Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Building new worlds 6/30

 It's Writer's Wednesday again and I'm deep in work on my new novel, so I wanted to share some thoughts about world-building, because essentially that's what I'm working on, and what's being so hard right now.

I have this great new character who wants her own mystery series, and I'm doing my best to give it to her. But I have to admit, after 5 novels in one series, I'm a little rusty on starting from scratch. In fact, since that series started from something I wrote before I had a clue what I was doing (and believe me, it showed in the amount of time/effort it took to revise it), I really don't know how to do this.

There. That's the truth of it. I'm struggling with a chicken-and-egg problem. How do I know who did the killing and why (and who didn't) without knowing about the whole town and all the history? But how do I know what history is important if I don't know about the murder?

So far, in an attempt to get a grip on all this, I've written a 10-page biography of my main character, and started writing up an incident that happened in the town 20 years ago that I'm pretty sure is important. I'm hoping that will give me the characters who matter, too. But instead, it's given me a new problem, in that the histories that come to mind are largely grim, and offer little room for the kind of humorous touch that I, and my readers, want.

I'm about ready to chuck it all and do what I did so long ago when I drafted my first Pismawallops PTA mystery: just start writing and hope for the best.

Seriously, I can't tell any longer if I'm not ready to write because I need a better outline, or if I'm just scared to start. So tell me what you do when you're starting an all-new book with no connections to anything else you've written!


Meanwhile: we're ready to launch the Smashwords Summer/Winter sale, July 1-30. The first in series for both the Pismawallops PTA and the Ninja Librarian are free. The second in series is half price, and the BookElves Anthologies, featuring stories by eleven middle grade writers including me, are also free! These prices are temporary, and only at Smashwords!

What do you serve when all there is in the ice cream freezer is a nice cold corpse?

Meet Big Al and all the quirky denizens of Skunk Corners, including of course the Ninja Librarian himself.

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

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Monday, June 28, 2021

AudioBook Review: Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Title details for Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley - Wait list


Title: Fighting Words
Author: Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. Read by Bahni Turpin
Publication Info: Random House Audio, 2020. 6 hours 35 min.
Source: Library digital resources

Publisher’s Blurb:
Ten-year-old Della has always had her older sister, Suki: When their mom went to prison, Della had Suki. When their mom's boyfriend took them in, Della had Suki. When that same boyfriend did something so awful they had to run fast, Della had Suki. Suki is Della's own wolf—her protector. But who has been protecting Suki? Della might get told off for swearing at school, but she has always known how to keep quiet where it counts. Then Suki tries to kill herself, and Della's world turns so far upside down, it feels like it's shaking her by the ankles. Maybe she's been quiet about the wrong things. Maybe it's time to be loud.
In this powerful novel that explodes the stigma around child sexual abuse and leavens an intense tale with compassion and humor, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley tells a story about two sisters, linked by love and trauma, who must find their own voices before they can find their way back to each other.

My Review:
This is a pretty raw story about some pretty awful things, but the author really has managed to keep it appropriate to middle grade readers--while giving any such readers who have this trauma in their own lives something to grab hold of. I found the narration by Ms. Turpin to be spot-on, and made me feel I was really hearing from Della. 

Like others of Bradley's books (The War That Saved My Life, for example) the story will break your heart and make you angry, but there is a well-tuned blending-in of humor and little-girl thinking that kept it from being a dark story despite the hard subject matter. In the end, there is more hope than anger, which is as it should be in a children's book, I think.
On a note for those of us who write, the author's approach to dealing with Della's propensity for cussing was brilliant, if at first a little disconcerting. Readers can imagine for themselves whatever level of swearing is known but shocking to them, and get a little laugh every time the word comes up :)

My Recommendation:
A worthwhile read, and something that should be in every school library, where it may be found by the children who need to know that they are not the only ones. At the same time, I don't think that the discussion of the abuse is at all graphic enough to disturb a child who doesn't know what it's about.

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed an electronic copy of  Fighting Words 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.”   

