retailers through the end of the month. Special order-from-the-author deal today and tomorrow: paperbacks of Death By Donut and any one other of my books (your choice), signed by the author and shipped in the continental US for only $18!
 
Hop on over to my virtual blog tour for a chance to win an ebook!
 

May 17 – Literary Gold – SPOTLIGHT 

May 17 – Laura's Interests - SPOTLIGHT

May 18 – Novels Alive – GUEST POST 

May 18 – I'm All About Books – SPOTLIGHT 

May 19 – Hearts & Scribbles – SPOTLIGHT 

May 19 – Sapphyria's Book Reviews – SPOTLIGHT 

May 20 – Brooke Blogs – SPOTLIGHT 

May 21 – Books to the Ceiling – AUTHOR INTERVIEW (Teresa Trent)

May 21 – Diane Reviews Books – SPOTLIGHT 

May 22 – Ruff Drafts – GUEST POST 

May 22 – FUONLYKNEW – SPOTLIGHT 

May 23 – Author Elena Taylor's Blog – REVIEW 

May 24 – Celticlady's Reviews – SPOTLIGHT 

May 24 – My Journey Back the Journey Back – AUTHOR INTERVIEW 

May 25 – Christy's Cozy Corners – GUEST POST 

May 25 – Brianne's Book Reviews – REVIEW 

May 26 – My Reading Journeys – REVIEW 

May 26 – Ascroft, eh? – CHARACTER INTERVIEW 

May 27 – Baroness' Book Trove – SPOTLIGHT 

May 27 – Escape With Dollycas Into A Good Book – SPOTLIGHT 

May 28 – BookishKelly2020 – SPOTLIGHT  

May 28 – Maureen's Musings – SPOTLIGHT

 
 
 ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2021
 As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated.

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Saturday, May 15, 2021

Photo Saturday: Rafting the Grand Canyon, Part 2

Okay, so I guess I've just accepted that for some reason I can't ever do my Friday posts on Friday. Maybe because days of the week have lost all meaning? Whatever. I'm back with Part 2 of the great Grand Canyon rafting adventure, Days 3 & 4. (This is taking too long, but there are so many photos! Even two days at a time it's hard to pick a reasonable number!)

Before I get started--just a reminder that Death By Donut is out tomorrow! More info here.

Day 3
Morning is chilly, as most of them turn out to be. I'm camped close enough to the kitchen to hear when the day's unlucky guide gets up to start the coffee. By 8 a.m. we're just about ready to launch.
Passengers wait for orders from the guides to bring more things to strap to the rafts.

It's a beautiful morning on the river.
Guide Jed relaxes while assistant Bekah--an experienced CA river guide learning the Colorado--takes a turn at the oars.


We stop for camp before lunch, in order to do our first hiking. A 500' climb above the river provides our first "perspective" views.
The view downstream from Nankoweap.
 
The view isn't all we've come for. Ancestral Puebloan people used Nankoweap Canyon as a summer farming area, with easy access to the North Rim up the side canyon (easy by GC terms, anyway). We visited their granaries high up the cliff.
Doorways are about half human high--just big enough to duck through.

Some of us also wander a ways up Nankoweap Canyon, just to see what's there. Not much is blooming this early in such a dry spring, but brittlebush is always reliable.

Up the canyon. There was a part of me that wanted to hike every one of these up to the rim, though in fact it was very hot and mostly I wanted to go jump in the river.

Every afternoon before dinner saw most of us in the river, getting clean and cool. I realize, looking at photos from other trips, that we were very lucky in that there was no rain, and no run-off--so the river remained clear and free of mud.

Back on the river in the morning

Day 4 was another shortish river day, as we had a major stop to make and a bit of a hike from camp.

The big excitement was a short hike and some fun up the Little Colorado River. I am still not sure about what we did--the LCR is sacred to the Navajo people, and I don't know how they feel about us swimming and playing in the creek. But there's no denying we had fun, and enjoyed the beauty at the same time.
Looking downstream towards the Colorado River--the cliffs are on the other side of the river.
 
The high mineral content of the LCR water--as it comes from the spring upstream that keeps this end of the river flowing constantly, even as the waters from the mountains dry up--causes travertine deposits along the water.

Having fun "swimming" the "rapids"

From our camp at Chuar rapid, we had a couple of hours to explore Lava Canyon--another route that could lead to the rim. There was water in the creek, and cottonwood trees.
"Ghost leaves": cottonwood leaves with all the color and most of the substance washed out of them.
 
Despite the creek and leaves, this was mainly a geology hike! The rocks were beautiful, largely (entirely?) Bright Angel Shale.

How many millennia are represented by these narrow layers?
 
When we encountered this bank we'd reached our destination. Since none of us had been up there before, we didn't know this was what we were hiking to until we got there.
Bright Angel shale, tilted and eroded with another layer deposited on top.
Cottonwoods against the red rocks of the canyons remain a special sight for me.

We made it back down to camp in time for a quick wash before dinner, beside (but not in) the rapids.


At this camp I learned my lesson about camping far from the kitchen. It was lovely and private (after everyone was back from the hike and the bathing). But I knew I'd never hear the call for morning coffee!
At least it was a sheltered campsite, and comparatively free of sand!




 ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2021
 As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated.

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