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

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Friday, June 25, 2021

Friday Flashback: Canadian Rockies

I usually do my flashbacks with fiction, but since I've shared a lot of fiction in the last two weeks, I thought I'd toss out an old photo post from 2014. (For anyone who's wondering, I'm too lazy this week to the Grand Canyon Part 6. Check next Friday!)
     This was part of my A to Z which I think was themed around mountains. The trip that is documented here was in summer of 2013. We spent a month in the Banff/Jasper/Kootenai area, all of it camping and backpacking.


Here's the original post:

Just a few of my favorite shots from Banff and Kootenay National Parks, and Mt. Robson Prov. Park.

The classic view of Moraine Lake, Banff National Park
Mt. Robson and Berg Lake, Mt. Robson Provincial Park, British Columbia.
Hiking near Snowbird Pass, Mt. Robson in the near distance. 

Hoary marmot
Some lunch counters are better than others.  The Rockwall, Kootenay National Park

Get up early.  No one saw this but us, as the sun rose on Floe Lake, Kootenay National Park

What teens do--scream defiance at a world way too big for them.  Emperor Falls, Mt. Robson Prov. Park

When you finish hiking, hijack an ice cream truck

At the time I posted this in 2014, Death By Ice Cream had just come out! Now there are 5 books and a novella in the series, all available as paperbacks, Large Type paperbacks, and ebooks. And I've pretty much had to give up eating ice cream :(

There was a link on the old post to this interview I did when the book came out on the blog of Carla Sarett. My thoughts on writing and self-publishing have matured some, but the interview basically captures what I like to do.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Writer Update: Submissions, writing, and planning

Time for a quick reality check on the writer.

I haven't reported on submissions for a while, so here goes:

May: 2 submissions

June: 1 submission

2 rejections, one outstanding.
I need to do a reality check on one story, which has about 6 rejections. Might be fine, might be deluding myself. It's SF--if anyone wants to take a read, let me know and I'll appreciate your feedback.

I also need to write some more stories just for submission and stop sharing everything here on the blog! Lately the only short stories I've written have been for blog-hop prompts.

Writing and planning/plotting:
Progress on the new book/series is finally starting to happen, though much of what I'm doing now may just be exercises to get the juices flowing, or even pure procrastination. But the plot/"outline" for the new book is taking shape at least a little. To help matters along (and/or to feel like I'm writing even if I'm not), I've been writing an extensive biography of my main character, Seffi Wardwell. I'm learning a lot about her, and have just about reached the point where the books begins.

In addition to all this, I've written two flash fiction pieces in June and am up to Part 5 on the Grand Canyon raft trip report. 

Since I'm currently visiting my mom and other Seattle area friends, any writing at all is to be considered a bonus, shoehorned in between hikes and gab-fests.

At this point the plan is to start drafting the novel the 1st of July, a totally arbitrary date that I hope will help me stop spinning my wheels and start producing bad prose and a mess of a plot.


A fine distraction

Monday, June 21, 2021

#WritePhoto: Along the River

Every Thursday, KL Caley at New2Writing shares a photo to serve as inspiration for some kind of writing to be posted and shared by the following Tuesday. Last Thursday, the photo was this peaceful scene of a fisherman. I took a few liberties and came up with my story. The hop is open to all, just write your story and share the link at KL's blog!

 Photo by KL Caley


Along the River: A Story in Six Chapters

Ratty and Mole play in their boat until the ducks, angry at the disruption of their feeding, chase them away. They retreat to have a picnic on the bank of the river, and are joined by the Badger and the Otter. They remain hidden under the drooping willows.

The miller lets the water through the weir, turns the wheel and grinds the grain for an hour, just enough for his wife to bake the bread for their anniversary dinner. She always makes that from the flour he grinds at the ancient mill. The rest of the time, the wheel sits silent and still, and the water passes around the mill unchecked.

A group of boys, skipping school, swim in the calm backwater above the mill. They make sure not to be seen by the miller, or anyone else. They have no idea that they are seen by the Badger, and would not know what to make of him if they did. They strip all the way and skinny-dip so their mothers won’t find any wet clothes when they return on schedule, as though they had wasted this perfect day in school. The cool water washes over their bodies and fills them with a radiant joy.

A couple, not so young as all that, punts slowly down the stream and ties up under a willow across the stream from Ratty and Mole. Out of sight, they talk and kiss. They are old enough that this is out of character, but in the first violent throes of a love long denied they really don’t care.

A fisherman catches a fish and holds it, under the water, in awe of the colors that play over it, until the water seeps through the hole he has torn in his waders and he lets the fish go. He returns to shore and packs up his gear, unsure if he will fish again. He sits by the water and watches the light playing over the riffles.

The banks of the river lie calm, or erode; sprout new willows and let the roots of old trees collapse into the water. The river does not care. The river embraces all.

The river is home.

All images and text ©Rebecca M. Douglass, unless otherwise indicated.

As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!


Friday, June 18, 2021

Photo Friday: Grand Canyon #5

Rafting the Grand Canyon, Days 9 & 10. This trip was April 3-18, 2021, with AZRA--Arizona Raft Adventures.

See previous reports:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Day 9: 

This was another day when our hiking plans were skunked by other rafters who beat us to the landings. A general courtesy of the river is not to pile on, except at a few "must see" stops (Redwall Cavern and Deer Creek Falls seem to be the main ones).

Morning in the boat. We had a number of substantial rapids: Fossil, Specter, and Deubendorff, and especially Bedrock, which gave everyone an interesting ride.

Our one very small "hike" did impose on another camp, so I take it this is another "must". We walked 1/4 miles up Stone Creek to a beautiful "shower."

Yes, we "showered" with our clothes on, though most people removed their hats!

 We are now in the heart of the Vishnu schist.

The black is actually a subset of the Vishnu, the Brahma schist. The pink is Zoroastrian granite.

Because we couldn't do the hikes, we reached camp before noon--couldn't go on because of the plans for the next day. When the sun went behind the ridge, a game of bocce broke out.

I'm an innocent spectator, hiding behind my rock and trying to read. The occupants of the campsite under attack fled.

We started the morning early, to make room for our big plans. Though actually, it was hard to start any morning any earlier than any other, as the coffee was started a bit before dawn regardless.

Matt and Bekkah cooking scrambled eggs and toasted bagels.

Packed our lunches, packed our packs, packed the boats, and at 9 a.m. we were across the river, with 9 hearty campers and 3 guides heading up Tapeats Creek.

You can tell the guy in back is a guide--he has a black mark on his leg from the aluminum raft frame!

This was an all-day hike, billed as possibly 10 miles with 2000' of climbing. It worked out to more like 8 miles and 1700' gross (the net may have been 2000'). Still, on a hot (90s) day, and with the climbing and descending concentrated in a couple of points, it was a strenuous hike and I was glad to be carrying 3 liters of water and a spare, soaking wet, shirt in a zip-lock.

Even just hiking up a creek you can't always avoid steep detours.
Well up Tapeats Creek we enjoyed cottonwood trees and cool flowing water. Farther up, when we had to cross, the water was more forceful and I won't discuss what happened when I was knee deep :D

We had flowers.

Hedgehog cactus
Also striped rocks.


We were able to have elevenses at Thunder River falls. The climb  from Tapeats up Thunder River was a big chunk of the remaining climb, but we still had a few hundred feet to go.

The really amazing thing about Thunder River is that it pours out from between layers of rock in the side of the canyon in a powerful blast.

A cool and pleasant snack spot, and another chance to get our clothes wet before hiking on.
We topped out in Surprise Valley and crossed half of it to find a tiny bit of shade for our lunch.
Surprise Valley is a large, comparatively flat valley halfway up the canyon walls. In the middle distance you can see our one spot of shade at "Shade Rock."

After lunch we began to drop down into Deer Creek. The trail was often steep and slick with loose rocks--I was glad I wasn't carrying a full pack.

By this point, less than an hour from putting on my second, wet shirt, it was dry and too hot.

We could see the tantalizing line of cottonwoods far below us.

When we finally reached Deer Creek it was heavenly.

Things got even better when we reached "The Patio" where most of the short-hikers were waiting for us, reading and napping in the shade. They of course were ready to go as soon as we arrived, while we wanted to rest and enjoy the spot a while!
The Patio. I took off my boots and lay down in the creek.

The hike felt like it was over, but there was still the better part of a mile--and a couple hundred feet of descent--to go. The trail skirts along the cliff above Deer Creek's slot canyon.

At this point we were advised to remove hats and stow poles to avoid bumping heads or tripping. I thought it was extreme...
Until I had to scootch around this bit. I faced the wall, put both hands on it, and inched around the "nose."
Some of my fellow-travelers were bolder than I.
When we reached river level, the reward was Deer Creek Falls, unfortunately a bit of a zoo scene.
Beautiful falls, though, when you cut out the people.

Lucky for those of us who were utterly beat, the boats were waiting, and we were able to camp practically right across the river. Our total river mileage that day was less than 4 miles!

We could sit in camp and look across to the narrow cleft that hides Deer Creek.

A final lovely touch: some of our Alaskan travelers brought appetizers for the lot of us.

Hey, if you've made it this far, I have a favor to ask: for those of you who've read my books, can you consider leaving a review at Amazon or wherever you shop for books? It means a lot to an author.

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

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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

#WEP: Great Wave

 It's time for the bi-monthly WEP challenge. This year's prompts are all from famous paintings, interpretation up to us, of course. Here's the June prompt:

WEP Challenge are open to anyone. Post during the 3-day posting window, then link back to the WEP post page, and visit the other writers to enjoy a bunch of great stories! Read more about it here.


920 words, FCA


Great Wave

The hooded figure was reported to have visited the same rocky point on the shore every day for a week. Always at high tide, and carrying a large pack.

It wasn’t that no one knew who it was; there were no strangers in the tiny coastal town. Nor did anyone wonder about the hood. Any sensible person outside was wearing a hooded rain parka, and rain pants as well. The question everyone was asking was what Mildred Perkins thought she was doing out there in the rain and crashing surf, and what she had in her pack.

There was some attempt to speculate that she was engaged in some form of smuggling, but that stretched the credulity of even the most imaginative gossips in the tiny town. For one thing, no one could land a boat out on the point. For another, it was broad daylight, or what passed for broad daylight in the teeth of the winter rains, not a time when smugglers usually operated. Further, as far as anyone knew she’d been alone out there all the time, though admittedly even in the interests of a great story no one had been willing to sit out in the rain and watch as long as Mildred sat on the rocks.

Archibald Quindlen had reported seeing her sitting on the rocks for two hours while he was down the tiny sand shore trying to get his engine started so he could move his boat around the point to his proper mooring. In the end he’d given up and rowed the damn thing in order to beat the tide, and because he was tired of working in the rain.

“Didn’t see a damn thing except Mildred sitting there dripping,” he grumbled.

Sarah Pritchard was quick to point out that his attention had been on his boat, not on Mildred, and she could have done nearly anything without him noticing.

Archibald had retorted that she’d just been sitting every time he looked up, and what were the odds? He might have been a little less polite than that.

Victoria Jones admitted Archibald had a point and tried to keep her own watch, but after a half an hour she conceded that watching someone sitting motionless was pretty dull work, and maybe Mildred had gone mad, anyway. Plus, it was still raining.

This situation went on for a week, during which time it never stopped raining for more than about fifteen minutes at a time. All efforts to question Mildred ran smack into the impenetrable wall of a smile so warm and calm that it appeared to hide nothing while giving nothing away.

After four days, Mildred changed her vantage point to sit on the second point over from the first. Then she began to move from one point to another, up and down the shore, sitting in one spot sometimes for hours and sometimes only for minutes. Since no tourists came to town in the pouring rain, business was slow and everyone was going crazy wondering what she was up to.

This made it harder for the townspeople to watch without being obvious, not just to themselves but to their neighbors and to Mildred. Anyway, people were losing their enthusiasm for prowling about in the rain only to learn that she was just sitting there staring at the waves. Since Mildred didn’t seem to mind, or even notice, the rain, they were forced to conclude that she really had gone mad.

“Well, what if she is mad? She’s not hurting anyone,” Charles Godfrid pointed out. “Leave the poor woman be. She seems happy enough.”

For that reason, no one was watching when the rain finally ceased and Mildred at last opened the large pack she’d been keeping dry under her voluminous rain poncho (worn over the rain parka, a common precaution on that very wet coast).

The storm blew itself out late in the morning, and by noon the sun was shining. Young Joshua Pritchard ran down to the shore to see what treasures the high tide had brought, and noticed Mildred was eating a sandwich. That made perfect sense to Joshua, who was ten and starting to develop a frightening appetite. He briefly considered going and asking if she had anything to share, but his mother had told him not to go near the poor crazy woman. Anyway, his attention was caught by some very promising bits of fishing net and he forgot all about her. The next time he looked up, she’d gone off to some other spot for watching the breakers.

By two, the sun and breeze had dried things pretty well, and Mildred had found the place she wanted to stop.

No one at all saw when she opened the backpack again. This time she pulled out not her lunch, but an easel, a large drawing pad, and a box of paints.

She began to work.

It took weeks, sitting out storms, then waiting until it was just dry enough to not soak the canvas. She could work only until the calm changed the scene too much, then had to wait for the next storm. No one paid any attention to her now. Mildred was just “like that, you know,” they said, and left her alone.

At last she was satisfied, and stopped going to the shore.

Mildred’s detailed study of a single tiny portion of the surf took first prize at the country fair. “Great wave,” one of the judges wrote in the notes.


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

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Monday, June 14, 2021

Release Day! Clues, Cops, & Corpses

I've been off seeing my younger son graduate from university, so what better way to celebrate than by finally releasing my mystery collection!


It's out, it's today, and it's the 4th (and last for now) book in my collection of collections.




Nine tales of murder and mayhem, from the classic to the absurd. Can detective L. R. Hen discover who is committing the notorious Cackling Murders? Have the waters of lakes and rivers washed away all the clues in several damp cases? And just what can motivate a brainless thug to care about something? All these cases and more are solved in this quick, fun collection of stories by the author of the Pismawallops PTA mystery series.


Order your copy today! Just 99 cents at all ebook retailers. And please, consider leaving a review when you are finished.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Flashback Friday: The Gods' Own Keeper

I'm off celebrating my youngest son's university graduation. While I'm busy, I hope you enjoy this story from 2015!


The Gods' Own Keeper

Osbert Godskeeper scurried across the Great Hall of Chaotica. Orgo and Hempto were fighting again, and Osbert had no desire to get caught between those two. Neither had learned the control proper to a god, and Orgo tended to leak lightning when he got mad. Hempto was worse. He smoked. Not his pipe, which was bad enough--the gods’ herb of choice stunk, as far as Osbert was concerned. But when Hempto was upset, smoke came out of every orifice. It stunk even worse than his pipe, or Chacto the Great's cigars, and it burned. Hempto was a fire god, and nothing but trouble.


When he had reached the far end of the hall and the safety of his office, Osbert’s manner changed. No longer a frightened, scurrying figure, he stood erect and took firm hold of his microphone, scowling fiercely at the battling behemoths.


"Orgo and Hempto! You two will stop that NOW!" His amplified voice boomed across the hall, and the battling gods screeched to an abrupt halt, abashed. “Now, clean up the mess you made, then go to your rooms and behave yourselves,” Osbert continued, and watched, arms crossed, until the blushing gods started to right the overturned furniture, and put out the fires Orgo’s lightning had caused. Someone opened a window high on the wall—one of the bird gods, Osbert thought—and let the smoke out until the air cleared enough to see across the hall.


His job done for the moment, Osbert slumped back onto his desk chair, waving away a mosquito that buzzed by his ear. There were insects all over Chaotica, there being so many kinds of them on earth. They drove him mad, as if the larger and more boisterous gods weren’t doing a good enough job of that. Every kind of being on earth had to have its own god here in Chaotica, plus all the extras like Orgo and Hempto. The humans added to the chaos by inventing gods by the dozen, one for every neighborhood, Osbert sometimes thought. Chacto was one of those, god of some little island where they grew a lot of tobacco.


Keeping this menagerie of gods in order was tough. When the Church of Eternal Peace had made him their head priest and told him he was the one who would manage the gods, he hadn’t understood that they had meant it literally. For the last century, he’d been stuck here in Chaotica, breaking up fights between gods, keeping the predator gods from eating the prey gods, and always sleeping with a fire extinguisher and a bucket of water by his cot, because Orgo had far too little self-control for a lightning god.


When Osbert opened his eyes again, he saw the divine prototype of the gastropods had left a thick slime trail across the great hall. Sna the god of slugs and snails lacked a great deal more than self-control, though he lacked that, too. Like the creatures who worshiped him, he was just a slimy blob, and shed that slime wherever he went, like some kind of drooling infant. By now he was, as usual, somewhere halfway up the far wall. The raccoon god stood below him, a shaker of chocolate sprinkles in paw. Where did the gods get this stuff, anyway? Osbert had a feeling that if he ever got time to return to his kitchen, he’d find he was missing his chocolate sprinkles.


Osbert groaned and levered himself to his feet. Back at his microphone, he commanded the masked god to back off.


“But slugs are good if you roll them in the dirt to cover the slime,” Forbol protested. “I thought they’d be even better if you rolled them in chocolate sprinkles!”


“You will have to find a mortal slug to test that on. Leave Sna alone. And Sna, you will have to clean the floor, because I am NOT going to do it again! Oh, drat it!” Osbert spotted the great cat goddess Fluffy. She had the mouse god Squeak in her mouth again. “Fluffy! Put him down! Now!” The gods’ keeper let his head fall into both of his hands. It was going to be one of those days. The gods were worse than a class of kindergarteners.


A lot worse, and he lacked the managerial skills of Miss Cornflower, the woman who had molded Osbert and his classmates into a group of rational beings capable of learning at least a little bit. The gods refused to learn manners or common sense.


What would happen if he just let them fight it out? What happened to a god if another god ate it? They were immortal, right? So they’d just come right back, right? But how did that work when a god had been masticated by another and passed through the digestive tract? Osbert moaned again. His head hurt. A lot.


Maybe if a god died, nothing would happen. After all, most people got on just fine with no gods, or no gods that they took seriously. And with all the new gods the humans had been producing, Chaotica was getting crowded.


That mosquito was back, buzzing around Osbert’s ear. This time, he slapped at the creature, not thinking. The buzzing stopped.


Osbert looked at his hand, and froze. The mosquito god was a little smear on his palm, and it didn’t seem to be popping back to life.


In a few minutes, the prayers of praise and thanksgiving began to roll in. The mosquitoes that had plagued so many parts of the earth with everything from annoyance to deadly diseases had vanished.


Now Osbert knew what would happen if a god died. And he began to look about the great hall of Chaotica, a thoughtful look on his face.


The Gods’ own Keeper finally understood what power he had been given. And he never had liked rodents…


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

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Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Writer's Report and Book Review

World-building the next novel

The germ of my next novel has been in my head for well over a year, but forcing it into some kind of shape has been surprisingly hard. I have some ideas for a couple of reasons for this. For one thing, we can fall back on the ways that grief, loss, and trauma have messed with my head. Focus has never been my strong suit, and it's worse now. 

I think that the issues with creating a new world go beyond that, though. I've been writing books in the Pismawallops PTA series for about 7 years, with some ventures back into the world of the Ninja Librarian. In other words, I haven't had to create a story-world from scratch in a very long time. In fact, the last time I did so was the goofy fantasy world of Halitor the Hero--published in 2014 (and I think drafted in 2013 or earlier--probably right after Return to Skunk Corners and while I was working on Death By Trombone). 

All of which is to say: the last time I created a new world, I was a different writer, and a lot more haphazard about such things. In the meantime, I've transitioned from a pantser to a plotter, at least when it comes to mysteries. So while I launched naively into the writing of Death By Ice Cream with little beyond an idea about a body in the PTA's ice cream freezer and trusted the island community to come to life as I went, I can't be so cavalier now.

For a while I didn't know if I could do it at all, but I'm happy to say that the new book is starting to come together in my mind, and I think I'll be able to start writing it perhaps as early as next month.

That brings me to....


Title: Preparing to Write Settings That Feel Like Characters
Author: J Lenni Dorner
Publication Info: Published March 2015.
Source: Purchased from Amazon

Publisher’s Blurb (Goodreads):
This reference guide is a tool to help you organize your thoughts and ideas to obtain the goal of making a setting that feels like a character. This valuable reference guide is useful in revealing a simplified way to create settings that feel like characters by using an organized sketch sheet. This practical approach will help focus your writing. The challenge of making a setting into a character is easily conquered with this informative guide. Make your story more interesting in today's competitive fiction market by giving your writing this edge.

The Setting Character Sketch (to copy and use with the book) is on the blog of J Lenni Dorner.

My Review:
Just when I was struggling with what I needed to know about the village where my new sleuth, Seffi Wardwell, lives, I remembered this little book. I started it in March right after I bought it, but set it aside because at that point I was absorbed in revisions on Death By Donut. It occurred to me that it might help me out, so I finished reading it, and returned to the outline tool at the beginning.

I'm not saying that this is a miracle cure, because I still have to think about what's in the village and how it all fits together, not to mention designing a murder, a motive, and a whole slew of red herrings. At the least, however, reading the book gave me a set of things to think about regarding the village and peoples' homes, businesses, etc.

Since posing questions about the story and answering them (sometimes over and over in different ways) is pretty much how I get to an outline, this new set of things to think about is a good fit for me. I hope that I can also keep J Lenni Dorner's tips and ideas in mind as I write, to help Seffi's world come to life.

Dorner gives suggestions and illustrations about the small things in a variety of settings, from the big-picture political world to the details of a single room, that can help it to communicate more about the characters and story that inhabit it.

My Recommendation:
The ideas and suggestions in this book, while often simple, can definitely help if you are a writer and want to bring your settings to life in new ways. It's a quick read and you can pull out of it whatever will help you. I did notice that the illustrations often pulled from stereotypes, and while that makes it easier to see how this can work, you might want to think hard about using stereotypes to communicate too much about people and places.

FTC Disclosure: I purchased a copy of Preparing to Write Settings that Feel Like Characters, 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.”   

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

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Monday, June 7, 2021

Non-fiction Audiobook Review: Raven's Witness

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Title: Raven's Witness: The Alaska Life of Richard K. Nelson
Author: Hank Lentfer. Read by Basil Sands
Publication Info: 2020 Tantor Audio. 8:29. Original 2020 by Mountaineers Books. 256 pages.
Source: Library digital resources
Publisher’s Blurb:
Before his death in 2019, cultural anthropologist, author, and radio producer Richard K. Nelson's work focused primarily on the indigenous cultures of Alaska and, more generally, on the relationships between people and nature. Nelson lived for extended periods in Athabaskan and Alaskan Eskimo villages, experiences which inspired his earliest written works, including Hunters of the Northern Ice.  
In Raven's Witness, Lentfer tells Nelson's story--from his midwestern childhood to his first experiences with Native culture in Alaska through his own lifelong passion for the land where he so belonged. Nelson was the author of the bestselling The Island Within and Heart and Blood. The recipient of multiple honorary degrees and numerous literary awards, he regularly packed auditoriums when he spoke. His depth of experience allowed him to become an intermediary between worlds. This is his story. 

My Review:
I picked this book up from the library because it won kudos at the Banff Film festival, and it was at least an interesting read. First, the bad news: I hated the narrator. His delivery uses over-meaningful pauses and emphases that seem to imply significance and drama in every sentence, and it drove me nuts. I would have dumped the audiobook and gotten a text version, but the library only had the audio.
Once I got past the narration, however, the story is engaging and well-written. The narrator made me feel at first that it leaned toward purple prose, but in the end I decided that most of that was on Sands, and if read in a normal way it would be pretty decent. 

I came away with a feeling that though Nelson wasn't one of those people whose life you feel everyone ought to know about, he was worth learning about anyway. His work in his later years to help slow the logging in the Tongas National Forest is laudable, but I particularly liked his insights into the lives of the native people among whom he lived for several years, and appreciated his evolution away from anthropology--which always implies a certain superiority--to an openness to simply learn from them.

Lentfer became friends with Nelson in his final years, and the friendship and respect of a younger man for an elder informs the book all through. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but consider it a warning that there isn't a very strong critical thread in this presentation of Nelson's life.

My Recommendation:
Worth reading for insights into Alaskan history and culture, and as a reminder of what has been lost to the "march of progress." But get the print book and spare yourself the audio.

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed an electronic copy of Raven's Witness 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.”   


Meanwhile... Please consider pre-ordering your copy of my new short-story collection, Clues, Cops, & Corpses!




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

Enjoyed this post? Avoid missing out on future posts by following us.